We need to start by saying a BIG thankyou to Kristen, Siona and Courtney for having us in their home in Brisbane. We really appreciate it girls and since leaving this morning we miss you (and the Grey's DVDs) already.
We spent our time in Brisbane getting ready to leave Australia. We applied for (and received) our Chinese visas, got lost on the Brisbane bus system, bought bike lubricant and degreaser and gave our bikes a service, and Sam spent an afternoon in phone shops researching GPS phones and learnt that not many phones can use maps without the internet. We bought a GPS phone, bought foreign $, got the tent fixed after searching lots and lots of different shops, spent hours trying to work out the video editing program on our laptop and organized for our battery to be sent from Bayswater post office in Melbourne to Stones Corner Post Office. We picked out some things from our gear that we didn’t need and sent them home, and reorganized our gear.
But it wasn't all work and no play. We watched Invictus at the movies, swam at South Bank and played in the water fountains, ate Beastie Burgers (almost twice in the same day), went to Rebekah and Marshall's engagement dinner (Mexican delight and Baskin Robbins ice cream), used Macca’s wifi, went to the corner pub with Kristen for dinner, Sam discovered a drink called 'orange cream' and consumed some root beer, Shanna watched the latest BBC version of Sense and Sensibility (and discussed serious Jane Austen topics with Kristen) and she read 'The Lost Symbol'. And to make sure we didn't get soft, Sam went to the gym a couple of times and Shanna ran to Southbank... once... Guess we'll toughen up again in Indonesia!
Difficulty- Shanna 8, Sam 9
Weather- Sunny with some cloud 31c
Distance- 48 km
Well, we've experienced our first two days of real cycle touring!! And made it to Newcastle.
On Friday we arrived at Pete (Sam's brother) and Rochelle's late in the afternoon. We spent the evening going through our stuff to eliminate any unnecessary weight and we packed and repacked the panniers.
In the morning we loaded our stuff into the car and got driven to the ferry wharf at Palm Beach where the tour would begin for real. We were running late and got to the ferry less than a minute before it was leaving. Pete and Chelle helped us run all our stuff onto the ferry just as the boat was leaving the harbour. The next ferry wouldn't have left for almost two hours so it was a close shave and the adrenalin was still pumping by the time we finally sat down (kind of, Sam had to stand at the back of the ferry with the bikes).
The ferry arrived in Ettalong on the Central Coast and when we finally got all of our gear off- in front of a massive audience waiting for us to remove our things so that they could get on- we packed our bikes and tried to ride... It was the first time we felt the weight of the loaded tour bikes and wondered how we could even make the bikes move, let alone push them up mountains!! After wobbly starts (getting used to the balance) we set off up the coast towards Newcastle.
The day was spent tackling the hills around Kincumber, Avoca and Terrigal and while it was tough going, it was easier to keep the bikes moving than we'd feared. It also took some getting used to with the gears and Shanna's chain came off about 5 times on the first day.
It was hot and we hadn't slept much for days so Sam took advantage of a beckoning slab of concrete under a tree right next to a busy road to catch up on some much needed sleep.
On the first day we made it from the very south of the Central Coast to the northern point at Nora Head. At Nora Head we found a nice beach and picnic area to have a swim and cook our dinner. The swim was short-lived though when Sam looked down to see a sting ray right where he was about to plant his foot.
After eating we decided to set up camp so we found a nice overhanging tree where we could set up without being seen. Unfortunately it was close to the road though and all night we could hear the bogan drivers and drunkards of the area (of which there are apparently many).
Difficulty- Shanna 9, Sam 8
Weather- Hot and Sunny 35c
Distance 55 km
In the morning we loaded up to head to Newcastle. On the way Sam made friends with a magpie that was eying off his bike. Despite our initial fears, that it wanted to open his pannier and eat our food (if you've been to Wilsons Prom you'll know what we mean!) he soon realised that it had actually spotted a huge huntsman (spider) on his bike. Sam and the bird made eye contact and had a silent understanding that the bird could approach and eat the spider while Sam was still holding the bike. The magpie circled the bike and followed the spider, eventually jumping up on the handlebars and grabbing it. It then jumped off the bike and promptly munched it's snack.
It was a tough day of riding. Very hot and some big hills on the Pacific Highway between Lake Munmorah and Swansea. Shanna lost a pannier at some traffic lights but everyone politely waited for her to collect it from the middle of the busy intersection, rather than honking or running her down. All in all - the facilities for cyclists on the Central Coast and Newcastle have been great - lots of wide shoulders and marked bike lanes. The drivers have also been very considerate - much better than Melbourne.
We arrived in Newcastle at Stewart and Michelle's (Shan's sister) mid-afternoon, about five minutes before a torrential down pour. We've since caught up with Shan's school friends, family and enjoyed sleeping in a bed for the first time in about a week.
We'll spend a couple of days catching up with people here before setting off for Brisbane.
A couple of weeks before we left Melbourne we gave stealth camping a practice run and tested our gear. Lessons learnt - try to set up before it gets dark! And make sure you've always got some food that doesn't need to be cooked in case your stove doesn't work (you won't always be able to drive to the nearest servo when you realise you've forgotten the lighter).