Taking colds to Newcastle 11-15/05/06
We say our goodbyes to the hostel staff and head back into Central Sydney, we're going to cheat and take the train to Hornsby thereby avoiding the worst of Sydney's traffic. The Pacific Highway is a secondary road here as a freeway has been built next to it, so we get a quiet ride almost all the way to Gosford, although the bikes are rattling well under the strain of all the pot-holes. We meet two hills which we have been warned about, however we manage to ride up them both with a couple of recovery stops; they're not as steep as Kiwi hills. As we near Gosford, the road becomes busier and we seek refuge from the traffic on the combined footpath/cycleway. After a short distance having to regularly cross the road as the cycle lane switches sides and slowing for the large dips at every driveway, we return to the relative safety of the road. We turn onto the Terrigal road and with about three miles to go the heavens open as dusk turns to night. We get to the YHA by taking a shorter route than the main road that includes pushing up
(and walking down) a stupidly steep hill. The nice man at the YHA gives us a ground floor room and lets us store the bikes in a communal area next to the bedroom. We snaffle dinner from the nearest fish and chip shop and proceed to eat it, which is enormously fascinating to a German child staying at the hostel with her parents and baby brother.
After a day mooching around Terrigal we head towards Newcastle via The Entrance. We ride alongside Lake Tuggerah and stop regularly to watch the enormous pelicans and other birdlife. We manage to get onto the right road for the hostel without trying and once there are allowed to carry the bikes up the stairs and store them in our room. That evening we walk down to The Brewery to sample some of their alcoholic ginger beer. It's not bad, but lacks the kick of a decent ginger beer. The 5% alcohol content goes some way to redressing this, but ultimately it is somewhat unsatisfying. The Brewery is also a meeting place for all the bright young things in their best (and often skimpiest) finery. The noise and bright lights just make us feel slightly
old and unfashionable, we slink off back to the hostel via the bottle shop.
On the 14th we are up early and stood by the front door, bright eyed and bushy tailed at 9 o'clock, ready for a wine tour of the Hunter Valley. 'Tis rumoured that you can drink two and a half bottles of wine on one of these tours, we may not be quite so bright eyed on our return!
There's a mixed bunch on the tour, one older guy who can't drink because of the medication he's on, another older guy who just drinks everything available and makes ever more random notes, Clare and Vernon who pretty much just drink whatever is put in front of them and four younger backpackers , the females drinking white wine and the males red (we'll have no stereotypes here!)
We visit four wineries and sample a fine selection of grape based products, discovering as we go that neither of us like Semillon. There is a cheesery at the McGuigan's winery so elevenses is a taster of every cheese they make, washed down with a variety of pickles and chilli jams. Taste buds destroyed we walk across the vineyard to
Brokenwood boutique winery and try a selection of their more robust reds - very nice.
The last place we visit is the Golden Grape Estate where we try a number of their wines and liqueurs before finishing the day off with a shot of chilli schnapps which certainly has a warming effect. Back at the hostel we go for the early night option.
The next day Vernon wakes with a cold, so we decide to sit around and do nothing today. He has recovered a bit by the evening and we are persuaded to join a group going to the local Irish pub, where we get a free meal and are entered into a pool tournament. You'll be pleased to hear that we manage to uphold Portsmouth's reputation by losing both of our matches and being the first team out of the competition. Where's Harry when you need him, eh?
Watching for wildlife 16-22/05/06
In the morning we carry the bikes downstairs and load them up while the hostel staff look on in bemusement, then we ride approximately 10 metres to the Bogey Hole Cafe and stop for breakfast, before riding to the docks to get the
ferry across to Stockton. Finally, at Stockton we get on the bikes and start the proper day's ride to Nelson Bay. The road is quiet and mainly flat and we ride along looking for koalas. It doesn't occur to either of us that riding a bike whilst looking up into the trees for grey, furry bums is a silly idea, but we manage not to have any accidents, neither do we see any koalas. We do see two flat snakes and a dead kangaroo (on the road, not in the trees) so our record of flat fauna spotting is still going strong. we reach Nelson Bay in the early afternoon and, after a late lunch, find accommodation at the Shoal Bay Caravan Park.
We take a dolphin watching tour around the bay and see a lot of Bottle-nosed Dolphins, some swimming in the bow wave of the boat. We resist the urge to feed the incredibly loud Japanese tour group to them. It's a bit early for the whale migration, but we scan the horizon, ever hopeful, we don't see anything except sea and sky.
On the 19th we take the ferry to Tea Gardens, the bikes have to be
unloaded, bags inside and bikes on the roof. We get to see more dolphins as we cross the bay; when we arrive at Tea Gardens the boat pilot advises us to take the coast road to Bombah Point, then the ferry across the lake and the back road to Buladelah. We're not sure, we know that part of his route is not sealed but we decide to give it a go. Its a beautiful smooth road with no hills and very little traffic, in 15 miles we see less than ten cars. We wait about ten minutes for the ferry which we can see on the opposite shore, it finally travels the fifty metres to our side and within a couple of minutes we're over the lake and off down the road. We soon reach the unsealed section of the road, it is well graded and in much better condition than we expected and we roll along for six miles before we get to the worst tarmac we've met, it is rutted and pot-holed and just to make the ride complete we come to a nasty, steep little hill. Thankfully this marks the edge of Buladelah and we've reached our
destination for the day.
We book into a motel for the night before walking a ridiculous distance to find food, we eventually eat at the Mobil station next door to the motel, having exhausted all other possiblities. We get back to our room in time to watch the Eurovision Song Contest semifinal; what can we say, it's got to be Finland or Lithuania for the trophy!
Our route was going to be along the Pacific Highway to Taree, but the motel owner persuades us that the coast road to Forster and Tuncurry will be a better idea, it has the regulation "two problem hills" before the coast, then is flat we are assured. As with the ride from Sydney to Terrigal the two problem hills are not much of a problem, we stop once for a breather on one of them and walk about fifty metres of the other because we stop at a point that is too steep for us to get going again - doh!! Apart from this the ride is flat and easy all the way to Forster. In the evening we have a mexican meal which is unique in that it doesn't include any chilli at all that we can find. We've been told that Forster is a good place to stop, but to be honest we're mildy disappointed, in the morning we pedal away towards Taree, with nothing persuading us to extend our stay.
We've received conflicting reports concerning the state of the minor road to Taree and at Tuns o' Fun we have to decide whether to head to the Pacific Highway or stay on the minor road. The decision is made easily as we are about to stop for a coffee when we see a sign offering palmistry and tarot readings in the cafe, we hightail it down the road so fast we miss the turning to the highway. Thankfully the minor road is smooth except for one section of road works and even that isn't too bad. We are finally spat onto the highway about five miles from Taree, but it has a clear smooth shoulder and we are quickly into the town.
We lean the bikes against the back of a bench outside a cafe and sit just inside where we can keep an eye on them. As we're eating lunch a family take a table near the bench, their two girls start playing on the bench before scooping up handsful of gravel and tipping them all over my bike. I'm just beginning to fume when they find something else to occupy themselves. Unfortunately, they are soon back, sitting astride the back of the bench and pulling our brake and gear cables. That's enough for me and I'm about to walk over and tell them to leave our property alone when their mother looks at me and says "It's okay, I'll keep an eye on them." I want to tell her it's NOT okay and ask her if she's an experienced bike mechanic and if she'll be able to repair any damage they do, but experience has taught me its better to put the fear of God in them so I say "Those bikes with all their luggage weigh about forty kilos each, if one of them goes over your kids could be badly hurt." The children are encouraged to play with their younger sibling's pushchair instead. What happened to teaching children not to touch other people's possessions unless they have permission? Grrr.
Anyway, we get a motel room for the night thus ensuring we have uninterupted access to the Eurovision Song Contest - hurrah! A quick trip to the supermarket for wine and snacks and we're sorted for a night of pure cheese. Our faith in human nature (and democracy) is restored when Lordi win it for Finland, we're now trying to work out if we can get to Helsinki by next May.
Back to the real world, we hit the Pacific Highway in the morning for the ride to Port Macquarie, the first ten miles or so are completely flat and we make good time. Just as we hit slightly more rolling country we meet a couple of men riding towards Brisbane, we chat for a while before heading off again. At Kew we stop at the Information Centre where we are advised to take the coast road to Port (as the locals call it) as it is quieter than the highway. There's only one slight problem, the coast road runs through a place called Bonny Hills and we all know what you get at places with the word "Hills" in their title don't we?
As it is, the hills are short and steep, I push up one which takes less than five minutes, after that we roller coaster along and soon reach the outskirts of the town. We stop to study the map while a storm rages off to our left and we are soon in a downpour with lightning strikes and thunder rumbling around us. We reach the YHA and get a room in a house with no other residents, it's just like being at home.
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