Day 7 : Monday – From Warren to Cobar (151.18 km)
I left Warren at about 7.30 am on a crisp, cool morning with absolutely clear skies that showed no trace of yesterday’s rain. The road continued level for the first ninety odd kilometres, extending to almost one hundred and eighty kilometres the distance between hills of even the gentlest persuasion. Just twenty kilometres from Warren we passed through the town of Nevertire, boasting a population of 103. Here we turned to the east as we picked up the Mitchell Highway to Nyngan, also finding ourselves travelling adjacent to the railway line for the first time. After Nyngan I turned onto the Barrier Highway and headed for Hermidale, a tiny spot consisting of just a few houses.
A little way past Hermidale I had what turned out to be the closest call of the entire trip in terms of safety. I was almost run over by an emu. The wild bird came scurrying from the bush to my left at high speed and passed just a metre ahead of me as it headed purposefully for the other side of the road. If an oncoming car hadn’t hooted to alert me, it could have been a disaster as I was entirely unaware of the bird’s presence until that moment. More than one-and-a-half metres tall and weighing in at over forty kilograms, a full grown emu is not to be trifled with. I was probably doing about thirty or thirty-five kph at this time, little match for the emu whose top speed can approach fifty kph. Imagine being thumped by a forty-five kilogram feathered projectile moving at fifty kph. Exit one cyclist.
I was ninety kilometres into the day’s ride before the road finally presented a few ups and downs, but still no serious hills. The vegetation had changed significantly over the last few days, with the plains being far more open, with less trees than earlier. We were now passing through a centre of the merino sheep industry, and of course the numerous sheep look really splendid.
There are plenty of sheep; decidedly fewer people. The area is sparsely populated, with the Shire of Bogan, for example, which occupies 14610 square kilometres, supporting a population of just 3600.
A sedate ride into Cobar and the day’s ride was over.
At sundown we sat in the caravan park, with a cold Fosters in hand, and watched literally hundreds and hundreds of parrots passing overhead on their way to roost. What a wonderful sight. What a wonderful country. The sun went down and the first week of cycling dimmed quietly to a close.
Day 8 : Tuesday – From Cobar to Emmdale (150.25)
I set off from the caravan park at Cobar at first light and soon realised that I wasn’t quite sure of the road to take. A couple were walking their dog near the gate and I asked if we were on the Barrier Highway and, pointing, asked if Wilcannia lay in that direction. The elderly canine-stroller smiled. “Yes,” he nodded. “But it’s a mighty long way down the road, mate.” I smiled my thanks, knowing just how far it was. Two days of cycling away.
I was heading steadily westward now, cruising along the Barrier Highway, and I started the day with a very long shadow stretching out ahead of me, which shrank steadily inwards as the day progressed. Quite fun to watch, that shrinking shadow. The road was fairly busy when I started and the road trains made their presence known in no uncertain manner. The terrain was fairly easy going, though, being fairly level or with just gradual ups and downs.
The vegetation continues to grow sparser, with some areas particularly dry. The wildlife was correspondingly scarcer. We saw several groups of wild emus and just a few kangaroos, although we saw many more of their dead relatives on the roadway. We also saw two dingoes. Alive and howling.
There is very little of note along this part of the Highway, no town or shop for 160 kilometres until we reached Emmdale. Let me spell that out. One hundred and sixty kilometres of nothing. And Emmdale itself is almost nothing. This was our first taste of an Australian roadhouse, and it was a bit of a shock. A small shop and restaurant, petrol and diesel pumps, toilets. That’s it. We hadn’t expected much, but after 160 kilometres we expected some form of settlement. Just a house or two, perhaps?
We rented the only powered caravan site in Emmdale, which occupied one corner of the forecourt adjacent to the petrol pumps and just an easy stone’s throw from the edge of the Highway. Out in the blazing sun, with not a tree in sight.
We spent a relaxing afternoon reading and catching up on our notes. A pleasant enough interlude for weary me, but somewhat trying for Jane, who had spent the whole morning reading and hanging out, waiting for me to arrive, and was now bursting with energy. But the wonders of Emmdale were all she had to entertain her. A steady stream of road trains pulled in and out of the forecourt. And those that didn’t pull in went straight on past. What excitement.
Our first real experience of accommodation in the Outback.
Day 9 : Wednesday – From Emmdale to 50 km beyond Wilcannia (148.02)
Would you believe that, in Emmdale, they lock the toilets at night and don’t give the sole caravanners a key? What did they think that we were going to do? Steal the paper? There was a public toilet fairly close by, with a mind-crippling odour wafting out in all directions and we were obliged to make use of this in the early morning gloom. Probably just as well that we couldn’t see anything very clearly; the place may have looked as bad as it smelt.
I set off from Emmdale in cool, clear weather and with few regrets. Emmdale was not added to my list of places to which I would love to return. I wore a long sleeved top, as was becoming customary on these chilly mornings, and kept it on for the first one hundred kilometres. As on previous few days the road was fairly flat, the uphills not presenting much of a challenge and the downhills presenting little opportunity for breakneck speeds.
A brisk wind came up during the course of the morning, but was from the side for most of the time, and even from behind on occasion. Not, therefore, much of a hindrance. The cross winds do seem to exaggerate the buffeting one experiences on being passed by a road train, though. The long road trains really test the nerves and when a pair are riding nose to tail in tandem, increasing the practical length of the vehicles to somewhere near eighty feet, it is really mind jolting. It takes concentration to maintain station at the edge of the road in the buffeting wind that their passage generates.
The first fifty kilometres that I cycled were an absolute dream. I saw a kangaroo sitting in the road within five hundred metres of setting out, and it looked quizzically in my direction until I was just a few metres away from it before taking off lazily into the bush. Okay, maybe the look wasn’t quizzical, maybe it was bored, or puzzled, or just plain unconcerned. Marsupial indifference. A little further on a fox trotted across the road in front of me, as unconcerned as the kangaroo. I don’t think that they recognised someone on a bicycle as any kind of threat at all, in which surmise they were perfectly correct.
The early dawn is certainly the time to see animals. Ten or fifteen kilometres into the morning I rode up to where Jane was parked on the side of the road and was filming four foxes feeding on a large kangaroo that had been flattened during the night. We watched them for several minutes before a road train approaching from the direction of Wilcannia scared them away. Later in the day we were to see that foxes themselves are not exempt from the heavy toll payable by those who use the Highway when we saw two dead foxes just a metre apart.
The volume of road kill along this stretch of Highway was staggering. I counted eight kangaroos within ten kilometres and during the course of the morning we also saw four foxes that had fallen victim to the merciless wheels. Can this possibly be the toll night after night?
At one hundred kilometres we reached Wilcannia and had a quick lunch before I pushed on down the Barrier Highway towards Broken Hill. The road continued to be fairly flat and the cycling not too difficult, and much to our relief there were significantly less carcases on the road than there had been earlier. Perhaps they had already been cleared away, but I like to think that we were out of the death zone.
I stopped riding after covering about fifty kilometres after leaving Wilcannia and we bussed the bike back. We booked into the delightful Victory Park caravan park on the banks of the Darling River, set amongst the most ancient-looking of Red River Gum trees.
Day 10 : Thursday – From 50 km beyond Wilcannia to Broken Hill (148.45 km)
We spent a little longer in bed this morning as we had to fill up the campervan with petrol before leaving Wilcannia and knew that the garages did not remain open around the clock. Also, it is my birthday and that alone was a good enough reason to lounge a little longer. Hey, this is day ten. It’s getting a lot easier to find good reason for staying in bed.
We had our usual breakfast and at about seven o’clock filled the campervan with petrol. In a final effort to endear itself to us, Wilcannia provided us with the most expensive petrol that we were to find throughout our trip. We bussed the bike the fifty kilometres towards Broken Hill that I had ridden the day before. It was still very cold when I started riding and the crisp headwind was quite a nuisance. The temperature climbed quickly and, although the wind never eased up, it had become extremely hot by the time the ride was completed.
But the day seemed long and slow. At 48 kilometres I got a puncture after passing a section of roadworks. I stopped and replaced the tube. One of the workmen drove over from the roadworks to find out if I needed any help, but I assured him that I would be on my way in a few minutes. Liar. The valve tore out of the replacement tube while I was pumping it up and I found myself stranded at the roadside. Eventually Jane came back to look for me and I swapped the offending wheel with the spare, which was a little easier than changing tubes. The spare wheel was also fitted with a new tyre and I felt that it was time to replace the tyre anyway.
We passed through no towns during the morning, only the roadhouse of Little Topar, which is probably not something that you would want to write home about. Lying in the arid countryside 118 kilometres from Wilcannia, Little Topar is even less impressive than Emmdale, if that is possible.
We are approaching South Australia now and have passed several roadside warnings about a “Fruit Fly Free Zone”, which sounds more like a tongue twister than a warning. But with spot fines of AU$200 and penalties of up to AU$11000 if you convey fruit or vegetables into this zone, the fly brigade take this matter very seriously indeed. Five kilometres before we reached Broken Hill we went through an inspection site where Jane was reminded of these penalties by one of the two fly police on duty. All very well to prevent travellers from moving fruit, possibly harbouring fruit-fly lavae or eggs or whatever, from one state to another, I thought, but how do they stop the adult flies from just flying over the border and laying their eggs right there?
A short distance before reaching Broken Hill we crossed into another time zone, with a board at the side of the road instructing us to set our clocks back thirty minutes. Otherwise the ride over the last few kilometres was uneventful.
Day 11 : Friday – From Broken Hill to Yunta (201.94 km)
We were a little confused by the change in the time zones and hence the change in the time of sunrise, but nevertheless managed to rise a little before first light to prepare for the day’s ride. Tea and the usual breakfast before taking off in the crisp, clear and bitingly cold weather. In the crystal clear sky, we wouldn’t see a cloud all day.
It took nearly seven kilometres to pass through Broken Hill and back onto the Barrier Highway, where a sign boldly declared that we were 2800 km from Perth. After ten days of cycling we were still 2800 km from Perth. And the end of our journey was some way further than Perth. Instant depression!
The creeks that we crossed in this part of the country, all of which were dry and looked as though they hadn’t seen water for years, have names that are sometimes appropriate and sometimes almost cynically inappropriate. The Dismal Bridge is truly dull, dreary and depressing. Pine Tree Creek and Black Oak Creek, by contrast, wind their way through areas totally devoid of trees. Any trees, let alone pine trees and black oaks. Well, let’s be generous, maybe there are pines and black oaks further downstream.
Fifty kilometres of cycling brought me to Cockburn and the border between NSW and South Australia. Something of an anti-climax, really, as I entered the second state of the trip. No fanfare, just a board welcoming us, as it did all other travellers, to the new state. We stopped to take a few photographs and to savour the moment, then it was on with the ride.
The next village that we expected to pass through was Mingary. A reasonable expectation, I would have thought, as it was clearly marked on our usually reliable map, but it failed to appear in reality. We saw a Mingary Creek, but no Mingary town or Mingary village. Instead, after about one hundred and twenty kilometres, we came to the settlement of Olary. Just a tiny place, with, as appears to be so common in Australia, the Hotel being the centre of attraction.
We toyed with the idea of staying in the hotel only to find that its licence had been suspended indefinitely and they were therefore supplying no accommodation, food or liquor. After a brief consultation and a short break we decided to push on to Yunta, a further forty-five kilometres down the Barrier Highway. I climbed back onto the bike and pedalled away.
Yunta was a greatly welcome sight when it finally hoved into view. Its presence signalled the end of the first two hundred kilometres plus day of the tour and the longest ride of my career. A long day in the office, but I felt satisfied with the effort and quite pleased with my physical condition. Of course I was tired, but the more important point was that I was free of any niggling injury. No stretched tendons, inflamed joints or seriously chafed patches of skin.
Yunta turned out to be home to the most basic of caravan parks. There were three or four powered caravan sites up against the fence behind the petrol pumps near the roadhouse, in an area devoid of grass. But mosquitoes there were aplenty. Vicious, buzzing, biting, constantly irritating mosquitoes. They found their way into the campervan in spite of closed doors and screened windows, settling and biting, defying with superb reflexes our repeated attempts to swot them.
We had supper in the restaurant that formed part of the roadhouse complex and presumably catered more for drivers of road trains than passing cyclists or tourists of any other persuasion. Overhearing that I was quite hungry, the proprietor recommended that I try the rump steak. This turned out to be not much short of a side of beef and could have fed a small African state for several days!
>> Part Four