Bike Odyssey
Around Australia 1999

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Sydney - Melbourne - Hobart - Adelaide - Darwin - Perth - Canberra - Sydney

[Overview] [Riding] [Stats] [Towns/Regions] [In Tassie Too Long When ...]
[National Parks][By the Roads] [Wildlife] [Cycling Songs] [Weather]
[Travel Tips] [Road Toll] [Who Does What] [Misadventures]

By the Roads: (Roadside sightings)

There is some interesting traffic ploughing the Stuart Highway to the Olympic Dam mine (in South Australia, not Sydney). We were overtaken by a pair of mining trucks each the size of a small house. Soon after we were passed by two small houses.

The highway to Ayres Rock tends to go up and over the sand dunes and carries a fair bit of traffic. Mostly hire cars being driven at break neck speed by inexperienced city drivers reveling in the absence of speed limits. The NT police made short work of this lot, booking most of them as they belted through the 60 zones around the roadhouses. Most of the non-hire cars were loaded to the hilt with every piece of holiday gear you can think of. Some even carried that most essential of items for a central Australian holiday, a surf board.

The further north we rode in NT the taller the termite mounds grew. They can have some strange shapes, and after a few hours in the saddle your mind can start playing tricks. One looked like Mother Teresa, another like Elvis, Sly Stalone etc. One even looked like another cycle tourist riding towards us. Turned out it was another cycle tourist riding towards us, the first we'd seen in weeks.

While sitting in the park outside the Katherine visitors' centre talking to some locals, a group of very solemn looking aboriginals walked past dragging tree branches behind them. The group I was with went respectfully quiet as they passed, and after seeing my bemused look my new friends explained to me one of their relatives had recently passed away and they needed to sweep away the footprints of their deceased to prevent being haunted by his spirit. I asked how long they would keep doing this. "Till they've covered everywhere he'd been." Tragically, they weren't kidding when they added "they have to go around to all the local pubs".

Pulling into a lookout a few kilometers east of Timber Creek we saw a fellow cyclist racing out to greet us. We'd been hearing stories of a lone Japanese cyclist all across NT, and we finally met. It turns out this was Sekiji who we first met in Tasmania 5 months previously. Sekiji arrived in Perth, bought a bike from K-Mart and set off around Oz. His first bike didn't make it past Albany, but Sekiji had ridden across the Nullarbor, around Tasmania right up the east coast and across the top for our paths to cross paths near the NT/WA border. We met him again on the outskirts of Broome, even though we both took very different routes. People talk about all the Japanese cyclists in Australia, but is seems to me most of them are the same person.

150km south of Broome on the longest and possibly hottest stretch between civilisation on highway one we past a few very eye-catching signs. "Watermelon". Then "Rockmelon". Some bastard was playing a very cruel joke. Sure enough 1km down the road was the Shamrock Melon Stall. In the middle of the great sandy desert the Shamrock farm grows fruit in the sand, fertilised via the bore water irrigation system. All sorts of melons, fruits and fresh vegetables are grown and sold by the road during the tourist season.

We met a roadside grass cutter near Monkey Mia, this one working for the local council. "It's my job to cut down all the wildflowers by the roads." It's the first year he's had this task. "They guy who did it last year won't do it anymore. The tourists kept abusing him."

Just north of Geraldton a wildly driven tour bus flew past us in the opposite direction, it's tour company name plastered across it's sides. "Once in a lifetime tours".

All along the Eyre highway across the Nullarbor there are drink bottles partially filled with a lemon cordial coloured yellow liquid. Clearly truckies making the dash across the continent can't afford to stop just to go to the loo. The truck traffic on Mondays and Fridays is particularly light. The truckies drive all weekend, spend Mondays with their family in the west, then drive back to spend Friday with their other family in the east.

In the small NSW town of Khancoban a bunch of school kids were hanging out on the corner before school as school kids do. A bit odd given it was NSW school holidays and a NSW public holiday, but these kids are educated in the nearby Victorian town of Corryong. A tour bus turned up to take them south of the border. The tour company's name was "Whitehead Tours".



  • NSW:
    Dolphins surfing with humans (Wollongong), tame kangaroos (Pebbly Beach), black snakes (almost trodden on).
  • Vic:
    Echidnas, a flock of Emus, Grazing Wombats.
  • Tas:
    Echidnas, Eastern Grey Kangaroos, Bennett's Wallabies, Pademelons, Black Cockatoos, Wombat (with a lion's mane coat), Huge (10kg, 3m wing span) Wedgetail Eagles, <This word has ben removed automatically to comply with the Australian Internet Censorship Act 1999>ing possums.
    Like many well used camp sites in Tasmania, Freycinet N.P. has resident pademelons (a short plonky looking wallaby). They usually show up around dinner time, and one gingerly crept towards our camp site, twitching and sniffing and generally trying to look as cute as possible. As it reached what looked enticingly like an open food container, with great anticipation stuck it's nose in. In horror it bolted away, as the prospect of a meal turned out to be a pungent sand shoe.
  • SA:
    Red kanagaroo, birds of prey, flocks of galahs.
  • Arid NT:
    Black footed rock wallabies (they look like startled muppets), goannas, Wedgetail Eagles, Kites, Zebra Finches, Corellas, Cockatoos (White Sulpha, Crested, Pink Crested, Black, White & Red tailed), Galahs, Spinifex (tiger) Pigeons and plenty of others.
    Strolling around Uluru we came across a Thorny Devil. These lizards grow about six inches long and are covered in short stumpy thorns and desert camouflage colours. Apparently the thorns are just for show, but they sure looked sharp enough to me. Their most interesting feature is behavioral. When they sense danger they gently rock back and forth like a leaf in the wind. Only when the wind gusts do they scamper a few paces toward cover. This is not a very effective strategy when confronted with a road train.
  • Top End:
    Black Kytes, Whistling Kytes, Wedgetail Eagles, Galahs, Rosellas, parrots, Blue winged kingfisher, Blue eyed honey eaters (or dinner eaters), Pheasant Coucal, Egrets, Straw necked Ibis, Rainbow Bee Eater, White Bellied Sea Eagle, "Jesus Bird" (it walks on water) or Comb Crested Jacana, Plumed whistling ducks, Whistling Kite, Black Kite, Burdiken Ducks (Rajah Shellducks), Jabirus, Brolgas, Black striped grunters, Sooty Grunters, Saratogas, Barramundi, Fragile Wallabies (oops - accident prone Agile wallabies), Dingos (loitering around Jabiru camp ground), Bats, Wallaroos, Goannas, Water Snake, tortoise and Salt Water Crocs.
  • Kimberly (& west NT):
    Black Kytes, Whistling Kytes, Wedgetail Eagles, Galahs, Red tailed Black Cockatoos, Water Buffalo, Wallabies, Jabiru !!, Brolgas, Darters, Little Black, Cormorants. Brown Pigeons, Spinifex Pigeons, Tawny Frogmouth Owls, Albatross (I think - soaring on the updrafts of the Cable Beach surf), Correllas (Windjana Gorge - squawking into hollow logs to make a wind instrument sound), Python, Freshwater Crocodiles.
  • Pilbara:
    Black Kites, Whistling Kites, Swallows, Ibis, Egrets, Pelicans, Camels, Feral Cats, Wedgetail Eagles, Emus, Red Kangaroos, Grey Kangaroos, Sturts Desert Pea
  • WA: Ningaloo Reef:
    Reef fish, Parrot Fish, Snapper, A lot of others I didn't recognise because I don't normally eat them.
  • WA: Monkey Mia:
    Dolphins, Dugongs & pelicans
  • WA: Mid West:
    Black Cockatoos, White Cockatoos, Pelican (gliding gracefully into lagoon at Gilderton), Grey Kangaroos, Emus
    Just south of Overlander Roadhouse an emu ran across the road in front of us. It knew the road crossing was dangerous. That's why it took the precaution of ducking it's head.
  • WA: Rottnest Is: Quokkas.
  • WA: Rockingham bay:
    Seabirds, Humans and Dolphins hunting fish in Rockingham bay. Seagulls pestered all the successful fishermen.
  • WA: (South West:)
    Black Cockatoos (flying beside us trying to "escape"), a kamikaze turtle (I carried him off the road), kamikaze blue-tongues (they growl at the passing cars rather than run from them), dive bombing magpies and a mob of *live* kangaroos.
  • Nullarbor Crossing:
    Emu (running from us taking his chicks with him), Camels, Small falcon like bird of Prey, Wedgetail eagles.
    Nullarbor Kangaroos are so stupid. Riding in the early morning we hear them first, crashing into the roadside fences as the flee from us. They have so little road sense. One one morning we chased a mob for 10km at 20km/hr as they tried to outrun us. They never did.
  • SA & Nth Vic & Sth West NSW:
    Lincoln Parrots (the St African flag bird), Black Kites, whistling Whistling Kites, Blue Winged Kookaburras, Kangaroos, Dive-bombing Magpies (some with payloads!), Wedgetail Eagles, Echidnas, Unidentified Parrots (particularly striking markings: purple wings, green and red backs, yellow breasts and green heads), One duck with 30 (yes 30) ducklings, Raptor (unidentifiable) being harassed by magpies, Sacred Ibis (mostly white), Non Sacred Ibis (black Wings), ducks, swifts (nesting in the bird hide), sleeping Pelicans, Egrets and other water birds (flourish along the irrigation canals and rice fields of the riverina).
  • Snowy:
    More Dive-bombing Magpies (At least twelve attacks), Pelicans, White Cockatoos, all red Rosellas, Feral Cats, Goanna (chasing bird's eggs), Black Snake (sitting on road), Rosellas, Emu guarding his chicks, Black Cockatoos, Kookaburras.
    A Blue Tongue Lizard. It ran across the road ahead, briefly stopped to flash its blue tongue at us, then sprinted off.



NSW, as expected, had mostly nice weather. On occasions it's rained, but only when we got the tent out. The Tathra caravan park operators seemed very pleased claiming the rain was needed it, even though they were fielding plenty of calls canceling bookings due to the wet weather.

Somewhat incredibly, of the 65 days we spent in Tasmania only 4 were wet. Two of those were the first two! Another was a memorable boxing day, where I constructed an elaborate system of Venetian canals which sort of managed to stop our tent drowning.

The weather in Victoria was consistently wet. We had rain most days, and if it wasn't raining we were dodging floods. Just occasionally a fine day would be forecast. The strange thing is all the TV weathermen continually suggest a forecast for rain a bad thing, and a long range forecast for cloud and drizzle (which was invariably the weather despite the forecast) was proclaimed as good news.

Apart from the drizzle on the day we landed back in Adelaide, the weather was warm and fine all the way through South Australia's northern farming region. In fact it was completely dry until we hit the arid regions north of Port Augusta. From then on it rained every day in one way or another until we reached the Northern Territory. You can see the rainstorms across the deserts often hours before they reach you. Sometimes they can be refreshingly pleasant. Other times they can be quite a challenge.

The proprietor of the Pine Creek caravan park we stayed at told us we'd arrived in the Top End one week after it had stopped raining, and it was now "cold". "Cold" is 29 to 32 degrees every day. Some nights it's been so cold we've considered getting out our sleeping bags. A few scattered white clouds were seen on three days of the month we've been here. The wind has been mild to moderate from the east. The biggest change in the weather is the phase of the moon. I don't know how the territorians stand the dry season.

A shopkeeper in Derby taught us a new expression. "Kimberly cool" is the temperature of something that's only been in the fridge ten minutes. It also describes the worst of the Kimberly dry season weather.

The weather in the Kimberly region was just blissful. Further south in the Pilbara the weather remained beautiful, but it was becoming noticeably cool once the sun disappeared. Our guide book suggested we might see some "morning glory", long tubular clouds that threaten rain then disappear. As we crossed the Yannarie River into the Gascoyne region we saw some long tubular clouds that threatened rain. They made good their threat. We passed an informative sign. It read "Tropic of Capricorn". It might as well have read "You are leaving the 'Dry' season and entering 'Winter'".

More than anywhere else, wind is the major weather factor for cyclists crossing the Nullarbor. A "High in the Bight" pattern, with a high pressure cell sitting in the Great Australian Bight can be large, slow moving and generate strong easterly winds for days or weeks on end. Mercifully we only had one of these.

As we approached Ceduna the desert gave way to scrubby forests, and eventually crop fields. With so little rain this is very marginal farming country. As the storm fronts blew over us the wind was incredible, and valuable topsoil from the freshly ploughed fields billowed into huge clouds. Apart from cutting visibility to dangerously low levels, this dust gets in everywhere. Eyes, ears, nostrils, teeth, and any other orifice exposed to the atmosphere.

We had mostly headwinds from Pt Ausgusta all the way to Sydney. I remember the day to Goulburn as one of three tailwind days of the leg. We still rode 75km into the wind before turning and riding 40km with it.

On the western side of the Alps it was still pretty cool in the mornings. We used our leg and arm warmers (old footy socks with holes cut through the toes) pretty much all the way to Kiama. We (well one of us) greatly anticipated seeing and maybe even experiencing snow in the mountains. It was never really quite that cold, and rain in the week preceding our arrival heralded the end of the ski season had washed away most of the white stuff from all but the highest peaks. It wasn't until the final two days we had our first hint of the approaching Sydney summer. It was warm *and* muggy, a first for us in nearly twelve months!


Travel Tips:

Tasmanian Busses. Backpackers in Tassie joke about "the vaguraties of Tasmanian bus travel". Everyone seems to know what this means. Put simply, many Tasmanian busses can't be trusted. If you get the impression the bus companies don't seem too interested in your trip details when booking, you are probably right. Regardless of whether or not you've successfully booked or paid for your bus, if you're not there when the bus shows up (which could easily be well before the scheduled pickup time), or not enough other people take the bus that day, or the driver doesn't feel like stopping, or its all a bit too much trouble - you won't be getting the bus. All the guide books suggest it's advisable to book you bus in advance, particularly in wilderness areas. This is a euphemism for ensuring you have a fallback plan in the not too unlikely event you'll be left stranded in the rain or snow somewhere. At least that's been our experience, and that of many of the people we've met.

Tasmanian Hamburgers. In Tasmania you get 2 types of burgers - plain, and with the lot. "With the lot" comes with the usual, onion, lettuce, tomato, beetroot, cheese, pineapple, egg, bacon, sauce and probably a few other things as well. Plain is well plain. A sausage mince patty, bread, and nothing else. If you want just a bit of salad, you've got to order (and pay for) a "with the lot" without egg, bacon, cheese etc.

Tips for dealing with flies:

  1. 1) Cook & eat after dark. The flies seem to hibernate overnight, and half an hour after dusk they've all gone. It's sort of an Australian Ramadan.
  2. 2) Face into the wind. The little buggers avoid being blown away by gusts of wind by hiding on your leeward side. Facing into the wind (if it's strong enough) sends them out of your face and onto your back. Well, it's a slight improvement.
  3. 3) Ride faster. If you go quick enough you can blow them off. Very satisfying.
  4. 4) Stay north of Tennant Creek. Once we got into the wet tropics they seem to disappear. You only have to worry about the mozzies then. (Keep a close eye on your sultana snacks as you're eating them.)

Kakadu mozzies. Local health warnings advise using a DEET (carcinogenic but "effective") based insect repellant and avoid being outdoors around dusk. Hardly helpful in our case. If DEET has any effect on tropical mosquitoes it's to let them know where there is a meal to be had. Wearing clothes doesn't help either. These huge insects evolved to bleed the local buffalo, so have no trouble biting through the thickest human clothing. After Mardugal (in Kakadu) and the Roebuck roadhouse my bottom was covered in welts where I'd been ravaged (by the mozzies) while preparing dinner. Inside the tent offered us some protection (once we'd killed the 20 or so that snuck in with us), though you can hear the swarms outside clinically scouring the mesh for a path to their next meal. Outside the best strategy seems to be to keep moving. Mozzies aren't as quick as flies, and use heat and CO2 emissions to track you down. Avoiding your most recent location can confuse them a bit, at least for a little while.


Cycling Songs:

Tunes I hum to myself while riding:

  • Billy Thorpe: Most people I know think that I'm crazy.
  • Daddy Cool: Eagle Rock
  • 10CC: The things we do for Love ("Like riding in the rain and the snow
  • when there's nowhere to go ....")
  • Beatles: Here Comes the Sun (at Dawn usually)

Tunes Linda hums to herself while riding:

  • Eurythmics: Here comes the rain again.
  • Paul Kelly: It's all downhill here. (It never was).