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Cairns to Cape Tribulation. The end of Oz...January 18th

After spending a couple of days gathering my thoughts in Cairns, using Hotmail, scanning, developing photos and doing other chores, it was time to leave this concrete and neon town. I had had enough of wandering impatiently around, chopping from the hot and humid streets to the coldness of air conditioning in the malls.

It was time to head for my destination, Cape Tribulation, the last place I would cycle to in Oz. The Captain Cook Highway takes over the baton from the Bruce Highway. This windy and narrow road follows flush to the coast, overlooking empty beaches and wild looking coves. This is a place where 'the rainforest meets the sea' and the effect is dramatic. Perhaps one of the most beautiful and inspiring roads to cycle on, the only worry was the constant stream of tour buses which hurtle round the corners, rushing to scoop up yet more passengers.

Rosal and I stopped at Port Douglas, famed for its miles of sandy white beaches. But tempting as all this beautiful coast and clear waters are to a tired and sweaty cyclist, estuarine crocs, (or salties, as the're known) as well as the ubiquitous box jelly fish (stingers) patrol these waters and make swimming perilous.

Mossman Gorge was our next stop. Surrounded by rainforest, enormous boulders lie strewn haphazardly along the fast flowing river, and the water is crystal clear and icy. Lunched with Alan and Sara from England who we had encouraged to rent bikes for the day and join us. We persevered on and the road alternated between following the coast and cutting through the forest on a smooth and fast sealed surface. Perfect for cycling. By dusk we found ourselves at the riverside village of Daintree. Hills and lush forest all around, a thousand shades of green in all directions. The Daintree river seemed calm and inviting. But this calmness hid yet more of the infamous estuarine crocs, which at up to 6 metres long are the largest reptiles in the world. Swimming is not advised. Signs are dotted all around to remind you, and though attacks are extremely rare, they inevitably catch the public's imagination and make it big in the newspapers. Everyone has a croc story to tell...

Spent the night at the Daintree. Early morning cloulds hung thickly over the dark green forest canopy adding to its sense of mystery. The occasional Flame Tree amongst this greenery threw in a burst of bright red. The chocolate brown river seemed still. Sounds of the forest, a mixture of birds, insects and frogs, filled the air and created an atmosphere of total tranquility which was also abundant with life. The campsite had a tree heavy with star fruit which I took full advantage of for breakfast. With the constant blasts of refreshing rain, the evenings were noticeably cooler but the mosquitos and March flies still carried on their waves of attacks feverishly.

The next day brought us to the Daintree ferry crossing, which marked the beginning of the Cape Tribulation National Park, a World Heritage Site. Here, the crocodile theme was really played upon by the tour companies. The rain was falling heavily, the clouds were dark and the river seemed thick and murky.

The ferry deposited us at the entrance. A convoy of mud spattered Toyotas past, leaving us alone in the pouring rain with nothing but a road winding ahead and thick jungle on either side. I felt as though I had stumbled upon the set of Jurassic Park. Too many films I guess. Waterfalls cascaded onto the road itself, the rain drowned out all the sounds of the forest. As I cycled up the last major range to Cape Tribulation, barely able to see in front of me for the pounding warm tropical rain, I was acutely aware that this was exactly what I had envisaged all those months ago back in England. An incredible sensation of well-being overcame me, knowing everything my family and I had put into making this journey a reality, was worth it and I felt very lucky to be where I was. I was both ecstatic and sad at once. I wanted them to know this feeling and how much I appreciated being there.

We stayed the night in a YHA hostel in the rainforest, using the relentless rain as an excuse not to camp. The following morning we headed off to complete the last section of the ride, over a few hills on a gravel track to Cape Trib itself. Because my original intention was to cycle to Darwin, it took me a moment to came to terms with the fact that I had arrived, some 4100km after leaving Sydney. This was Cape Tribulation, the official end of my journey in Oz. It felt strange. I reminded myself of the words of Ursula le Guin: "It is good to have an end to journey to, but it is the journey that matters in the end."

We visited a friend's tropical farm and I filled my panniers with delicious juicy tropical fruits which were new to me. Spent a day down by the beach where the forest runs right to the sea. Paddled in the clear and warm water, keeping a keen lookout for stingers. It was just too tempting. Then it was time to turn back. I felt like I should still going foward, but there was no real road to cycle on any further. We stopped for the night at a friend of Rosal called Obelia, who lived in an open house a kilometre into the forest. To reach it we had to carry our bikes over a creek and past a beautiful aquamarine water hole. This was their local bathing spot. What a different world.

Drinking ginger tea fresh from the forest, I looked out into the green expanse before me, glossy with rain. Nothing came between me and the forest, no windows, no doors. Look anywhere and there is something to wonder at. Roots which rise above the ground, twisting back on themsevlves and then disappear once more into the earth. Buttress roots which spread out from an enormous tall tree. Shafts of light that penetrate through the foliage high above and pick out a detail - a parasite plant half way up a tree, a big spider suspended in a web like a Spielberg prop. Awakened in the morning to the sounds of animals, seeing the forest all around me from my bed and taking an early morning dip in the waterhole is a memory that will stay with me, always.

Finally it was time to leave this idyllic place to begin the cycle back to Cairns. I was particularly aware that I was leaving this beautiful and ancient forest, considered the oldest in the world. My eyes surveyed the surroundings to soak up every last detail. The bright blue flicker of a Ulysses butterfly against the dark green forest background. A wild pig and her piglets scuttling into the undergrowth.

Cairns came quickly and as I waited for my flight, the forest already seemed a million miles away from this city with all its trappings. Australia was all but over. How did I feel?

It felt unreal to think I would be flying to Bali the following day. I hadn't planned it this way. The cyclone season meant no boats were headed up to Indonesia so a plane was my only option. I was so used to getting everywhere by my own energy that flying seemed too sudden a way to arrive somewhere new. I had barely finished crossing one country and now I was about to enter the next. I felt attached to Australia. It was much more than just the beggining of a journey and I didn't want all those memories crowded out by new ones... Having sent back the tent and camping gear which I wouldn't need in SE Asia, the bike was much lighter. I would miss the daily ritual of putting up the tent and priming the stove. As I would miss places I had discovered, the people I had met and the way of life I had been living.

Yet at the same time I was impatient for my first taste of Asia now that it was inevitable. Having boxed up the bike for the journey, I set four alarm clocks to wake me for the 5.30am bus to the airport. I needn't have worried. Excitement got the better of me and I awoke with plenty of time to spare. I waved farewell to Australia and readied myself for... the Indonesian island of Bali!


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