This is a post about my 4000km solo bicycle ride from Melbourne to Cairns, Australia. The aim of the ride was to raise awareness about the Asian elephant and it’s place within tourism. How to make informed decisions about elephant rides, elephant paintings, circuses, zoos and street begging and what these things mean for both the elephants and the owners/mahouts.
It began in Federation Square in Melbourne on July 18th, 2012. Chantelle and I were lucky enough to secure a marquee in the square for 3 days before I set out on the ride. It was a fantastic opportunity to raise awareness as it is an award winning tourist destination in Melbourne, we arrived on a cool and windy Wednesday morning and were immediately drawn to the famous Big Screen which was playing our 4 minute movie and would continue to play for the remainder of the week. I must say it was amazing to see our photographs and video of Elephant Nature Parks elephants up on one of Australia’s most famous TVs! Our friend Dylan Hammond let us use one of his music tracks as well…
Over two days we spoke to hundreds of interested people and raised over $600, the sun was shining and many close friends stopped by to say hello. It was a great relaxing lead up to the ride; eating good vegan food, chatting about elephants and lazing in the sun. If only all awareness campaigns were like this. Ha!
After two days in Fed Square we had Friday to visit Melbourne Zoo to see how the 7 elephants live and are treated there. As we walked towards the elephant enclosure on a blustery afternoon, I couldn’t help but notice many placards of elephant riding, bullhooks and elephant paintings. It is a beautiful zoo, almost like a paradise hidden away from the city centre, however… It’s just way to small for 7 elephants. the elephant enclosures themselves are dirt with lots of water features, and it’s not much of a natural setting. The mahouts control the elephants with bullhooks which wasn’t too surprising yet still hard to take your eye off (I would continue to question the bullhook issue over the journey and come to some conclusions later on, more on that later). The indoor enclosure was well set up and hopefully the elephants get to spend enough time in there to keep warm on these windy winter days where the temperature can be icy, the constant buzz of traffic and the rattle of the local tram could easily be felt inside the zoo. It really is not the best place to house these animals, surely they would live much richer lives out at Western Plains Zoo (Which Melbourne Zoo owns), but would tourists travel halfway to Geelong and pay $30 per person to visit them? Who knows, hopefully one day we will find out.
Ride Bikes, Not Elephants officially began at 11:30am on Saturday the 21st of July, 2012. I was surrounded by friends who had all come down to Fed Square to wish me good luck. Dad had kindly offered to ride the first couple of days with me which was really nice. We made good time through the city and it was actually really enjoyable. Riding through the old streets of Melbourne, smelling all the great food and coffee wafting onto the street it wasn’t long before we stopped for coffee 😉
We rode out on the Craigieburn bike path which guided us safely out of the city and then onto the glass strewn chaos of The Hume Highway. My original plan was to try and stay off the highway as much as possible, but after stuffing around for an hour trying to find roads that don’t even exist, we settled on the super busy and often scary Hume Highway. We rode out to the small town of Kilmore on that first day, some 85km. Chantelle and Mum met us at Kilmore caravan park and had booked a cabin and cooked up dinner for the first night which was really nice. I’m hauling a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, cooking stove with pots and about 5kg of food. Staying in a cabin and sleeping in a real bed was going to be a rare luxury.
Day two began with wet roads and another early morning coffee stop, where I met an elderly couple who are avid cyclists, they were really interested and promised to follow my progress online (they donated $50 after I had finished the ride). We criss-crossed the highway and rode on some beautiful roads with green fields and had our first foray onto dirt roads. Good friends Joan and Bernie overtook us on the highway and stopped for a chat on the side of Australia’s busiest road. Ha! We cruised into Seymour just before lunch and had a relaxed afternoon down by the river.
Day 3 was my first day riding solo as Mum and Dad headed off in the car. It was to be the start of a long and flat ride through to Euroa. It was a nice day of riding with no wind and only 6km of Highway riding. I don’t really mind the highway too much, it’s just the constant noise of traffic that really takes away from being out on the road on an adventure. The back roads are much more peaceful, I can hear nature; birds, frogs, the fluent sway of the wind and the rhythmic hum of my tyres on the road. The country air fills my lungs instead of petroleum too. Haha
Day 4 was the first annoying day of the ride, Euroa to Glenrowan with a headwind all day long. I could barely get up to 20km/h. The wind was to be a constant love affair throughout the ride, some days it was an angel on your shoulder giving you wings, yet other days would have you slogging through wet concrete. I caught up with my Uncle and Auntie at Benalla for a quick coffee before the final slog to Glenrowan, the famous town of Ned Kelly the bush ranger.
Total distance so far 252.3km
Ride Time: 12 hours
I’d planned to ride to Wodonga today but at the intersection just North of Glenrowan I decided to ring up some contacts to see if I could locate Saigon the elephant. After about 30 minutes of calls I had an address to a property which could possibly be right. Ha! I took a gamble and decided to ride to the property to see if they were right. I was intrigued but at the same time I didn’t want to disturb the owner of the elephant, my contact told me that it may be possible to see Saigon from the side of the road. With that in mind I set off on a long day ride to visit Australia’s last circus elephant.
The ride out to the property was good as I had a pretty handy tailwind helping me out. The property out of the way from any main cities or tourist areas which I think is a good thing. It is difficult to find and therefore beneficial for the owners who probably receive very few visitors who want to see the elephant. As I neared the property I slowed to walking pace an scanned the fields for the unmistakable shape of an elephant, and there she was, standing in the middle of a vast paddock eating dry grass about 100 metres off the road. I dismounted the bike and walked over to the fence, I then noticed there was a dirt road that accesses a few farm properties that would take me alot closer, so I rode up the road about 100 metres and was only 15 metres away from a beautiful and seemingly content Asian elephant.
The History Of Saigon, Australia’s Last Circus Elephant.
Unfortunately I couldn’t really find out too much about Saigon’s history before 2010 when she was a national media focus. She has been owned by Perry Bros circus for over 50 years, so has known no other life yet has had many elephant friends over the years including Burma, Sheba, Ginnie and most recently Mynyak who passed away in December 2009. In early 2010 Saigon (55 Years old) was still being taken around the countryside where she was used to promote Perry Bros Circus. She did not perform but was left chained up while the circus run its course. An elephant standing in a small field outside of Melbourne drew a lot of attention, the media discovered Saigon and the story quickly became an national story. A Current Affair ran a feature story on Saigon and a petition through Animals Australia drew thousands of signatures. Eventually after many negotiations Perry Bros Circus retired her properly to their 80 hectare property outside of Wangaratta.
I am 100% behind not using elephants in circuses and it is a shame that Saigon has known no other life. After coming face to face with her 2 years after she was a national media focus, I can safely say that she seemed well cared for and also quite content. The only real issue I have with the situation is that she has no other elephant friends. Many people believe that humans and elephants can and do have special relationships (believe me, I have seen this first hand) but nothing compares to being around your own kind to interact, take this quote from one of the worlds foremost elephant experts; Carol Buckley.
“I can assure you that elephants desire companionship and freedom just as much as you and I do. For elephants, family is everything. Births are joyous celebrations; deaths are mourned. Adults share news and provide support while youngsters play together under watchful eyes. Female elephants stay at their mothers’ side their entire lives.”
After my visit with Saigon, I was even more inspired to help these beautiful creatures live a life of peace and freedom. I climbed back on the bike and rode back to Wangaratta. At days end I was only 10km up the road from my starting point but had ridden over 80km. Ha!!! It was well worth it though. With only 30000-50000 Asian elephants living around the world, one third of these elephants are in a captive situation, some are well cared for but most are not. We would love to see all of these 10000+ elephants treated with the respect that they truly deserve.
The riding over the next week would be fairly flat but very cold.
On day 6 I rode from Wangaratta to Albury after a damp night in the tent and a slow pack up in the drizzly morning, I stuck to the Hume Highway and therefore was also stuck with the loud trucks and constant traffic. I bumped into some good friends Daniel, Neil and Gerry Van Der Ploeg in Albury, these guys are cycling superstars in my eyes and it was really nice to bump into them and show them my bike and its 50-60kg of weight!
Day 7 from Albury to Henty was a really nice 73km. It felt slghtly downhill the whole day so i made really good time. I set up my tent in the freezing frosty local football ground. The temperature dropped down to -4…
Day 8 from Henty to Wagga Wagga was another beautiful blue sky day. I stayed with some new friends in Jacob and Adele who are studying photography at CSU Wagga Wagga (the same degree I studied 8 years ago). It was really great to stay with them and chat about elephants, photography and university days. I absolutely loved their place, so much creativity and enthusiasm, aaaaahh the good old days…
Day 9 was the longest day in the saddle so far from Wagga Wagga to Cootamundra. A total of 95.84km with over 650m of vertical elevation gain. I began the ride by heading in the wrong direction hence the total of 95km instead of 93km. Ha! I’m sure it’ll happen again… Today, however was easily the most scenic day so far, beautiful rolling hills, green fields and blue skies again. In between the really challenging hills there were some great descents. One descent lasted 15km!!! I also clocked a new fastest speed at 55km/h, I know it doesn’t sound that fast, but when your on tyres as wide as your thumb with over 125kg of weight it can get a little sketchy at that speed! So far I have ridden a total of 638.6km… Only 3360km to go!
Day 10 on the bike took me from Cootumundra to Young. It was a relatively short day of 49km with about 440m of climbing (it’s finally getting a little mountainous). I had the best rest stop on the top of the first climb of the day, there was a vibrant pink caravan at a rest stop which sold coffee, it was fantastic, I really felt like I was in the Alps with crazy caravan people. Ha! The rest of the day was pretty uneventful, nice terrain, good roads and thousands of Cherry trees before rolling into the town of Young for the night.
Day 11 in the saddle was supposed to be an easy one, looking at the profile it looked completely downhill for the whole day. Unfortunately it was more flat, no climbs but no real big descents assured I had to pedal constantly all day, maybe I didn’t sleep well or eat enough but today seemed like I had a flat tyre. Anyway, 75km later I rolled into Cowra around 2:30pm and managed to have a nice relaxing night watching the Olympics.
Brrrr, It’s cold up around here, It’s constantly been dropping to around -4degrees every night which doesn’t inspire me to get up early, but the show must go on… Today was my first really challenging day in the hills, with 999m of climbing today over 68km the road never seemed to be easy (well except for the odd steep downhill section where I clocked a max speed of 56km/h). The average speed today was well down at 16.4km/h. The highlights of today where visiting Kurt Fearnley Park in Carcoar. Kurt, who was born in Carcoar is one of the most inspirational people to me. Born without the lower half of his spine, Kurt has always been determined and has become one of the most successful wheelchair athletes on the planet. He has won nine olympic medals, 3 gold. Is a six time world champion and is the 2009 Young Australian Of The Year. He has also crawled the Kokoda trail! So whenever I think the ride might be getting difficult I look towards people like Kurt for inspiration, some of the hills around here are the very hills Kurt trained on to win Olympic gold medals!!! The other highlight of the day was finishing at Gary and Chantelle’s Mums (Chrissy) house above Blayney, it was fantastic to be in a house again with warm conversation, a home cooked meal and with Chantelle arriving from Mount Beauty that night, it was a fantastic way to end the day.
Taronga Western Plains Zoo
We spent most of our day visiting the elephants and also reading the information panels displayed around the zoo, interestingly they had the crate which transported Burma from Sydney to Dubbo on display, you could actually walk inside it and see just how big the elephants are. They had some information up inside the crate about the elephants and Taronga Zoos elephant programs, which seem more positive than having elephant paintings and pictures of elephant trekking on display like they do at Melbourne Zoo. So, overall the elephants at Western Plains Zoo really do seem to have a nice place to retire, some things could be better but realistically it’s a nice place for the elephants.
The Blue Mountains. Once considered impossible to pass, is now a major adventurer, tourist and hippy mecca. Most of Australia’s top rock climbers live up in these mountains and its not hard to see why. They are steep! Bathurst to Lithgow on day 14 consisted of 60km with 1051m of climbing! I also crossed the highest pass of the trip today at 1178m. I can tell you that I felt like I was climbing all day long although I was only on the road for about 4 hours I averaged 16.8km/hr. Olympic marathon runners would have overtaken me today!!! I wandered into town and stocked up on much needed sustenance and supplies and also treated myself to a Vegetarian Korma curry from the local Indian restaurant. Wooo..
Day 15 was always going to be epic. The climb of Mount Victoria is about 5km long with an average gradient of around 7%. That’s Tour de France style climbing right there!!! I was in granny gear the whole climb and it took me around 45 minutes to get to the top. I can safely say that is one of the more challenging climbs I’ve done… Apart from that, today was fantastic. Ha! As I pulled into a park in Blackheath I was approached by two lovely people who were so interested in what I was doing they invited me back to their house for lunch! Rob and Judy were probably the best lunch hosts ever, Judy squeezed some fresh orange juice and made a delicious sandwich for me while Rob rang around 5 different media contacts around the area, from this we were able to shoot an interview in Blackheath about the elephants and organise an interview in Katoomba for The Blue Mountains Gazette later that day. I can’t thank them enough for their kindness and generosity towards a complete stranger, I will not forget them any time soon that’s for sure… So after about one and half hours I continued on to Katoomba, had a quick interview and photo for the gazette and rolled down to the famous 3 Sisters lookout for an amazing sunset in the blue mountains.
The 50km of descent from Katoomba to Sydney was by far the best riding of the trip so far, I had a whole bike lane to myself, the road was smooth and the weather was balmy. The only real tricky part was 5km of roadworks which forced me onto the actual road. After cruising into Sydney I averaged over 28km/hr after riding 100.88km! Today was also a great day as I crossed over the 1000km mark of the ride. Only 3000km to go!
I had arranged to meet friends Dave, Sarah and their 10 month old daughter Harper. I arrived at their house around 2pm and spent a couple of hours eating Daves risotto, playing with Harper and relaxing on their sleep inducing sofa. It was so good to catch up and it was even better as Dave rode the last 15km into Homebush with me, we did a short tour of the Olympic venue and rode on Dave’s awesome bike paths before parting at around 5pm.
From one group of friends to another, I arrived in Homebush at around 5:30pm at my friends Ryan and Stephs house, I stayed with them for 3 nights and I had such a good time with them it was a struggle to leave on Sunday morning. One of the main reasons I stayed in Sydney so long was to visit the famous Taronga Zoo. I was really hopeful that they would have a similar program with their elephants as their sister zoo at Dubbo Taronga.
Sadly, the approach to elephant treatment and awareness is completely different. Sydney prides itself on their breeding programs and the efforts they are providing for wild elephants. The most upsetting part of the zoo was the disregard for elephant care in captive situations, advertising elephant trekking/shows and the promotion of elephant painting. All of these features were not present at Dubbo Zoo.
After walking around the entire zoo I went back to the elephants at 1pm for an Asian elephant talk. Many tourists also joined me for this elephant talk. As the elephants were led out into their pen a young lady was speaking about how the elephants are taught special manoeuvres to help with their flexibility and reflexes. As the talk progressed the elephants under the command of their hook-weilding mahouts began performing all sorts of tricks, the lady on the microphone insisted that the tricks weren’t for the benefit of tourists but you could applaud if wanted to.
All I can say is that it was as close to an animal circus as I’ve ever seen.
The elephants were commanded to perform many tricks that would really have no benefit to them, some of the tricks were even detrimental to their health. You wouldn’t see an elephant performing these sorts of tricks in the wild so why force them to perform them here!
The show went for around 20 minutes. While the crowd clapped, I was having trouble understanding why they were performing these tricks. Some people may think that these tricks cause no real harm to these particular elephants, and I’m sure they are treated kindly by their mahouts. The main reason I found it strange was they were promoting these activities as well as elephant trekking, soccer and elephant painting. These activities may be harmless in Australia but they certainly are not harmless in other countries.
Domestic elephants overseas are separated from their families, tortured, forced to breed and controlled with pain. The next time a visitor of Sydney zoo travels overseas they will think “The elephants at Sydney paint pictures and play soccer and the zoo advertises elephant trekking so it must be ok to do it here too.” This will most likely not be the case. So next time you do travel abroad choose your elephant experience wisely. I can tell you it’s a much more rewarding experience to give an elephant a friendly mud bath than to ride on its back.
I wandered around the zoo for a few more hours before being drawn back to the elephant enclosure. There were no mahouts in sight and the elephants were having a great time playing together, squeaking and swimming in the pool. I found it a lot more rewarding watching these natural elephant interactions.
The 8th elephant at Sydney zoo is the male Gung, he has an enclosure to himself but it’s said he sometimes gets a visit from a couple of the lady elephants. You couldn’t really get close to or see Gung which wasn’t really a bad thing.
I spent the night in a local youth hostel which was nowhere near as relaxing as I would have liked before setting off early Monday morning. The ferry was still pretty rough and took nearly an hour out of my day, but this route looks much more bicycle friendly than the highway. I made it 80km up the central coast and the scenery is just getting better and better, after spending 3 weeks wondering if its going to be too cold to camp I’m now lavishing the beautiful warm weather. I’ve now ridden a total of 1211km in 18 days. Making good progress but I still had along way to go.
The next stop was Newcastle, right on the coast with perfect blue skies and warm temperatures it was tempting to stop for a few days. I rolled in around lunch time on Tuesday the 14th of August and immediately tee’d up a photo shoot and interview with the Newcastle Herald. They were 2 young guys who came down to the esplanade to meet up and chat, I was pretty happy with how it all went and was confident the article would be pretty good. Alas they pretty much took what I said and threw it in the bin, they were alot happier trying to make me look like kids entertainment by making Stompy the focus. It was a toy elephant who was the highlight of both the photo and the first paragraph of the article. Well it may be funny to them, but the torture of Asia’s elephants is not funny at all. As you can imagine I was a little annoyed that they wern’t brave enough to actually report the truth of elephant tourism…
The highlight of my day in Newcastle was catching up with my himalayan trekking buddy Wade. We haven’t seen each other since 2008 so it was fantastic to catch up, share memories and see how our lives had changed since hiking in Nepal together. After a coffee by the water I jumped back on the bike and Wade drove back to work, I rode another 25km out to a small town called Heatherbrae. It was pretty funny as the caravan park that advertised camping didn’t have camp sites and the Van park that only advertised Caravan sites had heaps of camp sites. After sorting all this out I settled in for the night and treated myself to toasted cheese and tomato sandwiches and hot chocolates at the Maccas across the road. Nice… The next 3 days were pretty cruisy but long days of riding away from the coast mainly on side of the highway to the seaside town of Port Macquarie. I rode 250km in three days, mainly with a headwind. I also got my first flat tyre of the ride thanks to a massive sharp piece of steel. Pretty good after 1600km and 22 days to only have one mechanical.
I pushed myself a little bit to try and get into Port before the weekend so I could possibly organise some media. All my efforts were for nothing though as the paper only has one reporter who was super busy. Oh well, at least I made some good time. I decided to have a day off in Port Macquarie which was really nice to just relax, walk by the beach and cafe hop. I also did some laundry (first time since Day 12 nearly 2 weeks ago!) and had my bike serviced for free by the friendly guys at TRS Cycles!
So I was really refreshed after a relaxing day and made great progress on Day 23 riding 107km, I kept telling myself to try and ride a bit more efficiently, which made the day much more relaxing, the scenery is also gradually changing to rolling hills. Best of all, the caravan park gave me free camping for the night at Nambucca River Tourist Park. Woo!
Due to my 107km ride the previous day I only had about 60km to ride into Coffs Harbour. I stopped once at Uranga where the ladies at the information centre gave $15 for the elephants and as I was riding into town I bumped into a local cyclist called Bob who rode with me for about 15km, I continued through town to get some pictures of the Big Banana before heading to good friend Jo’s house for the next 2 nights. I met Jo with Chantelle at Elephant Nature Park in 2010, so it was great to catch up with her for a day, not surprisingly we spoke about elephants! Jo had also arranged for the local newspaper The Coffs Advocate to meet up and do an interview/photo shoot. This ended up being a really great article (even though the elephant pic they chose is an African Elephant, Ha!!) and I was really happy. My rest day in Coffs Harbour also involved walking with Jo up to Muttonbird Island, shopping for new shorts and sending 4kg of winter clothing home. Jo and I went out for Thai and I witnessed Jo trying not to adopt a stray cat, we called him Kerry Packer. Ha! I wonder how he is loving his new home…..
I was back on the road the next day headed towards Grafton. There was literally 30km of roadworks that I had to ride through, the traffic wasn’t bad but the noise and dust was crazy, I counted over 100 bulldozers!!! After the roadworks I stopped at a beach near Woolgoolga for lunch and I immediately forgot about the roadworks.
One of the highlights of such an adventure is the amazing scenery I pass through along the way. I also get to meet some interesting folk too. I rode past the first touring cyclist for the trip today, his name was Michael and he had ridden from Brisbane to Port Macqaurie and was on his way back to Brisbane. I also met an Irish couple who had been in Australia for 10 months and were driving the same route as me from Melbourne to Cairns. A family in Taree had sold up their business in Sydney and are now travelling around Australia, I have been offered cups of tea on the side of the highway and been tempted with lifts into towns 30km down the road. Travelling solo is often quite lonely but everywhere I go I am met with kindness and well-wishers.
Day 26 was a short day and was the first time I rode for a whole day without using the main highway, I crisscrossed a huge river on my way to a small riverside town of Maclean. Maclean used to be a famous Scottish settlement and was quite a nice place to stop, I had only ridden 49km but decided to take it easy and stay. It was lucky that I did stop. When I was setting up the tent I noticed both of my tyres had huge cuts in them, I called up my friend Dean who gave me some advice and I set to work repairing them. First I took both the tyres off to see if the cut had penetrated deep enough to damage the tube (the back one had), then I patched up the inside of the tyre and put a $5 note in each tyre to prevent anything from getting through. I also bought some superglue to try and fill the cuts. It was a success on the front tyre which lasted the whole trip. The back tyre needed to be replaced so I purchased a new Maxxis tyre in Ballina the next day, I also bought a spare tyre incase I come across this situation again. I’m still puzzled as to what would cause this damage…
Day 32: From Springwood in the south of Brisbane I found a bicycle path that ran alongside the Motorway (which is illegal for me to ride on), it was nice not to have to deal with traffic however it was slow going as I had to cross roads at pedestrian crossings and deal with the ever present bump, bump, bump, bump of the concrete joins in the path. After 25km I had arrived on the river overlooking the city, it was a nice place to stop for a banana and there were these cute lizards who were very curious, I then crossed over a new foot bridge to enter the city centre. I rode alongside the river for a short while before I had to finally ride on the roads. Well, from there until the Northern suburbs was the real slow part of the day, there seemed to be no easy way out of the city in a North/Easterly direction which allowed bikes on it. I criss crossed many roads before finally after 4 hours I was out!!! I then cruised into Deception Bay and was happy to be back on the wheels…
On day 33 I had my first stint on The Bruce Highway which I’m sure will feature heavily over the next 1900km, it wasn’t a promising start as there was glass absolutely everywhere! I found an alternate route from Caboolture to Landsborough which was much quieter, safer and glass free, well except for the Glass House Mountains. Haha.
Australia Park Zoo is about 80km North of Brisbane, so it’s well away from the busy city and has a sub tropical feel to it. I was a little bit worried visiting the zoo as Melbourne and Sydney zoo’s were really upsetting in terms of how the elephants are kept and the message they are giving to the tourists who visit. I was also hopeful that it would be different as the late Steve Irwin’s goal in life was to protect and save wildlife.
I arrived early to avoid the crowds and pretty much immediately went to the elephant enclosure, they have a specific elephant gift shop called Elephantasia alongside which I visited first. I was immediately impressed as there is no elephant tourism pictures or information, they do however have a whole wall dedicated to elephant conservation efforts as well as Australian customs confiscated ivory items on display with the clear message to avoid purchasing any ivory or animal products while travelling abroad. After taking some pics of the display I wandered down to the the 3 elephants to check out their enclosure. Grass, sprinklers, a pool and heaps of food growing around the boundary, I was also later told that the elephants have 70 acres of land which they get to use often. The elephants themselves Siam, Sabu and Bimbo are all in their 50s and still owned by the Bullen family, they were apart of the Bullen Circus for many years but since 2003 they have been at Australia Park Zoo in retirement.
Relief was the main emotion I felt at that stage, finally a zoo in Australia that does not promote elephant rides, use elephants to perform tricks or have any form of elephant tourism on display. I was so relieved. Steve Irwin’s dream is still very much alive…
Throughout the day there were 2 ‘Feed The Elephant’ experiences and one elephant talk, the elephant feed times were very organised and there were literally hundreds of people lining up to feed the 3 elephants. During the elephant talk at 1pm the mahouts demonstrated with one elephant how they check and clean the elephants feet as well as showing the tourists where the girls tushes are. They only thing they made the elephant do was drag a small 60kg log across the concrete, while the elephant was doing this the guide spoke about how they are striving to end elephant logging in South East Asia stating that this activity causes harm and stress to elephants. The demonstration went for about 20 minutes and while the mahouts do carry hooks they are an altered version with no sharp points, I only saw the mahout use the hook once wrapping it around the elephants trunk to turn her around, it was explained to me that the only time they use their hooks is to be able to keep their distance from the animal while they command it. Personally I’d like to see an end to the hook but realistically I’m not the person asking an elephant to do things it may not want to do. Safety for both elephant, mahout and tourist is paramount and I’m sure that the tourists who attended the 1pm talk will have learnt a great deal about elephants and what we can do to help them.
I did have the opportunity to speak to 2 of the mahouts who work with these elephants which was great, I asked them many questions and was happy how they responded. I also spoke to them about my ride and our fund raiser for Elephant Nature Park, they were genuinely really excited which was also really nice. All in all the elephants who live here at Australia Park Zoo have a good life, they have a lot of space, they aren’t taught any tricks and their mahouts are kind. I only wish that all of the elephants in Australia could be so lucky. During the rest of my day at the zoo I visited pretty much all of the animals before walking back to Landsborough to digest the day.
After my visit to the Australia zoo I was immediately faced with the steepest climbs of the entire trip. Up to Maleny (amazing view of the Glass House mountains), Montville (Most expensive coffee at $6.80! I thought she charged me for two), Nambour to Coolum Beach and Peregian where I stayed with good friends Simon and Tahnee. Simon is a fantastic Chef and I was spoiled to enjoy his cooking again, it was great to catch up and chat about Thailand.
From Simon and Tahnee’s place I had the option of riding 20km on windy dirt roads, 3km on dirt then another 20km of backtracking or illegally on the Motorway, I chose the 3km of dirt which meant I had to ride an extra 20km for the day. Bugger… So I pumped up my tyres in Noosa before getting some well deserved organic/fair trade chocolate from a new shop called Embellish Organics, was a really nice little cafe serving organic food and selling local products, perfect really. Then I was back on The Bruce Highway and seriously I don’t see how they can call it a highway. It’s single lane driving with barely any shoulder for me to ride on and is the main truck route north! I had a few scary moments before Gympie, I was actually quite afraid looking back on it now. If you plan to ride this route, I just wouldn’t. Day 36 of the ride took me 80km from Gympie to Maryborough, I rode a back road to try and stay off the Bruce Highway but it ended up taking much to long to make any progress, so I got back onto the main route and had the worst afternoon of the trip so far. 30km headwind with no shoulder for long stretches and speeding trucks (also another stretch to completely avoid). So after a crazy afternoon I rolled into Maryborough and planned to go down to Hervey Bay for a couple of nights to recharge and organise the final leg of the trip. From Maryborough to Cairns is about 1500km and there are only 6 big towns! So I had to plan where I’d be able to sleep and how to avoid the Bruce Highway.
Some interesting statistics so far:
Elephants seen: 23 (out of the 26 in Australia)
Magpie swoops: 11
Nights in the tent: 18
Ferries taken: 2
Kilometres Ridden: 2465km
Hours pedalling: 124hrs
Days riding: 37
Rest days: 11
Movies watched: 3
While I was having a rest day in Hervey Bay, I decided to try one of the many whale watching tours for the day and all I can say is that it was sensational. I joined a half day cruise and we saw about 12 whales in 4 hours, 2 of them even came up to our boat to say hello which was really beautiful to see. I read the other day that “The more acute the experience, the less articulate the expression,” all I could conjure up was one word; “wow.” We were also lucky to see 3 male Humpbacks fighting over a female, they chased after her for over an hour, thrashing and bashing each other, it was crazy!
After this amazing experience which I highly recommend to everyone I had a relaxing afternoon in my cabin which Mum and Dad kindly paid for me to stay in. I even had a sleep in the next day as I can’t really see the next time I’ll be lucky enough to sleep in a bed. So I was back on the road on September 8 and finally had the magical South Westerly wind that I had been dreaming of every night for the last 37 days. Funnily enough I was travelling West that day, another damn headwind! I think the Bruce Highway is generally getting better the further I travel north, the shoulder is almost always there now, I did travel through about 15km of roadworks though! Day 39 was a shorter day through Sugar Cane and Macadamia fields on the road to Bundaberg, I rode through town and stopped at the little town of Oakwood. The owners of the Oakwood caravan park were among the friendliest people I’ve met so far; they gave me free camping, a bag full of fruit and a box of cereal. They also waved me off the next morning shouting “good luck” and “stay safe” as I rode off into the sunrise. Fantastic!
Day 40 shaped up to be the longest day so far from Oakwood to Miriam vale. It was a total of 115km and very desolate riding, no towns and only one roadhouse. I stopped a few times trying to find some shade as the temperature crept up over 30 degrees, the roadhouse at the turn-off to Agnes Waters was an oasis with coke and chocolate! Re-energized the last 40km was a breeze. I stopped in at the Miriam Vale Info centre and had a really good chat about the world with the owner, he told me stories about all of the industry in Gladstone that made my skin crawl, seeing that I was headed that way, I hoped to gain some more insight.
I’d actually read a bit about Gladstone over the last year, with their Coal Seam Gas/Fracking ideas and multiple industrial zones, but the town itself was just like any other. In fact, I met up with Rebecca (reporter) and Tom (photographer) who sat down in the grass with me and had a chat for an hour about the ride. Rebecca published the best article of the trip so far. I was also lucky enough to have the afternoon off to go to the cinema, I watched Sapphires which is one of the best films I’ve seen in a long time. After all this I was starting to think the Gladstone wasn’t so bad after all.
That was until I rode out of town the next day through the mega industrial zone, I counted 6 massive sites all revolving around mining, gas, coal and explosives. For me the most frightening part was the trucks. I rode 10km and counted 150 trucks, that’s one truck for every 67 metres!!! I was worn out after that first 10km but still had to ride another 100km to Rockhampton. Had some fantastic stretches of road today as the traffic control at the many roadworks meant I had no traffic for long periods and I loved being able to safely ride on the road and not on the shoulder.
The information centre at Rockhampton recommended I visit the local rodeo, this was after I told them about my trying to raise awareness about animal cruelty. Anyway… Rockhampton actually became one of my least favourite stops for two more reasons; The local paper were not interested in writing an article because I am fundraising for an overseas charity and the local bike shop who serviced my bike left me with only 6 workable gears out of my 27! I was very happy to pedal out on September 14th. I did however, cross over the Tropic Of Capricorn and enter Australia’s tropic zone.
Days 43, 44 and 45(September 14-16) were the most remote days of the ride. I stayed out the back of roadhouses and in very old caravan parks with no other guests. It was fantastic! I’ve been reading Alastair Humphreys book called Moods of Future Joys: Around The World By Bike and I’ve adopted one of his mantras which is “Miles Not Smiles”. These past 3 days I rode 320km. I encountered a 8km detour as an accident occurred on the Bruce Highway, 4 supersize trucks hauling loads that took up both lanes, these trucks needed a police escort to guide traffic out of the way, I rode through about 40km of roadworks and was stopped for a total of 25min because of said roadworks. I was rained on for about 15 minutes, 5 minutes of this being at the really annoying time when my gear and tent were half packed up! I was given free coffee at Outback Gems on the Bruce Highway and performed minor surgery on my big toe (well, I basically dug my big toe nail up as it was growing down into my toe). It was also during these days that I cracked the 3000km mark of the ride! There were no real towns, just roadhouses and 2 caravan parks. I only realised how fantastic it was being out there when I rode into the next big town, all I wanted to do was get back on the bike and ride. The bright lights, thousands of people and supermarkets with long shopping aisles really inspire me to get out there and find the remote roads of the world, to meet people out in the middle of these places and basically to just keep riding!
But, first things first. The aim of Ride Bikes, Not Elephants is to visit the populated east coast of Australia and raise awareness for the elephants. So, I organised an interview with the Mackay Daily Mercury and an interview with the Townsville Sun. Yes! 3200km down, only 800km to go!!!
Day 47 began in Mackay with an interview with the local newspaper, the appointment was for 9am and I was done and on the road by 9:16am. I figured there were 2 outcomes for such a quick interview, 1 being that they may do a little more research and write a good piece, 2 being that they would write a short piece and hide it in the classifieds somewhere. Ha! Thankfully the reporter did do a little more research and wrote a pretty good article. With that done, I rode pretty much non-stop to the small town of Calen some 60km north. I had a nap on the nice grass at the caravan park before setting up the tent and organising dinner.
During days 48-51 I rode over 400km and had some really nice moments yet they were tough riding days, there was a constant head wind and the temperature was 7 degrees above average for this time of year. On day 48 I rode to Airlie Beach and stayed 2 nights. I had been riding for 7 days straight and needed to do laundry and attempt to fix my gears. I have fond memories of Airlie Beach, Chantelle and I stayed here with good friends Dowks and Kaz in 2007. Unfortunately, since then Dowks has passed away and we lost touch with Kaz. But visiting the area again brought back fond memories of hanging out with both of them.
I spent a bit of time wandering around town but most of my rest day was consumed by trying to fix my gears. It was dirty, sweaty and frustrating work but I managed to fix it to a reasonable degree. I also checked my spokes and tightened loose bolts. Day 49 took me from Airlie Beach to Bowen and it was sugar cane field after sugar cane field for 85km! This makes the wind even worse as there are no trees and places to stop are now few and far between, I’m now trying to stop in the shade every 20km to rehydrate and keep cool. As I neared Bowen, i stopped at the Big Mango for some mango sorbet and a couple of photos before rolling into town where I booked a cabin (first bed since September 8th). Woohoo!!! Bowen is a nice little town on the coast which is now famous for being the set area for the film Australia which stars Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman. You can almost relive parts of the movie and imagine the towns roads covered in red dirt. It was pretty cool.
Day 50 being the milestone that it is inspired me to ride the biggest day of the trip from Bowen to Ayr, some 120km into the wind. I pedalled for over 6 hours and was once again counting the sugar cane fields, they are endless up here! I also saw heaps of eagles searching for food and was swooped by a record number of magpies (7 in 1 day). I was originally going to stop in Home Hill after about 105km but raised my fists in defiance to the head wind and pushed on another 15km to Ayr. As I was riding into town I met the first real cycling tourer of the trip, his name was Fritz from Germany and is cycling from Cairns to Melbourne. He had a whole heap of gear and as we spoke I wondered if the ride would be better going the opposite way. My conclusion was the reward for cycling north was far better as when I finish I’ll get to relax by tropical beaches, eat tropical fruit, snorkel at the Great Barrier Reef and wander the Daintree Jungle. Where as Fritz will have to contend with the concrete jungle in Melbourne. During dinner I spoke with 2 families in the camp kitchen about travelling, riding, elephants and football (the preliminary final between Sydney and Collingwood was on that night, Sydney won), they also were kind enough to donate $20 for the elephants. Wooo!!!
Day 51 was supposed to be an easy day of around 90km, but once again the sun was shining and the shade trees were non existent. After about 60km I heard a strange popping sound and immediately noticed I was going slower. Stopping on the side of the road I examined the rear wheel and noticed a spoke had snapped and the wheel had buckled bad enough for my brakes to be constantly rubbing on the rim. I took all the bags off and spent about 30 minutes trying to straighten the wheel (without a spoke tool). It was during this that I also noticed my rear tyre had worn down all the way through to the canvas! My easy day had turned into a difficult one for completely unexpected reasons. I managed to mend the bike and limp into Townsville at around 3pm. Seeing it was a Sunday the local bike shop was closed so I had to wait until Monday (24th September) to drop it in. I also had an interview with the Townsville Bulletin on Monday and will see an article published the following Wednesday.
So after bringing my bike to the local store, I was hit with other problems that I hadn’t really expected, my chain had worn down so much that it was just hanging on to the sprocket teeth, this had also caused the rear cluster teeth (gears) to wear down too. My quick snapped spoke repair had quickly turned into a major service and overhaul. After careful consideration and advice from friends I decided to spend a little more money to replace the worn out parts for a smooth 400km ride into Cairns. So I spent some really tough days relaxing by the ocean, drinking smoothies, swimming at the beach and chilling out while the bike was being repaired. It was my first multiple rest day stop since Brisbane some 4 weeks ago.
Fortunately the crew at Cycle de Vie were really excited about my ride and realised I only had 400km left to ride. They performed a stellar repair and clean and gave me almost $100 off the bill. Riding back to the caravan park with no bags to weigh me down was sensational, the bike felt brand new!!!
The remaining 400km into tropical north Queensland were going to be a breeze! I awoke the next morning to a calm day and another published article in The Townsville Sun newspaper. I was on the road by 7:30am and the temperature was comfortable all day. Stopping once at 30km I cruised into Rollingstone Caravan Park just after lunch for a pleasant stay by the seaside, palm trees and all!
Day 53 dawned another overcast day to protect me from the harsh rays of the sun, I was loving life and thinking ‘I could ride for months with conditions like these!’ After 30km and only 100km since the bike had been repaired to its fantastic best, I heard the now familiar sound of a spoke popping out of the hub, “Ping.” The rear wheel immediately buckled and began constantly rubbing on the right hand brake pad. You would think that I would have been upset or annoyed, and I was for about 5 minutes but realised that wasn’t going to help. I limped into the next rest stop some 20km down the road and managed to install my last remaining spare spoke. Tightening it with the wrong tool for the job I managed to straighten the wheel enough for me not to worry about it for the next 300km. Once again I was beaming and loving life again!! I let out a loud triumphant “Woooo” after returning to the road.
The last mountain pass of the ride was a steep but short climb up through tropical jungle and a major roadworks construction site. I was loving the fact that I could climb Tour de France type gradients with ease and felt the fittest I have ever felt as I crested the summit of the pass I was rewarded with a spectacular view of Hinchinbrook Island. The descent down the other side was one of the funnest of the whole trip too! At Cardwell that night I spoke to a few people in the camp kitchen and was given $50 for the charity by a kind man called Dicko, a fantastic way to end another 110km day.
Day 54 threatened to be a stormy one and after only 15km it started pouring massive heavy droplets of tropical rain. I thought it would only last a few minutes and kept on riding yet after 20 minutes I was completely soaked and getting cold. I powered through the downpour at over 35km per hour (over 10km faster than my average) to try and find some shelter. 10 minutes later I rolled into a rest stop and hunkered under shelter. After wringing out my soaked clothes and attempting to dry off my bags for 30 minutes the rain settled to a nice looking misty fog. Putting my damp clothes back on I headed back out thinking either the sun would come out and dry my clothes or it would keep raining and therefore I would only have one wet set of clothes. Fortunately it didn’t rain for the rest of the day and I slowly made my way down to the popular seaside destination of Mission Beach. Today also held the record for the most ‘Big Things’ in one days ride. The Big Crab at Cardwell, Big Gumboot at Tully and the Big Cassowary at Mission Beach. As a reward for 2 days of tough riding I booked a cabin for 2 nights so I could watch the AFL grand final and veg out before the last 2 days of riding.
Day 55 was a short stroll to Innisfail and it was a beautiful start through the jungle, I thought about pushing on to a campsite at The Boulders but thought Chantelle and I might visit there next week so decided to finish the days ride after only 50km.
Day 56 (final day) started wet and pretty much stayed wet for the first 2 hours. The reason it always rains here is because of the big mountain range just inland from the coast which has the 2 tallest mountains in Queensland Mt Bartle Frere and Mount Bellenden Ker. Offshore winds carry tropical moisture with them and form dense clouds, these clouds head inland and are blocked by these two massive mountain ranges creating a tropical downpour. There is no rain gauge on the mountains but data nearby Mount Bellenden Ker suggest annual average rainfall is around 8m and a potential maximum average as high as 17m, which would make the mountain as one of the wettest places on earth.
The scenery here is just spectacular, I actually kept thinking today was probably one of the best days of the whole 4000km journey. There are plants and animals in this World Heritage listed Wet tropics area which are found nowhere else on earth and I was enjoying it at a leisurely 25km/hr. I think another reason why the final day was so good was that I had a tailwind, finally after almost a month of battling headwinds, on the final day of Ride Bikes, Not Elephants the wind was pushing me onwards towards the end. Was it a sign that Mother Nature was happy for me to complete the ride or was she trying to convince me to keep going, offering me beautiful scenery and a helpful tailwind. One thing is for sure. Nature has inspired me, the simple act of turning one leg after the other on a bicycle and actually putting in an effort to enjoy nature has led me to understand that the wild creatures and places of the earth have it a lot harder than us. I feel more connected to nature than ever and I absolutely love it. I hope this ride has inspired people to not only care more for animals and wild places, but also to get out there and enjoy it, to immerse yourself into the natural world and marvel at it. I can honestly say that travelling by bike is one of the most rewarding ways to travel. Being outside listening to the rivers, birds and feeling the wind, getting fitter and fitter as the days go by and not having to worry about paying for petrol, plane tickets or being stuck in traffic or customs. If you’ve ever thought it too hard to ride across a country, think again. It really is a fantastic way to see the countryside.
After a total of 73 Days, 4051.8 Kilometres and over 200 hours of pedalling I finally arrived in Cairns on October 1st.
Chantelle had flown up to Cairns that morning and met me on the esplanade at 2:06pm, she was looking down at her phone and as I later found out was messaging ‘where are you?’ to me. The message was never sent as she looked up and saw me rolling along the footpath with a big grin on my face. Ride Bikes, Not Elephants had finished, I had made it!
Wow, I hope it wasn’t too long for one post. But it was one journey which deserves to be told in one sitting. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I love to look back on it.
Leave a comment below if you’d like and keep an eye out for my next post which will focus on our trip to Thailand in November 2012. With our fundraising money we travelled to Surin with Sangduen ‘Lek’ Chailert and many of her staff to purchase one lucky elephant who retires from working life and can now live out her days at the sanctuary of Elephant Nature Park.
Thanks for reading,