A short 1300 Km tour around central Victoria, late September 2016
The Spring tour that descended into winter storms!
In late September I flew to Melbourne to cycle north to Albury (NSW) and then back to SE Melbourne. I planned to cross the Victorian Alps to Gippsland but I had underestimated the cold spring weather! The ski resorts were still operating and temperatures were still below freezing at 2000m altitude in the alpine regions! I therefore changed my plans to stay at low altitudes, which were still very cold for me with daytime maximum temperatures of only about 15 C. My hope for an early start to summer was futile as southern Australia was hit by many intense and cold storms, with floods in many areas and I took refuge at a friend's house to avoid the stormy weather.
As usual I rode to Darwin airport where I folded and packed my bike for the flight to Melbourne. The flight arrived late at night so I stayed at one of the airport hotels where I reassembled the bike in my room. Next morning I fought my way through the maze of roads at the airport to find the non-freeway exit. This is hard to find and although there are a few bicycle paths, they do not inter-connect so I had to guess my way through several roundabouts before I found the link to Melrose avenue. It is necessary to ride some 3 Km south to reach the first northbound road on which it is possible to cross over the freeway. This road continues north and eventually after a turn to the east it crosses the Hume highway/freeway to reach Whittlesea for a welcome coffee stop. From there the roads have low traffic and are good for cycling. Although there had been some minor light rain this had now stopped and the cycling through the lush green hills was pleasant. This area was severely burnt in major bush-fires a few years ago and although there were still some burnt trees the bush was already well recovered. Suddenly something thumped my helmet and disturbed my cycling serenity. It was a magpie - I had failed to allow for the fact that spring was magpie nesting season and the protective magpies all hate cyclists. This was the first of many magpie attacks, which often come as a surprise, but my helmet provided essential protection. On this first day I was attempting to ride to Mansfield, a ride of some 190 Km. But by dusk I was still some 20 Km away, I was very cold and my tail-light had fallen off somewhere so I found a motel in Bonnie Doon and tried to thaw out after a mostly pleasant long ride day.
Next day I soon reached Mansfield, a surprisingly pleasant town. I had hoped to ride up to Mt Buller but learned that it was still covered in snow and far too cold for me, so I rode around the local area to give the magpies some target practice instead. Traveling north from Mansfield to Whitfield I discovered a pleasant range crossing which was quite strenuous with an exciting descent into Whitfield before a long flat ride to Wangaratta. The gears on my bike were causing trouble as they were very worn and I tried to buy replacement parts, but none were available, so I decided to ride to Albury next day, where there were 2 large bike shops.
I traveled via Beechworth, where I found a splendid bakery and I spoke with a guy riding his penny farthing bicycle. He praised the lack of gears and brakes on his bike which made it almost maintenance free. But in the nearby hills I am sure my gears and brakes were a great advantage and worth the added complexity. As I approached Wodonga it became difficult to find alternative roads to the busy Hume highway and as I crossed the Murray river to Albury I saw it was in flood and the bicycle paths were submerged. I was able to get the parts I required and fixed the gears on the bike. Heading east next day I visited the Hume weir where the water level was high. It is permissible to cycle across the dam wall, which I did, carefully avoiding the busloads of careless tourists meandering around. Perhaps they are worse than dealing with the magpies! I continued east to Tallangatta and on my return I used the bike trail for a while before diverting southwards towards Bright. I reached Yackandandah by mid afternoon but was weary so I stayed the night there. This was an old gold mining town, something I had not expected as the best known goldfields in Victoria are far to the west over near Bendigo.
The weather reports predicted rain and storms soon, so I decided to head to Melbourne where I could take shelter and next day I reached Benalla after a mostly flat ride punctuated with some particularly unfriendly magpies along the Wangaratta to Bright rail-trail bicycle path. To travel south from Benalla it is necessary to ride on the freeway as there are no alternative roads, but bicycles are allowed on the freeway and there is a wide emergency lane which is safe for cycling. Leaving the freeway at Euroa I traveled east and found a surprisingly pleasant road to Melton, albeit also quite hilly and often steep and I was glad to discover another excellent bakery at Yarck for a welcome lunch stop. This town is on the Goulburn valley bike trail which is not paved but has a hard surface and is suitable for skinny tyred bikes. It was dry when I reached Alexandra early in the afternoon, but then there were dark clouds and scattered light rain-showers the rest of the day and I became cold and wet. I was trying to reach Healesville because there were few accommodation options before then, but this would be a long day of over 180 Km. Fortunately there was a long downhill through beautiful forests just before Healesville, but I could not appreciate it because I was so cold and wet. It was hard to find accommodation in Healseville as there was a meeting in the town and it was a trendy place to visit close to Melbourne and it was also school holiday time.
Next morning I completed my ride to Dandenong. I had covered just over 1000Km in 7 days and because of the threatening weather I cut short my cycling and stayed in the Dandenong area where I did some short loop rides until my return to Darwin a week later.
There were many pleasant roads to ride on this route, but I had seriously underestimated the cold and wet weather and it would be best to ride in this region in early summer instead. Despite the weather and the persistent magpies, it was an enjoyable week of cycling.