Towards the tropics

Brisbane to Gladstone 

I’m sitting in a bike shop in Gladstone, sipping instant coffee as I write this. Astrid is off trying to get ‘the plug’ fixed. Tomorrow we will ride into the tropics, another mile stone. Brisbane already seems so long ago. The ride out of the city was a stark contrast to the tears, tantrums and hypoglycaemia of the ride in. Due to a combination of google bikes and Tim’s local knowledge, our ride out of sunny Brisbane consisted mainly of bike paths and small roads. An added bonus was that we have discovered podcasts. Of course I knew of their existence beforehand but had never gotten around to downloading any. I must admit I am slightly out of control now, it’s a bit like letting a kid loose in a lolly shop. There is so much out there and I have a thirst for knowledge, especially in history, politics, some quantum physics, literature and permaculture. My one regret is that I did not do an arts degree prior to doing ‘something you can actually get a job in’. I think education for the joy of learning and the benefits that stem from that experience, which cannot necessarily be instantly measured in economic (shock horror) terms is something seriously under valued in our country. Anyway, I digress, but my point is that as well as this trip being about adventure in what we are seeing and experiencing, I am endeavouring to use this time to read the classics and further educate myself in the areas that spark my imagination. Hopefully in time this will solidify my future academic direction.

After a day of re familiarising myself with the French Revolution we made our camp at the foot of Mt. Beerburum, in the Glasshouse mountains. These mountains are quite bizzare, as they rise like giant monolithic structures out of a seemingly flat landescape. They are in fact volcanic plugs. I have been waiting to use that word. Voclcanic plug, like Gondwana supercontinent, are my new favourite words. Anyway, when you camp at the foot of a mountain you are basically compelled to summit it at sunrise. If you didn’t, it would be rather lame, especially when the summit is only 700m on a sealed path. And the sunrise was rather spendid.


Glasshouse mountains

What followed was not. A day of convoluted google bike directions, motorways that didn’t allow bikes on them, roads that had no on ramps and generally unsatisfying riding through built up areas. We even failed in making it to the Sunshine Coast brewery. When days like this happen, it’s a real reminder about letting go of how you thought the day should turn out and moving on. Luckily things took a turn for the better later in the day, with some pleasant riding along the coast and an awesome tailwind. We finished the day with a treat – $5 bottle of wine and a delicious variation on one of our one pot wonder meals. Things don’t tend to stay glum for long.

The weather here is already so much warmer than even a week ago. I know part of it is due to being back on the coast, but also because we are heading to the tropics. One thing that is so different about travelling slowly like this is that you get to notice the subtle changes that occur with a gradually changing climatic zone. You don’t just fly into some tropical destination from a Melbourne winter and feel suddenly overwhelmed with humidity and warmth.( not that that isn’t awesome in itself) Here the environment slowly alters before your eyes, such as the differences in vegetation, warmer and warmer evenings, cane toads and my personal favourite  the hilarious bush turkey. The big bonus is the food! We are finding very cheap pineapples and avocados on the side of the road.


pineapple and espresso happiness

Following our $5 wine in the forest night we headed inland away from the Sunshine Coast. I don’t want to slam the Sunshine Coast, it’s probably a lot nicer in the sun. And it does have nice beaches. It is however very built up and we cycled through suburbs of mostly empty beach houses and apartments. And they say there is no rom for refugees in this country. The waste and decadence made us both a little uneasy. I mean, although I would probably never have one, I do like visiting friend’s beach houses but perhaps they are rather unnecessary.  Ah, first world problems. Anyway, moving on. I guess Noosa and the sunshine coast in general probably once possessed that laid back, seaside village charm, that has been eroded by commercialisation and yuppies.

Once inland we were back in the quieter kind of country that agrees most with cycle touring. Lightly trafficked roads and farmland, interspersed with forest. At about the time we usually think about stopping, a reserve on the site of an old school appeared. Reserves, quite simply are gold. They usually mean a covered table, water and toilets. And in QLD there is a distinct lack of ‘no camping’ signs. After 2 nights of scrambled bush camping, the reserve may as well have been the Hilton. We settled in, drank tea, read books and watched the sunset over a field of cows.

What followed was a day of decidedly uninspiring cycling through immense pine plantations. The moody fast moving clouds dumped rain on us as they saw fit and log trucks thundered past (usually giving us enough room). Our camp was in a mossie infested part of the forest, we made thai curry and dived into the tent as soon as possible to watch ‘Spooks’. Somehow the uninspiring cycling from the previous day seemed to permeate the mood the following morning.  Both of us felt lethargic and slightly morose and by the time we reached Maryborough, a mere 22km away it all came to a head. The root of the issue was since we have crossed the border into QLD we have been doing big days in rather uninspiring country. And it’s not only that, the distances themselves are much bigger than in the southern states. All the coastal towns are massive detours and the alternative is quality time with Bruce (Bruce highway A1). We don’t want to just ride the highway, but we also need to be in Darwin by August 1st as family are coming to visit, and we need to work on our yacht option to Asia. Of course, like everywhere you could spend months exploring this particular region of QLD. Somehow we have to find a balance between the places we would like to see and covering distance. We were in a rut about Queensland and needed a change of tactic. It was decided to sod the 65km we had planned to do that day, and stay put in Maryborough. Almost as soon as the decision to have a rest was made, our moods improved. We had a lovely day exploring the former frontier town, going to the museum and having a beer at the pub. A local even offered us his vacant block to camp on.


The rain really settled in the next day as we headed up the Bruce highway, but we did find avocados for 25 cents each. The promised land! Food is of central importance on this trip.  I have rather tragically even downloaded the Aldi app onto my phone, as it tells me the location of the nearest Aldi store. I am a total convert!  It certainly makes your dollar go ALOT further and it’s incredible how much I can eat these days. If you left me alone with a loaf of bread and a jar of Aldi chocolate spread, I promise you I could polish it off in 15 mins. I am seriously fantasising about going to an “All you can eat” restaurant before we leave Australia. I reckon we will do it and I can’t wait.

Day 7 of not showering dawned for the first time in days without rain. We had made camp at a free rest stop, which are heavily frequented by grey nomads and appear to be relatively common in QLD. Signs say they are for ‘the convenience of the travelling public’. I say awesome. This particular one was right next to a cute pub too. Bonus. We rode fast over gentle inclines, past cane fields, in light traffic to Bundaberg. We skipped the rum factory as neither of us are keen on Bundaberg rum and instead had the pleasure of a triple gold find of Big W ($2.99 350g Belgian Chocolate) Aldi (all good things come from here) and 65 cent pineapples from a servo. A good day.

Our push towards 1770/ Agnes Waters the following day was pleasantly interrupted by a break at the ‘Tiny Teahouse”. I was reminded later about another difference between cycling and driving these highways. When you drive it is so easy to see a sign for something (such as the tiny teahouse) and go ‘should we?’ and while you are deliberating at 100km per hour it flashes past and you think ‘oh well.’ I have certainly done that in a car. When you are cycling you see the sign get slowly bigger, until you can decipher  it and then you start fantasising about tea and cakes. By the time you reach the actual turn off, you are sold. Perhaps this is not the greatest if you are trying to save every penny but you do get to have some unique and delicious experiences  The Tiny Tea House rocked. Our goal that day, in terms of cycling was the Fingerboard Roadhouse which we reached around midday. Here we did a quick repack, chained up our bikes and successfully transformed ourselves from smelly cycle tourists to smelly backpackers with funny bags. Part of our solution to tacking QLD’s vast distances, was to think a little (at least for a cyclist) outside the square and hitch hike. It took us 10 mins to get a ride, we were soon set up in a camp ground in Agnes Water and not much longer after that we were swimming in the ocean. Hitchhiking win. This experience certainly opened my mind as to how to get around a 60km detour and even a way to explore an area if we ever want a break from the bikes.

cyclists to hitchhikers

cyclists to hitchhikers

Our time at Agnes Water/1770 was truly superb. A place I would recommend for all of those who like charming coastal villages with enough travellers to keep it vibrant but not yet ruined by over commercialisation. We made friends with Ash and Sophie, a great couple who are on their way around Australia. Like us they have quit their jobs to explore the world for a while. Meeting them made us collectively relish our freedom again and reflect on the things we would otherwise be doing (waiting in a hospital corridor perhaps?). It was so great to meet some people our age, this is not a negative comment on grey nomads as they are excellent, but just that I think we have been missing hanging out with people of our generation. Sophie and Ash were so kind to us and we all went to watch the sensational sunset at 1770 and then they cooked us dinner and shared their beer. In fact, I think we were all pretty happy with having met each other and stayed up late into the night talking until ‘Tiny,’ a local joined us. He is a muso and soon he was playing the guitar while some of us sang. Sadly this was interrupted by a grumpy grey nomad (who didn’t have the decency to ask us nicely to be quiet) but proceeded to yell at us to ‘shut up or he’d call the cops’. Obviously our folk songs were offensive to his ear. Sigh. Generation clash perhaps?

Sophie and Ash, our awesome new friends

Sophie and Ash, our awesome new friends

After reluctantly packing up our stuff the next morning we had a change of heart and decided to stay another day. I’m not sure why we ever considered leaving. Ash and Sophie were such fun, the weather and location were sublime. Instead, the 4 of us headed to the beach to swim and read for the day. There we met one of Ash and Sophie’s friends, Guy. We had randomly run into him the night before. Guy has built his own catamaran and sailed from the Goldcoast with a mate. He is one of those truly inspirational people whose simple attitude to life really rung true with us, and he has certainly got our brains turning over. Astrid has talked about learning to sail before, but I didn’t know much about it and kind of thought it was something that rich people did. Sometimes you just need someone to spark your imagination, like the guy that inspired me to really try cycle touring. There are so many ways to live this life and they certainly don’t need to involve being tied to a job and piles of money. Guy just reminded me of that again. That night we made friends with another young dude travelling on his own until he meets up with his girlfriend. We all had a BBQ together and then Astrid and I had a sleep over in Ash and Sophie’s tent (as we had stupidly packed ours before deciding to stay). They drove us back to the Fingerboard Roadhouse the following day and we agreed to meet up again in Airlie Beach in a week or two. We are both looking forward to it!

sunset 1770

sunset 1770

We had planned to ‘smash out the kilometres’ once we were dropped off, and smash we did. Thankfully we are travelling with a prevailing southerly wind and it was this wind that helped push is to 75km in 3.45 hours. Our home that night was the Boyne River rest stop, another free camp site thanks to the local council. Wow did that place fill up! So many variations of caravans and buses. We had a gold experience with John, a lovely grey nomad. He plied us with pineapple, heated water for us so we could wash, and cooked us dinner. He was slightly odd, in that he didn’t eat with us, but set us up in his van with our food  because he ‘didn’t associate with young ladies’ and waited outside until we finished eating. Odd perhaps, but kindness comes in all forms.

So that brings us up where I am now, in the bike shop in Gladstone, exactly 2 months after we left our home. What am amazing trip it has been so far and what lies ahead is unknown and exciting.