May 2009

May 1 Bloomfield to Helenvale 32.22 klms, Avg speed 10.4 kph, Cycling time 3.04 hrs; Total kms 9275.1

I had another restless night, I couldn’t work out what the hissing sound was, then I realised my air mattress had developed a bubble, we’d made a warranty claim 8 months earlier with the same problem & this 2nd mattress had developed the same problem too.  Poor Greg, another warranty claim to deal with.  We’re heading to Helenvale, only 32 klms away however tired legs made today’s ride over mountains & the Fritz Gap a scenic but arduous affair.  We only had 2 major hills today—with a combo of riding & walking to the ascent no oxygen was required.  Beautiful streams & waterfalls made stopping a temptation but 100ft crocs snapping at the shore soon changed our minds.  Just kidding, the croc’s were only 10ft. We camped in the grassy grounds behind the Lions Den Hotel, sat on their deck reading our books in the afternoon & ate pizzas for dinner.  I spoilt Greg with the red wine, they only had 1 choice, it was the Hotel’s own label, we had low expectations to start with but they plummeted on reading the top of the cap & discovered we were about to imbibe in Matthew Lang, surely one of Australia’s worst wines.

May 2 Helenvale to Cooktown 31.17 klms, Avg speed 16.4 kph, Cycling time 1.53 hrs; Total kms 9306.18

Only a short gravel ride until we hit the sealed Mulligan Highway all the way into Cooktown. Rain fell on us our we climbed Black and Cook Mountains before rolling into town for a coffee. We’re staying at the Cooktown Holiday Park for a week as some of the roads in Cape York are still closed due to wet conditions, however, we hope the situation to be OK soon.  It’s a long weekend in Queensland due to the Labour Day celebrations so we’ll speak with the National Park Ranger and the local Council to obtain road closures and conditions on Tuesday. We can wait here for about a week and hopefully Greg will have received a replacement inner tube as part of a warranty claim commenced in March and also we can arrange for the replacement of my blistered sleeping mat. I can see a head of steam building on Greg now. The Park has fabulous resort facilities, great camp kitchen, pools & individual loos & showers so no complaints from us.  Cooktown appears to be a beautiful, unspoilt, small historic coastal town surrounded by stunning countryside so we’re looking forward to wandering around.  We set up camp & rode into town to purchase prawns from a trawler at the wharf—$12 kilo cooked, $13 green prawns—so cheap, so fresh– can you ever get sick of eating too many prawns??  We walked into town & ate at the Bowling Club enjoying the company of Johnno, Sandi & Beryl who were staying at the same Park too.

May 3—13—Cooktown

This really is “Cook’s Town” (pop 1,600), it’s full of galleries, museums & monuments all telling his story as our photos will tell.  For history buffs ”Cpt. James Cook set sail from Plymouth UK on the 1st circumference of the world, with a Royal Commission, to make astronomical & botanical observations of the South Seas.  He rounded Cape Horn, Tahiti & NZ & reached Australia with serious incident.  On the night of 10 June 1770 sailing up the Great Barrier Reef, his ship HM Bark or Barque (depending on your dictionary) Endeavour, ran onto jagged coral resulting in a huge hole in the hull.  To save the vessel he ordered her armament & 6 cannons overboard.  Spending 48 days here for repairs, allowed Joseph Banks to collect botanical specimens introducing the world to Australia’s amazing flora & fauna.  The following year the Endeavour, patched & limping, reached the UK to great acclaim”.  Cpt (Lt) Cook used several anchors set out in the mouth of what is now the Endeavour River to extricate the ship from the sandy river bottom with one being left behind once the ship was in clear water. We’ve really enjoyed soaking up the history of this town & it was amazing to see the anchor, which rose from its grave of 200 years on Boxing Day 1971, at the James Cook Museum (of course) .

After 12 days here we’ve been buffeted by the SE Trade Winds, sweated with the humidity, drenched with the tropical rains, had fine fare at the Bowling & RSL Clubs & an excellent lunch at the Sovereign Bar & Balcony Restaurant, got sick of eating so many prawns (can you really), cruised up the Endeavour River sighting our first crocs & other wildlife, wandered through the Heritage Listed Botanical Gardens & confirmed with the Ranger at the Lakefield National Park that our food parcel has arrived & roads are finally open.  Oh....& Greg has yet again upset another local & yes it was another Aboriginal, who was sure that Greg wanted to see his “member”.  Greg was busy stuffing springs rolls into his mouth at the time and assured  the fellow he had no interest in his phallus, however should he wish to dip it in the sweet chilli sauce accompanying the spring rolls he was more than welcome. Luckily while this gentleman was grappling with his fly he was dragged away.  So tomorrow we trek further north leaving this delightful town with fond memories.

May 14 Cooktown to Endeavour Falls 33.41 klms, Avg speed 15.4 kph, Cycling time 2.02 hrs; Total kms 9337.60

Leaving Cooktown we said goodbye to Mrs and Mr Grumpy at the Big4 caravan park, surely she is one of the rudest people we’ve come across as voted by a number of fellow travellers, and headed NW of Cooktown riding through rich farming & grazing country of the Endeavour Valley surrounded by spectacular bluffs & ranges.  It was a short ride to the Endeavour Falls Tourist Park helped by the SE Trade winds.  The sign outside the Tourist Park said “no mossies” & “croc free waterhole”, not this time, we were eaten alive by the mossies & a croc had recently been sighted by the waterhole, so no swimming.  We were the only campers there, we trotted up to the Park general store & bought 2 tins of casserole (braised steak & onions, Yuk!) for dinner. The whole park was a fairly uninviting sort of place with no table and chairs and a $1 charge to boil the kettle or use the toaster. On top of the camping fee of $24 for an unpowered camp site, we thought this was a bit rich, and boiled our own water. It was cool over night and we both needed to get inside our sleeping sheets for the first time in a long while.

May 15 Endeavour Falls to Horseshoe Lagoon, Lakefield National Park 61.55 klms, Avg speed 10.6 kph, Cycling time 5.46 hrs; Total kms 9399.15

Today we’ll enter Lakefield National Park, Queensland's second largest park & only suitable for 4WD vehicles only.  With its rivers, lagoons & swamps, it is a wildlife refuge & home to several threatened species.  Prolific wildlife can be found in lagoons & rivers along with both freshwater & estuarine (salt water) crocs & of course, the Barramundi, making it a magnet for fishermen.  We had a quiet ride on a well maintained dirt road, riding up the Great Dividing Range in the morning & cycling down the west side in the afternoon.  Beautiful views with the bush being distinctly like the Blue Mountains, thousands of klms to the south.  We tackled 2 river crossings & slaughtered 3 crocs, 6 pythons, and a dozen wilder beast (in Greg’s dreams).  Our bush camp site was off the dirt road  & through deep sand which meant pushing our bikes for the final 2 klms.  We camped opposite the water lily covered lagoon, lit a fire & quickly cooked dinner before the sun set around 6.30pm.  I was on “croc-watch” all night so had a restless night, Greg, as usual, slept soundly!

May 16 Horseshoe Lagoon to 6 Mile Waterhole, Lakefield National Park 35.36 klms, Avg speed 9.3 kph, Cycling time 3.47 hrs; Total kms 9434.51

We had breakfast by the camp fire listening to the bird calls in the bush, a lovely sound.  Riding today was taken up by pushing our bikes through sand or over corrugations, we try to lessen the impact of the latter by riding on the edge of the road where we can, it’s probably a smoother ride for us than in a vehicle.  We registered for our bush camp at the National Park self registration shelter & rode 3klms off the dirt road, this time on a relatively hard surface so no pushing required.  Pushing through long grass is always a worry, there are plenty of snakes in Lakes National Park so riding quickly through the grass is always preferable.  Another beautiful, quiet spot overlooking a large lagoon full of bird life, we camped on a slight hill & further away from the water so no need to be “croc-watch” tonight.  A vehicle arrived & out hopped a couple we’d met at the Cooktown Caravan Park.  They’d recently moved to Laura & were checking out future camping spots, they gave us some drinking water which was extremely generous as we had run out and Greg was furiously pumping the water filter to get more.  As they were leaving a group of dark grey feral pigs walked down to the lagoon for a drink, a wonderful photo opportunity, unfortunately our visitors tooted as they left & all the pigs scarpered, no doubt thinking it was a gun shot.  Where we can we try & finish riding by 2pm we’re usually busy for the rest of the afternoon gathering & filtering water for drinking, showering & cooking, putting up the tent, washing clothes, gathering firewood, making cups of tea, showering & preparing dinner.  Getting water in these lagoons presents us with a few challenges. Firstly, where to find the clearest water, secondly how to access it and lastly how not to get eaten by what Greg refers to as “Snappers”. As the sun sets by 6.30pm we need to have eaten by then as not only does it get dark the mossies start to have their feed so by 7.00pm we’re usually zipped up in the tent.

May 17 6 Mile Waterhole to Kalpower Crossing, Lakefield National Park 54.26 klms, Avg speed 13.5 kph, Cycling time 4.0 hrs; Total kms 9488.77

Another cool morning greets us and we breakfast by the fire. Good riding conditions-solid roads, relatively quiet, some corrugations although nothing too severe & a tail wind too.  We had morning tea on the Kennedy River bridge.  Only a few 4WDs passed us, some slow down, others love to shower us with dust & stones.  Wildlife viewing—2 dead snakes & 2 small, live ones.  Fantastic campsite with loos & showers, fireplaces & overlooking the Normanby River.  A vehicle arrived & a couple hopped out taking photos of a snake wrapped around a fence post, we watched safely from a distance!  The couple were Henriette & Thorsten from Bonn in Germany, we were to spent a delightful couple of days with them.

May 18—Kalpower Crossing

During the night there was a large “bang”, Thorsten & Henriette went to investigate & it turned out 2 male campers were “bored” so decided to throw a gas canister in the fire.  Perhaps their boredom could have been taken up by clearing their campsite of empty cans, they left it in a disgusting mess.  Thorsten & Henriette brewed us some delicious coffee then Thorsten kindly drove Greg to Lakefield Ranger Station to pick up our food parcel, this was followed by a big washing day & a walk to the Normanby River.  A fellow camper on an adjacent camp site came to show us the results of his afternoon fishing, he was dragging through the bush a huge 800mm long Barra all gilled and gutted. You’re only allowed 5 of these in your possession at any one time and the minimum legal size is 580mm. Scales have to left on so the Fisheries inspectors can measure the size of the fish. Apparently Barra are illusive, but great to catch. All Greg could think about is how it would be on the BBQ. We were spoilt for dinner, a tinned beef & red wine casserole from our food parcel, simmering away then served with deb potatoes, peas & a litre of cask red wine, certainly nothing here gave the jaw anything to do.

May 19 Kalpower Crossing to Hann River Crossing, Lakefield National Park 30.04 klms, Avg speed 13.8 kph, Cycling time 2.10 hrs; Total kms 9518.81

We had more delicious coffee with Thorsten & Henriette, with toast and jam before we all departed, they heading further up the Cape & us on a short, flat, quiet ride with no cars, we also had a slight tail wind so it was perfect riding conditions.  Our first stop was riding parallel to the Lakefield Airstrip to drop off our rubbish at the Lakefield Ranger Station.  Normally all rubbish should be carried out the park by visitors however the Ranger made an exception for us as we were on cycles.  Wildlife spotting today—1 live snake (thin, black), 2 brolgas (large cranes), a dozen red tailed black cockatoos, whistling kites, 3 black tailed monitors, rainbow bee-eater (bird), wallaby & large dingo (abdominal) prints.  We had another delightful camping spot overlook the Hann River, I put up the tent for the first time, it only took me about an hour with only a few swear words uttered including unkind words about Greg and his selection of tent being the most difficult in the “whole widest world” to put up!! We both commented over dinner on how nice it was to meet Henriette (yes the “e” is correct) and Thorsten (pronounced Torsten) and how even though we’d met them for only a short time we’d very much enjoyed the company.

May 20 Hann River Crossing to Sweetwater Lake, Lakefield National Park 42.49 klms, Avg speed 11.7 kph, Cycling time 3.38 hrs; Total kms 9561.30

Bumpy road in parts with some sand drifts, it was flat especially through Nifold Plain though really bumpy too.  We had a slight headwind & it was warm & sunny.  A few cars stopped & asked if we wanted any water which was very considerate of them, we always make sure we’re carrying enough though.  Wildlife spotting—lots of black cockatoos, 2 Brolgas, & a white-bellied Sea-Eagle.  We could have ridden to Musgrave (80 klms away) but thought why hurry when we’ve got lots of time to ride up the Cape.  Our camp spot was 3 klms off the road, not that exciting as you couldn’t get a great view of the Lake & birdlife.  I cooked curried Corn Beef with deb (de-hi mash potato) & peas—it was a good way to hide the taste of the meat which Greg says smells like cat food!

May 21 Sweetwater Lake to Musgrave Roadhouse, 42.59 klms, Avg speed 12.3 kph, Cycling time 3.27 hrs; Total kms 9603.89

It was unusually cold during the night & we woke to a really heavy dew on the tent.  Even though the road today was flat it was covered in parts in sandy gravel making it quite hard to cycle on.  We also had a head wind.  Wildlife spotting—a dingo, Wedge Tail Eagle, more black cockatoos & 2 Brolgas  We arrived at Musgrave Roadhouse in time for lunch & devoured their famous hamburgers for lunch.  We also had dinner there at night & at last we could quench our thirst with a cold beer.  One of the hardest things when bush camping is trying to quench a thirst, water & cups of tea don’t seem to work no matter how much you drink.  It started to get cold again so for the first time in months we slept in our warm jumpers & long trousers as our sleeping bags are back in Cairns.  Apparently this cold weather is unusual, we certainly hope so!

May 22—Musgrave

Gosh it was cold in the night & in the morning the temp was 9C. There’s only one house in Musgrave & that’s the Roadhouse.  Musgrave Telegraph Station was named after Sir Anthony Musgrave who was Governor of Qld from 1883 to 1888.  The station was one of 6 constructed to service the new electric telegraph line on Cape York Peninsula in 1886.  High cost of maintenance & low traffic on the line saw the station close in 1929.  Fred Shepard bought the homestead in 1931 & it is still operated by members of the family today.  Because of its location, Musgrave has always been of vital importance to the welfare of travellers in Cape York Peninsula & as more tourists began to visit the region the family decided to turn the homestead into a Roadhouse, meals & drinks were originally served from under the house until the present day cafe & accommodation were built in the 1980.  The mail arrives each Thursday via plane which lands & the airstrip close by.  We spent all morning washing our dusty, muddy bikes giving us a good chance to check for loose screws etc. , the bikes have been performing so well for us.   We haven’t had any mobile, radio or internet connection for the past week and there’s none here either, we did see on the tele tonight the terrible floods covering parts of SE Queensland.  Dinner tonight was again at the Roadhouse, another Musgrave hamburger, yumm.....washed down with Fourex beer.

May 23 Musgrave to Coen, 106.78 klms, Avg speed 13.3 kph, Cycling time 8.00 hrs; Total kms 9710.67

We set off at 7.30am knowing we had a long ride ahead, we sure did, we were turning the peddles for 8 hours, climbing over the Bamboo Range, followed by a constant stream of steep dips as we rode through loads of dry flood ways.  The weather was perfect, blue skies & a temp of 28C although we had a slight headwind.  For the first 60 klms the gravel road was OK having recently been graded so we scooted along, at certain points there are 5 klms sections of bitumen road allowing traffic to pass, didn’t we love those sections!  Then for the next 46 klms the road deteriorated into course sand & corrugations, we didn’t throw up as much dust to inconvenience the few 4WDs as they sped past, pity they didn’t do the same.  We were surprised how quiet the road was considering it’s the main Penninsular Development Road up to the Cape although we are at the beginning of the tourist season.  We lunched on cheese sticks, biscuits & tomato chutney looking forward to our meal & beer at the Exchange Hotel, the only pub in Coen where we’d also be camping.  We finally arrived at 4.30pm, bought a cold drink at the store next to the pub which looked closed.  The store owner said it was for the weekend to attend a wedding down south, the first time they’d closed it!!  After we got over our disappointment we rode over the rode to camp behind the Armbrust’s Store, facilities best described as “fair”.  Dinner that night was at the only place open, Gunter’s Beastro where Greg dined on steak & chips & me on Butter Chicken although my order had been for Thai Prawns, sort of similar, but not. They didn’t serve beer, of course, so we had to do with ginger beer, also similar to beer but alas, not. 

24 May—Coen

Last night was just bloody cold. We normally use our towels as blankets but because we’d arrived late in Coen and had a shower our towels didn’t have the chance to dry before we went to bed. We decided that nothing would fix this like a cooked breakfast. Trouble was we had nothing to cook and all the stores were closed. We boiled up some Japanese beef flavoured noodles with de-hi peas for breaky and while a little unconventional it certainly got the blood flowing again. After a week without radio, phone & the internet we finally have access in Coen (pop 350).  This small town founded as a fort on the river in 1873 & grew in the gold rushes that followed.  The Great North Mine was worked between 1890 & 1916.  Coen then became a supply centre for the area & it is now a focal point for indigenous peoples of different language groups.  Today is a day for resupplying our food stocks and catching up on office stuff & web updating before we head further north tomorrow.  Our next town for, supplies mobile & internet access will be Bamaga, 400 klms away.

May 25-26 Coen to Archer River Roadhouse, 65.14 klms, Avg speed 13.9 kph, Cycling time 4.40 hrs; Total kms 9775.81

Good ride to Archer River avoiding the corrugations by riding on the relatively hard shoulder, still lots of dips up & down.  Saw dingo prints & a dead snake.  Archer River Roadhouse is famous for its hamburgers too so we devoured them for lunch & dinner.  It was a pleasant camping group so we stayed another day & chatted with David, Fabian & Isabel, from Switzerland, making their way back from Cape York after riding up there on their trail bikes.  We’d first bumped into them at Lakefield National Park making their way up the Cape.  We enjoyed Archer River Roadhouse, apart from the rattle of the generator supplying the electricity.  Several travellers told us subsequently of noisey locals (aboriginies) partying down at the river until early the next morning.

May 27 Archer River to Bush Camp, 10 klms N of Rocky Creek 86.43 klms, Avg speed 13.7 kph, Cycling time 6.18 hrs; Total kms 9862.24

Before we left Archer River we received a message from Henriette & Thorsten via a fellow traveller, Jorst, who was told to look out for us.  We learned H&T had reached the Tip & would be staying at Loyalty Beach until heading south, we hoped we’d see them on their way back. The road was flatter today, not too many dips, & pretty good conditions with no sand & the wind alternating between slight tail & head wind.  We were supposed to set up bush camp at Rocky Creek, it wasn’t signposted so we missed it but luckily found a better spot 10 klms further on, well hidden & overlooking a shallow dam.  Greg had carried an extra 15 litres of water which was lucky as the dam water was filthy.  We were also filthy from the dust however managed to get clean with a 1 litre bottle shower.  Dinner was curried cat food (tinned corn beef) with deb & peas.  No teeth required only a straw!

May 28 Bush Camp to Moreton Telegraph Station, 37.84 klms, Avg speed 14.6 kph, Cycling time 2.35 hrs; Total kms 9900.08

Undulating ride with the road surface having recently been graded.  We haven’t seen a huge amount of wild life on this trip, no doubt keeping out of the way of the testosterone charged 4WDs as they hurtle past although Greg did spot 5 wallabies.  It was a short ride to our destination, Morton Telegraph Station, crossing the Wenlock River bridge where Kathy (of Morton Management) informed us a 12 ft croc had been recently sighted.  Greg made toasted sandwiches of yellow plastic (processed cheese) & toms, dinner was much better—a cream, bacon & parmesan pasta sauce with tinned salmon & chilli thrown in, plus of course dehydrated peas, we’re really getting sick of them now. During the afternoon one of our water bags took leave without absence & disappeared.  Luckily Kathy had picked it up thinking it belonged to a caravan that had arrived earlier with the side door swinging open having spilt some contents along the road, ooooopps..... We enjoyed our stay at Moreton with its well kept grounds & generous hosts, Kathy & Bret, who let us use their washing machine.

May 29 Moreton Telegraph Station to Bramwell Roadhouse, 41.88 klms, Avg speed 14.4 kph, Cycling time 2.54 hrs; Total kms 9941.96

The scenery finally changed, less gum trees & more palm trees.  The road again was undulating & in good condition but the wind was swirling around.  If we didn’t see H&T today, we would miss them as tomorrow we would head down The Old Telegraph Track (OTT) & we presumed they would head south via The Bypass Road.  Luckily they spotted our camp as they drove by so over lunch we swapped our latest travel stories, we eagerly listening to their experience on the OTT.

May 30 Bramwell Roadhouse to Gun Shot Creek Bush Camp, 47.71 klms, Avg speed 7.7 kph, Cycling time 6.08 hrs; Total kms 9989.67

What a challenging ride along the first part of the OTT which is the remnants of the original telegraph track that was constructed through the centre of Cape York during the 1880’s to facilitate the telegraph line from Cairns to Thursday Island.  The original line ran due north, with two wires sending morse code via repeater stations (homesteads) along the way.  The line was upgraded to radio during 1940s & six wires with the last message being sent along the line in 1962 when communications were upgraded to microwave repeater towers.  The old telegraph line ceased to exist however the service track remained & was for many years the only access to Cape York.  During the 1970s the Cape York Developmental Road began to replace the old track, parts of which still remain, & for enthusiastic 4WD travellers is well worth the experience.   Rather than continue on the Developmental Road we decided to ride along the OTT which was blissfully quiet with only 2 cars passing us.  The track is best described as rough 4WD territory with deep sand, corrugations, wash outs & numerous creek crossings with bush camps set up at most of the crossings.  The deep sand was a real pain, it took us 6 hours of riding/pushing to cover 48 klms, you name it we had it this day—flies, man eating sharks, lions, tigers.  We arrived relatively late at our camp at Gunshot Creek Crossing deciding it was better being off the main road even though we were covered in sand & mud.  After a refreshing dip in the Creek we chatted to Emma & Rob who’d passed us earlier in the day in their 4WD.

May 31 Gun Shot to Eliot Falls Bush Camp, 41.01 klms, Avg speed 9.5 kph, Cycling time 4.19 hrs; Total kms 10,030 68

Less sand today but still slow going.  We arrived at Cockatoo Creek which we’d been told was running fast & it was & quite a wide creek too with some large pot holes.  We found Emma & Rob walking in the creek looking for the best way over so we joined them looking for the best way over for our bikes.  Greg said we could push one bike over at a time fully ladened, I disagreed saying it would be better to take off the panniers at the current was strong.  He finally agreed after trying his way & we easily carted everything over in 3 trips.  I wasn’t concerned about crocs as the water was clear & flowing fast (someone had said you wont get crocs in this situation) although Greg was more wary than me, we still came out with both legs so all was OK.  Emma & Greg directed Rob through the creek in his 4WD & he arrived at the other side to a rapturous applause.  For 9 klms we were back on the undulating Developmental Road & saw Kathy & Bret from Moreton Telegraph Station having a break for a couple of days & heading north to Loyalty Beach.  We were soon back on the OTT heading towards our bush camp at Eliot/Twin Falls, a great camping spot & the Falls were spectacular.  It was relaxing having a swim in Twin Falls not worrying about crocs, sharks or stingers.  That night Greg cooked corn beef patties, our 9 day’s food supply slowly diminishing, listening to the chap next door opening his 8th beer, Greg thought that was pretty cruel especially as we passed the 10,000 klms today & could only celebrate with tea!