Off the highways and onto the byways for today’s ride and what a pleasure it was. I left Northam shrouded in the thick mist that filled the morning’s first light. As I exited the caravan park I noticed a hot air balloon hovering eerily over the town. As always, with the amount of lift dependant on the temperature differential between the air in the balloon and that outside the balloon, the balloonists were forced to make an early start. Sadly for them, the mist would have obscured the wonderful views from the quietly drifting airship.
I passed through the sleeping town and crossed over the Avon River, the first sizeable river we had crossed since leaving New South Wales, famous for the white swans that were brought here from England way back in the late 1800s. In a state that has a black swan as its emblem, white swans are apparently something of which to be proud. A short way beyond the Avon I turned onto the road to Toodyay, a road that very quickly turned into one of the highlights of the trip. The hills were suddenly much steeper now that we were off the highway, which made me think, once again, that the superior contouring was for the benefit of the road trains. The incredible scenery was more than adequate compensation for the tougher cycling conditions. Rolling hills covered with trees; conservation areas of indigenous vegetation; and fascinating farms. A merino stud, an alpaca stud, a miniature horse stud, magnificent cattle farms. Wait! Alpacas in Australia? Well, yes. Seriously. I saw them. Alpacas! In the conservation areas we saw kangaroos, (or are they wallabies?) and emus in the forests adjacent to the road. What a wonderful area in which to cycle!
Just twenty-five kilometres from Northam I reached the village of Toodyay, a village that I felt I could settle in right there and then. A small town full of character with fascinating buildings and a cemetery with separate sections set aside for Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists and members of the Uniting Church. Even a small section for Seventh Day Adventists. There were many roadside signs imploring passers-by to support a campaign to keep road trains out of the area, which was a sentiment that I, as an outsider revelling in the rural setting, sympathised with entirely.
The magnificent scenery continued after I left Toodyay and headed down the road to Bindoon and I idly speculated that this could be my regular Sunday morning ride if I lived in Toodyay. What a pleasure! Just how I would occupy the balance of the week seemed totally unimportant at that time.
The road from Toodyay joined the Great Northern Highway and I headed south for a few kilometres before turning west once again and taking the road to Gingin. A few kilometres further on we changed our pre-planned route for the first time since setting out from Ballina. Instead of pushing on to Gingin and then taking the Brand Highway northwards as planned, Jane, who had been studying the maps rather carefully, suggested that we take the 116 road north to Moora. This more scenic route would give us an overnight stop at an appropriate cycling distance, a suitable stop not being obvious on the Brand Highway route.
The scenic route. For scenic read hilly. For hilly read mostly uphill. It was very hot by this time, aggravated by the fact that there was not a breath of wind, and in spite of the magnificent scenery I was growing very tired as the hills took their toll. We stopped for a lunch of sandwiches after I had covered one hundred kilometres and found ourselves near the gate to a farm with four or five very impressive bulls just across the fence, seemingly as interested in us as we were in them. Just sitting in this idyllic rural farm setting, watching the animals and the mid-morning farmyard activity made up for the hills I’d had to climb to get here.
Fortunately the road levelled off shortly after our lunch stop as it crossed the Victoria Plains and I was able to speed up a little in spite of the heat and my tired legs.
The caravan park at Moora was rather different. It is part of a public park and the facilities are used by members of the public as well as the patrons of the caravan park itself. There is no curator at the park and a rather strange honesty system of paying for your site that entails putting the stipulated fee into an envelope and posting it into a deposit box.
Moora had been devastated by floods during 1999 and we were fascinated by the steps that the local authorities had taken to ensure that the disaster could not be repeated. Building regulations had been changed and money made available for folk to raise their houses on pillars to prevent future flooding. There was even talk of building a system of weirs to better control the level of the river.