After a lengthy and sleepless flight, plus spending far too much time in Kuala Lumpur, we landed in the Gold Coast, and was greeted by a smiling and happy Amir, a friend of Lindsay’s family who had invited us to stay with his family while we accustomed ourselves to life down under. His wife, Ellie, and their son, Sourena, made us feel like we were in our home. We were treated to incredible Persian style hospitality, ate some amazing Persian food and learned about the wonders of Iran – which is now a country near the top of the list of ones to visit.
We explored the surrounding coast, cycled up the very steep roads to get a view of the coast from Springbrook National park and the extinct volcanoes of the area, before whizzing back down, past the wallabies and the enormous bats hanging from the trees.
Our cycle touring was to be slightly different here in Oz than it was in Asia – somehow I had convinced Lindsay that it would be better and great fun to camp – I think the low cost compared to the threat of animals wanting to rip our faces off at every opportunity won her over!
Gold Coast to Tully Memorial Park (North Maclean)
After a week of rest in the Gold Coast, we were happy to be on our bikes again, though very sad to be leaving the amazing comfort, hospitality and love of Amir, Ellie and Sourena (and the incredible food). But now it was new country, new rules; Aussie rules. Loaded with sleeping bags, sleeping mats, tent and cooking gear, our first test with our new weight came at the bottom of Tamborine Mountain. Australia is the flattest continent, but not where we were going to cycle. Warning signs greeted us, but we carried on; 18% for 2.4km.
Gravity did it’s best to keep us from ascending, and nearly won. Instead we beat it, and collapsed in a pile at the top – while everyone else was enjoying the stunning views in calm comfort. The uphill was painfully hot, the legs were screaming at us, but the downhill to the other side of the mountain was spectacular. Through tropical jungle it was cooler and the road curved through the mountain, waterfalls (and everyone loves a waterfall) and jungle – too much fun to be taking any photos!
Our first campsite in Oz was a free site on a serene park. We pitched our tent in the long grass and made sure we stamped everywhere to scare off the million deadly snakes waiting to rip our faces off. The Aussies strolled through casually, barefoot, looking at the idiots (us) knees high, feet stamping, looking like twats, scared of anything that moved.
Tully Memorial Park to Brisbane
We survived our first night camping in Oz! We then had the arduous task of making a more complicated breakfast than the bread and jam or Bánh mì we had in Asia – our culinary skills were tested with porridge. A porridge fit for adventure; slightly burnt with extra jam and a taste of the outdoors. I was pleased I survived that too.
With all the great feelings of being alive, we set off to the Daisy Hill Koala Sanctuary just outside of Brisbane with the excitement of seeing these cute little critters. A poster outside told us that Harry, the star Koala, was unfortunately away relaxing recovering from an illness. We went looking for the other koalas…but there were none. Apparently a Koala Sanctuary only needs one koala, and theirs was on holiday. A bit disappointed, we instead relaxed in the calm peaceful forests surrounding the sanctuary, and watched in shameful entertainment as children would run up to the sanctuary filled with excitement, only to be crying running away a few moments later when they realised there were no koalas.
We carried on to Brisbane where we were staying with a Warm Showers host – hopefully better than our Cambodian host in Siem Reap…
We were greeted by our first hosts who instantly made us feel welcome. It was refreshing to share stories and chat endlessly about cycling, adventures, triathlon and running and to hear about their 2 river crossings in Australia in croc-infested rivers!
Brisbane to Jowarra Park
Cycling through cities is usually a tedious, fearful kind of fun, dodging the traffic and trying to work out where the hell you’re going. Brisbane changed this. The city is full of cycle super highways, which made getting through a complete joy and a breeze. The city was full of life, full of people running, walking and cycling and we could join the safety of the dedicated paths, enjoying the cycling and not having to be fearful of every maniac driver who believes cars are king and cyclists slow them down (with them casually forgetting of course that other cars slow them down more than any cyclist!). Brisbane seems to be a good example of what a city should be like, embracing and encouraging being outdoors and doing stuff, and getting people out of their cars – London has a lot to learn.
Out of Southbank Brisbane and we cycled through countless National Parks on the constant lookout for a koala. Our day of riding seem more relaxed than what we had in Asia, in that we have our own tent so we needn’t worry about getting to a town to find a guesthouse, and we have our own stove so we can stop whenever we want and brew up our own Vietnamese coffee! So we made sure we had numerous coffee stops.
Jowarra Park to Maroochydore
Only 1 hour to break camp this morning – we’re getting good at this! We will need all these skills when we pitch our tent in the more illegal sites where we aren’t allowed to camp, and when we’re too tight to pay for a proper campsite.
We cycled a short distance to the coast and stopped in a small seaside town of Caloundra. We sneaked into a coffee shop just in time for some heavy rain to soak everything within seconds, and quickly decided that it was a comfortable place to be.
When we finally left, we cycled along the coast, up to Maroochydore. The coast in Oz is full of people swimming, surfing, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding and fishing. It’s easy to see why people move over here with good weather and constant activities on the door step.
We were lucky enough to meet one such individual, though I’d be willing to bet he had never taken part in any of the aforementioned activities. He was a man originally from Coventry who had moved over here 20 years ago, who could only tell us that there was too much crime in the UK, and any car rage would be greeted with a shootout! He then informed us that most of his mates back in the UK are in jail, so I reckon it may well have been him and his mates contributing to that high crime rate.
Tonight we stayed with our second warm showers host. She was an adventurous lady in her sixties who had sailed the coast of Australia, cycle toured through the UK, walks up a local mountain twice a week and generally can’t keep still. Upon arriving, we were briskly whisked away to climb this local mountain! Arriving at the top, the sun was just setting and we were offered stunning views across the coast and could see for miles. Lindsay and I just looked out for koalas. We didn’t see any.
Our next day was a rest day, so we started with a 10km run along the river, then a 3-hour kayak trip up to the coast, on the constant look out for sharks and rays swimming in the shallow estuary and wondering at the huge pelicans!
Maroochydore to Cooran
After being fed some extremely healthy and delicious foods – seeds and nuts and ginger galore – we headed up the coast towards Noosa Head. The road was smooth fast tarmac, rolling hills, and full of other cyclists and triathletes out training – all we wanted was our sleek Cervélo’s to be able to race along at top speed along the impressive coastal roads overlooking the fresh azure seas. Life looked like a holiday out here; houses dotted along the coastal inlets and rivers, all with balconys and boats waiting for adventure, or just a lazy days fishing on the water. And along our way, we spotted our first ‘roos – we were so excited, it was us jumping around…they just stood still (like meerkats) and looked bemused.
We turned off the highway to follow the bike route signs, and we circled our way up an old classic car hill climb circuit, through densely wooded forests and another national park. We soon stopped at a small town called Pomona where we lazed in the grass, brewed fresh coffee and lounged away a few hours in the shade out of the brutal heat of the sun.
After chatting to a few locals, we were warned about heading to the next town of Kin Kin as we would have a big climb to get over the range, so they directed us to Cooran, where we could camp for free at the back of a sports field. It was great to ride in the last light of day, casting big shadows at dusk.
Our culinary camping delights were pushed to new heights as we cooked up a feast of cous cous, vegetables and eggs!
Cooran to Tuan Forest (near Poona)
Kookaburras are a delightful plump, stern-looking bird. And then they start making noises. They sound more like laughing monkeys, and tend to wait until 4am in the morning when they want you awake. Annoying little shits.
Hurriedly cycling away from the cackles of the Kookaburra, we cycled through rolling hills of the countryside, though this time went off-road along unsealed gravel dirt roads and marvelled at the scenery, which was not too dissimilar to England..but hotter. Much hotter. And full of birds that were not nearly as romantic sounding as our British songbirds, but instead sounded like lasers or something out of Star Wars and probably wanted to rip your face off.
The roads were mostly quiet and not much traffic, but the Western culture shined through a couple of times, once with a car full of fat people who held down the horn and as they zoomed past we could just hear their whiny fat voices holler at us “get the fuck out the way!” We could only assume they just needed that extra room. And we were in the angry territory of the ‘Ross Creek’ store. No shops or houses for miles but this one rest stop with a small store, which also had some unhelpful inhabitants.
Tonight was our first, truly wild camp. We found a small row of trees off the road and was able to pitch our tent behind them, away from the view of passing traffic, and with a majestic view through the forests and watching the sun pass through and below the horizon.
It was beautiful. Until the sun disappeared. Then the bugs came out to play. Flying haphazardly at us, we locked ourselves in the safety of our tent. The bugs, all of which wanted to kill us (probably), would not give up. They knew we were in the tent, keeping our warm blood away from them. They flew in the only chaotic way they knew how, and battered the tent all night. From inside it sounded like a light but constant rain hitting the tent, but we could see the forests vast array of killer insects pummelling the thin material in a futile attempt to rip our faces off.
Tuan Forest to Hervey Bay
We awoke from our first successful wild camp still alive, with tired looking killer insects crawling along the outer tent unsuccessful in their attempt to gorge on our blood. We won.
With the morning air fresh, we cycled past the remainder of Tuan Forest and its sweet smelling pine filled the air with a wonderful scent.
Shortly before Hervey Bay, we stopped at a tourist information (i) point to shelter from the sun. We quickly fell in love with this place – full of maps and ideas, free wifi and more importantly, free coffee! After staying for far too long we set off towards our next warm showers host. A classic type of beachfront house, we stayed in her cosy caravan on the lawn. Then we were treated to meeting our first classic Aussie drunk. He apparently had some issues with a woman who couldn’t drive a boat – her name was ‘Dickhead’, he repeatedly told us. Moving the conversation on, I asked him, “Are you a Ford or Holden man?”. Pause. And accentuating all the vowels, he confirmed: “I’m a faaacking Fooord maaan” – I wish that was the end of that conversation, but it wasn’t, as he then explained every Ford engine that would kick ass over a Holden engine, reiterating, “I know fucking everything about fucking everything!”
OK, good. A pleasure to meet you.
Hervey Bay to Wallum Reserve
Trying to detour via Vernon Point, we got a bit lost among all the houses; all of the streets looked like Ramsey St. We finally made it out of the town and into the country, along more gravel dirt tracks, got chased by two angry and very fast dogs and I was questioned on why I took us down this road and that I should of course be choosing the roads that didn’t have angry dogs! Maybe maps should come with more warnings.
We calmed our heart rates down after the big chase at a little town called Howard, a quaint old English style village (old as in 1800’s old!), with white picket fences and a boot fair, with local US style country and western karaoke to keep the punters entertained while buying all the old tat.
After avoiding the sun for long enough, we cycled into the late afternoon with a striking soft orange glow and views of rolling hills on the horizon; another reminder of home and warm summers evenings.
The toilets at our chosen campsite were not nearly as poetic – composting toilets have a habit of smelling like you need to be sanitised after using them. Good, bad and the smelly!
Wallum Reserve to Bundaberg
After stocking up on some bits in outdoor shops and Aldi in Bundaberg, we headed up to Burnett Heads. A short ride to get the blood pumping, then a relaxed coffee stop looking out to the beautiful shore and coast; what cycle touring is all about.
We then meandered along the path that followed the coastline, through the ‘Turtle Trail’ which took us to beaches where turtles come and lay their eggs, and we happily wasted time enjoying the beauty of it all and the local Kangaroos curiously watching as we cycled by.
We arrived at our next warm showers host. He was a very excitable eccentric with a love and knowledge about the world, politics, sending GPS balloons into the stratosphere…everything. He was a wonder to be around and had a genuine interest in our adventures and stories and a love of reliving his own. Tired and ready for bed, he then sprung into action and got his guitar out, hooked up to mic and amp, and started singing and playing as we gently fell to sleep listening to his brilliant musical talents.
Bundaberg to Lowmead
Woken up by strange noises, our host was having his morning bath and listening to the news on the radio, which was often followed by a round of expletives.
The wind had picked up today and being on a bike, it was of course a head wind. But there was also some cloud cover from the sun so it felt much cooler, which was a relief. The roads wound their way through the countryside and it wasn’t until 60km in we had our first coffee stop! We must have been enjoying ourselves too much with the cooler weather.
At Lowmead there was a pub that offered free camping at the back, and after a quick wash it was the perfect place to enjoy a pint. Only they didn’t do pints, they did schooners, which is basically a pathetic excuse for a beer sized drink.
Lowmead to Agnes Water
Breakfast and coffee next to the bike was joined with the sun rising over the fields; it definitely beats the morning commute through Milton Keynes that I used to endure.
Our first little stop was to put on the suncream. Our chosen place was next to a creek. Note to self: we should try and avoid loitering by creeks as we would be entering croc country soon.
Another coffee stop this time at the Agnes Water information centre, we then cycled up to the historic town of 1770. This is named after Lt James Cook first arrived in the Bay of Bustard on 24th May 1770. Looking out from the viewpoint we could only imagine the awe and excitement that must have overwhelmed the crew of the Endeavour ship as they explored this foreign coast. My next thought was what would have his pictures been like, and what hashtags he may have used for his first Instagram post…?
We stayed at a campsite back in Agnes Water, and after a refreshing cold shower (the Aussies thought it was “freezing”), we hid in the tent as dark grey skies enveloped the sky and suddenly the wind and rain started the assault. We, however, felt cosy and safe in our mobile home.
Agnes Water to Boyne River Rest Area
We set the alarm early this morning so as to avoid the park rangers and having to pay the campsite fee. We betted they wouldn’t arrive before 7am. We were all packed up and ready and had got as far as the toilets when the rangers turned up at 6:45am – bollocks. We paid the extortionate fee of AUD$7 each (about £3) and rued the fact that we had to pay for something.
Our stop to put suncream on this morning was more wisely chosen, until we saw that the ground appeared to be moving. Ants half an inch long covered the ground. Luckily they didn’t seem to bother us, but a local came along and as he passed just warned us “watch out for those bities!” We moved on swiftly.
Everyone seemed to be waving at us today; it was like being back in Asia. As cars, trucks and lorries drove past, they tooted and waved and gave us friendly smiles. The Aussies generally are a very friendly bunch and love a good travel and explore, and at our next stop – yep, at a local information centre – we were told all about the routes we could take and even offered to go out fishing on our return trip back South!
The rest area we planned to stay at was at Bororen, but was also full of signs that said no camping. So we did an extra 30km to the Boyne River camping area that was a peaceful little spot on the river packed full of chatty grey nomads (the retired or older folk who travel the country in their enormous motorhomes). Such friendly folk.
Boyne River Rest Area to Tannum Sands
Before heading to Tannum Sands, we stopped in at Gladstone and stocked up on food and supplies. We planned out a lovely loop, hugging the coast, only to find an oil refinery and a path only open to staff, so back along the road we rode – it’s always a bit annoying going back the same way. We kept ourselves alert and focused though by looking out for crocs hiding in the mangroves right next to the road.
At Tannum Sands, we enjoyed a much-needed rest. We stayed with our warm showers hosts, and it really felt like a holiday. Their house was like a beautiful villa and we were treated to gourmet food and our first Aussie BBQ. We were pampered and fed well, including the most delicious home-cooked corned beef – not like the shitty tinned corned beef fed to us at school. We met some of their friends who then listed all their family and friends we should stay with during our trip in Oz and New Zealand. After two weeks of cycling in Australia, this was our slice of luxury before we had to endure the Bruce Highway between Rockhampton and Mackay, which people only told us was “a crappy dangerous bit of road.” To be continued…
Posted by Will