Unscripted – Part Week 4 – Naracoorte to Millicent

29 October to 1 November 2022

Total kms: 100 (63 miles)

Total trip kms:  1025 (637 miles)

Day 22 – Naracoorte to Millicent –   Marditjali, Meintangk, Ngarrindjerri, Boandik Country100 kms

There’s a Husker Du song that goes like this:

Can’t tell you what’s coming next, I don’t know for sure

It could be good and it could be bad, I don’t know for sure

I guess that I’ll continue on from day to day….

And that is sorta how this tour feels. No use having a plan because the conditions are so changeable.  Just taking it day-by-day.

I had, however, planned on coming to Naracoorte when I was looking at maps last year.  But I thought I would come from the east and leave to the southeast. Instead I arrived from the southeast and I’ll be leaving to the southwest. 

Today I’m heading to Millicent – a town I’d never heard of before looking at the map over the past few days.

But here we go. The reason to go there is that we can see some more volcanic stuff on the way in and out, and most importantly, it has an affordable cabin for me to hole up in for four nights while the next series of cold fronts and troughs make their way through. I REALLY need to get warm and dry and $75 is really cheap for an ensuite cabin.

Once again, we’re off before the sun rises. And the sun does actually rise today. It’s the first sunrise in over a week I think. But that ball of light still does exist!

It won’t last. We are riding into showers. I have no illusions I’m going to stay dry today. But at least there is a bit of sun to start. The real reason for the early start, however, is to beat the wind. It is predicted to be 30-35kph with gusts to 50kph by around noon. To add to that, the wind is forecast to be from the WSW turning SW. So quartering headwind becoming direct headwind. An early start should make that misery not quite so prolonged.

The tour has been so wet and windy so far that I’ve risen very early more often than not. I’ve forced myself onto the road at 5.30am so many times now that I’ve reset my body clock. Even on days when I can sleep in, I still wake up at 5.15am each day. That does say something, because I am not naturally a morning person!

There are four or five vehicles on the road between six and seven in the morning. And then there are none for a good 1.5 hours. I have the entire 17.5 kilometres of Coles-Killanoola Road to myself. 

One thing that’s been great about the roads out here – the property numbering signs tell you where you are. It not only gives the road name (which is helpful when the signs at intersections are missing), but the number tells you how far you are down that road. 164 is 1.64 kilometres from the start of the road. Similarly 2024 would be 20.24 kms from the road start.
Riding along the edge of Mary Seymour Conservation Park. There is a proper entrance on the western side of the park. It looks like you can camp there.
There were tea cups and coffee mugs strung from the fence in front of the blue gum plantation for about 300 metres.

The scenery is subtle. We’re riding along the bottom of a shallow ocean here. The geology goes something like this: 

  • 40 million years ago, Oz (Gondwanaland) separated from Antartica and a shallow sea formed as the continents separated. 
  • Between 15 and 38 million years ago, limestone was deposited in the shallow sea.
  • 2-5 million years ago, the Naracoorte Range (where the Caves are) rose along the Kanawinka fault. 
  • About 1.5 million years ago, volcanic eruptions began south of here with the latest eruptions occuring near Mt Gambier only 5,000 years ago.
  • 1 million years ago, as sea levels rose and fell during an Ice Age, sand dunes formed along the coast lines at the different sea levels. There are 13 different stranded dune systems that parallel the current coast.
  • 20,000 years ago, the last dune system formed – but it’s currently offshore in 50-100 metres of water since sea levels are higher now.

So today we’re riding across all those flat limestone deposits and over a few, low bumpy dune systems. You have to think big in time and geography to appreciate the landscape today.

Road rises ahead over a dune.
See all the lumpy dunes over there? The big piles of wood are the detritus after logging a blue gum plantation.
The dunes naturally support some pretty big trees. I never knew you could grow trees in sand until seeing all the pine, blue gums and natives.

All the limestone and sand does mean that the area is naturally boggy and swampy. They built extensive canal type systems all over the area in the first half of the 20th century to drain the extensive wetlands to allow cropping and grazing.

It is nice to have the road to myself. The ‘gravel’ today is something I’d not experienced until hitting very western VIC and SA. It rides like a really hard clay back home, but I suspect it’s a mix of clay, limestone and sand. The road is like hard mud with no surface gravel generally. It rides fast, even when wet, so I like it!

The one problem is that when you look at these roads on satellite view, they look just like the sand roads. They both just look bright white. So using google and komoot to plan a route is pretty hard. You don’t really know if you are routing yourself down sand, or down one of these nice hard white roads. 

The best planning tool for today’s ride was actually a map I tore out of a tourist brochure. It shows what is sealed (both major and minor sealed roads) and what is ‘gravel’. The sandy roads aren’t shown. So I look at google and compare that to the tourist map, and ensure I don’t route myself down anything that isn’t on the tourist map. 

Forget google or gps, this is actually the best planning ‘app’ I found today!

Once I get to Diagonal Road, I finally see another vehicle. It’s a farmer towing a trailer full of fencing materials. Then I see a logging truck. The driver flashes his lights and waves. Thanks! Logging truck drivers aren’t always friendly.

We then have to ride into the building wind for just a couple kms to another minor road. The early start has been rewarded though – I’ve done 60 kilometres with pretty much no wind resistance, and the wind in our face these two kays is only blowing 10-15kph.

On through pine plantations and then onto the Mt Burr Road. It has a vehicle every couple minutes, but mostly going the other way. I thought it would have been busier than this. But we’ll take it!

The weather gets crappy and windy here as we approach the Mt Burr Range, but that is a volcano over there!

We are wet – with the showers catching us back on the Manga Road at about 75km. And now the wind starts to pick up a fair bit from the southwest. The road begins the climb to the Mt Burr Range, as well. But don’t feel too sorry for me. It’s a very gradual climb, more like one long hill than a mountain range, and I get to gawk at volcanos the whole way.

The town of Mt Burr feels like all the electricity scheme towns – little cottages, a big recreation area, lots of trees. All very planned out and feeling a bit “Truman Show”. This was a planned community built to service a logging mill. The mill no longer operates, but the town is still smack in the middle of extensive pine and gum plantations. This area is known as the “Green Triangle” and much of the native forest has been wiped out for timber production.

We’re going to come back this way after the three cold fronts pass through, so I don’t bother to stop to have a look at anything. Besides, the traffic has picked up, the rain is more constant and the wind has become not so nice.

Yeah, I’m actually going to come back through Mozzie Town. But the mozzies aren’t terrible down here and they don’t carry disease – I am so glad I took the train to get out of all the clouds of disease-ridden mozzies up north.

There’s a good shoulder through Mt Burr and down the range on the other side. I pass a sign that says “Millicent is a road safety conscious community.” Okay. Let’s see it. 

And then the road shoulder disappears at the bottom of the range. 

Looking back at Mt Muirhead – a composite volcano. It features in Aboriginal dreamtime stories which I’ll share when we come back this way later this week. We are right on the Tarwaup fault line here, and the ocean lapped at the base of this range at one point in the past.

I have about 6 kms into town, and they are a real slog. The traffic is now pretty heavy, there is no shoulder, it’s raining off and on, and the wind is now doing its 30kph thing. But gosh, I got in 75 kms in good conditions, and it is only the last 6kms that are a terrible slog. I should have left at 5am instead of 5.30!

Millicent is a little service town with some nice green parkland, an amazing and large kiddo playground, a nice skatepark, and a main street that is mostly single-story. There are three(!!) supermarkets, including a Woolies (though, really, the Foodland place is tiny and sad and I don’t see how it makes it). There’s also two Chinese restaurants, an Indian place that is supposed to be really good, and a Vietnamese place. Very nice!

Main street of Millicent. Photo taken between showers on Sunday!

I go up to the Visitor Information Centre to see if they have a historical walk brochure. I often note the historic buildings when I’m in a town but don’t always know their stories. They do have a brochure here.

The woman at the info centre is helpful. She asks what I like to eat, and I tell her my diet is pretty restricted at the moment, so I mostly just cook my own food. This launches into a conversation about supplements, the woman asking if I order stuff from iherb. (Of course I do – there aren’t a lot of options in Oz!).  She has had some health problems and finally went to an integrative doctor who was the first to be able to help her. However, she has found it hard to stick to the supplements because of the expense. I commiserate with her on that but agree that none of the normal doctors/specialists had any clue what was wrong with me, but the integrative doctor was onto my issues straight away. I tell her I’ve spent thousands of dollars, too, but I’ve made nearly a full recovery so don’t begrudge a cent on that journey. 

We compare gallbladder stories. She had excruciating pain in the typical spots and went to the Emergency Dept with every attack until they finally got tired of her showing up and took it out. It’s a little different to my story of atypical pain and ignoring it for three years before it got too horrible to be ignored! But most importantly, I’m able to tell her about the wonders of taking a bile pill before each meal. I can’t believe the doctors don’t tell people about this when they give you the recovery plan after surgery. Having some extra bile with each meal (because you don’t get a squirt of bile from your gallbladder with each meal when you don’t have that organ) can make digestion so much better! She’s very excited to hear this and writes down the brand I use.

I head down to the supermarket to get some water (I’m avoiding the very hard water from the taps for my guts’ sake) and then go down to a picnic shelter to cook up some lunch and wait until I can check in to the caravan park.

First commercial building in Millicent in 1872 and used as a school, and for religious services, weddings and stock sales. Facade was changed in the 1920s.
Sportsmans Hotel – second hotel in Millicent; was originally a weatherboard structure in 1874 and this one constructed in 1876. It looks naked because it has lost its verandah.
They had this really cool natural playground and then an absolutely huge playground behind it with all sorts of cool stuff.
The town pool is a swimming lake that is actually chlorinated. It’s huge and over near the platform it is around 6 feet deep I think. The swimming lake normally opens on 1 November – but not this year since it was only 10C!

A guy in black Blundstone boots, black jeans, thick black coat, black scarf/face mask pulled up to his black sunglasses and a skateboard helmet pulls up on his Kmart bike. Greeaaaat.

He introduces himself as Jeremy. He takes his face mask thingo off, settles down on the BBQ and asks where I’m from. He then says he can fix my bike if I’ve got any issues. He calls himself Southeast Custom Cycles. Yeah, right…. like Nigel said, it’d be like having a backyard mechanic work on a Ferrari. 

Jeremy asks if I smoke ciggies or pot. No and no. He then says, “well, that’s good, cause I don’t really have any”, as he rolls himself a cigarette of sorts out of some ashes in a little metal container. Yeah, right. You weren’t going to offer, you just wanted to bum some from me if I had any! 

He then goes a roundabout way of asking if I need a place to stay, saying I could stay where he’s staying. He’s looking after a woman’s house, who may or may not be his girlfriend, while she is in Adelaide. I assure him I’ve got a place to stay.

He says he’s the town drunk and just rides around getting pissed. The cops leave him alone since he’s not hurting anyone but himself. He did do 3 months in jail for having 3 drink drive convictions in a short time, but he reckons he’s still a better driver drunk than many of his friends sober. I don’t doubt him on this given what I’ve seen from SA drivers so far!

He is confused when I confirm that I have a car and driver’s licence. “So, if you don’t do drugs, and you have a licence, then why are you riding a bike?”  I tell him I enjoy travelling that way.

He’s still confused. He says, “Yeah, but if you’re sober, you have a car and you aren’t in trouble with the cops, then you could even get a job!”

Yep, there’s lots of ways to live a life. Jeremy is just a year younger than me, but he really has no life and very few teeth. The alcohol has robbed him of life even though he’s still alive. 

He’s had a series of exes and a daughter somehwere near Bendigo he’s been out of touch with for eight years after her mom, who kept them in contact, went to jail. He had one ex that he threw against a wall, but in response, she stabbed him. The knife went all the way through his arm and into his back – so the cops called it even and charged neither of them. He and the ex considered getting back together after that, but didn’t.  (Thank goodness – for the taxpayer cost of the cop call-outs if nothing else).

Finally, I think it is late enough I can check into my cabin, and so I excuse myself and wish him well. I remember meeting a lot of guys like him when I travelled around on the Greyhound bus the summer I was 20. That, and my experience working in food service at the uni, taught me a whole lot about privilege and how lucky I’ve been to grow up in a stable, loving family that prioritised education and contribution to community. 

It was a real wake-up call when I was 20 to see how other people lived. Nowadays, I’ve met a lot of people in life and can conclude that hard work, good choices and resilience are important factors in building a good life, but so are being on the right side of racial and social structural constraints and being born into a good, white middle-class family with good role models who are responsible with money and occupation. Nobody ends up at the top of society from their hard work alone.

Days 23-25 – Millicent – Boandik Country – 0 kms

Sometimes when they forecast crap weather and put out severe weather warnings, they get it wrong. And if you’ve booked accommodation to better weather the weather, you are disappointed that you spent all that money when the weather turned out fine.

But that is not the case this time. The crap weather they forecast is just as crap as expected. Okay, so the severe weather warning for 90 kph winds does not eventuate in Millicent. Top gusts were in the 70s. But it is cold, wet, windy, rainy and stormy Sunday, Monday and Tuesday as forecast. Sometimes it is just cold and windy, sometimes just stormy, but it is definitely some combo of crappy all 3 days as a series of 3 cold fronts comes through. I do not regret getting some hard-sided accommodation at all. I am grateful for it, actually.  Particularly on Tuesday when it sleet/hails and totally dumps it down when it’s only 7C. It rains 30mm or so over the 3 days. 

The little cabin has a great selection of cooking gear, even a sieve and a cheese/carrot shredder. It is warm and dry with a good reverse cycle air conditioner. I soak up every second of being warm and dry. I get all of my gear warm and dry. I get all my clothes clean. 

Cheap home for a few nights. I sat out at the table on Monday after the second front had gone through and there were a few intermittent sunny bits. Definitely wasn’t out there on Tuesday when it was very windy and there was occasional hail and the high never got over 10C. This was at the Lakeside Caravan Park. I was really happy with the cleanliness and facilities at the park and in the cabin.
The cabin had all sorts of cooking gear and various sizes of bowls, pots, pans, etc. It even had a plastic rice cooker! I wish there had been a table instead of a single bed in that spot, however.

And I’m able to cook up some really nice and nutritious meals – a nice tomato, lentil stew, a big green salad with salmon, tomatoes, cukes, red capsicum and green onion, and a very more-ish stir fry. Yum, yum veggies. It’s so good to be able to easily cut up and cook some good food. 

Stir-fry with some honey, tamari and garlic sauce to come. So nice to have a kitchen for a few days!

We walk into town between fronts to get some honey for the stirfry and so that I have a binding agent to make up some protein balls with my protein powder and the peanut butter that is left over after refilling the plastic jar I carry. We are pretty sure there is no white paint left in southeast SA, as so many housese are painted white here. One whole block was nothing but variations on white.

Limestone block buildings are all over the place down here because there is an abundance of limestone and not so many trees. The lego-like window trim is a very South Australian thing.
Old cottages with this exact design are common all across southeast Oz, but where I live, they would have been of timber construction.
I’ve always said if I ever owned a home it would have to have a verandah. If I weren’t sensitive to mould and didn’t mind the cost of rewiring or replumbing a place and adding insulation, I wouldn’t mind a place like this.

I’m also able to plan out my next moves. Since I hadn’t really planned on being in this area, I hadn’t done any research on things to see. It does allow me to see more of the sites along the Kanawinka GeoTrail than I’d thought, so it’s a win. 

The guys are happy to be out of their natural habitat and in some warm blankets for a few days. We’re consulting the GeoTrail map and figuring out how we might link up some of the sites.

I also chat with the bike shop in Mt Gambier that the guy in Warrnambool recommended. They are going to retension the front wheel spokes for me on Friday. 

And, at the moment, there is actually some sun in the forecast on Sunday. I will believe it when I see it, but I’d be happy with just not riding and camping in rain for several days in a row!

5 thoughts on “Unscripted – Part Week 4 – Naracoorte to Millicent

  • I liked the property numbering signs too. It helped while away the ride if the ride wasn’t that interesting, or made you realise the ride would soon be over if it was interesting.

    • It has definitely been a cold and wet tour – like early August weather instead of late October. Maybe I’m getting you all set up for winter rides!

  • Hi Emily, Thank you for another fine narrative of life on the road during less than hospitable conditions. Your words always make me feel that I am riding along with you on the back axle. Thanks also for the geology inspired descriptions of the terrain. The limestone deposits in OZ were a surprise. At some point Indiana and OZ had something in common. “Bedford (IN) Stone” on homes was always considered the best you could buy during the boomer housing projects of the 50’s. We hope your ride will eventually be dry and a bit less tedious to navigate. Love, Dad

    • Yep, there are plenty of limestone and dolomite houses around here. They all look so cold to me. After living in various concrete block places in my life, the limestone block isn’t very appealing to me. Was it you riding on the back axle that caused the puncture on the rear tyre the other day, lol?

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