Wednesday, March 26, 2008

DAY 154: Day 1 off on Magnetic Island

Weds 26th March 2008
Distance to date 9322 km (5826 miles)
Hot and sunny

The Possums drove me mad last night - it was my own fault though since I’d tossed a bit of bread to the one-eyed one at the dinner table, and it appeared to have followed me and the food pannier back to the tent. Every 10 minutes from 9 to 1 AM it was scratching at the bag, which is well sealed but which I usually leave outside the inner tent in the ‘vestibule’. I couldn’t sleep since I was worried about the pannier being damaged. Even though the bag is well sealed the critter probably has an acute sense of smell and can tell the magic bread is on the inside. At 1 I took the food pannier and stuck it inside a tumble drier in the laundry, and tonight I left it in the camper’s kitchen (which closes at 2130). So I was a little tired this morning but still got up before 7, and anticipating the bush breakfast.
At 0830 myself and some 20 others trooped through to the little wildlife park attached to the resort, and were given a glass of ice-cold guava champagne for starters, which went down a treat, then shown the self-service (i.e. all you can eat) buffet. There was everything delicious that you might imagine - fresh fruit salad, natural yoghurt, fruit juices; and bacon, sausage, tomato, egg fried on a piece of bread (which they called toad in the hole which is usually sausage methinks), lamp chops cooked in bush spices, pancakes, myrtle syrup, local honey in the comb etc. etc....I was in heaven! We were still eating an hour later and the food just kept on coming - good value for $25. We were also concurrently entertained by one of the staff who brought in a succession of animals for us to see and discuss - baby Saltwater Crococdile, Koala, Python; and there were tame Black Cockatoos and Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos too, the latter being in mischevous mood nipping everyone’s toes. Lots off oohs and aahs from the punters. It was quite an exciting start to the day, only tempered by the heat and humidity, which was high and high respectively. We desperately sought the shade whenever possible.
I was ready for some R&R after all that so rode the 3 minute ride to Horseshoe Bay ‘village’ and chilled out in the shade with an iced coffee, finally summoning the strength for a swim in the stinger-netted area - very soothing to the soul. In fact I did little else that was adventurous, just enjoyed doing little for once. I did the internet stuff on the resort’s high-speed broadband despite Blogger playing up by rearranging the posts so that the days were not consecutive.
After this it was back to the beach for a ride down the sand (for the first km where it was solid enough to ride on) and a walk for the last km where it was soft. The other end of the 2km beach was deserted and perfectly, breathtakingly beautiful; the red-brown sand complementing the bright blue sky and greeny-blue sea - paradise can’t be much better than this for me. Weird pieces of coral littered the beach, presumably washed off the Great Barrier Reef several km out to sea. The backdrop to this scene is cliff and mountain shaped with huge randomly-scattered rounded boulders and covered with tree and shrub.
So passed the day, and as I hadn’t had lunch I had dinner early - (my) omelettes that weren’t very good......I think I overcooked them as they were quite dry. I had another good chat with the German couple who have been here for 2 of the last 4 years, just travelling - they can’t get enough of Australia and have been around twice.
I went into the village later on to make a phone call and decided to pop in the pub for a pint - and they sold draught Guinness - or so I thought judging by the prominent ‘tap’ on the bar. In fact the barman reached for a can, whereupon I expressed my opinion that a can wasn’t as good as the draught stuff, whereupon he explained that although it was in a can the ‘tap’ on the bar was actually a ‘surger’ and would make it 'draught'! “What’s a surger?” I asked. It puts sound waves through the can and makes it appear like draught beer was the answer. And he was right, it was good, even though the beer comes out of the can into the glass as flat as a fluke, it energises when he sticks the glass on the surger. I was forced to express my approval to Even beer is so high-tech these days.
While I was sat outside drinking my Guinness and eating my crisps I watched the Bush Stone Curlews running around hoping for food scraps. They are big birds, some 20” long maybe with very long legs, and look quite comical when they walk. One of them wandered into the bar for 10 minutes, had a look around, nothing doing and walked out surreptitiously again unchallenged. The creatures in Oz are always so entertaining; there’s never a dull moment!

the barman.

DAY 153: Ayr to Townsville then Magnetic Island

95 km at 17.3 km/hr
Tue 25th March 2008
Distance to date 9322 km (5826 miles)
Hot / sunny intervals

After saying adieu to Jacob and Honorata (we may well meet again) I hit the road before 8, and was pleased to see that the traffic was lightish. Once again the landscape was pleasant enough with isolated, wooded, hills dotted all around and as far as the horizon. Not such a good shoulder today for at least half the ride, and the traffic built up later and became a nuisance again. I mostly got a wide berth though. I had been interested in the 'warning pole’ that Jacob and Honorata had employed sticking out horizontally some 800mm at the back of their bikes - they reckoned traffic always gave them a wide berth as a result. As it happened I spotted a car aerial on the shoulder and picked it up with a view to doing the same myself. They have little yellow flags on the end of the poles so I’d need something similar if I went ahead with this.
There’s a roadhouse at around 35km from Bowen and another at some 70km, but I only stopped at the first, for a Devonshire Tea as it happened (with spray-on cream; yeucchhh). Before I hit the second place I had already stopped in a shady bus shelter and taken 20 minutes rest and snack.
I’d no idea what time it was as my watch has packed in - since I wore it in the shower by mistake lol - but it must have been around 3 when I arrived in Townsville. What kind of a name is that? Town’s Town?? Hmmmm. It’s a big place with a huge pedestrianised shopping area, but not very tourist-orientated apparently. I had planned to spend a night here and then do a bit of shopping but last night Jacob was talking about Magnetic Island which is just a few km offshore from Townsville, and it sounded quite nice. I learn’t there was a boat at 1545 so I decided to get it - I can always do my shopping on the way back through the city. I’d also seen a brochure about Bungalow Bay Koala Village on the island which sounded good - it fringes the National Park and is full of birds and wildlife it seems - and there’s a YHA Hostel and cheapish camping there too.
I duly cycled to the pier and bought a return ticket for $26.50 (£11), and half an hour later we were docking in Nelly Bay. Just as well as the scores of schoolkids coming home to the island from school in Townsville were running riot all over the boat - what a racket!! By now the sky was blue and it was a beautiful sunny day, so the island, the beaches and the blue sea looked idyllic, a real tropical paradise. The lady in the VIC in Townsville had thought it was 16km from Nelly Bay to Bungalow Bay but as it turned out it was only 7; mind you over 1km of that was a VERY steep climb over 15% in places, and I was crawling along at 4 km/hr on a very hot and humid afternoon for a while, but then the 2km descent made up for it and all was forgiven. And there wasn’t much traffic on this 15km or so long island, and NO lorries. There are lots of Mini Mokes though which are for hire here. The Koala Village is a very nice place, shady rainforest camping sites, $12.50/night camping, lots of birds making lots of noise (including hundreds of screaming Lorikeets) and possums wandering around all over the place looking for grub (humans=food). There’s a nice camp kitchen too with everything one needs, and a good-sized pool. I decided to stay at least 2 nights as there is also lots to see around the island - beautiful beaches, rainforest walks etc.
I have booked a special ‘Bush Tucker Gourmet Breakfast’ for tomorrow which was a bit expensive, but sounds delicious - more about this tomorrow, and this includes a 2-hour tour of the adjacent Koala centre at 10.
After setting up the tent, just before dusk, I cycled down 400m to Horseshoe Bay and couldn’t resist going for a swim - there is a stinger net here so I could splash about in safety. Jacob was telling me that a sting from one of these poisonous jellyfish (like the deadly Box Jellyfish) can be fatal in minutes if you are stung on the middle of the body, so I kept my cycling top and shorts on just in case. He reckons a sting leaves you scarred for life with whiplash-type marks - if you survive the ordeal that is. The water was very warm and there’s no hint of a shudder as the water hits your body. It was so relaxing floating around and watching the sun slip behind the white craggy cliffs at the end of the bay - mmmm! Shangri-la.
I braved some 30 others in the camp kitchen to cook my spag-tuna concoction then sat and chatted with a German couple and a young Frenchman. A one-eyed possum came begging by the table and I was able to stroke it, but next thing it was actually on the table and trying to get into the bag containing my bread. Just as I was typing that last sentence a possum (same one maybe) tried to get the bread again which was inside my tent close to the entry flap; hope it doesn’t do any damage to tent or bags.
There’s just been a chorus of whistling by birds unseen too - dozens of them whisltling a single long note in chorus - not heard that before and not sure what they are, I’ll try and find out tomorrow. I think they may be Catbirds come to think of it.

DAY 152: Bowen to Ayr

115 km at 19.9 km/hr
Mon 24th March 2008
Distance to date 9227 km (5767 miles)
Hot / sunny

I had trouble getting to sleep due to some neighbours talking loudly until very late, but felt OK this morning anyway. I was away soon after 8 on what seemed likely to be a hot sunny day, and indeed it was just that. Traffic was pretty heavy from the start, presumably folk returning to Townsville after the Easter weekend; happily there were few lorries, and a decent width of shoulder most of the way.
Scenically the ride was good; wooded mountains looming up all over the place and although the land has been cleared in the past natural vegetation seems to be making a comeback in between the mountains. I saw a lot more of the birds of prey that I thought were Black Kites, and occasional flurries of Black Cockatoos - big, foolish, noisy and lovable birds. I got a lot of toots on the road again, and one long hoot from a freight train - the line runs next to the highway.
I had been told that the first ‘services’ were at 50km, and this was exactly right - that’s the first time a woman’s given the correct estimate of distance in my recollection (oops) - and I enjoyed a litre of Gatorade, having resisted the usual iced coffee. The roadhouse had a copy of the camping sites details book that I should have bought at the start, and I thought of buying it, but it’s probably not worth it now; it’s $55 and pretty heavy; anyway I have some good info from Cairns on in the “Cycling Outback Australia” book which I already have.
At 80km I was feeling tired and the ‘sores’ were bothersome, so I stopped at the only rest area on this section and stretched out for a while, and felt much better for it. At 95km there was another roadhouse so an iced coffee was my reward, and I was surprised and delighted to see 2 other touring cyclists there. This was Jacob (originally from Brisbane now living in the Gold Coast) and partner Honorata, originally from Poland. They are cycling around Australia too, the same way as me, though giving themselves 18 months compared to my 12, taking in the Cape York track too which I won’t be doing. They started at the Gold Coast a few weeks ago. It was great to chat and compare notes, but eventually it was time for me to move on and get the long day finished. The last 20km was less enjoyable with little shoulder for most of the way, and a long bridge without anywhere for cyclists to go to contend with, however it soon passed and after a bit of food shopping at Home Hill I rolled into Ayr. I hovered around a bit hoping to see Jacob and Honorata and whilst in Macdonald’s (purely in the interests of research you understand) I saw them pass, heading towards the CP. Later I saw they were checking in there so I did the same. I couldn’t be bothered cooking so went out for chicken and chips and a few beers, then ate it back at the tent chatting to my new friends. The last few weeks have been very sociable one way or another. It is very humid tonight and I’m sat typing this up in just my trunks, sweat is pouring off me. Yesterday I did my washing in the morning and hung it out to dry straight away, however even though it didn’t rain it wasn’t dry by this morning - big difference to South Australia where stuff dried in a couple of hours. This humidity will hopefully lessen though as the wet season ends ‘any time now’. It usualy coold down OK during the night.

DAY 151: Bush camp to Bowen

47 km at 14.9 km/hr
Sun 223rd March 2008
Distance to date 9112 km (5695 miles)
Very warm / sunny

My bush camp proved a good choice - quiet, undisturbed, but also beautiful - I didn’t fit the outer tent so could see the stars and moon through the inner’s mesh; moreover the full moon lit the surrounding area so that the lake and trees all showed up with a silver hue all night (there was no cloud cover). I woke up a few times briefly and noted that the moon was moving in line with the axis of the tent (east to west), as was the constellation Orion. It was all very pleasant.
Packing up was quick as I hadn’t got much stuff out last night, so I was away or 7. The road was pretty quiet and it was mostly just me and a few Black Cockatoos and raptors that might be Black Kites - clearly not the Wedge-Tailed Eagles I thought they were at first. The eagle is surely much bigger?!
The wind had dropped for the time being and it was a little uphill so I had to work harder, and even when I started to come into Bowen the road turned to the east, into the rising SE-er. It was still only a little after 8 so I spent the morning touring around the very nice beaches around the Bowen coast. I took a pic of the roadside billboard stating what the penalties were for vandalism and graffiti - interesting.
First of all I had a look at Queen’s Beach, which has a stinger net fitted - this is a net designed to excluse stingers - several different species of poisonous jellyfish - so that you can swim in safety. I watched a lady with three dogs as she turned a blind eye to the largest of the dogs defecating in the sand of this netted section, and I pointed to where the dog had done this when she turned around but she ignored me, and left the poo for some child to wallow in. I’m surprised dogs are even allowed on this section of beach, as they are banned from most bathing beaches at risk of heavy fines. I noted 2 caravan parks in this area, and not least a pub that sells draught Guinness - mmm! Maybe later. Next I rode the 4km around Queen’s Bay to Gray’s Bay and Horseshoe Bay - the latter is shown in the pic(s) and is beautiful. I dived in for a swim with cycling shorts and long-sleeved top on as there was no stinger net, although there were many people in there with less on than me. I thing the stinger risk is decreasing as summer comes to an end and the water cools a little (from 25 to 20 deg C lol), but I wasn’t taking unnecessary risks - the stings are supposed to be excrutiatingly painful. Vinegar is the best pain killer apparently (applied to the site of injury; not drank!). I also had a look at Rose Bay - up a steep hill and down again - before heading back to Queen’s Beach to check in at the Wangaratta CP (opposite the pub with the Guinness lol).
Having seen most of the delights of Bowen I spent the afternoon doing washing and servicing the transmission i.e. Washing the chain, adjusting chain tension etc. A couple came over to speak about the ride - the lady was a keen cyclist and wanted to do a big ride like this so was interested in all the relevant issues. The guy gave me a hand to try and undo one of the 5 chainring screws which was all turniung, but to no avail - there must be a special tool for this, and I’ll get a bikeshop to undo for me - I want to turn the ring around so it wears evenly and lasts longer.
Around 6 I went over for my Guinness treat, but unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) as I started my second pint they started to close the place so I had to rush it a bit - hmmmm - still, it was very well kept and tasted just as good as at home. I decided to have dinner at the cafe next door, and did a bit of e-mailing whilst at it. Later whilst talking to some neighbours I got badly bitten by mozzies on the foot - that’ll teach me to remember to put repellent on every night.
All in all a very enjoyable and productive day; tomorrow it’s back onto the Bruce Highway and a 2-day ride to Townsville. I’m told this is a very industrial place and not very interesting, so I may not stay there long, but I’ll see.

DAY 150: O’Connell River CP to Bush camp 15km S of Bowen

108 km at 17.9 km/hr
Sat 22nd March 2008
Distance to date 9065 km (5666 miles)
Very warm / sunny

Despite another noisy group making a nuisance of themselves I fell asleep without much trouble, once they had gone to bed it was utterly silent apart from the odd vehicle on the highway. Norm and I shared breakfast again and I then set off for Proserpine as I had a lot to do there. It’s only 21km and with a strong tailwind as usual it only took 1 hour. Unfortunately the VIC didn’t open until 10 but no big deal as I mainly want to know where there’s an internet place, however I soon found one and spent well over an hour uploading. I hadn’t been able to upload pics at Peter’s because we couldn’t work out how to get the Apple Mac take just a few images into a folder rather than dump all 650 images onto his computer first. This was the first time I had used one of these machines and it took some getting used to - I had to keep asking dumb questions to do simple things I’d been doing for years on a PC. I finished at the intertnet place just as they were about to close, and then went over to IGA to top up my food stores.
I rode out of town (I think Norm intended to go and see the Whitsunday Islands) thinking I would just ride the 64km or so straight to Bowen from here and as I have said previously, not bother detouring to Airlie Beach / Whitsundays, however when I got to the Airlie junction my mind did some kind of flip and I took the detour anyway! Weird - almost as if something was compelling me to go this other way. Anyhow I thought I would just ride the 26km to Airlie Beach, have a look, and then ride back to Prosepine again - in the back of my mind i fancied dining at the Irish pub there and have a couple of pints of draft Guiness, which I like. The best laid plans can fail though of course, and frequently do.
The Airlie road was quite busy but there is a good shoulder so no worries. As was the case yesterday I got lots of toots from motorists - why so many all of a sudden? Perhaps it’s the sight of my bare arse through the now-threadbare but still very comfortable Assos shorts! Or do I look like a woman from the rear? He he.... Some 8km from Airlie Beach I noticed a road off to the left signposted for Bowen - i hadn’t been aware of this and had thought I’d have to return to Proserpine to pick up the highway north again. I must read my maps more thoroughly. That opened up new options for onward travel.
As I entered the bustling and yes, yuppiefied, resort I moved onto the Millenium path (for walkers and cyclists) and was able to go right across the town this way. It is a very pretty place with it’s sandy beaches and clear blue seas, but I’ve seen prettier - at Esperance in WA or Venus Bay on the Ayre Peninsular for example. And it was just teeming with people - mostly skimpily-clad young females sunbathing in the parks and thousands of sprogs running everywhere - yeugghhhhh! (To the kids that is; don’t mind the SCF’s! I had a look around and took a few pics for posterity, then queued for a Baskin-Robbins 2-scoop ice cream sundae, and as I was eating same an Australian guy (ex-Korean) struck up a nice conversation, and seemed quite inspired to do a ride himself, which has been on his mind for a while it seems. The ice cream was very good, but I then needed lots of fluid to slake the consequent thirst. It was turned 3 now so I headed back out of town the way I had come in, with the intention of returning to Proserpine and the Irish Pub. Strangely once more, I changed this plan and turned right onto the road signposted Bowen, even though I knew it was unlikely there’d be anywhere to stay other than the side of the road.
This road actually runs for 13km to the Bruce Highway at a point 13km north of Proserpine. It wasn’t too busy and there was a good shoulder. I guess I saved 15km overall by taking this route. It is pretty flat, mostly farmland. Once back on the Highway (54km to Bowen from here) it was all flat; good shoulder; sugar cane then changing to rough cattle grazing. Time and again I spooked the cattle, mostly Brahmin crosses, and they thundered away from me in their hundreds the cowards. I went off the road a few times to look for a suitable camp site but none of them felt good, and it was now 1830 and almost dark when I spotted a lake to the left and a wide area of land away from the road, so I turned off to have a look without being seen. It was perfect, I couldn’t be seen from the road but I might be seen if someo ne drove down the track I entered on, but I’m sure no-one would mind anyhow if they did come across me. It is something of an emergency - I didn’t feel very safe on the highway in the dark even with lights.
As it doesn’t look like rain I’m sleeping with the outer off i.e. Just under the mesh. It’s lovely and cool with the gentle wind blowing through the mesh, There’s a full moon so the lake and the grassland around me are bathed in silvery light. The cicadas are at it in the trees around me and there are one or two wee frogs hopping past the tent occasionally. The Highway is getting quieter (at 9) with only one vehicle every couple of minutes. Here’s hoping for a quiet night.