Friday, 9 September 2016

The Long White Cloud Ahead

Well, the bike is packed again and I'm ready for the next journey, this time through New Zealand, both North and South Islands.  Part 1 of my Australasian adventure was a resounding success; 28 days from Darwin to Melbourne was better time than I could have hoped for, especially as the total distance worked-out about 200Km further than I thought.  The only thing was, I spent slightly more than I had budgeted for.  I was hoping to spend less than $1500, but spent a little over $1600 (about 900 pounds).  Not bad, I suppose.  I spent a little more on food than I had anticipated, which was the cause of the slight overspend.

New Zealand is going to be a very different kind of trip.  The nature of the vast distances of nothing between populated areas and things to see meant Australia was always going to be about the challenge of churning-out the miles.  New Zealand on the other hand should be a massive contrast.  With much shorter distances between towns and cities, as well as other places of interest, big distances would not only be difficult, but also undesirable.  With so much to see, I want to take my time and appreciate it all.

There is much less of a plan for New Zealand also, but what is known is that I arrive on the 10th of September and I leave on the 30th of November, this gives me nearly 3 months, so no rush on the bike.  However, I am starting and finishing at Auckland, so I have to go down and back up again, with a possibility I may get some help on the way back part of the way, but maybe not.  I did things this way as there are some things I want to do on the North Island in late November that I couldn't do in mid-September. This trip is more flexible, though, so I'll just have to see how things go.  The planned route so far is below, but it'll no doubt extend further south beyond Queenstown and will obviously have to go back up to Auckland.  If I bike the whole way - down and then back up - the total distance will be similar to the Australia tour, just over nearly 3 months, rather than one.

North Island planned route.

North Island
I have a few side-trips planned during the main route through the North Island, but essentially I head first to the Coromandel peninsula, then back down through Matamata and Rotorua.  I then go to the Tongariro National Park and hopefully a 3 day hike around the Northern Circuit (one of the Great Walks).  However, this is weather permitting, as it will be late winter/early spring and the conditions may be pretty wild and there will certainly be a heck of a lot of snow on the ground.

After Tongariro, I make my way to Whanganui and then down to Wellington to make a pre-booked ferry crossing to the South Island on the 28th of September.  There will be many little side trips and stops in between all this.  The centre-piece of the North Island way down is Tongariro, though, so let's hope I can get out there.

South Island

South Island
Once I arrive in Picton, I make my way to Motueka, where I plan to have a day or two kayaking around the Abel Tasman National Park coastline.  Then I make my way down the west coast to Haast, passing the Franz Josef and Fox glaciers on the way.  I then head inland again to the beautiful town of Wanaka to meet my friend Alex, who has just started living there.  I have made no plans after this, but I will definitely be in Queenstown at some point, and would like to do the Kepler Track (another Great Walk), just before the Great Walks season starts so I don't have to book accommodation for the walk, before heading to Milford Sound (although I won't be doing this walk as it is impossible to do out of season).  What Alex has planned for me in Wanaka, however, I don't know.

The Way Back to Auckland
Again, unplanned as yet, but there are a few of places I want to hit, for sure, on the way back:

- Arthurs Pass (South Island)
- Hooker Valley (South Island)
- Mount Taranaki (North Island)
- Waitomo Caves (North Island)

There are many other places of interest that I wouldn't mind diverting to also, but it all depends on time.

What to Expect on the Bike
There should be quite a contrast between New Zealand and Australia, and not just in the scenery.  The main challenge will be the hills and mountain passes.  I pride myself on not getting off the bike and walking it up, I haven't done it so far, either during my Darwin to Melbourne leg or in practice through the hills and mountains of Victoria in training.  However, New Zealand may be a different kettle of fish; I expect proper alpine switchbacks that go on for some time.  Although the one advantage of this is that, what goes up must come down.  The kind of fitness required will change from long hours of steady pedaling to gut busting climbs and rest periods.

Another contrast will be in the weather.  Although it was cold in South Australia and Victoria towards the end of my trip, it has the potential to be colder in New Zealand, especially through September and I will be heading South through October too.  I don't go too high on the bike on the way down towards Wanaka (about 800m max), but even this height still has the potential for snow and ice (though unlikely), and obviously that pretty much stops me cycling because there is no way I would risk riding a fully-loaded bike in such conditions.  If I bike up to Whakapapa village in Tongariro National Park, the altitude will be much higher, and I would only do so under the right conditions.  I will find other means of getting there if the conditions are not fit for cycling, although the challenge of getting up there is somewhat appealing, and it would be a really pretty road.

I will be doing a fair amount of hiking at altitude also, and the cold and snow will be very relevant, perhaps throughout the whole tour.  I am pretty sure that the snow will be around right up until I leave.  Ice axe and crampons at the ready!

As well as the cold, rain and wind is likely to be more of an issue in New Zealand.  If I am camping, I need to be a little better organised for wet weather.  The one advantage I have in New Zealand, though, is that I can check weather forecasts everyday, as I should have greater access to the internet, and I will have much better access to accommodation, especially hostels, which I intend to use much more often than in Australia.  I need to use proper accommodation also because I will be doing more things, like hiking, running, and kayaking, off the bike, so I need somewhere safe to keep it.

With more to do and see, and a greater use of hostels and campsites, I expect this trip to be a bit more expensive per day than my journey through Australia.

Updates will be forthcoming, it should be much easier to get them done also, with the slightly more relaxed days in the saddle.  Can't wait to get started!

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Leg 3: Port Augusta to Melbourne

Here's the statistical breakdown of the final leg of the tour:

Distance: 1438Km
Average daily Km: 159.78km

Leg 1, 2, and 3 Total Distance: 4209km
Daily Average (including a rest day): 150.32km


Day 1: Port Augusta to Peterborough (SA) 135Km
One of the most difficult days of the trip.  I will remember Port Augusta for headwinds, both on the way in and on the way out.  The route across the South Flinders Ranges was also uphill most of the day.  At first the climb was gentle, but also into the wind, which made things a lot harder.  Then the climb became quite severe as I climbed about 500m through Horrocks Pass.  However, once at the top, there was only a small amount of downhill and then a further climb to my finishing camp spot in Peterborough.

Climbing through the South Flinders Ranges.

Peterborough was just 10km away from the coldest place in South Australia, and it got pretty cold overnight.  I woke to ice on the outside of my tent and heard that it was about -3 overnight.  I was fine in my tent, inside my sleeping bag, but it made for an uncomfortable following morning cycle.

Day 2: Peterborough to Morgan 175Km
The cold made riding extremely unpleasant and it took a while before I could feel all my fingers again.  I made it to Burra before midday and rewarded myself with a cooked breakfast for lunch.  Warm food, especially on a cold day, does absolute wonders when you are exercising outside.

I hadn't really had any significant downhill for a day and a half, so I knew it was coming and it did with an incredibly easy 85Km or so to Morgan in the afternoon.  Just what I needed as I felt like I was starting to run out of steam, what with the headwinds and incline of the day before and the week of huge distances into Port Augusta.  Found a nice campsite on the banks of the Murray River to finish the day.

Day 3: Morgan to Murray Bridge 170km
A day of 2 halves; the morning went smoothly and easily, then the hills kicked-in in the afternoon, unexpectedly so considering I was following a river down towards the coast.

The Murray river was a bit more spectacular than I expected.  It carved quite a gorge through the hilly countryside.  On top of this, the river attracted lots of bird life; lots of colourful parrots and cockatoos, as well as other birds.  Birds, generally in Australia are amazing, enough to turn a cool guy like me into a nerdy bird watcher.

Found a friendly campsite at the end of the day, although I felt like I was getting more exhausted daily, despite continuing to hit big totals.

Day 4: Murray Bridge to Bush Camp 180Km
Headed-out early to Wellington to catch the short 5 min ferry ride across the Murray river.  The road the other side seemed like quite an important moment as it turned down the coast towards home.

I stopped for a break in a town called Meningie where I was greeted by an older gentleman with a German accent.  He moved to Australia when he was 15 and had a job cycling to remote areas of the South Australian countryside delivering things. Because of this he often dreamed of doing a big cycle through Australia.  He never got round to it because of family commitments, so he was obviously envious and interested in what I was doing.  After a quick chat, he disappeared and came back with a snack for me, a very German snack of a sausage, cheese, and a pear.  It was very kind of him, and I duly ate all of it in good time.  All contributions gladly accepted.

Cool van from a Simpsons episode featuring, "The Big Book of British Smiles"

After a long rest at Salt Creek and a couple of ice creams, I was startled by an emu on the side of the road, but other than that the cycling was fairly uneventful.  I did notice that in this area of the country there were more young people in vans doing trips. Through the middle of Australia it seemed as if most people in campervans and caravans were retirees.

I wild camped in the evening and it was definitely the worst of the trip.  I was in the Coorong, which is a national park of lagoon systems, with lots of freshwater, rainwater, and seawater.  All this meant that the mosquitoes had plenty of places to breed.  I have never seen so many in my life.  I got into my tent early and stayed in there, even ate in there, and luckily no mosquitoes managed to get in.  Between my fly sheet and the inner part of the tent, however, there were hundreds buzzing away.  There was no where to rest the bike either, so I had an awkward packing and unpacking procedure with it on the ground.

Day 5: Bush Camp to Millicent 151Km
Quite a comfortable day.  I was tired in the morning then ate an extraordinary amount of food for brunch and felt more energetic after that.  To give you an idea of what I had to eat each day, I made a note of it on this particular day:

Large bowl of porridge with choc chips, nuts, and dried fruit.
10 biscuits
3 cereal bars
400g of fruit cake
2 foot-long Subway sandwiches
300g of Banana and Passionfruit cake
4 mandarins
2 bananas
150g of Dark chocolate
100g of milk chocolate
3 kingsize chocolate bars
Large plate of pasta and lentils

I saw a deer and lots of rabbits, which are both not indigenous to Australia.  I think the English brought both over to hunt, now they are both pests, especially the rabbits.  The southern part of Australia has a lot of foxes as well, which really are a nuisance.  Pesky English.

I was bracing myself for a wet night.  I got a pretty ordinary sleep in my tent inside a caravan park kitchen, which was undercover but partly exposed to the elements on one side - and guess where the wind was coming from!  I camped under the roof and set up my tarp to block the wind and rain.  Rubbish sleep, but at least most things stayed dry.

Day 6: Millicent to Heywood
What a miserable day!  It rained from start to finish.  I had 50Km to Mount Gambier, which had a very nice crater lake and sinkhole, and it actually didn't rain while I was there.  After that though it was rain, rain and more rain, on a busy road, full of big trucks bullying me into a bumpy hard shoulder.  As I crossed into Victoria, the conditions couldn't have been much worse and the road surface was definitely deteriorating.  Glad to see VicRoads is spending the exorbitant car registration fees they charge well.

Couldn't face another night in a tent with all the rain of the day, so I stayed in a cabin in a holiday park.

It rained every single day that I was in Victoria.

Day 7: Heywood to Princetown 181Km
A terrific day, and just what I needed.  Tail-winds the whole day and an afternoon of scenic beauty along the Great Ocean Road.  Looking out at the ocean for the first time since the East Timor Sea in Darwin, it started to dawn on me just what an achievement this was.

I stayed at the same campsite as I did when I went along the Great Ocean Road by car (in the other direction) with my mum in the summer.  Loads of kangaroos that seemed a lot less shy than in the summer and there were loads eating the lush grass on the cricket field in the recreation area.

That's just not cricket!

Day 8: Princetown to Torquay 170Km
Not the most kilometres in a day, but this was the hardest physical day of the trip. Serious hills through the Otway Ranges and along the coast on the Great Ocean Road. Really interesting and scenic cycling though, even with some rain about.  In fact, that rain soaked me as I was packing away my tent in the morning. 

Tough cycling through these ranges.

I was desperate to get to Torquay because it put me in striking distance of Queenscliff and the ferry across to Sorrento to make a quieter and more pleasant trip into Melbourne, but also because I knew of a hostel I could stay at in Torquay.  All my stuff was wet from the soaking in the morning, so camping would have been grim.  Torquay is famous for surfing, which I guess is why they would have a hostel.  Very nice hostel, and I was able to dry-out all my gear outside, which was perfect.

Day 9: Torquay to Melbourne, via the Mornington Peninsula 145Km
The final sprint to Melbourne!  I had a good morning at the hostel; plenty of coffee and got away really early.  This meant I could make the 9am Queenscliff ferry and the short trip across the neck of Port Philip Bay to Sorrento.  Once in Sorrento, it was 95Km north along the bay to Melbourne, a very pleasant finish, and the only time I was heading north since Darwin.  After a difficult 50Km or so, I flew the last 40 Km after a rest in Frankston and started to get my first glimpses of the city.  Mixed feelings of great relief, euphoria, and excitement were setting in.

Brighton Beach view of the city.  Almost there!

Albert Park was my final destination and I dropped-in on my gym, as it was on the way. I had done it, a grand total of 4209km (2615 miles) in just 28 days.  What an incredible experience, and a genuine success of a first major bicycle tour.  I can't wait for the next one, but perhaps I might take things a little easier.  By anyone's standards the distance I covered in a month was pretty huge.  The next one will be less of a challenge and more of a tour, it'll be interesting to see how they compare.

A familiar place to finish, Albert Park in Melbourne.