The road to Canberra passed over the Great Dividing Range and we were certainly happy we had chosen to take the bus (which we had done for time reasons) rather than cycle – the hills were immensely huge and steep, the traffic was busy and there was no hard shoulder to speak of – it would have been an absolute and very dangerous nightmarish ride. To make matters worse, around halfway through the two hour journey the heatwave that has gripped Canberra for the last week so broke with a tremendous thunderstorm and so much rain the bus had to drive extremely slowly for a while, and we felt rather silly in our shorts and t-shirts. The benefit of this was that Hazel’s boyfriend Edd had a powercut where he works and so got off work early and was able to pick us up (otherwise we would have been taking a local bus with Hazel back to their house).
It was really nice to see them both and we had a really pleasant evening catching up over a bbq in the yard of their lovely flat (the rain had stopped by this time). The next day we got up quite promptly and after a nice breakfast we headed into town to visit the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery, both of which we really enjoyed. After a great lunch Edd (our personal chauffeur for the weekend!) drove us to the top of a lookout point in the city, which was really nice. Canberra is a bit of an odd place – despite being the capital of such a big country it is quite small, with a population similar to that of York or Leeds in the UK, much smaller than cities such as Sydney or Melbourne – and it is exceptionally green and quiet, with no highrise buildings. Indeed, from the lookout point it was quite hard to see exactly where the city, which is also known as the ‘bush capital’, was! Of course this has the benefit of giving the city a very pleasant, clean and relaxed feel, and we certainly enjoyed our day sightseeing. Later on in the afternoon we visited the impressive and moving war memorial museum, before drinking some wine by the lake then going out for excellent Chinese food followed by a comedy show (which was Hazel and Edd’s treat – thanks guys!). It was ages since we had had a ‘night out’ involving going to a proper venue such as a comedy club and we really enjoyed it. Somewhat to our surprise we saw adverts at the comedy club for a number of other comedians that we are familiar with from the Edinburgh festival, such as Jason Byrne, Danny Bhoy and Jimeoin. They were all due to be playing Canberra in coming weeks, presumably as part of the run-up to the Adelaide festival, which is apparently quite similar to the Edinburgh festival.
We were quite tired from a busy day of sightseeing so collapsed gratefully into bed on the Saturday night, only to have to get up horribly early on the Sunday morning to get the 7.30am bus back to Bateman’s bay (there is only one bus a day in each direction so we had no choice). Poor Hazel and Edd had to get up too as they drove us to the bus station – no fun on a Sunday morning. We were able to snooze all the way back down the road but were rather disappointed when we arrived to find that the weather by the coast was dismal – 17c and rainy. What a contrast to the previous week of 40c! It was only 10am and we had planned to pick up our bikes and cycle on, but after two hours sat in coffee shops the weather clearly wasn’t brightening, indeed if anything the rain was getting heavier, so we took the decision to find the cheapest motel we could in town, and spend the day relaxing in the hope that the weather would be better the next day (which it was forecast to be). Fortunately for the sake of our wallet we found a reasonably priced room above a pub where we holed up for the rest of the day. We were a bit more tired from all the cycling and from a busy weekend in Canberra than we had realised, and so really it was a good thing we ended up having to stay still for a day as we certainly appreciated the rest.
In the evening we went out for a dinner of fish and chips. Bateman’s Bay definitely seems to be more of a weekend place and was absolutely dead on a Sunday evening – we were lucky to find somewhere open for dinner! When we returned we had a big shock when we got to the corridor of our hotel and switched on the light – the occupant of the room next door was lying face down, half-naked and pretty much unconscious on the corridor floor, surrounded by vomit. We ran to get help from the hotel staff, who provided first aid and called an ambulance. It seemed to be nothing worse than a serious case of too much to drink, but we were a little shocked when the ambulance men recognised the woman – who was staying at the hotel alone – from earlier in the week, when she had been picked up for a similar reason. She had a serious black eye and other bruises, which she claimed were from falling off a bike, but the hotel staff and paramedics thought it far more likely that she had been badly beaten up – presumably by her partner – the week before and had come to a cheap hotel in Bateman’s Bay to hide out and drown her sorrows for a few days. A very, very sad case.
The hotel staff were very good about the whole situation, being very kind to the woman in question (including agreeing to look after her dog that she was devoted to and had brought with her despite it not being allowed in the hotel, while she was in hospital), quickly cleaning up the mess, and giving us a new room away from the vomit on the floor outside our previous hotel room. We felt pretty sorry for the poor bar girl that had been working alone in the bar downstairs (it was dead quiet as it was a Sunday evening) and had had to deal with the whole situation largely by herself, including cleaning up the mess and sorting out the dog – beyond the call of duty in our view! We offered to help but she wouldn’t let us, so in the end we left her to it and retired to bed. The next morning the owner of the hotel insisted on giving us our money back, saying ‘you shouldn’t have to put up with that sort of thing’. Totally unnecessary as it clearly wasn’t the hotel’s fault, and in our view they had done everything possible to minimise the impact on us. But they wouldn’t take no for an answer so we ended up accepting the money back. Really very kind of them.
After that little dramatic and sobering episode we cycled on towards the town of Nowra, 120km away. It was cloudy and quite cool but with no rain, so that was perfect. Now that we were getting close to Sydney we found ourselves getting more and more beeps and friendly waves on the road (courtesy of our cycling tops that say ‘London to Sydney by bike’ on them) and lots of people coming up and chatting to us when we stopped. This friendly attitude – which we have experienced frequently in Australia – is really nice and has certainly enhanced our overall experience of this country. The going was, as ever, really quite hilly but with fresh legs it wasn’t too bad, and we reached Nowra by mid-afternoon. The town itself is quite large and commercial, in stark contrast to the small and beautiful beachside resorts we were able to stay at further down the coast. However the campsite we stayed at was nicely located by the river, and was full of brightly coloured parrots which were nice to look at and listen to – the only downside being that their squawking woke us up horribly early the next morning!
The next day was our last full day of cycling, before the final hop into the city of Sydney itself. It still didn’t feel quite real that the trip was so nearly over. This was especially true as we had been warned by people as far back as Melbourne that the area around Wollongong – the last big town before Sydney and our destination for the night – was extremely hilly., and so we didn’t want to take the attitude of ‘we’re nearly there’ until we had got that bit over with! Our route for the day took us along the so-called ‘Grand Pacific Drive’, which sticks firmly to the coast and is very scenic. The first 20km or so were almost flat which was nice for a change! That all changed when we reached the stunning seaside town of Gerroa – the section between Gerroa and Kiama was full of hills that were just stupidly long and steep! We diverted into Kiama to see the blow-hole that the town is famous for, but were disappointed as it wasn’t very windy and the tide was somewhat out so there wasn’t really anything to look at. Still, it was a nice spot for lunch before continuing on towards Wollongong. At this point we decided to rejoin the main highway, as gradients on major roads tend to be much gentler than on minor roads. Despite being a dual carriageway, the main road had a dedicated bike lane and was fine to cycle on, at least as far as Unandarra where we had to leave the main road as bikes were not allowed on the section into Wollongong. This wasn’t a problem as there was a parallel road that we could take that was nice and quiet. Once we got to Wollongong we decided to rejoin the Grand Pacific Drive and continue as far as the town of Bulli, which according to our map contained the last campsite before getting into Sydney itself. This proved to be a great spot, right on a fabulous beach. The afternoon was quite hot so even though we didn’t arrive until 4pm it was definitely warm enough for a quick dip in the crystal-clear surf before having a dinner of barbecued steak and red wine – steak and wine are about the only two things that are cheaper in Australia than the UK so we feel like we should make the most of it! All in all a great end to our last full day of cycling.
We set off early the next morning as we knew we had some more big hills ahead of us, and wanted to be in in plenty of time to meet Dave (Pete’s brother) and his partner Mark at 2pm on the steps of the Sydney Opera House, as we had arranged. The first 20km were very nice but very steep as the road wound along the beautiful coastline through several rather nice and posh-looking Wollongong suburbs. Once we got to the town of Stanwell Park the road started to go upwards towards the top of the escarpment that separates that strip of coast from inland. Unfortunately it was super steep – at least 15% we reckon – so we had to walk up at least half of it as our legs just weren’t up to the challenge! A bit of a shame to have to walk on our last day but there you go. Still it didn’t take too long and once we got to the top we were rewarded with great views along the bay. The top of the hill is a popular spot for paragliders to take off so we spent some time watching them prepare their stuff before taking off and swooping down to the beach below.
At this point the road split, with one way going to Sydney along the freeway, and the other following a longer route to Sydney through the Royal National Park. We weren’t sure if we could cycle on the freeway, and besides we figured that even if we could it wouldn’t be much fun, so opted for the national park route. This was a great way to go, as there were virtually no cars on the road, which ran through a scenic forest, despite being only 50km or so from Sydney. This road only got us to within 20km of the city though, after which we were forced to join the freeway for the last bit. This proved to be fine though, as again there was a dedicated bike lane, and we were soon crossing Botany Bay, within sight of the CBD. As the traffic got busier and slower on this last section we had quite a few people beeping their horns and waving, or shouting things like ‘good on you’ and ‘almost there’ out their car windows, courtesy of our customised cycling tops. We still couldn’t quite believe it ourselves that we were almost there but it was really nice having that sort of support on the last bit. We didn’t actually have a detailed map of Sydney but figured it would be easy enough to find the Opera House. Rather amusingly this wasn’t quite the case, largely due to Christine’s erroneous opinion that it was in Darling Harbour, leading us to follow signs for there, when in fact it is located next to Circular Quay and the Harbour Bridge. After getting a bit lost in Sydney’s CBD around Darling Harbour we asked a few times and eventually found our way to the right area. It was quite something swooping down the hill towards the Opera House!
We got there to find that Dave and Mark had thoughtfully set up a ‘finishing line’ ribbon for us to cycle through, much to the amusement of the multitude of tourists around. Unfortunately the security guards didn’t take so kindly to it and came running when they saw the ribbon and banner appear – they probably thought it was some sort of protest or something. However we clocked what was happening and pedalled quickly through the ribbon before the security guards could stop us! Christine was first through the ribbon but Pete would like to point out that this was only because he slowed down to let her catch up, only to have her whizz past. Well`, as they say, if you snooze you lose!
So, that was the end of our mammoth cycling trip. We dismounted, and after the obligatory photo session we headed to the botanical gardens with Dave and Mark, to celebrate with the champagne they had kindly provided for the occasion. We then walked back with them to their nearby flat, put the bikes on their roof terrace, and, well that was that. Quite a strange feeling knowing that the bikes are now going to be packed up to be transported home, and quite possibly left packed up for a while after our return!
Following our arrival into Sydney on the 9th of February, we are currently enjoying a couple of weeks ‘holiday’ before we fly home. So far we have rented a car for a really enjoyable three day road trip up the coast of New South Wales (amazing to be able to cover 100km in just an hour or so (not so many speed cameras round here!), and to be able to fly up hills with no effort whatsoever!!), and are currently spending a few relaxing days at O’Reilly’s, a lovely rainforest retreat, a wonderful post-trip treat courtesy of Christine’s parents. From here we fly back to Sydney where we have a few days before heading home to the joys of winter, not to mention the fun of finding not only jobs but somewhere to live – it is going to be an interesting and busy time for us! We are however really looking forward to seeing our friends and family again – it has been a long time.
In conclusion, it really has been an amazing year. It is almost scary to think how quickly a year can go by in our ‘ordinary’ lives, with so little of note happening. As it is we will never forget the last eleven months and all the extraordinary experiences we have had. Even now we can’t quite believe we cycled some 16,500 km through some fairly extreme terrain and hugely diverse cultures in 24 countries, some of which we would never have even contemplated visiting prior to the trip. Now seems a good opportunity to thank everybody that has helped or supported us along the way. Support has come in the form of friends and family who have supported us either by email and in some cases coming and visiting us en route, which was hugely welcome and appreciated. It has also come from the huge number of complete strangers that have been so kind to us along the way, offering us everything from countless cups of tea to a roof over our heads, to lifts when we broke down, and just about anything else they thought we might need, even if they clearly needed it more than us. To all of you, a hearty tessekur ederim/merci/spasiba/rachmat/xie xie/kupchai lai-lai/khawn-un-kah/terim kasih – in other words, THANK YOU! Your generosity and kind-heartedness really made the trip for us.
We would also like to thank all those that sponsored our efforts, and helped us raise almost 2000 pounds so far for our chosen charities, Mary’s Meals and Medecins Sans Frontieres. If you haven’t donated yet, it’s not too late, see the links on the right hand side of our website.
So, I guess all that remains to say is ‘That’s all folks’. We sincerely hope that you have enjoyed reading our blog, and we hope that we may have inspired at least some of you to get out there and have an adventure or two. You won’t regret it for a second, we promise.