Our “island in the sky” is always a beautiful place to be and is has the added bonus of being within easy driving of the beach. So a couple of days ago we packed up the bikes and left at dawn to do our favourite bike ride, from the Tweed River south to Pottsville.
An early start meant we avoided the worst of the rush-hour traffic on the Pacific Motorway that runs from Brisbane to the New South Wales border and beyond, by-passing the high-rise glitter of the Gold Coast. Once over the Tweed you are in New South Wales and the shopping malls and beach apartments and general razz and tazz of the coastal strip gives way to endless white beaches and rolling green countryside with Mt Warning and the dramatic scarps of the Border Ranges to the west.
We always start this ride at Fingal Head, a quiet little beach spot that time has pretty well forgotten in terms of development – though like so many other places the scruffy old beach houses are gradually being poshed up and even the old caravan park is having a new amenities block and kiosk built. Still, the beach is lovely and there’s a nice green park and plenty of shade under the pandanus trees. Though this time it was surprisingly cold, with a north-easterly blowing hard, so that we had to huddle down with our bacon sandwiches and spike our coffee with a dose of whisky!
Thus fuelled, and with the north-easterly at our back, we ride west-south-west along the south bank of the Tweed, with Mt Warning brooding in the distance beneath a murky sky. There is an excellent bike track along the river’s edge for almost 4 kilometres (2.4 miles) and then a bit of road work once you go under the motorway bridge and into Chinderah – we used to have to cycle a roughish gravel road edge here but now there’s a very good cycle lane that takes you safely round the corner away from the traffic entering the motorway. It’s only a short distance anyway and then you are on a cycle track once more, heading up the slight rise to Cudgen and then round to the long stretch of the Kingscliff esplanade. This is one long piece of parkland running for a couple of kilometres beside the beach, before you reach the Kingscliff township of shops and holiday apartments. All very gay and seasidish on a sunny August morning.
From here we cycle to the northern side of Cudgen Creek where there’s a rock wall and good views of the beach as it makes a long white curve all the way round to Fingal Head. It’s blustery, on this day, and one lone kite surfer is making the most of the wind. We, however, are glad to get away from it and take the sheltered boardwalk that follows the line of the creek to the bridge,where we cross over to the south side and pick up the new cycleway built by the Tweed Shire Council especially for people like us! It runs close to the beach, just behind the back dunes, and you can peek at the glittering sea as you ride along. The vegetation – tuckeroo trees, sun-gold wattles, gracefully drooping casuarinas and lots of small shrubs and vines – gives some protection from the north and south-easterly winds.
This is Casuarina Beach which runs for several kilometers south to join Cabarita Beach. There is no vehicle access here so it’s very quiet. Here and there are little pathways through the dunes down to the lonely beach – lonely now, but on the western side of the bike/walking path is a huge suburban development of houses, apartments and a high-ticket shopping centre. Where until not so long ago there was just coastal scrub. It’s a beautiful area, with its magnificent beach and mountain views, so development was sadly inevitable. And at least it’s given us a wonderful bike ride!
Along the track the council has installed some very imaginative water fountains, benches and low-key contemporary-style sculptures that are intended to compliment and reflect the nature of the environment. They make good stopping places for tired and thirsty riders. On some parts of the track you pass beach houses of remarkable design, mostly tucked well away behind a screen of vegetation. Luckily there are still long sections of the track where there is nothing except bush on the western as well as the eastern side and the ocean’s song drowns out any other singer except the currawong and friarbird who carroll joyfully of food and love among the wattles and eucalypts.
Eventually this splendid track turns a corner away from the beach and meets the coast road that runs from Kingscliff to Pottsville. There is not a lot of traffic on a Thursday morning but nonetheless we are glad of the screen of trees and shrubs that buffers the bike track from the bitumen. On the eastern side is a bushland reserve about a quarter of a kilometer thick with tracks through it to Cabarita Beach. In fact Casuarina and Cabarita are really one long beach, though there is a curve at Cabarita Township into a small bay and rocky headland which some think of as Cabarita Beach “proper” – what makes it thus is the presence of a surf life-saving club and the safety of being regularly patrolled because this can be a bad coast for rips and large waves in season.
We cycle the short and easy distance into the holiday hamlet of Cabarita, buy apple turnovers and iced coffees at the cake shop and take them to the beachfront. This used to be a somewhat scruffy, somewhat shacky sort of place with a certain raffish charm but now even the old surf lifesaving clubhouse has been poshed to buggery and there are a couple of stylish restaurants with stylish prices and some several-storey apartment blocks. All quite pleasantly done but another sign that the times, they are a-changing, at least when it comes to the sort of beach holidays which today’s Australians (and overseas visitors) expect. No more sand-between-your-toes and a simple weatherboard or fibro shack smelling of sea salt and mildew; no more cossies hung to dry over sun-worn verandah railings. It’s a cappuccino and sun-dried tomato and truffle oil world down on the beach today and the tapas we used to eat free with a glass of rojo in the red-dark little bars of Spain are now an expensive staple of the seaside eateries of Oz.
But never mind, we are content on our bench with our old-fashioned cholesterol-filled pastries, except that the sun has been covered by a mass of high cloud and the blue day has turned to grey. So we get on our bikes – Bob’s sleek Silver and my beloved little cob Bluebell – and head back along the track towards Kingscliff, taking time for diversions on to the beach and photography along the way. There are a few more people, now, using the track, most of them ageing cycies (as opposed to bikies) like ourselves, exchanging cheery greetings as we pass (subtext: aren’t we lucky to be this old and out and about like this on such a beautiful day and still able to move our legs forgawdsakes!).
Back at the bridge over Cudgen Creek we divert along the track on the southern side to where the creek meets the sea – just across from the rock wall at Kingscliff where we had sat only a couple of hours ago. There is a lovely little beach here, always deserted because the sea is rough and less protected from the prevailing winds than the beach on the northern side. I paddle around in the rock pools and wish the sun would come out again, while Bob checks the bikes (I had dropped mine back on the track while taking photographs, and the handle bars have become skewed – easily fixed).
Then it’s back down the creek, checking the mangroves for interesting birds, and across the bridge and along the boardwalk to Kingscliff and lunch at the Thai Restaurant which does a very good prawn curry for $10. We share a beer, then go next door to our favourite ice-cream parlor for dessert. We need to be well refueled because once we’ve cycled the Kingscliff Esplanade and turned dead east to run back up the Tweed River we are heading slap into the north-easterly that so kindly blew us along in the morning. Now we have to pedal like mad to make headway and as we’ve been on the bikes for several hours our legs are tiring. Still, the views are lovely and the sun is out again and soon we have reached Fingal beach and our dear little blue car, Hermione, who has been patiently waiting all this time. We’ve cycled 41 kilometres since breakfast and don’t even feel particularly tired.
We take the longer, scenic route home instead of the motorway because we want our lovely day to have a lovely ending. At 77 (next month) and 67 respectively, we feel proud – and lucky – that we can still enjoys ourselves like this. AND IF YOU’D LIKE TO SEE MORE ABOUT THIS LOVELY DAY OUT, GO TO MY FACEBOOK PAGE FOR LOTS OF PHOTOS.