We’ve been in Australia for a week and after spending the most interesting time staying with Sal, Dave and Jasper in Sydney, we are now on the road pedalling towards the Murray River. We’re currently stopped in Canberra, to visit the National Gallery of Art and National Library, and will spend another day here exploring by bike this slightly weird utopian city.
Whilst in Sydney we met up with old work friends Anne and Pete, who took us out to Balmoral and Manly, and separately with Richie and his family for Dim Sum in Chinatown. It was interesting to hear of their new lives in Australia and to be shown yet more of the city and it’s surrounds. Maybe I’d been told before how beautiful a city Sydney is, surrounded by the sparklingly waters of its harbours and the history of it’s buildings with the Bridge and Opera House, but nothing had registered with me until I’d arrived. We pedalled out from Leichardt along Bay Run to Balmain where we had lunch on Darling St looking down onto the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the skyline of the city. The winter sunshine was bright and sharp, picking out the fine details and colour of the buildings. We caught the ferry with the bikes from Balmain East to Circular Quay and then rode the short distance to the Opera House and then onto the Art Gallery of NSW. There was much to see but with dusk approaching we rode back through the city centre and across Anzac Bridge, again with more views of the city beneath us, and on a cycle path all the way home.
The ride out of Sydney to the south was fine except for the last section coming into Liverpool where the road narrowed and the traffic increased with lots of big lorries with trailers. We continued to Camden climbing up into the Douglas Range of hills before Picton to find where we were to stay for the night with Gae and Jack in their Airbnb. They made us most welcome and cooked us a delicious meal in their ‘Acreage’ house that they’d built looking westward towards the setting sun and the distant Blue Mountains.
The cycling was hard and this was to be repeated the following day as we headed towards Goulburn up never ending inclines. However, the landscape was changing as we left the industrial hinterland of Sydney being replaced with smaller towns with sheep and cattle farming in big open prairie fields. There were clumps of Gum trees everywhere still with their foliage but everything else was wintry and leafless with the sides of the back roads, which we were trying to follow, full of leaves. We continually had to climb but the roads were good and smooth helping us to move along. We reached the small town of Mittagong for a late lunch of pies to discover from the excellent visitor centre, that there was no road route to Goulburn except via the M31 highway which we didn’t fancy. Nothing on the roads here slows for a cyclist so we caught the train from Moss Vale, a town further up the line, to Goulburn where we stayed before cycling to Canberra yesterday.
The ride to the capital was through dreadful weather. We’d set off early as we knew it was going to be a longer day’s ride than before. The cloud cover was low with driving cold rain and a strong wind necessitating the need to hang on to the handle bars to stop being blown off the road as the wind gusted and trucks roared by. The route out of Goulburn passed the railway heritage museum, displaying outdoor steam locomotives and carriages looking sadly decayed, and then on passed old goods yards and industrial depots. Opposite were typical single storey houses, spread along the roadside, with corrugated metal roofs and verandas, until we finally reached the town’s outskirts and the open road to Tarago.
The landscape of the Goulburn highlands were reminiscent of parts of Scotland and the names of the settlements, farms and tracks set back from the main road, which crossed the wide expanse of high pasture, were typically Scottish with Inveralochy being the first hamlet we passed through. Scots Pines, or their native Australian equivalents, were planted as wind breaks along much of the road and these familiar looking tress combined with the names of places and the dreadful weather reminded us of the north of the British Isles. This familiarity was regularly shattered by the loud sound and sight of squawking parrots which rose from the pines as we approached. Some flocks were black feathered with lime yellow under tails and others were big white Cockatoos with green crested heads. At the roadside there appeared incongruously dead Kangaroos and Wombats, all road kill, the former alarmingly large animals which had simply been left at the roadside to decay.
A head of us the arc of a rainbow travelled, ever framing the road and moving with us, fading and strengthening as the sun tried to get through the cloud cover as we finally completed the 37km leg to Tarago. The small hamlet was centred on a cross roads and had a pub building, half of which was empty and boarded up, a filling station and a tiny church building with a couple of houses. We’d been dreaming of a cafe, coffee and cake but had to resort to standing and dripping in the filling station shop eating microwaved meat pies and drinking instant coffee from a machine. As we thawed out people asked where we were from and heading. Pinky Enhance gave us our pies in paper bags checking whether we’d like sauce whilst bossing the mechanics about in the garage behind who kept popping into the shop for something to eat. She wore bright pink eyeshadow, I guess to match her name but her dog, kept under the counter, barked at everyone coming into her small shop. One of the mechanics as he stepped inside joked to Pinky saying “I don’t know why your dog keeps barking at me as we both dress the same”. He was wearing scruffy garage overalls and meant the mongrel had no bragging rights to be barking at him whilst at the same time implying that her dog was no looker.
We turned right at the cross roads towards Bungendore, Queanbeyan and Canberra, climbing up past a few more houses, a tiny police and railway station before crossing the tracks with the weather clearing. The sun warmed us as the rain stopped but the wind still continued to blow at us. The large open fields with black beef cattle were replaced with more dense forests of Gum trees and the landscape became more hilly as again we found ourselves climbing before dropping down into Bungendore. As we approached the town, to our far right in the distance, we could see the shimmer of Lake George which looked long and flat like a mirage. We stopped and had a cheese and ham toastie in the tiny Main Street which had shops selling saddles and cattle feed.
The final road to Canberra via Queanbeyan became busy with more traffic the nearer to the capital we came. We found the self contained Airbnb where we were to be staying. Greg the owner promptly picked a 2006 Shiraz from his wine cellar for us to try that evening – what a lovely welcome to Canberra!