(of WA only)
As soon as I got over the scare of nearly tipping over into the Torres Strait with Tommo and Paul I hopped back onto the ferry to Thursday Island. Or Waiben, as it is called in local language.
Last time I didn’t get the chance to actually explore the island much so I needed to get back for a closer inspection.
I wandered up to the fort on Green Hill,
It is originally build between 1891-1893 as part of Australia’s defence against a possible Russian invasion.
But that never happened.
So in WWII it has been used as a signals and wireless station and later, up till 1993 it was used as a weather station.
Now it’s a nice spot to take in the view over TI and the surrounding islands.
But the main reason I wanted to visit TI was a rumour I heard about a festival.
I couldn’t find any information about it, so I figured I better go and check it out.
With no campgrounds and all four hotels on the 3.5sq km island fully booked I decided to give couch surfing another try.
Brian replied I’m welcome to crash at his couch for a few nights.
Not only does he live smack bang in the middle of town, he also works in the Northern most hotel in Australia, the Torres Hotel.
Always good for a beer, and a laugh.
After 3 years on the Island, where his grandmother grew up, he knows a bit about local culture and custom.
And about the ‘Winds of Zenadth Cultural Festival’
This celebration of Torres Strait culture is held every other year.
The festival brings together people from the 18 inhabited (out of over 200) islands in the Torres Strait.
Out here dance is one of the major forms of creative expression.
songs in local language,
and the use of handheld instruments, headdresses and masks,
are unique to island dancing and Torres Strait culture.
The festival lasts for four days and dance teams from different communities and islands perform.
Each dance tells a story and the dances are passed down through the generations.
But there are also modern variants. Like the dance that mimicked a diesel engine on a fishing boat.
Then there was the parade.
At the given time Brian and I where waiting in an empty street.
About 1.5hours later a few more people started to show up.
And eventually the parade arrived as well.
Apparently 2 hours late isn’t too bad on island time.
I really love the colourful dress,
Everybody joined in…
And although I didn’t understand a lot of songs and speeches that were held in local language I felt privileged to be able to be here at this time.
“We have thrown the soil to the
four winds, sucked the fresh
clean water into our mouths
and blown it out, our offering to
the four directions. The conch
shell sounds and the drums
are beating. Our companies are
ready and strong. Our Elders
are in the front row. This is how
it should be. Strike the ground
hard all our people, in whichever
way you are gifted to do.”
— Kerry Arabena
I have made it to mainland Australia’s Northern most point.
94 years after Francis Birtles did.
A true legend, who cycled around Australia a few times before making it up the cape in 1918, quite a feat.
Especially since the first vehicle didn’t make it for another 20 years after that.
How things have changed…
The road still follows parts of the track Frank Jardine first developed in 1864 when, as a 19-year-old, he managed to get a mob of cattle & horses from Rockhampton up this far to settle at Somerset beach.
A gorgeous spot where the Jardine homestead stood for many years.
Apparently he wasn’t all to friendly with the locals, even though he married a Samoan Princess.
As a result, when he past away in 1919, he was buried standing up. Now he will never rest in peace. Or so the story goes.
Nowadays the well beaten track up to the tip is not so much hardship. It’s just long.
Very very long.
When I took a break at Punsand bay I was happy to run into my excellent-coffee-making-friends Alex & Mark again. Especially since I had cycled through Bamaga on a Sunday. When the supermarket was closed and I did not get the chance to stock up.
It’s funny how after being slightly worried all the way up the cape. I didn’t think twice about pitching my tent right on the beach at this camp ground, everybody does.
Next morning it was a little bit surprising to see some tracks coming up the beach. Right up to the tents.
But I’m still unsure what they are, could be a crocodile, could be a big turtle…
Big turtles, and Dugongs, are part of the diet of the people in the Torres Strait. It’s “Ailan Kastom” (Island Custom).
Even though they are an endangered species the people here are allowed to hunt and kill them for food and use in ceremonies.
I’ve met uncle Edmund when I first came through Seisia, one of the 5 communities at the Northern Peninsula Area.
His family came from the island of Saibai and had moved to mainland Australia after WWII. One evening he invited me over to his house to have dinner with his family.
Turtle was on the menu.
I tried a little bit.
Not my thing, but an interesting experience for sure.
After riding all the way up here it seemed like a waste of time to just turn right around and cycle the same way back.
There is much more to explore.
It just didn’t seem like a place you should get out of in a hurry.
I stayed a little while.
Just north of Bamaga I came across the wreck of a DC3 that crashed here in 1945.
It was only 1km from the runway when it hit the trees in bad visibility and crashed, killing all aboard.
Wandering around the area at the tip I was surprised to find out about the Pajinka resort. Pajinka is the traditional name for the Tip of Cape York.
It would have been a super flash resort. For $1526 you could stay 5 nights in one of the villa’s back in 1993 when it was up and running. There is the remains of a swimming pool, restaurant, a nursery and 14 villa’s.
It was owned and operated by the traditional landowners, the Injinoo People, another one of the 5 communities on the NPA.
It has been abandoned not even that long ago, in early 2000.
Apparently there has been a big fire in the power generator and the whole resort stopped operating overnight. Now the jungle has well and truly taken over.
Twice before in Australia have I come across the Variety Bash, a charity run to collect money for sick kids. They came to Top Springs years ago when I first arrived in Australia and last year in Eulo, the night the shop burned down.
This year they made it from Balmain to Bamaga, 4202km, with a big party organized at the end. I happened to be there.
They had the most spectacular fire works I’ve ever seen and a great concert featuring John Williamson and John Paul Young.
At the Loyalty Beach campground I met Paul.
He mentioned a friend of him that lives out on one of the Islands in the Torres Straight.
He was heading out there over the weekend. I figured that sounds like a great little trip so we hopped onto the ferry to Thursday Island from where his mate Tommo would collect us in his tinny.
No one around here seems particularly worried about the crocodiles. The kids happily play around the wharf in Seisia.
The odd thing is that they’re real scared of an innocent little frog. A superstition believe is that touching a frog is like touching a dead person.
Tommo lives on Prince of Wales Island, also known as Muralug.
With it’s 204.6 km2 the largest of the Torres Strait islands, but with about 20 inhabitants not very populated.
There is nothing on the island. Well. No shops or people or roads.
There are rocks and beaches and scrub.
And a good amount of wild pigs who are not afraid to come real close.
It takes 30 minutes in a tinny to get over there, a great little ride if the sea is not too rough.
Tommo’s place is amazing, right on the most beautiful beach I’ve ever seen.
We made a big fire,
had a few beers,
Watched the sunset,
and slept in a swag under the stars.
It was altogether utterly glorious.
You know when you’ve been in the far north too long when you put on a jumper at night because it’s getting a bit chilly and on your way passed the thermometer you realise it’s actually still 28°C…
And a little more during the day, I have to admit I do like winter in Queensland.
In order to catch the ferry back we needed to get going before sunrise.
The sea wasn’t as quiet as it had been on the way over. The stretch between POW and TI was particularly rough. I sat right in the front of the tinny and as I got a fair beating from the waves I glanced back and I might have actually yelped when I looked at both guys right underneath me.
A big wave nearly made us go straight over. The good news was we were only 50 meter from the hospital.
The bad news, there’s an extreme current and some big lizards floating around in those waters. When you’re off the boat you pretty well gone.
Lucky Tommo got us to the ferry with only narrowly missing a ship on the way in.
Well, that was enough boat rides for me,
for at least two weeks….
More about that next one later.
After this whirlwind week of flying around the world I came back to Yulara to find my gear & bicycle in the exact spot I left it a week earlier. Thanks to Pam at the Ayers Rock Campground.
I had already spent three days here, and must be one of few tourists to stay put in the grounds without visiting “The Rock”
But I met up with some great people hanging around the campside. Ofcourse I met up with the Korean cyclist Choi, who arrived two days after me despite taking the ‘easy’ road. He just smiled and said; “yes, I am a very, very lazy cyclist.” He confirmed this by telling us how he lived off bread & jam the first two months in Australia and moving on to biscuits for the next two months, after which he kept swapping between these two meals… and I thought I was bad with my pasta & tuna!
Then there was a young German/Taiwanese couple on bicycles, whom were heading north and carrying (if that’s possible) even more gear than I do! As it turned out, Patrick and I have been facebook-friends for over a year Nice to run into some of them every now and again…
A Brazilian guy, Marcelo, got off the same plane as me and I’d noticed the bicycle-box he carried. He was out for three days to cycle around Uluru.
And then there was Stuart. I’ve met Stuart 2 years ago along the Gibb-River-Road and he’d decided to surprise me by flying in and joining me down the Great Central Road back to WA.
So real early one morning we set off, since as supposed, we had to go and see the sunrise over the rock.
In 1873 a surveyor called William Gosse stumbled across this landmark and named it Ayers Rock in honour of the then Chief Secretary of South Australia, Sir Henry Ayer. But at least 10.000 years before that it’s been known as Uluru under the local Aboriginal people. Now it’s officially dual-named as Uluru/Ayers Rock. Just to keep things confusing.
We met Marcello out there too, so the three of us rode our bicycles around the rock. It was funny to see that at least three people told us we’re cheating. It is after all a walking trail…
Those same people have probably driven their big 4WD’s in, do the strenuous walk (9km flat) around, and get back in their air-conditioned cabins…
And we are cheating.
After admiring the Rock from all sides (except the top, people are asked not to climb since it’s a sacret place for locals) we unanimously came to the conclusion that yes, it is indeed a very big big rock. And red too.
As we bid Marcelo goodbye and headed towards the Olga’s (another lot of big rocks) we saw something unusual on the side of the road. At first we thought a sign, but it seemed to be moving.
When it got closer we saw it was a guy pushing a wheelbarrow along. The tea was just ready when he reached us so we had a chat and some chocolate together. Conrad is walking from Steep Point in Wa to Byron Bay in NSW for awareness of suicide in young men.
He gave us some information of the road ahead. Mainly that the road between here and the border was going to be “pus“. And we better not even bother going in Docker River, since it’s “a dump“.
As it turned out, he wasn’t far out on the road condition. One of the first days out of the National Park we struggled from before sunrise to after sunset only to get in a meagre 60km.
I quickly discovered that travelling with Stu isn’t the worst thing I could’ve done.
With his background of being a hunter for years and later a tour guide in combination with being an excellent chef, and me having a background as a hungry cyclist and being an excellent eater…
I can say I’ve hardly had a time in my history of bicycle-touring that I’ve eaten this well. (when I have to make my own food that is)
The Central Desert of Australia is nothing I thought it might be.
Its not a dry dead and barren land. The red centre is green. There have been good rains this year, so there are flowers and lots of plants, tree’s and animals.
A lot of which are edible…
a lot of which are extremely poisonous as well.
So you got to watch not to end up in a ‘into-the-wild’-situation.
One evening as we set up camp when I noticed the ground being wet. Looking up I realized it came from the Mulga-tree I parked underneath. All the branches were covered in a sticky substance made by little insects. This substance is very sweet and you can actually just eat it of the brances. “Bush lollies” they’re called.
Another great gift of the outback are the honey grevillea flowers.
Especially when we ran out of chocolate… A sweet nectar sits within the flower and you suck it out. Just watch the ants. Ants have a terrible taste and smell. I never did realize this before but the only ants that are edible out here are the honey-ants. But they’re not the easiest to find and you need to go digging so we left that one for next time…
I did manage to make a beautiful ‘damper’. Damper was originally developed by bushmen who travelled through remote areas weeks at the time, only taking basic rations. With just flour, water, salt and milk (powder) it’s an easy thing to make on the road.
On our map we’d seen a watertank at Lasseters cave.
Harald Bell Lasseter had claimed to find a gold-reef in central Australia in 1897. He’d spend years and years to raise funds and get an expedition to find it again. Finally he came to an unlucky end in 1931 as his camels bolted and he spent 25 days in this very cave before trying to walk with the assistance of a friendly Aboriginal family and 1.7 litres of water to the Olga’s where he hoped to find a relieve party.
He made it to Irving creek, 55km down the track before dying around the 28th of January 1931.
He wrote in his diary; What worth is a reef full of gold, I give it all for loaf of bread…
Lasseter’s reef has never been found.
And the watertank was empty too. Which was no good to us at all. Lucky we didn’t need to walk to our relief party.
We had our bikes, and our relief came quickly in the form of a couple with a caravan who filled up our bottles. Phew.
When we got to the Aboriginal community of Docker river we were suprised how well stocked the shop was. We were prepared for the worst as a few people by now have told us it wasn’t a nice place. At first sight it looks a little rough.
The petrol stations in this part of the country don’t stock petrol but “opal’; it works the same except it doesn’t get you high. Petrol-sniffing is a problem in communities where the unemployment and boredom is high.
The bowsers are locked up in cages. And to get into the shop you also go into a big cage with locks everywhere. On the side of the roads you see signs telling you that grog & dope are prohibited in the communities.
But the people seem all very friendly and helpful. Whenever a car passed us on the road it’s all smiles and waves and often they stop to ask where we are going. It’s much nicer than people speeding past spitting gravel in your face and taking photo’s from behind their windows…
As soon as we hit the WA border the road became better.
Not good. But better.
We called in at Giles weather station to check what the weather was going to do. Even though we’re in the desert and the temperatures are rather pleasant to high during the day, at night and in the mornings it can still be pretty fresh.
Giles weather station is the only staffed weather station within an area of about 2,500,000 square kilometres. Named after Ernest Giles, an English explorer and the first European to travel this area in 1872.
We had the pleasure to see a weather balloon go up. Done by a man in a funny suit. It’s anti-static. That’s necessary so the balloon doesn’t burst and becomes a ball of fire that burns at 5000 degrees celcius… -I paid attention-
On one of the doors you find this painting made by a local guy. It represents the way he sees the weather station.
On display here is surveyor and roadbuilder Len Beadell’s grader. It is estimated to have graded over 30.000km of roads in the late 40′s and 50′s.
Another good reason to cycle with Stu is to see how great my bicycle is
I didn’t get a flat, or a cracked rim…
My racks didn’t break either.
This all is very lucky since I’m not half as good as repairing stuff as he is…
But I can cycle! even against wind.
Because of the amount of rain wildlife is flourishing too.
Not only are the ants absolutely everywhere, now it’s getting warmer the flies are coming out to join us too… hurray.
But more of a worry are mosquitoes who can carry diseases.
Bigger animals are out in full force too. Like the camels.
Originally arriving with the Afghan cameleers in the late 1800′s. But with the advent of trucks and trains they became unnecessary. They now roam the deserts of Australia in their millions and programs are set up to shoot them to reduce the numbers.
They are an impressive sight when you come across them on the road.
Another animal roaming the inlands of Australia, and I mentioned them before, are dingo’s. A direct descendant of wolves in Indonesia.
When they’re around you want to watch your gear because theyr’e very sneaky.
As we noticed one morning when Stuart’s bags had been savaged and we lost some food and approximately 10 litres of water from one of the waterbags that had been chewed through.
Still, in the morning they weren’t shy to come into our camp and have a good look around for anything edible.
But we now make sure we store it well out of their way.
And so we are slowy covering the km’s along this Great Central Road.
To be continued…