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Australia #6, Days 342 – 359 : Cycling Melbourne to Sydney via Canberra

cycling australia from perth to sydney

Days 342 – 347

Returning to the steed felt like a chore. Not only did I not want to leave Melbourne, but it was the longest time I’d had off the bike since Siem Reap.

The following six days were an uneventful journey through Victoria’s rolling countryside. I bounced from one town to the next. Locals warned me about the heat – little did they know that I was an outback veteran. And I experienced a good taste of Australia’s infamous hatred towards cyclists.

wild camping lake wellington australia

On the east side of Lake Wellington, I fell asleep to the sound of waves hitting the shore, and woke to a background of shimmering turquoise. At Nowa Nowa, I stumbled upon a charming campsite in a forest. Next to a stream, I pitched beneath an old, disused wooden railway bridge. That evening I shared stories with a cycle touring couple from Brisbane. They had spent time cycling South America, which meant they were well-versed on returning home after a long trip. Advice I greatly appreciated.

camping in nowa nowa

Briefly, I joined the Great Alpine Road – the Great Ocean Road’s mountainous equivalent – the cycle was an incredible one, an unexpected discovery with no prior expectations. From Cann River, a small village nestled at the foothills of the Snowy Mountains, I met a split in the road. Coast or mountains; I opted for mountains.

Shortly after Cann River, I found a motorcyclist strewn across the asphalt with his motorbike on its side. I quickly stopped and helped him carry the bike to the road side. He was in shock and didn’t know what had happened. The motorbike was completely written off, so I stayed with him until he had rung a mechanic. I only had chocolate to offer, which was politely declined, so I wished him well and continued on with the day’s climb.

Deep in a forest of gum trees, high in the Snowy Mountains, I noticed the smell of smoke. The smoke worsened the further I cycled. I checked the wildfire app. There was a ‘controlled’ fire just off the main road. With a little hesitation, I continued on. Crossing into New South Wales, I reappeared from the forest to find smoke billowing into the sky a few kilometres to my right. All roads headed in that direction were closed. Thankfully, my route stood unaffected.

cycling australia bushfire

cycling the snowy mountains

The Snowy Mountain National Park was scenic, an area of outstanding natural beauty and a rival to the Scottish Highlands. After a Warmshower’s stop in Bombala, a small town that sits at an elevation of 1,000m, I chiselled away at the two day ride to Canberra.

Days 348 – 350

Australia’s capital, the city of cars, roundabouts, and unforgiving hills, came into sight as I cursed my wrinkled, saturated hands. Driving horizontal rain, with no let up, had tested the day’s patience. On autopilot, I rode to McDonald’s, a bid to warm up and dry off, before continuing on to the countryside.

Fiona’s laughter and smile was infectious. Harriet’s mum, who had followed my trip since Central Asia, had invited me to stay with her. An enthusiastic, charismatic woman, with an ever-present English accent, despite having lived in Australia for some thirty years. Only 10 kms north of Canberra, it was world’s away from the capital. No mains water, sprawling countryside of farmland and gum trees, and a lack of neighbours. Fiona runs an equestrian business with her mischievous labrador Orla; half dog, half Kangaroo, Orla was locked in an adorable state of hyperactivity. Fiona ran me a bath, the first tub I’d sat in in 12 months. Afterwards, over dinner and a bottle of wine, I learnt of the many lives Fiona had lived. A journalist, an artist, an author, and now the owner of an equestrian farm. It was an intriguing, entertaining listen.

cycling to canberra farm

I cycled into Canberra on a rest day, not an advisable quest. I clocked over 60 kms as I looped around the city. It began by meeting Deb for lunch, a school friend of Harriet’s, who made sure I was well-fed and versed in Canberra life, followed by an afternoon at the History Museum. Australia’s extreme weather was well documented, but the same couldn’t be said for the First Nations people. The exhibition lacked any real insight into their mis-treatment, imprisonment, or acknowledgment of the Stolen Generation. It was focused entirely on their culture and present day integration, or lack of.

Canberra was an interesting city. It’s a green urbanised area made up of segregated suburbs. Its large roads catered for little traffic, and its lack of people gave it the feeling of a slight emptiness. With another rest day, I limited exercise to a walk with Orla and a dip in the hot tub – Rob, Fiona’s son, lived in the outhouse, which came with a hot tub. Fiona was off to the UK that evening, so we hugged goodbye, in acknowledgement that we’d see each other again.

Days 351 – 352

Rob and his girlfriend cooked a farewell breakfast; a culinary delight that marked the beginning of the end of Australia. Breakfast had fuelled the morning’s meander through Canberra’s endless suburbs and roundabouts. The return to New South Wales was rewarded with an endorphin-induced descent along Lake George. Before dusk set in, I pulled off the highway and onto a quiet gravel road that led to Claire’s (Deb’s mum) cottage. She didn’t know me, but opened up her home without a second thought. We enjoyed Kangaroo steak before calling it an early night. Claire was a doctor who travelled the country for work. And I, a bicycle tourer who travelled the country for fun. Either way, travel was a tiring business.

Nina and John (from Perth), the saviours that they are, had introduced me to their friends, Rosemary and Scott, in Moss Vale. The upmarket town was a short 20 kms ride from Claire’s cottage – an unexpected rest day. As I walked into their beautiful home, I wouldn’t have been surprised if they questioned what they’d signed up for. Their home had an old English charm and grandeur to it. With well kept gardens sitting on a backdrop of deep green rolling fields, it felt anything but Australian.

Scott was a retiree, who had worked in Sydney his whole life. He now looked after a herd of cows in his field next to their garden – a hobby. Whereas Rosemary was semi-retired, working for a charity part-time. Over a feast of roast lamb, worthy of a royal, not a malnourished cyclist like myself, we spent the evening discussing bushfires, politics, and First Nations. The ability to stay with strangers was incredible for many reasons, but deeper discussions about their country were one of the biggest draws and enjoyments. The best way to understand, and get to know, a country is to speak with those that lived there.

Later, I retired to my quarters and soaked in yet another bath. Two baths in a matter of days. How times had changed.

Days 353 – 359

The last day of cycling across Australia was a day I never thought would come. Again, I bid goodbye to strangers, turned friends, and raced towards Sydney. I followed the highway, barely pedalling for 100 kms. It was pure bliss. A downhill affair, not a single incline. A glorious few hours on the bike.

cycling australia from perth to sydney

By the time I reached the city’s outskirts, the heavens opened. Drenched, I meandered around Sydney’s downtown until I had locked eyes on the Sydney Opera House. A fitting finish line. I was greeted at the finish by ear-to-ear smiles and the enthusiastic waving of Drago and Coby, the couple I’d met on the Nullarbor. They were equally as soaked. After a quick photoshoot, we made haste towards the Manly ferry, and to their home. En route, Drago, bursting with pride and excitement, told anyone who would listen: “This guy has just cycled here from London, he cycled across the Nullarbor. Isn’t that AMAZING.”

cycling australia, arriving in Sydney

Drago, originally from Serbia, and Coby, originally from the Netherlands, met in Sydney in the 70s. Coby was a backpacker, whilst Drago was a construction worker who had emigrated without knowing a word of English. They met on a plane and have been together ever since. They were a wholesome couple, full of warmth and kindness. Over the next three days, I got to know the couple on a deeper level; their enthusiasm for life was infectious and admirable. They cared for me like grandparents would for their grandchildren. Drago’s eagerness to share his 70 years of wisdom led to conversations about life, its meaning, and how one should live, “be honest, be loyal, and give to others” was his mantra. An emotional man, Drago would often get teary when I retold stories of kindness I’d experienced on the road.

little manly sydney cycling australia

We ventured to all corners of Manly and little Manly, visiting every pocket of their lives. By the end, I wondered why anyone would want to live anywhere else, but Manly. It was perfect. A one day road trip saw us beach hop up Sydney’s picturesque suburban east coast. This was followed by a kayak trip with Coby. They lived on the seafront, so we joined Little Manly’s still waters from their garden and paddled to a secluded beach, only accessible by boat. That evening, Drago had kindly organised a farewell BBQ and invited the entire apartment block. It was a fitting send off. Staying with Coby and Drago was one of Australia’s highlights, a time that I treasured and will always be thankful for. Hopefully, one day, our paths will cross again.

cycling perth to sydney, arriving in sydney

cycling australia arriving in sydney

cycling australia, sydney skyline

From Manly I headed to Bondi Beach. Christa, an Australian friend (and former housemate) from London, and her parents were in town. They had very kindly invited me to spend two nights with them in their hotel apartment. Last time I saw Christa was the morning I left London, yet within minutes of being in the same room, our brotherly-sisterly, vocally-abusive, kind of friendship was reignited. Nothing had changed in 12 months, not a single thing. It was Christa’s birthday, so we went for dinner with her wider family and friends. Christa’s parents, Bernie and Zac, were kind, welcoming and generous, treating me like a family member. It was a perfect end to Australia.

When I looked at a map of the country, I couldn’t believe I’d cycled its entire length. Seven unforgettable weeks full of extreme weather, unbelievable headwinds, sleep deprivation, and the hardest days treading tarmac I’d ever experienced. But above all, Australia was home to unrelenting kindness and generosity. Not only had 12 (mostly) strangers opened up their homes – something I will never forget – but I was inundated with small acts of kindness. I was offered water, given water, bought dinners, given food, had coffee paid for, and ultimately cared for. To everyone who helped, thank you.

cycling australia from perth to sydney

Much like Turkey, Central Asia, and Pakistan, Australia had a profound impact. I had no expectations for the country, it was just a land I had to cycle through in order to reach my final destination, but its vastness, hostility, weather and hospitality were… unexpected, and, in some ways, unlike anywhere I had been before. Australia is much more than Melbourne, Sydney, and surfing on the East Coast. It’s rich with culture, wildlife, wilderness, beauty and history – albeit a complicated one.

Boarding the plane to Queenstown marked the end of a 12-month long summer, but the beginning of the end of the trip. New Zealand, the home of hobbits, mountains and hot springs, would be the final country, the last leg. A three week finale.


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