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India and beyond
By Sydney Winer - (contact)

Australia: Toowoomba to Bellingen

Monday September 6, 2010, 612 km (380 miles) - Total so far: 12,578 km (7,816 miles)

Withcott to Lake Dyer (Laidley) 57km

An easy first day back on Australian roads after a two and a half week break from cycling. Withcott is a small town at the base of the Great Dividing Range in southern Queensland. The route I've chosen to head south, first takes me east to Boonah via Laidley before turning due south. From Withcott it's possible to avoid the main Brisbane bound highway and small back roads through Helidon, Gatton and Laidley.

After a very late start - about 1.30pm I set off with a slightly chilly tail wind and straight into some lovely rolling countryside. I'd almost forgotten the Australian landscape's dry pallete of pale grasses and olive drab foliage. It was a joy to ride through, very different from most of the last year. The smell is distinct, the wintery air made a nice change and even the wind seemed to howl at a lower frequency. That last one puzzles me. How can the wind sound different? Maybe the telegraph poles are set to a distance that caused the wires to vibrate at a certain frequency or maybe the limbs of Eucalypts channel it in just such a way. Or maybe the countryside is just so empty and quiet that the loudest thing to hear is the wind.

Some nice little towns en route - the type with old pubs on each corner and not a lot going on but I had to spin through them to reach Lake Dyer before sunset. It's early now, being winter - about 5.30.

Camping at Lake Dyer is $11, 2nd night free.

27/08/2010 Lake Dyer to Fassifern 75km

Easy, if hilly going early but the afternoon was tempered with ferocious headwind. Part of the day spent on Cunningham Highway (better than it used to be as it now has hard shoulders). Ran out of daylight (and legs) so opted to stop at the Fassifern Rest Area and finish the ride to Boonah tomorrow.

3 Magpie attacks. For cyclists unfamiliar with the Australian Magpie - it's a medium sized bird (bigger than a pidgeon, smaller than a crow) that gets very aggressive in nesting season. It protects its territory by swooping the interloper. Sometimes the flutter of wings is all you'll hear, sometimes the scratching of claws or beak on your helmet and rarely the awful 'whack' as it draws blood with a well aimed peck of your ears. there's not much you can do about magpies. Some people stick fakes eyes to the top of their helmets as Maggies attack from behind, I usually try to twist around to keep the attacker in sight but obviously that's not the best technique on a busy road. Early Spring time is the nesting season and unluckily for me I'll be heading south at about the same rate as winter recedes so can look forward to a month or more of swooping Magpies.

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Late afternoon looking towards the border ranges near Fassifern in Southern Queensland.

28/08/2010 Fassifern to Boonah 13km

Yesterday's race into the headwind to beat the setting sun left me with very sore knees today so a rest day was called for. I took my time drying the tent of condensation after a very cold night, chatted with some of the Grey Nomads who'd parked their caravans and buses at the rest stop last night then cycled gingerly into Boonah.

Struck up a conversation with a local who was pretty excited to see a Thorn Nomad in the metal, Seems he's been coveting one for a while and I'm sorry now that I turned down his offer to stay at his families home - a converted church - but some way out of town in the wrong direction unfortunately. Later in the day another local started chatting to me about family members who regularly do the Cycle Queensland Big Rides and yet another who'd toured in New Zealand came over for a chat too.

Free overnight camping is allowed at the Bicentennial Park beside the tourist office but I opted for the Showground Caravan Park at $8.

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A Horse Hotel near Boonah.

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Blink and you'll miss it.

29/08/2010 Boonah to Rathdowney 49km

Another late start and slow ride today. The late start because I was debating with myself whether to stay another day and let my aching knees recover or push on but alter my route a bit. In the end I settled on a shorter less hilly (but not un-hilly) route that stuck to sealed roads. The ride was slow in order to spare my knees any unnecessary grief with granny gear being used up almost all the many short sharp hills and no attempt being made to battle the headwinds.

By the end of the day my knees felt much better than in the morning so the technique seems to work.

The scenery around here is gorgeous - the border ranges are a combination of volcanic calderas and volcanic plugs. Lots of fertile valleys, forested hillsides, old graveyards and twisting roads. Annoyingly the south westerly wind that had knocked me for a six two days ago had shifted south easterly so it was still in my face all day today, although not as strong and the road was a bit more sheltered.

Traffic was light but for a classic Renault car rally around lunchtime and an eccentric Variety Club charity Bash in the late afternoon. The Variety Club Bash is an annual charity fundraiser involving teams in 1960s and 70s cars decorated in outlandish fashion.

2 Magpie attacks. Camping $10

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An old German language grave stone in an overgrown corner at a Lutheran Church just outside Boonah.

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Big brother is watching you, fining you, and using the fine to build more roads to watch and fine you on...

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The locals are friendly enough but they're armed to the teeth.

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Camping at the Rathdowney show ground.

30/08/10 Rathdowney to wild camp beyond Urbenville 62km

Another latish start today - 10.00am but it allowed time for the tent to dry of dew and for a visit to the local historical museum, mainly to see if they had any info on "The Clarence Way", the route I might follow beyond Woodenbong.

The road is rolling for the first 18 or so km to Mt Lindesay, a volcanic plug and then climbs steadily for the next 10 or more km. The gradient is easy most of the way and in places the road runs through forest that is a cacophony of bird songs. There's a livestock quarantine checkpoint and a sign saying Mt Lindsay 1195m at the Queensland / New South Wales border but disappointingly for me the road kept climbing beyond the border for quite a few km before a short drop to a plateau. It wasn't until 5km to Woodenbong at the junction of the The Summerland Way that the descent really began. The day had turned overcast and very chilly by this time. I picked up some supplies in Woodenbong then headed south to Unbenville and in fading light 6km further on to the rest area in the Yabbra State Forest. Woodenbong's main claim to fame is it's name. The rest area is right next to the road but the road is a quiet one and had no traffic through the night. The bird noises however were deafening at dusk with Bellbirds, Whip birds, and Cockatoos all trying to be noisier than the next one.

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Mt Lindsey seen from the northern approach.

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Woodenbong!

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The countryside around Urbenville.

31/08/2010 Wild camp to Bonalbo 33km

A short day today. I spent the morning listening to the birds and staring up at the tall forest before rolling off towards Bonalbo. The first 10km is mostly downhill through the forest before emerging into rolling open farmlands. The road's a bit bumpy and potholed in places. The going thereafter is still easy and the Old Bonalbo Pioneer Park about 12km north of Bonalbo would make another nice camp spot for passing cyclists although the location isn't as picturesque as the rest area in the State Forest. Old Bonalbo itself proudly boasts that it's the hometown of three world champion or olympic medalist kayakers (K1) but I'm assuming they didn't practice on Duck Creek.

Bonalbo has a few supermarkets, op shops (closed), cafes (closed), art galleries (closed) and a newsagent and caravan park so it'll do for tonight.

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Morning view from the Rest Area where I camped in Yabbra State Forest.

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Farm buildings near Old Bonalbo.

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It's a little known fact that Lois moved to Bonalbo to escape workplace harassment by that guy who wore his undies on the outside.

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02/08/2010 Bonalbo to Ellangowan State Forest Rest Area 98km

Opted to rest my legs in Bonalbo for a day yesterday even though the healthy nor wester would have amounted to a tailwind. The wind was still blowing today so I made good progress through the very lovely rolling landscape. The first 22 km along The Clarence Way was quiet and rolling with a gradual climb to the Bruxner Highway. At the intersection there's a nice rest area that'd be fine for overnight camping if needed although it's a bit exposed.

From the intersection the road continues its slow climb towards the top of the Richmond Range at around the 35km mark before a nice fast drop for 5 or 6 km and then rolling green farmlands and a gradual descent all the way to Casino at around 70km. Despite being narrow in places the Bruxner carried little traffic so the riding was pleasant and thanks to the tailwind, easy and fast.

The afternoon was still earlyish and the wind still blasting along in the right direction so rather than stop in Casino, which I've done in the past, I stopped only for an hour or so to eat, top up on town water, check my email, shop at the Aldi supermarket (note to fellow tightwad cyclists who are finding Australian food prices a shock after Asia: Aldi are way cheaper than Coles and Woolies and they seem to be well represented in regional towns) and check out the Platypus Pools beneath the bridge - I didn't see any Platypus today but this was the first place I ever saw wild Platypus.

Out of Casino the Summerland Way is mostly flat and fairly straight and with the wind behind me I was cruising at around 25 to 30 klicks without really pushing it. Nice! The road passes through a lot of State Forest and the Rest Area I'm camping in tonight is about 27km south of Casino. It has composting toilets, picnic shelters, water (with a 'not for drinking' sign) and lots of mown space beneath the trees. There's a couple of caravans, camper vans and a few more tent campers as well. Roadside Rest Areas like these are common in rural Australia, free to use but intended for overnight stops or picnics only. They vary in location, quality, and maintenance but I've always found them pretty useful. Bring earplugs if you happen to be near a busy trucking road. On most days I'd pass two or three Rest Areas along the way.

Tomorrow if the wind keeps up it may be only 3 hours to Grafton.

2 Magpie attacks today.

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The road south from Bonalbo.

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Lovely scenery early in the day, this is near the Bruxner Highway intersection.

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Roadside artwork at the Clarence Way / Bruxner Highway Rest Area.

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The Mummulgum Church - typical of the small churches dotting the Australian countryside.

03/09/2010 Rest Area to Grafton 78km

Sigh, wind changed direction overnight and the last two hours of the ride were in a light drizzle. Such is life. Still the ride was OK on rolling terrain with a lot of forest cover to take the edge off the wind. There are few villages en route and the fenced park next to the general store at Whiporie, at the mid point between Casino and Grafton, has been used by passing cyclists as a camp spot for decades.

The first caravan park on entering Grafton wanted a surreal $30 for a site so I moved on and stopped at a bike shop where in addition to looking for a tire to replace the glacially slow Marathon XR on the back wheel I asked for accommodation recommendations. They handed me the business card for Rob Byrne, a local Warm Showers host. Rob happily took me in at short notice and even arranged to pick me up at the post office for the drive out to his property.

Rob is soon to set off on his own multi-year tour on his Rans Stratus LWB recumbent.

Next morning after a long chat about touring with Rob I headed back into Grafton for shopping, sightseeing and to visit the Regional Gallery. By the time I was through with all that it was after 2 pm and with my legs still tired from yesterday's headwind I decided to stay in Grafton so I grabbed a room at an old pub for $35 right in the centre of town (take that oh poxy overpriced campground!).

There was a singularly cheerless Dutch cyclist on a charity ride also staying at the Hotel.

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Very early morning at the roadside Rest Area where I camped.

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Rob Byrne beside his recumbent tourer.

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This is the cycleway beneath the road bridge over the Clarence River at Grafton.

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The Clarence River at Grafton on a grey morning.

05/09/2010 Grafton to wild camp 60km

Managed to sleep in a bit late but finally got underway at about 10 am. The dire weather predicted for the day didn't materialise and instead I had blue skies and a healthy tailwind. The traffic was heavy on a narrow road until 10 km out of town where the Coffs Harbor road (the Orara Way) branched off. I stayed on the Armidale Road and found myself on a surprisingly quiet road that climbed slowly towards Nymboida and with a bit more vigour after that. There's a commercial, but cheap campground, the Nymboida Canoe Centre just before Nymboida, a small shop/cafe in the village, a vast restaurant/tourist trap a few km further on and a police station and picnic/sports ground a few km after that. From then on you're on your own for supplies. After another 10km (that's a guess) the Hortons River Reserve offers a nice wild camp site before the road turns seriously uphill. I camped about 6km further on just off one of the many small tracks that lead off the road and into the State Forests. There's a million camping opportunities if you've sufficient water.

3 Magpie attacks.

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A Grevillea (I think) on the roadside near Nymboida.

06/09/2010 Wild camp to Bellingen 87km

The day turned out a bit longer and more tiring than expected but the scenery easily made up for it with more State Forests and National Parks throughout the day and verdant farmlands in between. The climbing felt taxing and once at the top every descent was matched by an equal climb to make a bit of roller coaster. There were a myriad of wild camping opportunities along the way.

Dorrigo is a picturesque town at the top of an escarpment. I stopped at a great little cafe which houses "The Worlds Smallest Motorcycle Museum" for a late lunch. On the way into town I passed a huge collection of steam trains and old railway carriages - the collection was once intended to become a Museum but now sits derelict.

From Dorrigo there's a few km up uphill before a twisting 12km descent to Thora along The Waterfall Way - The waterfalls en route aren't so great - it's much better to visit the Rainforest Centre just outside Dorrigo and do their 6km walk which give you a much better view of some of the falls.

There's plenty of accommodation in Dorrigo but I have family in Bellingen - downhill all the way from Dorrigo.

4 Magpie attacks.

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Someone had added white-water kayaks to the 'steep descent' road signs.

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Postboxes at Billy's Creek.

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The view from above Old Dorrigo.

>>> Part 2 of this page


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"India and beyond" Copyright © 2009-2014 By Sydney Winer - (contact). All rights reserved.
Page was created on September 12, 2010 15:06 PDT, last updated on September 26, 2010 15:15 PDT
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