After resting??? up in Port Macquarie for three nights we planned in an extra long ride for our first day back on the bikes, 115km through to Nambucca Heads would be the longest ride since the Nullarbor, so many months ago.
Thankfully the road was pretty flat and we had good winds. When we hit the awesome surface of the Kempsey By-Pass (alledgedly the longest land bridge in Australia) we were flying. It had a huge shoulder and surprisingly very little traffic. There’s a great road house (at the 72km mark) just after Clybucca where we filled up water and ate before heading off to Macksville.
After Macksville, unfortunately, the shoulder disappears almost completely. It’s a flat ride until you hit Nambucca Heads but the lack of shoulder made the riding a bit uncomfortable. Once you hit Nambucca Heads the hills around town will sort you out. Just outside Nambucca we met a Canadian girl cycling south, she also had a Surly bike and we stopped and traded info. She told us about a ferry crossing at Yamba we might try, you can’t beat good info. We were headed for the BIG 4 camp ground until we discovered it was well out of town and opted instead to do a quick shop and head down to the lagoon to the White Albatross Holiday Park. Great little park with a Tavern with cold beer right out the front with gorgeous views of the water. Nothing like a few cold ales, watching the world go by after a long, hard ride. Yes I would sleep well tonight!!
We had talked to a local woman who’d stopped to admire the bikes at Woolworths the day before and she hadn’t inspired us with confidence for the next day’s ride. We were headed for Coffs Harbour which was only 50 km away but apparently there were a lot of roadworks on the highway that could make life pretty uncomfortable for us. In the end, the hills were nowhere near as challenging as I had come to expect. We waited to leave until after 10am so that much of the work traffic was through and negotiated the road works safely. In fact there were times where they actually worked in our favour, providing an extra buffer to the traffic as we rode on the wrong side of the witches hats. After Urunga the shoulder returned and it wasn’t a bad ride in. We were directed off the highway at the Sawtell exit and found ourselves on a bike path almost the whole way into town. Bonus. $65 got us a small room at the IBIS hotel right across the road from Tourist Information. We even managed to squeeze the bikes in as there wasn’t much of an option for secure lock-up otherwise.
Grafton was the next stop at around 83km. It was a pretty quick ride due to the Woolgoolga Bypass and the undulating road was excellent except for a few big hills and where the shoulder totally disappeared, leaving us up close and personal with the big trucks. We stopped at the Halfway Roadhouse for lunch and to refill our water bottles, it was a pretty warm day outside by then. The campground (Glenwood Tourist Park) just south of the city was pretty good value. It has older but perfectly adequate amenities and the courtesy bus from the local services club will come and pick you up if you want to go into town for a beer and meal. The meal in particular was excellent value with basic bar meals for $5!!!
It had been suggested to us that there was an alternative to riding on the main highway to Yamba that involved quiet, flat country roads and a short ferry ride. Sounded like a good deal to us so we quizzed the locals on how to proceed. Basically you go over the bridge into Grafton itself and then pick up the road north to Lawrence where you catch a free ferry to the other side and then coast along the river to Maclean…which by all accounts has one of the largest Scottish populations outside of Scotland. Not hard to believe with clan colours plastered all over the telephone poles and street names straight out of the Edinburgh phone book. It was a gorgeous day with the sun finally coming out and the views around the river very serene. After a couple of days on the highway it was the perfect antidote to crazy traffic.
After Maclean the road is still flat all the way to Yamba, but it does get quite busy and there is very little if any shoulder for the last 10km. We pitched up at the very comfortable YHA for $62 (ensuite twin room) and liked the place so much we booked in for another day. Yamba has gorgeous beaches, a laid back atmosphere and enough cafes and bars to keep even the most fastidious connoisseur happy. The YHA itself has a bar, café and restaurant and a bakery next door if you want to save dollars on food. Spa Express is fairly well stocked if you want to self cater in the well equipped kitchen on-site. For a cheap meal with a view, the Pacific Hotel has ($10) bar meals that you can take into the bistro and eat while looking out at the ocean through huge glass windows.
The beaches in Yamba are fantastic. There’s one quite sheltered where it’s safe enough to take the kids and another just round the corner where the surfers rule the waves. Take a walk up onto the rocks for a magnificent 180 degree vista of fine white sand and aquamarine seas.
After chilling for a day in Yamba we figured we’d head for Evans Head, another beach side town we’d heard great things about. The plan of action was to catch the 9.30 ferry ($7.20) to Iluka and then ride the forested flat road through the National Park before rejoining the highway. The weather had turned a bit wet again but at least the wind was in our backs.
There are a few hills on the main road so it was a relief to pull into “Little Italy” rest stop. It’s one of those places we’ve driven past 10’s of times and never thought to stop. What a find. Great coffee, food and snacks with a museum and display on Italy for additional entertainment. I was amazed to see how extremely popular this small siding is with passing motorists.
By the time we got to Woodburn we had a very stiff side wind which meant a turn towards Evans Head would have us riding straight into it. We ummed and aahed about whether we should continue with our original plans or stop right where we were. A complete lack of accommodation foiled the second option so we headed north. By the time we reached the Evans Head turn off we had completely scrapped that idea and decided to ride towards Broadwater, a further 11km down the main road. Total ride for the day 69km.
In hindsight it was the best decision we could have made. Not because we got to spend the night in a dingy pub room to stay out of the torrential rain but because we got a lot of good information on the road ahead and the roadwork conditions. That information saw us up at dawn and hooting along as fast as we could with no shoulder and only a moderate amount of massive trucks and cars to scare the bejeezus out of us.
We were in Ballina by around 8.30 am and took our time over a coffee and breakfast before heading up the Coast Road to Byron Bay. There are a few hills along this route but not as big as the ones on the highway are purported to be. The shoulder is pretty good on most of the road and you do get some pretty awesome views as you head into Lennox Head. You also avoid the major roadworks just before the Ballina turn-off that reduce the traffic to a crawl at times.
We hit the cycle paths quite a few kms from Byron Bay. They do get you out of the traffic but they’re a bit narrow, up and down and in a state of disrepair in many places. Sometimes the shoulder on the road is a much better option.
Byron Bay was ABSOLUTELY heaving with weekend visitors. We could barely find a seat to have a cold drink and were on constant watch for the bikes getting knocked over. After Byron there’s pretty much bike paths all the way to the highway, then we turned north with the traffic to Brunswick Heads. The complete distance for the day was 78km. Quite a bit longer than straight up on the highway but a infinitely better ride I think.
We got the tent out at the Terrace Reserve Caravan Park and headed down to the Brunswick Hotel to join in the Sunday afternoon festivities. What a great pub. It’s housed in quite a historic building and there were loads of people, great music, a good range of beers on tap and great food judging by the continuous line of hungry customers standing in a long but fast moving queue. There’s plenty of seating for the crowds and the staff were very efficient keeping everyone fed and watered.
Our last days ride before a few days off was into Broadbeach 85km away. It’s only about 65 straight up the highway but we had decided to take the longer, safer, more picturesque route. We had another early start to try and beat the traffic and headed back out on the highway for a fast and furious ride through to the Cabarita turn off. From there it’s about 6km to the coast where we had a leisurely breakfast before realizing TIM HAD HIS FIRST FLAT TYRE FOR THE TRIP!!! Bugger!!!
We unloaded his bike and inspected the tyre. 7000km with a full load had finally taken it’s toll on the Schwalbes. It was almost worn through to the liner. We pulled out a slither of glass, ripped out the tube, threw in the Kevlar liner that we’d been carrying since my flats and put everything back together again.
From Cabarita we got onto a bike path that took us all the way into Kingscliffe. It was then a matter of linking up bike lanes and paths all the way to Broadbeach. We had booked a room through at the Hi-Ho Apartments for $89/night through Bookings.com and it was an absolute bargain. It was actually a 1 bedroom, self contained, air-conditioned apartment with everything you could want, even for an extended stay (including a washing machine and dryer) and was roomy enough to park the bikes in the living room without getting in the way. It was in a great area, just around the corner from the main shopping area, loads of great pubs, cafes and restaurants and a short walk from the casino and conference centre. We immediately decided we would book another night. It was almost as if we were putting off the inevitable end to what had been an incredible journey. We only had the final couple of rides into Brisbane to complete and we would have finished what had been one of the most challenging and yet rewarding experiences. We would have to plan long and hard to make the next adventure as good or better.
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