cairns

The Reef, the West, and the Rain Man

I’m not sure how a post without any cycling involved really fits into an account of a round-the-world bike ride.  But there hasn’t been any riding since I got to Cairns.  Some coral, some fish, an awful lot of flying and another international border.  No riding at all.

But I need to provide a neat finish to Australia; it wouldn’t do to just jump suddenly into the middle of Indonesia as if nothing happened in-between, would it?  So here we go…

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I spent so many weeks in Queensland riding parallel with the Great Barrier Reef that it would have been a crime not to go and see it.  I finally got the chance in Cairns (it’s probably more accurate to say that I had my last chance at Cairns; I’ve always been an expert in putting things off ’til the last minute).

And so, on my last whole day on the east coast of Australia (Saturday), I hopped on a ferry and headed for Green Island.

Halfway there (it was the morning, and I’m never all that sharp before lunch), I realised that I’d forgotten to either rent an underwater camera or buy a waterproof disposable one.  This was yet another ‘doh!’ moment to add to the several I’ve accumulated so far during the trip.

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Still, I had a pleasant snorkel around, and then a glass-bottomed boat ride, which at least enabled me to get a couple of blurry snaps of a chunk of reef and a few of its denizens.  I don’t think that they’re likely to set the world of aquatic photography alight, but at least there’s a record…

As I waited on the jetty for the boat back to town, it became apparent that another (yet another?) storm was heading straight toward me, entirely obscuring Cairns behind an impenetrable sheet of rain.

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When I got back that evening, I was accused for the first (but by far not the last) time this week of bringing the rain with me.  It hadn’t rained much in Cairns this wet season until my arrival, despite my fairly regular soakings further south in Queensland.  I didn’t think too much of this at the time, until I crossed the country to Perth.

As I said last time, the ridiculousness of aviation routes and fares meant that flying three sides of a fairly large (think most-of-Europe sized) square was cheaper than heading to Indonesia in a straight line.

It also meant that I could visit old friends (Matt, Jennifer and family) in Perth.  I went to school with Matt, but we worked out that it was fairly close to decades (plural) since we’d last seen each other.  Astonishing how time flies (and how old I must be).  And it was also an excuse to stretch my time off the bike by another few days.  Though the Beast’s not particularly happy at having been wrapped in cardboard and battered by baggage handlers across three time zones.

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As the picture above might suggest, Perth in the summer is usually hot (but emphatically not humid) and dry.  As the picture above might not adequately suggest, within an hour or so of my arrival on Sunday, an immense thunder storm kicked off.  The accusation of storms following me around was repeated, and staunchly defended.  But it was starting to worry me now.

And the worry deepened yesterday (Tuesday), as I raced incoming, menacing dark cloud back to the house.  A casual observer might have thought that the rain thrashing in within five minutes of my arrival meant that wherever I go, precipitation follows.  I might even be starting to agree.  Maybe I am, indeed, destined to be forever stalked by lightning and heavy rain.

If it’s going to catch up with me again, though, it’s going to have to leave Australia and get me in Indonesia.  As I left Perth today, I was departing under crystal-clear blue skies, and remained in them all the way to Bali.

It clouded up later, though.  Of course it did.  Any bets that the first update from the road in Indonesia won’t include the word ‘storm’?  Or ‘rain’?  Or at least ‘shower’?

Cairns: The End Of The Road (For Now)

It’s taken a little longer than expected to get to Cairns.  It was the heat again, plus a dose of headwind.  Plus a little over-optimism.

I reckoned it was three long-ish days from Townsville.  For reasons now lost in the mists of time, I didn’t really ever check this in any detail.  Which was a mistake.  Even without the temperatures, which are warm enough for the locals to whinge about, I should have noticed that it was really a four-day ride for me.  And with the heat, the last leg of my Australian riding ended up taking five.

I’ve probably moaned enough about the weather in Australia (and, indeed, everywhere else).  So I’m going out of my way to accentuate the positives.  For example, on Monday evening, while I was cooling off after a tough day to Ingham, it sounded like it was raining outside.  As it turned out, it was just the aircon making peculiar noises.  But it made me stick my head outside, where I saw huge flocks of birds flying about in the dusk.

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It took me a while to work out that they were very quiet for a massive flock of birds.  And another few seconds to work out that they were actually bats.  Thousands of bats.  Migrating?  Heading out to hunt?  I don’t know.  But they certainly provided a spectacular, if slightly spooky, end to the day.

Between Ingham and Cairns, the landscape finally became more interesting, as the mountains pushed in towards the ocean.  Still a lot of sugar cane, but with a much prettier backdrop.  Thankfully, the road remained fairly flat, meandering around to find the lowest ‘passes’ through the hills; nothing over about 100 vertical metres, which was just as well as I sweated through the middle of the day.

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At Tully, I had a swift detour of the main road to visit the ‘Golden Gumboot’; probably the last ‘Big Thing’ of the trip.  Yep, that’s basically a giant welly with a newt on it, celebrating the fact that Tully is ‘A Pretty Wet Place’.  At least that’s what it said on the sign next to the boot.  I’d have gone for ‘A Very, Very Hot Place’, as I poured more liquid in, and guzzled an ice cream before wandering on northwards.

Yesterday (Day 200 of the trip), I finally rolled into Cairns, the end of my Australian cycling.  Not before passing Queensland’s highest mountain, Mount Bartle Frere, and dodging a few more ‘eccentric’ drivers as I approached the city.

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I’m being very generously hosted here by, erm, (one moment while I get this straight…) the sister and brother-in-law of a friend of a friend.  Think that’s right…  I’ve not even met the friend of a friend yet.  But they all seem very nice (though they also seemed to think that I’d want to go mountain-biking today after 2711 kilometres – very nearly 1700 miles – on the bike in Oz).  And I’m conveniently close to the airport for the next leg.

So what is next?  Well, the next country is Indonesia, and the obvious way to get there is to fly to Bali.  The perversity of airfares mean that it’s cheaper for me to get there via Perth (with a stop in Melbourne of all places; have a look at a map to see how crazy that is) than it would be in a straight line via Darwin.  I’ve no idea why that should be the case, but it is.  This will also hopefully give me the chance to catch up with an old school friend in Perth who I’ve not seen for an astonishingly long time.

The Beast and I are travelling to Western Australia on Sunday, and (although it’s not booked yet) on to Bali around Wednesday next week.  Which will gain me an awful lot of flying, and probably a week off the bike to recover before tackling Indonesia.  I really do need the break.

I met some Austrians a while ago, who’d been in Indonesia before hitting Australia.  They said the humidity is not as bad up there.  I do hope they’re right…

Tropical Island Life (It’s Tough Out Here!)

I can’t imagine what made me think that a rest day on a tropical island would be a good idea.

Maybe the heat and noise and dirt of the road got to me.  Maybe it was the lure of reasonably cheap draught cider.  Not, of course, the fact that tropical islands are generally quite nice.  And obviously, cheering up people who are suffering through a Northern Hemisphere winter had nothing to do with it either.  But whatever it was, it turned out to be a decent day off.

After the torrents of rain a few days ago, the skies had finally cleared as I knocked off the final kilometres to Townsville in the now-familiar cocktail of sweat and sunscreen.  I’ve not seen much of the city, as I was racing the falling sun to the ferry.  Maybe I’ll have a chance to look around tomorrow on the way out.

Although it’s raining, yet again, as I write this, so who knows?

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Dusk was in full swing as the ferry landed.  Magnetic Island looked worryingly hilly as the boat approached.  And sure enough, the few kilometres across to Horseshoe Bay turned out to include the hardest climbing I’ve yet seen in Australia.  Which, to be fair, is not saying all that much, but it’s still a nasty shock to be grinding up a 20% gradient at the end of a long day.

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A gentle stroll around in daylight this morning (Saturday) revealed that the island was just as ugly as you might expect.  I grabbed a relaxed (and very tasty) beach-side breakfast with a nice Belgian couple, and then wandered back to the hostel for a little siesta.  I can’t take that much excitement without a bit of a rest afterwards…

But if I thought that breakfast was as exciting as this particular rest day was going to get, I was sorely mistaken.  To be fair, breakfast often is the most exciting thing that happens on my days off, so I think I can be excused the thought.

However, it crossed my mind that the koala sanctuary attached to the hostel might be worth a look.  What could be more chilled out than a gentle stroll around in some trees, trading soporific glances with harmless, fluffy grey animals?  What I hadn’t appreciated was that you have to fight your way past infinitely more terrifying creatures to get to the koalas.

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This is a saltwater crocodile.  They’re the ones which sometimes eat people in this part of the world.  Bundles of muscle, scales, teeth and general prehistoric nastiness.  Scary.

The only saving grace of this particular specimen was that it was only about eighteen inches (maybe 50 cm) long.  After bravely wrestling with it for a few minutes, it was on to the koalas:

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Much more relaxing.  And at least I’ve taken the pressure off my patchy wildlife-spotting skills.  Not that I’ve ever stood much of a chance of seeing koalas in the wild, mind you.

Meanwhile, Plan C is taking shape.  Darwin is definitely too far to reach in my remaining visa time (and I’ve had enough local advice about how dangerous the outback would be on a bike at this time of year, in any case).

So it looks like I’ve only got a few hundred more kilometres to ride in Australia.  I’ll head up to Cairns, and from there take a (probably fairly circuitous) set of flights to get me to Indonesia.  Nothing booked yet, but that should fall into place in the next couple of days.

The journey home begins in earnest soon…