Sunday, 28 August 2011

Recharging in Adelaide


As the second batch of home made pumpkin scones arrived on the table Jenny gently enquired:

“So, how long are you guys planning to stay for?”

Inhaling his 6th scone, Guy said between mouthfuls:

“Ohh about 4 days, we should be good to go by then.”

No one said anything, Freddie glanced outside from the comforts of the indoors, the wind howling in the trees. She was thinking what everyone was thinking: 4 days was was just the tip of the iceberg.||

Guy’s sister Justine flew out from Melbourne to visit for a few days, and Paul and Jenny graciously offered for her to stay in their house too. It was fantastic to see her again after such a long time.

Paul, Jenny, Justine, Freddie and Guy

Despite it being the middle of winter, we were lucky to have several days of gorgeous sunny weather, perfect winery touring weather so we made the most of it by visiting some of Paul and Jenny’s favourite spots in the Adelaide Hills, including Hahndorf, a village that was settled by German Lutherans, most of whom had arrived by ship from Hamburg in 1838. These early migrants began the tradition of winemaking in the Adelaide Hills and the Barossa Valley.

 Wine cellar   German heritage in Hahndorf 

We took a stroll along the coast and a visit to the beachside suburb of Glenelg, and though it was winter it was still warm enough for shorts and t-shirts, even children were playing in the shallows.

Coastal walk   Coast in Adelaide

Not only is Adelaide a superb place for wine but its fertile lands are abundant with fantastic fresh produce so we headed to the Central Market where the city’s passion for food comes alive. We admired handmade soaps, enjoyed freshly roasted coffee and had some of the best dates since leaving Iran. A Sunday morning trip to Gepps Cross market saw us coming home with a car boot full of fresh fruit and vegetables, purchased in bulk from a variety of specialist vendors.

Koala    Picnic - note the bandicoot under the table

Paul and Jenny had promised to fatten us up after our trip through the Outback, and they did not let us down. We were bombarded by such delectable dishes such as home made pizzas, roast chicken, huge pots of soup, curries, golden syrup dumplings and a fresh loaf of home made bread almost every morning.

We also had access to their car so we took the opportunity to drive back up to the Barossa Valley for some wine tasting. Justine loves the odd drop of wine and enjoyed comparing the Barossa wines with her local drops from the Bellarine and Mornington peninsulas.

Guy and sister Justine   Jams and chutneys

Of course our wine tasting expeditions resulted in a few purchases, a stretch for any cycle tourer’s budget. Even here Paul had a solution for us: he had arranged some work for Guy!

Not having seen the inside of an office for 15 months, Guy understandably felt a little apprehensive, but Paul soon put him at ease and lent him some clothes and a shaver.  At the same time, a few UK contacts also got in touch with Guy about some work, and Freddie was able to work on an online marketing project and a translation. By the end of our stay, our coffers were a little more replenished, which took some stress off our minds as we had begun to worry about our depleted bank balance.

After Justine had returned back to Melbourne, Paul’s sister Melissa came to stay as she had a broken foot and needed some help with meals and shopping, and Paul’s parents came over for dinner before they jetted off on a trip to the US.

We also met Jenny’s parents, Tony and Janet, who are great travellers and had done the overland hippie trail to Europe in the 1970s. When Paul and Jenny went away for a weekend with friends, Jenny’s parents took us out for a hike to Mount Lofty to spot koalas (we saw 17!) and enjoy the first hints of spring in the air.

Dumpling competition   Rod having a ride on Kiwi

On the bike front, we had some maintenance to do. We completed an oil change, which has to be done every 5000km for the Rohloff hub. After using them for 13,000km since Istanbul, we also swapped our Schwalbe Marathon XR tyres out. Panaracer had put us in touch with their local distributor, Bike Sportz, who had generously agreed to supply us with new Panaracer T-Serve tyres to test. These tyres were much more lightweight than the Marathons and would be well suited to the relatively smooth tarmac roads we were expecting on our way home. 

The other item we urgently needed to repair was the zippers on Boris, our tent. With the help of Travelling Two’s Bike Touring Survival Guide we had figured out that we didn’t actually need to replace the zippers themselves, but just the sliders. It sounded like an easy job, but after spending several days trying to hunt down the correct sliders, we gave up. We had talked to craft shops, outdoor shops, had called YKK itself and visited their distributor, had searched for Australian online shops, but no luck: nobody stocked the zipper sliders we were looking for. In the end we just applied a quick fix by gently squeezing the sliders with a pair of pliers to tighten them. Hopefully this will get us home.

With that in mind, we were quite surprised to read that our friends Justin and Emma had managed to find a similar zipper for their Hilleberg tent in a market in Ulan Bator, Mongolia! If anyone reading this has contacts in the zipper world, we would be very grateful for any pointers on how to obtain some size 5 metal YKK spiral zipper sliders, double sided.

With all the excitement, socialising, working and eating, 17 wonderful days had passed and it was time for us to hit the road again or apply for official residency in Adelaide (which we considered!).

Paul & Jenny, thank you!

Sunday, 14 August 2011

17,000 km Photo

Cycling through the Barossa Valley wine region, we noticed a small creek called Jacob’s Creek. Looking around we saw the famous winery just around the bend. It was too early for the flashy visitor’s centre to open, so we took the opportunity to do a few star jumps instead.

17000km photo||

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Rolling Vineyards

Port Augusta – Adelaide

After a rest day in Port Augusta we were soon on our way again, eager to reach Adelaide and see our friends Paul and Jenny as well as Guy’s sister Justine who was planning to fly over from Melbourne for a quick visit.

An easier-than-expected 500m climb saw us enter the southern Flinders Ranges, South Australia’s largest mountain range. After spending so much time in the flat centre of Australia, it felt strange to be surrounded by rolling green pastures.||

Entering the Flinder Ranges

In the afternoon we dropped down into a valley a little reminiscent of the English countryside and soon reached our destination for the day, the historic town of Melrose, one of the oldest towns in the Flinders Ranges. When it was opened in 1848, the police station here was responsible for the largest police district in the world, an area extending all the way north to the Timor Sea. This huge district was covered by only one constable, two troopers and an Aboriginal tracker.

Climb  School bus

As we now regularly passed villages, shops and cafes and enjoyed the easy access to food and good drinking water we realised the hard “k’s” were over. Most towns had a campsite, and these were very well equipped with indoor camp kitchens.

Our daily cycling distance decreased as the frequency of coffee shops and bakeries increased, reminding us of our days cycling the Danube.

Blacksmith Shop

Passing through a little village we spotted a fully loaded touring bike parked on the curb with a cardboard “For Sale” sign hanging off the cross bar. Just as we were pondering what had happened to the owner, a door opened and we were greeted by a friendly man named Rick, who explained his leg pain had caused him to stop cycling. He immediately invited us for a cup of tea and we quickly accepted, pushing our bikes into his living room.

Only 7km later, we came past the Old Stone Hut Bakery, which is quite famous for its pies and coffee. Of course we could not resist and went in for another cuppa!

Bike for sale  Bakery

We camped in Gladstone and then cycled on to Clare, entering the famous northern wine regions of the Adelaide area. The Clare Valley is known for its Riesling which seems to prefer cooler temperatures – good for the wine, bad for tent camping.

We were excited to cycle the Riesling Trail, a dedicated bicycle path between Clare and Auburn. The ride was lovely, though of course in the middle of winter the vineyards were looking a little bare. We followed the extension of the Riesling Trail, the aptly named Rattler Trail, which unfortunately was not well maintained and had suffered a lot as a result of the winter rains.

Surprisingly, we did not see a single other cyclist during the entire 40km we spent on a dedicated bike path.

Rattler trail   Bluetongue lizard

Following a long climb in the late afternoon, we descended into a lush valley and spent the night in Kapunda where it was noticeably warmer than in Clare.

We now entered the heart of the Barossa Valley - arguably one of the world’s great wine regions producing 21% of Australia’s wine, with a focus on big fruity reds. With our grubby looks we decided to focus on the wineries another day, perhaps a day trip from Adelaide once we have had a chance to make ourselves more socially acceptable

Jacobs Creek   Barossa Valley

Tanunda is the main town in the Barossa Valley and holds a very special place in our hearts. It was here we had our 75th consecutive and final night of non stop camping! With any luck tomorrow night would see us sleeping in a real house, with real beds. We were pretty excited.

With the thought of a warm bed nothing could ruin our day, well almost nothing. We had mapped out a quiet route off the main roads but had failed to check the altitude profile. The climbs weren’t big but they were steep. Freddie even resorted to pushing her bike, which had not happened since we left Europe a year ago. We did not want to be late as we knew our friends were waiting for us, so we pushed hard and were relieved when we finally reached the river Torrens, which led us right into the heart of Adelaide along a beautiful bicycle path.

Horses   Antiques

Last time we had seen Paul and Jenny, we had been “young professionals” working in London, so they looked a little surprised at how grubby we were and immediately lent us some of their clothes so that we could look a little more presentable during our time in the city.

We had been looking forward to this moment ever since leaving Darwin, and it was great to see our friends again even if they joked about making us camp in their backyard. Our timing was perfect as they had just completed their house renovations, so the bikes were parked in the garage and we were issued with our own bedroom and revived with home made scones and calzone and a drop of red from their healthy looking wine rack.

Having a shower in a warm room and with an adult size fluffy white towels was a pleasure we had not enjoyed for a long time. And the bed! Oh, the bed. Ironically we couldn’t sleep at all the first night as the bed was so soft and comfortable, luckily it was only temporarily and we were soon sleeping like babies.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Opal Mines and Rocket Ranges

Coober Pedy – Port Augusta

According to our guide book when you arrive in Coober Pedy “you might think you’ve arrived in a post-apocalyptic shithole.” A little harsh perhaps but there is no doubt it is a unique setting packed full of interesting people with only one thing on their mind: Opal.||

With 80% of its residents living in underground dugout homes to escape the heat, and mining equipment littering its dusty streets, Coober Pedy certainly felt a little surreal. Opal fever has seen fortune seekers come from 44 different countries for the past 100 years so it actually feels quite cosmopolitan.

It all started in 1915 when 14 year old Willie Hutchison disobeyed the strict orders of his father, James Hutchison, the leader of a gold prospecting expedition. The party had run out of water amidst the worst draught South Australia had ever experienced. While the adults went in search of a water source, young Willie had been left in charge of tending the campfire. His father quickly forgave him his disobedience when, on his return, Willie had found not only a bag full of loose opals, but also a water hole in the vicinity.

Thanks to Willie, miners have been flooding to Coober Pedy ever since, staking their claims, digging and blasting shafts in the sandstone hoping to uncover their fortune. So how much does the average miner make? A local summed it up nicely:

“Well, take my mate, he found $50,000 worth of opal in a single day. The next 2 years he spent his days toiling away underground for the total sum of $100.”

Coober Pedy   Tunneling machine

As the town is located in an unforgiving environment, much effort is required to provide power and water for its inhabitant as well as for visiting tourists. The town water comes from an artesian bore and has to be desalinated and filtered to make it drinkable. A diesel generator provides power for the town, making electricity quite expensive.

There is plenty to explore and we really enjoyed the Old Timers mine, a mine that was rediscovered when a dugout home was being built. It was subsequently turned into a tourist attraction and during the process they found over $100,000 worth of opal that the original miners had missed by just a few feet.

Space ship   TVs

The town is littered with unusual artefacts, walking around your never really know what you might stumble across, hopefully not a shaft! Outside a hotel we came across a spaceship that seemed to have crashlanded just meters from the entrance. It turned out to be an old movie prop from the film Pitch Black. At the entrance of a mine we found old TV sets carefully placed as if they were regularly used.

During the three days we spent in Coober Pedy it did not stop raining, converting the usually sunparched and dusty streets into a muddy sludge.

No explosives in theatre   Miners car

Leaving Coober Pedy was a little daunting as we had the longest stretch of “nothingness” on our entire trip to cover: 260km without a single human dwelling. Luckily we had found out from fellow campers that there were two water tanks on this stretch, reducing our need to carry large amounts of water.

Trees do not grow naturally in the Coober Pedy area, and the landscape was quite devoid of features. When looking closely however, we still found stunning wild flowers covering the land, grateful for the recent rains.

Pretty flower   Sturt Desert Pea

We were now cyling trough the Woomera Military Exclusion Zone, which meant no deviating off the road was allowed. With the prohibited area being nearly the size of England, it took us several days to cross it.

Arriving at the first water tank one of our worst fears came true; it was empty. Luckily there was a small tank for hand washing near the toilets so over the course of half an hour we managed to drain out just enough to get by. The water tanks in South Australia are fed by rainwater running off the roofs of picnic areas, making the water supply less reliable and more likely to be contaminated than the tanks in the Northern Territory. As a result we have started filtering our water again.

On our second night out of Coober Pedy, as we wheeled the bikes into the bush for another wild camp we realised we had just walked through a field of thorns. On closer inspection we discovered dozens of spiky thorns embedded into our tyres. We spent over an hour taking the little pricks out of our tyres and much of the next morning carrying our kit to the road and doing further checks.

Thorns in tyres   A naughty thorn

The continuous effort of cycling into the wind was taking its toll, and Guy suffered from bad knee pain, reducing his speed to a crawl. We barely managed 70km a day now as we were cycling so slowly, and even painkillers did not relieve his discomfort.

At camp, we had seen some emu footprints. We hadn’t seen any wild emus yet and were just contemplating the fact that emus were extremely shy animals when we spotted a group of three adults with about a dozen baby emus in a field near Glendambo, the first roadhouse after Coober Pedy. The emu is the second-largest bird in the world after the ostrich, and over the coming days we saw quite a few of them. Despite their size, they usually took flight as soon as they spotted us. 

Emu footprints   Emu

After three days of pure outback, we felt like we had arrived back in civilisation when we pulled into Glendambo roadhouse. It was quite exciting to see a human dwelling again, even though it was just a humble fuel station and motel.

When we left Glendambo in the morning, we could see a road train in our rear view mirrors. Oddly, it was flashing its lights and pulling over just behind us. We soon realised it was our buddy, Craig. We had met him a week earlier at a roadhouse. He was interested to know more about our ride and perhaps check on our mental health. We refused to accept his offer of donating his lunch to us (yum, lasagne!) but accepted some spring water which was a step up from our salty bore water.

Guy’s knee pain was no better and we were pretty relieved when we finally reached Lake Hart right on sunset. This is usually a dried out salt lake, but thanks to the recent rains it had water in it and was amazingly beautiful.

Guy with Craig   Camping at Lake Hart

The following morning we passed one of the biggest salt lakes in the state often used by speed enthusiasts intent on breaking their necks and/or land speed records. Much of central Australia used to be covered by a vast inland sea, which is much easier to imagine once you have seen these huge salt lakes.

Salt lake

Five days after leaving Coober Pedy, we arrived in the settlement of Woomera. This village had been established in 1947 to support the Woomera Rocket Range. After WW2, the British had been looking for a place to test new weapons, rockets and missiles. The Woomera region had been chosen and was used for decades by British, Australian and American forces to experiment with top secret military equipment. The visitors center has a great exhibit detailing the role of Woomera´s past and present but it was disappointing that there was no mention of the devastating nuclear tests that occured in the late 1950´s, contaminating the local aboriginal communities and inflicting great suffering on the servicemen working in the area completly unprotected.

The village of Woomera itself had been off-limits to the public until 1982. It is still used by the military and is an oddly artificial place with a campsite, a supermarket and a couple of museums. We took a day off here to let Guy’s knee recover.

Rocket park at Woomera   Rocket

The road south of Woomera was very busy with lots of road trains and school holiday traffic. The amount of roadkill on this stretch was the worst we have ever encountered: every hundred metres or so the stench of a dead kangaroo or a rotting cow filled the air and this made us think (rather morbidly) about our road kill list to date. We thought we might share it with you. Over the last 14 months we have seen dead horses, pigs, cows, camels, kangaroos, wallabies, snakes, sheep, foxes, mice, dingoes, dogs, frogs, cats, monitor lizards, hedge hogs, echidna and a dozen or so varieties of birds. Sometimes cycling is not for the faint-hearted!

On a more positive note, we were enjoying a lovely tailwind and beautiful sunshine and found another great camp spot on our last night in the Outback. There is something about camping out here that makes you feel really connected with nature. Sitting around a cosy fire under a million stars was a natural part of our ancestor’s life but is such a rare experience nowadays.

Port Augusta

Finally after 3,600km of riding we arrived at the sea (the top of the Spencer Gulf), officially marking the end of our time in the Outback. In only one week’s time we would be in Adelaide, staying with our friends Paul and Jenny, and boy were we looking forward to some creature comforts.