Over the last four days we have made great progress northwards, crossing over the state border from Victoria into New South Wales (NSW), which feels like a small milestone has now been achieved and Sydney now feels within reach – we’re hoping to be there in about a week. It is already a lot warmer (although it got a lot colder first) so camping should be easier. Rather than following the Princes Highway near the coast we decided to head inland to Bombala, over some hills and far away.
We had thought about our route around this remote corner of Australia (I say remote – it isn’t really that remote but will probably be the most remote bit of our trip here) a lot and most of the advice was to avoid the Princes Highway as much as possible. This effectively left us with two options; the Bonang Highway via Goongerah, or the Cann Valley (aka the Monaro Highway) direct up to Bombala. The former would entail some dirt roads and camping at a freedom spot fairly high up, meaning cold, with the latter involving a bit of the Princes Highway to Cann River and then a longish hilly day over to Bomabala at 700m, where we could hide indoors at a motel or an AirBnb. The thought of camping at Goongerah didn’t appeal so we were really only left with the option of the Monaro Highway. I had read that this was steep in places, and with nothing between Cann River and Bombala, we would have to cover the 80’ish km in one go, and most of it was up. Of course, this made me nervous and I worried about this day for ages in advance.
But I’m getting ahead of myself….first we had to get from Marlo to Cann River. We waved goodbye to Dave and Lu, our fabulous hosts in Marlo who advised us to make a short detour to Cape Conran on our way – which was totally worth it. We followed a nice quiet road from Marlo all the way to Cabbage Tree Creek where we then picked up the Princes Highway. It was mostly fine; the cars were speeding past but we often had a hard shoulder (although the surface was questionable in places) and the traffic was fairly light, so it wasn’t that bad. It was a bit uppy downy in places but we made decent progress and got to Cann River before 2pm. We had been warned to not expect much at Cann River but the campsite was fine – it had showers and a toilet and BBQ, so we were sorted. As soon as the sun went down it did get pretty chilly though and it was cold all night. It also had cheeky possums who chased Philippa in the hope of stealing her dinner; they failed.
It was also pretty cold in the morning; we emerged from our tent not long after first light to try and get on the road early given the longish hilly day to Bombala. Our hands were freezing trying to take the sopping wet tent down (from dew, not rain) but we soon warmed up once we were on the road. I think the best way to sum up the Monaro Highway from Cann River to Bomabala is this: not very hard. The first 20km were essentially flat; the next 25 or so km climbed pretty gradually all the way up to the state border, then we went down (with a few pulls) for about 10km and then we had a long pull up to 700m from where the road bounced around to Bombala. The hardest part was probably the last few km into Bombala, but that might be just my typical thing of getting tired when I know I’m nearly there. What I will also say about this route was that it was very pretty. You climb up through shady forest and then get teased with views of hills ahead; once you’re on the plateau it is vast and you would never guess you were up at 700m (apart from if it were covered in snow I guess). We certainly do not regret the decision to go this way and would happily do it again. We had been warned that there was limited shoulder and that this was a main highway for trucks. Over the course of the 80km we counted about 70 vehicles that overtook us, of which about 10% were trucks. We got lots of space when there was no shoulder, and as soon as entered NSW we had a shoulder for most of the rest of the way.
We had an AirBnB booked in Bombala (cheaper than the motel and much nicer I suspect) and were well looked after in a nice toasty house with a fire and a winter duvet and electric blankets – it was perfect for our needs. There was no way we could have camped there with our summer sleeping bags.
On Thursday morning we left autumnal Bombala in a shroud of mist and yellow leaves but as we climbed up to 920m, the highest point of the day (and probably for Australia I reckon) it burned off and the views were spectacular. The road was quiet, with hardly any traffic and after the climb we had a great time descending down Mount Darragh (although the surface was a bit bumpy in places with enormous holes we had to watch out for!). Having expected most of the day to be downhill after the initial climb in the morning, we found the last 20km from Wyndham to Pambula on an undulating road to be quite hard work. We were staying with a WarmShowers host in Pambula, who of course lived up a hill just to really finish us off.
On Friday morning we left Pambula and followed a flat cycle trail to Merimbula where we picked up the Sapphire Coast Highway. This started off with a rude climb to 175m and it was up and down all day long. The first 30 or so km to Tathra on this highway I didn’t really enjoy. There was quite a bit of traffic and no shoulder and so it got a bit hairy in places. But once we got to Tathra we were on a much quieter road. That plus as we ascended into Tathra I got clapped up the hill by a friendly kid in a car, so I liked Tathra. We knew the day would remain hilly so discussed to option of staying in Tathra, but as it was only 11am we decided to push on Bermagui.
The rest of the day was spent either climbing or descending, with few flat bits of road anywhere. It was also a lot hotter than it had been so it all got a bit sweaty. This gets quite tiring after a while, but as I knew this was in store, my legs behaved and took me up each hill without too much hassle. Until we rounded a corner about 15km before Bermagui and saw a wall. Uh oh. There was another guy on a bike who looked like a cycle tourist stopped at the bottom (he seemed to be touring by carrying a duvet on the back of his bike) so we stopped and chatted for a bit and then I gritted my teeth, dropped into my lowest gear and PUSHED. I made it. It was bloody hard work.
We had been told about good gelato on the way into Bermagui when we stayed in Pambula so of course we had to stop. We had also been told by our AirBnB host about good fish n chips in Bermagui so we decided to treat ourselves. To be honest, it was only the thought of gelato and fish and chips that kept me going all day….