Darwin Days

Resting in Darwin

So I’m sitting on an Air Asia flight bound for Denpasar, Indonesia. We are somewhere over the Timor Sea and I’m not sure when we will see Australia again (if Abbott wins, it will be even longer!). It certainly feels very different to leaving on a month’s leave block. Both of us have been bouncing between excitement and tears over the last few hours. It was really sad saying goodbye to Karl and Claire, who we have lived with over the last few weeks. Then phoning family and friends from the airport added to the sense that we were truly leaving for a long time.

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Sunset from Mindal Beach

Our time in Darwin has been wonderful. We were filled with relief and excitement on achieving the first BIG milestone of our journey. We even got a brilliant ‘congratulations you made it’ package from Kev, filled with both practical and amusing gifts. It felt so good to have arrived. Both of us were tired from the hard days of crossing the outback and relentless cycling with not much rest. That first beer tasted incredible. Not to mention the bed and the knowledge that we didn’t have to cycle the following day. Don’t get me wrong, I have loved the journey so far and wouldn’t change the route we took, but we were both tired. That real weary to the bone kind of generalised fatigue that takes a few weeks to completely disappear.

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My dream of ‘All you can eat’ is realised!

After an initial rest period  (which did involve All You Can Eat!) our first week or two in Darwin was spent with visiting family. Astrid’s dad, then my parents and then Astrid’s mum all came to visit. We spent day’s sight seeing, going to markets, the Darwin festival, trips to Corroboree Billabong (lots of Crocodylus Porosus were sighted) and BBQing (an obscene amount of prawns may have been consumed on more than one occasion).

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Pontoon driving dude, Corroboree Billabong

 

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Crocodylus Porosus

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Jabiru, Corroboree Billabong

We watched insanely beautiful sunsets over the water while sipping cold beer at the Ski Club on numerous occasions. Swam at Nightcliff beach and ate Laksa at Parap Market. We explored Darwin by bicycle and found that the city is actually very cycle friendly in an understated kind of way. We could cycle all the way into town from where we were living along a scenic bike path. And it’s legal to cycle on the footpath and not wear a helmet. Time was spent throwing Frisbee (Astrid eventually became less unco), swimming in the pool and sharing after work drinks with Karl and Claire. Life was slow and deliciously relaxing.

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A bit more Pontoon lovin

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Ski Club sunset beers with the family

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more awesome sunset

Soon friends from the road arrived in town and we caught up numerous times, especially with the wonderful Chaffey’s with whom we spent many an afternoon relaxing at Nightcliff foreshore. Thanks to Brad, THE Darwin warmshowers guru, we met up with several touring cyclists who were on their way through from Europe. It was amazing talking to folk who had come through the countries we were planning to traverse and hear their stories and adventures. It really inspired us and filled us with anticipation about the road ahead.

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Sunset Cruise, Darwin Harbour

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Guerilla knitting Darwin style

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Picnic time at the Darwin Festival

In amongst the socialising we had begun looking for a yacht to take us to Indonesia or East Timor, as well as slowly doing some maintenance on our bikes. Thanks to ‘Bikes to Fit’ in Coconut Grove and Commuter Cycles in Melbourne we changed our Rohloff Oil, replaced our chains and tightened our brakes. As novices we are still learning a lot and Bikes to Fit have been more than generous with their time. I can now say we have only had one flat since Melbourne and our Marathon Mondial tyres are still holding up well. As Astrid and I have both managed to snap our Terry’s Liberator X saddles (arses of steel:) we decided to switch to Brooks. We cheated and bought these off Wiggle and they thankfully arrived in time. Unfortunately Astrid’s dynamo light alluded fixing. We established the dynamo is fine and after much testing it seems that shockingly German engineering has failed us and that there is something wrong with the actual light.

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I can break a chain!

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Astrid’s dream of eating a whole Watermelon is realised

As for yachting it out of Darwin we have not been so fortunate. There are a few reasons for this, the biggest one being timing. We probably needed to have arrived in Darwin at the beginning of June to suss out crewing for the two Regatta’s that leave in July and August. The Indonesian Visa situation is not straight forward and crew need to be named on the application 4 weeks prior to departure. There was still a chance we could have gotten to East Timor as the regulations are less strict. However as days passed we realised we were running out of time to make it to East Timor and then cycle across several islands (with questionable ferry timetables) to make it to Bali to meet our friend Brooke. Although it had been our dream to sail out of Australia, travel is all about adapting and we soon came up with an excellent alternative; fly to Bali, cycle around Lombok, climb Gunung Rinjani, cycle around Sumbawa, cycle back to Lombok, catch a ferry to one of the Gili Islands to dive and hang with Brooke, Misch and Key, then catch a boat back to Bali to continue on to Java, Sumatra and then to Malaysia. So that is our current working plan, with room of course change.

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Some kind of BBQ loving dude

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Farewll Darwin BBQ

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Nightcliff foreshore

Once we had a plan, the purpose we had been lacking returned. We applied for a 60 day Indonesian visa (needed to book a $20 dummy flight out of Jakarta), finished the last of our bike maintenance and had another BBQ (more Prawns just needed to be consumed). Then all of a sudden, before really feeling ready it was time to go. Our weeks in Darwin have been really special and again it has been the people that have made it so. So thank you everyone we feel very loved and know that in the future more fun times will be shared again.

 

Love

Jude.

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Farewll! Darwin International Airport

 

 

Cycle touring Australia – highlights & logistics

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Now that we are chilling in Darwin, I thought I would use this opportunity to write about some of the logistics and highlights of cycling in Australia. When I was researching our trip, I always found these kind of posts useful and interesting.

 Cycle touring in Australia has been overall awesome. Here are some of the pros and cons we have found while on the road.

 

Pros

Finding the small roads and having them almost to ourselves, especially places like the Bonang highway. Rail trails in Victoria. The variation in scenery and climate. The people; from cooked dinners, home invites, helping with directions, gifts of food, water and beer, Australians have been way more generous then I expected. Free camping is mostly really easy and this is what we did the vast majority of the time. Country pubs often let you camp for free, provided you buy a beer or two. The space and lack of people (even though it is high season) in the outback was brilliant.

 Cons

The cost. Australia is expensive, even if you live here. Most of our daily budget was spent on food. In the north of the country, especially in remote areas the prices are extortionate at times with little variety. Wifi. Basically crap or non existent outside of major cities. I have found better wifi in Asia. The distances off the highway into places of interest can be quite large, especially in the north. So you really need time or be willing to hitchhike, take a bus or miss out.

 Although there are obvious pros and cons of cycling in Australia, I would still recommend it to anyone. There are always going to be up and down sides to every country.

 Logistics

 Maps and stuff: To find our way through Australia we have used a variety of different approaches. We have a big map of all the states, which we use as a rough guide. Through NSW we have picked up free Cartascope maps from different regions, which have more details. The google maps bike app can be useful too, although it’s a little unreliable and clunky at times. The i phone map app has actually been very helpful as we can see where we are and how far things are away. And for finding secret bush land we might be able to hide in. Unfortunately it doesn’t have the bike app and tends to choose main roads. By far the best navigational tool is local knowledge. This has been invaluable.

 Staying the night: If we paid for every night in Australia we would be looking at double to triple of what our budget is now. Even an unpowered site can cost up to $30 in a caravan park and hostels around $25-30 each.  So mostly we free camp. This is fairly simple in a big country like Australia and bikes are easy to hide. We use bush land at the outskirts of towns, national parks, state forests, recreational reserves. This is where the i phone map app is often helpful in navigating us to the green, which is usually a park or forest, sufficient for a hiding a tent. Often putting your tent up after dark and taking it down just before light avoids any busy bodies that might tell you off when you are stealth camping in a reserve or park.  For washing we usually have a river or the ocean. When we need a break from the tent we use couchsurfing and warmshowers. Couchsurfing for those who don’t know is an international organization of people who offer up their ‘couches’ or spare rooms to other travellers, for free. It’s built on mutual trust, cultural exchange and a shared philosophy about travel and life. Everyone who is part of it has a profile on the internet and from this you choose who you want to stay with. Once you have stayed with someone or they have stayed with you, you leave them a positive or negative reference and this builds reputation and trust. We had several couchsurfers stay with us in Melbourne and met some truly awesome people. Now that we are on the other end of the experience we are having an amazing time surfing couches. To be invited to share someone’s life for the night, to cook food, drink wine and exchange stories is really a heart warming way to experience travel. We always feel revitalised after a night of couchsurfing. Warmshowers is the equivalent to couchsurfing but for touring cyclists. It’s smaller but equally as excellent with the added bonus of being able to get information from local cyclists.

 The highlights

 Kakadu: This is like a theme park for nature lovers. We cycled along relatively quiet roads and the stayed in the most magnificent places. Think deep plunge pools, waterfalls, reflective lagoons, abundant bird life and rock art tens of thousand years old. I found Kakadu magical and we are planning a cycle tour dedicated just to it, sometime when we come back.

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Kakadu

 The savannah way:  Yep, it was tough but worth it and great to get off the beaten track. The sections especially though the Limmen National park were stunningly beautiful. And we loved the alternate route we initially took through Einsleigh and Foresyth.

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Limmen national park

 Eugella national park/Finch Hatten gorge: Beautiful tropical and sub-tropical rainforest, waterfalls and platypus. The bush camp near Finch Hatten gorge was a highlight too (even though it poured almost the whole time). We met great people and the place has a great vibe. The cycle in through the valley, filled with cane and the mountains in the distance is pretty stunning too.

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Eungella

 Agnes water/1770:  Still a small, low key town with stunning scenery, good surf and enough travellers to keep it vibrant. Not sure how long it will stay like this.

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Agnes Water/1770

 Bellingen: Mountains, rainforest and the coast 10km away. That in itself would be enough but add a vibrant community, good coffee and great food. Perhaps a bit like Castlemaine, but arguably in a better location.

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Bellingen is full of great cafes and coffee

Myall Lakes national park: Great cycling well made, quiet roads with the ocean on one side and gorgeous lakes on the other. I think nothing more needs to be said.

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Myall Lakes

 Bonang highway: It was just a really great route north out of Victoria. Old growth forest and basically no traffic. So much better than the Princes.

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Bonang highway, a great road out of the state

 

East Gippsland rail trail: You don’t get much better then this in Australia at least. One hundred kilometers of car free riding, through relatively remote forest in Victoria’s east, with enough quaint towns and a microbrewery to keep it easy and your thirst quenched!

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Rail trail of awesome

 

Hopefully this has been helpful/interesting.

Cheers,

Jude.

 

 

 

Towards the Big D.

Mataranka to Darwin via Kakadu National Park

 

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The long road north.

Friends.  They arrive in your life and make the world around you shine.  Old or new, they are lovely to have around.  A day is made brighter with a call or a visit.  A connection with like-minded people creates branches of friendship that stretch out and over the vast distances of Australia and the world.  I sit currently with such people; one drawing, one writing and one playing guitar, and I am happy.  Listening to the strumming of the guitar, I am transported back through our journey thus far and remember all the amazing people we have shared time with.

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On our last morning in the outback, excited to be heading to Darwin.

It has been a long time since our last blog update and so many amazing experiences have been lived.  For the sake of time and chronology (and my blog writing sanity) I will continue from where we left you all those weeks ago.

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Enjoying the thermal waters of Bitter Springs.

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Doing some bike maintenance.

Mataranka proved to be the oasis we had imagined.  We soaked our bodies, ingrained with red dust and bone shaken from the corrugations, in the thermal waters of Bitter Springs.  We also drank copious amounts of tea, ate loads of food, and shared stories and ideas with our new friends and fellow cycle tourists Liz and Scott.  The time we spent together was inspiring and it was really hard for us to say goodbye to them on the morning of our departure north.  As we have learnt, goodbyes between friends aren’t forever, they are just breaks between cups of tea or beers together.

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Excited to be on bitumen again. High vis gear is a requirement on the Stuart Highway

 After the hard riding of the last few weeks, it was great to be back on bitumen again.  With the help of a tail wind we easily covered the 105km to Katherine by lunchtime.  Along the way I found a set of fairy wings and the Green Fairy really was able to fly.  Being in the vicinity of abundant and reasonably priced food for the first time in a month made us a little crazy.  We spent forever in the supermarket stocking up, and fighting our way amongst the hundreds of nomads who are as good at driving shopping trolleys as they are at driving caravans.

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The Green Fairy with her new wings.

 Our initial plan was to stay the night in Katherine, but the vibe in town was all wrong.  So after a lunch of Nutalino sandwiches and half a watermelon, we rode 20km towards Katherine Gorge into a headwind.  Just before we collapsed from fatigue, we came across a nice little camp spot by a creek and were treated to the kindness of Mick and Cynth, and the cheekiness of their dogs Freckle and Trouble.  We washed the day of cycling off with a cool dip in the creek and the six of us settled into a shared dinner and a fire by the moonlight.

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Our sweet camping spot by the creek.

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Hanging out with Mick, Cynth, Freckle and Trouble.

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Fire by the full moon light.

We spent the next day relaxing at Katherine Gorge.  We walked to the lookout and were treated to the spectacular view of the first gorge (there are 8 altogether).  We then swam in the river, had a picnic and meditated in the gardens, and topped our visit off with an ice-cream and a cold beer at the café.  By the time we cycled back to our camping spot we were hot again and had to have another dip in the cool water.  That evening we had another relaxing night by the fire and crawled into our tent full of food and happiness.

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Katherine Gorge.

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Katherine Gorge.

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Ready for a swim.

The next day was one of those everyday days; cycling 120kms, shopping, eating, drinking and being woken at 11pm by drunken old bogans abusing us for having left our stuff on the table next to our tent.  I think it was the first time someone has threatened to “piss on me for being ignorant”.  Thankfully we laughed our way through their disrespectful behavior and still managed to grab a few hours sleep before heading off towards the stunning Kakadu National Park.

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Kakadu entry.

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Yes she is an emu!

Exploring Kakadu was the best way to spend our last week on the road in Australia.  As we rode, we felt an ancient and vibrant energy coming from the land, and it infused us with a sense of joy and connectedness.  After the heat of the morning, it was refreshing to spend the afternoon shaded by forest, relaxing by a waterfall and rock pools.  We pretty much had the whole place to ourselves and it was magical reading, napping, meditating and dipping in and out of the cold water.  We both went exploring and I was again reminded of how adventurous Jude is when she popped up on the sheer rocky cliffs above the waterfall.

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The magical rock pools.

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Can you find Jude?

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Bukbukluk lookout.

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Bukbukluk lookout.

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Bukbukluk lookout.

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Germans watch out – Achtung!!!

We would have loved to explore all the paths and sights of Kakadu, but being on bikes and with a semi-limited time frame, we had to choose a few select spots to ride into and explore.  That day we gazed on the beauty of the south western plains from the Bukbukluk lookout and then returned to the dirt roads to ride into Maguk Falls.  It was well worth the ride and we ended up spending two full days at Maguk just because it was so spectacular.  We walked into the falls and marveled at the big pool below huge rock cliffs.  We swam to the base of the falls and sat on a rock ledge nearby.  We had been told that the top of the falls were worth exploring and as we had missed the hidden path we decided to scale the rock walls to check it out.  It was awesome, and we spent the day swimming, exploring and relaxing around the rock pools that lie in a canyon of rock that has been carved smooth by millions of years of water and debris.

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Maguk.

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Maguk.

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Maguk.

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Relaxing at Maguk.

We also spent our time in the lovely company of Dave and Cath.  We talked travel, cycle touring, festivals and all the other important issues about life and living in our times.  In addition to great conversation, they spoilt us with foods that we have done without on the road – cheeses, figs, a fully cooked vegetarian breakfast with poached eggs and good wine.  What luxury!

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Breakfast with Dave and Cath.

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Best breakfast ever!

From Maguk we toured through different parts of Kakadu exploring billabongs, lookouts, rivers and escarpment.  We spent hours admiring the Aboriginal rock art that has been there for thousands of years and learnt more about the lives and culture of the different Aboriginal groups that continue to live and care for country in the Kakadu region.  It really is one of the most incredible places I have been, and we only experienced a small part of it in one season.  We have promised ourselves that we will come back a few more times to experience more of the beauty and spirituality that the area radiates.

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South Alligator river.

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Billabong loving

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Billabong loving

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Amazing aboriginal art.

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Amazing aboriginal art.

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Amazing aboriginal art.

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Amazing views across Kakadu.

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Amazing views across Kakadu.

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Amazing views across Kakadu.

It is 255km from Jabiru to Darwin, and with both of us excited to get there, we made the decision that we would do a massive 2 day push.  We saw heaps of birdlife in the floodplains and waterways, crocodiles in rivers big and small, bushfires that covered kilometres of the road in smoke and ash, and the worst drivers on any of the roads we have experienced thus far.  A swimming pool and a couple of beers were required on the first night after an epic 135kms.  The final day into Darwin I think we were both running on adrenaline and nothing else.  The little signs that countdown the kilometres were greeted by the dinging of our bells and yells of excitement as we cycled the last 120km to Darwin.  We kept our energy up by singing the Crocodylus song that we created whilst riding through croc country, thinking about the family we would soon be seeing and by fantasizing about all the awesome things we would soon be doing.  We were very excited as the last 20km into Darwin was along bike paths, the easiest entry into a capital thus far.  By lunchtime we had taken the photograph with the Darwin velodrome sign – we didn’t get a ‘Welcome to Darwin’ sign on the bike path, and were kicking back in Karl and Claire’s tropical garden drinking a beer thinking we have made it!  We have cycled over 6000km from our house in Melbourne, to Karl and Claire’s in Darwin.  It still feels amazing, exciting and surreal!  We would like to send a BIG THANKYOU to all the people who have made our journey through Australia the awesome adventure that it has been.  Your kindness and friendship will forever remain in our hearts, we wish you the best for your life journey and we look forward to the next time that our paths cross.

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Last two day push.

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Bush fires everywhere.

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So smokey.

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Not far now!

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Crocodylus

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We Made It!!!!

All my love,

Astrid.

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Excited to see Karl.

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Celebrating with bubbles!

Are you lost?

Boroloola to Mataranka via the Limmen National Park

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The beginning of the toughest section

I’m sitting in a shaded area of the Territory Manor caravan park in Mataranka. It’s midafternoon and Astrid has just put on the water for the 6th cup of tea of the day. We are with some new friends, Liz and Scott (who have cycled here from Kangaroo Island) and a relaxed quietness has come over us, which is rare and special with people you have just met. I am feeling exceedingly happy, the reality of dust and corrugations from the last few weeks is already beginning to fade.

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Relaxing and tea

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Moving back the wheel, southern lost city

Let’s go back to the dust however. We left Borroloola feeling somewhat refreshed, filled with anticipation (and an alarming amount of fried eggs) about what lay ahead. This section – Borroloola to Roper Bar is set to be the most challenging so far. Firstly, it’s 400km without services, which means carrying 7 days worth of food and about 30 L of water most days, although we will obviously be able pick up fresh water from the rivers as we go along. Furthermore, we have heard many reports about the road being in terrible condition, so we really don’t know how many km’s we will be able to cover in a day.

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I did manage to fall off during one river crossing!

As soon as we turned off the tarmac and were once again on the unsealed Savannah way I noticed a change in the landscape. It took me a few minutes to put my finger on it, but then I realised that this part of the Savannah way primarily runs through the Limmen National park. The difference is quite remarkable. Although the scenery is much the same, open woodland, savannah, termite mounds and rivers, the country looks a lot less worn. I can only surmise that this is due to the absence of cattle in the national park (although there are some feral buffalo). Much of the previous Savannah way traversed through large cattle stations.

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mornings are the best out here

It certainly was a pleasant change cycling through this lusher, greener country. Unfortunately it wasn’t long until the fresh feeling disappeared with the rising temperatures. We are both feeling generally fatigued now, which is compounded by the tough roads and hot weather. It’s nothing that a week or two off the bike wouldn’t fix; Darwin is certainly in our consciousness now. Luckily we reached Battern Creek early and had plenty of time to relax, drink tea and read before needing to swing into our evening routine.

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another amazing morning

It’s taken us a while, but our morning routine now runs like a finely oiled machine (most of the time) and we usually pedal out of camp at 0700. Mostly this has to do with the unpleasantness of riding in the heat of the day, which we can’t completely avoid, but at least this way we get a few hours of coolish cycling. Some days on the road just suck and that second day out of Borroloola certainly tested us. It started off fine for me, but Astrid was really suffering from the word go. She described her bum as being excruciatingly painful (like someone poking it with knives) to the point of tears (and Astrid is one tough lady). This made coping with the corrugations, heat and thoughtless drivers that showered us in dust almost unbearable. My heart really went out to her and although I tried to help, I think I didn’t quite succeed in my efforts. When Astrid is down, it tends to infect me, which is not helpful and I need to find the thing inside me that can rise above that, to actually be of some use. It’s something that Astrid does a lot better than me.

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The afternoon wore on and the cycling got worse. It was a constant zigzag across the road to avoid the corrugations and bulldust pits. Our hourly km’s plummeted to a dismal 10-12km and we were often walking through deep sand. To top it off, as I hit a particular bit of loose sand the Green Fairy began to wobble so I decided to bail, putting my foot down. Unfortunately I had misjudged my speed and the weight of the bike and that momentum caused me to have an intimate relationship with the ground and my whole right side was covered in fine dust. Until that moment I had been holding it together but the fall bought me unstuck and I shed a few tears of exhaustion and frustration before pulling myself together.

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This became a habit of mine

To our great appreciation, not long after the dust pit encounter a kind traveller pulled up to have a chat and then presented us with two ice-cold beers. I can’t describe how great it tasted. It seemed after that our luck turned and we finally reached our camp at the “southern lost city” after 8 hours on the go. “Lost cities’ are pillar like rock structures that started forming 150 million years ago when vast parts of Australia were beneath an inland sea. They looked beautiful as we set up camp to the setting sun but it was the next morning that we really got to appreciate them. We were up and walking amongst these spectacular formations just as the sun was rising. What made it even more beautiful was that everything was shrouded in a fine mist. It gave the whole place and eerie, magical feel and I really felt I was walking on an ancient land. Both of us agreed the previous day of doom had been worth it to see this.

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southern lost city was worth the day of doom

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The southern lost city

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view of Western lost city

 

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The day continued to be such a contrast to the previous one. First of all Astrid had a hilarious encounter with a Dingo that darted out in front of her and then continued to watch her as it proceeded to run straight into a tree. Ah, Astrid and the animals. First a head on with a kangaroo, now causing a poor Dingo to run into a tree! Secondly, our day of cycling ended after about 30km as we had decided to stop at Butterfly Springs. What a gorgeous spot.  A real oasis in this often harsh and dry landscape. The source is a natural spring and the water cascades down a small waterfall into a clear pool, with a sandy floor. Just off to the side is a rock wall, covered in hundreds of butterflies. We spent the day by the spring, our water filtering by in a tree (loving the gravity fed filter), reading, writing and napping (my personal favourite).

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Butterfly Springs

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Butterfly Springs

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A half day off is nearly as good as a rest day and we set off early, ready for corrugations, dust and sand. The morning treated us kindly with only moderately bad roads. But this is Australia, which means we better mine the fuck out of everything, and where better to put a mine but in the middle of a national park? For us this translated into absolutely shocking roads (think walking through massive sand pits and endless corrugation) thanks to the mining vehicles chewing up the surface. While most workers passed us (showering us in dust) a dude in a massive crane thing pulled up alongside us and shouted out the window,

“Are you girls lost?”

Astrid said, “No, are you?”

Evidently they found us quite amusing and ended up giving us a big bag of assorted fruit and muesli bars. Needless to say we were delighted.

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St Vidgeon’s ruins

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Roper River

Lying next to a fire beside the Towns River (far away enough from the crocs) and looking up at sky filled with stars in the middle of the outback fills me with such peace. Life is simple now (even more than before) and is filled with achieving our basic needs; finding somewhere to sleep, finding water, collecting fire wood, filtering water, cooking, pedalling. Rest periods are filled with writing, reading and observing nature (unless we meet some friendly nomads). The ebb and flow of this existence and its meditative simplicity is something I treasure. Like all things in life, it will pass. Soon we will be back on the highway, there will be more distractions, more people. Then Darwin, full of friends and family. I look forward to those changes as well as appreciating the magic of what we have now.

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Yep!

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The joey at Tomato Island

After Towns River it was onward to shiny Tomato Island, a new camp ground recently opened by Parks NT. It was right beside the Roper River and the ranger was raising an orphaned joey that we briefly got to babysit. What a gorgeous creature. We both fell in love. I also got to see my first crocodile, which was kind of thrilling. These prehistoric creatures have been on our consciousness for weeks now and it was almost a relief to see one because when it saw us it reversed off the riverbank and swam away. Probably that’s mostly what they do, only out here you are constantly aware of stories about people being eaten and stalked by crocs. They had become a kind of monster in my mind.

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red dust got everywhere!

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Shit road/sandpit

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The anti-climax

The whole way on this section of the Savannah way we have been following signs to ‘Roper Bar’. It was where we could next pick up supplies and where we would know that the hardest part was over. To us it had become a destination. What an anti climax. I know we are in southern Arnhem Land, I get that it’s remote but Roper Bar was really rather lame. Just an overpriced general store down a 3km stretch of road with nothing in between (why the 3km?!) and a camping ground not even anywhere near the store. The highlight was eating a 2L tub of ice cream to celebrate completing the most challenging part of the journey so far. And we did get to see a road train stranded on the actual bar, which was kind of entertaining.

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Yep, we ate it all

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Road train goes to fast across Roper Bar

The next day and a half of riding into Mataranka was a bit of a slog. We had come through the scenic and difficult part and now we just wanted to be there, soaking in the hot springs and drinking a beer. The cycling was hot and we were both in need of a rest day. We did have a bit of a celebration on reaching the bitchumen! What a bloody relief. I’m definitely happy not to see corrugations or sand for a while! Finally, mid morning of the second day we hit the Stuart highway. It felt amazing. Half way across the country on the toughest roads either of us had ever cycled. The dust, corrugations, fatigue and sand of the last few weeks paled in comparison to our sense of excitement and achievement. Things only got better as down the road we not only met Graham and Gilda again but also another cycle touring couple, Liz and Scott. We were delighted. There is something truly wonderful about meeting people that instantly get you because they are doing exactly the same thing. No explaining, no crazy looks. They had even heard about us from other travellers. It’s that minor celebrity thing again, which is quite funny. It appears not that many women cycle the Savannah way.

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The tarmac!!

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We are grimy from the road

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From Bruce to Stuart!

Without much hesitation we all went and did our shopping (wow so much food!) and then sat in the park and the six of us shared a 2L tub of icecream. It goes without saying really that the rest of afternoon was spent in the shade, sipping beers and sharing stories. What wonderful, like-minded people Liz, Scott, Graham and Gilda are. An incredible way to end this section of our adventure.

love

Jude

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Made it! Relaxing with friends from the road, Mataranka

The long, hard, dusty road.

Leichardt Falls to Boroloola 

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The long, dusty, corrugated roads.

So I’m riding down this road.  It’s a beautiful afternoon and the sun is shining that awesome golden colour that it does on certain days.  I’m dreaming about the bakery treats I’ll soon be eating and life is fine.  That is until I have a head on with a kangaroo.  I don’t know about you, but one does not expect to have a head on with a kangaroo when one is riding a bike.  Yep, Jude happily rides passed the roo and scares it, so that it jumps out onto the road in front of me.  We see each other, it skids, I scream and slam on the breaks, and we collide – the dirty salmon hits the kangaroo in the rump.  Luckily all three of us survive unharmed – the roo, the bike and me.

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The hot artesian spring at Burketown.

   In comparison, the rest of the ride into Burketown was pretty uneventful.  We spent most of the time talking about all the nice things we would soon be eating.  Being from Melbourne we love good food.  We have been somewhat deprived of late, considering the main delicacies available out here would make the heart foundation tick explode from obesity.  For hundreds of kilometres, we had heard rumour of a bakery food oasis in Burketown, and it didn’t disappoint.  We had two pies each and a can of lemonade.  This was followed up by lamingtons and berry cheesecake.  Yes, we were very Australian that day.  Heavenly.

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Our first Darwin sign.

  Our indulgence was also fuelled by the knowledge that the next day we would be heading off on the first of our two long distance sections that would have little to no services.  Despite the long distances, intermittent dirt roads, the heat, and the road trains, the Savannah Way has so far been smooth sailing.  I must admit that I have at times been a little daunted by the next 800km.  Corrugated dirt road the whole way, would my bum and body survive?  Would we have access to enough water, as there was no wet this year?  Would all of our preparations be enough?  This would be the first real test of our outback abilities.  Then I had a flashback to woman who cried out hysterically “their mad!” as we left Leichardt Falls.  I laughed and knew I was ready.

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Some of the corrugations.

I wont bore you with the blow by blow details of the next six days and 500ks, as a lot of it was hard riding in the dirt, dust and heat.  Our route took us through Doomagee and Hell’s Gate, over the NT border, through a valley and many rivers, passed Robinson River and on to Borroloola.  I will tell you about the little things that made the ride worthwhile, amusing or just plain annoying.

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The NT border.

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Nerida, Tony and Graham.

The nomads.  Grey or otherwise, the nomads are a permanent fixture on the Savannah Way.  When they roar passed me on the dirt road, at 80km/hr in their 4WD towing a caravan, showering me in dust and gravel, I’m not a fan.  And while they have no consideration for our comfort and wellbeing, they actually wave to us and expect us to wave back – I shake my head and say under my breath “I don’t think so dickhead”.  Fortunately, the generosity, humour and joy de vivre of the others, makes me forget the rest.  While pedaling, we have had many people stop to chat and offer us water.  During the evenings we have had the pleasure of company by communal fires and have been spoilt by a handful of very generous souls.  Marcela and Joe sustained us with apple cider and home made banana cake, Sue and Morrie made us endless cups of tea at Hell’s Gate, Bevan gifted us a toast fork for using on the fire, Lydia and Toby gifted us fresh trevally and salmon for our dinners, Graham and Gilda made us freshly ground coffee, Nerida and Tony spoilt us thoroughly with oranges, cheese, beer and dinner, as did Susan, Tom, Cliff and Pam who fulfilled my one month craving for watermelon, and cared for our every need at the side of the Robinson River.  We are constantly in awe of the generosity towards us and thank everyone.

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Camping with a fire nightly.

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Happy Birthday Pam!

The lord lovers.  Not far out of Burketown a 4WD pulled up next to me.  In it were 5 people all dressed in neatly pressed shirts and all wearing Akubra hats.  Odd I thought, but who am I to judge.  I’m dressed in thermals riding across the dessert.  We chatted for a bit and like us they were heading to Doomagee.  As they were about to pull off, I was asked if I would like a magazine to read in my spare time.  Why not I thought?  Why not?  Because I was handed two copies of the Jehovas Witness magazine.  Onwards Christian soldiers I thought.  On the bright side, they did make great kindling for the fires we had the next few nights.

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The Doomagee Shire.

Aboriginal communities.  I can say that racism and third world standards of living are still a constant presence in northern Queensland and NT.  Perceptions, even those few based in truth, can lead to prejudices that are hard to break.  Everyone had advice to give us, and most of it was negative about the people and places.  We didn’t know what to expect, but like with most advice, it should be taken with a large grain of salt.  As we rode towards Doomagee and Borroloola, all the locals driving cars smiled and waved enthusiastically (we love it when people are excited by what we are doing).  They were also the most considerate drivers, who gave us a wide berth when passing and slowed right down to not shower us in rocks and dust.

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Happy our bikes haven’t ended up like that one.

Doomagee is a dry community, so the locals drink at an area known as ‘the family tree’.  I must say that I felt as if I had ridden into a Mad Max movie.  The area had recently been burnt, and there were thousands of beer cans and bottles strewn all over the ground.  Thankfully, Doomagee township was not like a Mad Max movie.  Despite the poor quality housing, that also exists in the Borroloola communities, new communal infrastructure was to been seen throughout the town.  We didn’t meet all that many locals in town, but the previous night we had met Cyril.  He had come to see where we were, as he had driven passed us earlier in the day and wanted to have a chat with the two girls on bikes.  Not a sight often seen in the area, as he informed us.  He was great fun and we chatted for ages.  Our experience of aboriginal communities was brief but overall, positive.

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The Calvert River crossing.

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You can see the effects of the wet on the trees around the rivers.

Crocodiles.  All rivers in northern Queensland and NT have warning signs about crocodiles.  So far we have seen only one from a distance while we were having a wash in one of the many river crossings we have traversed.  I’m always super cautious whenever we go for a dip, cross any river or camp anywhere near water.  When selecting which side of the tent to sleep on, I’m always torn about who should have the side closest to the river.  Do I want to be the first to be eaten, or do I let Jude be the one who is chomped on first?  Jude says I have ‘crocodile paranoia’.  I know I shouldn’t be as worried as her, as they always eat the German’s first, but I am.

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Half day rest day at Calvert Creek.

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Another river crossing.

The road.  It tickles my fancy that this highly corrugated piece of dirt track, with numerous bulldust and sand pits, that has many river crossings, and rarely has any upkeep, is considered the National Highway 1 – the same as the Princes, Pacific and Bruce Highways.  The road on the Queensland side is by far the worst, and I did feel as if I was in a milkshake maker for most of the journey.  We have pedaled on quite a few dirt roads thus far, but nothing compared to this.  Our normal speed halved, purely due to the shit quality of the road.  Then on the last day we decided to push hard, and cycle 105km, to make it to Borroloola by that evening.  We reached the Spring Creek Station turn-off, and were feeling tired and hot.  Another 28ks seemed like a lot, but the road hadn’t been all that bad.  BIG MISTAKE!  This was by far the worst section of road I have ever ridden on. The roads in Timor Leste looked like new highways compared to this.  Most of the time you can pick a line of the road that is better than the rest, but not this one.  28km of non-stop, body jolting corrugations, with gravel and big rocks as a base.  My body, and especially my bum, felt every metre it bounced and grinded over.  An ice-cream, a hot shower, a rest day tomorrow, four beers and an ‘all you can eat’ dinner, has “just” made that last 28km worthwhile.

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Nice scenery while riding the road.

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More dirt…

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Jude is happy with an ‘all you can eat’ meal.

My bum.  Last time I wrote about my bum, it had taken revenge on the saddle by breaking it.  Well the saddle has retaliated many times over.  You would think after three months of riding I would have developed callouses as thick as Buddha’s under the Bodhi Tree.  This is not the case.  Unfortunately the more I pedal the less padding I have to cushion the area, and some days my saddle sores make me wish that I had some Lignocaine gel or EMLA patches to put on my bum – especially with the corrugations.  Jude took a photo for me the other day and I almost fainted at what I saw.  I’m hoping that maybe a few more years of riding will help me reach nirvana on a bike seat.

So there you have it, the highs and lows of cycle touring.  I have really been challenged, but I would not change our new life for anything.  This is still by far the best thing I have ever done in my life.  With that thought and all our love, I leave you to yours,  Astrid xx

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Cooking up the fish we were gifted.

Turning Left

 Townsville (Alligator Creek campground) to Leichardt Falls via the Savannah Way

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Leichardt Falls

I’m sitting in a place called Leichardt Falls, the sun is shining softly though the trees (its about 27 degrees) and the water on the stove is just coming to a boil. It’s one of those leisurely rest days, where breakfast blends into lunch and time is marked by cups of tea. We are camped on the top of what is a waterfall in the wet season, overlooking the Leichardt River. Kites glide in the sky high above us and occasionally another camper’s voice carries to us on the breeze. It’s peaceful here and after doing 117km of dirt road yesterday, it’s a perfect place for a rest. But I am jumping ahead and will go back to the beginning of our time in the outback.

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Choice spot, Leichardt Falls

The epic left turn was finally upon us as we pedalled out of Alligator Creek, bidding farewell to Ash and Sophie with plans to meet again on the road or in Darwin. This turn inland towards Darwin was always going to be the most challenging part of the trip and at times has intimidated me. For weeks we weren’t even sure which road we would take, just that at some point we needed to chuck a left. But after a bit of research, map studying and date and kilometer crunching, it was decided we would turn left at Townsville on the Hervey Range Development road, followed by the Gregory Development road and onto the Savannah way at The Lynd. This would take us through Einsleigh and Forsayth and then up to Georgetown where we would stay on the Savannah way (which connects Cairns to Broome) until Mataranka (hot springs!) where we would finally turn north up the Stuart highway, cycling via Kakadu to Darwin.

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The epic left turn!

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top of the Hervey range

The actual left turn wasn’t that epic, as we found ourselves cycling through Townsville suburbs, but it didn’t take long for the buildings to disappear and the land to subtly change; the appearance of termite mounds and a generally drier landscape. As we cycled, the Hervey Range grew larger and we were mildly alarmed, as we had been warned that we would need to push our bikes in order to ascend. This might be true if the idea of cycling 5kms causes you anxiety (exercise seems a foreign concept to a lot of the Queenslanders we have met recently) but for us it was easy, nowhere near as hard as Eungella! At the top of the range we had a great view right to the ocean and to our delight a camping spot presented itself just another 2km down the road, right opposite to some Heritage Tearooms.

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Heritage tea rooms on top of the Hervey Range

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Giant scones of joy

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cycling up the Hervey Range

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Tearooms are a bit like camping at the base of a mountain you can climb up. You can’t just camp next to a place that makes Devonshire tea and not partake. So we patiently waited till 9am to eat the biggest scones I have ever seen. I was almost full. The day was spent climbing the rolling hills that are the northern end of the Great dividing range, carrying an extra 30L of water as there was nothing between us and the Bluewater springs roadhouse, about 115km away. Our camp was made 6km from the Gregory road turn off at what could be interpreted as a rest stop. It had a table, so we were happy. We built a fire and watched the super moon rise over a clear sky. A brilliant start to our outback journey.

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the ‘supermoon’

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a table is always a luxury, camping on the Hervey Ranage road

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At The Lynd where we joined the Savannah Way

The next day we were up early and pedalling keenly towards the roadhouse. I have decided to embrace all the greasiness associated with roadhouse food in my mind. So I was imagining all the horrible things I could eat (yes, I am totally food obsessed) and was rather disappointed to find a lack of greasy food on display on our arrival. On our way to the roadhouse we had ridden through a lot of roadwork and gotten some mixed responses from the workers; from blank stares of confusion, encouragement, and being videoed on i phones. It’s funny, people either completely get what we are doing, and why, or just think we are totally crazy. The people that get it, don’t really need an explanation, and the people that don’t, probably will never understand. I don’t really care if people think we are crazy (although it does get a bit tiring hearing it over and over again) it’s all a matter of perspective. People that buy big houses they can’t really afford and fill it with stuff seem crazy to me. Anyway, not long after leaving the roadhouse we were chased down by a farmer on a quad bike who wanted to have a chat. We told him our story and he told us about farming and travelling through Africa in the 1970’s. Its those kind of interactions that are so unique to cycle touring which I really treasure.

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It was hot and the road kept throwing up hill after hill and the rolling resistance was high, making our progress slow and painful. Lunch time raised our spirits as some kind travellers (who totally got what we were doing) gifted us a loaf of bread (we had not been able to buy any) and we chatted with them and their kids for a while. All this improved my mood and then thankfully the road deteriorated, which meant it was smoother and faster for us. We reached Greenvale after nearly 120km where we were greeted by a myriad of people who had passed us or who we had chatted to during the day on the road. Then it was time for a much needed shower (I was covered in a thin layer of grime). This was followed by an equally important beverage(s) at the pub.

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the mirror is great for traffic, especially while listening to tunes!

Due to some issues with my rohloff, which were sorted after a few phone calls to Commuter Cycles, we left Greenvale a little later than ideal. Lunch was at the Oasis roadhouse, where the kind woman behind the counter gave us an icecream after she heard we were cycling to Darwin. Here we also filled our water and hit the dirt road. It wasn’t too bad and we made camp about 30km down the road at a river, built a fire and prepared to relax in the quiet of the outback. Then the nomads with caravans and a generator turned up. My pet hate of this trip so far is definitely the hum of a generator in surroundings that would otherwise be serene. I can deal with it if it’s for a short while and quiet, but these were not.  Still, even generators can’t spoil the fact that we now leave the fly off the tent which means every night we fall asleep while gazing at the starlight sky. Definitely something I will treasure forever.

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Jude and the Green Fairy v’s the road train

We rolled out of camp and bumped up the road until we reached the very small (pop. 32 people) town of Einsleigh. The pub was the main feature of the town and we met some friendly locals who did their best to try and convince us to stay. We even got offered a job! I don’t think they see many women out here. If we hadn’t our Darwin goal, I reckon it would have been fun for a week or two. Instead we went for a nudie swim in the beautiful Copperfield gorge (totally worth it and free, unlike Cobbold gorge) and then bid everyone farewell. I have come to realize that 2 beers in the afternoon doesn’t lead to pleasant cycling afterwards. We slowly began climbing the Newcastle range as well, which added to my generalised, but thankfully brief, hating of everything. Soon the light started turning golden and we searched for somewhere hidden to camp. This part of the day really is magnificent in this country, the harshness goes out of the sun and the land is bathed in soft light after the sun sinks below the horizon. It always makes me feel at peace and is relief from the heat of the day.  That night we discovered the excellent feeling of nudie stretching to the setting sun.

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Copperfield Gorge, Einsleigh

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Afternoon beer, Einsleigh Hotel

The road became bitchumen as we got closer to our next small town, Forsayth, the following morning. I was having a tough time of it and was feeling more hungry than normal. Most of the ride I spent fantasising about cold rock icecream. What I wouldn’t have done for a delicious icecreamy treat! Luckily things took a turn for the better when we arrived in Forsayth. There we met Graham and Nicky who ran a bed and breakfast in a charming turn of last centuary Queenslander. Think; large balcony surrounding the house, cool breezy rooms and really beautiful architecture. An oasis in the outback and a unique find for out here. I thought I can picture myself sipping beer on that porch. We had just checked in to have a cup of tea but when Graham offered us a really cheap rate to stay the night it didn’t take us long to decide an afternoon off would do us good. I did spend the afternoon sipping beer and reading my book, but Astrid got to work pruning the hedge for Nicky because she has been missing gardening so much. An added benefit of being in Forsayth that day was that the Savannahlander (a train that runs from Cairns to Forsayth) was turning up in town and that locals could go on it while it did a loop and turned around. So Astrid and I and a bunch of local kids leaped on the train with glee while it did it’s turning around. We were then treated to the most delicious dinner thanks to Graham. It was so exciting to have vegetables and salad again! There has not been much in the realm of fresh produce out here so far. It really was a treat staying with Nicky and Graham who are both such wonderful people.

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Graham and Nicky and their beautiful B&B, Forsayth.

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Loving the gardening, Forsayth

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The Savannahlander, old time train from Cairns to Forsayth.

We reached Georgetown in the morning the next day and stocked up on fresh produce and water and headed onward to Gilbert River, 75km down the road. Unfortunately Gilbert river had no water in it and the rest stop was nothing more than a dust bowl. We had planned to have a much needed full rest day here but soon decided to push on the next day to Croydon. Luckily Croydon was the goods. Something I have forgotten to mention earlier is that my mum has been sending “care packages” to us along to way, consisting of her amazing dehydrated wares and usually a few extra treats. In Croydon we were delighted to pick up another package and especially excited to see the 4 blocks of Lindt chocolate we has been sent. I may have accidently eaten an entire block in about 10 mins. The caravan park in Croydon was cheap, with free laundry, “beer and bullshit” around the fire at 5pm, and a pool. Rob, who manages the place was a top bloke and he along with some of the other gentlemen convinced us to come to the pub (which had just reopened that day post a scandal and the publican being made to leave town) for “two beers”. Somehow that turned into about seven.

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Cows eat cars!

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loving a rest day, Croydon

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Croydon Hotel

On this trip I have really glimpsed another way of life, of taking the slow road and finding a peaceful existence in amongst the rush of modern life. There are people out here who have made the road their home, who stop at weeks for places because they meet people they like or find a place they are particularly fond of. They have no real end date or destination and I feel like that may be the ultimate freedom. There were three guys at Croydon that we met that were like that and it was a pleasure to spend time with them over cups of tea on our rest day. We also met a young guy, Liam who has been hitch hiking around Australia for the last 16 months or so. He had so many interesting stories and like us has the distinct impression, contrary to popular belief, that most people in the world aren’t rapists or serial killers. Although I don’t really feel like we are rushing I think we are both inspired to explore Australia at an even slower pace in the future.

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Jabiru

After Croydon a strong tail wind helped us across the flat Savannah land 128km further west to Leichardt Lagoon. This was a friendly Grey nomad city and we were greeted with collective curiosity and then received some wonderful hospitality from our neighbors. They encouraged us to use their stove and gave us some red wine, which we drank while watching the sunset with them. The only downside was falling asleep to the hum of generators.

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Normanton train station

Normanton was only 26km or so up the road so we headed there the next day to pick up supplies, make some phone calls and use the internet. They have a truly great information Centre and library with really reasonably priced wifi, which has been extremely hard to find in Australia. I won’t bother starting on my abysmal wifi in Australia rant. We even ran into two guys who are travelling around Australia on postie bikes for ‘save the children’. Running errands in towns always inevitably takes longer than desired, so it wasn’t until the afternoon that we rolled out of town. A few k’s down the road we hit the dirt which was to be our friend for the next 120km or so. Towards the end of the afternoon we visited Burke and Wills camp 119, their second last camp before the Gulf. It was a slightly eerie place and had me reflecting on the bravery and ignorance of the early European explorers. It felt too weird camping at the 119 site so we found a spot near the river about 3km away.

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the guys on postie bikes

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Normanton

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Big Croc, Normanton. Modelled on a real sized croc!!

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Burke and Wills camp 119

We always try and leave early but even if we set our alarm for 5.30am, it still usually takes us around 2 hours to get moving. This is partly because packing our panniers is slightly like playing tetras but also because we like fitting in meditation and a cup of tea before we leave. So yesterday we left not really expecting to make it all the way to the falls as the going was pretty rough, lots of corrugations and the afternoon heat is quite wearing too. One of the nice things on these more remote dirt roads is that we have had many nomads, and travellers in general, pull up next to us on the road and ask if we need any food or water. We even met one couple who had heard about us in Artherton and someone else who did a u turn so that they could get their photo taken with us. It seems we are some kind of minor celebrities! Although the day was tough, somehow we ended up making it to Leichardt Falls and we were immensely rewarded for our effort. It really is a special spot.

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Leichardt Falls

So next for us is Burketown where we hear rumours of a splendid bakery. Our crossing of the outback is going swimmingly so far. I am enjoying the vast beauty of the land. It really is a different Australia out here and the people that have made this part of the world their home, certainly have to deal with a lot of things we never think of in the cities; huge distances between services, terrible roads, un-passable roads (in the wet), no phone reception, hours for any kind of emergency services and huge costs. The price of food out here is immense! One refreshing thing that I have noticed is the lack of commericalisation. Aside the obligatory XXXX Gold signs, there really are no chain fast food joints, no supermarkets, no pokies. Both of us are in good spirits, if a little tired. It’s hotter and rougher out here and even though we are still loving it, we are looking forward to some weeks off the bike in Darwin.

 

Till next time.

 

Love

Jude

ps there are way too many photos of me! Going to steal the camera off Astrid for next time! (:

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For the love of Bruce!

Gladstone to Townsville (Alligator Creek Campground)

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Gotta love riding!

We are sitting with the ladies, the kettle is on, the tunes are playing in the background, and the bush turkeys and wallabies are milling around.  We woke with the sunrise, meditated under a tree and have had an early morning nudie swim in the rock pools.  Today is an auspicious day – it’s the midwinter solstice, Jani for Latvians, Pee on the Earth day and the day before we take our “big left”.  Yes, tomorrow we turn left and start the desert leg of our journey!

So grab yourselves a cuppa, a beer or a glass of wine, and I’ll fill you in on the adventures of the last two weeks.  They have been a lovely mix of long days in the saddle and rest days exploring beautiful places.   We left Gladstone and the positive energy of Matt from A1 cycles, and crossed into heavy industry and noisy transport.  We have learnt to block out the noise and drivers by listening to music or podcasts while doing the ks.  I’m learning about the amazing world of permaculture and Jude is getting better acquainted with world history.

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A cheeky wine to celebrate our anniversary.

We stopped for the night at the Raglan Tavern and celebrated our 3 and a half year anniversary with a pub meal and a bottle of wine.  The wine (and some earplugs) helped with our sleeping, as we were camped about 15m from the Bruce Hwy and 30m from the railway line.  The next morning we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn and covered the 55ks to Rockhampton in record time.  We lunched in the botanical gardens and then had a look around town.  Everyone had told us that Rocky was a hole not worth visiting, but we found it to be a beautiful town with stunning old buildings and a friendly vibe.  We also loved the random cow statues and that it was a public holiday due to the Rockhampton show.  It’s amazing what Australians will give themselves a public holiday for.

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Crossing the Tropic of Capricorn.

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Riding passed the beautiful old buildings of Rockhampton.

We also deserved a public holiday from the bikes, so we continued on to the beachside town of Yeppoon.  Turned out to be not really our kind of place, but we spent a couple of days eating, reading, swimming at the beach, and sharing wine and great conversation with new friends Ann and Tibor.  We circled back to Rocky along the coast road, taking in the stunning ocean views, swimming at the beaches and eating tubs of ice-cream in one sitting.  It’s amazing the things that you can eat when you cycle for 6 hours a day!  Back in Rocky we explored the local art gallery, hung out at the library (to use their free WiFi) and had a beer at the gorgeous Criterion hotel.

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Sunset at Yeppoon.

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Paragliders at Yeppoon.

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Going for a ride on the beach at Emu Park.

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Yum, a 1litre tub of frozen yoghurt!

We had decided a few days earlier that we would catch a train from Rocky to Mackay.  Not a decision one makes easily when on a quest to ride to Scotland.  But we wanted to spend more time exploring nicer places in Queensland rather than pushing out the ks on the Bruce Hwy.  In addition, everything that we had read and heard from cyclists and drivers, indicated that this is the worst stretch of the Bruce Hwy by far.  The alternative route was desolate, full of ghost towns, memories of backpacker murders and road trains.  Neither option seemed appealing.  So much to Jude’s delight, as she loves trains, we spent a few hours heading north faster that we would have on the bikes.  Arriving at Mackay at 2am we were tired and in need of more sleep.  The station master was a lady with one of those ‘cat’s bum’ faces, and needless to say that when we asked if we could sleep in the corner of the station till sunrise, her mouth puckered even further and a disdainful ‘no’ was directed towards us.

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Jude is excited by our train trip.

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Sneaky camping in Mackay

It’s a strange feeling riding through a town you don’t know at 2:30 in the morning.  Some stealth camping was performed at the local information centre, and later that morning we explored the town of Mackay.  Most places were closed due to the Queens birthday holiday so we headed west along the Pioneer Valley.  It was a beautiful afternoon of riding through the cane fields and small towns, surrounded by the rivers and mountains further along.  I’m not usually a fan of monocultures, but the cane shining in the afternoon sun was picturesque.  The bottom third was a golden colour, the middle third a vivid green and the tops a stunning mauve.

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The sugar cane fields on the way to Finch Hatton gorge.

 We spent the next couple of nights at the stunning rainforest campground near the Finch Hatton Gorge.  We again spent our days eating, reading, skinny-dipping in the pristine creeks and waterholes (‘clothing optional’ read the sign and we needed no encouragement), exploring the gorge, and enjoying the company of the awesome people camped around us.  We had a communal campfire, and when it was raining we sat around in Dave and Eli’s ‘Taj Mahal’ tent with candles and incense burning.

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A nudie swim in the beautiful creek.

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We love it!

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Swimming in the rockpools of Finch Hatton Gorge.

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A river crossing at Finch Hatton Gorge.

It had drizzled consistently for the last few days, and on the morning we left, the rain really set in.  The picturesque landscape of a few days back was transformed into a vision of matt grey.  Further up the valley, out of the grey, loomed the warning sign that the next 4.5ks was steep.  And steep it was.  I remember being sore, soaked through to my undies, and charging on hoping that the top would come sooner rather than later.  Since then, we have run into people who drove passed us that day, and all of them commented on how we were powering up the hill, big smiles on our wet faces and seeming to not have a care in the world.  By the time we got to the campsite everything was wet, we cooked our food in the toilet shelter (being the only place out of the rain) and laughed at the way Queensland presents itself.  “Sunshine State” – I don’t think so, and the latest “The Smart State” – even less so!

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The steep climb sign on the way to Eungella.

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Cooking at the toilet block at the campsite in the rain.

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It did finally stop raining.

We slept in till 7 the next morning and could not believe it when we put our heads outside the tent – blue sky!!!  A leisurely breakfast of pancakes and tea, was followed by a 17km hike through the Eungella National Park.  We were in greenie heaven!  Trees, palms, ferns, fungi, and more shades of green than Derwent could ever release in a pencil colour.  From the lookout we could see all the way down the Pioneer Valley and the road we had cycled up.   On the way back to our home for the night, we spotted some platypus and turtles in the creek.  Awesome!

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The beautiful Eungella National Park.

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The beautiful Eungella National Park.

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Looking down the Pioneer Valley.

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The beautiful Eungella National Park.

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A platypus.

To quote an old saying – what goes up, must come down.  The same goes with cycling hills, and it sure was fun!!!  We stopped for morning tea at the most gorgeous little café where we indulged ourselves on tasty treats to fuel us for the long ride ahead.  We spent the day riding through more cane fields shining in the sun, and dirt tracks through rainforests.  We ate lunch by a cute little creek and had the mandatory nudie swim.  I don’t think the big smile left my face the whole day – by far my favourite day of riding in Queensland so far.

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The crazy road we pedalled up and flew down.

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Riding the back roads.

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Cane, cane and more cane.

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And more cane…

Woke the next morning happy that we had not been found by the bogans who were driving drunk through the dirt back roads during the night.  Ah Queensland, the smart state.  We were also very excited, as today was the day that we would be catching up with friends in Airlie Beach.  We did a big push to Proserpine and relaxed on the couches of the Whitsunday Gold coffee plantation sipping lattes in the sun.  It was difficult to leave and pedal the last 25ks into Airlie, but the catch up with Ash, Soph, Eli and Dave was priceless.  We pitched camp together and then headed down to the beach for some cheeky afternoon beers.  Airlie is a backpacker town, and is really geared towards getting everyone very drunk.  I can’t remember the last time I bought a jug of beer for $8, but that set the momentum for the night.  Much to our delight we also caught up with Rich and Justin, friends from Melbourne who were in Airlie for the week.

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Sunrise on the backroads.

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Jude fuelled by coffee and custard cream filled croissant at the Whitsunday Gold coffee plantation.

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Beers at the beach with Eli, Soph, Dave and Ash.

Besides drinking quite a bit of beer, I think we had our biggest day of eating as well.  Jude figured out that in the space of 24 hours she alone ate a huge bowl of vegetarian pasta, a banana, chocolate, 9 slices of bread with a variety of toppings, a croissant filled with cream custard topped with chocolate, spring rolls, a full serve of Thai green curry with rice, 2 slices of pizza and a bowl of Cold Rock ice-cream.  And I do believe that she mentioned that she was still hungry when we went to bed…

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Part of the fuelling process – a big custard cream croissant!

The next day was a day of sloth.  We spent the morning drinking cups of tea and reading.  The most strenuous thing we did all day, was go to the beach and have a barbeque.  Jude and I are currently reading books about sea-faring, so we bought a bottle of rum and pretended that we were pirates.  Unfortunately we couldn’t find a parrot.  Cold Rock also made another appearance, with a group of us sharing a big tub with 5 flavours of ice-cream and 4 treats smashed into it.

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Wishing we were pirates.

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Sunset at Airlie Beach.

It’s amazing how addicted I have become to the riding.  By the next day I was feeling ansty about being off the bike, so while the others drove to the local waterfalls, Eli and I cycled the 60 plus k round trip.  The falls were beautiful and the water very refreshing (read cold!).   Eli did an awesome job of cycling, as she hasn’t been on a bike in years.  And despite wanting to get off often and just lie down, she is now considering joining us for the Asia leg of our journey.  We spent a wonderful evening catching up with Rich, Justin and Nic, and being around people from home made us very happy, but also nostalgic for all our friends at home.  You are all loved and missed very much every day!

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Rich joined us for the ride out to the Bruce Hwy.

 To make it to Townsville on time to do our ‘big left’, we had to wish all our friends a fond farewell and hit the road again.  Rich joined us for the ride out to the Bruce Hwy and it was sad to wave goodbye as we headed off towards Bowen.  The Big Mango greeted us on arrival in town, and the mango sorbet was so good after a few hours cycling in the heat of the afternoon.  We headed to the beach for a dip in the sea and there we met Bob cruising around on his fantastic bike.  We chatted cycle touring and travel for a while, and then he invited us to stay at his place for the night.  We watched the sunset from the lookout just behind his house and spent the evening talking about anything and everything, and looking at all the interesting things he had recently come across on the net.

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The Big Mango at Bowen.

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Watching the sunset from the lookout behind Bob’s house.

Even with this perfect life, sometimes things go a little pear shaped.  It started perfect enough riding through the market and vegetable gardens of the area.  We bought a massive bag of tomatoes for $2 from a roadside stall.  Then things went a little pear shaped.  We had our first flat of the trip, not normally a drama, but a 20 minute job turned into an epic two hour episode in the heat of the day.  I must give a big thumbs up to our Schwalbe Marathon tyres as they have been awesome considering the distance and terrain we have covered.  After pushing on to make up the distance we had lost, we camped the night in a rubbish infested road stop right next to the Bruce Hwy.  Finally, the throat infection I had woken with, ended up becoming a crazy chest infection.

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Our first flat of the journey.

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The fruit stall where we were loaded up with melons.

But the morning dawned in sublime hues of red, pink, orange and purple, and we pedaled off to complete our first 100km day of the trip.  A roadside fruit stall in Home Hill had us eating fantastic rockmelon, and the owner Alan, would have had us carting five varieties of other melons on the back of our bikes, if his lovely wife Francis had not intervened after the first two were gifted.  After a few hours riding we were very excited when the turn off for Alligator Creek came into view, and were even more excited when we spotted Ash and Soph in the campground.  We had done it – our first 100km day!  We celebrated with a swim in the rock pools and waterfalls, and I found myself a lovely lady spa to relax in.  All was wonderful, until on our return we discovered that the bush turkeys had massacred one of the melons we had carted for the last 80ks.  Not happy turkeys!  But a BBQ and music by candlelight had our night ending perfectly.

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Our camp at Alligator Creek.

 So as you finish up your cuppa, beer or wine, time has passed here as well.  We area about to kick off our Jani celebration – we have beer, cheese, vainags (wreaths made of leaves and flowers worn on our heads), Latvian tunes, a guitar and four voices to celebrate this amazing day! Ligo!

 All my love as always, Astrid.

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Ash and Soph celebrate Jani with style.

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Ligo, ligo!