It was a cold, grey Tuesday morning in Melbourne as I was loading up my bike with the things I’d need for two weeks away: maps, camera, a few changes of clothes, my tent, some breakfast food and no laptop. Although supposedly an Australian summer, it wasn’t the kind I was used to in Perth. At 9am I set off, hoping that I’d miss peak hour traffic—but that also turned out to be a bit optimistic, and as I crawled along the CityLink freeway and out the other side of the tunnel to the M1, it started to drizzle. Not the most cheerful start to a roadtrip, but at least I was on my bike with nothing to be worrying about except where the road would take me. And I had a plan: leave the freeway at Cranbourne and follow the coast east, more or less, to Gippsland where my relatives lived. It took almost three hours to cover the 180km to Foster, where I stopped for lunch. By this time, the rain had stopped but the weather was still looking pretty grim.
Heading further east, I took another detour at Bairnsdale and went to visit the town of Paynesville, on the shores of one of Gippsland’s lakes. I’d arrived a bit late to take the ferry over to nearby Raymond Island, but it was good to stretch my legs a bit by wandering around the town. The wind was fierce, and on my ride into Paynesville I found I had the bike leaning over quite a bit to go straight, which was a new, exciting and not entirely pleasant experience for me.
But I still had a bit further to go before I reached Peter and Mary’s property just outside the town of Orbost. Visiting there is a bit of an experience, quite unlike my usual city slicker lifestyle: no mobile phone reception, electricity comes from their solar panels and batteries and water from the dam on their property. They even have a satellite internet connection. A fair proportion of the vegetables in my dinner came from their own garden. It’s a great place to be, but I suspect I’d go mad if I lived somewhere like that permanently.
I’d planned to leave on Wednesday to head up towards Mt Beauty, and then climb Mt Bogong—the highest mountain in Victoria—the following day. But on the radio in the morning we heard news of snow and subzero temperatures in the high country. Time to reconsider that plan, then. In fact, for most of the morning it was raining solidly and there was a severe weather warning for strong winds near where I was, apparently up to 110 km/h. I decided to stay inside where it was warm and dry. Early in the afternoon the rain stopped and I ventured out, visiting Cape Conran and Mesung.
Thursday was all about riding. I plotted out a less-than-direct route to Bright, on the other side of the Victorian Alps. Leaving Orbost I headed towards Buchan, along a wonderfully twisty road through amazingly beautiful countryside. It wasn’t really a road for going fast on, with lots of fallen leaves and rocks on the road, and most of the corners having poor visibility and no advisory speed signs. But that just made the scenery more enjoyable.
After Buchan, I headed north, where the road turned to gravel. After a while, I reached the fabulously named “Seldom Seen Service Station” (which appears to be closed for good), and then the road forks in three ways: the Snowy River Road north to the Snowy Mountains in New South Wales, McKillop’s Road east through Gippsland to the Bonang Highway, or Limestone Road west to Omeo in the Victorian high country. I chose west. The sign said “78km winding road”. That’s the good kind of sign when you’re on a bike. I should probably point out that my off-bitumen riding experience at this point was pretty much limited to the 2.5km stretch on the way to Mary and Peter’s place, but I did okay taking my road bike on gravel for over 100km, building up a bit of confidence for further unsealed stretches that will appear in future instalments.
After a lunch stop at Omeo, I turned onto the Great Alpine Road and went a long way up and around a lot of corners to Dinner Plain and Mount Hotham. Then a long way down again to Bright, where I set up my tent for the night and downed a few tasty pints at the local brewery.
My aim on Friday was to be in Canberra by the end of the day, but I wasn’t in a hurry so I took the long way: down the hill to Tawonga, then a scenic detour along Redbank Road (as recommended in my “top 200 rides in Australia” booklet) until I hit the Murray Valley Highway to Corryong, near the Victoria / New South Wales border. I stopped for lunch and made sure my passport was in order and my money was ready to be changed. Hitting the road again, I crossed the Murray River and the Murray Valley Highway in Victoria became the Alpine Way in New South Wales. It was all a bit anti-climactic. Even the sign on the state border was fairly nondescript. Then came the corners. Lots of corners. I gained a new motorcycling skill shortly after I entered NSW: avoiding potholes mid-corner. Actually, most of it wasn’t too bad, but there were a few shockers near the state border. The road went up and up and around and around, past Thredbo and Jindabyne and then a more gentle decline in elevation down to Cooma.
After Cooma, it was a straight and dull 110km ride to Canberra. I finally arrived in Canberra at 5:30pm, just in time for the afternoon peak fifteen minutes of traffic. Fortunately, being on a bike, the congestion didn’t really apply to me, as I filtered through long queues of stationary cars. Oddly, this didn’t seem to be a common thing for bikers in Canberra to do; I passed a few that were sitting in line with all the cars, and as I got closer to the town centre, a car decided to shift position in his lane to cut me off. Wound down his window and yelled “get faaaaarked”. This was the first time I’d encountered hostility towards filtering! But I made it through Canberra’s maze of roundabouts without getting lost and met up with Lisa and Simon—which felt slightly odd as I realised the last time I saw them we’d all been living in England.
To be continued…