In the end the rain won and we spent Sunday in Stockton. This didn’t alter our plans very much because we were originally going to have a day off on Monday, but unfortunately Stockton wasn’t a great place to stop. Part of this tour is being adaptable to whatever the weather, road etc. throws at us, even if that is a day off in Stockton. As we’d already spent Saturday afternoon in Newcastle we didn’t feel the need to get the boat back into town. I made use of the day off to read all of “Elizabeth is Missing”.
Monday dawned and it was again blue skies and sun. So far in Australia the rain we’ve experienced has lasted for only a few hours, as opposed to New Zealand when it lasted a few days. We left Stockton by riding along another a great cycleway. From somewhere there’s been a lot of investment in urban cycleways. They’re not the fastest way to get from A to B, but as we’re normally not in a rush that isn’t an issue. With the factories and ships we could have been somewhere in north-east England, although the temperature was far too warm. After leaving Stockton we avoided the main road up to Nelson Bay where possible so we could ride along and chat, although the main road wasn’t very busy and at times had a massive hard shoulder.
We got to Nelson Bay just before noon and thought we’d catch the 12:45 ferry to Tea Gardens rather than waiting around until 3ish. It turned out the 12:45 wasn’t running and there was only a noon service, so we were lucky to have arrived in Nelson Bay when we did. It’s not far between Nelson Bay & Hawks Bay, but the crossing took an hour. We enjoyed the views of the bay and failed to spot any dolphins. After Philippa played Supermarket Sweep we rode across to Hawks Bay and set up the tent for another night. We’ve now spent over 70 nights in the tent.
Today (Tuesday) was a day into the unknown. We planned to ride 50km to Seal Rocks, but 20km would be along the Old Gibber Trail that Peter (our WarmShowers host from Lisarow) had recommended. It was a gravel track, but Peter thought we’d be OK on our bikes (we’ve got 32cc tyres, so they aren’t particularly wide) and another blog made it sound OK. If we decided against the Old Gibber Track we’d be looking at an 80km day via Bulahdelah, including 15km along an unsealed road. The first 25km from Hawks Nest were along the Mungo Brush Road, which was great: massive sand dunes to our right, lakes to our left and no cars. The Old Gibber Trail started from the Boomeri campground. There was a sign saying “Closed”, but we ignored that because we decided it was only referring to the campground and so we set off into the unknown. We could ride the track, albeit quite slowly. As we rode along the red dirt it looked like the Australia of the movies. After about 8km the surface got worse and our speed dropped even further. When we joined The Mining Road (which is still a track) the surface improved and the speed increased a bit. After about two hours or so we were at the end of the track and happy that we hadn’t had to push the bikes (although the bumpy rocks meant that Philippa had a very sore neck).
We had lunch in celebration and then rode the final 6km to Seal Rocks. I went swimming as the beach was beautiful and then walked out to the Sugarloaf lighthouse. There’s not much in Seal Rocks, but it’s a really quaint place. We’re camping tonight and tomorrow (Wednesday) we’re being hosted in Red Head. Since leaving Victoria the evenings have been much warmer (I’m sat around in flipflops & shorts until bedtime), but it’s getting dark before 6pm. It’ll be great when we get to Canada for the long evenings once again, but we’ve still got a month in Australia to enjoy before we head back to the Northern Hemisphere.