Author Archives: Grant 'Axe' Rawlinson
The Tasman Sea is considered by most in the ocean rowing community to be one of the most hostile crossings in the world. Being an extension of the southern ocean it is one of the most unpredictable, unforgiving stretches of sea on the planet.
The following information is the attempts, (both successful and unsuccessful) to cross the Tasman Sea by human power. Information is obtained from various sources which are credited at the bottom of the article. The list is completed to the best of my knowledge however I am sure there maybe some attempts which have passed underneath my radar. (If you are aware of any I have missed, in the interests of accuracy, then please contact me at email@example.com and I will update this article!)
For all these brave warriors below who have actually set-off from shore, there are countless people who have ‘talked about it’ and never managed to get to the starting line. From my personal experience this shows just how difficult mounting an expedition such as this is. There is a tremendous amount of effort required to form a support team, raise the money, prepare your boat and equipment, risk management, train physically/mentally and technically and raise the courage to even get to the starting line.
Technically the crossings below fit into three categories:
- KAYAKING with sail assistance
I have listed the category of crossing in the header of each attempt.
Anders Svedlund (1969) – ROWING
A Swedish sailor, in his 40s at the time, was the first person recorded trying to row across the wild Tasman Sea. He left Onehunga in a 6-metre fibreglass rowing boat he partly built himself, only to capsize five days later, 65 kilometres from shore. After righting his boat, he was swept ashore at the Waikato Heads. He had more success two years on, when he became the first person to cross the Indian Ocean alone, rowing from Australia to Madagascar. He also went on to row a great portion of the Pacific, making it from Chile to Samoa. Amazingly he carried NO navigational instruments and used only the sun to keep heading in the correct general direction. A teetotaller and a vegetarian, he cared very little for records, shunned all publicity, and never kept a log or wrote down the story of his accomplishing his feats. After returning from his Indian Ocean row he went straight back to Auckland, and, without telling a soul where he had been, resumed his old trade as a house painter. Eight years after that, he died in his Auckland apartment, apparently after falling from a chair while changing a lightbulb.
Colin Quincey (1977) – ROWING
An English-born New Zealander, Colin became the first person to complete a solo, unassisted trip across the Tasman. He set off from Hokianga in the “Tasman Trespasser”, his 6-metre fibreglass open dory, arriving on Australia’s Sunshine Coast 63 days later. Colin had no working means of radio communication on-board, carried all his own water, navigated by sextant, and landed during the night on a spot unknown to him on the Australian coast during heavy surf. A truly remarkable and completely ‘unsupported’ crossing. For 33 years he remained the only person to have accomplished the feat until a 25-year old named Shaun Quincey – his son repeated the challenge this time from Australia to New Zealand.
Paul Caffyn (1987/1989) – KAYAKING
Paul has twice attempted to kayak across the Tasman Sea from Tasmania to New Zealand. During a 1987 attempt with Ron Allnatt, a combination of severe weather and the Tasmanian authorities curtailed the attempt. During a second secret attempt in 1989, Paul’s co-paddler chickened out when eight miles off the coast of Tasmania. Paul was not willing to paddle the double kayak solo. Paul is most well known for making the first ever circumnavigation of the Australian mainland by sea kayak.
Nick Barbara and Cathal (Carl) Dickens – ROWING
The two soldiers made two attempts to row across the Tasman in 2002. The first attempt from Muriwai beach in New Zealand ended very close to shore when the boat over turned and would not self right in the strong surf. They then made a second attempt from Sydney in Australia and were again capsized and ended up clinging to their upturned boat for two days before being rescued by a passing tuna boat after using the last of their flares. I cannot find any photographs of the pair so please do send me some if you have them.
Andrew McAuley (2006-2007) KAYAKING WITH SAIL ASSISTANCE
An Australian adventurer, McAuley first tried to kayak across the ditch in 2006, but turned around after two days due to difficulties keeping warm. He made his second attempt from Tasmania, bound for the Milford Sound. After 30 days at sea and surviving torrid conditions, he disappeared just 56km from his destination. His final message – a scratchy recording pleading for help – was initially dismissed as a hoax. His body has never been found. McAuley’s effort was truly remarkable for the fact he was paddling a modified two-person sea kayak. A craft most unsuited to long crossings at sea. He had also chosen to cross the Tasman from a very southerly route where the winds were more constantly in his favor however the sea conditions are much rougher than further north. He utilized the assistance of a sail during his crossing.
Steven Gates, Andrew Johnson, Kerry Tozer and Sally Macready (2007) – ROWING
The team of 4 x Australian rowers rowed the Tasman in 31 days. The two men and two women travelled 2200km in their 11-metre, 1.5 tonne custom-built boat, narrowly avoiding collisions with dolphins, sharks, and ships. They left Hokianga Harbour in the Far North and landed in Sydney Harbour, the first Australian team to make the crossing. They currently hold the record for the fastest crossing of the Tasman Sea under human power. They reportedly had paid $4,500 to have a support boat travel with them at the start of the journey which never showed up!
Justin Jones and James Castrission (2007-2008) – KAYAKING
The Australian pair nicknamed ‘Cass and Jonesy’ became the first to cross the Tasman in a kayak, completing the journey in 60 days. They took off in their kayak named “Lot 41” after the legendary racehorse Phar Lap’s auction number, from Forster, New South Wales, and landed on Ngamotu beach in New Plymouth. They struggled with water maker failures, encounters with sharks, sea sickness and strong headwinds, that caused them to spend a number of days paddling in circles and eventually added a much great distance to their journey.
Olly Hicks (2009) – ROWING
British explorer Olly Hicks initially set off from Tasmania to circumnavigate Antarctica (his expedition aim was to row around the world) in his half million dollar rowboat named “the Flying Carrot”. Sponsored by VIRGIN, and only part-way through the attempt, due to difficulty in making progress he changed his mind and headed in towards Stewart Island instead. He had encounters with great white sharks and his 95-day quest ended when wild conditions led him to call it a day. He was towed into port by the Shangri la, a Bluff cray-boat, before he headed back to England. He plans to make a subsequent attempt in the future.
Shaun Quincey (2010) – ROWING
Shaun Quincey rowed his way into the history books, joining his father as the second rower to make a solo crossing of the Tasman Sea. He chose to go the other way to his dad – leaving the New South Wales coast, and was pushed north by strong winds and current as he neared the New Zealand coastline. He feared missing New Zealand altogether and eventually made it to 90 Mile Beach in the Far North. He ran out of water during the crossing and required a resupply by airplane. He was capsized at one stage and had issues righting his boat. The gruelling 53-day ordeal, in which he faced capsizes, broken equipment, and even a collision with a sperm whale, required him to row 1700km more than planned.
Team Gallagher (2011-2012) – ROWING
Lead by Nigel Cherrie, a crew of four New Zealand men called Team Gallagher after their title sponsor, decided to row harbour bridge to harbour bridge – Sydney to Auckland. They spent 55 days, twice as long as planned, in the Moana, their 10-metre rowing boat. At one stage they were forced to spend 10 days on sea-anchor due to rough weather and contemplated rowing back to Australia. The crew, which also included the son of Sir Peter Blake, endured food spoilage, blisters, and a broken rudder, before they safely arrived in Auckland Harbour. having spent a very memorable Christmas at sea.
Scott Donaldson (2013-2014) – KAYAKING
Donaldson, a kiwi, set off solo from Coffs Harbour with a plan to kayak to New Zealand then back again to Australia. He had made a similar attempt in 2013, which was aborted after two days when his kayak filled with water. His second attempt was planned to take between 50 and 70 days, but nearly three months in, and only 83km from New Zealand’s shore, he had to abandon his mission after suffering injuries when his kayak rolled a number of times during heavy weather. He had also required a resupply by airplane with food and equipment to fix breakages. If he had made it, he would have been the first person to kayak solo across the Tasman. He plans to reattempt the crossing in 2018.
Stuart Cleary (2014) – KAYAKING
Cleary had an ambitious plan to make a complete circumnavigation of the Tasman Sea solo in his kayak. Crossing to New Zealand via Lord Howe Island then returning to Australia via a more northerly route resulting in a voyage of 15,000km or more. Leaving from Ballina in Australia he ran into problems within the first few days of his paddle. Fortunately he was still within 100km of the coastline when boat started taking on water. He activated emergency flotation and was subsequently rescued. Amazingly 18 months later the kayak completed the Tasman crossing alone and was washed up on the shores of New Zealand as per the photo on the left (Photo: Nathan Marshall)
Malcolm Skelton (2017) – ROWING
Skelton departed Coffs Harbour in Australia in 2017, bound for New Zealand. After 11 days at sea he abandoned his attempt after discussions with his wife and expedition meteorologist. Skelton was subsequently rescued by a passing cargo vessel after activating his emergency distress beacon and his boat was later scuttled by a fishing vessel. One of the aim’s of his crossing was to raise awareness and money for a condition his wife suffers called Friedreich’s Ataxia.
My main goal on the Rowing from Home to Home expedition is not to die.
One of my secondary goals is to turn up in NZ at the end of the journey in good physical shape – not having completely wasted myself in the process (which is what happens to a number of endurance athletes but you probably never hear about it publicly).
123 days, 8,100km and 2/3 of the way through the journey I am healthier now than when I departed.
How do I do this? Here is a behind the scenes peek at the approach to nutrition for this journey in this article written by expedition nutritionist Gary Moller.
Hopefully people from all walks of life may find something useful from this – please read the full article here.
In early October I will set-off from Coff’s Harbour in my 6.8m ocean rowing boat ‘Simpson’s Donkey’, bound for New Plymouth in New Zealand on the final stage of the Rowing from Home to Home expedition. I have traveled for 8,100 km this year by human power, all the way from Singapore to Coff’s Harbour in Australia. Stage One was a 78 day, 4,200km row from Singapore to Darwin together with Charlie Smith. Stage Two was a 45 day, 3,900km solo bicycle ride across Australia. This third and final stage of rowing the Tasman Sea will be around 2,500 – 3,000 km in length and will also be the most challenging stage due to the extreme weather and sea conditions I will face.
My initial plan was to row with a partner (Rob Hamill) on the Tasman crossing, however I had a great deal of time to think on my solo cycle leg across the Australian continent. I revelled in being by myself, and found the intensity of the experience and challenge to be richer and more fulfilling when alone. This coupled with my previous 4,500km of experience rowing Simpson’s Donkey, made me come to the conclusion that I would prefer to tackle the final and most challenging section of the entire expedition solo.
In what shows the true quality of the man, Rob although disappointed at the decision, ultimately has been a tower of support and very understanding. He has remained an active member of the team working hard in the background. Seeing the mature way Rob responded to my decision confirmed that had I rowed with a partner – he would have been an ideal choice.
Departure is set for early October, and the exact date will be subject to weather systems closer to the time. I am proud to announce Dr Roger Badham will be the official meteorologist for the Tasman Crossing, providing daily weather information. For those who may not be familiar with Dr Roger, he has spent 10 years at university studying meteorology and the last 40 years as a meteorologist most of that time specialising in forecasting for the marine industry. He has forecast for 9 America s Cups, 7 Olympic games, 30 around the world yacht races and countless yacht races and regattas all around the world, with over 35 Sydney to Hobart race forecasts and more than 500 passages across the Tasman and Coral Seas.
I will be posting more information closer to departure time, however for now I am keeping myself extremely busy by working with various parties on the risk management and emergency response procedures, modifying and servicing Simpson’s Donkey, and preparing myself physically and mentally to take on a very challenging stretch of water in an ocean rowing boat.
A massive thank you to the people who have helped the expedition to get to this third and final stage. Very soon it will once again be time to leave the safety of shore and test myself in mother nature’s ultimate arena.
Huge ocean swells, (think 10m i.e 30 feet or more) are not necessarily dangerous to small vessels like rowing boats. What is much more of an issue is when the face of the waves steepen into a wall. These walls eventually become so unstable they collapse, forming white water and hence termed ‘breaking waves’.
NB: The critical slope angle required for waves to break according to NOAA is anything greater than 1:7. This is the ratio of the wave height to the wave length. Thus a 1m high wave with a wave length (distance from peak to peak) of 7m would start to break.
Studies have shown that the size of a breaking wave and its ability to capsize a vessel are directly related to the length of the hull of the vessel. If a breaking wave catches a vessel side on, then the wave only needs to be 30% the length of the hull to have the capability to capsize the vessel – some of the time. If the breaking wave height reaches 60% of the hull length and hits the vessel side on then almost all vessels will capsize.
Based on these figures, we see that Simpson’s Donkey is 6.8m long. So a breaking wave of just over 2m in height, if caught beam on (from the side) will have the ability to capsize us. If a breaking wave of over 4m in height hits us side on, then we will almost definitely capsize. The Tasman Sea gets some very large waves, take this example from a stormy period in September 2010 “resulting in waves over 8m over almost the full width of the Tasman Sea”.
Simpson’s Donkey is designed to be self righting in the event of capsize. However I will be doing my utmost in the upcoming row across the Tasman to avoid a capsize which is an extreme event and can cause injury/damage or more. Ways to avoid capsize include running with the weather (i.e. in the same direction as the waves in order not to become caught side on), or by deploying parachute anchors or drogues which are towed in the water behind or in front of the vessel. These have the effect of slowing the vessel down and/or holding the bow directly into the face of the waves, instead of letting the boat turn side-on which is the safest way for a vessel to handle rough weather. A good deal of my time currently is spent planning and putting protocols into place on how to handle these situations when they arise on the water.
An excellent book to read for more information on the subject is: Heavy Weather Sailing, by
I am now back in Singapore training and preparing for the hardest and most risky stage of the expedition, crossing the Tasman Sea by human power.
The success in this crossing is 80% in the preparation before I depart. Hence the next few months are a very busy time for me. I have around S$20,000 of expenses to cover for the upcoming costs of the Tasman row and the main way I finance this is through keynote speaking. If you know any organisations who have an event coming up and require a tried and tested professional keynote speaker to deliver a unique, relevant, humorous, insightful and PROFESSIONAL keynote address which would help kick your event’s WOW factor into the stratosphere, then please check out my professional speaking website to learn more and get in touch!
I specialize in corporate speaking around the themes of dealing with change and transition, after dinner speaking and schools. My professional speaking website complete with testimonials, previous clients and my speaking video trailer is located here: http://www.high-achieving.org/
Thanks for your help!
After 3900km, 45 days, 29 nights in my tent, one puncture, one tantrum, 1000 dead kangaroos, zero days of rain and one near punch up with a truck driver I have arrived in Coffs Harbour.
My journey took me from Darwin, across the remoteness of the Northern Territory where life is tough and people are rough. I spent 20 days by myself smashing into headwinds day after day as I crossed the Barkly Tablelands into Queensland. I revelled in being by myself in the outback but at the same time I yearned to see my family. I spent many nights in my tent with the door unzipped,watching the most beautiful display of stars twinkle in the night sky as I drifted off to sleep – tired and dirty after a long day on the bike but with the feeling of calm and contentedness that only comes from a hard day’s physical effort.
I rode through the outback nights, through the cold and complete darkness – alone but for the kangaroos feeding close to the roads. I met people whose life and livelihood depended how much rain that year would bring. I met people who gave me drinks, oranges, chocolate and invited me as a complete stranger into their homes. I saw the sadness of lives lost to alchohol, drunk at 10am in the morning.
I was passed by trucks so large they created a blast of compressed air so strong it stopped me in my tracks. Flies drove me crazy by day and I counted the minutes until 6pm when the sun went down and they mysteriously vanished. I slept in camp grounds, gravel pits, under trees, and roadside rest areas. I ate peanut butter sandwiches every day, drank water from bores and used three plastic bags the entire journey.
I rode through sky so blue against plains so brown and flat with roads so long and strait I thought they would never end. I saw emu, cockatoo, crocodiles, dingo, frogs, a snake, sheep, eagle, cattle, horses, wallabies, kangaroo and rabbits. As I left Queensland the kangaroo were replaced by white balls of cotton lining the sides of the road, the trees started to became greener and the temperatures colder.
My legs burned as I hit New South Wales and I rode over the great dividing range. ‘Great’ is the apt name for this most magnificent area of our planet. Up and down I rode for three days, crossing the expedition high point at 1100m before using gravity to coast down the other side for 10km into the East Coast of Australia, and a different world. Green grass finally! Beautiful stony rivers with crystal clear water. A land which looked like it had been created as perfectly as possible.
I packed up my tent amongst a sea of mist for the final time. My heart felt torn – between wanting this to continue forever and the burning desire to see my girls again. It is painful for me knowing this stage is over. Photo: Alistair Harding.
Australia I thank you, you challenged me, you tested me, you made me laugh out loud with joy as I witnessed the sunrise from the seat of my bike, you made me angry at your relentless headwinds, you made me scared as I rode through long lonely nights by myself and you made me stand speechless time and time again at your beauty. I have no words to describe the daily portraits you painted – each one different but just as beautiful. I will never forget you. As one journey ends another begins. It’s time to focus on the Tasman.
The scenery has changed remarkably in the last week. The massive flat brown plains I have been riding through for weeks have been replaced with the hills of the great dividing range. Green trees and pasture, cockatoo, sheep and balls of cotten are my daily view now as I near Coffs Harbour and the East Coast of Australia.
I was joined three days ago by expedition project manager Dave Field for a day on the bike together with Dave Donahue. We had a very nice 98km ride for the day followed by an enjoyable evening watching the state of origin. Photo below by Alistair Harding.
I have been very mindful of the increased traffic on the way into Coffs and have made a number of route changes to attempt to stay on smaller roads with less traffic. I even spent 15km on gravel yesterday which was really neat but shook the crap out of the bike so it was probably long enough.
Today I made around 800m – 1000m of height gain to reach the small town of Glen Innes. There were a number of hills to chug up but with fit legs now they are no real issue and I am enjoying them more than I thought. Yesterday I passed through the border from Queensland into New South Wales. The nights are getting colder and tonight I am expecting a frost so will be a cold night in the tent. This part of Australia I am in now is absolutely stunning. Each day the weather is clear – the sky is blue and their is little wind. Temperatures during the day are perfect for Cycling and an average day in winter here feels like a perfect summers day in New Zealand. The people are also more refined here and gentle than in the Northern Territory where life is much harder. This is definitely a beautiful part of Australia and the world.
There is only three days of riding and around 250km left to reach Coffs Harbour so I hope to arrive on Tuesday. My aim for the cycle leg has been to reach Coffs feeling healthy and fit with plenty of gas left in the tank to start preparing for the Tasman crossing. I have travelled 7850km from Singapore by human power since the 3 January. It sure has been an adventure. Hopefully my next post will be from the finish point of stage 2, from Coffs Harbour and where I can finally dip my toe in the mighty Tasman Sea.
I am writing this from the small town of Condamine, only 650km from Coffs Harbour. The last six days have been rather different from the previous 31 as film producer Alistair Harding caught up with me and we took three days off to film. Since then I have been back on the bike and ridden a 90km, 145km and today a 115km day to reach this point. My legs loved the three day break as they were starting to burn every time I rode. The most exciting thing that happened during the filming was an emu attacked the drone – the footage can be seen on the Facebook page. Fortunately the drone was not injured. We shot some beautiful scenes with the bike along the route I had ridden and Alistair once again impressed me with his commitment to excellence, capturing this story as authentically and beautifully as possible. The photo below is taken by Alistair of ‘Stephanie’s Donkey’ at a roadside campsite at night close to Winton.
Yesterday I met a couple who had an orphan Kangaroo called Emma and I fed it some milk for lunch. It was a welcome change after seeing so many hundreds of dead ones.Today was not a good day on the bike as I started hitting heavier traffic as I approached the major town of Toowoomba. I have two main options to reach Coffs Harbour from here. One was a coastal route passing through Toowoomba – the second is an inland route. I had decided on the coastal route until today’s ride. I had two incidents when I was forced off the road by a truck and a car making over taking manoeuvres which were very dangerous. This section of road will kill cyclists with Drivers like this and I made up my mind as I rode into the town of Miles that I needed a safer route into Coffs. After some advice from the lovely Anna at the information centre in Miles I headed south on the inland route which is as she promised me – at least so far more quiet.
On Wednesday this week I will be joined for a day by two special people who will ride with me for a day which I am excited about. Today my backside is killing me as I wore track pants over my bike shorts which somehow altered something to cause some serious chafing on my backside. It’s very sore and I can’t sit down properly! Other than that – life is pretty darn good out here – and to TOP it all off it’s only 11 days until I see my beautiful Wife and babies again. By then it will have been a very long 50 days since I have seen them which has been the hardest part of the journey. The photo below is also taken by Alistair – it’s one of the first photos I have of me on the bike as I can’t take them myself.
Day 28 saw me depart Barcaldine far too late at 1000 hrs due to some serious farting around. I paid the price by riding through headwinds and rotting kangaroo carcasses all day arriving into Blackall at 530pm. I was desperately hoping to get a room for the night as had spent a number of nights in the tent but the rooms were full so I grudgingly setup the tent again. In my old age I am getting very soft and had no motivation to take a shower once the sunsets and it gets cold. So I went to bed without having a shower for the third day in a row. I felt a little depressed and dirty, tired of camping and missed the girls so much it physically hurt.
Day 29 was a better day fortunately as I kicked myself out of bed at 630am and was all packed up. weetbix forced down and ready to go by just before 8am. Today there was no wind! Oh my god, for the first time in 19 days the headwinds dropped off and boy did I make the most of it! I averaged over 20km per hour and the final hour of riding I made 25km per hour as I cranked out 101km in just 4 hours. It was a liberating feeling to be riding at these speeds and I rolled into the tiny town of Tambo feeling great and wanting to carry on as it was only lunchtime. However having no shower for 4 days, not having washed my clothes for a week and coupled with the pub having rooms for 50 dollars all colluded to persuade me to stay the night here.
Unfortunately the next day – day 30, the headwinds returned – It took me 9 solid hours of hard work to ride 115km. The winds were constant and in my face and I pulled into another tiny place called Augathella feeling like I had gone through 10 rounds in the boxing ring. I sat in the Roadhouse finally out of the wind in stunned silence for an hour. There is something about being in strong wind for along time that takes it out of me. I set up the tent and went to bed without showering again as I arrived late and was knackered.
Day 31 – today, I set out at 0700 hrs after having this cute little kangaroo come and say hello. Apparently he was wild and had lost his Mum and just turned up that morning.
I had a 90km ride to a town called Morven today. The wind was even worse than yesterday but I was saved by a lot of trees lining the road and sheltering me for the first 80km – the last 10 km I came out into open grassland – what a nightmare those 10km were taking me over an hour to grind down.
Alistair Harding the expedition film producer has returned and we will now take a three day break to do some filming before I continue the last 1000km to Coffs Harbour – I am looking forward to a few days off the bike before getting stuck back in to finish this journey off. I have the great dividing range to cross to get into Coffs Harbour which rises to 1000m in places so need to find the easiest way through that.
Bye for now!
I spent a relaxing day in Winton on day 23 visiting the museums and wandering around the town eating ice cream after ice cream, until I became embarrassed at buying too many from one store and moved to the next. My appetite has gone crazy and I can’t stop eating, generally I seem to crave fatty junk food. Winton is famous for dinosaur fossils but they are 11km out of town and cost 55 dollars to visit which I thought was a bit steep so didn’t make the effort. Maybe I should have. I am still debating it! I did enjoy what is left of the Waltzing museum after the main part burnt down unfortunately recently.
The temperature has been dropping down between 0 to 4 degrees overnight and it makes it a little uncomfortable for early morning starts from the tent so I find myself huddling in my sleeping bag until the suns rays start to show and warm things up a bit before surfacing.
I set out on day 24 for my last long 180km ride between water stops. As usual I smashed into headwinds, all day and 115km later just on dark pulled into a rest area and set up my tent. That day I saw a frog, a dead kitten, my first flock of sheep, 500 dead kangaroo and 15 emu. And some people say there is just miles of nothing in the outback?
What a beautiful night I had there by myself enjoying the solitude of the outback from the comfort of my tent. The stars were twinkling in their full glory and I cooked couscous and tuna with a massive mug of sweet tea for dinner before curling up in my sleeping bag for the night.
Then next morning as the sun rose I had muesli and tea for breakfast then set off for the remaining 65km into Longreach. Longreach is an interesting country town. It’s two main attractions are the Qantas founders museum and the Stockmans hall of fame. I absolutely loved the Qantas museum – Longreach was the base for Qantas originally because of its geography and also the warm dry air which would not corrode the planes. The history of Qantas is fascinating with two guys who met flying fighter planes in WWI. They became friends and after the war returned to Australia where they were awarded a job from the Commonwealth to travel from Longreach to Darwin and identify potential emergency landing sites for planes. The planes were taking part in the first London to Australia air race. Their epic journey in a model T car through the outback with generally no roads took 51 days. I had just cycled this same distance in reverse in 25 days. At the end of the journey they both realised that this vast inhospitable country was ripe for an air service. So they founded the Queensland and Northern Territory Air Service – which if you look at it can be shortened to ‘Qantas’. Their friendship ended unfortunately due to the rigours of their overland trip and one soon left Qantas. The rest is history!
At the end of the day visiting museums I rode 27km down the road to Ilfracombe. A tiny town with a pub and a caravan park. I slept there the night and was invited to thaw out for breakfast with a lovely couple from Sydney who cooked eggs and toast with coffee.
I then set off for an 80km push into the wind to Barcaldine. There are so many dead and rotting kangaroo on the roads now it stinks to high heavens. Every 100m there is another carcass. The country side is still very flat and open here and today I met my first proper cycle tourist on the whole journey – this dude who is 60 and is Cycling around Australia for a year!
I have 1400km to reach Coffs now – I have travelled 2450km and am a little sad to be slowly moving away from the outback and closer to towns and more people. People in the outback wave and talk to you, every single one of them. I enjoy the sense of isolation and never feel lonely out here – it’s only when I visit a town and see people around that I may start to feel vaguely lonely. This sure is a remarkable part of the world and I must sound like a broken record but I really do feel privileged to experience it by day from the seat of my bicycle and by night from the nylon of my tent.
Have a lovely weekend and leave the ipad and TV alone and get outside for a walk, run or a ride, climb, ski, paddle or a swim. Your body and your spirit will thank you for it:)
I departed Mt Isa just after 4am on day 18, for a 125km ride to the next town of Cloncurry. I was very privileged to have been hosted for two nights in Mt Isa by Craig and Vicki and their lovely family – they were a great ambassadors for the town, opening up their home to a complete stranger and even introducing me to kangaroo stew.
The temperature has now dropped significantly and I rode in a thermal long sleeve, shell jacket and high vis vest in the darkness. The first 60km had a few hills and there were dead kangaroos everywhere along the road. I startled an alive one and it hopped across about 10m in front of me which gave me a scare. They are quite large and I have no illusions about who would come off second best between a kangaroo and cyclist collision. This section of road had very little shoulder and it was dangerous with road trains coming past and other smaller trucks which are in fact worse than the road trains. The size of the truck seems comparable to the size of the brain of the driver in these parts.
The headwinds started blowing harder as the sun came up, not strong enough to blow the flies away though and I chugged slowly into Cloncurry just after lunchtime.
Cloncurry is a small rural town which services the farming and mining community. It is also the original home of the flying doctor service in Australia and has a couple of interesting museums. The following day I had a conference call scheduled for midday for a speaking engagement and needed a mobile connection so decided to take a sightseeing day around the two museums and take the conference call.
It felt too cold on day 20 to leave early which was a pathetic excuse and I paid the price for a tardy 730am start. This day I rode east for 12km before turning off onto the Landsborough highway and heading south east – directly into the wind. What a miserable day I had as I battled for every kilometre. The wind was constant and strait in my face and reduced my pace to just over 11km per hour. It felt like I was forever cycling uphill and it stole my energy and the strength from my legs. I had zero interest in the landscape around and me and just focussed on grinding down the miles until around 4pm and 106km I arrived in McKinley. McKinley has a Roadhouse and a pub known as the ‘Walkabout Creek Hotel’ which was featured in the movie Crocodile Dundee. I felt a little beaten up on arrival and chatting to the owner she told me I am the first cyclist she has met who is cycling in this direction. Everyone else comes the other way with the wind behind them.
I departed the next morning at 0500hrs and once again struggled with the early morning cold. Even though the wind is slightly less at night I find it very boring riding in the dark now. I can only concentrate on the small light of my front bike lamp to illuminate the white line in front of me and am ever on the alert to be skittled by a mad kangaroo. By 0800hrs the wind was up in full force. It reduced my speed to 8-9 km per hour. What a nightmare of a day. I hated every bit of it. At one stage I got off my bike and pushed it as I thought it may be faster than riding. Pushing it I could do 6.5km per hour. So at least 8km per hour was faster than walking. I employed every mental strength technique I knew to get through the day. Nothing worked very well and my strength and my confidence ebbed away hour by hour. I felt weak and tired mentally and physically. I wondered what the hell I was doing here. I missed Stephanie and Kate and Rachel. If someone stopped and asked to help I would have willingly given them all my bags and asked them to carry them to the next Roadhouse for me. I began to question my ability to finish the cycle ride to Coffs if the conditions were like this all the way. Just as things got really bad I got a flat back tyre. I couldn’t be bothered changing it so kept pumping it up every few km as it was a slow leak until I eventually made it 75km in just under ten hours to the tiny town at Kynuna. I sat in the Roadhouse like a stunned mullet and ate a pie and demolished a milkshake.
That night I changed my tyre and gave myself permission to feel like shit. Expeditions are like this – they are not romantic fairy tales which every day you laugh and dance and rejoice for being ‘out there’. Just like life, there are bad days and you need the bad days to appreciate the good days. My confidence had taken a real battering over the last two days and I felt weak, 100km per day now sounded like an impossible feat whereas one week before it had been a cruise. I went to bed at 730pm and set the alarm for 3am with the knowledgable I had another long stretch of 165km to the next water stop /Roadhouse into this nightmare of a headwind to cheer me up.
I set off at 0315hrs on day 22 – so cold my toes and hands were numb. If the temperatures drop much lower than this I will need to upgrade my clothing. The wind was blowing lightly only and I managed to make 17km per hour progress for hour after hour in the darkness. It was too cold to stop so I rode continuously for four hours. The occasional road train passed me but at night I see them coming for miles and I can tell if they see me as they dip their lights. I almost feel safer with traffic when cycling at night. I came across 2 x kangaroos having a chat in the middle of the road. I startled them and one took off up the road in front of me. I ended up chasing it for about 2km before it bounced off into the grass. No wonder they get killed by cars and trucks. Just after 7pm I stopped for muesli and curdled milk for breakfast (my three day old milk had curdled but it still tasted ok – like yoghurt, thanks mum for the advice!).
As I ate breakfast I noticed the wind had stopped almost completely. I gave a small whoop of joy, this was my opportunity to make miles so I was quickly back on the bike and kept pounding the pedals. I was determined to ride until the wind stopped me, it did start to pick up later on but never as bad as the last two days. I passed a poor kangaroo which had been hit by a car but still alive, it stared at me as I cycled past. I wished I had something to put it out of its misery.
I am now in wide open farming country – flat as a pancake. The roads are long and strait and only slightly undulating. Perfect cycling roads for making miles if not for the wind. I stopped when I came across a paddock with 25 beautiful horses. It made a change from seeing dead kangaroos and the occasional cow. Eventually after 9.5hours in the saddle and 165km I pulled into the town of Winton, my confidence restored and the expedition firmly back on track.
My thoughts go out to the victims and families in London.
Lots of love,
I decided to splash out 50 dollars and stay in a room at Camooweal – it was the filthiest room I have ever stayed in but even worse was the toilet which had seriously not been cleaned in maybe a couple of years. I soon realised that no one ever stays here apart from short bald kiwi cyclists and one 80 year old, half deaf and 30% blind (his words) evangelist preacher named Leigh. Leigh was saving souls in the town and hanging out by day at the billabong where travellers camp to spread his message. He ended up saving me on the morning I left when I locked myself in the stinking portacabin toilet by accident. Fortunately I could stand on the stinking handbasin and reach a tiny slot window which I could just fit my head through and call Leigh for help. After a bit of confusion and conversation along the lines of “Where are ya? I can hear ya but I can’t see ya?”, Leigh finally understood my predicament and released me.
I set off at midday loaded up again with 10 litres of water for a 190km run to Mt Isa. I cycled slowly into a gentle headwind all afternoon reaching 90km by 6pm. I cooked dinner and rested here then set off in the dark for another 45km ride trying to make use of the lower wind speed at night. My legs were feeling really tired by now and my body was telling me I needed a rest. I did not enjoy the ride and felt tired and uneasy in the darkness. There were dead kangaroos all over the road and I startled a number in the darkness which were feeding close to the road and they scared me as they bounced off even though I could not see them. At 11pm I pulled into a rest area and ate 4 weetbix then lay down in my bivvy bag for a few hours sleep.
I planned to wake at 4am to get moving again but was so tired I slept until 6am and did not get moving until 7am. The wind was blowing much stronger today and I cursed my tardiness as I fought it for the next 5 hours into Mt Isa. My legs had no power left and felt as if someone was injecting syringes of lactic acid into them. I had to pedal to push the bike down the hills the wind was so bad. Completely drained of energy I crawled into Mt Isa just before 12 o’clock to tally 190km since leaving Camooweal 24 hours earlier.
Mt Isa is literally a town built around a mine. The mine is the centre of the town and you can walk out the entrance and down to MacDonalds.
I am lucky to be hosted by Craig – the president of the triathalon club here and his wife and lovely family. He gave me a tour of the town and also we visited a beautiful lake called Moondarra, 20km from Mt Isa.
I am having a much needed rest today, my first in 13 days. I am getting my bike serviced and am feeling very posh as I upgraded from the bivvy sack to a real tent – my nights will be much more comfortable for the rest of the trip.
Tomorrow I have a hilly section for 120km to reach the town of Cloncurry. I hope my legs will feel better by then. The head winds look like they will get worse over the next week or so. Fortunately the temperature has now dropped to around 26 by day and 11 by night so it’s much more comfortable than the heat closer to Darwin. Bye for now!
I departed the Barkly Roadhouae around 930am on day 13, loaded down with 10 sticks of chocolate and 12 litres of water to get me through the next 260km stretch to the one horse town of Camooweal. This stretch was interesting for a couple of points – it is the remotest stretch of the entire cycle with the greatest distance between resupply points and secondly I cross the border from Northern Territory into Queensland.
I fought headwinds all through day 13. But even worse were the flies. I stopped after 40km for lunch at a rest area and was covered in horrible black flies immediately. As I sat down in the shade of a rubbish bin eating my sandwich some campervanners parked close by enjoying their lunch from the sanctuary of their vehicle rolled down their window and yelled “looks like you are eating raisin bread with all those flies on it mate!”.
Anytime I stopped during the day I was swarmed with flies and they drove me nuts so I eventually just kept riding albeit slowly for hour after hour, eating and drinking while on the go. Even while riding some of the faster flies could keep up with me but it was better than stopping.
At 6pm I pulled into a rest stop and just as the sunset the flies dissapeared. I have noticed this before, that as soon as it gets dark the flies knock off for the day. What a relief to sit there finally after 8.5 hours in the saddle and cook a delicious dinner of beef curry and a massive Mug of sweet tea with no flies trying to crawl up my nose. After 90 minutes rest I was back on the bike and riding into the darkness. It was much nicer to ride at night with no headwind or flies. I saw a dingo trot across the road in front of me. The Milky Way was showing off her splendour and the stars were my friends as I rode with only the noise of my chain whirring to break the silence.
At 1130pm I had hit 190km for the day and lay down at a rest area in my sleeping bags for five hours until 430am. Wanting to maximise the night time lack of headwinds and flies I was up to polish off the remaining 70km to Camooweal. I stopped at 630am for another Mug of sweet tea and a cheese sandwich and to watch the sunrise. Wow the scenery had changed overnight and I am now out of boring flat scrub land and into wide open expansive pasture land which I can see for miles. I saw my first Kangaroo – unfortunately it was dead on the road.
15km before Camooweal I crossed the border into Queensland. And then 24 and a 1/4 hours after leaving Barkly Roadhouse I finally pulled into Camooweal at 945am to polish off a distance of 260km since departing then Barkly Roadhouse.
My conclusion from the last 1400km riding through the Northern Territory outback is that I like it much more by night – when the heat and flies dissapear. It is a tough, tough landscape. A harsh environment and one I would probably not be very suited to living in. I do feel privileged to have experienced at least a little of it from the seat of Stephanie’s Donkey.
As soon as I turned left onto the Barkly Highway on day 11 I knew I was in trouble. I was met with a constant head wind that slowed me down to just over 10km per hour. With 190km to go to my next water stop, and the bike loaded up with 10 litres of water my mood deteriorated hour by hour as I slowly ground out miles. After five hours and only 50km I was in a particularly bad mood and wondering if I have made the correct decision to turn down this route. Darkness was approaching and traffic was very light – one car every 15 minutes or so when a beaten up white station wagon passed me slowly and stopped a few hundred metres in front. Oh dear I immediately thought. I am about to be confronted by some bogans in the middle of nowhere. To my surprise a young Taiwanese guy and his girlfriend got out and waved me down to pass me a can of energy drink. This random act of kindness changed my mood entirely and I cycled on until I reached a rest area in the darkness with a pretty pathetic distance of 70km in over 6 hours.
I ate a cold can of spaghetti for dinner in the dark and jumped into my sleeping bag and bivvy sack, setting my alarm for 4am. There were ants everywhere and massive spiders were living in the fence above my head so I sprayed some bug spray around the outside of the bivvy bag and zipped it up tightly.
I wanted to start early in the morning to check if the winds were less during the darkness. So at 4am I was up, rolled up my bivvy and sleeping bag, and for breakfast had a pee and a full body scratch. By 4:20am I was off and Cycling and to my relief there was no wind. I made excellent time in the darkness – averaging 19.5km per hour until the sun rose and the headwinds immediately started again. I would like to say I turned the other cheek to the wind and whistled my way through them however they really frustrated me. They slowed me again to 10km per hour and I had to use so much effort just to make this speed. It feels like cycling with the brakes on. I yelled and screamed and swore, stopped and kicked rocks and sticks all the while making sure no vehicles were approaching to watch my tantrum before eventually getting back on the bike and peddling on. After 120km I rolled into the Barkly Roadhouse at 1pm – pretty happy to arrive and be out of the wind.
Today I start a 260km stretch without water – once again I will carry 10litres with me and will try and split it up into 2 x 130km days or nights depending on the headwinds. These long sections without water are not the places I wanted to be battling massive headwinds but such is life. It is not as if I have much choice anymore!
Cheers for now,
After 960km of cycling since departing Darwin, here I am at ‘Three Ways’ junction where I have to make the biggest decision of the cycle leg. To turn left or go straight ahead? Turning left takes me a further 2800km across the Barclay Tablelands and a more direct route to Coffs Harbour. Straight ahead takes me 3500km down the Stuart highway and eventually to Coffs, an additional 700km longer journey in total. Both routes have their highlights and appeal, however I have finally settled on turning left. Whilst the longer route is more appealing to my sense of adventure – I would not have time to see anything as would need to be cycling over 100km every day for the next 35 days strait to make it to Coffs within my time constraints. I am trying to tell myself to slow down a little and take the slightly shorter version and at least see a little more of the country on the way through. Looking back on this journey since I started on the 3 January in Singapore – it is the times I have stopped somewhere to enjoy a view or a cup of tea or talk to someone that stick in my mind – not the actual travel.
The last three days I have ridden into headwinds and through a landscape which has changed significantly. I am now in wide open cattle country and trees are becoming replaced with low lying schrubs. Now there is bugger all shade and I have to ride for more than an hour or two to find a road sign or anything I can rest behind out of the sun if I want a break. It really is a harsh place during the afternoon heat especially.
Yesterday I rode 115km to ‘three ways’ junction after spending the night in a gravel pit on the side of the road. I had ridden into the darkness the evening before and as the flies dissapeared with the sunlight and the mosquitos came to replace them I setup my bivvy bag on sun baked, rock hard, red earth. After two hours of sweating in the bag, the heat finally dissapeared and it became cold enough to get in my sleeping bag by the time 0500 came around and I rose to head off. As I rolled up my bivvy bag a large spider came running out which kind of spoilt my mood and I dearly hoped it had been on the outside of the bag all night and not inside it with me. My mood soon improved however as I witnessed a lovely sunrise making the countryside glow as I peddled along lost in my thoughts.
Alistair Harding our legendary expedition film producer has had to return to New Zealand unexpectedly so I am now alone. It took a day or two to readjust to this and while I miss his company during the evening when we would meet it is also nice to spend some time alone. I do hope he maybe can catch up again in two weeks or so time. He was never acting as my support vehicle as we travelled independently with me carrying everything I need so the transition from a practical sense was not difficult.
Yesterday I passed this crazy guy pushing his cart from Melbourne to Darwin – this was day 72 of his trip and he run/walks about 40km per day.
Over the next week I have some massive distances to cover between water stops as I take on the Barclay Highway. I have a 180km section starting this afternoon and then immediately followed by a 290km section. For both these sections I will need more than one day – maybe 2.5 for the 290km section. Carrying enough water to get through 2.5 days is the main concern.
My body is covered in insect bites, headwinds and heat make it difficult to do larger mileage and I hate sleeping in the bivvy bag. The bivvy bag is my biggest mistake of the the trip. I am always looking for ways to cut weight and this was one step too far. Fortunately Mr Andrew Cook has come to the rescue and I have a small free standing tent waiting for me in Mt Isa – 6 days ride away which will make camping much more comfortable. The ground is so hard here I can’t even get tent pegs in so a free standing tent is more appropriate. Apart from that my legs are becoming hard as rocks as I get fitter and I am loving the over all experience of seeing this harsh, dangerous but beautiful land by my own human power.
Every night I sleep out in the open in my tiny bivvy bag. This is basically a small waterproof bag that goes over my sleeping bag. It’s advantage over a tent is that it is very lightweight and I set it up in less than 30 seconds by simply unrolling it on the ground. Three nights ago in a campsite at Mataranka I was sleeping under a tree when around 11am I woke to feel someone lying over my feet. My first thought was that someone had crept up and gone to sleep using my feet as a pillow and in the darkness as I looked down I saw what I thought was a large rabbit lying quietly on my legs. I wasn’t quite sure what to do but but eventually moved my feet and made a grunt to chase the rabbit away. To my surprise it moved up closer to me and I saw it was actually a wallaby. All night until 530am the wallaby sat with me and seemed to enjoy my body warmth. By 530am when I rose it was nestled in against my shoulder and I lay there looking at this curiously shaped animal for fifteen minutes as it rubbed it a stomach and chewed imaginery food. This one must have been the campground pet but to share an experience with an animal like this was pretty special. Here is a photo of the little fella.
I have started experimenting with different routines – leaving on the bike at 630am and trying to knock out 100km or so before lunchtime. I then rest for a few hours during the heat and have time to do another 40km or so from 430 to 630pm when the temperature drops. I rode for thirty minutes in the dark two nights back and can honestly say that seeing a road train approaching during the darkness at 130km per hour is very intimidating. They are lit up like ships and with a roar like a 747 taking off you hear them bearing down on you for a few minutes before they smash past in a blaze of lights, noise and wind. It put me off trying too much more night riding unless absolutely necessary.
Two nights ago I slept in a rest area on the side of the road. There were small scrub fires all around the rest area so the area was thick with smoke and many insects. Yesterday I made 100km to a roadhouse called Dunbarra then today I did another easy 100km to Elliot. Last night I got chewed to death by insects and have lots of bites all over. I am pacing myself as my fitness builds up a little more then I will start upping the daily mileage.
My big decision is about to come. I will in two days time reach ‘three ways’ junction where I need to finalise my route to Coffs Harbour. Either I go strait down the Stuart highway to port Augusta and “Turn Left to Coffs to make a longer trip of 4500km or I turn left at three ways and follow the Barcly Highway across to Coffs for a shorter route of 3800km. Decisions decisions. Anyway – bye for now!
Love Captain Axe!
Hello from the small town of Katherine in the Northern Territory – some 320km from Darwin’s Cullen Bay Marina where I started. Day three was a short ride of 93km from Pine Creek to Katherine. I did not sleep so well during the evening and rose at 5am on day three with the intention to leave in the dark at 6am. But things did not work out that way and I farted around uploading a video to YouTube and having breakfast so did not hit the road until 730am. This turned out to be too late as by 11am it is starting to get so awfully hot that Cycling from then onwards throughout the afternoon is an exercise in suffering. (The YouTube video of Darwin is here)
I stopped after 48km for a muesli bar, Apple and a drink, then pushed on with just one more quick stop until Katherine. This was my first introduction to a longer stretch without anything inbetween in terms of water stops or towns etc. From Katherine onwards the distances between resupply points will get longer and longer – upto just under 300km.
I was buggered from the heat when I rode into Katherine and found some shade on the Main Street and ate a pie, a sandwich and a banana milk followed by an ice block. Katherine is a small town with a large population of indigenous people and is quite sad to see a lot of drinking in the Main Street even during the day time.
Today is day four and I had an active rest day – heading with film producer Alistair into the Katherine Gorge for a short boat trip and a beautiful if not sweltering hot walk back out. We had wanted to kayak the gorge but it has some Crocs in there now as per the picture attached – we saw this smaller one from the boat.
Tomorrow is another 110km day and I will try and rise and leave earlier to beat the heat – I am starting to get scared of the heat – it really is pretty awful to try and ride in. I also got passed by a large truck far too close for comfort yesterday – at 100km it made no effort to give me any room even though I was on the shoulder and roared past less then 0.5m away. I would have loved to meet the driver.
Love Captain Axe
Hello from a small ‘village’ some 220km form Darwin. Yesterday at 0720hrs I departed Cullen Bay Marina on ‘Stephanie’s Donkey’ laden with enough gear I hope, to get me the 4000+km across Australia to Coff’s Harbour.
I was lucky to be accompanied by fellow Kiwi ‘Rob’ a soldier with the Australian Army for the first 50km out of Darwin. I was pretty happy when he turned off as I could have a break as we rode non stop and him being on a light road bike and me on the loaded up Donkey was a mid match even though he rode nice and slowly for me. Day one went generally well although I was I introduced to the afternoon heat of 35 degrees and road trains which are huge! They have upto three massive trailers and roar along at 100 over KM per hour but generally give me lots of room which is nice.
Most Drivers are very friendly and will wave and beep their horns in support which I sometime wish they would not do as it scares the shit out of me.
I had a lovely sleep last night in my bivvy bag – it got cold enough that I had to get into my sleeping bag in the middle of the night.
The landscape on day one was boring, scrubby land but today I rode 113km to a small place called Pine Creek and the landscape became beautiful. Lots of boulders and burnt undergrowth with some small ranges and cuttings which made the scenery nice. Also lots of termite mounds. I am averaging one pie and two ice blocks per day as well as two beers. This afternoon was lots of rolling hills which made my average slow down to about 15 – 16km per hour.
I miss my girls a lot and have imaginary conversations with them while riding. I can’t wait to introduce them to this life. Cycling through a country is a much more intimate experience which connects me with the landscape than I ever feel from driving.
My knee got very sore today so I adjusted my seat height by raising it and it immediately felt better.
Bye for now and lots of love,
Please see episode 10 of the Rowing from Home to Home video diaries – the best yet and it brings tears to my eyes just watching it. It is my favourite episode so far as it captures us becoming the first people to cross the Timor Sea by human power from Timor to Darwin – officially ending stage one of the journey. This was such an important part of the entire expedition as without getting to Darwin the expedition had no future for me. It was Charlie Smith’s last leg of the expedition so was emotional for us both to see his departure from the team. It was also very exciting as I could now focus on stage two – crossing the Australian continent by bicycle – which I leave in two days time.
If you enjoy this video please share it – it is so beautifully produced by expedition film producer Alistair Harding – a man whom I respect and admire for his unselfish and tireless quest to document the expedition in the most professional manner possible.
Love Captain Axe