29 December, 2013 – 15 January, 2014 – Before heading North to the Grampians we cycled through a small volcano crater close to the sea. Tough cycling with short steep climbs but beautiful views. And we saw the first wild emus. Then we continued North and for the first time we really felt like being in Australia as we rode on a long, straight and dusty road along grassland and some farms with just a handful of cars and trucks passing us that day. It felt a little bit like cycling through the outback, it felt really remote. The only village we passed this day had just one general store serving as the local bank, local post office, local takeaway, local library, local bakery and local grocery store. We had our own lunch there and ordered nice cappuccino and treated ourselves with some ice cream. In the meantime we watched heavily tattooed and overweight people having their lunch break as well. The afternoon continued as the morning: grassland, farmland, some cows and some dusty gravel roads. In the evening Johan would tell me that all I had to write in my diary is that we cycled straight, turned once left and once right. Despite the obvious boring scenery we really enjoyed the feeling of remoteness and loneliness. A lot of Australians were surprised about that. But I am sure that everybody who has just spent one year in heavily populated Asia will sympathize with us.
And then we were in the Grampians, a hilly national park with beautiful scenery where we spotted many kangaroos, more emus and once more cycled on no-traffic roads. We cycled the length of the park in one day and were lucky once more as the weather could not have been better. Blue sky, small sheepy clouds, hardly any wind and no flies. What more can you expect? We cycled on New Year’s Eve and were positive and excited about celebrating the beginning of the new year. We bravely went out for dinner and sat until around 9.15pm in front of the tent, but couldn’t keep our eyes open anymore and eventually crawled in our sleeping bags. The day was tougher than we thought but as there was a party on the campsite we at least woke up at midnight to wish each other a Happy New Year!
After the Grampians came the Goldfields and the closer we got to the old and famous gold rush towns from the 1850’s Johan wouldn’t stop talking about his immanent search for gold. He even picked up a brochure offering courses to learn how to find gold with a metal detector. Several times per day he would show me the brochure and in every town he asked the locals where he could find the gold. In the end the course was far too expensive and just renting a metal detector without any additional knowledge didn’t seem promising. Sadly he wouldn’t find any gold nuggets lying next to the street either and we pedalled on through beautiful rolling landscape feeling like 150 years ago and continued dreaming.
Close to Melbourne we stayed with Ruth and David, some other Warm Shower hosts living with their dog Minti in a beautiful house overlooking the Werribee river. Originally we planned to stay just one night, but liked it so much there that we stayed three nights. We had a great time with them and the French couple Jessica and Alex, staying there as well as Wwoofers (Willing Workers on Organic Farms).
On our way back to Melbourne we passed burning fields surrounded by firefighters. They told us that they were creating corridors for the upcoming heat wave to minimize the risk of uncontrolled fires. These days everybody was talking about the weather and the heat and indeed, as soon as we arrived in Melbourne it became extremely hot with temperatures above 40 degrees. Fires by the way are a complete new experience for us. Everywhere we saw signs along the roads informing about the risks of fires and total fire bans. A few years ago huge fires extinguished a complete village close to Melbourne and killed about 70 people as they couldn’t escape, the fire surrounded them. On TV you will see government adverts to warn and inform about fire risks. Quite scary, especially as 50% of the fires are manmade!
Back in Melbourne we were hosted by a very nice Canadian/Australian couple Will and Sophie for two nights, disassembled our bikes at Oanh’s and Nic’s place, met half of Oanh’s huge Vietnamese family, had dinner with Victor and Claudia – a US/French couple we met two weeks earlier in the Grampians – at a fancy place in town and finally embarked exhausted on our final leg of our trip of a lifetime: New Zealand!
29 December, Warrnambool – Koroit, 26km
30 December, Koroit – Dunkeld, 93km
31 December, Dunkeld – Halls Gap, 86km
1 January, Halls Gap – rest day, 6.5km
2 January, Halls Gap – Ararat, 51km
3 January, Ararat – Maryborough, 104km
4 January, Maryborough – rest day, 6km
5 January, Maryborough – Maldon, 82km
6 January, Maldon – Castlemaine, 24km
7 January, Castlemaine – Daylesford, 53km
8 January, Daylesford – Parwan, 69km
9/10 January, Parwan, rest days, 16km
11 January, Parwan – Altona Beach, 53km
12 January, Altona Beach – Williamstown, 20km
13 January, Williamstown – Melbourne, 26km
14 January, Melbourne, 8km
Total distance cycled: 20,174km of which 2,432km in Australia