Australia is amazing! So much unique flora, fauna, wildlife and also to a certain extent the people culture. The scenic beauty especially the Great Ocean Road (pic above) was so good. And the country/continent is so huge that I have barely explored a bit so there is much room for it to get better. Here is a not-so-quick overview of my time biking Australia,
Cycle distance covered: 300 km
Time spent: 1.5 months (1st Sept – 15th Oct, 2016)
I ended up cycling (& camping) a lot less than I would have wanted and anticipated, I will share the reasons for this in the ensuing post. The upside however was that I ended up staying in AirBnb a lot more. This meant meeting more people, having conversations and making friends. 🙂
(This was my Original Plan)
September is the start of Spring season in Australia, so while I had anticipated colder weeks in the beginning I expected it to get warm by mid Sept when I would start cycling. However, it never really got warm in Victoria. Moreover, it rained like crazy and every week there was severe weather warnings released by the MET department.
In 1 and half month I had only 3 days when temperatures were over 15C. Nights were almost always below 10C and a lot of times as low as 3C. There were chances of it dipping to 0C. Too cold for someone from Mumbai who is used to 28C to 36C temperatures. Along with this it would often be windy and rainy.
So basically cold, wind and wet!
There are a few different factors to keep in mind when planning for the weather, I will be writing a post on that soon.
Gear for Rainy & Cold Weather:
I didn’t plan gear for this weather.
Tarp: I midway got a tarp and realized that this needs to be part of my usual gear because a good sized tarp creates a small room around the tent to just sit or store stuff. On longer camping trips, I would want to have this.
Warm Clothing: I had an Adidas rain jacket and thermals. Neither was for biking or even sports activities. I basically didn’t expect to wear them when I was cycling, but for many of the days I was wearing three layers even when cycling. It was the only way I felt warm.
Midway I realized that apart from the thermals nothing was ‘warm’ clothing, so I finally found a warmer coat for myself from the Ops store (donated stuff). For $10 I was much warmer now.
I now have plans to buy better cycling clothes – 1 cycling vest, hand warmers and 1 rain jacket made for colder climates.
My tent and sleeping gear though not made for such temperatures held out really well. I think I am pro at remaining warm inside a sleeping bag. The trick is to zip and close everything except a tiny slit for breathing in. Breathe out into the bag.
My earlier trip to Europe was amazing – they were going through a heat wave, so I faced no such challenges at all. In fact there were days I have slept in the tent without the outer cover because the weather was so warm and cozy. No such luck this time. But this weather has made me stronger and more adept at this!
Bike Touring is Uncommon in Australia:
The German people are amazing to learn from because they go through the nuances of the matter so well. They understood that I have never done this before and so advised me on all the small important things. This was the one thing I missed in Australia.
For example – when I went to buy a tarp for my tent, the salesperson at Aussie Disposals had no suggestions about what size tarp I should go for. I mean absolutely no tips even – so I ended up buying one size smaller. I went there the next day
and bought a bigger one. Because in a rain tarp you want it bigger so you have a little room to sit or even store stuff. Very few shopkeepers in Australia gauged that I was total newbie and helped accordingly. One of them at a shop in Melbourne CBD suggested I buy this silver car cover as a base for my sleeping mat. Was a really good idea.
Another person in a bike shop called the MET department for me to check the wind conditions on my cycle route. So it was a 50-50 sort of situation. Australians need to be asked pro actively, specific questions and then they help. But as a newbie one usually may not even have the questions. 🙂
Unlike Australia, Germans also just know a lot about bike touring because it is so common. So again I keep saying this but starting my first trip from Berlin was a really good idea – as suggested by Kunal Mithrill the person who gave me my first set of advise for bike touring.
On top of it health problems?!
From the time I landed in the country I had Cold. And it took about a month to really heal. Though I did get some experience in healthcare/pharma of Australia. Will write more on this.
It was time for Hilly:
Melbourne suburbs and outlier regions are hilly and this is why a lot of cyclists prefer cycling here. However, it of course made a lot of things tough for me because I didn’t know how to use the gears on my bike. Yeah. In Europe the route was pretty much flat, so I didn’t learn gears. When I came back to India I planned to learn before my next trip, but it didn’t happen. So Australia was the place to learn!
My 4th ride from Atisha Buddhist Centre to Maldon was the time I finally put all my understanding of gears to test. And it was ok. I needed more practice and probably finesse, but I knew the basics. The 40km from Atisha Buddhist Centre to Maldon was approximately 247m up and 108 m down. Not much but I was cycling with 17 kg luggage on my bike 🙂
The section from Geelong to Anglesea I took a route via the surf coast walk and it had some crazy steep hills. I just hauled my bike up 3 of them. One was so steep that even hauling the bike was ridiculously hard. But after that section, which totally shocked me at the time, I am really better prepared with hilly.
Finally, Here is what I did
So lot of different difficulties and I couldn’t really get a cycling rhythm going, but I learnt a lot. And in case you are in similar situation and not properly prepared, I think it is ok to go and figure stuff out on the road. Just make sure the weather conditions aren’t such that you may die (for eg: doing this in Winter instead of Spring).
Now the bad weather meant that Camping was difficult also I may need to stay for more days in one place if the road flooded or some such. So I needed a indoorsy accommodation option.
- AirBnb – most small towns didn’t have AirBnb options in my budget of maximum $50 per night. All options were in range of $80 per night. I could spend this on couple of days if in emergency but not really on all the days in case weather remains bad.
- Farm Stays – A lot of farms offer accommodation, sometimes for free if you work for couple of hours. But most of these places that I found on the route were camping options and not indoor stay. You can search for ‘farm stay Australia’ or some variations to find these options.
- Couchsurfing or Warm Showers – Again available only in bigger towns, not much in small towns
- Hostels – only in bigger towns
- Hotels / BnBs – the minimum are the highway motels and these cost minimum $100. I also checked with the motel owners where I was camping and they couldn’t think of cheaper options
- Caravan Parks – Now the only feasible option that I could think of were leased out empty caravans. Not all caravan parks have them, but some do. So I could keep calling the caravan parks in towns I was passing – and then hopefully get one. But this would be a lot of effort. And also iffy.
- Request – A lot of cyclists specially the ones going round-the-world or seriously long distance often request malls or libraries or even police folks to provide some kind of indoor accommodation where they can camp.
So basically PRO folks would have still gone ahead in this weather, once I am more adept, I guess I will too 🙂
So for this trip, I decided to stick to bigger towns – this lets me stay in AirBnb / hostels if needed depending on the weather on that day. Also it would be closer to train lines – in case of emergency weather I could just get to a train station and take the train to Melbourne.
Cycle Friendly Transportation in Victoria
Trains – In Victoria the v-line trains i.e. the metro lines from Melbourne are cycle friendly. As a trial plan cycles are being allowed for free on all the metros within the city IF there is place for it. During peak commuting hours the space is a problem but otherwise it is always OK. On intra-city metro lines two coaches (out of three) have a luggage space that allows cycles to fit in. Totally 4 – 6 cycles can fit in. Rarely it might be full too, so best to board early for if you have a cycle.
Buses – don’t allow cycles unless dismantled in box etc…
Taxis – I took the taxi from the Melbourne Airport to my Airbnb in Greensborough (roughly 25km) and it cost me about $60. Not too expensive, but I would only take in case of no other option. The good thing was that it didn’t feel shady – as taxi services in lot of countries even like Switzerland try to fleece you. Here I didn’t get such vibes.
Hitch-hiking – I think this is possible though I didn’t actually try it. Because a lot of the private vehicles I saw plying the roads were vans with open behind section like this one. Also travelling Australia by hitchhiking is very much possible so this should be ok. Anyway everyone usually soften up more for cyclists. 😉
So I preferred staying near places with a train station, this keeps me easily connected with other places in case of weather emergency.
Melbourne -> Bendigo by train
Bendigo is an intriguing city, with good camping stores. It has an old Texan, gold digger feel to it. Saw some bike paths and many cyclists here.
Bendigo – Atisha Buddhist Centre 15km (Ride 1)
Really glad I came across Atisha Buddhist Centre, it was an amazing place. There was so much being offered from insightful discourses by a Buddhist Geshe Rabten, library with amazing collection of books, a thoughtful environment with conversations on spirituality and Buddhism and most importantly the freedom to be a part of the activities or just be on my own and wander around in the bush…..
Inglewoods is part of the Golden triangle in Victoria. Gold prospecting can yield nuggets every now and then. Met a pro gold prospector here and had long conversations. The Motel I was camping at had very friendly owners – they let me stay in one of their empty caravans when the weather got really wet.
Green Hills Ride : 10km
Bad weather struck at Inglewoods, finally decided to head back to Atisha and take stock. Bought tarp and warmer coat…
Myers flat 10km ; Eaglehawk circuit: 30km – Lovely rides around Atisha Buddhist Centre
Atisha – Maldon 45km
Finally as weather cleared took a different route this time, towards the south. This was my first ‘hilly’ stretch ever. Managed smoothly and great views. 🙂
Maldon – Muckleford 10km
Headed to Castlemaine AirBnb (because too cold/possibly severe weather to camp).
Vintage railway from Muckleford to Castlemaine
Castlemaine -> Geelong by train
My first warmshowers (a community for cycle tourers) experience!
Geelong – Anglesea via surf coast walk/ocean blvd 40 km
Serious hilly sections and 3 steep sections where I just hauled my bike but the stretch was so good! And my first experience of the “Great Ocean Road” 🙂
Anglesea – Aireys Inlet/Fairhaven 11km
Just spent 4 lazy bum days in a wooden cabin with an awesome view. Also severe weather warning that got cancelled. Adelaide bore the entire brunt of the crazy weather.
Fairhaven – Torquay 30km
Heading back as too much of severe weather possibilities and heading further into GOR could lead to getting stuck.
Torquay – Waurn Ponds 17km
Whoa the craziest stretch with winds hitting over 40km/hr … The last 5 km took 1.5hrs part of which I just hauled the bike into the face of the wind which was getting more and more harder. By the time I reached Waurn Ponds station, winds were at 50km/hr. Not ridable. Very hard, very elemental.
5 min Photo Slideshow
Other relevant blogs,