Brisbane to Sydney by bicycle in 2001: Day 5 – Bowraville to South West Rocks

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Grant deals with “double dogshit day” at Scott’s Head.

Breakfast this morning is elementary and fruity consisting as it does of a floury apple and two overripe bananas. When I look outside on the balcony, I notice that for the first time in our expedition the weather is not perfect. It is cloudy and there is definitely the feel of rain in the air.

With not much to hang around for, we are ready and set to go at 7:15am. We make our way out of the silent and slumbering pub. First port of call is Macksville at 15kms away.

Macksville is another reason for Bowraville’s demise. The towns are too close together and Macksville has two big advantages over its rival. It is on the Pacific Highway and on the big Nambucca River.

We soon come one of the Nambucca tributaries which leads us all the way to Macksville. The clouds soon reveal their rain. But it reckoned without our secret weapon that won the battle for us in a ritual which was to be repeated several times today. As soon as the rain was deemed sufficiently heavy to warrant cover, Grunty stopped and retrieved his raincoat out of the panniers. No sooner had he put it on then the rain stopped.

Next week we would be desperate for Grunty’s raincoat brigade to work its magic on the weather but by then it would be defeated by heavily superior forces. For now however, Grunty with his jacket on meant only good news and fine weather for us.

We pass the sign inviting us to detour 30kms to Taylor’s Arm and its famous “pub with no beer”. Hardly a drawcard likely to inspire, I would have thought. Taylor is unable to twist my arm and we stick with Macksville.

After a couple of loops around town, we locate a riverside coffee shop with all the trimmings. It is done up in American diner style with a long bar, high wooden benches and plenty of built-in kitsch. Three egg and bacon muffins are eagerly devoured so we can forget the taste of our earlier floury, fruity offering. They serve impressive beersteins of coffee here too.

The rain recommences its onslaught as soon as we leave the cafe but it is not long before Grant’s natty Netti coat does the business once more. Out of Macksville we have a few kilometres of Pacific Highway to deal with until we find the turnoff to back to the coast.

Today is the first day both Grunty and Muddy (who shop in the same store) are wearing identical cycling tops. They look like an impressive Tour de France team as we hug the Warrell Creek towards the sea. And me, can I add to this cycling sartorial harmony? Nope, I’m dressed in one of my Dagwooddogsville Kentucky, fading and most holier-than-thou t-shirts. It doesn’t impede my progress however and all six wheels arrive in the seaside town of Scotts Head at pretty much the same time.

On the hill above town we admire Scott’s phrenology. There are ample photo opportunities across the bay towards Nambucca Heads and the estuary of the river that gives the town its name. I try to put my Heads together in my camera lens but no picture comes out. The batteries have run flat, we have to zoom down the hill to the general store and meet its loquacious owners. Between selling me AAA batteries and giving me change, they tell us about the recent newsworthy event in these parts.

Somewhere near here, a Chinese boat carrying refugees tried to smuggle them ashore like Cornish contraband. Most of the refugees were picked up by police but a few escaped capture. Not sure what refugees could expect to do in these parts unless they enjoy surfing.

As we speak, three crusty old diggers of the surf (none of whom look like Chinese refugees) are emerging from the nearby water after their morning session. They are friendly souls and one of them insists on taking an action photo shot of the three cyclists on the beach complete with machines. A somewhat fabricated photo emerges.

At some point Grunty trods in doggie doo. And shortly thereafter he repeats the feat for good measure. “Double Dog Shit Day” is born.

Like the poo, the sand here is too soft for cycling but we would other better beaches for beachriding activity. We say farewell to the jovial surfers and set off back up the hill for Grassy Head. We are creatures consumed by compromise.

The Book recommends we stay a night in Grassy Head making today a half day journey and then take another half day tomorrow to get to South West Rocks. But we prefer the notion of a whole day off so are prepared to strike Grassy Heads from our sleeping register. As it turns out, this is a good move indeed. Unless you’ve got a tent (and we don’t carry this type of currency) you don’t stand a chance of a bed in Grassy Head.

Unless of course, you belong to a religious organisation. There are quite a few grand looking compounds dotted along the road dedicated to the spiritual comforts of assorted religious groups. Oh to be a Trappist or have tentish trappings. Without God or tarpaulins to comfort us, we simply move along. Before we go, we wander through Grassy Head’s campsite. There isn’t even a store here as far as I can see. What Book in its right mind would recommend this place to a cyclist? There is however a pathway which leads to a lookout above the beach behind the campsite. Being suckers for lookouts, we hop off the bikes and head for the hills. Half way up the hill there is a monument ‘erected by Alexander McKenzie in memory of his beloved brother who perished in the nearby creek in 1859’. I don’t quite know why but I am deeply touched by this display of fraternal affection.

The lookout gazes out over the wetlands and the mouth of the Macleay river whose entrance has steadily changed its position in the last 150 years now meeting the sea further south at South West Rocks alter a series of floods drove it away from Grassy Heads. South West Rocks itself seems tantalisingly within touching distance just beyond the river mouth but there is no bridge on the road directly south so we will have to do a serious detour inland in order to get there.

Our last stop along this stretch of coast is Stuarts Point. Here we had hoped that perhaps the beach might be navigable to the river mouth and maybe there was a ferry across to the other side. I’m not quite sure why we entertained these ideas but we were wrong on both counts. We can get to the beach, which is a short trip across a footbridge from town but the beach itself is impassable down to the river. I take some more calendar shots of the well matched cycling duo with South West Rocks as an imposing and tantalising background.

Back in Stuarts Point proper, our arrival is choreographed neatly with the noise of stomach rumblings. Lunch is served at the local shop that does a fine line in steak sandwiches. With the lot. Steak, eggs, bacon, cheese, beetroot, tomato, onion, lettuce, everything except native wildlife is crammed onto my bun and gives my jaws useful stretching exercise.

Above us, a large cloud is marshalling its forces for another assault and we may well be forced to bring in the heavy artillery of Grunty’s rainjacket in an effort to combat its black might. No sooner are we back on the bikes after lunch when the cloud launches an opening volley in our direction. It is just a warning splatter over our bows for now. Encouraged by its success, it lets loose with more serious water cannon. Grunty stops to put on his war jacket and for the third time today the cloud scuttles away in defeat with its tail between its legs.

Its an undulating trip back to the Pacific Highway but at least we sidestep a big hill that I thought we would have to climb when I saw it outside of Stuarts Point. Big dark clouds surround us but none of them are game to take us on in battle. We are now back on the busy highway and we will have to put up with the traffic for a further 15kms until we get to the South West Rocks turnoff. A fast piece of road with a wide shoulder keeps us out of harm’s way and we locate the turnoff after a rapid half hour’s rambling.

The last leg of our journey takes us back northwards to the township. It’s a rare northbound experience for us and it’s damn good to experience the assistance of a tail wind. We do the last 15 riverside kilometres in close formation each taking turns in the vanguard. It is an exhilarating sprint, flogging the last reserves of energy knowing the finish line is close and a Rest Day awaits. We cross over the Macleay and beyond us are the hills of South West Rocks and the nearby Smoky Cape lighthouse.

We feel in our bones that our destination is going to be a beautiful place and well worthy of the Rest Day we are about to bestow on it.

Come with us, we are about to blow you away on bicycles. Welcome to South West Rocks (the name of the town is a ready-made radio jingle). We fly into town spirits soaring at the end of another satisfying day in the saddle.

Our arrival is town is greeted by sunshine, the first real sunny outbreak of the day. The soreness doesn’t count right now. There are two last dull kilometres of outskirts to negotiate. The wide shopping centres of big town suburbia are here too. A lot of people do well out of South West Rocks and their needs must be catered to. We, however, are not interested in this facet of life in the town. We pedal on to the town centre and the amphitheatre of Horseshoe Bay that it sits on.

A caravan park has the prime site on the bay. And it will do for us. We found out later that its lease has only seven or eight years left to run before it is returned to a nature reserve. A delightful gift back to the landscape. But for now, I was happy the caravan park was here and in business. It looks just the perfect spot for us to hole out for two days.

Tomorrow was the first of the two wondrous luxuries we had promised ourselves, a Rest Day. The very name sends repose through my bones. For one day only, my calves would not be singing to the tune of veal meat again. For one day only, we wouldn’t have to go through the ritual of packing everything up. That was the good news. The bad news was the caravan park was booked out for tomorrow night (Thursday) and we could only stay one night.

Damn, we would have to move tomorrow after all, albeit only a short distance away. Let’s leave it as tomorrow’s problem, today we die here. We all wanted to take advantage of this park’s wonderful position and agree to take the one night on offer. We are all exhausted but happy to be in this pretty locale. The town overlooking the bay contains a lively and crucial quadrant of commerce that looks like serving all our needs. Beyond the beach are the grassy cliffs heading towards the long strand of Trial Bay. At the end of the bay lies Trial Bay Gaol, a place I hope to visit tomorrow. On the other side of Horseshoe Bay lies a creek and beyond the creek another beach. Beyond the creekside beach could be seen the pier at the estuary where the Macleay empties all its river spew into the ocean.

The beaches themselves look pristine and white and the mighty view north towards the Nambucca and Coffs in the far distance was tolerably easy on the eye. And when the eye is so relaxed, the body can’t be far behind. Mudster needs a little outside help to confirm this and so he disappears off into town to see if he can get a well-earned massage somewhere tomorrow morning.

All of us make independent plans for some parcel of time in this town though I think we are all agreed on a visit to Trial Bay Gaol at some stage of the proceedings. Meanwhile there is some clothes washing to be done. It gets done. There is some swimming to be done. That definitely gets done too. Grunty and I go to the main beach and test out its busy waters. And so for the first time in the trip outside the shower, Grant gets seriously wet. The waves in Horseshoe Bay are large and enjoyable as they pound on you near the shore. There are plenty of people splashing about. We get some boyish enjoyment from watching some of the beach denizens’ more pointed behaviours. The joy of the day is immense. I feel energised and I suspect those doughty endorphins are dousing down the thalamus in preparation for their own rave party.

Another long day travelled, and daily I gain more and more a sense of doing something worthwhile if perhaps also completely daft. Afier drying off, I take a solo wander around the cliffs either side of the bay. My camera dissolves in chattering panic as I steal my memories from South West Rocks.

But where am I hiding my stomach while all this is going on? It surely cannot be too long before she bellows. And she bellows loud and proud when the time comes. We congregate back at the caravan. Muddy has happily booked himself a massage for tomorrow morning. We discuss the lie of the land around town. Talk inevitably turns to the matter of food and drink. It is 5pm and the lure of the Sea Breeze hotel sitting proudly by the bay proves too fierce for me to reject any further. The other two show more restraint and promise to join me within the hour.

I set off alone and make my way up the hill. I pass the line of Norfolk pines, the proud staple of many Australian beach towns, and they remind me of the convict spirit that built Australia, a curious chapter of which I will check out tomorrow. I come to the pub armed with my journal and having found a seat near the front window I begin to describe the events of the day with the spiritual aid of two schooners of Victoria Bitter and a packet of salt and vinegar chips. And I think to myself “These are crisps not chips. Just look at them” I held one up and examined it closely “they are too scrawny to be a chip off the old shoulders. And think of all the unnecessary confusion between chips and hot chips”. I put it in my mouth. “definitely more crispy than chippy”. Ah well, I sighed and compensated this naming conundrum more than adequately with a view of twilight falling on the bay.

A happy looking Glenn and Grant arrive to pull me out of this mental chasm that I’ve descended into. They also provide an immediate excuse for a third schooner. We are living dangerously tonight, giddy with the prospect of a less demanding day ahead. The kitchen has opened and is tempting us with its smells. The pub has noticeably filled up too. The meals certainly look big enough for hungry cyclists based on inspections of a nearby table’s offerings. Good enough for us and we order three massive platefuls of protein that our bodies are screaming out for. All our meals look good but we agree Muddy’s colourful plate of lamb shanks scoops the prize as best of the bunch. The food goes down well and conversation is its most animated it has been since the start of the trip.

The holiday is gradually picking up its own image and its conventions are well established. But the boundaries need to be pushed forward a little every now and then. And so we enter uncharted waters in our third round of drink however we inexplicably hit the wall at some simultaneous point and I know it’s pointless to continue. And so at the paltry time of 8:30pm we are all clapped out and done like dinners.

Docile as lambs we meekly flock off the premises. I am not quite ready for a return to the rabbit warren even if I have had enough to drink. And so I set off towards the cliffs. There is a threat of rain in the air. The winds blows blustery according some rules of its own. Out on the bay, it is lovely and clear, the water bobbles in oscillating obeisance to the Moon. The cliffs to the north of the Bay look sinister in the black pitch of distance. Far away, the lights of Coffs Harbour dance frivolously on the shoreline. The night sky is partially in thrall to the clouds but in the gaps there are plenty of stars pulsing harmoniously.

I’m not sure if I set out on this trip with a goal — other than to get to Sydney — but it has been enjoyable nonsense so far. The boys are getting on well together. Grant and Glenn didn’t really know a great deal about each other before the start of the trip but they were quickly at ease with each other. Though Glenn’s inexplicable pronunciation of Grant’s name as “Gronty” is frankly disturbing for reasons I can’t fathom.

The cool of the night air interrupts my rambling thoughts and I set back towards the caravan park. A few quiet hours are passed with TV, playing cards and books. We are still up and about at 11pm, the latest time we have been awake so far.

But now its time to slump down on my pillow. Before long, the pillow has undergone a metamorphosis and I am now staring into a goddess’s cushion. She throws the cushion to the floor and a single feather escapes and flutters gently to the ground. I am hitching a ride on the feather while decked out in turban violence. It’s all glorious, gliding through the turbulence until a fer-de-lance slithers snakily into my ear and orders me awake. It’s 6:30am and quite bright. The sea is singing in the background. I try to whistle its tune. But whistling is not one of my strongpoints and the noise I make hurts my own ears. I sneak out past the sleepers and hit the water for an early morning swim.

Day 4 adventures === Day 6 adventures

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