(July 4, 2020 – written by Dave)
Our original goal for this trip was to reach the Big Banana. We aren’t really “big thing spotters”, but the Big Banana gave us something to shoot for. We were super excited (OK, maybe that was just me) to reach our goal in Coffs Harbour. For sure it was one of the trip highlights. Because we had time and good weather, we extended the tour and ended up riding from Sydney to Byron Bay and on to Casino. Below are a few random trip thoughts and highlights.
Big Thing highlights: Along the way to reach the Big Banana, we spotted a handful of other “Big Things.” Not all of the Big Things are famous. Some don’t even make the state list – the Big Gold Dog for example. And others, such as the Big Windmill aren’t really all that big relative to the proper scale. Still, it was fun to chase big things. The complete list and the year each was built follows:
- The Big Banana, 1965 – Coffs Harbour
- The Big Prawn, 1989 – Ballina
- The not as Big Prawn, 1991 – Pacific Highway, disused servo near Newcastle
- The Big Bowl (as in lawn bowl), 1975 – Lake Cathie
- The Big Golden Dog, 1964 – Glenreagh
- The fake Big Banana, unknown– Approaching Nambucca Heads
- The Big Windmill, 1972 – Coffs harbour – not really that big but it is on the big things list
Travel summary: We travelled for 22 days, including one day on the train riding home. In those 22 days, we rode our bikes on 15 days. We covered 1,082 kms or 672 miles and we climbed a total of 7,441 metres or 24,400 feet. We’ve ridden further and climbed more on trip but this trip was not about setting records, it was just about getting out. We set out with a rough goal, the Big Banana and two weeks in, changed the goal to reaching Byron Bay. It was really nice to be able to have the life flexibility to change plans and extend the trip.
Bike issues: We had ZERO bike issues on this trip – no flats, nothing breaking and no need for spare parts. The grand sum of maintenance required on the trip was tightening two bolts on Nancy’s bike, oiling the chains after a rainy day and pumping the tires up twice (once after letting air out to ride the dirt road near Seal Rocks). I put this down in large part to having newish, high quality bikes. Things started to wear out near the back end of our 20 month Americas trip because of the beating those bikes took over such a long trip.
Sleeping summary: We mixed up tent and inside sleeping. We would have liked to camp more but it was actually pretty cold some nights, plus the humidity on the coast was insane. Our tent did pretty well but some mornings the rainfly was super wet. Luckily we had nice mornings when camping and were always able to lay things out in the sun to get them dry before packing. Our sleep summary:
- 8 nights – Tent in caravan park
- 2 nights – Hotel
- 8 nights – Hostel
- 2 nights – Caravan in caravan park
- 2 nights – Caravan park apartment
We have an ongoing debate within the LWOP team as to whether our tent is big enough. The tent is a Nemo DragonFly 2 person. It is just wide enough for our 2 person Nemo sleeping quilt with air mattresses. There is enough room in the head for some gear but bags also need to be left outside under the rainfly.
I love the tent for its packed size and weight. Plus I love that it has a small footprint and could be set-up on a bed in a really dodgy hotel, or more realistically, on a camping platform in say, a Japanese temple. Nancy thinks we need a bigger tent for the “average” night because the side to side space is crowded. If we ever get to tour in Japan, we’ll have to settle this before go.
Bikepacking Vs Siege Touring: We really enjoyed the weight of our bikes on this trip. We could easily lift a bike to move it and climbing hills was downright pleasant, except perhaps the really steep bits. We had plenty of warm gear as this trip was in winter but in truth, both of us identified a couple clothing items that we’d add for the next trip. As we both had space for the “extras” we wanted to add we’d probably lean towards this kind of modified bikepacking style for the next trip.
Of course, everything adds up. If I lose the bigger tent discussions, perhaps we’ll slip back over to the siege bikes and style.
The train vs hire car: Hindsight arrived the night before we boarded the train home in Casino. Dreading the 12 hour train ride, Nancy asked, “why didn’t we just hire a one-way car?” It would have been much easier than having to pack up the bikes in boxes. Upon returning home, we looked at one-way car hires and discovered that right now, the one-way fee is slightly more than the train ticket for two people. So, one or two people, the train is cheaper – three or more people and a one-way rental could be cheaper.
Bikes go on the train boxed. They provide you with a regular bike shop box if you ask them in advance. You have to remove the pedals, the handlebars, the racks and take off the front wheel. It took us about an hour per bike. We annoyed the train people showing up at 6AM but we needed all the time before our 8:20 train for getting things sorted.
The 12 hour train ride worked out fine. We were both ready to be off the train but time went pretty fast. We had three older (older than us) eastern Sydney suburbs ladies sitting across from us and they proceed to empty the buffet car of white wine, then start on the reds. We calculated that they each had 6 small bottles (which had 1.8 drinks per bottle) in the 6 hours they were on the train after the alcohol service started! They kept us entertained for a good part of the trip. If you were to drive a car, you’d miss these exciting side shows – for better or worse!
Travelling in the Covid era: We were a little nervous travelling with Covid still going strong in some places. Our state is still recording new cases but nearly all of them (greater than 95%) are coming from international travellers quarantined in Sydney hotels. There are basically zero cases being recorded in the areas where we travelled.
Early on, every place we stayed seemed to have heightened rules about recording contact details and extra cleaning processes in place. The further north and further from Sydney we got, things seemed more relaxed. New South Wales was relaxing restrictions so it could be that it became more relaxed everywhere. Neither of us minded leaving our contact details as it seemed like a smart idea (though we did get our first robocall not long after these procedures started – hmm). And if anything, finding public toilets with soap, paper towels and clean toilets was a nice change – so we didn’t mind the extra Covid requirements.
Even though Australia has had a spike in cases lately, it is mostly down in Victoria and in the grand scheme of things it is small. We are lucky to live where we live and still be able to travel. We stopped riding when we reached close to the Queensland border but as of 10th of July, that border will open to NSW residents. We are already talking about taking a trip up there because it will be warmer and it’s cold back here in Sydney now!
Could we live here: On these trips we always look for new places where we might be interested in living. This trip we found a couple potential targets but nothing that said “move here now”. Further research is required…
Newcastle – hip, beach vibe, riding ok but not many hills
Yamba – quiet coastal community, great seafood, not so great riding (flat as)
Byron Bay – still hip enough for us even with gentrification, great riding out in the hinterlands, billed as more expensive than Sydney so… Maybe not for us.
So that’s it. The next post will come when we figure out where we go next. Happy 4th of July to the American readers and for everyone, be safe and keep Covid at bay best you can. Good luck.