Monday, June 16, 2014

One Fleurieu over the Tern's rest: cycle touring south of Adelaide

Yankalilla Bay, Fleurieu Peninsula
From Adelaide the Fleurieu peninsula stretches down to Cape Jervis and Kangaroo Island. From a cycle touring point of view, it looked enticing: off road cycle routes from central Adelaide to the coast and down to McLaren Vale; then a relatively quiet main road through to the ferry terminal at Cape Jervis for the jump to Kangaroo Island.

The morning after getting back from the Melrose road trip, I headed out along the Linear Park, the strip of parkland and cycling/walking tracks along the Torrens river leading out to the coast. This involved heading in the opposite direction to where I wanted to go, but cycle touring isn't necessarily about efficiency, and it looked a better option than navigating the South Adelaide suburbs. Some remarkably Pukeko like wood hens browsed by the river. Near the coast, the river was bordered by fields supporting grazing horses.
Industrial landscaping, Linear Park
Horses grazing, Torrens River
Pelican sculpture, mouth of Torrens River
A couple of pelican sculptures announced the sea, and the start of the coastal trail, and I headed down the beaches to Glenelg. At Marino Rocks I picked up the Coast to Vines Trail, a generally off road rail trail leading thorough to the vineyard centre of McLaren Vale - sort of Adelaide's Martinborough - and on to Willunga. The Coast to Vines was generally easy to follow, except for a central section where motorway construction had created some poorly marked temporary detours. In many places it's following an old railway line, and the country railway stations have been reestablished as shelters along the route.
Coast to Vines trail

Grazing kangaroos near McLaren Vale
It was late enough by the time I approached McLaren Vale to see kangaroo families browsing the farmland in the dusk; but fortunately was able to make a cabin at the campground before it was completely dark. After locating a hose I was finally able to remove the bulk of the Mawson Trail mud, then headed into town for a meal.

Next morning I headed out early, following the final section of the Coast to Vines trail (here re-branded as the Shiraz trail) through to Willunga.
Cyclng through McLaren Vale vineyards

Southern terminus of the Coast to Vines trail
A fine bacon and eggs breakfast and good WiFi delayed progress so it was relatively late morning by the time I got onto the main road heading south. As well as a few well appointed cafes, Willunga has a church apparently dedicated to the trail
The Coast and Vines Church caters to the spiritual needs of cyclists completing the trail
Cafe bacon and eggs catering for cyclists' less spiritual needs, Willunga
Although bearing the title of "Main South Road", the B23 had good shoulders and light traffic, climbing up to skirt the Myponga reservoir before dropping down through the country town of Yankalilla, hitting the coast for a while, then climbing up to Delamere with a view of the Starfish Hill windfarm, and a sunset run down to Cape Jervis and the waiting ferry to Penneshaw.
Myponga Reservoir

Starfish Hill Windfarm at sunset
Folding the Tern and putting it in the baggage van saved me buying a bike ticket. Being mid-week and off season everyone on the boat seemed to know everyone else, and were comparing notes on their trip up to the big smoke of Adelaide.

In Penneshaw a short climb up the hill lead to a heat pump warmed room at Kangaroo Island Backpackers, and a stroll along the main drag to the Penneshaw pub for bangers and mash.

Unfortunately time was running out, and I realised that exploring Kangaroo Island by bike needed at least a week rather than the day I had left; so I settled for a ride along the shore past a curious Greek temple like structure sheltering  a reproduction of a rock carved by French explorers in 1803.
Shelter for rock carved by French explorers, Penneshaw bay
When the road curved inland I parked the bike and headed up Ironstone Hill, site of a farm belonging to an early settler, Harry Bates. Before the arrival  of threshing machinery, Harry processed his grain on a circular threshing platform, now looking like a druidic circle on the summit of the hill.
Threshing circle, Ironstone Hill
Kangaroo Island is relatively pest free, and a haven for wildlife. Out to sea, a couple of dolphin worked their way down the coast, and in the scrub, shy wallabies peered out nervously as I passed. Despite the island's name, I failed to see any kangaroos.
Wallaby, Ironstone Hill track
Next morning I was back on the ferry, and the connecting bus to Adelaide, covering a couple of days cycle touring in a few hours. The Peninsula had turned out to be a satisfying cycle touring area - a good rail trail south from Adelaide, relatively quiet roads in the south, and lots of potential if I manage to make it back to Kangaroo Island - who knows, I might even see a Kangaroo!

Origami ancestor worship on the Mawson trail

As far as I know, I'm not directly related to Sir Douglas Mawson, the Australian Antarctic explorer. However my grandfather, Reverend William Mawson, was a contemporary, and in his own way, an explorer and adventurer. While Douglas was harvesting scientific data in the deep south, William was attempting to harvest Chinese souls for the Presbyterian church, at first among miners on the Otago goldfields, then at a mission station near Canton.
Douglas Mawson (right) and companions at the South Magnetic Pole, 1909
William Mawson (sitting on ground, left) with Chinese miners, Otago Goldfields, 1890s.
The 900 km Mawson Trail is named after Douglas. William's legacy includes the mission station near Canton/Guangzhou, now a hospital where no corporate memory survives of its NZ Presbyterian origins.
Rush hour in Melrose
Melrose is a small rural South Australian town on the edge of the Mt Remarkable National Park that has reinvented itself as a mountain biking mecca, and was the destination of a post Velo-City road trip.
Local enthusiasts have developed a network of mountain bike tracks on the side of the mountain which attracted Simon, Patrick and Graeme. But I decided the Mawson connection was close enough that I'd give the Tern origami bike a workout by following the section of the Mawson trail that ran through the town.
Bike sculpture, central Melrose
Mawson trail marker and typical backroad
Finding the trail was easy - past the bike sculpture in the centre I picked up  the distinctive Mawson Trail markers, and the sealed road soon turned to red gravel. The road climbed steadily to Peach Tree cutting, passing small (I guess, for Australia) farms: mostly sheep and cattle, with the occasional vineyard. One farmhouse received its mail via an ingenious miniature flying fox.
Mail delivery
The route is contiguous with the Heysen walking trail, and at one corner a well rugged up lady in a wheelchair waited by her vehicle for the walking companions she was supporting. After a while the route turned away from the hills on Rosslyn Road - another family coincidence since my sister's name is Roslyn.
Rosslyn Road, Mawson Trail
Although the Mawson Trail website suggests the trail requires a mountain bike, on this section the Tern seemed to roll along the packed gravel roads happily; that is, until the route headed back towards the hills and the Wirrabarra forest on Cutting Road. I'd never really associated the Australian outback with wetness, but a week or so of rain had turned the top 10cm of dirt to a sticky Plasticine like mush. The tyres failed to get purchase on this, and worst still it clogged the wheels and mudguards. Eventually I realised it was easiest to get off and walk on the verge past suspect sections, but even so, the progress was slow.
Mud on the Mawson Trail!
By the time I reached the Wirrabarra forest, with glimpses of kangaroos flitting among the pine trees, it was getting late, so I headed out on White Road to rendezvous with the others on the main road. At one point five large adult kangaroo, camouflaged in grey stubble field, suddenly burst from cover running ahead of me but peeling off over the ridge before I could get my camera out.

A cellphone call established that the others were on their way to pick me up, so I stopped at a water hole and, with the strains of Waltzing Matilda ("...camped by billabong/ Under the shade of collibah tree") running through my head, attempted to get the worst of the mud off the bike before loading it into the pristine interior of the rental car.
Emerging from a waterhole with a (sort of) clean bike [photo courtesy of Patrick Morgan]
A few hours driving and a car wash later we were back in Adelaide and ready to deny having ever allowed dirt roads to have sullied the tyres of the rental car in contravention of the rental agreement.

I'm not sure what the 1800's Mawsons would have made of this brief adventure: probably too tame for Douglas (although post-Antarctica he spent time researching the geology of the Flinders Ranges) and too frivolous for William. But it provided a good chance to explore rural Australia at bike pace: next time I'll try to do it in a drier season!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Stairway to heaven: by gold card to the Paekakariki escarpment

Stairs climbing towards the skyline on the Paekakariki Escarpment.
The 9:15 Kapiti train has lot of grey heads, as it's the first train out of Wellington that qualifies for a Gold Card discount.  This morning the guard doesn't even bother looking at the proffered cards, dispensing free tickets to anyone who meets minimum standards of wrinkliness and greyness. He does however upbraid several seniors for attempting to discretely quaff takeaway flat whites, in flagrant violation of the "no food no drink" ideograms on the Matangi unit's walls.

Over the last couple of years, when heading north from Wellington, I'd noticed a track wending along the high escarpment that towers above the road and rail corridor between Pukerua Bay and Paekakariki. Where did it start, and where did it lead to? A bit of research showed that it was the Paekakariki Escarpment track,  part of the Te Araroha trail, and intended to connect Paekakariki and Pukerua Bay, but currently only completed about half way from the Paekakariki end.

So this morning I'm taking advantage of retirement and my newly acquired Gold Card to head up to the place of the colourful kakariki parrots, and check out the route.

Ames road out of the Paekakariki settlement leads to an ingenious "Ames Spiral", looping across the rail bridge, underneath, and through a planting area of new native shrubs. For a while, the track bobs up and down close to the rail line, as if hesitant to break away from Wellingtons lifeline. Squadrons of tiny larks practise high speed tree hugging manouevres through the bush. At a bridge, I chat to a couple of volunteers armed with weed eaters, about to clear space for some more native plantings. "We're getting some feedback that we need to put in handrails, some people are complaining of vertigo".

After crossing the outlet of a slip prone gully, the track gains courage and starts climbing steeply on a relentless series of stairways. Near the top I pause for a muesli bar. A guy comes the other way " how far to the top?" I ask. "325 meters" he replies. The precision of the reply is explained by the GPS he's clutching, and that he's a geocacher, searching for objects left in wild by other enthusiasts with the coordinates listed on a website.

For the prescribed 325 meters, the track sidles along, with certainly some narrow sections, and long steep slopes leading to the transport corridor 200m  below, but I avoid any vertigo. Soon I'm at the "under construction" signs that indicate the current trail end. It's a heavenly view, the snow of Tapetueranga showing to the south, the bulk of Kapiti out to sea, and the Kapiti coast arcing north into cloud.

Current end of Paekakariki Escarpent trail, looking south to Pukerua
I chat with a couple who have come up for a picnic with a view; he'd grown up in the Aro Valley so we reminised about Aro School and Holloway Road. I hadn't bought a picnic, so I descended the stairway back down to the Perching Parrot for a fine if not heavenly Tex Mex pie, and plenty of time to catch a Gold Card capable train back to Wellington.