Thursday, May 29, 2014

Sydney and the end of Australia

May 30, 2014 – Sydney and the end of Australia
Sydney, Australia
Day 113 - Distance biked so far: (7,785 km)
I continued on the Southern Coast of Australia, stopping to camp at caravan parks if I was in a town or hidden out of sight on the sides of the road if I were between towns. One night I was tucked into my sleeping bag and heard some rustling outside my tent. Since I am out of crocodile territory and they don’t have bears, I wasn’t worried but wanted to see what it was. I reached for my camera, unzipped my tent and caught this guy, staring at me. I tried to get his attention and to see if he would come closer but he really didn’t pay much attention to me and kept on doing whatever possums do at night.
My possum friend
I’m finally getting used to some of the odd terms that Australians use. The most common one is a greeting that had me stumped at first because I didn’t know how to respond. I would be greeted with “how ya going” which seemed a cross between how are you and where are you going.  I find the term “mate” quite nice as in “how ya going mate”, it provides an instant sense of familiarity when talking to a complete stranger.  In terms of food there has only been a few differences with what I am used to. One day I walked into a roadhouse restaurant in the Outback and saw a sign for pies. I went up to the counter and the lady asked what kind of pie I would like so I asked for apple. She didn’t understand so I said I would like a piece of apple pie and that caused a ripple of laughter. She said they don’t have fruit pies, they refer to pies as the meat pies so I could have a steak pie, beef pie, chicken pie etc. I’m glad I didn’t ask for my favorite, rhubarb and strawberry, which would have really confused them.
I had made the decision to avoid Melbourne as I continued down the road. I really liked the city of Adelaide and would be ending my Australian adventure visiting both Canberra and Sydney so I decided to stick with the nice small towns dotting the coast. You can bypass Melbourne by taking a few ferries connecting the Mornington Peninsula to Philip Island. Philip Island is the home of the Little Penguins and the famous Penguin Parade.
The Little Penguins are the smallest species of penguins, growing on average to just 12 or 13 inches. The Nature park was set up to provide protection from predators who would feed on them as they make their daily walk to and from the sea. There are hundreds of burrows dug into the ground where the penguins sleep. Every morning, they get up at dawn and walk to the ocean where they spend the day diving for food. They all waddle down to the sea in small groups, like workers walking to a construction site. Visitors are only allowed to visit in the evenings so I made my way there to join the crowds.
A number of stands have been set up about 10 meters from the sea and there are spotlights to provide better sight. As the sun goes down, you can see them in the distance, swimming in large groups, and it looks like a black mass of oil slowly making its way to shore. They wait for the sun to go down to avoid potential attacks from above by birds of prey. You can hear them making a fuss in the distance; obviously chatting about the fish they caught that day, maybe the big one that got away. Suddenly, as the waves crash a small group appeared as if out of nowhere and they stood up, had a quick look around and started walking towards the shore. It is hilarious to see them struggle up the sand and the hills behind the viewing areas; they are clearly more at home in the water. There are boardwalks set up throughout the area and you can walk literally right beside and a few feet above them as they make their way to their particular home. They are very strict about not allowing photographs because it is dark and the flashes will scare the penguins. I took a photo of the advertisements and this is what the penguins looked like as they walked out of the water.
The Little Penguins
I loved being there and was the last person to leave the park. I would just watch them in their natural environment and found myself encouraging them as they walked past. I would say things like “you’re looking good” and “keep it up, you're almost home” and felt like a spectator watching a marathon race and encouraging the runners. I think they appreciated it.
As I often mention, it can be lonely on a bike trip, particularly at night if you sleep outside of a town in the wild. I cook my dinner then go into my tent to read before going to sleep. I like staying at caravan parks because I usually have an opportunity to meet people. Another option is to use warmshowers, a travel website used by cyclists who offer their homes to other cyclists. It is difficult for me to use that site because I don’t carry a phone, so need an Internet connection to arrange a date and time to meet.  The Wi-Fi connection in Australia is far below the level in SE Asia so I have often gone long periods without being able to get on a computer but one day made contact with Mark and Lilian Duthie. They offered to host me for a night and it was through Lilian’s persistence and flexibility that we were able to meet up and I am very grateful that she did.
One day Mark and their 2 daughters Katherine and Alyssa met me at the youth hostel where I was staying and spent their entire Sunday showing me around. Lilian is a nurse and had to work but Mark and the girls were great hosts as we toured the beautiful areas around their home that I would never have seen on my bike. The Duthie’s have an interest in travel and the girls would talk about their hiking in Peru, paddling down the Amazon in Brazil or cycling in Holland with the same ease and familiarity that most teenage girls talk about their cell phones or the latest boy band.
We went to the Tarra-Bulga National Park and did a few short hikes and enjoyed the cool autumn air.
Nature’s colors
Autumn in Victoria
The Duthie family live on a farm with horses, cows, a bull, a black lab and the girls often go for horse rides. I supervised as they fed the cows and horses.
Katherine, Alyssa and their horses
Here is a view from the field with the horses. It is an amazing place to live and raise a family.
View from the Duthie farm
Mark cooked a great dinner for all of us and we enjoyed an evening of conversation about all of our travels. I slept really well in a nice bed full of warm covers and woke up with the house empty. This is a perfect example of the kind of hospitality you find around the world. They invited a perfect stranger into their home and then trusted me to be alone in the morning. I packed up, gave a good stomach rub to my new friend Whistler and then continued on. Thank you Mark, Lilian, Katherine and Alyssa for your kindness and hospitality, it was great to meet you all.
I left that morning and continued on quiet side roads and trails. I am in agricultural area here as you can see from this view as I headed out of the farm.
View leaving the Duthie farm
I passed the 8,000 km mark as I cycled in the south of Australia.
8,000 km’s
How’s this for a creative mailbox.
Dinosaur mailbox
I cycled on some old railroad trails that Mark and Lilian told me about. It is great to be on them as they are hard packed, right in the middle of nature and no cars. One of the trails was 100 km in length and I didn’t see a single person on it for the entire stretch.
Rail trail in Victoria
The old rail trails still have some of the old trestle bridges. This one isn’t used anymore but is a perfect example of the hard work involved in building them.
Old Railroad Trestle
After just close to 5,000 km’s of cycling in Australia, I crossed into my 4th state or territory, New South Wales (NSW).
Welcome to NSW
The coastal area south of Sydney in NSW is spectacular, certainly on par with the Great Ocean Road. The main road would follow the coast but you couldn’t see the ocean unless you took a side road which I would as my day was nearing an end. The first stop on the coast was Eden, a place that got its name because of sunsets like this that I captured from my tent.
The coast was rough and rocky and then you would get to a town with sandy beaches in the harbors. This is an example of the coast just on the edge of Eden.
Rough Coast in Eden, NSW
Then you would see a sandy beach in the town.
Beach in Eden
Then you get back on your bike, heading away from the ocean and soon see inland lakes and mountains in the distance.
Inland lake in NSW
The roads on the coast are very hilly and the constant up and down made for some beautiful but tough cycling days. I had the misfortune of having some bad weather earlier in Australia with a lot of cold, wet and windy days but the last 2 weeks of my time here was absolutely perfect. The days were up to about 25C with blue skies and calm winds. It is also autumn here so you get the variety of colors to go along with the weather, very much like what you would see back home in Canada. I love how I would often see a lonely maple tree in a sea of green.
I am on the east side of the Great Dividing Range mountain range that runs north to south in Australia. The mountains are close so I could often see the ocean and mountains at the same time.
Ocean and mountains
The coast is dotted with small fishing communities and I biked from one picturesque town to the next. One of my favorites was Bermagui. I would walk along the harbor at night to see the boats and would often see pelicans floating by waiting for the fishing boats.
Sunset over the harbor
It looks like these 2 had an argument.
Pelican argument
But a little while later they made up.
The Pelicans are friends again
I biked as far as the town of Bomaderry and then took a train into Sydney. The traffic 100 km outside of the city was getting heavy with large trucks and lots of cars so I decided to get off the roads. I had repeatedly heard how busy it would be going into Sydney and was told there are regular trains that allow bikes and will go right into the city center so it was an easy decision.
I arrived at the train station and quickly found a youth hostel and set about locating a bike store. I have to get a few things checked out because my next stop is the very remote Arctic Circle in Canada and I need a dependable bike. I am also getting new tires because the first 800 km in the North will be on gravel roads. Mine are really worn out. I found a bike store and arranged for them to check a few things and then to put my bike in a box so I can take it on the plane. I will pick it up on May 30th, and then go straight to the airport.
I had a few days in Sydney and my usual routine for the first day or two is to just wander around without a specific destination or plan in mind. If you always go to the main tourist areas you miss out on the side streets that often provide surprises that many people don’t see.
The main point of interest for me was to just see the harbor and enjoy the beautiful weather. I would take long walks and meander through the side streets heading in the general direction of the harbor. The Sydney Opera House is one of the world’s most distinctive buildings. It was built in 1973 and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007. Here are a few familiar pictures of the iconic structure.
Opera House
City and Opera House
Near the Opera House is another famous structure, the Harbour Bridge. Here I am on another beautiful day in Sydney.
Me at the Harbour Bridge
My time in Australia is coming to an end and it seems that I have been here a long time. It was 2 months ago that I arrived at the top end of Australia and spent a few days in Darwin. The city was the gateway to the long stretch in the Outback. I loved the desert area but when I think back to the month cycling from Darwin to Adelaide, one thing stands out. As I biked I noticed that almost all of the people passing in vehicles on the other side of the road would wave as they went past. One morning I decided to count how many times someone would pass and not wave. It took most of the day before one vehicle went by where the occupants didn’t wave or honk their horn. It’s that kind of friendliness that continues to amaze me as I bike through the world. I remember at least a dozen people stop when I was cycling in the desert and hand me a bottle of water and a number asked if there was anything I need. I was in a campground in Eden, cooking my breakfast when a woman walking her dog stopped to talk with me. A few minutes later her husband came over and said that his wife told him about my bicycle trip to support an orphanage and he handed me a $50 bill. I don’t think a single day went by where someone didn’t offer encouragement in one way or another and that is what you remember most about travelling and what makes travelling with a bicycle so engaging.
On May 30th I am flying from Sydney to Vancouver. I have to buy a warmer sleeping bag, a water filter and a few other items for my journey to the North and also for my time in the higher elevations in the Rocky and Andes Mountains further south. I will then start the 3-flight journey to Inuvik, Northwest Territories, and Canada. It will be a 23,000 km journey from the top of the world above the Arctic Circle to the bottom of the world in Ushuaia, Argentina, close to Antarctica. The interesting thing about the route is that not only do you go a long way from north to south but the west-east distance from Inuvik to the tip of Argentina is also the equivalent of crossing the entire width of Canada. Inuvik will be the farthest western point, so in my southeast meandering through North, Central and South America, I am slowly, ever so slowly, heading back to Bangkok.
Here is a summary of a few things since I left Bangkok on January 15, 2014.
Days on the road – 136
Km’s cycled – 8,741
# of flat tires - 3
Countries visited – 5 (Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Australia)
Money found on the road - $21.59 (to be donated to Angel House after 2 years on the road)
Books read in Australia:
  • Remarkable Times: Australian Politics 2010-13: What Really Happened by Laurie Oakes
  • Cycle of Lies: The Fall of Lance Armstrong by Juliet Macur
  • Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power by Steve Coll
  • The Orphan Master’s Son: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction) by Adam Johnson
In the meantime, the Angel House Orphanage continues with the important work of finding homes for children. People from around the world are starting to support the Orphanage and one family from Singapore sent a large box of toys and Baby G was first in line to try one out.
Baby Boy G
Last week Angel House had another successful adoption. Baby girl S found a new home in Hawaii. It is a wonderful moment when a childless family can be matched up with an abandoned baby but it’s also a difficult time. David and his staff spent 3 years with this beautiful girl, changing her diapers, providing food and shelter, taking her for doctor visits and ice-cream, all the things families do together. The girl also had a large group of friends at the orphanage, the other children waiting for parents. The orphanage was the only home she ever knew and David and his staff were her surrogate parents. She has to say good-bye to the only world she has known and all her friends.
The other side however is that you have a family that invested a lot of money and time to find a young girl and now they have one. You can see the joy in the parents eyes along with a little fear and uncertainty in Baby S but one thing is certain, her world is about to change for the better with loving parents, a chance for a good education and to be a part of her own family.
Another success story at Angel House Orphanage and it is these stories that make every single pedal I make worthwhile. Congratulations to David and his staff, and to Baby S. God bless you and your new parents.
Baby S

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Great Ocean Road

May 7, 2014 – The Great Ocean Road
Aireys Inlet, Australia
Day 113 - Distance biked so far: (7,785 km)
I spent 3 days in Adelaide and had the great pleasure of being shown the beautiful city by my friend Rhea. Rhea is a Filipina originally from Tacloban and I met her when we volunteered together at the Missionaries of Charity orphanage in 2011. She spent a year there with her parents to provide her 2 sons with some education in the Philippines. In November she returned to Tacloban after the typhoon and spent a lot of time and energy helping people recover. She also raised funds, and continues to do so, for the victims including Bella and Gemma from the Missionaries of Charity. Rhea took a day out of her schedule to show me around. Here is Rhea and I at a coffee shop.
Rhea and me
We caught up on her life back in Adelaide with her husband and children and her work at the Adelaide hospital as a nurse. She drove me around to a lot of the sights and it was a great way to catch up and see Adelaide. It is a perfect size and has an ideal climate and would easily win as my choice of a city to live in if I were to move to Australia. I love the combination of clean wide streets, cafes and coffee shops, bike lanes, green space and old churches. It is a perfect example of how a focus on the environment can pay dividends in terms of quality of life. You can balance economic growth and quality of life and Adelaide strikes that balance. Here is an old church in the center of the city.
Church in Adelaide
The River Torrens runs through the city and instead of piles of garbage that you might see in the rivers of many SE Asian cities, you get a view like this. It is amazing how little things like putting garbage in a trash can instead of throwing it on the ground can have such a positive impact.
Park in Adelaide
The Adelaide Oval is hailed as the world’s most attractive cricket grounds. I can’t say that I’ve seen many cricket ovals but this is nice and reminds me of some of the old baseball fields in the U.S.
Adelaide Oval
I headed out of Adelaide by continuing south to the coast. To leave you have to go up over the Adelaide hills and I picked a beautiful day to climb up the tree filled streets that wind up and out of the city. It is fall here and some of the colours are out in full force.
Fall colours in the hills of Adelaide
I was heading in a southeast direction and had days of passing through agricultural areas and slowly made my way down towards Lake Alexandrina and the wetlands known as The Coorong. The area composes the Younghusband Peninsula that separates the Lake from the Southern Ocean and is a sanctuary for millions of birds, particularly the Pelican. I had to take a short hop on a ferry to cross the Murray River that runs through here and saw my first Pelican casually drifting by the boat.
Pelican in the Murray River
I rode south about 100 km per day, camping each night as I inched to the bottom of the Continent. I passed the 7,000 km mark near Wellington.
7,000 km mark in South Australia
The city of Mount Gambier is the Limestone Coasts (as this area is known) major town with a population of about 25,000. It is home of the deep Blue Lake and crater that was formed from a volcanic eruption thousands of years ago. The Lake is up to 75 meters deep and the source of drinking water for the town and region. Here are a few pictures of the Blue Lake and the trees filling the former crater.
Blue Lake in Mount Gambier
Autumn colours
After 3,500 km’s of cycling in this vast country, I passed the border into my 3rd State or Territory. I was now in the State of Victoria.
Welcome to Victoria
The weather has been slowly turning colder with a persistent wind and threatening rain. It is quite damp so it is difficult to dress as I sweat from cycling but then get chilled from the wind. My windbreaker jacket has been a constant companion and I have even slept with it a few times. The nights are cold and it is becoming harder to get out of my sleeping bag in the mornings but the day usually warms up nicely if the sun comes out. I was very close to the Southern Ocean and would get glimpses but it wasn’t until I reached Port Fairy and saw the Lighthouse that I realized I was on the southern coast. If I went south across that ocean, the next land or ice that I would hit would be I Antarctica.
Port Fairly Lighthouse
In my last journal I wrote about fear and how it is often something that stops us from doing what we would like to do. I asked myself if there is anything I wouldn’t do because of fear, or maybe because I have a little common sense, and I think there are 2 things.
The first is climbing Mount Everest. Last year I hiked up to the Everest Base Camp at over 5,400 meters. I did the hike on my own and it is a physical challenge but I had the relative luxury of having an indoor place to sleep, even if the lodges are very basic in nature. In my rooms I would often be very cold at night in my sleeping bag with all my clothes on and it was at those times I would think about what it would be like to be climbing up to 9,000 meters while sleeping outside in a tent. I couldn’t imagine the hiking up into that cold thin air for weeks on end yet I am fascinated by stories of people who have done it. Better them than me.
The second activity is closely related to my arrival at the Southern Ocean. I have read numerous accounts of solo sailboat races around the world and it is the second thing I would not do, particularly on my own. I have read numerous accounts of people who have completed the Vendee Globe race, a solo and non-stop circumnavigation of the world and in each account, the sailors always talk about the Southern Ocean as being their biggest obstacle. In one account, during a race one of the boats flipped over while in a severe storm far out into the Southern Ocean. When you get below 40 degrees latitude, the strong westerly winds are referred to as the roaring 40’s. The waves are particularly dangerous because there is no landmass so they come from every direction. When modern sailboats flip over, they are designed to right themselves so the sailor can continue but with hurricane force winds and waves over 20 meters, the boat was staying upside down. The sailor escaped by swimming out and tying himself to the keel that was now on top of the water. At that point in the Southern Ocean, the only chance of being rescued is if another boat helps out as the distance to land is so great that a plane or helicopter capable of helping would run out of fuel before getting back to land. Another boat was in the race and turned around against those winds and managed to pull him aboard, only minutes before his submerged boat sank. I might do the race if you could be part of a team but I’m betting no one would recruit me for the simple reason that I’m not sure how much value I could add while hiding below in the cabin.
I was now on the shores of the ocean I have only read about and for me, it was a thrill just to look out into the vastness. I stayed in the nice small town of Port Fairy a few days as the weather turned nasty with very strong winds and heavy rain It was the perfect chance however, to see the Southern Ocean during a storm, even if it was from land. I walked to a hill behind the town and had some great views on a blustery day.
Southern Ocean waves
Rough seas in Port Fairy
The following day was a little calmer and that brought out a few surfers who struggled to stay upright but it looked like they were having a blast  There is a surfer in there.
Surf’s up
A short while after leaving Port Fairy I arrived at the world famous Great Ocean Road.
Start of Great Ocean Road
The Great Ocean Road was built by returning soldiers between 1919 and 1932 and dedicated to those killed during World War 1. It is the world’s largest war memorial and a fitting tribute to the brave men of Australia. The Road is 243 km long and in most places hugs the coast offering incredible views of the wild Southern Ocean coast. It is one of those places you simply can’t miss if you are in Australia, and particularly if you are riding a bicycle.
Some of the towns here are so popular that they have youth hostels and I started taking advantage of them to get a warm and dry bed at night. I was incredibly fortunate to be at some of the most photogenic places during the few periods of sunshine I would get in a day. The scenery though has really been outstanding.
There are more photos on my Flickr page.
One of the first famous rock formations is that of London Bridge. It was once a double-arched rock platform linked to the mainland and visitors could walk out across a narrow bridge to the large rock. In 1990, the bridge collapsed leaving two tourists marooned and eventually rescued by helicopter. It is only a matter of time until the waves and erosion collapse the remaining arch.
London Bridge
The views of the rocks, blue skies and seas make cycling very difficult and slow. You can’t help but look over while trying to stay on the road and then you just want to stop every few feet.
Windswept view of Southern Ocean
Looking west on Great Ocean Road
The famous 12 Apostles were next in line. The name is actually misleading because there aren’t 12 rocks. There are viewing platforms and from there you can clearly see 7 but some are obscured. The Apostles are technically called stacks and are made of soft limestone, constantly eroded by the never-ending waves. In 2005, a 70-meter stack collapsed into the sea.
12 Apostles
Here is the view looking east from the same spot.
View looking east from the 12 Apostles
I was dressed in most of my clothes that day but was very fortunate to get sunshine. A few hours later, I was cycling up a long hill in a steady and cold rain so the timing to get these views was perfect. It’s not often you can get your picture taken with the 12 Apostles.
The 12 Apostles and Me
As mentioned, the road turned inland for a 30 km detour into the hills. In a matter of minutes I was away from the ocean and into a deep forest of thick trees. It was spectacular and shows the incredible variety of the landscape here.
Lavers Hill
One of my favorite towns along the coast was Apollo Bay. I found a great hostel with a cozy living room and fireplace and stayed 2 nights to enjoy the scenery and relaxed lifestyle of a beach town in the slow season. One day I walked along the beach and saw a nice dog just sitting on the sand looking out at a group of surfers. I sat beside him and he cuddled up beside me to let me pet him, but rarely took his eyes off the surfers. One of them came out and told me it was her dog and when she instructs him to stay, he simply sits on the beach until she returns. Here is my new friend Jessie, a very good dog but who couldn’t be bothered looking into the camera.
Jessie and me
Here is the nice beach in Apollo Bay.
Apollo Bay
Apollo Bay is also home to a great café. On the morning I left, I biked down the street looking for a cup of coffee and found a comfortable looking place. I was tired of eating my oatmeal so decided to try something new and asked for the pancakes, berries and maple syrup and it tasted just as good as it looked. I even thought about staying another night to get more the next day but pulled myself away to see more of the Great Ocean Road, not an easy decision at all.
Breakfast in Apollo Bay
The stretch of road between Apollo Bay and Lorne is spectacular because it follows closely to the Ocean. Here are more pictures along this stretch.
Great Ocean road near Princetown
Sweeping panorama
Ideal cycling
I stopped for a brief break at a small town called Kennett River and noticed a few buses of tourists all gathered around a few trees with their cameras in hand so I knew it must be a well known spot listed in the guide books. I joined the groups and saw some beautiful birds.
Colorful birds
The main reason people stop however is to see the Koala bears sleeping in the trees. I managed to find one. I tried to wake him up but you know how it is with young Koalas these days, they just stay up too late and sleep half the day away.
Sleeping Koala
I also saw a pair of look-alikes. They were perfectly still but definitely alive. I think they were having a contest to see who would blink first.
Here is a view of some of the fall colours and the ocean.
Fall colours
This is how you build a house to get a great ocean view over your neighbor’s home.
Quite a view
The Angel House Orphanage had their second adoption last week with the young boy K being adopted by a couple in Norway. That is the second one in short order and a time for celebration. For the children left behind without parents, life continues with a few new faces and the constant attention of the workers trying to fill the gap of parents. It is very important for these children that were abandoned and with a relatively large group of other kids around, to get some special attention, something that would make them feel special even for a short time. Think back to the time you were a child and how important it was to be singled out by your parents or to be recognized for something you did in school or other activities.
The thing I love about the Angel House is that they try their best to give the children a sense of stability and to create a home environment where the children can feel safe and secure. A perfect example is when they make the special effort to celebrate birthdays. It is a simple thing that we all experienced but it is easy to forget that for millions of kids around the world, they never get a birthday party.
When I volunteered at the Missionaries of Charity orphanage in Tacloban, Angelina was one of the children. She would be one that many of you helped later after the typhoon but at the time, she turned 13 and I decided that we would have a birthday cake. I bought a cake with her name on it and some candles that you can’t blow out, and all the workers and children gathered together to sing Happy Birthday. It was a simple gesture and at the time I never really gave it much thought but later Angelina told me that it was the first time she ever had a birthday cake. To this day she reminds me of that day because she said it made her feel special. It was one thing she didn’t have to share and for that day, she was the center of attention. It is easy to dismiss how important those small things are to children because we all had it but for the millions of street children around the world, it is something they will never experience.
I think that experience with Angelina made the following photo my favorite. I look at this picture every time I open Facebook. It is of Boy J celebrating his 3rd birthday at Angel House. I look at his face and you can see that he is reveling in the special attention given to him. I love it because I know how important it is for these kids to feel loved and to feel that they are part of a family. The Angel House is their family for now and the work that David and his staff are doing is changing each life for the better. Boy J was the center of attention at Angel House on this day, and it made him feel like a Kiing.
Birthday Boy J
If you are interested in supporting the work that David is doing with those children in the Philippines, please contact me.