koala

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…

Christmas Decorations

I’m experiencing Southern Hemisphere Christmas Weirdness.  I think it’s probably the same for everyone from the northern hemisphere.  You see fat men in red costumes sweating about town in over 30 degrees C.  And watch people spraying fake snow and hanging decorations while you’re busy with your second application of sunscreen, and worrying whether that’ll be enough.  I guess, if you’re here regularly, you get used to it.  Or if you live here, of course.  But it produces an odd sense of dislocation for me.  And most of the European travellers I’ve met don’t feel ‘Christmassy’ at all, either.

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Personally, I’m feeling more American Mid-West in August.  Despite having the Pacific coast fairly close to the road for the last few days, the heat and humidity are increasing steadily as I plough on north towards Queensland.  I’m having to adjust from the relative cold of New Zealand and the pleasant riding temperatures further south around Sydney.  My need for liquid while riding has more than doubled in the last couple of days, and the more health-conscious Aussies don’t sell massive buckets of soda for next-to-nothing like the Americans do.  Some adjustment is required.

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They like decorating things over here, and not just for the festive season.  I stopped at Port Macquarie (still trying to remember that it’s pronounced ‘McQuarry’, for some reason; thankfully, most locals just call it ‘Port’, which is much easier) a few nights ago, and found that the town had developed a plague of painted koalas.  I was quite excited, as these were the first wild koalas I’d seen.  Hopefully, it’s a sign that my woeful luck with wildlife is on the turn.

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There also seems to be a developing tradition of painting rocks on breakwaters at harbours.  These were at ‘Port’, again, but there are examples at Coffs Harbour (apostrophe not included, apparently), where I am currently residing, too.  I suspect that they may turn out to be everywhere.

I’ve been making mixed progress up the coast.  One day, the humidity will take its toll, and I’ll be struggling to make 40 miles.  The next, there will be a tailwind (and maybe I’ll be better prepared for the heat), and I’ll be doing 75 miles fairly effortlessly.  It seems to be a bit of a lottery, though at least the weather forecasts are much more reliable here than in NZ.  And there are more painted decorations to look at along the road; some good advice here on where not to buy your next truck.  It must take a massive grievance to go to this much effort…

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In any case, I officially became a long-distance cyclist on Tuesday, as I pushed through the 6000-mile mark for the trip, just south of Kempsey.  You might (if you’ve been putting up with reading the blog since then) remember that I met Tim and Laura Moss in California, just before I hit the Pacific.  They were just starting a US coast-to-coast as the last leg of their round-the-world ride, and were aiming to be home in the UK by Christmas.  They also run a database of long-distance riders, which you’re not allowed to enter until you hit the magic 6000-mile mark.  So I can now get in!  And Tim’s a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, which makes it as official as can be…

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I’m resting up in Coffs Harbour today, getting ready to push on north.  I’ll have a proper look round today (Thursday), as I’ve only seen a couple of cafes and a dead fairground so far.  I’m also vaguely thinking about where I’ll actually be for Christmas; if the miles keep ticking by as they are, I’ll probably be somewhere on the Sunshine Coast, just north of Brisbane.

Maybe I’ll just go for the town with the most remarkable decorations.  Or maybe the town with the least.  Maybe Brisbane itself wouldn’t be a bad idea, as a big city with plenty going on.  Or maybe I want somewhere quiet, so I can sit by a pool and be bemused by the Christmas heat in private.  Decisions, decisions…