July 31, 2018 – Day 120

Brunswick Heads to Kingscliff – 45 km (by bike)

We are on the traditional territory of the Bundjalung Nation

Hastings Point

We can highly recommend the Brunswick Heads Motel. It is bright, stylish and contemporary,  and serves an amazing continental breakfast featuring local produce with fresh fruit, yoghurt, meusli, sourdough and fruit breads, avocado smash, croissant sandwiches and barista coffee. Our server, Georgia,  was from Vancouver- we recognized her accent! (Her parents have also just moved to Victoria.)

As we were having a second (Campos) espresso  at Torakina Café we received a text from Wayne to say that he could not get his bike re-assembled (after having to pack it up for the train) until Wednesday morning. He will now take a bus and meet us in Main Beach.
We had quite a hilly start, but the route flattened out after we turned off the Old Pacific Highway onto the Tweed Coast Wooyung Road, through Wooyung Nature Reserve and, from Pottsville, on the Tweed Cycle Way. At the Cornerstone Espresso Bar in Pottsville, we shared a lunch of good Tuscan bread salad. The cycle path, which took us all the way to Kingscliff (apart from a detour close to the end), was on a good track  through coastal woodland, close enough to the beach to hear the surf. Stopping at a fruit stand to buy apples and locally dried fruit, we were advised to cycle up to Hastings Point for the view and whale-spotting. This we did, and were rewarded with stunning views of beaches to the north and south and sightings of migrating humpbacks. Cycling in to Kingscliff, we decided to call it a day. After checking into our motel, we filled our David’s Tea thermos with Darjeeling and went down to sit on the beach.

July 30, 2018 – Day 119

Lennox Head to Brunswick Heads – 40 km (by bike)

We are on the traditional territory of the Bundjalung People

We were pleased to find a website of the Arawkal People of Byron Bay who have lived in the area for at least 22,000 years. Since 2001 the Arakwal people have entered into three Indigenous Land Use Agreements with the New South Wales Government recognising our rights as Traditional Owners to lands and waters in and around Byron Bay within this area. 

Lennox Head sunrise

The good and not so good continue. The Campos espresso at Quattro was predictably awesome, particularly when sipped looking out on Seven Mile Beach. Lennox Head is a National Surfing Reserve, with its right-hand point-break one of Australia’s most famous waves. We did not see any surfers out this morning, or identify the direction of the wave break! But, we did enjoy the sunrise over the water, still a novelty!

After leaving the town, we had to cross over and on to the busy Byron Bay Road. Soon after, much of the traffic turned off towards the Pacific Highway.  Road works meant that the traffic passed us in waves, giving us periods of calm to enjoy the ride through rain forest scrub. In Byron Bay, we stopped to pick up take out macchiatos from Espressohead, which we took down to the beach to have while FaceTiming with the Victoria family.
Just as we were chatting to a man who was interested in our cycling, we received a text from Wayne to say that he was sitting in a café down the street, having taken the bus from Mullumbimby! We met up and planned for our reunion on the road tomorrow.
From Byron Bay to Brunswick Head, for about six kms we had no option but to take the Pacific Highway (M1) with a variable hard shoulder and multiple exits, until we turned off on the relatively quiet Gulgan road.

July 29, 2018 – Day 118

Evans Head to Lennox Head – 52 km (by bike)

We are on the traditional territory of the Bundjalung People


Today, for the first time, we are feeling discouraged. Perhaps, it’s just time to wrap up this long-term adventure. We are definitely still loving the cycling, seeing the countries, meeting people, eating great food, learning. But, we are becoming increasingly less tolerant of cycling beside fast moving vehicles, especially on highways or busy narrow roads with no hard shoulder. The CycleWayz app we have been using in Australia has been good in directing us off the highway, where possible. But, the route also takes us away from built up areas, where accommodation is more available, which for “posh” cyclists (as we were referred to the other day!), who aren’t carrying camping gear, is a challenge. The only alternative is cycling on busy roads. Where cycle paths exist, they do not usually extend beyond the outskirts of a town. An added difficulty in Australia, or at least in New South Wales, is the relative absence of pedestrian crossings and traffic lights across main roads.

When we left Johnny’s (Nats Coffee – Byron Bay 8.5/ 10) – a not for profit operated by the Mid Richmond Neighbourhood Centre, it was still misty, unusual according to our barrista. We thought we could smell smoke in the air and were told that burning of sugar cane happens at this time of year. We had a quick look at the beach on the way out of town and then rode through  Broadwater National Park, with coastal banksia and grass trees, the lingering mist prompting us to put on our headlights. Signs warned of kangaroos on the road, but none were around. There were lots of birds.
At Broadwater, after passing a large sugar refinery belting out smoke that smelled vaguely sweet and vegetal, we hit the Pacific Highway. Fortified with a second coffee at Our Daily Bread Cafe (in the old church !), we tackled a few kilometres of two lanes, lots of traffic and not much of a shoulder, then turned off on River Drive along the Richmond River. Cycling under the highway bridge, we noticed a sign indicating that during bridge renovations, an osprey nest had been moved from one of the bridge towers to a huge pole erected for the purpose. The nest appeared to be empty, although an osprey was perched nearby on another power pole. Just afterwards, we were both dive-bombed a number of times by a magpie. Lois noticed it attacking Paul and then it came after her!  We could hear the sound of its wings as it swooped down from above and behind. A couple of times we each heard a “clack” on our helmets from its claws or beak! Later, we read that such attacks are not uncommon, especially against cyclists! Quite an unnerving experience. Thank goodness for our helmets!
The rest of our ride along the Richmond river to the Burns Point Ferry was uneventful! While waiting for the ferry, we chatted with a pleasant couple in their early seventies, who had been out for a short Sunday bike ride from East Ballina. Just in town, we stopped to photograph a giant prawn made of concrete and fibreglass. In March 2018, Google Maps’ facial recognition software apparently blurred out the facial area of the Prawn! As we were having lunch (Thai king prawn salad 😏), a young couple with their eight year-old twin daughters approached us, curious to know about our trip. They are mountain bikers themselves and their girls are also getting involved.
The 2-lane Coastal Road to Lennox Head was extremely busy, with no shoulder. We had thought we would be safe on a tourist road on a Sunday in low season, but another cyclist told us that on Sundays everyone is out on the roads racing from one surfing beach to another! Taking a break from the traffic at Pat Moreton lookout, we caught sight of the spray of humpbacks in the bay. This, plus FaceTime with our grandchildren in Paris helped to restore our mood.

 

 

July 28, 2018 – Day 117

MacLean to Evans Head – 63.5 km (by bike)

We are on the traditional territory of the Bundjalung People


We set the alarm for 05:30 so that we could catch part of the total lunar eclipse, the second we have seen in six months. The first, also a  « blood moon », we viewed in Goa on January 27.

Cycling to the River Cafe for our morning jolts, we admired the tartan-painted power poles, celebrating Maclean’s Scottish settler heritage. With the downturn of the economy in the 90’s, it was decided to market the town’s history beyond an annual highland gathering. When the Olympic torch was coming through MacLean before the Sydney Games in 2000, hydro poles were painted with tartans. Afterwards, more and more people wanted to commemorate the history of their families and now there are 240 adorned poles lining the streets. We found MacIntyre (Helen) and Stewart (Steve) but not Leslie, Fraser or Murray.

A few kms along the Clarence river we passed Ulugundahl Island which was a mission reserve. During the 1800s, the government rounded up the aboriginal people and put them on the island to live under «white management ».
Our ride this morning was on the Pacific Highway (A1) but first we had to cross the Clarence river on the old bridge at Harwood -the new bridge is still being constructed. There is a pedestrian path on one side of the bridge, but with all the road work, there was no cycle path leading to it. We had to heave our panniers and bikes over a guard rail to get onto the walkway. At the far end, it required going along a grassy track to get back on the road! It was then a heads down, quick and dirty pedal along the A1 for 46 km  to Woodburn. Despite being a Saturday, the traffic was heavy and constant, with many large trucks and construction work going on practically the whole way. The hard shoulder varied from wide to almost nothing. We did get some relief at two rest stops (one at New Italy).
We had planned to stay in Woodburn, but finding the town and our intended accommodation uninspiring after the stress of the highway, we diverged from the route and headed to the coast at Evans Head, along a mercifully peaceful road lined with sugar cane fields. After checking into our motel, we bought ice cream (passion fruit) and a vanilla milkshake and sat at the end of the breakwater looking out over Airforce Beach in the afternoon sun.

 

July 27, 2018 – Day 116

Grafton to MacLean – 45 km (by bike)

We are on the traditional territory of the Bundjalung People

The Bundajalung are a large Aboriginal nation, a federation of a number of groups of clans which occupy the land from Grafton on the Clarence River of northern New South Wales north to southern Queensland, and down around the other side of the Great Dividing Range and back to Grafton.

Six Aboriginal communities are represented within the local government area of Clarence Valley at Baryulgil, Malabugilmah, Grafton, South Grafton, Maclean and Yamba. The 2011 Census reported 2,846 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Clarence Valley. Of these, 1,406 (or 49.4%) were male and 1,440 (50.6%) were female; the median age was 20 years.

Like many Australian towns we have cycled through, Grafton has a number of well preserved buildings, which give it an old town vibe, together with wide streets lined with palm trees and diagonal parking. (The diagonal parking is tricky for passing cyclists!) Grafton is famous for the annual Jacaranda festival, held in late October/early November, when the town is ablaze in purple blossoms. We had thought that Purple Haze cafe, which served us good Vivo espresso this morning, was a reference to Jimi Hendrix, but on reflection, it is probably related to Jacarandas! (or both).

We did not follow the CycleWayz route today, which would have taken us on a 100km ride to Casino, with an unpaved section –  a risky distance when the hours of daylight are still limited. We had assumed that the alternative was the Pacific Highway, but discovered another paved road, Tourist Drive #22 to Lawrence and MacLean, which follows the Clarence River floodplain. It was an easy and pleasant ride on a quiet country road through cattle and dairy farmland, the road alongside the river at times.
Before Lawrence, we began to be surrounded by sugar cane plantations. We find that sugar is big business in Australia and most raw cane sugar is exported. The Lawrence cable ferry took us across the Clarence River a few kilometres from the town of MacLean. It was a warm 22oC this afternoon, but increasingly cloudy for the first time since Sydney. We have become so accustomed to blue sky cycling in Australia that our rain gear has been pushed to the bottom of our panniers.

July 26, 2016 – Day 115

Coffs Harbour to Grafton – 86.5 km (by bike)

We are on the traditional territory of the Bundjalung People

It’s just two of us cycling for the next few days. Wayne is taking a break and will meet up with us in Lismore on Sunday.

We made espressos with our Wacaco and walked our bikes up the steep hill from our motel on the beach below the Pacific Highway. The cycle route we planned to join went off on Bruxner Park Rd. directly across the four lanes of traffic and two turning lanes, but there was no traffic light or safe way to get across the highway. With no breaks in the traffic, we eventually decided to cycle 500m down the highway to the exit for the Pacific Bay Resort to see if we could arrange a taxi to take us across the highway. There, Lois discovered that there was a tunnel under the highway just behind the resort. It was apparently there to connect to a golf  course that was never built. Who knew! Through the tunnel,  we walked our bikes across a paddock, clambered over a locked gate and we were back on our route, nearly an hour after leaving our motel just a kilometre away!
We then had a continual 40-minute climb high above the highway, giving us great views of the sea and the banana plantations, for which Coffs is well known. At the top, we cycled through the dense and cool old growth Orora State (rain) forest, mesmerized by the enormous trees. Soon, we were out in ranch country which continued the rest of the day. This region was famous in the past for timber, especially red cedar. Near Nana Glen (Lois liked the name!) where we stopped for a welcome coffee, the pastures were interspersed with large netted plantations, likely blueberries. The road was narrow and undulating, but not too busy, allowing us a rare chance to put on our music. We ate our usual cheese, crackers and apples sitting beside the road. A young couple passed us cycling in the opposite direction. They have been cycling from Britain for the past 18 months and were on their way to his home in Melbourne. She was from southern Italy.
Stopping later to get tea at a gas station,  we asked if there was a toilet. “Not with water” was the answer. It had not rained for 12 weeks and they were in a drought and waiting for a tanker to deliver water.  We got to our motel just before sunset after crossing the bridge (1932) over the Clarence River, on the walking/bike path attached to the bridge next to the railway line underneath the roadway.
Rain Forest

July 25, 2018 – Coffs Harbour

Parkinson’s Disease:

Meeting with Jane Gow

Jane Gow is the Coordinator of the Coffs Harbour Parkinson Support Group, one of 70 such NGOs in New South Wales that provide information, counselling services and training for health professionals, raise awareness, and fund research grants to find a cure. She kindly agreed to meet with us to discuss her work and PD in NSW. Over coffee in Coffs Central shopping mall, we had a very interesting and informative discussion with this lovely and dedicated lady, grandmother to four. Jane became involved in PD support after her husband was diagnosed in his 60’s. He is now 74. After they retired, they moved to Coffs Harbour from Sydney to enjoy the warmer climate, but are still dependent on the medical system in Sydney. There is no neurologist in Coffs Harbour, a community of 60,000, although one flies in from Newcastle.
The Coffs Harbour Support Group has grown from a membership of around 30, when Jane started the group, to its present size of 126 families. This includes a few spouses of persons with PD, who have continued an association with the group after losing their partners to PD. The group brings in guest speakers, hosts special discussion meetings, maintains a newsletter and holds regular social events. It relies on volunteers and fundraising to carry out its work and has the support of some local businesses and Rotary.

An important  activity of the support group is lobbying Government on the needs of persons with PD and their carers. Jane’s group is fortunate to be able to employ a neurological nurse three days a week, who provides support and assistance to persons in the community with PD, particularly in their interactions with the medical system. We were interested in this service, which appears to be provided by other PD support groups in NSW. We were not able to meet with Vince, the nurse, as he was in Sydney, but we hope to chat with him before we leave Australia.

Basic rehabilitation services are available in NSW for persons with PD, but exercise programs, for example, are private and can be costly. Jane mentioned that there is a rebate of $150/year for heating and cooling costs for people who have difficulty regulating their body temperature, including persons affected by PD and MS.

 

July 24, 2018 – Day 114

Macksville to Coffs Harbour – 69 km ( by bike)

We are on the traditional territory of the Gumbaynggirr People

The highlights of the day were looking out over more endless strands of white sand and sea at Hungry Head, enjoying a second coffee and fresh berry muffins in the picturesque village of Urunga, and a quiet lunch at a picnic site off the highway amongst tall eucalyptus trees. Between bites, we gazed up into the canopy hoping for a sighting of a sleeping koala.

It was a good day, overall, but tiring, with lots of hills, which began soon after we started up Rodeo Drive east of the Nambucca river, with a twisty turny roller coaster ride which lasted for about a hour. At one point, a bridge under reconstruction was closed to to all but pedestrians and bicycles, which was good for us! A new cycle path into Urungu was a welcome respite from the highway and, again, in Coffs Harbour, although Wayne lost his way for awhile and missed the entrance to the path.
Unfortunately, we then hit the Pacific Highway with its long-distance traffic and local rush-hour drivers. When there was a sidewalk, it was manageable but then we found ourselves with no shoulder and fast, heavy traffic. We called it quits about a kilometre from the turn off to our hotel and took a cab!

July 23, 2018 – Day 113

South West Rocks to Macksville – 62 km (by bike)

We are on the traditional territory of the Gumbaynggirr People


Our morning started with Holy Goat coffee and scrambled eggs at Sixty Degrees.

We retraced yesterday’s ride for 11 km before rejoining the route, heading north on Macleay Valley Way, parallel to the Pacific Motorway for a time, then turning east again at Stuart’s Point Road. The road was more undulating, with some steep pitches as we went across country, through farmland and forest. Stopping at a roadside stand selling oranges and lemons, we bought a handful of local mandarins for 50 cents.

Lunch was a picnic at Grassy Head near another beautiful long sandy beach. Heading north on Grassy Head Road along the edges of the Yarrahapinni National Park and and Way Way State Forest, we encountered some short but very sharp climbs – one that even Paul walked! The Yarrahapinni and Way Way Forests are significant for places for both the Dunghutti and Gumbaynggirr Peoples.
Scott’s Head Road took us back out to the Pacific Highway, passing under the new section of the M1 (Pacific Motorway) and into Macksville. As the sun went down, we had drinks on the veranda of the heritage Star Hotel watching Bottlenose dolphins surface in the Nambucca River.
CycleWayz

We were told that the best option for dinner was Dougie’s Takeway where the hoki fish burger was good and the “hot chips” were very good! Wayne was surprised when his bacon and egg burger also included a meat patty! When Wayne had asked if the milkshakes were thick, Dougie came out holding Wayne’s chocolate shake upside down. He was impressed by our adventure.

July 22, 2018 – Day 112


Crescent Head to South West Rocks – 49 km (by bike)

We are on the traditional territory of the Dunghutti People


We had noted Blackfish Coffee on the way back from the fish and chip shop last night and its early opening hours. Apart from the fact that Wayne’s request for a toasted bagel was forgotten, it was a great find! We ended up staying longer than intended, partly waiting for the bagel, but also because we got engaged in conversation as we were leaving with a group of people sitting at a table outside. Then, Justin, the owner, come out to chat with us about our trip and his coffee and offered us an espresso on the house. Paul’s assessment of the single origin bean from Tanzania was “fabulous” (9.5/10)!

So, it was after 9:00 am by the time we started back down Pacific Street to Loftus Road, which runs parallel to the Hat Head National Park Beach. We could hear the surf pounding beyond the dunes, but had no view of the beach. We then joined Belmore River Right Road which we stayed on for much of the rest of the ride. Although we later realized the cycle route was on the other side of the river (Belmore River Left Road), it was a  lovely, flat and quiet riverside road through attractive farm country. A few kangaroos were spied in the distance, seemingly at home beside the cattle. We stopped in the village of Gladstone, where we enjoyed a second breakfast in the cafe gardens on the bank of the Belmore.
We had to go off the CycleWayz route to find accommodation for tonight at South West Rocks. Dinner was at the Country Club. Such clubs (for service, social or sporting purposes) appear to an intrinsic part of Australian life and, we are finding, often have a decent restaurant and bar. We just have to sign in as guests and show ID.

 

 

 

July 21, 2018 – Day 111

Port Macquarie to Crescent Head – 42.5 km (by bike)

We are on the traditional territory of the Dunghutti People

Today was Wayne’s birthday and we celebrated with Helen over breakfast at Casualties.

We had planned a short distance again today as the route included another long stretch of unsealed road and we are also a bit restricted in terms of accommodation options in this section of the route.
Just out of the town we took a short cable ferry trip over the Hastings River (no charge for bikes or pedestrians). Soon after disembarking, Lois and Wayne were surprised by a kangaroo hopping down a driveway and across the road in front of Wayne’s bike! We all saw more kangaroos later, not in the park where we were expecting, but grazing on farmers’ fields.
The unpaved Maria Road runs for 24km along the western boundary of Limeburner’s Creek National Park and then along the eastern boundary of Maria National Park. Limeburners refers to the early days of European settlement when oyster shells from the creek were burned to produce lime for mortar.
CycleWayz
The road surface was a mix of corrugations, rough gravel and, for a time, graded dirt. It was slow and quite tiring from constant jarring, as  we traversed ranch land, scrub, coastal swamp forest
CycleWayz

and large plantations of small trees. We learned later that these were tea trees, used for the production of two essential oils. The effectiveness of the oil for the treatment of skin infections is questioned in a Wikipedia article.

Relieved to be back on tarmac, we were soon in Crescent Head. As we were too early to check in to our motel, we had some lunch at Barnett’s Bakery, threw some laundry into a machine at a laundromat down the street, and then cycled down to the beach for a view. From Little Nobby,  an endless white sandy beach stretches towards Hat Head to the north and, to the south, the rocky cliffs of the headland. Crescent Head is famous for its legendary “right hand surf breaks”.

An early dinner of fish (flathead and NZ hoki) and chips at Hooked left us feeling the need to get back on our bikes!

The first successful land claim under the Native Title Act was made by the Dunghutti people in 1997, concerning a parcel of land at Crescent Head that had been used for residential development. The Crescent Head Agreement recognizes the native title rights of the Dunghutti people, including the exclusive right to possession, occupation and enjoyment of the land and, where title has been extinguished, to compensation, in this case, $6.1 million. Since 2014, the Dunghutti people have been working on a blanket land claim for all vacant crown land in the Dunghutti tribal area which extends from the Oxley Wild Rivers National Park at the head of the Macleay River, north to Yarrapinni Mountain and south as far as Walcha, inland from Crescent Head.

July 20, 2018 – Day 110

Lake Cathie to Port Macquarie – 19.5 km (by bike)

We are on the traditional territory of the Biripi People

This morning we prepared breakfast in our apartment overlooking the sea; muesli and Tasmanian Greek yogurt (our favourite), scrambled eggs, toast and espresso (tea for Wayne).

It was a short ride along Ocean Drive/Pacific Dive towards Port Macquarie, becoming hillier with more traffic and narrower shoulders as we progressed.

We visited the Sea Acres Rainforest Centre, where we had coffee in the Rainforest Cafe and then walked the 1.3 km  boardwalk 7 metres above the forest floor through the canopy of the remnant seaside rainforest (much of this type of coastal rainforest has been lost to agriculture, mining or residential development.) The fifty eight signs on the walk highlighted the bewildering variety of palms, ferns, vines, eucalyptus and many other trees. We were impressed by the strangler fig which begins life as a seedling which grows on other plants (epiphyte) or on rocks (lithophyte) and can grow to a height of 60 m and nearly as wide, eventually causing the demise of its host tree.
Back on our bikes, the route took us up and down past rocky shores and sandy beaches and finally on a cycle path along the Hastings River to our hotel.
Helen joined us again after a long train and bus journey from Newcastle. She will hook up with us again in Coff’s Harbour as she begins to travel north ahead of us. We had a Michelin-worthy meal together at Bill’s Fishouse (Lonely Planet recommendation), which included Tasmanian wild salmon,  Kingfish, scallops,  fish pie,  fresh herb and greens salad, local olives and David Hook Hunter Valley Pinot Grigio.

July 19, 2018 – Day 109

Harrington to Lake Cathie – 59 km (by bike)

We are on the traditional territory of the Biripi People

An espresso, a flat white, English Breakfast tea
plus an Aussie pie for Wayne from Harrington Bakehouse helped start our day. Lois gave the server our card and we were on our way again along Crowdy Head Road, passing the breakwater at the mouth of the Manning River. At the turnoff to Crowdy Bay National Park, Wayne headed off along the unsealed road, while we did a side trip part way up the headland at Crowdy Bay to be rewarded with a spectacular view looking north to Diamond Head.

CycleWayz
Returning to the Crowdy Bay Road turnoff, we cycled along the packed dirt road for 24 km through the park, parallel to the bay, passing by John’s State forest. The road surface wasn’t too bad except near the end when it turned to rough gravel.
CycleWayz
While we were having a break on the side of the road, a park ranger stopped to ask us how we were doing. In response to our inquiries about the possibility of kangaroo sightings, he told us that wallabies were more common in the particular sparser habitat we were riding through, but that they were harder to see! He suggested we would be more likely to see kangaroos in the Diamond Head campsite, where he’d seen a dozen the day before.
As we moved out of grasslands into woodland of eucalyptus, blackbutt, brush box and paper brush trees, our app indicated this was one of the best places to get close to an eastern Grey kangaroo or an elusive koala bear. Our necks grew stiff from peering up into the canopy as we cycled, but the shy marsupial continued to elude us. The variety of birds and bird songs, however, was rich and wonderful. Paul added the Channel-billed Cuckoo to his list.
At the Diamond Head campsite turnoff, we found Wayne’s safety vest strategically placed on the sign, giving us another reason to cycle into the campsite. We found Wayne relaxing on a bench looking out on yet another vista of white sandy beach stretching for miles. Just as we were all setting off again, Paul happened to spy a group of kangaroos munching on grass at the edge of the campsite. The animals were quite tame and did not seem to mind our approaching them. One was carrying a Joey!
Outside the park, the main road was quite busy, with little or no hard shoulder. Stopping for tea in Laurieton, we met two cyclists from Dorchester (UK), Holly and Conrad, who had cycled from Britain to Singapore and, in Australia, were cycling from Cairns to Melbourne. We were interested to hear their confirmation of the heavy traffic on the highway from Cairns to Brisbane, a route we had earlier contemplated doing.
Climbing up near Bonny Hills, Lois spotted a bird of prey wheeling over the brush. Paul then added a Square-tailed Kite to his list!
Our smart accommodation in Lake Cathie overlooked the beach, and included a hot tub with a view of the surf!
Wildlife note: possible Bandy Bandy snake (Lois, who freaked out and swerved away from it, cannot confirm absolutely that it was a snake and not a piece of striped tubing)

 

July 18, 2018 – Day 108

Taree to Harrington – 41 km (by bike)

We are on the traditional territory of the Biripi People


Paul wanted to have coffee at Cafe 1 Twenty 3, as he was curious about the Holy Goat coffee advertised out front. The only reference Paul recalls to a “holy goat” was Rowan Atkinson’s blessing in Four Weddings and a Funeral! The barrista did not appear to know who Rowan Atkinson is or what Paul was talking about! She did say that legend has it that a goat discovered coffee beans in 600 AD! Whatever the background to the name, it comes from a roasterie in Port Macquarie and was very good.

It was a short and easy ride today on the scenic route  north of the highway, through the villages of Lansdowne and Coopernook to Harrington. The sun shone brightly again, the temperature climbing from a cool 5C when we started to around 20 C by noon. We cycled past rolling farmland, once logged for shipbuilding in Coppernook, now primarily pasture for cattle, sheep and horses. Beyond the fields we could see the hills of Coorabakh National Park which is the traditional territory of the Ngaamba People.
The Coopernook Church has an interesting history:

Our motel tonight is on the Manning River, the largest undammed river in Australia and one of the few to be fed by melting snow. The river is a large producer of Australian oysters and is home to many estuary fish, the most common the dusky flathead. Apparently, the river is frequented by dolphins and sharks and, occasionally whales. We have not spotted any.

 

July 17, 2018 – Day 107

Blueys Beach to Taree – 61 km (by bike)

We are on the traditional territory of the Biripi People

We had coffee with Helen at Kembali Cafe and then left her to catch the bus back to Newcastle, while we headed down Boomerang Drive to rejoin the route on the Lakes Way. The road followed a narrow peninsula between the ocean and Wallis Lake and through Booti Booti National Park, which encompasses part of Seven Mile Beach. This beach was used by Sir Charles Kingsford Smith in 1933 as the runway for the first commercial flight between Australia and New Zealand. Seven Mile Beach was also mined for mineral sands until 1975.

At Forster, where we stopped to buy a phone charger, Lois was interrogated by a very bright little boy of 7 of 8, who was intensely curious about what we were doing: “Where are you going? Where is your home? What’s in those bags? Is that your phone (Garmin)? Is that your husband? Where are you staying tonight?…”
We had a second coffee/tea in brilliant sunshine at Beach Bums Cafe overlooking the Forster Main Beach. Nine Mile Beach was in the distance!
The path continued into Tuncurry, joining the Lakes Way again soon after. From this point, the road was busy and the shoulder uncomfortably minimal. We did find a pleasant spot just below the highway at the edge of rolling farmland of pasture and trees for a picnic of cheese, crackers, eggplant dip, apples and nougat. Eventually, we turned onto the Pacific Highway which, despite its heavy truck traffic, is a divided highway with a good surface and a wide shoulder. We were happy to finally head off across the Manning River into Taree. The name Taree is derived from “tareebit” the local native Biripi word meaning tree by the river, or more specifically, the Sandpaper Fig.

 

CycleWayz app notes:

Wildlife  notes:

Kangaroo roadkill seen by us all…

1 bee sting – Lois, while riding

 

 

July 15, 2018 – Day 106 & July 16 – Day Off

Hawks Nest to Blueys Beach (63 km by bike)

We are on the traditional territory of the Worimi People

It was a cold 2oC when we left Hawks Nest at 7:30 am, fuelled with espressos and tea from the IGA coffee shop. We soon forgot the temperature as we pedalled through Myall Lakes National Park, rays of early morning sunlight filtering through the mist, accompanied by a cacophony of birdsong. We could hear the breakers and caught glimpses of the sand dunes from the road. At Hole in the Wall picnic area, we pushed our bikes up a path to get a view of the sea and the expansive Mungo beach. Myall Lakes National Park is part of the traditional territory of the Worimi people, who occupied the lands for at least 4000 years before they were “discovered” by Captain Cook in 1770. The park contains a number of middens and other cultural and spiritual sites important to the Worimi People. Here is an all too familiar history of the Worimi following European contact.

A local government website notes some of the traditional uses the Worimi made of local plants and animals:

Canoes were made from the bark of the Stringybark tree (Punnah) E. obliqua or She Oak. The ends were plugged with clay and when in use a fire always burned on a bed of clay at the back. Paddles made of seasoned hardwood were shaped like a large spoon and these paddles were used in a kneeling position from the middle of the 4.5m canoe. Fishing lines were made from the inner bark of young Kurrajong trees or Sally Wattle twisted, and rendered watertight by soaking in the sap of the Bloodwood tree. Women of the tribe had the first joint of their little finger removed to be dropped in the fishing grounds so that fish would be attracted to that hand. It was forbidden to fish if you had just eaten fruit.

Fishing spears were made from the flowering stem of the Gymea Lily or the Grass Tree and tipped with 4 prongs of ironbark, the lot was held together with yellowgum (grass tree). Boomerangs were made from wild Myrtle. The young flowering spikes of the Gymea Lily were roasted in the fire after a long soaking in water. The wild Cape Gooseberries that grew on Cabbage Tree Island were highly sought after. Fern root and daisy yam were eaten when fish were scarce.

The CycleWayz app route, which we have been following since Manly (except for the detour to Nelson Bay) took us on the Old Gibber Road and Mining Road Trail, a 20 km stretch of unsealed path. The area was mined for heavy mineral sands like rutile and zircon until the 1970’s when it was banned. For the most part, we were able to keep up a relatively good, but tiring, pace on the sand and gravel surface, which occasionally deteriorated to  quite rocky and challenging.
After we regained a paved surface, it was an undulating pleasant ride past Myall and Smiths Lakes to Blueys Beach, stopping for tea and mango smoothies at Bungwahl on the way.
We were happily surprised by the arrival of Helen, who had come to spend our day off with us at Blueys Retreat resort! Today involved sleeping in, relaxing on the sunny patio of Kembali Cafe over coffee and lunch, walking the forest path to Boomerang beach and cooking supper together.
Wildlife notes:
Eastern grey kangaroo beside the road, spotted  by Paul and Wayne. (Lois was looking into the forest for koalas at that moment.)

Sign outside the Kembali Cafe warning of swooping Kookaburras – there was one perched on a hydro line waiting…

 

July 13, 2018 – Day 104 & July 14 – Day 105

Newcastle to Nelson Bay – 56 km ( by bike) &

Nelson Bay to Hawks Nest  (16 km by ferry and bike)

We are on the traditional territory of the Worimi People

July 13: Nothing opened for breakfast before 7:30 am, so we packed up and parked our bikes outside Momas just as the doors were opening. Breakfasts were delicious full cream yoghurt and homemade granola, poached eggs and thick slices of sourdough bread. We then cycled back to the docks and caught the ferry across the harbour to Stockton, where a path took us along the North Channel of the Hunter River, past Newcastle airport and onto the B63 parallel to the Stockton Bight Sand Dunes. At a service station, where we had stopped to look for food for a picnic, we chatted with a man who gave us directions to a good bakery and told us that he had just seen a group of kangaroos near the road that we were to take. Unfortunately, we missed the kangaroos, but we did see an emu! We weren’t sure whether it was domesticated or wild, as it was near farmland and it rather tamely came across the field to check us out.

Saxby’s bakery/cafe was a bustling place, with a huge selection of Aussie pies, not all of which were meat-filled! We chose some to go and then Wayne and Lois each separately asked for what looked like cinnamon buns. This request met with a puzzled look until the server realized we were pointing to savory buns made with Vegemite! Down the road, we stopped at a small store advertising fresh avocados. In addition to various avocado-related kitchen items and other products, the shop sold different varieties of avocado and avocado oil. We bought 3 perfectly ripe locally grown Haas avocados, which, the proprietor assured us, had never been squeezed!
Eventually, we turned off on a road leading to Birubi Beach, the northern most section of the vast beach and sand dunes of the Worimi Conservation Lands. The view was spectacular. These lands cover 4,200 hectares, 1,800 hectares of which are forest, and 32 kilometres of the longest moving sand dunes in the southern hemisphere. “The dunes reach heights of over 40 metres with slopes up to 60 degrees which form a much sought after location for film makers”.
As we ate our lunch at a picnic table above the beach, looking our over the sea and sandscape , we spotted the spray of humpback whales currently migrating north. On land, large 4WD buses and camels carried tourists out on to the dunes.
Leaving the beach, we rode through Tomaree National Park. Posted signs warned drivers of koala bears crossing the road, but none were to be seen today. Nelson Bay was our destination where we will be taking a ferry across Karuah River tomorrow morning.

 

July 14: After discovering the night before that the 08:30 ferry to Tea Gardens is not running, we had to change plans. The first ferry leaves at 11:30 am, meaning we would not begin the 60 km ride to Blueys Beach until nearly 1:00 pm, too late to ensure arrival before sundown, currently around 5:00 pm. We quickly changed our hotel reservations and booked rooms for tonight at the Hawks Nest motel on the other side of the river.

The crew hoisted our bikes onto racks on the top deck while we piled in below with all our panniers and a full boat of passengers.The 50 year-old wooden boat, originally a military vessel in Sydney Harbour, runs a ferry service across the estuary of the Myall River to Tea Gardens and Hawks Nest on the northern side of Port Stephens. This area is popular for dolphin-sighting cruises and swimming with the dolphins. Approximately 150 bottlenose dolphins live in the estuary. Due to the presence of a large sandbar in the middle of the river, the ferry crossing took more than an hour, passing by a mangrove forest and saltmarsh. No dolphins were sighted.
We stopped in Tea Gardens (after the Australian Agricultural Company’s failed attempt at tea cultivation) for lunch on a sunny but chilly patio and then headed across the “Singing Bridge” (named for the sounds produced by strong south-westerly winds in the bridge railings) to our motel in Hawks Nest. On the way, we cycled around the perimeter of the Koala Reserve, hoping to spot one of these elusive (and nocturnal) creatures. The motel receptionist told us that the bears do not stay in the reserve, but prefer to move around to find eucalyptus and mahogany, their favorite food.

July 12, 2018 – Day 103

Belmont to Newcastle – 28 km (by bike)

We are on the traditional territory of the Awabakal People

After a good breakfast at Cafe Macquarie, we set out on the Fernleigh Track Rail Trail. The historic 16 km-long trail is a super route through wetlands, forest and coastal heath, and is close to a 10,000 year-old sand dunes system and the sea. The railway opened in the late 1880’s to transport coal from mines in the Lake Macquarie area to the Port of Newcastle and the steelworks, and passengers between Belmont and Newcastle. The track traverses Glenrock State Conservation Area, Awabakal Nature Reserve and the Belmont Wetlands State Park.

The abundance of bird life that could be heard, but not seen, along the trail, was frustrating for Paul! One constant birdsong was the doorbell-like call of the Bell Miner. There was a gentle incline up to Whitebridge station and then it was downhill to the start of our route, which was mostly a bike path, into Newcastle. We joined Throsby Creek, where we stoped for espresso, tea and scones, and continued on to follow the Hunter River into the city.
The port city of Newcastle, Australia’s second oldest city, was important as a centre for shipbuilding and steel in the past and is still the largest coal exporting harbour in the world. The downtown area is a mixture of old (original) and new architecture, with interesting conversions  of old warehouses, rail workshops and banks. Work is currently underway to accommodate a light rail line.
While Wayne went in search of a bike shop, we visited the Newcastle Museum (very little on the history of the Awabakal and Worimi peoples, who traditionally occupied this area) and the Newcastle Art Gallery. The exhibit,  Hunter Red: Corpus, was an intriguing  group of works “unified by themes of the body represented in different and arresting ways – controlled, out of control, stolen, the abject of “other”.”
At dinner, Lois sampled a glass of local Hunter Valley Shiraz which got the thumbs up!
Hunter River

July 11, 2018 – Day 102

Forresters Beach to Belmont – 55 km (by bike)

We are on the traditional territory of the Awabakal People

Today was Lois’ birthday and we all got a present: great bike paths, less traffic on the main roads, decent hard shoulders, and sunshine!

Lorraine’s birthday card to Lois!

After 5 km on the Central Coast Highway and a detour to watch the breakers at Bateau Beach, we followed a lovely cycle path alongside Tuggerah Lake. This is a saltwater lagoon, joined to the sea through a small tidal channel at a town suitably named “The Entrance”. Concerns about the effects of urbanization on such lakes has prompted efforts to improve the quality of the shoreline and water. The cycle path along the lake edge is part of this revitalization. We had a second coffee (tea for Wayne) and breakfast overlooking the water near the bridge at The Entrance. The route continued on the path through the Wyrrabalong National Park which preserves the last patch of coastal rainforest on the Central Coast. Bird  sounds (mostly unidentifiable) were constant. Later there was a sign warning of kangaroos on the highway, but we have yet to see one.

At the Lizzy Bay Takeaway, we sat outside and ate fish and veggie burgers for lunch. Riding through the Munmorah State Conservation Area on a quiet road afterwards, we caught glimpses of the sea on one side and the inland lakes, including Lake Munmorah on the other.

Eventually, we joined the Pacific Highway and cycled on a wide hard shoulder for 11 km before  turning off on another bike path which brought us to within a short distance of our motel on Lake Macquarie (Awaba), the largest coastal saltwater lagoon in Australia.
We celebrated Lois’ birthday over dinner at the Lake Macquarie Yacht Club.

 

 

 

July 10, 2018 – Day 101

Newport to Forresters Beach – 45 km (by bike)

We are on the traditional territory of the Ku-ring-gai People


It was a bit of a tough day, with lots of hills and constant traffic on the Central Coast Hwy, but no continuous hard shoulder. Although not winter by Canadian standards, the nighttime temperature drops to around 6 or 7 degrees on the NSW coast, so hats and gloves were needed for the first few kilometres. Just after leaving the motel, we were back on the already busy highway, facing a steep climb. Paul started cycling up the hill, Lois rode part way up on a sidewalk and Wayne discovered an alternate path that took him along the sea. But, the path ended at two sets of steps. One young man helped Wayne carry his bike up the first steps and then a second man hoisted the bike on his shoulders, panniers and all and carried it up the second flight!

We got to the Palm Beach ferry just in time to catch the 9:15 sailing. Even though we were the last to board, a member of the crew offered to take our photo out on the dock before we set off. Normally, this ferry goes to Ettalong Bay, but due to silting up of the channel it is currently diverted to Patonga. This is unfortunate as it added 11 km to our route plus a long (although quiet) steep hill! A tea stop at Terrigal with a view of the beach and the surf helped to restore morale and we braved the final stretch of highway traffic to reach our motel before sunset at 5:00 pm.
We took a cab to a local hotel for dinner where we got involved in a trivia game!

July 9, 2018 – Day 100

Sydney to Newport – 36 km (25 by bike, 11 by ferry)

We are on the traditional territory of the Ku-ring-gai People

It’s been nearly a month since we were on our bikes, so we were anxious to begin our cycle trip to Brisbane today, joined on this leg by our old friend Wayne Balanoff. The route will generally follow the Pacific Highway.

Wayne picked up his bike, which had been re-assembled at Woolys Wheels. After some adjustments and an an initial ride back to the hotel, we were all set to leave. Helen met us at Circular Quay when we had threaded our way through Sydney morning traffic, along some good bike paths and across the park by the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
The ferry crossing to Manly was a bit rough at times so we had to keep an eye on our bikes! We had coffee together on the dock at Manly, then said goodbye to Helen and headed north to Newport. Luckily for us, the wind was from the west and mostly behind us.The traffic was quite heavy on the Pacific Highway but we managed to get off it for a few kilometres and also headed down to Fishermen’s Beach after lunch to watch significant breakers crashing onto the beach in the sunshine. We left the highway again to take a rather hilly bike route closer to the sea, eventually descending to Newport Harbour and our hotel. Being Monday, most restaurants were closed, but a local Thai restaurant served decent food with friendly service (and only a $2 BYOB charge – Wayne and I went across the street for a bottle of Australian Merlot).

July 2 – July 8, 2018

Sydney (2) – 3150 km (by air)

Traditional Territory of the Gadigal People

During the 4 1/2 hour flight from Darwin we had a stimulating and enjoyable conversation with a young man sitting beside us who was reading (and expounding on) the book, “Thinking Fast and Slow”, by Daniel Kahneman.

We arrived back in Sydney to relatively warm and sunny weather, much milder than it had been before we left. This temperature, around 18 degrees, we are told is more the norm for this time of year.

Our friend Isabel had offered us the use of her apartment while she was away, which we were pleased to accept. We were greeted at the building by Isabel’s friend Helena, with the keys and some homemade soup!  99 Bikes, which we can highly recommend, was close by. Lois wanted new cycle shoes, got helpful advice and the pair she ordered arrived the following day. She also got an adjustable handlebar fitting which one of the workers offered to install, while Paul had one of his disk brake rotors straightened. Everyone was very friendly and accommodating.
Before we had left for Uluru, we had reserved tickets for a performance of “Lucia di Lammermoor” by Donizetti, at the Sydney Opera House. We did not know the opera but it is a great, tragic story, based on one of Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley Novels. The star was surely Jessica Pratt as Lucia, one of the world’s top sopranos. She was born in the UK, but is now Australian and better known in Italy than here, and in fact was only now making her Australian debut. The concert hall is named after Joan Sutherland who was famous for her performances of the same role. The “mad scene” is and was memorable. The tenor Michael Fabiano, playing Edgardo, came a close second.
We did have another issue concerning our bike bags! We had planned to use DHL again, to deliver our bags to Brisbane and hold them until we get there. In preparation, we purchased some corrugated cardboard and packing tape to wrap up the bags from Kennards Self Storage, across the street from Isabel’s apartment. The day before DHL was to pick up the bags, we happened to discover that they do not have a “vacation hold” option in Australia and could only hold the bags for 2 days! We were now at the point of questioning whether we should abandon our bags! However, calmer minds prevailed and we decided to see whether Kennard’s might have some ideas. Indeed, they advised us that we could keep our bags in storage there while we were cycling (for only $47) and that we could arrange for them to picked up there. At their suggestion, we contacted “Pack & Send”. They will collect the bags from the storage locker (we share the combination lock number with them), wrap them and send them to Brisbane when we need them, for a third of DHL’s estimate!
On Friday, we cycled around the harbour and across the city to check back into Mrs. Banks hotel in Paddington. It was a bit of a shock to have to navigate through traffic and crowded sidewalks which are shared with pedestrians!  Helen and Wayne arrived from Canada that evening via the UK and Dubai and we missed them when we went to meet them at the airport!
We spent the weekend talking, eating and drinking and doing a little sightseeing, including a trip out to Bondi beach, that stretch of white sand famous for surfing. The waves were not high but there were still many wetsuit-clad surfers out in the breakers, braving the brisk cool wind. On Sunday, we went to Barangaroo for a showcase of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander skills and traditions, as part of the national wide NAIDOC week which celebrates the history, culture and achievements of indigenous people. This years theme celebrates the essential role that women have played – and continue to play – as active and significant role models at the community, local, state and national levels. There were cooking demonstrations, workshops for basket weaving and shell making jewellery, plus shadow puppet making for children. It was very well attended and there was a relaxed, joyful feel about the event. We walked back to Circular Key through the revitalised waterfront and under the Harbour Bridge.

June 28 – July 1, 2018

Kakadu – 1107 km (by car)

Traditional owners:

– Kakadu, the Baninji and the Mungguy People

– Katherine,  the Jawoyn People

We picked up our rental car, stopped at Aboriginal Bush Traders for takeout espresso and latte, then headed south on the Stuart and Arnhem Highways to Kakadu National Park, approximately 150 kms. We were booked to spend the first night at the indigenous-owned Mercure Kakadu Crocodile Hotel, built in the shape of a crocodile. The design reflects the crocodile’s cultural significance to the local Gagudju people.

Established in 1979, Kakadu National Park is UNESCO designated as a “living cultural landscape with exceptional natural and cultural values”. The park is large, at almost 20,000 sq kms, with an abundance of cultural and natural treasures. We were excited to view numerous examples of elaborate rock paintings, thousands of years old, depicting spirits and stories of creation, humans, fish, animals and plants. The rocky outcrops at Ubirr are especially rich in images. We listened to a talk about the rock images by a knowledgeable young park ranger. Watching the sun set over the Nadab Plain from atop these hills was very special. Around the area of Nourlangie Rock at the base of the Kakadu Escarpment we found more rock paintings with references to creation stories.
There were many birds sighted as well as a number of large Esturine Crocodiles on a lovely early morning cruise on the Yellow Water. We were warned to keep our arms inside the boat! The largest croc we came across was more than 4 metres long.
Again, we heard about the impact from feral or invasive species. Water buffalo were brought from Timor in the mid 1800’s to be raised for leather and horns, but were soon abandoned by British settlers when the venture proved unsuccessful. Overgrazing and trampling resulted in extensive damage to vegetation, river banks and flood plains before extensive culling took place, mainly to eradicate bovine tuberculosis.
The  Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre, named after Warradjan, the pig nosed turtle,  provided an interesting history of the area and an in-depth description of the life and experience of indigenous people before and after colonization. As with Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, title to the land on which Kakadu Park is situated was transferred to the original inhabitants, the Bininj in the north and Mungguy in the south, and leased back to the federal government. The resorts that we stayed in are owned and controlled by the indigenous owners. This is also true of the Nitmiluk National Park, where we went on a boat tour of Katherine Gorge. There, we saw the smaller and less agressive freshwater crocodiles.
On our drive through the dry parkland savanna, there was little wildlife seen, apart from one wallaby (viewed by Paul only), some feral horses, one feral pig and lots of roadkill. Paul’s list of Australian birds has reached 50!

We arrived back in Darwin in time to catch the (Northern) Territory Day festivities taking place on Mindel Beach. As this (July 1) was also Canada Day for us, we had a dual celebration! This year marks the 40th anniversary of self-government for the NT. We wandered through the extensive and very crowded Mindel Beach Sunset Market of craft stalls and food vendors offering a dizzying array of international cuisine. Choosing fish tacos and fresh juices, we  joined many others on the beach listening to bands and as the sun set on the Timor sea. The official fireworks were long and spectacular – apparently 300 tonnes worth! – and unofficial fireworks continued to be lit late into the night. The purchase and use of fireworks in the Northern Territory is only permitted on July 1 and is the only jurisdiction in Australia where it is legal to buy fireworks!

 

Nadab Plain
NT Legislature

June 26 – June 27, 2016

Darwin  (1635 km by air)

Darwin is the ancestral territory of the Larrakia people.

It was a crisp -2 in the desert this morning!

We missed our connection to Darwin as the plane that would have dropped us in Alice Springs hit a bird leaving Cairns. We eventually left Uluru, but then had a 5-hour wait in Alice Springs. Reluctant to spend 60 AUD to take the shuttle downtown and after reading a less than encouraging Lonely Planet review, we read and blogged in the airport instead.
The warm and humid evening air that welcomed  us in Darwin reminded us that we were back in the tropics. Year round the temperature fluctuates only between the low 20’s and mid-30’s, although the area is susceptible to cyclone activity in the wet season and heavy monsoonal downpours.  Since it’s establishment as a small settlement in 1869, Darwin has been almost entirely rebuilt four times, following devastation caused by the 1897 cyclone, the 1937 cyclone, Japanese air raids during World War II, and Cyclone Tracy in 1974.
Our hotel looked out over the Beagle Gulf, which leads to the Timor Sea. Our first stop the next morning was at the Aboriginal Bush Traders Cafe.  Run by local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the cafe is in Lyons Cottage, a residence built in 1925 to house executives of the British Telegraph Company and their families. Our breakfast was good espresso, granola and “damper” or baking powder bread. The sweet version was accompanied by local wild peach jam, and the savoury, made with bush dukkah, was served with pickle from local produce. A good example of “bush tucker”! We spent some time admiring the products from artists and community arts centres sold in the adjoining shop.
After making use of the local laundromat where we also chatted with our Victoria family on FaceTime, we headed to the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. « Defying Empire: 3rd National Indigenous Art Triennial » showed the works of 30 contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists from across the country. The powerful multi-media exhibition, which commemorates the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Referendum that recognised Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as Australians for the first time, deals with issues of identity, racism, displacement, country, nuclear testing, sovereignty and the stolen generations.
Two quite different exhibits detail the devastation of the WWII bombings and Cyclone Tracy. Franck Gohier is a French-born “pop” artist based in Darwin whose colourful works referenced political and social justice issues, such as the WWII attacks as well as the treatment of indigenous people.
We were surprised to learn that, after Japan entered WWII in December 1941, the NT became Australia’s front line. Japanese submarines sank one ship off Darwin the following January and on February 19, 1942 Japan launched the first of 64 air raids, killing more than 230 people. These attacks continued across northern Australia until late 1943 as we discovered later when we drove through Adelaide River, which served as a base for the large allied force based in Northern Australia to counter the Japanese offensive. We also learned there that a group from the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals arrived in Darwin in April 1945. One of their member died of encephalitis and is buried in the Adelaide River War Cemetery.
The story of Cyclone Tracy must still reside within recent memory for many residents. The interactive displays of the city before and after, news footage and a remarkable recording of the sounds during the storm, are riveting. Cyclone Tracy was devastating. Wikipedia recounts that “Tracy killed 71 people and caused more than the equivalent of $4.94 billion 2014 USD of damage. It destroyed more than 70 percent of Darwin’s buildings, including 80 percent of houses, left more than 25,000 out of the 47,000 inhabitants of the city homeless and required the evacuation of over 30,000 people”, Very few of the original style of wooden buildings, on stilts, now remain.
Later,  we had dinner at Yot’s Greek Taverna on the waterfront boardwalk at Cullen Bay, enjoyed a leisurely walk back to the centre, and ended up at an empty cinema watching Steve Coogan and Paul Rudd in « Ideal Home ». We were surprised to find that the tickets were twice what we would have paid in Victoria! Good popcorn, though!

June 23 – 25, 2018

Uluru and Kata Tjuta – 2180 km (by air)

Traditional territory of  the  Anangu

The question of what to see in a short time in Australia is daunting. Like Canada, the vastness and diversity of the country make for some tough choices. Even our planned cycle route from Sydney to Brisbane will cover only a small fraction of this island continent.  In the end, we decided there were two places we did not want to miss: the “top end” and the “red centre”. With the assistance of Flight Centre, we booked a trip to Uluru and Darwin.

The massive arkose sandstone rock of Uluru, located in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, is as familiar an Australian image as the Sydney Opera House or the Great Barrier Reef. As with any trips to view such famous landmarks, we wondered if the experience would live up to its billing (and justify flying 1/2 way across the country). We needn’t have worried.
The unique rock formations of Uluru (previously called Ayers Rock) and nearby Kata Tjuta (also known as Mt. Olga or the Olgas) have plenty of pull. Quite apart from their interesting geological origins, these ancient giants radiate a force, palpable as we approached and hiked their bases. One of the biggest draws, and a highlight for us, is to witness the colours change  at dawn and sunset, when the rocks glow a deep orangey red. For the Anangu people, who have occupied this part of central Australia for more than 30,000 years, Uluru and Kata Tjuta are sacred, featuring prominently in their creation myths, some of which are depicted in a number of stunning rock paintings. Both sites contain numerous “sensitive areas”, including caves, rock paintings and unusual rock formations, where photography is prohibited.
The unique rock formations resulted from shifting tectonic plates pushing up a river bed (conglomerate) -Kata Tjuta – and an alluvial fan (sedimentary) – Uluru, which had been compressed and baked, around 550 million years ago. The sedimentary layers of Uluru are at an angle of nearly  90 degrees, creating an inselberg. It is estimated that the bulk of the rock formations lays below ground. Very little vegetation is apparent on the surface, apart from black algae where waterfalls appear during the rains. The formations are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In 1985, a land settlement agreement returned title to the land of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park to the Anangu, in exchange for a 99-year lease back to the federal government for the purpose of continuing to administer the park. The park is co-managed by the Anangu and government through a board, on which the Anangu have 8 of the 12 seats; 4 occupied by Anangu men and 4 by Anangu  women. The Anangu receive 25% percent of the park entry fees and 7% of the “royalties” from the Ayers Rock Resort (Yulara), a purpose built resort commmnity just outside the park, run by a subsidiary of the Indigenous Land Corporation, a federal agency. An agreement originally made between the Anangu and Prime Minister Bob Hawke that the climb to the top of Uluru by tourists would be stopped was later broken. It has now been agreed that climbing on Uluru will no longer be permitted from October 2019.
We were curious about the extent to which the Anangu were benefitting economically from the huge number of tourists the park attracts. We were told that there has been a significant  increase in the number of indigenous people employed by the Resort and a number of the Park Rangers are indigenous, through trainjng programs under the ILC, National Indigenous Training Academy. The Kulata Academy Cafe (where we had great espresso) provides training for Aboriginal Australians in the food service industry. However, we saw only two trainee guides at the museum, and none of the staff working for the largest tour company, AAT Kings, appeared to be indigenous. We read that the local Anangu community of Mutitjulu had protested before  a Northern Territory commission into juvenile justice in 2016 that the NT and federal governments have neglected their community and that children are denied basic housing, plumbing, food and healthcare. “The oldest living culture in the world has been kicked to the curb by the government,” stated traditional owner Rameth Thomas. Our hotel encouraged donations to the Mutitjulu Foundation, but we were surprised to see that the funds helped support local women to go to Alice Springs (the nearest town, 465 km southwest) for health screening, something we would have expected to be funded by government.
A tour of the Wintjiri Museum provided a good introduction to the history of the park and its flora and fauna. We also saw a demonstration of “bush tucker” – local plants and seeds – and its traditional uses by the Anangu. This included a sampling of delicious butter shortbread made with wattleseeds. The ciabatta we enjoyed later at dinner was accompanied by “dukka”, in this case a paste of lemon myrtle, macadamia nuts and wattleseed. We passed up the “free range” kangaroo steaks!
There were some bird sightings, although fewer than we had expected. Unfortunately, no emus or mammals were to be seen. A guide informed us that feral cats are a real threat to bird life throughout Australia. According to a fellow tourist from Sydney, areas in that city now fenced off from feral cats have become avian havens. Rabbits, foxes and camels are other invasive animal species, which have had a detrimental affect on indigenous plants and animals. Even the dingo was introduced into Australia, albeit 4000 years ago, becoming a predator of the now extinct Tasmanian tiger. Tasmanian Buffel grass, an example of an invasive plant species introduced 50 years ago to control erosion and for “pastoral purposes”, is wiping out native plants and threatening endangered animals in the park.