A Winter Solstice Cycling Odyssey, Part 1

Les vaches du tour. Local residents are often a good source of cycle-touring-route advice, if you can understand their directions. These locals were a bit moo-nosyllabic but they were right about Cedar Party Rd being a good bicycle route to Wingham.

With a leave pass, signed and sealed by the territory's “Chief Minister” and valid for a full week, the depths of winter approaching, daylight hours at a minimum and a forecast for record-breaking tempest, what else could I do but go bicycle touring?

As well as allowing me briefly to escape the day-to-day grind, a cycle trip would be a long-awaited opportunity to put my BMS SMP TRK saddle to the touring test, and perhaps form a definitive opinion of its merits.

So, where to go? A no-brainer, surely. North, where it's warmer. Yes, the tropical central coast would be my starting point and a semi-circular route involving modest daily stages, each rideable in a morning, could deliver me to balmy Dungog by week's end. With both start and finish points easily Cityrail-accessible, I could incur near-zero travel stress. (That hypothesis can, of course, quickly be disproven when trackwork intervenes but, fortunately, there was none this time.)

It wasn't a good omen that, the moment I stepped from the train at Tuggerah, the heavens opened. Three serious-looking local cyclists commented, as they swished past, on what lovely weather it was for a ride. At least I had mudguards. And several layers of warm, allegedly waterproof clothing to keep out moisture and chilly southerly winds.

The rain proved to be merely isolated, rather-frequent showers which I mostly failed to dodge during my first day's untaxing 15km level pootle on a Tuggerah-Lake-side cycleway to The Entrance. It was great weather for uncounted throngs of water birds on the lake waters. Pelicans perched on all the jetties, black swans patrolled the near-shore zone, herons controlled the air and smaller birds paddled purposefully everywhere. The Entrance is also a pelican mecca where scores arrive around 3pm to await a daily free feed and to entertain tourists.

The Entrance pellies expect flying fish

Despite dire weather warnings current for points south, my ride north next day was unsullied by falling water and accelerated by southerly zephyrs. Gentle terrain made for easy progress and I reached Belmont before midday. Here Dabba waited to pilot me along the Fernleigh Track into Newcastle and to the Stockton ferry wharf. I was surprised that this popular railway-line-turned-bicycle-track featured the longest, hardest climb of the day, reaching the dizzying altitude of almost 100m over about 5km.

 Tail light at the end of the tunnel. Fernleigh Track features an old, curved railway tunnel about 300m long.

Next day, a tailwind again pushed me along cycleways and quiet roads, as well as some of the busy, noisy Pacific Hwy with its wide shoulders, to Karuah and on to Hawks Nest. Also, despite increasingly shrill forecasts of flooding rains, none eventuated, though the Myall Way delivered the first serious undulations of the trip so far, yet still none overtopping 100m in altitude.

Lookout from a hilltop along Myall Way with view towards Tea Gardens and Hawks Nest

The fun really started on Day 4 with a long coastal idyll through Myall Lakes National Park. My own personal rain shower followed me, Joe Btfsplk-like, for the first 20km before veering off to find someone else to drizzle on. Still no hill showed me its flanks – I had to park my bike and take a walk up into the parallel dunes to gain any altitude plus a view of pounding surf.

All huff, little puff. Big, boofy clouds and pounding surf warned of bad weather elsewhere but it never eventuated where I went. (Phew!)

(Continued in Part Two)

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Comment by Dabba on September 16, 2013 at 7:45pm

Reading this again reminded me of something that happened towards the end of one of my tours as I was winding my way along the cycleway that skirts Tuggerah Lake.  I came across a little old lady slumped over the handlebars of her electric scooter.  I immediately thought that she'd blacked out or something worse.  I stopped to see if I could render assistance.  I spoke to her and she lifted her head from the handlebars (thankfully).  She'd just gone to sleep along the cycleway, but everything was OK, so I headed off to my planned camp$ite at one of The Entrance park$.

Comment by Snowy_5 on September 16, 2013 at 8:05pm

Same place of the tunnel at the Fernleigh Track. Was there with other person and rode all the way from Adamstown to Belmont and back before being driven to Dungog for the Pedalfest weekend.

This rider is not a friend of mine but was passing me when I took the pic. My friend is in the tunnel and got stucked in there...  :)

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