(June 14, 2020 – written by Dave)
You have to hand it to the weather people. They got the forecast today 100% perfect. They called for ran starting about 4AM and for it to be heavy. Yup, right at 4AM it started raining so hard that it woke us up in the hostel. They called for decreasing showers at 9AM and no rain after 10:00. Bang on 9:30 the rain stopped. At 10AM when we exited Newcastle we had some very impressive clouds rolling just ahead of us for the next hour or so. But we stayed dry the entire ride – happy days.
We had all of 1k to ride before our first break of the day – that is, the Newcastle to Stockton ferry. Our Sydney public transportation cards worked on the passenger-only ferry, making us almost feel like locals. It took all of 5 minutes for to reach the Stockton peninsula.
The ride up the Port Stephens Peninsula to Nelson Bay is not overly exciting. For the most part it’s completely flat on a fairly busy road. At least the road has a nice shoulder. Today we had tailwinds making progress fast and steady.
We had two diversions on the road. The first was a stop a Saxbys Bakery. Aren’t you required to stop at all bakeries when passing on a bike tour? The bakery is billed as having great coffee and awesome pies. In truth, they have ordinary coffee and average pies or perhaps we hit them on a bad day. They are the only stop out on the main peninsula highway so I think they have a captive audience.
For our second diversion we took a 10k short-cut off the highway on Marsh Road. Marsh Road is actually shorter and more direct than the highway but it is pretty bumpy complete with drive slow signs and potholes. Most of the cars take the highway – other than a few “Ricky racer” types who want to chance the potholes. It’s a funky road that barely sits above mangrove swamps on both sides. There a few houses out there but it has a real back-roads Kentucky feel.
Once back on the highway the wind picked up and we had a lovely cruise into Nelson Bay. We found a cafe for lunch, hit Woolies for dinner supplies and hung out on the waterfront. Our fast cycle meant that we reached the ferry dock almost 3 hours early for the 3:30 sail. Oh well, hanging out in the sun and watching the Nelson Bay boat harbour coming and goings was more than entertaining.
The ferry to Tea Gardens is pretty small and it only re-started running within the last week or so. We were nervous that we couldn’t get seats or that our bikes wouldn’t fit. There were also rumours that bikes had to be unpacked and stowed on top of the ferry. We needn’t have worried. Counting us, there were a grand total of 4 passengers on the ferry, the bikes got to go on the inside and minimal unpacking was required.
The ferry is a one hour sail, with half crossing Port Stephens and the other half heading upriver to Tea Gardens. Crossing Port Stephens can be rough and with the wind up some of us were nervous. Not to worry, the sailing was mostly smooth with only a little sea spray making it over the bow when we hit the bigger waves. With the sailing starting at 3:30 we had some lovely twilight near the end as we made our way up river past the mangrove swamps. For the record, we didn’t see any dolphin crossing the open water.
Tea Gardens and Hawks Nest feel like they are a million miles from Newcastle. Sure, they have some nice houses up here but they really stick out. There are lot more fishing shacks and rougher looking boats. We couldn’t dally in town however as we had 3k to ride to reach the campground before dark. We made it, but neither of us could resist quick photos of the “Watch out for Koalas” signs.
We are staying at Jimmy’s Caravan Park. We haven’t seen much of it since it was almost dark when we arrived and we were focusing on getting the tent up before total darkness but the camp kitchen, bathrooms and park overall are quite nice. There were heaps of kookaburras when we arrived so we’re expecting a real show tomorrow morning – they like to get up a dawn – we don’t.
Tomorrow we have 50k and maybe as much as 30k of dirt. We’ll be giving the gravel bikes a go on what they are made for. We hope to make it Seal Rocks but it shouldn’t be too hard as sunny skies are forecast for the entire day.