Biking Across Australia: Perth to Sydney

November 28, 2016

Right before I started of this adventure I knew that once I reached Australia I would be undertaking one of the biggest challenges of my whole trip. During my research I discovered that I would end up cross the Nullabor Plain, travelling 200km along the Eyre Highway, a road which passes through a flat, almost treeless, arid part of Southern Australia. Even though I would only be crossing 200km of the Nullabor National Park (the overall distance is 2000km!) I thought it would a pivotal point of the trip and now, having now crossed it, I don’t think there is anywhere else quite like it.

 

Having arrive in Australia, after a break of nearly 4 months’ scuba diving in Indonesia, I spent a week in Perth getting ready for the next step of the journey. During my week there I stayed with Rick and his family, who were wonderful hosts during my time with them. After a nice week seeing what Perth had to offer, and having made my bike ‘roadworthy’ again I set off head down towards the Australian South Coast.

 

I knew Australia was big but I didn’t think that I would be be traversing through nothingness BEFORE reaching the ‘outback’. The first day I must have cycled for at least 70km before I reached the first town. This made me realise that I would have to travel with more water (which meant added weight) on my bike just to be safe. At this stage I was passing through the wheat belt area of Western Australia on my way South towards the coast, where most of the towns were very small and served mainly farming communities.

 

 

On one particular wet and cold day I sought shelter in a place called Varley but nothing seemed to be open. Having a closer look around I spied a small shop and asked if I can get a hot drink to help warm me up. Sheena, the lady who ran the shop, told me to come through to the staff room where she made me a hot coffee. She then told me that this was the heart of the community where people frequently pop in and catch up over a hot drink. It was nice to be amongst a buzzing community and I ended up speaking to a few more of the locals while I was there. I then put some of my electrical items on to charge, had a hot shower and dried out my tent before leaving around 2pm.

 

I was aiming to be in Esperance a few days from now and I knew I had long days ahead of me. However, there was nothing much I really wanted to see before reaching my destination so I figured it shouldn’t be too difficult a journey as long as I could get into a good rhythm and routine. The weather had been mostly good up to this point, with mainly tail winds, and I was mentally in a good frame of mind knowing that the real test was to come.

 

I arrived in Esperance with dark clouds and heavy rain around me. I booked into a cabin for the night (an extortionate price) but later extended my stay for a couple more nights as the weather became worse. I had a good walk around Esperance and imagined how busy the area could be during the Australian summer. It’s a town filled with many BBQ's and picnic benches and I think it is a really nice place to visit.

 

After leaving Esperance I arrived in Balladonia a few days later, via an off-road track. I knew I would be able to ride along it as I’d read a few blogs from other bicycle tourists who’d crossed it in the past. It was essentially 2 days of riding across bumpy dirt and gravel. I only saw 3 cars during those 2 days and I was relieved when I finally saw a roadhouse. I topped up my water while I was there as my supplies were getting low, which I had to buy as they wouldn’t let me have any for free (despite the wet weather outside!) After this I reached proper road again. I was so happy to finally be on Highway 1, which I wouldn’t be turning off for at least 2 weeks. Compared to the bumpy road of the last few days this was smooth asphalt so I couldn’t complain, and the weather was warming up as well!

 

I cycled past the 90 mile straight sign, stopping to take an obligatory photo, and then set up camp off the side of the road. The 90 mile straight is the longest straight section of road in the world and is a section of Eyre Highway, a road that connects Western Australia to Southern Australia via the Nullabor Plain.

 

 

I decided I wanted to do the 90miles straight in one day so I set off early (around 7am) and cycled until 9pm that evening, spending all day soaked through from a rain shower that morning. There really isn’t much to see along Highway 1 (Eyre Highway), just road houses every 150km or so with the longest stretch being around 200km.

 

I made it to Ceduna 11 days after leaving Balladonia with not much to report. A few days I ended up riding into the night to get the mileage in and the scenery changed very little, from a few trees to scrubland back to a few trees again. I saw lots of dead Roos, a few live ones and, luckily, no snakes or spiders. The biggest surprise was how green everything was, with this winter being one of the wettest on record there was more greenery than they usually would be.

 

Crossing the Nullabor really wasn’t a problem for me in the end as I only ended up travelled along 20km of the 2000km highway. The 20km section I travelled crossed just the southern tip of the plain. I'd had a tailwind for most of the ride, which at times pushed me to a very comfortable 35Kmph. This effect had me grinning from ear to ear, as I glide along knowing I’d possibly shaved a few days off my journey. The road trains ended up pushed me off the road a few times however, as they went past in the opposite direction, with the wind they generated behind them. Generally, I got straight off the road as they approached and you could get a feel for the weight they carried as they thundered past, causing the ground to shake! At night you can see them coming from so far away, with their huge strip lights on the top of the cabs, it looks like a false sunrise!

 

During this section of my journey I met some really cool Aussies. Steve, a gold prospector travelling with his husky in his camper van, was one of them. I met him at a water stop 3km from the Mundrabella roadhouse. We chatted for a while and Steve offered me dinner, which consisted of fried spam with vegetables, which I devoured gratefully. I also spoke to a guy as I was riding, who generously passed me an ice cold bottle of water. One guy gave me toast and hot chocolate one day at a roadhouse and washed and dried my clothes as I ate, while another time an elderly couple gave me some money for a hot meal after seeing me routing through my bags to find some lunch. On another occasion I pulled over to fix a puncture in Minnipa and, as I was working away, an Australian called Wayne came over and introduced himself. He told me to make my way over to his house across the street after I finished working. He offered me a cup of tea and he later made me dinner. Wayne had lived a few lives and had many interesting stories to tell! He met many famous people, with one of them being the surfer Kelly Slater, who he had pictures of on his wall. His current endeavour was refurbishing an old roadhouse with a bendy bus in the garden where I would later be allowed to sleep in. I rested there for 2 days before I headed off again.

 

 

A little later I have a bit of bad luck……...I crashed! I had recently left a place called Eucla and was enjoying the expansive blue sky above and strong tailwind behind. I’d just pulled over onto some gravel to avoid traffic when one of my wheels lost its grip and I went down hard on my right side. I got straight back up and assessed the damage, which consisted of some ripped panniers, a broken brake lever and 2 bloody cuts on my right leg! Luckily I was able to carried on regardless, after dusting myself off. 

 

When I’m riding my trusty steed I tend to keep going by simply counting down the kilometres and I rarely listen to music. I stop probably 2-3 times a day for a break and some food, which could consist of noodles or a simply peanut butter sandwich and maybe listen to comedy audio books (like Faulty Towers or Only Fools and Horses. Great for morale!) through my speaker. 

 

I reached Adelaide 7 days after repairing my puncture in Minnipa. Once I got there I booked into the Port Adelaide backpacker hostel and immediately did the usual boring routine of washing clothes, drying clothes, showering and bike maintenance. I stayed almost 2 weeks, enjoying the company and hospitality of others. I went to the city a few times and played the role of typical sightseeing tourist; marveling at the different architecture while drinking coffee and taking obligatory photos. I found Adelaide to be very laid back and slow going. Not threatening, but engaging nonetheless. I enjoyed taking photos of the city, especially at night when the lighting is cleaner and portrays a different look to the one generated during the day. Back at the hostel life got far too comfortable as I chatted with people, read books, played golf, got the tram to Glenelg (a beautiful seafront suburb) and biked to Seaford, a suburb of Adelaide.

 

 

After leaving Adelaide my next big stop was to be Melbourne. The journey to Melbourne was rather eventful however, with torrential rain and a few rare breaks of sunshine for most of the ride. These rare moments of sunshine, which attempted to dry me out, lured me into a false sense of security as they were always followed by more heavy downpours.

 

During this time I had a blowout on the back tyre, which failed me again later that evening and forced me to seek shelter next to a sturdy looking fence. Once I started to set up camp I soon realising it was an electric fence after catching my arse on it! That was a real ‘shock’ I can tell you!

 

A few days later I reached the steepest hill so far, Lavers Hill, which is the highest point on the Great Ocean Road at 450meters above sea level. The Great Ocean Road itself was not a disappointment. It was one of the most scenic roads I’ve ever been on, hugging the cliff edges one side and a direct drop on the other. There were many places to stop and take photos to satisfy the common photo snapping tourist, which usually meant I had to climb sharp or gradual ascents.

 

The best part for me was the 12 Apostles, where I stopped at a busy tourist spot with my camera in hand and tried to justify the beauty of this short excursion whilst it was again raining. At least I had the place all to myself and didn’t have to fight for space between selfie stick amateurs!

 

As I continued to make my way along the Great Ocean Road the weather started to get colder, so much so I couldn’t generate any heat riding up the short steep inclines! A few days later I camped at Queenscliff on the Ballarine Peninsula, about 20km from the ferry to Sorrento that I planned to take the next day. The ferry crosses the head of Port Phillip Bay, connecting the Ballarine and Mornington Peninsula.

 

The next morning was cool and I broke camp by torch light at 5:30am. My legs still hadn’t recovered properly from the last 5 days riding however and so it took me a little longer than I hoped it would and I missed the ferry. I got a small coffee while I waited 25 minutes to catch the next boat and enjoyed seeing the world slowly wake up in the delicate sunlight. During the crossing I spoke to the boat crew who were intrigued by my bicycle and, after reaching the other side, I raced the rest of the early cyclists (which was rather a lot!) along beach road to where I was staying.

 

I stayed with family friends for a few days in Parkdale, followed by a few days in Frankston. I was well and truly looked after during my time here. In both cases I had a comfortable bed, a nice hot shower, was cooked the best food, shown around and treated like a king. It makes me so thankful when this happens. Thanks again Pam, Di and Neil for being great hosts!!

 

Melbourne was great. I didn’t spend nearly as much time as I wanted to exploring the city, but I was there long enough to appreciate the place. It seemed a more active city than some I’ve visited since my journey began, with so many cyclists around. The parks were buzzing with people playing soccer (sorry…football!) and rugby and the Yarra rivers were full of university rowers in their streamlined boats. I loved it! Melbourne was also more high rise than the other Australian cities I had stopped in and, one evening, I went up to the Skydeck to look out over the city below.

 

I left Melbourne for Sydney a few days later and immediately had to contend with a series of big hills. I found it hard and struggled for the most part with motivation while battling the relentless climbs. I mostly free camped during this section; some days riding late into the night before making camp, while other times pitching up by 4pm having done no more than riding 50km that day. Some nights I was so overtired I managed to only sleep about 4 hours, which was not very helpful when biking the next day.

 

 

During this time, near a place called Narooma, I was having a break and filling up my water bottles when I got chatting to a man who’d retired here all the way from Surrey, England. He told me that Narooma has the second most temperate climate in the world after Miami (I’ve yet to check out this fact though). Narooma was only 320km from Sydney and, at this point, the roads had become nice and smooth and mostly surrounded by trees on both sides.

 

The morning I left Narooma, as I was breaking camp, I came across my first bull ant. This thing was huge! At least 3 times the size of a normal ant and the jaws looked like they meant business. I (wisely) left it alone and packed up my tent, all the time looking out for more of the sneaky buggers and making sure I didn’t pack any away with my equipment.

The last day to Sydney was a mixed one. I reached a huge hill leaving Wollongong and then it became undulating for the rest of the way. I rested at a cafe for a while, thinking it was going to becoming flat, and immediately hated myself as I started to climb as soon as I went around the corner!

 

Before long I saw Sydney however and instantly felt overwhelmed. I immediately picked up speed and must have been doing 35km an hour as I approached Sydney Airport. It was 7pm by now and It took a bit of working out as to how to get to the Harbour Bridge. Eventually I found the right road and reached the bridge but at this point I was starting to get mixed feelings. I was proud of myself for having cycled all the way across this huge country and relieved that I had made it this far but I was also feeling sad that I would soon be leaving Australia.

 

I couldn’t believe I had actually crossed this country only by bicycle. I hadn’t doubted myself during my time here but I also hadn’t wanted to be overconfident either that I would make it. Anything could’ve happened during the last few months, but I’d actually done it!

 

After leaving the bridge I navigated my way to Yaz's home, who was my host while staying in Sydney. I ended up arriving at there at 11pm, after having to contend with another bout of punishing hill to get there (Seriously Sydney!!).

I was so happy to be with my final hosts and, even though I was so late arriving, received nothing but overwhelming hospitality. I was driven around while I was with them and treated to dinner and drinks. I also had an unforgettable party and generally a great time. Thank you Yaz and Peter and Dizzy for your wonderful hospitality!

 

As I prepared to leave for New Zealand I managed to box everything up, shedding weight as usual in my quest to make my bike lighter, before grabbing the taxi to the airport. This was a surprisingly painless affair compared too normal so I guess I must be getting better at this by now!

 

So now I guess it’s now thank you and goodbye Oz and hello (you’d better bloody have drier weather than Australia) New Zealand!!!

 

Thanks for reading and check back again for future updates!

 

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