Day 6 – Taree to Port Macquarie

Today was wet. As mentioned in the previous day’s entry, it started raining late yesterday afternoon. The GPS wanted to direct me via Lawrence but that would have added an extra 40km to the length of the trip so I disregarded the instructions and kept riding along the main road through Cundletown to the freeway.

There was a really bad smell from the north of that town for several kilometers, worse than the expected swampy dairy smell you might expect from low-lying cattle country. It felt toxic in nature, like remnants of some industrial chemical “accident” in the past. There’s a niggle in the back of my mind that I might have read/seen/been told something when I was a child about some incident in the region. At any rate, I wouldn’t want to spend significant time in the area.

Traveling along the freeway was good at that time of the morning (about 8 by then, I think) and I made decent time to the Moorland exit. I was worried that I’d have to cross over several lanes of roadway in order to turn right, but there was a left-hand exit that swept under the freeway so there was no problem. It was an easy ride past an almost-abandoned truck-stop on what used to be the old highway before I turned off onto Coral Ville Road.

The road was tarmac for a short distance before turning into gravel. It ran through flat dairy country and one of the farms appeared to double as a camp site, maybe for people who overflowed from the national park. In the north was Middle Brother (I think) swirling in mist and I felt, as I was standing there taking it all in, that I’d accomplished something getting here and being surrounded by this landscape.

As you leave Coral Ville road and move onto Diamond Head Road, you enter the national park and there’s a road to Crowdy Bay, which looks like it would be a great place to visit on a camping trip. The road north was in good condition, and the forest provided a bit of cover from the rain. After riding along the freeway earlier, this (and the earlier country road) felt like a great escape.

Unfortunately, about 5km south of Laurieton, the road condition rapidly deteriorated. There’s lots of exits to public picnic grounds with a hell of a lot off vehicular traffic that’s caused massive corrugation and potholing on the dirt road. I had to weave in and out of the way of cars around the bigger corrugations and stop occasionally to let convoys of cars past. It was frustrating compared to the tranquillity I had experienced previously.

I usually tuck my sunglasses into the vents on my helmet at the front when I’m not wearing them, and I’d done that today as the rain made it hard to see anything through them. However, the jolting of the corrugations kept bouncing them almost out of the helmet so I placed them on the back of my neck under the collar of the rain jacket. That way I still had easy access to them if necessary.

Eventually the road turned back to tarmac and I entered the outskirts of Laurieton. On the left was Camden Haven River with North Brother shrouded in mist on the other side of the water. It must be a commanding view from the top in fine weather and I wonder if people in the area ever start taking the sight of this amazing scenery for granted.

Riding along the road in the rain, I was passed by a car, which then stopped a short distance ahead in the middle of the road. As I rode up on the inside, the car started moving slowly forward and a teenaged girl held a chocolate easter egg out the passenger window for me, which I gratefully accepted. It was devoured very quickly but very welcome.

I stopped in Laurieton for an egg and bacon roll and coffee at a small cafe. There were several open, all really busy and the whole main street was bustling. No signs of trouble with affording long-weekend pay-rates for your employees here…

Riding north through Bonny Hills and Lake Cathie, I noticed more motels and campgrounds with no vacancy signs and I was getting a bit worried that I might get to Port Macquarie and find nothing available. However, this wasn’t something I could control so I put it out of my head and enjoyed the nice ride north. I’d ridden it southwards in 2007 with the Big Ride in the sunshine, and it was beautiful then, still so in the rain today.

There were a couple of moments along the final run into Port Macquarie that were a bit hairy. Firstly, struggling up a hill, I rode over a stick and my wheel slipped. I immediately had to unclip and stop to prevent myself falling into traffic. It might have been at this point that I lost my sunnies but I didn’t notice they were gone until later in the day.

The second moment was heading downhill towards a roundabout where my brakes took a bit longer to grip than I thought they would. I was steering to the left away from the projected path of traffic when they caught and I pulled up just before entering the roundabout. At that point my city- riding mode kicked in again and I rode more conservatively towards the center of town.

Reaching the top of Ocean Drive, I started looking for a motel. It was about 1pm at this point and I was feeling exhausted. The first couple were booked out and I eventually rode around the corner to one that had one room – the most expensive, of course – left. As I was tired of riding and of searching, I took it and started unpacking. I noticed that there was still a bit of mud left after my earlier dirt road exploits, and the accumulation added to the rear brakes certainly wouldn’t have helped at the roundabout incident earlier. I washed it off with water from a nearby tap.

Afterwards, reflecting over dinner (a pizza on the riverfront) I reflected that maybe I should have just kept pushing north along Maria River Road as it wasn’t that far to Crescent Head. As tomorrow’s entry will show that would have been a bad idea. If I come this way again, I think I’ll avoid Port Macquarie or organise accommodation in advance. The place really feels like a bit of a tourist trap at the moment.

That night SBS TV was screening Apocalypse Now Redux, and I stayed up to about 1am to watch it (and really enjoyed it as it’s been several years since I last seen it). As it was the daylight-saving changeover, with the clocks going back one hour, it meant I wouldn’t be losing too much sleep, which was nice. It was also a nice piece of foreshadowing, although I didn’t know that at the time, since tomorrow’s ride would feel a bit like riding into my own personal heart of darkness 🙂

Total distance: 81.2km
Total time: 5:12:04
Avg speed: 15.61km/h

My ride data is here.

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