East Coast Bike Tour – Australia

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Michael at the end of his East Coast Bike Tour – AUSTRALIA

In 2009 I travelled halfway around the world seeking an adventure; Australia turned out the be an awesome destination with beautiful landscapes, plenty of fun activities and the friendliest people on the planet. Yet, I fell into the trap that so many backpackers do of repeating the same journey and route as so many before me. My solution to doing something different was a bike tour from Brisbane to Sydney and what a great decision it turned out to be.

Our distances were not huge, but in the Australian heat and towing a over weighted trailer containing my full backpack and all the bike touring equipment, we didn’t worry about miles covered, but instead enjoyed the journey.

The three of us rode and camped for 6 weeks on our bike tour through Australia. It proved an incredible experience that I will remember forever.

The Journey

I had an awesome time on my travels; scuba diving the Barrier Reef, skydiving in Mission Beach and a particular amazing trip while volunteering in the remotest place I have ever been at Cobourg Peninsula. I found myself wanting the proper adventure that I had come to Australia seeking. The solution came in the run up to Christmas when I met up with two guys (Peter St Clair-Ford and Sebastian Jespersen). We hatched a plan to cycle from Brisbane down to Sydney.

Now this is no easy feat at the best of times, but with no equipment except large and clumsy backpacking gear and very little money the challenges increased substantially. We started out on the 3rd Jan 2010 with a basic touring bike each, along with tent and cheap Chinese knock-off trailers piled high and totally overloaded with 35 Kg of gear each.

The first day certainly did not go to plan; Pete’s trailer broke before we even turned a pedal which meant we didn’t get going until the hottest part of the day. The first tiny little hill had us all nearly throwing up at the roadside from exhaustion with the heat, effort and probably nerves of what we were embarking on. Not long after that Pete’s trailer broke again in the middle of a torrential thunder storm and we had to find a campsite after only 40km and 3hrs riding. While maybe somewhat unprepared we were not wholly naive about the problems we were likely to encounter, so this initial setback did not worry us in the slightest.

After a couple of day’s gruelling riding up Mount Tamborine we reached Surfers Paradises. Already we had a number of adventures including a glow worm cave, beautiful scenery, camping, a waterfall and a number of very sketchy incidents involving steep hills and our single wheel trailers which had a tendency to sway left and right in increasingly large amounts until it threatened to chuck us off the bike. This forced me and Pete to slow to crawling pace down beautiful wide roads that we had spent days climbing. Seb on the other hand, had a 2 wheel trailer and was racing down the hills without a care in the world. In Surfers Paradise our bikes needed some TLC, my rear wheel had developed a slight buckle and we had literally melted our brake pads. Also Pete’s trailer (which we’d all learnt to hate) was already on its last legs.

We left Surfers Paradise to go to Natural Bridge, another detour but another beauty spot that is unheard of and inaccessible for most backpackers. It turned out to be an extremely eventful day as Pete’s trailer broke time after time until eventually it broke, snapping his rear mech in the process and rendering his trailer irreparable. After limping back to the nearest bike shop, we ordered a new trailer for Pete and for myself whose was also close to breaking. It was going to take five days for the trailer to arrive, so we decided that me and Seb would cycle to the Natural Bridge and Pete would hitch hike and meet us there the next day.

After a long ride, we turned a corner and something magic happened as the typical desert like terrain was replaced with lush, green wilderness. We hadn’t managed to get any food supplies on the cycle there due to the chaos of the morning, so were very fortunate when asking a local for directions that he took pity on us and gave us a can of tuna for dinner along with directions to a camping spot and the nearest store; “Just a 20km round trip”. We setup camp in the most idyllic spot you can ever imagine, thankful that this would be our home for the next couple of days.

The next day was meant to be chilled out and relaxing, but our little cycle to the store turned out to be a 40km round trip with a (25% incline) mountain in the middle. But we were desperate with no food, so had no choice. The first place we came across was an unmanned store with an honesty box that only sold watermelons, being half-starved we bought the biggest one and ate it all there and then. A little further on we came across a bigger store that sold a few vegetables and cans of Spam. On the way back downhill I managed to hit 52Kph with a semi loaded trailer then cooled off in the river next to the campsite. The next few days were ultra-relaxed, reading in my hammock and swimming in the river.

When we returned to Surfers Paradise, we picked up our new 2 wheeled trailers and set off again. The new trailers had a different feel and more drag to pull, but we had a little more confidence that they would last the distance. The first one had only managed 650Km! Generally it was fantastic the response we got from the locals. Every place we stopped people came up to us and asked what we were doing and wished us luck. We were all beginning to feel much more comfortable on the bike and forming a routine for camping, cooking and packing up etc. We were all getting really tanned and my hair was getting odd blond highlights where it poked out the helmet.

The next goal was to reach Byron Bay, the temperatures were soaring to more than 30 degrees Celsius which limited the time we could ride each day; yet we still managed a few good days with nothing more eventful than a swim in a river we past and a bent bolt on the trailer wheel. We bent it back and choose to ignore it.

We choose to spend a few days in Byron to see the sites and be backpackers once more. One day we went Sea Kayaking which turned out to be awesome fun. The group we were with was small and a little boring, but that worked out in our favour because we had more fun with the guides. Since Byron is Australia’s most easterly point, Seb and myself wanted to paddle out further than anyone else, scaring everyone that we wouldn’t return.

Later we went snorkelling from the kayaks and saw a few turtles, stingrays and puffer fish. While playing around standing up and jumping off the kayak I managed to badly hurt my ankle when it hit the side of the kayak in the process of falling into the water. It ended up swelling up and bruising very badly. Walking became painful but thankfully it didn’t bother me on the bike except when on bumpy roads.

The day we left Byron we wanted to catch the sunrise so we could say we saw the sun before anyone else in OZ or back home, unbeknown to us it was going to be a long, problem filled day, starting at 4 am. First casualty was Pete, we were in the dark using our bike lights to show us the way. Pete was a little paranoid about snakes hiding in the darkness and being so focused on snakes he failed to see the large reflective bollard and ploughed straight into it flipping over the bars. Pete failed to see the funny side but me and Seb could barely hold ourselves up from laughing. The next casualty was poor Pete’s camera that got dropped while waiting for the sunrise which we had miscalculated the time for, after a 2 hour wait we saw the most pathetic sunrise you’re ever likely to see.

Despite the early start we ended up leaving for the days ride much later than normal and after nearly killing myself blasting up a hill we found we had lost Pete who was having a terrible day. This was when my bike and trailer started playing up, the bent bolts on the trailer were bending with every little bump now and moments from snapping, while the cone bearing on my bikes rear wheel were tightening up making riding impossible, then slackening off and making the whole wheel wobble. We ended up riding, pulling and dragging the bikes 25km around various industrial estates in an effort to find a mechanic and bike shop capable of fixing the trailer and bike. In the end we gave up and camped in a grotty rest stop until morning.

The following day we travelled back north and quickly found a mechanic willing to fix the trailer, although it would take a few days for the right parts. In finding the mechanics my rear wheel completely failed and I had to pay $120 for a new wheel. But then our luck turned and the mechanic offered to put us up for the night at his place while we waited for parts, in return we could help with decorating. His house turned out to be incredible and because the site manager didn’t turn up we ended up driving around most of the day with the mechanics friend. A strange, smelly, overweight and balding man that wouldn’t stop cupping his moobs. Still we had a good day at the beach and cruising around town.

The following day we left early with our bikes, but due to a ridiculous number of punctures we ended up riding through the peak of the midday sun and arrived at our destination with mild sun stroke and very dehydrated. After recovering we realised the beautiful little town (Chatsworth) that we had stumbled upon and the locals were exceptionally friendly and nice to us. We set up our tents by the river, went for a swim in the river (which we learnt after had bull sharks in it) and relaxed. Such a wonderful spot!

Riding went smoothly for the next few days until we reached our destination Arrawarra, we had intended to go surfing, but there were no waves so we went kayaking again. We found a river a decided to explore, which turned out to be a great decision winding our way through mangroves and spotting all sorts of wildlife. It’s a shame but most backpackers never get to see any wildlife in its natural environment.

With Australia day approaching we made it to Coffs Harbour and caught up with a girl we met on the road. Very kindly her family invited us to stay at the house and celebrate with them. It was a brilliant day and another example of the wonderful OZy hospitality.

Having now covered 1500Km, we were in our stride and in danger of reaching Sydney. We were beginning to cover more miles each day on the bike and although we had tough days we worked very well as a group, picking each other up when required and safe in the knowledge we had each other’s back. There were more examples of people letting us stay at their homes or camp in the gardens and always kind words when we stopped for lunch and supplies. Our bikes had worked out most of their issues and we were encountering fewer problems. We had a lot of time to think while on the bike, my eye as a designer was still ticking over and my journal was filled with various concept sketches.

The last leg took us through Newcastle, an odd city that resembles a European city much more than an Australian one. Then on past Palm Beach, the beach featured in Home & Away.

“If it had been easy, it would have been boring”

Day 39 our last day! We could have reached here sooner, but that was never the objective, we wanted an adventure and that is what we got. We saw amazing parts of Australia that most people just zoom past in a car; along with the highs, there were lows, but they only made the good bits better. If it had been straight forward it would have been boring. The final day started well, I had loads of energy and was really excited so zoomed ahead to film everyone pass then would catch up again for another shot. This initial energy burst was maybe premature however as we hit a huge hill that nearly killed me, but excitement of the day pulled through and I raced up first.

As we got closer to the centre the traffic got denser, impatient and generally unpleasant. One car decided that despite having three lanes free, they would intentionally drive in ours. He got very close to the two behind and his wing mirror ended up hitting my arm hard, the car drove off. Thankfully I wasn’t hurt, although I was angry that the driver acted that way after we had encountered so many nice people up until then. I hope my arm broke his mirror!

We continued following signs to Harbour Bridge, our chosen final destination. But the road layout was not well signposted or bike friendly and we ended up forced to follow a road that got very dangerous right up to the bridge. Realising we could not cross the bridge on the road; we jumped a barrier to a closed poll section in the middle of the lanes to evaluate our options. We ended up splitting the trailer and bike, then running down the road and throwing them over a barrier to a pedestrian section. It was not a nice introduction to Sydney!

Once on the correct path, things got much better. We celebrated as we rode across the bridge and down to the Opera House. We got some great pictures in front of the Opera house to conclude the trip.

It was a fantastic trip and something I am extremely pleased I did, Seb and Pete were amazing companions and although we had our differences at times I can’t imagine a better group of guys to do it with. I would recommend it to anyone, although get a better trailer than we did! See the video for some of the hilarity.

Sydney Opera House Photo Jump

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