Heading out of Geelong couldn’t have been any easier, helped somewhat by the fact that Ben had taken us out along the exact route the previous day to see some of the surfing beaches. Having reached Torquay the Great Ocean Road (GOR) started, a road I had wanted to cycle along for a long time, something I was really looking forward to, though it was still another 17km to Angelsea before the sea came into view. Here the GOR started in earnest, with a gently rolling road with just a few dunes between us and the sea. It was a hot day and to makes matters worse there was no shade, so with that in mind it made no difference if we had lunch down on the beach, so that’s what we did, a fantastic beach and hardly anybody else on it. As we were about to set off again another cyclist shot past, with clear views down the coast as it wound around headlands she remained in view most of the time. We waved to each other again as we passed her in Lorne, then as we stopped to collect water for the night we were caught up again and this time we could have a quick chat. She was Helen from Alice Springs, making the most of a bit of cycling after a business trip to Melbourne. Departing Lorne the road was once again around headlands, the road cut into the hills and hardly good for camping. It looked as though it would be tough finding a place to stop for the night, so we took a little track leading down a small valley away from the coast at the first opportunity. We soon passed a sign saying ‘Private’ but it didn’t look as though anybody had been along it for a very long time. Dinners by now were starting to get serious, 3 course most evenings, becoming a little more adventurous each night. It’s also during this time that we have our most interesting discussions, normally a lively debate as we still can’t agree on anything.
The next day was the best of the GOR, classic stuff, the hugging the coastline, dug out of the hillside most of the time with great views and untouched beaches around each and every headland. Sadly it didn’t last long enough, by lunchtime we were in Apollo Bay where we once again bumped into Helen, this time she was heading the other way. We were both looking for supermarket as food is never far away in a cyclists mind. We stopped for lunch in town under the shade of a tree, another healthy debate started, but they are interesting, we challenge each other asking searching questions, some being difficult to answer and normally followed by deeper questions. The problem is that times slips past so quickly, I think we could both sit for hours through such discussions, the cycling gets in the way at times. Once back on the bikes we waved farewell to the coast for the rest of the day as the road made it’s way inland through forests and lengthy climbs. A long descent brought us into a lovely wide valley, dead flat with a nice tailwind. We needed water for the night so we stopped at the a village that had no more than half a dozen houses and a little café. “Help yourself to water” we were told when we asked at the café, “We ran out of water a couple of days ago so the tank has been filled from the stream. I’ve filtered it a couple of times but I can’t really say if it will be safe to drink”. We had little choice, we filled up. As we were heading into another climb Christine wanted to stop and purify some of the water, she was getting thirsty, but as we were due to find a spot to camp for the night we decided to call it a day, made our way down another track and camped near the end of the track. The ground was a bit rough and sloping, something that Christine didn’t really appreciate, it reduced her valuable sleep time, something I would hear about a number of times over the next day.
We continued with the climb the following morning, the road was quiet so we were able to ride side by side for a extended periods, this meant we had more time for discussions. We discussed relationships and I had a hypothetical question fired my way. My reply didn’t go down well at all, though due to a long descent followed by another lengthy climb it was actually quite a while until I found out just how badly it had been taken. I guessed I was a few minutes ahead, so spotting an apple tree I stopped to pick a few for Christine, rode on a little and chose a place to stop for a bite to eat. Christine arrived, she was very unhappy……oh shit! When Christine is unhappy it normally means that I am in for a rough time, this occasion was no different. To make matters worse Helen turned up full of smiles just 30 seconds after Christine. I offered Helen an apple, though due to misunderstanding this just made matters worse as Christine thought I had picked them for Helen, it’s so much simpler cycling on your own I can tell you. I talked to Helen, Christine didn’t say a word, I felt very uncomfortable. Another long lunchtime discussion was under way once Helen had moved on which once again emphasised just how different we are and how different we view everything in this little world of ours. I assumed my answer to the earlier question would have been similar to Christine’s view, wrong again! Christine couldn’t possibly see how we could go on cycling together, our differences were too great, she would see how things were when we reached Portland, another couple of days away. We eventually left in a little more in harmony. Later that day we actually found something that we seemed to agree on, that’s pretty amazing, so it’s worth putting it in writing. Christine asked “If you could have 3 wishes, what would they be?” After due thought we both amazingly had the same answers. My first wish was for happiness, it had been Christine’s second wish, then my second wish was for health, that had been Christine’s first wish. Neither of us could think of anything for a third wish. My view was that with happiness health would probably be improved anyway, but in Christine’s view health came first as it is something that we have little control over. Back on he GOR were some of the highlights that were all worth stopping off at for a quick look, the most well known being the 12 Apostles, towers of rock left abandoned in the sea by coastal erosion. It was quiet at the first stop, pretty much as expected, but I was amazed when we reached the 12 Apostles, the place was heaving, there was a massive car park, lots of tour buses and even an underpass to get across the road, it all rather reminded me of Stonehenge back home and to make matter worse I didn’t even think it was impressive enough for all the hype. The road was now pretty flat, running close to the coast which was just sheer cliff face with little tracks leading to big car parks at each of the view points. We arrived at Port Campbell where we met fellow cyclists. Helen was sat at a café with a cyclist from Sydney and called us across in delight when she saw us, then at the supermarket we met Sabina, a German cyclist who had recognised me from Tasmania, Christine wanted to know if there were any cyclists that didn’t seem to know me. They were all staying the night at Port Campbell, we were too tight to pay the campsite fees so carried on along the GOR and pulled off down a track and camped near a cliff top, no proper sea view, but the lovely peaceful sound of the waves all night.
The following morning saw us heading off to the last few sights along the GOR, we were early so there were far less people about. At the first stop somebody asked if we were the cyclists that were cycling 2 abreast, we were, so we then had a lecture about how we would end up being killed. Having pointed out that at no point had there been vehicles in both directions at the same time and that there had always been good visibility we were then told that they were not allowed to touch the solid white lines in the middle of the road. This might explain why at times vehicles come way too close when there is nothing else around, but in my view a little common sense goes along way. Afterwards Christine said she thought that I had been a bit aggressive, something that made me feel guilty for quite a while afterwards, but I guess it was 5 months worth of frustration over generally bad driving standards that was off loaded on to the first person that gave me the benefit of their views. Today’s features along the coast were some of the best in my opinion, including London Bridge, a very large arch that had been joined to the land until 1990 when the connecting strip had collapsed into the sea leaving a number of people stranded on the remaining arch. Peterborough saw the end of the GOR and return to flat straight roads. So what did I make of the Great Ocean Road. Well, if had been the road along the Great Ocean I think it would have pretty good, but I think it is intended to be the Great Road along the ocean, in which case I say well Whoopee-Doo! Sure it was nice, in places pretty spectacular, but in reality the stretch of classic scenery was only for about 60km in length. Now take that in context of the size of Australia, more than 3500km across, oodles of kilometres worth of coast line and hundreds of glorious sandy beaches, mostly deserted, and the 60km of GOR doesn’t really add up to very much does it? Everything in Australia seems to hyped up, everywhere is the ’Something of Something’, such as the ’Capital of the Snowy Mountains’, ’The Birthplace of Champions’, ’The Crossroads in the Middle of Nowhere That Nobody Cares About’ etc, etc, so what is really the only classic bit of coastal road in this vast land becomes ’The Great Ocean Road’. I have travelled along similar roads coming through Indonesia, spectacular roads that didn’t even have a name and hardly got a mention in any guide books, they were just roads that went through fantastic scenery going from A to B, the main artery across an island and not a camper van or cyclist in sight. As we entered Warrnambool I stopped and waited for Christine to catch up, I could see her in the distance with another cyclist, it was Sabina again, though we soon parted company as we once again went in search of a supermarket. Christine bought a large packet of crisps and asked if I liked them, I was soon tucking in. “Oh, you do like them don’t you?” she said as the packet was rapidly disappearing. As we sat and ate she once again wobbled on about her feminist streak. This time it was brought on by watching people holding hands as they passed, the man always had his arm in front of the women’s arm, a form of leading, the same way was evident in parents hold the hands of their children. I never saw any being held the other way around, it’s true, take a look sometime. We were back in flat farmland, the road was busier and I was generally cycling in front of Christine. The previous night I had lent her my Ipod, I was surprised to find that she liked Abba, the downside of which was her whistling Chika-bloody-tita relentlessly all day long, still, at least when she is whistle she can‘t be arguing! In farmland a spot to camp would be challenging, so having looked at the map we made our way to Tower Hill, a conservation area. We climbed slowly to the top and were really surprised to see what was in front of us, an enormous volcanic crater, the road running around the rim, with trees in the bottom. We spotted a vehicle making slow progress through the trees, so if they could get there then so could we. It was easy enough to find a way in, though we were once again surprised as the narrow little road had a one way system. Once in the crater we easily found a quiet little spot with only kangaroos for company.
Whilst we have been together we have been eating pretty well, most nights now seem to be 3 course meals, and they are getting more adventurous by the day, in fact it‘s becoming a bit of a problem as I am now covering less distance and eating more, I am putting on weight. We even have a pretty big breakfast, plenty enough to keep us going for the morning, but after 17km we entered the pretty little town of Port Fairy, Christine’s first port of call was the supermarket where she then sat on the bench outside and consumed an even bigger second breakfast, where does she put it all? We had an easy days riding, racing along with a tail wind, we fairly flew into Portland and after another supermarket stop were on our way again, heading out on a much quieter road through forest. So Christine had made it with me past Portland, perhaps things weren’t so bad after all, though we still manage to argue about every subject available. Christine insists we are not arguing, we are just having healthy discussions, but at times we can’t even agree on what we are actually arguing about. In fairness most of the time they are really interesting arguments, but there are still enough heated and emotional debates to make life more than a little interesting. I have noticed a pattern in the latter category, they seem to be every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and every other Saturday, all Christine’s fault of course, I am just an innocent bystander as she takes on a bit of target practice. I still maintain it all stems from our very different lifestyles and views that have been shaped from that, though surprisingly there is one subject that we have very similar view on, and that is God. We both agree that our meeting and cycling together was meant to be, that we were brought together to hear each others views. We are both at opposite ends of the spectrum and I think God is letting us hear each others views in an attempt to move us towards a more balanced middle ground. I think God must be laughing his socks off, though we can’t agree on that bit as Christine says “that is making God human and besides, if he was human he would be a woman”. She is also of the opinion that we were brought together to give him a little soap opera for entertainment every other day. No sign of Sabina today, but I guess we will see her again heading towards Adelaide. The day is finished of with fish for dinner, huge pieces of Barramundi that were going for half price in the supermarket. I woke up during the night to hearing the wind picking up, it was whipping up so quickly, though for some reason there was no movement at all from the tent, it then dawned on me that it was a passing car, we were camped close to the road.
The day got off to a good start, a cooked breakfast of eggs and bacon, life on the road is pretty good, though a good breakfast means the starts are slipping back, getting later and later. We were heading in the same direction as the previous day, the direction for most of the way to Adelaide, so I expected it to be easy the whole time, a big mistake. Right from the start it was tough going straight into a head wind, it would only get tougher as the day wore on. Chikatita was banned for the day so Christine spent her time thinking up different things that we could cook up. She really enjoys cooking at home and is really up a bit of experimenting, a far cry from what she seemed to be like when I first met her, travelling ultra light and living off packets of dried food, she now even loves my stove and says she will get one for her cycling trips. By the time we reached Nelson the weather was getting even worse, the wind was stronger and rain was moving in. We bought a little food at the very expensive and poorly stocked local store then carried on a few kilometres crossing into South Australia where there was a bin for disposal of food for quarantine restrictions. I took a look in the bin to see if there was anything useful for dinner though none of it looked that appetising. We were soon to be moving away from the forest, we needed the shelter from the wind so opted for an early stop, that just meant more discussion time. Oddly enough Christine often seem to speak with a slight Irish accent that I really like. The accent seem to be stronger in the evening for some reason. She also pronounces some word slightly differently, for example ’useless’ is pronounced ’u-sless’ though unfortunately it I normally directed at me, probably 10-15 times a day! I can't complain really as I am constantly telling her she is loopy, a word she refused t believe existed until I got confirmation for her from somebody else.
I am not really surely how this wind lark works around here, once again we had a tailwind the following morning and were breezing along to Mount Gambia. There we took a look at another volcanic crater, this one filled with an amazingly blue water. To be honest without Christine I would not have seen it, she tends to read the guide book far more than I can be bothered to. Next stop was the daily ritual of the supermarket, something that is taking longer and longer as we search for more interesting ideas. Stocked up for the night we raced along to Millicent filled up on water and continued to another conservation area to camp for the night. These places are ideal for us, back home they would be full of people walking dogs, but here they are remote, not a soul around, ideal spots for tucking ourselves out of the way. Tonight’s dinner hit a new peak, strips of lamb in a Rogan Josh sauce followed by pineapple pieces cooked in condensed milk until the whole lot caramelises, delicious.
Now we were right back on the coast, the wind was being kind to us, we passed easily alongside lagoons, deep in discussion/arguments that made time slip by unnoticed. Christine was hiding something that she didn’t want to say, I pushed and pushed for what she had to say, but she refused. I stopped and said I wouldn’t go on until she told me what it was, she knew I meant it so she told me, though as soon as she started talking I realised what it was she was about to say and regretted it. It involved some decision making on our route, so not wanting to go that way as far as the discussion was concerned I made the decision by myself. I got a bollocking for that but then by telling her why I made the decision just brought up the subject again, I was to lose no matter which way I turned. We arrived in Robe and had lunch on the pleasant sea front before trying to sort out some travel arrangements for our imminent departure from Australia. Logistically it was getting all a bit tricky, such a pain compared with the easy life on the bike. By the time we were leaving Robe nothing much had been achieved, we rode side by side chatting then Christine told me “Just tell me what you want to do and I will fix it all up for you over the internet, I really like doing that for other people and I am really good at it, it used to be part of one of my jobs”. At that precise moment there was a little call of “Arghhh”, suddenly I was alone, Christine had taken a left turn too soon, hmmm, that was hardly going to give me any confidence in her travel planning. We were heading towards Kingston and a wine region, again, hardly good camping area, so as we passed through an area of forest we made the most of it. I think we had a vegetable dinner that night, but to make it a bit more interesting the contents of 2 peppermint tea bags were added, it worked really well.
Christine woke up to a bad start to the day feeling rough, another bout of the trots. We had to stock up early as we passed trough Kingston as we had a 145km stretch ahead of us with no facilities. Once again we had lunch at the sea front. A guy from a caravan came over for a chat, a Dutch guy who had been living in Oz for 40 odd years, he blended in well, he was a typical Australian doom merchant, “Whatever you do never camp in the outback, as soon as you leave the road there are no end of snakes”, “That’s no problem” I replied “I have passed through the outback, camped in the wild and not seen a single snake”. Soon after Kingston we met a German cyclist heading the other way, Detlef, the first guy on a bike we have seen in ages, it seems to be all women on bikes here. He was a bit of character, covered from head to foot to keep out of the sun, he even wore full gloves and a fly net over his face. His bike was equipped with an electric motor, but he knew his bikes and took delight in looking over ours and giving us all the technical details and how to service them. He was so proud when he told us “I have 4 bicycles and this is the 2nd worst”, I didn’t have the heart to tell him I have 6. Once on the move again we decided that God was up to his tricks again, Detlef would soon meet Sabina, they were a perfect match, God clearly has a sense of humour! Over the next few kilometres the temperature rose dramatically and to be honest we weren’t carrying enough water. We had assumed we would see the odd farm building but there was nothing, we had 4 litres between us to last the night, not enough to be comfortable. We spotted a wind powered water pump and went to investigate, a good move as water was spilling out, enough for us to collect a few more litres. Christine was feeling rough, we stopped for a break in the shade, she had lost her appetite, blimey, things must be bad. Without the food intake she hardly had the energy to carry on, but having forced down a little she carried on until we were able to camp in a National Park, where she just flaked out whilst I set up camp, then watched me eat my dinner, followed by hers. We had covered 80km today, but the difference in temperature was amazing. Everybody had warned me about just how hot it would be in Adelaide, we were now beginning to experience that extreme heat, for the first time in weeks I slept without a sleeping bag.
Christine continued to struggle to eat, but she is strong, she continued without complaint, she didn’t have much choice mind, there was nothing out here, there was no advantage in staying put. We stopped at a roadhouse in Salt Creek. To get there we had cycled 2 abreast on flat straight roads with little traffic, yet we still had a reasonable amount of aggressive horn blowing. Interestingly there was a thin shoulder which Christine cycled on whilst I cycled just to the right of the white line, a cycling line I would normally take if I was riding alone anyway, yet when I am alone nobody bothers me. Christine was still unable to eat but was getting as many calories as possible by drinking as much bitter lemon as she could. A lorry driver pulled up at the roadhouse “Watch out for the lorries” he said, “most of the drivers are half asleep”. The scenery was now very different, to our left were long lagoons separated from the sea by dunes, though the smell wasn’t great, a sort of stagnant sea water smell. After Meningie we were heading inland, back into farmland. We found some land that was for sale, passed through the gates and cycled towards the trees in the distance. It wasn’t going to be great but it would have to do, but the further we went the better it got, we had a fantastic little spot by a dry lagoon, the only thing bothering us were the ants, though we have discovered that if you hang your food in a bag from the handle bars of the bikes the ants never find it. I had to eat two dinners again, oh dear!
By morning Christine was feeling even more distressed about her stomach problems, she had been up a couple of times through the night and was talking about seeing a doctor. She had constantly refused to take any Immodium that I offered her, she travels ultra light so only carries one! To her view it doesn’t cure the problem, but I at last got through to her that she should take a couple. Still, it never stopped her determination to keep cycling, we whizzed along with tail wind to Wellington and got the little ferry across the small river. After the 50km stretch to Strathalbyn we once again found ourselves at a supermarket, Christine was feeling much better, was getting her appetite back and chose some more fish going at half price for dinner. Here we changed our plans for the route into Adelaide and took locals advice on the route to Meadows where we were assured we could get some water for the night. They told us that it was hilly, they were right too, they came as a bit of a shock after a few days on the flat. The road twisted and turned through the hills, the gradient varying, quite steep at times. Thankfully the road was downwards after Meadows but with steep hillsides and small houses dotted along the way we had to go a fair way before we at last came to a forest area. We had to lift the bikes over a style then up a steep track to get away from the road, but the camping spot was pretty good, just the sound of a light breeze making the pine tree creak. Christine was eating, almost back to normal “Thank you for making me take those pills” she said, “I can’t believe how much difference they have made, my stomach feels so much better”. “Ah, but will you take them again if the need arises?” I asked…..there was silence.
We were left with about 40km to go to arrive in Adelaide on a Sunday, the road twisted through the hills, Sunday cyclists were out in force and we met a couple of Dutch guys setting out on their trip to ride to Cairns. The final descent from the hills south of Adelaide gave us some great views over a very green looking city. Once again I am not doing a city real justice, most of our time has been spent sorting out flights on a very poor internet connection. Christine left in heavy rain yesterday for Melbourne to pick up the gear she had left there, where as I wanted to stay in Adelaide a little longer, catch up on a few jobs and at least try to see a little of the city, so I am now sort of couch surfing with Sophie, Tobi and Bernie about 6km from the city centre. It still rains on and off, I am told it is the first rain they have had here in weeks.
So the Australian adventure part of this trip has come to an end. So what are my thoughts on Australia? Well to be totally honest I think most of the ’sights’ are very over rated and huge differences separate them. I know I haven’t done the place justice, I know, I know. I haven’t even been to see Ayers Rock or more importantly the Great Barrier Reef, but what I have seen has been over rated in my opinion. Christine would read the book and say “Its says here it’s a pretty little historic town”, “Naa” I would reply “It’s just another crappy boring town”, she began to agree with me before too long. Hang on a minute, we do agree on something!! But having said all that I love the overall package of the place, there has been so much diversity in the landscape, the outback was tough but a wonderful experience that I will never forget. To cap it all though the people from start to finish have been just fantastic. Hospitality has been first class the whole time with people meeting me for just 5 minutes then inviting me back to stay with them, it has been a real highlight of my time here. I have had so many leads to meet people for all sorts of sources, some I have taken up, some haven’t been possible, but they have all been so rewarding. It’s a vast land, and I have at times forgotten just how remote it can be, stretches of 100km with nothing don’t seem remote any more, but they are, and that is so totally different to anywhere in Europe. Culturally it is a bit lacking, but the politics and recent history are still very interesting. I shall be sorry to leave the place, but I have to move on.