RideWA – 24 to 31 August 2021

Day 9: Coral Bay Rest Day, 0km

Our rest day in Coral Bay started with a cafe breakfast. I ordered a breakfast wrap, but when they brought our order they had a big breakfast for me. I told them it wasn’t what I ordered, but they said that was what was on the docket, so I graciously accepted it (even though it wasn’t what I wanted). Then about 5min later, after I had substantially started eating, they brought out another order for our table number which included the breakfast wrap. So I ended up with two breakfasts! We saved the wrap and took it for bike snacks for tomorrow.

We hired snorkelling gear (almost the last two sets available) and went for a morning snorkel. The water was cool but comfortable for up to an hour. There was a bit of a headwind / chop to get off the beach and out into the coral, but once we got out it was lovely. Temperature out of the water was idyllic, it was a glorious summer-type day.

Of course most of the rest day involved food – we had authentic gelato, a custard and cream donut, a lamb rosemary pie (mmmm Coarl Bay Bakery) and then salmon and veg dinner at Bill’s Bar. The atmosphere at Bill’s Bar was slightly marred as we had tables right next to the kids playground and there were many kids running around and yelling. We had an early night, as we were still pretty tired.

The following morning was a relaxed start, with mugs of coffee and a chocolate croissant on the beach watching the sunrise. There were seagulls bathing in the water, which was fun to watch. Then shortly after sunrise a sea fog rolled in.

Day 10: Coral Bay to Yalabia Rest Area, 148km

After our beach walk then muesli breakfast, we had a relaxed pack up and a last bakery visit, before heading off on the bikes at about 10:30am. There were many wildflowers on the road out of Coral Bay, and we got followed by a low-flying cawing crow, which was fun and unusual!

After the undulations on the way out of Coral Bay, the terrain flattened off but became quite draining long false flats. We passed the Tropic of Capricorn on the Minilya-Exmouth Rd, and later re-joined the North West Coastal Highway. Greg enjoyed spying sparrows in the roadside shelter at the intersection with the highway. Shortly after re-joining the highway we stopped at Minilya Roadhouse for lunch in the air conditioning, as it was another hot day. We had to go across the road to use the pit toilets at Minilya Rest Area, as the roadhouse had no running water (!). The Minilya Rest Area was already packed with caravans by the early afternoon, I was glad we weren’t stopping there.

It had been a tailwind in the morning, but became a strongish crosswind later in the day. We continued for almost another 50km to Yalabia Rest Area, which we reached around 6:30pm, just after sunset. We pulled up to a pair of tables on a concrete base under shelter, which is always our choice for a sleeping platform. There was a couple with a caravan set up and using one of the tables. They were astonished at how far we’d cycled (which is the usual response) and were a bit slow to engage with us. I went to the toilets to do a quick wash and change, and Greg must have won them over in my absence – when I got back, I was offered a glass of wine, which of course it would have been wrong to refuse.

Ron and Cate offered to make us baked beans on toast for dinner, which I did refuse as I can’t eat either baked beans or toast, and we had our own food that would not make me unwell. After refusing the baked beans numerous times, they upped the ante and insisted that they had extra food from their cooked dinner and we should join them for chicken Kiev, Asian salad and macaroni cheese. Some of these foods were also a bit questionable for me, but less so, and this seemed like an offer too generous to refuse. It was delicious. After dinner, we did some star gazing – now that the full moon had passed, we had no moon for the first few hours of the night, and the stars were so bright we could also see the black spaces in the Milky Way. Ron enjoyed pointing out the scorpion constellation to us.

As we settled down to bed and they retired to their caravan, Ron passed us a $50 note to go towards our fundraising. The generosity of strangers and care between fellow travellers was a real highlight of the northern half of the trip.

Day 11: Yalabia Rest Area to Carnarvon, 94km

We were expecting headwind to come in sometime this morning, so we got another early start – up at 4am again, and departed by 5:45am. It was moderately cool in the morning, about 14 degrees, and had been VERY dewy overnight. Thankfully we had a shelter overhead that protected most of our sleep system, but water had been dripping off the edge of the shelter and my down sleeping bag was very damp. I packed it away without too much worry, as I knew I’d be able to unpack and air it in the motel at Carnarvon tonight.

It was another serene sunrise, but we didn’t stop for many photos after that as it was a flat and boring day, and we were on a mission to finish early before the wind picked up. Ron and Cate (caravanners from the night before) said they would head off at about 9-10am, and would keep an eye out in case we needed anything when they passed us. I had made sure to memorise what the back of their caravan looked like, so I recognised them as they passed us about 20km before Carnarvon, and waved. They stopped, offered us chopped up melon (which was very refreshing) and gave us bottles of water (not needed, but how could we refuse?).

Not long after that, we followed our route off the main highway to detour through the North Plantations on the way into Carnarvon. It was good to get off the highway, which was starting to get busier, and to see some of the agriculture that is integral to this town. The road quality was pretty terrible, but there was minimal traffic and it was amazing to see the variety of things growing. Not just bananas and mangoes – there were heaps of tomatoes, capsicum, grapes, pawpaw, dates, and others we couldn’t identify. We also got to go over the fun lower bridge across the Gascoyne River, which was an incredibly wide river and the bridge would quickly go under water in a flood.

After we crossed the river, we still had another 5km or so before we got into the town proper. The wind had picked up in the last hour and it was very windy in Carnarvon (always!), so it was good that we had started early. We arrived in the main town, and had a few false starts trying to find a delightful cafe. In the end, we opted for the one closest to the foreshore, which turned out to be a good choice. It was late morning, and we were in time for brunch – they had gluten free bread, so I got avocado and scrambled eggs on toast, and a GIANT iced coffee with cream and ice cream. We also got takeaway sandwiches for a meal on the road tomorrow.

I phoned our motel to see if we could check in early, but that was not possible (I wasn’t surprised as accommodation was typically booked out, so they were probably still doing cleaning). We went to the Woolworths and I went inside for grocery shopping. One of the locals said to us “I hope one of you is going to stay and watch those bikes”, which had been our intention, but was not a good sign for the town’s reputation! Whilst in the supermarket I saw another bike friend who must have been solo, and had actually brought her bike inside!

We still had time to kill after grocery shopping. We moseyed along the foreshore and found a pub, so we decided a beer in the sunshine was the best way to kill some more time. Plus some more snacks. Holidays are great!

Finally we checked in. The phone was ringing off the hook the whole time I was at reception, with people looking for accommodation. I booked into the motel restaurant for dinner, and we set about showering and washing some kit. The washing was made more difficult as there were no plugs to fit basins – there was a 1970’s style rectangular tiled bath in the shower, but it had a shower drain that wouldn’t take a plug. There was a basin in the bathroom, but the plug provided was the wrong kind. There was a guest laundry, but there was also no plug that would fit the laundry trough. In the end, I got some things washed in the bathroom basin, using a sock as a plug.

As the sun set and the clock ticked over to 6pm, we went to the restaurant for dinner. Good thing we got there and ordered early, as while we were eating the chef came out and said there was only one chef tonight, so please be patient – if he has a heart attack, no one will get any food! My lamb shank pie was very good. We opted not to order dessert – although I was still hungry, I was also tired.

Day 12: Carnarvon to Wooramel Station, 129km

We had sussed out a coffee shop in Carnarvon that opened at 6am (thanks, mining folks), so we planned our start time to get a proper barista coffee on the way out of town. Apparently two other touring cyclists had also got a coffee that morning, about 15min before us! We never saw them though.

The terrain out from Carnarvon was very flat and boring. We also had a headwind, which we knew would stay with us all day. After some distance, we stopped at a parking area and had our sandwiches that we had purchased in town yesterday. About 60km south of Carnarvon there was a small sign for a historic site, which seemed like a good excuse to have a break from the headwind. The historic site was a plaque for where 40 mile tank used to be – tanks were built in the 1930’s to be a source of emergency water at regular distances on the long-haul highway from Carnarvon to Geraldton.

Around 2pm we reached the turnoff to Wooramel Station, and rode an extra 2km or so to Wooramel Roadhouse. This was our only resupply point today, with no supplies available at Wooramel Station, and the next roadhouse being 80km further down the road. We would be off tomorrow morning before the roadhouse opened. So we collected water and a cold drink and crisps for our sundowner, and had an icy pole and a chat with the roadhouse owner. He said there was a couple on touring bikes, about 4 days ahead of us, but doing less distance per day than us. We never saw them either!

Back to Wooramel Station – thankfully a tailwind for the doubling-back section, then 2.5km on a reasonable quality dirt road. I went to check in, and while I was inside the wind blew my bike over onto the derailleur side. This bent my hanger, and it meant annoying gear transitions for the next seven days until we got to a bike shop (in Perth) and had time to get it sorted.

At Wooramel Station, we had indulged and spent $50 for an on-site canvas tent. This was a good move, as it was warmer and more comfortable than the bivvies, and we could stand up inside and get changed. We enjoyed a soak in the hot spring baths – I had a very sore hamstring, and hoped that the iron and magnesium rich water would help ease my muscles! It did stain our bathers and watch bands rusty brown. There were half a dozen retiree caravanners in the hot spring bath with us – there was some friendly chatter and discussion about the best regional bakeries, but then they digressed into discussion about fuel efficiency of towing caravans. I was tired and not able to contribute to the small talk, I figured the best thing to do with my grumpiness was keep quiet.

After our soak, we showered in the converted water tank bathroom, which was fun. Then an early self-catered dinner, photos of sunset, and bed before 7:30pm. There was a group of multiple families with many small children also in the canvas tents. The small children were running around like crazy, bumping into our bikes with their scooters, and making heaps of noise. It did not help my irritation levels, but with earplugs in it didn’t interfere with getting to sleep!

Highlights: barista coffee, chat with owner at Wooramel Roadhouse

Day 13: Wooramel Station to Nerren Nerren Rest Area, 174km

A cold (10 degrees) pre-dawn start. We were very excited to see a pair of wedge-tail eagles scavenging some roadkill, but of course they flew off and were hard to photograph. Spectacular nonetheless.

We crossed the 26th parallel and left the northwest. Today was a much better day than yesterday, mainly because we passed through two roadhouses, which broke the day up into natural chunks and rests. First was Overlander, after about 80km. We were very ready for some sustenance by this time, and the roadhouse had a decent range. After a breaky wrap, half a glazed donut (very good!) and a mocha, I did some stretches and was ready to go again.

Next stop was Billabong Roadhouse after another 47km – actually, there are two roadhouses adjacent to each other. We went to the more northerly one, which had a great range of healthy and gluten free food. We got fruit smoothies, and I had some chocolate mousse as I wasn’t super hungry. Near Billabong was where the road started to get properly undulating / hilly for the first time all trip – we had gradients up to 5%! We also started to see lots of wildflowers along the roadside.

After another almost 50km, we made it Nerren Nerren 24 hour rest area, which was our destination for the night. We set up at a table under the shelter, and I got changed then wandered around the camp area looking at wildflowers. As dusk approached, we snacked on our gourmet sundowner of cheese and crackers, crisps and ginger beer. Then it was time to prep and eat dinner, prep coffee bags for the morning, set up our bivvies, and retire for the night. This was to be our last camping night, as the nights were getting too chilly for Greg’s summer-weight sleep system.

Highlights: Well-spaced refreshment stops, roadside wildflowers, wedge-tail eagles, good weather (some wind and 26 degrees).

Day 14: Nerren Nerren Rest Area to Kalbarri, 156km

Another early start, this time it was a chilly 5 degrees and I had to stop shortly after we set off to put my rain pants on for warmth, I was freezing. We had definitely left the Northwest, where we had warmth, mostly caravan and road train traffic, carried our own food, and stopped at widely-spaced roadhouses. We were moving into the next phase of the trip, the Mid-west and Wheatbelt, where we would see a lot more cars, and our stops would be at pubs or motels and bakeries. We didn’t have to carry so much food or water now, which took a bit of mental adjustment. We also had a very cloudy morning, which was a precursor for what was to come for this phase – cold mornings and rain showers.

We saw some water tanks and on the spur of the moment ducked off the road to see them – we have a bit of an obsession with knowing where we can get water, even if we will never be back this way again! It turned out they were the 200 mile tanks on the old highway, so I was glad we’d stopped to see this historic connection to the 40 mile tank site near Carnarvon. That felt like a long time ago.

Lots more carpets of wildflowers, and undulating and hilly terrain. Traffic on the highway got progressively busier and less friendly (very few drivers waves). We were pleased to make the turnoff to Kalbarri and get off the highway. There was a lot less traffic, but it wasn’t any more friendly. The road to Kalbarri had the most amount of roadkill for the whole trip – so many dead kangaroos. I think it was because both sides of the highway are National Park, with scrub vegetation – and lots of wildflowers! We also had a tailwind on the way out to Kalbarri, which helped with the hills. There was a massive descent down to the coast, then it became a strong headwind as we turned left to continue along the coast. Thankfully not far to go.

Arriving at Kalbarri, we discovered that Sunday afternoon almost everything is shut – in spite of what their opening hours on Google Maps might say. There were no open public toilets, nor cafes. The only thing that was open was the IGA. We were both hungry and tired and I was grumpy. It was also crazy windy! After realising everything else was closed, we headed back to the IGA and stocked up on supplies for the next day, plus snacks for now. We had snacks at the table outside the IGA, then checked into our motel.

Our motel room was lovely! The only problem, it was on the second floor – so we had to carry our bikes up the stairs. Well, Greg carried both bikes. The motel pool was in the sun, and my legs had been very sore, so I took pringles and ginger beer to the pool to soak my legs. The water temperature was quite nice and it made a huge difference to how my legs felt the next day. This was to be the last pool soak, as it got too cold in subsequent days!

We walked across the road to Gilgai Tavern for dinner and each had a huge chicken parmi, which was overdue! It was a tough day, with highlights being the ace wildflowers, and Edge Resort Motel.

Day 15: Kalbarri to Geraldton, 180km

We had breakfast in our motel room, including coffee made with hot water from a kettle! It was still dark when we headed off, thankfully not windy and less cold, almost 10 degrees. We continued through the town to the southern road back towards the main highway.

About 5km or a bit further out of town, we took the turnoff to the Natural Bridge lookout. This was the only one of Kalbarri’s gorges and lookouts that I had mapped on the route, as it was a sealed road and was less than 10km each way. It was a very fun road, mildly undulating with sweeping corners. We were the only ones on the road, in the pre-dawn light, with scrubby coastal vegetation on both sides and a few kangaroos. We stopped at the Island Rock lookout, and didn’t actually get to the Natural Bridge as the route I had mapped was a walking track only (not safe for bikes). We could have gone an extra distance on the road, but we were happy with our lookout, and enjoyed second breakfast as the sun rose. I took a few more wildflower photos on the way back to George Grey Dr.

It was pretty hilly climbing up from the coast, but became flat as we headed towards Hutt Lagoon Pink Lake. Thankfully it was a tailwind on this section, as it was pretty exposed. Greg had hoped to see the town of Gregory, but sadly it was about 6km off-route, and we decided it was too far to divert. Shortly after the Gregory turnoff, we had threatening drizzle, and we had a caravan pass pretty close to us – they had slowed down to tell Greg that he had dropped something off his bike. We went back and found his socks and underwear, which had been tied on the back of his saddle bag to dry. Greg secured his laundry and we continued for a little while longer, then stopped at the historic Lynton Convict Depot. This was mainly an excuse to have something to eat, we didn’t bother looking around. It was the kind of tourist stop that if we were in a car doing 90-100kph we wouldn’t have stopped, but at the modest pace of 20kph it was easy to pop in.

The undulations and foreboding clouds continued, with very scenic views over farmland. This was a very beautiful part of the route. Upon reaching Northampton, I found a toilet and we then went to the Shearing Shed Cafe. This was a place that we had heard about from caravanners – apparently the best vanilla slice going around, and if you’re not there early you can phone ahead to place an order. Which I had done (from the lookout at Kalbarri). It was lunchtime when we arrived, so we opted for burgers and chips and took the vanilla slice takeaway. The staff and clientele were very friendly and interested in our trip – one guy who was buying some lunch saw our bikes and asked if we wanted to join a group ride in Geraldton the next morning. I demurred but did ask where they would be going for coffee afterwards.

After our delicious burgers, I packed the vanilla slice (in my incredibly versatile Orange-Brown feedbag) and we slowly departed Northampton – but first I had to take photos of the gorgeous Monsignor John Hawes-designed St Mary in Aro Coeli church (he is a Catholic architect who designed beautiful churches in many of the Mid-west towns, locally famous).

We were on Highway 1 for all of 4km, then turned onto Nabawa-Northampton Rd for the Chapman Valley section. This was also very scenic, with rolling hillsides covered in crops and some trees. We reached the tiny town of Nabawa in the mid-afternoon and stopped at the quite fancy sports ground toilets for a rest stop and vanilla slice – it had coped very well on the journey, and was huge and delicious! Leaving Nabawa, our route turned south-westerly rather than the south-easterly direction we had been going, so we were expecting more of a headwind but it wasn’t too bad.

We could see something flying in the distance, close to the ground. We thought it might be a glider. As we got closer it became apparent that it was a plane, doing some kind of flying acrobatics. We joked that it was our own private Tour de France-style fly-by. Eventually we realised that it was someone doing crop dusting. This slightly freaked me out, as I had listened to The Silent Spring audiobook earlier in the trip, which was all about highly toxic agricultural chemicals that were sprayed without sufficient controls or understanding of the implications. However, I assumed and hoped that we were not going to get poisoned.

Coming out of the Chapman Valley, we had a big descent into the outskirts of Geraldton – even though there was a headwind, it not not noticeable because we were going fast downhill. As we got closer to the town, there was a section of roadworks where traffic was down to one lane. Going through the roadworks, a ute came up behind us with very loud dogs barking in the back and the passenger yelling at us out of the window. We thought it was a bogan abusing us for being on the road. But it turned out to be friends of a friend, who knew we were coming to town and were super excited to see us! We didn’t realise all this at the time, so we continued on our way. We were also on a mission to try to get to the bike shop before it closed – it would be our first (open) bike shop for the trip!

Geraldton Bikes was a great shop, an amazing range of stuff and friendly service. We bought two extra tyres, which we intended to get put onto our rear wheels at Perth (we weren’t sure if we would get the tyres we wanted in Perth, funnily enough), and we also both opted to buy a bonus pair of socks to support the shop.

It started raining about 500m before we reached our hotel, which was pretty good timing. We were staying at the very fancy Gerald Hotel – I had even got a disabled room (as the last room available), which meant there was extra space for the bikes. We had showers and did washing, then went down to Bob’s Bar for tapas and gin / beer / cocktails for dinner 🙂

Highlights: This was one of the best days of the trip. Terrain was interesting and scenic, weather was mild (26 degrees max) and mostly tailwind, there was very little traffic until we got into Geraldton, we had great food and friendly people interactions. My legs also felt much better!

Day 16: Geraldton Rest Day, 0km

Our rest day started with a small sleepin, to ensure we got up in time to meet the local bike group at 7am for coffee (and breakfast). We met them after they finished their ride at Quiet Life cafe, which had good coffee and excellent food. It was a lovely group of about 6-8 riders, and one was Jared who had been in the non-bogan ute with the dogs yesterday, and who we had arranged to have dinner with tonight.

Greg and I then wandered around the foreshore, which has had a great re-development, and checked out Geraldton Port – I had worked at Geraldton Port supervising dredging for one of my first professional jobs, so it was great to see it again.

We booked in for massages in the afternoon, and got takeaway noodles for lunch. A good amount of relaxing, but we also had to change hotels as we had initially booked only one night in Geraldton before we decided to make it a rest stop. Luckily Greg had managed to find us accommodation in another very nice hotel close by, and we had late checkout where we were. So we packed up and checked out by 11:30am, had lunch, then checked into our new hotel. The new one had a balcony in the sun, which was very helpful for getting our washing dry.

We relaxed and caught up on trip notes and socials in the afternoon, then went back to Bob’s Bar for a sundowner before meeting Sharron and Jared for dinner at the Murchison Hotel. They were friends of our bike mechanic in Perth, and he had put us in touch. We had a super nice dinner chatting with them, hearing about their life adventures and sharing our journey. It was nice to be speaking with people who understood bikes, as most of our conversations for the last two weeks had been with caravanners and roadhouse staff.

Geraldton Highlights: Bob’s Bar and multiple high quality hotels and cafes, a really happening city. Also a couple of good bike shops!

Cumulative distance on RideWA by this point: 2,291km. This was to be our last full rest day!

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