18-24 March 2023
Weekly kms: 313
Total Part 2 kms: 2822
Total trip kms: 6070
18 March 2023 – Errinundra Rd Quarry to Queensborough – Gunaikurnai and Bidawal Country – 35 kms
The light is blinding and refracts off the misty fog that is slowly dissipating as we head east. We’re high on a ridge on a road that is also a wide firebreak. That just means the trees are a bit further away. There are pockets of big trees with little understory, and areas that have been logged fairly recently. There’s long downs and ups and a helipad part way along.
The morning is quiet after last night’s rowdy wildlife – like everyone but a few small birds are hungover and waiting for the haze to go. As I ride, I think about the height of these ranges that catch the clouds and drop the rain and cool the air creating these unique ecosystems. I think about minimum fire intervals and our lack of understanding of how fire impacts the great majority of species in the forest – the fungi, the insects, the soil microbes.
I roll through a cathedral of shining gums and mountain grey gums on my way to see the plum pines.
In a little copse on a bump of a hill that’s been logged all around lie these 400-year-old sprawling bush-like trees… that are ancient… at least in ecosystem terms. It’s hard to comprehend that these plants were starting to grow in the 1600s.
After I roll back through that grand avenue of huge trees, I head over to the Coast Range Road. I’m not sure if bikes are allowed, but I haven’t seen anyone in at least 24 hours, so I don’t think it’s likely I’m going to run over any bushwalkers. And I’m unlikely to go fast enough to do so anyway.
When I get to the gate, I can see a mountain bike tyre print, so if I’m breaking the rules, I won’t be the first to do so. I want to go this way because it will spit me out near a camping area and is likely to be more scenic than the rest of the Goonmirk Rocks Road which leaves the park and heads into logged areas with recent coupes.
The Old Coast Road is a winner. It’s an old road that is often just encroached single track with huge trees towering above it. Progress is not all that fast given all of the vegetative growth, but the big ol’ trees give you a real sense of finiteness. It makes you wonder just how grand this region would have been before the logging really got going in the 1950s.
I go slow, take it all in and enjoy the thick and lush forest. The midstory is just a riot of texture and shades of green. It is like the forest is reaching out and trying to pull you in as you brush through the bushes by the side of the path.
All too soon the road finishes up and we emerge into logged forest. There is a camping area not far up the road. I am dismayed when the sign shows a water spigot with a cross over it. I wish the website and Park Notes brochure were more explicit in saying “Camping area does not have water”. They both made it sound like there wasn’t ‘reliable’ water. So I was thinking, in a year like this, there might be a bit. Nope. There’s no creek here at all or a water tank catching the run off of the dunny roof. Crap.
It is warm and windy today. I have to get water today. I’d hoped to stay here at Frosty Hollow. There is no one here, and there’s plenty of space should people arrive. So I get everything spread out to dry in the warm sun and pretty hefty wind while I contemplate the map.
I finally decide to head to the Queensborough picnic and camping area, as it is located on a river. I’ll definitely be able to get water there – it just means likely having to put up with campfire smoke and noisy car campers. But I don’t really have a choice. So after lunch and after my gear has dried, I push the bike back up the steep, rocky hill that we dropped down like a bomb an hour ago.
The road climbs and then rounds a ridge. There are views occasionally, smooshed between the trees. We get tiny glimpses all the way to the coast. Some areas have been logged recently in clear cuts and all of it has been selectively logged at some point.
Then we turn onto the Hensleigh Road and wow, are we in for a treat. The road winds up and down and around with a visual feast of lots of stands of very big trees. The camera just can never capture that grandeur and that feeling of being in nature’s cathedral.
The kays tick by and I will them to lengthen. I don’t want this to end. It’s not primeval and it’s not virgin and it’s not at all ‘untouched’. But it’s grander than most anything else we’ve seen, so it’s all relative. I guess you would have to wander deep into the inpenetrable bits, and fight your way through lots of sticky growth and bushy plants to find areas deep in the forest that had not been logged.
The road is very narrow, and we are constantly thwacking into vegetation on the side of the track – no matter which of the two tyre tracks we follow. My hands and arms take a beating.
After that long scenic downhill, we end up at a one-lane bridge over the river. There is a large, old, canvas tent beside several trestle tables set up under a makeshift tarp shadecloth. There’s a hammock set up and lots of other crap set up over a large area. Some people have been here for a bit and are taking up a lot of space. They are not here at the moment though.
There are more spots to camp including one area with a big fire ring and a stack of wood. There’s another spot with a brand new picnic table and a small fire grate. There’s no way I’m going to escape campfire smoke tonight. But the spot with the picnic table doesn’t have any large trees over it with branches that could drop, so I go claim that.
The spot with all the camping gear is the only place where you can access the water, so I hurry over there to filter five litres of water and fill my camp bucket before they return. Then I just soak up the atmosphere before they come back.
It’s a long, flat valley between two ridges with the understory dominated by fern and bracken. There’s no old growth, but there are still plenty of large trees left after selective logging in the past. They tower over the valley with their white trunks standing out in contrast to the deep green backdrop. Their canopies don’t touch, creating a speckled ceiling of leaves and blue sky poking through. The sunlight below is dappled in the hazy breath of the vegetation.
As I’m cooking up dinner, the other campers come back. It’s an older couple that look a little bit hippy. Maybe they once took part in protests to save the forest and this is a special place for them. A few minutes later, a 4WD Pajero pulls in and starts heading toward me, before it stops, backs up and parks next to the couples’ 4WD.
The old Boomer guy comes over to me and says Hello. He tells me he almost ran over me as he didn’t see me camping there. He then tells me he’s been parking in that spot for the past three nights and sleeping in the Pajero. The way he says it makes it sound like I’ve stolen his spot and that I should apologise and move my stuff. But he hadn’t left anything there other than tyre tracks to claim the spot, so I don’t give an inch. I just say, “Yeah, the picnic table is nice. I don’t often stay places with those.” He asks me when I got here, probably wondering just how close he was to not losing his spot. I tell him ‘probably about 30 minutes’.
He wanders off and spends forever finding a spot to park his Pajero. There are overhanging branches, but it’s not as terrible as he seems to fear as he parks and then reparks and then reparks his 4WD several times in other spots. He’s camping with the old couple, and they’ve got shit spread out over a huge area, so I feel absolutely zero empathy. Besides, he says they’ve been down here all week, so they’ve had the prime spot for days now.
The picnic table, concrete slab and fire pit grate are all quite new. This is State Forest instead of National Park, and as we’ve seen since October, there’s no upgrades in the national parks but lots of post-fire money for the state forests.
Luckily, the campfire smoke goes the other way, so I don’t have to inhale their pollution and greenhouse gas contributions. I do, however, get to smell that fresh picnic table varnish as I scope maps and eat my dinner. It makes me think of all the pieces of furniture my dad made whan I was a kid. It’s funny how smells transport you in time and place.
So all evening I think about the hiking we did in all the state parks when I was a kid, and how I’ve lived so many places with such different vegetation than the eastern deciduous forests I knew as a kid.
19 March 2023 – Queensborough CG to Combienbar River – Bidawal Country – 39 kms
I’m heading back out the way I came in, so we get to ride back up through all of those big trees again. This time we are climbing up instead of heading down, so we get to enjoy all the views at a slower pace.
We thwack our way back up through the vegetation, but I’m wearing my raincoat this morning, so my arms are protected from all of the vegetation we brush against. I’m glad there was no water at the other camping area, because it means I got to see all of these big trees along this road. The park brochure and the area tourist info doesn’t even mention this road, and it’s equal best with the Old Coast Road in terms of scenery, views and big trees in the whole park/forest.
At the top of the ridge, I’ve got options for dropping down to the Combienbar River. We could stay higher in the catchment and head up to the Three Sisters Lookout on the opposite side of the valley from the north. Or we could head down the valley on the western ridge, then work our way back north along the eastern ridge. Hmmm…. decisions.
I really think this day-by-day planning is much more fun than planning things out in advance. Figure out what you really want to see and then just pack up 7 days of food and go for a wander in the forest. This is what touring is really all about: when you don’t have to google streetview all the roads to determine safety, since traffic safety is not a route determinant or factor, then you are really free to just go wherever you fancy. None of these roads are on google streetview anyway!
The big factor today and the rest of the week is the weather. There’s rain of varying amounts forecast every day. And it is grey and blah up here today. I think there is meant to be rain later… but I haven’t had a weather update in three days so don’t really know.
So I think what we’re going to do is drop down to the bottom end of the valley and find somewhere to camp. Then tomorrow we’ll head toward the Three Sisters lookout. It’s unlikely to have any views today.
So I head out of the park on what is advertised as a two-wheel drive access road that has become a 4WD track with huge bogholes that significantly slow progress. (I’ve concluded that park brochure is pretty much worthless). It feels like I’m constantly getting off the bike to push around the bog holes.
Now, once upon a time, I would have just ridden through all of them. However, it’s cold enough that I don’t feel like getting wet if they are deeper than they appear and I get stuck in one. It’s a bit different when you know you can get somewhere warm and dry that night and get all your gear dry if you get wet. But when you’re camping and the forecast is wet for days… yeah, not so keen to fall into water.
For many of the kays, we thwack against more vegetation encroaching the road. There are no views through the trees – it’s all just grey. Eventually, as we get down into the fire-affected areas, the road has been regraded for a short bit. Finally we get some smooth, non-contact riding. I never knew cycling could be a contact sport until the past few days when I seem to constantly be brushing against vegetation.
As we get down into the burn area, the fog rolls up the hill to greet us and we ride in and out of it the rest of the way down the ridge. There aren’t a lot of big trees left, but I do enjoy observing the different burn intensities – places where it burnt very hot with all the crowded saplings bursting forth and taking over the road to pockets in drainage indents that seem like they’ve tucked themselves down so the fire would jump over the top.
We finally start to drop down off the ridge. We come around a sweeping corner that drops us into a deep drainage that has not been heavily burnt. It’s a welcome respite full of tall trees, tree ferns and deep green vegetation that crowds in close together way down deep along a creek down below.
We parallel the creek as we descend, before plopping out on the main road next to a slow-moving red-bellied black snake that seems less impressed with the cold, grey day than me.
The fog is not lifting. Instead, it’s actually getting darker in grey colour, and rain just ‘feels’ imminent in my mind’s inbuilt cloud-reading radar.
So I take the first gravel track I come to that goes off through the forest in the direction of the river. There are a few informal campsites marked on my Rooftop map along the river through here, and I think this is one of them. I didn’t really look down to check the map – I just saw the WP sign indicating a water point and went that way.
It’s not a fantastic spot, just a clearing near a river gauge. But it will be fine. Let’s get the tent up before it rains.
I head down to the water where large, flat exposures of rock create good slabs for sitting. There’s mozzies though, so I retreat, put on some pants and come back down. The fires have taken out all of the vegetation, but some of it is regrowing. The river flows low and slow with deep pools reflecting burnt branches in their still water.
The rain comes – light drizzle and misty stuff for the rest of the afternoon. I hear a total of two vehicles go by out there on the road over the rest of the day. No one ever comes down to where I’m camping though, so it’s a perfect people day (none seen).
20 March 2023 – Combienbar River to Thurra River – Bidawal Country – 74 kms
It’s still a bit drizzly in the morning. It’s cool and cloudy. It’s a bit of a reminder of the ride back in October/November. It feels like we fell into fall over the past couple days. There was the last bit of heat and the weather gods have now flipped the switch. I think it’s safe to say we’ve totally ridden out the summer season.
I head up the valley on a narrow, sealed road. The road climbs and falls over hills that run down to down to the river from the complex of ridges on either side of the valley. There are a few homes scattered about, and a couple new sheds that people are living in since they likely lost their houses in the fires.
I pass a large complex of old 1950s fibro cottages with larger buildings scattered throughout. It looks like it was probably an old government logging camp. There was likely a mill nearby.
As I turn off onto the road that will take us up and out of the valley, the sky lightens for a few minutes, and I wonder if the sun will actually break through as we climb that road.
We pass a couple of new-ish, really nice homes on the hilltop as we follow the tree-lined road back into the forest. The road goes steep and the surface goes big and thick gravel, but we just spin on up.
The clouds come back thick and dark, and it’s not long before we are climbing through that burnt forest in the first tiny drops of drizzle. Up and up – the surface goes damp and so does my shirt. It’s not overly warm, so I put on my raincoat.
The road twists and curves and makes its way UP. It is a pretty shit weather day, but even 22 weeks into riding, I am still so grateful to be out here each day. There’s nothing like being very incapacitated for a long period of time to make you grateful for every single good energy day.
I get to my road turn-off to the Three Sisters lookout. It’s 15 or so kays up that way. But it is full-on wet now, and that road ascends into fog. It is also heavily encroached by regrowth. I ride up the road about 20 metres and then quickly decide that is stupid. Why thwack against all that regrowth for 15 or 20 kays to go to a lookout ensconced in fog? I’ve got no phone reception, so checking radar is out, but I’m not thinking it will get significantly better.
I look at the map for a few minutes, standing in the rain. I decide we can take this bigger road down to the Cann River valley and then head up the main road down in the valley. It might not be so foggy down there. We can still hook into the WB Line road, we’ll just have to ride with the trucks and caravans for a bit. At this point, that sounds more attractive than bush-thwacking through fog.
So off we go, only our descent is not straightforward. We still have to climb along a perpendicular ridge until just below a mountain that has a fire tower on it. Then we curve around, dip and dive and then climb some more until we are high again, looking over fresh clear cuts to burnt forest as far as the eye can see.
But then, not long after this, we get a downhill to remember. It’s a long, straight dive with little rollers in it on a good sandy surface. Woo-hoo! We’re going to break a speed record on that for sure.
I stop for a second just before we get into the main descent to take a pic and to make sure that there are no loose straps and everything is tight and secure. My mesh fruit bag, which I tie on to carry rice cakes and things like bananas that get squished in the pannier, likes to loosen over time, so I check that it is tied up, too.
And then down we go – steep and fast enough to peel tears out of the corners of my eyes. Woo-hoo! All that sandy stuff flicks up on my legs, and by the time we’ve whooped and hollered our way down at 67kph, all loose and skiddy and exhilarating, my legs are covered in sandy, muddy flecks. It’s a proper mud-bath treatment for my shins. The guys even have a few flecks on their faces, too. But I’m pretty certain their grins are as big as mine. Yee-ha!
Down the bottom, we ride into a series of dairying and farming properties strung out along the road on the western edge of the valley. There’s a couple cars that pass me as the road climbs up along the ridge into forest and then dives back down to the cleared, lush, grassy flats several times. You can hear the main highway over on the other side of the valley as we head upstream.
The clouds are trying to clear, but it will remain cloudy mixed with partly cloudy until dark. We eventually have to get on the highway, because the valley narrows down and there’s not much room for anything but the road, river and a bit of private land tucked in between steep slopes.
There is a sufficient shoulder for much of the way, so it’s not too stressful. After having not seen any cars on the road for a couple days, it does feel more traffic-laden than it is. We’re back with the trucks on hilly terrain, but only a couple pass from behind in that short section I’m out there trying to stay off the rumble strip but away from all the sticks and branches in the shoulder. There are quite a few caravans. They make me nervous – it’s mostly old people who aren’t real great at driving a car anyway, who are out there towing a big thing. That is not a good thing! There really should be a licence for driving those – they are bigger and harder to maneuver than the light rigid trucks that Nigel drives that do require a licence. Hmm…. imagine all those people trying to pass the driving test!
Up we go – fortunate to get the timing right so that we don’t’ get squeezed going over any of the bridges where the shoulder disappears. Soon enough, we see our turn-off.
The gravel road drops steeply down to a river. There’s a grassy area with picnic tables. You could camp here, but you’d probably have campervan company and all the road noise. I just stop for a snack.
We then head up the WB Line Road that runs through Coopracambra National Park. This area is pretty heavily burnt, and they haven’t fixed up the road yet. It is advised on the website that the road is 4WD past some particular road, but a handwritten sign tacked to the picnic area sign says, “4WD 13 kms ahead. Seriously.” Haha!
Actually, I think you would have some challenges getting a 2WD even as far Beehive Falls just a few kays up the road. The first bit that we climb is okay, but the second climb is heavily eroded and you’d have to line your car up just right to stay on the high bits and not fall into the erosion ruts.
The vegetation and soils are different here. I don’t know what the vegetation would have looked like before the logging and before the most recent fires, but it’s a sandy granite soil and the bushes look much more prickly and scraggly than what we’ve been riding recently. I believe we are on the big Bega batholith here.
There’s a wide bit in the road for parking for the falls. There is an overgrown and faint track up along the creek through scrubby, burnt bush. There are a couple spots to look over the cascades but there isn’t really a very good viewpoint anywhere. For this to be one of two attractions in the park that makes it into the park brochure, it is incredibly underwhelming. Why couldn’t they use some fire recovery money to fix up the road and put in a viewing platform?
The road is very steep and rocky just after the falls. It requires pushing the bike up and carefully placing each step so you don’t slide. I don’t think you’d ever get up it trying to push the bike in clipless pedal shoes – even recessed cleats.
But then the road just undulates with views over to a large peak to the north and the backside of the peaks we saw from the other side on the Monaro Highway. We weave through a sandy forest with various burn intensities until we reach the Thurra River Road.
This is mostly down but with a bit of up through less burnt, but more heavily logged, forest. The regrowth through here is quite prolific in places and none of the smaller tracks are passable. There is just a road sign and a whole lot of saplings and small bushes that prohibit any progress.
My experience so far in East Gippsland has been that a lot of roads are still officially closed, and there are road closed signs at those track junctions. However, there are a lot of small tracks like the ones I pass on this road that aren’t officially closed but would be very hard or impossible to get down anyway. I’ve got to stick to the main logging tracks, and that is not always as scenic or adventurous as I’d like. We’ve really not been able to do nearly as much riding and exploration in this part of the state as I’d hoped.
We cross the East Branch of the Thurra River a few times. There is one good spot to camp – just a large gravelled area near a bridge that is likely a turn-around point for logging vehicles. But I’m not quite ready to stop.
So we head on down the drainage – high up on the valley wall at times and down closer to the river at other times. There are logging tracks heading uphill and bigger trees lining the watercourse. I prefer this vegetation to the scrubbier, sandy stuff higher on the range in the national park.
Finally, we come to a new bridge over the river. We need to camp here. We’ll have access to water and can save the next big climb out of this drainage for the morning. There aren’t any great spots to camp because they have done a lot of earthmoving when they replaced the bridge and put in large rocks along the creek to stop erosion. There’s a lot of dried mud mixed in with sticks and stones and other uncomfortable things to sleep on.
I get all of my stuff out to dry, go filter water and then get dinner started. While it’s cooking, I find the flattest spot and work to pull out protruding sticks and rocks from the dried mud. Then I set up the tent and am amazed at how smooth the spot is to camp on. We’re right next to the metal barrier, but I haven’t seen a car since leaving the highway, so I don’t think it’s going to be an issue!
I listen to the forest creatures as the clouds try to break up. There are possums and warbling magpies, distant ravens bemoaning the state of the forest, and kookaburras that travel from tree to tree down the valley, calling out their cackling laughs as they move away. There’s also the honking of a deer nearby, and gunshots very far away that don’t seem to deter the deer movement here.
It’s cool this evening and I cuddle down in the bag, so happy to be alone in a forest, self-contained and quiet. The rhythm of the road is so easy to fall into. I feel like I could just keep going forever. The season is giving way, though, so we’re going to need to start heading north. I know I will need to be in Albury in the next couple of months though, so I’m not sure how my travels and those responsibilities will play out. But that is for another day.
I soak up the quiet and the coziness of the bag with the guys cuddled against my shoulder. 6 days out in the forest and haven’t spoken to anyone in 48 hours – yes, I’m sure I could do this forever.
21 March 2023 – Thurra River to Mallacoota – Bidawal Country – 74 kms
There were clumpy little clouds last night that drifted over camp as the sun set. You know what those mean – rain in the next 24 hours.
So I get up early, get packed up and get going before the sun rises. We have a climb out of this drainage first up and it’s a nice, steady grade on good gravel that curves up and onto a ridge. I pass two forest workers heading into the depths of the forest who look incredibly surprised to see me.
The logging injunction said that the forestry corporation had to go through and do adequate surveys of the habitat of the endangered gliders on all proposed logging coupes. If glider populations were of sufficient density, then a certain distance around that habitat had to be retained. This is what the forestry corporation was supposed to be doing all along, and what should have been enforced by the Office of the Conservation Regulator, but the courts finally enforced it and has halted all native forest logging until this work is done. The forestry corporation has come back and said that those distance restrictions mean that there are only two proposed coupes in the whole state that can go ahead.
So think how much habitat and gliders we’ve lost that we shouldn’t have because they did not bother to do adequate surveys or ignored the results. However, I think one of the two proposed areas that remains suitable is in this area, and I think those guys are going up to do some of the preparation work. They’ve already regravelled this road recently in preparation.
As I ride today, I can see why there are areas with no glider populations – it is very, very logged all the way down to Drummer Track. There are large recent clearcuts and forests of tiny trees that roll down the slopes away from the road. Yarrambulla Peak and the ones sitting above the Monaro Highway stand as high granite peaks over the rolling, super-logged forest below. And all of it has burnt. It’s all fuzzy trees with epicormic regrowth, clear cuts and standing dead skinny trees. This trip has really driven home how gung-ho they’ve been with clear cuts in recent years and how much of the forest has been likely irreparably damaged. I am okay with selective logging with strict criteria on what is selected, but this trip has really hit home how extensive and unsustainable the clear cutting has become.
We make it down to Drummer Track which climbs and falls past more clear cuts and damaged trees. We’re following an electricity line for the most part, though thankfully the road goes around some of the steep, rounded hills that the electricity line goes over. Down in the easement, we occasionally see signs indicating that an NBN cable is buried beneath. It’s a very human-influenced landscape this morning and doesn’t invite me to linger or otherwise want to investigate further. Most of the roads leading away from this one are still closed anyway.
After a while we dip down to the Wingan River which is just a small creek here. There’s a very steep climb out, and had the erosion ruts not been so sandy, I likely would have made it up that one.
We finally get up to the Jones Road. Slowly, the vegetation has been changing and there are now banskias and new eucalypt species escorting us down a very sandy road that’s corrguated in the corners. We’ve got a good downhill run mostly, though there are some sneaky climbs that slow us right down to 4-7 kph.
Midway down this run, as the clouds start to build to the west, I check to see if I’ve got some phone reception. We are only 10 kays or so from the main A1 Highway.
I do have reception. The radar shows rain coming, though I think I’ve got two or three hours before it hits. The wind has been picking up strength all morning. The weather forecast is not too good – rain chances today and for the next four or five. Then heavy rain mid-next week.
So I look to see what accommodation options there are in Mallacoota. One of the caravan parks has a cabin quite cheap, so I ring up the place and speak to a woman who says she has a couple ones available for two nights. I tell her I’m not picky – whatever works best operationally for her. She asks when I will arrive. I tell her I really have no idea as I’m on a bicycle and don’t know the terrain ahead or how strong the wind will get. She is fine with that and says I can have my pick if I get there early. Good. Accommodation sorted. We’ll have a proper stove, so we can gorge on some veggies today and tomorrow before packing up for another lot of forest riding.
Down the end of this road, I come to a stop just as a man turns off from the main highway.The old guy is driving an early 2000s 4WD Landcruiser. There are extra water jerry cans, recovery boards and a shovel on the roof rack. He stops beside me at the intersection of a logging road and the Princes Highway. I’m refolding my map after a long morning riding up and down the gravel roads in the hills. It’s been a morning of burnt and logged trees as far as the eye can see.
The man asks me which tracks I’ve been on, their condition, and if the tracks seem like they’d get impassable after rain. I tell him what I know. He’s off to bushwalk up two of the peaks over the coming days, but he doesn’t want to get stuck if the coming rains are heavy.
I wish him luck on climbing those peaks, as I don’t think he’ll have any track to follow, even if there once was one. The fire regrowth is so thick that I’ve been stymied from riding some of the tracks I’d hoped. Some roads are still closed, and other roads that are open are so thick with vegetation that they are impassable.
Poor Verne, Kermit and I have been whacked by young vegetation on the road edge for kms upon kms the past six days. So I can’t imagine any bushwalk is going to be anything but a cross-country bushwhack and navigational nightmare.
He’s not too fussed – it’s really just about getting out and going somewhere new. When he asks where I’ve been before the last few tracks, I name off a few roads and locales.
He replies, “Well, THAT is a very big undertaking. Good on you. You must be a very hardy soul, with a durable bum and a reliable bike.”
I laugh and say, “Well, I guess you could say that.”
And then we both head on our respective ways, trying to get somewhere else before the rain comes.
I join the main A1 Highway. It’s notorious for being terrible for cycling with heaps of traffic, lots of trucks and caravans, and minimal to no shoulder. I had scoped out a route that would take us down toward the coast and then along it, to get to Mallacoota. But it will be very sandy, and I’m not liking the idea of riding that in the rain.
So I bypass those turn-offs and stay on the main highway. There are some climbs and descents, but the shoulder is only questionable in a few spots. For the most part, this section is fine. But, wow, are there ever a bazillion caravans!
The road down to Mallacoota has a shoulder in the top, less steep and curvy bits that are council-maintained. But once you get into the steep climbs and winding curves in the national park, the shoulder disappears. It’s pretty tense riding as there is plenty of traffic and plenty of caravans not keen to give you ANY room. I think I could elbow a few of them as they go by.
The road is scenic and covered in forest, though, and I would like to come back in a car and do some of the walks on offer someday after the forest recovery is more advanced. This area was heavily impacted in the 19/20 fires and the road was closed for 6 weeks after the fires while they dealt with all of the damaged trees and ones that had fallen across the road. They even had to evacuate tourists by navy ship post-fire to get people out.
Nigel and I came this way in 2003, but we only drove into town to get ice and then left to go camp at Wingan Inlet (where I got a bunch of tiny ticks on me when I went for a bushwalk which, to this day, has not made me excited about spending much time along the E Gippsland coast). I don’t’ really recognise anything as we roll into and around town.
Mallacoota sits on a large lake at the bottom of the Genoa River before it empties into the sea. It is one of the more isolated towns in the state and is a mix of residential and holiday homes. They lost a substantial number of homes here in 19/20, but at first glance, it doesn’t look too terrible. It’s not like riding into Marysville eight years after Black Saturday and being flabbergasted at the amount of homes lost and not yet rebuilt. You have to look a little closer to find the vacant blocks and brand new homes here.
The main street is just a couple blocks long with a huge median with car parking and trees. I’m on day 7 of forest creature dirty and smelly, so I roll on through the main street and head down to the lake foreshore to get cleaned up in the toilets. It is very windy and cool now. There’s a fair number of people about, but the caravan park that stretches all along the foreshore has only about a quarter of its 650 sites full. I can’t imagine how crazy it’d be during school holidays.
I find all my toiletries and my ‘cleaner’ set of shorts and tshirt and go to get cleaned up. There is a mirror over the sink and when I look at myself, I laugh pretty hard. “Wow, you are looking rough!” There is dirt in the creased wrinkles in my face and the grey hairs stand up or stream out from my head. I am not sure what I’d think if I saw someone looking like this that walked into my retail store!
So I bird bath it in the sink and wet wipe afterward. I change into my cleaner clothes, go to the bakey to get an orange juice and sit outside to drink it. I’ve already had two conversations with two different people here on holiday when a guy in a work ute and fluoro shirt pulls up next to me in a parking spot. He’s got a whole bunch of questions, but most pressing to him is how long it took me to ride into town from Genoa. I tell him I have no idea, because I don’t really keep track of that sort of thing. He says, “So maybe 2 hours?” Nah, less than that. He’s very impressed. His fluoro shirt is covered in paint and he says there’s plenty of work around town if I want to stay, since I look like the sort of person who might come here and never leave.
The joke is on him. I am not a fan of coastal towns. I might get stuck in a place like Omeo, but the ocean holds no excitement for me.
After he takes off, I head over to the caravan park. A friendly couple owns it, and I feel an instant rapport with the woman in her 50s who looks nearly as weather-beaten as me. She gives me my choice of cabins and tells me to yell out if I need anything like extra shampoo or towels (Wow, do I look THAT bad!).
The rain comes in the evening and buckets down for a few hours. I am happy to be warm and dry after a much-deserved and well-anticipated shower. It’s a nice change to not have to be thinking about where you are going to sleep and where you are going to get water for a couple nights.
22 March 2023 – Mallacoota – Bidawal Country – 25 kms
Today is the pivot point in this part of the tour. I don’t know it yet, though. My plan is to head out and check out the coast first thing. Then we’ll go ride the bike path along the lake before ringing my friend Mike a bit later. We normally talk once a month, but we’re overdue. He is like an older brother to me and his advice is ALWAYS right, whether I follow it or not. I want to run a few things by him.
But first, we head out of town toward some rock overlooks that show some wildly folded rock. There’s no one out here, so I just take in that huge ocean, the powerful waves crashing into the rocks and the views down the coast. It’s burnt severely here and the coastal scrub is thick with regrowth but light on trees. There are standing dead sticks of stumps but nothing very tall yet.
When I turned on the phone yesterday, I was saddened to get an email from one of my old uni friends. Ben passed away a couple days ago. So I feel a bit sad today, and it’s nice to just sit there and watch the heave of the ocean and the curvature of the earth far out to sea. It’s always good to feel so tiny and finite when grief fills all the caverns of your heart.
Back in town, the bike path weaves along the edge of the lake past many tiny fishing jetties, a historic boat shed and some boat ramps. The path is pretty flat and there are plenty of people out for a ride. It’s scenic and is a type of landscape I haven’t explored too much on this tour.
I like Mallacoota, or at least I like Mallacoota outside of the main tourist times. Apparently, the amount of people in town is actually quite high for late March. Usually it’s pretty dead between Feb and Easter, but last year and this year has only seen a dent in tourist numbers instead of the usual steep drop-off.
But Mallacoota is small and artsy and everyone has been friendly and welcoming. I run into the tradie ute guy again at the supermarket. It turns out he is the the guy I saw naked getting changed next to a car on the road by the beach this morning. He apologises, saying he saw me coming down the hill but thought he had time. But I got there quicker than he expected. I tell him it’s not a big deal as I’ve seen it all before, and I really couldn’t see any details anyway. Haha! Guys always think their dicks are bigger than they are.
This guy grew up here and then lived in Melbourne for awhile and several other places. But he eventually was ready to come home. He is a plumber. There is plenty of work – he can just take the jobs he wants, and he can drop it all and go surfing when conditions are good. He thinks free spirits like me (aww, thanks) come here and then never leave. I tell him that I don’t really like beach communities, but I do like this town, and if I had to live somewhere by the ocean, this could certainly be the place.
I gather up a garden of veggies and head back to the cabin for a nutrient-packed lunch. While I’m eating a late lunch, I look through the job ads for Albury, just to see how much and what type of work seems to be going at the moment. I think my plan is to wander around until Nigel needs me and then head back to Albury to transport him to and from surgery. By the time that is scheduled between now and late May, it will start getting pretty cold down here by then (the last week has already been pretty chilly and wet).
So I return to Albury, do the hospital run with Nigel, see what work is on in Albury and then either find some work there or keep heading north to find seasonal work in Queensland if Albury is light on possibilities. I still have about 6 months of touring funds left, but I’m thinking that is likely going to get eaten up by the trip to America in late summer. Airfares cost an arm, leg and another leg right now and aren’t expected to improve this year. Plus, I really need to stop riding for a bit and get some work to rebuild my emergency fund. I left in October with that totally drawn down from four years of illness. I knew it was the right time to go ride, but I’d still be more comfortable if I had that spare cash built back up again. You never know when that fatigue and all those debilitating symptoms might return.
So I’m looking at the job ads. There’s plenty of work around – whether it pays enough to cover the super high cost of living and rents at the moment might be another story. But then… there it is…
There’s a job advertised that is exactly what I’m qualified to do and have done previously. I’m actually overqualified for the position. I would be stupid not to apply for it. The pay is shit compared to my most recent job, but I think I could make it work.
So I email Mike and tell him I’ll ring him tomorrow. Then I ring the company and ask a few questions about the role. Then I head to the library with my USB stick to tailor my resume to the position and write a draft cover letter. Thankfully, the library is open and all of the computers are free.
So I sit there in the tiny Mallacoota library and apply for a job. It cannot quite compare to when I did the phone interview for the Americorps NCCC job from a pub in Adelaide where I was staying in a room upstairs. I used the public phone at the base of the stairs near the bar, and some bloke kept coming by every 5 minutes saying, “Can I buy you a beer, love”? while I was on the phone doing the interview! (I got that job 🙂 )
I go back to the caravan park and ask if I can stay another night as I’ve just found a job to apply for and will need to finalise the cover letter tomorrow and then post the application. The owner is super kind and says ‘certainly’, and then charges me $20 less than the nightly rate. We have a long conversation about life in Mallacoota, the importance of PLBs when out adventuring (she goes fishing alone in the boat a lot and carries a PLB out on the water), and my ride.
The sun comes out between rain showers and the guys get a float in the pool. Some old guy, who comes here for 6 weeks to fish every year, sees them floating about and says, “now that is the life, do they ever try to run away from you”? I tell him that I try to take good care of them and have a lot of fun, so they haven’t mutineed yet.
23 March 2023 – Mallacoota – Bidawal Country – 0 kms
I use the morning to clean the bike, do laundry and gather and pack food for the next forest foray. I lay in bed for awhile, listening to the rain on the roof, feeling grateful I’m not cycling in it up that narrow, hilly road today.
When the library opens in the afternoon, I go down, proofread and finalise the cover letter and then send the job application off. Who knows? The job advert and my conversation with the company does not instill confidence in me that they are actually looking for someone outside the organisation, but what do I have to lose? I think they already have someone lined up for the role but are just going through the hoops with an external advert.
I talk to Mike in the evening. I tell him about how I’d hoped to run into an older person role model on this tour but haven’t found anyone yet. I’d love to meet an adventurous older woman who is completely financially and emotionally independent without a partner or kids. But my parents’ generation seems to be void of that type of person. I’d love to be able to get some tips and tricks and things to do/avoid.
So I’m at a loss for finding an adventurous woman over 60 that I could learn from. I’ve not yet met someone in that age category whose life I would like to copy. I have met a few older, independent women on the road on this trip, but I don’t think the life they were living was by choice. They each seemed a bit lost, too, like they were trying to find themselves or something. They all reminded me of the lead character in the movie “Nomadland” from a few years back.
Mike says, “So who cares? You’ve never been lost. You’ve never done what other people thought you should do. You’ve always known who you are and what you want. You have always been very self-aware of what you need and what you don’t. So why do you need a role model now? Why don’t you keep just doing what you’ve been doing? You are like the role model for courage in adversity yourself, so you don’t need a role model. I don’t think you need anybody to guide you or give you advice – I just think you have to listen to your gut and your heart and you will end up doing just what you are meant to do.”
So I guess that is my plan. It has to be. Mike is ALWAYS right. He’s been like it a big brother to me since I was 16. It was so good to hear his voice and talk to a loved one. Even though I had pretty much already processed the loss of Ben, I was still feeling a bit sad yesterday, so it’s nice to touch base with another lifelong friend today before I head into the forest again
24 March 2023 – Mallacoota to Newtons Crossing – Bidawal Country – 66 kms
Sometimes life is all about the timing. And today I’m trying to time my ride back up that winding, curving, narrow road so that I miss the rush of people leaving for work in other towns and miss the exodus of caravans around 10am (the oldies usually take a while to get going).
So I have a sleep-in and then ensure the cabin is very nice and clean. I strip the bed for them and have a chat with the owner when I go to return the key. She thinks the road that turns into a tiny track that I was going to take out of Genoa will be impassable. It was pretty faint before the fires, so it is probably overgrown now. She is very kind and asks if I have their phone number in my phone, so they can come rescue me if I get stuck somewhere. Riding around on a bike certainly reaffirms that there are way more good people than bad out there, and some people are extra nice.
My timing is pretty good. It’s still a bit stressful heading out through the national park on the narrow road, but there aren’t too many impatient people that I’m impeding on their commute, and I don’t really get any caravans until I’m back in the bits that have a bit of a shoulder.
The highway through Genoa now has a bypass, so all that’s left are ex-businesses, a few crumbling houses and a pub that is sometimes open and sometimes not. The historic bridge has a nice, shiny and new coat of paint and has been re-decked. The views up the river are scenic. This river flows through a deep gorge further up that is only accessible by foot in the national park. I would love to do that walk someday – but with others, not alone. We passed one of the access tracks on our ride along the WB Line Road the other day.
The Gorge is a geological site of national and international significance. There are exposures of Devonian rocks, as well as fossil trackways of a tetrapod that is the oldest known vertebrate impression in the world. You can read more here: 8723-10 The Genoa River Valley | VRO | Agriculture Victoria
There is a free camp in a park at Genoa, and there are probably 10 or so caravans there. The toilet block is pretty filthy and two big Huntsman watch me while I pee. I then go have a bit of food before I have to rejoin the highway. I don’t know what the shoulder is like through here, and there is enough traffic that it will be stressful if there is nowhere for me to be.
The road climbs out of the river valley on a broad, sweeping curve through pretty dense forest. It then curves and winds through more forest all the way to the state border. They’ve redone this section of road, and the shoulder is good the whole way. The scenery is interesting – all forested hills running in different directions with no clear drainage pattern from road level.
Then we hit the state border, and the road in NSW narrows right down and has no shoulder. Yikes! I am fortunate, though. The road gods look after me and I don’t have any squeezes or scary moments or trucks that overtake from behind. I’m only on there for a few kays, but that was enough! After all these days on forest tracks where I sometimes see no vehicles for a day or two, riding the A1 is not attractive at all!
We turn off on Broadaxe Road and begin a long climb into the forest. This type of vegetation is different to the high country, and different to the dry sclerophyll of home. It is all on pretty sandy, granite soils and feels a bit denser and scrubbier. I don’t know what it would naturally be like, though, as this is all burnt and logged, as well. It seems a bit less pummeled than the VIC forests I’ve ridden through in the past few days, but it is not being managed for conservation at all – it’s just being managed like a plantation.
Up and up we go. All the side roads are closed, as all the bridges burnt. Those haven’t been replaced and they aren’t really maintaining the tracks, so they are all pretty full of regrowth.
As I come around a steep, uphill corner, a forestry ute is coming down a long straight. It pulls over, stops and the driver gets out to wait on me. He’s doing some survey work and wants to warn me about all the logging trucks ahead.
We proceed to chat for about 40 minutes. He’s worked for the forestry corporation for about 45 years and will retire in the next 3-5 years. He laments that they won’t hire anyone that he can train up. It is terribly short-sighted – they are going to lose all of this guy’s knowledge soon, and he is an encyclopedia of 45 years’ worth of information.
He talks about all the science they are doing and how the fires here burnt one whole catchment but missed another one entirely. So they’ve got a great control catchment to compare micro and macroinvertebrate health and recovery post-fire. He talks about where to find platypus and a million interesting facts about them.
He tells me all about the different tree classes and which ones they are salvage logging (not everything like VIC, but only areas with 100 percent canopy scorch). He talks about the different species of trees and how one particular type reseeds to thousands and thousands of stems per hectare. He talks about how they used to have a director that didn’t believe in research so pulled all the funding. They only have a couple stream biologists for the entire state (NSW is about the size of Texas). The new director keeps asking why there is no info about certain things, and they keep saying that it was cut.
I must have been asking all the right questions, because the guy asks me what I studied at uni. When I tell him Natural Resources Mgmt and Journalism, he perks right up. He then tries to convince me that I should apply to become one of the logging site prep coordinators (or something like that). The job is to work through all the environmental requirements before a coupe is selected and work to get it all through the EPA. He says with my background that they’d train me right up, and that they need good people like me to come work for them. (Nah, I am NOT working to help the trees be cut down!)
We eventually part ways after he gives me two ice cold bottles of water from his esky. He even offers some Hydralyte tablets (it’s meant to be pretty warm today) and warns me that storms are forecast. More good people and a nice conversation standing in the middle of the road in the middle of the forest.
My original plan was to link a bunch of logging roads together to get me high up in the catchment. This would keep me off the Imlay Road as long as possible. It’s a pretty dangerous road with a high accident rate. The forestry guy told me that people go waaaay too fast because it’s well known among the locals that the police don’t patrol it. Apparently, there are no spots on the road where they can set up a patrol car with a speed camera because there’s nowhere that meets their safety requirements.
However, logging guy tells me that the roads I’m wanting to use will go right through where they are logging, so that will be dangerous, and I should head down a particular road that will get me to Newtons Crossing and the campground there. Ugh. A campground. But it will be a reliable source of water which I will need at some point today (logging guy tells me to go upstream on the creek that feeds into the river – neither the creek nor the river have fantastic water quality, the creek is better – and I’m certain he knows all the metrics for that info!).
So after all that climbing, we descend back to the Wallereaugh River on a long, fast run through new and old logging coupes. Yee-ha. I hate to lose all that elevation, but at least it’s a fun and fast downhill.
Not too far before the camping area, there is a 4WD track that takes off into the forest. It heads down to a ford of the river and my map says there’s an informal campsite there. I can ration water today and hit up the campground creek for water first thing tomorrow.
The track is really steep and eroded in places. It is mostly not rideable and I wonder how I’m going to get back up it. There are some fairly fresh vehicle tracks, so I’m thinking I might get all the way down there and the site will be taken anyway.
And that’s what ends up happening. There’s a 4WD with a big tent that looks like they are probably living there, not just staying a few days.
After checking out the river and the views, I slip and slide and wrestle the bike back up the steep, loose and eroded track. It requires very careful foot placement and coordination. A couple times I think I might have to take the panniers off and make two trips, but each time, I summon some herculean strength for just a moment and heave the bike up and forward.
Back on the logging road, I follow a grader for a little bit until he slows and motions me around. I then get a nice fast downhill on the firm stuff he’s scraped but not yet topped with soft stuff. Yeeha!
The camping area is set on a hill that leads down to the confluence of the river and creek. It is sandy, rocky and scrubby, but they have put in a new dunny and graded the road since the fires. There’s not too many people around, and I find a spot sorta downhill from a guy in a caravan. The spot is shady and secluded, and I can find some high ground for the tent, so any rain this afternooon or nigtht shouldn’t run under the tent.
I ask caravan guy if it’s okay to camp there, and he doesn’t mind at all. He is out on his first caravan trip ever. He’s a retired cop and ex-outdoor store salesman who is also recently divorced. He’s got a tiny terrier along that barks at me and then just stops, stands and stares up at me with expectation. Sorry, I don’t have any treats! The guy’s son moved into a unit that doesn’t allow pets, so he now has the little dog as a companion. He follows the dog around taking videos of it and posting it to facebook.
When I excuse myself to go filter some water, he offers me some from his tanks. But I’m just as suss about the water quality of that as I am of the creek. So I wander down through scrubby bush full of scratchy plants to where the big granite slabs and boulders are exposed along the creek. They plunge down into the water in rounded and sculpted domes creating granite narrows that funnel the creek this way and that. The water cascades over some of the exposed rock upstream, and the small cliffs here would be fantastic for kids to jump into the deeper rock pools with their sandy bottoms. It’s picturesque and would have been more so before the fires.
It is so nice to have the picnic table to stand at to cut veggies. Since I’m on day one out of a town, I’ve got zuke, carrot, red capsicum, mushroom, celery and baby buk choy. I add that to my rice and lentils with a few spice and… YUM!!
As I’m cooking dinner, I hear caravan guy over there messing around with is fire grate. I sure hope the smoke is blowing a different direction. Then caravan guy comes down and says, “I was just wondering if you would like to come up for dinner. I can cater to vegan or vegetarian (how did he know?). I’ve got lots of stuff. We can sit around the fire and talk.”
He then looks down and sees the steam curling up from my pot on my little stove. He then says, “Oh. I see you are already having dinner.” I tell him that I eat early and go to bed early generally. Earlier, he had been in awe of the elevation I’ve climbed and had remarked about how much energy it would take and how tired I must be when the day ends. So he then says, “Yeah, you would go to bed early tonight if you’ve come all the way from Mallacoota.
He doesn’t really say to come over after I’ve eaten to just hang out. And I don’t offer. I’m pretty certain our conversation earlier covered just about everything I’d want to cover. But I do feel bad. It’s obvious with his wet, slicked back hair and fresh cologne that he has showered and spruced himself up. I’m not sure what it is about all these lonely over 55-year-old men. I’ve met so many on this tour! At least this guy is not out looking for gold. But sometimes I think they interpret my kindness as interest…. And I am so not interested in lonely, needy men!
Caravan guy goes back to his site and I hear him dismantling the fire grate gear. Sorry, buddy.
I take my dinner down by the water and watch the river running in dozens of tiny courses over the slabs of rock before they rejoin the main flow. The water shimmers in the lowering sun and it’s like a million mirrors signaling an SOS to those above. The river is cutting through the rock in these little water courses, slowly digging away and creating new channels. I enjoy thinking about time and geology and the sun on my back as the sun sinks lower on a warm autumn day.
Later on, I second-hand smoke quite a few spliffs as someone in the camping area indulges in some relaxo weed. Every 20 minutes or so, the skunk smoke wafts by. It makes me think of being young and not giving a shit about the future – it’s a weekend and time for a party, and that’s all that mattered.
I live in the moment a lot on this trip, but it’s different to how I lived moment to moment in my 20s. I have a greater appreciation these days for the times when you can live in the moment, when responsiblilites and plans can temporarily be set aside.
But by this age, everyone has accumulated responsibilities and it’s harder to be carefree. I wouldn’t want to go back to my 20s, but I am absolutely grateful to have such fantastic memories and friends from then. That was certainly a very grand and very fun time of life. I worked hard, studied hard, played hard, rode hard and life was very full and satisfying. I wouldn’t be who I am now if I had not had those experiences then. What a fortunate woman I have always been!