We were halfway along our Snowy Mountain cycle tour. The first half had been steep, high and hard work so we were having a break in the ski resort of Jindabyne. The weather for the next week was for snow on the higher areas and strong winds so after some local consultation we came up with a new, slightly lower route.
It had been raining heavily overnight but by 6.30 the skies had cleared and we were soon ready to set off on our new route along the Barry Way. Our Warm Showers host in Jindabyne, had riden most of the routes in the area and had said this was one of his favourites. It was also likely to be in a rain shadow area, which bearing in mind the bad forward weather forecast was a good thing.
As he takes photos of all departing cyclists that stay with him we lined up with him, Steve and Alison, who we had met the previous night, while a neighbour attempted to use the camera.
As we headed up and out of Jindabyne we had a fair headwind but my legs were feeling strong after a day off. For the first 26 km we undulated through lush farmland with lovely distant views of clouds rising from the forest clad hills basking in the wonderful light and shadow from the fast moving clouds. For some reason it reminded me of cycling in Scotland, then I realised that it wasn’t just the views but I could actually hear Sky Larks. I hadn’t realised they had them in Australia.
There was almost no traffic and the road soon turned to well graded gravel. It was perfect after the rain last night as there was no dust. We then started a long, winding descent with the best views and scenery that I have seen in Australia. It was amazing to think that 16 years ago there had been a catastrophic fire in this valley that was so intense that the heat caused a tornado and the fire caused an electric storm and lightning that started 5 more fires. The forest has managed to recover well from that.
We dropped about 1000 m down to the Jacob’s River Camp Ground which was set back from the road and best of all was empty. It was only lunchtime but we decided to stay and have a lazy time in this lovely place. After the hectic start of the trip which was all challenge and effort we wanted the next 4 days to be more holiday.
There was a fair amount of birdlife to see. We watched a large group of Gang-gang Cockatoos chasing each other around the trees. There were Kookaburras and a lot of other smaller birds, colourful moths and a group of kangaroos.
It had rained heavily overnight and this was the first time our tarp had been tested with any ‘weather’. We luckily woke about 4 a.m. and when we tried to sit up found the roof of the tarp was only inches above our heads. The central panel had filled with about 10 litres of water. What was really amazing was that all the guy ropes had held so the tarp hadn’t collapsed on us in a soggy heap. We carefully pushed up and emptied the water just past our feet. A little rain had come in the other end making the tops of the sleeping bags damp but overall the tarp had done very well.
We set off along the valley, now following the much wider Snowy River. The road undulated along with more and more stunning views. We passed quite a few other campsites, some empty or with groups of 4WD. I was surprised to see what at first glance looked like a black panther racing up a very steep embankment, but it turned out to be a small, black wallaby. On the steep slope it seemed to be using its front paws as well as its bounding back legs.
We stopped for a snack next to the Snowy River and saw a group of 4 Emus eating on the opposite bank. They didn’t seem to notice us.
The water in the river was incredibly warm so we spent an hour wallowing around in the shallows, or at least I did, Bernie spent about 5 minutes and thought it was cold. While lying in the water I watched several swallows swooping low over the river catching midges.
It was nice to have cooled down as immediately after that we had a steep 5 km climb up to the Suggen Buggen Campsite where we were spending the night. We actually had to share this site with another couple!
While we were making supper we watched a pair of Kookaburras taking long, juicy worms to feed their young in a nearby hollow tree. On each circuit they would sit on a branch above our heads and run through their loud, laughing song, with their mouths full and their large bodies shaking with the effort. Then they would swoop to deliver the food and curve away to the next tree where a very cross pair of wag tails were nesting. Each time they would mob the Kookaburra who seemed oblivious to them pulling out it’s back feathers. It was almost as if the Kookaburra was doing it on purpose to annoy them.
Just on the other side of the stream from where we were camped was a group of Wallabies with a baby one that had just grown out of its pouch.
We knew we had a 10 km climb first thing today so were up early before any wind or heat arrived. We had a relaxing breakfast watching the Kookaburras feeding their young although they are obviously not good morning birds (know the feeling).
It was a really cold morning and took about 10 minutes of climbing before my hands and feet thawed out. The surface of the gravel road was smooth and the gradient steady and not too steep so it wasn’t the hard climb I was expecting and we could enjoy the wonderful views. There were also an amazing number of small flowers growing out of the rocky cliff the road was cut into especially on the inner curves of the hairpin corners so there were a lot of photo stops.
Once at the top we found it wasn’t actually the top, as usual! It was lush, fertile farmland up here. The wind was howling across it as there were few trees for shelter. Now we had a choice, we could either turn right, directly into the howling wind, and continue uphill to Omeo or keep the gale at 45 degrees and stay flatish on to Gelantipi and on down to Bairnsdale. No choice really, Gelantipi here we come. Although after a while our road also went up and turned directly into the gale. You can’t win really. We were glad our bikes had heavy bags as it least it kept them on the ground and under us when the biggest gusts hit. We could hear the gusts coming like a steam train through the trees. It was quite exhausting.
Every cloud has a silver lining. The good thing about the gale was that it affected the magpies aim. We were cycling through a long Avenue of trees and I could see a lot of magpies. Several of them tried to dive at us but got blown off course. One came past me in a low dive, aiming at Bernie in the front, I was going at 30 km/hr so it must have been going at least 45 km/hr.
At the end of the day I suddenly saw an Echidna walking along the top of the bank. It was the first one I had seen that hadn’t first been driven over.
We eventually arrived in Gelantipi and at the incredible Karoonda Park Centre run by the Sykes family. They run a farm and a schools outdoor adventure centre. We were just gathered up by the family members and shown into a massive kitchen where the staff were eating lunch. The children had just finished and there were bowls of food and cheese out. We were told to just help ourselves to anything we could see. What a thing to say to a hungry cyclist. I ate so much I felt a bit sick afterwards but it was great. They are great cooks. As well as the groups accommodation they have a couple of really nice rooms and large washing machines.
After a relaxing afternoon we went back later for supper at 6.30 with a group of 10 year olds and their exhausted teachers. The food again was delicious. Starting with chicken soup then a choice of roast beef or roast lamb with roast potatoes, carrots and peas. This was followed up with homemade chocolate mousse and icecream. What was there not to like? All the family and staff were so friendly and welcoming it would have been easy to stay on.
There was heavy rain and a dramatic thunderstorm overnight so we were pleased to be safely tucked up inside. It had all cleared by the morning as we made our way to the crowded dining room for a delicious breakfast of bacon and eggs.
As we left the wind was already blowing strongly and increasing. Initially it was behind or side on and we made good time to Buchan although the last drop into town was quite scary with the wind now side on and gale force. While fortifying ourselves with coffee and cake we picked the brains of a couple of environmentalists sitting nearby and discovered that the Raptors we had seen earlier circling the great, green agricultural valleys had been Wedged-tailed eagles. These are the largest birds of prey in Australia and can have a wingspan of over 9 feet. We had also seen another Emu running along the edge of a field.
Leaving Buchan we turned right onto a larger road with a good shoulder and head on directly into the wind. For the last 20 km into Bruthen we just put our heads down and pushed as hard as we could. It was really hard but we finally rolled up at the only accommodation we could see to be told all the rooms were closed due to a plumbing problem. But after a few calls it turned out this had been fixed that morning so we could stay. I don’t think anything had been done to the Inn since the 1930’s but it was a room.
The weather forecast was for heavy rain and full gale force winds by 11 a.m. and the gale was going to be head on. So we were up early and ready to go by 7. Breakfast had been a bit weird as we had to help ourselves to cereal and bread from a cupboard in a narrow, dark hall as the bar was locked up in the morning.
We had been shown the rail trail that ran past the hotel and went directly to Bairnsdale from Nowa Nowa. It looked nice but was 7 km longer than going on the road. With the weather coming in we decided to hammer straight down the main road which had a good shoulder. At this time of day the traffic was fairly light with a double logging trucks only passing every five minutes or so. We just put our heads down and peddled as hard as we could.
We arrived at Bairnsdale before 9 just as the rain was starting, so we went into a cafe and got the nicest coffee we had had for 2 weeks. By then the Car Hire office was open so we set out on the last few kms in the rain. We managed to squeeze both bikes into the back of a Nissan XTrail, mine whole and Bernies minus the front wheel, then set off back to Goulburn.
Over the last 12 days we had cycled 650 km and climbed 10.2 km. I know nothing in Australia is really that high but we had gone up and down a lot, especially in the first week. We had originally been going to cycle all the way to Melbourne but the weather was getting worse and it wasn’t going to improve anytime soon, so heading back was quite appealing.
It was strange driving back. We had cycled down from the Mountains through lush green farmland but driving just below the mountains all the fields were parched and brown with hardly a blade of grass. We passed some farmers grazing a herd of cattle on the grass verges along the roadside as there was more grass there than in the fields. None of the cattle and sheep we saw looked too good.
Within a day of getting back to Goulburn catastrophic fire warnings were issued all down New South Wales and parts of Queensland. A really strong hot wind blew for several days lifting the dust from the dry fields and turning the sky over Goulburn orange. We could hardly see down the street.
But we were lucky. Many communities along the coast were devastated by fires with many people losing their homes and livelihoods and some their lives. It was a terrible few days and our hearts go out to everyone affected.