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Cycle trip 2005:Perth/Sydney

bush (21K)
The endless road through the bush.
In October 2005 I undertook a cycle ride across Australia from Perth to Sydney. Pretty much the only time to undertake this journey is in the Australian Spring or autumn. A summer crossing across the central Nullabor would be far to hot, reaching temperatures of up to 40░. The disadvantage here being, those daylight hours for cycling can be as few as twelve. Indeed for this journey it was 12 hours on, twelve hours off. Night cycling is far too dangerous with the massive speeding trucks that use this route. The endless kangaroo carnage by the side of the road would bare testament to this.

Perth is the Capital of Western Australia and, bustling & modern. Being a fairly new city, the infrastructure has been designed with cyclists in mind and has cycle lanes built as a part of, and not an afterthought, to all the major roads and highways. Getting around is a joy. Perth however is not on the exactly on the coast. An extra 10km ride to City Beach was where my journey officially began. From there it was a ride back through city streets and across the Swan River to join the Great Eastern Highway, a road that leads all the way to Sydney. Perth is the last civilisation that you will see on this road until you reach Kalgoorlie some 550kms away. Along the route are a bunch of small towns, some quite sizeable, some with nothing more than a single roadhouse or pub. The further east you head the greater the distance between towns become, so it is important to carry enough water and supplies. It is also important that your bike is it top condition because bike shops are few and far between. For this trip I used a brand new Trek 520 touring bike. This turned out to be a very good choice.

bluemountains
The Blue Mountains
Once outside Perth there is a bit of a climb over the Darling Ranges at which point the houses thin and eventually you find yourself in the wheat belt. Eventually the wheat gives out to a desert of bush. Consisting on Acacia trees and saltbush this is the scenery for pretty much the entire road all the way to Norseman. When you reach the crest of a hill all you can see is the road disappearing in a straight line off into the horizon, and to each side the bush as far as the eye can see. Initially the weather was either warm or intermittently rainy. The nights were freezing. The light sleeping bag I had brought was totally inadequate, and had to wait to get to Kalgoorlie until I could buy a warmer one. There were a few long very cold nights. The wind was pretty much in my favour all the way with fairly strong westerly. For this trip, I was camping with an occasional stay at a Motel to do laundry, or simply for a bit of luxury.

The first very long stretch of road without any kind of services was between Yellowdine and Bullabulling, a distance of 125kms. Quite a daunting prospect in what was increasingly becoming a rather harsh environment. (In retrospect, by the end of the journey you become blasÚ about such long stints). There is no water inland of the coast and a high-pressure water pipe runs along side the road all the way to Kalgoorlie. Kalgoorlie is slightly off the route but well worth the detour. The biggest inland city in Australia, it grew up around the Gold Mining industry. It has the largest opencast mine in the southern hemisphere which you can visit, and is a truly awesome sight. Despite this, it was nice to be back in civilisation again for a while.

whales (8K)
Whales at the "Head of the Bight"
The road turned due south and into a side-wind, which slowed down progress dramatically. The next town of any size is Norseman. Here begins what is commonly known as the Nullarbor crossing. Between Norseman & Ceduna, the road is little more than an expanse of bush that ultimately gives bay to a barren treeless desert. Signs by the side of the road point the out in no uncertain terms. Roadhouses about every 200kms punctuate the road. In between, you are pretty much on your own. The crossing took me about a week and a half to negotiate. The roadhouses along the route provide good food, water, in some cases accommodation, and telephones. Reaching the first roadhouse at Balladonia (192kms) was the first of the really long stretches. With a not so helpful side wind, it was exhausting, hot, but good ride. The next day saw a similar ride to Caiguna (182kms). Kangaroos can be seen frequently in the outback with unfortunately many hundreds being killed on the road, hit by trucks. Similar rides for the next few days take you past the Cocklebiddy, Madura, Mundrabilla, roadhouses. At Eucla there is a short climb with a spectaclular view at the top, across the barren plain and road you have just cycled. At Border Village you cross states into South Australia. The stretch between Border Village and Nullarbor roadhouse runs intermittently along the coast. There are roads leading to scenic lookouts off the main highway to the Bunda Cliffs that fall into the Southern Ocean. An extraordinary sight after the barren deserts of the previous days.
Nullarbor_3 (11K)
The Nullarbor Crossing by the Southern Ocean
About 10kms past Nullarbor there is a sign pointing to a lookout known as "Head of The Bight". Here between May and October the Southern Right Whales come up from the colder waters further south to breed. The road leads off the highway about 10kms to specially built viewing platforms. The whales can be seen very close to the shore, playing just beneath the cliffs and out across the bay. This was without doubt a major highlight of the journey.

Back on the highway the road is probably at it's most barren. For a short distance it crosses the true Nullarbor Plain, flat, hot, and not a tree or bush anywhere on the horizon. And the flies are relentless. However, as you draw closer to Yalata, an Aboriginal Reserve, the bush reestablishes itself and there are even eventually a few fields. You get a feeling that the hardest part of the crossing is behind you. Another day and you are in the coastal town of Ceduna. Ceduna is a glorious relief after the desert, and the basics of a cheap motel seem absolute luxury.

Though not a direct route I headed down to Streaky Bay where as soon as I rode into town, having been demolished by a terrific cloudburst, I was invited for dinner and a bed by Donald & Janet Williams. A fine evening of local oysters and conversation was greatly appreciated!

bunda (18K)
The Bunda Cliffs
Well and truly into another wheat belt, the road on either side is a vast ocean of wheat fields with little interruption. On to Kimba which proclaims itself half-way-across-Australia. On to the mine workings of Iron Knob and then to Port Augusta. The road then kicks due South and a ferocious side wind with the Flinders Ranges to your left, creating some interesting weather. Storm dodging became the order of the day. The hills make the landscape a welcome change from the relentless flats of the Nullarbor.

At Crystal Brook (excellent bakery!) the Road heads east again. This was almost the best day of the journey. Beautiful undulating countryside and a ferocious tailwind combined with torrential showers sent me flying through Gulnare, Spalding and Burra. The 80km stretch between Burra and Morgan was incredible. The tailwind sent me speeding at 35k per hour on a dead flat road. Fun, big fun!

At Morgan you have to cross the Murray River on the ferry. After which the rich irrigated soils of the river yield vineyards and orange groves. The road follows the river and the vines all the way to Mildura. After Balranold the farms disappear and you enter the Hay plains. Barren and treeless and a couple of days ride to cross, the wind switched against me making progress difficult. At Goolgowi the landscape changes again to wheat fields and sheep farms. The end of the journey is almost insight, Cowra, Bathurst, and rising hills into Lithgow with its huge power station.

sydney (11K)
Sydney.
All that lies between you and Sydney are the Blue Mountains. Rather modest as mountains go, a single 3km ascent to reach the top of Mount Victoria and you are on top. At Katoomba there are some great views. At Echo Point, there is an awesome vista with the "Three Sisters" to your left. A decent from the hills and only 100km left to Sydney. The traffic at this point gets a little hairy, but you can cycle on the hard shoulder of the M4. At Parramatta, I caught the ferry up the river to Sydney. The Ferry journey is classic, taking you under the Harbour Bridge and into Circular Quay with the Opera House on your right. The city towers above you. A 10km ride takes you along Oxford Street to Bondi Junction and there to journeys end, Bondi Beach.

The journey took 4 weeks and 3 days and a total of 4200km. I averaged between 140 & 200 kms a day with an exception of couple of bad headwind days of about 90km. I had one puncture.
The Bunba Clifs overlooking the Southern Ocean The most stupid dog I think I have ever seen! The Operahouse in downtown sydney. Sunset by a very rare lake! The Madura pass on a cold morning!