Thursday, January 31, 2013

The house of Camelot

From Saint Helens we rode south to Freycenet National Park. We camped in Coles Bay and visited the park and did the walk to Wine glass bay. The name refers to the shape of the bay. The names of the bays and mountains here often are French. This is because of the fact that the Dutch discoverers of Tasmania, that they called Van Diemen's Land, didn't think it worth while to colonize it. In Napoleon's days the French tried to establish their influence here and sent their explorers, thus the names. In the end the British won it by inventing a very fast way to populate this far land: they sent loads of convicts over. In these times in England people often were sentenced to be sent overseas for very minor offences. Just read Charles Dickens. Now the remains of the settlements that were founded by convicta are the major tourist attraction of this part of Tasmania.

From Coles Bay we rode in two days to Spring Beach, were we stayed in the hospitable home of Jenny and Dennis, friends of a Warmshowers-couple where we stayed a while ago. They call the house a shack and named it Camelot, but it's a real house, looking out over the ocean and a beautiful beach, with some more small houses (wooden ex-railway station offices) in the garden. We had our own. Soon we were, it is the continuing Australian story again, more or less members of the family. There were other family members around, including Belle and Rosie, two sweet little grand daughters. Lovely (if not awesome :-) . And to complete it, we know where the key is from their Hobart home and we will live there during the last week or so of our Australian expedition. Now, can we learn something from that?

Today we spent in historic Richmond, the most English-like town of Australia. Again, do not think too much of it, it is just a couple of streets, but there is the oldest bridge here and the oldest catholic church of the country. The bridge was built in 1823 by convicts, the goal (prison) of that time is another tourist attraction of the place. Unfortunately it has been raining more or less all day and the temperatures are below 20˚C. Not the best circumstances to camp in a small tent. Tomorrow it is expected to be better and we will leave for another historic destination: Port Arthur. It's the most important place referring to the history of Australia as the place where convicts were banned to. There are the remains of a big prison there and people say that it is an impressive and shameful site.
To get there we will have to pass through Dunalley, we will even have to camp there behind the pub. You might remember the name Dunalley; it was the first place to be almost wiped out by an enormous bushfire this summer. It was all over the news in the whole world. Still lots of people, many of them volunteers, are working there to get things going again, most of the town seems to be destroyed. We phoned in to check if we are welcome, since so many places are taken by those workers from all over the country. They told us that they want us to come, they want to go back to normal as soon as possible. Thus we will see with our own eyes what a devastating fire can do. Here's a link to some photos of the fire there, frightening! 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


We have reached the stunningly, awesome coast. That is, we have arrived in Saint Helens. It's an “old” fishing village that is now trying to earn its money from tourism. OK, the amazing beaches, that – according to the tourist brochures – are rated second most beautiful in the world, are a bit north of the town (2000 inh.), but the town does not surprise us. Small and quiet as usual, nothing special about it. Traveling here I've got the impression that the Australians tend to exaggerate things. They are quick to call things awesome, amazing, a must see etc. Once there things seem not to be so extraordinary at all. They seem to be thrilled quite easily here.
That does not mean that Tasmania is not beautiful. The last couple of days the scenery was particularly nice. We had to climb some hills, up to 600 altitude and the forests, the paddocks and the views were romantically beautiful. Cycling was not very light, but much easier than the akward undulating slopes in New South Wales. We were happy riders the past days. Today we spent the day on Binalong Bay, indeed a very beautiful bay with a white beach and cristal clear water. 
On the way here in Scottsdale we stayed in the free camping area next to the river. Very nice place that we shared with app. 10 campervans and caravans. Toilets and a hot showers available. In the evening a man walked past our tent and whispered: “There are platypus in the river here”. (this is the otter-like marsupial with the duck bill). And indeed, a few minutes later we saw a couple of these animals diving and surfacing in the dark water. Now that was awesome!
From there we rode on eastward and ended at the Weldborough hotel. Don't think of a hotel with rooms with all facilities, a large parking place etc. No, it is a small pub in a 'locality' where there are two more houses. That's all Weldborough. But the pub is special. It's old and it has a very nice and romantic camp ground behind it, with a toilet and a shower for ladies and the same for gents. But most special is the fact that the pub has beers in stock of all Tasmanian micro-breweries. And there are many of them. So what to drink? Well, the publican let's you have a taste first and if you like it, you order one. We shared the campground with three other solo-cyclists and a campervan. That was an awesome place!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Stanley and on

Stanley was a nice place to take a day off. We got there by bus from Devonport, a 2 hour ride. Halfway we had to change into a smaller bus and the bikes didn't fit in the cargo hold below. No problem, they did fit in the aisle of the bus. The bus driver turned into the caravan park where we wanted to stay and dropped us off right in front of the office. How customer friendly can a bus company be?
We decided to take a room in the backpackers' hostel; it was raining, cold, there was a strong wind and the forecasts for the next day were even worse. We are definitely dealing with a Dutch-like climate here. But the forecast was wrong, the next day was glorious. Stanley is a small village (they will say town here) that sits behind a vulcanic rock, the Nut, and is surrounded by the sea. Now the sun was there and a gentle sea breeze, pristine! We made a walk on the Nut, had a beer in the pub and went out dining in a cute restaurant. A nice and quiet bikeless day.
Then we rode, with the conceived tailwind, back east. We stopped after a beautiful coastal trip with some rain in Burnie. There we were received by John and Prue, our Warmshowers hosts. To get there we had to climb a very steep hill, but the reward was a room (a complete house) with a grand view over the sea, here called Bass Strait. We were spoiled again and the next day we continued via some bike trails that we never would have found ourselves. Via Latrobe and beautiful Deloraine and through lovely rolling countryside we now have arrived in Launceston. The second biggest city in Tasmania (103.000 inh.) Here again we are the guests of a Warmshowers couple: Caro and Chris, who also have Amina, a 17-year old German school girl, as an exchange student in their house. As usual the reception is friendly and there is hardly any ice to be broken before we feel very at home here. The next day Caro, Chris and Amina leave the house in order to visit a four day festival in Hobart. But we can stay as long as we like, which we gladly do. The city has a number of things to see, we can take it at ease for a couple of days. We still haven't get used to this kind of hospitality, Warmshowers works miracles.
After having read our books, seen the musea, had a haircut, arranged our return flights home and a long walk in the Cataract Gorge (funny name, doctor) we will leave tomorrow morning for Scottsdale and further east to the coast there. They say that it is stunningly beautiful there, amazing, lovely and all that. They sure know how to sell their assests over here. We'll find out.

Sunday, January 13, 2013


They have been all over the news, the bushfires in Australia. No wonder, because they can be very catastrophical.
But one should realise that bushfires belong to the Australian eco-system. Before the Europeans set foot ashore here the Aboriginals used it as a means to improve their hunting results. Reports from early discoverers state that the coasts that they were seeing were very often covered in smoke. The white settlers have stopped this massive burning, which has resulted in forrests that are much denser than they were at the time of their arrival. Travelling through the new continent in the forrested areas was only possible because – at the time – the forrest was much more open than they are now.
There are plants which seeds will not sprout if not exposed to the heat of a bushfire and without bushfires the layer of organic material on the forrest floor will become so thick that the seeds of many species would not be able to shoot. So bushfires are normal and necessary and in Australian forrestry controlled burning is a normal activity.
But when man comes in and when he starts building settlements problems arise. The forrest are more dense and when conditions are bad, f.i. when it's very hot and dry and there is a strong wind fires will get out of control. And this is what we see on television.
There is a great awareness and alertness here towards bushfires. Sings along the roads, total fire bans, special legislation and a thorough organisation of the fire brigades. You will notice it everywhere.
Now we are sometimes receiving emails from friends who are afraid that we would be in danger because of this. Well, we are not and we hope this will remain the case. It's good to realise that Australia is the size of Europe, so the chance that we are somewhere near a bushfire is not very big. Still: there are fires raging now in areas that we have passed through and we will most likely see the results of the big fire that hit Donally, because we think we will reach this area in a week or two. More close: yesterday and the day before, near Stanley, we could see one. Clouds of smoke coming from a mountain range and helicopters with the big water bags below them. But that was all, we saw it in the distance and where we were life went on as usual. In the local newspaper there were stories of people that had been evacuated, from the fire fighters using a certain pub as their canteen and base and things like that.
All in all; bush fires are a common phenomenon, they can become catastrophic and there are many of them. But this is such a vast continent that chances that you will be personally effected are very small.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Melbourne, we'll be back!

We had a lovely stay with Jude and Astrid. They are keen cyclists as well. They will leave in April to ride overland to Europe. So we might very well have them in our house in a year or two. Warmshowers just is fantastic, we were housemates.
We mostly spent our Melbourne time in the National Art Gallery of Victoria. They have two locations and in both of them we spent hours and hours. On Tuesday all of us had breakfast outdoors, joined by Astrid's mother, who liked to meet us. Both Astrid and Jude have European ancestors, their parents being immigrants from Latvia and Germany. Makes the conversations the more interesting.
On our way to Port Melbourne, where we had to board the ferry (The Spirit of Tasmania) we picked up two new Schwalbe Marathon Supreme tyres at the Commuter Bikeshop next to Brunswick railway station. We have had 3 flats during our 4000 ks here and we consider that worryingly many. I now regret that I hadn't laid on new tyres before we left, since mine have done over 12000 k now and Eveline's over 8000. They're visibly becoming a bit old. Prices are unbelievable here: one tyre costs $ 105,--, = over 80 euros. Crazy! In the Netherlands I could have bought them through the internet for €39,95 a piece! One of the guys in the bike shop said that it was because of the sea miles these tyres have had before ending up in their shop. Schwalbe is a German brand, but these ones were produced in Indonesia. So he didn't have it right this time, did he?
Then we took a train. Just a 15 minutes ride, but convenient and cheap. Cycling from the station to the ferry port we were addressed by another cyclist. He was very interested and, since we were early, he invited us in his home, just 5 minutes from the port. We had a cold drink and talked about cycling in Tasmania, which he and his wife had done. Things just go like that here.
At 18.00 we boarded the ferry, together with a Dutch young man on a bike. He had started his trip in Australia as a backpacker, but didn't like the backpackers' environment. So he had bought a bike and now he was travelling round on it. He had done quite some distances, he had no maps or anything, he just decided day by day where to go, based on information he got from people he met. An adventurous chap, this Vincent from Nijmegen.
The sea was rough and though the ship was not small (194 meters long) and very modern, it moved a lot. Taking your glass to the table was quite an effort, making you look like a drunk without having had a drop yet. We had a nice two-person cabin with private bathroom for our own and had a comfortable night sleep. At 07.00 in the morning we disembarked in a very windy and cold (10˚C) Devonport. A severe temperature shock after over three mostly hot months. We spent the day gathering information and making a plan as how to tackle Tazzie. We will travel by bus to Stanley and from their, backed up by the prevailing westerly winds, ride round the island is easterly direction and along the east coast to the capital Hobart. This will be our final Australian destination and the most southerly point of our tour. Then we will have done pretty much the entire eastcoast of Australia. We will try to fly back to Melbourne from there, stay with Jude and Astrid for a couple of days more and then fly home on Feb. 14th. See if it'll work out.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Melbourne, the most European city in Australia?

So we have been told. And until now we have not been disappointed. A good 20 k north of the city (4.000.000 inhabitants) there is a completely seperated cycle path that leads right into the city. Great. In the city area it connects to some other cycle paths, so that one can pedal through the city without being among the other traffic. We followed the Merri Creek Trail towards the house of Jude and Astrid, our Warmshowers hosts here. A friendly, nice and comfy one-storey house with a little garden in a quiet street. By tram some 15-20 minutes from the very centre of the city.
Yesterday we had a meal in a street with just bars and restaurants, strikingly many of them Greek. We read that Melbourne is the city with the most Greek inhabitants after Athens and Thessaloniki, so no wonder. Today we spent the day in the city and we kept having the familiar feeling of recognition. There are people about everywhere, there are plenty of bars, coffeeshops and restaurants with outdoor terracces and all of them have lots of customers. A kind of liveliness we missed elsewhere in this big country. We will stay here for a couple of days, there's lots to be seen. Tuesday night we will travel to Tasmania on board of the Spirit of Tasmania. We have booked a cabin for the two of us and early Wednesday morning we will set foot ashore of the island (size Holland + Belgium) that was named after its Dutch discoverer, Abel Tasman. The Ozzies (Australians) all seem to love it, they praise it for its beauty and call it Tazzie. Tazzie seems to be hilly, so we'll see what we think of it after a week or so.

Australian wildlife and its hazards

In this continent there are creatures about that you will not find anywhere else. It has to do with the very long isolation of the place from the rest of the world
Before we came here we were warned by many people that some of these animals can be very dangerous.
Our experiences after over 3 months and being on the road for 4000 kilometers:
  • wallaby: Saw over 50 in one go in Mission Beach. Then some more vaguely in the bushes and at least 100 of them dead along the road.
  • kangaroo: Saw 2 in the far distance, not long ago 2 from about 50 meters and less that 10 dead along the road. At a certain point I started thinking that there were no kangaroos at all in Australia. Everyone kept telling us that we would see them there and then, it simply never happened.
  • snakes: less than 5.
  • big spiders: we have found none under any toilet seat.
  • wombat: this friendly bear/pig-like animal we only saw one, and again it was a traffic victim
  • koala: only on road signs
  • emu: none
  • cassowary: one in Mission Beach
  • mozzies (mosquitos): lots, with a good repellent or a smelly glowing coil not a big problem
  • sandflies: these insects are too small to be seen. You only notice them when your ankles and hands start to itch. Repellent helps, but mostly you are too late.
  • ticks: nobody warned us for them. I unfortunately had one and had to take a very high dosis of antibiotics for 28 days. As a consequence I got sunburnt. So badly that my nose and ears were completely red and painful and I even bought garden gloves (no bike shop around) to protect my burnt hands from the sun. Too painful to have them in the sunlight.
  • flies: nowhere in the world they are more persistent than here. Sometimes I tried to count the flies on the back of Eveline's shirt when cycling. I couldn't, over 50! The bastards can fly very fast too, the can zig zag in front of your eyes and saty with you while you're riding over 20 k/hr. They like to sit in your ear, on your nose, on your glasses, zigzag in front of your eyes. Unbearable. So we wave. Not to much avail. I once knotted a handkerchief on the front of my bike helmet, so that it was swinging before my face. Helped a little and made me squint.
    We confirm that Ozzies are very friendly. But we're not sure if all this waving is saying hello. Waving flies it'll be on many occasions.
  • possums: no problem. They only want your food. Can be very persistent as well.
  • platypus (the otter like animal with the duck bill): none, though we once were at small river where they surely were to be seen (!).
  • magpies: again nobody warned us for them, though these are the only animals that really attacked us. Many times. Fortunately the breeding season is over and they leave us alone. As a matter of fact they can sit and sing in a very nice and friendly gargling voice. As if they are talking for themselves. We like the sound.
  • other birds: not dangerous at all. Very many varieties and making a hell of a lot noise at dawn.

Friday, January 4, 2013


It's hot here. 41Celsius.
This morning we got up at 05.30 and we were riding before 07.00 o'clock. We arrived at our destination, Kilmore, at app. 11.00, still reasonably cool, and found a spot under the trees where there's shade and we can sit it out during the afternoon.
Tomorrow will be cooler, though the newspapers are forecasting the hottest January ever. We'll see.
My weather app., Elders, which is much used by farmers and is supposed to be very reliable, predicts lower temperatures though, and an southerly wind, bringing cooler air from the sea. Just to be sure we'll have an early start again tomorrow. We'll be heading for Melbourne to another promising Warmshowers address.

BBQ's and camp kitchens

This country is fond of eating meat and preparing it outside on a barbecue. At each house you will see a bbq on the veranda, in varying sizes, mostly large. Such a bbq is a stainless steel plate that is heated by gas burners underneath. This is remarkable, as we have seen this in no other country before. But its even worse. You will find such bbqs in parks and on beaches, free to use. These ones are mostly mostly 60 x 60 cms and electrical. So you will see families or groups of friends together around such a open air bbq and have their meaty meal. And it's free!
In caravanparks it's the same, as well as on the grounds of many motels. There are various open air bbqs available for the guests. In caravanparks there is more. Every park has its camp kittchen. So convenient, we have hardly used our own gas stove at all. These camp kitchens, when they're good, have the whole set of kitchen utensils free to use. It varies, but the good ones are clean, have tables and chairs, have an indoor and outdoor part, and have a microwave, an oven, cooking tops, waterboilers, a toaster, pots and pans, cups, glasses and mugs, cutlery, a fridge and freezer and sometimes there is instant coffee and tea bags as well. And there is cleaning material, as you are supposed to leave things clean for other guests. We have learned to appreciate these conveniences very much. Tonight we will have nice black angus beef burgers and grilled eggplant and portobellos. Viva la bbq!
It is not clean and complete everywhere, but in general it's not bad. Something we as Europeans could learn from.

Ned Kelly country

After Beechworth we passed through Ned Kelly land. Crazy what history does. A murdering criminal is now a hero on which a whole tourist industry is based. Not very big, nothing of the kind is big over here compared to where we come from, but Ned is everywhere. In shops, musea, images, gadgets, tourist shows and so on. When we passed through this region we also passed into another year. We hardly noticed. On our caravan park in Benalla everyone went to bed at normal times, which is between 9 and 10, and in the morning it appeared to be 2013. Just like that.
From Benalla we went south and had our first fully booked caravan park. I think the lady at the reception had a chronically bad temper, since she was just repeating that there was no place for us and she was not helpful at all in suggesting other options for us. Which I'm sure all other receptionists here would have done. It's what Ozzies do, help if they can. On the other hand, considering the kind of tourists that were on the campsite, her behaviour is imaginable. It sits on a lakeside and it's all motors there. Big cars, big motorbikes, motorboats, jetskies and more noisy stuff. Perfect reasons for a permanent bad mood I would say.
We were very kindly received in the local motel. Glad there was one, we had done 70 k on new year's day.


We were staying in the house of Meg and Fraser. It is situated on a dirt road 6 k out of Beechworth. They will soon move into town though, where they have built a “second generation sustainable” new house. There we first met with them for lunch, later in the afternoon we rode down to the current one.
They have built this house some 13 years ago. The walls or made of rammed earth, they use rainwater for domestic use, the house is completely solar powered, they have a compost toilet, there are two dams to collect water for the gardens etc. So they are not dependent on these services from outside. They are leaving this place because they want to be closer to town, not having to do the drive up and down the hill on this dirt road all the time. They're on to their next move. The place is beautiful though, very well kept and agreeable. It's also (officially) a safe house in case of a bush fire. This implies that they always have enough water, that plants in gardens and surrounding areas are kept low, the grass is always cut short etc. In case of an emergency the neighbours can go to this house and be safe. The closest neighbours are about 1 k away, by the way.
Also their new house has similar facilities and will most likely, and hopefully for them, have the same atmosphere. We hope they won't miss the old one.
We loved our stay there, not only for the house. We must mention Kelly, the dog as a faithfull companion, and not in the least Meg and Fraser themselves. Perfect hosts we would love to meet again.