Leader’s Lowdown: La Nina and I

How bad is La Nina, with her ride-ruining rain and unpredictability?! How GOOD is La Nina: heat-tempering, dam-filling, bushfire-banishing, grass-greening? And how merciful is La Nina, giving me a dry-ish 3-day window?

My Hunter trip was a sudden Plan B. On Sunday night (14.03.21), four of us planning a Tuesday – Friday northern tour despaired of the forecast rain, especially Thursday and Friday. I was the only one who could go Monday, so caught early trains to Maitland (3 hours from Hornsby), hoping to day-ride in the Hunter for 2 or 3 days.

How good is Hunter cycling? “The Hunter” region is usually deemed more than the Hunter River Valley, to include Port Stephens, Newcastle, Lake Macquarie, and northwest to Scone and Merriwa. A vast network of sealed roads, many of which are mostly empty-ish. Mixture of flat, gently undulating, and quite hilly nearer Barrington Tops. Varying scenery: farms, studs, bush, rivers, creeks, lakes, ocean, coal mines! More coffee/food options than in most of inland Oz.

And the train! As well as the train between Sydney and Newcastle, rail-cars service Newcastle – Maitland frequently, and beyond there to Dungog or Muswellbrook/Scone several times daily. Opal card limits apply as though in Sydney. Theses trains broaden the range of ride routes and can be rain saviours.

How bad are e-bikes, corrupting teeth-clenching climbers and Strava-strivers?! How GOOD is a touring e-bike with “Sport” power-setting, and a kilowatt-hour of battery aboard?! You still hear the birds squawking, feel the wind of fast-passing trucks, and smell the dead animals. You just miss the climb grind.

My Day-1 comprised two rides, constrained by a 2pm airbnb check-in (East Maitland). The first ride was a 51km northern loop, including Paterson and

Morpeth. The second, post check-in, was a 28km inner-northeast loop including Morpeth and Largs, but especially focussed on Maitland. Rain: occasional mizzle.

Day-2 started with a fast train to Singleton (33 mins. from Maitland). The ride arced northwest thru Gresford to Dungog, with its myriad heritage-listed potholes. Then south to Clarence Town, Seaham, Morpeth and Maitland. It should have been shorter, but Google showed a tempting short-cut from Seaham, … until a feisty farmer sent me retreating off his private property. Climbing peaked at 400M, Mt Richardson, before Dungog. 137km [+1,760M]. Sport-mode used the whole kilowatt-hour! Rain: occasional mizzle.

Day-3’s start was delayed until 9:45 due to mizzle, then I rode northwest via picturesque Maitland Vale and Stanhope. St Patrick’s Day, and the scenery seemed Irish. (Does La Nina mainly reside in Ireland?!). I’d turned southwest and was lunching in Branxton after 47km when a heavy rain-squall came thru: lucky timing! Then further southwest to Rothbury and Pokolbin, and northeast to Lovedale, Bishops Gate and Maitland. A couple more short squalls, which I somewhat sheltered from. 110km [+1,310M].

Thursday’s forecast looked so bad that I scurried back to Sydney on an evening train. Grateful to beat the deluge, with plenty of photos and fond memories.

To view my routes, use ridewithgps.com and:

Find, Keywords = “H2103”, Starts within “50” km of “Maitland, NSW”, Search.

– Oz Wanderer