This trip up the Central Coast with Millerine and our friend Chris had been planned for a while, so the rainy weather and unhappy forecast wasn’t enough to scare us away. It did frighten the masses away from the Manly ferry though, which can be packed. Our planned route took us from home in Darlington to the Central Coast via the Manly and Ettalong ferries. The ferries were $7.50 and $10 respectively, and both have places for bikes.
The ride to Palm Beach wasn’t bad, with a few small hills and some heavy, but not too worrisome, traffic. The ferry comes about once an hour, but it was a nice place to stop for lunch anyway. The hills after Ettalong and through Kincumber were more of a bother for our untrained legs, and we were happy for an early finish to the day.
As national park campsites were positioned either too close or too far we opted to stay at Wamberal Beach. We’ve camped on Wamberal Beach before and it’s usually quiet, but it was Australia Day and the beach looked like it would still be busy well into the evening. We found a vacant lot on a street near the beach which looked more private, and set up camp. It was way better than a caravan park; private, free, and we could still use the toilet block and cold showers at the beach. The owner walked past and busted us. Although he seemed reluctant to let us stay there, he couldn’t deny us as we asked so nicely. This gave us peace of mind, but it spoiled our little joke about celebrating Australia Day as it was done originally; by camping on someone else’s land without their permission.
We finished the day with a standard dinner of two minute noodles and beer.
Again we were restricted by known camping options, so we decided to go for the caravan park at Stockton – a short ferry ride from Newcastle. This took us along the busy Pacific Highway for a while, but generally there was a good shoulder and it was OK to ride. It was noisy, but bearable. The ride along the Central Coast Highway beside Tuggerah Lake, around The Entrance, was pretty nice.
The Swansea Hotel where we stopped for a long lunch and a beer was large, busy, modern and mundane. It did have bike racks out the back though. Bonus points for them.
Beginning in Belmont is the awesome Fernleigh Track. It’s a paved bike path which follows an old railway line for about 25km. There’s a long, steady, but not at all steep uphill, and then a long almost uninterrupted downhill into Newcastle. It passes through tunnels and a whole heap of bushland, and is a very welcome change from riding on the noisy road. After the end of the track we tried to play it by ear to get to the ferry wharf, and accidentally took an indirect route via the beach and a big hill in a suburb called “The Hill”.
The ferry from Newcastle to Stockton costs $2.40 and seems to just cross backwards and forwards across the narrow channel at very regular intervals. There’s a bar on the Newcastle side so it’s probably a good idea to not be in a hurry. Stockton itself is a reasonably small town, but it has all the facilities one might need.
We were treated to a movie night at the Caravan Park in Stockton, but were a little too tired to care about a crappy family animated movie.
It was decided that Port Stephens would be the end of the road for our trip, as it would allow us to be back in Newcastle early the next day to catch the train home. Knowing that we had a short and easy day, we committed to a long stop at Murray’s Brewery, about 30km from Stockton. Their tasting wheel of 6 small beers is expensive at $20, but the beers are superb. After one of those everyone was feeling lazy, so Chris and Millerine had a nap on the grass while I did a bit of wine tasting at the adjoining Port Stephens Winery.
We checked in at Melaleuca Backpackers at One Mile before riding on to Nelson Bay. We’ve stayed there before and it’s great. It’s a little expensive for camping, but they have a nice campground and facilities in a bushy setting. They have quite a managerie; three dogs, a galah, a cockatoo, and a naughty kangaroo who roams freely and stole some of our muesli bars. There are koalas in the area, and sometimes they’ll be found in the trees in the campground.
8km down the road in the tourist centre of Nelson Bay there’s a seafood market type place down near the water – Bub’s “best seafood in NSW”. We bought Myall prawns, which I assume are from the nearby Myall Lakes. They were quite small, but it turns out that freshness matters; they were delicious.
The road between Stockton and Port Stephens is very flat, so unimpeded by the headwind (and the beer) of the previous day we made it back to Stockton and across to Newcastle in a good time. It’s just under three hours to Sydney by train. Each carriage has a hanging rack for one bike. They do the job, but there’s nothing to lock the bike to, and anyone moving between carriages will bang the door against the handlebars.
Overall this was a very nice ride. It’s not quiet back roads all the way, but there are some alternate routes. It passes through some pleasant scenery alongside national parks and along the coast. It isn’t far between towns, so if you’re looking for something remote it’s no good, but if you want something easily accessible from Sydney and well serviced it’s excellent. You can also take the ferry out from Nelson Bay and continue riding up the coast, as I did in my earlier trip to Taree.