Archives for posts with tag: Exploring

We were fortunate to have spent the weekend just past up in the New South Wales Hunter Valley – wine country! Of course with a drive of just over two hours it provided me the opportunity to pack my road bike steed on the roof and plan for a ride. I had never ridden up in the wine country before, but have driven through the valley on many occasions. What I recall is the poor quality of the roads up there in certain sections, and many of the smaller vineyards being access via unsealed roads. So to be honest, I was a bit nervous riding up there – particularly with the speed differential between me as a cyclist and the cars travelling at 80kph (50mph). And being wine country, I had noticed that many car drivers are a bit tipsy wobbly behind the wheel. I planned two morning rides on the Saturday and the Sunday, but this trip is the only one where I prioritise the vine before the bike and I only managed to squeeze in a Saturday morning ride (I know that this breaks Rule #11 – I will pay penance at Velofix later this week).

I set off at 6:30 on Saturday morning, and what a glorious start to the day it was. The sun rising over the hills gradually illuminating the vineyards from long shadows. The air was fresh, wine country is farming country. We stayed at the Crowne Plaza, which provided me good access to high quality tarmac to roll on from the get go. The first part of my ride was up North through Lovedale.

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The vineyards on some of the properties are quite close to the roads, and you get a real sense of what you are riding through. It kind of makes you thirsty…

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The other non-wine farms are just as picturesque. This view of the rising sun through the eucalyptus trees created stunning shadows for many metres along the northern stretch of my route.

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I was disappointed that there were no grapes on the vines, but it was the wrong time of the harvest season. Still, the weather has been pretty good, the vines looked healthy, so hopefully it will be a bumper year.

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It was not flat on this ride, and as soon as you get off the main roads it becomes quite bumpy and gravelly. There was also a fair amount of roadwork going on that is not due to be completed until next year some time. For the stretches that were complete, the road was smooth as glass – the sort of road that cyclists dream about on a perfect ride. But it was far too bumpy for my liking through Pokolbin on 23mm tyres. It was so bumpy that as I headed back through the Eastern section of Pokolbin, the rattling shook my light completely out of its socket at 45kph. I had to slam on the brakes and backtrack to see if I could find where it had bounced off to. Fortunately it was still working and easily found, albeit with a few battle scars inflicted by some harsh gravel. While there I decided to ride up to Hope Estate winery, where I got married. It was surreal being in the saddle riding up the long driveway, knowing that my wife and two children were sleeping back at the hotel. Since we were married back in 2008 the property has changed significantly, not to mention the paving of the driveway.

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As I was heading back, the wind was beginning to pick up quite strongly. Later that afternoon as we were driving from cellar door to door I noticed the wind was properly buffeting everything. By the time I headed back the morning had well and truly arrived, with the South Eastern part of the valley in full morning glow. Quite a sight.

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I will definitely ride up here again, but now better prepared. Here are my tips for riding up in the Hunter Valley:

  1. Recon your route in the car properly (via a few cellar door tastings if you can). The conditions of many stretches of road were not what I remembered them to be. And for whatever reason, many of the roads are not very well maintained.
  2. Go early – the valley is practically asleep before 8am and the roads are only being traveled by sober drivers who are trying to go about their business. For this ride I only passed one other cyclists and perhaps was passed by 30 cars in total.
  3. Swap out your rubber to some wider and harder wearing tyres (28mm if you can). It was like riding pave or cyclocross in some sections. Which leads me to my next point…
  4. Consider riding a cyclocross or flat bar hybrid / mountain bike. While the road bike was good for riding on the good roads, there are many unsealed roads that are more akin to riding the Strade Bianche.
  5. If drinking copious amounts of wine the day/night before then hydrate up. I was parched before I had even started riding.
  6. Be prepared for the elements. It is windy and exposed through the valley, and the sun is quite strong.
  7. Enjoy the view! There is no point racing through this area, it is picturesque and beautiful. I made sure to take it in while in the saddle and I definitely noticed many different things riding than I have ever done behind the wheel of a car.
  8. Be self sufficient for the ride, nothing is open in the early morning. It would appear that the valley does not kick in until 10am, so sourcing any refills would have been a no go.
  9. Watch the speed difference between you and the cars. While most of the roads I rode on were marked at 80kph, I would not have been surprised many were travelling faster.
  10. Make sure you ride up there! I was contemplating leaving the bike behind, but it was a beautiful ride up there in the wine country.

 

On our recent trip up to tropical North Queensland, following the first two stops in Port Douglas and briefly at the Mossman Gorge, we cross the Daintree River into the rainforest proper. I am going to get this single point out of the way now –

the Daintree Rainforest is awesome!

I had known about this place all through school and when my interest in travel piqued its prominence as a destination to explore rose even further. All I can say now is wow! The Daintree Rainforest is the oldest forest in the world. At over 120 million years in age, it has never been beaten by the ice ages of the past. It is also the only place in the world where you can take a photo of two world heritage sites in one shot – the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest. It is also that forest that has the highest amount of biodiversity in the world. But this trip was focused on the forest that meets the ocean, and it turned out to be the perfect time of the year to go. It was surprisingly the low season, the weather was perfect, and the beaches were deserted. How else could I have got a shot like this one – no staging required.

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Crossing the crocodile infested Daintree River set the tone of the trip – adventure! We drove onto the cable ferry to cross the murky waters, waiting on the other side was the rainforest.

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Getting off the ferry, we immediately felt like we were surrounded by the forest with the tree lined route overhung with foliage. I couldn’t help but stop at the first lookout. I was surprised when we got there as the afternoon storm shower was rolling in. From the lookout we could see the mouth of the Daintree River, but it was the cloud and rain that I wanted to nab through the lens. This would be a perfect candidate for me to experiment with HDR.

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The drive itself along Cape Tribulation Road is fun. We hired a Subaru Forester for the the trip and it handled great on the roads. Along the route there are several aggressive speed bumps whose intent is to slow people down significantly around the areas where cassowaries are likely to cross. The cassowary in Australia is an endangered species with just over a couple of thousand still left in the wild. So my hopes in seeing one were to be random at best. But we got lucky, after traversing one of the many speed bumps my wife excitedly gestured to the left side of the road in the shrub. Sure enough there one was making a slow getaway back into the forest brush. This was the best I could do, given that I was behind the wheel.

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The expectation that the rainforest would be teeming with big fauna was quickly dashed. This is a forest of the small and nimble. I think this makes it even more beautiful, because it is not the domain of humans. The animals are definitely not scared of the tropical rain. Straight after the afternoon shower, these birds just got back to business in this red hued plant.

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The ferns, some of the most ancient of plant life, continued to slowly uncurl. The natural spiral pattern of the frond has an eerily mathematical beauty about it, and I will never get  tired of shooting them.

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Speaking of other animals in the trees, the largest spider I have ever seen was a common sight all around the rainforest. The golden orb weaver is huge, with its outstretched legs giving it a reach much longer than my outstretched hand. Initially they are quite confronting, particularly when a couple of the locals told us about the strength of their webs, but they are not aggressive towards humans. Their strands of spider silk have a greater tensile strength than that of steel. One of the locals said that American researchers were trying to work out how they could make body armour out of synthetically produced silk of this kind of spider, via goats of all things. In this photo I took you can see the tiny male in the bottom left of the photo trying to approach the female as she gorges herself on some insect food. The same local went on to tell us that the male would soon suffer the same fate as the insect “meal” but not before he went about his reproductive business.

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As dusk approached, the quite of the rainforest took over. There is no mobile phone coverage in the Daintree, no signal, no data, nothing. And the TV reception at the house we stayed in was dodgy at best. The noise of the forest takes over, the birds and beetles humming away. The moon was in the final stages of the waxing gibbous phase and illuminated brightly the night sky. The lack of other radiant light added to the aura of seclusion. I didn’t have my full blown Manfrotto tripod with me, but a mini one that I carry always was the steady arm for this shot.

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Before the above photo we took a guided walk in the rainforest at night. That is for my next post, but my recommendation is for anyone to do it!

The next morning, the sunrise was serene and spectacular. I didn’t quite get the shot that I wanted, the lack of a tripod hampered me significantly. But this was the best I could do. I like the “ladders” on the ocean that the sun’s reflection caused.

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We had a couple more days in the Daintree, and we chose to do some other adventures – zip lining and kayaking (again both for my next post). But I think the highlight for me was actually walking in the rainforest itself. There are a number of boardwalks where you can walk both into the dry and wet parts of the rainforest, whilst ensuring that you don’t get lost. The only danger being the swarms of mosquitoes hungry for the sting. The mozzies were relentless around the wetlands, but on the dry rainforest floor not so much. But it was nothing that a spray of repellent couldn’t keep at bay. Walking through the forest with my travel partner in crime, my wife, brought back our sense of adventure that has gone a bit dormant as parents of a 3 year old. My wife and I love to travel together, and over the last 14 years we have been to many, many destinations around the world. When we do travel together we naturally take on designated roles. I am chief pilot/driver, repairman, photographer, scout, and sherpa. My wife is chief travel planner, logistics manager, chef, spotter, and a somewhat accurate navigator.

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The flora is spectacular and was the inspiration for James Cameron’s movie Avatar. The trees were very strange, and very seldom were adjacent trees of the same species. Here are two together, a regular tree being slowly consumed by a strangler fig. Eventually the strangler fig will devour its host and all that will remain will be the fattened roots of the strangler fig forming a tree on its own.

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A break in the forest canopy, caused by the last cyclone pounding the coastline is a prompt for regeneration. These Daintree fan palms are unique to this part of the world, and their leaf diameter was over a metre. For this part of the rainforest, this was the canopy.

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The Daintree is home to 28 different species of mangrove. You experience a significant change in your surroundings when you reach the wet part of the forest floor. The water runs off from the mountains and into the ocean. This is unlike anything that I have seen.

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The trees changed colour, notice all the orange, and it went from being very green to hues of orange and brown thrown into the mix.

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The muddy forest floor was teeming with crabs! Mostly they were no bigger than the palm of my hand and they were all shy. Everytime we came within a couple of metres of them, they burrowed back down in their holes. So to grab this shot I had to move slowly, silently, and softly on the boardwalk. It wasn’t until after I downloaded the image that I noticed the second one at the bottom of the shot who was motionless to avoid detection.

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While the waters of the ocean looked inviting it was very stinger season with the Irukandji jellyfish everywhere. The waters look sooooo inviting, even with the cloudy grey tropical sky.

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So the best place to take a natural dip is in the watering holes dotted around the forest. We went for a swim at Mason’s watering hole (no bikini shots of my wife allowed 🙂

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Tips for a trip to the Daintree Rainforest

The natural beauty of the rainforest is breathtaking. Here are some tips that I picked up for the next time when I take my son when he is older.

  1. Hire a four wheel drive (SUV) – a small hatch or sedan is not worth the bumps and discomfort. Even if the 4WD you hire is only a small.
  2. Make sure you bring mosquito repellant – you have been warned.
  3. A solid pair of hiking shoes will increase your mobility – it is a forest after all.
  4. If you a bringing a camera, one that is good in low light is best – the forest canopy significantly reduces the available light with which to shoot, even in the middle of the day. First side tip is to keep your camera handy when you are driving (I would have missed the cassowary shot if my camera was packed in the boot). Second side tip is to bring an underwater case if you have one (the forest climate is very wet).
  5. Bring a pair of binoculars if you have them – I am sure there were things I did not see in the canopy above my head because I wasn’t optically armed.
  6. Get used to not having a phone – who needs to be constantly connected anyway.
  7. Water, water, water – carry with you a bottle, camelbak, flask, whatever. It is hot and humid, and you want to keep going to see more.
  8. Careful what you touch – the plants are more of a danger than the animals.
  9. Careful what you pick to eat – most of it is poisonous.
  10. Relax and take in the world of micro – it is awe inspiring, but don’t expect to see child size lemurs jumping out of trees.

Magic Accommodation

Finally I want to put in a plug for the accommodation that my wife found. We stayed at the Sanctuary Bed and Breakfast house at Cape Tribulation. The house is spectacular and we had it all to ourselves. It sits in the forest canopy and is far enough away to be privately secluded, but close enough to get to most of the sights in Cape Tribulation within 15 – 20min. Just don’t forget not to leave out any food for furry or six legged visitors.

Here are a couple of photos of the house (and I shot a number of the photos in this post from the wooden deck).

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If there is one spot in the world that I have found to be as close to idyll, it would have to be Port Stephens on the NSW coast about 30km North of Newcastle. It is an absolutely beautiful part of the world and less than 3 hours drive North of Sydney. The port itself is a drowned valley estuary, and the large natural harbour that it makes is 134 square kilometres (52 square miles) in size. Here is what it looks like from the sky.

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For me it has everything that I want for a holiday at the beach, and one day I will live there (maybe when I am old(er)…). If you want water sport activities and fishing – tick. If you want quiet harbour beaches with no surf – tick. If you want bushwalking – tick. If you want sand dune adventures – tick. If you want relaxing by the beach – tick. And if you want riding then big tick.

So when my wife said “let’s go up to Port Stephens for the Australia Day long weekend”, I was dead keen to go up there again. This would be the first time my boy would be old enough to comprehend that this would be a fun trip, so a family trip was the order – with my road steed on the roof racks ready to go. This is where I thank my wife profusely for allowing me to indulge in some two wheel exploring of the port, and over the course of the long weekend I managed to squeeze in over 180km.

The riding is mostly flat, but when it does get to the hilly bits then it is a bit Jekyll and Hyde. What I mean by that is that it is either flat or stupidly steep. There is one hill leading from Corlette to Nelson Bay which hits 16% gradient – ouch! The steepest road I have ever ridden up is in Corlette, and it would definitely be over 25% gradient. I haven’t run the GPS over some of these routes yet, I will keep that for another time.

It is so picturesque riding through here, even when you are in the suburbs. There are many roads like this, with the beautiful and natural Australian bush right on the side of the road for kilometres on end.

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With all the surrounding national parks and preserved bush and wetlands, you are bound to see the natives. If you look closely you can see not one but two koalas in the same tree.

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A ride around the area always involves destinations like the serene Soldiers Point, which looks Westward and in the evenings to a setting sun. Early morning is not just the dominion of us cyclists, the fishermen love getting out on their boats too. But what is awesome about Port Stephens is that even at the boat ramps you can still find one that is not bustling.

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From Soldiers Point, to the West you can see a similar location known as Lemontree Passage. As the crow flies it is only some three to four kilometres away, but a round trip on the bike is close to 50 kilometres of riding. Of course I had to do that ride, and I was greeted to an awesome sunrise at the boat ramp at Lemontree Passage.

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I had to get a shot of my road steed posing with the boats of the Marine Rescue of New South Wales, who voluntarily commit to supporting the saving of lives on the water – 24 x 7. I never knew about this organisation before this last weekend, until I had the opportunity to talk to one of the volunteers who was raising money to keep their operations going. Just in Port Stephens alone last year they went out to over 100 calls.

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Finally, I had to snap this shot of a sign that held very true this last weekend. Yes Australia has some nasty critters, and Port Stephens has many of them. You have been warned…

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I often joke about the fact that the critter danger in Australia is overhyped, but on my rides I had to twice swerve to avoid a couple of small snakes on the road shoulder. No problems at 30+kph. But the crap my pants moment came when we spent the day at Fingal Bay where my son was begging to go for a ride on his balance bike. He got very tired after 3 kilometres in the heat and I ended up carrying his bike in my left hand with him sitting on my shoulders (as usual). Gazing at the beach and not looking where I was directly walking, I stepped on something rubbery but fleshy. As I turned around I saw what I didn’t want to see, one of these scurrying off into the sand dunes.

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And it was big, at least two metres long! Yes, I crapped myself. Because while I was trying to deny it what I had just stepped on was an Eastern Brown Snake – the second most venomous snake in the world. But he was scared, I was scared, and we called it a truce. My son from his perch said to me “Don’t worry Daddy, he is a nice snake because he didn’t eat us.”

I can’t wait to ride up here again next time – hopefully minus the serpents.

While I didn’t write up a big post that summed up my 2013, and I don’t really believe in New Year’s resolutions, I do use the changing of the calendar to refocus my goals. My first set of goals is related to cycling. Last year I got stuck into my bike quite a bit, particularly in the second half of the year. I did my longest ride ever (260km for Around the Bay – horrible ride), rode around a volcano (West Maui loop in Hawai’i), and had my first ride ever with my 3 year old son (the Pok and his Dad go Riding). I was off the bike for a fair few months early in the year having spent far too much time working interstate, but I managed to squeeze in about 4,780km of riding.

I wandered what this would look like on a map, and here it is.

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This would be the equivalent of riding from Port Macquarie to Sydney to Perth to Geraldton. Google tells me that this is about 49 hours of non-stop driving. It took me considerably longer than that. It falls far short of my mate Ben who lived the dream riding over in France as the TdF rolled on and some of my fellow bloggers like Frank at Serendipities of Life (huge kms last year and knocked on the head NZ top to tail and Sydney to Melbourne the long way) or Jim at Fit Recovery (who kept on plugging away all year for over 5,000 miles and earned his stripes for his new Specialized steed).

2014 Cycling Goals

So what are my goals for the year?

1. Stay healthy and avoid the prolonged bout of chest infection I had in 2013.

2. Be the same weight at 40 years old as I was at 21 years old  (I hit middle age in the middle of this year, only 5kg to shed).

3. Finish building my custom hardtail MTB steed.

4. Ride 7,500km for the year – a big step up on last year but I will be in Sydney for pretty much all of this year so it shouldn’t be a problem.

5. Get my son onto his first bike with pedals.

6. Ride my best times for the organised rides that I will participate in – Ride Around the Lake, Amy’s Gran Fondo.

7. Ride a couple of new organised rides that I haven’t done before – got three targets, should be interesting.

8. Ride in another country again this year – last year was the USA, this year probably the UK when we go visit our English relatives.

9. Ride 5 places outside of Sydney in Australia that I have never done before – my targets are Mt Stromlo in Canberra, somewhere else around Port Stephens, Mudgee (mmm… wine), Hunter Valley (mmm… wine), and somewhere else.

10. Don’t crash!

Should be a fun year in the saddle, looking forward to riding and exploring on two wheels!

After a torrential downpour and thunderstorms the night before, my planned morning Saturday ride was put on the back burner. To be honest, since my biggest ride down in Melbourne a few weeks back for Around the Bay I have backed off the cycling a bit to have a bit of a rest for both my body and head. But Summer is only a couple of weeks away now and I have got the itch to first complete my new MTB build and get back in the saddle and ride. Funny thing was this morning as I was about to add the next bit of my new MTB construct, the forks, my boy (AKA “The Pok”) turned around and said “Can we go for a bike ride?” He had a grip on the left side of his handlebars with one hand and his helmet in the other hand. But he didn’t just want to go for a spin with me walking (more like running to keep up) behind him, he wanted me to ride my bike with him. I thought about it for a split second, then told him “put your shoes on and let’s get ready to roll!” I was going to take my MTB steed with some road / urban shoes on it and take him for a ride.

Our First Ride Together

Living in the city, it is a bit dangerous for a little man to be riding, but fortunately we live within walking distance to one of the many parts of Sydney Harbour where there are walking paths along the shoreline. So as soon as we got down there we jumped in the saddle and off we went. There were puddles everywhere which was like waving a bit of candy in front of The Pok. Every puddle was a target to ride through, which meant for him wet shoes and socks (he is on a balance bike) … and a huge grin from ear to ear. Our destination was the corner store at one of the wharves around the corner from Darling Harbour in Sydney, and the reward was ice cream. I didn’t realise that this was going to be 2.5km riding away, but he didn’t balk at it for a second. The Pok was even foxing a bit with me in the set of mini races that we had, where he would slow down and lag behind waiting for me to back off a bit before he would shoot off and ride ahead of me yelling back “Daddy, I am winning and you are the slowest in the world”. This bit of trash talking was muttered several times, and I had to hold back my competitive rebukes (I will smash him in a few years when we are in a proper race so he understands the pecking order while I am ahead – hehehe – Dad’s rights). When we hit the propellers, we turned around and I couldn’t let this moment not get caught on film. Here is the video I took riding alongside him.

By the time we got back home we had knocked up 5km, pretty impressive for a recently turned 3 year old boy. The Pok came up to just as we reached our street and said to me in a contrite tone “Sorry for teasing you Daddy.” I didn’t get it and replied, “What were you teasing me about?”

He said “Sorry for teasing you about being slow.” Then he burst out giggling to run back and tell his Mum about our ride together. In recounting our little adventure he told his Mum, “When I get bigger and get a bigger bike, me and Daddy are going to go on a long ride together.” I am looking forward to that (and in kicking his butt in our next “race”

My cousin and her family live up on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. It is a pretty cool part of the East coast of Australia, with great beaches and natural beauty all around. We try and get up to visit at least once a year, but it has been a couple of years since the last time we came up and saw them (it might have something to do with a certain 2 year old in our house who is occupying our time and plans). Given it was a bank holiday long weekend in Sydney, we have taken the opportunity to come up and visit them – and of course my road steed has come up with me. When we arrived on the Saturday morning, rather than getting my cousin to come and pick all of us up, I reassembled the bike and rode down to their place for a quick 37km hit out. Winter in Queensland is surprisingly warm and I was riding in 25 degree temperatures. In fact I was parched by the time I got to her place having come up from a cold Sydney. But it was the next day’s ride that I was plotting and planning for.

A Ride into the Hinterland

I have been trying to get some climbing into my legs in preparation for the Amy Gillett Gran Fondo coming up next month. It is not easy on my local rides because the hills are short and sharp, but not enough for me to lock in for tens of minutes to put my head down and climb. I had mapped the ride out to upload to my Garmin, but this proved slightly more difficult than anticipated. I think the Garmin Connect route planner isn’t configured correctly for countries that drive on the “correct” side of the road (the left – where us Aussies, Kiwis, Brits, and Japanese all drive). The route basically plotted me riding out on the other side of the carriageway, and a couple of the stretches of road were on big highway sections with large roundabouts. Every time I hit a roundabout, the Garmin was beeping furiously telling me that I was off course only to resume when the road went back to being straight.

I headed away inland (West) from the Sunshine Coast and the Caloundra region. My cousin was warning me about the quality reception that I, as a cyclist, would receive from Queensland drivers. I was pleasantly surprised that I did not experience anything untoward. The thing is for me to understand that if I am a slower “driver” on a bicycle, why impede the cars that are going to overtake me anyway. A couple of times, even though technically I had right of way at an intersection, I chose to wave on the two or three cars that would speed off at 80kph. My destination was a place called Bald Knob which from what I could tell on the map would have a commanding view of the Sunshine Coast should I get up it. The route I mapped out on the Garmin website indicated that the climb would be an average 6.3% gradient – not a walk in the park, but I could manage easily for quite a distance at this incline (hours if I needed to). The reality of the climb turned out to be something different…

I think it was when I saw the sign that said “Caution Steep Ascent Next 2km”.

The road kicked up from 6% to 11-12% gradient and held that incline for… the next 2km. Did I say that I wanted to get some climbing in. It was at this point that I was wondering whether it would have been a good idea to get a 28-12 cassette on the rear wheel from my last service. There were plenty of other wanderings going through my head during this climb that also involved cussing the climb. So when it eased up after those 2km back to the 6% it was previously I was relieved with the respite. That was until there was another sign that read “Caution Steep Ascent Next 1km”. That 1km turned out to be 1.5km and it was back up to the nasty 11-12% gradient again. When I saw another rider bombing it back downhill on the other side of the road, my musings turned to throwing the towel in. But surrender was never going to happen, and I am sure that the cycling gods would have thrown me a flat tyre anyway if that was the path I chose.

I finally got to my turn that would bring me to my loop to come back. I finally decided to take in some food and the view – spectacular. Those are the Glass House Mountains that you can see in the distance.

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Here is another shot that is more towards the North-East, sans velo.

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The ride back was fun, with some gently undulating roads at speed. The best bit was on a super smooth bit of tarmac through a town named Peachester. 45kph through awesome winding roads covered over with dense eucalyptus trees. I wasn’t the only one out to enjoy the roads, there were a bunch of old couples who were out in proper vintage cars who decided that they would all meet up at Peachester for the breakfast.

The other thing I noticed were the funny place names. For non-Australians the traditional aboriginal place names must sound strange, but us Aussies are used to it. Better when you have places called Bald Knob, Sugarbag, Beerburrum, or Beerwah – everyone has to admit that these are just funny names.

I managed to pick up my pace again on the way back and for the 75km I rode, hit over 26kph – not bad for a solo ride and a grinding climb. There was just over 900m climbing in that ride too.

The Backup Ride

I would be lying if I said that my quads were not stinging a bit from the previous days climbing. But you have to back it up. This time I chose to hammer out a quick spin along the Sunshine Coast proper at speed. I only had an hour before I would take up the family stuff which was the real purpose of the trip. Winter in Queensland is awesome, and when in the middle of what is supposed to be the coldest season I get greeted with this – life is good.

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This was taken at a place called Currimundi Lake, which is right on the coast. I can imagine in Summer that this place would be packed with families enjoying themselves in the sand.

A lot of guys and girls ride triathlon around here, but even for a leisurely ride it would be enjoyable. If you want climbing, the Sunshine Coast and Hinterland has it. If you want flat all out speed, there is that too. Good times, and I can’t wait to come back up and explore more of this area on two wheels.

Our second stop on our Hawaii island hopping trip was the Big Island of Hawaii. The guidebook (yes I still do pick them up to get a point of reference) told me that Big Island’s area covers the area of all the other islands combined. So we were going to be in for a bit of driving. I did not know what to expect, as all I really knew about the island was a few things; it had cool volcanoes and one that was still active, it had Mauna Kea which is technically the tallest mountain in the world if measured from it’s base on the ocean floor (at over 40,000 feet it is taller than Mount Everest), there are the Koch observatories at top of Mauna Kea, and they do the Hawaiian Ironman triathlon there too.

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All cool things things to set the scene. I didn’t realise that it was from the Big Island that King Kamehameha I was born and set out to unite all the islands into the Kingdom of Hawaii. We did have a lot of fun trying to learn the pronunciation of his name.

Flying into the Big Island airport of Kona is one cool experience! They have carved the runways and airport complex out on a lava field on the Western side of the island. It is kinda spooky and otherworldly being on such a barren rocky landscape. My boy, The Pok, was a little awestruck at the sight – taking it all in. After picking up our bags, we went to get the rental car that we would be needing for the stay. At this point I tried to convinced my wife to revel in the fact that we were in the USA and upgrade our ride to a Chevy Suburban! My Father had no idea what I was referring to until he was shown the big black beast in the car park. I even tried the argument that we could drive over lava in it. What won the day was the luggage capacity – the Suburban was mine… well at least for 3 days.

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I wonder if this thing could drive over lava, definitely over small children.

As soon as we got out of the airport I realised why cyclists love the Big Island so much. The main roads had massively wide shoulders that were super-smooth like glass for miles and miles on end. The kind of stuff that us cyclists have dreams about (sad – I know). Driving along you get a sense of the scale of the island. Big Island as the name says is big. The western side of the island is also quite dry, as a result of the weather break caused by the two massive peaks of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. We stayed at the resort village of Waikoloa, which is pleasant but could be anywhere – except for golf courses which have lava fields for the rough. Waikoloa proved to be a good base to explore many of the sites on the Western side of the island. We pretty much relaxed for the first day and night allowing me to indulge in a bit of photography and tasting what would become my favourite Hawaiian dish – kalua pork loco moco. I don’t do photos of food, but here is the my attempt at a bit of photography art at dusk. The first night we were there was also when my brother and all his mates arrived from Canada for his wedding, and we did savour a few cocktails at the Marriott Hotel at Waikoloa.

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The North of Big Island

The second day we had planned two stops for our travels. First stop was Pololu Valley up North which was used as one of the locations for shooting Jurassic Park. The second stop would be night diving with manta rays (my next Hawaii post). The drive up to Pololu Valley took us through the town of Kapa’au This is where they have one of the three statues of King Kamehameha I who was the one who united (probably through lots of bloodshed) all the islands into a single kingdom.

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Pololu Valley itself is stunning, and it is one that I would like to come back to with hiking boots on. You are greeted with rock cliffs dropping into the ocean from the Kohala Mountains. I don’t think that any photo that I could take would do these cliffs justice. The valley is surreal, and lush, and inviting, with cloud resting on the shoulders of the valley. I can see why Spielberg and his crew would have chosen this location.

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Driving back along the Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway made me jealous as I wanted to be out on the road on two wheels. Did I say that the highway is a cyclist’s paradise, with a massively wide road shoulder and super smooth tarmac for miles, and miles, and miles. This was probably one of the worst sections of road. I am definitely going back to spin some wheels!

Hawaii Island - Cyclists

To the Volcanoes We Go!

The third day we took off to check out Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. From Waikoloa there is no direct route down to the South-West of the island where the park is located. So we knew were going to be in for a bit of a road trip – translation a few hundred kilometres of driving. We had a convoy of 5 cars with my brother, his fiance, and their mates along with one of my other brothers and my whole family (old people included). Heading South along the Western coast of the island the route took us through the Kailua-Kona region of the island. This is the world famous coffee growing belt of Hawaii. But it was not coffee that stopped us on the way – it was one of our crew’s yearning for Donkey Balls. That’s right, chocolate Donkey Balls – which are made there right in the store. There is every kind of tasty chocolate that you could imagine, and the packaging is a bit cheeky too. They also sell coffee – but we ALL stocked up on chocolate to fuel us for the trip. If you are driving through Kailua Kona, then I highly recommend anyone to pullover and taste.

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We continued driving along the Kona Coast for at least 100km constantly crossing old lava fields that had descended down from Mauna Loa and the Southwest Rift Zone to ocean. This part of the island is very green and the views from the highway down to the coast line are uninterrupted. Passing the town of Ocean View, we drove another 50km or so until we reached Punalu’u Beach. Our GPS unit told us to stop here and see the black volcanic sand beach, and if we were lucky some Green Sea Turtles. We were in luck, and the beach was beautiful – if not strange for its black sand. The sand is actually ground down volcanic rock that over the millenia has been eroded down to fine crystals. There were quite a few turtles swimming off the shoreline and a few up on the beach. Fortunately there were conservationists there as well to protect the turtles, who didn’t move as slowly as everyone makes them out to do.

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The National Park was only another 50km east of the beach and we set off again. Entry to the Park is cheap at $10 a car, which lasts for seven days. The Park includes the currently active Kilauea Caldera, where you can get close enough but at a safe distance from the open crater. Apparently at night there is an orange glow into the sky emitting from the caldera. Seeing an active volcano for the first time made me feel… small. It puts you in your place seeing the immense size of the caldera and what must have been an even larger active crater which it sits in. And it looked like the surface of the moon.

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You can see in the photo above the people walking on the crater bed, dwarfed by the immense landscape.

Further along within the park there are many hiking trails where you can walk through an old lava tunnel – minus the lava, and green forest trails. The Pok was having fun being in “the jungle” again, and this time he got to share it with his grandpare (my father). Even the fern fronds were massive, the one below in the photo was the size of my head.

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We hopped back in the cars to travel a bit further and see if we could see the lava fields at Kalapana which are dropping into the ocean. To get there we had to drive up to just South of Hilo and then drive back down to the coast. As we got close to the fields, the road turned into a jumbled mess of asphalt and lava – which was as close as I was going to get to driving on lava. Again I was left in awe of the size of the flows down the mountain side from the Kilauea Caldera. What shocked me were all the houses where the flow had just avoided the properties, but found a way around or across the roads that lead up to them. It was bizarre, but I guess if you made your home there then why move – this was their reality. By the way, did I say that lava looks cool?

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We waited until night fell to see if we could get some lava glowing on the river of rock – but it was a bit disappointing. All the tourist videos showing you the rivers of molten magma are epic, but you have to pay a lot of money and be fortunate enough to be there when the volcanic activity is roaring.

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I did try my hand at a HDR photo using my Canon Powershot G15, it works well for an in-camera driven setting.

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I think that next time we go to the Big Island, and there will definitely be a next time, we will take one of the ocean boat cruises that takes you to the ocean side of where the lava drops into the ocean. The tourism videos are the very best of the volcanoes that you could possibly see, but you are unlikely to experience this stuff unless you are a volcanologist or pro-photographer.

The drive back to Waikoloa was at night and the quickest route back was via Hilo and via the Saddle Road. Contrary to what the guide book says, they have just finished paving the Eastern side up Mauna Kea to almost freeway quality tarmac. The road takes you up to over 8,000 feet of elevation and that night took us up over the cloud line. As we reached the summit of the road just South of the Mauna Kea peak, we pulled over to get a glimpse of the heavens. One word – STUNNING. I have never seen so many stars in the night sky so clearly. My wife absolutely loved it too, but for all of us who hopped out of the car we just about nearly froze. The temperature difference between the coast and the Mauna Kea mountain side is close to 25 degrees Celsius. It was a long day in the car, but definitely worth it.

There are so many other things that we now want to do having seen what was on offer. The Big Island is one cool place which we can’t wait to go back to explore further.

Since coming back from Hawaii I have started a new job and been pretty time poor with normal life. So now I am settled it to the new role, I can get back to posting again and get some more kilometres down on two wheels. Back to the real world.

 

My trip to Hawaii is less than a week away now, and I am pumped. My brother’s future brother in-law has spurred me on and hired a road bike for the week in Maui. I have done the same, and now I am looking forward to doing some cool riding on the island. I am going to have to bring my pedals from my road bike along with my riding kit. As this is my first time to Hawaii, I have been doing some reading up on other blogger experiences of riding in Maui. It is some very interesting reading, particularly reading people’s accounts of climbing the Haleakala volcano – the longest climb in the world. At over 3000m, I don’t have the legs at the moment to attempt this ride, nor probably the time. Ryder Hesjedal, the Canadian pro-peloton rider and current Giro d’Italia champion holds the record at some 2 hr 32 min. But that was a ridiculous ride, where he pumped out over 350W of power for the whole climb. Most of the other cyclists that I am reading about are doing it somewhere between 4-6 hours. Below is the video of the Ryder’s assault on the Volcano in an attempt to beat his boss Jonathan Vaughters then record.

But I am getting the kms in the legs. I have racked up a couple of 60km rides and regularly now churning out a couple of quick 40km spins during the week too. I love this time of year riding in Sydney, perfect weather and fewer riders, walkers, and runners out on my routes. If I ever decide to go for a night spin now there are few people around the traps.

But back to my Maui riding coming up. The big gotcha that a lot of the cyclists talk about is the huge tradewinds that blow across the island pretty consistently. What they most talk about is planning the rides so that the routes are mostly in the shadow of the two volcanoes. It might take a bit of driving to get to the start of some of the rides, but it beats riding into the ridiculous headwinds that these tradewinds produce on a return leg. There are some fairly good roads, and a few that follow the coastline too. I am looking to get in quite a few long rides and hopefully a bit of climbing too. While Haleakala might be out of the question, there may be hope to ride some of the valleys up Puu Kukui. Here is hoping for 7 days of sunshine, cool weather and glass smooth roads (though I will settle for 7 days of good riding).

Maui tradewinds

One other thing that I am pumped for is my favourite organised ride of the year (even if it is the shortest), the Ride around the Lake down at Lake Illawarra. At only 40km long I am going to try and smash it, and believe I have the legs for it this year to have a bit of fun. I got a 42km ride in this morning with one of my riding buddies MG and felt some good power in the legs. I just need to shake off my annoying congested lungs.

I can’t wait to fly out next week!

A good friend of ours, whose son is also the same age as the Pok (our son), recommended to us a fantastic camping spot on the NSW Central Coast called Patonga. I must admit that while I have ventured up and down the NSW Northern and Southern coasts many times for holidays or a recreational break, for some reason I have not been very often to the NSW Central Coast. This is the area marked by the Northern side of the Hawkebury River and stretching up to the Hunter Region (where Newcastle and the Hunter Valley wineries are). The oversight on my part will not be made again, the area is stunningly beautiful. There is a large national park area, with walking tracks and trails for mountain biking. The beaches are calm and protected. And of course you have the Hawkesbury River and its many coves, inlets and tributaries. This area was originally the land of the indigenous Australian peoples – the Darkinjung. The Darkinjung have inhabitated the NSW Central Coast for over 25,000 years and there are still rock carvings preserved near Pearl Beach.

While the weather was a bit poor (we set off with me putting the bikes on the roof in the pouring rain), we got quite lucky – pitching our tent just before a shower and packing it up before another. We took a cruise down the Hawkebury River to Bobbin Head for a spot of lunch, and visited Pearl Beach and Umina Beach as well. Near Pearl Beach we also discovered a pristine nature reserve called the Crommelin Native Arboretum. I also got the chance to take the new MTB Steed out for a spin (that is my next post).

The Pok absolutely loved this trip with his Mickey Mouse in tow and exploring “the jungle”. Though he was awestruck at the giant pelicans near the Patonga jetty. All in all a great short break that we will be going back to, and all within less than a 90 minute drive from the Sydney CBD. Below are some of the photos I shot while down there, but I was not really in the mood for photography so much as enjoying the break. I did get the chance to shoot (photograph) some native Australian birds in their habitats, a couple of macro shots of the native fauna, and some eucalypt blue hued landscapes. As usual, the images from this post link through to the larger photos on my Flickr site.

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If you want to know where Patonga is on the map, I have attached a link (the map image below) to the location on Google Maps.

Google Maps - Patonga NSW

I took the bike with us down to the campsite at Shellharbour on our recent trip, and was keen to get out and explore the trails around the area. Last time I spent any length of time in this area was when I was a child, and we always found ourselves skipping over this region and travelling further south to either Kiama, Gerringong, Shoalhaven Heads or Jervis Bay. With the trip to Shellharbour being well under two hours drive from Sydney, I don’t think this will be the last time we head down there.

Riding between Christmas and New Year means that there are not too many cars about in the mornings, and you can start a little bit later. My fear is that I was going to be spending a lot of time on the road, with no view of water. I was wrong! There is an awesome bike path that runs from Shellharbour to the Windang Bridge. What a great way to kick off your morning ride by riding next to the ocean and inlets that pepper the NSW South Coast. Below is the route that I marked out, and the link to the location on Google Maps.

Shellharbour - Windang Bike PathThis route also takes in Barack Point, which was an awesome spot to take my son for a swim (which we did on New Years Day). The water was only as deep as my waist at high tide, and the wide sandy shores were plenty of fun to splash around in. I stopped to take some pics along the way to the Windang Bridge. (All the images link through to the larger images on my Flickr site).

Riding - Barrack Point

Riding - Barrack Point

Riding - Windang

Riding - WindangGetting over the Windang Bridge brought me to a route that I have done a few times before – around Lake Illawarra. I had done it three times previously in the Ride Around the Lake, which is an organised 40km spin around the Lake Illawarra to raise funds for my|place Youth Housing in the Illawarra region. It is a great community ride that I have done with my Aunt who lives down that way (and who goes hard even above the age of 50). This time there were road closures or Police helping me out – in fact it was only me and the bike. So I rode the track from memory with all the turns and road crossings, and had to lift the bike a few times over barriers (cyclocross style) but it was the perfect morning for it.

Lake Illawarra is really beautiful with plenty of sea life, protected wetlands, and bird life. The bike path takes you around most of it, but is broken up by Koong-Burry Bay wetlands. The diversion is a short stretch on the freeway. One thing I was shocked at was how much glass from used bottles of alcohol littered the shoulder of the freeway, it was like dodging land mines. I took a few more photos before putting my head down to clock up the kilometers.

Riding - Tuggerah Bay

Riding - Koong-Burry Bay

Riding - Koong-Burry Bay

Riding - Koong-Burry Bay

There is one gem of a segment on this route, down hill bombing on Cormack Avenue in Dapto. Even on my MTB steed and not pushing it I clocked 59km/hr – too much fun! Just be careful of the little gutter lip at the bottom of the road.

This was my last ride for 2012. Like all sad cyclists who fester over their numbers (be it speed, kilometers / miles, weight – etc.) I clocked up 2,347km of measured riding for 2012. I only bought my Garmin Edge 800 in May last year, and I reckon there is probably another 1,000km of unmeasured km to add to that. So that would have taken me from Melbourne to Mackay in Queensland. Not bad – but time to do more.

Happy New Year everyone – I am looking forward to plenty of adventures in 2013.

 

 

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