Stage 1: Into the Tropics
Warm weather at last, and a real change of scene
Stage 1 Actual Route
On this, and all other route maps, the blue lines represent travel by ship, red by airplane (Booo!), and green by bicycle.
Coastal Queensland: Easy Riding & Sunshine
After a few days of really, really torrential rain when I was in the vicinity of Brisbane, which was complicated by the sprawling congestion around that city (I made a good choice to pass through town on the local commuter rail,) the conditions on the east coast of Queensland finally eased up and I had a nice time on the ride up to Cairns. The sun was out every day, daytime high temperatures were consistently in the mid 20's, the wind was usually in my favor, or at least not a tremendous problem, and the terrain was flat, though with many hills nearby to add some visual appeal. I took the opportunity to bring up my pace a little in order to make up for some of the delays I had earlier. However, there was still time for some nice breaks. The coast of Queensland is lined, or at least was--now only remnant fragments remain--of a distinctive tropical rainforest. Areas that were deforested are now mostly used to grow sugar cane. I have not seen as much cane since my Cuba tour in '02, and it made me feel like I was really out of the cold and wet for good. Stops along the way were at Fraser Island, a truly interesting place and one of the largest sand islands in the world, but which is not really rideable by bike (I wish I had more than a day and a half to spend there), Rockhampton, a pleasant town with a lot of colonial-era buildings, and at Lucinda beach, a tiny coastal town. The latter was a little frustrating since I was not able to get myself just across the narrow sound adjacent to the beach to Hinchbrook Island a pristine island covered with rainforest and part of the Wet Tropics of Queensland WHS. No one would rent me a boat because I did not have a dingy license, and there were no kayaks or canoes available because the sound was crocodile territory. I had to wait until later in Cairns to see the Wet Tropics area.
Cairns was a pretty nice place to take a day off to get ready for the next section, though it was a little on the expensive side. It is now a town completely dedicated to tourism, and its main focus seems to be dragooning the parade of visitors onto various bus tours and other guided "Adventures." Not quite my style, but then I was only interested in resting there in any case.
Slightly more detail in a Queensland post: ~HERE~
The beach at Fraser Island
A rainbow lorikeet
Casuarina & mangroves at Claireview beach
The Kuranda Butterfly Aviary
Papua New Guinea: Another World
The major event of this section was a fabulous side trip to Papua New Guinea, where I toured up into the Central Highlands of that large island country. I could write pages and pages about that experince, but there just isn't time for that. There were a few things that really stood out, however. The Island of New Guinea is a part of Gondwanaland that has at times been fairly isolated and at other times no so much. It is reasonably close to the islands of the Indonesian archipelago, but far enough that only plants and birds from Asia have had an easy time in colonizing the island. However during glacial periods, when sea level is much lower, the island has been connected to Australia, and so shares many floral and faunal families with the continent. When I reached the high country in the center of the island, generally above 2,000 meters, I was surprised that the feel of the countryside was not what I had been expecting at all. At 4 degrees south of the equator, I expected thick jungle, filled with palms and other rainforest trees. Instead the countryside is rather open and green with many groves of species like casuarina, from Australia, and mimosa, from Asia. This may, in part, be due to the fact that the island has been inhabited for tens of thousands of years, by descendants of those people who first migrated from Africa to Australia, and who have been living and practicing gardening-type agriculture in the highlands valleys for all that time.
And speaking of the people, that was the most interesting aspect of my tour there. The highlands are relatively densely populated and everywhere I went I drew a large crowd of curious locals who were wondering what I was doing. New Guinea has an undeserved reputation as a violent, crime-ridden place, but I found that to not be the case at all. Everybody there still feels that it is, however, and it was a little tough for me to rest peacefully, or go anywhere on my own. Everyone I met tried to be my guide or escort, as they were concerned about my well-being. I had a little difficulty conveying the message that I am a grown man, capable of taking care of myself. All in all, though, that was not such a bad problem to have. I also became a bit of a local celebrity while I was there. Most local people travel the country on crowded mini-busses, and often as they would pass me by someone would ask "Waryugo?" (that's Pidgin English, the local lingua franca, for "Excuse me Sir, what is your destination?"), and the related, "Waryucomfrom" I would answer that I started in Lae, and was riding to Tari, which always prompted a reply of "Sheeeet". Inevitably, a few days later somene else would come up to me and say "You come from Lae? My Brother saw you two days ago! Sheeeeet!". I enjoyed that for the most part, but it did get a little tiring after a while. Does one's 15 minutes of fame still count if it occurs in PNG?
Nevertheless, I really do prefer traveling in the sort of place where people are open, easy to approach (as they are usually found just walking along the roadside,) and genuinely glad to see me. That was certainly the case in PNG. The only disappointments of my visit were that the cloudy skies often muted some of the best vistas, and that the island's famous birds and animals were not visible outside of the deep, deep, jungle, a place that I did not have the opportunity to visit.
The first post from a really unique place is: ~HERE~
The Lair River Gorge
An elegant orchid in bloom
A Northern Cassowary
Women of Kapo Village
I meet some Huli men
Outback Queensland: Yet Another World
Returning back to the Australian mainland, I continued, with yet another big change of scene, by turning west and heading into the Outback, After the early wet, cold and hilly weeks of the Stage, I was definitely ready for some flat riding and the warm dry weather that I expected in that part of the continent. First, though, while still in Cairns, I took the opportunity to visit the famous Great Barrier Reef, which was a fascinating experience. Back on the bike again, it did not take long for the environment to change as I rode west. Savanna replaced rainforests, and giant termite mounds, for the most part, replaced settlements of people. From that point on, the distances between towns drastically increased, and there were few towns of any significant size. That was fine with me, for a while, at least, as after the crowds of PNG some solitude was somewhat welcome.
The main destinations along that section were Lawn Hill Gorge and the Riversleigh Fossil Site at Boodmajulla National Park. To get there required a ride over the longest stretch, around 350 km, of bumpy dirt road of the entire Stage. It was a tough section to be sure, but the park was nice and I was glad I made it. The rest of the way through to the border of Northern Territory, was somewhat uneventful, but I enjoyed the peace and quiet, especially at nighttime, when the open savanna provided some of the most ideal spots for camping I've seen in a long while.
Read my first post from the Outback: ~HERE~
The Great Barrier Reef
Lawn Hill Gorge
An Beautiful water lily in the Gregory River
A pale-headed rosella
A pair of Emus walk across the road
Camping in the Outback
Stage 1 Log