Sydney to Melbourne on a Budget and a Bike

View along the way between Sydney and Melbourne, on a bike.
View along the way between Sydney and Melbourne, on a bike.

Taking the long bike trail from Australia’s Capital to Second City

By Andrus Hernandez

The view of the trail.

When I arrived in Sydney, Australia in February, I had a one year Work and Holiday Visa and a plan to meet some friends in Melbourne sometime around the end of March. Other than that I had no plans and no  idea what I would be doing before heading down to Melbourne.

Other than that I had no plans and no idea what I would be doing before heading down to Melbourne.

Over the next few days, I wandered around the city, went to the famous beaches of Bondi and Manly and caught up with a couple of friends whom I had met on other travels. Overall I had a good time in Sydney, but after spending the last few weeks in London, Berlin, and Munich I was ready to leave the city and get “to the bush” as they say down under.

How to Get to Melbourne?

I spent a lot of time walking around Sydney thinking about how I would get down to Melbourne. I had over three weeks to get there and a growing annoyance with air travel. I didn’t have any major issue with flying, no horror story of being harassed by security or being stuck on a runway for hours.

I simply thought that flying was too easy. During my flight to Germany a few weeks earlier I looked down at the ground 10,000 meters below and wondered what was down there.

Nick Clark sculpture.
Nick Clark sculpture.

I had gotten on a plane in one country and would touch down in another. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was missing something. While considering my travel options to Melbourne I had ruled out flying because it was too easy and a bus because it would be too boring. This is when I first thought of cycling. I had the time, why not?

Over the next couple of days, I grew more and more determined to make this ride. I stopped in at a map store to see exactly what I would be getting myself into. To say the clerk wasn’t encouraging would be and understatement. But despite his warnings, the decision was made; I would cycle from Sydney to Melbourne.

I started to check out the local bike shops and quickly found that all the new road bikes were out of my price range.

Eventually, I stopped at a pawnshop in Chinatown and found an old mountain bike that fit my budget. It was a bit too small for me but it was in decent shape for its age and the price was right.

$120 later I was out the door with my bike. I had priced panniers when I made the rounds of the bike shops earlier and determined that they were too expensive so I headed to the post office and sent all of my non-essential (and heavy) items down to my friend Jayne in Melbourne.

The last items I bought before I left Sydney was a Hennessy Hammock  and a sleeping bag liner. After all, hammocks are awesome and I was in Australia, who needs a sleeping bag? Before I knew it, I was off.

I had priced panniers when I made the rounds of the bike shops earlier and determined that they were too expensive so I headed to the post office and sent all of my non-essential (and heavy) items down to my friend Jayne in Melbourne. The last items I bought before I left Sydney was a Hennessy Expedition hammock and a sleeping bag liner. After all, hammocks are awesome and I was in Australia, who needs a sleeping bag? Before I knew it, I was off.

Hennesey Expedition hammock
Hennesey Expedition hammock

On the Road

Day one started with a train ride. I wasn’t ready to face rush hour traffic on the wrong side of the road, I went to Oak Flats and started from there.

When I exited the station it took a little while to get my bearings, but I saw a road sign and recognized the name of a town to the south so I followed the arrow.

Before long, I crossed paths with Yusi, a Chinese student who had the same idea as me but a more pressing schedule. We rode together to Kiama, a beautiful town on the coast and stopped for lunch. So far everything was going well.

Yusi had a much better bike than me and dusted me up hills, but I was able to keep up on the flats and I left him behind on the downhill sections. The night before I had looked at the map and picked Seven Mile Beach National Park as my stopping point for the night but Yusi was shooting a little further so he moved on.

Bermagui sculpture.
Bermagui sculpture.

We kept in contact with text messages for a couple weeks but we never did meet up in Melbourne. I ended up going a bit further than Seven Mile Beach and found a nice spot by the beach in Shoalhaven Heads. It was just before sunset when I got there so I hung out to watch the surfers for a bit before finding a spot among the trees to hang my hammock for the night.

Seven Mile Beach

I ended up going a bit further than Seven Mile Beach and found a nice spot by the beach in Shoalhaven Heads. It was just before sunset when I got there so I hung out to watch the surfers for a bit before finding a spot among the trees to hang my hammock for the night.

All in all, the first day went well. I had covered about 50 kilometers (30 miles) and I didn’t feel completely exhausted. One of the great things about Australia is that nearly every park and beach has an electric bar-be-que installed.

So not only was I able to save space and money by not packing a camp stove, I was also able to cook some pretty good meals. Pork chops and potatoes taste even better after a ride in the sun. Not long after dark, I climbed in my hammock and quickly dozed off.

Aside from picking a destination for my first day I had left things pretty open. In theory, I would ride about 50 km a day and arrive in Melbourne in roughly four weeks.

The only real plan I had was to stick to the coast as much as possible and avoid the highway whenever I could. The next morning I took off with no particular destination in mind.

After an easy 15 km along the lazy end of a river, I passed through Nowra, stopping just long enough to have a coffee and continued south.

Bodalla Dairy Shed
Bodalla Dairy Shed

Somewhere near Jervis Bay I had my first, and really only, mechanical issue with my dime store bike. Since this bike was old and still had the stock parts from the department store I expected something to fail.

Luckily it was just one of the plastic pedals that broke. Unluckily there wasn’t a bike shop nearby, so after lunch, I was back on the road hoping to make it to Ulladulla.

The riding had been fairly easy up until this point so I figured I could make the 40 km before dark.

However, the stretch of road south of Jervis Bay goes through Conjola National Park, which means two things, Eucalyptus trees and hills. I definitely struggled on this stretch but I managed to make it to Milton as the sun was setting, only 8 km from Ulladulla.

As one last test for the day Milton was at the top of a hill. After forcing myself up this final hill I was almost instantly greeted with the sight of a sandwich board outside of the local pub that read “$15 steak and a pint” Perfect!

As one last test for the day Milton was at the top of a hill. After forcing myself up this final hill I was almost instantly greeted with the sight of a sandwich board outside of the local pub that read “$15 steak and a pint” Perfect!


Biking and Golf

By 7:00 the next morning I was up and ready to go. Ulladulla is a decent sized town and has a dedicated bike shop so it wasn’t long until I had a new set of aluminum pedals and my sights set on Batemans Bay, 50 km down the road.

Again this was another tough stretch through Eucalyptus forests and on the edge of a few national parks, which amounted to what seemed like an endless road of hills.

When I finally had Batemans Bay in my sights it looked like Paradise. Entering the city across a bridge on the narrow neck of the bay, I could see sailboats gliding across the blue water and people cycling, running and skating along the waterfront.

Blue Ocean.

I made my way to a park by the beach and laid down, taking in the sounds and scents of the sea. It was truly a blissful moment. Exactly what I had been looking for when I decided to make this journey. I eventually got myself up and headed around to a small town called Malua Bay.

Unfortunately, though the name of the town conjured up images of a Pacific island utopia, the village was disappointing. I had planned on staying there for an extra night but decided that I would move on the next day.

I took it easy and pedaled 25 kilometers to Moruya. This worked out well because it gave me time to make a couple of beach stops along the way arriving just in time to catch a rugby game at the pub. Which is a cultural experience all its own.

By the time the game was over the sun had set and I had neglected to find a spot to hang my hammock for the night. I was forced to ride around looking for a suitable location that wouldn’t attract too much attention.

Eventually, I found the perfect spot, a large field with clusters of trees here and there. Having nothing but my headlamp I managed to rig up the hammock and quickly fell asleep.

When I woke up the next morning I could hear something that sounded familiar but I couldn’t make out exactly what it was. As I stepped out of the hammock and put on my glasses I saw that the open field with the perfectly spaced trees was in fact, a golf course and I had spent the night just off the fairway of one of the holes.

Imagine the looks on the faces of the retirees as they hit the course at 6 in the morning only to find someone sleeping on the fourth hole.

It wasn’t quite the inconspicuous camping spot I had thought it was, so I packed up quickly and excused myself before security was called to escort me off the course.

Bermagui and Beyond

The next few days consisted of fairly mellow rides through the countryside. By the end of day six, I pulled into Bermagui, famous for it’s Blue Pool, a rock pool filled with water from the Pacific Ocean, which was perfect for a dip after a long ride.

Another highlight of Bermagui was the Sculpture On The Edge exhibit that displayed stunning works along a bluff overlooking the ocean.

Sydney Opera House
Sydney Opera House

Leaving Bermagui, the highlight of the trip so far, I set my sights on Merimbula, 70 km to the south. It was a pleasant ride, starting out along the coast before tucking inland and then returning to the seaside in Tathra, where I stopped for lunch. I found out while wandering after eating, that the small town of Tathra is leading the charge in Australia with a commitment to receive 50% of it’s energy from renewable sources by 2020.

The author's bike.
The author’s bike.

Arriving in Merimbula, later in the afternoon, I headed straight to the beach for a quick swim and then found a spot to hang my hammock for two nights. I knew that the next stretch would be tough so I decided to take a day off and spend it in Merimbula.

The town itself is popular with summer tourists and hosts the Annual Jazz Festival and Australian Native Orchid Show. It proved to be just what I needed to recharge the batteries for the next lonely stretch of road.

After a day of rest, I felt fresh but was quickly at the mercy of the harsh Australian sun. Though it was the end of summer, it was definitely still summer, and I ended up taking a few hours rest in Eden to let the heat pass before continuing.

The hills that start south of Eden and continue until Orbost, where I arrived two days later, were brutal.

This was definitely the most difficult part of the ride and where the idea of giving up and catching a bus to Melbourne started to creep into my mind. But I was able to keep focused and continued on.

The weather changes fast in Victoria and by the time I arrived in Orbost I was shaking with cold, after spending all day riding in the rain. I knew I needed a hot shower that night so I stopped at the information center to ask about a campground.

Up until this point, I had spent nearly every night in my hammock so a little bit of comfort was in order.

The campground was just around the corner and was $24 per night. However, the lovely woman behind the counter said she’d check the local hotels to see what they charged since it was no longer busy season. Turns out the closest hotel was only $25 a night, a mere 1 dollar more than the campground. The choice was easy. Hotels in rural Australia aren’t what most people think of when they imagine a hotel.

They’re more like a boarding house with nothing but a bed and maybe a sink with a shared bathroom and shower in the hallway. For me though it might as well have been a 5-star resort.

Even after spending the night in the hotel and having a warm shower for the first time in days, I was starting to feel the strain of all the riding I had done over the last two weeks. So when I arrived in Lake

A modest Hostel room in Orbost.
A modest Hostel room in Orbost.

Entrance, after a fairly easy 60 kilometers, to find that the Victoria State Surf Life Saving Championships were being held that weekend I decided to take a break and watch as the best young lifeguards in the state compete.

The events ranged from beach sprints, swimming, kayaking and more. Australia has a reputation of being a healthy sporting nation: I saw nothing to disprove that, as the conditioning of the athletes was phenomenal.

After my much-needed rest in Lakes Entrance, it had been 15 days since I left Sydney. My original plan of taking four weeks was starting to look a bit excessive.

I figured that from Lakes Entrance it would take me about 7 days to make the final ride into Melbourne. As it turned out it wouldn’t even take that long.

Not only did I have fresh legs after my break, I was also in much better shape than when I departed and when you add on the fact that I had left the hills behind to enter a section of flat farmland I started to cover a lot more ground.

In fact, after riding 110 km from Lakes Entrance to Sale I followed that up with 120 km from Sale to Foster the following day and covered another 110 kilometers to end in Cowes at the tip of Phillip Island.

It was just a short ferry ride across from the Mornington Peninsula, and a final 70 km to Melbourne.

Excited to Finish

Arriving in Melbourne

At this point, I was excited to finish. The last ride would be mostly along the coast and fairly easy. Though 70 kilometers had seemed impossibly far at the start of this trip, here I was 18 days later looking at it as a relaxed ride that I would finish in the early afternoon.

One thing I thought might be an issue, as I got closer to Melbourne, would be dealing with heavy traffic. However, there are a number of bike paths and lanes that run down the peninsula. So, for the most part, traffic wasn’t an issue.

I finished off my last day’s ride by stopping in Frankston for lunch and meeting my friend Jayne who had graciously stored my heavy items for nearly three weeks. I offered to buy her lunch to say thank you but she refused and in fact insisted on buying my lunch “You just rode a bike from Sydney mate, you earned it!” she said.

I was now down to my final 40 kilometers. All of the time I had spent on the bike had lead to this. I had chosen the iconic Flinders St Station as my finish line and planned on meeting my friend Ian, who I would be staying with, there at 3:30.

In the end, I reached the station at 3:45. Ian, an Englishman on a Working Holiday Visa, greeted me with typical dry British humor.

As we met his first words were “What took you so long?”

When my plane touched down in Sydney four weeks earlier I had never even thought about cycling as a form of travel. I had always loved riding bikes but I did it for fitness or adventure, it had now become a lifestyle.

For a few days after finishing my ride to Melbourne, I swore I’d never do a ride like that again, but it wasn’t too long before I started thinking “It’s only about 1,000 kilometers to Adelaide, I could ride that.”

Andrus Hernandez is an avid traveler and born nomad. He has been traveling and working around the world for ten years and is now writing about his adventures.

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