bicycle travelling
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AUSTRALIA I: cairns - darwin

Nov 5, 2003

AUSTRALIA I: cairns - darwin

12688 km, darwin (AUS)

route: cairns-port douglas-cape tribulation-cooktown-mareeba-cairns-gordonvale-ravenshoe-georgetown-normanton-cloncurry-mt.isa-camooweal-barkly homestead roadhouse-three ways-(tennant creek)-elliot-mataranka-katherine-pine creek-adelaide river-darwin

welcome to down under! after 1 year asia in a completely different world. pedalglobal-tour 1 vienna-karthoum-kathmandu finished. pedalglobal-tour 2 is just to begin.

at the international airport of cairns - on the northern parts of the east-coast in queensland - we experience the the strict quaratean rules of australia. it takes totally 2 hours, to get our baggage checked by dogs. and later on per hand. all bags - and we have a lot of them - get totally emptied. our bicycle unpacked and desinfected. a nice way of get our bikes clean...

when we get out of the fully airconditioned airport, we see large limousines, perfect lawn, perfect park areas, palms. all cars are perfect and shiny. no scratches at all! i really forgot how life works in western countries. a new world.

caravan parks everywhere. and also 'classical' tourist on caravans, busses, cars, 4WDs and motorbikes. and two on pushbikes. but on the campsites also other people area living, which is also typical for this country. unemplyed people, seasonal workers, retired people and people who cant find or afford a house. they are all living for several months or longer on one site. campsites and bushcamping on the outback means for bine and me that we have to get used to ourdoor-life again. which we both missed so much in overcrowded india and nepal, and which we enjoy so much.

cairns is a modern, nice but not very interesting town. with supermarkets, cafe and beach, which we did not see for a long time. we are enjoying some 'other' food than rice, and visiting some bars and pubs.

after recovering a bad cold at ellis beach, which takes a week, we are haeding off. but first not south or west, like many cyclists do, but north up the coast to cooktown. and i can tell you, it is really worth doing it.

for a few days we have an unorthodox travelpartner. thomas from austria, who is currently doing the last few thousands kilometer back to sydney. with his motorbike he started 6 months ago and did nearly the whole australian continent. he wants to slow down anyway, and because on the route there is so much to see that bine and i are also going 50 km a day, it turns out that the difference in speed is no problem. after port douglas, we together discover the rainforest and gorges of 'mossmann gorge', which is really great. green, dense forest. so perfect that it seems to be artificial. at wonga beach we are making nice campfire. and i enjoy the australian beers like 'victorian bitter' (VB) or 'XXXX gold lager'.

the road is leading through dense rainforest. and on some of the great lookouts we can see the white and empty sandy beaches, the deep-blue ocean and the deep-blue sky. really great! on the daintree river we make a boat trip. we see an amethyst python in a tree, and spot some crocodiles lying on the edge of daintree river. the landscape, rainforest and some small and narrow confluences, are very nice. at the environmental center we learn something about jungle and how it works. byy accident we see a python on a tree.

at cape tribulation the sealed roads ends. now the famous bloomfield track starts, which is for 4WDs only. and - of course - pushbikes. it turns out that the main problem on this route is not the gravel road - this is pretty good for cycling - but the steep ascends. very steep. on the 33 % (!) sections the road turns to concrete road, because it is too steep even for jeeps. but pushing the bikes up these hills is worth doing it. the ladnscape and the coral coast are beautiful. 2 times - during the wet-season probably more often - we have to cross rivers. not that deep, we one time are just pushing our bikes through and at the second time we carried all stuff to the other side. permantly an eye on both sides, to look for crocodiles, who are living in this area...

it is hard work, and we do just 48 km on the whole day. we stay on a nearly empty campground in ayton, and on the next day we go to cooktown. passing the oldest hotel of australia. and the 'black mountain national park', which has some hills totally with black, volcanic rocks.

cooktown is the oldest non-indeginous settlement of australia. captain cook was the first white man entering this area. during the gold-rush over 30.000 people were living here. today it is a small, laid-back town with just about 1000 inhabitants. some hotels and pubs, post office and one supermarket. and two james-cook-museums.

we take the inland-route to get back to cairns. and experience for the first time a little bit of the famous outback. just 50 km are offroad. and for this short section i enjoyed the huge road-trains speeding over the gravel-roads. back on sealed roads a lot of dead kangaroos on and beside the road. poor creatures, killed by hundreds on one day. and that 'palmer river roadhouse' some refreshment. then on to mt. carabine and mt. molloy (where bine and i are celebrating the 13-months-on-the-road anniversary with a delicious barramundi-fish) and mareeba. strong headwind and every hills and mountains makes it difficult for us. but we are cycling straight, and from kuranda we enjoy the switchbacks down to the coast of cairns.

a 700-km-loop, which i recommend to every touring-cyclist. although it is a kind of 'one-way', there is so much and different things to see that you should not miss this lovely and quite empty section of the east-coast.

as we are leaving cairns for the second time, we first head south. but just 30 km. then we cross the gillies range on a 20-km-ascend. but the gradient is moderate and the surrounding lovely dry forest. so even bine enjoys it. at very late afternoon we pitch up our tent at lake eecham, a crater lake, caused by a big explosion of hot water beneath the earth. we see turtles, but unfortunately no phython. now we are on the atherton tablelands, which look like many places in austria. green hills, some forests, and many pastures and cattle. some hundreds meter above sealevel means also cooler and humid weather. the australians love it. for me it is not that interesting. but anyway, we enjoy the beautiful milla milla-falls, which are surrounded by rainforest. but the water is awfully cold. i am just going in for a short time - for the photographs...

after ravenshoe (a little village which claims to be the highest town in australia) the landscape is going to change. after the millstream-falls (the widest waterfall in AUS) it is going dryer and dryer. the number and the size of the trees are decreasing, the temperatures and the distance to the important small villages and roadhouses are increasing. carrying 40 or up to 50 litres of water is now 'business-as-usual'. the outback is going to begin.

in the middle of nowhere. many 4WD-jeeps are overtaking. outside with a lot of labels of different companies. one of them has written 'partywork' on his rear-side. they are stopping in front of us. a clown, with red hairs and red nose, and funny, colourful outfit gets out of the car. 'STOP!!', he is shouting to us. and he fixes one balloon on each of our bikes. later on we are invited to play some strange 'desert-gulf', with damaged equipment. nearly all of them drink beer. 15 minutes later they all left. just 2 cyclists remain there. alone again. with two balloon on their pushbikes...

we dont want to miss the 'undara volcanic national park', 15 km off the mainroad. the main attractions are the countless lava tubes, which came into existence about 200.000 years ago because of volcanic activity. some of them are huge (about 40 metres wide and 20 metres high), and inhabit many animals, especially thousands and thousands of bats. a really unique experience (but the guided tours only are ver expensive).

then we are crossing the gulf-savannah. passing just a few small villages like innot, mount surprise, georgetown, croydon and the main town normanton. the road is often single-lane. which means we have to move into gravel when one of the famous 50-meter-road-trains are approaching. but it is by far not that dangerous i ve expected. but there are quite many of them, mostl cattle-transporter.

in croydon we visit a rodeo-festival. and it is really great! we see 'bull-riding' and 'rodeo' for the first time. it looks brutal and ellegant at the sime time. and all the outback-people as visitors with their boots, jeans and - most important - their hats on making a unique atmosphere.

normanton is quite depressing. it has a small shops and a caravan park. but the people, the surrounding is really not good for recreation. it is a further 400-km-hop south to cloncurry and further on to mt. isa. the heat is sometimes unbearable, and the wind is blowing from the front. it is not easy. especially reaching the burk and wills roadhouse is a really hard ride for me. but after drinking 3 litres of powerade, i am alright again..;))

sometimes we enjoy the great hospitality of australians or other travellers. we get cold water in the middle of nowhere. people just stop and ask if they can help. and in one restarea we are invited to sausages and salad and - a cold XXXX!!!! thanks a lot.

sleeping in the outback for our own is a thing a like very much. brilliant sunsettings. and a perfect black sky with millions of stars above. thats beautiful.

mt. isa is the biggest city between cairns and darwin. mainly a mining town. it has one of the largest copper mines of the world. but nevertheless, the town is quite nice. and we fill up imoprtant supplies for the ongoing route. we meet warren, an australian cyclist, with whom we watch a rugby-final in a pub. he explains the basic rules of the game, and it is really funny and interesting to look rugby.

leaving mt. isa after a few days of relaxing, we go on the barkly highway west, until it meets the famous stuart highway after about 600 km through a very remote area. but the backwind helps bine and me, to go quite fast. 20 km behind camooweal we hit the border of queensland and the northern territory (NT). it is in the middle of nowhere, just plain and dry grass around. cool! and it turns out to be very typical for the NT. just 190.000 people are living there. without the big cities of darwin and alice springs there are about 70.000 left, which inhabit an area which is about the size of whole germany! a sometimes difficult and very remote area for cyclists.

now it is getting very, very hot during day. the restareas are very good. they offer a shady place with a table and - most important - water! although there are some sections of about 300 km of 'nothing', the restareas help to cycle easier in the fascinating outback. small bushes, dry grass and red soil dominate the landscape. and hundreds of dead cattle and kangaroos beside the road dominate the odour of that area.

reaching the barkly homestead roadhouse means that we managed the hardest part of 280 km without sighting a single building. 200 km more brings us to the end of the barkly highway - three ways. but also on stuart highway, which now is leading us north to darwin, there is not much traffic. therefore bine and i can cycle side by side and shorten the long stretches to the next supply-stop by talking and making nonsense.

we put up our tent at a small staion (thats how the farm-areas are called) which runs also a basic campsite. or at roadhouses along the way up north like dunmarrah, hi way inn and acacia store. or we sleep at the excellent restareas, at which we sometimes meet other travellers doing the same - using a very good, quite place to sleep. under millions of stars - and for free. or of course we are totally on our own, and sleep anywhere in the bush. and it seems that the whole universe belongs to just bine and me. wonderful.

now, heading north, we gradually leave the outback and go back to the subtropical top end of australia. the trees are taller again, and the bushes and grass is green again. but unfortunately the air is very hot and humid. sleeping is very hard. thats the price of the beautiful northern part of the red continent.

we see newcastle waters, a ghosttown, the famous daly waters pub, which is not very interesting. enjpy the not-so-famous 'old esley roadhouse inn' in mataranke, which much more nicer and comfortable. we are getting the broken saddle of bine fixed at the nice hi-way inn roadhouse. we are witness to the seventh 'solar challenge'. a race of solar-cars from darwin to adelaide. we see some of the funny looking vehicles meeting us on the highway. i have to suffer under my bad back for a few days, which makes cycling not that funny. in the city of katherine we are relaxing and have a big 'whoolies'-supermarkt again. we are passing a lot of WWII-airstrips which played an important role during the second worldwar. we see parts of the new railway line from zlice springs to darwin. from jan. 2004 onwards it will be possibly to cross the whole continent from adelaide to darwin by railway in just 2 days! one oft the most important projects of australia. we suffer sometimes (especialy during dawn and dusk) from thousands of bloody flies which are making us crazy.

after 3600 km of cycling in australia, we reach the entering sign of darwin. we make the inevitable photos and drink a XXXX-beer whcih bine carried 150 km for just this reason: for celebrating our first big leg through the red continent.
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