Lunch and the Cooks River Cycle Way

Location - Sydney, Australia
Ride -  Cooks River Cycle Way
Distance -  46 km return but we cheated and started at the 12 km mark.
Terrain - Mostly separated bike path with a few on road connections.
Difficulty - Flat and easy.
Highlights - Sitting watching the planes take off and land on the Botany Bay runway.
Map - Click here for a map of the Belfied to Tempe section.

You would think that it would be an easy thing to stick to a simple rule like 'Take your own lunch' -  but a combination of several factors this morning saw us leave home lunchless.

Firstly, my butcher had no legs of ham yesterday. Something to do with Christmas coming up, but to be honest the explanation went way over my head. David is a ham/carrot/avocado/mustard/sandwich for lunch man and NOTHING persuades him to branch out. Trust me on this one I've tried. No ham, and I have a problem.

Secondly, we planned to ride along the cycle path next to the Cooks River. About half an hour from the start there is a little garden shop with a cafe and a really nice Russian lady, who says she's from Siberia and I have never had any reason to disbelieve her.  She is the world's best cook. Her pastries are to die for. We've been cycling past her cafe for a couple of years now and never stopped for anything more than coffee and a cake because we've stuck virtuously to the 'Bring you own lunch' rule, but I have always secretly coveted her soups and pies. Today was my chance! Don't stress about the hamless sandwiches -  just, finally, have lunch at the world's best cafe.

Cooks River Cycleway
Taking a break beside the river.

We pulled into the cafe at the perfectly acceptable lunch hour of quarter to two, parked the bikes, ditched the helmets, scouted for the best table, wondered why we were the only customers - and then  - spotted the empty pie urns.  "No lunch today?" I asked, hoping the pies and soups were out the back somewhere. "No lunch ever." she said, "The cafe is closed for renovation and when it re-opens I will only do coffee and cakes; like high-tea". You have to imagine her answer in a thick Siberian accent to get a real feel for the conversation and the disappointment which it precipitated. I can't really blame her. She may be the world's best cook but she was never long on customers and - well - who goes to lunch in a garden cafe next to a football field where the parking is just awful.

Market gardens near Sydney Airport 
Market gardens near Sydney airport.

The next cafe was at Botany Bay, a good hour's bike ride away. We had a feeling they closed at three. We had two mandarins and a thermos of iced coffee in David's backpack. (Don't even ask about the thermos - it's a D thing. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow no matter how ridiculous you think it is.) If we sprinted, we might make it. If not, it was going to be a long, hungry ride home. There was a headwind of course. Don't you just love days when nothing goes right.

The Cooks River near Tempe
Heading toward Tempe Station.

We cycled hard - no stops, no sightseeing, no uploading silly bike photos to twitter. No.1 son rang - ten minutes spent playing with my smart phone while D reassured him that despite the tough job conditions out there and the frighteningly regular mass redundancies in his industry there was no reason to believe that his particular job was in jeopardy or that the world in general was likely to end. Back on the bikes we wished we had a couple of those really light, fast, flashy, road bikes rather than our trusty old clunker mountain bikes.

3 pm - we made it. Just. Well not quite. It turns out they're open till 5. I'll try to remember that, except that I won't need to because I'm never, ever breaking rule No.1 again and leaving home without the sandwiches.

This is a great ride. The scenery is magical. It is possible with a few on road connections to start this ride at Parramatta, but that's much too far for us. We generally begin at Chain of Ponds Nature Reserve, South Strathfield from where the path runs next to the Cooks River and out past the airport until it joins the Grand Parade at Botany Bay.  The only tricky bits are just past Tempe Station and getting around the airport. The path disappears briefly as it passes through Tempe station car park but re-appears again leading into an underpass just before the Princes Highway then after crossing the river the path runs through Cahill Park. Here you can turn right at Marsh St until you connect again with the path before it ducks under the M5 east or better yet come armed with a print out of the area from Google maps and work you way, as we do, through the back streets via Valda Avenue.

Once you emerge from the M5 it's a final easy run to Grand Parade.  Just before it reaches Botany Bay the path runs for a few kilometres adjacent to several acres of market gardens. A throwback to the past in the middle of what is otherwise an ordinary inner suburb, we often wonder how these gardens have defied the attentions of property developers.

Take a rest at the turn around point and watch the planes take off and land from the airport runway jutting out into Botany Bay. For some reason this ride is always longer on the way home but there is no shortage of landmarks to give a mental checklist of how far you have to go. The perfumed scents of a bath bomb factory, an underpass just a few centimetres too narrow to ride through, football fields and a very pleasant cafe cum plant shop run by a lovely lady from Siberia with cooking skills to die for. Whatever you do make sure you take your own sandwiches because now that the world's best cafe doesn't do lunch any more there is nothing much in the way of food.

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