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Calm after the cyclone: Oceania Odyssey Week 17

 

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Calm after the cyclone: Oceania Odyssey Week 17
Port Macquarie to Bellingen, 250 km (total cycled to date: 4,395 km)

We awoke in our tent to the sound of an angry ocean. Ferocious and relentless, wave after wave pounded the rocky shore next to us with the full might of a king tide. The swells were eight metres high, and the curls thundered down with so much force we could feel the impact in our chests.

We poked our heads out to gauge the day. Endless blue above the horizon. Not a hint of wind. A massive, round sun sitting on the waves as it completed its rise.

imageEnter from stage left four kangaroos hopping in unison past our picnic table, as if we’re filming a tourism Australia commercial. They stop abruptly, directly in front of our tent, and turn their heads simultaneously toward the strange human heads poking out of the nylon. We share a gaze with these majestic marsupials for a full minute before they bound gracefully out of sight.

imageFifteen minutes later, with French toast breakfast piled high, Joce shouts, “Dolphins!” and the boys sprint after her as she follows the pod of 20 along the shoreline, riding the massive waves and leaping about like an aquarium act.

No wonder we’re not tired of camping yet.

Usually after a couple weeks sleeping on the ground, our backs ache and our morning moods deteriorate. But four months into our cross-Pacific cycle adventure, we’re resting deeply and digging every minute of outdoor living. Ed hasn’t even started grumbling over dishwashing in the dirt, and Joce has become best buds with our finicky campstove.

We’re on such a roll that even a torrential cyclone was a mere speed bump on our ride north to Brisbane.

For a couple days, we’d been warned by random strangers that we should get inside for the weekend. A rare, powerful “East Coast Low” was amassing along the Queensland coast and promised havoc as far south as Sydney. So we booked in at a cabin in Crescent Heads for Friday and Saturday – we hadn’t paid for indoor accommodation in weeks, and this resort was way beyond our budget, but the extra cost was worth the peace of mind.

imageWe almost didn’t make it. After navigating through a construction detour for groceries Friday morning, we crossed Port Macquarie to the ferry ramp across the Hastings River – where a sandwich board told us, “Ferry Closed today. Go to Hibbard ferry.” Where’s the Hibbard ferry? Back next to the grocery store, of course. This detour cost us an extra 20km, and two precious hours in our race against the coming cyclone. The super-friendly Hibbard ferry operator reckoned we now had only a few hours before the rains hit, so we were thankful that the 30-km dirt road between us and our destination was smooth and flat. We stopped briefly for a bananas-and-dark-chocolate re-charge as the clouds began to darken, and just as we spotted the number 11 cabin at Crescent Head Resort, the skies unleashed their fury.

imageEven if we had a “camp no matter what” mantra (we don’t), we would have hidden inside for this torrential weekend. Gale-force winds, record tides and pummelling rain wreaked massive damage and floods all along the New South Wales coast. During the few un-insane periods, we ventured outside (once, on the first night, into the mostly-empty resort’s delightful hot tub – cruddy weather has its privileges) to check out the town. On Saturday, we watched the humongous waves and noticed an beauitufl footbridge across the rising inlet. On Sunday, that bridge was mangled and half-missing. Trees and debris were scattered everywhere as locals wandered around in dazed amusement of the carnage. In Sydney, somebody’s in-ground swimming pool was washed into the ocean. Serious stuff.

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We took full advantage of our indoor time to catch up on our journal, play cards and chess, watch a movie over dinner, and vastly improve our ping-pong trick shots. But after two days in a small room, we were getting stir-crazy and ready for outdoor life again – and the outdoors obliged with a stunningly sunny week, leaving only the exhilaratingly huge waves from the stormy low front. It was a beautiful calm after the storm.

imageimageWe rode along a swollen river in the countryside (Sitka notes that there are, indeed, sheep in Australia!) to South West Rocks, another gorgeous seaside town with a campground next to a fascinating 19th century gaol. (If you read that last word in your head as “jail” instead of “Gah-ohl?” you officially have a better grasp of Old English than our family.) Inmates had been shipped from all around to build the imposing stone structure, to stay in while they constructed a breakwater that was never finished, then it was used as an internment facility for German and Austrian “enemy aliens” in WWI (oh the charming parallels in Australian and Canadian history).

And it has kangaroos bouncing by your site in the morning sun. Quite possibly our favourite campsite of all time.

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imageSticking by the coast has also given us some of the most spectacular lunch spots we’ve ever had. During a hike near the old gaol (did you read it right this time?), we sat on Little Beach, whose rocky breakwaters made the monster waves look like they could swallow us up, only to stop their mad advance just behind our outstretched feet. Two days later, we sat atop a cliff at Hungry Head and soaked in the 180 degrees of crescent-beach coastline to the north and south. It’s two weeks from winter here, and still 27 degrees out. Pure bliss.

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Our main challenge this week was avoiding the highway for the brief sections where there were no cycleway options. There’s a mammoth project to replace the entire coast road, with construction and confusion galore. The newest highway is a concrete masterpiece with broad shoulders (you mean “verges” mate) and Watch for Bike signs, while the old road is cramped and currently ridden with storm debris. You know as much as we do about which sections are which, so every day we check in with locals for insight. Most of them know less than you do about what’s going on. “I dunno, mate, it’s taken years to do this stupid highway, I reckon it’ll never get done.” Thanks, mate.

Thankfully, we had stellar Warmshowers hosts this week, near Stuarts Point. Stephen and Jacky are another inspiring retired couple (whose daughter helped design and race solar cars at Uni – Sitka, who has been musing about inventing a solar car for the last few months, was over the moon) who have oodles of bike tour experience and route ideas (and, as grandparents, Lego, so they win automatically with the youngest two in our family).

imageAnd Stephen mapped us out a great route (the Tour de Stephen, as it would be named) to skip the highway and glide along peaceful back roads all the way to Nambucca Heads (with its funky “V-wall” of rocks painted and tiled by vacationers) and beyond to Bellingen. We got lost of course, as we have done pretty much every day in Australia, but figured our way back on track after the daily battle of instinct vs maps. In three months in New Zealand we didn’t get lost even once, thanks to the Kennett brothers amazing Cycle New Zealand book, so we are honing our “problem solving” skills here in Australia, which mostly involves every member of the family claiming that they have the “solution,” and that getting lost was someone else’s “problem.” Good thing we only have two bikes instead of four otherwise we would be scattered in all directions, each totally confident that ours was the correct route!

Somehow though we always find our way, each day to stunningly beautiful camp sites and rest stops, still smiling at having overcome the latest challenge. And then we rest our heads with the ocean sounds in our ears, dreaming of kangaroos hopping by – and now, expecting to see them come morning.

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imageHeron’s week 16 summary: The cyclone was crazy, I could hardly sleep with all the howling wind and rain! I loved seeing the Roos and Dolphins at the gaol. The hikes have been awesome and we have seen humpback whales almost every day!

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Sitka’s week 16 summary: The storm was super crazy – it even made it into international news! I loved playing pingpong during the storm. The gaol was super interesting! I also really liked all the hikes, and mosaics and seeing the Ray at Urunga lagoon!

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7 Comments

  1. Grandma Gigi says:

    Hi guys, It really tires me reading your blogs, but I am happy you are enjoying it so much. I guess it is my age, because I learned to spell jail….gaol. haha.

  2. Mark Thomson says:

    Cyclones are always very exciting – especially viewed form a hot tub… good form! Looks like the cyclone missed us. Hey at Sea World on the Gold Coast they have a ray pool where you can hand feed the rays… very cool!

  3. Jacky FLETCHER says:

    Hi all..the odyssey continues to inspire us. Hope you didn’t get too lost on the Tour de Stephen! Loved having you stay with us.You are welcome anytime..maybe the boys will return when they are older.Enjoy your travels north..still so much to see and do. Glad you spotted the stingray at Urunga. Stay safe.Jacky and Stephen xxx

  4. Kevin Murphy says:

    Great entry – really got a feel for the ebb and flow of the last week – you now seem deeply into the wonderful rhythymns of this odyssey- and not a speck of vomitary! Grandpapa

  5. Lucy Klein Horsman says:

    Glad you were all able to stay safe in the cyclone. How amazing to hear the awesome sound of the ocean right outside the tent and to also see kangaroos and dolphins! Travel safe and try not to get lost! Ha Ha! Lucy xx

  6. sara viale says:

    Oh it is wonderful to read all about your interesting journey. I think the ride from Crescent Head to South West Rocks was along our Mothers day ride. We parked the car at Gladstone and cycled into Crescent Head and back via the Belmore River.It is lovely to follow your journey as we still know the places you are writing about. Take care dear B.F. Riders.Love GAS and of course Milo too.xxxx

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