Tuesday, February 12, 2013


Our Australian bike tour is complete. We have ridden from Cairns in Queensland to our most northern point Cape Tribulation at a latitude of 16˚,4´South and from there to Port Arthur in Tasmania at a latitude of 43˚,1´South, our most southern point. Projected on the northern hemisphere in “our own” region this could be compared with from Dakar in Africa to Carcassonne in the south of France.
As the crow flies it's about 3000 kilometers, but for us on the ground it meant roughly 6500 kilometers. This took us 4 months and 20 days. We did not cycle all these kms, we only pedalled 5000 k, and that is a quite exact number. (Compare: Breda – Teheran). The other k's we did by bus, train, car and ferry.
Most of the time we camped, 76 nights in our little tent. Once in the garden of a private house, sometimes on rest areas without any facilities but a creek, sometimes on so-called showgrounds, these are grounds where the local horse race track, soccer- and criketfields, swimming pool etc. are and where there mostly are toilets and showers. But most of the camping we did in caravan parks. In Europe we would call them campings or campsites. The caravan parks are similar to their European equivalent but for one thing: they have free barbeques and campkitchens. These can be very complete, with ovens, microwaves, barbeques, electric hot plates or gas stoves, freezers and fridges, water boilers, cutlery, pots and pans, sinks etc. Sometimes they are just basic and poorly equipped and even dirty. But most of the time they were good to excellent, we hardly ever used our own little gas stove. There are not many tents in a caravan park, it's mostly caravans (much bigger ones than in Europe) and campervans. Since these campers have all facilities with them, we often had the camp kitchen for ourselves.
We also stayed a number of nights in motels, pubs and cabins, one night in a bus and one on a boat.
But what we will remember most of all of this tour is the unbelievable hospitality of the Australians. Through Warmshowers.org we contacted all in all 15 different hosts and alltogether we spent over 50 nights in their safe and cosy homes. In some occasions we stayed a number of days in a house while the hosts themselves were not there at all. For us the Australians rank first and foremost as the most hospitable people we have ever encountered.
Being so often in such close contact with the people in this country, this tour really made us get deeper in the culture and into daily life. We have experienced that this is an egalitarian and open society and that getting in touch with people is easier than in many other parts of the world. In this sense Australia is a very easy country.
Though we have cycled quite a distance we have only seen a small part of the country. We were never very far away from the coast (max app. 300 k I think). So we have seen and can confirm that the country has fantastic beaches, and very many of them. We have seen and felt the openess of Queensland and the forests, hills, mountains and agricultural areas there and in three other of the six states. There is an abundance of nature, national parks all over. We have not seen the outback, the west and the north. But that Australia is a country with lots of beauty we will confirm.
Yet we find that it is not an easy country for the cyclist. Very often the distances between places and facilities is very great. This makes long distances necessary, with nothing in between. Then, besides north Queensland (and the great outback where we didn't ride), there is no flat road to be found. It's often very hilly and roads are very undulating, with steep hills following one after the other. That makes cycling very hard and tiring. It's not the same everywhere though, we found Victoria and especially Tasmania easier than the other states.
Australia is only for advanced bike tourers, we would say.

Sunday, February 10, 2013


Hobart is the capital of Tasmania. The whole island, one of the six states in federal Australia, is twice the size of the Netherlands and has half a million inhabitants, 200.000 of which live in this city. It is an early Australian settlement and has many 'historic' places. The city sits on the estuary of the Derwent river and the harbour has always been of great importance. Now there are nice marinas and many cruiseships call on the port. We live here in the house of Dennis and Jenny, with whom we also stayed for two nights in their 'shack' in Spring Beach. We reached Hobart by bus. We didn't feel like riding back for two days against the wind, through blackened Dunalley over the undulating road. It undoubtedly has to do with the psychological aspect of the idea that we're at the end of our Australian tour. There was a feeling of mental and fysical fatigue. So we were very early to leave the Port Arthur caravan park. We got up at 05.30, broke up in the dark with some wallabies around us and at 06.00 we boarded the bus at the general store a few kms from the park. It was the only bus that day. We reached Bellerive, the quarter of Hobart where the house is, at 08.00 and we were in the house at 09.00. A whole day of comfort followed, everything at hand, no wind or rain to hide for and that for the rest of our stay. Such luxury.
No better way to end our expedition down under.
When I'm writing this we have already been here for almost a week. I got some cardboard bike-boxes from the guys at the local bike shop. Such nice people. The bikes have already been boxed. We have been to the city a couple of times. It's a good 6 k from the house and the first time we rode on our bikes. Very hilly terrain to the big Tasman bridge. This huge bridge has only very narrow bike/foorpaths on the sides. It's very windy up there and riding is not easy. For Eveline it was impossible, she walked. The other times we went by bus, a lot easier and more comfortable. We made a historic walk, that did not impress us so much, though the texts in the brochures do. We have visited MONA, the museum of old and new art. Very remarkable venue. It is a privately owned museum with a striking modern architecture on and in a steep high bank of the river. The owner is someone who, as a briljant statistician and mathematician, was very succesful in gambling and won millions. He now employs hundreds to keep on doing this. With his gains he built and runs this remarkable museum. The art that is presented to the public is mostly contemporary and many people are shocked by some of the works. But they are proud that Tasmania has an interesting and controversial attraction as this.
We had a bbq with our current and a former Warmshowers host in their little boat house on the river Derwent, a happy family-like event.
Every Saturday there is a market at Salamanca square. This is a small historic area on the waterfront, that is now full of restaurants, bars and arts- and gift shops. The market is very busy, lots of street musicians are playing, games for children, food of all continents, lots of fun. We were so lucky to be here in the weekend of the 20th wooden boat festival. There were a couple of hundreds of them and one of the bigger ships came all the way from Russia. The city was crowded, at least for Australian standards, and the buses were free for three consecutive days. They certainly know how to make an event into a nice event.
Already for some 4 or five days there is a big bush fire going on not far from the city. It is out of control and the roads in whole region are closed. People have been evacuated. Since the area is not very populated is appears not to be as catastrophic as the one some weeks ago in Dunalley, some 50 k to the east from here. This one is so close though, that the cloud of smoke is hanging over the city and that Mount Wellington, the city's own 1270 meter high mountain, is sometimes invisible and closed. Depending on the wind we smell it. But life goes on here, not a problem.
Tomorrow we will be off on an excursion to Bruny island, where we will be cruising in a special expedition vessel along the rugged coast and see a colony of fur seals, dolphins and other wildlife. Most likely this will bring us to the most southerly point on earth we will ever be.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Port Arthur

It's a world heritage site and one of the greatest tourist attractions of Tasmania. It has a lot to do with the colonization of the country. From the early eightteen hundreds the British courts sentenced thousands of their citizens to be transported to the new colonies New South Wales, Victoria and van Diemen's Land. So two goals were served, putting an end to the overcrowding of British prison cells and populating the new colonies. Often the sentence was for minor offences as stealing a loaf or so. In Britain small crime was high during these days. It was the beginning of the industrial revolution, many people took to the cities to find (very poorly paid) jobs and in the same time more and more machines replaced their labour. Enormous poverty was the consequence and this led to more small crime. Many of the people caught ended up in the new colonies. Sydney was a notorious place and so there were many. Not all convicts were sentenced for minor offences. Some were real criminals and repeat offenders. For those Port Arthur was established. It is an isolated spot on a peninsula from which the landbridge was guarded by a chain of watchdogs. Escape virtually impossible. Until transportation stopped in 1853 thousands of convicts have lived here, together with their guards, regular soldiers from British regiments, and administrators and clergy. It was like a regular community, that developed into a highly productive centre, with even a shipyard. The detention and disciplanary methods that were used makes one shiver. Leg-irons from 8 to 18 kgs, isolation cells, lashing (whipping) were regular practice.
At this moment the site is very beautiful and serene, but it makes the visitor aware of the need and value of a classless, independent and humane judicial system.


We spent a night on the grounds behind Dunalley Hotel. It's a pub and restaurant, not a hotel. There were some portable toilets on the grounds, you know threm from construction sites, and we could use the toilets inside at the pub's opening times. No showers, not even a water tap outside. It was raining and temperatures dropped to between 3 and 9˚C during the night.
Compared to many of the villagers we were not in a bad situation at all though, for us it was just for one night. For them it will last longer, some 35 houses have been wiped away by the recent bushfire. It had been a creepy ride that day, some 40 kilometers long we rode through blackened country and every now and then there were the ruins of a burnt down home. Not much remains of such an Australian house. As they are mostly built of wood it's just some corrugated iron, a chimney and some rubble that is left. Some people now live in a tent next to the rubble heap. Very strange also to note that the fire has been very selective, one house gone, the house next to it unscaved. Some houses set alight because of the fire coming very close, some by flying imbers. We spoke a man who had owned three holiday cottages. They were completely gone. His own house, some meters away, stood and was in perfect order. His neighbour; gone. No explanation. He told us that, looking at the fire on the hill 3 kilometers away and considering the direction of the wind, he said his “famous last words” to his wife: “I think we'll be alright”. Then the wind changed and seven minutes later the fire was at his house. It's a beach house and they stood in the water untill it passed. The speed with which it travelled was tremendous, faster than a car.
A lot is done to get things going again. The government has aid-plans, publishes a magazine on the subject, tries to make access to aid easy. On the campground there were big tents, like used for events. One of them had housed the Red Cross and such groups, in the other one volunteers were sorting out large amounts of clothes, shoes, household utensils and other things that had been given by people to help those who had lost everything. A benefit-concert had been organised, the two big Australian supermarket chains Woolworth's and Coles donated the profit of one dedicated day and, since the fires in Victoria two years ago, there is an organisation called Blazeaid that co-ordinates help by volunteers, of which there are many.
Now there have been disasters like this one in Dunalley and surrounds almost every year recently. The Victorian one cost many lives, some hundreds of houses were lost. In New South Wales just over a week ago, it was very bad. Though a lot is already being done, I think this country needs a new and overall masterplan as how to prevent bushfires and when they happen, how to minimise damage. This might imply a new approach to bush management and building restrictions as well, and these are items that come very close to the Australian soul. Won't be easy.