13 – 21 November 2014
After a great week in Sydney it was time to head up to the Blue Mountains west of town. I visited in 2006 but just after a big forest fire where everything was burnt and scorched, so I looked forward to revisit under better circumstances. Riding on the highways it’s only 125k (80 miles) and an elevation increase of 1,100 meters – a day’s ride had I been in shape but after 6 weeks with little biking I knew it was going to a bit tough so I planned to arrive in Blackheath sometime in the morning on the second day. And since I was not busy I didn’t leave Donna’s house until 10am in warm but cloudy weather – perfect for biking. For once it was fairly easy to get out of a big city – a short ride to the highway and then 10k (6 miles) on a bike lane along it. My intention had been riding highways/freeways all the way (yes, it’s legal) but I met a bicyclist who recommended riding Bell’s Line of Road instead - a little longer and more hilly back road but at the same time smaller and less busy. So after 30k (18 miles) I got off the freeway and rode another 20k (13 miles) to Richmond where the built up areas were replaced with countryside. Then the rolling (up)hills began - in the beginning not too bad but quickly many hills had double-digit grades and particularly Kurrajong Hill was nasty with 5 steep kilometers of which 3k had over 15% grade (I'm not sure they know the word switchback here). Most of the way it was two lanes and half the time without a shoulder, so it got a bit tight especially with the heavy traffic. Here I feel a need to comment on Australian bike infrastructure – it does not become a bike route because you paint a bike on the shoulder the few places there are space to do so. I’m used to busy and poor roads from North America so I don’t mind, but it influences the whole bike culture (or lack of) when cyclists are supposed to be happy with poor conditions – both the number of bikers but equally important the mindset of the drivers. Anyway, it was still a beautiful ride through many small villages and countless fruit plantations (mostly apples)… Late afternoon I asked for camping advice and was recommended a small picnic area – not officially allowed but asking around people told me to go ahead and camp in the back. One guy after reminding me that New South Wales has 9 of the 10 deadliest snakes in the world as well as some deadly spiders – “have a great evening camping in the bushes”… After a quick dinner I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow just as it got dark around 8pm.
Next day’s forecast said 40C (104F) so I got up early and left at 8 riding another 20-30 big rolling hills (many around double-digit) before finally getting to the highest point at Bell with an elevation of about 1.000 meters. After a short break in the shade I turned south towards Mount Victoria and then Blackheath were I arrived around 11am at my couchsurfing hosts’ – Jasmine, Damian and their 5 year-old Georgia. They had left early morning for a long weekend so I let myself in their lovely house at the outskirts of town. It was very hot and I was a bit tired after the ride. However, the coming days’ forecast was less good so I decided to do a 2 hours afternoon hike in nearby Grand Canyon - not much “grand” about the canyon but otherwise it was a nice and fairly diverse hike because of the elevation change, downpour, shade, etc. A good choice on a hot day as most of the trail was in the shade with 1200 steps leading in and out of the canyon (unfortunately making it way too touristic).
The weekend weather was as forecast so I didn’t do much but relax - really nice for once to stay somewhere alone and do very little. Usually when I stay with people there’s hardly ever alone-time and when I bike I move all the time, so there’s little time to relax after a long day on the road.
The following days I did two great hikes. The first day I biked 25k (16 miles) downhill to Wentworth on the way briefly visiting the famous rock formation “3 Sisters” in Katoomba (not that interesting). The 2½ hours leisurely hike was a loop doing a steep descend to the valley bottom and then walking the Wentworth Pass through the forest – and later coming halfway up the rock wall returning on the National Pass getting some nice views…. The day after Damian was kind to take me to Perry’s Lookout from where I would do a 5 hours hike down, through the valley and back up to Evan’s Lookout before returning to the house. These two hikes (especially the last) were great as I encountered few other people and a great diversity in the flora depending on sun, shade, water, wind, soil, etc. The fauna was more limited – a few lizards and a number of birds many of them loud and in gorgeous colours (parrots, cookatoos, etc.). I was planning on doing a third long hike the last day but it was overcast so I skipped it and had another relaxing day… My host family were kind to let me stay some extra days to get to know them and I had a great time – accommodating, helpful and very interesting to talk to.
My initial idea was biking the highways/freeway back to Sydney but after experiencing it biking to Wentworth I decided to go back the same way I came up. Despite being mostly downhill I decided to split it in two; the first day riding the short distance to Mt. Willow that I had been recommended. Free camping but otherwise not that interesting – every garden was fenced and locked so I didn’t meet a single local person. It was 130k (80 miles) to Sydney so I headed out 8.30 the next morning only to encounter a flat tire after 3k having to spend almost an hour fixing it because of my small pump. More hills than I remembered but mostly an easy ride downhill to Richmond on a very hot day. I think it was 30C (86F) already at 10am and when I reached Richmond around noon it was close to 50C (120F) in the shade and of course much warmer in the sun. My drinking water was so hot I could have made tea of it and the softdrink became jelly-like… Riding 40 k/h (25 mph) on the freeway provided a pleasant breeze but still I had to take a break every 5k to cool down under a bridge. Roadwork sent me on a poorly marked 15k detour through hilly residential areas prolonging the ride by 1½ hours, so I was knackered when I finally reached Donna’s house at 5pm.