Slowly to Brisbane, and quickly out again!

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June 21st 2006
Published: July 13th 2006
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Stuck in Port 23/05/06 - 03/06/06

We decide to spend a day in Port Macquarie so we can visit the koala hospital, it's probably the only way we will get to see any of them! Spend a pleasant couple of hours ooohing and aaahing at the patients, they are incredibly cute although we are told they have a nasty bite and very strong claws; we are happy to keep our distance and just look. The koala hospital doesn't allow visitors to touch the animals because they need to be kept wild if they are to have any chance of survival when they have recovered and are released into the wild.

The next day we arrange a visit to the doctor as I have lumpy armpits AGAIN and Vernon is also suffering, but in his case cycling is impossible due to where the lump is. We get antibiotics, have swabs taken and arrange another appointment for a week's time to find out exactly what we are habouring. So after a few days doing nothing in Port (Vernon isn't able to walk far, so a limp down to the cafe and back is about all we manage) we find out that we are currently harbouring a few million Staphlococcus Aureus, the antibiotic course is extended for another week and we are given permission to travel again.

Before leaving Port we take a whale watching trip where we see a Humpback whale; it is big, very big, I can't even begin to compare it to anything, it's just massive. Of course we fail to get any good photos of it - sorry!

And we're off again 04-09/06/06

Finally we leave Port and take the ferry over the Hastings River before riding up the unsealed road to Crescent Heads. The road surface is terrible and we each get a puncture; in Vernon's case also a ripped tyre, we do a temporary repair with a tyre boot, but it is going to need replacing at the next bike shop. We cross the "county line" from Hastings River Council to Kempseyshire and the road surface improves immediately. We reach Crescent Heads by early afternoon and decide to stop for the day, it's been a short ride, but we've been off the bikes for a couple of weeks and don't want to do too much. Spend the evening mending inner tubes.

We head for Macksville next, the ride to Smithtown is on quiet, flat roads beside the river and we roll along quickly. After Smithtown we are on the Pacific Highway again and it is horrible, lots of lorries and double rigs, thankfully the road is fairly flat, we get to Macksville by 3pm and are glad to find a motel away from the highway. The omens aren't good when the motel owner's opening gambit is "I don't usually let cyclists stop, or backpackers. Bikes damage things and backpackers steal things." Thankfully(?) we pass muster and are allowed a room.

The next morning having resisted the urge to nick anything we ride off to Coffs Harbour, we stop at the Watermark Cafe in Nambucca Heads for breakfast, nice food but no coffee as their machine has broken down - AAARRRGGGHHH!
The ride to Coffs is mainly on the Pacific Highway; as we get near to our destination the hills start to appear, we notice a cycle route and decide to take it. The surface is fairly good with no pot holes and it is clear of rubbish, but it ends just past a roundabout on the highway and we have to cross the dual carriageway to continue our ride. It would have been easier to end the cycle route at the roundabout. Just before Coffs I realise Vernon is no longer behind me, I push the bike back down the road shoulder and find him fixing another puncture (it must be something to do with the date - 6/6/6, the devil obviously has it in for us!). Thankfully the YHA is next to a bike shop, so the damaged tyre is consigned to the bin and a replacement is purchased.

We spend a day looking around Coffs, including a trip to the Bunker Cartoon Gallery where there is an exhibition of the Bald Archies. This is a portrait competition which was set up to poke fun at the Archibald art prize. There are some very silly pictures and some which make no sense to us because we don't know the politics behind them, John Howard comes in for quite a bit of stick and there is a good one of the queen painting a nude Rolf Harris!

We are planning to head off on the 8th, but are persuaded to take a trip into the Dorrigo region, the guy at reception told us it would be right up our street so it's a little worrying when we discover that we are the youngest people on the bus by about 20 years. The trip takes us past a bizarre collection of steam trains and carriages in a cow field, it is a museum of sorts and has one of every carriage used in New South Wales. We are also told that the rail gauges are different in NSW and Queensland, so passengers have to change trains at the border. Hands up all those who are beginning to think that the British rail system is not so bad after all!!
Our trip takes us through the rain forest where we see the changing structure as we climb - palms below 600 metres, tree ferns above. Later we walk over the canopy on a raised platform, before walking through the forest for a short distance. Half the group do the walk, the rest stay in the coach.

We get moving again on the 9th; first stop is the Big Banana, a temple to all things banana and very yellow. We are surprised to find that they don't stock Banana Guards and suggest them as a new line.
We decide to ride on the Pacific Highway rather the inland route along the Summerland Way which we reccied the start of yesterday, PH is flatter and faster and since our stop in Port we have to get some miles done. The road is wide and not too busy, we have been warned that we will have "real problems" at the Dirty Creek Range, once again we find ourselves twiddling up a long but gentle hill, stop once for a breather and to discuss whether this is the "mountain" we have been warned about, decide it probably is and ride on to the crest.
We stop at the Tourist Information Office on the way into Grafton, a group of lads by the bandstand yell "Pop a wheelie" Vernon yells back "I wish!" and I laugh so much I nearly fall off

So much for the drought 10-21/06/06

We wake to a fine drizzle and decide to get a coffee at the art gallery in Grafton to let the weather pass. After the coffee the drizzle has passed and been replaced by a downpour so we look around the gallery which has a brilliant room full
What's wrong with this statue?What's wrong with this statue?What's wrong with this statue?

No self respecting Digger would turn his back on a bar!
of art from the local primary school as well as more serious stuff. We have another coffee and some lunch then give up on the day completely and find accommodation for the night. The rain stops sometime after dark.
The next morning the sun is shining and we cycle towards Maclean along the side of the Clarence River, the road is flat and quiet and we have a tailwind, we roll between fields of sugar cane which shusssshhh in the wind. At Lawrence we cross a side arm of the river on a wooden bridge with the planks laid lengthwise along the bridge, we are very careful to avoid the cracks as neither of us wants a repeat performance of the road/rail bridge incident in New Zealand.
We are hoping to get a coffee in Maclean, but it is Sunday and true to it's Scottish heritage everywhere except the pub is shut. We ride on, passing tartan telegraph poles as we leave the town. We don't know who painted them, but it must have taken quite some time, every pole has a different tartan painted on it. we ride on to Yamba on the coast and stop for the night.
The Big BananaThe Big BananaThe Big Banana

It really is very big (and a bit odd).

In the morning we take the ferry across the Clarence to Illumba, get directions out of town after we've been going in the wrong direction for a mile or so and ride a rather corrugated route back to the Pacific Highway. Once again we have a tailwind to push us to Ballina. We stop at a cafe in Woodburn and order two coffees at 3 dollars each and a bowl of wedges at 4 dollars, total? 4 dollars 50 cents apparently! We ask for a recount and the total is still 4.50, the owner joins in and we finally get charged 10 dollars.
About an hour later we roll into Ballina and pass the Big Prawn (it's very big and covers the roof of a restaurant). Get a room at the YHA and the owner tells us how he has just nearly hit a recumbent rider who was cycling the Highway in the dark with no lights!
On the 13th we wake to the sound of rain - there's a surprise, another day off; the TV is full of the Socceroos' defeat of Japan.

After the day's delay we are heading to Byron Bay, ride along the coast road which is not too busy, but every car has a surf board on it. When we get to Byron we head up to the Cape and watch hangliders in the air and whales in the water for a while before heading back down the hill to the town.
I'm sorry to say it but the town of Byron Bay is a dump, we are both unimpressed by every other shop selling tourist tat, there's graffiti everywhere and not good stuff, just rubbishy tags and it's all a bit dirty. We decide to ride on towards Chinderah from where we can choose to head up the coast or cut inland to Mount Warning, which is the lava plug of an extinct shield volcano. We are beaten by the light by the time we get to Pottsville, so stop for the night. Todays ride has been over 50 miles which is a good distance.

We set off again towards Chinderah on the morning of the 15th and quickly find a cycle path which (allegedly) will take us all the way there. It's something of a surprise to ride into a sand trap after 5 miles and have to find our way back to the road through a building site. When we finally get to Chinderah we decide to ride inland to Murwillumbah and spend a day or two walking up, down and recovering from Mount Warning.

The 16th finds us being driven to the start of the Mount Warning track by Tassie (who runs the YHA), he tells us he will pick us up at 3.30pm and we head off. The walk is okay, it's pretty much all up, but where there are steps they are at least step sized rather than New Zealand DOC random sized. We are accompanied for much of the route by Brush Turkeys who make enough noise to scare off any other wildlife. Near the top the route becomes very vertical as we get onto the actual lava plug, there is a chain to haul ourselves up by, but we have to wait for a very nervous woman to get back down the climb before we scramble up it. We reach the summit and are rewarded by spectacular views of the whole caldera, we can see from Byron Bay in the south to Surfers Paradise in the north, it is amazing.
We eat our
The route up Mount WarningThe route up Mount WarningThe route up Mount Warning

This bit is a lot steeper than it looks, the chain hand rail is needed.
lunch and have a rest then start back down, the lava climb is daunting; Vernon is okay with it so he goes first, them guides me by saying things like "There's a foot hold for your left foot about 50cm below, your other left foot" but I make the climb and can report that the fix that my head got when I fell off the bike in Whakarewarewa forest is still working. We walk on down to the car park, getting there for 3.20 and eating the rest of our lunch while we wait for Tassie, at 4.30 we decide to start walking, we have no mobile coverage and we are worried about the light fading. We finally get a lift with an Irish couple in a VW van, they drop us in town and we walk back. Tassie is horrified that he forgot us but we're okay and glad that it was just that he forgot and not something more serious.
The next morning our leg muscles seem to have forgotten how to operate, it's going to be a rest day, with a possible stagger to a cafe and not much else.

We finally pack up and
Surfers ParadiseSurfers ParadiseSurfers Paradise

Not much surf and definitely not a paradise!
head off on the 19th, the legs are still complaining a little, but we're okay as long as we are pedalling, stopping and putting our feet down is a different matter! We are headed for the Gold Coast and cross into Queensland at Coolangata where we find a cycle path which runs along the seafront. We can see Surfers Paradise in the distance, it is a collection of high rise buildings sitting incongruously on the horizon. As we get nearer it all gets much bigger, but unfortunately no more attractive. We get accommodation, sort out some food and go to the pub.

We wake to rain and lots of it, the weather forecast is for "Occasional light showers" so we move on, we can't stand another night here. On the way out of Surfers we stop for a coffee and try to shelter the bikes under the overhanging roof of a restaurant which has a sign on the door which reads "We are closed all day today" a woman who is in the kitchen comes to the front window and glares at us, I call through the closed window "Can we leave our bikes here to keep them out of the rain, please?" She continues to glare but does not reply. I repeat the question and the sour faced old misery manages to look even more disapproving, we move the bikes before she thinks to get the meat cleaver! In the cafe we meet two people who went to Portsmouth Polytechnic, but we don't find out what they studied or when before their friends turn up and they all wander off.
Brisbane is supposed to be 40 miles from Surfers so we expect to reach there this afternoon, the "light shower" which we set off in this morning is continuing as we ride on and it comes as no surprise when Vern gets another puncture (the day is just going that way). This time the cause is a large piece of bottle glass which rips the tyre we bought in Coffs Harbour. We have been receiving warnings from all sorts of white Aussies about the Aboriginal community and how we should avoid them at all costs, so we are both pleased that when a car stops to check we are okay the driver is Aboriginal, we assure the guy that we have all the tools we need and thank him for taking the time to check on us; this is pretty much what we expected from other cyclists stories.

So, 40 miles, huh? We've done over 50 when we decide that we've had enough of the "Occasional light shower" which has followed us all day and would be better classed as "rain", so we stop at a motel in the middle of nowhere and dry out. Our evening meal is whatever we can find in our panniers that doesn't need cooking.
Okay, apparently Brisbane is now only 15 miles away, so how come we do nearer 30 getting there from the motel? Well, one problem is that we can't find a map of Brisbane anywhere; we end up going into a police station to ask for directions and they photocopy the streetmap from the Yellow Pages for us. We find a cyclepath which takes us most of the way into the centre, then follow our noses until we come to a college at which point I have a brainwave, educational places always have maps for their students, so I run into the reception area hoping to blag one. It works, we have directions and we are only half a mile from our destination - result!

We're in Brisbane, get us out of here! 22/06/06

We've set ourselves a challenge today to find a map of the cycle paths of Brisbane, we know one exists so we head to the Information Centre to pick one up. What we didn't expect was that nobody at the Information Centre knows about them, we are redirected to the RACQ, who we are assured, deal with all the roads in Queensland. It comes as no surprise to discover that the RACQ are the Queensland equivalent of the RAC and know nothing about cyclepaths. We are directed to the city council and at City Hall we are directed to City Plaza where the nice woman on reception knows all about the maps but hasn't got any spare. We finally strike gold when somebody goes off to the store room and finds some there.
Our next challenge is to find a bike shop, our route takes us through some roadworks where I get shouted at by a worker who thinks I'm about to walk where I shouldn't, I'm not and am very unhappy to be yelled at for no good reason. We detour into the Roma Street Parkland where we spend a while calming down by watching the birds and looking at the plants before walking past the Castlemaine Brewery to Epic Cycles where we spend way too much on replacement tyres, chains, shorts and a waterproof jacket for Vernon.
Later at the hostel we are chatting with the guy on reception and mention that we couldn't find a map of Brisbane until we got here "why would you need one before you arrived here?" He asks. Err, to find our way here perhaps!
Tomorrow we leave Brisbane and it can't come soon enough for me.


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