(Although published under my name (Jamie), this was actually written and edited by Mike Roylance with the assistance of Mike MacDonald. All credit to them!)
Group of six riders: Mike, Libby, Bruce, Nan, Jamie and Michael.
Dates: Wednesday 2nd to 16th July inclusive (two weeks)
Total distance: 520 kms
Total days in the saddle: 9
Average ride: 65 kms
Route: From Sydney via train to Peterborough, Orroroo, Craddock, Rawnsley Park, Hawker, Quorn, Port Augusta, Melrose, Gladstone, Peterborough returning via train to Sydney.
Day 1 Departing from Sydney Central railway station at 2:00 PM on Wednesday the 2nd of May we headed west towards Peterborough, South Australia on the Indian Pacific. Middway up the mountains the single locomotive lost power at about sunset and began to slide backwards down the hill towards Sydney. After a delay a reserve loco was summoned from Sydney and hauled the train up to Katoomba
Day 2 After a journey of fits and starts the train eventually arrived at Peterborough at around 4:00 PM, 6 hours behind schedule. The ride to Orroroo originally planned for a leisurely depart at 11:00 AM, now, with darkness approaching became a race against the clock. The group headed off on the first leg of the tour at breakneck pace averaging 30kms an hour on the slight descent into Orroroo. Arriving at the Commercial Hotel in the cold and dark the group settled into the bar without realinsing that they were north of the Goyder line. This line drawn on the map of South Australia by the surveyor general George Goyder in 1865 separated the ‘inside’ or good agricultural land from the ‘outside’ or marginal land. The full significance would become apparent as the tour progressed.
Day 3 The day dawned clear and freezing. Jamie discovered a broken spoke in his rear wheel which was quickly repaired and the group set off for Craddock. It was a beautiful day and the ride was uneventful. The town of Craddock does not have a lot of people. Apart from a converted church and a single residence the hotel is the only occupied building in town. It was built in the 1880’s and is in largely original condition. Although small it’s functional and very cute. Being Friday night a crowd arrived consisting of local identities itinerant miners, travelers like us, wives, girlfriends and children, all occupying the front bar. Law enforcement was nowhere to be seen and drinking continued well into the small hours. One could not help but reflect upon the fact that the pub had outlasted the two churches and continues to do brisk business much as it probably has done for the past 130 years.
Day 4 On to the Flinders Ranges! This leg was 66kms of slight upwards incline with the views becoming ever more interesting and spectacular as the group passed through Hawker and on to Rawnsley Park, the objective for the day. The weather was clear and warm and although the entire leg was a slight climb the cycling was stupendous. The Flinders Ranges ramped up on all sides as the group slid along the flat lands in between. As the sun moved the light changed and the scenery was captivating. The roads were excellent and better still, there was no traffic. This would prove to be the best day’s cycling of the tour. En route at Hawker the group paused at Gerry’s Sightseer’s Curiosity Cafe for a caramel mud cake and to speculate over Gerry’s accent and associated country of origin. It turned out he was Dutch and gave sage advice regarding the use of copious volumes of silicone injected into bike tyres to guard against punctures in the local district. The ‘three cornered jacks’ were a local menace and cause of punctured bike tires. He did warn that the downside of his unorthodox nostrum against punctures was a painful experience for the derriere!
Day 5 This was a rest day at Rawnsley Park and four members of the group decided to climb Rawnsley Bluff which sits at 970 metres elevation on the southern ridge which forms Wilpena Pound. This was a climb of about 400 metres from site of the caravan park. An excellent view of the Pound was afforded en route and the camera enthusiast in the climbing party gave the shutter buttons a workout. Jamie and Mike even had time for a spin with Grace for a fly over the pound. In the evening a sumptuous meal was enjoyed cooked within our cabin followed by the customary drinking and yarning around the campfire. The camp setting at Rawnsley Park was the most attractive of the tour with a small creek running through it and the hefty eucalypts reminiscent of a Hans Heysen landscape dominating the creek bed. Wonderful colors at sunset.
Day 6 Back to Hawker, this was a short downhill which allowed time to explore the town including the Wilpena Panorama painstakingly painted over 4,000 hours by evangelical artist Jeff Morgan. If you haven’t heard of Jeff it probably means you’ve never been to the Flinders Ranges. Day 7 On to Quorn, Originally planned as a two day stopover the group decided there was not enough to detain them for the second day. Once the delights of Emily’s bistro had been sampled and the talents of the local line dancing practitioners assessed it was time for the group to move on.
Day 8 This 40km leg was almost all downhill through the Pichi Richi pass. The historic Pichi Richi steam train makes a weekly journey through this pass to delight the tourists in the winter months. Historic stations like Woolshed Flat and The Willows still exist for tourists to stop and enjoy a picnic or a meal. The original Ghan plied this route before the standard gauge line was built to the west of the Flinders Ranges making this line redundant. The ride along the old line with its hand built dry stone wall embankments was spectacular. The downhill ride however sowed the seeds of guilt in the back of everyone’s minds. All cyclists know that the long downhill can be followed by only one thing. And indeed the dreaded Horrocks pass awaited the group in two days time. There could be no escape.
Day 9 The group spent the morning at the Arid Gardens just outside Port Augusta. This is a small botanic garden with a variety of local and regional arid plantings on display. Well worth a visit if you’re in Port Augusta and want to know the difference between a Mulga Bush and Malee.
Day 10 The dreaded Horrocks Pass awaited! This was a leg of 62 kms with a total climb of 700 metres. The Horrocks pass itself is only 5 kms long but has the bulk of the elevation gain being a climb of 300 metres, and average gradient of 6%. There were no members of the group sorry to see the pass behind them and there was great jubilation at its conquest. The rest of the ride to Melrose although not quite as strenuous was bedeviled by a cold headwind. Headwinds in fact were to be with us the rest of the tour.
Day 11 As it was a rest day a party of 3 made an assault on Mt Remarkable, the trail to which commences directly across the creek from the caravan park where the group stayed. On the climb the temperature dropped noticeably as the altitude increased. The summit stands at 950 metres, about the same as Rawnsley Bluff. Melrose is just inside the Goyder line and it was about this point one could see organized agriculture taking place. Fences, ploughed fields, rows of crops, all things that were conspicuously absent from the arid northern Flinders Ranges were visible from Mt Remarkable.
Day 12 Mothers day, and on the road again. The destination was Gladstone and the headwinds were cold and strong. The morning was the worst as the sky was overcast and bodies froze. Progress slowed to a crawl, hampered by the headwinds and a slight climb. By midday the clouds had cleared and the breeze dropped as the group rolled into Gladstone. From this point two members of the group, Bruce and Libby, peeled off and headed for Adelaide.
Day 13 Peterborough, the day’s destination, was where we had started two weeks earlier and the time seemed to have passed so quickly. The day was a carbon copy of the day 12 with the wind against us once again. By midday things had cleared although the wind stayed with us all day. At this point we were outside the Goyder line once again.
Day 14 While awaiting the arrival of the Indian Pacific at Peterborough 3 members of the group attended the railway museum. This is worth a visit if you’re ever in Peterborough. According to the tour guide Peterborough was the busiest single track railway junction in the world at one stage hosting over 100 steam trains daily. A huge crew of 2,500 laboured around the clock over 3 shifts in the maintenance yard. This was a ‘break gauge’ depot with lines in all three gauges, narrow, broad and standard terminating here in the late 1800’s. This was the main supply route for Broken Hill until the line to Sydney was completed in 1927. From that point on Peterborough went into slow decline in railway terms to the point where today the railway station is disused.