Cairns, Great Barrier Reef & Cape Trib

After arriving back in Sydney it was time for a nights sleep and to get back out there.

Morning flight up to Cairns to do the Great Barrier Reef and the Rain Forest.

Caught a shuttle bus into Cairns from the airport and got out on the Plannage.
Walked straight into a nice looking seafood restaurant and enjoyed a
delicious red claw lobster salad while I figured out where I wanted to
go.

Decided on a cheap motel and wandered up the beach front in
search of it. Turns out it’s quite a walk in the sweltering heat and a
backpack. Finally arrive and book in for a night.
The woman running the place was very friendly and made some suggestions on the best way to see everything with her preferred (backhander friendly) tour providers.
Settled with her recommendations because they actually looked the best out of all of them anyway.

The plan was one day on the reef and then a 2 day tour with an overnight stop at Cape
Tribulation. Spent the rest of the day swimming in the salt water lagoon and sun
bathing before going out for Mexican food. Had a massive meal and drank lots of
margarita’s while calling the office to defuse a few issues.

The Great Barrier Reef

Early start for the Reef from the pier. Travelling on a smallish boat with
about 10 other people which seems like a good size party. Some of the
other tours had up to 200 people! Reef was a good 2 hour journey out
from Cairns. I’d naively thought that you could just swim out from the
beach…not that you can swim in the sea there since it’s Croc and stinger infested.
Had booked 1 introductory dive for the day and once we arrived at Michaelmas Cay I did some snorkeling
whilst I waited for my groups turn to dive. The Cay is reserved for
40,000 or so wild birds. The smell was pretty bad, not what I was quite
expecting!

Diving on the great barrier reef

Diving, on the great barrier reef

Amazing to be actually on the reef! I have been talking about this for so long.
The guides throw food into the ocean around the boat while we’re snorkelling so loads of fish come and greet us.
Spend a while remembering how to not breath water but still having problems with all the waves.

Saw some amazing fish and just to see the reef itself was spectacular. Got back to the boat and kitted up for the first dive. The dive master spent about 30 minutes on the way over explaining everything and then only about 5 minutes in the water before we start descending. Seemed slightly cowboy at the time, but the guy knew what he was doing and it’s far better to get down there and learn as you go along. Can’t imagine doing that back home. I’m sure health and safety would suck all the fun out of it.

This is amazing! The water isn’t as clear as I was expecting, but just to
get down and see the coral is out of this world. It’s so crazy this stuff.
Each coral is much larger than I expected. Such a variation in the shape and types of coral and fish. This is another situation where words, or at least my words, really can’t describe this experience.

The first dive was a little frustrating because we all linked arms and swam together, which quite difficult when there’s 5 of you in a line. Once you’ve been down for a few minutes it feels so natural that you don’t really notice that you’re not just
breathing water.

Delicious lunch on the boat whilst we sailed to the outer reef for the second stop. Quite a few people are starting to feel sea sick, thankfully I’m all right just feel
a bit weird. On the way the dive master wrung some more cash out of us for an additional dive…but after coming all this way you’ve just got to do it.

Arrive at the second stop which is out in the ocean and not protected by an
island so the waves are pretty choppy. It’s a strange place because the
water is so shallow that it doesn’t feel like you’re 30km out from the
land.

Go snorkeling again whilst waiting for my groups turn and
can see that this dive is going to be special. Much bigger coral,
thousands of fish and deeper water. End up spending loads of time
messing with my snorkel to avoid breathing water in the larger waves.
Can’t wait to get the scuba gear back on.

Once kitted up and back in the water we descend about 5 metres or so and
start swimming around, this time we’re allowed to swim separate within
the group so it’s much more fun and you can concentrate on the scenery more.
So spectacular. We swam all the way to bottom and knelt in the sand around a giant clam, those things are giant!
Swam all around the area at varying depths and through a tunnel of coral at one point. Utterly brilliant, such an excellent way to be introduced to scuba diving and the reef.

Back on the boat we took it easy for the ride home. Met an English couple Matt and Kaz who I end up drinking beer with on the sun deck exchanging travelling stories.

Seems to take a lot longer to get back to Cairns on the return but luckily the supply of VB doesn’t run dry so we struggle by 🙂

Get back to the motel for a shower and take it easy for a while before heading back into town to meet Matt and Kaz for more drinks. We’re all
feeling pretty exhausted after the long day but after a few beers we
catch a second wind and stay out drinking and watch a rock band play in
an Irish pub. They’re playing all covers mostly but all my kind of
music. Reminds me that I haven’t listened to anything for weeks, should
have bought my iPod with me, but the battery life is rubbish…might have to look into buying myself an Xmas present…

Cape Tribulation

Rolled out of bed into the tour bus at 7am and we headed towards Cape Tribulation and the Rain Forest.

There’s only 3 girls on the trip with me so we get a good tour on the way up.

First stop is for Breakfast at a wildlife centre to look at Cassowaries, Kanga’s and croc’s. Take some breakfast here.

We stop and walk through the Rain Forest and the mangroves for an hour while the friendly tour guide explains plenty about the forest and mangroves.

You’ll have to wait a while for the pictures. I took a disposable camera down,
so need to get it developed. Hopefully have some interesting shots
though.

East Coast – South bound

Final score: 9 days, 3268 km’s, 2 x Speeding fines, 1 x Dropped bike, 1 x Deep sand incident, some really really really amazing riding and some pretty boring freeway

Day 6

Wake up about 5ish on account of the heat and light in the tent and get up for a swim. Seaweed seems to have overtaken the beach overnight and so don’t really fancy it in the end and settle for a shower. Pack up the bike and walk into town to get a large hangover relieving breakfast. Take the back roads south heading for Brisbane. Take a tourist drive which sounds nice and turns out the be the one I went on before which was a waste of time. Doh! Get back on the freeway and head towards Byron Bay. Pretty boring freeway riding but just want to get back to Byron for the night.

Arrive at Byron and not surprisingly have trouble finding a room since it’s Saturday night and it’s a popular place to be. Try all the places out of the guide book and everything I pass but to no avail. Decide to ride out of town and see if I can find a place not too far away. Chance upon a motel about 15 mins walk out of town and luckily get the last room.
Take it easy for a few hours and then walk into town for some dinner.
Eat at a place called Mongers which sells gourmet fish and chips. Fantastic meal of Tuna steak and tempura veggies. Thinking London needs a few of these…Always fancied a restaurant…

Head over to The Rails again and drank with some locals. Met two backpackers from Switzerland, Renaldo and something begging with O…but after a few beers…can’t remember…, and continue drinking with them until the place goes quiet. Move down the road to a bar/club and continue the party. Meet two English backpackers Lauren and Emma, end up partying until early hours.

Loved Byron Bay. Will have to come back for longer in the future.

Day 7

Get back to my hotel room at 8.30am just in time for shower and power nap before riding the 400k to Armidale.

Take a route recommended by a biker I met on the way North. Lots of waterfalls and good road for biking. Not as good as he’d made it out to be, but then he probably hasn’t done the Great Ocean Road! Still pretty good riding all the same and much better than the freeway.

Stop at a waterfall for some photo’s and take a power nap on a picnic bench.

About 20k’s out from Arimadale I’m cruising along about 120km/h down a hill when a police car comes into view. Shit! Slow down but have no idea what the speed limit is on this road. Keep riding and praying that he’s gonna keep going and not turn around. Not to be. He turns around and follows me for a while before pulling me over. I guess they follow you for a while in case you try to peg it so they can have some sport.
He takes my license and spends a long time in his patrol car. I’m starting to think he’s found out about my other misdemeanor and is getting the hand cuffs ready.
He finally comes back and hands me a $231 fine. No mention of previous convictions. He finds it all very funny. Strangely I’m not amused.

Seriously consider not bothering to pay either fine, but expect either: 1) Will be arrested at the airport if I ever return to Australia. 2) Rental company will probably just charge my credit card with the fines and an additional “Admin” fee.

Find a cheap place to stay in Armidale, which turns out to be half motel half student accommodation. I’m glad I didn’t go to uni there! What a place.

Wander into town to get some food, only to find the town deserted, guess Sunday’s are pretty quite around here. Suspect that it’s pretty quiet no matter what day of the week. Only two places open are Fried Chicken or Chinese. Opt for Chinese which is not bad, good dim sum. Waitress gives me a strange look when I ask for Chop Sticks, guessing they don’t get too much call for them around here.

Take an early night. I needed it!

Day 8

Take a look at the map and realise that there isn’t a lot between here and Sydney. Decide to try and make it all the way and take a day trip to the Blue Mountains tomorrow.

Really try very hard for the first hour to stick within the speed limit. Get so bored it’s dangerous because I’m not even concentrating on the road. End up reverting back to riding at a decent speed before I pass out with boredom.

Ride through lots of small towns and nice national parks. Roads are good although the road surface is atrocious at times, especially on bends! Get some great riding up and down the hills of the national parks and scrap the GS’s pegs on a few corners.

About 200k out of Sydney I head for Wollemi National Park because it looks like good riding country only to divert when I see signs for the Hunter Valley where they make lots of wine.

Hunter is nice and mean to stop and buy some wine but get the “I’ll just stop at the next one” syndrome until I run out of Vineyards, which are called Winery’s here…is that even a word? Can’t be bothered to turn around since I’ve got lots of k’s to do and it’s getting late.

Take a diversion because I want to postpone getting back onto the freeway as long as possible. My map’s too big a scale to mark things like ferries and so ride past the road I need and into the hills. Turn back about 15k later when the road disappears.
Surprised to find that the ferry across the river is free and even more surprised to find it’s still working at 7.30pm.
Meet a nice chap in a car who insists that I follow him until there are signs for Sydney. Which I’m more than happy to do just to get home at a reasonable hour.
Roads are getting pretty congested and the speed limit is also very low. Most of it 60km/h yawn!

Get back to Craig and Caitlin’s house in the dark doing a total of 690ish km’s! Originally thought that Ewan and Charlie had it pretty easy on their round the world trip, but these guys did the same 600 odd k’s a day for 3 months and on some roads a lot worse than this…gotta give them some respect for that.

Day 9

Leave for the Blue Mountains around 11 without the panniers and cruise along the road the guide book recommended. Potentially pretty good riding and it is for a while, but most of the roads have the boring 60km/h speed limit and I don’t feel like getting another ticket.

Get some good views of the blue haze covering the mountains along the way and stop in Mt Victoria for Sushi lunch.

It’s getting late so decide to take the freeway home as have to return the bike by 5.

Arrive at the rental place at 4.45 and hand over the keys. Bikes looking pretty dirty and the chap doesn’t seem to notice the new scratches on engine block so don’t mention it and draw his attention to some other things which I didn’t do.

Signed the papers and walked out the door, so guess I got away with that one.

The end…of the biking…

Overall it’s been a fantastic part of the trip. Met some great people, road some amazing roads and saw some beautiful scenery. I have to say I am pretty relieved to drop the bike off though, will be nice to not have to worry about speeding tickets and bike theft for the rest of the trip.

Photo’s are here: http://picasaweb.google.com/awconstable/
Again not so many. Been riding hard.

Great Ocean Road & Grampians

After a night out with everyone in Sydney overlooking the opera house and early start (5am) to fly to Melbourne.

Hired a BMW 650GS Dakar from a place near the centre. It feels like a toy compared to my 1200GS, but fun to throw about.

Headed out of the city on some pretty unspectacular freeway in the direction of the Great Ocean Road. After riding for an hour or so turned off onto the start of the coast road and the fun began.

This has to be one of the best coast roads on the planet!! Absolutely amazing riding coupled with beautiful scenery. There was plenty of long sweeping bends and tight hairpins in the forest. Scrapped my pegs on the road round a couple of tight bends. I only wish I had a camera strapped to my helmet.
Lots to stop and see along the way, the 12 apostles and London bridge to name but a few.

Stopped in Lorne and picked up a sandwich for lunch. Headed further down the road to a deserted beach and relaxed in the sun.

Rode until 5.30pm when the roads started to get straight and boring. Surrealy like the mid west of America. Decide to turn back and stay in a nice place I’d passed through on the way with the intention of riding the coast road back again the next day and leave a day for Melbourne. Spent the night in Port Campbell at a hostel and ate fish and chips while watching the sun set over the harbour. Brilliant Day.

The next morning I look at the map and see a massive national park with some great winding roads and so decide to head up that way and happened to meet another biker from London called Mary who’s going in the same direction. We decide to ride together for a while and so set off for the Grampians National Park.

After riding for most of the morning we reach the national park, which to begin with is alarmingly bereft of trees or vegetation. It was getting to 37 deg C and it’s gets pretty warm in the old riding suit. Head on further in to find some forests which turned out to be brilliant again. It had been swept by forest fire last January and so the trees were all burnt with leaves growing from the trunk like creepers. It looked like a what I’d imagine a prehistoric forest looked like. Another great day of riding through winding roads up and down the mountains. Saw my first Kangaroo and Emu, still not seen any massive spiders which is disappointing expected to find them everywhere. I’m sure I’ll find some before I go!
Stayed at the Asses Ears Wilderness Lodge which was out in the middle of nowhere. Very hot dorm rooms and thankfully a swimming pool. Ate Kangaroo and VB pie which was delicious and not at all like Chicken. Spent the evening drinking VB and chatting with Mary and Steve, the hostel owner, who was a bit of a character. Found the dorm room to be overrun with bugs as soon as the lights go on. Superb view of the stars though. Attempt to sleep in the heat, expecting to be eaten alive by the bugs.

After not sleeping too well in the heat, but with no bites! got up earlyish and headed off after breakfast. Head off back through the national park and towards Ballarat. Nice open roads with plenty of overtaking through countryside you’d imagine in Australia. Brown, bone dry grass land with trees dotted about and sheep/kanga’s roaming.
Ride to Ballarat stopping every 40-50km’s for water and stretch. Leave Mary in Ballarat to look at the Gold Fields and head on back to Melbourne.
Drop off the bike and spend a couple of hours walking around the city before flying back to Sydney.

Arrive back in Sydney to be ripped of by the cab driver who had no idea where I wanted to go, despite me handing him a map of the city with a big cross on it. BBQ dinner party back at Craig’s. Delicious.

Photo’s here: http://picasaweb.google.com/awconstable/

The night before

So the plan.

A month in Australia on a motorbike.

The dates were originally based around a wedding…which got cancelled and the participants left the country. How rude.

Craig, the second rider in the trip, unfortunately didn’t get around to taking his motorbike license. Even though we’ve been talking about it for around 18 MONTHS. So lone rider it is. Unless of course he miraculously passes a test in the next week. Odds not in his favour.

Itinerary
1. Fly to Singapore for a few days drinking and sight seeing with Hayesy.
2. Arrive in Sydney. Meet up with a few friends, since it seems the place to be this year.
3. Take the first flight to Melbourne and hire a bike. Ride the coast road!
4. Get back to Sydney and pick up the big bike. Head up the east coast and see how far I get. Ideally Fraser island…but that’s quite a way there and back in a week. We’ll see.
5. Once back in Sydney fly up to Cairns. See the rainforest’s and great barrier reef.
6. Back in Sydney for Xmas/NY.
7. Home to the grey sky of London…maybe.

I’ll keep you all posted with the progress and hopefully piccies. Now I really must pack…