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
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.
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
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 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.
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!
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
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.
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.