Cycling

To The Gulf and Gorge

To The Gulf and Gorge

Location: Undara – Lawn Hill, Queensland, Australia
Distance: 1021km

Back on the road again it was good to know it would be downhill almost all the way to Normanton; the road losing some 700m in elevation over the next 400km. Despite this, I only managed to make it to the Einasleigh River – one of the few in this part of the country that doesn’t flood the road due to a fancy new bridge built a couple of years ago – about 80km along the Savannah Way. The old highway and remains of the original bridge made for a nice camp spot though and I watched the sun fade while I downed the last of my beers. Unfortunately there wasn’t much of note over the next few days; early starts, late finishes, relaxing in the heat of the day in whatever shade I could find. Towns and rest areas are few and far between out here. Long straights of 10-15km were common, very little traffic and an endless supply of savannah scrubland was all I had for company so I had the tunes blasting for some extra stimulation and watched the insects go about their business. One afternoon while on a nothing stretch of road “The Sunscreen Song” came on so I pulled over for a drink and found myself in a swarm of dragonflys, dozens of them all buzzing around this one particular tree.

A few days later I arrived in Normanton where I had planned on stocking up on food for the next couple of weeks. Pity it was a Saturday afternoon of the Easter weekend and the only shop open was bare of a lot of the basic and scarily expensive. Karumba seemed like the logical place to go. Once of the few townships on the Gulf Of Carpentaria I could spends a couple of nights there before doubling back and stocking up after the long weekend. The 70km was too far to complete that afternoon so I camped about halfway there in what was essentially swampland and had lovely evening with the resident hordes of mosquitoes. Karumba itself was much more pleasant. Cool sea breezes, few mosquitoes, beers and fish & chips at sunset. The majority of people who visit seem to fall into one of two categories. The grey nomads who stay for the majority of the dry season escaping the cold south of Australia and those chasing Barramundi (of which there was plenty to be caught). After 3 nights I was ready to move on and double-timed it back to Normanton spotting even more birds than I did on the way out. Massive flocks of galahs, brolgas, egrets, jabirus, kites, pluvvers and a dozen other species I didn’t recognise. Stocked up in Normanton I decided to try my luck and see just how “flooded” the road to Burketown was but I wouldn’t find out until the morning.

Just before the Little Bynoe River a short side road led to what little remains of Burke & Wills Camp CXIX, the last of their camps on their expedition to traverse Australia. At the river there was about 30-40cm of fast flowing water to tackle but a couple of locals out fishing (for Barra of course) said the Bynoe and Flinders Rivers were nearly a half meter and flowing just as fast. That was a no go for me. While the depth wasn’t a problem and I could unload the bike, crossing multiple times in murky, fast flowing water wasn’t overly temping especially given the local inhabitants, Salties. Backtracking I was back in Normanton again before setting off late to knock a dent in the empty 200km run to Burke & Wills Roadhouse. The following morning the trees disappeared and I was riding through endless, shade less, grassland, a couple of rests stop along the way provided some relief from the heat and I eventually rolled in to the roadhouse a half hour after sunset, with nearly 8 hours on the clock. After a feed the manager kindly offered me a place to camp and a hot shower. I slept like a log that night.

Looking at the map it was another empty stretch of 150km to reach Gregory Downs, except this time there weren’t even any rest stops marked. With that fact and my legs still feeling pretty knackered hitching a ride seemed like a good option and after a few “no”s I was soon loading up the bike on the back of J.D’s and Luke’s truck, two electricians headed to Doomadgee (somewhere I would reach in about a week). Zipping along it was just over an hour before I was dropped off at Gregory Downs. Not much more that a pub, a couple of houses and scattering of sheds. Strangely the owner was complaining about it being too busy as a result of some local nutjob in Burketown burking down the pub there, leaving Gregory Downs at the only watering hole for a couple hundred kilometers in any direction. Enjoyed a decent chicken Kiev for lunch (why the identical meal is cheaper at lunch than dinner I’ve never understood) and did the usual chilling out for the middle of the day. When I finally left I had barely made in 500m before stopping at the beautiful Gregory River for a quick dip slightly wary of the invisible crocs. By the time I was going there was only a bit over an hours riding to be had before dark. The first 20km on the last bitumen I would see for a while before it turned to the loose red gravel and dust that the road trains love to kick up everywhere, luckily they seemed to have finished their runs for the day and I had the road to myself.

The next morning was fortunately a Sunday (I lose track of the days all the time) so I passed but a single road train on the 40 or so kilometres to the mine turn-off where the road roughened up a bit for the rest of the way to Adel’s Grove. Stopped for a couple of basic supplies before the last 10km into the very quiet Lawn Hill National Park, somewhere I’ve wanted to visit for a long time. I had 3 days here to relax, swim, do some walking and snap a few decent photos. Sunrise looking out over Indarri Falls will stick in my mind for a long time to come. The warm, morning light, crept slowly down the gorge walls, making them glow golden-orange. Local wildlife could be spotted in abundance too, various turtles, archer fish, fresh water crocodiles, dozens of different birds, pythons, lizards and a few wallabies. I had some good company too in my camping neighbours, Adam and Tamsin (keen cyclists) and their kids Odete and Thea. Some good food, coffee and a beer or two were all very much appreciated but the luxuries were about to come to an end. It was time to take on the even more remote and less used roads to Doomadgee and Borroloola. Adam and Tamsin were also headed the same way in a couple of days so I would probably cross paths again at some point.

Posted by admin in Australia, Cycling, Travel, 5 comments
Stuck In A Lava Tube

Stuck In A Lava Tube

Location: Cairns – Undara, Queensland, Australia
Distance: 395km

Swimming in crisp, chest deep water, I could see nothing ahead of me but black. My hands were invisible even when but a whisker from my face but I swam on, as far as I dared. Above me tiny bats zipped past on fast beating wings and droplets of water seeping through the cracked roof fell periodically. Behind me echoing shrieks of those still to enter the water, complaining of the cold, bounced off the walls. I had raced ahead wanting to have the place to myself, at least for a moment or two. Floating in 190,000 year old lava tubes full of fresh rain water is not something I expected to do everyday, but there I was again, simply because of a spur of the moment decision and a random act of kindness.

Over two weeks ago I had set off from Cairns and just in time too. Although it had been wet with drizzle the last few days the heavens truly opened the day I set off for Yungaburra and were set on drowning the place over the coming days. A quick pit stop at Gordonvale allowed me to lighten my load – there was little chance of snorkeling west of Cairns – before taking the twisted Gilles Highway up some 800m into the Atherton Tablelands. Not a difficult climb by any measure but the relentless rain made it less than enjoyable spoiling any chance of admiring the view back down towards the coast and nearing the plateau I was well aware of the drop in temperature. I had contacted James and Sarah on Warm Showers a few days earlier looking for a place to camp, a shower and somewhere warm to dry off. What I got was something rather different, an upgrade so to speak. Off the highway, along a couple narrow little backroads and finally a down a lush green path I was welcomed and given my own cabin in the countryside above Lake Tinaroo to take over as my own for the weekend. James an Sarah were both lovely, laid back people and had both toured here in Australia and Sarah in Tibet and Mongolia so there was plenty to talk about and learn. The rain was no less intense up here but I could sit under the veranda and watch the lake disappear behind the clouds but it never drowned out the whine of the jet skier’s boats. The climb had taken more out of me than I knew so I had a lazy Saturday but on Sunday morning we visited Lake Eacham – a beautiful freshwater lake formed in a now extinct volcano crater – for breakfast. Even with the rain it was a beautiful place, the water a deep, rich green, turtles and archer fish swimming by the shore in between the pandanus. Cooked a rather good korma for dinner with went down well and finally got around to patching up my holey front pannier properly.

Come Monday morning I discovered the reason for my very stiff rear break, a partially snapped cable housing, probably the result of crashing into a dodgy kerb in Rockhampton. It could stay like that for the time being though, no hills to speak of for the next couple thousand kilometers.. The cloud hadn’t cleared off but they were holding back momentarily so I could enjoy the back roads to the Gallo Dairy where I found some delicious passionfruit yoghurt and feta cheese and then on towards Atheron to stock up on some food and vote in some kind of election; I look forward to getting off the electoral roll. That was about as long as the clouds could hold back the flood and it became a wet, and then very wet and finally flooded road type of ride. Twisting my way south towards the highest road in Queensland at 1143m. A local though I was having trouble when I stopped for a photo, why else would I stop in such weather? By the time I arrived in Ravenshoe I looked a lot like a drowned rat and felt pretty much the same as well but soon dried off in a pub before setting up for the night under the BBQ area at the tourist information centre; they do come in handy sometimes. Innot Hot Springs had been something I was looking forward to but the rain had swollen the creek and almost put the bridge under so the hot springs themselves were well and truly drowned. It was the middle of the following morning that I found myself at the Undara turnoff. I had been undecided about whether to stop by or not but in the end the decision was made for me. Although the road had been excellent I had been fighting a very strong headwind for 15km and I knew the road was cut not so far ahead. I needed somewhere to kill a day or two.

Two weeks later and I’m still here, although I’m finally moving on tomorrow. On my first night as a paying customer I’d seen one other couple walking around I little hope of there being much action around the camp fire but I did discover a few of the staff had a including the manager enjoying a drink or two. The short of it is after realising I couldn’t ride further west with the flooded road Steve (the manager) offered me a bed and food in return for a few hours work each day. So for the past two week I done various things around the resort from cleaning windows and raking paths to housekeeping and picking up rubbish. Made a couple of trips to the Mount Surprise pub for supplies of the alcoholic kind, an 18th birthday and also a made a mad 10 hour road trip to Charters Towers at night (plenty of roos and pigs to dodge along the way). I saw some of the lave tubes a half dozen times, swimming in them just as many time, others once once or twice and climbed Mount Kalkani (an extinct volcano) to see a rather bleak sunrise but it still worth the effort. I also managed to keep the legs in half decent shape by riding some of the walking track. Once through a half meter of water by the 100 Mile Swap (named so because it is 100 miles from Cardwell), at least the bike was clear afterwards.

The second week finished up with the Undara Country Rock and Blues Festival. More rock than blues but still some decent entertainment to be had by the bands who played over the 3 days. Finally there was a staff party on the Sunday night with most of the band members. After a couple of games of darts and pool and few too many beers, the night ended in bit of a blur. Stumbled back to bed sometime around 4am. Haven’t done that in a long time. I’m glad to be getting back on the bike tomorrow. As much fun as I’ve had here, hanging out with some of the long time staff I’m itching to move on. I heard on the grapevine the road is now open all the way to Normanton, some 450km west, so flooded roads shouldn’t be a problem for a while.

Posted by admin in Australia, Cycling, Travel, 4 comments
The Uphill Push

The Uphill Push

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.

Posted by admin in Cycling, Travel
The Great Green Way

The Great Green Way

Location: Bowen – Gordonvale, Queensland, Australia
Distance: 832km

The ride north out of Bowen was hot in the afternoon sun but more flat countryside meant I made good time and I was 80km up the road at Guthalungra – nothing more than a service station and rest area – as the sun set. It was more of the same the following day through Gumlu, Inkerman and into Home Hill where I had heard there was an excellent rest area. Big covered area, toilets, hot showers (which I made use of) and BBQs. Great if you have a caravan but unfortunately nowhere to camp. Tourist Information people turned out to be hopeless as per usual.

While I was having lunch I realised I had a puctured rear tyre – punishment for my rough Bowen camp site – and spent an hour or so fixing that and digging all the spines out of my tyres. Crossed the 1km long,  shoulderless Burdekin River Bridge  to Ayr for a quick look around – couldn’t find the giant model snake – and so continued on to a little rest area at Sandy Creek. Fell asleep to the low hum of the sugar refinery in the distance.

Detoured to Giru the next morning where I happened to find a power point on the outside of a hall, in the shade. Time for some housekeeping. Moved some funds around, ordered some new shirts, some spares and an EPIRB in preparation for the run west along the Savannah Way. Spotted a little freshwater crocodile in the Haughton River, took a refreshing dip in a creek and startled a dingo in the afternoon before happening across a big truck stop with a camping area at Alligator Creek. A watchful eye was needed to dodge the heavy traffic into Townsville the following morning, but once into the central area it seemed deserted during what should have been peak hour. My Magnetic Island contact never replied so my stay was brief but did include an Irish Grill fry up and a pint of Guinness for lunch.

North of Townsville I found myself with a whole beachside camp area to myself at Balgal Beach and decided to stay after having ridden only 30km. Silently apart from the odd passing quad bike. The road had continued to be good to excellent and very light on trucks due to the majority of freight being moved by trains. A good thing. While enjoying a mango smoothie at lunch I spotted what I think was my first other cycle tourist pedaling past. I packed my stuff and set off hoping to catch up but never saw him/her again. Sick of the highway noise I retired for the night behind some out of action cane carriages to sound of a million frogs, crickets and various other creatures of the night. Then it started to rain. All night, all morning and most of the afternoon. I sat in Ingham most of the morning wondering if it was worth the time and effort to ride 50km out to Wallaman Falls (268m, the highest in Australia) eventually deciding it was and rolled into camp at 600m just before 7pm. The rain amazingly held off for the majority of the climb and rest of the evening which I shared with the only other couple there over a few beers.

Couldn’t have timed my arrival better. The sun came out in the morning and the falls was roaring with the runoff from the previous day’s rains. It had all changed the next morning though. Not a thing to be seen but they could still be heard. A pity for the two German couples which had arrived the evening after me. It poured the whole way back to Ingham making the downhill run tediously slow but the gore tex fared very well. I was still dry on the inside.

It was while I was on the jetty in Cardwell I spotted a vaguely familiar face – Reuben, who’s journal I’d been reading for some time on Crazy Guy On A Bike. Neither of us could be bothered to press of so we booked in at a cheap campsite and made for the pub for some good conversation about the roads we’d travelled, gear we used and where we were headed while the storm built up and rolled in from the ocean. A lazy morning followed due to more rain but after a coffee or two we headed our separate ways.

The wet weather continued in Tully, hardly surprising while I was standing in front of the Golden Gumboot in Australia’s wettest town. Another detour off the highway took me to Mission Beach past a frightened cassowary then north to Bingil Bay, a beautiful, twisting ride along the coast before turning inland though rainforest and rolling green countryside. I spent an on edge night in a tiny rest area beside a rising creek, checking it every hour or so. It stopped rising around 2am.

While dripping dry in Innisfail I decided it was time to find a laundromat given the pungent odor coming from some of my clothing was starting to get a real bight. It amazing what a bit of sweat can turn into in a plastic bags over a few days. Due to a rather devastating cyclone in 1918 Innisfail has quite a collection of art deco inspored buildings, quite a change from most architecture in north Queensland towns. Enjoyed a rather heated domestic between a couple of Aboroginal families over lunch until the police appeared and settled things down before riding on through Babinda – Australia’s second wettest town – to the Boulders, a large rock pool which I had to myself for the evening.

Despite all the warning signs its not until you look a cassowary in the face at an arm’s length that you feel they might just be able to tear you apart with their over sized toes. An exciting way to start the day. Enjoyed another swim for breakfast but not so quiet this time with the bus load of backpackers around before riding north to Gordonvale where I had, at the last moment managed to arrange a roof to sleep under for the night (cheers Matt -> Jade -> Dan). Passed a couple more cyclists on the way but neither seemed interested in stopping. Oh well.


Posted by admin in Australia, Cycling, Travel, 0 comments