Cycle Touring

Escaping Java

Location: Subang, Java – Merak, Java, Indonesia
Distance: 314km

The ride into Jakarta was memorable for all the wrong reasons. I had already planned it as a longish day but a wrong turn and 35km of cycling out of my way to the foulest smelling town I’d ever encountered. The main street a quagmire of sloppy brown mud, broken tiles and brick and all the detritus of the market that lined it. I didn’t stick around. Back on track I followed one of the main arteries into the heart of Jakarta along with half of Indonesia. Traffic jam to end all traffic jams saw me arriving well after dark and chocking on moped fumes. I was hardly surprised to wake feeling like death having made many emergency runs to the bathroom throughout the night but was convinced to take up an invite to a plush apartment complex to lounge around an oversized swimming pool while enjoying avocado juice and ice cream.

Still feeling average I was fortunate to be staying at possibly one of the best hostels I can remember from anywhere. Six Degrees was run by an Irish guy, his Indonesian wife, her sister and a host of other colourful staff who treated you like family. There was a great lounge area and movie room to chill out in and pair of 24h food stalls across the road. Needless to say I didn’t venture too far over the following days and I merged into group other guests who had also become semi-permanent residents.

Eventually I started feeling better and climbed back on the bike to hit the road again but it took me a full morning of wrong turns and backtracking to find my way out of the hectic Jakartan streets. I had enough of Java and despite all the warnings I’d had about Sumatran roads (I couldn’t imagine them possibly being worse, either quality or traffic) and roadside robberies (neighboring countries/states/cities the world over seem to love hating on one another) I was looking forward to a change of scenery.

The following morning I rolled into the port of Merak and boarded huge ferry loaded with trucks, minivans, people and all their wares, found a seat and watched as Java disappeared in the distance.

Posted by Aaron K Hall in Cycle Touring, Indonesia, 0 comments

Hot Spring In The Rain

Location: Cipatujah, Java – Subang, Java, Indonesia
Distance: 232km

The road continued along the coast,  the ocean crashing on the beach somewhere behind the scrub and with little traffic to speak of it was a nice way to start the day. But the pleasantness was soon to end. Up ahead a great hulk of a headland ended the smooth ride, the road swung inland and up. Really up.  Sweat pouring from me like I was being wrung like a wet cloth. I crawled past a road crew patching a hole and took a breather under a shady tree while some local school kids ambled past. A couple of hours later I rolled into Pameungpeuk and found a fried chicken stand while weighing up my options.

With only 2 days remaining on my visa  and 130km to Bandung including some big climbs it was time for some motorised transport. A bis, bemo, angkot or whatever it is they call a mini bus in these parts would serve. The fried chicken man pointed me in the right direction and I was soon underway, bike lashed to the room with some suspiciously frayed rope. I was slightly disappointed at first as we drove along a freshly sealed road but that only lased about 5km before staple Indonesia pot holes returned but the scenery was gorgeous so I soon forgot my aching backside. Lush mountains, dripping in greenery sometimes disappearing fog and mist. Rolled into Garut well after dark jumped straight onto another bus and headed straight on to Bandung where I had dinner with the ticket guy from the bus before hunting out a room and crashed.

At the embassy I ran into Alex who’d spoken to on the street in Kuta and with his help speaking basic bahasa managed to haggle down the processing time to 2 days rather than 4. It was good to have some company for a couple of days with little of interest in Bandung so we killed time playing pool and eating.

With a crisp new visa I headed north for some more climbing along some less hectic roads.  Through forests, past tea plantations  and innumerable roadside pineapple stores. I finally visited my first hot spring of the whole journey at Ciater. Despite the overly commercial nature was still a relaxing way to spend an afternoon in the rain. I slowly worked my way to the hottest pool and soaked as long as I could stand it.

Sufficiently wrinkled I dried off only to get soaked to the bone in a late afternoon downpour on the way into Sebang. The road so rough it managed to loosen off my fuel bottle lid and leave it in a puddle of mud somewhere by the roadside. Fortunately my stove is currently in a long term hiatus and will continue so for a while. Jakarta tomorrow.

Posted by Aaron K Hall in Cycle Touring, Indonesia, 0 comments

Java, Mighty volcanoes and grand temples.

Location: Gilimanuk, Bali – Cipatujah, Java, Indonesia
Distance: 814km

It was a wet morning to be leaving Bali. The rain never much more than a drizzle but that was enough to make a mess of the road for the short ride to the ferry terminal, carefully steering clear of the constant stream of trucks kicking up mud as they passed by.

From the grey Java slowly came into view, well the coast at least, nothing could be seen of the mountains above, which I’d soon be climbing. I stopped to stock up on some food before weaving my way through the streets of Banyuwangi to find the right road to take me up the mountain to Kawah Ijen, a beautiful lake in a crater know for the men who mine it’s sulphur.

The fickle weather was welcome at first keeping me cool on the lower slopes but some 4 hours and 2000m of climbing later I rolled into Pos Paltulding just on dusk and I was cold, tired and ready to crash. Although not overly steep, there’d scarcely been a moment’s break in the uphill run and the bad stretch of road as described by the Belgian cyclist Arnaudt was downright horrible – completely unrideable – which made for a fun hour or so of pushing. I had half expected to camp here but I was greeted by park ranger who told me officially the park was closed but I could have a room to sleep in for a small donation. I was warmly welcomed into a tiny shop and fed some noodles, eggs and all the rice I could eat in for next to nothing while I toasted myself by the fire and talked with the shop owners before finally retiring for the evening.

An early start saw me walking the rim of the crater just after 7am, arriving as the clouds decided part, letting the early morning sun shine on the brilliant aqua lake, wisps of sulphurous steam rising from its surface. Despite the early hour there were already miners making their way out from the crater under heavy loads of yellow sulphur. Some 430 miners in total work here but only about 150 on any one day. They carry out 3-4 loads of sulphur weighing 70-90kg each per day. I never found out exactly what they earn but I would guess close to not much. The ranger later told me that there was a man in his 70’s still mining sulphur albeit not as often anymore.

It was a rather sketchy walk/scramble down to the lake where the miners were at work. As strangely beautiful as it was the heat and pungent odour hanging in the air had me scrambling back to the rim soon enough.

Freewheeling out of Pos Paltuding was a nice change; quiet, smooth roads with zero traffic. The only interruption some kind of checkpoint where I had to sign a visitor book before being asked for a bribe of some kind, cue dumb tourist routine. Unfortunately the downhill wasn’t down the mountain but into a massive crater some 20km across which I had to climb out of again past endless coffee plantations before beginning the descent proper.

Because of its size and the limited visas – a one month visa I could extend only once – I had always known I would need to skip though some parts of Indonesia so the next day I caught a bus to about 100km to Probolinggo for the start of the climb to Cemoro Lawang which overlooked Indonesia’s most holy and famous volcano, Gunung Bromo.

I stayed in an overpriced hotel in Bondowoso but partly made up for that by the stupidly cheap food at the local night market, Rp5,000 meals!

Biting off more than I could chew is one way to put it. My legs were still getting over the 2 previous days climbing and I hadn’t made it half way up the 2300m mountain when it started getting dark. Slightly disappointed and with it starting to rain a bemo (mini-van) had stopped so threw my bike on the roof and squeezed in under a pile of backpacks. Fortunately in the bemo I met Dutchman Bart and his two daughters and together we found a hotel, some food and a beer to end a long day. We also arranged a Jeep for sunrise overlooking Bromo.

Early starts are never my thing but I somehow woke and found myself in the back of the Jeep by 4am for a rough ride up to Gunung Penanjakan overlooking the whole Bromo-Tengger-Semeru crater. Also, as an aside, there are no “Jeep”s, they’re all Toyota Landcruisers, I guess Jeep is simply easier to say. I had read Bromo sunrise was a popular event but this was something else. There was still a kilometre of parked Jeeps to walk past to get to the lookout at the top (unknown to us at the time we had arrived on some kind of holiday) where the crowd was crushing around the main lookout. We managed to find somewhere away from the mayhem and I set up the tripod and take in the views, which were, impressive, Bromo smoking and Semeru in the background spluttering ash once or twice as the sun bathed it all in warm, morning light.

We stopped at Bromo on our return which was just as busy. The staircase which climbs to the crater rim was at a never ending standstill so climbing up the volcanic sand slopes was a faster option. Although you can walk most of the way around the rim of Bromo, most people barely walk 10m from the top of the stairs which makes for a chaotic and dangerous balancing act. Fall one way and you roll back down the side of the volcano, dirty and bruised, fall the other and you will enjoy a bath in a boiling volcanic lake.

Although the practical way to get to Malang from Bromo is to backtrack to Probolinggo and then travel some 200km to Malang we decided to hire another “Jeep” to drive us across the Laotian Pasir (Sand Sea) to Tumpang and ride from there. I had originally planned to cycle this but from what I’d seen when we drove to Bromo that morning there would have been many a mile pushing through some very soft sand, plus I was able to split the cost of a Jeep between the 4 of us made it all the more affordable.

I took the day off in Malang, staying in a cheap but very noisy (next door to a mosque) dorm before jumping on a train to Yogyakarta. Unfortunately it was a later afternoon train so passing views of endless rice field and villages didn’t last too long.

Somehow I passed 4 days in Yogya, exploring the huge Pasar Beringharjo (market), stalls along Jalan Malioboro and eating dozens of different noodle dishes, sate meats and deep fried mysteries. With the help of a motorbike I visited both Borobudur and Prambanan, two of the grandest Buddhist and Hindu temples in the world. Despite the hordes of tourists their size made them both easy enough to find somewhere away from the crowds. Something I had experienced previously but hadn’t really taken notice of was the strange obsession Indonesians have of getting their photo taken with foreign tourists. I obliged often enough but eventually grew tired of it and there was always plenty of other unsuspecting victims close by. While in some small, off the tourist trail town I would understand this custom, doing this at Borobudur felt very odd.

Back on the bike I headed south and then west from Yogya along some very quiet roads, tiny paths and across some rice paddies. So far in Indonesia I’d taken it for granted that there was always somewhere to stay but upon arriving in Petanahan I learnt that was not always the case. With no hotel, guest house, homestay or any other official form of lodging I asked at a chemist hoping to find someone with a better grasp of English than I had of Indonesian. No luck there but my quandary was understood and I soon found myself at some local’s house – rather large by the town’s standards – and given a room. Eventually the daughter of the owner arrived and explained they rented out some ½ dozen rooms to locals who work in town but live somewhere else. I stayed two days and got to see a more personal side of Indonesian life, eat some home cooked meals and have more photos taken than I care to remember.

From Petanahan I road along the south coast of Java and the roads took a dive to the wrong end of the quality scale. The pot holed remains of a once flatish dirt road now embedded with fist sized rocks carefully positioned to make weaving around them all but impossible. At times I wondered how a road could possibly become so bad without it being some deliberate act. Brief interludes of freshly laid bitumen only my the returning to the rubble all the worse.

Riding into Cilacap I was greeted by a young student, Rudi who was eager to practice his English and show me a bit of his town. A nice change from some other approaches I’ve had who always want some kind of payment. Pangandaran proved a little disappointing due to its popularity with Jakartans as a weekend getaway; crowded, tacky and rather rough beach. The bad road continued and I had plenty of trucks for company now, kicking up clouds of dust and sand, but I was riding right along the coast so the views and a cooler breeze made it all ok. I passed the first machinery I can remember seeing on Java, a string of excavators filling the trucks I’d been following most of the day; a reminder of how much work here is still done by hand.

A string of guest house in the late afternoon was my cue to stop, eventually settling on a sad little room. It was half the price of the next closest offering but the desk fan required 3 jockey straps to bring its rattles under control. From here I’ll swing north to Bandung. My Visa is soon to run out so I need that sorted pronto.

Posted by Aaron K Hall in Cycle Touring, Indonesia, 0 comments

Bali, Island Of Gods

I’m back! Writing that is. I haven’t been idle in my near 3 months or so of silence. I’ve cycled nearly 4000km since leaving Australia but with a dead laptop and a lack of enthusiasm for hanging out in internet cafes the updates could wait. After Jakarta and Singapore proved fruitless for repairs I picked up a shiny new laptop KL a couple weeks back so the stories and photos can start flowing again. Just imported 4500 photos into Lightroom so there’s some work to be done.

Despite having a week to laze about in Darwin, Kuta seemed to encourage more relaxing. There was an excellent vibe and really good group of people at Mumhors House, the hostel I was staying at so I hung
around for 4 days. Drinking a few beers, dining on the beach, movies under the stars and very briefly catching up with some friends from home. After reassembling the bike I did do a little exploring of
Kuta, slowing becoming accustomed to the tangled mess of roads, many one way streets and less than accurate signage; something I would have to get use to in Indonesia.

My first stop out of Kuta, Ubud was barely 40km away but being a couple hundred metres uphill the temp dropped slightly. The road passing an uncountable number of stone carving shops, roof thatchers and timber yards. Strangely half the Kuta hostel people all had the same plans and we ended up together again taking in Ubub’s sights; temples, monkeys and a puppet theater show – which eventually put me to sleep – and for a few mores beers for good measure. Leaving Ubub, a tangle of back roads lead west and then north past a never ending string of village and towns, local shops and businesses spilling out
onto the road, ignorant to its purpose for vehicles. Rice grew in fields and crops of all sorts filled in the gaps in-between. Somehow I ended up on the right road but riding in the opposite direction I had intended, no matter, that meant I avoided the tourist toll.

The clouds didn’t lift but the morning light was beautiful over the rolling slopes of lush rice paddies. Quiet back roads leading through tiny villages and farms but that ended soon enough as I headed north across the spine of mountains that run east-west across Bali. Grey clouds grew gloomier as I climbed and the drizzle turned to a downpour. After the sweaty heat of the coast I actually found myself quite cold but thankfully a hot tea is never far away. The rain eased and I was soon rolling past botanic gardens, volcanic crater lakes and opportunistic monkeys. At the top of the climb the heavens cleared revealing a magnificent view down to the north Bali coast and Java’s mighty Gunung Ijen in the distant west. For a measly $10 (after some half-hearted bargaining) I scored an amazing bungalow with the same spectacular views. The sun put on an amazing show, slowly dipping behind the clouds and bringing the sky to life with a palette of reds, yellows and purples.

It was all downhill the following morning but I made a quick stop at a waterfall to stretch the legs before stopping for breakfast where I got an invite to stay the night. Too early in the day unfortunately, so I continued on the downhill run past more rice paddies, strung out villages and a smattering of coconut palms. Down on the coast it was a little less pleasant, heaviest traffic since Cairns but mostly mopeds driven by impatient, arrogant, assholes. The scenery wasn’t much to look at either. I did however meet Arnold, a Belgian cyclist heading for Bali, who laughed at my complaint about the traffic. I had far worse to look ahead to in Java apparently.

Pedalling on I arrived in Gilimanuk, the last stop on Bali and holed up in a dinghy hotel for the night. After a half a boiled chicken, including the foot and some spicy vegetables, I had an early night and would see what Java held in store for me in the morning.

Posted by Aaron K Hall in Cycle Touring, Indonesia, 0 comments

The Territory

Location: Lawn Hill, Queensland – Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia
Distance: 1318km

Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) had been a good home for a few days but doesn’t take me long to miss the open road. Adam made me another of his delicious coffees (going to miss those) while I loaded up the trucker including 16L of water. It was 140km to Doomadgee, nothing in between and road conditions were questionable at best. Quickly backtracked 20km past Adel’s Grove and a few sun baking snakes to the Lawn Hill Station turn off. “Just follow the signs to KFC” a passing station hand had said, “the road’s not too bad.” That made me laugh while I mentally applied a liberal amount salt to his advice. A few gates later, another snake and a herd of horses the station hand was right but that’s about as far as the “road” went. I crossed Lawn Hill Creek passing a funky smelling dingo and was greeted by a rough track on the other side.

A more accurate description would be a continuous, overlapping string of potholes created by cattle hooves; bumpy as hell. My progress slowed to a meager 10km/h or so playing a never ending game of dodge the worst of the pot holes even if that mean going off road, riding through the grass. The bumps managed to shake lose a couple of water bottles at some point before lunch which I walked back a couple of kilometres looking for but without success. By day’s end I had covered about 50km of the cattle track, passed a single ute, experienced my hottest temp so far, 43°C and worked up some impressive blisters on my palms (hard work steering with so much water on the front rack). At least there was a nice sunset and I had a lovely bunch of flies for company.

It was more of the same the next morning, including a murky 3′ deep crossing at Elizabeth Creek with a couple of dingos watching on curiously. After an hour or so things looked up and I was riding on something that resembled a road and it stayed that way all the way to Doomadgee where I made a beeline for the impressively well stocked supermarket where I briefly ran into Luke who had given me a ride to Gregory Downs a few days earlier. Before heading on I checked in at the roadhouse to ask about the road ahead, learnt nothing useful but did get a look from the lade there that said “You gonna die!” That put a smile on my face but it would have been nice to know about the 10km sand dune inspired road I had to trudge through. Eventually made camp some 2 hours later, hot and sandy.

Passed a whopping 2 cars on the way to Hell’s Gate, the last dot on the map before the border. No sooner than I had scoffed down a pie and coke Adam and Tamsin pulled up having left Lawn Hill that morning following my tyre tracks the whole way here. Over a quick catch chat up I was offered a ride to which I could hardly say no. The lady at Hell’s Gate was far more positive about the road ahead but did say we were the first tourists for the season. We made good time – a quick photo stop at the NT border – before making out way through some amazing rocky outcrops and a small range. The mighty Calvert River appeared and Adam and I, each with a big stick in hand and some keen eyes made a crossing on foot to scout the safest route. Some big rocks and a couple of holes over 1m deep but no crocs. The Landcruiser took it in its stride and we motored on to arrive at Robinson River on dusk.

The crossing could wait till morning. A big fire, baked bean jaffles and cold beer. Good finish to the day. We woke to a heavy fog, glowing soft pink and purple in the early light but was burnt off slowly by the rising sun. Although much swifter flowing the Robinson was an easy crossing with a smooth bed of sand and half the depth of the Calvert. Tall leafy paperbarks, pandanus and palms would make it a lovely swimming hole if not for the ever present but invisible salties. A quick blast up the road and it was time for me to move under my own power again. A hot and sticky ride into Borroloola with a couple of deepish river crossing and more corrugations than I care to remember made for slow going but I found myself a mascot, blind Elmo and ticked over the 5000km milestone. Ignoring all the usual signs I set up camp in a park next to the airfield where my mate Bill used to be based as a pilot.

Another bank of eerie purple fog greeted me at the dawn of a long day to the Heartbreak Hotel at Cape Crawford. Little of note along the way apart from the gargantuan mine trucks. Each nearly 100m long, towing 4 trailers with 130 tyres. A brief shower arrived on dusk – the first rain I’d seen in nearly a month – heralding the start of some cooler weather and after temps notching into the early 40′s since Undara it was a welcome change indeed. The clouds hung low on the lonely stretch of road to the Stuart Highway; 270km of nothing but savannah. Some impressively close bolts of lightning sparked small fires but none lingered long in the constant drizzle. On a 60km stretch of dead straight road, Bob from the Heartbreak Hotel pulled up and offered a ride. An easy decision allowing me to reach the Daly Water Pub for lunch on ANZAC Day. Two-up, ten-pin bowling, a live band, a hearty parmigiana and cold beer.

I took a ride with Rob and Bev to Katherine where I found my first fully fledged supermarket since Atherton, 6 weeks earlier. Freshly baked bread, salami, cheese, yoghurt, chocolate and more, I was in food heaven.  The landscape changed little over the final 3 days to Darwin but I did manage to find one of my best camp sites so far. Far enough off the highway to avoid traffic noise, no mosquitoes and plenty of wood for a big camp fire. Watched the sun paint the horizon orange and pink before the stars came out and the milky way drifted across the sky.

It took me a week to finally leave Darwin, solely because I couldn’t book an earlier flight. Luckily it was a nice enough place to relax and sort our some housekeeping; final hep b shot, insurance and sent some unneeded gear home. Relaxed in Bicentennial Park, cruised around town, ate at the Mindil Beach night market and sorted many a photo. Finally on the 5th May it was time to leave and on the way to the airport I ticked over the 6000km milestone, some 1500km than more I had originally planned.

Besides watching the top of a an overly active thundercloud somewhere above the Arafura Sea it was an uneventful flight from Darwin to Denpasar. 30 day VOA (Visa On Arrival) are issued without question for US$25. I’ll have to extend it somewhere down the road (a process I’ve heard all sorts of stories about) as 30 days for such a sprawling country is never going to be enough.

A tip for those who ever arrive at Denpasar airport and need a cab. Walk a few minutes out through the car park and jump in a cab on the street, the price will fraction of that from the airport itself. Unfortunately with 2 large panniers and an oversized bike box that wasn’t an option for me and I ended up paying an exorbitant Rp250,000 (about $27) for the 20 minute ride to my hostel.  I didn’t care though. I was glad to finally be in a new country, with a language I didn’t understand, a smörgåsbord of new foods to try and that strangely familiar, funky Asian city smell. Humidity is through the roof and there are more scooters/mopeds/motorbikes that I’ve seen anywhere else before. Selamat malang.

Posted by Aaron K Hall in Australia, Cycle Touring, 0 comments

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 scrub land 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 burning 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 Aaron K Hall in Australia, Cycle Touring, 0 comments

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 back roads 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.

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 back roads 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.

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 Aaron K Hall in Australia, Cycle Touring, 0 comments

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.

Crossing the Daintree River

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 sites I stayed at). Eating and reading lots and generally doing nothing. Finally rounded up a whole lot 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 Aaron K Hall in Australia, Cycle Touring, 0 comments

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 Aaron K Hall in Australia, Cycle Touring, 0 comments

Sunrises, sunsets and sandy beaches.

Location: Bangalee – Bowen, Queensland, Australia
Distance: 643km

The road out from Yeppoon was same as on the way in. Hot and with too much traffic but I was able to turn north soon enough onto quieter roads and the noise was soon behind me. I hadn’t actually left Yeppoon until nearly 4pm, avoiding the worst heat of the day by the beach. I figured better there with a cool breeze than somewhere inland with it. My destination was Yaamba and by the time I arrived it was near dark but I was greeted by Joe and Paul – a couple of removalists on their way to Port Douglas – and a dinner of pasta, kransky (not chorizo as they apparently had wanted) and a pile of veges. Set up in the dark on the flattest bit of ground but probably should have thought about it some more because a couple of hours later I found my tent floor feeling like a water bed. The rain that had been predicted all day had finally arrived. Donned the gore tex and found somewhere a few meters away, hardly flat, but out of the pooling water. Amazingly everything in the tent stayed dry.

Spent the morning drying out before pedaling off for a rather sparsely populated stretch of road. 80km north I camped at a truck stop at Marlborough. It rained again but managed not to drown the tent this time. Another 80km of empty road before I found St. Lawrence which had a great big rest area with showers, BBQs and nice soft grass to set up on; all to myself. Only downside were the wetlands starting just meters away which bought an army of mosquitoes like I’ve never seen or heard. Was eager to get going in the morning. The highway headed back to the coast and there a few tiny towns marked on the map. I rode through the wetland for a little while firstly though and found a few baby turtles to say hi too. Not long up the road. I pulled into Clairview and sat and watched the coconut palms and water behind them for a while. Scored an icy cold bottle of water and then a cuppa and a sandwich from a nice lady. Turned east of the highway and back into cane fields and a headwind to get down the beach to camp. Early night as I had my biggest day yet to come.

After an early night I was up before dawn and caught a nice sunrise reflecting off the wet mudflats. Put in 30km before breakfast at Ilbilbie (where there was a fatal truck crash a couple days later) and pressed on to Sarina for lunchtime. Stinking hot but with 50km I had to head on for what would be the worst stretch of road so far. The traffic seemed to double in numbers north or Sarina. If there a shoulder to ride on it was rough as guts and covered in debris and otherwise it was roadworks with a nice half meter drop to the edge of the bitumen. The bridge across breakfast nearly threw me off my bike is was so rough. Strangely just a few minutes on the road became a cycling haven. Super smooth, wide shoulders, even bike lanes. Wound my way through Mackay and some more cane fields out to Blacks Beach to a warm welcome from Cath and Jen. Showered and refueled on a good feed of noodles and a few Bundys. Had a mini reunion with my London flat mates Chris and Clair via Skype. 

While I had only planned on staying a couple of nights that stretched to 5 while I waited for a waylaid parcel. Spent my time doing very little to nothing. Enjoyed a good seafood lunch at the Eimeo pub looking out to the Whitsundays, finally found a tripod stool (best $10 spent so far) and gave the bike a good check-up and clean.
Took off finally after a breakfast of bacon and egg rolls, heading west, then north past more sugar cane along quiet dirt road to Seaforth when I thought I might camp but nowhere suitable appeared so I headed back to the highway and found a tiny park in Calen to camp in. The traffic seemed to have thinned a little, certainly less trucks which was welcome. Sugar cane continued to dominate the flat country with hardly a break to Proserpine where I found lovely spot on the river behind a coffee plantation and more cane the following day to Bowen. The temperature climbed to its highest I have seen, 42C as the highway veered slightly inland but dropped back by the water. Scouted out a place to camp, cooked up a feed watching an amazing sunset over Grays Bay. Unfortunately I probably should have done some more scouting as my camp site turned out to be full of thorns but if was too late to find somewhere else. I slept as still as possible hoping my mattress wouldn’t be punctured.

Broke camp at first light, itching to get out of my spiny camp and settled down at Horseshoe Bay just around the corner for a lazy day of swimming, eating and people watching. Could have done with goggles to have a look at the reef in the bay but I’m sure I’ll more opportunity for that further north. Finally uprooted myself mid afternoon to have a quick look at some of the other beaches and to find lunch but was surprised to find Bowen completely shut except for McDonald’s which I resorted too with no other options. At least it was air conditioned.

Posted by Aaron K Hall in Australia, Cycle Touring, 0 comments