25 November 2014 - 9 January 2015
This section was supposed to be from Sydney to Melbourne and take some weeks but with and open itinerary and timeframe it went differently. I only got 450k (280 miles) to Moruya before my bike broke down and I had to get a new rear wheel. While waiting for the wheel to be build I stayed with David and Anne, and I ended up staying for 5 weeks helping them build a new house.
Instead of commenting everything in timely order I have written some relevant topics however the pictures shown are mostly in line with the trip timeline.
Description of itinerary
Prince’s Highway is the main road south from Sydney. It’s big and busy and because it’s mostly inland it has few views which makes it less interesting. Google’s bike app suggested following this route but after 25k (16 miles) I had enough and turned onto the Grand Pacific Drive which runs a couple of hundred kilometers to Nowra. It’s not a road but a scenic route along the coast - a few stretches were on the highway but mostly it was smaller back roads. And biking I could also ride a number of coastal trails – often not signposted but I was lucky to find them by instinct or by recommendations from fellow bikers. Until Kiama after approx. 150k (90 miles) I was able to ride very close to the gorgeous rugged coastline passing one beautiful beach after the other – and since it was constant rolling hills the views changed and it never got monotonous (though the many pictures may look alike). After Kiama I mostly rode a bit inland through forest/countryside with less views. Only when I did detours, e.g. at Jervis Bay with it’s gorgeous white sandy beaches, I got to the coast again – sometimes I could do a loop back to the highway but often I had to backtrack to where I came from. From St. George’s Basin I had to go 75k (45 miles) on the hilly highway to Bateman’s Bay – a bit of countryside and farmland but mostly forest through the many national and state parks. From there I did another loop on back roads to Moruya – the first half was steep rolling hills through residential areas along the ocean while the other half was flat through countryside and forest.
In Moruya I met David at the gas station and I ended up staying with him and his wife Anne for a month helping them build a house. Amongst other we built a rock wall, a deck, a loft, put the water tank in place and put up barge boards and gutters as well as painted and dug trenches to handle the continuous and often heavy rain. Despite the many bike problems it was a good first leg of my trip around Australia. I particularly enjoyed the desolate stretches along the beautiful rugged coast while the many recommended small towns along the way (e.g Shellharbour, Kiama and Huskisson) were much too touristic for my liking.
People, road quality, etc.
As mentioned in the previous sections many Aussies (and especially the politicians) believe they have good bike facilities though it’s far from the case - Australia is not a particularly nice place to bike. There are few and unconnected bike lanes, they are not dedicated (no right of way) and most often poorly maintained. That would be less of a problem if the roads had shoulders of decent size and quality, but often there is no shoulder or it’s so bad (primarily loose stones) that it’s impossible to ride except on a mountain bike. The roads themselves are slightly better but even the newly paved stretches are bumpy as if patted with a shovel instead of levelled with a steamroller. My guess is it’s a question of money – instead of making an expensive, long-term solution they make it look nice putting stones on a soft surface that quickly erodes.
The other and bigger problem is the traffic mindset. Aussies are not brought up to be cyclists and except for the people who bike themselves there’s no respect for bikers. Most bikers I’ve met actually have the feeling that 1 out of 10 drivers deliberately try to kill them. I’m not (yet) convinced about that but having had three close calls in only 850k (530 miles) there’s certainly reason to be extra careful here.
Since most people seem to consider bikers a nuisance it’s no surprise that very few people greet me along the way – my guess is the few who do are foreign tourists. I’ve had countless problems with the bike (c.f. below) but not once have somebody stopped to ask if I needed help when I was working on the bike at the roadside (until now approx. 30-40 times) - certainly something to have in mind before I decide whether to venture into the long desolate stretches and desert after Adelaide.
Before arriving this time I perceived Aussies to be fairly open-minded and friendly but either something has changed or my perception has. In general, they seem very self-centered having enough in themselves and the people they already know - exchanging pleasantries but otherwise having little interest in strangers. Always having an excuse for not getting too involved – “I would like to invite you in for tea, lunch, etc. but…”. It reminds me a lot about Danish people - we think we are very open-minded but in reality few people take the time to help or get to know a strangers whether a Dane or a foreigner. Another similarity seems to be that once you’re “inside” there’s little people won’t do to help you. While staying with David and Anne in Moruya I met many of their friends and everybody were very kind, helpful and generous. John was especially friendly taking me surfing several times (though I never became any good at it) and amongst other invited me to come by and use their internet and to join him on a day trip to Canberra when he was taking his daughters there just after New Year’s. In return I helped him put up drywalls and a ceiling in his shed, making terraces in garden, etc.
While biking the weather was fairly nice – mostly dry and warm (sometimes very hot) though one day I had to stay over as it kept raining until 2pm. Otherwise the rain (and often thunder and lightning) didn’t come until the evening after dark which suited me perfectly. It was windy at times (sometimes very windy) but the direction constantly changed so I never had the feeling of always having to battle it (which was a great new feeling after North America).
While staying in Moruya it rained a lot especially the first two weeks – many days more than 20 mm, several days more than 40 mm and one day 83 mm! The rain influenced the possibility of working on the house creating many involuntary breaks. When it didn’t rain it was often 30-35C (86-95F) also making outside work challenging. The Australian sun is merciless not least because the UV usually is 11 or 12 – in Denmark 6 or7 is considered extreme while here it’s considered low if even on the scale.
Australia is famous for its wildlife and I have seen some but somewhat less than anticipated. While on the road I encountered a few kangaroos and wallabies but when staying in Moruya there were lots – one kangaroo family came by eating in the garden many evenings coming as close as 5 meters seemingly undisturbed. And just as I wondered where they might have gone after not seeing them some evenings I counted more than 30 kangaroos within 20 meters – nature is funny that way. I could also hear them jumping around just outside my tent particularly early morning. In Moruya I also encountered my first possums – I’ve heard a lot during nights in the forest but these were the first I saw. I think it was also possums that tried to eat my canned tuna in my bag hung in a tree (or maybe rats) – how they can smell through vacuum-packed tin still amazes me but previously I’ve had the same problem with other animals, so I’m not surprised…
I saw a number of big stingrays in Jervis Bay, an echidna (looks like porcupine) while hiking along Bingie Beach and a big shark whille ocean fishing with David, but otherwise mostly a lot of birds – pelicans, parrots, cockatoos, kookaburras, eagles and countless magpies. The latter are famous for attacking bikers (picking them in the head) during breeding season but until now I haven’t had problems. One night I camped next to a termite nest as tall as myself and everywhere there are countless bull ants – they bite like a whasp stings but fortunately it has only happened once.
I haven’t seen any snakes and while biking surprisingly no spiders despite camping in the forest. In Moruya however, I encountered a number of big (harmless) huntsman and wool spiders (one even moved in under my tent cloth) and many (poisonous) redback spiders while moving some construction materials. One evening a spider bit me behind the ear hurting like a whasp sting – as I was alone at the time I just had to hope it wasn’t poisonous.
Sleeping and food
Here in Australia I have the same challenge as in Alaska and Northern Canada – there seem to be little need inviting me in with the many forests and beaches everywhere; and as mentioned nobody has invited me in just to get to know me. It’s not allowed to wild camp anywhere in New South Wales but people keep telling me it’s no problem as long as I don’t have a camp fire (which I never do), leave in the morning and take my trash with me. That it’s illegal seems ridiculous considering the Australian easy-going mentality and the vast beautiful nature. I initially thought it had to do with the risk of forest fires but it turns out it’s a question of legislating because of a “few rotten apples” (usually young people behaving irresponsibly) but maybe more importantly money - the hospitality sector has lobbied the government in order to increase profits. I have followed people’s advice and wild camped without problems but from a social point of view I still hope many people will invite me in. In Moruya I camped in the garden except when David and Anne went to Sydney and I could sleep in their small shed. I love sleeping in the tent but when it’s raining all the time it’s convenient to sleep inside because all my stuff is accessible despite the rain – and the tent needed to dry out after 10 wet days.
On the road my food has been the usual though I’ve gotten a taste for mashed potatoes instead of pasta soup. Because of its isolation and limited competition Australia is very expensive including food, so I stock up whenever I can find an Aldi (cheapish German supermarket). In Moruya David and Anne insisted on feeding me as I didn’t want money for helping out. Anne is a good cook and prepared many delicious dinners and when they were in Sydney I used the kitchen to prepare some food for myself. So despite the construction work I managed to gain around 8-10 kilos so for the first time in years I’m over 100 kilos (220 lbs) – great for the desolate stretches later in Australia…
Equipment and health
As previously mentioned my bike was crushed during the flight from San Francisco to Hawaii – no obvious signs of damage but it was impossible to know before doing a long ride with all my heavy luggage. This was neither the case in Hawaii or Sydney, nor up to Blue Mountains where I left a lot of stuff in Sydney. The first days went okay but after that it was nothing but problems - many flat tires and broken spokes (one day I had to change 3) and countless times unusual noises made me stop and adjust the spokes; my joy of riding was rapidly declining. Previous experiences with small town bike shops (especially the guy who broke my rear wheel in Oregon 6 months earlier) made me think I had to wait until Melbourne to fix it, but Mark - the bike shop owner in Moruya - was himself a long distance biker which reduced my scepticism. He build me a new wheel and I can only hope it will last longer than the one I got in Bainbridge Island half a year ago.
Otherwise only wear and tear – before leaving Moruya I got rid of my bike shorts and t-shirt both full of holes and falling apart.
In Moruya the cheapest wifi was AUS 2 per ½ hour at the library – for everybody incl. locals and kids despite bringing an own computer (strange as it was free to borrow a book being just another way of gathering information). Until now in Australia library wifi has been free however the library computers were only free for local citizens - and even then the librarians have been kind to let me use these for free to check my mail. Anyway, I was surprised as to my recollection library wifi is free everywhere else in the world – even in the conservative US states and the poorest Eastern European countries. David has also told me about the countless local construction/permit fees unique for this county and it made me reflect upon the Australian system. Being part of the Commonwealth I always thought of Australia as British inspired but the legislative system seems to resemble the US more having a house and a senate and being very decentralized state by state and county by county – it makes sense since the country came together from individual states just a 100 years ago. Another similarity to the US are the liability lawsuits, hence the countless warning signs everywhere and on everything - not my preferred society where personal responsibility is eliminated. It’s one of the things I like about Denmark – we use the term “bonus pater” referring to a normal individual/sane being. If you behave more stupid than this and you’re not otherwise proven mentally incapable it’s your own problem and you have to face the consequences of your actions - and no compensation besides loss of income from reduced work ability.
On a more positive note my first local Australian experience (outside couchsurfing) turned out to be incredible and I could not have hoped for a better one. All because of a random short conversation at a gas station – it once again proves my points that people are really friendly, hospitable and helpful and a stranger is just somebody you haven’t met yet. If everybody took the time to really talk and listen to a stranger once in a while, we would all be wiser (and I claim happier) and the world would be a better place. Step out of your comfort zone, disregard the social norms and forget your appearance and what other people may think of you - sit down and talk to a homeless person in the street, to people of other backgrounds and ethnicity, an old lady in a retirement home, etc. It doesn’t have to cost anything and takes so little effort – just a little of your time…. and if you open your heart and mind you might even learn something and enjoy it - I know I do… As a famous song suggests: “Reach out and touch somebody’s hand, make this world a better place if you can…..”.
Countless wise and warm-hearted people with kind-spirited minds have addressed this issue of how to create a better world. One of my favourites is this Dalai Lama quote emphasising that we should be the change we want to see in the world:
“Look to see, now, what it is you wish to experience-in your own life, and in the world. Then see if there is another for whom you may be the source of that. If you wish to experience peace, provide peace for another. If you wish to know that you are safe, cause others to know that they are safe. If you wish to better understand seemingly incomprehensible things, help another to better understand. If you wish to heel your own sadness or anger, seek to heel the sadness or anger of other.
Those others are watching for you now. They are looking for your guidance, for help, for courage, for strength, for understanding and for assurance at this hour. Most of all – they are looking to you for love”.