For previous blog entries of our ride through NZ, Australia, South East Asia, China and Central Asia, click on the little arrows beside the dates in the Blog Archive below and use the scroll down menu.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Australia - Newcastle to Grafton


Hawks Nest

Everyone out for the shark

Sand dunes

Camping at Myall Lakes

4 x 4 track

Catalina and Kyle

Shelly beach


Amazing beach at Forster

Cookie dog

Pelican at Harrington

A typical track through the National Park

Camels on Lighthouse beach, Port Macquarie

Ben and Gwen, Crescent Head

Rubber duck race, Crescent Head

Gwen's house
Better than Asda Govan



Brenna's house, Hungry head

Beware - dangerous beastie

Tony and Judy

Big brown beastie, big brown face

Rob and Maureen's amazing touring bikes

Distance cycled: 4280 kms

Route: Newcastle - Medowie - Hawks Nest - Crowdy Head - Port Macquarie - Crescent Heads - Coffs Harbour - Grafton

Well, since leaving Ian's in Newcastle, we've had one of the best weeks of the trip so far. The coast is definitely the place to be in Australia. We cycled to an amazing little place on the coast called Hawks Nest where after a very short ride, we gave up cycling for the rest of the day and instead spent the day there swimming and enjoying being swept along by the massive waves. Ben got quite good at body surfing in with the tide whereas I seemed to end up with a load of water up my nose. At supervised beaches, the sea has been generally full of people playing the jumpy wave game but it may get a bit quieter now the school holidays are over. What a magic day we had. Golden sands and warm, crystal clear waters made swimming a pleasure and it's obviously the best way to cool down. Twice during the day, the shark warning sirens went off. The lifeguards, who are all volunteers, obviously keep a good eye on the water and managed to spot the first shark from a good way off. So out of the water everyone got and we watched the shark pass by about 10 metres from the coast. He was about 6 or 7 ft long, "just a littl'un" apparently. After he'd disappeared, everyone just got back in the water, unperturbed by the visit. Australians are completely unphased by the presence of so many fierce creatures in the sea, which is just as well as the sea is one of the best parts of life in Oz. That day we made a little house out of our tarp and lay under it, inbetween swims, drinking tea and enjoying life. Speaking of tea, it's so bloody hot here, any milk we carry, even UHT curdles by the end of the day so we've had to resort to powdered milk. I protested at first saying "this is an outrage" when Ben suggested going on to it, slapping him across the face with a leather glove. However, I am slowly getting accustomed to tea without proper milk. There are, I'm sure worse things in life. Right now, I can't think what they are, but I'm sure there must be some. Going back to the topic of fierce creatures, I had my first encounter with a bluebottle jellyfish at Elizabeth beach. Just before we'd gone in for a swim, a woman had said to us, "be careful of the bluebottles". I wondered what she was on about as in Scotland a bluebottle is but a harmless fly. However, these other bluebottles are not harmless as I found out to my cost. I was just getting in the water when I suddenly felt a searing, burning pain across my thighs. I let out a scream and as I tried to run out the water, the tentacles got wrapped right around me stinging right down my legs and buttocks. When I got out the water, some people sprayed me with vinegar in a bottle and told me I should go home and have a shower to wash out the tentacles. I explained to them that at that moment I didn't exactly have a home so Catalina and Kyle invited me back to their holiday home. After a shower, the pain had dulled to that of a nettle sting and I felt much better. We had a beer and a chat with those guys and then spent the night at nearby Shelly beach. In the morning, we soon realised that Shelly beach was the local nudist spot as we woke up to naked frisbee and tennis on our doorstep. It was a beautiful beach and I really fancied a swim but seeing lots of bluebottles washed up on the shore, I decided to give it a miss. Up in Queensland however, box jellyfish will give you more than a nasty sting. Infact, you probably wouldn't make it out of the water if you ran into one of them.

The following day we ended up a bit further up the coast at Forster and what a gem of a beach we found. A big wall of rock had made a natural little pool to swim in, protected from most of the currents and free from jellyfish. It was just amazing and we sacked most of the day's cycling off again for another day at the beach. We watched as some kids jumped fearlessly in off the rocks into the blue water below and Ben quickly dived in after them. I chickened out first time but on my second attempt a very wise 10 year old girl helped me overcome my fear by counting me in and leaping in with me. Just when we thought the day couldn't get any better, I saw a man holding something very peculiar in the water which, on closer inspection, turned out to be a baby shark! He was a little beauty, all gums and no teeth. We had the pleasure of giving him a little stroke before he was released. The guys Mum explained that he had recently had to have his foot sewn back on after a shark attack but was still as keen on diving as ever, The lady then asked me where in Scotland I was from, I answered "Glasgow". "I'm from Motherwell" she says. I just burst out laughing as, as most of you know, Motherwell is my home town about 13 miles from Glasgow. It also turned out that May's Aunt lives in the same sheltered housing complex as my Gran. It is indeed a small world. Despite all the sun, sea and sand Australia had to offer, May really missed Scotland and we reminisced about life in "the Well" That day on the beach was made even better by the fact we could take our bikes right down to the waters edge and keep an eye on them as we swam together. We sometimes have to go in for a swim one at a time, so someone can keep an eye on the bikes but it's always much nicer to go in together. Life must be a lot harder in that respect for a solitary cycle tourer who has no-one to look after the bike when they go shopping etc.

On leaving Newcastle, we cycled on a 4 x 4 track through the beautiful Myall Lakes National Park. We had the track to ourselves as it had been closed to vehicles for the last 4 years. It was pretty bumpy but our trusty old steeds can handle a bit of rough. The National Parks here are great and it's always nice to do some cycling through them away from the traffic. We visited a little place by the sea called Crowdy Head where we had our 3 hour lunch break away from the midday sun and went for a swim. We chatted with a guy called Sam who introduced us to "pig faces" a little plant that grows by the sea with a delicious, vitamin C-rich fruit inside. We left Crowdy Head to cycle through another of the National Parks tracks to arrive at Diamond Head where we camped on the beach. It would appear that no-one gives two hoots where you camp in Australia. Most of the time we hide away when we're camping but no-one we've ran into has given us any trouble so far. You are allowed to camp in most of the rest stops here and people are always happy to let you camp on their land. A typical Aussie reply to "can we put our tent up on your land?" is "sure, no dramas". Life is so laid back here I think I might fall over. A few nights ago as we headed North towards Port Macquarie we asked some people on their balcony if we could put our tent up on their land. They said that was fine, told us we could have a swim in the pool then started talking to me about, yes you guessed it, "Taggart". It's great that so many people here have Taggart as their only point of reference for Glasgow, a show about drug dealers getting murdered "up a close" in Maryhill. It certainly hasn't seemed to put them off us Scotties though as we are loved as much here as in NZ. Next morning, Madeleine and Helen invited us in for a shower and some tea with real milk. Thanks to Stuart, Helen and Madeleine for helping us out. That night, we shared our tent with their wee dog Cookie who befriended us for the night. Earlier that day we'd treated ourselves to a bottle of brandy and some wine. We had a merry night as we relaxed in the safety of Stuart and Madeleine's garden, happy together in our little house. We cycled through Port Macquarie and up to Crescent Head, gradually ticking off the kilometres to Brisbane, our next milestone. We stayed for 2 nights near Crescent Head at the house of Gwen, the mother of Ian, our warm showers host in Newcastle. We were at Gwen's on Australia day and were treated to a free fried breakfast at the rotunda in town. Later that day, we were treated to another delicious meal at a barbeque at Gwen's friend's Fran's. Gwen was so good to us and offers this sort of hospitality quiet often to people passing by. An inspirational woman with a heart of gold. We must also thank Gwen's friend's Ken and Sue for the information on free campsites they compiled for us, the information has already proven to be very useful. We left Gwen's cycling through some lovely quiet roads, so quiet that I felt safe enough to listen to music for a while. I love cycling to music, it really gets me going. I remember one time, our friend Anna, who we cycled with in NZ put her MP3 player on, started pedalling faster and faster and within minutes was cycling at a rate of knots to boggle the mind. Lance Armstrong on speed couldn't have kept up with her. Ian commented, "that's the power of reggae music". Indeed.

We cycled 110 kms the day we left Gwen's, the latter half of which was on the Pacific Highway. I remember before we set off thinking the "Pacific Highway" sounded so adventurous and exotic. It's really not. The "road trains" we'd heard so much about speed past us at a frightening rate sometimes on parts of the road with little or no hard shoulder. These trucks are about 150 ft long, about twice the size of the wagons back home. Most of the time there is a shoulder to cycle in but it's really no fun and best avoided on a bike. Having said that if you're in a hurry and want to get somewhere fast, it's the way to go. It's direct and the gradients generally aren't as steep as on smaller roads. Taking smaller roads generally involves a less direct route but it's worth the extra mileage and we've done well so far to avoid the Highway most of the time. We did 60 kms before even stopping for lunch the other day as you get into a good, steady rhythm on the Highway.That night we were still cycling at 8pm and it was getting dark. We realised we weren't going to make it to Coffs Harbour or the free rest stop camping area we had planned to stay at. So we turned off the Highway on to a little side road signposted Hungry Head. We knocked on the first door we came to and asked if we could pitch our tent in the garden. To our delight however, Brenna invited us to stay in a little house they have next door to their's which friends and family stay in when they come to visit. Before we knew it we were changed, freshly showered and sitting watching one of my favourite shows "the IT crowd" on TV. To top it off Ben then found his favourite playstation game "Gran Turismo" so was as happy as a pig in the proverbial. Brenna's daughter Charlotte brought us up some Lamington's left over from Australia day and some delicious fruit. It was a completely unexpected night of good fortune and we want to thank Brenna and the kids for being so good to us. We slept in a wonderfully comfortable bed that night as yet another almighty thunder storm broke out. We didn't mind this one at all this time from within the safety of 4 walls. The following day we cycled another 110 kms to arrive at another warm showers house. This time it is Rob and Maureen in Grafton who have put us up and that's where we are now. We had a delicious seafood curry waiting for us on our arrival and a fabulously comfortable bed. Rob and Maureen have loads of horses milling around and they've been keeping Ben company today while he's been servicing the bikes, coming into the garage and trying to eat our pannier bags! Last night we got lost trying to get here and ended up in the middle of nowhere, in the pitch black near Grafton airport. We chapped on a door to see if the householders could help us with some directions. It turned out that we were a good bit away from the house and would have to cycle on the Highway in the dark to get there. Tony and Judy very kindly offered to give us a lift to Rob and Maureen's. We accepted and left the bikes there. This morning we picked them up and cycled back to the house in the daylight. Thanks to you both for your help, I'm glad we knocked on your door and it was a pleasure to meet such good people.

When people hear we're cycling up to Darwin, the main response we get is usually the pearl of wisdom "it's a long way". Surely not. the next thing people start to tell you about is how hot it is up there. When you try to explain to people that you have some grasp of what the weather conditions will be like, they have to really emphasise the point. "No but it's really hot". Thanks for the useful tips everyone. One useful tip we have been given is not to sleep under gumtrees as they randomly drop branches and it's true. In the middle of the night you hear them snapping and falling to the ground with an almighty thud. These are all good things to know, things you probably won't get to hear about in non English-speaking countries.

We are loving the cycling here in this amazing, vast country. The people we have met have been brilliant and it seems there's always someone waiting round the corner to offer you tea, a place to stay, a nice cold drink on a hot day or just some advice. Ben is delighted at the availability of free bananas round every corner and less often, mangoes.There's no shortage of friendly beeps as we cycle down the road either which is always encouraging. The wildlife is fantastic here and it's so amazing to have kangaroos bounding alongside your bike on a quiet country road in the evening as the sun goes down. It won't be too much longer before we turn inland so we're making the most of the wonderful coastline while we've still got it. Peace.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Australia - Sydney to Newcastle(via the Blue Mountains)

Distance cycled: 3686kms

Route: Sydney airport - Sydney centre - North Sydney - Parramatta - Seven Hills - Penrith - Katoomba - Mount Vic - Bell - Bilpin - Kurrajong - Maroota - Wisemans Ferry - Mangrove Mountain - Wyong - Mandalong - Toronto - Hamilton(Newcastle)

Jane Gilberd

Leaving NZ

Sydney Opera House

An Ibis

Sydney Harbour Bridge

North Sydney

Kasia, Me, Mark

Sydney by night


Mark - hamster boy

Yes, it is too hot

The 3 sisters - Blue Mountains National Park

Echo point

Blue Mountains

Mount Wilson

Wiseman's ferry

Karen and Stuart

Bad driving

Rosie(dog), Larissa, Kingsley
The storm at Mandalong
Frank, Margaret, Andreas, Kingsley, Katia, Larissa, Siena
The house at Mandalong

Ian Wilcox

Hey folks. Well, our 2 and a half months in NZ were amazing but the place seems like a distant memory since arriving inOz. Our last couple of days there were spent in Wellington where Mary put us up again as well as Carol and Stew in Lower Hutt. We also got to meet up with our good pal, Jane Gilberd who dropped us at Wellington airport at silly o'clock in the morning. Jane, thanks a million, twas great to see you albeit briefly. Thanks for letting me ride in the boot of your car like a kidnap victim due to the huge bike boxes. We got on the flight no problem, which was surprising as Ben had a kilo of crack cocaine shoved up his bum(Do I need to say "joke" after this for legal purposes? Probably, so JOKE. Anyway, on the flight, being easily pleased as we are, we were delighted to find out we got a meal and drinks free of charge. We had an amazing view of the North of the South Island as we flew out from Wellington, including the Farewell Spit and all the little islands around it and thought fondly of the amazing time we had spent there.

Arriving in Sydney, we found the weather overcast and surprisingly mild. Passing through duty free, we found ourselves with a litre of brandy, a small bottle of vodka, some Baileys and some $1 cans of wine, all for $35(17.50).We got our luggage and went outside to assemble the bikes. A couple of hours later we were cycling through Sydney on our way to the suburb of Seven Hills where an old friend of mine, Mark from Motherwell lives. Cycling through Sydney was hellish and we were glad to get out of the city. We arrived at Mark's, 50 kms away a few hours later after Scott, another friendly cyclist took us on a good route out of the city. We finished the journey on the motorway, as cycling on the motorway here is completely legal. I hadn't seen Mark in about 8 years but we just took off where we had left off as though I'd seen him only yesterday. We had only intended staying a couple of days in Sydney but Mark and his girlfriend Kasia talked us into staying for the opening night of the Sydney festival. During the week, these guys were at work so we stayed in the house relaxing, swimming and watching films. We felt so relaxed in thanks to the lovely warm welcome we received. The Sydney festival night was fun, we saw Al Green in concert and a few other acts as giant fruit bats swooped over our heads. It was a great night. We left Seven Hills on Monday with one of the nicest sendoffs we've had so far: a batch of homemade muesli bars and tablet for the trip. Mark, you are a star. The bars lasted us for the next 4 days and we thought of you and Kasia every time we tucked into one. Thanks both of you for everything.

Before leaving, Mark and Kasia had told us the Blue Mountains were a "must see" so we changed our route to incorporate them into the trip. After 60kms of climbing in 40 degree sunshine on a busy motorway we began to think we might die of heat exhaustion and wondered what the hell was going on. However, as we've come to realise over the last week, we were just out at the wrong time. 12 - 3 is no time to be out on the bike on a really hot day however early mornings and late afternoons are much cooler and a lot easier to ride in. It was a tough first day and we camped after 60kms in a nice rest area by the side of the road. The first night in the tent was pretty insufferable heatwise. Neither of us got a great nights sleep as we tossed and turned. It was about 25 degrees. We set off the next day, still climbing and reached Katoomba in the Blue Mountains. We visited the Three Sisters and saw one of the best views of the whole trip so far. We also went to visit a huge waterfall, hundreds of feet tall called Govetts Leap and got some idea of the immensity of Australia as a country. The views seem so much grander and more panoramic than anything we've seen before. We camped in the Blue Mountains National Park that night. The next day, to our surprise and relief, it was overcast and raining. It was a nice change until that night in the tent when an almighty thunder storm kicked off. We both love thunder and lightning but this wasn't like the storms you get back home. The sky roared above us and it felt like the lightning was right on top of us. It went on for hours. At first it was just lightning with no sound and I thought someone was shining a torch in at us. We were actually quite scared at being so vulnerable in a tent with no shelter but relaxed after half an hour or so accepting that if it was our destiny to die in a tent with our bodies fused together then so be it. That day we had asked a woman in the tourist information about a track which was marked on the map and asked her if it was cyclable. She said enthusiastically that taking that road instead of the busy main road was a great idea so off we went. We cycled through the amazing mountain-top village of Mount Wilson, a very isolated place made quite eerie by the rain and mist we were cycling through. It felt like we were cycling through the rain forest at times on a thin, misty road with nothing but dense forest on either side of us. It was all going great until we came to the off-road part we'd been told about. Instead of a gravel path, we were plunged 1000 metres into the bowels of the earth on a track which would be suitable for Australia's next downhill mountain bike championships. Poor bikes, they're really not designed for that kind of punishment, add to that the wet sand which was being thrown up into the gears. We finished the decent in a basin at the bottom of a steep valley with nothing around us for miles and started climbing. It was getting dark and getting out of the place wasn't easy. It was only our mountain bike skills and Ben's good workmanship on the bikes which helped us get out of there just as night was falling. The next day we cycled in the rain again and at the end of the day, knocked on a door to ask to put the tent up in the garden. We were lucky enough to knock on Karen and Stuarts door, who not only gave us a place to stay for the night but cooked us a delicious dinner and let us have a much-needed bath. We truly had a great evening, with great company and great conversation. As we entered the living room I heard the dulcet tones of DCI Jim Taggart on the telly and felt right at home. Apparently, "Taggart" is really popular in Australia even though no-one has a bloody clue what anyone is saying. Anyway, Stuart can now say "polis" and "there's been a murdur" in a Scottish accent, a useful skill some might say. The next day, we said our goodbyes to Karen and Louise her daughter and made our way to the village of Wiseman's Ferry where we crossed the Hawkesbury River on what can only be described as a bit of floating road which is pulled backwards and forwards by ropes on a winch to allow cars and pedestrians to cross. It's a bizarre contraption and we've no idea why they don't just build a bridge but it was a bit of a novelty for us. We had a nice day's cycling and the weather started to heat up again. We ended up in the village of Mangrove Mountain that night where we slept in the park. We finally arrived in the town of Wyong where I checked my emails to see if anyone from "warm showers" had got back to us. is an amazing site where people sign up to offer hospitality to cycle tourers. We joined up to offer hospitality just before we left but only had time to have people over once before our trip. People on the site can offer various things like a bed for the night, a tent space in a garden, a shower, laundry, food, internet etc. It's all based on trust and is great for people on a trip like ours. The beauty of it is that if you offer people hospitality when you are at home, you can expect to receive it when you are touring. The last two nights we stayed at Kingsley and Larissa's in Mandalong where we had the house to ourselves. The house was pretty much empty as they are doing it up and staying at Kingsleys mother's. It's an amazing, isolated house set in 150 acres of land. We saw kangaroos for the first time. The ones we saw were about 6 foot tall with biceps and leg muscles to put Arnold Schwarzenneger to shame. They are amazing creatures. There is so much wildlife here. Australia is constantly alive with the buzz of insects and birdsong(well it's more of a screech than a song to be honest), a sound which I am growing to love. We also saw a Redback spider. On Sunday, Kingsley, Larissa, the kids and Kingsleys parents, Frank and Margaret came over to do some work. We had a barbeque just before another massive thunder storm came in. Lightning struck the house, blew the mains fuse of the house and sent shocks up our legs as we sat indoors. It was the loudest bang I've ever heard and we all s**t ourselves! These guys were great and made our first warm showers stay a very happy one. Thankyou. After a days rest, we got back on the bikes and cycled 60 kms up the road to Newcastle(way aye man) where we are now in the house of Ian, another warm showers host. Ian has just made us a lovely meal and we'll return the favour when we cook for him tomorrow night. Thanks to John for the directions to get us here.

So, all in all, our first fortnight in Oz couldn't have gone better. We are so excited about seeing the rest of this amazing country and relishing the more difficult challenge of cycling in the Northern Territory. We are getting used to the heat and slowly ticking off the kilometres. People here find it hard to believe we're cycling to Darwin let alone Scotland but I feel that most take our intentions a bit more seriously now we have the 3,500kms of NZ under our belts. More to follow when we reach Brisbane in a few weeks. Ciao.