Aus | Melbourne - Warburton - Alexandra - Mansfield - Beechworth | 12th Feb '15 - 23rd Feb '15 | 4958km
We’d organised our stay with a Christchurch family a bit in advance, knowing we needed a base to box up the bikes pre flying to Melbourne. We struck incredibly lucky: as well as being extremely welcoming, the Dad also worked at an office that had a fully functioning bicycle workshop in the basement (which Luke pointed out the merits of, a lot) so cleaning and dismantling was made much easier - he even managed to slide both boxes into the back seat of his convertible to help us get to the airport.
In Christchurch, a few celebratory beers were on the cards as a reward for 3 months of thriftiness. We spent a couple of days mooching through the city centre devastated by the 2011 earthquake. In the clean up, the city lost 70% of its buildings, so we’re told is nigh on unrecognisable. Shipping containers still prop up fragile looking facades and building work is going on everywhere. The pop-up initiatives and spirit surrounding the rebuild, if a little too slow in some opinions, was very impressive. There was also a bit of a party atmosphere as the Cricket World Cup was kicking off. We sat and watched England embarrass themselves against Australia, pretending to be French if asked.
Despite our cleaning diligence, bio-security security in Melbourne weren’t even interested in the bikes and we cruised through in the air conditioned Melbourne terminal. After reconstructing the bikes we set off into town as the sun was setting, 30k into Southern Cross station, with the big digital board confirming why we were so sweaty - still 32deg at 20h30. We weren’t bothered though, as Luke was particulary excited to meet up with a second old school friend in one week. As suspected, he was late...
We spent longer than planned in the city, enjoying his pace of life and in no rush to get back in the saddle. When we finally looked at a map, we were promptly reminded of just how big Australia is. To make the decision easier, we had somewhere to aim for.
Having had some mercifully cooler days since arriving we picked the first of two 36degree scorchers to leave on, heading east and feeling pretty rusty after the time off. Day two and we were attempting, unwittingly, to cross the Great Dividing Range via the Acheron Way. From Warburton, we found ourselves crawling up a climb where we were told the Everesting craze started, and a group of girls had done it just last week. With the same height gain as Alp d’Heuz, they rode up 8 and a half times, luckily we turned off just after halfway up. The road narrowed and turned to gravel with high trees either side, the Cathedral effect was spectacular enough to ensure we weren’t paying enough attention when our first kangaroo jumped out and hopped across the road in front of us.
Many towns in aus have two camp sites, one more expensive once and a cheap version. For our first nights camping down under we picked the one with two boys throwing darts at birds. Happily they weren’t very accurate and we survived the night, if feeling like we were being slow cooked, in the tent.
After a storm chased us into a place called Mansfield, we must have been looking particularly bedraggled as a chap kindly offered us a place for the night. He was a teacher, and in turns out taught Simon Gerran’s (for cycling mates) who is from the town. Being a fisherman, he was charged with adding lead weights to a young Gerrans’ bike to when he was realising his potential on the local Victoria back roads. We declined the offer of any lead based modification.
The storm meant we left ourselves a fair hike into Beechworth, but we’d been looking forward to it since leaving home and duly completed our longest day yet at 146km. The reward: two days of absolute bliss - local beer, talk of home, great veggie chef (also provided double steak dinner for Luke!), 3 gorgeous dogs to lounge about with and our first introduction to Aussie rules.