Tuesday, 28 July 2015


Day 28 - Hawker

We've been heading generally north, away from the coast and with it the reliable rains.  Each day has seen a change in the land.  The well watered Claire Valley is, of course a famous wine district,  a a day's ride north and you are in wheat and sheep country, and a day or two after that and its semi-arid cattle grazing country. The change is quick and a reminder that small change in prevailing weather patterns can trigger a radical change in lifestyle.

Three days out of Adelaide and were were convinced the Mawson Trail wasn't working for us.

A bit of rain and much of the Mawson Trail turns to a thick muddy clay.
At Riverton,  (a town where the milk bar was called a "deli") we found a rail trail. In comparison to the tracks we'd been riding it was glorious. .
So the chance to ride on a rail trail was a real joy
We rode it at pace, inadvertently riding past many of the Clare Valley wineries in the process.  To make up for it we bought a bottle of the local stuff when we got to Clare.  Over the wine we decide to abandon the Mawson Trail entirely and find our own way north.  We find a secondary road - the RM Williams Way.

Limestone farmhouse ruins - wheat and sheep country - RM Williams Way
The RM Williams Way gets its name from a Australian fashion label popular among the rural set. Mr eponymous Williams was born in Jamestown, the largest settlement on the route. It is a smallish railway town serving the local district. The rail line runs from Port Augusta to Broken Hill and still gets a daily train.  Jamestown has probably seen busier days, because the RM Williams Way follows an abandoned of an north - south train route, 'the Old Ghan',  The towns and ruined settlements we see north of Jamestown must have been laid out with the railway as they share a common layout and street names (north, east, west, terraces, first, second and third streets).

The weather clears but the wind that blows away the rain is strong and in our faces.  It blows gusts of 25km/h plus and sucks all our forward pace.  It is a struggle to maintain 8km/h and by we are wrecked by lunch.

Clear skies, open road ... powerful headwinds

We arrive at Orrooroo. around three and stop for the day.  We are so knackered and the winds so strong, we opt for a caravan park cabin rather than a tent.  The next day weather reports say the winds strengthened to a howling 20km/h with 35km/h gusts.  It might be a bit of a cheat, I think we made the right call.

We're in cattle country now

As we head north into the Flinders Ranges and the country becomes beautifully scenic and  little more undulating.   This is big sky country.  Vast cattle grazing properties, horizons in every direction and the spectacle of ancient geology.  The Flinders Ranges were formed by warps and folds in the Australian Plate and t he stresses that make the range continue to this very day.  These is a seismograph in the Hawker roadhouse and it regularly records local tremors.  There was one last night - but not a big one.  We didn't feel it.  These forces produce a land of bight colours warped hills and majesty.

Majestic scenery with photobombing wallabies
Castle Rock - folded rock

The next town of any size is Coober Pedy, some 650km away.  It's remote country, with no supermarkets, limited water and I assume no internet.  We are stocked up and ready.  Bring it on.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015


Day 23 – Kapunda
Three days riding out of Adelaide along the Mawson Trail and doubts have set in. We are making reasonable progress. There are nine maps in total, each map has two faces and covers a distance of around 100km per map. We are on map two, second face meaning each map face appears to be roughly a day's worth of riding. However, the route is rather meandering and we are only around 100km north north east of Adelaide. If the rest of this route is similarly slow it could be a problem of our overall trip.

However, our biggest issue with the Mawson Trail is not the detour (there's nothing wrong with a route with some spectacular views that passes by cellar doors) it's the the "extreme off road" route selection. The Mawson trail seems to go out of its way to find the routes with the most challenging uphills, technically challenging downhills, muddy tracks and all round tough riding. More than a few times we've had to lift our bike up and over a gate, to ride an undulating gravel track – when there was a low trafficked sealed road heading in a similar direction. Perhaps the route was designed with summer mountain bike riders in mind – rather than all weather touring bike riders.  Let's just say its much tougher than we first thought and there have been many sections where getting off and pushing a fully loaded touring bike across a mud pit our up a flinty goat track was the only option and that stops being fun by the third day straight.

Of course it could just be that I'm being a Grumpy Gus. Let's just say I'll feel a lot better once we find something a little less cyclo-cross to ride on.  A rail trail - something straight, with a sensible gradient and and a tangible sense of progress would be lovely.  

Sealed road heads into town on the left - we of course, turn right to bush bash across a farmer's paddock.

Sunday, 19 July 2015


Day 20 – Mount Lofty Ranges, outside Adelaide, Mawson Trail.

The most densely habited bit of South Australia is the hilly section comprising the Flinders / Mount Lofty Ranges and the Fleurieu Peninsula. These hill capture the rain, everything else is semi-arid. So ever since we crossed the Murray at Tailem Bend we've been in lush, green countryside grinding our way up hills. This part of South Australia is how I imagine parts of Scotland to be.

Perhaps the comparison to Scotland has been helped by the windy and rainy weather – a proper dose of winter dubbed 'the Antarctic Vortex'. Wind, rains hills and little country towns with bakeries to provide distractions, no wonder our daily ride totals have been uninspiring. Still chewing through the kilometres is hardly the point of bike touring.

The height of the windy rainy chilly weather struck us whilst on Kangaroo Island. We had planned to ride its whole length, stopping at wineries, sampling speciality honey and camping among the wildlife in the national parks. Our first day's riding in chilling rain, constant wind along dirt roads and up insanely steep hills broke us. We'd managed all of 30 odd km, seen one tiny corner of the island and had an interrupted night's sleep in a tent that threatened to blow away in the storm. If we were to see what we wanted we'd need help. We'd need to swallow our pride and hire a car.

So next day I became driver – and we covered a couple of hundred kilometres to visit Flinders Chase – the national park at the western end of the lsland. As much as I bemoaned the 'windscreen view' of the island – felt frustrated that all the animal interactions during my travels were reduced peering into the bushes hoping that I wouldn't kill anything – and resented becoming the kind of tourist that sees a place by driving to a car park, walking a few hundred metres to the scenic spot taking a few photos then returning to the car – I accepted this was the only way we were going to see this marvellous place – and Flinders Chase is truly magical. There is a watchtower of freaky rocks carved by howling winds. There is limestone arch – where the land at the end of world holds out against a tempestuous sea. Bull seals proclaim their dominance as their harem sun themselves on rocks. Albatross soar in violent updraughts as waves crash against rocks and an Edwardian era lighthouse stands sentinel of them all – awaiting the horror of fang rock.

Our other find of Kangaroo Island were the wine and spirits – The Dudley Shipwreck Red and the KIS gins were my stand out favourites. Of course I had to treat all the drinks like mouthwash. (Did I mention how much driving takes the fun out of everything?)

Back on the mainland and back on our bikes we headed north to Adelaide, and our last supply stop for a while (probably till Alice Springs really – and if its not there, Broome). Our Adelaide stay was therefore a night and day of walking around looking for shops and grabbing supplies and making repairs. I fixed a water bag, bought some maps a replaced a set of pants that were looking a little threadbare. Maree bought some bike supplies and spent much of the day trying to get her dynamo lights and battery charger to play nice. It was necessary but dull stuff involving a lot of walking around trying to find speciality shops. We did, however, get a chance to grab lunch things from the Adelaide Markets and we bought a fillet of fresh fish, lemon and herbs, marinated olives, crusty bread and some stinky cheese. It was a delicious afternoon cook up washed down with a cocktail of KIS mulberry gin and ginger beer. Eating in a Spartan style was never so delicious.

The path out of Adelaide follows the Torrens river. It was a sunny and mild Sunday and riding the path involved a passing a steady stream of dog walkers and family groups on bikes. The highlight of my stay in Adelaide was my experience leaving it. I hope the residents don't find that a slight on their city.

Good night Adelaide - your inversion layer makes for awesome sunsets

Saturday, 11 July 2015


Kangaroo Island - Day 12
As the sunsets slowly in the west we say goodbye to the Australian mainland
Melbourne I hear is getting a bit of rain and some chilly winds. We had the start of that two days ago and it's been our constant companion throughout the lush green hills of the Fleurieu Peninsula and Kangaroo Island.  The country is gorgeous, verdant, mountainous and windswept and really challenging. Topping eight kilometres per hour was a real achievement and we only completed 30km over the entire day despite riding as had as we could. 

Nightmare fuel kangaroo

Wednesday, 8 July 2015


Day 9 – Port Elliot

Well my aspiration for daily blog updates doesn't look like it's going to happen. Sometimes it's more important to be in the moment – and the magnificent skyscapes of the Mallee were just too good to miss by hiding in a tent fiddling around with a computer. Watching sunsets, stars so bright only the emu shaped dust cloud obscures the view of the Milky Way and the satellites passing overhead formed our nightly ritual instead of writing a daily summary of the day's ride. Unfortunately dear reader, this means you're likely to receive weekly, rather than daily, updates of my travels.

Four days have passed since my last update – that was two states 400 odd kilometres and one time zone ago, back on the New South Wales side of the Murray River just outside Mildura. We are now in the holiday township of Port Elliot, on Encounter Bay, Fleurieu Peninsula, South Australia. We have passed through citrus growing irrigated agriculture of the Murray Darling basin, dryland wheat and sheep farming areas, mallee, abandoned rail townships, dairy farming south of Tailem Bend and vinicultural lands. In less than a week we've been treated a diversity of land form and escaped the hairy riding conditions that come with riding on Australia's inter-state trucking routes.

We've been achieving our aspirational goal of 90 odd kilometres per day, despite the undulating country and the headwinds that start gently in the morning, strengthening to soul crushing in the late afternoon. The last hour of each day was a battle both against the conditions and the spirit as our best efforts could barely get the speedo about fifteen kilometres per hour. The sense of exhaustion at the end of the day was total and really satisfying. Sleep comes soon after cooking a hot meal and a cup of tea on the trusty Trangia. It's hard work, but within our capacity and I remain confident we can complete the route as planned and still have a few days here and there to rest recover and keep everyone updated with the journey.

But what of the missing days I here you ask:

Finally, off the main drag and onto back roads.
Day four of the trip and day one of the missing – 139km from Mildura to Murray Sunset
Early start – frost on the tent, hands painful and numb for the 5km ride from our sneaky sneak camp spot to the main drag of town (Crossing the NSW / Vic boundary in the process). We'd set ourselves the goal of reaching the Murray Sunset National Park near the Victoria – South Australia border so we were keen not to linger. I ride ahead of Maree so I have enough time to get a coffee before she arrives. We follow the highway out of town, passing big box shopping centres and other trappings of suburbia along the way. Our plan is to stop at Red Cliffs for our supply stop.

Red Cliffs is a former solder settlement about 15km out of Mildura, it has water, a small supermarket and a family frying fund raising sausages. We grab a second breakfast, water, and a few nibblies for the next couple of the days on the road. The route we've chosen (C254) follows a disused railway to Meringur has no real settlements other than Werrimull a pub that calls itself “Victoria's most outback pub” - which is a pretty lame claim to fame. Of course that doesn't stop us from heading inside for a lunch break and a single beer.

The last 12 kilometres of the ride were a gravel track back to the Sturt Highway and our national park camp spot. We arrived just on dark feeling completely spent. The park lived up to its name, rewarding us with a fiery sunset and a star scape with shooting stars and the sights of the international space station passing overhead. We slept with just mosquito netting above us so we could continue to marvel as we fell asleep.
Victoria - South Australia Boarder Quarantine checkpoint.

Day five of the trip and day two of the missing – 93km from Murray Sunset to South of Loxton
Another early start, and a twenty odd kilometre ride to the Victoria – South Australia border. There are quarantine restrictions in South Australia, You can't bring fresh fruit, vegetables or honey into the state. We had nutritious contraband so a few hundred metres from the border we made a second breakfast – a fresh vegetable soup served with bread and honey. Our bodies were craving food and it tasted divine. You'll not get our vegies, copper

We passed through the quarantine checkpoint without inident but afterwards Maree and I were making stupid jokes about “Border Force”, suggesting these quarantine checkpoints might make a suitable regional television reality TV show. It amused us because we imagined visions of stern quarantine agents rummaging through caravans and hauling grannies over the coals because a secret stash of home grown tomatoes. Perhaps this is sort of humour only makes sense if you are half crazed from exhaustion.

Across the border (and into the new timezone) we headed south and west to Loxton. Lotxon … what can I say that isn't summed up by the white ute doing laps of the main drag, decked out with spotlights, truck mudflaps and a pair CB aerials sporting big red flags. Suffice to say they grow oranges and almonds – and like many country towns, those with any sense of ambition leave. Those who remain have nothing but cars and farm machinary to amuse themselves. Can we blame them the result feels a little like 'Wake in Fright'. Loxton was another supply stop and then we continue south, following a railway line and companion road through the East Murray towards Tailem Bend. We camp around 50km south of Loxton in Mallee scrub off the Karoonda Highway.

Rain isn't all that bad
Grain silos - A lovely landmark but a structure only La Coubusier could love
Day six of the trip and day three of the missing – 85km along the Karoonda Highway
The Karoonda Highway passes through Mallee and dryland wheat farms. The most prominent feature along the way are the grain silos, spaced around 15km apart. Their prominance on the skyline were great motivators. Each one provides that that psychological bump – no matter how exhausted I felt I could always say 'keep riding to the next silo, and if you still need a rest take one there'. Most times by the time I arrived I was on a roll and happy to continue, and if I wasn't well it was obviously time for a meal break. Another motivator were my collection of podcasts. As I rode I listened to the History of Byzantium podcast – plagues and religious fanatics were my companions as I followed rise and fall of the countryside.

Morning fog

Sunrise over Mallee

Day seven of the trip and day four of the missing – 80 odd km Tailem Bend to Langhorne Creek
Tuesday was a day of changes – and testement to the way water transforms country. We start in dryland wheat farming country green enough with the sproutings of this year's crop but with soil comprising powery limestone and red dust. As we ride we approach Tailem Bend and the Murray River flood plain the soil changes to a rich clays supporting dairy farms. Crossing the Murray via a ferry puts us on the road to the Wellington pub. This time Maree beats me there and is starting on a beer and fish burger as I arrive. I shamelessly copy this excellent idea, watching cockatoos and pelicans go about their business on the Murray River as the Wellington Ferry goes back and forth. Eventually we leave, and we ride on. We are appoaching the well populated Fleureu Peninsula and choose to make camp at Langhorne Creek, a roadside camping area near a vineyard. We share the spot with several campervans – which is a bit of a compromise for us but the alternative is shelling out for a very similar patch of grass in a caravan park so we suck it up and make the most of the spot by making a few repairs.

One of the locals at Currency Creek receives a visitor from outside space and time.

Day eight of the trip and day five of the missing - 60 km from Langhorne Creek to Port Elliot
We decide to take a rest day before heading to Kangaroo Island. There's a YHA at Port Elliot, so we decide to make this our destination for the day – despite it being a little too close to where we are and not quite close enough to Kangaroo island. It's got internet, somewhere to charge our devices shower and do laundry. I'll spare you the details, suffice to say that we were both looking forward to a chance to clean up and sleep on a soft bed. The ride was a return to towns and traffic. The towns gave us a chance to feast on bakery treats, but the traffic took away some of the fun of the ride. I was keen to get there and rather foolishly rode passed a few cellar doors and pretty picnic spots. Maree was much more relaxed about the riding and when we meet up down the road told me of a pretty picnic spot where she had stopped for lunch. I've been a bit too focused on chewing through the miles. She reminds me that's not important – and a bit stupid if it means you miss out on sharing a special spot. Hopefully this is a lesson learned.
We've made it to the ocean
Day nine of trip and six of the missing
Today – sitting on the porch, in the sun while my clothes and tent dries banging out 1,500 words on what I did on my holidays ;-)

Friday, 3 July 2015


Day 3 – Robinvale to Mildura. approx 85km

This morning was cold. Frost on the tent, frost on the bike, Hands painful even in gloves and so numb I cant't work the brakes cold. It was so cold that I felt a little queezy – which I guess was my body's way of saying it would rather get rid of the cold watery porridge I had for breakfast rrather than send any heat to my stomach to digest it. It was the coldest I've felt for a very long time.

Why am I having cold porridge for breakfast on such a chilly morning? The plan was to get something in me then ride the five or so kilometres to Robinvale where I buy a more substantial breakfast. By the time I got there all I wanted was an excuse to spent a few minutes in the cafe till I go the use of my hands back. A long black coffee served that need nicely. Perhaps the time to break out the trangia stove is not wasted on truly icy mornings.

At Robinvale we crossed over the Murray which means I can technically add New South Wales to the list of states visited in this trip – but that's a bit of a cheat. Still there's something satisfying about crossing an administrative boundary under your own power so I'm going to take it as a win.

A few kilometres out of Robinvale I noticed my speedo wasn't working. This is a common enough problem – the knocks of a bumpy road can sometimes move the magnet and sensor and its easily fixed with a bit of fine adjustment. Not this time. I rode off frustrated and a little concerned that I'd lost an important psychological motivator and navigation aid. When Maree stopped for a morning tea break around 11am I had a second go at it, This time completely removing and reinstalling the sensor. Still no joy. I removed the sensor from the handlebars and brought it over the sensor (its one of those wireless jobbies) it worked. I put it back on its handlebar mount. It stopped working. It was all a bit weird.

I moved a cable I had draped over the handle bars, It started working. I'd hooked the charge cable that ran between the solar panel and my phone under the speedo to keep it from getting caught in the front wheel. Apparently it wasn't very well shielded, and the electrical noise from this cable was enough to stuff up the wireless speedo. Of course this only happened when the solar panel got full sun, so tracking down the problem was real devil of a job.

The moral of this story is – When it comes to touring kit – Keep it Simple Stupid. This would never of happened if I was using a cheap speedo with wires.

More highway riding today. Unfortunately that means wild life casualties. I saw three not-alive kangaroos today. I had much better luck yesterday. I saw a live swamp wallaby near Tooleybuc and a whole paddocks full of roos on the way to Boundary Bend.  Still, Its hard to be grumpy when nature puts on a sunset this good. Night Night all.


Day 2 – 96km Wood Wood to Robinvale.

A proper day's riding – albeit one with more than a few trucks and caravans. We achieved our 90km goal (although if we want rest days we'll need to improve on this. If we can achieve 120km every riding day we'll build up some 'credit' to look around. That said we are giving ourselves a bit of time to find our road legs.

Today was a day of highway riding. We are following B400 - the Murray Valley Highway. B roads tend to be fairly busy, but they usually have better shoulders than the quieter C roads. That's only a rough guide - Google maps street view is a far better judge. We are generally heading west, into the wind, so the riding was a bit of work. However, the lunch stops (Boundary Bend) and the camp spot (outside Robinvale) were both on the Murray river so it's all worth it.

A few hours into the ride I passed a fruit stall in the middle of nowhere. I bought the smallest bag of oranges on offer (2 kilos) and proceeded to devour three oranges in a row. They were juicy and lovely. Of course didn't make much of a dint in the fruit bag and I now I have over a kilo of oranges left over. This buying in bulk lark doesn't really work when you are bike touring.

Lunch was at Boundary Bend a roadhouse with a gorgeous view of the Murray. I arrived completely bombed, having spent the last hour or two pedaling into a headwind. Is I queued to get some much needed food I got my first “Where you riding to?” I was so fried all I could do was make nonsense noises and point roughly west. I had used the last of my energy getting here and could hardly think, let alone exchange traveller's pleasantries. If you are ever inclined to strike up a conversation a bike tourist, remember – food first, questions later.

Camp was another Murray River spot, just out of Robinvale. As we arrived twenty or more birds took to flight. It was a magnificent sight but wild life doesn't play nice for the camera so you'll have to take my word for it. Here's a picture of the camp site by night, with the conjunction of Jupiter and Venus above instead.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015


1 July 2015 – Day 1

After months of anticipation the big ride begins.
Over the next six months Maree and I intend to ride from Swan Hill to Kangaroo Island, through the Flinders Ranges and then north through central Australia, west through the Kimberly and Pilbera – to the south coast via the Munda Bindi track, then back to Melbourne via the Nullarbor and Eyre Peninsula.

Our first day was mostly spent in train travel. The trip from Melbourne to Swan Hill takes about three and half hours – four if you include dealing with getting bikes on and of the train at either end. Add a supply shop at Swan Hill, and a rather long lunch break at a roadhouse and we only achieved 35km of actual riding. We'll need an early start tomorrow if we are to stick to our average 90km per day we've set ourselves.

We may not have ridden far, but our first campsite – a spot on the banks of the Murray River where Major Mitchell (and no doubt thousands of people before him) once camped. Edible nettles grew nearby and they provided fresh greens to our couscous and tuna meal. They also made a delicious tea. Apparently nettles are a great source of iron, so all in all well worth the effort to collect. As I get ready for sleep I am contented. This is living.