Hi, my name is Jill Maden and in 2010/11 I rode a Suzuki SV650 around the eastern half of Australia (Part 1). It was a monster of a machine and piled high with far too much luggage it was a nightmare to control.
In 2014 I am returning to ride around the western half of Australia (Part 2) but this time I'll be doing it on a much smaller bike, a Honda CT110 or Postie Bike as they're known in Australia. I'll be riding on both sealed and unsealed roads so it should make for an interesting trip.
I hope you enjoy reading about my adventures.
Part 2 will begin on 28 August 2014!
If you've enjoyed reading this blog, you might like to read the story behind the story in "Excess Baggage" the book of this trip. For full details, click here:
Friday 18th March 2011 – I arrived back in the UK yesterday morning after, I’m pleased to report, an uneventful flight back from Hong Kong. Despite my cold, I had a great week in Hong Kong with my brother and ended up staying in a very posh hotel room for a very cheap price so it seemed like a fitting end to my journey. After 7 months of life on the road and endless adventures its going to be strange establishing a “normal” life again, but I guess that’s what life’s all about – ch-ch-changes ...
So that’s it, as Jim Carey said on the Truman Show, “Good morning and, in case I don’t see you, good afternoon, good evening and good night”.
Friday 11th March 2011 – Here’s a funny story for you all. On the plane to Hong Kong during a bit of mild turbulence I started to feel a bit queezy. However, never having suffered from any form of travel sickness I discounted the possibility that I may be sick and decided to go to sleep instead. Sometime later, the girl in the seat next to me starts shaking me awake as, it turns out, I was vomiting in my sleep! On awakening I grabbed the sick bag and proceeded to empty my guts into it. I then managed to wake the man on the other side of me and make my way to the crew station where I announced, somewhat obviously, “I’ve just been sick”. The attractive young male steward then gave me another bag and suggested I might like to go to the toilet to clean up. “Clean up?” I thought. It was only then I realised I’d been sick all over my clothes. Anyway, I made it to the toilet and, as I wasn’t sure which end the next attack was going to flow through, I wheeked down my trousers and sat on the toilet. A few minutes later, said attractive young male steward knocks on the door. I could barely manage to say “Just a minute” so he then proceeded to unlock the door from the outside and pop his head round. Talk about an undignified sight – there I was with my head in a sick bag, my trousers round my knees and covered in puke! Nevertheless he handed me a cup of some sort of gastric relief compound and left me a pair of Quantas pyjamas to change into. When I eventually managed to peel off my clothes, I realised there was sick all over my underwear too. I made a pathetic attempt to wash it in the sink but given the taps are tiny and so is the plug hole, I soon realised this would be a fruitless exercise so I stuffed my clothes in the bag he’d given me and made my way out. They then took me up to Business Class and put me on oxygen for half an hour before sending me back to my seat for an uneventful remainder of the flight!
Thursday 10th March 2011 – So my time in Australia is finally over and I’m waiting at the airport for my flight to Hong Kong to be called. I woke up with a sore throat, runny nose and a light head today that has been gradually getting worse. I read somewhere that runny noses usually indicate tears that haven’t been expressed. I managed to fight back the tears for most of the day today, but saying goodbye to my friends, their little girl, their dogs and, of course, the bike, was more than I could take and I’ve been bubbling ever since.
My last few days in Melbourne were a mixture of freezing cold, cold and hot weather and were passed happily tying up loose ends and exploring the city. I put an advert on the web for the bike but as I’d had no takers by the time I left, I gave it to my friends.
People keep asking me what have been the best bits of the trip and I would definitely have to say looking after all the animals, especially the two whippets, riding to Mount Molloy in 8 days in the scalding heat and riding over the 30km of dirt track on the Omeo Highway. These are the bits that gave me the greatest sense of achievement. But really, the whole trip was fantastic and I was blessed with meeting some fabulous people, getting a reliable bike and seeing some of the most wonderful sights. I feel deeply grateful to everyone who had a hand in making this trip possible and incredibly lucky to have the good fortune to have been able to undertake it.
So will I go back and do the western side of Australia? Well, it occurred to me the other day as I was riding along on my friend’s push bike, that perhaps cycling an electric bicycle would be a good way to cross the Nullabor and go up the centre. So watch this space, I may be back ...
Sunday 27th February 2011 – The last 395km from Lakes Entrance back to Melbourne should have been a beautiful ride along the South Gipsland Highway but unfortunately the weather broke for my final ride and I got completely soaked! The final approach to Melbourne meant joining the freeway system and navigating my way through roadworks, heavy traffic and a number of tricky junctions. As with the approach to any major city, this was a nerve wracking experience, but I managed to find all the right roads at the right time and made it back to my friends’ house without incident.
So that’s it – the ride is over. In the last 7 months I’ve ridden from one side of Australia to the other and back again, covered 15,630km, avoided floods, cyclones and heat exposure, met some of the kindest, most helpful and genuinely nice people I could have hoped for, and had the time of my life.
I fly out of Melbourne to Hong Kong on 10 March, spend a week with my brother, then from Hong Kong to London on 17 March. Between now and then I’ll have to try and sell the bike and squeeze my expanded load of luggage back into the 2 bags I came here with.
I’ll write again before I leave, but for now, thank you to everyone who’s been reading this blog – I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.
Friday 25th February 2011 – I had the day off yesterday so wandered around Tallangatta and caught up on my laundry.
Today I wanted to get to Lakes Entrance on the south coast. According to my HEMA Motorcycle Atlas, there are 3 ways one can get there from Tallangatta: (1) take the Omeo Highway (described as “The road is generally tarred, but there are some quite rough gravel and rock sections which can be a test for the unprepared.”) – clearly not a good choice for me; (2) the Redbank Road which follows the right bank of the Kiewa River (described as “a simple back road ... so its a lot of fun”) – sounds right up my street; or (3) the Kiewa Valley Highway (described as “... a little on the dull side”) – err, perhaps not. So which one did I end up taking? Yes, you’ve guessed it, the Omeo Highway with 30km of gravel road to tackle!
Somehow I took the turning before the Redbank Road and ended up on a road that junctioned with the Omeo Highway. As I’d already gone about 45km at this point, I didn’t particularly want to go back so I decided it was time to face my fear of gravel and keep going forward. There are 2 gravel sections on this road, the first about 10km, the second, about 20km. The first was by far the worst – there were some really steep turns and badly rutted sections. I discovered the best way to tackle them seemed to be to keep your feet up and just keep moving. On the 3 occasions that I put my feet down I found it was very difficult to then get going again.
The second section was much longer. It took me 1.5 hours to cover the 20km involved. As long as the road is going straight its okay, but as soon as it starts climbing (or descending) and turning, the 2 wheels of the bike start going in different directions and you start skidding across the surface. The downhill bends are the scariest as you can’t use your power to control things like you can on the uphill bits. At one point a couple of guys on dirt bikes went whizzing past me in the opposite direction and it occurred to me that perhaps taking things faster than first gear might be easier, but given how hard it was to control the skids at slow speeds I wasn’t prepared to take the risk. Another guy with the full BMW adventure touring gear stopped as he passed me to check I was okay. As I said “yes” I could feel tears welling up but I knew blurred vision wasn’t going to help so I stuffed them back down and just carried on. As I got closer to the end of the track, the road flattened and smoothed out a bit so I was able to get it into second gear and 30 km/h!!!
I’ve never really considered myself a religious person, but one thing I have found throughout this trip is that, if there is a God, then I sure ask for His help a lot!!!
So I made it to the bottom of the dirt track in one piece only to discover I still had another 50km to ride to Omeo. And this wasn’t easy riding either. The road twists its way down through the mountains with huge sheer drops right off the side of the road. When I pulled into the petrol station in Omeo a guy came rushing up to me asking me if I’d seen “an old bloke on a BMW” as he’d lost him and thought he may have gone over the edge. In the cafe where I had lunch, the owner told me how 3 bikers had come to grief a few years ago. It was foggy and the first 2 went straight off the road over a cliff, the third saw the second’s tail light rise up and realised what was happening so put his bike down on its side and just managed to escape going over the edge.
From Omeo I joined the Great Alpine Road (the second best bike ride in Australia and the fifth best in the world, according to the cafe owner). About half way down and within about 5 minutes of each other I had 2 near misses with oncoming cars, the second of which had me hit the brakes so hard I almost kissed the tarmac so, realising my riding was becoming eratic, I pulled over to discover I was shaking like a leaf. A little rest, a few gulps of Powerade and several enquiries from passing drivers as to my state of health later, and I was back in the saddle for a much more sedate descent to Lakes Entrance.
So here I am in a lovely, very cheap, motel room where I think I’ll stay for a couple of nights before doing the final run back to Melbourne. I can’t believe my trip is almost over. Its been the best, most terrifying and most uplifting thing I’ve ever done. As another biker said to me the other day “you’ll miss not riding every day, won’t you?” and the answer is, of course, “yes”.
Anyway, its not quite over yet ...
Wednesday 23rd February 2011 – What a joyful day’s riding it was today. I left Tathra, rejoined the Princes Highway north for a few kms, then took the Snowy Mountains Highway west to Cooma then Jindabyne. It was the most gorgeous day – clear blue skies, radiant sunshine and stunning clarity. It was quite cool climbing up over Brown Mountain so I had to dig out my windproof jacket again. At Jindabyne, I turned onto the Alpine Way to Thredbo. This is where the Kosciuszko National Park starts and where the Australian ski resorts are located. Until this point the roads had been lovely wide open ones with sweeping bends and gentle gradients, but after Thredbo the road narrowed and became another tight alpine pass. At one point a pack of other riders, heading for the SuperBike Races at Phillip Island it turned out, passed me. However, round the next bend we had to stop for road works. One guy looked at my overloaded bike – before he could say anything I said “Don’t say a word.” So he turned away then obviously couldn’t resist and said “Moving house?”. It was quite funny though.
It took me most of the afternoon to get from one side to the other but it was beautiful country so I didn’t mind at all. So thanks to Mark (from Canberra) for suggesting it.
I then took the Murray Valley Highway to Tallangatta (which is back in Victoria) and booked into the local hotel which was doing a super cheap deal for motorcyclists. Its not the plushest place I’ve stayed but the 2 guys that run it are very friendly so I may even stay a day.
Tuesday 22nd February 2011 – Yesterday, Nick lent me a push bike and took me off to see the National War Memorial. It’s an impressive building that also houses a museum of wartime artefacts. He left me there to look around, then I cycled part way round Lake Burley Griffin before heading off to look at the Houses of Parliament. Alas, the bike proved to be perhaps the most uncomfortable I have ever ridden so I ended up pushing it most of the way round Canberra.
That evening I met up with a gentleman called Mark, one of my blog readers, who lives in Canberra. He was very interesting and recently spent a month riding a Royal Enfield round India. He also gave me lots of advice on where to go next – he suggested going through the Snowy Mountains instead of along the coast. After that I went back round to Nick’s to return the bike and have dinner. It was really nice to be able to relax in a real house again and to meet his kids.
Today I left Canberra and took the King’s Highway back to Bateman’s Bay before heading south along the Princes Highway to Moruya to meet up with Steve, a friend of my friends in Melbourne. It was only when I left him and got to a petrol station that I realised I’d lost my wallet. Panic stricken, I fled back to the pub where luckily they’d just found it. God, that’s twice I’ve lost it now and twice the good honest folk of Australia have handed it in.
I’m now in Tathra where I just managed to get the last room in the Inn – a family room with 7 beds in it! Another (very attractive) biker called Mick had just checked in when I arrived, so we tentatively arranged to have dinner together, however, by the time I’d had a shower, changed and sorted my stuff out, some other woman had nabbed him first. Honestly, it just never seems like I’m going to meet someone. Every guy I meet is either married, separated, fancies someone else, doesn’t fancy me or is completely unavailable. I think I’m just going to give up on looking for love with someone else and concentrate on finding it within myself – then maybe it will just come along without me having to try.
Sunday 20th February 2011 – I met up with Nick for dinner last night and again this morning. We took the bikes out to the NASA Deep Space Communications Complex. This is where they "listen" to space.
I had a fabulous time looking at all the exhibits and taking photos of the satellite dishes. Nick, however, seemed a little restless (having been there many times before) so I suggested he could leave if he wanted and I’d go back via the Mount Stromlo Observatory.
Until 2003 Mount Stromlo housed about 5 different telescopes but they were all destroyed in a massive bushfire and now only the shells of the buildings remain – the actual telescopes were damaged beyond repair. By this time, I was on a bit of a space mission and decided I would go and find the Planetarium. As I didn’t have a clue where this was, I went to the Tourist Information Centre first only to discover it too had been destroyed in a fire in 2008!
So my space mission had to be aborted for the day and I had to content myself with going to see “127 Hours” at the pictures instead – if you haven’t seen this film, its about a guy who falls down a ravine and gets his arm trapped between a boulder and the rock face. He eventually has to cut his arm off to get free. And, yes, its a true story!
Saturday 19th February 2011 – What a great time I had in Bateman’s Bay. It was lovely to see Rod and his family again and also to meet up with another old friend, Shane.
On Friday, Rod took me for a drive to Shallow Crossing. This involves taking a dirt track up into the forest for several miles before the road descends down to the River Clyde where a concrete weir has been built across the river. As there has been so much rain it was completely submerged and we had to drive quite slowly across it to avoid being swept away by the current.
We then went up to look at some old gold mines. You wouldn’t have known they were there unless you knew they were there. To the untrained eye they just looked like piles of earth but upon closer inspection one could see huge, seemingly bottomless, pits had been dug. I found it amazing to think that people had walked in all the equipment they needed and probably spent months at a time burrowing for the precious metal.
Again my heart strings were pulled leaving my old friends but as I’ve now booked my tickets home I need to keep moving. So I took the road to Canberra this morning. It wound up through the forest before coming out onto an open plain where I nearly got blown off the road on several occasions the wind was so strong. Just as I made my final turn into London Circuit in Canberra a car in the right hand turn lane decided to go straight on and nearly knocked me off my bike! Admittedly, I was in the left lane, but I was indicating to go right (as were a number of other cars) so I don’t quite know what that other driver was up to. Anyway, I’m safely ensconced back at the YHA now and hopefully will meet up with Nick tonight.
Wednesday 16th February 2011 – I left Sydney today. The thought of riding through the biggest city in Australia on a fully laden motorbike wasn’t one that I’d been particularly looking forward to, but I noticed that Route No 3 from Mona Vale Road would take me all the way through Sydney and out the other side at Woolongong where I could pick up the Pacific Highway to Bateman’s Bay. A girl in my room tried to convince me it would be shorter to take the road outside the hostel all the way into central Sydney where I could pick up a “distributor” road which would then take me over the Harbour Bridge then I’d be able to pick up “some other road” that would take me south, but upon looking at my map this seemed like a very complicated route and as Route No 3 didn’t involve a single turn I decided to take it instead even though it probably was a little bit longer.
So I set off into the vast metropolis of Australia’s premier city. I put myself in the middle lane on Mona Vale Road and pretty much stayed there all the way to the Pacific Highway. This route bypassed the centre of Sydney and took me through suburbs called Pymble, Ryde and Huntsville as well as passing the Olympic Stadium. It was very built up so it took me 2 hours to travel the 100km to Woolongong, but I made it without incident and didn’t have to stop once to consult the map so I was happy with that. I then phoned Rod to advise him of my progress only to be advised “well, its still another 3 hours from there”. God, I should be used to the distances in Australia by now, but they still always surprise me!
Anyway, I made it to Bateman’s Bay just before the rain came in so all in all, it was a pretty good trip.
Monday 14th February 2011 – I took the bus into central Sydney today. Its been about 6.5 years since I was last there but as I looked out across Circular Quay (which is rectangular, incidentally) it seemed as if it was only yesterday. Its funny how memories can distort time, or is it, how time distorts memories? As I travelled down the east coast I went through many places I’ve been through before yet didn’t recognise at all, then others that I had really clear memories of in my head but didn’t even see. Weird isn’t it?
Anyway, the bus went over the Harbour Bridge (the other night on the ride we went through the Harbour Tunnel) so now all I need to do is get a boat across and I’ll have crossed it by most means.
I then took a tour of the Sydney Opera House. Wow – its impressive from the outside, but inside it really takes your breath away. Unfortunately they wouldn’t let us take any pictures of the inside so I’ll just have to add those images to the reliable stack of memories in my head!
Saturday 12th February 2011 – God, I’m exhausted. I’ve just spent the last 3 days with Glenn & Emilia and the Northern Beaches Social Riders. This is the motorcycle club that Glenn runs, but it’s not just any old motorcycle club, they also raise money for charity, tonnes of it – so far they have raised AU$300,000. They do this through a combination of raffles, events and people paying to be pillion passengers on their rides. Thursday night was raffle night at the pub, then yesterday, they had a big ride through the streets of Sydney. The main instruction I was given was “Ride in staggered formation and keep as close as possible to the person in front.” Easier said than done I have to say! Now keeping in mind that most of the riding I’ve done over the last 6 months has been in pretty remote areas where you can go for miles before you see another vehicle, having to ride at a distance of approximately 10 feet from the bike in front, came as something of a challenge to me. Add to that the fact that I had absolutely no idea where we were going and was surrounded by enormous Harley Davidsons, and you have all the makings of some truly appalling riding from yours truly. Arriving at Harry’s Pie Shop (a local Sydney institution) at Woollamolloo, I was, once again, a jibbering wreck. After pouring out my terror to anyone who would listen it seemed to clear my nerves a bit and on the way back I got it together and did a much better job of keeping tight with the other riders and actually found I really enjoyed myself.
Glenn & Emilia, John and the rest of the NBSR are a fabulous group of people and my heartfelt thanks go out to everyone who chatted to me and made me feel so welcome. And special thanks go out to Glenn and Emilia who welcomed me into their home, barely knowing me, and showed me some of the local sights of the area. I am truly grateful.
I also got a chance to take a ride out to Palm Beach (aka “Summer Bay”), where “Home & Away” is filmed and saw a few of the key landmarks used in the series.
Now I’m back at the Northern Beaches YHA and feeling a mixture of deep gratitude and nervous exhaustion. Although it was lovely meeting everyone at the NSBR I do find meeting lots of new people quite nerve-racking so its nice to be able to spend a bit of time alone again.
I’ll stay here till Tuesday or Wednesday then make my way down to Bateman’s Bay where I’ll see my dear old friends Rod & Kim.
Wednesday 9th February 2011 – When I left Byron Bay it was a cold, drizzly morning. In fact, it got so cold at one point, I had to pull over and dig out my windproof jacket. However, by the time I arrived in Port Macquarie it had brightened up a bit and I was able to have a very pleasant stroll around the town.
The next day was also quite cool but again it brightened up later and by the time I got to Newcastle it was lovely. I decided to follow the Pacific Highway into the town instead of joining the Newcastle/Sydney Freeway, which took me all round the coastal beaches of Newcastle and beyond. It was really pretty.
Eventually I had to join the freeway which was very scarey but managed to make it to the YHA at the Northern Beaches by 3pm. I then made contact with Glenn and John from the Wilcannia servo and Glenn invited me round for dinner. So I had a lovely evening with Glenn, his wife Emilia, John and their other friends Mark & Stephan.
Monday 7th February 2011 – Byron Bay has been just what I needed, rest and relaxation in beautiful surroundings. The campsite is right on the beach and therefore benefits from cool sea breezes as well as warm sunshine. Its a bit of a hippy town – lots of massage clinics, art galleries and shops selling brightly coloured clothing. And more campervans than I’ve seen in my entire tour of Australia! Its a big surfing destination.
On Friday night a group of 20-something lads, then a group of 20-something girls, checked into the lodges next to mine. As you can imagine the 2 groups instantly bonded, the music was cranked up and the booze began to flow. God bless them, they very kindly asked if I would like to join them, so I had a cocktail, then politely left them to it. Just as well I’m pretty deaf as I managed to sleep through the ensuing din.
Saturday was spent cleaning the bike, wandering around and acquainting myself with the town and walking up and down the beach in my bikini in an attempt to get a tan. I mention this only because in a town full of 20 year old stick insects, one does become particularly conscious of one’s “fuller figure”. Anyway, I managed to get a bit of a tan and second degree burns on the areas that I missed with the sunscreen.
Sunday I went sea kayaking. This was brilliant fun and as they didn’t have enough canoes for everyone I got paired up with one of the guides, Shane, a very attractive man from New Zealand. Shane encouraged us all to stand up and see if we could see some dolphins from an “aerial perspective” which resulted in me nose-diving into the sea. Later, a shoal of fish were having a feeding frenzy on the surface but no dolphins were to be seen. Shane then leant over and said “Just between you and me, it probably means there’s sharks about.” Jesus Christ, thank god he didn’t tell me that before I had my little dip! On the way back in, a lady got a bit panicky so Shane offered to take her back in. This, of course, meant I had to get onto her kayak – this time I managed not to plunge into the water but I ended up on my back with my legs split between the 2 drifting canoes before I finally managed to pull myself aboard – not the most elegant manoeuvre!
Today it was wet and windy so I did a pile of laundry in the morning then took a walk up to the lighthouse. Oh, it was so nice to feel the cool wind and rain on my skin after so many days of sweltering heat.
Tomorrow I shall leave this wonderful place and continue heading south to Sydney. Probably stop at Port MacQuarrie.
Friday 4th February 2011 – The ride from Gin Gin to Noosa Heads found me in a rotten mood. I was hot and tired and fed up with riding alone and not having anyone to talk to. And more road works – at one point I got so hot waiting in a long queue of traffic that I pulled the bike over to the side, got my bottle of water and started pouring it all over myself. It was only when I’d finished that I realised the truck driver behind me was watching the whole affair!
Anyway, I found the YHA and booked in. Another small, stuffy room with no air conditioning, I was not a happy bunny. However, I managed to make contact with my brother’s friend, Andrew, and the next day he came and took me off to the comfort of their gorgeous country home, complete with swimming pool, fans and air conditioning. I had a really lovely visit with Andrew and his family, so, when I left this morning I found myself in floods of tears again. It was just so nice to be with people I knew again and to be looked after.
I left about 9.30 this morning which ensured I missed the rush hour traffic into Brisbane but meant I ended up doing most of the 300km to Byron’s Bay in the sweltering heat of the day. It seems to take me longer to cover distances when its really hot and it was 4pm before I got to the Bay. Unfortunately, the YHA was booked out, so I found a campsite which had small “lodges” available and booked into one of these for 3 nights. After all the travelling of the last few days, I feel exhausted and need to recharge.
The good news is, I’ve managed to make contact with Glenn & John, the two guys who rescued me in the middle of the desert on my way to Mount Molloy, so I’ll be stopping off in Sydney to see them later in the week.
Tuesday 1st February 2011 - Having fled south for the last 3 days like a Wild West outlaw, it would appear I’ve managed to outrun the most imminent danger. I’ve just seen a TV report saying the cyclone is currently heading towards Cairns.
Thank goodness, I’m not sure I could keep this pace up much longer (I’ve been doing 400-500km a day). I saw a newspaper report this morning saying Yasi was heading for Rockhampton which almost made me weep as I couldn’t have taken riding all this way and still getting hit with it.
Anyway, I’ve made it to Gin Gin today. I left Carmila at 6.15am and whacked off the first 128km to Marlborough by 7.30. One serving of bacon & eggs and 2 cups of tea later, I was back on the road and was in Rocky by 9.30. Then it all started going pear shaped. You’ll probably be aware that Rockhampton was one of the towns badly hit by the floods? Well, although there wasn’t a lot of evidence of it in the town itself (either they've done a spectacular clean up job or my route just didn't go past the worst areas), there were countless road works where they were piecing the road back together again between there and Gin Gin so progress became quite slow.
Most of the time I’m quite happy riding along by myself, but today, I could really have done with some company. Mile after mile of endless bush and only my thoughts to keep me company. So you may wonder what I think about while I’m beetling along. Well, for a long time I had the constant criticism of some anonymous person in my head justifying every move I made, but now, I seem a lot more at peace. The main thing I seem to do is read road signs, you know, “Road Work Ahead, Reduce Speed”, “DIP”, “What is the highest mountain in Queensland?” – yes, that was one of the signs today. Because its such a boring stretch of road the authorities suggest you should play “trivia games” to stop yourself from nodding off and this is one they give you to get you started. All very well if you’ve got someone to play it with! (The answer, by the way, is Mount Bartley Frere, or something like that.)
So off to Noosa tomorrow where I’ll hopefully get to stop for a few days.
Monday 31st January 2011 – I awoke to a calm and peaceful morning today. Cyclone Anthony did a bit of mischief down at Bowen but we were unaffected in Townsville. So, by the time I’d retrieved my bike from the toilet block, it was about 7am before I got on the road. However, I made good time and got to Ayr by 8.30 so stopped for a cuppa in the local servo. The headline on the paper read “Anthony and the Goliath” and the girl behind the desk was quick to advise me I’d be best to head as far west as possible and get away from the coast because the second cyclone (Cyclone Yasi, aka Goliath), currently over Fiji, will be a category 4 and will destroy everything in its path. As I’d already missed the turn off for Mount Isa (in the west), I left the servo like a bat out of hell and continued south with the intention of turning off at Mackay. However, by the time I’d reached Bowen and had a chance to consider her advice, I decided I’d be better off getting as far south as possible as the cyclone isn’t due to hit until Thursday which gives me another 2 days to clear to impact area.
So much for spending a month meandering my way down the coast – at this rate I’ll be in Sydney by next weekend!
I’d made Mackay by 1pm. However, I then ran into a strange phenomena that I haven’t encountered in Australia before – a traffic jam. A van had run into the side of a bridge which meant all the traffic from 4 different directions was backed up for miles. It took me 2 hours to travel the 30km from Mackay to Sarina! I’m now in a small village called Carmila, about 100km south of Mackay. Tomorrow I’ll try and make it to Hervey Bay.
Sunday 30th January 2011 – When I left Mount Molloy the owner’s brother-in-law told me to watch out for 2 cyclones making their way towards the coast. However, I was too busy trying to fit the plastic supports inside my panniers so they wouldn’t collapse again (I think this is why the last set ripped) to pay much attention to the weather reports, so I was up at the crack of dawn this morning and on my way south down the Bruce Highway. I wasn’t exactly sure how far I’d go, but, Townsville seemed like a good target.
It was a fantastic ride – somehow all my nerves had gone and I was handling the bike (even with all its luggage) with no difficulties. Needless to say, I was loving every moment. Its sugar cane country between Cairns and Tully, then banana country from Tully to Ingham. Everything is so green and lush at the moment and the Great Dividing Range (I think) to the right gives a spectacular backdrop. So I meandered my way along and by about 1pm had reached Townsville so decided to stop.
As there isn’t a YHA in Townsville anymore, I decided I should camp, so made my way to the caravan site on the foreshore. As I asked for a tent site the lady behind the desk said “Do you know about the cyclone that’s coming in tonight?”. “Err, vaguely” I said. So she showed me the weather report with the cyclone heading straight for Mackay, a town about 30km south from here. So she suggested I take a cabin instead and park the bike in the toilets overnight so that it doesn’t get blown across the park when the cyclone hits. So I’m off to go batten down the hatches and make sure everything in my cabin is on the floor before the winds comes.
Saturday 29th January 2011 – I got the call late yesterday afternoon saying my new panniers had arrived so this morning I jumped on the bike and headed up to Atherton to collect them (I ordered them from the same place I got my tyres as I thought I’d be going back that way before I changed my mind and decided to go down the coast). I took the road to Mareeba via Kuranda which is very windy then took the road back down over the Gillies Ranges to Gordonville. Now I’ve done some twisty roads since I’ve been in Australia, but this took the biscuit. About 30km of hairpin bends and steep descents with amazing views over what must have once been a volcanic mountain range. I loved it!
Friday 28th January 2011 – I decided to do a bit of sunbathing today so donned my bikini and headed down to the lagoon on the Esplanade. This is the first time I’ve done any sunbathing since I arrived in Australia and like most Brits abroad my stunning white flesh practically blinded the locals. I did, of course, apply sunscreen but when I later got changed back at the hostel I realised I hadn’t applied it very evenly as my tummy and legs were covered in red blotches where I’d obviously missed some bits.
One thing I’m happy to report about Australians is that the men here still uphold the fine tradition of short shorts and what the locals call “budgie smugglers” (i.e. speedo style swimming trunks). I must confess its really very nice to see a bit of leg from time to time!
Friday 28th January 2011 – Contrary to my first thoughts, I’ve now decided to return to Melbourne via the east coast highways – going through the centre at this time of year would mean dealing with temperatures in excess of 45C and I’m not sure I’m up to that again. Whereas the east coast route will only be about 30C! Plus its a much more populated and interesting route and is also a more direct route to Canberra and Bateman’s Bay. The only trouble is there’s a cyclone developing off shore so there may be more flooding, but hey ho, either way there’s risks involved and I’d rather take my chances on the coast than melt in the desert again.
So the plan is to spend 2 weeks getting from Cairns to Noosa (just north of Brisbane), where I’ll stay with a friend of my brother’s, then another 2 weeks from Noosa to Canberra, then a final week or so getting back round to Melbourne where I’ll stay for a week so that I can sell the bike before flying to Hong Kong on about 12th March (dates not confirmed yet) then back to the UK a few days later. Along the way I hope to take in places like the Whitsundays, Fraser Island, Byron Bay, Coff’s Harbour, Newcastle and Palm Beach (where they film Aussie soap opera “Home & Away”). So its going to be a great trip and I intend to savour every moment.
I feel quite sad that my trip is coming to an end. I’ve had the most wonderful time here and I can’t believe I actually managed to ride the width of Australia in 8 days!!! It would have been great to have had some romance but I think the lack of it has made me learn how to find happiness within myself and that in itself is a wonderful thing. And who knows, I’ve still got 6 weeks to go ....
Thursday 27th January 2011 – I’m free! I’m back in Cairns, staying in an insect free room at the YHA and acutely aware of how much anxiety I’ve been carrying in my body since arriving in Mount Molloy. I’ve ordered a new set of panniers for the bike as one of them has developed a large tear, so I’m staying here for a few of days until they arrive. It feels good to be back, even though its not the same town it used to be – enough of it is still the same to make me feel at home.
Monday 24th January 2011 – Over the weekend I spoke to both my mum and my dad who are dealing with health issues at the moment and last night had an overwhelming desire to go back and help them. So this morning I phoned the owner’s sister to get a contact address for the owner. Suddenly it was all too much and I was in floods of tears, so she took the situation in hand and arranged for the owner’s son to move back in and take care of the pets and to contact the owner to let her know. I’ve still got a couple of days work to do this week, so we’ve agreed I’ll leave on Thursday and start making my way back to Melbourne (as this is where my flight departs from).
Having just done a massive ride up here, I’m going to give myself a bit more time to get back again so I’m hoping to be back in Melbourne by the end of Feb and home by early March. As the east coast is still affected by the floods, I think I’ll go inland and come back via the “red centre” (i.e. Darwin, Ayres Rock & Alice Springs). I might then try and “nip” across to Canberra and Bateman’s Bay to say goodbye to friends there, then return to Melbourne.
This trip was originally meant to be for a year, but as I’ve done pretty much all the things I came here to do (apart from crossing the Nullabor) and had more adventure than most people have in their lives, I think returning home after 6 months is still a bloody great result! So keep tuning in for the final updates of my trip down the centre!
Sunday 23 Janurary 2011 - As if to test me, a Praying Mantis flew into the living room last night. The cat immediately went after it and half killed it but left it with just enough life to flounder on the floor for a few hours. So, after another sleepless night from the dog barking at every shadow that passed, my resolve for staying in the house was severely dented this morning. Then, this afternoon I came home to find the squirming dissected innards of a cockroach on the kitchen floor with the cat overlooking it with a gecko in her mouth. So in answer to the question at the end of my last entry, it would appear I’m the type of adventurer that has absolutely no stomach for insects. To say they are “creeping me out” would be the understatement of the year! I can’t stand them!!! So I think I’m going to have to look into finding some alternative accommodation with fly screens and air cooling devices because this is freaking me out!
Saturday 22nd January 2011 – The wet season is well and truly upon us this week. It must have started about 4 or 5 days ago when I took the dog for a walk up to have a nosey at a lovely old Queenslander-style house that’s for sale on a nearby hill. Just as we got there, the heavens opened and we had to shelter on the veranda for about half an hour for the rain to subside enough for us to run home (not that it made any difference, we still got soaked). And its pretty much been raining ever since.
The rain also brought out a huge plague of “flying ants” which swarmed the kitchen. These just look like petals being blown in the wind, but they are actually termites that lose their wings and burrow into the woodwork of your house. The rains also heralded the first appearance of bats in the house. All this, combined with the presence of frogs, geckos (small lizards), huge moths, spiders, flies, ants and the dog having several barking fits during the night, all left me feeling somewhat shaken, and by Thursday, I had practically decided I should move out and entrust the care of the house and pets to the owner’s son. I even got as far as writing an email to that effect, but luckily, my internet account ran out of credit and I couldn’t log on to send it. By Friday morning, I had re-assessed the situation and decided I needed to focus on all the positive aspects of living in the house. Within a few hours I started to feel better and after a particularly fun night in the pub, by the end of the day, I had changed my mind and decided to stay. After all, what kind of adventurer would I be if I ran away after only 2 weeks because of a few wee bugs (well, lots of bloody great big ones actually, but you know what I mean)?
I'm just hoping the roads will be open tomorrow so that I can get back down to the coast for work and a music festival to raise money for the Queensland Flood Disaster Fund.
Sunday 16th January 2011 – After a few days of air-conditioned luxury in the car, I decided it was time to take the bike for a spin again, so I rode it down to work and back again. This is the first time I have ridden it naked (i.e. unladen) for weeks, and what a difference it makes. The road to the coast crosses the Great Dividing Range so is another windy, twisty one full of hairpin bends and steep decents, but I managed it with scarcely a touch on the brakes. It reminded me of how much I used to love riding – back in the days before I lost my confidence and became a jibbering wreck – not that I’ve been that bad for quite some time – but it was lovely being able to throw the bike around a bit for a change and not worrying about it all collapsing underneath me.
Now I must make special mention of the unsung hero of my travels here. The bike, which is a stallion of a machine, has been a magnificent travelling companion. It has stayed upright despite having the most nervous of riders at its reins and its provided utterly reliable service day after day in the most challenging conditions. It even has great fuel economy despite the mass of luggage its had to bear. I couldn’t have asked for a more trusty steed and I feel very lucky to have found it. Its going to be really great to get out on it some more without all the baggage and really let it run free! Do I sound like I’m talking about a horse here? Well, I guess it is something of a mechanical horse, albeit, not quite so frisky.
Thursday 13th January 2011 – Oh boo hoo. I had been so looking forward to going back to Cairns, but OMG, what a mess they’ve made of it. Obviously the town planners were more interested in increasing their bank balances than in preserving the essence of the town. Every spare bit of land has been filled with either a horrible hotel or a hideous shopping centre. What used to be a lovely, open, low level town with a sense of space and plenty of green areas, has been transformed into a concrete labyrinth. And, worst of all, the lovely little house we used to live in in Clare Street and had such happy times in has been knocked down and turned into a set of soulless apartment blocks.
On the plus side, the Esplanade has been very nicely landscaped to include a swimming area and the central plaza is still pretty much the same, but beyond that, yuk, yuk, yuk!
Maybe its true, one should never go back. Although I’m sure I’ll return again just to make sure I wasn’t just suffering from heat stroke and impaired vision!
I stopped off at Kuranda (a 60’s market town) on the way home, which, I’m pleased to report, is still exactly the same as its been since the beginning of time, so all is not lost!
Wednesday 12th January 2011 – Sorry I haven’t been online for a while, life in Mount Molloy has been pretty full on since I arrived and this, plus the fact that everyone wants to know if I’ve been affected by the floods, means I thought I'd better update this again.
Thankfully, I have not been affected by the floods. These are all happening much further south, with Brisbane currently being inundated. The CBD has been shut down and people are being moved to evacuation centres around the periphery. The news is just full of stories of communities being devastated and I give thanks that I was not caught up in any of the major floods on my way here.
I actually arrived in Mount Molloy a few days early so the people I’m house-sitting for used the opportunity to introduce me to the community. On Friday they took me to a local swimming hole (oh, the joy of being immersed in cold, refreshing water) followed by dinner at the pub where I met many of the locals. On Saturday it was their son’s 21st birthday so I spent the day helping them prepare the local hall for a big party that night, where I met most of the rest of the good people of Mount Molloy. Sunday was breakfast at the owner’s mother followed by lunch with her father. On Monday, they finally left and I headed down to the coast to go and get “orientated” at the owner’s business. It turns out she has a spa in one of the towns there and part of the reason she chose me to be her house-sitter was because she was hoping I’d help out at the spa. I agreed, thinking it would only be a couple of half days a week, only to discover she’d rostered me on for 4 full days. So now I’m doing massage on Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays! The people at the spa are very nice but I’m not exactly sure I want to be spending my time doing quite so much work, especially seeing its on a voluntary basis! Anyway, the busy season will be over at the end of January so hopefully it won’t be for that long.
After my orientation I returned to the house and decided to blitz the kitchen. The family that own it are, how shall I put this, quite “casual” when it comes to housework, and, as a result, the kitchen has an ant infestation. So 5 hours later I’d scrubbed the fridge to within an inch of its life and removed all traces of food on every surface I could find.
This is a beautiful house but it doesn’t have any insect screens, air conditioning or overhead fans, so the only way to keep it cool is to leave all the doors and windows open. This has the consequence that every insect known to man comes for a visit every day. I have a standing fan in my bedroom which keeps the mossies off during the night, but for the rest of the time, I’m a living target. Despite smothering myself in insect repellent I have been eaten alive. I’m just hoping I don’t get Denge Fever!
The owner’s son was supposed to be moving out when they left for their holiday, but he was still here on Monday, then on Tuesday he went missing, as did the dog. I searched the pub and his grandmothers but no-one had seen him, however, today, when I got home, the dog had reappeared and a few items had been moved around so I presumed he’d returned the dog and gone to his new residence.
I have also been working my way through a huge mountain of laundry that was left behind, and, as I’ve now got 3 days off, I’m hoping to do a bit of a cobweb and nest removal programme. But first, I’m going to Cairns tomorrow to visit my old stomping ground from when I lived there in 1989 which I am really looking forward to. The owner has left me her car so its making getting around a lot easier (and cooler).
Thanks to everyone who has been sending me emails checking I’m okay, I do appreciate it.
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