Monday, March 31, 2008

DAY 159 Tully to Mena Creek

pics: fish feeding, frog (!), hedge and sea view at Mission Beach, road between MB and El Arish, Cassowary, Mena Creek, Cassowary sign, Queenslander house, bananas, road between Tully and M Beach, Mission Beach (Blogger doesn't allow captions to pics as far as I can see!!)

DAY 159: Tully to Mena Creek
86 km at 15.9 km/hr
Mon 31st March 2008
Distance to date 9626 km (6016 miles)
Cloudy, warm

Weir5d how the pics upload completely out of order! From top to bottom they are:-
Yet another disturbed night - there’s a pattern setting in here isn't there!? - This was a couple arguing until the early hours in the nearest tent to me, then they made up and....well, I can’t really tell you the rest but it was just as noisy!! Nevertheless I felt OK this morning and was away for 0830 or so. After 5km on the Bruce Highway I turned right for Mission Beach, which the lady at the Tully VIC said was WELL worth spending 2 days at - should be good eh? This road had no shoulder for the most part but was pretty quiet - I had expected it to be as busy as the Airlie Beach road was. It was mostly more interesting bush with the occasional field of cattle so quite pleasant actually.
The sky was dark grey so places didn’t look quite as attractive, but no rain came today. The wind was fairly light too. I stopped at a little shopping complex just before MB and had an omelette and coffee, and a few doors away there was an internet place so I updated the blog. The library here in NQ seem to charge $5/hr and no uploads which is no use for my purposes. Afterwards I cycled the final 2km to MB itself but all I saw was a row of cafes near to the beach, and then I was back in open country again. I carried on for another km thinking there would be a larger town but no, that was it! I cycled back to see if I’d missed anything but no, I hadn't. It’s all about my expectations of course, and I should know that one should never assume anything - I’d got the message, somehow, that this was an interesting place, but as far as I could see it had few attributes other than the (deserted) beach of some 3km length. It looked badly in need of an injection of cash, for example to improve the gravel shoreside walk which was in poor condition. There was a sad, deserted feel to the place. I didn’t stay long and left town on the El Arish (Bruce Highway) road.
Some 6km along this road was a rainforest walk, so I stopped to have a look. You’ll gather from the pics that this is a Cassowary preservation area - they were almost wiped out here and are recovering but with only some 40 adult birds. The interpretation ‘rotunda’ was very good and around this building a score of trees had been planted which specifically aim to provide around-the-year fruits for the birds. Apparently they have big appetites and need some 3 sq km each to support this. I passed through this area and onto the walk itself, but didn’t get very far since there was a series of steps. There were some other people around and I didn’t want to leave the bike and my stuff unattended. I turned around and headed back, but as I passed the rotunda, there was an adult Cassowary stood looking at me! Brilliant - I’m lucky to have seen one given the small numbers. He eyed me warily and then carried on rooting around quite unconcerned - I had thought they were quite shy creatures. I watched for around 10 minutes, and then left him (or her) to root on in solitude. They are huge birds - flightless of course - this one was about 1.5m high and probably weighed around 35kg. It was yet another thrilling wild animal / bird encounter that I had hoped for on this trip - so much better than seeing them in a zoo! I haven't been at all disappointed in this respect.
With light heart I pedalled on for another 10km of Toblerone road before reaching El Arish, where I celebrated my sighting with a muffin and capaccino. I asked the cafe lady about topping up my water bottles and she asked if I wanted town or bore water - er, town water, because isn’t bore water often salty-tasting? Whereupon she took 2 glasses and took a sample of each for me to try, and I had to agree the bore water was OK, and of course should have no chlorine added.
Then another 7km north on the Bruce Highway to turn left for Silkwood and the Canecutter Way. I had prevaricated about whether to take this longer detour off the highway or just carry on, but I soon saw I’d made a good choice. It is a very quiet road, and I guess I saw only 6 cars in the next 90 minutes - BLISS! And the road was delightful - twisty, little hills, patches of dense rainforest, little hobby farms and a few larger sugar cane or banana farms. I’d definitely recommend this option for cyclists rather than the highway, even if it is longer. The road narrowed to single track at times but was in good condition.
It was getting a bit late and I had the idea to stay in a B&B I’d seen signposted, but when I went to ask I learnt that it was from $220/night - er, I don’t think so! Did she think I was on my honeymoon or something?
I was told however that there was a CP at Mena Creek some 35km after Silkwood, so that was OK. I expected to find a poky little cheap CP (no problem with that lol) but it was anything but that, and this was yet another surprise in a day full of ‘em. As I rode up to the office a guy, Mark, the owner, greeted and welcomed me. I could see there was more here than just a CP - there is a big waterfall on the property and some strange old buildings here too, but Mark explained the Paronella Park story over the next 10 minutes.
He bought this place 14 years ago after it had been abandoned for a long time. It was built by Jose Paronella, a forward-thinking Spaniard from the Barcelona area who had been inspired in his youth by Catalonian castles, and by the architect Gaudi in particular. He had seen this virgin forest land with waterfall and it suited his needs well, and he bought the land in 1929. Over the succeeding years he built a cottage for him and his wife; a movie theatre / ballroom; installed a hydro-electric scheme in the waterfall (the region’s first); tennis courts, and many other buildings, as well as designing walkways to line up with the falls to dramatic effect.
Anyway the $28 fee, although higher than I would usually pay, includes at least 2 guided tours of the place, so pretty good value actually. Mark is driven by the dream of completely restoring and enhancing the place, and he has clearly come a long way in this respect. There’s a smart modern cafe and outdoor deck too and delicious food. His enthusiasm (he conducted out evening tour tonight) is infectious, and he clearly loves what he does. The tour took us around the grounds getting glimpses of the nicely- (orange) backlit waterfall down an avenue of huge, straight Kourie trees; feeding hundreds of huge eels and other fish at the riverbank; examining the illuminated castle etc. All around us were Fireflies too, which I don’t think I’ve seen before - they fly around slowly a bit like mosquitos, lighting up for a couple of seconds like beacons - amazing. What I liked about the setup here was the genuine ecologically sound principles used in his approach - for example he wants to sell hydro power back to the grid - and the absence of the “lets make a quick buck” principle that shines through. And as a bonus there’s only me and an elderly Swiss couple here in the CP, so I expect a good, quiet night!!
What an enjoyable day, and I am over the next few days headed for the Atherton Tablelands with lots of forest, mountains and waterfalls and some wetlands to check out.

DAY 158: Ingham to Tully

the ride

99 km at 17.3 km/hr

Sun 30th March 2008

Distance to date 9540 km (5962 miles)


.........And Tyto Wetland was perfectly peaceful, just the occasional Wallaby-type noise half in my dreams, half-out. It rained heavily in the night and the tent needed a good wipe over with the chammy before packing away. Despite there being prolific mozzies here I was careful enough in keeping the tent flaps closed, and spraying with repellent, such that I wasn’t bitten - amazing my my usual standards.

The wetlands were deserted as I left - despite the high quality and size of this facility hardly anyone is using it seemingly - such a shame, it's a real asset to the area. Probably needs a burger joint to attract more people. I only travelled 2km to the far side of Ingham when I passed Brumby’s Bakery and the smell of fresh bread drew me in. I sat and ate a sausage roll with a Dare Double Espresso Iced Coffee, and bagged an apple scroll for eating later. As I ate I chatted to an old (ex) Sicilian man who was selling avocados and olives from the back of his ute (pick-up). He said he grows the olives himself ‘up on the hill’ and prepares them for sale himself too - this entails bashing the picked olives with the bottom of a beer bottle, removing stones, and steeping the olives in water several times. Seemed like a lot of work, but he’s retired and just does what he feels like doing. The product was delicious and I bought a half-litre (for $6.50). Ingham has a very high fraction of Italian immigrants, some are now 6th generation.

Underway at last, around 9, there was little assistance from the light SE wind but there was a good shoulder, however it drizzled most of the day and I got pretty wet my mid-afternoon, but still quite enjoyed . There’s a nice rest stop at 5 mile Swimming Hole some 8km S of Cardwell, and yes there is actually a large swimming hole - on a hot day I would have been tempted in, but the rain kept the temperature down today. There's one big hill about 15km in (see pic of sign) but I just plugged away for nearly 2km and enjoyed the subsequent downhill - although it wasn't a 'screamer' as I only got up to 59.9 km/hr - drat!

I took a short movie of the oncoming Cairns to Brisbane Tilt Train which I will try to post on here (it didn’t work last time). I had considered staying at Cardwell, which is on the coast, but the gloomy weather did nothing to enhance this very ordinary town, which is essentially a 2km stretch of the Bruce Highway with lots of motels and cafes, and I decided to press on (it was only 1320).

The rain intensified and the wind picked up a bit, still SE (as it has been for over 1500 km - lucky me!). Due to the bad light I wasn’t wearing shades but my eyes started to sting badly, from the spray being thrown up I suppose, and I had to put them on, whereupon my eyes stopped stinging but I couldn’t see very well.

Around 15km south of Tully the shoulder disappeared completely, and by this time the traffic had increased considerably from a quiet morning, including lots of lorries and wide loads, and I suddenly felt quite vulnerable. I couldn’t see too well through the mirror either due to the rain on it. The road was built on a steep-sided embankment so there was nowhere for me to go to get out of the way of the crazy demon trucks.

All of a sudden some sugar cane railway tracks (400mm guage or so) which run everywhere in N Queensland appeared, running at 45 degrees to me, and as my front wheel hit the first track it veered to the right, and both I and the bike crashed to the ground unceremoniously. All the panniers came off and got tangled in the wheels and I couldn’t get the bike out of the middle of the road - luckily there had been no traffic behind me at the time so there was time for a couple of people who stopped to check that I was OK to come and help me. It’s testament to the quality of the bike and Ortlieb panniers that no damage at all was sustained, and even I only suffered a minor graze on the knee - my clothing was undamaged too. I was probably travelling at around 18km/hr when it happened. Lucky me again then. I hadn’t had time to turn square on to the line which I would have done if possible, because I didn't see the tracks in time due to the rain see pic of tracks).

Somewhat chastened I got back on the bike for the last 4km into Tully. There is one caravan park here and it was pretty busy, but only $12. The field where I camped is pretty wet too, but hopefully the tent is still waterproof. There is internet here but no uploading so that’ll have to wait. I cooked a nice spaghetti dish and smothered it with the olives I bought this morning - delicious - whilst chatting with 2 Japanese lads who also enjoyed the olives. I’ll probably have to put wet clothing on tomorrow as there’s no chance oif getting it dry tonight.

DAY 157: Rollingstone to Ingham

Pics all of Tyto Wetlands except for 1st one of road on the way. Note Croc warning sign!

59 km at 17.0 km/hr

Sat 29th March 2008

Distance to date 9441 km (5901 miles)


The party went on until well after midnight and only quietened down after what appeared to be 2 men fighting and screaming, over the woman I think, so that was another sleep-deprived night. It left me feeling somewhat down during the morning too, not helped by a sore bum. This stretch of road is not overly-scenic so there was little to distract me from the negativity until I stopped in at the Frosty Mango cafe where some raisin toast with mango jam with pot of tea, and a nice chat with the cheerful chatty waitress perked me up somewhat.

It was hard going today though - the wind was not as favourable being somewhat light and on the right side, and my early mood didn’t help of course.

After about 40km the chain came off all of a sudden, and I found that it was quite slack, after me having tensioned it at Bowen a few days ago. The 2 locking bolts were slack, and I can only surmise that I didn’t tighten them enough last time. I then noticed that the bottom bracket was free to move sideways to and fro, which didn’t seem right either. Anyhow when I retensioned and tightened the 2 bolts firmly home it seemed OK again. I need to check whether the BB should move in and out like this. (For those unfamiliar with Rohloff hub gears, the chain is tensioned by an eccentric adjustment of the bottom bracket with a special tool, which I brought with me as it happens).

I don’t have a watch at the moment so I didn’t know the time, and I was surprised when I got to the VIC and found it was 1410 - what a slow day! I learnt that is no caravan park / camping for another 50-odd km to the north so I had various options ranging from stay at the CP here in Ingham, ride 18km to the coast where there are several CP’s (this meant cycling the same 18km back too), or carry on up the Bruce Highway and hope to find a wild camping place.

I decided to think about it whilst having a look around the Tyto Wetlands here in Ingham - this is a 2.5km track winding around a wetland lake and features various bird hides and viewing platforms. It’s a very nice set-up but completely devoid of people as usual. As soon as I entered the area a dozen or more pale brown Agile Wallabies that were grazing on the short grass scattered in every direction in alarm, and I spotted birds such as Magpie and Greylag Geese, along with many Honeyeaters and some others that I did not recognise. I also saw a sign saying not to camp near water because there ARE crocodiles in here - but conversely this must mean you ARE allowed to camp here. Well, a nods as good as a wink to a blind man, so that’s tonight’s venue sorted! I found a secluded corner 2km from the entrance where I was sure I’d be undisturbed.

But first I needed some shopping, and after this whilst exploring the rest of the town I spotted a pub advertising pints of Guinness for $3.50 - a bargain compared to the $6 I’ve been paying previously - so I duly partook (One did the trick). I was the only person in the pub which was a bit sad, but the owner and I had a good chat whilst I eagerly sipped his porter. He had reduced it because it wasn't selling well. It was starting to darken so back to camp, via a long and interesting chat to a guy, Tom (I think) who was walking around the reserve.

It was just about dark now and the mozzies were in plague proportions (natural in a wetland area) so first thing was to spray repellent all over. I quickly got the tent up and got a bit of a fright as a wallaby noisily crashed through the undergrowth nearby, and I realised I was a little near an access path / escape route for the animals so that might happen again.

As it was so insect-intense I didn’t bother cooking outside but made tuna sandwiches safely inside the tent - I have some good fresh brown rolls so it was quite tasty. I expect and hope that tonight WILL be a peaceful one!

DAY 156: Magnetic Island to Rollingstone

Pics in order are of - Townsville x 2; my campfire at Rollingstone; Arcadia Beach magnetic Island; dodgy river works on Mag Island; Mag Island x 2; Townsville x 1

60km at 16.0 km/hr

Fri 28th March 2008

Distance to date 9382 km (5864 miles)

Hot and sunny

Juvenile antics by three Dutchmen until 1AM made sure I was going to have a spoilt night. I made a resolution to try and avoid the younger end, some of whom seem hell bent on getting drunk, using foul language and disregarding anyone else but themselves. It’s not going to be easy though because this (Northern Queensland) is now well and truly young backpacker territory. I asked them politely to take their party somewhere else, and in fairness they did, but the damage was done, this puts me on edge, and I find it hard to sleep. Bush camping is probably the best option, but it’s not always possible or advisable. I mentioned it to the manager in the morning and she sais she was pretty hacked of with it and promised to sort them out, however I’m leaving this morning so it won’t benefit me; maybe others.

It rained heavily for a while at dawn so my washing got a soaking and I had to put wet shorts on again but no big deal; they still feel warm not cold!. Breakfast this morning was with a retired man from Perth, but as he didn’t let me get a word in, and continually tried to foreguess me it wasn’t a very productive exchange.

I updated the website before leaving the campsite and finally got away around 10.

Quite a climb out of Horseshoe Bay for about 2km, then downhill to Arcadia Bay, where I had an iced coffee as I sat on yet another perfect, idyllic palm-tree’d beach. I finished the 7km to Nelly Bay ferry terminal well in time for the 1115 boat, and was back in Townsville by 1145. I couldn’t be bothered going into the shopping centre to get some stuff I needed so as recommended by a guy on the boat I cruised slowly along the promenade / esplanade, which is effectively a linear park stretching for some 3 to 4 km. Very nice it is too - in my opinion much better than the Brisbane riverfront, and from a city of 130,000 whereas Bris is over a million. There are several very smart and well-equipped children's parks, several open air swimming pools, many smart cafes and bars, gardens, old and huge trees, memorials to the war dead, and a nice sandy beach to boot - top marks to Townsville.

Eventually that came to an end and I was into the outer suburbs - in fact these went on for 12km or more - indicative of the sprawl caused by (originally) cheap land - meaning big plots and buildings.

Back on the good old Bruce Highway the traffic was pretty heavy still, but with a good-width shoulder all the way. Apart from stopping at Woolworth's to top up food stocks there was nothing much of interest on the road, straight, flat and noisy with little interesting scenery other than the odd distant mountain. It will get better soon though as I near Cairns.

I stopped briefly at a 24-hour rest area (one can officially camp overnight there) and spoke to a guy who knew the Rollingstone rest area, and who confirmed it was an overnighter too, so that’s where I headed.

It’s a very nice free rest area; I have my own ‘fireplace’ (and there was a pile of logs at hand too) and water supply; there are toilets too but no shower so it’ll be a Wet One Wash tonight. I got the fire started around 5 and it’s still burning now at 9. Funny how a fire adds ambience and pleasure to a campsite - I’ll be able to have plenty of fires when in the Top End or so I’ve been told - it’s not allowed at most of the places I’ve been so far. Only one thing spoils this scenario - rowdies - there’s another gang, this time of foul-mouthed, drunken, continually belching and otherwise very loud ‘lads’ and a girl about 100m away - I recognised the threat to peace and quiet as soon as I saw them, but couldn’t get any further away from them unfortunately. They’ve been at it non-stop since 5 so far. I’m pretty sure they were pulling trees to pieces for the bonfire (this is a kind of public park). It’s tempting to ring the police but I fear possible reprisals. There are about 6 other ‘normal’ families / people camping here too. Oh well, at least it’s free!