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Australia #5, Days 327 – 342: Cycling Adelaide to Melbourne via the Great Ocean Road

cycling the great ocean road

Days 327 – 328

The heatwave was well and truly over. I was cold, but thankful. Low to mid-20Cs took some time getting used to. Sam had flown in from an English winter, so he couldn’t relate. Off the bike, he would stroll around in shorts and a t-shirt, whilst I stood in a down jacket primed for an arctic expedition.

The second leg of the Australian adventure started with a steep climb into Adelaide’s beautiful wine region. We meandered quiet, countryside lanes, parallel to sprawling vineyards and farmland. It was more Surrey hills than Australian outback yet some of the most relaxing riding I’d done in Australia thus far.

The day’s ride was short, a warm-up for Sam’s legs. In Langhorne Creek, we pitched our tents at a popular RV rest area. The bicycles, as expected, drew attention. A caravaner approached us with a bottle of red. He’d sourced his medicine from the local vineyard, and kindly gave it to us. Rude not to, we indulged, until forced into a hazed coma.

cycling south australia

The following day, a small ferry took us across the flooded Murray River, and we drove hard against the headwind until we reached Meningie. Camped next to Lake Alexandrina, I shared tales of the excruciatingly painful headwind endured on the Nullarbor. Sam nodded in recognition. However, that type of headwind is one that can't be truly understood until it's been experienced. Luckily, for Sam, havoc was on the horizon.

Days 329 – 330

No better time for character building than Sam’s third day on the bike. A strong headwind was forecast that afternoon, so we rose before sunrise. Fresh off the plane, Sam’s eagerness and enthusiasm to cycle had him locked into a false state of calm. I knew all too well what the day had in store. And knew that no matter what, the headwind always wins. “This is supposed to be a holiday, I thought I’d left the headwind on the peninsula”, I moaned, as I reluctantly mounted my bike with sealed eyelids.

The Coorong National Park was a scenic coastal road with little traffic, wild sand dunes, and bustling wildlife. The first half of the ride was a breeze, the calm before the storm. Later, as forecast, the wind got worse by the hour, causing havoc to morale. The holiday was well and truly over. 5 kms out of Kingston, our destination, I waited for Sam. On arrival, he didn’t need to say anything, his bloodshot eyes and gormless expression said everything that there was to say. “I wasn’t moving. I was down to 6 – 8 mph. I thought I was going to lose balance," he murmured, defeated. It’s a tough gig, headwinds, I thought. I reminded him we only had 5 kms left. It was supposed to be a reminder that the hard work was almost over. But it did the opposite. We still had thirty minutes of pain to endure.

“That was the worst headwind I've ever experienced”, Sam announced, from the safety of Kingston’s campsite. In fairness, it was tortuous. And further validation for my obsession with the app, Windy. An obsession that Sam quickly took up. That night, we reviewed the following day’s weather – an even stronger headwind was forecast. Scarred by the day’s events, Sam suggested that in the morning we head 25 kms to the next town and wait out the wind. It was a holiday, so I didn’t oblige.

Alongside Windy, Sam downloaded Komoot. At least twice a day, we’d obsessively analyse routes and wind directions together; cycle, stop, eat, review the route, check the wind direction, repeat. Such was touring life.

At the campsite, we met Steve and his dog. An Englishman living in Adelaide, he was cycling with his dog to Sydney. He’d taken two months to cycle to Kingston from Adelaide. An undertaking, I deemed impossible. A funny guy, I was keen to follow his journey and see whether he’d make it to Sydney or not, so we kept in contact.*

A Cornish-esc seaside town with quaint houses and rolling countryside, we beat the 50 mph headwind and reached Robe by lunch. In true Aussie fashion, we spent that afternoon enjoying a good BBQ with locally brewed beers.

Days 331 – 332

With no wind in sight, we made steady progress towards Mount Gambier, our last South Australian outpost. Famous for its dormant volcano, now a tourist attraction with a shimmering turquoise lake, and dramatic craters that dotted the landscape. Sharon, our eccentric Warmshowers host, cooked us a hearty Kangaroo Spaghetti Bolognese, whilst she shared stories of her bicycle touring escapades through Asia with her young son. I’d cycled past many dead Kangaroos in my time, not once had I thought I’d end up eating one. It was Australia at its most authentic.

cycling to mount gambier

cycling to victoria

Sharon and her boyfriend joined us on the following morning’s ride to the Victorian border. For a woman in her older years, she was a rocket on the bike. A cyclist running off Duracell batteries, it was a struggle to keep up. We sprinted through pine tree forests, following a small canyon – a natural state border, until we parted ways in Nelson. Freezing, driving rain, accompanied us on the day’s final section. It was a physical and mental battle to stay warm. A battle that resulted in a down jacket and a waterproof being worn simultaneously. After learning about Australia’s largest seal colony living just off the shore in Cape Bridgewater, we made a slight detour to the coast and pitched on the grounds of a sleepy hotel.

Days 333 – 334

A real-life David Attenborough documentary, we spent the morning sat crossed-legged, like primary school kids, on a cliff face balcony, engrossed in nature.

camping at cape bridgewater

sunset at cape bridgewater

From Cape Bridgewater, we refuelled in Portland before following the main road along the coast to the small picturesque seaside town of Port Fairy. The following morning, we left camp, eager to push on towards the Great Ocean Road. As I cycled around a corner, I looked black to find that Sam was no longer on my tail. Naturally, I thought the worst – Turkey part two. I waited for a few minutes, not knowing how long I should wait before I retreated. He soon appeared, however, and stopped by my side looking flustered. His nose was bloodied. “Mate, what happened to your nose?”, I asked. “I just got hit by a tree!” he replied, touching his grazed nose. I had expected him to say anything but that. “A huge branch fell off the tree and whacked me in the face”, he went on to explain. I was trying to hold it together. Of all things that could have happened, his peacemaking trip had been halted by a tree. As we clipped in, I couldn’t hold it in any longer. With my head lent over the handlebars, I was in stitches. Since when did anyone get hit in the face by a falling branch?

cycling the great ocean road

Arguably one of Australia's most iconic landmarks, the Great Ocean Road follows sharp cliff edges along the wild Southern Ocean. Just as we reached the famous section of tarmac, so had a weather system from Antarctica. Temperatures plummeted to 14C, which caused a ferocious 50–75 kph tailwind and a huge shot of dopamine. It was dangerous riding. One local called us “reckless” which I agreed with. Gigantic waves smashed against the iconic rock formations, a dramatic spectatorship that proved difficult to stand upright. It was touch-and-go at times, but the ride was exhilarating. Adrenaline fuelled, we flew into Port Campbell, arriving soaked, cold but high on endorphins. Neither of us wanted to sleep outside. It felt more like the Yorkshire Dales than the Great Ocean Road. So after some back and forth, I was persuaded to stay in a hostel.

Day 335 – 336

We left the hostel to the bellowing echoes of ‘see you next Tuesday’ from the owner. It was a messy affair. One riddled with miscommunication and a man who shouldn’t be managing a hostel. An unfortunate start to our planned day off. Bewildered, we tried to process the event over a coffee. Like a strong espresso we stewed on the morning’s activity unable to understand what we had done to cause such rage. An hour had passed, and we were none the wiser, so we checked into a new hostel and tried to make the best out of a cold, rain sodden day.

cycling the great ocean road, twelve apostles

With good intentions to leave early the next morning, we stumbled upon an elderly American cyclist, who we joined for a coffee. We didn’t manage to leave Port Campbell until 1pm – a very late start. After a brief encounter with the Great Ocean Road’s Arch de Triumph, the Twelve Apostles, we followed the road inland. It was a long incline through forested tarmac. I spent the climb’s entirety on the hunt for Koalas – they were known to live in those parts. I heard a loud rustling to my left, so I jolted my head to the side of the road. There and behold, the backside of a bamboo-loving bear. He’d just fallen out of a tree and quickly scurried off, out of sight. It was just a glimpse, but enough to satisfy curiosity.

cycling the great ocean road

Sam and I reunited at the top of the climb, having a quick rest before we started the long, cold descent. We flew into Apollo Bay just as the sun had dropped below the horizon, marking the end to another successful day on the road.

Day 337

The Antarctic winter had come to its end. We woke to chirping birds, blue sky and a wave of heat. Dopamine refuelled, we joined holiday makers at the local coffee joint – an overpriced almond croissant type of place with an endless number of coffee bean flavours.

High on Ecuadorian caffeine, I had managed to leave my battery pack in the coffee shop. The error, which had the potential to cause a series of serious problematic issues, was only realised 100 kms east of Apollo Bay, in Lorne. As I may, or may not, have mentioned in previous blogs, my phone’s USB-C port refused to work, which meant my phone only charged wirelessly. And the battery pack had wireless charging. What entailed was a headache of conversations with the coffee shop. It was a Friday, a Bank Holiday weekend, the post office was closed, and I had planned to leave Melbourne the following Tuesday. I spent hours pondering what to do, with all avenues ending at the same conclusion: cycle to Melbourne – as planned, and wait until the pack was delivered.

It brought to light how heavily reliant I was on my phone. I used it for everything. Fortunately, Sam’s battery pack had wireless charging, so I traded my two spares for his wireless one, until I was reunited with mine. I’ve said it before, bicycle touring is 30% cycling, 70% admin and problem solving.

cycling the great ocean road

Reunited with The Great Ocean Road sign, twelve years since my first encounter, we jumped off the bikes, and pulled out the tripod. To passing caravaners, it was an ‘influencers in the wild’ sketch, but to us, it was two mates documenting the iconic finale of their wild adventure. Cycling the Great Ocean Road was impressive, the best section of road I’d cycled in Australia. Although, with no hard shoulder, Australian perception would have you believe that it’s a road too dangerous for cyclists. I’d say otherwise. Given, it’s a narrow winding slab of tarmac, hung onto a cliff face with very little space. But because of that, traffic is slow.

Just outside Torquay, stress limits hit rock bottom when we met a battleground of gravel. I’d grown used to tarmac-less obstacles, but Sam was far from accustomed to it. He pushed his new carbon fork pride and joy for two kilometres, cursing Google’s cycle-friendly route. Google Maps: 1, Sam: 0. Morale was further lowered after reaching Queenscliff ferry to find it was closed, we had missed the last ferry.

Days 338 – 342

With a new dawn, comes a new day. The short ferry crossing led us to Sorrento, we spent the day hanging onto the coast of Port Phillip until a skyscapered outline came into focus. Entering Melbourne was a simple affair, much quicker and stress-free than previous metropolis episodes. We wrapped the second leg of the Australian tour with a victory lap on the F1’s Grand Prix circuit – an incredible end. To mark the occasion, we took a few pictures on the finish line before calling it a day.

bicycle touring port philip melbourne

cycle adelaide to melbourne

cycling adelaide to melbourne

We met Leonie, Eddie and their friends in South Melbourne market at a gin and oyster festival. On arrival, everyone appeared to be a slice of pristine sophistication and well-put-togetherness. Affluent. It was more of an illusive comparison than actuality, but it was the first time I’d felt self-conscious. I was unclean, unshaven, wearing salt stained clothes, with a fully loaded bicycle in the middle of an upmarket, cobbled street. I confided in Leonie’s sister, Maia, “Ed! What are you talking about, you’ve got nothing to be self-conscious about, you’ve just cycled 20,000 kms. 20,000 kms! You are the most interesting person in the room.” Thanks Maia, just the pep talk I needed.

Pep talk aside, the problem was that I felt so out of touch with normal society. The life I’d been living was an anomaly. I couldn’t relate to anything but cycling and ‘survival’ – my days consisted of finding food, water and a place to sleep. With that, I found it difficult to know how to find common ground. Luckily, the group were welcoming, and only interested in the trip. So, I picked up a gin – when in Rome – and regurgitated the stories I knew were guaranteed to get a reaction.

To some, I was the most interesting person in the room, but to me, I was dirty, distant and removed, with no social skills. In hindsight, Melbourne was the beginning of the end – the start of the transition back to ‘normal’. Melbourne to Auckland would be child’s play, I had no extremities to conquer, and only Western convenience and culture for company.

Leonie’s mum, Jenny, had very kindly offered to host Sam and I whilst we were in Melbourne. It was five days of unlimited hospitality and generosity. Again, a home away from home, where I was made part of the family; a family I would always be thankful for. Whilst I waited for the battery pack, I dog sat, caught up with my mate Mark and his girlfriend Sarah, who lived in Melbourne, enjoyed a BBQ, carried out bike maintenance, and I was treated to one or two lunches by my hosts. It was a lovely forced break, one I am extremely grateful for.

As Sam boarded his flight, I prepared the bicycle for two more weeks of cycling. The end was insight.

*Update: Steve arrived in Sydney six months after leaving Adelaide with his dog. Incredible work.


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