A walk, a cycle and a swim. And chips. And potato cakes.
We finally bought some bikes! It’s been five months since we got back to Australia, and we really meant to do it earlier. But wow, researching bikes is boring as shit, so in the end we just went for some entry-level kind of mountain bikes for noodling around on the rail trail and so on. Anyway, the bikes were in Maffra, so we decided to walk there, collect them (and helmets) and cycle home.
There’s not much to say about walking the Stratford-Maffra section of the rail trail that I haven’t already said. Once you’re on the old rail line, it’s mostly straight, it’s pretty flat, there aren’t that many standout points of interest. Unburdened by much in the way of baggage, we made good time, counting off kilometre markers in well under our standard 15 minutes. The sun was emerging and as I had foolishly forgotten to sunscreen my arms and was wearing short sleeves, I wrapped one of my new bandannas around my forearm for sun protection. It worked pretty well.
I also spent a bit of time with the bandanna in my hat for extra shade. And as we walked along we found an old hat thing that someone had lost - just a visor/brim with loose fabric, which I think people wear under helmets? Anyway, it had been there for a while by the looks of it, so I took it home and put it in the wash and I’ll give it a go.
It’s not that the walk is bad - it’s just quite samey. So it was nice to get into Maffra and walk past houses and gardens - some interesting things to see and smell! We headed straight to the bike shop and picked up the bikes and helmets. The bike shop owner (Wayne?) was quite bemused that we’d walked from Stratford. It took very little encouragement from him for us to go and grab some chips (very good) and potato cakes (good) for lunch from the take-away shop down the road. We ate them in the park-that-is-also-an-RV-park, and then wheeled our way back to the rail trail.
We saw a couple of black shouldered kites (which are actually quite small, more like a falcon - the book says it’s a hawk). One of them seemed to be quite young, though it didn’t have juvenile plumage, and seemed to be yelling for food? Also on our travels we saw shrike thrushes, magpies, straw necked and white/sacred ibis, an egret, many fairy wrens, many thornbills (I assume yellow-rumped, because we call them “yellow butt birds”) and many red browed finches (“red butt birds”). We even spotted a pelican flying over!
The cycle home was a lot quicker. Quelle surprise! It took us about 50 minutes to get back to Stratford. The trail is, as I said, “pretty flat”. But that’s walkers’ flat, rather than cyclists’ flat. Fortunately, most of the elevation involves a slight descent towards the Stratford end, so we did get to coast a little bit (from a whopping 37m above sea level to 13m above!). This section of the trail improves when cycled - the views change and evolve more noticeably, and glimpses and views of the hills are very enjoyable. Of course, I barely took any photos.
Anyway, back to the trip. I packed my swimming top, so when we got back to Stratford I changed into that, whipped off my shorts and went for a swim in my undies. And by swim I mean dip. As in, I immersed myself twice, rinsed my head and my legs of sweat and dirt, then hightailed it out of there. The Dooyeedang (Avon River) was very refreshing and not quite as cold as the Ovens! And then we cycled home. All in all, a good outing.
The walk was easy, and we covered about 11km in about 2hr 20mins - usually I’d estimate 10km in 2hr 30mins, so that’s pretty quick for us. Maybe I’ll try a speed walk along this stretch one day! I didn’t carry a pack (just the ‘new’ bum bag carried across my body), nor did I use the sticks. My body felt pretty good - I tried to change the angle of my hips a few times (e.g. tucking in my tailbone) to help ease any issues with my lower back. No blisters or other aches from the walk.
However, although I took care to keep the gears nice and easy on the cycle, my knees still felt a little creaky when we got back. I will need to be extremely careful with this if going out for longer rides - especially with Dan, as he tends to fang it and I don’t like being left behind! I really don’t want to lose all the progress I’ve made with my knees since last year. Also, next time I’ll wear my cycle shorts because the old nether regions felt bruised for days!
Apart from walking, I'm also doing a lot of logistical food planning for the Heysen Trail. This includes things like counting how many days between towns, therefore how many meals I need for each section, trying to research whether I'll be able to actually buy enough food for those sections in town or if I need to pack some extras in my drop boxes, thinking about where my drop boxes will go. I'm also experimenting with different low- or no-cook recipes (I've eaten some pretty horrible chia puddings while on this journey!), dehydrating fruits and vegetables, hummus and fruit/veg leathers, making green powder, and so on. I want to leave a lot of the dehydration of actual meals until July, as a rule of thumb is they should be eaten within 3-4 months. I'm thinking of making a pasta with tomato/nut sauce, a sweet potato/lentil dahl and some sort of chilli with beans and possibly quinoa. I'll also take noodles and some extra veg and flavourings to add to whatever I find in the little general stores - be that more noodles or pasta (yum), instant mashed potato (OK, in a pinch) or cous cous (gross). What things do you pack when walking and camping?
The Gippsland Plains Rail Trail and Dooyeedang (Avon River) are part of Brayakaulung (Gunaikurnai) Country. This always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.
After three days on the East Gippsland Rail Trail, we said goodbye to both our friends and the dedicated bike track and struck off on our own.
Bairnsdale to Stratford
The second part of our tour saw us cycling for two days on an exploratory (read: somewhat winding) route along quiet roads and gravel tracks from Bairnsdale to Stratford, again through GunaiKurnai (Brabralung and Brayakaulung) country. With a few detours and one abandoned route, we ended up cycling about 85km over these two days.
DAY 4: BAIRNSDALE TO GLENALADALE, ~45KM
It had been another chilly night - though we were both generally warm enough in our sleeping bags and layers - when a magpie carolled right beside the tent at 5am. I got out my recorder to catch the song . . . so it didn’t make another peep until after 5:30. Cheeky bugger! With just the two of us, breakfast was a quick affair - instant noodles in the camp kitchen as magpies scavenged around the tables. After checking our route on the wifi, we set off at 7am. A personal best (or at least earliest) for this trip!
We spun along beside the Mitchell River on an otherwise deserted path. It was beautiful, with the big moon hanging in the morning sky, the cool air biting our ears, the still water sporting hi-res reflections. We stopped to read a few of the information boards, then headed across the river and up the hill through Wy Yung. It was our first, but definitely not our last, hill of the day!
We followed our screencap maps without too much of a hitch along the Calulu Road, past pretty houses and farms with views to the south over the plains and to the north into the forested range that gradually lifts itself up to become the high country of the Victorian Alps.
The climbs were steeper than those we’d encountered on the rail trail, so we were glad we’d had a few days to build up some muscle and stamina. The downhills were also steeper, and I had a lot of fun daring myself to fly down them without using the brakes (don’t worry, there were hardly any cars that early on a Sunday morning).
At the turn off down to the Mitchell River flats, we made a brief attempt to follow the dirt bike track through the bush beside the road, but the ruts were too deep for a pannier-laden bike, so we returned to the road and coasted south to re-cross the river. I’d never been here before, and I was surprised how much the geography reminded me of the Orbost flats. We followed the long, straight, flat roads then pedalled up the escarpment to Lindenow.
Heeding Liz’s words from a couple of days earlier, we made our way directly to Long Paddock for a seat in the window, a view of the world passing by, a good coffee, a luxurious second breakfast, entertainment provided by a nest of swallows under the verandah . . . Nice!
We’d actually made much better time than expected. We were meeting some of my extended family for lunch down by the river at 1:30pm, but looking at our map we realised we were only 20 minutes or so away and had three hours to get there! So we did what any self-respecting bike tourist should do: we got massive slices of cake to take away, went and sat in a little park with a fantastic view out over the river valley and up to the distant mountains, pegged our tent fly out to dry in the stiff breeze, ate cake and soaked up the delicious weather.
And then, when we still had a couple of hours to go, we decamped to another park in Lindenow and lay under the trees to read our books. I realised I was happy. Content. Present. Couldn’t remember a time when I was sitting in an office instead of cycling from place to place, couldn’t remember what it was like in England in autumn instead of in Australia in spring. I really wanted to just keep going - or at least do a lot more cycle touring in future!
We ended up down at the river with an hour or so to spare, so we poked around below Wuk Wuk Bridge to find a nice shady spot for a picnic. Over the river, at a place that is marked on Google Maps as a caravan park, but which seems like it is half abandoned, we waited under a shady little tree. We read our books, listened to birds and bees and passing tractors, motorbikes and utes, and I had a nap . . .
On the dot, up drove my aunt and uncle (the ones who spent a couple of nights with us on our Snowy River adventure last year) and my cousin with her two kids. We set up our picnic by the river, chatted, laughed, ate sandwiches and generally had a lovely time. It was nice and sunny, so I had a paddle in the river. (The water wasn’t cold by UK standards, and if I’d had a towel I might have had a swim, but my cousin’s eldest kid started shivering and saying she was cold - I guess if you come from Cairns, 23 degrees with a breeze probably is quite cool.)
And now it was 3pm. We planned to meet my parents with their car and trailer (to take us home for the night) at 5pm. Our meeting spot was a decent distance away, so we said our goodbyes and cycled off into the warm afternoon. The first section was delightful - flat, quick, open, with views of hills, farms and dead reptiles beside the road. Then came the hills. Oh, the hills. We pedalled up all of them, but I was mostly in the easiest gear. The downhills weren’t so bad, but as Dan complained, “They’re over so quickly!”
We passed The Fingerboards, an allegedly well known landmark that I had never heard of, which appeared to mostly be a crossroads with a handmade wooden sign that said “The Fingerboards”. From here, a sign pointed south to Stratford (38km) . . . but we took the road north towards Glenaladale, because we’d told mum and dad to meet us at Beverleys Road. And after all those hills, we were getting pressed for time. The road continued to undulate - nothing massively steep, but enough to slow us down and make Dan a bit queasy. The main thing I remember, though, is a magical moment when we were coasting downhill and a huge mob of sulphur crested cockies lifted off from the paddock to our left, and swirled up through the trees, across the road and all around us. What a rush!
We made it to our meeting place at 5:01pm. (Of course, my parents were already there!) In the car, we took the road we’d planned to cycle the next day. There were a lot of hills. Too many hills. We decided another plan was in order. But first, a bath, a cuppa and a BBQ with the extended family - my sister had arrived, and our lunch companions re-joined us for the evening.
DAY 5: THE FINGERBOARDS TO STRATFORD, ~40KM
Unsurprisingly, having a comfy bed and a proper breakfast meant a later start. We jumped in the car with my dad and sister and they drove us back up to the Fingerboards. This time, we took the other way back towards Stratford - at least for a few kilometres, before turning off down a bumpy dirt road. We passed a couple of houses and paddocks, and enjoyed the ride beneath the trees.
The final building was part of a Christmas tree farm (called Hobyahs!) - but instead of heading through their front gate, we veered off down the sandy track into the huge plantation area managed by HVP. (We only travelled on named tracks, but perhaps we were meant to get a permit/pass? There weren’t any signs where we entered the area, so we didn’t even think we might be on private roads!) Not too far in, we stopped to observe a flock of yellow tailed black cockatoos in the pine trees. They were gossiping and chatting to each other, but as we drew closer they raised their voices in a chorus of creaking alarm calls. Some flew off, but others stayed, chuckling quietly and tearing up pinecones to get at the nuts. A few, sitting right up the top of the trees, looked like Christmas ornaments.
We got a few really good views as we ground and slipped and puffed our way up the hills. One recently logged hilltop reminded me of being on the moors in the UK and offered a pretty speccy vista over the surrounding trees to the hills beyond.
Some of the tracks were a bit rough, but our bikes handled everything well. It probably helped that I didn’t have panniers, and Dan only had a few snacks in his. We spent about a minute on a sealed road all the way through the plantation area, crossing a creek, before heading back off on other logging tracks. For the most part, the tracks and roads are all laid out in a grid system, which makes navigation fairly unstressful - we knew we’d just have to keep going west, south, west, and we’d hit the next main road. I enjoyed riding on the wide side grades, which were sandy and smooth - but also sliced through with deep water drainage cuts every now and then, which I had to avoid.
We spent some time cycling beside some dry paddocks - cows on one side, the stripped carcasses of pine cones on the other - but also enjoyed the wooded sections. Riding through one pretty little valley with birds calling all around reminded me that this might be mostly a plantation of non-native trees, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t habitat for wildlife. Probably our most spectacular sighting was an emu running down the track in front of us. At first I thought it was running towards us - a bit of a scary thought! - but the optical illusion soon righted itself and we watched it head off into the bush. We also saw quite a few wallabies - and a fox.
I think it was just before midday when we got out onto the Stockdale Road and decided to stop for a drink, a wee and a snack of chicken salt Pringles (thanks Stephanie and Danni!). Having made good time, we weren’t in any rush. And anyway, we knew the rest of the cycle wouldn’t be too difficult - sealed road, not too much elevation gain, a quiet time of day . . . We were accompanied along the way by what seemed like hundreds of pairs of eastern rosellas (with perhaps a dozen rainbow lorikeets thrown in). A few cars passed us, a couple of buses and a few motorbikes. In the distance, we saw another cyclist - a serious one, in lycra - but they headed off in another direction.
And suddenly we were arriving in Stratford. We took the obligatory photos with the town signs - yes, it is on the Avon (but Avon is pronounced with a soft A as in ‘had’) - then cycled to my parents’ new place. A flock of corellas swirled over us, surrounding us with their squeaky door calls as we turned our second to last corner. And then we were home - just in time for lunch.
What a brilliant holiday! I loved cycling and hanging out with Dan, Stephanie and Danni, watching the scenery and landscape change as we pedalled, hearing the birds in the bush, seeing wildlife scurry off, relaxing in small town campsites and generally being a tourist. I think we were very lucky with the weather (apart from the wind on the third day). There were a few things I learnt:
A few more thank yous for this section: my parents, for shuttling us and the bikes around, putting us up, feeding us; my aunt, uncle, cousin and niblings for the picnic lunch and BBQ dinner; my sister, for plotting a future adventure with me (can’t wait!); and of course Liz and Dave from Snowy River Cycling, who really went above and beyond, and even picked the bikes up from Stratford at the end, which saved us having to ferry them back to Bairnsdale or Orbost. I highly recommend looking up Snowy River Cycling if you are planning to cycle in the area (they run tours, too, which look amazing).
If you fancy some further reading on related topics, here are a few recommendations:
Would you like more about our travels in Australia? As well as our Snowy River adventure, I really like these two posts (if I do say so myself) about our first visit back after over four years away: 1 - Country, 2 - City.
Two weeks in the sunny, warm Australian spring? Five days cycling through Gippsland bush and farmland? Camping with friends and picnicking with family? Yes please!
We spent a lovely half term holiday in Australia and the main event was a five day cycle tour from Orbost to Stratford. It was the first time we’d been cycle touring, and I loved (almost) every minute of it. Here’s the first part - Part 2 coming soon!
I am not a frequent cyclist, and while Dan used to cycle all over the place when we lived in Melbourne, that was several years ago. But after hiring bikes for a day on our Snowy River adventure last year, the seed was sown. We got in touch with Snowy River Cycling to arrange bike hire, invited a couple of friends along for the ride, and booked some campsites along the way (with Australia-side help from my mum!). And then we started training.
First, we went on a tandem bike ride from Hastings to Bexhill to get some ice creams. Fifty minutes each way and 20 minutes for ice cream. Well, you have to start somewhere, right?
Next, we went for a ride around Bewl Water, a reservoir not too far from us. The circuit is about 12mi/20km, and we completed it in just under three hours with some snack, photo and rest stops. This confirmed the need for padded shorts and gloves, so we went shopping. While we were at it, I thought I should get a pair of shoes (I don’t really have anything other than work shoes, walking boots and thongs/flip-flops, none of which are good for cycling), and when I found a bright pink pair, I knew they were the ones!
Bewl is on our way to That London, so a couple of weekends later on our way to the city we went for a morning cycle - just for two hours, toting thermos and bickies for morning tea - to try out all our new gear. It felt much better, and I wasn’t walking like a cowboy the next day.
With time running out, it was easiest to stick to what we knew, so the weekend before we left we went all the way around Bewl Water once again. We went the other way this time and I was able to cycle all the hills bar one. My crotch was prepared for what was to come. All that stood between us and East Gippsland was 3 hours to London in the car, an hour in a taxi to Heathrow, 24+ hours in two planes, a lift from Tullamarine with a friend, some Melbourne public transport, the VLine train to Stratford and a 3 hour drive with mum and dad to Orbost. Easy peasy.
East Gippsland Rail Trail
The first three days of our tour were along the East Gippsland Rail Trail, which stretches approximately 100km from Orbost to Bairnsdale, through GunaiKurnai (Krowathunkooloong and Brabawooloong) country. Our friends Danni and Stephanie joined us for this section.
My parents helped get us and our gear to Orbost, where Dan and I picked up our hire bikes the night before we set off. After my folks left, we did a tiny tour of the main street, had a look at the new mural depicting local Indigenous foods and totems under the bridge, ate chips for dinner in Forest Park and shopped for some food supplies. A big moon bobbed in the dusky pastel sky as we ate tinned fruit, then bedded down for a cold (~5 degrees) night at Orbost Caravan Park.
DAY 1: ORBOST TO NOWA NOWA, ~40KM
I woke with the birds at 5am. This set the tone for every morning: waking up around 5am, snoozing until about 5:30, showering and packing after 6, having a leisurely breakfast with the crew around 7, taking the tent down, sorting out the day’s food and heading off around 8-8:30.
The trail started off nice and easy, heading over the Snowy and across the flats past cows and beside the old timber viaduct, which is in much need of conservation. The hired bikes were fantastic to ride. We skipped the cycle up to Grandview Lookout, preferring instead to save our lungs and legs for the day ahead. Still, we got some views through the trees over Bete Bolong and Jarrahmond farmland to distant hills as we slowly climbed the escarpment, then cycled around the back of the timber mill at Newmerella.
Dan and I had cycled parts of this section last time, but it was different in the spring. In fact, we haven’t been in Australia in the spring since we left seven years ago, and I was surprised by just how many bush flowers are out at this time of year - callistemon, melaleuca, orchids, flowering gums. We stopped to make a cup of tea at a handily placed picnic bench. Shrike thrushes, wattle birds, whip birds, currawongs and kookaburras called from the depths of the dry, grey bush around us.
The late morning heated up and the clouds burnt away, leaving bright blue skies. Wallabies scattered in front of our bikes as we crunched along, keeping a lookout for a water tank kept full for cyclists, walkers and horse riders by the lovely people at Snowy River Cycling.
Shortly after that we stopped under a picnic shelter at Partellis Crossing for what became our usual lunch - avocado on some sort of carb (Vita-Weats today - one of the Australian foods I miss). We chatted and soaked in the scenery for almost an hour - tall trees, deep blue sky, a few little birds flitting around. Relaxing.
On our hired mountain bikes (Giant Talon), Dan and I didn’t have any complaints about the trail, but Danni and Stephanie felt the loose gravel and bumpy surface more than we did. The first day was definitely the worst in this regard. On the up side, being a rail trail, the gradients were pretty mild. The main exceptions were when we reached the old wooden trestle bridges that span steep valleys. These bridges are blocked off and unsafe to cross, so the path sometimes heads straight down to cross a small creek, then straight back up the other side. We stopped at most of these to see the bridges or remnants of bridges - though at one point we could hardly hear each other over the wall of cicada noise!
Approaching one of these bridges towards the end of the day, the beautiful, secluded Waiwera valley opened up on the right. On the left, in an unshaded hillside paddock, a sheep was stuck on its back. Forgoing the scenery, I hopped through the fence, got the sheep sitting upright (I couldn’t get it to stand), and poured some water into its mouth. I hope it sorted itself out.
The final stretch took us up a long, gentle hill, then down a much steeper hill and over the bridge into Nowa Nowa. We stayed at Mingling Waters - under new management as of four days earlier! Unfortunately, we missed the famous vegan burgers, but I filled up on potato cakes.
We visited the Big Root (which I have memories of from when I was very young - maybe a toddler - when it was up on the hill at the timber mill), then lounged around and read in the lovely old mess hall (which I have memories of from when I was a teenager, when we’d come here for music nights) before Danni cooked us up some dhal and rice for tea.
DAY 2: NOWA NOWA TO BRUTHEN, ~30KM
After another cold night, I was the first up. I wandered down to the jetty, spotting an eastern whipbird on the way (I used to hear them daily, but I’m not sure I’d ever seen one before) and watched mist rising off the peaceful water. A small bird friend joined me for a while, and silvery fish made ripples as they surfaced and jumped.
Back up at camp, I headed back to the others for breakfast and, when Dan and I were ready to go, we went to the general store for some lunch supplies. There wasn’t much on offer, but we scrounged together enough for a decent lunch (avocado, tomato, tortillas and - much to everyone’s amusement - chicken salt as there was no plain salt to be found). We were leaving Nowa Nowa when Danni noticed a tear in the wall of her rear tyre. We decided to press on, knowing that if it came to the worst, we would be able to walk back to Nowa Nowa or on to Bruthen, no more than 15 or so kilometres from the very middle of the day.
There seemed to be a lot of uphill (albeit very gentle uphill) in the morning, punctuated mainly by the stunning span of the old trestle bridge at Stony Creek (sometimes written Stoney Creek). I visited the bridge a few times when I lived in the area, and it was just as impressive as I remembered. It’s amazing to see the evidence of such tall trees and to think of the engineering involved in construction. The facilities have improved since I was there last - a sealed path does a switchback up the side of the valley, with toilets (feat. nesting swallows!) and picnic benches on offer. We passed a group of cyclists as we left the bridge, and I wondered if this was the tour that Liz from Snowy River Cycling was guiding . . .
A few kilometres later, we heard, “I recognise those panniers!” . . . yep, it was Liz. We had a good chat and thanked her for maintaining the water tanks. When Dan and I said we would be going through Lindenow in a few days, Liz told us we had to go to The Long Paddock. In fact, “If you go to Lindenow and don’t visit Long Paddock, you might as well not have come to Australia!” Noted. Danni mentioned the issue with her tyre and Liz offered to bring a replacement to Bruthen that evening - so helpful. Then she mentioned that she had a second hand one in the support van that would be back at the bridge with the rest of the touring group. Danni decided to ride back and change the tyre. Dan, Stephanie and I pulled off to the side of the trail and made tea, ate biscuits and made stick art.
After Danni returned and had her own cup of tea, we continued on through the bushland of Colquhoun (pronounced ka-hoon. This seems to be dedicated a ‘regional park’ these days, rather than a State Forest, my cynicism says that’s probably so it’s easier to destroy through logging) [Edit: maybe not?!]. I’d always wanted to have a poke around this area and it was special to finally be there, noticing the change in vegetation and soil and the evidence of previous bushfires.
We leapfrogged with a Belgian man and his son, who had cycled Bairnsdale to Nowa Nowa a couple of days prior and were now heading to Lakes Entrance via the Discovery Trail - an old tramway built for transporting rocks to the lakes’ entrance. We waved them off at the turnoff, where we stopped for lunch.
As the afternoon rolled on, so did we: on some long, gentle descents, up some gradual ascents on gritty surfaces, out of the bush into steep paddocks, scrappy ridgelines, then down the hill into the Tambo valley and Bruthen (if you need a mnemonic it's "cruithin' for a Bruthen"). This fantastic entry into Bruthen highlights the stark difference between the forest we'd been cycling through (this is the least 'developed' day on the trail) and the farmland surrounding the Tambo. I was really enjoying myself - and I even appreciated the half-arsed swooping of the sentinel magpie at the highway crossing!
We peeled off the road into the campsite beside the oval just before the river and set our tents up in front of the bird feeder to be entertained by red browed finches (my family's always called them firetail finches), galahs and king parrots. After a short rest, we popped into town to check out Amegilla Gallery (some great art there!) and, forgoing a meal at the brewery (it didn’t look that great for vegans), we went shopping for dinner.
Back at the campsite, I had a shower, then lounged in the sun - Dan found a copy of Uncle Bruce Pascoe's Dark Emu on the bookshelf, which I read over the next few days. We chatted to a couple who had been travelling in their motorhome from a wedding in Queensland all the way down the east coast. Stephanie made a delicious pasta meal out of minimal ingredients and a large dash of inventiveness. We had a nice fire (gold coin donation for the wood) and sat around for a while.
DAY 3: BRUTHEN TO BAIRNSDALE, ~30KM
Our final day on the rail trail dawned slightly muted and overcast, but was brightened by a visit from a friendly male king parrot. He landed in a tree near our tent and, when we said hello, he jumped onto the ridgeline of our tent and started sidling towards us. On a hunch, I grabbed a handful of seed from the bird feeder and held out my arm - and yes! He hopped onto my wrist and nibbled away until all the seed was gone, then jumped on S&D's tent to say good morning to them. A highlight of the trip!
I made the quick cycle into town over the still, quiet Tambo River. I felt that same kind of peaceful excitement being outside by myself so early. I headed to the bakery and the general store. Pasty and vanilla slice - breakfast of champions! - sticky scrolls for morning tea and avocado and tomato and chips for lunch. We ate, packed up, and pedalled off.
The trail surface improved again in this section, possibly because it’s closer to Bairnsdale and gets more traffic and maintenance. We followed the road through farms, skirting the side of the river flats and stopping to check out all the old constructions - the bridges, but also maize cribs and hops kilns (reminding Dan and me of the oast houses in Sussex and Kent). We stopped in some liminal bushland between a quiet road and rolling paddocks and sat on the side of the track for an extended morning tea, smelling the scent of hot eucaluptus and dogwood, serenaded by bell birds and the sound of wind in the treetops.
A few things stick in my mind about the trail from here to Nicholson: making train hoot harmonies as we passed through the short tunnels, the nature reserve by an old station (where we saw a hare munching on the protected grasses), the change in track surface and vegetation to a more coastal feel, the falcon Dan spotted flying off, the hereford cows and calves in the paddocks beside the trail, the benches with beautiful views over said paddocks and down towards the lakes, the very strong wind that kept us from stopping at said benches, the wedgetail eagle soaring higher and higher on said wind, the magpie divebombing said eagle, an echidna shuffling in its slow-speedy way over a paddock and out of sight behind a dam wall . . .
Before we knew it, we were cycling across what Danni described as a “vertigo-inducing” former rail bridge over the wide Tambo and speeding down the steep side path into Nicholson. We stopped beside the river for lunch (avocado rolls this time) at a picnic bench below the caravan park, pleased to find water, some rather charming caravan-style toilets and - at the jumble sale outside the pub - coffee for Danni and Stephanie.
After a good break, it was back up the steep path to the trail. We needed another breather at the top, and were entertained by another echidna, waddling around a small paddock, poking its snout into piles of sticks looking for ants. So cute!
The trail from Nicholson to Bairnsdale is sealed and flat. Stephanie and Danni were in their element, and Dan was also able to speed off ahead. I struggled, though, especially with the very strong winds that alternated between pushing me sideways and making me pedal twice as hard to move forwards. I tried to enjoy the windbreaks provided by stands of blooming wattle, but I was not in the best mood when we made it to the signposted end of the trail in Bairnsdale. I was particularly sad that nobody wanted to go on the flying fox or the long slide at Howitt Park with me!
We made our way around the back streets of Bairnsdale to the train station, which we considered to be the true conclusion of the trail. Stephanie and Danni sorted out their tickets home - VLine is kind of notorious for being unfriendly and unhelpful towards cyclists, but everything worked out for this trip. With a bit of time to spare, we pedalled into town, ate chips and drank coffee from an actual cafe and, with no general store in sight, picked up a few things from the supermarket (including a gift of chicken salt Pringles for us from Danni and Stephanie!) before saying goodbye.
Dan and I coasted down to our campsite beside the Mitchell River and set ourselves up (me sneezing all over the place due to the high winds and plane trees) before heading out for a tasty Thai dinner. Now that's civilised!
A big thank you to the people who made this first leg of our cycle so fun: to Stephanie and Danni for providing great chats, helping out when our UK provider screwed us over with phone/data, cooking dinners for us, sharing snacks, being patient with two newbie cycle tourists and generally being fab companions; to my parents for helping book accommodation, putting the four of us up overnight, driving us and S&D’s bikes to Orbost, taking Dan and me for a drive around Jarrahmond and generally being very helpful; to Liz and Dave at Snowy River Cycling for hiring us excellent bikes, providing maps and info, maintaining the water caches and helping out with Danni’s tyre; to the friendly people at our campsites - especially at Bruthen - for the chats and for keeping us comfortable; and a special shoutout to the folks at the bakery in Bruthen who were well on the ball about what was and wasn’t vegan!
Let me know if you have any questions about this part the trail, the photos, the logistics, etc. And look out for Part 2, coming soon . . .
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