“You’ll never be able to ride on the beach,” says the somewhat grouchy woman at the Great Sandy Information Centre in Tewantin where we’ve stopped to buy a camping permit for Great Sandy National Park and Fraser Island.

We walk in just before closing and I suppose she couldn’t be bothered with a couple of crazy cyclists from Canada and just wanted to go home. There was no arguing with her, as she was not willing to sell us a permit, so we left, and took the ferry across to the Noosa North Shore. We would take our chances without a permit. We tried to get one. We really tried.

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Chilling in camp

An hour later, we make camp at a private campground a few kilometres up the road full of anticipation to ride the beaches north over the next few days. Kangaroos hop through the camp and there are birds everywhere. It’s amazing how much bird life there is. The clatter of the lorikeets competes with the maniacal laughter of the kookaburras. Throw in the melodic songs from butcher birds, magpies, and countless other species, and the dawn chorus is a symphony that demands your attention, whether you’re awake or not.

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Roos in camp

After breakfast, we pack up, let some air out of the tires and push our loaded bikes through the soft sand on to the beach. The tide is still out and the hard sand beautiful to ride on. We ride nearly as fast as on pavement. If only that sour woman from the park office could see us now.

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Pushing up the soft track
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Noosa North Shore
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Jan and terns

We ride 40 km of uninterrupted beach and are only part way to the end of this gorgeous stretch of sand. We aren’t the only ones travelling the beach. Many people in 4x4s with and without caravans also have the same idea. We get many strange looks as people stare at us a bit in disbelief, I think. Many give us thumbs-up and friendly waves.

At the Freshwater camp site that night we meet some very friendly “Grey Nomads” as they call themselves, mostly retired people dragging their living rooms around, as they flee the cold winter in the southern cities of Melbourne and Sydney to spend the season in the warmer north of Queensland.

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Approaching the end of Noosa North Shore Beach

The camp site is situated a little ways off the beach in the forest, complete with hot showers, flush toilets and fresh water. What more could we ask for? And free because we couldn’t buy a permit.

 

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Rainbow beach ahead

The next day we ride on and cross the northern isthmus of the Noosa North Shore to Rainbow Beach. We have to wait for a half hour or so for the tide to drop a bit more to get around some rocks, but before long we are in the town of Rainbow Beach where we stock up on some groceries and water before heading north to Inskip Point from where we can catch the ferry to Fraser Island the next day.

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Rainbow Beach

 

The next day we ride on and cross the northern isthmus of the Noosa North Shore to Rainbow Beach. We have to wait for a half hour or so for the tide to drop a bit more to get around some rocks, but before long we are in the town of Rainbow Beach where we stock up on some groceries and water before heading north to Inskip Point from where we can catch the ferry to Fraser Island the next day.

It is a lovely evening, just the two of us in a beach-side camp site without any facilities, watching the sun go down as a fiery red sky slowly turns to indigo and then black. Mars, Jupiter and Venus are clearly visible and before long, the milky way occupies much of the sky overhead. It was not even eight o’clock yet. This is the only downfall of coming here in winter: the days end too early as it’s dark by 6:30 or so, and the sun doesn’t rise until 6:30 the following morning.

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Beach camping near Inskip Point

“I guess I’ll just charge you $5 since you walked on with your bikes,” says the man on the Fraser Island Ferry, a big grin on his face. Some of the other ferry passengers, all travelling in big 4x4s, are very interested in our bikes and are curious about how well we can ride on the beach.

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On the ferry to Fraser Island
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Getting off the ferry at Fraser Island

We can only ride the beach once the high tide drops a bit and since we arrived on Fraser Island at high tide that morning, we either have to sit and wait or take an inland track for 11 km and then get on the beach. We take the inland track and an hour later push our bikes through the soft sand down to the beach, now hard packed on a dropping tide.

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Fraser Island’s inland track

The beach stretches 120 km north. It is the largest sand island in the world, covered in rain forest on dunes up to 200 metres high inland. Fresh water lakes dot the island and fewer than 200 people live there, mostly in Eurong, the town not far from where we camp after riding 31 km along a glorious beach.

 

We have the camp site to ourselves, nestled in the forest. Lorikeets flit about as the bird symphony accompanies the setting sun while we have some wine and prepare dinner by the light of our headlamps. The only sound now is the surf on the beach. But then a rustling in the bush gets our attention. As we look in that direction, two little round dots are reflected back to us. It’s a dingo, no doubt attracted by the smell of our onions and garlic simmering on the stove.

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Looking out from camp

 

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We have the camp site to ourselves, nestled in the forest. Lorikeets flit about as the bird symphony accompanies the setting sun while we have some wine and prepare dinner by the light of our headlamps. The only sound now is the surf on the beach. But then a rustling in the bush gets our attention. As we look in that direction, two little round dots are reflected back to us. It’s a dingo, no doubt attracted by the smell of our onions and garlic simmering on the stove.

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It’s not very big but there might be others around. Like most wild dogs, they generally live in packs but this could be a young, solitary male ousted from a pack. We discourage it from coming closer but it hangs around for about 10 minutes, trying to get closer from different directions. Eventually, it leaves and we don’t see it again but we take the precaution of making sure there is nothing left outside the tent.

We cycle into Eurong in the morning. We have coffee and a snack at the bakery and check out the store’s pitiful, and expensive, offerings, discussing what to do: go on up the beach or stay here for the night. No matter what, we have to come back to Eurong to get across the island or cycle all the way back down to where we got on to take the ferry back to the mainland.

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Scallop shell

Jan goes to the one and only hotel to enquire about price and availability while I do the same online. The online price is better so we book it and decide to stay. Although we love riding the beach, the salt and sand are not doing the bicycles any favours. While we wait for our room, we leave our stuff at the hotel and wander out to the beach and watch two dingos trot out of the forest like they’re on a mission. They come to a spot and one of them starts digging. In no time it comes up with a crab and chows down.

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Dingoes on the beach

Back at the hotel, we arrange for a ride across the island for the next day to take the ferry to the mainland at River Heads, saving us a long cycle around.

The hotel offers a buffet. All you can eat for $24. A cyclist’s dream. We have showers, do laundry, sit on the balcony and drink beer while chatting with a couple of Grey Nomads we met the day before. They are in their 70s and were camping but their air mattress sprung a leak so they opted for a night in the hotel, too. Lovely people.

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Securing Paul’s bike for the ride across Fraser Island

The ride across the island is slow. Jan’s bike fits inside and mine is strapped to the roof rack of the giant Land Cruiser. The road, if you want to call it that, is barely passable in this monster of a truck as it slowly churns through the soft sand that’s a couple of feet deep in places. We slowly drive the track through a lush rain forest and cover the 21 km in 90 minutes.

At the other end, we board the ferry that deposits us at River Heads. We clean the bikes as best as we can with water from the public toilet in the parking lot. The chains are already rusty and the spoke nipples are coated in salt.

We ride on into Hervey Bay to stock up on groceries and continue after to ride for miles on a paved bike path along the ocean through this tourist town. Once through, we have to ride the Burrum Heads Road that is busy with afternoon traffic.

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Riding the beach in Toogoom

We get off at the earliest opportunity and can’t resist riding on the beach again once we arrive in Toogoom. It’s a lovely way to end the day as we cycle into Serenity Caravan Park. It sounds grand but it’s really just the back yard of a house owned by a lady named Lilly. Her son lives in Vancouver, it turns out, and she visits him often.

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Coming up from the beach in Toogoom

Lilly charges us a pittance and we have hot showers for only a dime. She’s very chatty, amazed we are travelling on bicycles, and keen to ensure we are comfortable and looked after. We put the remaining three beers in cold water to chill after a hot day on the bike while we make camp and begin cooking. We spend a nice evening. It’s warmer than previous nights and there is no cold wind.

Carrying on north, we are forced to ride the Bruce Highway, the main road that runs along the east coast of Australia. It’s the only way across the Isis River, so we grit our teeth and endure the noise and traffic whizzing by at 100 km per hour. Once across, we get on a small road as soon as possible.

It’s a hot afternoon and the hour and half on the highway in the hot sun has us frazzled and we dread having to ride much more. We see a sign for a campground and decide to check it out. We’ve ridden nearly 60 km already and our bodies are telling us it’s enough.

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Childers camp site

It’s a beautiful campground sprawled over more than 60 acres. A little expensive at $32 but it includes hot showers, electricity and a nice camp kitchen, so, we don’t need to use our own gear at all. Money well spent.

We’re still trying to find our rhythm and figuring out our limits. We like to wild camp but it’s nice to have some facilities available, and it’s not always easy to find a place to camp that provides us with some privacy where we can’t be seen from a road or nearby homesteads. It’s also quite settled here so we’re happy to stay in campgrounds until we get a bit more into the backcountry.

We’ve been navigating with Google Maps and that’s working really well. We bought a phone plan with unlimited calling, including to Canada and 10 other countries, and 10GB data per month for $40. Compare that to the amount the Canadian phone companies are gouging us for. I could go on but I won’t. We plan our route as best as we can, modifying as we go along to ride small roads and tracks as much as possible.

We are heading to Bundaberg where we need to visit a bike shop. Jan’s bike has been making some unnatural noises and we think the salt and sand may have created a problem. Although after giving the bike a more thorough cleaning and adjusting the rear wheel, the clicking noise has stopped. But we’ll have the shop look at it just to be sure.

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Cane field track

As we ride north through endless cane fields I miss a turn and I don’t notice that the app automatically creates a new route I dutifully follow, thinking we’re still on track. We end up under a power line that Google Maps classifies as a cycling route. It isn’t. After looking for other routes and riding around in a bit of a circle we end up back on the road we had been on 30 minutes earlier and make our way into Bundaberg, famous for its rum and sugar.

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Happy to have found some affordable craft beer

Conveniently, there is a camp site not 500 metres from the bike shop that was recommended to us by Tracey and Steve, who we’ve been in contact with through Warm Showers, and promised to host us in their home in Agnes Water further north. Again, we shell out $32 but it includes an ensuite bathroom. I’ve never had an ensuite bathroom in a camp site. We share it with Gavin, who has his caravan parked next to our spot and we swap stories over beers as we settle down for the evening.

The camp kitchen is well equipped and that night we barbeque steaks and potatoes and eat them with a big salad. Two Grey Nomad couples from Melbourne share the kitchen with us and we chat while preparing food. Jan and I are wondering what to use to eat our steaks as we haven’t brought plates, only bowls, and I stupidly bought T-bones, instead of a cut I could slice up on the grill. The grey nomads offer us two plates and later come back and give us some plastic ones to take along. It’s a great meal and a thoughtful gift.

The bike checks out fine. Justin, the owner of the shop, ensures us all is well as he lubes the chain and makes sure the bottom bracket and the hub are fine. In no time, we are on our way and ride a narrow regional road northwest to Rosedale where social media tells us the Royal Hotel offers cheap camping and great meals.

It’s not the nicest ride as there is little or no shoulder and again are forced to stay on it to cross a river. But as soon as we do, we opt for a track through Littabella State Forest where Google Maps again leads us astray, sort of.

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Cycling through the Littabella forest

The track through the forest is nice but gets rougher all the time and we end up under yet another power line that eventually crosses the main north-south rail line. We can hear the Rosedale Road on the other side but there is no obvious way to get there, other than scaling the railway embankment and crossing it.

We stop and I investigate on foot before proceeding on the bicycles. To my amazement, I find an underpass about 100 metres from where we stopped, and a track out to the road. Google was right. We cycle the final 10 km on the road to the Rosedale Royal Hotel.

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Riding a track along the railway to Rosedale

I walk into the bar and the woman behind the bar says: “Are you the crazy guy on a push bike that just went by?”

“That’s me,” I said.

“You’re crazy,” she says, and smiles. There are two patrons at the bar and they also look at me like I’m nuts, smiling, sipping their drinks.

I enquire about camping and she asks where we’re from.

“Vancouver,” I say. “Canada.” Just to make sure

“Oh, my daughter is there. In Canmore.”

“Well, that’s about 1,000 km from Vancouver. What’s she doing there?”

And the conversation takes a different tone as Michelle explains her daughter is working on a tourist ranch in the Rockies taking people out on horseback. Michelle owns the hotel with her husband, and they’re working hard to spruce the place up, trying to make a living out there running a hotel that was built more than 100 years ago when this part of the country was being settled by Europeans.

After signing the guest book and paying $10 for camping, she takes me outside and shows us where we can camp and points out the bath house where the toilets and showers are.

“Do we need coins for the showers?” I ask.

“No! You’re in the bush now. Not in the city where all the tight-arses live,” she says with a big grin on her face.

After making camp and a hot shower, we go into the hotel and have a good meal. We’re now the only patrons and Michelle chats with us while mopping the floor. We love finding places like this.

We rise with the sun to have breakfast. Before long, as coffee and the warmth of the sun take the night chill off, a man shows up who begins work on the bath house, part of the renovations going on. We’re on the road before 9 and only have a few kilometres on the Rosedale road before turning off on the much quieter Tableland Road to Agnes Water, a little seaside town that’s escaped the horrors that have consumed places like the Gold Coast and Byron Bay.

Not 500 metres down the road, Mr. Ed’s coffee van is set up in a gravel pullout and I stop to chat with Ed, the owner. I have a long black and we chat about his life out here in the bush. He and his wife live down the road, grow their own food and Ed sets up his coffee truck five days a week here. He offers us an orange from his property as he cuts it up. The sweet juice drips down our chins and he thoughtfully gives us a wet paper towel to clean up. He gives us two oranges for the road as we head off.

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Chatting with Ed over coffee

It’s a nice ride on a gently rolling road with little traffic. The road snakes through brown farm land that’s in dire need of some moisture. Most creeks are dry. Everywhere we go, we hear of the drought in Queensland and New South Wales. It’s been going on for seven years in some areas and people say it’s the worst drought in living memory.

It will likely rain soon enough along the coast as summer approaches, the usual wet season, but the farmers in-land are unlikely to see much or any of that moisture as the Dividing Range generally blocks weather patterns from bringing moisture to the western plains. We have been thinking about cycling south on the west side of the range but lack of water may force us to rethink that plan.

As we’re eating lunch on the side of the road, a car pulls up and the woman driving it rolls down the window and asks: “Paul and Jan? It’s Tracey, our host in Agnes Water. She’s on her way home with some renovation supplies. We have a quick chat and a couple of hours later she and Steve generouslywelcome us into their home.

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Agnes Water beach

Tracey and Steve with Rocket

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8 thoughts on “Life Is A Beach

  1. Oh, so lovely, as usual, love to follow your moves. Looks like a dream, yes, life is a beach. You are the best, Jimmies. Keep on posting, the pics are awesome, what a memorable trip again….

  2. Great post Paul, now I get it … next winter when the road are slippery I will make sure I drive to whistler at low tide, so that way the sand is more compact!!
    Have a great trip!

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