Leaving Adelaide was one of those tough days. Not only were we leaving behind new friends who had looked after us so well and treated us with such overwhelming kindness and generosity, but we had a really steep hill to climb. The cycle path up Mt Lofty is well known in Adelaide cycling circles for its brutality and we were not in the slightest bit ready to take it on. There was nothing for it except to get into the lowest gear and start the slow and tortuous ascent. 40 minutes later and we were through the worst of it, drenched in sweat, our egos thoroughly deflated having been overtaken by a smug ten year old and his dad in matching lycra. At one point we had to accelerate to overtake a walker and then were almost caught by her at a later stage – which just shows how slowly we were going!
The sense of achievement which we felt at reaching the summit was quickly replaced with extreme frustration, as having zoomed off along an incredibly steep downhill for 5 minutes, we realised we had taken the wrong turning and were in fact heading back down to Adelaide via another route. Heading back uphill for the second time was made even more painful by the fact that the Adelaide Sunday drivers were out in force on the narrow winding roads.
Once we were back on track and on a quiet lane we were able to enjoy the beauty and peacefulness of the Adelaide Hills. The morning’s exertions had taken it out of us though and when we happened upon a sleepy little village with a pub offering $12 schnitzel night we found our motivation expired completely. The landlady kindly offered a section of lawn for us to set up our tent and we soon retired to the pub to indulge in a guilt-free feast of schnitzel like only a cyclist can.
Stepping into the bar area, we knew we would be in for a treat. The place was packed with locals; a sure sign that first, the food would be tasty as well as good value and second, we would be having some interesting conversations that evening. Sure enough, we were not disappointed in either respect. The highlight of the evening was talking to an Irish horse trainer who spent much of his time divining for opals in the Outback. He insisted on buying multiple bottles of wine for us to drink with him before stumbling off into the night to drive(!) back to Adelaide.
One of the sections we were most looking forward to in Australia was cycling the Great Ocean Road but first we had to cross the mighty Murray River and negotiate the breezy Coorong National Park – a flat, marshy coastal area devoid of human life but with an abundance of birds.
Although we had plenty of sunshine, the wind was cold and we found ourselves needing to stay in our Goretex jackets long into the mornings. The roads were long and straight but the traffic was light so it was a pleasant few days heading towards the state of Victoria.
The first real town we arrived at in Victoria was the port town imaginatively named Portland. We had planned our schedule minutely at this point so that our arrival coincided with the quarterfinals of the Rugby World Cup. We booked into a motel with Sky Sports for two nights and proceeded to spend most of our stay living in the GMT time zone. After a particularly harrowing viewing experience watching Australia narrowly defeat Scotland and not managing to get to sleep until after 4.30am we decided that we needed another night there just to recover.
With our energy restored, we set off onto the first section of the Great Ocean Road. At one point on the first morning we recalled some advice we had been given – look up in the gum trees by the side of the road for koalas. Almost as soon as we had started looking, Steven spotted his first one. Then a few minutes later, there was another, this time with a baby on her back. It seemed that these creatures were pretty easy to spot.
Another fascinating creature that we came across was the echidna; the only egg-laying mammals in the world alongside their cousin, the platypus. We came across them a few times marching sedately across the road and rolling into a tight ball whenever we came near.
As we progressed further, the weather turned on us and we were faced with savage winds and rain coming into our faces at right angles. We were joined by hundreds of other tourists at the Twelve Apostles and although it was a magnificent view, the crowds did not inspire us to linger.
Later that afternoon we found ourselves climbing up a more than modest hill through a beautiful old rainforest. We emerged at the top in a tiny settlement called Lavers Hill; which felt a little like the village that was left out of the tourism marketing campaign for the Great Ocean Road. Everything was a bit run down, especially the local pub/roadhouse; which almost looked abandoned. But there was smoke curling from the chimney, and as the weather had turned that sort of damp cold that seems to seep into your bones, we ventured inside to warm up. We were greeted by a large, shaggy haired, slightly dirty looking man called Paul. Paul is what you might call “a bit of a character”. He berated anyone that dared to enter the pub; from the Dutch tourists who had left a camera lens cap behind, to the local men popping in for their daily beer, and of course the mad cyclists who wanted to camp in the back paddock for the night. Paul was full of cynicism and bitterness about life and was blunt to the point of rudeness but beneath the mop of hair and behind smeared glasses, his eyes were sparkling and kind. We quickly warmed to him and settled in to spending the rest of the evening solving the world’s problems.
The final morning of our ride along the Great Ocean Road was a Saturday and huge packs of road cyclists were out in force, whizzing past us at great speed. We received few friendly greetings – these guys were obviously doing some very serious training. We continued at our leisurely pace, stopping frequently to check out the wildlife and admiring the stunning coastline.
From here it was just a short hop up to Melbourne but we weren’t keen on the busy roads and industrial areas on the outskirts of the city so we had planned a slightly longer but hopefully more scenic route. After a lovely night spent with Janelle and James in Geelong and breakfast at King of the Castle (not only delicious, but given to us for free as the owner thought that our cycle journey was so amazing), we headed out on the Bellarine Rail Trail to Queenscliff. From here we caught the ferry to Sorrento and spent the next day and a half following the beautiful coastline into Melbourne itself. From about 30km out we were on cycle paths the whole way and it was one of the most relaxing rides into a city of the whole trip. Within no time we were sitting at a beachside café; happy that we had made it in time for our only self imposed deadline of the whole journey – the Melbourne Cup.
Photo: Cycling into Melbourne