Thursday 24 October. Dunsborough to Margaret River. 64km.
We had a last minute change of plan on our route today and rather than a long hard cycle to Augusta, the furthest town south on the western side of Australia, we opted for a shorter day to Margaret River, which is slightly inland. This meant we had more time for a leisurely breakfast with Juliet and Grieg followed by a trip to a cafe in town to meet their cycling buddies who had all been out on their daily 6am ride – including Max who had joined us for dinner last night. We eventually got on the road around 9am and as recommended by Greig stopped off about 10km later at Torpedo Rocks to take in more amazing coastline views.
We then cycled Caves Road, which has one vineyard/winery after another for about 40km, set among some lovely hills. The cycling wasn’t hard enough to exhaust us but definitely enough to get our hearts pumping! As the name suggests there are caves along the road but we decided to give them a miss and continued on to Prevelly Beach for lunch, which is a world-class surfing spot that has hosted many international surfing competitions. Lunch was a home-made pie, which Grieg and Juliet had very kindly made specially for our journey, which we scoffed while watching the huge waves from a sheltered viewing spot we managed to find. After lunch we headed towards Margaret River, 10km away. This was our first night in the big bad Aussie world on our own and as we weren’t quite ready to take the plunge into camping, we found a campsite with cabins. We opted for one of those that turned out to be a little self-contained apartment, which was ideal. A quick trip to the supermarket for some supplies and a little wander around what is a lovely little town. Dinner was a tasty ready-made curry and rice …..not quite the standard we have become accustomed to since we arrived, but I’m guessing we will need to get used to a lot worse over the next few months. Nigel mentioned in his last blog that “cake watch” was back and I just couldn’t let it pass without including this photo of 1 home-made brownie that Juliet made for dessert last night….
Friday 25 October. Margaret River to Pemberton. 133km.
Our nice comfortable start to Australia came to a bit of abrupt end as we set off at 6am towards Pemberton, 133km away. I know that Australia is a big country and there is a lot of wilderness, but I naively didn’t expect to experience it quite to early into our trip. But almost immediately after leaving Margaret River we were in the middle of nowhere, with nothing much except us and lots of this…
A car, truck or camper van would pass every 20 minutes or so but in-between times it was silent….no birds singing or wildlife noises at all. But strangely neither of us were bored as there were some fantastic wild flowers all along the route, and we were also just happy pedalling….”meditation in motion” as we like to call it. The terrain was a lot hillier than we anticipated and it was down and up, down and up, down and up for most of the day, which did get pretty exhausting after a while. The fact that our bikes are heavier than they were in Asia didn’t help either. We are carrying a lot more food than we have done in a while, which made for a pretty exhausting ride.
The landscape eventually changed from scrubland wilderness to some lovely forest with huge trees lining both sides of the road….
Pretty stunning, which did distract us from the hills for a while, but 13km from base it just felt like the day would never end. Our first proper endurance test on the Australian roads!
We made it to Pemberton around 4.30, after a mere 10 hours in the saddle. And absolutely shattered. Because we are gluttons for punishment we then decided to camp. The last time we set up our tent was probably in Greece but it’s like riding a bikes I guess in that you don’t forget the process once you know it, so it didn’t take us long to get set-up and organised.
Pemberton is a picturesque little saw-milling town with lots of wooden houses like these……
…and we enjoyed a quick wander through the town on our way to the supermarket before dinner.
The weather has definitely changed from what we have been used to and evenings are pretty cold at the moment. The kitchen area on the campsite was outdoors so we didn’t hang around for long after dinner as it was just too cold. Time for me to wear my favourite Santa socks…..
….and we were tucked up in the tent around 8pm, socks and all!
Saturday 26 October. Pemberton to Walpole. 120km.
Another 5am alarm call to get on the road for another big day but to be honest the dawn chorus woke us earlier than the alarm. So many different sounds and noises going on, even if it was very early! And we had this little visitor before we left…
…the ring-neck parrot, one of Australia’s many native birds.
Weatherwise it started drizzling quite heavily almost as soon as got out of the tent so by the time we packed our gear up everything was wet. But nothing for it other then to get going and straight into a hill climb to get out of town. A couple of people at the campsite last night had said the road to Walpole was flat…. they lied! If anything it was harder and tougher than yesterday because our legs were already tired. Again the route took us through some fantastic forested roads that reminded us of Sweden, but it was still a day of never-ending hills. On the plus side the rain didn’t hang around for too long, so that was a blessing.
But when the rain disappeared, the flies appeared. And it’s nothing like either of us have experienced before. They exist in their hundreds and fly into our ears, up our noses and land all over our faces…they even seem to get behind my sunglasses! Do you know how hard it is to pedal uphill without breathing through your mouth?? It really is horrible and even when we thought we were looking forward to a snack break, the flies would descend in their masses, so stopping was no longer enjoyable. Some of the flies are big and bite/sting… called March flies apparently because March is the only month they don’t appear. Altogether it’s the most unenjoyable part of the journey so far, but one I fear we will have to get used to!
We also aren’t particularly hill-fit at the moment as we haven’t done hills for a while. We had a lot of days off in Malaysia, Singapore and then Perth so that definitely contributed to our struggle on the hills, But as always, we preserved, and arrived at base around 4pm – very proud of ourselves for covering over 250km of hills in two days. As it was a Saturday night we had booked a hostel in advance and what a little gem that was. Enough space to hang out our tent and wetgear and our rooms were little cabins surrounded by gardens. A monster pasta dinner to replenish our energy – and a good rugby result for England to ensure Nigel went to bed a happy man a few hours later….flies and hills all a distant memory!
Sunday 27 October. Walpole to Denmark. 79km.
We didn’t have quite as big a day ahead so although we were up early, we took it easy and left the hostel around 8am. The road was still very up and down and although our legs were tired from the last few days, psychologically we knew we had fewer kilometres to cycle so it didn’t feel as difficult. And with the green and lush landscape and rolling hills it felt like we could have been in the Irish or English countryside rather than Australia!
About 15km into our journey we decided to visit the Valley of Giants, a national park with towering Red Tingle trees and Karri trees, which are unique to the area. They have a famous tree-top walk, which lots of people had mentioned as worth doing, so we decided we would go for it as we had the time. And it was fantastic. The tree-top walk took us about 40 metres high among the 70-metre high trees, which did give me the heebie jeebies at times, but it really was magical.
There was also a walking ground route that took us right into the trees with their hollowed-out trunks, which are caused by insect and fungal attack and then fire burning out the dead wood. This one is called Grandma Tingle because of her age and the face you can see…..although we personally thought it looked like more like a Grandpa!
Back on the road and we continued pretty much on the same countryside terrain until we reached our destination. Needless to say, the flies didn’t let up at all and they were then joined by swarms of flying ants and moths. Seeing them all coming towards me through my sunglasses was like watching a 3-D horror movie and made for pretty disgusting cycling conditions.
And after 19 months on the road we finally reached Denmark…
that is the one in Western Australia! We were staying with a WarmShowers family but as we were a bit earlier than planned we stopped in the “centre” of town if you can call it that for a coffee. Small towns in Australia are very different to what we have back home. It’s difficult to explain but they just are.
Off we went to find our family for the night and we were greeted by Parker the dog, Brad, originally from Derbyshire and his daughter Tillie aged 10. Nina his wife and Sidney, aged 5, arrived later from visiting friends and the evening got very lively with a pizza-making session for dinner.
I was NOT very good at it, so needless to say I won’t be looking for a job with Domino’s Pizzas when I go home….but it still tasted very nice! They live in a fantastic and unusual tree house, which uses tree trunks as support beams throughout the house. They also have a coffee-roasting business and Nigel got a bag of their freshly roasted and ground coffee to take with him when we left!
Monday 28 October. Denmark to Albany. 64 km.
Today would be another shorter cycling day, so we didn’t have to rush away at the crack of dawn and we all walked Tillie and Sidney to the school bus stop before returning to the house for a final coffee. Brad cycled with us for the first 10km along a lovely cycle path (old railway line) alongside a coastal inlet. In the town centre yesterday we had met some other cyclists who were on a 10-day ride as part of a large group (105 cyclists) and they had recommend this path to us to avoid the hills. When Brad left us we had lots of the cyclist from this group ride alongside us and they very kindly invited us to stop at their tea truck, which we very gratefully did. After this we decided to plough on to Albany without stopping and have lunch there, but just as we were coming into the lovely coastal town the rain started. Sitting down to have sandwiches in the outdoors was not an option so we decided to go straight to our accommodation, another WarmShowers family, cycling passed Dog Rock on the way….
We have definitely made the most the WarmShowers network since arriving in Australia and the Aussies definitely take the top position for being the most responsive and following through with great hospitality. Our hosts in Albany had a caravan prepared and waiting for us, complete with little kitchen, which would be our home for the next two nights.
It’s my first time ever sleeping in a caravan so I was very excited! Jen and George and 2-year old daughter Frida were very friendly and welcoming and invited us to dinner. Turn out Jen had lived in Kentish Town in London for a while and frequented one of the same local pubs as us!
Tues 29 October. Albany. Rest day.
Our first day off since we left Perth so we had the benefit of a lie-in….not too late mind you as Albany has plenty to see and do so we had a plan for the day. Amy who was ourWarmShowers host in Bunbury (2 days out of Perth) is working here this week and had offered us her car to use to explore the area, (how nice is that??) so first stop was to meet her and pick up the car. We drove around 15km out of town to the most stunning coastline to visit The Gap and The Natural Bridge – two coastal rock formations where the sea has worn away the coast. Some huge crashing waves to stare at for an hour…..
….before we headed back into town to visit the National Anzac Centre. This is a commemorative centre to honour and remember the 41,000 Australians and New Zealanders who departed Albany to fight in the First World War – a third of which never returned. It was an excellent interactive and educational account of the Anzac’s WW1 experience; hugely informative but also poignant. One unusual element of the museum is that on arrival we were given a card with a soldier’s name on it – then throughout the different exhibits we could use this to see our particular soldier’s part in the war.
An afternoon for chores, including getting flynets to help us survive the rest of the journey! We met up Amy for dinner later and it was back to roost for an early night in the caravan and ready to get back on the road.