Contents 1 Introduction
2 Monday May 4 - Montreal to Toronto
3 Tuesday, May 5 - Fonthill
4 Wednesday, May 6 - Honolulu
5 Thursday, May 7 - Sydney
6 Friday, May 8 - Sydney
7 Saturday, May 9 - Pearl Beach
8 Sunday, May 10 - Kearsley
9 Monday, May 11 - Cessnock
10 Tuesday, May 12 - Cessnock
11 Wednesday, May 13 - Tea Gardens
12 Booti Booti National Park - Thursday, May 14
13 Friday, May 15 - Port Macquarie
14 Saturday, May 16 - Port Macquarie
15 Sunday, May 17 - South West Rocks
16 Monday, May 17 - Near Macksville
17 Tuesday, May 19 - Bellingen
18 Wednesday, May 20 - Bellingen
19 Thursday, May 21 - Woolgoolga
20 Friday, May 22 - Maclean
21 Saturday, May 23 - Byron Bay
22 Sunday, May 23 - Byron Bay
23 Monday, May 25 - Main Beach
24 Tuesday, May 26 - Brisbane
25 Wednesday, May 27 - Caloundra
26 Thursday, May 28 - Noosa
27 Friday, May 29 - Noosa Heads
28 Saturday, May 30 - Noosa
29 Sunday, May 31 - Noosa
30 Monday, June 1 - Noosa
31 Wednesday, June 3 - Sydney
A couple of months ago I was surfing the net for some bicycle parts and discovered a bike tour from Alice Springs to Darwin. It seemed like my kind of tour. It was van supported but camping and doing your own cooking most of the way. It was about 24 days, included all camping fees and cost only $700. It was scheduled to leave Alice Springs on April 27. I checked out the times and it looked feasible. I could leave Montreal on Friday April 24 and arrive in Alice Springs on April 26. Unfortunately, the cheapest fare I could find was about $2400. This meant that it would be over $3000 before I hit the ground. It was too expensive.
Then I decided that I would go visit my Aunt Mary in Birmingham. I would try to get up and over the last part of the Blue Ridge Parkway that was rained out two years ago. This idea was nixed because Aunt Mary died on April 2, 1998. She had just turned 97. When I came back from her funeral, I decided to try again. There was nothing available out of Montreal but I was able to find a flight, for $1478 (inc taxes) out of Toronto on May 5. I took it with the intention of catching up to the tour in mid stream, really mid desert. The additional internal fares in Australia was $800, plus a bus, if it existed, from Alice Springs north - this was unreasonable cost and logistics. The end result is that I am going to Australia, but instead, I am going up the Pacific Coast starting at Sydney.
Actually, I don't know whether I will be going up or down. The weather in Sydney has been 1/3 rain for the last two weeks but has been much better in Cairns, approximately 2600km north. I hope to go surfing, snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef, and wine tasting in the Hunter Valley - Australia's first wine growing area. Unfortunately it is fall, and the days now are shorter than the nights.
I have never been to Australia. There is much to learn.
I left about 7:00am and drove in fog all the way to Kingston, with overcast junk until I hit Toronto at about noon. Peggy was at a meeting all day, but I caught her at noon and arranged to meet for supper.
At the new MEC store on King street I found a device that may be useful and I hope I don't have to use - ``tick pliers''. This is especially designed to gently lift out ticks, while convincing them not to disgorge their poison. Ticks in Australia carry many exotic diseases, including encephalitis.
Dick, Joanne's husband, will drive me to the airport. I will be leaving the car here. Judy, my other sister, lives in Toronto, but there is no room for it at her place. Dick's daughter, Jenny has been in Australia for almost a year and is currently in Sydney. I have been given a mission. I am taking her a new credit card and some Crest toothpaste.
The flight to Honolulu, my half way point, was smooth and unmemorable. We arrived about 30 minutes early and I am now stuck inside the transit lounge. There is not even a lanai where I can go and smell the flowers.
Although CP had no seats when I booked my flight there were a few empty places, including the center seat between my self and my seatmate, an expatriate Aussie, now living in Toronto. The movies appeared to have been chosen from a discard shelf at Blockbuster Video. Dinner was credible chicken but the wine was barely drinkable.
It is still May 5 in Honolulu (10:45pm), but today's May 6 will be very short. When we arrive in Sydney, it will be May 7. We actually leave on the 6th - at 12:30am, Honolulu time.
It was another nine a half hours, (8300 km - 5100 m) to Sydney. One nice thing about 18 hours in a plane is that you are ready to sleep on the second 9 hours. The 747 also had a few empty seats, including the middle one between Jen and I. Jen, a veterinary science student at St. Lawrence College in Kingston, was on her way to see her grandmother in Perth. For her, Sydney was just a stopover.
We arrived just as dawn was breaking. It was the beginning of a beautiful day (sunny all day and 20 C). Australia's agricultural regulations are the toughest I have ever seen. The declaration asks whether you have anything with you to eat. That, of course, covered my trail mix, pasta dinners, and maple butter. I declared them and had them inspected. As I suspected, they were not on the restricted list and I went through with it all. Perhaps that was why their food detecting beagle did not pick it up.
My bike went together easily but I had forgotten where I wanted to pack things and where they were in my luggage. After a couple of hours I was ready to go. The map of Sydney that I brought with me was not detailed enough to show me the way in to the City. I also was unable to buy one at the airport. I didn't bring any Australian dollars and the ATM at the airport was not connected to either Plus or Cirrus - hopefully this will change before the Olympics.
I started following the signs to the City until I got to a section that said ``No pedestrians'' and had a speed limit of 90km. At that point I turned into Botany Bay. It was exactly the wrong direction but the WestPac bank had a Cirrus ATM so I was able to get some money. I found out it was the wrong direction because a kind Parking Meter Man told me that Botany Bay Road, in the other direction, would take me all the way into town.
When I got the money from the ATM, I set myself up for a potential disaster. I had emptied my ``belt bag'' - never called a ``fanny pack'' in Australia because that has sexual connotations -, and left the credit card and toothpaste that I was to deliver to Jenny , loose on top. Five kilometres later I stopped to check something and noticed it - nicely still there. This time I was certain it went into my belt bag.
The road did lead right into the center of downtown Sydney where I had decent maps. Today I have to find additional maps, camping gas, and give Jenny her credit card and toothpaste. ``Bicycle New South Wales'' amazingly enough, did not have any decent maps for bicyclists. They pointed me to ``Map World'' who had a couple of good maps, but it still left big holes in my route. At the Australian Motor club I was able to get their campground guide for all states but NSW (New South Wales). I will have to make do.
After I decided on a hostel, the Highfield Private Hotel, I phoned Jenny. It was afternoon but she was in. We arranged to meet in front of the McDonald's at Circular Quay. Circular Quay is a train station and the ferry dock for all the Sydney Harbour ferries. Our destination was the Lord Nelson Brew Hotel. My beer book gave their beers the highest rating in Australia. The walk there took us along the harbour with a magnificent view of the Sydney Opera House, floating across the river. It is indeed the architectural symbol of Sydney.
The Nelson's Old Admiralty a dark 6.7% beer got highest marks in my book. It was good but I enjoy the Ville Lasalle, Brasal's brewery's Special Amber more. It was a quite enjoyable evening, sharing beer and stories with Jenny.
Since I got all the things I needed yesterday, I shall start north today. The weather forecast for today is 22 and fine.
I sent some email in a local ``Cybercafe''. They don't allow any Telnet so I had to use my Hotmail account. This means that I can't attach any pictures to the email - ugh! Then I took the ferry to Manly, on the northern side of the Sydney harbour and headed north for my second ferry at Palm Beach. The common wisdom is that Australia is flat. That is certainly true in the Outback, but not here. This 36km was a tough, but pretty, up and over, one headland after another.
While climbing over the headland to get to get from the ferry dock at Palm Beach to the actual beach, I was stopped for conversation by an avid para-sailor from Perth. He was studying the thermals here by watching the way the ospreys and pelicans were soaring. This was his first trip around Australia. He was about to go overseas in the Army and was embarrassed about the fact he had not yet seen his own country.
At the moment I am at the Palm Beach, waiting for my ferry, and watching a half dozen surfers attack the waves. They are about two to three feet high but are breaking almost simultaneously along their entire length - impossible to ride any distance. It is also a shore break but not right up on to the beach. The waves are total mush when the water is about a foot deep. This gives some cushion for falling but makes ``pearling'' - dropping in headfirst - still rather dangerous.
The ferry to Patonga lasted about 30 minutes as it slipped up the bay. On all sides were cliffs rising 300m to 600?m. This whole coast reminds me of the islands off Vancouver in the Straits of Georgia. It is exceptionally pretty and intimidating. The rock is set in sedimentary layers with the trees hanging on to the terraces (ledges?). Patonga, a small village of about 200, was at the base of one of these cliffs. A lady, originally from New York and Chicago, but now living just north of here was going back home, with her two kids, after visiting friends in Palm Beach. Her comment was that the road was incredibly steep up out of Patonga but became OK after that. She was not kidding. The Aussies do not mark the grades but it was as steep as anything I had seen. It rose continuously for about 5km. I thought about quitting and camping but there was no water, even though it is part of Brisbane Water National Park. It reminded me, of the dry chaparral country of the Sierras. The bird songs, though, were unrecognizable.
The road crested once, although it faked me out several times, and then started down, right to the ocean. I had a campground as a destination but was not at all sure where I was. It is hard to know what is the main road and what is a secondary road when you ride at night. At about 6:15pm, in heavy darkness, I noticed the sign - visible only from the other direction - for a ``caravan park''. It was down and around, but was really there.
As I was putting up my tent, I was greeted by a furry creature that, in the dark, reminded me of a raccoon. It was very bold and curious, coming up near me, and examining the bike. Then it climbed and waited on the tree that I was leaning the bike. It even stayed when I walked over and shone a light into its eyes. It was cute, although it had a hairless face only a mother could love. I suspect it is quite common. I saw its outline on a road caution sign earlier, but didn't recognize it.
Except for the international marsupials such as kangaroos, wallabies, and wombats, I don't know any of their names. Same thing for the trees, other than the banyans, eucalyptus (gum), and ironwoods that were part of Hawaii.
Today was a strenuous, and beautiful 46km - hardly any distance but maybe more tomorrow - it depends on the country and how well I start to get into shape.
*** The fuzzy creature was a Possum - strange for me, because it had a very furry tail. Apparently there are others in Australia with bare tails.
I am not at all certain where I am, but it really does not matter. Today I am aiming for the Hunter Valley. This is Australia's first wine producing area and offers California style wine tasting.
It was another beautiful day, cool in the morning, warm in the afternoon, and sunny. I was assured, from a couple I met when I stopped to have a passion-fruit milkshake - not enough passion fruit - that this was ``normal'' weather, and that May was the best time to travel in Australia. I also learned, as I was picnicking at a rest stop on the NR1 (National Route 1), Sydney/Newcastle freeway, that north was the right direction to go at this time of year. The prevailing winds are from the Southeast so they are mostly a tail wind. Since I have only occasionally noticed some wind, he must be right.
The road was flat, winding around Brisbane Water - an ocean bay or lake with the ridges, mercifully, on the left hand side. It was pretty, compact residential. It has been mostly residential all the way from Sydney.
Highway 83 joined the NR1, the Pacific Highway, for one exit and I discovered that it was especially designed to accommodate cyclists - a huge paved shoulder and a ``Caution Bicycles'' sign when you reached a bridge without a shoulder.
*** A major problem with the NR1 was that this wonderful shoulder was also the accumulator for truck tire debris. Rusted steel belted radials are especially dangerous for bikes. If you ride over one, you might get a hundred little metal slivers in your tire. This means that I had to be more vigilant than I really would have liked.
The NR1 was flat, running through open forests, a bit noisy, but just what I needed after the hills yesterday. By early afternoon, I had gone about 80km and was ready to tackle the last 28km to Cessnock, the main town of the Hunter Valley. It was at the bottom of this hill that I stopped for a milkshake, and learned that I had to, indeed, go over that huge ridge that had been in front of me for the last 20km. After that, I was assured, it was mostly downhill, or at least nothing as formidable as the next hill.
The road actually went through a pass in the ridge, had a decent climb, and was only moderately steep. However, I did not realise how bad my legs were. I had to stop several times on the way up and on the last one was unable to generate sustained motion and fell over as I started, and smashed my back into the guard rail - top heavy bikes are not to stable when starting. The pain was excruciating, and I barely was able to get up. However, I was not bleeding so I didn't need any immediate hospitalization. It was clear that I couldn't start riding again so I started pushing. My hill climbing muscles were in good shape from a winter's skiing so that was not too bad. The sign ``Overtaking lane finishes in 300m'' was assurance that it was not too far. I had to push yesterday at the top of the hill out of Patonga, and discovered that my arms were the limiting factor for pushing - just keeping the bike in front of me.
The other side was indeed rolling hillside without too many indecent hills, but enough that I was forced to push several more times. Before I crashed, I had plenty of time to get to Cessnock, but I ate all the margin, pushing and resting. It was well past sunset when I reached Kearsley, about 7km from Cessnock. I decided to stay there if I could find a place. Just outside of town, there was a pub that advertised B&B. They had a room for $25 with breakfast. Breakfast was at 8:30am. I wanted it sooner but tomorrow is Mother's day. They gave me the room for $20 without breakfast. This is only $5 more than I paid to camp last night.
Although the pub was very lively, celebrating football season, I was so tired and hurting, all I did was have some wine and go to bed. I refuel all day so I am not really very hungry at night.
Today I was about 100km.
I am up very early, made my coffee and toast, and will be off to Cessnock as soon as the sun rises. I have decided not to go up the New England Highway through the inside of the Great Dividing Range. I was told yesterday that i would have to take it almost all the way to Brisbane. The cross-mountain roads are very hilly, and steep. Based on the hill out of Patonga, I believe it. I also was overtaken by a bicyclist while on NR1. He confirmed the steepness, and said in addition, that it was not too scenic and had lots of truck traffic - that is convincing.
Cessnock was only about 3km away rather than the 8km advertised on the map. I was there by about 7am. It was a cold, a gloves and fleece jacket morning, but bright and beautiful. The Information center was, of course, closed, but they had left a guidebook outside the door. There were maps of the wineries but none of the campgrounds that showed on my other map. I finally did find mention in the accommodations of two of the three, so I assumed that the third one existed too. I finally found the ``Valley Vineyard Tourist Park'' exactly where it should have been - about 1.5km from the center of town. It only has 2 stars and hence costs only $6/night rather than the $15 for the 4 star where I stayed in Pearl Beach. This type of bargain was never repeated. From my tenting perspective, 2 stars is more than adequate.
*** All Caravan Parks, even those with only two stars have toilet paper, a rare commodity in campgrounds in Europe.
I arrived at about 9am, just in time to put up my tent as the other six tenters take down their tents and leave. My back is still incredibly painful which made putting the tent up less than joyful. I think I shall stay wine tasting for two days. There are 77 wineries, and it will give a chance for my back, and legs to recover somewhat.
At about 10am I started out. It is Sunday so none of the wineries open before 10am. My first stop was Saddler's Creek. The grapes of note in the Hunter are the Shiraz, Semillon, and to a lesser extent, Chardonnay. I tried all three here. They were all disappointing. The Shiraz was quite light, and probably too young, the Semillon tasted a trifle tart, and the Chardonnay did not have any real character. Australian Chardonnays at home are quite distinctive and I was looking for some indication of such distinction. I found none here, and virtually none at any of the other wineries. Apparently Australia, like California, was hit by a boutique winery craze in the late 70s and early 80s. This is one of the reasons there are so many wineries here. I continued and visited Mount Pleasant, Drayton Family, Reg. Drayton - he broke with the family, Tinklers, Hungerford Hill, Lyndemans - they are a huge conglomerate all over Australia, and Tullochs. In no case did they have any wine that really stood out, at least for me. The pleasantest tasting experience was at Reg Drayton. There the girl sat me down at a table in a small room, brought me some crackers, and then a series of wines. We finished with some ports that were really quite good. Finally I stopped at the Hunter Valley Wine Association, a club of wine aficionados. They also ran tastings so I asked to have best of each type. I tried three, and still was not overwhelmed.
On my way back I stopped in town to try to buy some postcards. No place that was open had any - nor did anybody know where I should try, although the most prevalent advice was a newsagent. Nobody could remember exactly where the nearest one was. I did find a cafe that advertised that they had Internet access. Their access was using a standard Windows NT operating system rather than the Internet Cafe software. This meant that I was able to Telnet to INRS and send mail from there. The owner said that he was a cafe with Internet service than an Internet service with a cafe. This was the only way to survive. The Internet Cafe in Newcastle quickly went out of business.
I arrived back at camp at about 6pm, in pitch darkness, made supper, and painfully went to bed. My back is still excruciating.
My back is feeling much better this morning - the muscle spasms that doubled me over have stopped. Maybe I shall live. It has been a very long time since I slept for 10 hours.
I spent a couple of hours regluing my three-leg cedar writing table, and searching for a better way to make toast on my camp stove. I am using my old stove and the toaster for my other stove does not work very well. I was able to reprovision, find a newsagent and buy some postcards, which in Australia seem to be fair traded at 50 cents each, and get a stainless steel screen that should work better as my toaster.
Then I started up towards Broke Road, where I finished yesterday. At the corner I stopped at Wilderness Vineyards, that also carried Levitt plus others. I tried all their wines and was even more disappointed than yesterday. I started down towards the other 25 wineries on Broke Road and then decided to quit. I doubted that there would be anything exciting to discover. On a whim, as I was going back, I decided to stop at Peterson's Champagne House, the only winery in Hunter that specializes in ``champagne''. They have a variety of sparkling, Méthode Champenoise, varietal wines. They were all very flavourful, reasonably sweet, and quite different. They would make great party wines. I would have liked to have taken home a sampler - but it did not exist. A few years ago they sold ``Champagne'', but like most other wineries, they have buckled under French pressure.
On the way back I detoured 1km down a dirt (unsealed) road to the zoo. A baby Wallabee, came up to me and my bike at the outside fence showing intense curiosity. He stuck his head out the fence, stayed for a few minutes, but after I moved my bike about 3m up the fence, and left to go and examine it - a thorough delight.
This afternoon has been a lazy one, writing postcards, the journal, and resting my back. Hopefully my back will be reasonable when I hit, but not too hard, the road tomorrow.
My back is now merely painful.
It dribbled during the night and was dripping as I broke camp. The morning was a pleasant overcast until I hit the coast and the NR1, also known here as the Pacific Highway. For the most part, the countryside was like farmland anywhere in the world - with trees, that from a distance could have been anywhere in Europe or a North America.
However, as the koala warning signs started to appear it was quite different - mostly eucalyptus. It was dead flat for about 50km from the Newcastle turnoff to just outside Nelson Bay. The last 5km into Nelson Bay was up and down over coastal ridges. It was here that there was a dramatic change in the forest - huge ferns, bottle brush trees, yuccas, along with the eucalyptus and strange conifers with balls of needles only on the ends of their branches.
Nelson Bay is the end of the road, with a ferry necessary to continue north. Port Stephens is the name give to this collection of towns on this natural harbour. One curiosity is that there are many towns but no actual Port Stephens. I discovered, at the information center, that the last ferry for Tea Gardens left at 2:00pm - it was now 1:46pm. The ferry dock was not too far, it was just a matter of finding it. I followed the lady's directions, or so I thought, and ended up at the exact wrong end of the harbour. It was 1:55pm when I found the ``Public Jetty'' - the ferry had not yet arrived. It actually left at about 2:15pm. It was a tiny, 10/15m boat where you climbed up over the side to get in. They were late so I only partially unloaded my bike to get it in and completed the job once on board. At Tea Gardens, the low tide forced us to lift everything up to the dock. The skipper said that he had taken many bicyclists, but my bike was the heaviest loaded that he had seen.
On the trip over, the skipper invited me up with him and gave me guided tour of the bay and the river, as we went up against the dropping tide. There were black and white pelicans - much larger than the ones I have seen in Florida, spoonbills, ibises, coots, and unidentified small gray herons that I had seen earlier hunting by the road in a wet ditch. There were also the shipwrecks of boats abandoned during the rum running days, remnants of old jettys, and piles of ballast rocks.
I found the tourist office and a small caravan park right in town. It was about 4:30pm when I had everything set up. The next possible campground is at least 40km away - not feasible, and, as I discovered tomorrow, does not have any fresh water. After a piece of fish from Tea Gardens only ``take out'' place, I sat by the harbour and watched a couple of dolphins jump in and out of the water. Port Stephens is known for its dolphins, and later in the year, for whale watching.
Today I went about 90km, most of it mercifully flat.
It rained lightly last night but now has stopped. It would be nice if the rain were just a night time occurrence - it wasn't ... it was an all morning drizzle.
I picked up some local maps last night and discovered that the way I wanted to go, which on my map was a road, hopefully going under a camping symbol, did not exist. This means that I will have to go out an extra 30km or so to the Pacific Highway.
My misjudgment of the day was the belief that a small squiggle on my map just north of Myall Lake was the only hill I had to climb as I returned from the Pacific Highway on Tourist Drive 6 (TD6) to the coast. I had decided against the New England Highway to avoid having to cross the Great Dividing Range. I lost. Here Great Dividing Range goes right to the coast. The Great Dividing Range is a series of sharp, deeply divided north/south ridges, similar to the Appalachians near the Blue Ridge Parkway. The ``squiggle'' was the first of three very high (300m to 400m?) parallel ridges. I kept hoping each one was the last. Then, finally, I dropped into a moderate valley. However, this was just the beginning. After that there were about a dozen more smaller ridges, each just as steep, but only about 100m? to 200m? high. I was forced to push my bike several times.
Just as the sun was setting, totally exhausted, I found Booti Booti National Park and had a long discussion with a very enthusiastic park ranger. He felt my estimates of 20% grades were probably too low. He also suggested that this was probably the toughest riding I would have for the next few days. Although my legs are probably still out of shape, I think I am probably hitting my hill climbing limits, especially with a 70kg bike and load.
The ranger was very high on his NSW National Parks, of which there must be at least a 60 in NSW. He especially thought that I should stop at Coff's Harbour and visit Dorrigo National Park - ``Don't try to ride up to it!'', he admonished. However, his two ``not to be missed'' parks were World Heritage Rain Forests on the Queensland border. Again this would probably be a side trip - but it might be feasible by bike.
The ride out of Tea Gardens started through eucalyptus forest, where I kept looking for koalas. All the koalas that I saw turned out to be bear-shaped burls. Myall is really a sand dune park. most of the time, all you could see from the road was a 3m to 4m hedgerow of shrubby pines. At one of the 4WD access points to the beach, I parked my bike and walked the 100m to it. The beach stretched out as far as I could see in both directions. To the south was a huge offshore storm. The surf was about 1.5m with some waves having a decently defined and sustained face. In one of these faces, I saw, right below the surface, the complete outline of a shark. just to show me it was no accident, he did it again. I don't think that was an ideal wave to ride.
This is Australia's Great Lakes Tourist area. It is sprinkled with several very pretty large fresh/brackish lakes, of which Myall Lake is the furthest south. Each is surrounded by high defining ridges. It is really delightful, and probably will be more so, when I am less exhausted in the morning.
Today was a very exhausting 100km.
The clouds have gone and the full moon is shining brightly. It should be a beautiful day - new clouds and drizzle moved in during the early morning. At Taree, there was a huge storm system sitting over the Great Dividing Range. I don't know the weather patterns well enough to know whether it is normally stable there or will come roaring down on me.
Everyone I talked to as I was breaking camp said I had passed the worst of the hills - they were right. The only real strain was a series of small ridges as I rose out of the Great Lakes valley up to the Pacific highway. There were no more visible Great Lakes. I passed Wallis Lake on one side and the ocean on the other, but could see neither. I was ``hedgerowed' in.
On one of my water breaks, yesterday, I left one of my one litre water bottles at the stop - a nice wooden bus stop. 1.25 litre is the standard plastic soft drink bottle here. I didn't think it would fit in my bike water bottle holder or backpack bottle holders but decided to try anyway. In Tuncurry, I bought one, and other provisions, and discovered I was right - it didn't fit. I carried it for the next 40km until I had finished drinking it, and was able to dispose of it in Taree.
In Taree, I got another of the ``Free Tourist Maps'' of the area from Tuncurry to Port Macquarie. These are all made by Cartoscope of North Sydney. Too bad I didn't know that then - perhaps I could have collected a complete set.
From Taree north I rode about 30km through flat farmland before branching off on the dirt/gravel road that led to Crowdy Head National Park - wonder where that name came from? The road continued through flat farmland, cows, kookaburras, and crow like ``magpies'.
*** The Australian Magpie has the shape of crow, a crow's beak, and come in varied patterns of black and white. To me it really looked like a black and white crow but it has been christened a ``magpie''. There is also a ``magpie lark'' and a ``magpie goose'', both similar to other European birds but black and white.
The a small ridge separated the valley from the coast. From here it was mixed eucalyptus forest. Just after I entered the park for the second time the road changed from gravel to sand covering a washboard base. It was very difficult riding with the rear wheel tending to lose traction and slip when I applied power. At one point the rear wheel slipped right out from under me and I fell. I was quite upset when I saw that my map holder had been broken. That was a small problem though - the handle bar post connecting the handle bars to the front wheel had broken. I couldn't even lift my bike up without that leverage. Here I was on a backcountry dirt road, essentially immobile.
Two or three minutes later, Steve Matheson came driving down the road, on his way home to Port Macquarie, after a 300km day of ``debugging'' people's houses. He said ``I saw you earlier when you passed me and I wondered if I would meet you again.'' Fortunately he did. I totally unloaded my bike and put it, and all of the stuff in the back of his truck. We then started towards Port Macquarie. The road improved somewhat, losing its coating of sand, in about 1km. It seemed to take a long time, even in the car, to get to the Crowdy Head campground.
We went all the way up the coast road, the same way I had intended to ride, and I was a little disappointed by what was visible. Rolling suburban hills and no ocean. I don't think I missed much driving this section. We arrived in Port Macquarie at about 4:45pm and Steve had me at Port Push Bike at about 4:55pm. I unloaded all my stuff from Steve's truck and left it on the sidewalk under canopy - it was still drizzling. I thanked Steve and he went home to finish his 300km day. I took the bike inside to show them the problem. They were about to close, 5:00pm, and the owner wanted to know whether I would leave the bike. I told him I needed it immediately to haul all my stuff, so he looked and found a new handle bar post. I wasn't sure that I had all the tools necessary to change it so I started to take off my map holder. Evidently I was starting to impinge on the owner's supper time so he told me to get out in the back, in the drizzle, to work on my bike. His assistant had wheeled my bike back into the repair area and leaned it against the counter. Before I moved it, the owner curtly said ``Don't scratch the furniture!''. After a couple of minutes in the back in the rain, I moved the bike out to the sidewalk where I had all my stuff and it was under a canopy. It was relatively easy from there to replace the old handle bar post with the new one, and repack the bike.
Before, I repacked, I hauled out my ``Let's Go'' info on Port Macquarie. It had stopped drizzling so I went in search of the Sundowner Caravan Park, right on the beach downtown. After some directions, and following my compass north, I was on my way. Since I was right in town, and very close to the campground, I stopped to have a Doner Kebab. I first had it in Germany, where it was heavily drenched in garlic-yoghurt sauce, much like souvlaki Montreal. In England, it was dry and unappetizing. Here there was a little more sauce than in England, but it was still dry. I think I shall stick to fish and chips.
While I was sitting and eating it on the only dry bench I could find, under the canopy in front of the ``Bottle Shop'', Ann and Chris stopped to talk. Ann is from Philadelphia and New York, spending an indefinite amount of time in Australia. Chris is an Aussie from Newcastle. After, hearing about my adventures, Ann thought that I should post them on the Lonely Planet Web site. I explained that I didn't yet know how to digitize the maps. I did promise, though, to send her a copy of this adventure. While we were talking, we were joined by a drunk who wanted an audience as he recited some poetry about how he had been jilted in the outback. Much to our surprise, he left immediately, when he had finished, and didn't ask for a handout.
After Ann and Chris had gone, I went into the bottle shop to replenish my wine supply, and then found the caravan park.
Today was an eventful 100km, excluding Steve's help.
This campground has powered tent sites so it is easy to write. I stepped on the plastic buckle of my purple bag and broke it, and I also used up all of my contact cement fixing my map holder. Contact cement is essential for fixing holes in my Thermarest pad. I also need some more maps and the Tourist Information does not open until 8:30am.
I got my maps easily but could not find the Port Macquarie's hardware store, despite clear, explicit directions. Steve said that Port Macquarie's only real industry is tourism. This makes hardware stores almost superfluous. It was tiny, and was exactly where everyone said it was, and I was able to find some clips that would work for the bag and some contact cement.
Port Macquarie appears to be the Koala capital of Australia. There is a Koala street, and Steve assures me that they do actually wander around town at night. In addition, the also have a ``Koala Hospital'' - that sounds like fun. I think I shall stay here today and start off again tomorrow.
I arrived at the Koala Hospital at about 9:30am, about the same time as Bill Eustace, one of the many volunteers that make the hospital go. There are currently five koalas in residence, three in the outer enclosures and two in intensive care. Pebbles was found as a baby after her mother, who had been treated for injuries from being previously hit by a car, was released and finally killed by another. Her Joey (baby) was found in the gravel beside her and was christened ``Pebbles''. ``Cloud'' was found as a baby among 89 rescued koalas after a fire south of Port Macquarie. She suffered from severe burns and has lost some of her claws. Both Pebbles and Cloud are in the large enclosure. Although they can't get out, the wild koalas can get in (and out). Both Pebbles and Cloud have become pregnant several times. Pebbles has a Joey in her pouch at the moment. Although I was able to find Pebbles and Cloud, I was unable to find the third exterior koala. Bill helped, and I found it behind a branch. Bill also showed me a wild koala that was in a nearby tree. They are around, but I rode under that tree to get to the hospital and missed it.
*** Koalas have one finger with two claws. They use it to comb out ticks and to groom themselves.
I had lunch at the Let's Go recommended Port Macquarie Seafood. It was some of the best battered fish I have ever had. I had a second.
After lunch, I went to Sea Acres, the only existing, intact (original?), coastal rainforest in Australia. It has a 1.3km boardwalk over and around the reserve. The highlight was the Strangler Fig. This ``strangler'' starts as a seed, in bird droppings, high in a tree. It sends down a filament of thin roots until it hits the ground. Then it starts to grow and eventually kills its host. It was drizzling the whole time I was there. It is, perhaps appropriate, that I visited a rain forest in the rain.
The rest of the afternoon was spent doing laundry. It is still drizzling.
Some Random Observations
*** ``Hungry Jacks'' is Australian for ``Burger King''
*** A ``Pedestrian Refuge'' is an island in the middle of the road
*** Butter is a bargain - 80c (cents) for 250gm
*** Gas is much cheaper than in Europe - 70c per litre - leaded gasoline is still sold. In Queensland it is even cheaper, as low as 58c per litre. Queensland taxes on gasoline are much lower than New South Wales, similar to the situation between Ontario and Quebec.
*** The Australia I have seen has much more of a North American feel than European. Although there are a large number of US franchises here, the real reason, I think, is that the architecture reflects the country's young age.
It has been pouring rain all night, but now, nicely, it has stopped. The only defect in my tent is that in heavy rains like this the bottom of parts of the floor get wet. I have waterproofed it a couple of times to no avail - oh well!
I followed the river valley 15km out of town to join back up with the Pacific Highway. From there it was rolling hills through eucalyptus forest, with the occasional stiff grade, to Kempsey. The ``Kangaroo'' warning sign appears to be warranted. I have seen three dead wallabies, and smelled possibly several others, so far. One had evidently been by the road for some time. It was a completely defleshed skeleton.
I arrived in Kempsey at about 1:00pm and visited the Information Center. I didn't get much information but I was given the following wish ``I hope it stops nice with you.'' This was a hope that the current nice weather, shafts of sunshine and no rain, would continue. At Kempsey I was given an alternative to the Pacific Highway that was only 4km further to Coffs Harbour, the next major town. It was a quiet two lane road that went through flat dairy country. Something must be amiss here though. Almost every other farm was for sale.
It was about 3:00pm when I reached my turnoff to get back to the Pacific Highway. I chose instead to continue on to South West Rocks, about 15km more. This was right on the ocean and was obviously feasible. If I continued towards Coffs Harbour, I don't know where I would be able to stop.
In South West Rocks, I found a caravan park right on the ocean, overlooking Horseshoe Bay. My tent door looks right over the bay and I was able to watch the surfer, and the waves roll onto the beach. The surfer stood in the water waiting for a wave to come - then jumped on his board for a 5 to 10 second ride, jumping off when the foam became too great.
*** The name ``South West Rocks'' is a mystery. I was asked later why such a name - ``south west'' of what - I don't know.
This area is famous? for its Trial Bay Gaol, about 5km down the road. Between here and there is a huge ridge with houses visibly climbing the ridge on this side. It is almost certainly a ``trial'' to ride to it or it would not exist. I didn't bother. The additional fact that it served as a WW2 internment camp did not encourage me either.
The kindness of the day occurred when I was making supper. An Aussie neighbour came over and offered me dry sheets, blankets, and a pillow. We had talked about the last night and the impending rain and I had mentioned that I hoped things would dry out before the next storm.
Today was a short and easy 90km.
It has not rained yet - and the ocean swells are booming into the beach. I am not at all certain where I will end up tonight.
I started out back the way I came, but now against the wind. It was dairy farms, similar to any in the world until I reached the Pacific Highway which again continued through eucalyptus forests. Several of the forests have had burns but the trees seemed to survive with only charred bark. I turned off the Pacific Highway to go inland to Stuart's Point, past Grassy Head and then to Scotts Head. The going was easy until I hit the ``3km winding road'' that passed up and over several ridges. It was in this section that I saw my first banana plantation - with the banana clusters covered with plastic bags.
At Scotts Head I intended to continue north, but discovered that my map was in error - the road I wanted ceased to be connected five years ago. I was told by several people in town that this error confuses several bicyclists every year. After buying some bananas, refilling my water bottles with better water than I got from South West Rocks - whose water was barely drinkable - I continued back along the road towards Macksville on the Pacific Highway. It was, as promised, quite flat.
Then came the beginning of an eventful day - the front rack broke and fell to the ground in front of my wheel - I crashed. The main support that held the top end of the rack to the bike had broken, and, I discovered later, one of the side supports by the wheel had sheared off - probably the root cause. After a couple of minutes I was able to get the front bags off. One guy, stopped, asked me what was wrong, and then told me to get my stuff off the road - what did he think I was trying to do!
I was easily able to replace the sheared bolt and had figured out a way to reinforce the front support. What I really needed to do was to drill a new hole in it. At this point, I was actually sitting beside a driveway that came down from up the cliff. While I was working, Jen, the lady of the house drove down. I asked her if she had a drill, and she said her husband up the hill in the house had one. I went up and found Andy. He was spending his Sunday renovating, gave me a beer, found a drill, and drilled the hole. By now it was quite late, and he invited me to stay the night rather than ride into Macksville. We went down together to the bike, put it back together, and pushed it back up the hill to the house. Andy in his younger days, was an avid surfer. I now got real information on the type and condition of the surfing from Byron Bay to Surfer's Paradise. We also discussed the natural parks and he felt that if I went to Bellingen, a flat ride, I could probably arrange something to Dorrigo National Park. He also warned me of other potential hilly problems north of me and gave me a map that actually goes all the way to Noosa, my probable furthest destination.
Andy, Jen and their two boys have travelled extensively all over Australia and showed me some pictures of the areas I shall miss - there are many. It was a short eventful day.
It poured rain all night - really heavy, and was tapering off somewhat when I went back to the main house at about 6:15am. Jen and Andy were up having breakfast before Andy left for work at 6:30am. Andy made me some drip coffee, decrying the quality of Australian restaurant coffee, and Jen made me some bacon, eggs, and coffee - a real breakfast. As I was having breakfast, the rain reduced itself to a drizzle and I decided to put my Gore-Tex rain pants away. At about 8:15am, I was ready to go.
About 2.5km later I had a blowout in the rear tire. This usually means the tire has blown up but in this case it was only the tube. The big hole in the inner tube was on the inside under the rim. I looked carefully, and found that liner inside the rim was split in two places. A piece of electrical tape fixed that. However, it was not all over yet. As I was pumping up the tire, it exploded - a rim break. Fortunately I still had one new tube left and I put on my spare tire. I will have to replace both, if possible at Coffs Harbour.
The rest of the day was largely uneventful, except - the sun came out at noon and stayed out for the rest of the day. The group of four cyclists from South Africa going south, assured me that the weather would improve as I went north. They had started just north of Noosa.
I arrived at Bellingen, the gateway to Dorrigo National Park at about 3:30pm. The caravan park is nondescript but has one unusual feature. Just outside the door of my tent is a colony of 100 to 200 flying foxes. The flying fox is a huge (25cm long, 60/70cm wingspan?) fruit eating bat that roosts, upside down, of course, on the branches of a trees. This group was quite animated, with flapping of wings, occasional changing of position, and squabbling. Sea Acres in Port Macquarie supposedly had a tree full of them but there were none I could find. After the exhibition today, it is clear they were none there. As the sun set they became completely inert. It is now 5:30am and there has been continual activity for the past several hours. They are not very quiet flyers - you can hear the wings beat.
This morning I am going to leave just as it gets light and start riding to Dorrigo on an empty bike. Dorrigo is perched on the top of the escarpment about 750m above here. The road, apparently goes right up the side of the cliff, with very steep grades. I don't intend to try and ride up - my current energy levels and leg power seem distressingly low. I will start towards it, and then stop and try to hitch a ride with a passing pickup. If that is unsuccessful, I will come back here, and then go into Coffs Harbour. It is only about 40km, but everyone has been telling met that the road into and out of Coffs Harbour is a killer.
At about 7:00am I was in the Visitor Center of Dorrigo National Park. About 4km outside of Bellingen I was able to hitch a ride with Pat Collyard on his way to install a kitchen in a house in the town of Dorrigo. The morning was beautiful. The sky was spackled clouds with a rainbow arching high, west of Dorrigo Mountain. The road climbed 700m in less than 7km, an average of 10%. There were no flat areas but some parts less steep than others. I think it is rideable, but probably not by me, especially at this time.
Dorrigo is a World Heritage Rainforest and there has been considerable effort to make it accessible. The highlights are two ``boardwalks'' - the ``Skywalk'' that goes out about 100m directly over the cliff from the visitor center and a ``Walk with the birds'' that runs inside the canopy in the midst of one of the trails. The ridges here are heavily wooded right to the very top with 50m+ high trees and fill-in ferns and vines. It is almost impossible to see down from the edge unless the forest canopy has been destroyed by a tree crash. The ``Skywalk'' lets you out over the edge and over the canopy where you can see the surrounding ridges and the Pacific Ocean. One couple said they had been there yesterday and it was totally clouded in. Today it was magnificent.
The ``Walk with the Birds'' was a boardwalk through the canopy that let you see the various levels of the rainforest, the vines climbing over everything and the staghorn ferns growing out of the tree trunks. It was cool, quiet, and quite delightful. Interestingly enough, I saw very few birds here - many in other areas, but few here.
The most conspicuous bird is the Scrub Turkey. It looks a little like a Pea Hen with an almost featherless head and neck. They were very friendly? - aggressively going after scraps - and would approach a hand. I tried a banana peel on one in the Grove Picnic Area. It picked it up, shook it a few times and abandoned it - crackers and bread seem to more to its liking. The Scrub Turkey lays its eggs in mounds of sand, and abandons them, letting the sun incubate them. All animals need schooling to survive. In this case, there seems to be a continuous second generation of juveniles around to show the new hatchlings the ropes. After the second year they disappear into the wild.
I left Dorrigo at about noon, just as the clouds and rain from the other side of the plateau were rolling in. By the time I got to the bottom, the entire ridge was enveloped in clouds and rain. The clouds raced me to Bellingen and won. However, I had my morning the sun at Dorrigo.
It was about 1:30pm when I arrived back in Bellingen so I decided to stay the day. This is cute little town with a commercial architecture that looks like the best of turn of the century small town America. It was much fun wandering around.
I also had a second motive. In Graz, last September, I had the rear wheel rebuilt, but I have been having trouble with squeaky and rough wheel bearings. Bellingen has a bike shop so I took it in. It was small, but John, the owner, and only employee, was friendly and willing to work on it immediately. He discovered that the brand new axle was bent, and there were filings in the bearings. Perhaps I need aircraft quality, titanium components in a bike to carry the loads that I need to maintain my comparatively luxurious ``on the road'' lifestyle.
While I was waiting outside the shop for John to finish, Pat came over to see how I had done at Dorrigo. I told him it was fabulous and the weather was quite cooperative. He told me that it had started raining at 10:00am in Dorrigo itself and he was a little concerned.
*** Australia has a compulsory bicycle helmet law. A lady, who was intrigued by my dayglow green outfit came over to talk. She had won a bicycle helmet, specially decorated by aboriginal artists. She was going to give it to one of her kids but decided to buy a bike to go with it instead.
The library in Bellingen has Internet access, but you have to book in advance. It was fully booked for today and all of tomorrow. They open at 10:30am but are willing to let me in at 10:00am to connect, if I want to stay around that long. I think I will take them up on it. If I am successful, I won't have to search Coffs Harbour for their Internet Cafes.
It is now almost 6:00am, and the Flying Foxes, back from a night of foraging, are intently discussing, or perhaps, arguing over the results. Some of the arguments are territorial - a landing bat gets chased away by the resident. I also discovered that I grossly underestimated the number of Flying Foxes. Almost every tree around is filled with bats. There are probably several thousand.
I stayed in Bellingen until I was able to get into the library at just after 10:00am. The librarian had talked to her technical consultant who was in the process of putting computers in all the branch libraries. He was sufficiently scared that he would allow access to Hotmail but no Telnet. There is no way a virus can be passed from a Unix system to a W95 system but he was not about to err on the side of civility. I sent email to Virginia and Peggy and was on my way at about 10:20am.
I arrived Woolgoolga at about 4:30pm, just in time to see the surfers and the sun about to set behind the mountains. It is nice to stop sufficiently early that you can actually see and appreciate the ocean before having to set up the tent. It was a beautiful day, all day, and there were only a few stiff hills, into and out of Coffs Harbour, as I had been warned.
At the moment I am in the picnic area of Woolgoolga, about 15m from my tent. There are no mosquitoes, and there is power. There is even a gazebo with four free electric ``barbecues'' - quite civilized. I did cook supper outside, while conversing with, Ken, an Aussie ``walker'', who was about to start out towards his home in Sydney in the morning. Last year he walked 800 miles in England. Here he walks and takes buses when he gets bored.
Coffs Harbour is the banana capital of Australia, and also home of the completely tasteless ``Big Banana'' theme park. It is almost too cold for bananas but they have discovered that if they put the plantations on north facing slopes, they can protect the banana trees from the cold weather. Bananas here go for as low as 39 cents per kilo.
I was up at first light and saw sunrise over the Pacific - it was the start of another beautiful day. After an early morning conversation with a couple of Coffs Harbour families, I was off at about 7:30am. The first 60km was inland towards Grafton and was up and over several ridge lines covered with gum trees, and with lots of short noticeable climbs and a couple of very long, but not destroyingly steep hills near Grafton. At one time, the highway actually was completely covered by the gum tree canopy - a first on the Pacific Highway on level ground. It was really quite refreshing.
I tried to buy some more Camping Gaz 470 canisters and some bananas in Grafton. Neither of the two camping stores I found carried the gas - it may be harder than I thought to find some. I neglected to stop at Woolworths and didn't find another grocery store, so no bananas.
*** Woolworths in Australia is a grocery store chain.
At Grafton I started on Tourist Drive 22 (TD22). It ran 56km along the north side of the Clarence River while the Pacific Highway ran along the south bank. This was a quiet relief from the busy Pacific Highway. The TD22 was virtually flat, and when it came to its first hill, the TD22 switched to the even smaller, and still flat Riverfront Road. At Lawrence, I was finally able to buy some bananas and then took the ferry across the river. The surprise here was that the cash crop is sugarcane. I would have thought it was too far south. The highlight though was a huge osprey nest, with a very large young osprey peering over the side, on the top of a high voltage power line tower - I wish I had had some binoculars.
I arrived at Maclean, ``Australia's Scottish Town'', after about 110km at about 3:30pm. My next potential stop was over 30km away - through unknown terrain. They claim many Scottish activities, but all I saw was one Scottish souvenir shop. My neighbours here at the Caravan Park say that there are occasional gatherings of the clans, and they have seen a chap wandering around in a kilt.
Maclean has two Chinese Restaurants and no Thai restaurants - my first choice. I went to one that featured a ``smorgasbord''. I arrived just as they were putting it out so it was still hot and surprisingly tasty. It cost $8.00 for all you could eat. There was only one other group while I was eating and we both left together. One new couple was coming up the stairs as I left. Perhaps Thursday is a quiet night. It is very difficult to browse the stores of small town Australia after a day of riding. The whole country shuts down at 5:00pm
Caravan Parks seem to have mostly permanent residents with a few spots for transient caravans and the occasional tent site, Mine here is tucked away at the back on a small triangle of grass, surrounded by flowers and about 10m from the ``amenities'' - the showers and toilets. A small bird feeder behind me had two parrots, and a hooded pigeon when I arrived. Just in front is a covered picnic area with a switched-on light, and a ``gas barby'' for my use. ``Barbys'' (barbecues) are stainless steel sheets with a hole in the middle, rather than open grills. You fry, unfortunately in other peoples fat, rather than sear your meat. I stuck with my own stove.
However the lighted picnic area was nice. I had breakfast outside and got started just after sunrise.
I continued down the Clarence River Valley and reached the Pacific Highway after about 6km. I was on it for the next 85km until I got to Ballina. It started through cane fields, then rolling hills through eucalyptus forest with several Koala warning signs, but no koalas. This was an easy ride - I was in my top gear range for all but one hill. One of my refueling stops was Little Italy with its aboriginal craft shop. This was the landing spot for some immigrants from Italy, and, for some unknown reason, was known to them as Nouvelle France. It is also the original home of the Bundjalling tribe of aboriginals. They had an aboriginal tribal map of Australia showing several hundred different tribes - makes sense but I didn't realise it. It did not show the linguistic families so the differentiation was not obvious. The aboriginal shop had some very pretty decorated rocks, but I couldn't bring myself to haul some rocks on my bike.
The highlight of the day was the 10km of coast from Ballina to Lennox Head - brilliant sunshine, large surf bursting into a couple of large bays and the high cliffs of the head - quite stunning. At the Lennox Head lookout I talked to a surfer about to go down the trail to catch the waves at a point break. In addition to a half wet suit, he had neoprene shoes to protect his feet from the rocks on the trail and the ``beach'' before he entered the water. Andy described point breaks to me, and although there is much water, it is still not too deep. The breaking waves bring up a cauldron of sand and such from the bottom when they break. It appears that you get sand blasted from the water if you lose your board.
After Lennox Head, the road went across a long low scrub, sand interior, until it crossed the ridges that define Byron Bay. At 5:00pm, almost exactly, I arrived at the Tourist Bureau, just to see the lady leave. At about 5:30pm. in complete darkness, I found the Caravan Park. They are quite full, but I found a decent spot near the laundry. Tonight is a heavy laundry night. When I chose my spot, I asked the lady about surfing. She didn't know anything, and said all the shops were closed. After all, it was winter.
This was my longest distance so far - 125km.
This is such a beautiful place I decided to stay the day. Just after sunrise I went up to the Byron Bay Lighthouse on the top of Byron Head. The sunlight was wonderful and showed off superbly the view north to Byron Bay and the view south to Lennox Head and the 10 km long Tallow Beach. I was early, but not the first. Two couples appear to have slept on the grass overlooking the cliff and a group of workmen were getting ready for their day. It was an absolute delight and the light was perfect - coming in from the ocean, and sharpening the land. I rode up slowly, but rather easily on the empty bike, and came down equally slowly - enjoying the coolness and quietness of the woods.
I decided that I would really try to go surfing. There seems to be a spot called the ``wreck'' that is an artificial reef. After finding the Koo Internet Cafe, which allowed Telnet, buying some groceries at Woolworths, and replacing a bulging front tire, I went to the, Let's Go recommended, Byron Surf Shop. Their rental boards were a little wider than I would have liked (the girl said they had lots of beginners), but that turned out to be moot. Today must be one of the few days that surf was not up in Byron Bay. No one was surfing, and a couple of guys I talked to said the wind was in the wrong direction. It is blowing in quite strongly, breaking up the surf. I spent the rest of the day just lazily riding around town. Byron Bay appears to be one ``stuff'' shop after another, along with a few necessary shops to actually live in the town. But it is relatively unspoiled by big tourist development that exists on other parts of the coast.
For lunch, I overcame my barbecue squeamish and cooked some ``rasher bacon'' - a mix between side and back bacon on the barbecue picnic pavilion at the campground. It overlooks the bay and is quite pleasant. I also bought a fresh crusty roll from Brumbys Hot Bread. Finally I topped it off with a ``paw paw'', also known as papaya. The bacon was quite good but the papaya not as flavourful as the ones I remember in Hawaii.
It is now about 3:30pm and I am sitting in the same barbecue picnic pavilion, writing, recharging my computer, and talking to a Western Australian born in Dublin. He seems to be spending his time traveling around Australia in his Toyota Campervan. It has been a pleasant restful day.
It was another beautiful day - perhaps the Aussie usual parting comment, to this point, is about to come true ``I hope the weather improves.''
I left quite early - about 6:50am. It was a delight to start out, to the west, with the sun at my back. It was cool, crisp and beautiful out of Byron Bay to the Pacific Highway. Then it was north, with the sun at my side, bypassing Alexandra Heads, for 20km or so to Ocean Shores. Yesterday, I talked to two guys and a girl who lived around Ocean Shores, and they told me of a dirt road, ``shortcut'', that ran by the shore, was not on my map and met up with the coast road that I was going to take north. They assured me the road was flat. This avoids a sortie into the Great Dividing Range.
The Great Dividing Range did get this far though. Ocean Shores was defined by an entry ridge and exit ridges, each with monstrous, but short, hills. As one might expect when the road was not on the map, it was unmarked and difficult to find. I asked directions several times, passed it, and finally was told clearly, by an old(Er) man on a bicycle, exactly where it was, and also that I might have trouble with the water.
The 5km dirt track was the highlight of the day. Indeed there was water. Almost continuously, I was confronted with a new pool of water that was the road. In some cases, the bank at the edge of the road was not at all obvious. I walked most of the 5km, trying, mostly successfully, to keep my feet on the bank while the bike went through the water. This was a typical beachfront road, running in the dune shrubbery with the beaches invisible. Each time I went out an short access track, much to my surprise, I saw people on the beach.
Several times I met 4WD coming the opposite direction. Invariably, they asked, ``How much further?'' and/or ``Does this go to Ocean Shores?'' When I was through, another 4WD driver asked me what the road was like. I said it was passable - although you had to go around the car that was abandoned in one of the road covering pools.
From there it was ``sealed'' road, and mostly flat, except for the municipal ridges that defined the intermediate towns, until I hit the Gold Coast. At about 4:00pm I was in Surfers Paradise. The last 15km or so were a delight - by the shore on bike paths, or residential streets off the Gold Coast Highway. The surf here, at high tide, looked wonderful - about 1.5m to 2m breaking faces, sufficiently offshore to be safe, and full of surfers. It certainly looked surfable - but this will have to wait until I am in Australia for an extended period of time.
*** The ibis is the ``pigeon'' of the public park/picnic area. I saw a curious one, in Kingscliff, and then a whole flock in Burleigh Heads.
Currently I am in Main Beach, a town in its own right, just north of Surfers. Although Surfers is a hot nightlife town, I have no inclination to ride back the 4km to indulge.
Today I rode about 100km. My neighbours, from the Netherlands, who were also in Byron Bay this morning, and are amazed that I only went 100km to get here from Byron Bay.
It was another beautiful day - there was even semi-decent surf this morning.
I tried to avoid the Pacific Highway as much as possible but failed. I continued north from Main Beach to Paradise Point - this was a prime residential area that I managed to get lost in due to a wrong turn. Then I finally found the way and passed through Hope Island. This is a huge residential/resort complex, golf courses, parks, pools, planned housing, ... - a Del Webb (a California developer) type planned community. When I finally got to the Pacific Highway, it was a disaster - it is under reconstruction and the shoulders were replaced by large continuous concrete barriers that forced me to impose on bus and truck territory - most disconcerting. I pulled off at one exit to see if I could find an alternative. A lady told me that she did not know any other way. The current new Pacific Highway is paralleled by remnants of the Old Pacific Highway. Each time I tried to follow a remnant, it would dead end, or disappear into some new construction - again most disconcerting.
At the Ormeau exit, a security guard for the highway development sent me out into the hills off the road. Queensland may be flat, but all the cities are built on cliffs, or like Brisbane, on the remnants of the Great Dividing Range. It was a bit of workout. The directions ran out when I rejoined the Pacific Highway, followed along beside, and then went back inland. Then I saw a sign, ``Brisbane 92''. This, unfortunately, led back to the Pacific Highway. Finally, I was far enough north to find a Logan Rd., that was on my map, and led all the way into Brisbane center - up and down all the way.
In Brisbane, I stopped first at the Transit Center to see if I could get to Port Douglas by bus or train, and then back to Sydney by June 2. The best I could do is 3 days in Port Douglas, and 4 days on the bus or train - I will just go slowly up the Sunshine Coast to Noosa Heads.
When I came out of the Transit Centre, I saw a note on my bike. It was quite dark so I kept it and read it when I reached my ***** Backpacker's Resort just across the Brisbane River from highrise downtown. It said
``I don't know who you are but I am planning a bicycle trip all around Queensland. I will need two or three days to get ready. I would be delighted if you were interested in joining me so we could ride together for a while. I am in the Backpackers in the city. Here is my telephone number: xxxx xxxx ... If nothing happens ... have a good trip.
My name is Eric''
Eric was staying in a different Backpackers so I didn't meet him. I did leave a message telling him my trip was almost finished - he was out pub crawling.
This ***** ``Backpackers Resort'' is quite crowded, and includes my Dutch neighbours from last night in Main Beach. I was even able to wheel my bike through he patio to the door of my room - almost as convenient as camping. They are currently running a free flick in the patio - the Medgar Evers trial - this was my time, and the current audience is transfixed - amazing.
Brisbane is low-rise residential until you hit the highrise downtown, wrapped around the bends of the Brisbane River. Brisbane advertises itself as ``Australia's most livable city''. It is pleasant, but I can't tell yet, or perhaps ever, whether it is livable.
I estimated it was 75km from Surfers - I went over 95km.
Brisbane is much easier to leave to the north than to get into from the south. I just aimed myself to the central core and took Adelaide St. out until it hit a sign for the ``Sunshine Coast''. I followed (Queensland) QLD 3 until it hit NR1. NR1, the Pacific Highway now becomes the Bruce Highway. It was an easy, flat ride, with a strong tailwind - I would not like to have been going south. This route featured my first pineapple field, and pine forests in various stages of reforestation.
The oddity of the day was the Glasshouse Mountains. These are island like mountains floating in a flat plain. Some were large lumps and others were conical hats. They are ancient, isolated volcanic peaks, and were called Glasshouses by Cook because he was reminded of glass foundries in Yorkshire, England.
I had to climb over Little Mountain to get to Caloundra, the lower end of the Sunshine Coast. I still think it would have been possible to go around, but then I would have missed these great views of the Glasshouse Mountains.
This caravan park has flocks of rosellas, quite common red and green parrots, squabbling over the tops of several trees.
It is slightly cloudy this morning but this will probably burn off. The stiff sea breeze of last night has disappeared, as it should. It is calm but not quiet - the rosellas are discussing their latest exploits.
My first stop, other than at the top of some of the ``heads'' that make up Caloundra was at Underwater World in Mooloolaba, 25km away. Underwater World, part of the ``Harbour Tourist Destination'' of Mooloolaba,
claims to be ``Australia's largest Tropical Oceanarium''. Its crown is a walkthrough tunnel in a tropical reef aquarium. It is quite impressive to count the teeth on a small shark gliding lazily, on foot above your head. The most confusing fish was a on that looked like a shark that had its head run over by steamroller. This, according to one of the guides, was, in reality a ``Shovelnosed skate''. Sharks have their gills on the side of their head while skates have them underneath. This poor fish only had about an inch of side so the gills had to be underneath. Other than that, it looked like a shark.
The oceanarium also had a fish from the ``billabongs'' - ponds. Some of the fish were about 1.5m long so these ponds are indeed quite big. However, I have passed over several ``creeks'' that would have been decent rivers in any other country.
Maroochydore is Mooloolaba's twin city. Let's Go says it is an important surfing spot on the Sunshine Coast. There was almost no surf, but I stopped in a surf shop to enquire. I told them that I had wanted to surf when I was in Australia, and the reply was ``Sorry, I can't help you.'' When I asked about better surf, they said ``It should improve by September.'' This was a little long to wait so I decided to continue to Noosa Heads. The road hugged the coast, passing beside Mt. Coolum and past a number of rugged beaches.
The road was flat until the heads of Noosa interrupted it. Noosa Hill separates Noosa Junction from Noosa Heads and stood in my way to the tourist bureau. The first volunteer, Sigi, a German lady, apparently there to make things easier for German tourists, didn't really know the location of the Caravan Park and sent me down the wrong road. This one dead ended in Noosa Spit Recreation Area. My second attempt, with another volunteer was more successful. I successfully found the Munna Point Caravan Park in Noosaville.
This is the end of my bicycle trip up the coast. The next place of real interest is the Whitsunday Islands, approximately 1000km north of here.
One place that everyone said was a ``must'' destination is Fraser Island, the worlds largest (13km by 100km) sand island. Although, it is about 50 miles due north - 80/100 miles by normal road, Noosa is the prime entry point for 4WD Fraser Island Tours - they go due north, up Teewah/Cooloola Beach, better known as, 40 Mile Beach, to Rainbow Beach, and by barge to the island.
Getaway Tours, one of the many tour operators to Fraser, picks up in Noosa at 6:40am. At 6:10am, I started out towards their office on Rene (Reenee) St. hoping to be able to catch today's tour. As I was on my way, I saw their van starting out to pickup today's customers. I arrived at the office at about 6:30am. They said they could run me up to one of the pickup points and store my bike for the day. They gave me my t-bone steak for lunch, that I had to give to Kim, our driver, and took me up in one of their intercity busses.
There were 11 of us in a 16 seat Mitsubishi 4WD van. 40 mile beach is so heavily used that it has a speed limit (80km/h) and is patrolled by Queensland Police. On weekends it is positively crowded, but today it was mostly 4WD tours in Noosa Shire and fishermen/campers in Cooloola Shire. This was a high tide so the beach was a comparatively narrow 50m wide, and a little soft. When we came back in that afternoon it was low tide and the beach was at least 200m wide. On the southern end, there was a roosting osprey, about every 200m or so. Later on the sand cliffs rose to about 40m. These are all prone to avalanches, and there was plenty of evidence of that. It appears that 45 degrees is a stable maximum. Erosion and red iron oxide deposits created multicoloured canyons along the entire trip. Noosa Shire does not allow camping on its section of the beach but camping on the adjacent northern Cooloola Shire it is allowed. There were a lot of camps set up - some looked very permanent. Freshwater here is very easy to find - just dig a hole in the sand, slightly above high tide, and in a few minutes it fills with water. It is, perhaps surprising, that people set up camp on the beach to go fishing, and then feel it necessary to drive their 4WDs down to the edge to set up their fishing poles.
*** Shires are Australian counties. Unlike England, they are always a second separate word and pronounced with a long ``i''. It is Noosa Shire not Noosashire.
At the top end 40 Mile Beach, we took a sandy, log reinforced ``track'', to Rainbow Beach. The end of this beach has a roped off swimming area. A sunbathing lady was run over and killed here by a 4WD before they took this precaution.
On the barge ride over to Fraser, I talked to a Queensland Forestry man. He was on his way to root out a South African plant that had taken hold on the island. They were afraid of an infestation like kudzu in the US south. We stopped for morning tea on an old sand mining road. The sand here contains rutile, used in iron smelting, and was being mined by the US Dillingham Corp. When Fraser was declared a World Heritage Site, Queensland tried to break the lease. They tried, unsuccessfully on environmental grounds, Dillingham did the required reforestation, but finally was able to do it for tax evasion. Dillingham Mining was selling the rutile to its parent below world prices, and hence not paying the GST on it.
One curiosity along this road was a long strip of completely dead trees. Kim, our driver, said that this is quite common in Queensland. There will be a large, contiguous section of trees that have all died, but the surrounding trees are quite healthy. This brings a new definition of ``eco-community'' to trees - simultaneous suicide?
After a short run up the beach we went inland. The forest was quite dense, with the sand only really visible on the road. Fraser has incredible quantities of fresh water. It is high enough to catch rain, and even create its own weather patterns - being the first landfall of southeasters. Our first stop was a Lake Boemingen, a large ``perched'' lake. This is one that catches rainfall rather than being fed by streams or springs. Its sandy bottom allows for enough leakage to prevent it from going salty.
Lake Birrabeen, our BBQ lunch stop, is a ``window'' lake. This is spring fed, very clear, and quite sterile. The wildlife in the lake are turtles and guppies by the shore. I went snorkeling, and was amazed to find no plants at all growing in the lake, only reeds by the shore. I have never seen a lake so devoid of underwater life - the bottom was sand, covered with a fine brown layer, probably pine needles. I also saw a turtle. The little guy was really scared of this huge monster blocking out the light above him and started to madly swim away. I turned slightly and its panic increased. The water was quite clear so it was visible, just above the bottom, about 4m away.
Lunch started with grilled sausage, and was followed by steak, salad, pineapple, and wine. Most of the tours stop at Lake Mackenzie, another of the window lakes. Ours was much quieter, and I suspect, pleasanter. Our final stop was at Central Station, the current ranger headquarters. This features a rainforest walk by a stream with such clear, colourless water, that only the ripples on top tell you the white sand bottom has something on top. Fraser was heavily logged, clear-cut, and most of the original, really valuable trees have gone. The ones left, however, are still quite impressive, rising 30m to 40m.
It is quite surprising that the slopes on Fraser can be sustained by sand. If the slope and vegetation is broken by a stream, the whole structure will collapse. For pristine slopes, this does not seem to be problem. However, the roads leave banks that are fragile. In one place, the rangers added corrugated iron sluice down the side of one hill.
I was asked several times if Fraser was what I expected. The one thing I didn't see was a sand dune. I was expecting sand dunes and a desert island - desert it was not.
It was a very enjoyable day and I am glad I was able to make it.
The tip of Noosa Heads is a National Park, but the entire area around it is quite built up. Noosa Shire is really a collection of the towns of Noosa Heads, Noosa Junction, Noosaville, and the satellite towns of Sunrise Beach, Sunshine Coast, and Tewantin. Growth is currently being strictly controlled.
A population cap has been put on the area and no new construction building permits are being issued. Upgrading of current plant is also being strictly controlled. This is in marked contrast to Mooloolaba, where the current low-rise, small time commercial beachfront is being replaced by highrise residential. There was a small two story building for sale, boasting ocean views. The views probably won't last til the sale - a large highrise is going up right in front.
Today was spent on logistics - getting my bus ticket to Sydney, finding Internet access, and getting supplies. Bus tickets in Australia are sold by travel agents, not bus companies - it took a while to knock out my preconceptions on this. In Noosa Heads, Sabios on Hastings St., was the local Internet Cafe. It was being rebuilt, and its sign had disappeared. The travel agent that sold me my bus ticket insisted it was just down the street, and was mystified when I couldn't find it. On my third attempt, I saw a small sign that said ``Internet Access has moved to the Palms in Noosa Junction.'' This was when I really found Noosa Junction. When I got there, I finally found someone who had heard of the ``Palms Arcade'' and sent met there. An ``arcade'' here is a small shopping alley and not the games place I was looking for. However, the lady in the Fruit Barn in the front of the Palms knew of the Internet access in the back. I was able to use Hotmail, but was unable, because of net or INRS server problems to Telnet to INRS.
The pineapples here are the best I have had since we first started living in Hawaii. In Hawaii, while we were there, Dole stopped picking ripe pineapples for the local market - here they still do. They wouldn't sell me one very ripe one I chose, but when I said I wanted it, they gave it to me.
Since I am sedentary for a few days I can get meat and cook it. Tonight it was barbecued lamb chops - early in the afternoon just before sunset.
As recommended by Let's Go, I was riding at first light, now about 6:20am to begin a walk of the Coast Track (trail) in Noosa National Park. Starting at the Park Headquarters, it winds along the cliffs towards Tea Tree Bay. Tea Tree Bay was one of the ``Ten Best Beaches'' described in the Qantas in-flight magazine. I arrived there just as the sun was rising - but not here actually, really behind the next headland.
*** Tea Trees are large, flaky bark trees with an oil that is sold here for such things as cold sores, relieving mosquito bite itches, and other things. Tatyana, a lady I talked to in Woolgoolga, says ``It is magical!''
At Granite Bay, I dropped down off the headland to the rocks on the shore. At that time, the sun ducked behind a cloud. It was much more pleasant not having to stare directly into the sun - I think the Coast Track is probably better, at this time of year, done in the opposite direction, starting at Sunshine Beach - although the sun angles in the summer may change things then.
Granite Bay is beach, covered by polished granite boulders with sharp granite ridges pushing right into the water - really quite pleasant. It was here that I started picking up plastic trash that had washed up or had been thrown away. Although this park is one of the most heavily used in Australia, and is covered with service roads, there were no trash cans, so I had to carry it all back to the Park Headquarters.
Finally, I reached a gash in the face of the cliff where I had to climb back onto the Coast Track. Hell's Gate is huge cut, straight down, going about 60m into the cliff - filled with frothy blue water. There were warnings that the cliff was very dangerous and you should stay off. It was there that I picked up my biggest pieces of trash - a pair of size 15 flip flops. The owner, apparently survived, but was totally insane to venture down there in these. My bicycle shoes are very good and stiff, and I was very careful. I threw all the other trash away at the Park Headquarters, but these I very carefully placed outside their front door - I wonder if they will be there tomorrow.
Alexandria Beach is prime surfing beach, accessible from the town of Sunshine Beach. There were a lot of kids surfing, and a couple watching. It is at least a half hour walk, carrying your board, to get here. The kids watching said the surf was bad - I had to agree.
The rest of the stroll was through the woods, up and down the heads - very restful, and quiet, except for the prolific and vocal bird songs. Australia has a very plentiful and varied birdlife. They also seem to be largely unafraid, and will continue their songs, and eating as you come by.
*** Sight of the day: A kookaburra, coming up after a successful hunt with a 6cm by 3cm (2in by 1in) beetle in his beak. I still wonder how he was going to eat it.
I went back to Tea Tree Bay to go snorkeling. My first encounter was a small Shovelnosed Ray. There were no small fish here, so I moved down the shore towards the bigger rocks, and the fishermen. Here the rocks were covered with barnacles, and there were a few fish, some quite colourful. It was interesting, but not overwhelming.
On the way home I stopped at the Information Center, and asked about the best place to snorkel. They didn't know, but phoned a local dive shop. I now have a recommendation for tomorrow.
Tonight it was tough, rib eye for supper -
This morning it is raining - only the second morning-rain that I have had on this trip. I don't have to go anywhere this morning - my snorkeling recommendation will have to wait.
It stopped raining and became a light drizzle so I decided to visit the Bunya Wild Animal Park that is part of the Ginger Factory in Lantanya, about 30km south of here. This park has koalas, that you can actually approach. A wild koala in a ``gum - eucalyptus'' tree is a grey furry ball, about as exciting as a confusing burl. Eumundi, a town on the way, is most famous for its Saturday Farmer's Market, and is a cute, relatively old village. At my refueling break, I talked to a ``native'' transplanted Sydneyite who complained of the problems of development and bragged about how they had thwarted the development of a new resort just up the hill. It reminded me of the ``It's my palm tree!'' syndrome of new residents in Hawaii.
I arrived at the Ginger Factory and the Bunya Wild Animal Park at about 10am. Just after I arrived, a deluge commenced. There was no bicycle parking at the Ginger Factory so I tried to lock my bike at the gate just under entry canopy - it remained moderately dry. Along with the Bunya Wild Animal Park, they had a store specializing in ``designer'' macadamia nuts. I should have remembered, but I didn't that the macadamia nut, such a defining commodity of Hawaii, was a native of Australia. They claim to be the largest producer and exporter of macadamia nuts, but in America, Hawaii seems to be the major supplier.
The koalas were a delight. I spent about 1/2 hour talking to a guide about koalas, before he was about to give his ``Koala Talk'' to a tour group. He talked about how fussy they were, and that they could not predict in advance whether they would like the new crop of eucalyptus leaves they had harvested. It was much fun to watch them eating and yawning only 1m to 2m away. Their teenage koalas have died so they no longer allow koala ``cuddling'' - only petting when the koala is held by a trusted trainer. I declined to go to the tour group show, but the trusted trainer came by with after with the young ``petting'' koala. Since I had been talking to the host, he stopped, and let me, and another family group that just happened to be there at the time, say hello, and caress the koala. I was delighted, and so were the kids.
It was bright and sunny when I left at about noon. From Yandina, I went across directly to the coast, around, mostly, Mount Coolum to Coolum Beach. This was a very easy ride through cane fields until I reached the ridges near Mount Coolum. Even here it was easier than the road to Eumundi. Just north of Coolum, I saw a large offshore storm. It hit me at Sunrise Beach and poured on me all the way back to my caravan park at Munna Point. It continued for the rest of the afternoon so I have not yet been able to cook my last rib-eye steak. Supper was my last pasta dinner that I brought from Montreal.
It continued raining most of the night, collapsed a pole on my neighbour's tent, but stopped just before sunrise. Everything was wet but it was not raining. I gathered everything up, and went into Noosa to wait for the bus. While I was waiting, I explored Hastings Street - Noosa Heads upscale shopping block. The street is so short, and the prestige so high to be on it, that there are several mini shopping arcades running off the street. I was looking for some picture books of the Queensland that I had visited and also of Noosa. I found one of Noosa, and one of the whole of Queensland, most of which I have not (yet?) seen.
The bus arrived on time and about ten of us got on for the trip to Brisbane, and eventually, points in NSW such as Byron Bay and Sydney. We more or less, retraced the way I came to Brisbane, and even had an ``in-flight movie'' to distract us from the scenery. This was unfortunate, because the sun was shining and I really wanted to look. Fortunately the movie only lasted for a little over an hour of our three hour trip to Brisbane. I was struck again at how odd the Glasshouse mountains looked. The bus was so high, you could actually see them from the Bruce Highway, over the trees, rather than just occasionally through them.
Brisbane is a hilly city, and really quite pretty. It was still light when we left at 3:30pm and was just starting to get dark as we went down the main shopping street of Surfers Paradise. I didn't see this on my way up because I rode right along the coast. It was very upscale for several kilometres, and then suddenly became lower class, mom and pop, grocery and convenience stores. Perhaps we left town - we were still on the Gold Coast. This main street has no view of the surf so there was no feel for its quality. By the time we got to the end of the Gold Coast, and were by the shore, it was too dark to see.
At this point we got our second movie, a James Bond takeoff, ``Spy Hard'' with Agent WD-40 battling the evil General Rancour. It was dark, and filled in an hour so. This barely got us into the evening. We went all night, but there was an empty row of seats so my seat companion left and we both had a more comfortable time. We had one foul mouthed Aussie that disturbed all of us. He got off before Sydney, and several of the ladies reported money and jewellery missing. At first light, we were about 100km north of Sydney. There were very rugged ridge lines, similar to what I had on the way to Palm Beach, but tighter and more numerous. The Pacific Highway sliced through them rather than go around or over. The sliced profile was a sedimentary, multicoloured, sandstone, that seemed to be as much sand as stone. The Pacific Highway here has noticeable, but not extreme, grades. We slowly made our way through the northern suburbs in rush hour traffic, crossed the Sydney Harbour Bridge, right by the Opera House and were at the Central Station at about 9:00am. This, like Brisbane, is a combined bus/train station. I wanted to find an inexpensive motel by the airport, but was told at the Sydney Information Center that such a thing does not exist.
I was going to go Botany Bay to see for myself when I saw the new (1997) Sydney Central YHA Hostel with an Airport Shuttle sitting in front of it. This seemed much more reasonable than slogging all the way to Botany Bay so I decided to stay there. I had not eaten lunch, supper, or breakfast, so it was time to cook some of my new, single serving, pastas that I had gotten at Coles, another of Australia's large grocery chains. The kitchen here is the best I have ever seen, and includes gas ranges on large stainless steel work areas, and a large dining room. All the other hostels have had electric ranges. It is almost impossible to boil the butter/water and drop the temperature, immediately to a simmer on an electric range.
*** Internet Access downtown was quite easy - Global Access on George St. is open from 7:30am to midnight, with plenty of work stations. Again, though, I could not make a Telnet connection to INRS, but could access Hotmail.
In the afternoon, I visited some bookstores, recommended by a girl at the hostel front desk, to find some more picture books of NSW. I found one of Sydney but nothing for NSW. The rest of the afternoon was spent at the Sydney Aquarium in the Darling Harbour complex. The Sydney Aquarium was very impressive. They had two walk through aquariums, built out into Sydney Harbour. The first was devoted to Sydney Harbour fish, some quite colourful, but most a conventional pale. There were a few small sharks, and the occasional skate. The star, though, was a huge sea turtle. It was an exercise in grace, and laziness, to see it paddle over your head, occasionally pushing its head up for air. The second walk through aquarium was devoted to big sharks and skates. These also would, unconcernedly float above your head. The teeth on the large sharks were not as numerous as the smaller sharks, but they were more uneven and looked as though they would make rough tears and gouges rather than just shaving off an inch or two of leg.
After these two walk throughs, they had more conventional aquariums with Great Barrier Reef fish. This is where the brilliantly coloured tropical fish started to appear. It was wonderful to see such variety, but it made me sad that I was not able to get to the Great Barrier Reef. The Sydney Aquarium is very impressive, and I think, bigger than Underwater World - but perhaps the word ``tropical'' is considered critical in their claim.
While riding down Kent street, I saw a ``Genghis Khan Mongolian BBQ''. I thought about stopping for supper at about 5:00pm, but it was too early. I went back to the hostel, did some washing to reduce the weight of my wet clothes, and decided that I didn't have the spirit to venture out in the rain for a Mongolian BBQ.
The people at the hostel have been very understanding about my bike, and the elevators are large enough to put it inside. I took it up to my fifth floor room, unloaded it, and then later in the evening, contrary to my early morning custom, took it back again and packed it away in its backpack. This was considerably less disruptive on my roommates than doing it in the morning. It also allows more time to stuff the cubic metre of stuff into a 1/2 metre bag. I think I am going to have to carry more soap, less clothes, and assume that drying will be available.
Although this is a progressive hostel, they do lock up the reading room and lounge facilities on each floor. However, the first floor main lounge is open all night, and except for the choice of music, quite pleasant. They also have a glass sealed smoking room so stale smoke is not a problem.
I took the shuttle at 7:00am and arrived at the airport at about 7:45am. very early for a 9:45am flight but not in time to miss the line. QANTAS did something that has never happened to me before - they weighed my carry on bag, and declared it too heavy. It was Ok to carry on two lighter bags so I retrieved my small day pack from my purple bag and put the computer and books in it. This satisfied the bureaucracy. After I left, I put the day pack in the top of my original carry on backpack, and continued to the plane. That was the last time anyone complained.
There may not be an International ATM in the arrivals area but there are Internet Terminals in a cafe in the departure shops. I was able to warn Joanne, and reassure Virginia and Peggy, that I had made it, and was on my way. However, I almost missed my plane in Honolulu. I had stopped in on of the departure lounges, beside, what I thought was our lounge, to write and edit my journal. About 5 minutes before my plane was about to leave, with this lounge still full, I left, only to discover that this lounge was for the flight to Sydney and left five minutes after my plane to Toronto. The Toronto lounge was next door, and completely empty of passengers. The lady at the desk asked ``Are you Michael Ferguson?'' - I said ``Yes.'' and she said ``Run!''. I made it, the last passenger, and they closed the doors.
The rest of the flight was uneventful and we arrived in Toronto on time. Dick was waiting.
There were no bad days on this trip. Some days had their uncertainties, and some days I didn't ride as far as I might have liked. I didn't get to the Great Barrier Reef or to tropical Australia, but did see a great deal of small part of the country. The birds were varied, unknown to me, and ever present. All bird songs were new, and after a while, I could actually put a birdsong and a bird together. The birds seemed quite fearless and would allow quite close approaches. The pelicans, scrub turkeys, and ibises were quite assimilated and opportunistic.
The people were, in general, quite friendly and curious, as long as their cars were stopped. Some would stop to talk, and others to ask directions, which I could, occasionally, provide.
*** ``Smash Repairs'' is a rather graphic description for autobody work.
*** ``You haven't seen much of Australia. It's a big country.'' Everyone had their favourite place that, either I had missed, or did not get to. This ranged from the Aussie walker's favourite, the Blue Mountains, to the North - Darwin, Northern Territories, and Cape York, to Western Australia, where the people are much nicer. I would like to come back and spend some time in Cape York. The appropriate time of year is problematical, but it appears that now to August, the winter, is best - the summer being very wet.
*** Almost all of the large American fast food chains are here, including a few surprises, Dominos Pizza and Subway.
*** The large indoor shopping malls could be anywhere in North America.
*** Australian drivers are not very bicycle polite. Comments when I mentioned this were ``They are prime targets.'' - ``What do you expect. We don't ride push bikes much.'' Andy recounted on time when he had to push off the side of a school bus that crowded him off the road. I had a similar, but not quite so close an experience with the trailer of a truck.
*** Speed limits on Australian back roads are high, usually 100km/h. Andy and his neighbours have been trying to get the Shire Council to reduce the speed limit on the stretch around their homes. The council has so far refused. Their reason: ``Not enough people have been killed!''
*** There was often mention of other push bike riders touring the whole of Australia, going around the world, or just ``merely'' crossing the outback. The consensus was that although the winter days were short, at least you could ride all day, but in the summer ``wet'', you could only ride early morning or late afternoon, making the total riding hours about the same.
*** After four weeks riding in Australia, I realised that I didn't know the meaning or origin of the name ``Australia''. I started polling all the native Australians around me. Without exception, and some considerable embarrassment, no one was able to tell me. Most decided that the origin was ``Terra Australis'' but no one was able to tell me what the ``australis'' meant. Guesses included aboriginal for ``large island'', something to do with Southern Cross, or possibly the south. My natives included, other campers, bookshop and souvenir shop personnel, and the occasional park ranger or information centre volunteer. In Sydney, I stopped in Dymocks, one of Sydney's largest bookstores looking for picture books, and asked two of the salespeople there. They didn't know but looked in their various reference sections. Finally, in one of the dictionaries, they found the word ``austral'', coming from French, and meaning ``south wind''. However, there was no definition of ``australis''. Australis is Latin for ''southern'' so Terra Australis is the ``Southern Land''. Just to keep me on my toes, some Aussies said, ``Your from Canada. What is the origin of Canada?'' Fortunately I knew.