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.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Australia - Mackay to Townsville

Distance cycled: 7000kms

Route: Mackay - Proserpine - Airlie Beach - Bowen - Ayr - Townsville - Ingham - Cardwell - Innisfail - Cairns

We arrived in Mackay to be welcomed by Peter and Jackie from warm showers( ). For those of you who are new to the blog, warm showers is an online network of cyclists who put up cyclists on big trips like ours in their homes. Peter left the next day to take part in a gruelling 200km Audax ride so we spent a couple of days with Jackie. We had our own little area under the house to live in for a couple of days complete with pool table and free range chickens! Thanks for everything guys.

Ben with Jackie and Cactus

Ben and I left Mackay on Sunday and cycled 98 kms stopping 30 kms South of Proserpine. A guy let us camp on his land and then went off to work. In the middle of the night we were woken by a strange noise. It was similar to a grunting pig but deeper and far more menacing. Despite always being extremely careful never to camp near creeks or waterways where crocs might live, we suddenly realised we may have camped in a very bad place. We tried to convince ourselves at first that it was a wild boar but as the sound grew louder and deeper, we realised we may indeed have a croc outside the tent. As we sat, rigid with fear, I opened my swiss army blade and gripped onto it with a shaking hand. We were ready to slit open the side of the tent and make a run for it. The saltwater crocs here can grow up to 7 metres long but are usually between a mere 3 to 5 metres. Nothing to worry about then. In reality, Ben should have simply offered himself to the beast to save me from being eaten. It would have been the polite thing to do. Luckily for us, the noises stopped a short while later but it was a pretty sleepless night for both of us. The next morning, we sheepishly stuck our heads out the tent, saw the coast was clear, packed up quickly and set off. We arrived in Airlie Beach and went to see Kate and Philip at Seaview apartments. Philip told us that that area is full of crocs and later that day we found a pamphlet offering tours down the nearby Proserpine River to view the fine beasts sunning themselves on the river bank. Or you could do it our way and save yourself $98.

A week before arriving in Airlie Beach, we had met Philip and Kate at Waverley Creek rest area(where we met the legendary Jean Beliveau). They invited us to stay in their luxury apartments for a few days, so we, of course, took them up on their offer. When we arrived, they showed us into a beautiful apartment complete with private swimming pool and sea views. They invited us to stay a while as a category 4 cyclone which had just devastated Fiji was on it's way to Oz. It was predicted to arrive in a few days so we decided to stay put. We had an amazing time there over the next couple of days and helped Philip and Kate with some renovations on their new apartments.

Airlie beach - you'll never leave

We went round and were greeted by George from the Pacific Island of Tonga who was in charge of the renovations, John, also from Tonga, George's wife Mary-Anne and Roxanne. We got to work sanding, painting, cleaning and demolishing old furniture by day and relaxing in the flat by night. Airlie beach is backpacker central and a real party town, a bit like Queenstown in NZ or Brighton, in the South of England where we lived for 2 years, so it was a great place to stop for a while.

Mary-Anne, John, George and me

George - barbeque king

Men at work
Roxanne - you don't have to wear that dust mask tonight

More wee beasties

A light snack

A few days into our stay, news reports started coming in about the imminent arrival of the cyclone. It was indeed heading straight for us, at what would soon be a rate of knots to boggle the mind. How exciting. We'd never been in a cyclone before and were quite looking forward to it. That day, we helped Philip, Kate and George baton down the hatches and secure any loose items that might lead to decapitation of a passer-by, went indoors and waited. The wind started to pick up early evening and by 10pm, it was blowing a severe gale. By 11pm the power had gone off and by 11.30pm the cyclone was in full swing, passing right through town. It was pretty intense but wasn't quite as full-on as we'd expected. In the end, we fell asleep, safe in the knowledge that the house wouldn't fall in on us during the night. Ben didn't even get to use his World War 2 style bomb shelter he'd excitedly built in the bathroom out of a clotheshorse. Never mind.

Next morning we awoke to calm weather and jumped on our bikes to go survey the damage. Outside was a scene of chaos with huge trees uprooted, debris all over the place and most impressively, massive yachts wrecked against the harbour rocks. One was a massive charter yacht called Anaconda 2 which had broken free from it's moorings several kms away and ended up rattling against the rocks. It was a strange, slightly apocalyptic feeling day as everyone wandered around looking at the mess.

The electricity didn't come on for another 2 days which didn't bother us too much as we have a stove and could still make tea. When the electricity eventually did come back on, there was a huge cheer all over town and over the next couple of days, life got back to normal. That same day, we wandered down the beach and saw a couple of girls taking stuff out of the bins behind the local supermarket. As you know Ben and I love a bargain so went over to see what fine produce they had discovered. They had found a load of still-frozen ice creams which the supermarket had just dumped as the freezer's had gone off. So we joined in the Magnum and Calippo eating frenzy. Ben even had a Golden Gaytime. "It's hard to have a gaytime on your own" it said on the wrapper. Fair enough. It was a race against time as they were starting to melt and there were no freezers to be found as the power was still off. Before long, a crowd had formed round the "bin of plenty" and we chuckled as 30 or so backpackers enjoyed the unexpected, free treats. Don't even get me started on the criminality of the supermarket throwing out thousands of dollars of food in the first place. Anyway, on this occasion it didn't go to waste, which was a really good thing.

Bon Appetit!

Before we left Airlie, we decided to treat ourselves to a trip to the Great Barrier Reef. We went out with a company called "Cruise Whitsundays" who took us on a boat to Knuckle Reef, part of the Outer Reef. On the boat, we were treated to a sumptuous seafood lunch, morning and afternoon tea and drinks. The staff were truly amazing and made the passengers feel so welcome. Our favourite crew member was Stuart from Edinburgh. He was hilarious, leaving everyone on the boat in stitches.


We sailed out to the middle of the Coral Sea, 100 kms from land and docked at a specially built pontoon where we disembarked and got our wetsuits on to go snorkelling. We slipped in to the water and after a few seconds of peering and squinting, started to see the seafloor come to life. Beautiful coral, brightly coloured fish and giant purple clams that opened and closed as you swam past them were all around us. It was a sight to behold. It was all there, just like the pictures we'd seen of the reef(although not quite as neon as the pictures make out). I'm sure the colours would have been even more vivid had the cyclone not muddied the waters so much.

Knuckle reef

We went exploring, hand in hand, diving down to the seabed from time to time for a closer look. It was a mesmerising experience which showed us how much beauty there is in the world. We headed back on to the pontoon as it was time for our first ever proper dive. We were pleased to learn that comedy Stuart would be taking us out. We linked arms on either side of him and sunk down into the water. It was strange and unnerving at first getting used to breathing through a tube but I soon settled into it.

With the dive, we got a much closer look at things as we descended right down to the seabed. Thanks Stuart for looking after us. I asked Stuart if he'd ever had anyone lose the plot during a dive. We laughed as he told us stories of people spitting out the breathing apparatus and climbing on his head in a desperate attempt to get to the surface and others who had spat out their own tube and tried to take his in a fit of panic! After lunch, we went out on a semi-submersible boat where a marine biologist gave us a talk on the coral and fish we were looking at through the boat's glass walls. Then it was onto the giant waterslide and back in for some more snorkelling before we got back on the boat and set off at 3pm. It was a magnificent day thanks to Cruise Whitsundays staff. Thanks also to the company for doing us a special price to help us save money and continue our fundraising charity cycle. Anyone interested in a fantastic reef trip can contact Cruise Whitsundays at 263 Shute Harbour Road, Airlie Beach or email them Their web address with details of all boat trips is

We also did another Cruise Whitsundays trip to Whitehaven beach and enjoyed a delicious seafood lunch again and more importantly, free beer and wine onboard. It was a memorable way for Ben to spend his 34th birthday.

Ben enjoying his birthday

Who needs Leonardo DiCaprio when you've got this guy

"Camira" at Whitehaven beach

Later that night, Philip and Kate treated us to a meal at "Fish Divine" just across from Seaview to celebrate Ben's birthday. It was a great night with laughter, great food and great company. The 3 girls, Bronte, Siena and Lisha each made Ben a beautiful and highly unique birthday card which they put their heart and soul into.

Lisha, Bronte and Siena

We consider Philip and Kate great friends even after the short time we had together and the time we spent with them was memorable beyond words. We thankyou for everything you done for us and look forward to seeing you at our wedding next year! And to Bronte, Siena and Lisha, you 3 are amazing. Well done with the French, I loved the time we spent together.

Kate, Ben, Siena, Bronte, Lisha, Margo and Philip

If you are planning a trip to Airlie Beach, you can find Philip and Kate at Seaview Apartments on Shute Harbour Road. Their self-contained 2 bedroom units are clean, spacious and comfortable with no hills to climb to get there as it's situated at sea level on the main street, close to all amenities. They also have a private swimming pool for guests to enjoy. For the budget traveller, they will shortly be opening more small self-contained chalets round the corner from Seaview. These cabins are brand new and also have access to a private swimming pool.

Lounge at Seaview

Bedroom at Seaview

If you are staying in Bowen, you can stay at Philip and Kate's other resorts, Ocean Breeze and Beachside on Horseshoe Bay Road. Both resorts are right on the seafront and comprise comfortable 2 bedroom apartments at a great price. Email Philip and Kate for details on all their resorts or on 07 4946 4595(Airlie Beach) or 07 4786 2561(Bowen).


A tanker containing several hundred thousand tonnes of coal and oil ran aground on the reef

So we said our goodbyes on Saturday after a champagne breakfast and cycled 80 kms to Bowen to Philip and Kate's other house. Bowen is the town where the film "Australia" was filmed and all of the Larsson's got to be in it, working closely with Nicole Kidman. George and Mary-Anne took us for a drive and we went snorkelling at beautiful Horseshoe bay. I hired a stinger suit to be on the safe side as we are just at the tail end of stinger season. From May onwards it's not a problem as it's too cold for them and they buggar off somewhere else. In our last blog I said that the sea was teeming with stingers around this time. That's not true. There are some but a lot of people continue to swim in the waters without getting stung. It's all about knowing where to go, prevailing winds and times of year. We really don't want to put people off swimming in this beautiful ocean! We enjoyed a few days in Bowen, playing Philip's scalxtric and watching films before setting off on Friday.

Horseshoe Bay, Bowen - great snorkelling

George and Mary-Anne


Coconuts - they're everywhere.....and they're free


Stray kitten , Horseshoe bay. We called him Sammy and gave him ham.

We left at 5am and clocked up our longest day so far, 150kms. We thought we might be able to do the 210 kms to Townsville "in a wanner" but it wasn't to be. We spent the night behind a petrol station in the tent then cycled 60kms into Townsville the next morning.

Paul and Doreen - Paul angle grinded my seattube for me on the Highway. Thanks a lot!

Burdekin River

Bridge FULL of giant Golden Orb Weaver spiders - Ayr

Back on the road again

Reaching Townsville was a bit of a milestone for us and it was quite exciting to see roadsigns for places like Charters Towers and Mount Isa. We will be on that lonely road soon with 2,500 kms ahead of us before we reach Darwin.

Townsville - a milestone

These signs are everywhere in Far North Queensland


We arrived once again at the house of some more wonderful warm showers hosts. Kent and his wife Fon looked after us for almost a week. Fon is originally from Thailand and made us delicious Thai food every day. One morning Kent, Ben and I went out for a ride. I had my first shot on a recumbent tandem and we cycled 40 kms into "The Strand" and back from Thuringowa. We didn't have to go on the road once as there is a cycle path all the way. That's what we like to see. Fon and Kent have two amazing wee boys, Maurice(2) and Sharif(5). They took quite a shine to us and the feeling was mutual. One night, the 6 of us went out for some ice cream on Kent's home-made rickshaw, pedalled solely by Kent. Good effort! Thanks a million to Fon and Kent.

Margo, Maurice, Sharif, Ben, Fon and Kent

My back and shoulder continued to cause me pain and I hadn't been enjoying riding for a while. I'd really had enough of it so I booked an appointment with a physiotherapist. Michael was really helpful and recommended some useful stretches to help my condition. However, the real breakthrough occured when Fon gave me the number of a chiropractor she had used so I met with Dr Christine Rollman who had a chat with me about my problem then did a thorough examination of my back, neck and shoulders. She said that some thoracic vertebrae were misaligned and said she could do the adjustment there and then. I lay face down on the table, took a deep breath, breathed out and felt Christine push into my spine with pressure I had never experienced. The noise that came out of my back was unbelievable. I instantly felt better, lighter and as though a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Christine then went on to do a neck adjustment which involved a fast, snapping action and then the "million dollar roll" as we call it in shiatsu. I relaxed into this position and again another adjustment was made. She finally did some work on my pelvis.

Christine took the time to explain to me what she had just done and why. It all made perfect sense and I was elated. My bad shoulder,which I had been awkwardly holding up in the air had been putting pressure on my spinal nerves and probably pulling the attached vertebrae out of line. This was probably to compensate for the fact that I had been sitting unevenly over on the right hand side of my saddle. I arranged to make a follow-up appointment on Thursday after which, we were able to continue our journey, pain-free! I was blown away when Christine generously waived the fee for the treatment as a kind gesture to help us continue our journey and fundraising. I really wanted Ben to see her too so we made an appointment for the following morning. This time, Ben saw Dr Karin. It turned out that Ben was in a worse state than me! He too needed several spinal adjustments and we are now both feeling better than ever. We can't thank Christine and Karin enough for their help. I would recommend chiropractic work to anyone. Christine and Karin are highly skilled, intuitive and experienced chiropractors. You can find them at Kirwan chiropractic, Suite 1B, 48 Thuringowa Drive, Kirwan, QLD, phone 07 4723 4122 or email Their website is . I look forward to better health in the future thanks to Dr Christine and her magic hands. Your health is important. If something is wrong you should listen to your body and do something about it. Don't ignore it.

Dr Christine

In Townsville, we made the decision to carry on North to see Cairns and the beautiful Atherton tableland. So our flight now leaves Darwin on June 6th instead of May 19th. Our ride from Townsville to Cairns wasn't the best as the roads were busy, the hard shoulder, non-existent in places and the driving, appalling! However, we got our heads down and got on with it, cycling through the incessant rain of the Tropics. As usual, we met some great people along the way which made it all worthwhile. We stayed in a couple of rest areas at Frances Creek and Bluewater after asking several million people if we would be safe from crocs there. The general concensus was yes so we took our chances. We were also lucky to stay in 2 wonderful campsites free of charge. Colin gave us a night at Cardwell caravan park where we enjoyed the beautiful surroundings and quiet location. Gretta and Paul then gave us a night at August Moon caravan park( )We spent a great night there enjoying a warm shower, huge kitchen and the swimming pool before sitting down to watch Bear Grylls, "Man vs Wild" in the TV room. If you would like to enjoy a stay at August Moon, you can phone Gretta on 07 4063 2211 or email They are on the Bruce Highway, just South of Innisfail. Just look for the sign! If you are looking to stay in Cardwell, you can contact Colin on 07 4066 8689 or have a look at their website, They are situated at 107 Roma street, Cardwell. Thankyou to both Colin and Gretta for your kind support. May your businesses thrive as a result.

August moon caravan park

Peter and Marie's rescued wallaby

A possum
Florian, cycling to Darwin also. We hope to meet up for a bit of riding together

And so, we arrived in Cairns on Monday after a 100 km ride from Innisfail. We arrived at the house of our friend Som's Mum Carol. Som is from Cairns originally but now living in Glasgow. Carol took us up to Kuranda for a look at the Barron Gorge and then to Som's favourite childhood swimming hole at Stony Creek. The rainforest here is just beautiful. Last night we enjoyed dinner with Som's Dad Phil and brother Daniel in Machans Beach. We are so glad to be here. Carol, you are an inspiration.

Link, walking Cairns to Melbourne. Follow him on Facebook, walk this way 2010.

Kuranda station

Yorkeys Knob

Stony Creek swimming hole

Phil, Carol and me
Machans beach

Yesterday, Phil drove us right round the tablelands. We visited the towns of Atherton and Mareeba, went for a swim in Millaa millaa falls and then impressed Phil with the quantity of food we put away at the Yungaburra pub buffet. The waitresses found it quite amusing too. We then drove down the beautiful coast road past Port Douglas. It's a beautiful area where we got to walk through the rainforest and get a true feel of the area. It was a great day. Thanks Phil for taking the time to show us around. You are magic.

Meeting Phil and Carol was, without a doubt, worth the 400km detour. Som, you've got a great family, thanks SO much for putting us in touch with them.
Davies creek with Phil

These massive ant mounds are all over FNQ
Atherton tableland

Millaa millaa falls

In da jungle, well rainforest

Huge fig tree

Tablelands at dusk

Carol and Ben

As for my health, I've never felt better. I'm fast on the bike again which is a great feeling and really enjoying riding. Townsville was a great stop for us. We turned up there all bent and broken and left fixed and full of life again. Far North Queensland is amazing. The landscape is so diverse and totally tropical, just like Lilt. Next time you hear from us, we'll be in deepest Mount Isa. Cannae wait!

Thought for the day: What if the Hokey Cokey really is what it's all about?