The wonderful Tour Down Under was on TV during the week, inspiring me to get out on the bike. I need to do some serious training for big organised rides I’ve signed up for in March. So yet again I rode from Sydney’s Inner West down to Cronulla. It’s a favourite ride of mine. I’ve done it at least a hundred times, and I confess that although it’s always pleasant pedalling along the Cook’s River, around the beaches at Brighton-le-Sands and Ramsgate, then along the mangrove walk/cycle path to a coffee stop facing North Cronulla Beach, it always seems duller riding back home again.
So this time I decided to live a little and do something new, exciting and different. I took the short ferry trip from Cronulla across to the Royal National Park. It’s the oldest nature reserve in Australia, established in 1879. America’s Yellowstone National Park is the only older one in the world. The RNP is a jewel just 32km south of central Sydney, with wild beaches, stands of spectacular forest…and many kilometres of undulating bitumen.
On a Saturday during a holiday period I was joined by groups of hikers, most planning to pitch tents at one of the little beach campsites, then tramp 20-odd km through to Otford Station, from where they could catch the train back. I’ve done that trek too and enjoyed it. It’s not a tough walk but it is a very pleasant one, with the chance of spotting humpback whales frolicking out at sea.Our ways parted when we arrived in Bundeena. The hikers set off along the coastal path, while I headed inland on Bundeena Drive. It passed through the village, then headed out between rocky outcrops offsetting the bright orange bark of angophora trees. Whipbirds called and honey-eaters flitted.
I didn’t pay them much attention – my eyes were on the undulating bitumen. From the point of view of an OBIL (old bloke in lycra), cycling the RNP is quite challenging. That undulating bitumen seems mainly to undulate upwards. Well, I started at sea level, so I suppose it would. According to my computer, the temperature climbed towards 40 degrees and the distance travelled towards 50km. There was little shade.
Then there was the traffic. Motorcycle clubs love the RNP on a Saturday, and so apparently do clubs for convertible enthusiasts. It seems it’s also a popular spot for teaching teenagers to drive. In some places the roads have wide, debris-free shoulders, but there are bottlenecks where the shoulders shrug and stop abruptly, leaving cyclists to mix it with the cars.
And sad to report, not all the drivers I met were courteous and considerate. Yes, I mean you, driver in silver vehicle who overtook a line of traffic coming towards me, drove at speed head-on down the middle of my lane and forced me off the road. Your windscreen nearly became the last thing I saw in my life. However, no hard feelings. Just leave your apology in the comments box below and we’ll let bygones be bygones.
My water bottle was emptying fast, so I turned right down Sir Bertram Stevens Drive to where I knew there was a cafe by Audley Weir. It was closed for renovations…till October 2011, the park ranger told me later. That left me a climb up to Visitors Centre at the park entrance near Loftus. Probably those Tour Down Under boys would laugh at it, but it was too savage for me in my thirsty out-of-condition condition. I rode some, I walked some, I rode some more. I made it to the top and a nice cool water fountain.
Next time I’ll go to RNP on a cool weekday, carrying extra water bottles. Next time I’ll knock off that hill to the park entrance and roll out to Loftus station with a smile on my lips instead of a grimace. Next time I might even ride all the way back home from there. Or not. We’ll see.
For inzoomable map of the ride, click here.