*Actually, it was fine, but I needed to use the awful pun somewhere…
I never thought there could be a downside to a strong tailwind, but there can. I never thought that riding through a National Park in the sunshine would be anything other than idyllic, but it was.
My birthday (Friday) began well, as I woke up to a strong southerly wind, which would shove me effortlessly up the coast from Newcastle. And it did. For a while.
I was so chuffed with the tailwind that I decided to push on from my (extremely unambitious) target for the day. I’d initially decided to give myself a super short day as a birthday present. But I’ve learned never to waste a tailwind, especially a gale-force one, so I sailed gleefully onwards, to catch the ferry from Nelson Bay.
I got to Nelson Bay with twenty minutes to spare before the ferry. And it was only lunchtime. I’d be able to make ground at a superb rate. Perfect.
The ferry was cancelled, due to my tailwind. In fact, all the ferries that day were cancelled due to my tailwind. Not so perfect.
Still, the town was fairly large, and touristy, with a lot of yachts. By dinner time, there was a throng of brightly (some might say less-than-tastefully) dressed tourists bouncing around. Looked like it should be a decent evening for a couple of beers to celebrate being another year older.
They disappeared. Nearly all of them. Vanished.
The maximum number of other people in the pub was seven. In the middle of town. On a Friday night. What manner of madness is this?
On the bright side, a gentle birthday evening meant that I didn’t need to use my ‘Emergency Hangover Day Off’, which I’ve been carefully holding in reserve (think it may still come in handy for Christmas or New Year, mind you). On Saturday morning I was raring to go. And the ferries were running. Onwards!
While the ferry rolled its way across to Tea Gardens, we kept a sharp look-out for dolphins. Apparently, the bay’s residential pod means that they are spotted on 95% of trips. Given my wildlife history thus far, I’m sure you won’t be super-surprised to learn that the nearest thing to dolphins we spotted was a bunch of kids in speedboats. Still, dolphins are not the highest on my wildlife-spotting list. I can live with the disappointment, as long as I can see a kangaroo at some point. Or even a wallaby.
After leaving the ferry, eating a massive pie, and heading north again, I met Bruce and Marg. They are in the relatively early stages of riding around the edge of Australia, pausing only to climb the highest peak in each state. They gave me some very useful advice on surviving the outback, having just done a chunk, and also provided me with a useful shortcut through the bush, which would save me time, save me climbing, and provide the Beast with a little off-road action.
It was a track. Not good enough to count as a dirt road, and closed to vehicles, but easy enough for the Beast to deal with. I even heard some panicked crashing in the undergrowth, which I took to be kangaroos legging it from my rattling, crashing, and altogether not very subtle approach. Didn’t see any, obviously. But I was getting closer, and decided that dirt roads are something I needed more of.
Today (Sunday), after a night in the pleasant, but again, surprisingly empty, town of Forster, I resumed my northward progress. I thought I might just be able to make Port Macquarie today, as there was a fair chunk of fast but dull highway involved.
Then I got distracted. There was a dirt road through Crowdy Bay National Park, which would take me to Laurieton, just a short hop from ‘Port’. Another 25km of quiet, pleasant meandering for the Beast, and another chance to nail that elusive first marsupial.
Or, as it turned out, a chance to get a real taste of Australia.
It tastes gritty, and slightly metallic.
A lesson learned about dirt roads. If they have cars on them, you’re going to ingest the countryside as well as see it. Cycling has a real knack of bringing you closer to the environment through which you travel…
To round things off, the hostel which the internet had advertised in Laurieton doesn’t exist. There is some debate locally about whether it ever did. It is, however, a thoroughly agreeable town with a lovely harbour. And a paragliding school who were kind enough to take me in for a small fee.
As I try to wash the flavours of Australia from my mouth with lashings of ginger beer, I think it’s fair to say that I won’t be rushing back to the dirt roads. Anyway, I have a hot tip that golf courses are the way to go if you want to see kangaroos.
I’ll let you know how that works out…