After four biketours in New Zealand, finally I traveled to Australia for the first time. I preferred New Zealand for several reasons before. In particular Australias dangerous and poisonous fauna kept me away, likewise the huge distances and the enormous heat. Despite all these obstacles, there was a moment when I decided to make my next biketour in Australia to satisfy my curiosity about this country.
Well, finding a ticket to down under in november, when the journey should start at the beginning of january, is really a challenge. The most frequent route with the best prices is definetely to Sydney. To my big surprise, Austrian Airlines offered not only available seats and a bike transport for 120 Euro retour, but had even the best prices for the route Frankfurt - Sydney at the busiest season - I couldn't neglect this opportunity. Unfortunately Austrian recently stopped serving this route
Changing the plane in Vienna gets nearly my fatality. Airport Vienna is well known for its persistent fog in winter times, exactly this was the reason, why the corresponding aircraft from Frankfurt was not allowed to start in time. The delay would lead in missing the connection in Vienna, when Sydney aircraft will not wait for us. But no one could give me any information about this, nor at Frankfurt airport, neither during the flight. At arrival in Vienna, my eyes catched the Boeing 777 still waiting at the terminal, so I flounced through the huge airport building from one end to the other - but not before the moment when I realized, the gates are not yet closed, I was sure: I will catch the bird. Not enough of that, my next unanswered question was: did my luggage catch it too, in particular the bike - no information about that prior to arrival in Sydney.
The Austrian crew made any effort to make it a comfortable flight, even though I felt like a fish in the can in this packed narrow-seating so called state-of-the-art 777 airliner more than in most older aircrafts. Anyhow this was one of the fastest connections to Australia with only a short 1-hour stop in Kuala Lumpur. A wonderful view of the Red Center, flying exactly over Ayers Rock, the Blue Mountains and descend over Sydney downtown with magnificent final along Harbour bridge and Opera House, was the compensation of all the hassle before. This way we got our rewards for the stresses and strains of the long flight even before touching the ground.
Baggage claim, tension is rising - here is the bike, there come the bags - big relief. Immigration formalities in Australia are different from New Zealand: For Australia visa is obligatory (!), but can be obtained via Internet at ETA (Electronic Travel Authority) without any problems. Baggage control, tension rising again. Likewise to my New Zealand trips, I carried some dry food with me. But this is not allowed to bring inside Australia. So I declared it on the immigration card and had to walk on the red line, which means: baggage inspection. But the officer was very friendly, he just took a look at these things and chatted with me, how nice it is that I know New Zealand and that it's a very lovely country - finally releasing me and my dry food with a warm smile. I was deeply impressed all over the time about the very friendly Australian people.
Surprisingly I found only very few bike reports about this route, which I supposed to be more popular. The best is from Mike Vermeulen, who biked the leg in Victoria, but at Cann River he branched off to the inland route via Canberra. This is a good enough reasen for me, to put my report about this not so adventourous-sounding tour on the web. The descriptions of each section are in the corresponding pages of the bike legs.
My biggest problem in Sydney was the orientation. Paired with jetlag the search of a campground at the first evening turned into a disaster. Sydney offers a series of extraordinary highlights for sure, but a biker should not forget: this is a world city with a real crush, covering a huge area. Outside downtown, most of the town is just covered with buildings without any particular charisma, crossed by a net of confusing four lane roads, which are mostly unsuitable for biking due to the heavy traffic, and which have poor signpostings for the non-natives.
Melbourne is the complete opposite. After arrival on the night-train from Sydney - although it was raining - I was surprised and impressed by the relaxed atmosphere of this big city. Also I had less problems finding my way. After reaching the waterfont, I got a nice overview of where I was, and in addition, there is the luxury of a bike lane for several kilometers. This way I started my first leg to Frankston. After passing this town the campground is situated on the top of a hill, and there the rural area begins.
This contrast between bustling Sydney and relaxed Melbourne I found to be true also for New South Wales on the one side and Victoria on the other side during the entire trip.
My bike-tour began to roll now. I took the speed boat to Phillip Island, afterwards climbed my first hills at Wonthaggi, and on the long straight roads between Yarram, Sale and Bairnsdale I felt like I was already in the outback. I passed through freshly burned eucalyptus forests as well. Overall Victoria was easeful and relaxed. The hills are starting from Orbost to Cann River, and continue to Eden and Merimbula. As a side note, I found camping grounds in each major town, even when they were not listet in the camping guide.
After my arrival in New South Wales on the way to Eden I got dizzy on my bike. At 40 degrees, rolling over the hot asphalt, I ran out of my food. Only some water was left, which was as warm as the air. I felt like I will fall off the bike, when I'm not stopping instantly. Luckily I found a rest of muesli flakes in my bags, which built me up so far, that I could make my way to the next roadhouse.
The coastal route in New South Wales kept what it promises to look like on the map. Wonderful bays and beaches passing right along the route in big numbers. On the other side one can see green Australia, completely different from Victoria. My favourite town is Merimbula with its huge lagoon. The biker should be prepared for ups and downs all the way, in particular the southern part has many short but steep hills. Another point is the more aggressive driving style compared to Victoria. Once a flying, full and opened water bottle hit me on my arm while biking. Someone throwed it out of his car against me, intention unknown. This could have turned out very ugly, when it would have flown into the spokes of my front wheel, while a long row of cars were passing me.
The last leg of the tour from Wollongong to Sydney was definitely the absolut highlight, concerning the scenery, but also concerning difficulty. The Blue Mountains meet the coastline here, and the biker retraces this in a long and steep climb after Stanwell Park up to the top. But the very special scenic views all along the road pay off for this effort. For the following section through the Royal National Park to Bundeena it is recommended to have food and water available, the road is long, including some longer uphill sections, and there are no villages and shops. The last section to Bundeena leads through open and dry scrubland with no shade, in the blazing sun this can be very consumptive. In Bundeena a little ferry boat crosses the Bay to the urban area of Sydney. There I instantly lost orientation again, the crush of two lane roads and the poor singposting confused me completely. With the help of the locals I finally found my way back to the beginning of the tour in Botany Bay.
To draw a conlusion: it was quite charming, but at this season definitely too hot for me - although I was travelling in the more tempered zone of Australia. In addition, Australia is expensive (good to have Aldi there ;-) and the traffic in New South Wales and in particular in Sydney is too heavy for a nice bike trip. I always compared to New Zealand, which - in my eyes - is much nicer to bike. Australia is a rough country, a biker should be prepared for uncomfortable sections. He will meet long, partly uniform roads, which can be very consumptive in the heat, and this is most likely when turning to the back-country - I'm not talking about the outback. But in the end I didn't regret it, there is always something new to find, simply because of the vastness of this country.
I made my second tour to Australia without the bike. For a change I carried my tent and sleeping bag in my backpack. I was lucky enough to catch a ticket from Frankfurt via Brunei to Sydney with Royal Brunei, this route was closed soon after my trip. The 767 aircraft was comparable small for an ultra long haul, but it was very comfortable. The only annoyance were the numerous reckless "Ballermann" tourists going to Bangkok - my fellow countrymen. In Sydney I decided to try out the second campground at Land Cove Drive. It's much further away from the airport and can be reached only by combining City Rail and Bus. On the other hand it's significantly bigger and in the middle of a green oasis in this big city. This was working well with my backpack, it would have been more difficult to go there with a fully loaded bike immediately after this extremely long flight.
In Sydney at first I visited Taronga Zoo, it turned out to be a very good idea. I had great pleasure seeing so many kangaroos, wallabies and koalas. But there are also many species not native to Australia, the elephant trunks and giraffe necks being the most striking of them. I was most impressed by the bird of prey show in the amphitheater of the zoo, not only because of the fantastic view to Harbour Bridge and Opera House. Afterwards, I traveled to Olympia Park, but it was a bit disappointing to me. In general, my impression from the previous trip to Australia got confirmed: apart from the well-known spots, Sydney is not particularly beautiful, but rather hectic.
Two days in Sydney were enough, so I traveled on to the Blue Mountains. The ride on the suburban train from Sydney was very comfortable. After about two hours on the train I reached Katoomba at the top of the plateau. If you are eager to ride uphill, you can also cycle the distance from Sydney: 106 km, from 0 to around 1000 m in elevation. There are several campgrounds in this area, I decided to go to the camp in Blackheath. Their viewpoints at the escarpment of the Blue Mountains gave a rather sad sight during this time. The vegetation was heavily affected by extensive forest fires. The smell of charred wood made it clear, that these events happened not long ago.