Saturday, October 27, 2012

Once upon a time in Tin Can Bay

there was a dolphin swimming in the estuarium. It was injured and very ill. It came so close to the shore that some people saw it and tried to help it by offering food like fish and little crabs. The dolphin took it and it stayed at this place for over a week. The people stayed with it all the time and after this good week the animal was well again and took off into the river mouth and the Great Sandy Straits between Fraser Island and the main land. But not for long. Just a few days later the people on the shore were surprised to see the same dolphin again, this time accompanied by members of the group it lived with. That's why you can now go to the very end of the little peninsula every morning at 07.00 hrs, because then the dolphins will appear and if you pay 5 dollars you may even feed one of them.

This is not a fairy tale but a true story. The first dolphin in the story came in in the early nineteenfifties and now the alpha male of the group is the third generation. His name is Mystique. Volunteers run the small organisation and take care of it that the animals are approached in a proper way and that nothing happens that could harm their health and natural behaviour. It's no big touristic event and very charming to be witnessed.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Internet in Australia

Until now we have found it hard to use internet. When we stay in peoples' homes, and fortunately we are so lucky as to do that regularly, it's fine. Like home. But on caravan parks or places likes bars, restaurants it's bad. Last year, when we cycled through Europe, there was wifi on every campsite and mostly free. We never had a problem to do our thing on the world wide web.
On my iPhone I currently have an Australian subscription that works very good. I have 500MBs per month plus a lot of minutes for calls for 19,90 Australian dollars per month. Until now this appears to do fine, and it works very well. Not so as to wifi, on caravan parks they easily charge 7 dollars per hour. Even then you are not sure if it works.
Since yesterday I have configured my Iphone in such a way that it can serve as a personal hotspot for the Mac. I needed to call the provider for that, they needed to do something with my settings. It means that I can now use my Mac a lot more, but it is not fast, to say it mildly. So if no photos or videos are being uploaded for a long time, you know why.

Fraser Island

Fraser Island

We spent a whole day on Fraser Island and it really was an adventure. We were in a group of 2 Toyota Landcruisers (4.7 liter engines) with a total of 16 people. Two of them were drivers and guides of course and there was also Goomblar, a big Aboriginal man with an enormous hairy head. We were picked up and a ferry took us on the island (120 kms long, various widths from app. 10-20 kms). Nothing but sand, like the Dutch will know from the dunes. There are enormous beaches and some sand roads, rather tracks, through the rainforest that covers the entire island.
As it hadn't rained for a very long time the sand was very dry and soft, Fritz, our 66-year old driver, had to sprint through many stretches. Imagine the big Landcruiser at high speed and roaring motor racing, bumping and skidding through a narrow lane in the forest and on the beach. It took some time to come at ease in the skidding, jumping and roaring car. It seems to be neccessary to take very soft spots with high speed in order not to get stuck. I think our son Teunis had this experience himself with a rented Landcruiser in Oman once. To make it more spectacular, after a short time one of the mufflers of our car became loose, imagine the roar.
But the island is beautiful and it was all very worth while. We drove over the beach, many other 4WDs around, many kilometers, saw an old shipwreck and beautifully coloured sand cliffs. Because of a gale warning, the wind was already very strong and so was the surf, we had to return earlier than planned. As a matter of fact we were experiencing the two most windy days of the whole year.
Then, driving back over the beach, imagine our surprise, when right in front of us a 4WD-bus caught fire. A little plume of smoke initially and then suddenly the vehicle was totally ablaze. Fortunately all passengers could get out in time. A frightening sight.
Later, on a quiet spot in the bush, we had lunch with beer and champagne even, and Goomblar gave a performance in which he told about his culture, played the didgeridoo and had us do some traditional dances. Quite amusing, funny but also very seriously meant and instructive. One wouldn't be surprised to learn that one of the basis of the Aboriginal culture is “respect”.
The group we were with, Australians, Dutch, Belgians, Americans, was very agreeable and after we had roared and bounced back off the island we were all very satisfied with this special day.


Hervey Bay is the name of this town and it's named after the real bay where it sits on, between the mainland and the north part of Fraser Island. In the afternoon after we arrived in Hervey Bay we got on a boat with 13 other passengers and sailed out in the bay to spot whales. The whales that can be spotted here are humpbacks and they can be seen here in them months of July until mid-Nov. First the young males come and later the mothers with their calves. They come here while the bay is shallow and safe for the young ones. They tend to stay here for a number of weeks, in which the calves drink 600 liters of the mother's very fat and rich milk every day. When they have grown enough and stored enough energy they will leave for the rich feeding grounds near Antarctica, where there is plenty of krill to feed on and to get ready for the next migration cycle. It is very remarkable to realize that the mother doesn't feed herself during the whole migration.
After having sailed out into the windy and a bit rough bay for an hour, during which I was kind of seasick, I was totally wet from my own perspiration and didn't feel well at all, we spotted our first mother and calf. Later we saw more, spouting, splashing their tails on the water and sometimes jumping. Impressive. Eveline, who had hesitated to go on this excursion first, was totally enthousiastic. Making a photo of such gentle giants appeared to be very difficult, but I got some that can give evidence of this particular experience.

Greyhound Australia

We had preferred to go by train from Mackay, but it was fully booked. The next train only came two days later. So we had to go by bus. We were not very much in favour of travelling by bus, as it is much less comfortable than a train. Greyhound appeared to be the easiest as to taking bikes on the bus, so we booked for Sunday night 21.10 from Mackay to Maryborough, arrival there at 08.10 in the morning. Peter guided us from his home to the tankstation/busstop. We had to make makeshift lights, since our sophisticated machines don't have them. (An omission? Tend to think it is by now.)
The bus appeared to be quite comfortable and spacious. The bikes could easily stand (!) in the cargo hold and we had comfortable seats ourselves. Before leaving the driver told me everything about the sugar cane industry and about his vehicle. An interesting man with knowledge of matters that a busdriver is not necessarily expected to have.
As a matter of fact he told me that almost half of the sugar produced here is used for the production of fertilizer. The bus we were travelling on was 12 years old and “she” was still doing fine, which we later could only confirm. We slept most of the time during the ride and were not tired after it. To our surprise we learned that the bus would stop in Hervey Bay before stopping in Maryborough, so we decided to get off there. We had planned to come there anyway for a whale watching boat excursion and an excursion on Fraser Island. The latter is the largest sand-island in the world an it is covered by rainforest, which is exceptional. So in the morning we could quietly look for the nicest campsite in town and we ended up in Torquay Caravan Park, on the beachfront with shops, restaurants and even a pub at the other side of the street. Exceptional as well, everything so close.

Sunday, October 21, 2012


Ploughing against the wind we have reached Mackay. A not unpretty place where we are staying with Jacki and Peter MCCallum in their old queenslander house. A very hospitable couple and very cycle-minded. Peter is in the Audax rides organization. Last year he did Paris-Brest-Paris in only 88 hours and 16 minutes. Not bad for such a short distance of 1230 kms.
Many people have adviced us not to ride the stretch south of Mackay; very long distances with nothing. As the wind is still blowing in the opposite direction we have decided to follow up this advice and tonight we will board a Geyhound bus for a night ride to Maryborough, over 600 kms south of Mackay. Brisbane won't be far any more then, but there are things we would like to visit in between.


The North Queensland coast has to deal with cyclones now and then. They do a lot of damage. The restoration of Innisfail after the 2006 one took 3 years. Further along the coast we would see the trees in the rainforest without their tops, bare dead trees among them. They occur regularly and only last year Jeff and Jane's house in Mission Beach only miraculously survived one. Since then they can see the river through the trees of the forest, the cyclone has thinned it out.
Weather conditions and its consequences here appear to be more extreme than we are used to. In summer is so hot and humid that you can hardly do anything. Then sometimes so much rain falls that there are floods, sometimes catastrophic ones. You see flood warnings near many bridges, with indicators how high the water is over the road. Then there can be dramatic draughts. Not to mention the bush fires that cause victims every year again. A harsh country.

Sugar cane

By now we have been cycling over a 1000 kms between sugar cane fields. It's cane everywhere. Cane farmers with hats on, wearing shorts and high boots. Cane trucks, trucks carrying sugar syrup, sugar cane trains, sugar cane train railway crossings, sugar cane factories. Endless fields for over a 1000 mms, and still not over.
Who in the world is needing all this sugar and what for?
Viva obesitas?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Townsville, Ayr and Bowen

We spent a day of leisure in Townsville. The town is the third biggest of Queensland, but don't think of hundreds of thousands. It has a nice center area with a beautiful museum, an art gallery, a reef aquarium, a marina etc. The museum mainly shows the history of the Pandora. This was the ship that the British admiralty sent out in the late 17-hundreds to capture the mutineers of the Bounty. This partly succeeded but the ship ran on a reef and sunk. This is all well documented and the artefacts that have been recovered by diving expeditions are exhibited and they have managed to bring a quite interesting story to life. The art gallery had a travelling exhibition of modern Australian artists and was not bad either. On the Sunday morning there was the weekly market, all kinds of stuff, bric à brac. It was a lively and agreeable place to be.
The caravan park where we were camping was the most expensive one until now and the worst. In the kitchen the fridge was the only working device. No cookers or anything that was not broken and extremely dirty. Not very satisfactory.
After Townsville we rode on. First to Ayr, 90 kms with a very strong headwind. No fun at all. These are the days that I wish I was doing something else. But in the nice caravan park in Ayr we met 2 young Dutch guys, 22 and 30, who both were spending a year on a work/tourist visa in this country and who had had several jobs. The most interesting, worst circumstances and best paid jobs had been in the mines in Port Hedland in the north west. Working 60 hours per week for 2000 dollar per week. Only work, eat, sleep. They both had bought a second hand station car and lived in it during all the time. Now they had saved enough money to be able to travel around (one of them had already over 25000 kms in his car) and to bring money back home to the Netherlands as well.
Then to Bowen, 115 kms. Again there is this headwind. After 50 kms we see a caravan park. It is very dirty, not maintained at all, far worse than the one in Townsville. It seems it has become a haven for dropouts and this kind of people. The good thing though is that they are “fully licensed”, thus the small shop (too big a word for the dump it was) sells, next to simple groceries and cold drinks, cold beer. Fortunately we were prepared for a stop like this, meaning we had bought our food before, so we decided to stop our battle against the wind here. Our speed until then had been so low that we wouldn't have made it till Bowen before dark. So Bowen was postponed for the next day.
Now in Bowen, another too spacious town with too few people in the streets. We bought our food in a supermarket and now, 3 kms out of town, we're in a Caravan Park, in NL we would say a “camping”, that is neat and tidy and where there is wifi. An exception. We found that the internet-infrastructure for tourists is not as well developed here as in Europe.
By the way, today our odometers, giving the total number of kilometers done in this tour, showed more than 1000 kms. On the “Route” page of our homepage I placed a map of the route done so far.


In former blog I mentioned that we had not seen any of the well known Australian wildlife species, as there are crocodiles, kangaroos, wallabies, cassowary, big snakes and dito spiders.
This was true ntil we were sitting on the veranda of Jeff and Jane's house in Mission Beach. We were just discussing this subject and as his contribution Jeff said: “Well, if you just turn your head, you will see some 50 or so wallabies”. I looked behind me and indeed, the slope where there house is sitting on was full of them, and the number of 50 was not exaggerated. When I went up to the railing one or two of them would look up at me, but then all of them continued doing what they did: grazing and hopping around a bit. The house is on th edge of the sea and the jungle.
In the morning at breakfast something likewise happened: “Cassowary”, Jeff said, pointing to the edge of the forest. And indeed, there it was: a bird as tall as a man walking quietly and looking for fruit. Secretly they left remains of fruit near their yard, so the bird was a regular visitor. They also knew another one, a father who always was in the company of a young one. Cassowary females see their motherly tasks as very limited, she lays the egg and that's it. Fathers rear the offspring.
So in one place we spotted 2 important species. We also see very many different species of birds, which I will not try to describe, but there are really very many and most of them make a lot of noise. The last couple of days when we were attacked a dozen times by white and black birds the size of a magpie. They tend to keep on swooping over our heads and touching our bike helmets with their paws. Imagine Eveline totally scared, shouting my name (oh gallantry). It is annoying but also a bit funny; stupid birds.
Then we had three possums coming to visit us in the camp kitchen. Big eyed, cat sized furry animals. They were very much interested in the dustbin. I find them kind of cute. They looked clean and showed no fear of humans at all, even walked under our table between our legs. This is something that struck us before, wild animals seem to be not very shy.
I also mentioned the roadkills we see every day. Most of them are wallaby, and there really are dozens of them each day. Other species like possums or similar animals, but also a snake now and then, even a very long and thick (a man's arm) one. Sometimes a dead bird of prey, buzzard size. Often with beautifully coloured breast feathers. Most likely killed by a car when scavaging on dead prey on the road. A dog now and then (dingo?) and even a pig-like animal. All in all very many wildlife killed in the traffic, it's said to see. It also makes me understand why so many cars have this metal frame in front, some call it a bull bar. The chance to get involved in a animal-car accident is not only imaginary.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Safety mania

This continent was colonized and shaped by people who had the courage to leave their original environment and start an unknown and unpredictable adventure, a new life in a strange and much still to be developed country. So the daring kind of people. Now what has happened to them? They seem to have become extremely cautious and afraid of risks. You see all too many signs and texts like: "Beware..., Mind..., Don't do this and don't do that". "Roadworks ahead, starting on Oct. 14th, expect minor delays", "Clean after use", "Flush after using the toilet", etc, etc. Even in obvious situations you will find warnings, sometimes even a bit silly ones. In the Australia Sept-Oct2012 album I inserted some photos to illustrate. Click in the right column.
By the way, recently 2 new videos have been uploaded. Click in the right column for that too.

Community socializing

After Mission Beach we rode to Cardwell, after that to Ingham and then to Bluewater. Here we stopped at a rest area. Not a well facilitated Caravan Park, as we usually do, but a place where campers, mostly caravans, can stay overnight and where there are minimal facilities like a toilet, a wash basin, an outside coldwater shower and taps that give drinking water. Because of the great distances here and the few possibilities along the road, we more or less were confined to make this choice. Among the app. 15 campers we were the only one on bikes of course and the only ones with a tent. Ooohs and Aaahs. I took a bath in the creek with our neighbor and we had an interesting conversation while sitting in the quiet water. He was a retired man, his marriage had broken up a long time ago and now, as very many retired Aussies do, he had sold his house and everything and bought a big Toyota Landcruiser and a caravan and he lived in it. He had travelled around Australia and now he went up north to go fishing, then he would visit a cousin, then his children etc. When I asked him about his social life, he said that he missed that, but on the other hand, back where he had lived everybody had also gone somewhere else. And in the various places he would tend to visit he would often meet up with the same people and they would sit together and have a couple of beers and so on, so there was more or less a social life after all. We concluded that such a thing is not easily to be compared with what we as Europeans feel and need, Australians are more mobile anyway. Indeed, it seems to us that things that Eveline and I value so much, like the rich cultural environment of the immediate presence of theatres, musea, interesting places and events, family and friends etc. are much less available here and that people here have settled to that.
As said, the rest area had minimal facilities, but it was a nicely laid out park. No shops, no houses, a closed tank station on the otherside of Bruce Highway, that was all. Since we are cyclists and cannot carry large quantities of food and drinks, let alone cold ones, we had settled to the idea of a quiet evening without our so much liked cold beer and glass of wine.
But there was a community center, a small building owned by the city government (Townsville) on the other side of the field. And it happened to be Friday night. And that's the night that the people of Bluewater, a vast region, come together to socialize. This evening a band came playing, country and western, and we saw people coming in and enjoying themselves. So why not try and join them. Some minutes later we were signed in as members of the evening and we were among the locals enjoying their company and the beer and the wine. It became a very nice evening. Many people present appeared to be singers. In turn they would appear on stage, hand out their written music to the musicians of the band and sing three songs. We heard very good amateurs and not so good amateurs, but we enjoyed it a lot. There was some dancing and we watched how a group of people who mostly live miles apart from each other on their farms and only see other people if they get in their cars to go shopping or collect their mails at the tank station make a community.   

Observations 1

When one visits another country for the first time, there will always be some things that strike you. That you find strange, awkward, silly or simply that you don't understand. It's all a matter of culture of course and to be taken relatively, but in my case, some things stick in my mind.
The first thing that I noticed during the first days of my Australian life was... the toilet paper. Not a minor thing, though it may seem so. We use it every day and we like it to serve its purpose without complications. Well, during the first weeks here we were confronted on each toilet with toilet paper that was so thin that just touching it was complicated, it would tear to pieces immediately. It was so thin that it was hardly possible to get a complete piece from the roll or container. You need to use the whole hand and very gently pull the paper out and if you were lucky you would have an unshredded piece of paper in the hand. So very carefully pull out a long stretch fold it many times and then use it for its purpose without risking nasty consequences.
I could not stop of thinking of all those tough sugar cane workers and those Landcruisers and pick-up drivers with their big and calloused workmens' hands carefully fumbling in the toilet.
How would they do that. Fortunately, I still wonder why, since Atherton it is better.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Mission Beach

Down from Millaa Millaa to the coast was fantastic. The weather was perfect, no wind and the scenery beautiful. Rolling green dairy land. The Palmerston highway led us over 800 meters down to the coast and just a few kms later we hit Innisfail, where we stopped at a neat and tidy caravan park with the best equipped camp kitchen ever. Everything a cook would need was there and in multiple. A grassy spot for the tent and mind: don't get too close to the river, there are saltwater crocodiles.
Innisfail is the Art Deco capital of Queensland and it was worth while a visit. The town, in our view more a village (sorry, we're Dutch) indeed had a number of buildings that referred to the Art Deco style of the interbellum period. Shocking though to see that the fronts of some of the historic buildings were distorted by cheap-material verandas and those huge billboards that are so characteristic for this country. I have started to think that all Australians have very bad eye sight. Why else should they need those huge ill-coloured billboards for. Ugly, I'm sorry.
The next day ride south was on the Bruce Highway. We have been warned that this road, that we will have to follow all the way to Brisbane, is supposed to be busy, sometimes narrow and dangerous. Today it was not so bad. A rear wind blew us forward and we reached the road to Mission Beach quite soon. We had to make this detour because we had an appointment with Jeff and Jane, another Warmshowers couple. We found their beautiful house on a hill, overlooking the jungle and the sea and with scores of wild walibi grazing right in front of their veranda.
After a very agreeable evening together we went to bed as, like a Tilburger would say: “a contented man”. (Suggestions for a better translations welcome).

What do you want?

Several times in this blog we have referred to the kindness of the people we meet. “Hi mate, how are you doing?” is somewhat a standard greeting and people seem to mean it. On the other hand we sometimes are amazed by the bluntness of shop- or barkeepers. Entering a café and having to wait for too long a time while being totally ignored by the barpeople who seem to have more important things to do, then a grunt for your order. First have to proof that you are a client before being shown the toilets.
In Millaa Millaa I went to the pub to buy a sixpack of beer. The pub also is the local “bottleshop”. In this state (or the whole country?) you can only buy alcoholic drinks in such a shop, nowhere else. When I entered this pub and the barman, a big midle aged man with shortcut hair and a moustache, asked me what I wanted? I told him that it was beer that I wanted. Then he more or less shouted: “What do you want?” As I'm not familiar with the kinds of beer in these regions I thought it might be a good idea to ask him if there was any special beer he could offer. Before I was finished he roared again: “What do you want? I'm not a mind reader”. At that moment I thought that this was perfectly true and that he was certainly much less than that and I just mentioned a brand that I saw on a bottle in the fridge. Settled. Imagine such a guy running a shop or pub in a bigger town. No clients returning the second time.
But to be honest, most experiences are the opposite. Maybe that's why these occurences are so striking.

Leaving the Tablelands

Saying goodbye to Jen and Tony was hard. We had had such a good time with them. But a traveller has to travel, so the inevitable has to happen. Tony guided us out of the town and there we were on our own again. Beautiful weather and beautiful environment, no wind. We rode to Millaa Millaa, a small town at the south side of the high lands. It was only 43 kms, easy. Less easy than you would think, the road is undulating and we hate that. It goes up and you have to work hard, only to race down to the same altitude as before, and continuously so. So tiring. So these few kms appeared to be enough. We ended the day on a beautiful caravan park at our highest point until now: 869 absl, right after a “pass” of even 925.
Millaa Millaa, what's in a name, is a junction where there are some small shops and a pub and only some houses in the neighbourhood. We, citydwellers, wonder how people can live and feel well in this, what we find, solitude.

Saturday, October 6, 2012


The ride up to Cape Tribulation was long and had some hard hills in it, 85 kms. After 40 kms we had to cross the Daintree river with the ferry and then we were totally enclosed in the tropical rainforest. The road ofter ran close to the marvoullous beaches of North Queensland, but we didn't see much of them as the dense trees blocked the view. The cape is a very quiet and lonely place in the rain- and mangrove forest, some campsites and small shops, that's it. The sealed road ends here and those who want to continue further north, to Cooktown, need 4-wheel drives.
For us it is the most northern point of our Australia-tour. From here it'll be southbound only.
The next day we first rode the same road back, but after the ferry we took a right and arrived in the Daintree village. There Dean and Anja run their Crocodile Express river cruises. We were offered a one hour cruise, the last one of that day. Though during all other cruises that day 4 big salt water crocodiles were spotted we didn't see any. As a matter of fact, apart from lots of birds, we have not seen any  living specimen of the typical Australian wildlife until now. We did see many roadkills though.
The next days we rode south and just after Mossman we left the coast and got on to the Atherton Tablelands. Atherton, a rather pretty town, is situated on an altitude of app. 800 meters. So it was real climbing, made tough by a very strong headwind. The town fortunately has a good bikeshop. I needed one, as I had a broken spoke in my rear wheel. It was caused by a rock flicked up from under a car tyre. Robbert of the Northern Bikeshop could repair it and to be sure we bought some spares as well.

There is an active cycle group in Atherton and we found refuge at the house of two of its members, Jen and Tony, Warmshowers hosts as Warmshowers hosts are meant to be. We stayed 2 nights with them, they gave us an extensive excursion on the tablelands, with the rainforest, dairy fields, volcanic craters and a woodcarving exhibition as an extra.

After Atherton we will leave the Tablelands in two days and reach the coast again. We have to head south in order to reach Brisbane in time, still quite a distance to go.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Port Douglas

We left Cairns on Friday at about 14.00 hrs. The road runs mainly directly along the coast, which provided us many times with splendid views of the Pacific Ocean. But the road appeared to be rather busy, with cars sometimes passing very closely, there mostly was no cycle lane, sometimes hardly any shoulder.
Night falls quite suddenly here and at 18.00 you definitely need lights. Alas we don't have them on our sophisticated riding machines. So in the end we had to race in order to reach our destination in time. It was after 65 kms that we pitched our tent in the dusk at Pandanus Caravan Park. Good facilities, comparable to Europe, but strikingly many caravans towed by 4-wheel drives. It was to be our first night in a tent after last year's unfortunate events.
As we couldn't get on a boat for a visit to the Great Barrier Reef on Saturday, we hung out in the pretty and very well kept touristic centre of the village. Shops, bars, restaurants, terraces. Full with people watching the Grand final of “Australian rules”, a kind of rugby I would say. Someone told us that the significance can be compared with the Champions League final in Europe.
On Sunday we snorkled on the reef. The cliché is true: it is magnificent. We sailed out to the outer reef, that is about 60 kms out in the ocean. We visited three locations and really saw species of coral and fish that we could not have imagined if we tried. It is an expensive excursion, but once here you cannot let this pass unseen. And the services provided by the staff on board are boundless. They provide everything, gear, food, a helping hand and explanation of the eco-system. Well guys, great job!
Tomorrow we'll head for Cape Tribulation, the most northern point of this trip. If all goes as expected we'll pitch our tent in the middle of the tropical rainforest just a few meters from the white beach.

A picture of the route our boat made to the outer reef: