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Days 10-11 – On friendship

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One of the challenges of setting off on my new life of adventure will be leaving my friends. I don’t have a big tribe of friends who I catch up with frequently. Rather, I have a few close friends who I like to spend one-on-one time with when the opportunity arises – however infrequent that opportunity is. Over the past few weeks I have been taking time to catch up with my friends as it might be some time before we can have a yarn again.

Yesterday, I went over to the mainland to celebrate a high school friend’s daughter’s first birthday. I don’t usually do children’s birthday parties but I definitely couldn’t miss a chance to catch up with my friend or her family. She’s someone who is like family to me – accepting me unconditionally since I was an emotionally challenged, insecure and spotty-faced teenager. It was wonderful to spend a few hours together and worth every minute of the 6 hour return trip from my campsite.

My best friend since childhood met me at the ferry to stay at my camp overnight. After 30 years of friendship, she and I know each other far too well so it was a very late night by the time the yarns stopped. Fortunately, my new tent is big enough for two people to sit in as it was a bit cool outside by almost midnight. So we could stay up yacking a bit longer. This morning we walked out along the beach for a while, soaking in the sunshine and feeling the cold water splash across our feet. We didn’t quite manage to find a solution for the economy, environment or world peace, but we sure gave it our best shot. Well, actually, mostly we just talked rubbish and enjoyed the sunshine so perhaps we didn’t quite try hard enough to resolve all those global issues 😉 .

I am excited to be leaving as I know I will be meeting up with friends interstate and overseas, and that I will make new friends along the way. But it is still really important to me to take the time to say goodbye for now to people who are important in my life.

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Day 9 – Sometimes size does matter

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This little Mont Moondance 1 has been my home most of the time since I left for Carnarvon Gorge at Easter. It has been a fantastic shelter for many adventures over the past couple of years, including my Great North Walk epic. But this week I have come to the realisation that it will be far too small and cramped for this adventure.

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So I spent Day 9 out shopping for a new home. And I ended up returning to camp with a brand new MSR Hubba Hubba NX.

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I now have a palatial mansion to live in. It has three usable rooms: this is entrance and kitchen. I keep my cooking gear and food in two pannier bags, which live here at the entrance to my home. This is also where I can leave my shoes, mosquito coils, candle and, when necessary, water container.

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This is my bedroom. It’s massive and has allowed me to take my gear out of the dry bags and lay it out for ease of access. I have a couple of books next to my pillow, my daypack in easy reach of the door and my clothes down near my feet. There are pockets at each end of the tent and I am using them to store things like wallet, bathroom keys, medications and head torch.

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And this is my garage. It’s the second vestibule on the second tent entry. It’s where I am keeping my cycling, fishing and packrafting gear, and also empty bike bags.

I do also have a picnic blanket that I will leave at the entrance to my tent to reduce the sand being walked in. But the blanket is on the washing line drying because I decided it was getting a bit grotty. Just because I live in a tent doesn’t mean I have to go feral if I have the option of using hot water and a laundry tub.

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Day 8 – Sea creatures of Amity Point

Mum, my aunt and I spent most of they day relaxing in the sun enjoying the quiet bayside atmosphere. We spotted some koalas and kangaroos, and listened to the birds making their various songs. It was good to just chill at camp for a day: I even got some work done.

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But the real excitement of the day was our afternoon walk to check out the soldier crabs marching across the tidal sandbar. There were thousands of them stretched out in platoons as far as the eye could see.

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As they felt our footsteps moving towards them, they scurried away with their funny little crab runs before burrowing into the sand for safety leaving nothing but lots of little balls of sand behind on the surface. I always want to pick the balls up like grey jewels but, of course, they just break up in my hands.

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The soldier crabs come in all sizes. This is a particularly large and handsome example. He is a bit upset because Mum and I stopped him from his escape so I could take this photo. He was momentarily stunned when we stopped him so I grabbed a quick shot before leaving him to his own devices.

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The dolphins came to visit at the jetty just five minutes after Mum and my aunt left to return to the mainland. There were three of them playing in the shallow water waiting for the fisherman to drop a catch. No one did but the dolphins still just hung out watching us watching them. I can honestly say that watching the dolphins is a hundred times more enjoyable than watching television.

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I don’t know whethe you can see it in this photo but there was also a wobbegong shark swimming around under the jetty. These gentle creatures have the misfortune of being in the same species as the scary large-toothed Jaws. But they are not an aggressive shark, preferring to just swim around eating whatever they eat from the bottom of the sea.

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Days 5-7: More Minjerribah musings

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I think I am one of the luckiest men alive. I wake before the sun, do a few hours work, cook and eat breakfast with a fantastic view over the bay, do a bit more work out in the sunshine before I enjoy a few hours exploring more of what Minjerribah has to offer.

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I’ve taken up fishing; a hobby I never thought I’d have the patience to enjoy. But just this small period of change has made such a huge impact on my life. I find my heart isn’t racing and my mind isn’t demanding I rush. Instead, I found myself standing in the water for a few hours throwing my line in without success but with total joy.

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I did manage to catch one small fish. It was back swimming in the sea again after I took a photo to prove that I actually can catch the odd fish. I think it’s the first fish I’ve caught since childhood so I am pretty proud of myself. Now I just need to catch something of legal size so I can cook it on the barbie. I do like the 1980s blue eye shadow this fish is wearing though.

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Mum and my aunt from Portugal came over to the island last night. They are staying for a couple of days. It’s super cool to have visitors to my new home (my home being anywhere I pitch my tent, not necessarily the island itself). We hung out chatting and eating way too much last night. My aunt loves to take photos of birds, which is fantastic because there are many here.

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Today we caught a bus out to Point Lookout where we enjoyed a short walk to check out the headland. The water is so clear that we could see the sandy bottom. We spotted some turtles and even maybe some wales (I think they were wales slapping their tales but can’t confirm). It was absolutely magnificent to chill out taking in the views, walking on the beach and just generally hanging out.

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Not only was I engrossed by the sea but I also enjoyed the shapes of the pandanus palms that grew in abundance. I like the contrast between their round trunks, tubular air-roots and sharp pointy leaves. It’s almost like they have royal crowns.

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All in all, I would say that I am feeling as happy as this flower looks.

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Day 4 – Settling into island life

I enjoyed a quiet island morning fishing off the Amity Point jetty (no, I didn’t catch anything). I’m not a fisherman by any stretch of the imagination, having never had much patience for the waiting game. Perhaps it is my new lifestyle but I found it quite pleasant jigging for squid this morning. Sure, I didn’t catch anything but there was something lovely about listening to the water lapping at the jetty’s posts and casting the line out into the sea.

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After a breakfast of leftovers I set off on my bicycle to catch the ferry back to the mainland. My aunt from Portugal arrived yesterday to visit my mum so our family had a lunch organised at the pub. I gave myself plenty of time to enjoy my 16km (10 mile) pedal down the island and to take in the various landscapes I passed through. There are grassy swamps boasting paperbarks, dry ridges where stumpy gum trees grow, and slopes that are covered with banksias and grass trees. The diversity of flora is stunning.

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The “Reddy” Bay pub was packed with families enjoying the warm autumn sunshine, live music and good food. We joined the throng and ate seafood meals.

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I think it’s almost impossible not to be taken in by the views over the bay here either. From our table we could see the white triangles of yachts under sail, the slow blue barges transporting cars to and from the Southern Moreton Bay Islands and tinnies in which small groups of mates were probably fishing.

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I thoroughly enjoyed catching up with my family and seeing my aunt for the first time in years. But the experience of returning to the mainland so soon after I have arrived on the island is quite jarring so I was happy to get back on the ferry to return. Tomorrow I need to head across again for a work function (I organised an in-house National Reconciliation Week lunch for our office so really should head back for that) but then I hope to stay here on the island for the rest of the week.

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I arrived back at Amity Point after cycling about 60km (40 miles) for the day just as the sun was about to set. A few small groups of people had set up to picnic in the park to enjoy nature’s show. I bought an ice cream then lay on the grass to experience the magic.

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As is usual here in the sub-tropics, within 15 minute the sun was gone and darkness started to fall. Families fished off the jetty, their quiet conversation and laughter humming across the water as small waves broke and fisherman towed their boats out of the water at the boat ramp. The swimming enclosure was empty as stars started to appear and night set in.

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Day 3 – Packrafting south of Amity Point

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The blue sky reflects brilliantly off the clear bay water that flows over pristine white sands. I can’t help but wonder whether I have drifted into a holiday commercial or whether I am really here paddling my packraft in this place. A small pod of bottle-nosed dolphins plays nearby. One is quite white compared with these mammals’ usual dull grey colour. They twist and turn, their flippers leaving the water almost as though they are waving. It’s a captivating sight. As I continue southwards, large turtles dart away from me, often passing under my boat. These are not the mere pet store turtles that might fit in the palm of you hand. No, they are massive big creatures that would probably flip my raft if they came up beneath me. A few stingray flash through the water too; their flat bodies like underwater stealth bombers moving so quickly they are gone as soon as you see them.

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I paddle with the incoming tide as far south as a large sandbar that is exposed by the tide. There’s something exciting about sitting on a sandbar watching the world go by. A few yachts are anchored on the other side of this tidal island but it is so large I can barely make out the people sitting under their beach umbrella. All I can hear is the sound of the small waves padding against the sand and the digging of the soldier crabs beneath me. Every so often a crab’s small head and pincers appear from in the sand, leaving the characteristic round balls of sand that betray the small purple soldier crabs’ presence.

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The tide is coming in quickly now. It proves impossible for me to paddle directly into it because my boat is a raft not a kayak. I start to walk through the shallows, dragging my floating boat along next to me. It’s one of my favourite things to walk in clear ankle-deep water so I am a little pleased that the tide is too strong. On foot I notice different things, like the large bright orange starfish that dot the shallows and the tiny fish that make this place their home. On two occasions I have to cross deeper water at the entrance to some creeks but it proves quite simple as the tide is flowing into the creek and the raft handles the cross-current well. I am glad because swimming is not a very sensible option in this place, which is known for being popular with sharks.

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After exploring for a few hours I return to camp to find a koala sitting in a tree near my tent. It’s the perfect way to end my little excursion before I return to completing a university assignment that is due this week.

Note: There is no blog post for day 2 because I went over to the mainland to do some chores and visit a friend.

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Day 1 – Minjerribah (Stradbroke Island)

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It took me a long time to pack my gear. Not because I didn’t want to leave but because I have no idea what one packs for a long-term cycling trip. I mean, how many t-shirts of pairs of trousers will I actually need? And will I regret not taking my hydro pack? And how does one make the panniers evenly balanced so the bike doesn’t handle like a drunken tractor? All these questions and still I have very few answers. No doubt this is the normal state of affairs for people who do the “sold the house and off to explore the world by bicycle” thing.

And so it was that I wobbled off down the road on a heavy, unevenly loaded touring bike with brand new panniers, a packraft and only one drink bottle (totally insufficient even for a day ride). My first stop: the Stradbroke Island barge some 30km (19 miles) from my parents’ place. Once there I met some lovely Dutch ladies who are visiting family in Australia. They too were waiting to walk onto the barge and I enjoyed a yarn with them. They complimented me on my Dutch as we parted ways: them to sit in the upstairs passenger lounge and me to stand with my bike.

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The 45 minute barge trip to the island was relaxing. I stood on the deck enjoying the water views while reading a book, Maalika by Valarie Browning, that my friends gave me last weekend. Between the captivating book and the gentle bobbing of the barge, I arrived at the island relaxed and ready.

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It being 1pm I treated myself to a vegetable curry from the Island Fruit Barn (I definitely recommend it), which I ate down at One Mile Jetty. It was rather pleasant sitting next to the calm water in the middle of the day with a threatening sky. This is exactly the kind of experience I am out here to enjoy.

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From lunch it was still 18km (11 miles) to Amity Point. The road rolled over and around a few low hills passing stubby gums and banksias. I wonder whether my body will ever get used to cycling a loaded bike. Cognitively I know it will but a small part of me is still a tiny bit scared about whether I have what it takes to be a cycle tourist. Not scared enough to give up or become anxious; just a mild sense of “wow, this is really something different”.

The camp at Amity Point is lovely. I have a shaded site with a soft sandy ground. It seems to be a quiet place to call home for most of the next five weeks and I found the ranger to be friendly. I watched dolphins swim along the coast as I ate ice cream in a nearby park. I still always get excited when I see these majestic mammals of the sea.

Back at camp a Swiss couple stopped to say hello. They have been cycling the world for 2 years and are heading back home next week. They asked about where I had ridden and I told them it is my first day. It seems auspicious to meet cycle tourists who are coming to the end of their journey on the same day I start mine. I can’t explain it but it just feels that way. And then they showed me the local koalas. If seeing dolphins is exciting then seeing koalas can only be described as awesome! It’s an auspicious start to my travels.