Steve Halligan's Terra Australis Pt1
Kia Ora and welcome to my Story.
My name is Steve Halligan.
The beginning was when I first heard about this event in 2017. I was hooked on the idea immediately and signed up soon after. Lots of riding and gear testing ensued, I was super excited about riding top to bottom of Australia.
In 2017 I completed a dream to ride and finish the Tour Divide , a 4,400 km ride from Canada to Mexico . This was an amazing adventure the pushed my limits on every level . Now here was the Terra Australis Bike Epic looking me in the eyes , and luring me in with a bigger distance by 2,000 kilometres, different Terrain and different wildlife . Of course, I was mesmorized, had a strong desire to take this on and challenge myself some more. The fact that this was the inaugural running of this race was extra special and motivating to get to the start line.
That looks like a Long Way
After plenty of riding through the New Zealand winter, the start date of September 15th rolled around quickly . I left New Zealand on the 12th flying to Cairns then the following day flew up to Bamaga, in far north Queensland .
Arriving safely at Bamaga airport, a tin shed building with some seating and a vending machine, myself and Steven Mcleod, another TA rider began putting our bikes back together after their travels from New Zealand.
I then rode out into the hot sun towards Bamaga Township and onwards to Punsand camping resort, where I had booked a cabin for 2 nights. Steve stayed around the Bamaga township to be assured of WiFi to complete some work.
Punsand Beach near the tip
After a Pre Race ride, Punsand Bay
Ten other adventurous spirits had signed up, including Steve Watson, the race organiser. We all met up the night before for a brief, excitement was building, I was ready.
After riding up to the car park, then walking over the rocks to the Tip for obligatory photos, we were off shortly after 6am, on the 15th September 2018.
We were off, into the adventure, into the heat, into Cape York Wilderness.
Smouldering fires were a regular encounter all the way down the Cape
Jardine River Ferry.
Anyone who was following the race on Trackleaders website may have being confused in the first few days as course deviations were happening. This was made more confusing and tricky to manage as there is not much/zero cell phone coverage in Far north Queensland so communications was an issue. Concerns and fears all played a part. The first few days were tough, with Sand, Corrugations, Heat and many Creek Crossings on the Old Telegraph Track and Frenchmans Track.
It can take a few days for the body to adjust to riding big distances, in the heat and different conditions, this was the case for me, especially as I had some tonsillitis a few days before the start and was feeling a bit average.
Everybody will have their own story to tell, and everyone can take responsibility for their Decisions and I respect everybodys choices. Personally, after being off route, wondering what's going on and with time to clear my head, I knew I wanted to get back in the Race and on the course. I did not want to just ride down the country creating my own route, I love the race element and the mission, to follow the course and get to the end with targets and a sense of purpose.
Once riders were able to receive messages and seeing as some riders were off route, and not completing the course completely, we were informed by Race Director Steve Watson, that we had the option to get back on the race course at Mareeba and continue from there. I went directly to Mareeba!! After being off route myself, it felt like no mans land, I was so happy to be back on track, riding out West to Longreach. I noticed some other riders decided to go south from Mareeba, therefore in touring mode. I think apprehension about water shortages because of the ongoing drought and the very hot temperatures and Remoteness influenced riders decisions.
Amazing Sunset from the verandah of Almaden Hotel /Pub
I was the first person heading out west and I was feeling good, excited to be cycling into the unknown racing my bike. After about 210 kms I camped in the bush about 42km past Chillagoe , it was close to midnight and the night air was warm, I slept soundly.
My Home for much of my month riding tip to toe of the Australian mainland. 40km past Chillagoe
Another early start, 5 am, I set off in the cooler morning air for a big day finishing in Georgetown just in time to grab some food.
A morning coffee in Forsayth
The next day riding out to the Gilberton Station Retreat was amazing, hot, dry interesting undulating terrain. Arriving late afternoon, I was greeted by Lyn and her two grandchildren who drove out a few kms to meet me on her Quad bike. The best welcome of the race. Lyn and Rob own and run the station as well as offering some Donga accommodation to weary travellers as well as offering a more upmarket Retreat space for a getaway thats a little bit different.
Their open warm welcome made my decision to stay the night very easy, even though it was way earlier than i'd normally stop riding for the night. A warm shower, a bed,( first of the trip) great food and company . This was a perfect reset to prepare for the 319km to Hughenden , the next service town on route.
With Rob & Lyn at Gilberton Station
Donga accommodation at Gilberton Station
A tough start leaving the station about 5 am, with tricky navigation, cattle tracks and some bush bashing. After a couple of hours I was out on a somewhat formed track and my pace picked up .
Following the purple line,
typical Queensland TABE Tracks
I made it to about 60kms north of Hughenden and camped alongside the road . An enjoyable day, 1982kms on the odometer since leaving the tip of Cape York ten days before.
A stunning sunrise greeted me for the sealed road ride into Hughenden, first stop was the Bakery and coffee. Delicious!
The next 210km section between Hughenden and Muttaburra was a very tough day on the bike .
Finding water on this stretch was challenging, I checked many Billabongs, they were dry, eventually I spotted a cattle trough 200 metres in from the road across the fence, filled up and filtered the water. This stretch had very little shade, it was very open country with long straight stretches of gravel road, little traffic, the wind was strong and hot and they were many mini Tornados forming, creating impressive dust funnels with Tumbleweed blowing across the road. I got hit by one of these that almost blew me off the road.
A Billabong with water!
I also raced a Kangaroo along this section, with a wire fence both sides the kangaroo just kept hopping, at speed along the fence in front of me. I attempted to keep pace, this went on for 3 or 4 kilometres. I was impressed with its stamina in this heat. Eventually it came to a stop, looked at me as I got closer, did not move as I passed, then suddenly bolted in the other direction. After a minute I looked back to see the Kangaroo still hopping at speed in the opposite direction. Thats something I do not see in New Zealand.
I wont forget the Exchange Hotel in Muttaburra.
After pushing hard to get to Muttaburra in the hope somewhere would be open to get some food, I pulled up outside the Exchange Hotel not long after dark . It was open, a few guys were enjoying their beer on the Verandah. After a friendly chat and a few questions, they struggled to comprehend the riding I had done in the previous 11 days. I wandered wearily into this classic old bar, asked the Barman, is there any food available. Without a word he pointed up to a blackboard menu. With a distinct lack of vegetarian options I ordered chips and Salad, the barman, clearly drunk, scribbled something on a notepad and walked off without saying a word . Was it me ? a tired dust encrusted cyclist or him, too much drink to expel any words from his mouth. I did not care, I was happy to be there, food ordered and drinking a sugar laden beverage. One hour later, The barman came out , and spoke to me verbally for the first time, did you order food ? Ye . He walked off to the kitchen, came back and said sorry, ‘we are out of chips’. We could make you some potatoes and salad !! Yes great that will do! After this he was talking more, telling me about all hes problems with a previous chef that he had to get rid of ,the previous night. Minutes later I was informed my food was ready, in another room the otherside of the bar.
I had a Salad, no potatoes ………
I asked, If I could I roll my mat out on the floor to crash for the night, he said I could sleep in a bed, in another building out the back. One of the girls showed me to this building, it was a Ramshackle place with crap everywhere and ashtrays full of cigarette butts. I was too tired to care, jumped in bed and slept smiling to myself, what a bizarre evening and end to another amazing day on this grand adventure.
Room in back building behind Exchange Hotel , Muttaburra
The 118 kms to Longreach was, once again dry and dusty and Hot, It was great to get there, the biggest town since Mareeba and a landmark on the race route, as I would not be going any further west. It was time to head a more Easterly direction for 1554 kms to Byron Bay.
I spent a few hours in Longreach, resupplying and refuelling. At this stage I had cycled about 2,350 kms, I was feeling really good and ready to move on to the next stage. The weather up to this point was generally hot, which I dont really mind.
Longreach Area, Hot ,Dry & Dusty
After a New Zealand winter it was welcome. Decent food was at times difficult to find, mainly because it was not there! Even more challenging for a vegetarian. Bananas, salted nuts and energy bars were the main items in my diet with a sit down meal where possible. I had plenty of Electrolytes in capsule and powder form with me, I feel this was crucial in these conditions .
I rode 129 kms past Longreach well into the night before camping alongside the road. This was pretty uneventful except for a moment the scared the crap out of me. This trip involved riding over lots of cattle grids, no big deal, right ? At about 10 pm on this beautiful calm night , I rode over a grid the activated a very loud alarm. This gave me hell of a shock and snapped me out of my weary state. My thoughts started going wild, I had visions of angry farmers coming out accusing me of trespassing. It happened once more a while later, not as much of a shock, but still un nerving. Later found out its to deter wild dogs and other creatures.
Breakfast was welcome in Blackall, then onto Tambo for resupply and later camping in the bush after a 292 km day.
Seen many of these amazing Monitor Lizards
Riding through this very dry land which is gripped by drought I was constantly looking for water and always topped up when I found some. Any water would do, I jumped fences and filtered water from cattle troughs and tanks, and also some Billabongs, although most of them were dry out here. I never did run out of water, I know this was a concern of some other riders.
Many days passed out here and would hardly see any human activity, it was mainly wildlife that kept me amused as I rode through epic sparse landscapes. Time in my own company, my own thoughts. A great opportunity for ideas to birth and flourish. I would stop often to write ideas and inspirations in the Notes on my phone.The solitude and calm that comes with riding in remote places for endless days is something that I embrace.
A 265km approx day got me to Injune after dark, another Hot and Dusty day. Decided to get a cabin at the campground and have a well required shower and a bed . Amazing!
Injune Service Station Re supply
Next available services on route was 240 km away, at a place called Miles. I had a great day, feeling refreshed and strong getting to Miles just before dark. I restocked at the IGA, then as I was riding out through town I seen two cyclists outside another supermarket. It was Bernarda Juric and Sinisa Babic, two riders who had started the race at the tip of Cape York. Later on at Mareeba they decided to leave the race route and continue south, on their own journey. It was cool to catch up with some familiar faces. I rode a further 43km to stop at Condamine, again I saw Bernarda and Sinisa, sitting in the Verandah of the local pub having a beer… another brief chat, and I went to look for a place to stealth camp. I found a school and rolled out my mat undercover and out of sigh , slept well for 4 or 5 hours. I did not cross paths again with the guys !!
Another route challenge, this was the biggest 'DOG FENCE’ encountered!!
I arrived in what felt like a bit of a forgotten town, Tara, mid morning and resupplied then moved on into the heat of the day.
As long as I have water, the heat is not a problem for me. I generally ride through the mid day sun , with some shady stops to have a break. For someone originally from Ireland, like myself, this is unusual. Most Irish people start melting after 30 degrees, so I am very grateful for this ability!
Another good day, and about 260kms brought me to Leyburn. Here I briefly caught up with another TABE starter, who was riding south on his own route. Carl Marooney was in the Pub watching the Rugby ( sorry cant remember who was playing). He had seen my Tracker moving down through the last town of Millmerran and messaged me. Again, great to catch up with a familiar face .. I left Carl at the pub and found a free camping park just out of town, Perfect!
Next day, once again 200km plus brought me through the biggest town in a while, Warwick for a brief stop and resupply.
A last look back at Queensland before the descent into Killarney.
Eventually I rolled into Killarney after some strong headwind, and was very happy to find a cafe open, as most things were shut as it was a holiday, Labour day I think.
I really enjoyed the next section, lots of river crossings through tree lined hills on gravel roads . Soon I was moving into New South Wales, this felt great to go into the next state after the huge adventure that was Queensland.
PART 2: New South Wales/ACT/ to follow.