Tour de Darling


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It was a very dark start to our new adventure. Leaving at 4.15 am from our warm home was quite a challenge to join up with 24 other cyclists to ride down the Darling River from Hebel on the Qld border to Wentworth NSW. This supported ride was organised by Pedal power, the peak cycling organisation in the ACT.

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Goodbye spring tulips – you’ll be well gone before we return in 3 weeks time.

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Some of the team loading up the bikes on the enclosed trailer.

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23 bikes were loaded onto 2 trailers in front of Steve’s home in Cook by many helpers, all calmly co-ordinated by John and Julia Widdup. Quite a logistics exercise to transport us all between Cook in Canberra to Lightening Ridge – a 10 hour slow trip if all goes well.

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Stunning canola crops seen along the Lachlan valley on the south western slopes of NSW en route to Dubbo.

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Welcome lunch stop at the Valley bakery in Dubbo.

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It was a very long trip in our 2 Hiace rental vehicles.

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Early birds waiting to start the day at Lightening Ridge.

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A Lightning Ridge lunar lookalike landscape – the end result of earlier opal mining activity.

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An opal miners home displaying their love of mural art together with their classic but ancient International truck.
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Beer can house.

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Locals find a living mining and selling opals but if pressed can even offer clairvoyancy services.

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Lunching at the local cafe before saying ‘hooroo’ to Lightning Ridge.

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Peter’s place!
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Taking coffee
at the underground mine.

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The wide streets of Lightning Ridge aren’t necessary for the small amount of traffic now using them.
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Hebel store where we later dined handsomely before starting our first day’s ride the next day.
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Hebel hotel- a classic Queensland country pub.

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The late afternoon briefing before the first day of the big ride.

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John outlining the do’s and don’ts for our next day.
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Alfresco dining at the Hebel Hilton!

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The Hebel chefs worked hard to feed the 26 of us camped at the Hebel store and campground.

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Arriving at the morning tea stop on our first riding day from Hebel south on the unsealed road along the Darling River.

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Last riders coming in for morning tea.

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We’d planned for a bush camping night but fortuitously met Kel and his dog who kindly offered the cycling group the use of the shearer’s quarters on the old Cuttabunda property on the Bokhara River for the night.

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Despite the colour of the river several riders took to the water for a refreshing swim. Others enjoyed yabbying and fishing and others just sitting. It was a welcome relief from the 30 degree heat.

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Some chose to sleep in their tents beside the river.

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Others chose to sleep in the shearers quarters together with mother swallow and her baby swallows.

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The shearer’s quarters were alongside the beautiful Bokhara River.

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Dinner preparation in the shearer’s quarters kitchen.

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Last riders preparing to leave the shearer’s quarters early the next morning.

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Chris was our last rider to leave camp following our iconic overnight stay at Cootabunda shearer’s quarters. He was also the first rider into Brewarrina after the day’s ride too.

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Sheltering from the scorching 36 degree heat of the day under this wonderfully cool corrugated iron shelter along the road to Brewarrina.
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The pelaton on the last few kms into town. We were riding into very strong headwinds all day long.
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A welcoming sign telling us we’d almost arrived at our destination.
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We visted the Brewarrina Aboriginal fish traps on the way to our Chinese dinner at the Services Club.
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Leaving our Brewarrina campground for the 108km ride into Bourke in 36 degree heat! A little bit of madness helps to get us on our way!
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On our rest day in Bourke many riders took a paddle steamer cruise up & down the Darling River. Our captain relayed to us the historic highlights of the river, the town and the re-building of the steamer, the Jandra.

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Fred Hollows, opthalmologist extraordinaire, who worked tirelessly with the indigenous people to improve their health, chose to be buried here in Bourke in 1993.
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Fred Hollow’s gravestone is made with polished basalt. The rocks surrounding the grave are laid out in the shape of an eye.
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The old Bourke wharf that was used by paddle steamers plying the Darling carrying bales of wool from the properties along the river. The paddle steamer trade slowly ceased after the railway reached Bourke when wool and supplies were transported by train to and from Sydney.

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Our Bourke finale was a Poetry on a Plate evening at the Kidman Camp in Nth Bourke where we’d stayed and camped for 2 nights. A local poet Andrew Hull entertained us with songs, yarns and poems he’d written about stories and legends from western NSW regions and the Outback. Sarah cooked a delicious camp dinner for us all to enjoy while sitting around the big campfire.

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The Henry Lawson Trek was on in the region bringing numbers of poets to the evening. Two recited some of Lawson’s well known poems, one of which was ‘When the ladies visted the shearing sheds’.

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Breakfast and lunch preparation before setting off to leave Bourke for the bush camp at Yenda.
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A young native minor bird fell out of it’s nest and went exploring around our camp site.
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The legendary Breaker Morant from Boer War fame came from the Bourke region. He’s named on the war memorial Roll of Honour in Bourke.

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It’s a long way between towns in outback NSW.
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Louth is still a long way away!
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And we’re travelling on a very dusty road, especially so immediately after a car passes us by!
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Less dusty here.

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The entrance to Yenda campground where we stayed overnight en route to Louth.
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Contemplating a swim in the Darling to wash off all that dust from the day’s ride. It was unfortunate that the river looked so muddy.

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Dinner of baked potatoes was cooked on an open fire. We also enjoyed mince and vegetables with plenty of coleslaw on the side all washed down with beer and wine and tea and coffee. Delicious!
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Boiling the kettle.
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The diners were busily enjoying the camp cooking at Yenda.
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Very early morning depatures are a feature of this ride.
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This commemorates where the explorer Sturt reached on his expedition up the Darling River.
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Even the ducks seemed happy to see us join them on this wonderfully green camping spot next to the pub at Louth.
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It was time to relax after a wonderful hot shower, some clean clothes, a cup of tea and a long sit down on a chair rather than a bike seat.
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Some found time to check and repair their bikes before setting off tomorrow for another days ride along these red bulldust laden roads.
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Last minutes of the AFL Grand Final watched by all at the Louth pub’s bar.
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This year the Hawks were triumphant over Freeo.
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The Shindy pub at Louth put on a delicious dinner on Saturday night in their museum style dining room with a choice of steak or chicken breast.
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This swaggies bicycle was reminiscent of the bicycle story CEW Bean wrote about in his classic 1909 book titled ‘On the Wool Track’.
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Sunrise at 5.30am and team 3 are hard at work laying out the breakfast and lunch foods for all the early risers. Each day the group was up at daybreak and often cycling an hour later.
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Others busily pack their tents away before making their day’s sandwiches and breakfast.
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Jeff fuelled up before today’s ride to Idalia station.
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The early morning crossing of the Darling at Louth. The locals advised us that the dirt road on the western side of the river between Louth and Tilpa was in better condition than the east. We found this to be true making good time travelling to our destination arriving well before lunchtime.
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Morning tea was at Trilby Station
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Flies were a problem so Phyl and Sandy donned flynets to stop having to give the ‘Great Australian Salute’ while cycling along.

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Our campsite at Idalia was situated alongside the Darling on lush green shaded grass. The camping/accommodation was closed because there was no hot water available following a recent fire in the shearer’s quarters. Sir John advised the owner that this would not phase our group who would happily wash off the red outback road dirt in a cold shower. Some even enjoyed a swim in the muddy Darling River.
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A quiet afternoon was spent by Tony and Linda sitting alongside the river; birdwatching.

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Jane, one of Idalia’s owners, joined us for a cup of tea on the lush green grass and recounted many stories of life along the Darling. The Murray family own Idalia.
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We witnessed a great spectacle on leaving the next day. A rogue sheep was chased by a motor bike riding stockman and his cattle dog. The dog caught the sheep pining it down while the stockman caught up. The stockman then slung the large sheep across the bike, whistled for his dog who then jumped up onto the pillion seat and they then all set off back to join the rest of the mob of sheep.
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We crossed many dry river beds between Idalia station and the town of Tilpa.
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This is the old Tilpa pub.
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The pub put on a BBQ lunch for us all – our large group took up the entire dining area.
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Tilpa pub encourages all who pass by to sign their names on walls, the ceiling or doors for a $2 donation to the Royal Flying Doctor Service. And many have done just so!
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After lunch we crossed from the western track along the river to the east via this bridge.
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Linda and I were tasked with finding a suitable bush camping spot for the night. There were some unusual mail boxes along the route we followed together with some uninviting notices!
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This is the bush camping site we found along the Darling. It had shade, some grass, was off the road and the river had plenty of water. The only thing missing was running potable water and bathrooms. Perhaps tomorrow!

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This is cattle country and that means small bush flies were bothersome from dawn to dusk. Escape is only possible under a flynet or inside a tent.

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5 – 10 mm of rain fell quickly making this dry weather only road impassable to all. Phyl skilfully drove the van pulling the bike trailer collecting all the stranded riders along the route. There was an abundance of sticky red mud on the bikes and in the van.
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Paroo National Park offered us a welcome retreat to clean up ourselves and our bikes after the days muddy adventure.
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Sunset in the bush in Paroo National Park.
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Colourfully painted trees lined the edge of this station’s driveway close to Wilcannia.
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After a very long day’s ride over corrugated dirt roads we at last reach the bitumen highway 3 kms short of Wilcannia.
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The Wilcannia Golf Club was built on the site of the first Resch’s NSW Brewery. We ate at the club enjoying another tasty Chinese banquet with plenty of food for all.
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A very strong wind at night brought down John’s tent so he packed up his gear and retreated to the camp kitchen area finding a protected spot to sleep for the rest of the night.
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Our campsite in Wilcannia was opened only 6 months earlier and offered very little shelter from the strong and constant winds. Despite large flocks of Correllas descending upon the newly laid turf searching for seeds and worms the new grass seemed to be starting to grow.

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The uninviting Wilcannia supermarket with its steel barred windows and doors had limited fresh food supplies. Even so, we managed to buy up much of what they had and poured a good deal of money into the local economy.
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Miss Barretts coffee shop had Wifi and coffee – the only place offering both so far on our ride.
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The beautiful old sandstone post office in Wilcannia.
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Wilcannia hospital which is serviced by the Royal Flying Doctor Service that 2 of our riders needed to use.
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Dining at the Windmill cafe and Gallery on night 2. The proprietor drew on the help of 2 local women to help service our large group.
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Satisfied customers!
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More satisfied diners.
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Sunrise over the Wilcannia camping ground’s billabong.
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Leaving our camping ground.
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A beautiful apricot coloured flowering gum on the Wilcannia to Menindee road.
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A shingle backed lizard seen crossing the road as we cycled by.
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It’s a very straight road ahead to the camping area beside the Darling on this station.
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It was several kms in from the station entrance to the riverside camping area.
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Cooking dinner beside the beautiful Darling.
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Along the way we met another rider who joined us for a cup of tea. His BMW used petrol while our bodies used food to power our bicycles.
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Approaching the Riverina Fruit Fly zone before Menindee.
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Steve and Ian cooked our rump steaks to perfection at the Menindee Hotel.
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We enjoyed a warm evening in the beer garden with some green frogs.
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Camp site at Menindee Lakes.
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We spent a day exploring some aspects of the Murray Darling basin scheme.
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Plenty of wildlife like this emu came up close to our camp.
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The remains of the Kinchega homestead with their enormous shearing sheds.
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Bourke and Wills memorials were everywhere in town commemorating their ill fated expedition.
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Tolarno station where we camped had hot water showers, flushing toilets and a shearers quarters kitchen. Luxury!
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We were offered a tour of the old Tolarno homestead in the late afternoon. The house had beautiful bones but is in need of some serious maintenance to return to its former glory.

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Old machinery like this truck and blacksmiths equipment is displayed near the old sheds.
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Linda contemplating the meaning of life out here in the ‘real’ bush.
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Tolarno station in its heyday was an enormous enterprise and even had its own jail.
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After dinner briefings continue each day. This one is in the shearer’s kitchen at Tolarno with its almost ruined piano at the rear.

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Danielle and Noel were listening intently.
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Unbeknown to Jeff when setting up his tent he’d put his tent peg into an irrigation hose. When he pulled down the tent the next morning he was greeted by this spurting pressurized water.
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Peaceful and beautiful images of the Darling en-route to Pooncare.

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Mungo National Park images.
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Our Indiginous tour guide and his stories engaged us and made Mungo come to life for us all.
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The evening briefing session after eating dinner at the Pooncare Hotel.
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Pooncare was a very pretty and tidy tiny town – but had insufficient children to warrant re-opening their school yet!
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Typical countryside along the 118km stretch ridden today between Pooncare and Wentworth.
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Some elegant older homes in Wentworth.
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Wentworth is the home of the Fergie tractor.
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In Wentworth’s heyday there were enormous flocks of sheep that passed through the town.
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We gathered together for our last night as a group at the Services Clib in Wentworth. The only absentee was Steve who was recovering from his mammoth effort riding from Pooncare to Wentworth.
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At Narrandera Services Club on our last evening together we toasted the key people who made this great trip possible. We especially thanked John and Julia for all their efforts and presented them with a card and a subscription to an R M Williams magazine.

We arrived back in Canberra one day ahead of schedule after a fabulous outback cycling trip.

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5 Responses to Tour de Darling

  1. Lorraine Morris says:

    Thank you for sending, I feel as though I was travelling through Australia with you although I don’t think I could keep up with the very long rides. Cheers, Lorraine Morris

  2. Linda says:

    Well done, Sandy! A great record of our amazing trip!!

  3. Mish says:

    Go mum! What an inspiration. Loved seeing pictures of all the people and places you visited. I learnt things too for example I didn’t know Fred Hollows was buried in Bourke (he’s a bit of a hero of mine) hadn’t even heard of half those towns you went through! Shows how little I know. Camping with a big group looks like fun. I hope you get out and do more of this in Australia there’s so much to see.

  4. Glad I ran into your group at Wilcannia, hopefully BBTA can put on a similar ride, as I am keen to follow in your footsteps (cycle steps)
    Sandie Downes

  5. David Wilson says:

    Dear Sandy and Peter,

    Absolutely wonderful trip! The photos are brilliant and the comments were very appreciated.

    I hope we catch up soon then you can tell us more 🙂

    Many thanks, Ellie and Dave

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