Thursday, June 16, 2011

Alligator Creek to Cairns

Sunday 29th May 2011

Rode the 25 kay from Alligator Creek roadhouse to Townsville. As you approach Townsville you see the red rock of Castle Hill and shabby mountain towering over the city. After eventually finding the informattion centre (don't bother following the directional arrows, they've moved the place) in the mall (being redeveloped so its sporting some detention centre-like fencing) we head in the direction of a caravan park but find a cheaper one on the way right next to the showgrounds. Here we are checked in by a guy who could not look any more like Dave Grohl if he was wearing a guitar, and surrounded by the other members of the Foo Fighters. We didn't get up the courage to call him Dave. (Whether this is unrelated to Adam's unconfirmed sighting of Kurt Cobain on a greyhound bus to Brisbane we will never know.)

The caravan park on the inside looks really dodgy. There are a bunch of battered caravans there permanently, with boarded up windows. I'm not sure if this is a consequence of the bad weather of the Queensland summer or if it always looks like this.

We found a spot to pitch tents and headed to the nearby Woolworths to get supplies. This was followed by lounging around at the caravan park. In the camp kitchen, which was pretty grotty (the rock and roll lifestyle does not allow one to clean kitchens) we managed to cook some food and catch the repeat of Doctor Who, the ending we had missed the day before due to roadhouse television politics. We didn't get to watch this alone however, with one of the dumbest guys on earth sitting with us making comments along the way like "do you think this is real" and "its only a tv show isn't it". (Earlier he said, while watching a promo about chimps, "Do you really think we're related to them?" - In your case mate, not so distantly - and "Imagine what we'll have evolved into in the next one thousand years". This guy was originally from Tasmania, which is of course unrelated to his stoopid and I don't know why I mention it here.)

Monday 30th May 2011

Got up at around sunrise to ride down to the Strand. Then I rode a fair way around Townsville looking for this other caravan park that was meant to be the same price (it wasn't) but I gave up finding it because Ingham Rd has a bike lane for most of the way but the last block is a hostille stretch of shoulder-less truck-filled road and it was early morning peak time hell. On the way back stumbled across a bike shop which was open so went inside to ask after Schwalbe tyres. They didn't stock any but had a Vittoria Randonneur in stock, but only in 700x35. The other bike shop in town only had Maxxis tyres when I rang them later so I ended up getting the Vittoria. (My rear Schwalbe Extreme had worn out after 5000 kilometres from northern Victoria to the point where the kevlar was cracking and puncturing my tube every day).

The guy who works at the Townsville caravan park

Headed back to the caravan park. Checked in another night with Dave Grohl... I mean at his caravan park. Adam was catching up with a friend for a few days in Townsville so I had to put up with Mr Dumb on my ownsome.







Tuesday 31st May 2011

Packed up and checked into the other caravan park as the one beside the showgrounds was getting noisy with consttruction of a stage and tents for some children singing spectacular right next door. This other caravan park is seven or eight kilometres out of town and was $25 unpowered (the other one by the showgrounds was $22.50 and not so far out of town). I was trying to talk the lady behind the counter down to a discounted price as I was on my own in a tent (the price is for two adults in a caravan) but she wouldn't have it. She even said "this is already the discounted price" which was bullshit. Anyway, I booked in for two nights and set up my tiny camp.

Eventually I headed back into the city to search for the library (it's a bit hidden, being up a set of elevators inside an alcove on the fenced off mall - no signs saying beware of the leopard though). Public libraries differ in their friendliness to visitors. Canberra state library was the nicest with unlimited use to their many computers. Some give you unlimited free wi-fi once you have obtained a free guest username and password; others its for an hour or two. Some give you two hours free on a computer if there is one available that is not already booked. Others charge you a small fee by the hour. The main library in Townsville only lets visitors use the 15 minute 'stand-up' computers which don't even have USB slots so are pretty useless for my requirements (updating the blog I need to transfer files off SD cards).

I visited the gallery where there was an exhibition on called "In the Japanese Manner" in which Australian artwork was displayed experimenting with the japanese technique of making prints with multiple carved wooden blocks overlayed to make up the various colours (you've probably seen this technique when used on Japanese-style wall hangings). My favourites were Paul Haefliger's "Lyrebird", Margaret Preston's "The Banksia tree", and Murray Griffin's "Burning Mountain".

Wednesday 1st June 2011

Today I caught the 10.30 ferry over the Magnetic Island (20 minute trip, $29 return, bikes free) and first up headed to West Point via Picnic Point. To get to Picnic point there is one hill you need to ride up. Some of the way there is a shared path separated from the road, but most of it isn't. At Picnic Point (four kilometres from the ferry terminal) there is a jetty which has been fenced off. Not sure if it's because of Cyclone Yasi. Riding on to West Point (twelve kilometres from the ferry terminal) there is four kilometres at the end of gravel/dirt/sand road with a few creek crossings, and at the end a secluded beach where I had lunch. The road to west point features granite rocks, tropical wetlands, mangroves and also melaleuca scrub all taking turns to display themselves to you so its pretty interesting to ride. I had some lunch at West Point after dragging my bike through some sand. There was no one else there except a decomposing sea turtle which looked to have come to its death with the help of a biodegradable plastic shopping bag. Its shell was 35 cm long so it wasn't a baby. It was a very sad scene.

While eating lunch at West Point I could see fish jumping, dark blue crabs scuttering about and Brahminy Kites flying overhead.

Heading back to Picnic Point, and then back up the hill to Nelly Bay where the ferry terminal is, it was now about 1.30 in the afternoon. I rode the 4 k to Arcadia (one dirty big hill on the way), had a quick look at the beach there, and then rode up two other dirty big hills to the Forts carpark. I wanted to go see Horseshoe Bay but that would have been a really nice downhill into Horseshoe but a big climb back out. I didn't have my bike lights with me, stupidly, so I needed to get back to Townsville and the caravan park out amounst the barren wasteland industrial area before sundown. I walked to the water tank on the forts walk (theres a lookout to Radical Bay on the way to that), but tyurned back as it was about four so no time to do the full forts walk. I rode back up and down the hills to get to Nelly Bay and caught the 4.25 ferry back to Townsville. It had been a wonderful day on the island, despite the hill climbs that I found difficult even without all the gear.

I got back to my tent to find some motorhome bus with car and boat towed behind it had almost driven over it, settling for parking their juggernaut right next to it so where my head goes is about 20 centimetres from their bus tyre. This is what you get for $25 per night. So I moved my tent making as much noise as possible (there was much throwing of tent pegs and mild cursing) to another camping spot.

Thursday 2nd June 2011

I had had an email from Adam saying he was staying on Magnetic Island Friday-Sunday to do a PADI (diving) course. He let me know there was cheap camping over on the island at the Bungalow Bay YHA. We planned to ride together into Cairns and up to the Daintree so I said I'd meet him over on Maggie on Sunday night and we could head further north on Monday.

I wanted to spend another day in Townsville before heading over to Maggie on Friday. The plan was to visit the museum ($13.50) and climb Castle Hill (free) and also write and upload a blog post. Due to a case of extreme laziness and how long it takes me to write a damn blog post, all I ended up doing all day was writing the blog post on the beach at Townsville (maybe I was distracted a little) and using the internet at the internet café for almost three hours to upload the blog post, upload pictures, watch a little Hungry Beast and use internet banking to pay people I owed money to (THANK YOU TONY FOR SENDING ME MY SCHWALBE DUREME TYRE).

Friday 3rd June 2011
Packed up the tent and bike and headed back into the city. Parked my bike at the cemetary under Castle Hill and climbed up the first big rock part to look over Townsville. Climbed (crawled) back down and as I rode back out of the road with the cemetary a "Jesus saves" street van (the type that gather and diseminate food for those living on the street) pulled up beside me and asked if I needed a drink. I replied with no thanks and they asked again. No thanks again. Jesus is trying to convert me to homelessness?. I grabbed some ingredients for lunch at the shops and sat at the pier behind the museum eating and feeding the stripped tropical fish below my crumbs. Caught the ferry around 1.30pm back to Magnetic Island.

Climbed the three big hills with no shoulder to Horseshoe Bay fully loaded and with much cursing. The island is covered in rental mini motes, scooters and Suzuki mini 4x4s and everyone likes a horn in a rental. Oh look there's a person on a bike riding up a steep hill - toot toot tooooot. One car full of 20 year old males honked ten times in a row. I'm pretty sure its the law to yell out fuck you when this happens.

Made it to Horseshoe Bay eventually (the downhill into Horseshoe is very very nice after all the climbing) and checked into the Bungalow Bay YHA camping area for three nights ($12.50 per night). I just chilled out and stuffed my face for a few hours before putting up my tent. I was having a quiet chuckle at the wicked van kids who were eating meals like a tin of spaghetti with a microwaved potato because they'd blown budget on petrol and barge fares.

The Bungalow Bay YHA is right next to the Koala Park. There is some serious koala prostitution going on here, but they know how to overcharge. It's $12 just for a cuddle!

There was a mother and a daughter from the States in the camp kitchen talking to an Aussie couple. The Americans, who said they were from New York and had a strong accent, were bitching about the price of petrol over in the States. The daughter was saying things like "Minimum wage covers only half my gas". The mum said "US gas has gone up four dollars a gallon, which is three litres. It was one dollar." The funniest bit was when the mum said "McDonalds is a lot more expensive here, but we get by".

Saturday 4th June 2011

Walked 15 kays today over the island in thongs. From Horseshoe Bay walked the track to Balding Bay (nudist, but funnily enough the only nudes there are bald men), Florence Bay with its rare littoral vegetation, Alfred Bay, Radical Bay (the most populous one) and then continued on to do the Forts walk which leads you up to a high point on the island where there is concrete forts and command post and cannon mounts camoflaged amongst the granite and trees. There are some great views here and I highly recommend this walk. Along the walk I met Kingston the heavily stoned koala with a yellow ear tag and the scrub you walk through to get to the forts is very nice.

Walked the 20 minute downhill path along the road from Forts carpark to Horseshoe bay to make it a circuit.

Sunday 5th June 2011

Hired a snorkel, mask and flippers for $15 and walked to Alfred Bay but it was really choppy so walked on to Florence Bay where it was slightly less choppy. Did a spot of snorkelling but didn't go too far out (where there is a reef) as there was no one around and I tend to get cramps when wearing flippers and didn't want to risk getting a bad cramp in deep water with no one around as I'm not the greatest swimmer and I'm overly cautious. Instead I swam around in the not so deeps chasing fish and swimming up to granite rocks, being freaked out and then realising its just a rock and laughing at myself through a snorkel.
Where I went for a snorkel

After drying out on the beach and heading back to camp for lunch, I went down to the beach at Horseshoe Bay. I collected a bunch of dead coral to do my own little "Say Yes" (for a price on pollution) message. Lets hope with a bit of action to mitigate climate change we won't end up with all dead corals.

I then proceeded to eat a second lunch - a fishburger from the fish and chip shop and sit on the beach watching backpackers run in and out of the water with complaints about it being cold.

Adam checked into the YHA campsite after completing the PADI course.

Monday 6th June 2011

We rode the seven kilometres with three hills back to the ferry terminal at Nelly Bay. On the way this old guy at the Forts carpark was yelling stuff at us like "nearly there" and "need a push". I really wanted to d-lock him as he wouldn't shut up. At the ferry terminal we had to wait about 20 to board and I think we got back to Townsville about 12. After visiting the woolies to restock and then accidently stopping at the McDonalds for lunch, we were back on the highway around 1.30pm with a 45k ride ahead of us.

About 20 kay out of Townsville we passed the Blue Water rest area which was full of caravans, motorhomes and tents. We kept going.

The road was pretty good but we missed the turn off for Toomulla Beach where we planned to free camp, so we ended up riding on to Balgal Beach. Balgal Beach has a site for caravans and motorhomes but a completely different site for tents only. A guy, presumably a local, gave us directions to the tent site, but we misunderstood and he drove up to us and retold us the instructions.

On the way we saw three blue-winged kookaburras. I hadn't seen any alive ones up until now - in fact I had seen three dead ones on the road. Their wings have brilliant blue feathers.

Eventually we made it to the Balgal Beach tent camping area. I had a fast slow flat (I had to pump it up every three kilometres) so the extra distance to the tent site was annoying me, but when we got there there was no one else camping so we had the place to ourselves which was great. We ended up riding about 70 km that day, 60 of which was after lunch.

There was a sign at the tent site that said there had been a recent sighting of a crocodile in the area and to stay away from the water. There was a muddy creek about 5 metres from the campsite and the high-tide mark for the beach was another 5 metres on the other side. This makes it difficult to stay any distance away from water. I looked up the croc watch site and it said the croc had been sighted about a month earlier, which I guess was a reasonable window to rest easy. We just camped under a shelter as it was probably going to rain and that means the beach sand gets stuck to everything making the tent hard to pack up in the morning.

This campsite has two shelters with three picnic tables, free electric barbeque, a toilet block and town water.
At night we were surrounded by Bush Stone Curlews playing war games - sneaking up with quick, short maneouvers. They act very much like Jurassic Park raptors, and apparently raptors were just big chickens so they are probably related.

We've been seeing Bush Stone Curlews in Airlie Beach, Townsville, Magnetic Island and further north. Apparently they are endangered in Victoria (due to foxes) but they seem quite plentiful up here. They look like birds on stilts and have huge eyes like a hawks. They make haunting calls at night that sound like someone trying to kill a baby but they also make other noises like a grumpy steam engine if your path to the camp kitchen or toilet block is their declared insect catching territory. The signature move of this bird is to walk a few paces and then stand perfectly still for minutes on end. They camoflage well with the bark on trees or bark leaf litter, but not so well in grass. When I was on Magnetic Island there were five resident curlews who'd be sitting or standing perfectly still near a small stand of trees near my tent for hours. When I first got to Magnetic Island's YHA I had my blue tent fly layed out to dry and one of them attacked it with its pointy beak - I think it thought it was water? Anyway it looked like it could do some damage to the fly so I had to have a word with it.

Tuesday 7th June 2011

It was raining in the morning and it didn't really want to stop. We packed up our gear after breakfast but still didn't feel like moving on. A local came up to us and said he was a ex-truckie. We asked him about the conditions of the Gulf Development Road which we plan to ride to head west. He said it had been sealed for a good seven years now and was a good road.

We didn't get on the road until about 11.30 at least. We rode back out of Balgal to the highway. We went down the road to Paluma Range about 20 metres to have some lunch. There was a sign up ahead saying "steep climb" so we were easily justified in not taking this side trip. There are a few waterfalls and camping areas in this national park.

We thought about doing the 12 k side trip to Jourama Falls but decided not to.

After fifty-five kilometres we made it to Frances Creek rest area where we grabbed the sheltered table furtherest from the highway. Despite the camping guide claiming it has drinkable water and mobile reception at this rest area, I found neither. We were only 11 k south of Ingham so the lack of water wasn't a big issue.

I set the hammock up between two poles of the picnic table shelter shed to read for the remaining afternoon daylight hours (I'm still making my way through 'On The Road').

There was a couple of Brahminy kites in the paddock behind the rest area, building a nest in a tree. Some cattle also walked through the paddock on dusk - one looked like it was checking out Adam when he wasn't looking.

Wednesday 8th June 2011

We got on the road about 9.30 am and got into Ingham where I picked up the Schwalbe Marathon Dureme (folding) tyre Tony was kind enough to send post restante for me.

Replacing the Marathon Extreme that served me well since Mildura

At Ingham we also managed to find a McDonalds where I added two packets of jam and two packets of honey to hotcakes. I highly recommend this if McDonalds is silly enough to leave the little jam packets out for you to take. I also managed to use the tap key on one of Macca's garden taps to get some water for our depleated water bottles.

Not far out of Ingham is a 8% and 12% range to climb up for about 2 km. There was also roadworks going on to add to the struggle. At the top of the 12% grade is a great view over a sandy inlet and a fun little drop into a stop and go roadworks.

The road after the range was great. Flat as a pancake and through the wet tropics which is full of cyclone devastated tropical forest, cyclone devasted pine forest, but lots of interesting creeks that probably harbour crocodiles, platypus, turtles, snakes. We pulled off the road into a stack site for some lunch at some time, I'm guessing lunch time.

Next stop was Cardwell where we rode past the devastated esplanade (all that remains in some palm trees and the brick toilet block) and many of the houses have tarps on the roof or are completely blown apart. We stopped at the info centre and also at the IGA for necessities (soft drink and chocolate). Adam has this Jedi Mind trick where whatever chocolate bar he is after, it will be found for 99c when he arrives at the store.

Leaving Cardwell Adam is stopped on the road by a local who asks him if he is aware that there is another cyclist travelling behind him (i.e. me ). Amazingly Adam didn't reply with "oh I know I've been trying to shake her for weeks now". The local told Adam about how the cyclone had blown every leaf off every tree and knocked down all the banana plants. The new bananas plants are only now starting to get fruit. The trees have leaves growing back in weird places, so the mountains look like they have stubble with a bit of green at the top.

About 11 k out of Cardwell you can camp at a roadhouse on Kennedy Road as long as you purchase something from the store. We got there and considered it, couldn't decide. Flipped a coin, best of three. Finally we decided to ride on so we didn't have as far to ride the next day. Another 11 kay on, and after 88 k that day, we make it to the Bilyana rest area and secure a sheltered picnic table. There is texta all over the inside, many are touring cyclists stating where and when they are riding. I wrote " Melbourne to Melbourne 2011". I believe Adam wrote "Around Australia by Wheelbarrow" with his URL.

Soon after arriving we are approach by some rude bloke saying "Riding a bike. To hell with that". What a tool. Another guy came up to us to ask a bunch of questions. We were doing our usual making up funny things to reply or funny ways to detract people from asking us questions - these include asking them "so how far you drivin'" in exaggerated Aussie accent, asking them directly for money, asking a fixed price per question answered, playing the ukelale while dancing a jig, saying Che a lot, pretending to not know any english, running away screaming. One guy was walking up to us so we pretended to have a married couple quarrel over how to put up Adam's tent.(Yes, this works.)

As far as we can tell this rest area has no drinkable water.

We saw a Cassowary walking near the railway line and took some photos. Some guy in boardshorts was running around like a mad man, asking everyone if they had any bread. No one did. I thought he just had a "I want some toast" emergency but turns out he wanted to feed the cassowary, which is just daft. We named this guy "Mr Cassowary" as we would see him again at another rest area the next night, along with a few other caravans or vans.

Apart from the freight trains going past every three hours or so it was a pretty quiet area.

The "f**k that for a joke" guy came back to tell us he'd heard we were riding across to Darwin (van people have nothing better to do than talk about us it seems) and he told us the road to Normanton was all dirt and we couldn't ride it. I asked him if he meant the Burke Development Road (which is dirt) or the Gulf Development Road (which is not) and he replied "It's all dirt." I said that was strange because a truckie told us the Gulf Development Road was sealed; had been for years. He reckoned he was up there a few months ago and it was dirt. I asked him if he meant the Burke Development Road. No clear answer. He walked away annoyed at me for knowing the names of roads better than him or something. There are two roads going to Normanton. One is sealed; one is not. This guy apparently preferred to feed us misinformation or dissuade us from riding any further rather than admit he might be wrong about the road. It's interesting the reaction of narrow minded idiots. If its something that is out of their understanding of possibility - like simply riding a road that is ridden by at least fifty people a year - is to carry on like we're the ones who are misinformed wackjobs. You just want to tell them to piss off and annoy someone else.

Graffiti from earlier this year, just outside of Cardwell

Thursday 9th June 2011

Today was about 80 k to Fred Drew Park, four kay north of Innisfail. We started off around 9.30 and made it to Innisfail around 3pm. We found the woolies to stock up and stayed there about an hour having a rest and using a power point we found there. At four we rode the short distance to the rest area, secured a sheltered picnic table and nice grassy spot for the tents. This rest area had toilets and water, but the free electric bbq doesn't work. It is situated between a banana farm and a sugar cane farm. I layed down ont he grass looking up at the clouds; the grass looked really nice. A grey nomad couple from Adelaide who saw me hobo-style lying on the grass gave us cooked corn and potatoes, and later shared biscuits with us with a chat.

Friday 10th June 2011

85 km into Cairns. The Adelaide couple made us egg and bacon and toast for breakfast! We got going about 9.30am, but not until after some rats-tail sporting bogans who had a flat battery asked us where to where from and one guy ran around saying "that's insane" to all his mates. FNQ wankers. We really do hope they managed to jump start their car and didn't have a collapsed battery which would require a tow; that would be too bad for the tools. Sniff sniff. They were just the type of wankers who yell shit out of cars at us. We stopped for a chocolate break at Babinda. We rode on to Gordonvale where we got to a McDonalds for lunch (60 km in) at about 1.30 pm. Another 25 k and we were in the big bad city, Cairns. We found a caravan park tent site for $26. While setting up our tents we had two different people yell "how far you ridin'" at the same time. Annoying questions, now available in stereo.

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