Penguin Island

(Better known as Phillip Island.)

30/3/16. Cowes is a busy, touristy little town and very pleasant. Wednesday morning was spent doing not very much in particular (laundry, shopping, a wander down to the jetty, etc.) In the tourist information office we found that the only way of getting to the place where the penguins do their thing, in the absence of a car, was by taxi. Cycling was DEFINITELY not recommended as it is a dark, busy, dangerous road.

So we decided to walk there and, for the return journey, try hitching or, failing that, ring for a taxi, or, as a last resort, walk.

Well. It was a flippin’ long way to walk! Over 12 km as it turned out. We know. We should have checked before setting out, but it didn’t look that far on the map! We were mighty glad of the sit down and refreshment when we got to the café.

The penguins come ashore at dusk after 2 or 3 days out at sea feeding and have to cross a 20-30 metre wide sandy beach to get to their burrows. They gather on the edge of the water in groups of 5 to 10 before making the dash to avoid the raptors and larger gulls which prey on these small birds. (They are the smallest species of penguin and are about a foot tall and weigh about 1 kg.)

To be perfectly honest it was a little underwhelming because, understandably, they waited until it was pretty dark before emerging from the water and, again understandably, we were not that close. So our ageing eyes were struggling to make out too much. Between the beach and the car parks there are boardwalks from which you can see the little charmers around their burrows, but we were too focused on getting to the road to start hitching to look very much! (Neither of us fancied the walk!)

It is a very popular attraction. Christine had read that they could take up to 3,800 people each evening (at $25 a pop!) and there must have been close to that when we were there.

We had seen several hitchhikers in both NZ and Australia and seen 2 or 3 being picked up so it looked as though it was much more “accepted” thing to do than it is in the UK these days so we were hopeful that a friendly Aussie would take pity on a couple of oldies!

After 20 or 30 cars drove past the pessimistic accountant mindset was kicking in. Of course we both knew it was early days but you can’t fight nature! And then a car stopped. Three youngsters, Erin, Bella and Jack, said they were going to somewhere close to Cowes and moved “stuff” off the backseat into the boot to make room for us. We had a very pleasant natter about what we are doing and how come they were in Victoria (Erin is from Brisbane and the others from Perth) before they dropped us right by the campsite. We are really grateful to them for their kindness because the walk would have been most unpleasant.

(By the way, no photography is allowed after sunset to avoid frightening the penguins so the reason the photos are of a higher than normal standard is because we downloaded them!)

Warragul to Cowes

28&29/3/16. The weather here has definitely turned! We have been wearing at least one more layer when cycling and, in the evenings, socks and trainers have appeared!!

After church and a spot (not spit, as per the typo in the previous post!) of playing with bikes on Sunday morning, we met up for caffeine/chocolate fixes before having a mooch around the town of Warragul (which has a number of impressive old buildings) and then having a “Lazy Sunday afternoon” (in the words of the song).

We were anticipating another strenuous day on Monday heading towards the inlet of Western Port (where 300+ species of bird can be seen!) and the town of Grantville where we had booked a night’s stay. As it transpired, it was nowhere near as tough as we were expecting as (a) the hills were shorter and less steep and (b) it was 60 km rather than 70+. In fact, it was a most enjoyable day! The countryside was “rolling”, rather than “hilly”, and, while there were many farms, it was also “well preserved” countryside – it was a pleasant mix between “cultivated” and “bush”. (Apologies for the multitude of inverted commas in that last sentence – it is just the author displaying his sensitivity about his inadequate literacy background!)

On the way we passed through a town called….

Nice name!
Nice name!

…which brought a smutty, schoolboy snigger from Stephen. It was actually a nice place with a few old buildings such as
Poowong.
Poowong.

and
Poowong.
Poowong.

Grantville itself was nothing special, being just a cluster of houses and shops and cafes on the Bass Highway from Melbourne as far as we could see – but we just dropped down to the coast from the hills above for a night’s stop before heading back up the next morning. In addition, our limited experience of the place may have been coloured by a campsite with poorer facilities but a higher price than the one in Warragul, the previous night.

The next morning, the Bass Highway looked singularly unappealing for bikes so we headed back the way we had come, but only for a short while. Soon we reached a road that (broadly) followed the track of a former railway. It was a lovely route along quiet country roads (quite a novelty compared with our general experiences in the southern hemisphere which have been either designated cycle routes or main roads with (variable) shoulders).

At Woolamai we joined another rail trail (the Bass Coast Trail) with signs that warned of snakes and birds attacking users of the trail. Thankfully, we experienced neither. Victoria appears to have far more of these rail trails than other states and they are for the most part, great – except when you have to clamber over storm debris! We followed this one for about 5 km, as far as Anderson, where we turned off towards Phillip Island.

Initially we were on quite a busy road (the only one leading to the island, so understandable for a popular holiday spot close to a major city) but there was a reasonable hard shoulder which kept us away from the traffic. However, we were soon able to join a brand new section of cycle track that is being constructed to link the rail trail at Anderson to the main bike path on the island itself. While this was very welcome, the steep gradients made it clear that this was not following an old railway.

Just before the bridge to the island was a little town called San Remo where Stephen posed for a photo next to the road sign proudly displaying his cycling club jersey from Bellinzago, a town near Milan. (There is a major annual cycle race from Milan to San Remo – the Italian one!)

Once on the island, we headed for the main town of Cowes which is, not surprisingly, linked with the Isle of Wight town of the same name. The similarities are really quite marked (and almost certainly not coincidental) – both islands are roughly diamond shaped (the UK one more recognisably so), Cowes is located at the most northerly point in both cases, both have a ferry link to a large city, there is a place called Ventnor on both islands, and both islands have a scenic attraction at their westernmost point with a silly name (The Needles in the UK, the Nobbies in Oz)!

We understand that the surfing is better on the southern hemisphere version, though! And it has a motorbike GP circuit.

Cockatoos

Did we mention that cockatoos are noisy? A few days ago we stayed at a site where there were a few. Well here in Warragul there are many, many more which roost in some tall trees right next to the campsite. They gather at dusk and fly away at dawn, making a real racket.

They are beautiful to look at…..

Pretty Polly.
Pretty Polly.

…. but the noise is something else!

(This was recorded at 1 in the morning when somethung disturbed them.)

Happy Easter

26&27/3/16. Season’s greetings to everyone! We hope you have a good break – and lots of chocolate.

Having made the decision to have a rest day on Saturday we promptly spent most of the day on an 8km walk along the Two Towns Trail linking Warragul with Drouin which is an initiative of the Baw Baw Shire Council(!) although we did “cheat” by taking the train back. We timed our shopping expedition just right as The Chocolate Shop was marking down Easter eggs so, being typical accountants, we bought each other a reduced price treat!

Sunday morning was spent on church for Christine and a spit of bike maintenance for Stephen. We know how to enjoy ourselves!

Hills & Headwinds

25/3/16. It was a tough day! A third 60+ km on the bounce was made tougher by hills (probably relatively minor but worse than we had experienced for a while) followed by a long, straight stretch into the wind.

BUT we got it done and are now about 100 km from Melbourne – although we will go on a more circuitous route than that so we take in the penguins on Philip Island.

The campsite on Thursday night was located close to where the Prince’s Highway morphed into the Prince’s Freeway and became even more unwelcoming (and probably illegal) for bikes. Regardless of the legality, it was not for us and so we headed north west which, unfortunately, was towards the hills. Initially it was on quiet roads, but after about 15 km we joined what appeared to be a shortcut avoiding where the highway/freeway dipped southwards. The positive aspect of this was that, because it was the start of the holiday season, the majority of the traffic was heading away from Melbourne inthe opposite direction to us.

We reached Yallourn North to be greeted by a sign that said its former name was (wait for it!) Old Brown Coal Mine Township. Now there’s a name that trips off the tongue and is very appealing.

Not.

As we left town we passed the Yallourn Power Station which offered the intriguing prospect of a viewing point – for all those of you who are fed up with looking at lovely forests and beaches! We declined the invitation as we could see quite enough from the row.

A little further on we got onto another rail trail, this time only a short one but it took us into Moe (that’s a bit shorter than Old Brown Coal Mine Township isn’t it?) by a flat and more pleasant route. We refueled at sone picnic tables next to the horse racing track and then set out on a dead straight road that ran parallel to the railway and the motorway – obviously the old road – into the teeth of a strong, blustery west wind.

It was quite a tedious ride to be perfectly honest – traffic noise and a headwind do not make for enjoyable cycling – but the alternatives of hills to the north or the (probably illegal) motorway (but it is a motorway with occasional traffic lights and many more junctions which are almost but not quite roundabouts – so unlike UK motorways) were much less appealing so we just gritted our teeth.

After more than 20 km of this, the old road sort of fizzled out and we had to take a less direct (a kind interpretation of the zigzag route we followed!) path to our destination of Warragul.

As soon as we hit the outskirts it was plain that, as we get close to Melbourne, we are back in “civilisation” with many commercial premises and prosperous looking residential areas. The campsite is an unusual mixture of retirement homes (small, well-loved prefabs which are surprisingly appealing) and cabins and sites available for “day hire”. We are quite taken by it – so much so that we have booked in for a further two nights. If truth be known, this is partly to avoid a fourth consecutive long day on the bike now that we are so close to Melbourne (we are now about 100km/60 miles away although we will be taking a more circuitous route to see the penguins at Philip Island).

And it has excellent, free wifi!

Plain Sailing

23&24/3/16. We had been warned that many campsites were likely to be full over the Easter weekend and when we tried to book a couple on the route that we had been intending to take by the coast we found this to be the case. So it was time to develop a Plan B!

By sticking closer to the highway, we found places for Thursday to Sunday nights that still took us towards Phillip Island where we hope to see the penguins which come on shore each evening. Our first target was Sale which was about 75 km away which was much further than we had been going but we were by now out of the hills and onto the Gippsland plain.

We made good time along quiet roads with the only major excitement being two trucks with wide loads coming the other way, the wide loads being buildings, or parts thereof. The second one had pulled into the side of the road so that the men could fasten the covering tarpaulin down (although it did beg the question how weatherproof was the building if a tarpaulin was needed!)

We also saw only the fifth touring cyclist since Sydney but,since he studiously avoided our gaze, we didn’t get to have a chat!

While stopped at a farmgate buying tomatoes to go with our lunch we chatted with the lady running the stall and she suggested that we head for Stratford rather than Sale and then we could pick up a rail trail to Traralgon. As we hadn’t booked anywhere to stay in Sale and Stratford had a campsite we followed the suggestion.

Arriving in Stratford we found that it is situated on the River Avon and that it has a theatre. However, we were unable to locate Anne Hathaway’s cottage! Instead we made for the campsite was in a nice situation on the river.

The next morning we joined the Gippsland Plains Rail Trail right outside the site and, after crossing the river on a bridge shared with our old friend, the Prince’s Highway, we headed off along a sound gravel surface, better than that of the previous trail we had taken a few days earlier. We were soon in Maffra, a bustling place where Stephen stopped to top up his caffeine level while Christine pressed on. Just outside the town we passed a fruit bat colony which was extremely noisy. We couldn’t work out if they are nocturnal (because there was an enormous number apparently roosting in the tree) or if they are “day animals” (as they all seemed to be awake and some were flying).


The countryside was increasingly pastoral with many herds of cows. However, there were also many flies. While we were riding they weren’t a bother but swarms of them hitched a ride on our backs and as soon as we stopped took flight and buzzed around our faces. This continued for most of the day making us reluctant to stop for lunch until at last we spied a small cafe in which we could hide while eating.

All this time we had been on the trail and the surface was good. Surprisingly we saw no other cyclists until just before the end and very few pedestrians. The one disappointment with the trail (other than the flies) was that it ended a km or so outside Traralgon and dumped us onto quite a busy road even though there was space to continue it all the way to the junction with the highway.

There was a further disappointment in store for us when we discovered that the campsite was 5 km outside town and the most direct way was along the highway which rapidly became a motorway so we had to go on a more circuitous route. Christine was not a happy bunny!

Wildlife Safari

22/3/16. On Tuesday morning we cycled the 6 or 7 km into Paynesville (without bags – bliss!) and took advantage of the wifi in the library to catch up on online things. The town itself was a pleasant residential/seaside (actually lakeside or rather saltwater lagoonside) place but there was not a lot to tempt the koala-”hunters” to dally there.

Raymond Island is about 100 yards across the water and reached by a chain ferry that can take about 20 cars at $11 a time – but at least pedestrians and bikes are free! On the short ride we saw numerous jellyfish and several black swans.

imageWe had been told that we would see koalas almost as soon as we stepped off the ferry, this being a pest free sanctuary for them. We failed in that. There was even a road sign warning drivers to watch for the cuddly creatures.
image
We set off along the Koala Trail in great anticipation. Initially we went along the lake shore where we saw more swans, several pelicans (my goodness, they are BIG birds!) and some cormorants.

We must have walked the best part of a km before Christine squealed in excitement that she could see one. The anticipation had only made it more exciting. The first one was obviously catching up on some shuteye as it wasn’t moving at all but we soon saw a few more that were languidly eating some leaves high up in the eucalyptus trees.
imageimage
It was quite a bizarre experience as, for most of the time, we were walking along residentisl streets (albeit streets with many tall trees in the gardens and on the verges) and here were these wild creatures.

At one point we saw a photographer pointing his lens at the ground rather than up into the trees. Looking closer he was chasing an echidna into the scrub.

Further along Stephen spotted a bird which looked like a large kingfisher but brownish rather than blue. A kookaburra. We had been told that, although you hear them “laughing” everywhere (especially at dawn and dusk), they are very shy about showing themselves.

"Laugh, kookaburra, laugh"
“Laugh, kookaburra, laugh”

By now we were almost back at the ferry and that completed the wildlife spotting for the day other than more jellyfish and swans as we “sailed” back to Paynesville.

After dark fell the cloudless sky gave us an excellent view of the moon and Jupiter over Lake King. We are our daughter’s parents! (She has always loved astronomy since she was small.)

The moon & Jupiter over Lake King.
The moon & Jupiter over Lake King.

Other Pages

I’m sure you have discovered the menu on this website but, in case not, it is the three lines at the top right of this page. It has links to “stuff” including:-

  • Photos (here)
  • A map showing our progress (here)
  • A table of where we stayed each night and distance cycled (here). (Not formatted correctly at the moment and Stephen is trying to sort out why not!!)
  • Lists of books we have read (here and here)
  • About us (here)
  • Details of some other cycle trips we have done (in varying degrees of completion and detail).