Did you know that you can catch the ferry to Maria Island for free at the moment?
True story, and when we heard about it, we (OK, maybe it was Kim who did the actual organising while I sat around thinking what a good idea it was) quickly booked ferry tickets and accommodation over here for ourselves and the two monsters for the princely sum of $76 for four people for two nights.
Not bad, I thought (at that point I hadn't seen the food bill for the weekend which I think topped out at over $200).
There were however two problems ...
More specifically ... one of them didn't want to come.
Markus was sure the world would end if he didn't go to soccer on Saturday and they both wanted to go to some disco on Saturday night, and what was abundantly clear was that a weekend on Maria Island was definitely not what Markus wanted to do (when Kim told them we might see whales, Markus's response was "they'll probably capsize the ferry and drown us"). This meant that Zara would probably have a less than great weekend with just us, and sowe decided at the last moment not to take the monsters. It would just be me and Kim. Though when we thought about this it didn't seem like such a bad thing as it opened up aworld of mountain biking possibilities to choose from for the weekend.
Gotta love this ... someone else pushing my luggage to the penitentiaty
whilst I ride my bike.
... and then we figured "Why choose ... let's do them all."
And that's how we found ourselves sitting on the deck of the penitentiary on Friday night sipping ciders (we won't mention the bottle of wine that smashed in Kim's clothes bag at the wharf leaving her with only wine sodden clothing all weekend) watching the wombats, geese and kangaroos on the lawn in front of us with nothing to do but read our books and tomorrow ... go for a ride.
Dinner later that night was lamb steaks, kebabs and a fresh green salad with chili lime dressing consumed beside an open fire while chatting to another guy from Lune River who was over here for ten days.
Yep, to think normally I'd just be getting home from work and would probably have just crashed in front of the TV for a few hours and gone to bed.
The next morning, after another feast cooked up by Kim (I was starting to understand why our grocery bill was so high for two people for two nights), we turned our wheels south and just started riding.
Now as well as there being no traffic, great trails and so much wildlife you kind of get bored of hearing things like "Oh look, there's another seventeen wombats" the really great thing about Maria Island is that you don't really need a map of the island as it's pretty much impossible to get lost with limited tracks to choose from and signs everywhere.
From the penitentiary, we headed south towards Painted Cliffs, and then because the last two times I'd been here I'd ridden down the coast road and back over the inland road, this time I decided to try it the other way.
This was one of the many random decisions I take in life without giving it too much thought but because it turned out to be such a good option, I'm claiming it as genius.
I suspect many cyclists avoid the inland road because of all the contours on the map, and yes there are two or three stiff climbs, but they're all ridable, and in fact for the most part they're pleasant climbs heading in the north to south direction, and the rewards are that you get to see a very different side to the island than if you just head down and up the coast road. Here, let me show you ...
Worth it? yea, worth it.
We still got down to French's Farm at a reasonable time, so after a quick look around inside the house and at the wombats we headed on down to see how we would go getting across the isthmus.
Now, the parks notes for the island say that the isthmus isn't rideable, and for the average rider who's hired a bike for the weekend, I'd sort of agree with that, but I've ridden over it and back three (or six depending on how you count it) times and managed to ride it everytime. Albeit, that sometimes it's been very hard work and some sections have needed pushing.
But not today. With the heavy rains we had last week the sand was all compacted down and with my nice 2.4" wide Schwalbe Fat Albert tires I was able to get even my monstrous weight across without stopping. In fact I think we got end to end in under 20 minutes.
From the end of the isthmus it's just one last little climb (which is a cyclist euphemism for a 200 metres ascent over 2.5kms) before losing all that height again as we descended into Haunted Bay (most of it on foot as you have to leave your bikes at 125m above sea level and walk down to the bay).
Haunted Bay can be ruddy difficult to get down to in hard-soled cleated cycling shoes (and even harder to walk around on the rocks when you get there) but I think it's a great spot to stop for lunch, especially with Kim still pulling out all the stops for our gourmet weekend over here ...
Then it was basically, back up over the hill and home (this time via the coast road).
I took one final small detour out via the Oast house when we got back to Painted Cliffs while Kim decided to head straight home. I think my option was best.
... but then I usually do.
All up we covered about 44kms and, somewhat surprisingly, clocked up over 1,100 metres in vertical climbing which just goes to show that there's climbing on this here island.
Now If I did have a gripe for the weekend it would be the state of the facilities ... the male toilets at the penitentiary were broken, the coin operated shower was luke warm, the kitchen sink was blocked, the axe handle was broken, the audio displays weren't working and most critically the coffee machine was out of service.
Notice coffee machine in background with "out of service" poster.
But that's OK, the shower still refreshed me and we found our friend at the BBQ hut with his fire going already and so I joined him for a natter as my super cook Kim cooked up a huge porterhouse with pepper sauce, freshly cooked veggies and a nice glass of red wine.
I really could get used to this.
I was however in bed by 7:30pm, and Kim assures me I was snoring away by 7:31pm.
Sunday morning was just spent wandering around Darlington watching the sun rise, eating another big hot breakfast and a short ride around the fossil cliffs circuit ...
Then it was back on the ferry by 11am and we were home not long after lunch.
Not a bad weekend, not bad at all ...
Oh and just for the record ... that soccer game that Markus just had to go too ... he decided not to go in the end because he found out his mates weren't going.