Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Cycling inland Australia in the winter

It's really Tom's fault. After all, if you can cycle Norway in the winter  then Australia should be possible, surely?

Australians tend to live close to the sea. So when they take off by bicycle they tend to follow the coast. Lots of bike tourers also. Some even go the whole way around. I've cycled the coast of Tasmania, Victoria, and New South Wales. Not all of it, but a lot of it. I'm in awe of people who go the whole way around, but the distances in Western Australia are beyond my reach now.

If you are Australian, be prepared for comments like "why ?" or "there's nothing there...". Out here you won't meet many Australians. Some adventurous Germans, or Swedes, or Japanese. Despite having some of the most wonderful scenery in the world, Australians are highly urbanised and mostly not mentally equipped for the outback.

I want to recommend two tours I've done that are in the "less pedalled" category. Not quite as unusual as riding tracks like the stock routes off-road. 

In July 2012 I rode from Swan Hill to Broken Hill and return. In July 2013 I rode from Echuca to Cowra and back to Albury. The choice of starting and finishing point was decided by rail links. VLine will carry bicycles as baggage, without requiring you to box the bike. So this makes it very easy to transport the bike. In New South Wales you have to box it, so this is less appealing. In retrospect it might have been a good idea to get the train to Broken Hill and ride back from there. 

Why in winter? Several reasons. The weather is cold, sure. But it seldom gets below freezing, even at night. My coldest night was -3C. Overall the weather is more stable, and strong winds are less frequent. But two big reasons: heat, and flies. In summer the heat makes it very difficult to ride inland routes in Australia. If you google people trying to eat in the presence of swarms of flies, you can see the problem. It's awful. But when the temperature drops below 4C all the flies die off. 

Is it dangerous? No, I don't think so. If you are prepared. Even in winter in Australia the big issue is water. You might have to go four or five days without a water source. Sometimes you can get a top up from fellow caravan travellers, but not always. It's best to make sure you are carrying enough water. 

Is it hard to find a camping spot? The further you get from civilisation,  the easier it gets. There are certainly no householders to object to you pitching your tent. Once you get into the outback proper there are no trees to hide behind, so you hide behind bushes if you can find them. On roads such as the "Kidman Way" running north-south, these are old stock routes. They used to ride on horses and herd cattle along these roads. Stopping and camping. So there are more camping spots than you will ever need.

Camping about 60km from Broken Hill

Is it lonely? Along the Barrier Way there are no towns. If you study the map, you can find roadhouses. They have food and water, and in a lot of cases are good to stop at. I took to ringing them up, just to make sure they were still there. No good riding 200km to find that the store has closed. The roadhouse there really looked after me. Great meals, and a free camping spot. Wonderful people. 

What about 'Wolf Creek'? Australians have a lot of fear about the outback. The movie 'Wolf Creek' caters to that. But it's great fiction. Have a look at the statistics for troubles. All in the cities. Psychopaths hang out in cities for a reason. There is somewhere to hide. Nowhere to hide on a highway. They will be caught. Apart from the usual concern about mechanical breakdown, I've never felt safer.

There are roadhouses, but I took to ringing them up. 'Just checking you are still there, and have water' I would say. Some roadhouses only have bore water, so it pays to check. In winter I carried around 16 litres of water, to last me up to four days. 

So if you are considering a bike tour in Australia, study the map. Those outback towns are worth the pedalling.

A digger used to create the irrigation channels - near Griffith


Haiko Haiko said...

interesting how perceptions shape our wordld and where we ride and how we view it.

I did trips to the inland country in the 1970's - great places, great people.... time to do it again ?

Andrew Jennings said...

I'm a big fan of the outback. It's the opposite of the mega-city. Slow pace. People wonderful.