27 November 2010

CYCLING ARGENTINA - Ushuaia to Puerto Natales














24 November Cape Town, South Africa - Ushuaia, Argentina

I was up at 5h00, ready for my early morning flight to Ushuaia via Buenos Aires, a 9h20min flight, and then a further 3h30min flight to my final destination. All went well, except that I had to pay for my overweight baggage on the final leg. I easily found a taxi at Ushuaia airport to take bike, my bags and me into the town and to Hostel Haush where I stayed for the next three nights. At last, I had arrived on the Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego; an island shared with Chile and cut off from the main land by the Strait of Magellan.

Ushuaia is picture pretty but also freezing cold. There are more than enough outdoor stores to stock up on warm cloths. It remains light until rather late, so it was hard to go to sleep with it being so light outside. By 23h00 (24 hours since I woke up) I finally went to bed and slept like a log.

25 November - Ushuaia
With its snowy mountain backdrop, Ushuaia reminded me a bit of Alaska. With many brightly painted corrugated iron homes, it is quite a picturesque village. The city is situated on the Beagle Channel and at the foothills of the Andes Mountain Range and is known as the southern most city in the world. With a population of about 64 000 it is not much of a city. The southern location also means that it remains rather cold year round with a high of only 9 degrees in the warmest months. Heating systems remain on all year (including the summer months).

Therefore, off to the shops I went to spend a fortune on a pair of very nice Merrell hiking shoes. I only have a pair of sandals, which will not do here. I wondered around the many shops stocking up on all I may need for the days ahead. I found some gas for my stove at an equally high price. I also found a rather nice bike shop, Ushuaia Extremo; they put my bike together again.

26 November - Ushuaia – Tierra del Fuego National Park - 50km
I dressed in my warmest clothes (including my brand new shoes) and set off into the National Park. The Park gate is only about 12km from the centre of town and an easy cycle along a dirt road. Although freezing cold the scenery was quite spectacular. The end of the road in the park is also the end of Ruta 3 and known as “The-end-of-the-world”. It may be the end of the road for others, but it’s the beginning of the road for me. I took a short hike around the park and then headed back to the village. I could not believe my eyes as I saw fine snowflakes fall from the sky. They unfortunately melted immediately and now I cannot even say I cycled in snow!

After much deliberation I bought myself a pair of rain pants as well as a beanie for the cold weather ahead.

27 November - Ushuaia – Tolhuim - 109km
I was excited to get on the road and see what lay ahead. The road headed uphill out of Ushuaia and over the mountains, past numerous ski resorts; some even with chair lifts. Not a bad road, a bit narrow but sealed. Motorists were friendly and always gave me a wide berth and a little warning hoot. After about 50km I reached the top of the pass Via Paso Garibaldi, with a view over Lago Escondido and Lago Fagnano. The mountains provided some shelter from the wind, as I sped downhill past Lago Escondido and onto Tolhuim, situated on the shores of Lake Fagnano. It was a bit of a strange town and hard to find accommodation or shops, maybe there just weren’t any. I was fortunate enough to find a good enough spot to lay my head for the night.

28 November - Tolhuim – Rio Grande - 113km
I woke to lose corrugated iron roof sheets, banging in the wind. I knew instantly that it was going to be a long hard day riding into the wind. I left Tolhuim with dust swirling in the dirt roads and headed north in the direction of Rio Grande, straight into the infamous Patagonian wind. It was freezing cold and rain pelted down, driven by the near gale force wind. I was wearing almost all I had but still felt the cold.

As if that was not enough, my rear gear-cable broke. Despite this, I battled on working with the three gears I had left. It did not make all that much difference, as I was only going at an average of 10km/h, if I was lucky. As the day wore on the wind grew even stronger, slowing my pace to a mere 5km/h. Still I battled on, past vast, wind swept and barren looking estancias. About 20km from Rio Grande, a friendly Argentinean offered me a lift. I could smell victory over the harsh conditions and declined, but could have kicked myself as soon as he left. My goals became shorter and shorter, four x 5km sounds a lot more doable than 20km! Every 5km I stopped and had some sweets or biscuits took a sip of water and then headed off into the howling wind again.

The barbeque is a way of life and I notice people stopping just about anywhere (out of the wind) along the road to light a fire and throw some meat on the coals. I was dead tired by the time I arrived in Rio Grande, found a room and went to bed. I was rather pleased with myself for surviving such a harsh day on the road.

29/30 November - Rio Grande
I slept and slept, and eventually woke to the smell of coffee and toast! A nice breakfast was included in the room price (standard in Argentina); a typical breakfast is normally coffee and croissants or some other pastries. At least the weather cleared but the relentless wind did not abate, I don’t think it ever does. Irrespective of what one might read or hear about the wind, nothing can quite prepare you for the reality. If Ernest and I had not battled for days into the wind along the Red Sea Coast in Egypt, at 5km an hour, I would not have believed this possible!

I was pleased for a rest day as my backside and my knees were sore. I could feel a bout of laryngitis coming on (it must be from breathing all that icy cold air). First thing was to find a bike shop to have the gear-cable repaired. The friendly chap and the bike shop also advised me to get off-road tyres for the dirt road ahead. He could only get the tyres the following day so I left the bike at the shop and did not complain about waiting another day as the wind was blowing at 85 - 100km per hour.

1 December - Rio Grande - 19km
I was up and rearing to go. Unfortunately, the wind won the day, 10km out of town I eventually gave up and turned back. It’s not just that it was hard, it was just too dangerous; I was blown across the road like a rag doll, totally out of control!! Back in town, I found Hostel Argentino (bit cheaper than where I stayed before) and found three more cyclists heading in the same direction as me. They were also waiting out the wind, hoping that the weather would improve by the next day. I don’t have much hope of that but I will wait and see what happens. We had some good red wine and swamped war stories until bedtime.

2 December - Rio Grande – San Sebastian – by car to Punta Arenas - 38km
I woke and thought the wind looked less fearsome than the previous day. I packed in a hurry and was out the gate as soon as possible; to my horror, the wind was as strong as the previous day. I was battered kilometer after kilometer; each turn of the pedal was an achievement in itself! The wind, however, blows in gusts and every so often I was blown off the road and had to get off the bike, push it back onto the road and to try again. Worse was that it also blew me into the road, which was rather narrow and even although the drivers were very courteous it was still nerve racking. It remained freezing cold and soon it started hailing!! A friendly truck driver stopped and gave me a lift to San Sebastian. With renewed energy, I set off again. The border crossing between Argentina and Chile is quite low-key but it still took a while before all was checked and cleared. This is the end of the tarred road and from there on it was a dirt road. That was about as much as I could take. I felt rather sorry for myself pushing my bike (in high wind) along this long and desolate road.

So I weakened and when a friendly Chilean driver stopped and offered me a lift all the way to Punta Arenas, I got in and was grateful for the warmth and safety of the car. The people here are so incredibly friendly, I’ll have to watch out or I’ll be given lifts all the way through Patagonia!! (Although it may be the only way, I’m going the get through it)

3/4 December -Punta Arenas
I camped at Hospedaje Independencia, easily the cheapest accommodation in town and therefore packed with backpackers from all over. Much of this region once belonged to one person namely Jose Menendez, wool baron of his time. Even today, it is still a sheep country and wool and lamb is big in this area.

Francois (whom I met at the Hostel Argentino in Rio Grande) arrived by bus and it was like meeting an old friend. The weather station put out an alert for high winds in the area (according to them over 100/120km per hour) so there and then I decided to stay put and check the weather out the next day.

5 December - Punta Arenas – Puerto Natales - By Bus - 21km
The weather looked good and after a slow start, I decided to cycle, once again. I only cleared the city limits (about 10km) and the wind hit me with full force. I truly don’t know how people do this. I’m just too scared. I turned around and flew back, down-wind into the city centre.

From there, I took the bus to Puerto Natales, as I had already arranged with Yutta and Francois to do some trekking once in Puerto Natales. Even the bus seemed to have great difficulty staying on the road. What an unforgiving area this is! The plains are rather barren, treeless and windswept. Every now and again there were a lonely and fore lone looking estancia, some even deserted. Once in Puerto Natales I found some good camping in Josmar Hostel with a nice campground and restaurant.

6 December - Puerto Natales
I met up with Francois and Yutta again. The day flew by as we prepared for our 8-day Torres Del Paine trek. I rented a bag and walking sticks from the local shop and bought food. The bag was rather heavy and I wondered if I’d even make the first few kilometers (and that was even before I packed the wine). Just the very essential stuff like tent, sleeping bag, food and warm cloths was already a lot of stuff to carry.

7 December - Torres Del Paine - Las Torres – Campamento Seron
Things were rather well organized to get to the Torres Del Paine National Park. Francois, Yutta and I grabbed a 7:30 bus to the park and then a small minibus to Hotel Las Torres, where we started our first day hike, a short and easy walk. I heaved my heavy pack and we strolled off to our first campsite. We had lovely views of the snowy mountains and lakes nearly all the way. Our first campsite was a bit exposed to the elements and of cause the wind blew as it can only blow in Patagonia. We managed to cook food and I was quite sure that I was going to lose my tent during the night.

8 December - Torres Del Paine - Campamento Seron – Refugio Dickson
I woke with sore ankles but paid little attention to it as little aches and pains normally come with the territory. We packed at leisure and then ambled along to our second campsite. Again, it was a short and easy day, which I was happy about as it started raining and it drizzled all day. By the time we reached Refugio Dickson we were wet and cold, my ankles were throbbing and I found it quite difficult to walk. Dickson is, however, one of the nicest camping areas on the trek, and has a lovely Refugio with a fireplace; communal sitting area, coffee, tea and one can even order food. Well you can just imagine all the wet and cold bodies (and boots) huddled around a small fireplace.

Outside it was bitterly cold, I dressed in all I had to ward off the cold, but nothing seemed to work. Soon it started snowing and turned the entire landscape around me a brilliant white. Falling snow is quite a novelty to me, but it was not as romantic as I imagined, instead all it was, was freezing cold. I thought my poor tent was going to collapse under the weight.

9 December - Torres Del Paine - Refugio Dickson – Campamento Los Perros
Once again, we were very slow at packing up. We knew it would be a short walk to our next camp and as rumors were that it was even colder there, we only left at around 12h00. I was really struggling with my ankles and to later thought that I should have stayed an extra day at Dickson. The walk however offered stunning views of the glaciers and surrounding mountains. I was going slower and slower, Fran├žois walk with me as I growled along at a snail’s past. I wobbled along; aided by my two walking poles I dragged myself to camp. I felt bad that I was holding up Francois and Yutta, but there was little I could do. It was bitterly cold by the time we arrived at camp and I knew that I should get my tent up as soon as possible.

People are just so incredible, all offering painkillers and creams. I, however, knew that there was no way I could even think of crossing the pass in the morning. I understood that the pass was a steep climb of about 1 000m in deep snow and that it was at least a 6-hour walk to the next camp.

10 December - Torres Del Paine - Campamento Los Perros
I was stuck inside my tent and could not move! My ankles and feet were so sore that I could place no weight on them. I waved Francois and Yutta good-bye and then had to think about how to get out of where I was. I understood that one could get a horse, but with no command of the Spanish language, I felt lost and very sorry for myself. Eventually I understood that I could not get a horse from Los Perros, but had to walk back to Dickson and maybe I could arrange something there. Just how I was going to achieve that, I did not know, as I found it quite impossible just to stand up.

Later that day a group of British horse riders arrived, and it was good to hear a language I could understand. The guide offered to take my pack back to Dickson, if I thought I could make it there by foot.

11 December - Torres Del Paine - Campamento Los Perros – Refugio Dickson
I soon discovered that two of the horse riders were South African doctors, now working in London. True to nature, they had a fair amount of medicine with them and offered me some painkillers. Thanks to them, I could at least get out of the tent on could stand on my feet. I waited for the tablets to kick in and then, aided by my walking poles, shuffled back along the path. This was not only embarrassing but also very painful. I kept on telling myself “it’s only pain” but it did not work for me!! I knew that I was not doing my ankles a favor by walking back but what could one do?

I was proud of myself for making it all the way back to Dickson, where I found three other trekkers waiting for horses. I pitched my tent and did all the necessary things, like filling up with water etc., as I knew that once I sat down there was no getting up again, I had to keep on moving until everything was done. Exhausted I flopped into my tent and stayed there until the morning.

A storm strength wind picked up and I desperately had to get outside to strengthen my tent ropes. All I could do was to crawl on all fours around the tent and hammer in the pegs and tighten the ropes! What a sight that must have been! Still, I was not sure that the tent would hold up in such a strong wind. (Fortunately it did)

12 December - Torres Del Paine - The “rescue”
Early morning, and quite unexpectedly, I was told that a horse had been arranged for me. The horse was however on the other side of the river. I took my last four painkillers, waited a while, and then tried to pack up. It felt that the tablets had no impact on the pain. I tried my utmost to pack my bag and tent in high winds. Eventually the owner came to help and I set off towards the river. The wind was blowing so hard that one could barely stand. Driven by the wind the river was a torrent. The oarsmen tried everything, but could not get the boat hooked up to the cable, already spanned across the river. In the meantime the ranger with horse was waiting on the other side! Eventually everyone gave up, and we headed back to the Refugio. We had a hearty lunch after which the men went to check on the conditions of the river and wind again.

Eventually the boat was hooked up, they loaded my backpack and me into the boat and we made it across, by pulling the boat along the cable spanned across the river. Getting out the boat, across the rocks and onto the other side must have been quite a spectacle. Eventually we met our very patient ranger. (I later discovered that he was the most experience and longest serving ranger in the park). I was heaved onto the horse by strong hands and off we went!!

I was lucky to see a seldom seen part of the park as we followed one of the horse trails. After about 2 hours (and with a sore backside) we arrived at a small road where a driver with a van waited!! I had no idea it was going to be such a mission. With a most skillful driver, I set off on a very exciting ride through the park. The jeep track went up over mountains; through rivers and marshlands and past some of the most stunning sceneries the park can offer. What an adventure I had, albeit a bit unnecessary.

Arriving at the main gate of the park, I found an ambulance waiting!!!! How embarrassing, they loaded me in and took me all the way to Puente Natales Hospital. At the hospital, x-rays were taken, feet examined and I was declared fit and healthy except for a twisted ankle pulled ligaments and tendinitis. I had the luxury of an intravenous painkiller but as far as I could figure it did absolutely zilch for me!! It was 23h00 by the time I look a taxi to the hostel. Finally, I could rest my weary feet. Total cost US$470!!!!!

13/14 December - Puerto Natales
Not all was well yet! I still needed the medication from the pharmacy and had to ask one of the staff at the hostel to get it for me. At least I shuffled along and had a much-needed shower. Thank goodness for my little laptop! At least I could sit in my room and type up my embarrassing adventure. To be quite honest, I very much suspect that the problem was due to a lack of walking. After nearly 4 years on the bike, my ankles are not very strong. So overall, it’s my own fault for once again thinking that I can do more than the body is capable!!!

Both Yutta and Fran├žois arrived back from their hike and both had a great time, I was very envious of them.

Still I waited for my ankle to improve, but it was slow in healing itself. I helped it along with some painkillers, just so I could go to the bank and do some shopping.

The Argentineans are quite a unique bunch of people. The men are rather macho but in such a boyish way that they endear themselves to you. Men still whistle as you cycle past (I thought that only happened in South Africa). They are warm and passionate people and I am happy that I wasn’t here when they lost in the Football World Cup.

With so many ranches, it is not unusual to see farmers on horseback along the way. This is cattle country

15 November 2010

CYCLING AUSTRALIA - Adelaide to Melbourne


6 October - Adelaide – Mt Barker - 40km
Eventually (eventually!) we packed up and left Adelaide, what I first thought to be a boring, dull town turned out to be a great city. I think Adelaide had endeared itself to me. We headed over the Adelaide hills along the Crafers Cycle Path, past Stirling, Aldgate, Bridge Water and Hahndorf (the oldest remaining German settlement in Oz). What a fantastic ride it was, through forested areas and quaint villages. Unfortunately the weather came in and what started off as a beautiful morning, became an icy cold, cloudy, blustery and drizzly day! We pulled into Mt Barker Caravan Park early to get out of the weather, pitched our tents and had some of the lovely red wine from the region to ward off the cold. Not a bad day at all!! I could definitely live in this area. We met a South African family who’d just immigrated, living in one of the cabins in the park while they look for a house and wait for their furniture to arrive – good luck to them.

7 October - Mt Barker – Tailem Bend - 79km
Gosh, I wish summer will roll on! It was bitterly old as we headed off; we followed the back road past Littlehampton, Nairne, Native Valley, Callington and onto Murray Bridge. These tiny villages are picture perfect, ever so neat and with lovely old restored buildings. We cycled past farmlands, horsey areas and even spotted a llama or two (what the heck are llamas doing out here?).

From Murray Bridge we followed the old road south along the west bank of the Murray River. The head-wind was blowing storm-strength, I lost my sense of humor and wondered just what exactly I was doing out there on a bicycle!! At Jervois village we took the ferry (motor pontoon) across the river to Tailem Bend town. After setting up camp, a hot shower, a glass of the local red and a huge bowl of pasta my sense of humor returned and things didn’t look all that bad anymore.

8 & 9 October - Tailem Bend – Meningie - 63km
We first paid a visit to “Old Tailem Town” a pioneer’s village consisting of 105 old buildings, some dating from the 1800’s - uplifted from their original places all over South Australia to form a true old pioneer’s village. Not only houses but a church, school, movie house, bank, shops, and railway station - the works!It was rather late by the time we headed out of “town” and it was another windy day on the road!! At least it was a short ride to Meningie.

Meningie is situated on the shores of Lake Albert with beautiful views of the lake. The wind subsided, the sun set over the lake and pelicans drifted past while terns ducked and dived in search of their evening meal. A perfect ending to what was a rather unpleasant and windy day on the road.

In fact, it was so nice that we stayed the following day as well.


10 October - Meningie – 42 Mile crossing - 83km
We followed the road SE running along the Coorong National Park. What an excellent day we had! A slight tail wind and excellent views of the famed wetlands with its rich birdlife made it a pleasure to be on the road. We cycled past Policeman’s Point and Salt Creek to 42 Mile crossing (3 k’s off the road on gravel) where we camped at the rather basic park camp for the night. The water tank was dry, the “camp kitchen” had been taken over by a swarm of bees, the flies and mozzies were attacking at the same time – but we weren’t bothered by kangaroos, emus, and the lack of other campers.

11 October - 42 Mile Crossing – Robe - 112 km
What’s with the wildlife in this place? While packing up I got bombed by a magpie. He obviously thought we had overstayed our welcome. Powered by a serious tail wind we flew down the road past Kingston (but not before we had one of their famous pies) and on to the picturesque seaside village of Robe.

Camping right on the ocean is something I always enjoy. We took a stroll into town and pigged out on take-away chips, fish (for Ernest), and a veggie burger for me. We should never have ordered a medium chips each, it was huge!! So no doubt it will be a chip roll for breakfast.

Along the road we’d met a retired Dutch lady (Anneke) cycling in the opposite direction. She came to visit her daughter and is now cycling back to Netherland. She has no watch, no odometer and no cycling partner! As she said, all she needs is a credit card, passport and water!! She cycles when it’s daylight and sleeps when it’s dark. You go girl!! Hats off to you!

12 October - Robe
I woke to the unwelcome sound of tip, tip, tip on my tent! A steady drizzle settled in, and it did not look like the kind of rain that was going to stop any time soon. Ernest was already packed up but there was no ways I was getting out of my tent – so he had to unpack everything off his bike again!

13 October - Robe – Millicent - 81 km
I listened carefully for that tip, tip, tip sound on the tent, but fortunately did not hear anything. So we quickly packed up, loaded the bikes and got out of Robe. It was still bitterly old and I was dressed for the Arctic Circle! We met 3 other Australian cyclists, cycling from Adelaide to Sydney and I looked at their bikes and gear with great envy! Jan was kind enough to invite us to his home in Sydney (when we get there) for a comfortable night. We may just take him up on that!

14/15 October - Millient – Mt Gambier - 53km
We knew it would be a short day so we took our time in packing up. Fortunately we picked up a good tail wind and reached Mt Gambier early. No sooner have we set up camp, at the campsite in town, or the weather came in again. A steady drizzle accompanied by a strong and gusty wind brought freezing cold weather, enough to send me shopping for warmer clothes.

By the next morning the weather deteriorated even more (if that’s possible). I lay cocooned in my tent listening to the wind and rain for most of the day. I fortunately found some girlie magazines in the camp kitchen, and a packet of chocolate coated peanuts in my bag! That, together with numerous cups of coffee kept me occupied me for most of the day.

16/17 October - Mt Gambier – Portland - 106 km
One can only be stuck in a tent for so long. Dressed in my new winter woolies we got back on our bikes in freezing cold weather accompanied by occasional rain and high winds. Not my best day on the road!! We followed the coastal road past Nelson and through large sections of state forests; up and down over the hills we cycled in freezing cold weather. For the second time on this trip we were attached by Magpies along the way. I read the following: “Spring in Australia is magpie season, when a small minority of breeding magpies (almost always males) around the country become aggressive and swoop and attack those who approach their nests, especially bike riders” . Now I know why they require you to wear a helmet! I was more than happy when we reached Portland. In fact it was so miserable that we weakened and took a cabin at the campsite. What a good idea that was. The cabin came equipped with TV, microwave, kettle, toaster etc, etc. We lived in style! In fact it was so good that there was no getting me out of that cabin the next day. I was warm as toast and very comfortable on a bed!! (Ernest packed up and had to unpack again).

18 October - Portland – Warrnambool - 105km
Eish!!! Time to go. Back on the bike and out in the weather again. Actually it was not that bad at all, we only got wet once or twice but at least we had a bit of a tail wind. Past more wind farms and farmlands we went. We even had time to explore the quaint and historic town of Port Fairy. With its many old buildings and pretty wharf it surely must be a popular place in summer. Warrnambool is much larger than I expected and we found a campsite right in the middle of town and with easy walking distance to the shops. On a cold night there’s not many things better than a hot shower, a mug of hot chocolate and a choc chip muffin, ooh the luxuries of life.

19 October - Warrnambool – Port Campbell - 71 km
The sun came out for the first time in days. We were rather slow in packing up and sat in the sun for hours. The road took us past many a dairy farm, cheese factories and miles and miles of picturesque pastures. We even spotted some black swans. Eventually we reached the coast and the renowned Great Ocean Road. I was not disappointed!! The scenic and very dramatic coast draws thousands of tourists with prices to match. The wind and ocean has eroded away the limestone to form dramatic pinnacles, coves, caves and arches, a truly magnificent site. It was a good day on the road and we turned off at every chance we had to admire the view and take a few snaps.

20 October - Port Campbell – Lavers Hill - 52km
We were lucky to have another sunny day with little wind. Our fist stop for the day was at Loch Ard Gorge another dramatic view point, then on to the famous 12 Apostles. Soon the road left the coast and headed uphill through eucalyptus forests to Lavers Hill, a small settlement perched atop the Otway Ranges. It was a slow but beautiful ride to the top. We met 3 cyclists from Adelaide cycling to Melbourne, the night before, and saw then from time to time along the way. In Lavers Hill I was hoping to see the glow-worms but none came out, and once the sun set it was far too cold to go exploring.

21 October - Lavers Hill – Kennett River - 73km
After our usual slow start, we headed downhill at over 50km/h. Soon, however, we climbed up the hill again through the Otway National Park, a dense forest with lovely fern gullies and then a nice downhill ride to Apollo Bay. We carried on cycling along a magnificent coastline to Kennett River where we found a campsite across the road from the beach. With Koalas in the trees, ducks and colorful birds, it was close to a paradise. We also met Alan and Heather form England, cycling for the past 9 months on this trip. The most amazing thing is that we previously met them at Kannur in India in December 2008. That night Ernest cooked a huge pot of pasta, we could not even finish it all. The leftover pasta was neatly left in the pot but we discovered that Koalas also likes pasta. The next morning we found the lid under the tree and the pot totally empty. Unfortunately Ernest also heard that his mother had passed away the previous day.

22 October - Kennett River – Anglesea - 56 km
We chatted to Alan and Heather forever and it was midday by the time we left. It was also our first warm day in ages. What a beautiful coastline it is, we cycled along the shore past Lore and Aireys Inlet. Unfortunately the weather came in again and we reached Anglesea to set up camp just in time before the rain came down.

23 October - Anglesea – Rosebud - 80km
Instead of cycling up the road via Geelong on the Western side of Port Phillip Bay to Melbourne, we decided to take the ferry from Queenscliff across the mouth of the bay to Sorrento, and cycle to Melbourne along the Eastern shore instead. It was a good choice as the stretch of road from Sorrento was very scenic. We just missed the 15h00 ferry so had to wait until 16h00 for the next one. In the meantime we had a bite to eat and then it was time to board the ferry. The ferry cost 12 dollars and took about half an hour across the short stretch of water. The road from there to the camp site at Rosebud runs alongside the coast, and although it was all built up, it was easy cycling. Instead of cooking, we splashed out on pizza (just across the road from the camp site).

24 October - Rosebud – Melbourne - 80km
I was concerned (as usual) about cycling into a big city, as traffic can be hectic and we had no idea where we were heading. My concerns were unjustified as it was Sunday and the road leading into the city had a bicycle lane all the way, how cool is that? What an organized city Melbourne is. Once we crossed the famous Jarra River we were dead in the centre of town. It did not take us long to spot a backpackers along King Street, aptly named King Street Backpackers. Nothing in Australia is cheap but it was very comfortable accommodation, with neat, clean rooms, a kitchen and large communal area. I must admit that being in a place where everything is closed and all locked up makes me be a bit claustrophobic! Time to move on again.

25 October - Melbourne
I spent most of the day organizing a flight from Melbourne to Cape Town (where I intend spending some time before going to South America), getting a bike box and organizing a taxi to pick me up and take me to the airport the next day. Ernest kindly packed my bike for me in the box, as he will cycle on to Sydney from where he hopes to get himself to South America. So that’s Australia done and dusted for me!! Although I did not see half of the country I was very impressed with what I saw and to think I was not even all that keen on coming here in the first place.

26/27 October - Melbourne, Australia – Cape Town, South Africa - By airplane
It was another long and boring flight from one end of the world to another. I was happy to have the opportunity to stop over in Cape Town instead of flying direct to Buenos Aires, Argentina. It was sure great to see my family again. We wasted no time and immediately got out the wine and ordered pizzas! Some things never change.

05 October 2010

CYCLING AUSTRALIA - Darwin to Adelaide.


11/12 August Darwin airport – Darwin city centre - 14km
We landed in Darwin at 3h00, and by the time we’d cleared immigration and customs, it was 4h00. They sure did scrutinize me, opening bags and bike box and even checking the tent pegs for soil (good thing Ernest cleaned the bikes – although he was shown through without any further checks). Then it was time for Ernest to reassemble the bikes again. As soon as it got light (at around 6h30) we were on our bikes and pedaled into town to look for accommodation. One could immediately tell we were in a first world country. We encountered many early morning joggers, cyclist and people walking their dogs, but none looked up to greet us unless we greeted first!

All seemed frightfully expensive at $30 Aus for a dorm bed. We found room at Chilli’s Backpackers, which seemed fine with a communal kitchen and outside sundeck with 2 small pools.

The conveniently located supermarket, right next door, gave as an indication of prices in Australia. We bought a map of the Stuart Highway together with some other little bits and pieces, and then I had to go to the ATM again!

13 August - Darwin – Adelaide River - 124 km
We left the party town of Darwin, with dry mouths (from too may beers the night before) and with fear in our hearts, due to all the horror stories we had heard. Due to our late night we only hit the road after 10 am, and found ourselves on a bicycle path for about 25 km as far as Paterson. Amazing that the places that need it least have bicycle paths (wouldn’t that have been nice in India or Java!). At last we were on the Stuart Highway - a really good wide road with a hard shoulder. The traffic was light and predictable, what a difference from Indonesia. On this first day there were plenty of water stops, and we passed many campsites along the way. We had a slight headwind, just enough to cool us down and to keep the flies at bay. Where all the flies came from I don’t know, there really is not much around. Just 50km into the day and Ernest had his first puncture in Australia. Not long after that we saw a huge bush fire, blazing away, fortunately the section next to the road was about under control, but still a bit too close for comfort for me. I even spotted my first kangaroo! (Actually it was one of the smaller wallabies). At around 6.00pm, when our shadows had grown long, we rolled into Adelaide River where we stayed at a really nice campsite - excellent showers, a kitchen area and a nice green lawn with shady trees.

14 August - Adelaide River – Pine Creek - 120 km
We were on the road shortly after 10h00. The area is dotted with world war II memorials, from old campsites to cemeteries and air fields. Again, there was more than enough water points and camping along the way. The road was really good and although hot it was a dry heat and very bearable. We stopped at a rest area to fill up with water and found that many rest areas are nice for camping, with toilets and even firewood. We pushed on to Hayes Creek where we filled up with water again. The next stretch to Emerald Springs came with a few hills and a head wind. The head wind is a blessing in disguise, (if not too strong) as it keeps the flies off you and cools you down. We arrived at Pine Creek just after 6 and camped at Lazy Lizard campsite, nice lawn and good showers again. This is definitely the luxury part of the outback. We were starving when we got there (as we had nothing to eat all day). After we’d pitched our tents and had a shower we found that the stove wouldn’t work! The little restaurant and shops had already closed, but the friendly bar lady unlocked the adjoining shop for us (so it was Vegemite and chip sandwiches for supper. I was disappointed as I was looking forward to a nice large plate of pasta. I should not complain as I love Vegemite and at last we’re in a country with decent bread.

15 August - Pine Creek – Katherine - 97 km
For breakfast we had more of the same sandwiches with coffee, and were on the road again. Our rushed departure was mostly due to the flies, better to try and out cycle them. The darn things are really an irritation. The air is extremely dry and already my skin is flaking and my lips cracked and this is only day 3! The road stretched for miles in front of us, with only the occasional uphill to break the monotony. Water breaks along the way are normally very fast as the flies seem to get the better of us. There were no rest stops or camping all day so we pedaled until we reached Katherine, the 3rd largest town in the Northern Territory. We camped at Coco’s Backpackers, which gives discount to cyclists. A very interesting set up with chickens running around, a ramshackle building with various rooms and dorms and a very interesting owner. We stayed the following day, doing as little as possible; at least I did my laundry and fixed my leaking sleeping mat. Ernest fixed tent poles and punctured tubes, and got the stove working again.

17 August - Katharine – Mataranka - 115 km
We were as slow as ever to leave, and got on the road at 10.30. Approximately 28km south of Katherine we turned off to the Cutta Cutta Caves, ate our pasta sandwiches which Ernest made from the previous nights leftover food and then we were off again. About 50km south of Katherine was a rather nice rest stop with camping, water and toilets, but as it was still very early we just ate our jelly sweet in the shade of some trees and headed on to Mataranka. The scenery had been unchanged (except for an occasional World War 2 site) since we left Darwin. We reached Mataranka (population 420) and headed for Bitter Springs campsite, where we arrived shortly before dark.

18 August - Mataranka - Larrimah - 81 km
We were up early and strolled down the road to the hot springs – which flows along a clear stream surrounded by the natural bush. We swam for a while before having breakfast and making some leftover pasta sandwiches for the road. We also scored some pasta and tins which other campers had left in the camp kitchen for take-away. The road was once again very good with little traffic, mostly caravans and mobile homes - not your ordinary mobile homes, they are fantastic contraptions and larger than many apartments. Everyone seems to be in a holiday spirit and will give a little toot and a wave as they go past. We either had a tailwind or it was down hill (or maybe it was the pasta sandwiches) but we rolled into Larrimah (population of 200) before 15h00. We camped at the Larrimah Hotel with it’s legendary Pink Panther bar. Before we even paid our camp fee we knew the town’s entire history. Ernest was keen to service his bike's front hub, which had been making alarming noises. In typical Northern Territory style I sat in the shade of a huge tree watching him.

19 August - Larrimah – Daly Waters - 104 km
There were no water stops or rest areas between Larrimah and Daly Waters so we pushed on, stopping at each and every “interesting” spot or memorial along the way -even the occasional road sign is getting us all excited. We popped in at the legendary Daly Waters pub for a (rater expensive) beer and sat talking to other travelers for a while. It claims to be the oldest Pub in the Territory as its liquor license has been in continuous use since 1893. The interesting part is that in the early 1930,s Qantas airlines used Daly Waters as a refueling stop for the Singapore leg of its Sydney – London run. It must have been a big attraction when a plane landed! We camped just a few km down the road at Hi-Way Inn. I must admit I have never camped amongst wallabies and parrots before. We once again met some friendly travelers at the campsite. We were invited for beer, crab and interesting snacks at their very fancy camper. These people truly live in style.

20 August - Daly Waters – Newcastle Waters - 127 km
We woke up to the raucus sounds of parrots and cockatoos outside our tents - not a bad way to greet a new day. Birds of all colors surrounded us. We managed to get on the road at a decent time and headed towards Newcastle Waters rest stop - our next water point. Newcastle Waters used to be a droving town, but is only a ghost town today. Road transport started in the early 1960’s and was the death of this little town, today only the old store and hotel is left. We saw little along the way, only a lonely memorial cairn and two dirt roads turning off to nowhere. Sleeping at the Rest Stops is rather interesting, as it is free, but comes with water and toilets, so there is always a number of campervans overnight there. The people seem friendlier here, and we chatted until late with other travelers, both foreign and local.

21 August - Newcastle Waters – Renner Springs - 118 km
After about 45km we reached Dunmara where we filled up with water and chatted to some guys on motorbikes, and that was about the excitement for the day. The wind picked up in the night and we feared that it was going to be a long haul into the wind. Fortunately the wind was mostly from the side, so it was not a bad day on the road. The tarmac lay stretched out in front of us, while we amused ourselves with picking up all kinds of things along the road and renaming the birds of Australia. We saw even less today, two roads turning off, one repeater station and two cattle grids, and that was the sum total of our entertainment!

22 August - Renner Springs Road House – Tennant Creek - 166 km
This section of the Stuart Highway is like a tourist trap, prices of things are totally ridiculous (and the country in general is very expensive for us). I guess these shopkeepers know that travelers have little choice but to buy at the prices they charge - or go without it! Even the Australians are complaining about it! Had to pay $5 for a loaf of bread! It was a fairly easy day, an almost flat road and various opportunities to fill up with water. 62km south of Renner Springs we found Banka Banka campsite. The lady of the campsite seemed to think she was doing us a favor by letting us fill our water bottles! She then proceeded to tell us we may sit in the shade of her tree and eat our sandwiches as long as we do not walk around! Gosh, walk around!? Where to? It’s only a tiny campsite. Hot and sweaty we arrived (50km down the road) at a rest area, with toilets and water. We’d hardly stopped and – wait for this - an Australian couple camping at the rest area, came out with two ice-cream cones!! It sure was the most delicious ice cream cone I’ve ever had! Back on the bikes we picked up a nice tail wind, and ran with it. Three Ways junction was just 50km down the road, and once there we decided to go all the way to Tennant Creek (4th largest town in the Northern Territory) which was only another 25 km. We arrived at the camp site in Tennant Creek just before 6pm, and we settled in as we knew the next day would be a rest day.

23 August - Tennant Creek
We had a rather busy day as we each did our internet business, uploaded photos, and went shopping. We stocked up with foodstuff for the next few days as the town Supermarket was a hell of a lot cheaper than the Roadhouse shops along the way.

We did our long overdue laundry and fiddled with the bikes and tents. I was wondering if I’d ever fit all that shopping into my panniers the next morning.

24 August - Tennant Creek – Wauchope - 120km
We were rather reluctant to pack up us the wind picked up in the night and it looked like we were going to have a strong head wind. We only left after 10am. The wind was not as bad as expected (or maybe it was just because I was sitting in Ernest’s slip stream all day). The road lay black and endless in front us, forming a mirage on the horizon. We were pleasantly surprised towards the end of the day, as suddenly the scenery changed (at last) as we reached Devil’s Marbles. Huge rocks stacked upon one another covered the area, a stunning site at sunset. There we met an Italian - Antonio, cycling around Australia. After chatting to him for a long time it was already sunset, and we decided to camp at the nearby National Parks camping site. We put the required fee in the box at the gate, and I was already pitching my tent when Ernest pointed out that there was no water there. We weren’t carrying enough water for cooking, etc., so we packed up and cycled another 10 k’s or so to Wauchope Roadhouse.

The sun had already set in a flaming Western sky, and a huge full moon came up on our left as we cycled to Wauchope. We even spotted our first dingo trotting towards us in the road, probably on this way to scavenge at the campsite which we’d just left. He, however, gave as a wide berth and we carried on down the road.

25 August - Wauchope – Wycliffe Well - 18km
It became real cold during the night; it was the first time in nearly a year that I felt cold. I was in no mood for cycling as we woke to a howling wind. We packed up and headed down the road to Wycliffe Well.

Wycliffe Well is said to be located on a cross section of key lines or energy lines. This may also be the reason why Wycliffe Well has had its fair share of UFO sightings. We stopped at the pub to read all the paper clippings about UFO sightings in the area and decided to camp right there in the nice grassy camp site. I also wanted to see a UFO!! (I wonder if the sightings have anything to do with the large selection of beer they sell in the pub???)

26 August - Wycliffe Well
We woke to a howling wind and rain pattering down on the tent. I pulled the sleeping bag over my head and announced loudly that I’m going nowhere that day. It was not all that hard to convince Ernest and we stayed put. The Roadhouse not only made good chips but also had internet so we drank their bottomless coffee and did more internet updates. In the process we met another cyclist going north and low and be hold would he not be from South Africa. We convinced him (Clyde from Pietermaritzburg) to stay for the night and we had a good old chat.

27 August - Wycliffe Well – Barrow Creek - 94km
We were rather slow to emerge from our tents as outside it was bitterly cold. We had some coffee and toast (made on the fire) and then said good bye to Clyde. He continued on his way north and we headed south. First stop was Taylor Creek Rest Area where we filled up our water bottles and had a sandwich.

We cycled into a bit of a head wind and once we reached Barrow Creek we called it a day. Barrow Creek is a bit of a Godforsaken place with hardly a campsite at all, but a welcoming pub. Although we had plenty of time to carry on we set up camp as it was already getting cold. Ernest cooked his usual delicious pasta and we were off to bed rather early.

28 August - Barrow Creek – Ti Tree - 93km
We were on the road by 9h00 (early for us), soon we reached a rest area where we filled up our water bottles and headed off to Ti Tree. We reached Ti Tree very early but all the talk about a potato salad along the way made us shop for some potatoes, salad veg, and mayonnaise at the little store.

Once we bagged all the ingredients we headed for the campsite. We had just pitched our tents and made some coffee when a friendly lady camping close by brought us some fruit cake. Needless to say it went down very well. The people are just so friendly here.

It was still fairly early, so we sat in the sun while Ernest started to prepare the much anticipated meal. We were in no hurry to get to Alice Springs, as what we understood form other travellers was that there was not a campsite to be had in Alice due to a trucking show in the town.

28 August - Ti Tree – Aileron - 63km
We waited for the sun to warm our tents before packing up. A short ride outside Ti Tree we spotted some vineyards and a sign for wine tasting. Not wanting to miss the experience we turned off the road to explore. We even splashed out on a bottle of port. About 40km from the start we found a rest area where we filled up with water and ate some potato salad sandwiches. From the rest area it was only another 20km to Aileron through Prowse gap, so we were in Aileron fairly early. It was time to sample that port!!

It was a freezing cold night so Ernest made vetkoek and soup which went down extremely well with the port. He has now been declared the undisputed “Vetkoek King of the Outback”!! A zillion stars lit the sky while we sat all wrapped up in our sleeping bags. Life was good!!

29 August - Aileron – Tropic of Capricorn Rest Area - 105km
We only left Aileron at around 10.30 and headed into the wind for the rest of the day. Ernest was strong and led the way whilst I sat in his slip stream (men can be sooo handy at times!) We only stopped now and again to refill our water bottles and then were back on the road, battling the wind again.

We arrived at the Tropic of Capricorn Rest Area in good time and pitched our tents right on the line for the night. We also met a guy from Germany on a motorbike, who has been riding all the way from Germany and who has followed most of our route since about Turkey.

31 August - Tropic of Capricorn Rest Area – Alice Springs - 36km
We were up rather early as we camped next to the Tropic of Capricorn monument and people arrived early to take pictures. They will just have to Photoshop us out of their pics (although many travellers along the way have taken photo’s of us – even from their car windows).

We blitzed the last few k’s into Alice Springs – mostly downhill. We passed the marker for the highest point on the road between Darwin and Adelaide (a mere 740m according to Ernest’s GPS) and then rolled into Alice (our halfway point on the Stewart Highway). We checked out a few rooms but camping was still way cheaper. I was in serious need of a shower, and had to see a dentist ASAP!!

The day was nice and warm, even hot, for a change, so it was time for doing laundry and airing farty sleeping bags!

1 - 3 September - Alice Springs
It was time to face the facts and see the dentist. I have had a loose crown since Indonesia and it was causing BIG problems, the gory details of which I will spare you. Off to the dentist I went and came back minus $180 and the tooth!! I will now have to cycle around with a missing tooth until I can get back home one day to have an implant or whatever it takes to fill that gap. Never in my life did I think that I’ll be walking around with a gaping grin!! From now on I will just have to keep my mount shut (something I think Ernest will be happy about). Ok, ok it’s not that bad, at least it’s not one of the front incisors.

I’m a little disappointed in the Australian Barbie, “Savaloys (looks like a vienna on steroids), onion and potato slices on a gas-fired plate – not even a grid?? (How do I braai my sami’s now?). At least Ernest is happy, grid or no grid, it’s our first real meat-eating country since we left South Africa (besides insects, dog, and the occasional chicken or goat – and, of course, pork in China).

The following day we spent shopping for foodstuff for the next few days. Ernest bought a new tyre and pedals from the local bike shop and I splashed out on a new bike computer. The weather report predicted heavy storms and we batoned down our tents and waited out the weather. Not much came of the storms, just a sudden downpour towards evening.

We were planning to leave on the morning of the 3rd, but we awoke to rain and we were reluctant to leave the tents – I’m such a baby!! The reception/shop at the camp had a small selection of books to swap and I found a nice easy to read book and crawled back into my sleeping bag. However, it was tempting to carry on cycling as the sun came out every now and then – and the wind was in our favour.

4 September - Alice Springs - Stuart’s Well - 95km
We woke to the sound of singing birds and a perfectly blue sky. Time to pack up and start the long haul south. Once again I was surprised at the large amount of colourful birds along the way. Parrots, cockatoos, and large flocks of bright green budgies! Stunning.

We camped at the grassless red earth campsite at Stuart’s Well, but can’t complain as it was free and we were rewarded with the most stunning sunset and a clear night sky, complete with shooting stars and all. However, we had to be careful not to put anything near the fence as the horses around the perimeter apparently have an appetite for such things as towels, tents, and bicycle saddles (recently the seat of a Harley was chewed up!).

5 September - Stuart’s Well – Erldunda - 111km
There were two rest stops with water along the way so there was no need for carrying lots of water. Both looked rather inviting, but we carried on south. The trees that we had all along the way since Darwin gave way to shrubs and grassland. We cycled past the meteorite conservation area and coasted in to Erldunda Roadhouse, with a restaurant/pub, campsite and pre-fab motel rooms. It was also the turn off for Uluru (Ayers Rock), so we set up camp for the night before heading off in a westerly direction (a rather long detour of 500 km there and back) too go and see “the rock”. The area is not called the red centre for no reason, the soil colour was a deep red, especially stunning at sunset but not always so good for camping as all our gear takes on a reddish tint. Even the lone Dingo we spotted along the way had a rather red back. Interestingly enough I also spotted a sign on a fence warning that poisoned bait had been put out for “wild dogs”. Well I suppose “wild dog” sounds more acceptable than “Dingo”!

6 September - Erldunda – Rest Area - 135km
I waited for the sun to defrost me and chatted to the other campers before packing up. Our slow start did not affect us too much as we picked up a rather good tail wind and headed in a Westerly direction to Uluru. That rock better be worth it! Once again we found 2 really nice Rest Stops with water along the way. We pulled into the first one to fill our water bottles and were entertained at their caravan by Daryl and Gloria, what a nice treat. After chatting to them for a while, drinking their coffee and eating all their fruit cake we headed on to the next rest area (can’t waste a tail wind).

7 September - Rest Area – Curtin Springs - 28km
We awoke to a rather miserable day, as it threatened to rain and the wind picked up during the night, making the tent flaps roar like a Boeing in the process of taking off. We were still having our coffee when another cyclist pulled in. It was Carson from Taiwan, of whom we have heard from various people along the way. He was a day or two ahead of us and on his way back from Uluru to the Stewart Highway. We chatted for a long time while it rained a bit and we were all reluctant to leave the rest area as the wind seemed to gather strength. Eventually we had to move on, and before long we were cycling into a cold rain.

Fortunately Curtin Springs was just down the road where we pulled in for a hot cup of coffee. We were cold, wet and windswept so it did not take much to convince us to pitch our tents and crawl inside for the rest of the day. Only once I ventured out to get a loaf of bread from the roadhouse shop and at Aus $7 it must be the most expensive bread in the world!!

8 September - Curtin Springs – Yulara - 88km
The weather seemed to have cleared during the night and we were rewarded with a huge rainbow across the sky. The dreaded Emu from the previous day was back, inspecting everything and pecking on our tents. It must have been time to wake up. We watched as dark clouds gathered and disappeared. By 11.30 the weather gave us a break and we quickly packed up and were on our bikes for the last stretch to Yulara.

Wow, what a hard day on the road it was. A gale force wind blew all day as we battled on to Yulara. Not much was said between us, as we had our heads down battling the wind. Eventually we arrived in Yulara Resort camp and caught our first glimpse of Uluru in the distance. By the time we pitched our tents there was not a drop of wind and the cold weather seemed to have dissipated. We could even sit outside and talk to other travellers. Typical!

9 September - Uluru - In Nat Park viewing the rock – 37 km
We woke at leisure and did the normal rest day chores. Eventually we got on our bikes and cycled to Uluru. I was surprised at the size of Uluru; somehow I expected it to be much smaller. It’s quite a dramatic site as it rises 350m out of the desert floor and measures 9.4 km around its base. The sun did not want to play along and did not want to come out properly to light up the rock for us. We snapped a few pic’s and then went back to the campsite.

In a way it is quite sad, that such a sacred site to the local Aboriginal people is trampled by tourists who climb the rock. They also ask that people should not climb up to the top but still many people find this a kind of a pilgrimage.

10 September - Yalara – Curtin Springs - - 88km
Ernest changed his worn tyre and it was 12.30 by the time we left the camp site. It was fortunately a much easier day than anticipated. The wind was not as strong and we reached Curtin Springs shortly after 5. We picked up some wood and made a camp fire. We also met Rudolfo from Argentina who now lives in Melbourne. We sat around the fire, had a few beers and were invited to his house once we get to Melbourne.

11 September - Curtin Springs – Mt Ebenezer - 107km
After our usual slow start we got on our bikes and battled the wind all day long. What a mission it is cycling into a head wind! We waved good bye to our last glimpse of Uluru and headed back to the Stuart High Way. Just after 5 we crawled into Mt Ebenezer with its cheap red earthy campsite. I could not resist the French fries from the roadhouse and before setting up camp I ate a whole 5 dollars worth! Delicious! Then it was off to have a really hot shower. Oh the pleasure of the small things in life!

The next morning we woke at 5.30 with rain pelting down on the tent. The entire campsite turned into a mud bath. We lay cocooned in our tents waiting for the weather to clear. We, however, had no such luck and it rained throughout the day. Later we went to sit in the roadhouse pub/restaurant and sat there playing on the laptop and drinking bottomless coffee until it came out our ears.

13 September - Mt Ebenezer – Kulgera - 135km
We were happy to open our tents and see that the rain had cleared. We were rather quick to pack up before more rain came down. We had an excellent tail wind for the first 60km to the Stuart Highway junction at Erldunda. Then it was back in a Southerly direction, from where the road beat a dead straight track south though the desert.

Another 75km along the Stuart High Way brought us to Kulgera with a good campsite and roadhouse.

14 September - Kulgera – Rest Area - 61km
An icy wind blew as we woke up and we were reluctant to leave. Battling into the wind is one thing but battling into an icy cold wind is another. It was 11 am by the time we finally left our cosy campsite. 22km further south we officially crossed into the state of South Australia. At the border is a good rest area and we bumped into Gloria and Daryl again. Once again we got invited for coffee and cake at their caravan. I wonder if these people realize what luxury that is for us! We chatted for a while and then we were on our way again. 40k’s further we found a good rest area, with water and a nice shelter. We camped for the night as it was already getting late. Another camper at the rest area, invited us to share his camp fire and I was quick to get my billy on for some hot water for coffee. The people are so friendly. That night Ernest made more vetkoek than we could eat.

15 September - Rest Area – Marla - 125km
What was with that weather? As I woke I could hear the unwelcome sound of rain on my tent again. Fortunately we had a perfect shelter, for packing the bags and loading up the bikes. We set off in icy conditions and in a constant drizzle. I was absolutely frozen all day long - I even thought I had hypothermia (I can be such a drama queen).

Ernest had not one but two flat tyres along the way, not something one wants in those conditions. We were, however, lucky to see some wild horses and, yes, a big kangaroo, sitting right in the middle of the road, just looking at us.

I was never more pleased to ride into a camp site. A quick cup of soup with leftover vetkoek and a hot shower was all I needed to be quite happy again.

16 September - Marla – Cadney Homestead - 85km
We did not leave the campsite until after 12h00. Ernest repaired tubes and we did some shopping at the little mini-mart for the next few days. It was another cold and windy day on the road and we did not get into Cadney until after 5.

Money has also become a problem, Australia is incredibly expensive and I will soon have to find myself a job in order to continue my travels. Ernest has run out of money and me having to keeping both of us is proving rather costly.

17 September - Cadney Homestead – Pootnoura Rest Area - 80km
Another short distance that took us the entire day to cycle. It was once again a bleak day with low clouds, and an icy cold wind that blew all day. We also had our fair share of bicycle problems, as Ernest had two blow-outs due to his new back tire tearing at the side-wall.

I stuck the iPod in my ears and battled on, eventually we reached Pootnoura Rest area, which had water and a shelter. I had my tent up in no time as it looked like it was going to rain again. Oi the weather is just not in our favour, not the best of days on the road.

18 September - Pootnoura Rest Area – Coober Pedy - 78km
We struggled to make some coffee in the windy conditions, but eventually got some water boiling for an early morning cuppa. I was not looking forward to another windy day, but we had to move on as our supplies were running out.

We once again struggled into an icy cold wind (sometimes from the front, sometimes a fierce cross-wind), sometimes struggling to cycle at more than 10km an hour. The gusts from the road trains nearly blew me off my bike a few times. I clung on for dear life to the handlebars and just about managed to stay on the road.

About 40 k’s north of Coober Pedy we crossed the dog fence, a 5500km long fence running across South East Australia to keep the dingoes out, and then it was into opal country. All along the road we spotted holes and piles of dirt littering the country side. Opal mining is alive and well in Coober Pedy, the Opal Capital of the world.

19 September - Coober Pedy
Coober Pedy is a typical small mining town with corrugated iron houses, dirt roads and eccentric looking foreigners seeking their fortune. The town has one more fascinating feature - old worked out mines have become homes. Living underground makes a lot of sense as it gets extremely hot in this part of the world, apparently the temperatures underground never rises above 23C. The surrounding desert has also attracted a number of film makers, and old movie props can still be seen around town. We’re camping at the Opal Inn Caravan Park for a day or two, doing laundry, stocking up with supplies for the road south, and so forth.

21 September - Coober Pedy to Ingomar Rest area - 94km
It was time to leave our lazy life of hanging around the campsite and get back on the road. It was a much better day than expected, at least the sun was out and the wind not too strong. The land was flat and all we could see was miles and miles of nothing (except for the “mole hills” where the optimistic miners were digging for opals).

I tried to draw some money before we left but to no avail. So off we went without any money, at least we not going to need any in the next few days. I had a big fight again with Ernest, so things were not all that wonderful. At least the rest area was (as happens at the free camping places) interesting with the usual bunch of odd people camping there.

22 September - Ingomar Rest Area – Bon Bon Rest Area - 79km
We battled into the wind on a pan flat road with very little change in scenery. On and on we went head down into the wind. I’m close to getting white-line fever. Fortunate it was a short day and once at the rest area we could pitch our tents and get out of the wind a bit. We also met the most interesting people. Jen from Adelaide is a 70-year old lady who drove all the way to Darwin to deposit her late husband’s ashes into the ocean (she is a most remarkable woman with loads of interesting stories - I will definitely visit her in Adelaide).

23 September - Bon Bon Rest Area – Glendambo - 87km
Ernest and I were not close buddies, the wind was relentless and the road pan flat again, I can’t think of anything worse. We battled on in silence; this is just not worth it!! We reached Glendambo early but I was (by then) really fed up with this whole situation and decided to camp right there, get a LARGE bag of French fries, have a shower and drink a LARGE glass of red wine. (My way of solving problems).

At sunset the wind dropped, the flies went to bed, and I felt a whole lot better!

24 September - Glendambo – Woomera - 125km
Thank goodness not all things are constant! We got on the road and picked up a tail wind. Powered by the wind we sped south past vast areas of nothing until we reached Lake Hart. What a sight it was, a salt lake filled with water after the good rains they had in the area. It is such a large pan that it resembled the ocean.

We were like two horses that smelled the stables and would have sped right past Woomera, was it not for me having a flat tyre along the road. Woomera has a bit if a dark history as it was the headquarters for experimental rocket and nuclear tests. Indigenous people apparently suffered greatly from these nuclear fallouts. In the centre of town is a rocket display area, and I was surprised at how small some of these rockets were.

25 September - Woomera- Ranges View Rest Area - 120km
We passed more salt lakes and some dusty rest areas along the way. We even found water at Ironstone Lagoon Rest Area, about 70km south of Pimba (turnoff to Woomera), which was great and we could fill up our bottles. It was not at all necessary as there was water at Ranges View as well (after carrying litres of our own!). We pitched out tents as the wind came up and blew and absolute gale, I truly thought my tent was going to take off with me inside!

26 September - Ranges View Rest Area – Port Augusta - 66km
We were in no hurry to leave and packed up at leisure. It was a beautiful spring day, sun shining, hardly any wind and flowers everywhere. We rolled into Port Augusta early and headed for Shoreline Caravan Park. Although a bit out of town it was cheap and had good facilities. We sat around for a while, chatting to the beer-drinking John, who lives in the caravan park.

27/28 September - Port Augusta
The wind picked up and I was happy not to be on the road. Did the normal chores of laundry, internet and stocking up with some foodstuff.

29 September - Port Augusta – Port Germein - 70km
After our night in luxury accommodation we reluctantly packed up and resumed our life on the road. A strong head wind battered us all day long, but we struggled on regardless. In fact it became so strong that it was getting right out dangerous to be on the road. Trucks and busses blew us all over die road. Along the way we chatted to people from this region who we’d met at one of our rest area camps up North a few weeks earlier. By the time we reached the coastal village of Port Germein, I’d given up and settled for a night in the campsite (at the turn-off we met a cyclist, Grant from Perth, cycling home from Sydney in 30 days – at least he was cruising with the wind). The camp site opposite the “longest wooden pier in Australia” wasn’t cheap at $20 but had a well equipped kitchen and good showers.

Port Germein is a rather forlorn looking place with just a few houses, a small hotel and general store, the jetty, and campsite. This is definitely a crabbing area and each and everyone here seems to have a crab net for fishing off the pier.

30 September - Port Germein – Snowtown - 98km
The wind eased a bit and we headed down the highway, the closest and easiest way to Adelaide. I have to get out of this windy area. Judging by the wind-farms and mangled old windmills, this is obviously a notoriously windy area. It was, however, a scenic ride as the fields are green and stretch as far as the eye can see, we passed small quaint towns like Warnetown, Red Hill and Lake View.

We set up camp at Snowtown, a village with a population of 600, 3 churches, a hotel and general grocer. Camping was in the Centenary Park community recreation area, where there was also a perfectly manicured bowling green, tennis court, and of course the football oval (which doubles as a cricket pitch in summer).

1 October - Snowtown – Dublin - 89km
Hallelujah, the wind was with us for a change. We woke to a perfectly blue sky, warm weather, gone was the icy wind! We had an excellent day on the road past deep green wheat fields and yellow canola fields, large salt lakes and interesting small villages the likes of Luchiel, Wild Horse Plain and Windsor.

We reached the tiny Dublin village early but it had such a good rest area that we decided to camp there for the night (only the following morning did we notice the small “no camping” sign).

2/5 October - Dublin – Adelaide - 62km
We rode into Adelaide on 2 October, a breezy but sunny Saturday afternoon. The streets were quiet and it was surely the easiest city we’ve cycled into in a long time. Roads were wide and traffic ever so orderly. No hooting, traffic jams or strange one-way streets, just a plain and easy ride right into the city centre. We camped at Adelaide Caravan Park for the night, again ever so orderly to such an extent that I was wondering if it was plain boring or peaceful???? Located on the banks overlooking the Torrents River, it was however rather peaceful, but with so many camp rules there’s no space for spontaneity and people seem to hide away too scared to talk to you, just in case it’s against the rules. Sigh….., I miss the good old Rest Areas from the Outback with its eccentric travellers.

Nevertheless, Adelaide remains a pleasant, spacious city with loads of parks, river walks and cycling tracks. A very liveable city I would say. Well, I guess with its 750 churches it is sure to put a damper on things. We strolled endlessly down city malls and picturesque river paths, ate pizzas and drank beers at side walk cafes, ate their famous chocolates and in the process totally blew the budget. For such an orderly city it has an amazing amount of eccentric people, even strip clubs and sex shops (just to stir things up a bit). I feel ill suited for city life as my sense of fashion is obviously years behind!

Possums came to visit us in our campsite, black swans floated down the river and parrots woke us in the morning - not a bad place at all!!! Due to the long weekend we waited in Adelaide for the shops to open on Tuesday, when I bought a new rear hub for my bike which Ernest fitted (I did get him a set of really good tyres for his bike as well – he’d been going for the past 900 km on a blown tyre which he’d sewn up with fishing line).

I have finally come to a decision regarding my route for the near further. The plan (which seems to change from day to day) is now to cycle to Melbourne (or Sydney depending on the time) and then fly (via South Africa) to South America in order to start the long road north in summer. I think Ernest has other plans, so I may be on my own there.

This was only my first experience of an Australian city (Darwin and Alice Springs are somewhat smaller), but already I thought that if I ever had to live in Australia it would be Adelaide.

11 August 2010

CYCLING INDONESIA - Bali and Lombok



17 July - Situbondo – Gilimanuk - 90km

Ernest was still not well; I just yesterday thought he was getting better. We set off and soon encountered a rather stiff headwind, which just got worse as the day progressed. The road was not as flat as the day before but rather hilly in parts. Fortunately the hilly area was through shady forest. By the end of the day I had enough of battling into the wind.

At the dock in Ketapang we took the short ferry ride across the channel to the island of Bali. At last we arrived in Bali! I take my hat off to Ernest, who feels crap, but still manages to cycle 90km in a strong head wind (or is he just stupid??)

We were hardly off the ferry when we spotted a nice place advertising rooms, and what a delightful place it was, little bungalows in an overgrown garden, lovely!! I just hope the wind dies down during the night.


18 July - Gilimanuk – Medewi Beach - 59 km
The first part of the day we cycled through a national park and under a green canopy of trees. No wonder Bali is such a popular destination. It has more than just beaches! The Balinese Hindu culture is alive and well and I have seldom seen such a vast collection of Hindu temples and shrines. The towns and villages along the way had a strong ancient Hindu flavor reflected in the architecture and all the shrines - how fascinating!

Soon we reached the well known surfing spot of Medewi Beach. Close to the turnoff from the main road we found a good place to stay with an excellent menu! I don’t often cycle past places like this.

19-21 July - Medewei Beach – Denpasar (Capital of Bali) - 74km
Bali has everything to make it a true paradise; with its warm tropical climate and great beaches, good surf, palm trees and frangipanis. Add to that an evocative Hindu culture, green rice paddies and friendly Balinese and it is sure to be a winner. Typical island style there was plenty of fruit to be had along the way. Roadside stalls were selling bright red water melons, large yellow bananas, pineapples and mangoes.

The road down the west coast was fairly hilly and slightly windy, but we soon reached the capital where we had to stop for a day or two in order to inquire about a visa for Australia.

We did the necessary, filled in forms, made copies of what was required and handed in the forms. Then it was just a matter of waiting to see what will happen. In the meantime I was bored stiff. Time to move on and check on the progress of the visa later. There must be more to do on this holiday island than sitting in a city room staring at the ceiling.


22/28 July - Denpasar – Kuta Beach & Uluwatu - 10km/29km/28km
We saddled up and cycled the rather short distance to the famous or infamous Kuta Beach. It was a much closer than I had expected. It all came as a bit of a shock after such a long time in the rest of Indonesia. Tourists galore, narrow alleys lined with curio stalls, CD’s. T-shirts, surf shops, western restaurants, booze, tattoo shops and marijuana!! Gosh, I nearly fell over just witnessing it all!! We eventually found a reasonable room and parked off, absorbing it all.

The most wonderful thing about human beings is how quickly we can adapt to a new environment! Soon I was shopping, eating and drinking and nearly had a new tattoo!! I joined the beer swirling holidaying Auzzies and ate at Pizza Hut, swam in the ocean and spoke loads of shit with holiday makers from around the world, dogged curio sellers and anyone else trying to sell me a trip to a nearby island!

I was enthioasticaly telling someone about our trip, but he obviously did not me believe me. Definitely time to move on, I’ll say, before all my money is gone and people think we’re just making this up!

We biked down to Uluwatu Beach, one of the most famous surfing spots in Bali if not in the world. There was no accommodation at the surfing point, but most accommodation places where scattered along the hilly roads in the vicinity. We only stayed one night and decided to go back to Kuta, while still waiting to hear from the Australian Embassy.

Back in Kuta we found a better room at Sari Bali, lovely with balcony and pool. We lived in luxury, eating more pizzas and of course we also drank a few beers.

29 July - Kuta – Padang Bai - 61km
At long last we left the touristy area of Kuta and headed for Denpassar to pick up our passports at the application centre. We were eager to see if the visas had been granted and were rather relieved to see that a 3-month visa was securely pasted in our passports.

We headed off to Padang Bai to get a ferry for Lombok as we still had until 11th August left on our visas for Indonesia. We bought our flight tickets from Bali to Darwin for 10th August and could now relax and explore Lombok until it was time to leave Indonesia.

Bali is a smaller island than expected and the roads are good and scenic. So all in all an enjoyable ride with once again plenty of Balinese Hindu temples and shrines. Padang Bai is not only a ferry port but quite an enjoyable little village, with a small touristy sea-front where there were plenty of places to stay and eat. We found ourselves a cheap room (complete with sheets which has not been changed for months) and headed out to one of the small restaurants on the “strip”.

Ernest went wild and ordered a steak, big mistake! Although the steak was ordered “rare”, it was still cremated and resembled part of an old shoe sole, just as flat and just as tough (the accompanying French fries looked and tasted exactly like rice). My veg curry was a winner. Stick to the local food, that way you avoid disaster on a plate.

LOMBOK

30 June - Padang Bai, Bali – Senggigi, Lombok - 40km
We took the 10h00 ferry from Bali to Lombok, a 4-hour voyage. From the ferry port it was only 20km to the capital which we bypassed and headed up the coast to Senggigi, famed for its lovely beaches, and the most touristy place on Lombok island. Once there we discovered that most of the accommodation on the beach was too expensive for us - so much for the lovely beach where I envisaged myself in a bamboo hut with the water lapping at my feet.

In order to get out of our dark hole of a room, we headed for a local restaurant instead of cooking for ourselves. Ernest, at long last, had his fish which was not cooked to a frazzle, and was not served with scales and bones! I had fried veg and tofu, which was absolutely delicious; I was pleased we did not cook for ourselves.

31 July - Senggigi – Senaru - 85km
Most rooms in this part of the world come with a simple breakfast and this time it was no different. We ate our banana pancake, drank our coffee and soon were on our way again.

The road was a lot more hilly than expected and we huffed and puffed up the steep little hills and then flew down the other side. The ongoing road works made it even harder and while pushing up one particularly steep gravel hill a kind local motorbike passenger decided to help - but I think he underestimated the weight and soon abandoned me to my own devices.

As often happens the last 10km of the day was straight up the mountain! We were rather happy to reach some accommodation with excellent views of Rinjani (the well known volcano on the island). I was itching to do the trek up to the crater, but we have such little time left, that I gave it a miss.

1 August - Sennaru – Lanbuhan Lombok - 68km
After our usual banana pancake (tourist breakfast) we sped down the hill at breakneck speed, but once that was over it was back to the steep ups and downs again. The scenery was absolutely stunning and friendly kids cheered us on as we battled up the vertical road. A chorus of “Turist, turist” and “hello mister” could be heard as we cycled past small villages. I must admit my greetings seem to fade a bit towards the end of the day.

Shortly after lunch we reached Lanbuhan Lambok, the ferry terminal to Sumbawa island where we had been heading. After some consultation with the locals we decided to stay the night and only cross to the Sumbawa in the morning. We found a cheap “losmen” (local hotel), bought some things at the local market, and eventually Ernest found a decent White Snapper at a good price which he filleted and fried (he managed to eat up the whole thing – for the uninformed, I’m vegetarian).

2 August - Lanbuhan Lombok – Mataram - 75km
Somehow our plans changed during the night. For a number of reasons we decided to stay in Lombok instead of crossing the short strait to Sumbawa. The main reasons being that we both hate back-tracking (which, it seems, would have been necessary), we had no decent map of that island, and we were unsure of where to go once we got there.

We headed back in the direction of the Lombok capital, Mataram. A number of locals had reliably informed us that the main road back to the West coast was flat. Unfortunately (as in many parts of the world), “flat” seems to mean “straight”. We gradually climbed for some time, then some “up and down”, and eventually we had the gradual downhill run-in to the capital. The road was dotted with small villages where the horse and buggy is still in full use and seems to be the main mode of public transport around town. Farmers still plow their rice paddies with oxen and locals are amazed that we’re cycling to the next town! It’s rather useless telling them where we come from as its way off their radar.

In Mataram we found a nice room (recommended by the guide book), where we could unsaddle our own well-used horses. Ernest did his usual pm march around the markets, and as usual he returned with a refreshing local Bintang beer. Now we have a few days left before our flight to Darwin.

3 August - Mataram, Lombok – Padang Bai, Bali - 21km
We were rather slow at packing up. Eventually we had the bikes loaded and ambled along the road to the harbour for the ferry ride back to Bali.

We were just in time for the 12h00 ferry, along with trucks, busses, curio sellers and hawkers, we boarded the ferry for another 4-hour crossing back to Bali. The swell was rather large, making it difficult to walk around so we just settled in on a mat and ate Pop-Mie and selak (snake fruit, which we’d bought earlier along the way).

By the time we were off the ferry it was 16h30 so we once again found a room at the same hotel as the one we’d stayed in before we left for Lombok. It at least appeared that they had changed the sheets, although we were definitely not the first people to sleep on them, they were rather less “used” than on our previous visit.

4 August - Padang Bai – Amed - 56km
I knew we were just passing time in Bali before our flight out, so I was rather lazy to cycle. We eventually made a move and headed east and then north around the island. So off over the hills we went and what a stunning ride it was! Lush and green with rice paddies and temples made the ride a pure pleasure and I was happy to be on the bike. There seems to be frequent celebrations or festivals complete with people all dressed up in traditional clothes, dancers and local bands. This time, however, it could have been a funeral (who knows?).

Once over the eastern hills we sped down to the coast and in no time at all found ourselves in Amed, a very touristy area on the far eastern coast. We found a rather nice room (albeit pricy) on the beach and enjoyed a swim, a beer and some of the local food. Although the beach was a black volcanic pebble beach, the water was crystal clear and lukewarm.

5 August - Amed – Lovina - 85 km
We had a good tail wind for the first part of the ride, so we sped along a fairly flat road along the coast. Ernest bought a fish for supper at the local market down the road – a rather strange looking pike-like creature which he cleaned and deboned for hours. He was quite pleased with the end result, a fine meal of game fish fillet and fried noodles. It seemed to me that so much work should have produced a lot more fish – but then again, I’m very lazy when it comes to cooking food.

6 August - Lovina – Tangarang - 83 km
We had to head over the hills back south towards Denpasar and the airport, and as we’d expected it was a decent climb across this volcanic island. Then, as usual, we flew down the other side. The scenery was however stunning, and we had to stop to photograph the neat terraced rice paddies along the hillsides. We found an affordable room in the big town of Tangarang, about 20km North of Denpasar (not a touristy place, therefore the price was reasonable).

7 August - Tangarang – Kuta - 36 km
The ride to Kuta was fairly quick – with a bit of a rain shower along the way. We cycled around Denpasar city looking for an outdoor store which I’d spotted previously, but I was now unable to find it again. On the road from there to Kuta Beach we passed a good bike shop where Ernest bought a spare rim (cheap) – he wasn’t going to cycle through the Australian Outback without the necessary backup. So we headed on to Kuta, where we found a nice room at Sari Bali where we’d stayed previously. Now it was time to sort out the bags and the bike for our flight to Darwin, trying to reduce the weight as excess baggage can be very expensive.

8/11 August - Kuta – Kuta Airport - 7km
Ernest scrubbed and cleaned the bikes; we did laundry; sorted out our gear; and lazed around before our flight to Darwin Australia. Who the heck worked out the flight time table? Out flight was at 11pm arriving in Darwin at 3am, ghosh, what a time to arrive in a place! (The actual flying time was only 2h30m, but there is a time difference).

I was, however, quite excited to go and experience Australia, a new country and a new culture, after a very long time in Asia.

At last it was “Salamat Tingel dan Tarima Kashi” Indonesia. We cycled the short distance to the airport for our flight to Darwin. Once at the airport we expected to have to box the bikes, but there were no boxes available there. However, we were lucky to meet an extremely helpful Malaysian (Tan C K), who had just bought a bike in Bali - he phoned the bike shop to bring us 2 bike boxes, which they did. They also helped pack the bikes -gosh how nice is that.

The bad part was paying for our overweight baggage which, even after a discount, was still far more than the price of the ticket. Even on board there was no service whatsoever (without paying extra), not even a glass of water of a cup of coffee. Then they still wanted you to clean up and pack the seat-pocket in front of you neatly they way they want it. Well bugger that, they can repack their own brochures. Ha, ha, I suppose, that is what you call a budget airline!