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Melbourne to Canberra, 2013

1000 Km

By: Kingsley Burlinson

In january 2013 there were many dangerous bushfires in Victoria and NSW as well as very high temperatures. But I had made plans to ride my REACH bike on tour from Melbourne to Brisbane through Gippsland in eastern Victoria and then through the mountains on an inland route to Brisbane. I rode about 1000 Km of this planned route to reach Canberra instead because of damage to my gears caused by rubbish on the road, and severe flooding near Brisbane which made critical sections of my route impassable. It was a pleasant tour despite the many unusual incidents along the way and I was grateful to the many people who were so kind and helpful.

My route map
melbourne to canberra

A detailed interactive map of my route is here

Episode one - Melbourne to Bairnsdale  (2 days)

Well, its time to go cycling again. But not in Adelaide this year. I have made a crazy plan to cycle from Melbourne to Brisbane. Or at least i will try. It is about 2500 km, but the real issue is the hot summer and many bushfires, which could be a big problem for a lone cyclist out in the mountains.

As usual I rode my bike to the airport (about 40 Km) where I folded it into its carry bag and checked it in as standard luggage. The bike with extra tools and various loose parts weighed 17.5 Kg, easily within my baggage allowance. My flight to Melbourne arrived at midnight so i had planned to catch the airport bus downtown and stay in a backpacker hostel before reassembling my bike next morning. But plans don't always work properly. At the airport, the bus ticket counter was closed with a sign saying i must go to the far distant terminal to buy a ticket. After rushing 400 m to the other terminal the ticket seller ignored me while providing tourist information to other people instead. Eventually i bought a ticket and rushed back to the first terminal to get my bike and catch the bus. The bus took me to the downtown terminal and from there i planned to use the free hotel dropoff service which was included in the bus fare. But the driver then advised me that the hotel dropoff service did not operate after 10 pm, despite no such admissions on their advertising or website. Grrrrrrrr! I would have to get a taxi instead. But i only needed a short 2 block ride and the first 3 taxis refused to help me. Grrrrrr again! By 1:30 am i had finally reached the backpacker hostel which i had booked in advance. But they could not find my booking. After 15 minutes they realised that they had double booked that bed because they had forgotten that my arrival at 2 am on the 18 th was the same night as the 17 th. Someone else had been sold my bed for the night. And the hostel was full, it was 2 am and most places in Melbourne were booked out because the tennis was on this week. Eventually they offered me a bed in the corridor as there was no space. It was noisy as these backpackers were having a party until about 4 am, but i rested enough to survive the night of failed plans. It reminded me why i normally assemble and ride my bike from the airport and control my own ground transport.

Next morning i assembled the bike in the street, which took about an hour, and rode to the nearby Queen Victoria market where i met Rita and Sunil and enjoyed a pleasant and stress-free coffee, chat and lunch. At last some of my plans were successful. After a quick walk around the many market stalls to buy a few small items, i rode off through the city and parklands to meet up with Chris with whom i planned to share a nice Indian evening meal. But it was time for another plan failure already. En route i realised i had forgotten to bring a spare tyre for the bike. This was unfortunate, but i would simply buy one at one of the numerous bike shops. However, my bike has an uncommon, though not rare, sized tyre and the first bike shops all lacked the correct tyre. I would find more bike shops tomorrow. After our very tasty indian meal, Chris and i used the internet to compile a list of bike shops to visit on my way east next morning. Next morning i stopped at all 6 of the bikeshops en-route but they all just stared blankly at me and admitted that they did not have a tyre of that size. The last shop on my list was at Dandenong and i was losing hope of buying a suitable tyre, but I was relieved to find that this shop did have the size tyre i required. (The tyre size I use is often used on BMX bikes - but BMX is not very common in Melbourne!) It was surprisingly difficult to buy this simple item, despite being in such a large city. At last i felt properly prepared for my tour and enjoyed a coffee (another coffee?) before riding to meet up and stay with John and Elaine some 10km away. The long tour had not really started yet, but i was already becoming proficient at sudden changes of plan. I relaxed for 2 days and met some more friends before my departure eastwards to Gippsland.

Although i had planned a route to avoid the busy Princes Highway, one of the roads was closed and i ended up on the main highway after asking a bus driver for directions. About 20 km ahead, near Pakenham, i found a turn to an alternative and pleasantly quiet route beside the railway line. This worked well until i reached some roadworks where they had automated traffic lights to control the traffic. I ignored the red light and rode on, but this annoyed 2 of the workers who yelled and tried to stop me. But they failed to realise that their silly lights are timed for cars and not bikes. The lights release oncoming traffic before i have reached the far side and so i must ignore the lights and remain aware of the traffic to be safe. Merely waiting for lights which are wrongly timed does not provide any safety for cyclists. Fortunately the workers at the next roadworks were more intelligent and did not harass me as i again ignored the silly signals. After lunch at Drouin i found a hilly detour to continue eastwards, although signs on the freeway stated that bicycles were actually allowed on this freeway because there were no suitable alternative routes. The hilly detour was scenic and pleasant, but longer and strenuous to ride, which i enjoyed. After a coffee stop in Moe i found another detour to visit the Yallourn power stations and brown coal mines, not a typical tourist destination but interesting to me. By 6pm i had ridden an enjoyable 170km and i found a comfortable motel for the night at Traralgon. There were few alternative routes next day and i simply rode on the main highway all day. At least it had a good wide shoulder and i felt fairly safe from the regular truck and tourist traffic. I also met the first cycle tourists, a group of 4 Polish cyclists who had started in Darwin and traveled south along the Australian east coast and are planning to reach Perth on their 6 month journey. I reached Bairnsdale by about 3 pm and found a coffee shop and bakery to enjoy. At the bakery they offered me 2 buns for the price of one. What a great deal, this must be a nice town. So i decided to stop early and stay here tonight. The weather has been good, the traffic respectful, and the coffee shops are friendly. What more could i ask for. Surely this is becoming a good tour.

Episode 2 - Bairnsdale to Canberra  (4 days)

During my stay in Bairnsdale i found out that there was a rail-trail cycling track for the next 100km east to Orbost but i was concerned that the surface might be loose gravel, which would be unsuitable for my high-pressure road tyres. So next morning i checked the cycle path, which was OK and had a hard dirt surface, and i used it instead of the road. It was pleasant to be isolated from the traffic on the cycle path through the pastures and forests and there were very few other cyclists on the path. After a rest stop at 60km at Nowa Nowa the path surface was rough and included coarse rocks, which concerned me. Within 3 km my tyre had been torn by a rock and i had to repair it. The pathway was no longer suitable for me and so i used the road instead. It is sad that this section of the trail is not usable merely because the surface is poorly finished. After 100km i reached Orbost, where i had to decide which route to take next. I wanted to use a quiet route up into the mountains but i suspected this route might not be paved. I was also concerned that this remote route, with no services for 120km, might be unsafe because of fires in the dense forests. At the information centre i found out that this interesting route was not fully paved and as i could not risk more tyre failures, i chose to use the main highway instead. This would take me east for 80km to Cann River, where i would turn north for the remaining 90km up into the mountains. To reduce the long ride tomorrow, i rode 40km further to an isolated hotel in the forest where i could stay the night. I expected this section to be easy with flat roads like much of the last few days. But i had reached the edge of the Latrobe valley and was now beginning to cross the Snowy mountains. There was a mountain to cross, which i had not expected! At the mountain top i rested and exchanged stories with a Japanese tourist on a working holiday as he prepared noodles for his supper. It was another 25km before i reached the hotel and I was quite tired and thirsty when i reached it after 150km today and i surprised the barman by immediately drinking a large 1.25 litre cola and starting on a second bottle. Next morning it was time to climb up into the mountains and i started early, hoping for gentle winds. I filled all my water bottles at Cann River as there were no services for the next 90km to my destination of Bombala in the alpine plains country. The temperature was warm, but OK as i rode north up the long valley through dense forests of tall trees. Soon the forest trees became small and sparse as i climbed into the high country. I thought i had completed the climbing after 60km and crossing the border into NSW, as i had reached open grassland plains which looked flat, but my legs were complaining and i was traveling very slowly. I was also thirsty, but had already drunk most of my water and had to ration it for the remaining 30km. This was hard work but i could not understand why. Perhaps i would die of thirst before reaching my destination! A sudden wind change helped and lowered the temperature, but i was still traveling surprisingly slowly. Perhaps my brakes were stuck, or was i too tired, or short of food and water? But then i reached a crest and realised i had actually been riding up a long hill for the last 15km, although it looked like flat country. Now i could spin my legs and with the tail wind i could reach 45 kph for the last 15 km. That long climb had deceived me and was much more serious than expected. In Bombala i found a coffee shop (of course) and a motel for the night. It is a small town but everyone was friendly, partially because there were many events planned for the Australia day weekend celebrations next day. Someone suggested that i use the Snowy mountains highway to travel north to Cooma instead of the busy main road and i decided to detour and do that. I also briefly checked out the showgrounds where they were preparing for wood-chopping and sheep shearing competitions. But i did not wait to see those events.

The Snowy mountains highway took me through vast grass pastures, with some serious climbs. This is primarily a sheep grazing region. In the distance i could see some small rainstorms but i was not concerned about them. By 1pm i was still some 10km short of a small village where i could get water when the small rainstorms became more serious. I could see occasional 2 cm lumps of ice bouncing off the road; what fun, so i picked some up and sucked on the refreshing ice. But soon the ice lumps were even larger and becoming very frequent. This was no longer a fun gentle storm, but a dangerous and cold storm pelting me with flying icebergs! I needed to find shelter and fast. Although there had been no shelter all morning i was lucky to be passing a shearing shed and quickly hid inside. The ice storm continued for over an hour as i tried in vain to keep warm. There was a hole in the roof, so i collected the icy water streaming through the hole. At least i had cold water to drink now, but i actually needed a hot coffee instead! Yesterday i nearly died of heat exhaustion and dehydration. Today i was about to die of hypothermia and drowning. What happened to summer? Eventually the rain eased, but the sky was still threatening and i went to the farmhouse to thank the owner and ask which road i should use to reach Cooma. While discussing this there were several more lightning strikes and these started some nearby grass-fires. The farmer had to leave to fight the fires and gave me a lift to the nearby village of Dalgety as the rain continued. So my scenic detour en route to Cooma  became an overnight stay at the only hotel in Dalgety while the freezing cold rain continued. Dalgety is the location of one of only 4 bridges over the Snowy river, this one built in 1889. Although it is unusual and very historic, right now i would prefer sunshine and warmth. And the locals in the hotel are wondering what someone from Darwin is doing here. I also am wondering how i came to be marooned here on the banks of the fabled Snowy river in an ice storm in mid summer!

The vast pastoral grasslands near Dalgety, NSW.
Snowy river alpine plains

After my unplanned stop in Dalgety, i set off next day for Cooma across 50km of grassy open hills. It was a Sunday of a 3 day weekend and the town was full of motorcyclists while I enjoyed a coffee nearby. As it was only 11:30am and far too early to stop cycling for the day, i decided to continue to Canberra, although this was 110km further. It would be a long ride today. Just 20km towards Canberra there was a horrible noise from my rear wheel and the pedals jammed. I found that part of the gears had snapped and this was not something i could repair. Now i was really stuck in nowhere-land. As i stood beside the road examining the damage, 2 cyclists driving by stopped to offer help. Sean and Lisa were returning from a nearby mountain bike event to Canberra. Their car was not large enough to fit in 3 people and 3 bikes, so they kindly lent me their mountain bike and carried my broken bike in the car to their home in Canberra. I continued riding on the loaned mountain bike. This bike did not have a cycle computer and I felt undressed without it. At first it was nice to simply ride without concern for my speed, but I needed to know this to ensure I could reach Canberra before nightfall. I used the road distance markers to track my progress and speed. There were few towns on this section of highway and I stopped in a lonely petrol station for refreshments. Upon buying a 1.25 l bottle of cola, the attendant suggested I buy 2 as there was a special price for 2. But I had nowhere to carry a second bottle and would have to drink both! After finishing the first bottle I was still thirsty enough to drink more and so I purchased a second one, pouring half of it into the water bottle on the bike. People have commented about my cola drinking to excess - maybe they are right, but maybe I just need lots of energy!  Nearing Canberra I stopped to talk with another Polish touring cyclist as he repaired a puncture. Eventually I reached Canberra at 6pm after a very long and eventful day. My good friend Terry met me and we returned the loan bike to Sean and retrieved my bike, not quite the way i had planned to arrive in Canberra, but i was very grateful for the help and kindness of many people today.

Next day i examined the damage and realised that a small piece of wire on the road had become jammed in the chain and was responsible for the broken gears. It had broken the derailleur hanger, a small but critical part. I cannot get this part to repair my bike easily, so it is time to end my tour and return home. Perhaps this is not so bad as a cyclone has just flooded Brisbane and is still active in NSW where i had planned to ride. With such violent weather in this area, returning home is now looking like a good choice.

Beware of rubbish on the road which can break your derailleur hanger!
broken hanger

Enjoy your travels and be sure to stay away from bushfires, flying icebergs, cyclones, floods and roadside rubbish


Although the next day was a public holiday, I found some bike shops and tried to get the repair part I required, but no-one had the correct hanger for my bike, I must get this from the factory in Taiwan. We filled in the day by visiting the satellite tracking station as we waited for a normal business day. Next day I took the broken part to a welder and had it repaired. I was able to install the repaired part and make the bike usable again, although the gears were not quite perfect. At least I would be able to ride home from the airport. Once again I folded and packed the bike for my flight back to Darwin where I reassembled it and rode home the last 40 Km in the warm night air to arrive at about 3am.

It was a tour of challenges almost each day with so many unusual events. But it was a pleasant and successful tour thanks to the kindness and help of many people along the way. I only rode about 1000 Km, with 6 days of touring, shorter than my planned tour, but very enjoyable.

A detailed interactive map of my route is here