Monday, July 26, 2010

The town with the name the sound of a sneeze

64 km to Ararat - Another small town, but has a cinema. Has an Aldi. It was raining while I was there so I spent a lot of time in its library being boring.

35 km to Stawell - pronounced 'Stall' as why use more consonants than you have to, this is a small town without a cinema, or an Aldi. $15 for a campsite at the Grampian Gate caravan park.The town has a lookout from which you can see the Grampians and the Pyranees Ranges. It also has a goldmine you can look at, but I did not, being all mined out from the rest of the Goldfields region.

Hall's Gap was my next stop. I had intended to camp in the national park, but it being a weekend with bad drivers everywhere and mountainous roads without shoulders, I decided I didn't want to die that day and stayed in Hall's Gap instead. It may have been bad planning on my part except that I didn't know what day of the week it even was, and hardly have any planning involved besides generally glancing at a map and choosing a direction, as you can probably tell by my zig zag trekking of Victoria.

Hall's Gap isn't a place I could stay in for long, with $25 charged for an unpowered site, and add $2 onto the price of everything in the local store - Kingstons $5. It is of course a tourist village, full of annoying tourists and the cheeky birds and Kangaroos that eat food intended for humans off them. One bird jumped on my head and I wasn't even eating at the time.

After grabbing lunch - wary of the wildlife and secretly plotting the demise of all the obese people who managed to work up appetites larger than mine while driving their SUVs up mountain ranges - I did the Pinnacle Walk which is like walking up 130 flights of stairs in one go, and my calf muscles are still complaining. But the views are great so its worth it.

After riding back the way I came - back to Stawell almost, I got back onto the Western Highway with its deliciously wide bitumen shoulders, and after 55 kilometres, made it to Dadswells Bridge around 2 pm. I may have been able to keep going, but frankly Sunday afternoon traffic with everyone in a rush to get back from wherever they rushed off to makes for lots of cars doing lots of stupid overtaking, and throw in caravans and trucks, I would prefer not to witness it all. Also, the fact I kept singing "A-Wimera A-Wimera A-Wimera" instead of the real words to the tune of 'The lion sleeps tonight' was only funny the first one thousand times.

Dadswells Bridge is home of the Giant Koala, my first 'lame big thing on the side of the road' for the trip. I did not pay the $3 entry to see some koalas as I can see them by looking in trees for free. I did not take a photo of the towering fibreglass gumleaf-eater out of principle.

Dadswells Bridge, halfway between Stawell and Horsham on the Western Highway, is not even a village. It is a bridge over a tiny polluted swampy creek with a motel/restaurant and koala zoo hanging off it. However, it is $10 for a powered site in the nearby caravan park, with views to the Grampians, and they let you can have your own campfire going... and it's walking distance to very tasty Indian cuisine. I had Saag Paneer. Yum.

After riding past Green Lake, which is a large dry circle of grass with separate swimming and boating areas, including two boat ramps, I am now at Horsham. This a an actual town. It has pictures of album covers from the 70s and 80s on the walls of it's public library including the 'cheeky' "Ripper" Original Smash Hits cover which you may need to google when the boss isn't looking.

I've been cataloging things seen on the side of the road in my head. So far they include, but are not limited to:
19 dead kangaroos
Numerous kangaroo skeletons
1 dead echidna
5 dead wombats
2 dead cats
4 dead magpies
3 dead geese
1 pirate hat
1 green and gold sombrero
2 green plastic watering cans
9 odd shoes
6 Victorian number plates

Also, other things to keep me amused on the road include:

3 magpie attacks - which only encourages me to think about eating their eggs, you stupid birds

2 kangaroos jumping out in front of me in separate incidents. Hello Skippy!

1 truckie at a rest stop yelling out "You're doing well. Better than me". Keep on truckin.

And finally, 1 SUV driver coming up beside me rather too close for comfort to say "you look like a local" and ask directions - how exactly do I look like I am a local anywhere with things hanging off in all directions - including a tent and a sleeping mat - I do not know. I suggest if you cannot tell I am travelling you would fail the eye test.

Photo Album: Heading to the Grampians

Thursday, July 22, 2010

First 500

From Bendigo, I rode 40 k to Maldon, a small historic town also in the Goldfields region. On Main street all the buildings are from the late 19th Century. Still standing in the Beehive Mine is a tall chimney, which is the tallest of its kind still standing. It had to be shortened due to lightning strike.

Maryborough is a larger town, but still small. It has a fancy train station with clock tower and the story goes its design was meant for Spencer Street station but was knicked from the planning office.

Avoca was next up which is a neat little town at the foot of the Pyranees Ranges. The caravan park let me stay for $10, and were very friendly.Dunolly is a 40 km ride up Bridgewater-Maldon road. This is another small town. There are a few old signs still intact which are pretty cool. The caravan park let me stay for $10, which was also cool.

Next I headed to Waterfalls Picnic Ground in the Pyranees Ranges which is a nice quiet spot in the bush with campfires. After the short walk to the waterfall - sadly hardly flowing - I collected some firewood and built a fire for the cold night ahead. It was apparently frosty everywhere else, but it wasn't where I was. I could hear Wallabies thumping around during the early morning and when I stuck my head out of the tent at first light there were 12 Wallabies munching of the grass outside my tent - although they soon hopped off when they noticed me.

The place is absolutely pockmarked with mines and even tunnels from the goldmining days. You can't really stray off the tracks for fear of falling down a mine shaft.

After packing up, I attempted to make my way up the Fraser Track which goes up the side of Mt Avoca. However this was so steep and muddy - and chopped up by trailbikes - that I only made it about one kilometre up the rise - by dragging my bike up sideways up the slippery mud - before realising it was futile and that I had to head back the way I came - back down the blasted slope which meant taking everything off the bike and making a few trips to get back down - and to head back to Avoca and the highway.

As an aside, I've been getting a few emails from fellow female cyclists, including cyclingdutchgirl. I laughed while reading in her blog...

"A car pulled up and a surprised man stated that I am a girl. I knew this already of course, but to him it seemed unusual."

Photo Album: First 500

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


On Monday I visited the White Hill Botanical Gardens which has a bunch of birds and animals in cages for the sake of tradition. Apparently in Gold Rush times the people needed to acclimatise and the way to do this is apparently to put swamp wallabies and gallahs in small fenced off areas. Perhaps this is similar to allowing refugees to assimilate by putting them in small fenced off areas.

After attempting to apologise to these bored animals via a conversation of blinks and ear twitches, I then stumbled upon a bike path along Bendigo creek which happened to lead me to White Hill historic cemetery. I must have spent an hour wandering amongst the graves, taking photos and looking for possible relatives and/or zombies.

There is a Jewish section with 125 graves and a Chinese section with 263 tombstones and a funeral tower. Amongst the other graves there are a mixture of pauper graves, marked only with numbered crosses to lavish tombstones and memorials.

According to a brochure from the Friends of the cemetary, this wasn't the place for 'prominent' citizens because the mourners weren't into walking past the Chinese camp on their way there - perhaps because they weren't acclimatised to the Chinese by putting them in cages?
This cemetary is unusual because it doesn't have a fence all the way around, but rather just a set of gates and a small bit of fence that have been there since 1881. But due to this there has been a lot of vandalism and apparently 'grave dancing'. I thought about free camping
there, but I think staying there on a frosty night would have freaked me out. Just a little.

One of the graves that caught my eye - besides all the ones that look like someone had come back to life and pushed their way out - was the tombstone of Mary McCarthy who died at age 114. Apparently she came to Australia at age 99, from Ireland.

Besides this, I continued riding along the path, found a replica mining tower, Rosalind Park full of scary bats and scarier teenagers, the outside and inside of the huge, Sacred Heart church, taking lots of snaps, and found the local library to get my hit of free internet - I'm yet to ween off the thing.

Here are some photos...

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Burke's Farewell

I had joked in the past about starting my tour of Australia on the same day as Burke and Wills started their ill-fated expedition, after finding the monument in Royal Park (Melbourne) - because it would be 150 years since that day if I started on August 20, and I could start from Royal Park with people dressed up as camels and everything...

However, I also figured that would be bad luck. That does not mean that Burke and Wills are simply going to go away, it seems. They are following me, as I will explain...

Last Friday, after spending the morning being boring sitting in an internet café, I walked around the Castlemaine botanical gardens, getting some practice with my dSLR camera. (I'll try getting some of these pictures up on picasa at some stage). As well as a more formal area, the gardens has an area of remnant bushland that I was having fun trudging around in. On the way back into town I took some snaps of the local buildings and also visited the Old Castlemaine Gaol for more photography of its buildings and also the view back to town from the hill.

Friday night I attended a Burke and Wills commemerative dinner at Castlemaine's historic Theatre Royal which I had learned about from a bill posting in town. The Theatre Royal is apparently the first of it's kind in Australia, and is one of the longest continuously running entertainment establishments in Victoria. It was originally built in 1855, only to burn down two years later and be quickly rebuilt.

Why the farewell dinner? Why Castlemaine? Robert O'Hara Burke was originally the Chief of Police or something at Castlemaine, before being nominated as expedition leader. Castlemaine had a farewell dinner for him about a month before he led the expedition.

Due to deciding to attend this commemerative dinner at the last minute, I was only able to get a balcony seat and not actually get dinner, but instead could still see the show after the dinner was served to the full-paying guests.

Beforehand there was a selection of wines on offer, including Burke's Farewell Shiraz (only available by the bottle).

The show started with a selection of locals playing the parts of various key figures in the events leading up to, and during, the Burke's farewell dinner 150 years ago, give or take a few days. These included Robert O'Hara Burke - somewhat appropriately played by the local policeman - and a representative from the Royal Society, a local clergy member, and a few others. They read excerpts from speeches and letters as reported at the time in the media and the public records.
With an assistant holding up cards at the appropriate moments, the audience was able to help reenact the atmosphere of the time with cheers and jeers. Ladies were not allowed to attend the original farewell dinner so we were asked to don a cardboard beard to make the reenactment more accurate.

The words on the banner are "He's the man from Galway. Success to the Exploring Expedition"

There were funny moments where - because you knew the outcome - the words used in speeches proved very fateful, and also being able to draw interesting parrallels with today - like when Burke said in response to his nomination as leader of the expedition that he was not
a political man, in fact he couldn't tell the difference between the parties, to which a few in the audience were heard to shout 'Neither can we!'

Apparently at the time there was talk of Burke's unsuitability as the leader of the expedition, with a comment on the public record that he would have trouble finding his way from Beechworth to Wangaratta!

After this reenactment, a man presented a series of slides, photographs and paintings, interleaved with appropriate excerpts from the film archives of the 1985 Burke and Wills movie staring Jack Thompson. The Royal Society has been successful in partitioning the
national film archives association in restoring the master tapes this financial year and releasing to DVD.

During this presentation they even rolled a stuffed camel across the stage, with bottles of rum strapped on, a reference to the rum taken on the journey to apparently allieve the camels of scurvy. Someone had even put a fake beard on the camel.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Starting to thaw out now...

Unbeknowst to me, there was a frost going on last night. While I did sleep well, with only a couple of cold toes in the one pair of socks I was wearing when I woke up... everything besides my sleeping bag was coated in white, including the inside of my bivvy tent. Snow cones anyone?

Finally I can tell the war story of a frozen water bottle!

Here are some pictures from the past few days.

In terms of travelling, I'm still only doing between 30 and 50 km a day, but I'm doing a bit of exploring around the place and there is no rush at the moment. Due to late sunrises and early sunsets, it does reduce the number of hours I like to be on the road for.

So far I have had one flat tyre (it was a slow leak to begin with) and have had to adjust the centering/travel of my front brakes (the little screws in my canti brakes needed adjusting). I have cleaned my chain once too.

I'm currently stopped at one spot for a few days as there is a cold front coming through with strong winds on Saturday (tomorrow) so I'm just not going to bother travelling in bad weather if I don't have to. The Saturday morning forecast of "Damaging winds averaging 50 - 70 km/h will develop Saturday morning with peak gusts around 100 km/h" doesn't sound like much fun, as it will likely be somewhat of a headwind if I tried to ride it. I am not camped under any trees! Better get the down jacket and three pairs of socks out.

P.S. One of the great things about bicycle touring is the awesome people you meet along the way. Three people I happened to meet in Dec/Jan when I was doing a ten day tour happen to be touring again at the same time! They are Superbike Goes West and Yve and John. Check out their blogs too!

Monday, July 5, 2010

First post from the road!

So far I have travelled:
  • 20 km day one (well, I did leave Melbourne at 3:30 pm...)
  • 55 km day two
  • 50 km day three
  • 40 km day four (today - taking it easy, checking email etc)
As you can see I am really easing into it. No rush! At least my average speed is picking up each day.

Once I got out of Melbourne I've enjoyed some beautiful country roads. Day two was tiresome hills, a couple of which I had to get off and push the bike up. But after those, and for the last couple of days has been rolling hilling hills so I haven't yet had a throw bike down and kick it tantrum. I'm feeling stronger already (just as well).

Today started off with a lot of roadkill - 3 large wombats and two kangaroos where seen in the space of 16 km, and that's just on one side of the road (including one kangaroo hit this morning by the looks of it). :( All these people whinging about wind tubines killing birds and bats need to get some perspective.

Here are some pictures I've taken so far.

Trying to figure out how to strap this wine barrel onto the bike

Downhill coming right up. Yay!

Uh, another long stupid hill.


On the way to staying with some fellow cycle tourists overnight. Thanks very much to Andy and Gloria for their hospitality. :)

Thursday, July 1, 2010