After our rest day in Grafton we set off on Sunday for the final push to Queensland. However neither of us were in a particularly joyful mood. On Saturday we found out that my parents had had to put down their dog, so a few tears had been shed saying goodbye to Cam. He was getting old, yet it was still sad because it was relatively unexpected. Having to ride another 80km didn’t really appeal. We followed the Summerland Way pretty much the whole way and there are very few towns along the road, just a lot of straight roads and trees. In different circumstances it probably would have been great, but we were glad to get to Rappville.
We went to Rappville (population 140) because the camping options between Grafton and Casino are limited, and we didn’t fancy bashing out 100km to Casino in one long day. However, the Rappville pub offered free camping, a shower for $4 & a good feed. We arrived after everyone at the pub had had a boozy Sunday lunch and we were treated like guests of honour for having cycled there from Melbourne. The landlord (think Basil Fawlty) gave us a tour of the historic pub (it’s over 100 years old, which is a big deal in Australia), passing the bar a few times to top up his beer. It took us about 1½ hours before we managed to extract ourselves and pitch the tent. We got the promised good feed, had some drinks ($4 for a massive wine) and went to bed. The landlords have been running the pub for just over a year and seem to be making a success of the place, which for such a tiny town is great news. Certainly the offer of free camping seems to be a big draw for a lot of people.
The next day we followed the continuation of the Summerland Way into Casino, being overtaken by the other drivers who’d also camped at the Rappville pub. After visiting Rappville we realised there are a lot of villages close to the Summerland Way that are built along the railway, but with the creation of the road and the decline of the railway these towns are now small backwaters.
Based on the name one expects Casino to be like Las Vegas, but in fact it’s the beef capital of Australia. Approaching Casino Philippa felt a knocking sensation from her front wheel, which was caused by the tyre not being seated properly. We unsuccessfully tried to sort it out, so whilst she raided Aldi I removed the tyre for a second time and also repositioned the rim tap that had been fitted in Grafton. Problem solved so we carried on our way to Goonellabah, following the delightful sinuous road via Spring Grove. This is farming country, with falling down rusty barns, windmills, dry grass and all things Australian. The approach to Goonellabah was slow as we were on a disjointed bike path to avoid the busy road, but no rush as we weren’t camping. Instead Michael from WarmShowers was hosting us for the night. We arrived, showered and then spent a great evening chatting away. The view from his deck was incredible, both in the evening light and then the next day when the valley was full of morning mist.
From Goonellabah Michael guided us all the way to Byron Bay. The cycling felt a bit like being back in the UK: small roads; awful surfaces; lots of little climbs; and little traffic. We both thought it was brilliant and we can understand why Michael was happy to escort us on our way. Byron Bay is a major backpackers town, which was noticeable by the absent of retired people on the campsites. And the fact it was the most expensive campsite we’ve yet to use, but we did get the privilege of camping on some rock solid ground (pitching the tent was nearly impossible), followed by the honour of birds and bats pooing on the tent all night long. Lovely. However, Byron Bay was a relaxed town. We walked out to the lighthouse, which is the most easterly point in Australia, in the hope of spotting whales. We failed, but there was a pod of dolphins as a consolation prize.
Today (Wednesday) we left Byron Bay and had our first day of coastal cycling since we headed up to Dorrigo a week ago. There’s a new motorway in place in this area, which meant we could follow the old road for a lot of the day, apart from a 4km section when there’s no choice but to ride the new dual carriageway highway. It wasn’t the best cycling, but wasn’t too bad either. Once we left the new and old highway behind and started riding through bright green sugar plantations things felt better. There was a roadside stall selling avocadoes for 3 for $2 (ie £1) which was too cheap for us to ride past. We’re now in Pottsville, another beachside town. We’re guessing there’s a lot of holiday homes in this area as it’s about 150km to Brisbane. After five weeks in New South Wales we’re now 30km from the NSW – Queensland border, and then it’s only a short hop to Brisbane. However, we won’t be there for a few days because we’re going to spend some time on the Gold Coast with Paul and his family who emigrated here from London five months ago. It’ll be interesting to hear how they’re settling into their new life.