19-21/3/16. We have managed to avoid the highway for three whole days by following the East Gippsland Rail Trail which is a 96 km shared path between Orbost and Bairnsdale. Because it follows the course of the old railway (surprise, surprise) most of the gradients are gentle, the exceptions being where it crosses a few creeks because the railway bridge is either unsafe or non-existent. The downside has been the debris from the storm has blocked the route and a few places where the surface is sandy both of which have made the going slow at times.
On Saturday we woke to a much quieter world, the wind having died overnight. The campsite was littered with leaves, small twigs and pieces of bark which some trees seem to shed like snakes shed their skin but thankfully no large branches had fallen on the tent so we’re alive to tell the tale!
The start of the trail was very close to the campsite and took us over the river, using a bridge shared with the highway, and onto the floodplain. The railway had been carried across the plain by a wooden trestle bridge over 900 metres long which, according to an information board, was severely damaged on a regular basis by floods. It is now in poor condition and not used by the trail.
The previous day we had been exchanging messages with Tim Sharp, who had been following our progress on Twitter and was on holiday from the UK driving from Melbourne to Sydney (amongst other exciting plans) with his wife, Pam. With a little juggling, we arranged to meet at one of the points where the trail crossed a road and had a very pleasant chat for half an hour or so, “lubricated” by coffee and chocolate that Pam had very kindly fetched from nearby.
We had originally hoped to get to Bruthen (about 65 km) but the 38 km (not 30 as wrongly stated in the previous post) to Nowa Nowa (“so good they named it twice”) took us most of the day because of the debris that we had to clear, or circumvent, or climb over, the sandy stretches of the trail and a headwind, so we were glad to get to the campsite there for the night.
The weather has turned much cooler and wetter. Stephen is using his sleeping bag “properly” for the first time since we arrived in the Southern Hemisphere and at times we are wearing two or three layers of clothing, even when cycling, particularly Christine of course!
Overnight on Saturday/Sunday the rain moved in again and by the time we were up and about it looked really miserable and set in for the day. We holed up in the camp kitchen/lounge thinking we would be spending another night there (“Fair weather cyclists I hear you cry!) but around lunchtime it started to brighten. The campsite had a cafe which served a wide range of tasty sounding burgers (beef or lamb or pork or chicken or vegetarian) so we agreed to pack up the tent, have a burger and, if it was still OK make a move.
An hour later we were on our way! Because of the difficulties we had encountered on the trail the previous day we decided to take what appeared to be a minor road that sort of ran parallel to the trail and which was not the highway.
Well it turned out to be more of a major road than we had expected as it was a slightly shorter route from Bairnsdale to Nowa Nowa than the highway and it had been upgraded to a good wide surface so there were many trucks using it. The upside was that the upgrade had also installed a reasonable shoulder pretty much all the way along so we felt tolerably safe.
On the way we met another cycle tourist – only the third since we left Sydney – Cyrille from Dijon in France. He was riding from Melbourne to Sydney but was planning to head more inland than us through the mountains. He was on a bike that he had bought for $100 in Melbourne and was travelling much lighter than us. He had been wild camping in the forests to save money but had found that his tent was not 100% waterproof and had bought an extra groundsheet to drape over the top.
However, because it was not exactly following the rail trail, the gradients were more severe – particularly the first one out of Nowa Nowa which saw us climbing 150 metres in 3 km. Still, we made reasonable time reaching Bruthen by 4 o’clock. With Bairnsdale 30+ km away and involving either returning to the highway or getting back on the trail and potentially climbing over storm debris, we decided to call it a day – and the campsite in Bruthen got good reviews as well.
It turned out to be a charming little place with toiletries in the loos and a quaint little kitchen. There was rock music booming out until about 8 from a couple of live bands at the hotel on the other side of the river. We found that the reason the campsite caretaker was not around when we arrived was because he was at the hotel playing with his band!
For the run into Bairnsdale we decided to risk the trail again because Christine thought that she had read that most of it was sealed (wrongly as it turned out!) and we were approaching much gentler countryside with more farms and villages. In fact the trail, although not sealed until the last 10 km, was better than two days earlier although there was one point where we had to unload all the panniers to lift the bikes over a tree that had fallen across the path which was a bit of a pain.
By early afternoon we reached Bairnsdale, a major town compared to what we been passing through for the last week or two. After shopping and lunch we dived into the library for the first dose of Wifi for three days with Christine’s first priority being to download The Archers and Stephen heading for the BBC Sport website to see how the rugby, football and cycling had gone over the weekend!
Having rejoined the 21st century we set off along a pan flat road for a recommended campsite on the way to Paynesville so that we are close to Raymond Island to see the koalas in the morning. The site is lovely, being right on the lake, and there is a small flock of Sulphur-crested Cockatoos which are lovely to look at (completely white apart from a yellow crest) but which make the most god-awful loud screeching noise!