Welcome to this blog, the story of a great big Australian adventure. It documents my travels, life in Australia, and a subject close to my heart – environmental conservation. 

A day on Straddie

Or… Mad dogs and English people go cycling in the midday sun.

We were looking for something to do on the long first weekend of January. I suggested we take our bikes on the ferry across from Cleveland to North Stradbroke island and cycle across to Point Lookout. Stradbroke is the second-largest sand island in the world (after Fraser Island), and used to be much bigger, but it lost a long thin bit during a storm in 1896. The charmingly named Jumpinpin Channel now separates North from South Stradbroke islands.

We planned our little trip for 1 Jan, but the weather was not good: so we went on Monday the 4th instead.

I think I am reasonably fit: I run between 5 and 10 kilometres a week (depending on how hot and humid it is); I do a Pilates class once a week; I cycle hither and thither; and I do weights and resistance exercises at home. We've had our bikes for at least 6 months and have cycled up to 30km on a few occasions.

Shortly after we got the bicycles we bought a book called Where to Ride for Southeast Queensland. It describes '47 great rides on and off road' in good detail, and there's a ride rating determined by distance covered, how much the route climbs, and surface type. The book says, 'We do recommend that people new to the sport of cycling and those less fit should initially stick to level 1 and level 2 rides'.

Ride 17, North Stradbroke Island, has a ride rating of 2. Distance: 20.1km. Terrain: gentle rolling with two testing climbs towards Point Lookout (which I could always walk up). So you'd think I'd have been OK, right? Wrong.

Perhaps the book was really written for 25-35-year-old serious riders on road racers. Perhaps I'm not as fit as I think I am. But it was hard, man.

If you're travelling with a bike, you have to use a vehicular ferry, not a water taxi. The ferries are pretty basic but the journey to Dunwich, Straddie's largest town, only takes about 40 minutes.

We took the advice of the book and let the cars go first, out of our way. East Coast Road heads north out of Dunwich and then across the island to Point Lookout in the northeast. Traffic was described as being fairly light, but it was heavier than that, and there was no dedicated cycle lane of course, this being a quiet island road, in theory. And many Australian drivers, especially those in 4x4s, drive too close to, and too fast by, cyclists. We saw only two other riders all day.

The road runs parallel to the coast for a while, but there aren't really any views. In any case, I was concentrating too hard on urging my legs to get me up inclines that kept appearing ahead of us with great regularity. It was hot, even by 11, but we carried lots of water and had frequent stops to drink it.

I suppose we got to Point Lookout in quite good time, but the problem was, after a long flat stretch as you enter the town, there are then more hills, and steep ones at that, which, because I was hot and tired, made me cranky. And the hills take you up to the town's centre, which means you have to go down to the beach, and back up to the cafes. Enough of up and down, I cried.

We had a picnic lunch with us so made our way to Main Beach where, in the shade of the casuarinas, I took to our picnic blanket and didn't move for a while. Eventually I was motivated to take a couple of pictures, a sign of recovery, but without getting up.

I now realise that our book doesn't say anything about getting back to Dunwich. It says, in the ride log, '20.1km: end of the ride'. So, what then? You find a room for the night while your legs recover? Abandon your bicycle – because you're never going to cycle again, ever – and get the bus back?

After a couple of hours' relaxation, we had to face up to the fact that, if we were to make the 5.30 ferry, we had to be thinking about cycling the 20km back to Dunwich. We tried to catch the bus, in fact, and for about 20 minutes my hopes were raised that I would be spared any more agony. But only little buses are allowed to pull trailers and most of the buses in service that afternoon were big ones, and the one trailer that was going the distance was full of children's buggies and a bicycle with a puncture whose owner's need was obviously greater than my own. The point at which the little bus passed us as we struggled up the long hill out of town was a low one. My knees hurt; my bum hurt; my quads hurt; my neck and shoulders hurt; my elbows hurt; and bits I can't mention hurt. I wanted to flag down a passing ute and hitch a lift, but my friend said we shouldn't do that.

My pictures show me that Straddie is a beautiful island, but I don't really feel as if I saw it properly. I didn't visit the Blue Lake or the Brown Lake or Eighteen Mile Swamp. I didn't walk the gorge at Point Lookout. I didn't see any other beaches than the 30-km-long Main one. And I didn't go to Amity Point, the oldest European settlement on the island. So I must go back. But next time on four wheels, please.

We made the ferry with time to spare. I think we cycled the return journey even faster than the outward, goodness knows how. (My friend reminded me, on reading this, that we climbed, overall, on the way over – the book says by 265 metres – and descended on the way back.)

I don't think the weather had been as good in Brisbane, and as we waited for the ferry the pre-sunset light and sky were inspiring.

As I sat a bit stupefied on the ferry, there appeared strange-shaped clouds...

...and trees growing out at sea.

I felt much better after fish and chips from The Lighthouse at Cleveland Point, eaten from a plastic tray in the car overlooking the dark water.

Australia Day trippers

The great escape