Rock to Rock: Seal to South West

078. Maria River RoadAfter seven consecutive days on the road we are now having a much needed break in South West Rocks (well I need a break, I suspect Adam doesn’t, not really), a cute little town on the coast that we had heard good things about and so decided it would make a good place for a rest day. Over the last few days we’ve covered nearly 300km but the cycling has been not too demanding, with mostly flat terrain, which makes me happy. We’ve also spotted our first signs for Brisbane so we are edging gradually closer and the end now seems very much in sight. Hooray!

On Wednesday we cycled from Seal Rocks to Red Head, picking up The Lakes Way again. We cycled past some more impressive looking lakes and hit what I would probably describe as a sand spit where 200m to our right was the sea, and 200m to our left was a lake. We stopped to take a look at each on the approach to Forster. Forster was a nice little town and we sat watching the school kids fishing whilst we ate lunch, whiling away a few hours as we couldn’t get to our WarmShower host until 3:30pm. We left Forster on a cycle track that took us around the bay where we got to see dolphins (no pictures I’m sorry to say)! From there it was a straightforward run up to Red Head where we stayed with a German family for the evening who looked after us well. We were impressed with their self-build house and it felt like we were back in Europe after four months away.

From Red Head on Thursday we were heading for Kendall (not near the Lake District). We took the Old Soldiers Road shortcut, a dirt road that allowed us to remove a few kms off our route. We then spent most of the day trying to dodge the Pacific Highway as much as possible, taking any detour or alternative we could find. We went into Taree and from there followed a beautiful road to Landsdowne which was well worth the extra distance before joining the highway at Coopnernook. The 20 or so kms we did spend on the highway were actually fine; this part of the road has been upgraded to two lanes with a massive hard shoulder/verge so we didn’t come close to any traffic. Even with the big verge trucks generally seemed to pull over to the outside lane to give us as much room as possible, which was nice.

On the other side coming of the highway us we saw the Tour de Cure cyclists heading south – we knew our paths might cross at some point having seen the news coverage of the event. I couldn’t tell you if the group we saw contained Jens “shut up legs” Voigt or not, but they did all wave and shout hello at us across the highway and we waved back. If only they had offered to swap bikes with us…. (a girl can dream). Along the highway we saw our first sign for Brisbane, which made me feel good.

After bashing up the highway we managed to sneak a turn off just before Kew along a dirt road and got chased by some friendly dogs who seemingly wanted to come with us for a bit (makes a change, they are normally barking and snapping at us) and then it was a short few kms to the showground campsite at Kendall. These showgrounds are community run campsites next to the sports pitch. It was basic, but had everything we needed for an overnight stop, including a Bottle-O, which made for a nice evening with some cheap plonk (I still forget that supermarkets here don’t sell booze, you need to go to a separate shop).

Friday we cycled to Port MacQuarie. We didn’t use the highway all day, opting to route in via Laurieton, but Adam and I agree that Friday was probably the worst day of cycling we’ve had in Australia so far. The road was narrow, busy, with fast-moving traffic and a completely degraded edge. Normally we can cope fine with any two of these, but all together didn’t make for a fantastic experience. It meant we had to cycle where the cars wanted to be. The vast majority were fine and held back until there was room to pass, but we did get shouted at for the first time. On the approach to Port MacQuarie there were some completely disjointed cycle lanes. By this I mean we were on the main road and then a hard shoulder randomly appeared and then a sign saying the shoulder was a bike lane, and then the shoulder and therefore the lane stopped way before town, dumping you back into the middle of the road. I’m glad that there has been some thought about cyclists, but it was a pretty sorry state of affairs to be honest, especially for a town that has a massive cycling scene and hosts Ironman triathlons.

We stayed with some more WarmShowers hosts in Port MacQuarie and Peter decided he wanted to join Adam on Saturday morning in the local ParkRun, saving Adam the 5km bike ride over there. Adam came first (well done) despite getting lost and doing an extra lap of the BMX track. After a winner’s breakfast we said goodbye to our hosts and headed to the ferry towards Crescent Head. To get to Crescent Head we could have either taken the highway, or a dirt road. We had heard that this part of the highway is in the process of being upgraded, which means roadworks and no massive verge for us, so instead, we opted for 25km on a dirt road (the Maria River Road). We had read of some cyclists about two weeks ahead of us who had cycled this same road and said it was in good condition, having recently been graded. This was good news as some dirt roads can shake your fillings loose, whilst others can be nice and easy going. Thankfully for us, the Maria River definitely fell into the latter camp. It was a nice flat easy ride up to Crescent Head, the dirt road didn’t require our full concentration and it was beautiful and quiet. We camped up at Crescent Head, which is most definitely a surfing town and to try and get some WiFi we had to go to the local tavern – the horror! It turns out the WiFi wasn’t working but I still got some wine.

And so here we are today, Sunday in South West Rocks. It should have been a nice easy short day, being only 50km and pan flat, but a pretty fierce headwind meant it was actually quite energy sapping. We stopped halfway, in Gladstone, where I necked the most enormous strawberry milkshake I think ‘ve ever seen, and this powered me on for the run to South West Rocks. We have tomorrow, Monday, as a rest day. We might go to the old gaol, or we might just sit around on the sofas here and read our books. We have tough decisions like these to make on a cycle tour.

1. To Red Head

2. To Kendall

3. To Port Macquarie

4. To Cresent Head

5. To South West Rocks

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