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KS Cover no. 78 2006 November

NOV 2006 :: 078
 

One helluva of an FNQ ride

KS contributor Elisabeth Lambert and sister Gitte signed up for a fourday cycling adventure around one of the most scenic parts of Australia — if not the world — Tropical Far North Queensland (FNQ), and discovered a means of touring that offered a closer look at the country.

We traveled to Cairns from Melbourne by car. Three thousand three hundred kilometers in around 33 hours, holed up in a Toyota Land Cruiser with our folks in an effort to save costs on the transportation of our bikes and gear. Well, hindsight is an exact science — I now know it was just an excuse for my parents to join us on holiday and although we may have saved a bit of cash, we paid for it in other, unexpected ways. My parents might not have ridden bikes, but they were definitely on the tour. At every designated rest, lunch and/or sleeping area, they were there to ‘surprise’ us, having driven ahead hours earlier, beers in hand, and greeting us with a phrase that was not even remotely funny the first time around … ’What took you so long?’. That’s right, at every stop.

Day 1: Cairns to Port Douglas

Three hundred or so cyclists met at the Cairns Show Grounds to begin the journey. We began heading north out of the city and into arguably one of the most picturesque portions of road in Australia. This is where the lush, tropical rainforest of northern Australia literally meets the sparkling, aqua waters of the Coral Sea, as the two-lane Captain Cook Highway twists and winds its way to Port Douglas, hugging the coast for nearly 67 kilometres.

Although this was a route I had driven countless times in the past, I was surprised to discover new lookouts and beaches I had never noticed before, passing at the usual speed of 100 kilometres an hour. What should have been a three or four hour easy peddle to our Four-Mile Beach camping spot in Port Douglas turned into a full day of activity as my sister and I frequently ditched the bikes in favour of a swim.

For lunch and a leg stretch, we had a tour of Hartley’s Crocodile Farm, situated Three hundred or so cyclists met at the Cairns Show Grounds to begin the journey. We began heading north out of the city and into arguably one of the most picturesque portions of road in Australia. This is where the lush, tropical rainforest of northern Australia literally meets the sparkling, aqua waters of the Coral Sea, as the two-lane Captain Cook Highway twists and winds its way to Port Douglas, hugging the coast for nearly 67 kilometres. Although this was a route I had driven countless times in the past, I was surprised to discover new lookouts and beaches I had never noticed before, passing at the usual speed of 100 kilometres an hour. What should have been a three or four hour easy peddle to our Four-Mile Beach camping spot in Port Douglas turned into a full day of activity as my sister and I frequently ditched the bikes in favour of a swim. For lunch and a leg stretch, we had a tour of Hartley’s Crocodile Farm, situated

Day 2: Port Douglas to Karnak Playhouse

The flat, sugar-cane lined route the entire way, and a highly anticipated detour to Mossman Gorge (an 8km roundtrip off the highway), where we swam in crystal clear (ice cold) water of the Mossman River as it cascaded over large, granite boulders, meant leg two wasn’t too taxing at all.

After 35 kilometres, camp was set in the heart of the Whyanbeel Valley at Karnak Playhouse, an outdoor amphitheatre created by Australian actress Diane Cilento. Nestled in the tranquil hills of the rainforest, our group was also treated to a show. Though the band that played were definitely the organized entertainment, I am fairly sure the guy who got on stage before them and sat himself in the side-splits position balanced between 2 chairs for 15 minutes was Jean-Claude Van Damme – because that would have been the only plausible excuse for doing so.

Day 3: Mossman to Mareeba

My legs were at odds with the rest of me for a long time after completion of 96 kilometres on the third day. Indisputably the hardest day of the ride, we ascended into the Atherton Tablelands. This was basically the only ‘hill’ during the entire tour, and conquering it became my sole focus. Seriously, after two hours and too many ‘just one more corner’ shouts coming from cars that hooned past us in the opposite direction, it was difficult to feel anything but utter hatred towards my bike and its absolute powerlessness. The last straw was when my parents drove past, tooting the horn, mum with video camera in hand, Dad waving his stubby out the sunroof.

Once on top, the Tablelands were eerily devoid of … anything. Harshly and strangely flat, the roads were monotonously straight, and the landscape was jarringly dry, in contrast to what we had just ridden through the previous two days. It was like we had climbed to the top of the Magic Faraway Tree and into anotherworld.

After this, my memory is hazy, suppressed by fatigue. What energy I had left I suppose was being saved for the important stuff like breathing and keeping my heart going. I vaguely recall pulling into a shady truck stop for lunch and making a point of ignoring my well-rested parents. I honestly don’t remember the rest of the ride to Mareeba, our day’s destination, nor the campsite. I guess this is no surprise as I woke up the next day at the local Flag Motor Inn, half a kilometer down the road. Gitte reckons I didn’t even bother with the camping ground. Apparently I rode straight past, heading for the familiar blue and red flags in the distance — and she said she had no choice but to follow.

Day 4: Mareeba to Cairns

To say I awoke feeling refreshed and ready for the last leg would be a lie. Although the 65-kilometre ride ahead was an undemanding one, at our lunch spot, Kuranda, we had the option of catching the Kuranda Scenic Railway for our descent of the tablelands, back into Cairns, which we gladly took. A good thing too, as the road between Kuranda and Cairns turned out to be quite treacherous, being very narrow and full of blind corners.

The trip down on the train really was a sight to behold. Built in the late 1800s, the railway was an impressive engineering feat for its time, traveling through the dense rainforest of the Baron Gorge. The truth is, I slept the entire way down and Gitte and I had to come back a few days later to experience what we had missed!

Although finishing sore and tired, cycling through one of my favourite holiday destinations was definitely an all-time high and is some- thing I would love to do again. Though in retrospect, I’d leave the folks at home and use an electric bike.

Text & photos: Elisabeth Lambert

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Ways & means

Getting there

There are daily flights with Qantas from Kansai to Cairns, and journey time is approximately seven hours.

When to go

Situated well above the Tropics of Capricorn, Cairns and its surrounds are always hot, knowing only two seasons — wet and dry. The dry season is typically from May to October, with warm days, cool evenings and low humidity.

Visa

Please visit www. australia.or.jp/english/ seifu/visa/ for the latest information on tourist visa applications. It is a good idea to investigate your visa requirements well in advance.

Tourist information

Bicycle Queensland (www.bq.org.au) holds an annual 8-day ride around September or October, as well as other events throughout the year. Bicycle Holidays of Australia (www.bhoa. com.au) and Bicycle Victoria (www.bv.com.au) are also worth Investigating for tours around other parts of Oz.