Monday, 30 November 2015

A return to Adelaide

Thu 26 Nov Port Germein
During our stay in Port Augusta the winds blew hot from the north.  We waited until the cool change, which of course meant southerlies - headwinds.  However, since the northerly winds were also creating dangerous fire conditions, a day of trucks and headwinds was the better option.

The coastal road between Port Augusta and Adelaide is the main trucking route. Unless you specifically want to detour via the Yorke Peninsula, I'd recommend the hillier but more scenic inland route.  We rode the inland route earlier and were concerned about a large bushfire burning inland and north of Adelaide. 

Riding between November and April in Australia means riding during bushfire season.  To stay safe we need to keep tabs on fire conditions.  We use the Emergency AUS app (Australia wide coverage), follow fire authorities on twitter feed (@CFSalerts SA, @CFA_Updates VIC and @NSWRFS NSW) and because phone data can get patch we carry a battery operated radio tuned to ABC local radio.
Fire risk requires flexibility in travel planning.  If a destination has only one way in, its probably a good idea to defer your visit until autumn.

Taking the main highway was our Plan B.  It's a busy road and with the southerly headwind it was a difficult day's ride.  However, it still had some scenic rewards. On our left was the Spencer Gulf, on our right the Flinders Ranges.  The small town of Port Germein provided an afternoon tea break stop and a chance to watch a horse trainer trot on the tidal flat.

We found a campsite near Weeroona Island and marveled as the full moon rose over the range.

Fri 27 Nov Wallaroo 
At Port Pirie we left the main road to see a little of the Yorke Peninsula.
We rode to Port Broughton and then to Wallaroo. The wind remained southerly, and the wind farms on the hills suggest its like that for much of the year.

The northern end of the Yorke Peninsula is hilly wheat farming country and busy with trucks bringing in the harvest.  We found the stretch between Port Broughton and Alford to be the worst. Hills, gravelly shoulders, and bad drivers combined to make this stretch both physically difficult and emotionally draining. We were glad to arrive at Wallaroo to hotel bed & hot pizza.

Sat 28 Nov Port Wakefield 
As we rode the country near Pinery, S.A. burned on a wide front cutting off all but the main highway route into to Adelaide.  We received regular reports that the CFS were getting parts of it under control, but until we heard more our route south remained uncertain.

To keep options open, we opted for a short ride to Port Wakefield, 60km to point where we'd need to decide quiet route or main highway.

As we rode the news became more encouraging.  Fire crews were conducting mop up activities in much of fire zone and weather conditions helping fire fighting efforts.   The route via Balaclava and Gawler was open.

Sun 29 Nov Balaclava Gawler Adelaide
We avoided the main highway, but it was hardly the scenic route.  The country south of Balaclava had been severely affected by the bush fires.  Roadside vegetation was blackened and in places reduced to ash.  Wheat fields ready for harvest were reduced to clouds of red dust and drifts of charcoal.  We passed burnt out houses marked off with hazard tape with insurance assessors talking to three generations of family reduced to tears.   It was sickening.  Arriving at Mallala, the town on the other side of the fire zone, was a relief but also a reminder of what the Pinery region looked like before the fire.

We arrived in Adelaide via Gawler - the northern most train station on the suburban network.  Adelaide trains accommodate bikes fairly well (there's a designated carriage), the ticketing system works (there's a swipe card for regular users and infrequent users can buy paper tickets on the train using cash or efpos card) and there's reasonable train arrival information on the platform (I suspect is the same system used in Sydney).

We arrive in Adelaide for a couple of days before a flight to Tasmania.  Our last leg of this trip involves a few weeks on the West coast where, unfortunately, we will have to ignore our "if there's only one way in and out, don't go there" advice.  Tasmania's west coast only has one road.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Eyre Peninsula

Fri 13 Nov Smokey Bay
The last time I rode across the Nullarbor I took the inland route (via Kimba) between Ceduna and Port Augusta.  This time we decided to take the scenic route via the Eyre Peninsula.  I'm glad we did. The peninsula is beautiful collection of golden wheat fields, picturesque bays and delicious seafood.

The Eyre Peninsula is wheat and sheep farming country inland and fishing ports by the sea.  Each town has its beautiful bay, an arc of beach and an old jetty projecting out into the sea.  Once these jetties provided moorings for the wheat barges and supply ships that kept these communities connected to the outside world, now they provide picnic and fishing spots for locals and travellers.  The only real downside to riding the Eyre Peninsula is the weather.

During spring the weather along the Australian south coast is usually driven by large high pressure systems that sit in the Great Australian Bight.  The winds from a high pressure system flow anti- clockwise, so a spring high in the bight means strong cool, southerly and easterly winds - headwinds when travelling between Ceduna and Port Lincoln.  On the other hand, towns where you can get food and water are fairly close together (compared to the Nullarbor), so the head winds are a manageable problem.

Forty four kilometres south of Ceduna is Smokey Bay, the first of many towns by the sea and a place where we ordered fish and chips from the general store and enjoyed lunch watching pelicans and gulls on the beach and sea.

We camped a few kilometres outside Streaky Bay, in a spot hidden from the road with a full view of the sun set over a wheat field.  There we relaxed after a day of riding into the wind sipping a little whisky we'd bought on our reset day in Ceduna.

After the Nullarbor these distances seem more than manageable.

The Eyre Peninsula is big sky wheat country

But if you take the time to look there's still bush tucker to be found - pigface fruit has a sweet apple like taste.

Smoky Bay beach. A great spot for lunch

    There's a big tidal range, and on this beach near Eba Island they once held horse races on the wide expanse of beach exposed at low tide,

A sunset, a chance to rest after a hard day, a sip of whisky and good company.  Its simple pleasures that make life worth living.

Sat 14 Nov Streaky Bay
We awake early and ride into Streaky Bay for breakfast. I enjoy a vegetarian breakfast at Cafe Bay Funktion, a hip cafe, florest, gift shop with all the inner city trendy trappings.  Our meals were served on wooden boards, our drinks arrived in jars with handles.  The menu invited us to like them on Facebook and instagram (even though there was hardly any mobile data reception).  We appreciated the change from roadhouse and country diner style, even as we joked about the hipster cliches.

A second day of riding into headwinds was tough of my knees and feet but we are making steady progress.  Our goal for the day was Port Kenny - which turned out to be little more than a pub, a few houses and a roadhouse. Nice enough but we rode on after a guy staggered out of the pub and stood in the middle of the highway to ask us "Where you riding to?".  We continued on until the turnoff to Venus Bay.  There we camp.

We finished riding in the mid afternoon - at 4pm after riding 85km and over three hours before sunset.  I spend the time at camp making repairs with a needle and thread.  I've done a lot of darning in the travels.  My shirt, pants and tent carry bag have the black thread crosshatching of a roadside repair.  Overall, a needle and thread are well worth carrying and darning is relaxing way of winding down after a day's ride.

Streaky Bay.
Morning dew is an important water source for seaside plants.

Sun 15 Nov Venus Bay
We ride into Venus Bay early, only to discover that the general store opens late on a Sunday (9am). We spend an hour visiting the jetty and the cliffs at the edge of town.

The day's riding takes us through wheat farms in undulating country on narrow roads we share with trucks taking the harvest to market.  We've had three days of headwinds and its becoming tiresome.

We make camp in a salt marsh country just outside Ellison near the turn off to Locke.

Venus Bay jetty.

Little swifts like the jetty too.

Venus Bay cliffs.

Galahs appreciate ta big shady tree as much as we do on a windy day.

Harvest time means trucks taking grain to market.

Mon 16 Nov Ellison
During breakfast in Ellison the shop keeper tells us that November is the windiest month of the year. Apparently the locals call it Blovember.

We make camp at an formal vehicle rest area about 50km from Port Lincoln.  We usually avoid these places.  The main section of the rest area is too dangerous to erect a tent (It can be accessed by vehicles so there's a risk of being run over in your sleep).  The bush immediately near these areas is typically an informal toilet and is usually covered in bits of unburied waste and toilet paper.  Where alternatives exist we take them.   Today's riding took us through wheat farms with no roadside vegetation - a formal vehicle rest area was our best option.

This rest area was better than the usual stop.  We were able to find a spot that was away from the "toilet", and the bay had been "beautified" by someone who had turned the bay into an art installation to highlight rural health issues.  They had strung teddy bears across the rest area and had a large blue bear with a guest book that invited people to write a positive message.  The teddy bear, they argued, was a symbol of hope and the installation part of the fight against depression and rural suicide.

As we prepare our dinner we watch the farmer in the paddock across the road harvest the wheat.  As the harvester circles the paddock the chaff catches the last light of the day bathing him in an orange glow.  He works on till after dark.  Living on a farm might be beautifully scenic, but its a tough existence.



I pick up a spidery travelling companion. He can stay if he keeps the flies away.

An island mountain in a sea of wheat. 

Emo teddy wants to know if you are OK.

The harvest must be brought in before the rain spoils it.  A farmer's working day doesn't end with the setting sun.

Getting bored of all the sunsets yet?  Me neither.

Tue 17 Nov and Wed 18 Nov Port Lincoln
The approach into Port Lincoln involves a bit of hill climbing and then a long downhill run through the industrial part of the city.  Its great fun, but the trucks that also use the road make the run a bit hairy. Fortunately South Australia has recently amended their road rules to allow bikes on the footpaths. so there's a place to hide if the trucks get a bit much.

Port Lincoln is the major centre for the southern Eyre Peninsula. It's home to most of the fishing fleet who work the waters of the Great Australian Bight and it's also an important grain export terminal.  It's a small city  There were lots of grain trucks on the roads.

Port Lincoln has a beautiful foreshore with a vibrant row of shops facing the beach.  Unfortunately behind this esplanade the city becomes much more suburban, with big box retail, supermarkets and expansive car parks dominating the main shopping commercial area.

We stayed at the YHA - which was located behind the grain terminal and away from the main Esplanade.  It is just beyond comfortable walking distance to the shops and the route involves crossing a rail bridge and heavy truck route.  We spend most of our rest day in the hostel hiding form the hot weather enjoying enjoying air conditioning.

A juvenile Pacific Gull on Port Lincoln Beach

Thu 19 Nov Tumby Bay
After Port Lincoln we start heading north and east, so generally with the wind.  After so many days of headwinds the change is marvelous. However, a tailwind doesn't help us with our first challenge, getting out of Port Lincoln.

The road out of Port Lincoln is a bit rubbish.  It follows the ocean which is lovely scenic and all, but its cut out of the side of a hill so its narrow, has blind corners and is full full of trucks.  Its awful for about 5km but it improves once you are out of Boston Bay.  To celebrate our escape we have a morning tea break at North Shields.  We find a jetty where we can look back at Port Lincoln over the bay and watch the watching a grain transport ships make its approach into port.

Today was lazy day of riding.  We rode 50km and arrived at Tumby Bay in the early afternoon and decided to stop.  We rented a cabin, watched the sun go down over the ocean and enjoyed a pub meal.

The view of Port Lincoln from North Shields

Tumby Bay

Tumby Bay Jetty - the arty shot

Tumby Bay Jetty by night

Friday 20 Nov Arno Bay
Today we clocked 10,000km traveled since our Melbourne departure at the end of June. It was a pretty joyous day of riding with a tail wind that pushed us along at 30km/h and more. We had lunch at Port Neill and finished at Arno Bay a small town by the beach with a jetty (sounding familar?) 70km from Tumby Bay. We are taking it easy and enjoying this country.  Life is good.

Tumby Bay grain silos

10,000km since departure

Port Neill

Arno Bay

Arno Bay Jetty


Sat 21 Nov Cowell 
We've been enjoying the slow route north, but today we decide on a change of pace and plan to ride over 100km to camp in a bush reserve between Cowell and Wyalla. Our lunch stop is Cowell, a sizable town with a great bakery.

There's no place to get water in the 105km stretch between Cowell and Wyalla.
This little fella is a Eastern Heath Dragon.  He likes to sun himself in the wheel ruts of  the Eyre Highway.
Not a smart move.

Beware of overgrowth when riding in nonexistent road shoulder.  At least its pretty. 
Sun 22 Nov  Whyalla and Port Augusta
We' like to time it so we don't pass through a city on a Sunday, but our slow ride north has stuffed that plan and we arrive in Whyalla on a Sunday.

Whyalla is a big city (bigger than Port Augusta), but its also a town going through tough times.  It's big industry is the steel mill and they are cutting staff in an effort to remain competitive. A lot of the shops in the main drag have for lease signs on them, and despite it being late November there's no Christmas decorations. It was dead because it was a Sunday, but there were no signs that it would be more lively on Monday.  It was a sobering reminder that cities that have one big employer have staked their success on demand for the employer's product and are vulnerable if demand goes south.

We find a lunch bar in the suburbs of Whyalla and sit down for fish and chips at what the map tells us is a nearby park.  Unfortunately its not a park, its the grounds of a Latter Day Saints Church, and its not long before Elder Talkie and Elder Watchie have come over to join us to chat.  I am polite because we are using their church grounds as a rest spot but not interested in what they are selling. The conversation awkwardly limps along for a few minutes before they say goodbye and we move along.   Maree of course, remains silent and avoids eye contact the whole time.  Next time we'll pay closer attention to the map.

We ride on from Whyalla all the way to Port Augusta.  As we approach Port Augusta we see the Flinders Ranges - again.  The last time we saw them it was from the east, when we traveled via the Clare Valley to Wilmena Pound.  This time we are seeing them from the west and its a reminder that we are coming to the end of our journey.

Into Wyhalla

Shingleback lizard

Emus - Between Whyalla and Port Augusta

Flinders ranges in the distance

Mon 23 Nov - Port Augusta
Two kilometres out of town is the Australian Arid Botanical Gardens. It's well worth a look (although you probably should ride their rather than walking - Port Augusta has virtually no walking infrastructure)