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Touring on the Great Inland Way: Melbourne to Cairns

Alia Parker's picture
Rest stop at the Nigigully Pub, cycle touring the Great Inland Way. Cycle Traveller

Collis Ivey is taking a break in the small Queensland mining town of Emerald when I call. It has been a few weeks since he, his wife Kathy and a group of cyclists left Melbourne for Cairns along the Great Inland Way, and now their destination is just a few days' ride away. Cairns marks the end of the first leg of a six-month bike tour around Australia, which Collis and Kathy operate through Cycle Across Oz every two years. It's a project built out of a passion for bicycle travel and the demand from cyclists for supported rides. So what is it like riding up along the Great Inland Way, west of the Great Dividing Range? Here's what Collis has to say.

Cycling along the Great Inland Way near St George. Cycle Traveller

CT: How did you come up with the inland route you are riding?

CI: I really didn't want to go up the Princes Highway and I know that the Bruce Highway is not the best. You also don't really see much of the coast along that route. You occasionally get glimpses of it; there's a lot of traffic and I just thought a quieter route would be a good alternative. My wife and I came up to Cairns in November 2011 and mapped out a way that we thought would be a good way back to Melbourne. It's known as the Great Inland Way. It actually starts in Sydney and goes through the Blue Mountains and goes down to Bathurst and then up through Wellington, Dubbo and so on. But we've just connected it up to Melbourne and gone along the odd back road and it has been wonderful.

We picked this inland route because of safety; there's not as much traffic. There are also no huge climbs. The traffic got pretty bad between Roma and Injune, where there's a lot of mining traffic. The road there was not in terrific shape; it's taking a bit of a pounding with the traffic and that was a bad stretch, but prior to that it has been good and after that stretch it has been good. I thought the mining traffic would be bad around here, Emerald, because it's a big coal mining area, but it has been OK. We're heading north tomorrow and we're going through mining country again. When we came through on the reconnaissance trip, the traffic was low north of Clermont, so we expect the traffic to drop off.

Giant burget at the Nindigully Pub. Cycle TravellerCT: What do you like most about rural Australia?

CI: The rolling hills, the wide open spaces, the wildlife and basically the people and their generosity. We've taken on a charity this year – Tadvic, which modifies bicycles for disabled children. It's the first time that we've taken on a charity and I'm just surprised by the generosity of people. They come over and chat and want to know what we're doing and the money just starts coming. It's just incredible!

CT: What have been some of the highlights on this leg?

CI: I asked some of the cyclists this last night and these are some of their answers: being on the ride; meeting interesting people; for one of the riders it is the reflection back on the day's ride and the change from each community – we've gone from a grazing, station-type situation into a mining area. Some others said finding the campsite shower and the first cup of tea!

Paddock Sculptures along Banjo Paterson Way. Cycle TravellerThe landscape is another. We saw this fantastic roadside display called Paddock Sculptures – it's these animals on bicycles. It's like a moving art gallery, it's incredible! Everyone just loved it, it was a great day. I was never aware of it and the people in the area don't mention it. It's between a little town called Molong in NSW and another little place called Yeoval on the Banjo Paterson Way, sort of on the way to Dubbo. [There are about 45 sculptures spaced out at intervals along the road.] Others said they liked discovering new things, the sense of freedom and the sunrises and sunsets.

CT: What sort of bikes are you riding for this particular trip and how are they handling the roads?

CI: There are some hybrid bikes with flat bar handlebars as well as road bikes in the group. It's all on bitumen road. We struck a 3km dirt road where they are doing road work, but other than that the road is good, but up here it does get flooded a bit and there is the odd pot hole. Touring tyres are good.

CT: Would you recommend the route to others?

Woody and Collis on the Cycle Across Oz bicycle tour. Cycle TravellerCI: Oh yes, I would. Definitely. It has been fabulous and some of the outlooks as you go from one rolling hill to the next have been really pretty. It is really nice country.

CT: How many riders do you take on tour?

CI: We have 15 on this leg, but there are 18 on the next leg (Cairns to Darwin) and then we've got a full book on the Darwin to Broome ride. We can't handle much more than 20. They're a great bunch of people. Everything is going fine and they're really enjoying it.

CT: What's the ability of the riders?

CI: We've got very fit people along. The trip from Injune to Rolleston was a long leg; that was 175km.

The cyclists range in age from, I think, our youngest is 38 years up to 72. We've got one chap, his name is Woody and he's from South Carolina. Woody's up around that age and he has done five legs around Australia with me. Now he's about to complete the circuit – he's riding from Melbourne to Broome, -- so he's quite extraordinary. There's another chap called Robbo and he just completed the circuit of Australia near Emerald.

Kathy (centre) and the Cycle Across Oz riders. Cycle Traveller

We try to space it so the slower people head off first. My wife and I carry the gear in the support vehicle. We also supply the food in the bush camps. They pay us a fee and we supply morning tea, lunchtime refreshments. We have the odd BBQ here and there and then occasionally we'll upgrade into a motel or a hotel. We're pretty well camping most of the time.

CT: What's the weather like in Queensland at the moment?

CI: It's starting to get a little bit warmer; it's steamy up here today. About 29. They're predicting a bit of rain over the next couple of days. We're over the other side of the Great Dividing Range so when they get these big winds coming up the coast, it may not necessarily be the same here.

CT: Will you be going all the way around Australia?

CI: Yes, this is our first leg [Melbourne to Cairns] and we're going around Australia. The next leg is Cairns to Darwin and then we go Darwin to Broome, Broome to Perth and then Perth back to Melbourne.

You can track the Cycle Across Oz riders and read their daily trip notes on their Melbourne to Cairns 2013 blog or make a donation to help customise bikes for people with a disability at Tadvic.

Images from top: 1. The Cycle Across Oz group on the Great Inland Way. 2. Scenery along the way. 3. Giant burger at the Nindigully Pub. 4. Paddock Sculptures on the Banjo Paterson Way. 5. Woody and Collis. 6. Kathy Ivey (centre) leading the group. (All images courtesy of Cycle Across Oz.) 

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