Location: Gordonvale – Cooktown – Cairns, Queensland, Australia
Distance: 688km

Rolling away from Dan’s I took one last, short detour off the highway along quiet back roads lined by constantly swaying sugar can all in an effort to avoid the hazards of the Bruce Highway running into Cairns. Unfortunately back roads can only take you so far and I was shortly back with the traffic but welcomed by the sight of wide, well marked cycle lanes all the way into town. I had no plans to stay in Cairns as I knew I’d be back in a week or so but I did a mini tour ¬†through the centre of town and along the Esplanade, the Lagoon (a public pool) heaving with tourists and locals alike.

Aiming for the beaches beyond the suburban sprawl of Cairns I was happy to eventually find a site right on the water but above the high tide mark somewhere beyond Ellis Beach and was soon joined was a half dozen other groups. Gobbled down a feed, lathered myself in insect repellent and stood on the beach, scrunching up the sand between my toes watching the sky fade from soft pink to blue to grey and then stars slowly warming up behind the clouds.

The Captain Cook Highway threads along the coast, Coral Sea to the east, mountains rising to the west and with the recent rains, impromptu waterfalls ran down every trough, gully and valley leading to the ocean washing out great swaths of beach. Easy to see why the majority of the morning traffic consisted of groups of touring motorbikes. A local farmer found me under a coconut tree in Port Douglas shared his abundance of knowledge about the road north and reminded me of the every present saltwater crocodiles which manage to eat a few dozen of his cattle each year. A brief visit to a lookout above Port Douglas probably wasn’t worth the reward given the effort to ride up but I did learn I was 15,050km from London the way the crow flies. At a guess I’d say I will have done triple that by the time I arrive.

Yet another cane field provided a home for the night – they are proving very reliable – just a couple of minutes from Mossman Gorge where I was welcomed by an invisible pot hole on the road leading in. The shock sending my gadgets pannier skittering across the road, miraculously with only some cosmetic damage. The gorge was a nice place to enjoy breakfast but my peace and quiet was broken by a trio of tour buses ejecting a horde of tourists for their whirlwind visit. “Everyone back on the bus in 30 minutes.” They always make me appreciate how much freedom travelling by bike allows. Stop where you want, when you want for as long as you want.

Boarded the ferry to cross the Daintree River where the sugar cane disappeared and was replaced by cool, green rainforest. My reward for a few kilometers of climbing was a shower under a roadside waterfall – apparently an amusing sight to a couple of the passing motorists – and a lovely view back down the coast overlooking where Steve Irwin met his untimely end. By the time I down the other side I was twisting through more rainforest in quickly fading, late afternoon light but as ever there was somewhere waiting to be found. This time, a perfect tent-sized patch of gritty sand just back off the beach.

Up early and into Cape Tribulation so I could check the conditions of the Bloomfield Track – not too much water in the creeks and the road mostly dry – I knew it would be a long, slow day. The early undulations started out gently enough, leading to a lovely swimming hole at Emmagen Creek where I was forewarned by a passing 4WD’er of the ridiculously steep road ahead. How right they were. Shortly after making the shin deep crossing I was met with a wall of a hill announcing the start of the Donovan Range. While granny-gear gave me just enough leverage to pedal, I had to stop after only a few hundred meters and trying to restart on the hill was a struggle of futility. The back tyre simply tearing the ground to pieces leaving me exhausted, sweating and making no progress. Swearing in frustration at the rainforest around me I had to push the bike uphill, a task my arms didn’t appreciate. The saddest part was there was no reward for all this effort. As the track had such a loose surface and snaked left and right the downhill run was done at a snails pace. I got to repeat the climb all over again on the Cowrie Range. Even steeper, a number of stretches of it were concreted but rather than provide a solid surface to pedal on it was mostly covered with a thin layer of algae and moss. More sweating and swearing and 8 hours after leaving Cape Tribulation I had managed to cover 50km. Slowest day so far. Another morning of rough roads peppered with rocks, washouts and random patches of sand lead back to the Mulligan Highway and Cooktown.

Arriving in Cooktown I wasn’t sure where I would be staying. I had hastily contacted a Couch Surfer member before setting off from Mossman but hadn’t been able to find any phone reception since to find out if I was welcome or not. Fortunately it worked out that I was and Gerry was fine host for a couple of nights. Taking me on his own guided walking tour of the town and headland, including his favorite spot overlooking to ocean. The legs appreciated the day off, given the previous two hard day and the ride back to Cairns to come. 330km in 3 days of headwinds required a rather solid effort but the countryside varied enough to keep it interesting. Marshland, open scrub, fields of legumes, small mountain ranges and all far more green than I would ever have imagined. I passed a couple of other crazy guys on bikes. Halfway back to Cairns found a cyclist fixing his third puncture of the morning, intent on reaching Cooktown by nightfall. Even with tail winds and no gear that sounded like a pretty mammoth task. Another was headed all the way to the top of the Cape. I hope he has a boat.

The last few day have been spent here in Cairns Couch Surfer Dave and now in a hostel (cheaper than a couple of camp site I stayed at). Eating and reading lots and generally doing nothing. Finally rounded up a whole lots of packages I’d been waiting on including some spare tyres, new shirts, books and an EPIRB. Now I’m set for whatever lies between here an Darwin.