Cycle touring in Australia :
I can’t tell you much since we only did a three day tour, some some day trips and drove the rest during our two and a half week visit to Australia. Personally, I wouldn’t choose Australia to do a long tour, as the long distances where you don’t really see something new each day. But, I know others who have toured there, and they truly enjoyed it, just click over to crazyguyonabike to read loads.
To give an idea of distances, we visited a little sandy cove six to seven hours drive east of Melbourne by car called Shipwreck Creek. From the Pacific Highway to the campsite was a good hour’s drive, with some of it on a four wheel drive road. So a visit to this delightful little cove would easily have been a day’s riding in and one day back to the highway and you wouldn’t have progressed far on your overall journey.
On the plus side, there were plenty of places to free camp in Australia, very clean campsites, great service and contrary to all the warnings we had about the drivers we enjoyed the cycling there.
Our route :
We had a few great days cycling around Melbourne and then drove up to Sydney with a few stops on the way. In the Blue Mountains we had tree wonderful days cycling, even though I had a stomach flu, lost my light and a had bad back. When then had a fantastic drive up to Brisbane where we got to see some beautiful views over beaches and waterfalls. Australia is beautiful though a long way between the places.
Drivers and driving in Australia:
I was a bit worried about driving again after a few years off and with a clear memory of how drivers are in the UK given that I’m a daily cyclist there. Then there were the warnings from locals about drivers in Australia, both when driving and cycling there.
We were happy to find that in the 2000+ kilometres we drove down there, it was pretty painless. I was really surprised how the Aussie drivers kept within the speed limits, gave space to each other and didn’t have to be in front at all costs as we are used to in London and the UK.
Yes, we did have a wee bit of tailgating, but that was the worst we experienced. Everyone seemed to rely on the cruise control, driving at say 100km/h, or rather their car’s interpretation of 100km/h. This did make overtaking a slow procedure: with no one wishing the break the speed limit, they crawled past gradually at what seemed to be a snail’s pace.
In the 1200Km we drove from Melbourne to Sydney we where only overtaken twice and each time there was a formal overtaking lane. I always tried to keep the needle just below the speed limit as I didn’t wanted to get fined. I even tried to see how slow I could go before the cars behind me would overtake and I managed to get do 90km/h in a 100km/h before I gave up this little game. Even when the road was flat as a flat thing and you could clearly see a mile or more up and down the road the other road users stayed behind in a calm orderly fashion.
Cycling and being a cyclist in Australia :
Again we were warned about the Aussie drivers but had only good experiences while cycling there. True, we didn’t do that much cycling so we can’t really generalise, but:
Melbourne is simply screaming to become the Copenhagen or Amsterdam of the southern hemisphere. With its big wide roads (in a grid), Melbourne is very flat and already has a good (and getting better) cycling network. Even a cycle lane suspended beneath a highway flyover, now how’s about that for a cool way of using that empty space? We did some tourist pootling around in the city and went out further on some longer rides. When we had to share the roads with other road users we were given plenty of space and on steep hills where we were going slowly they stayed behind until it was clear to overtake. A great place to visit if you’re a cyclist in Melbourne is the Degani cafe, a cycle shop and cafe in one and they even have their own cycling team.
Sydney looked to be a good spot to practice your hill cycling and a bit more chaotic. Though again we didn’t experience any problems while cycling there. Just as we were admiring a fellow cyclist on his skills in the lumpy North Sydney on his fixed we got rather disappointed, as he jumped up on the pavement and then jumped a red light a little later, naughty cyclist. Even out in the Blue Mountains we were given plenty of space and have no scary near misses to report. If you should find yourself in Sydney do visit City Bike Depot as they went out of their way to help us. If you are planning to cycle in Sydney do have a read and join Sydney Cyclist, good bunch of people over there.
In both Melbourne and Sydney we took our bicycles on the local trains without any problems. I’m pretty sure that if you travel outside rush hour and against the travel you are just fine like most other places I have travelled with my bicycle on public transport.
In Brisbane we didn’t get to cycle at all, but saw plenty of cyclists about. Though from what we heard there, it is more the hills, humidity and chance of tropical rain that would your biggest worries when cycling there. From the little I drove around there, Brisbane did look a little confusing but I’m sure that on a bicycle you would be about nice and fast.
In Brisbane and Melbourne I saw their version of the Velib/Boris bikes. Though they did look more used in Brisbane than Melbourne, we didn’t see a single person riding them. They were not used as much as we saw in London in the few weeks the BorisBike scheme was up and running before we left.
Remember, this comes from someone who lives in London and I’m basing my comparison on cycling every day in London. I can only say that you are in for a treat when cycling about in Australia. Though you do need to endure the loooong distances and of course the heat.
When to visit :
Hmm, I can’t really advise. I can just tell you when we went, because it all depends on where you are going and what you want to do down there. We arrived early spring (Sept/Oct) in Melbourne and worked our way up north to Brisbane. The main reason for our visit there was to catch up with friends and do some day trips on the bikes, and a mini-tour.
Our friends down under all said that we arrived with the good weather and we enjoyed some very good days. Yes, the wind was a bit cold, but generally it was like a warm spring for us from the northern hemisphere. We did get some days with rain and somewhat cold but you will get that when you go up in the Dandenongs outside Melbourne and the Blue Mountains outside Sydney.
I have experienced the Australian summer and it’s nice and hot, but honestly I wouldn’t like to cycle much in that heat. Especially when they suffer so much with the lack of fresh water (though the just had a very wet winter) and rely on tank water which isn’t always that clean. To beat the heat our friends told us that the local cycle groups tend to go out at 5am or even before in the summer. Now that is not something I would do since I like my bed :)
Camping and camp grounds :
We didn’t stay at many campsites in Australia, five in all, but we managed to visit two more. And all of them were just so clean, one I felt like having a wash before going to have a shower, and very well kept with very helpful staff. What also surprised me a bit is that many of these campsites didn’t have a big fence around them. One of them we only figured out was a campsite when we parked at the beach surrounded by tents.
Getting there :
Since it is an island you are not really spoilt for choice on how to get here, so you pretty much have to sail or fly. Finding the right flight for you will be bit of a headache if you are bringing your own bicycle. And is trying to join your trip to Australia with a tour elsewhere. As you have to think about your luggage allowance, where to store a bicycle box or get one at all and is your allowance transferable to other airlines etc. All major airlines fly there so a good chance to get a good offer if you plan long enough ahead. Though be prepared for a loooong flight.
Border Control :
Australia along with New Zealand has a rather strict control over what you can and can’t bring in. Such as fruits and other foods, animals and even dirt. It is not for your amusement it is rather serious and there is quite a few examples of something having been taken in which has done some serious damage to not just the agriculture but to the plants and wildlife, some of which only exist in Australia.
So when you are planning to visit Australia do give your bicycle a good scrub behind the ears, mudguards, tyres etc. It’s a very good chance to do that full service you have been putting back and back. Even your tent needs a good scrub along with the poles and pegs: another good time to do that reproofing you have been planning.
While our bicycles got checked over in Melbourne airport I saw a couple who had been tramping/hiking around Asia getting their boots sterilized by the airport staff.
So do clean your gear good and proper. You don’t want to be known as the person who killed off the cute Koala bear, now do you?
Internet access :
They are online and know what the www is, though it is not as fast as you might be used to if you are from the top side of the world. I’m sure that most major cities will have the odd wifi hotspot, where the small towns have internet cafes. Remember them? I was lucky to stay with friends who had ADSL but the speed isn’t the same as I’m used to in the UK. They probably have a limit on how much traffic they can have per months, so do check before you upload all your holiday photos.
Memorable things :
The early warning smell of the road kills, yuk.
That Australia is somewhere between the USA and UK, funny mix.
Wild life in abundance that was rather keen on finding out what was in our tent at night.
Cyclist with zip ties in their helmets to fend off the magpies.