Strategic decisions & cycling Australia’s East Coast
I recently spent two weeks continuing the Rowing from Home to Home journey. I cycled 1,300km down the east coast of Australia to a new launching spot where I will make a second attempt to finish the expedition by rowing solo across the Tasman Sea later this year. All things must come to an end and I am determined in one way or another to finish the expedition in the next few months. I am keeping my exact plans as low key as possible due to factors which one day may be explained in the expedition book. Many strategic decisions are being made for the better good of the expedition.
The cycle ride in Australia was some of the most enjoyable and beautiful riding I have done, anywhere in the world. Attached is some photo’s taken by expedition film producer Alistair Harding.
Every boat needs a name: Welcome to the world Simpson’s Donkey!
As the title of this post suggests, every boat needs a name. Following along from my trusty inflatable kayak which is named ‘The Divorce Machine’ (given by kiwi buddy Blair Spendelow), there were rumors and suggestions abounding that the rowing boat would be suitably named ‘The Divorce Machine 2’. This was not to be and after a few months of brain storming I am proud to announce that our beautiful Rowing Boat is officially known as ‘Simpson’s Donkey’.
So where did this name come from? It is to do with a very sad part of world history, World War 1. One of the great battles of WWI was fought at Gallipoli, this became known as the Gallipoli campaign, the Dardanelles Campaign or the Battle of Canakkale to the Turks. Gallipoli is a peninsula on Turkey’s coastline. Between 25 April, 1915 and 9 January, 1916, the allies consisting of troops from the UK, France, Newfoundland, India, Australia and New Zealand mounted a massive attack, and attempted to storm the Gallipoli peninsula. The ensuing battle resulted in 500,000 casualties and after 8 months of fierce fighting – the allies withdrew, their campaign a failure. But for the Turks it is regarded as one of the greatest Ottoman victories during the war.
“In Turkey, it is regarded as a defining moment in the nation’s history: a final surge in the defence of the motherland as the Ottoman Empire crumbled. The struggle formed the basis for the Turkish War of Independence and the declaration of the Republic of Turkey eight years later under Mustafa Kemal (Kemal Atatürk) who first rose to prominence as a commander at Gallipoli” [source: Wikipedia]
It also formed a very significant part of Australia and New Zealand’s history.
“The campaign is often considered as marking the birth of national consciousness in Australia and New Zealand and the date of the landing, 25 April, is known as “Anzac Day” which is the most significant commemoration of military casualties and veterans in those two countries.”[source: Wikipedia]
As with every battle there were many heroic feats on both sides. One of the more intriguing and inspiring stories is of an Australian soldier John (Jack) Simpson Kirkpatrick who served as a stretcher bearer with the 1st Australian Division during the campaign. After landing on a beach at Gallipoli peninsula known as Anzac Cove on the 25 April 1915, Simpson began to use donkeys to provide first aid and carry wounded soldiers to the beach for evacuation. Simpson and the donkeys continued this work for three and a half weeks, under very dangerous conditions. They were often under fire and the story goes that he used a at least 4 different donkeys during this period as each one was killed in the line of duty.
“Colonel (later General) John Monash wrote: “Private Simpson and his little beast earned the admiration of everyone at the upper end of the valley. They worked all day and night throughout the whole period since the landing, and the help rendered to the wounded was invaluable. Simpson knew no fear and moved unconcernedly amid shrapnel and rifle fire, steadily carrying out his self-imposed task day by day, and he frequently earned the applause of the personnel for his many fearless rescues of wounded men from areas subject to rifle and shrapnel fire.”[source: Wikipedia].
As with many stories over the time, their are varying accounts of the exact facts. It generally seems to be accepted that Simpson managed to bring over 300 men back to safety during his 24 days serving at Gallipoli. Sadly Simpson was killed my machine gun fire at Anzac Cove on 19 May, 1915. However “Simpson and his Donkey” are now very much engrained into the “Anzac legend“. You can read more about the man and his colorful history here: http://www.anzacs.net/Simpson.htm or here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Simpson_Kirkpatrick
Simpson’s Donkey is a synomonous with bravery, faithfulness and courage. But most importantly to me, the little donkey was a symbol of hope and safety. Imagine being a wounded solder on the battle field, under fire and in pain, far from home, the sight of Simpson and his brave little donkey coming to your rescue as your lifeline must have been one of the most beautiful things you could ever imagine to see.
Our rowing boat is our lifeline, just like the little donkey, she does not move very fast, but we must rely completely on her, for her strength and her sturdiness to carry us safely From Home to Home.
Simpson’s Donkey is officially registered as New Zealand vessel (Registration number NZ 2270). She arrived in Singapore two weeks ago and I am very proud to now have her in the water at the beautiful Raffles Marina. Raffles Marina are very kindly hosting her at their world class facility for the entire 9 months leading to our departure in January 2017. During this time there is a massive amount of training, preparation, familiarization, modifications and enhancements to do before departure. (See two very short videos of the arrival and launch below)
As with all major expeditions, budgets are always challenging and I am always happy to hear from any potential customers who may be interested in my inspiring keynote speaking services, which is the way I have funded the bulk of the campaign to date.
For those of you reading this who use Facebook, please note I also post regular weekly updates to the expedition facebook page which you can see here: https://www.facebook.com/GrantAxeRawlinson/
Thanks for reading and have a great week ahead!
Grant ‘Axe’ Rawlinson
NB: A big thank you to my friend Ms Lyn Fielding, for helping suggest the name ‘Simpson’s Donkey’. Originally I was contemplating ‘Anzac Spirit’ for the boat name however the word ‘Anzac’ is protected in New Zealand and Lyn gave me this alternate suggestion which I immediately loved. Lyn, for an Aussie you are not bad 🙂
Peak to Peak 2015 – The movie – climbing the Dragon Horns
Instead of a lengthy blog post, I created this short video of the awesome adventure we finished last week – Peak to Peak 2015 the movie – ENJOY!
Inflatable sea kayaking micro-adventure: Sentosa to St Johns Island
Fresh and flushed with inspiration after the maiden voyage of the Divorce Machine the week before, Stephanie and I decided Sentosa Island would be the location to launch our next inflatable sea-kayaking micro-adventure. I enjoy testing and challenging things to the limit and today I managed to find the limits of both the Divorce Machine, how fast I can paddle against strong currents, and my relationship with my long suffering wife Stephanie.
The official Sentosa Island website describes the island as follows:
“Located just 15 minutes from the city, Sentosa, Asia’s Favourite Playground, is home to an exciting array of themed attractions, award-winning spa retreats, lush rainforests, golden sandy beaches, resort accommodations, world-renowned golf courses, a deep-water yachting marina and luxurious residences. Spread over 500 hectares, the vibrant island resort is ideal for both business and leisure.”
Asia’s favorite playground? I wonder what they were smoking when they came up with that line? Asia’s most artificial playground with overly inflated property prices would probably be a more appropriate name. The original name of Sentosa Island was actually a Malay name “Pulau Belakang Mati”. This translates to “Island of death from behind”. Since then however it went through a few name changes. As you can probably imagine not many people wanted to hang out on an island with that name. Now Sentosa translates to “peace or tranquility”.
We found a car park located at Tanjong beach and inflated the Divorce Machine. We then carried her down to the rock breakwater and scrambled down the slippery rock wall to launch her. Our destination today was St John’s Island island to the south-east of Sentosa. I had been told by a professional oceanographer (Mr Blair Spendelow who also happened to come up with the name for the Divorce Machine) that the currents around these islands are very strong. So I was a little apprehensive about today’s paddle.
Getting to St John’s was not a problem as the current was whistling along from west to east. We cruised along easily with the current, making speeds of 6 – 8 km/hour. There is a high number of fast ferries cruising around the coast of Sentosa, and we had to cross the strait from Sentosa to Tekukor Island in gaps between this vessel traffic. This was a little hairy and we paddled hard to get across here. The day was overcast and windy. The wind was whipping the sea into a choppy mess and coupled with the swells from the vessels zooming fast at high-speed we soon had water pouring over the side of the Divorce Machine. Compared to the relatively calm water at Pulau Ubin the week before it was definitely a more intense experience.
We island hopped from Tekukor Island over to St John’s Island and pulled into the small bay and beach area. What a beautiful little island is St John’s. There were only 2 people on the island, a Chinese chap fishing, and the Malay caretaker named ‘Supar’. Supar was a very friendly chap who had 30 cats and told us he had been there since 1954. He had one large tom cat with him on the jetty which was more the size of a baby tiger. We chatted for a while. I was surprised that here – so close to Singapore was this tranquil little island with only 2 people. When I Google’d St John’s island when I got home I found it is haunted – maybe that explains it?
St John’s Island is actually located in a group of 4 islands known as the ‘southern islands’, St John’s, Lazarus, Kusu and Seringat. Seringat, Lazarus and St John’s are all connected to each other. We spent a very enjoyable 2 hours slowly paddling around the perimeter of the islands. We stopped off on Kusu island which has a Chinese temple and a Malay temple on top of a small hill. You can see more from the photos below.
Around 1300 hrs we started to paddle back to Sentosa. Immediately the going was harder as we headed into the current. Paddling hard we were making around 3 – 4km/hr on the GPS. But it was tiring work. The current was pushing directly against us. To make matters worse the islands cause the currents to do strange things and in some areas the water gets very wild where currents from differing directions meet. This twisted and rocked the Divorce Machine and more water poured into her. She soon become quite heavy with water and I attempted to bail her out in between paddling. When I stopped paddling and bailed water Stephanie continued to paddle but I noticed that the current was so strong we were not making any forward progress at all. It took two of us paddling to even move forward. Things got worse as the wind then picked up and a huge thunderstorm came swooping in with torrential rain. So there we were, out in the middle of the shipping channel, in a half sunk inflatable kayak, paddling as hard we could into a head wind and head current, in the pouring rain with very poor visibility, while high-speed ferries zoomed past. We were making around 1 – 2 km/hr. It was terribly good fun, however I was starting to get a little concerned as we became more and more tired. Eventually we made the decision to head into Tekukor Island to wait out the storm, drain the kayak and wait for the tide to turn at 1443hrs and hopefully the current would reverse direction. Two very tired and relieved kayakers pulled into a small beach on the deserted Tekukor Island and found some shelter in a small rock cave for 90 minutes while the thunder/ lightning and rain passed over head.
While waiting on Tekukor Island we made friends with a little hermit crab which brightened up our day (See the short YouTube video below). At 1440 the rain had gone and we emptied the Divorce Machine of water and relaunched. With a rest and the currents easing off we made good time and paddled hard across the strait to reach Sentosa Cove. From here we had another 2 km of hard paddling to get back up to Tanjong beach. We pulled in at 3PM, pretty tired and with sore hands from paddling. The trip was just over 18km in total.
The next time I attempt this trip I will pay more attention to the tides and make sure we have the currents in our favor for the return journey. And I strongly recommend anyone trying this for the first time to take care with the currents. They really are very strong and the water can be rough and choppy with large swells. We had fun, but it was a battle and a good reminder of the power of mother nature. Enjoy the photos below.
This blog is listed under a section on my website called ‘Micro Adventure’. Micro-adventures are cheap simple adventures close to home. A chap named Alistair Humphreys coined the phrase ‘micro-adventure’. You can read about him here. I will continue to add more micro adventures to my website to give people idea’s and inspiration to go on your own adventures. If you do go on your own, I would love to hear about them and do drop me a line!
Cycling in the rain – The Desaru/Kota Tinggi loop
Together with my wife Stephanie, from 9 – 12 January, we planned a 3 night, 4 day cycle tour around the south-eastern corner of Peninsula Malaysia. Our route took in the small town’s, beaches and Kampong’s (villages) of Desaru, Sungai Renggit, Tanjong Balau, Sedili Besar and Kota Tinggi. This is a brief trip report with some photo’s and information useful to anyone planning their own trip.
Day one (75km) – Tanjung Belungkor to Tanjung Balau (via Sungai Renggit)
We took the 9:30am ferry from Changi Ferry Terminal (30 Changi Ferry Road), across to Tanjung Belungkor in Malaysia. The ferry cost us S$94 dollars for two people (return) including our two bikes. The ferry can be booked through Desaru Fruit Farm Tour & Travel (or call Changi Ferry Terminal phone: 6535 8686, email: firstname.lastname@example.org).
The 2013 timetable and schedule is listed below.
It’s a 30 minute pleasant ferry ride across to Tanjung Belungkor. Don’t confuse this ferry with the small bum boats which take you to Pengerang from Changi Village ferry terminal. Pengerang is about 7 km further east of Tanjung Belungkor.
After passing through the customs check point in Tanjung Belungkor we emerged into rural Malaysia. This is a completely different world than the built up, fast paced, mega-city of Singapore. We enjoy visiting this corner of Malaysia and this is our third cycling trip here. It has few tourists, some nice little local seafood restaurants, quaint kampong’s and a slow relaxed pace of life. You can make up your own itinerary from day trips, to overnight, to multi-day excursions. It’s nice for simple cycling holidays as the roads are fairly quiet and the Malaysian drivers in this part seem to be quite respectful of cyclists. The scenery does not change dramatically and tends to be dominated by palm oil plantations however for simple, down to earth, inexpensive and healthy weekends away its pretty cool. You can also come over without bicycles of course and can rent taxi’s from Tanjung Belungkor to various destinations. Click here to see the 2013 taxi pricing options available from the Tanjung Belungkor ferry terminal.
Attached below is the approximate route we took from google maps. (Some of the roads and places we stayed are too small to appear on google maps, hence the reason the route shown here is an approximation and shows slightly shorter than the actual route we rode.)
We peddled off slowly taking our time and chatting away under the hot sun. For the first section the cycling is mainly through palm oil plantations.
Stephanie soon noticed her first road kill – a monitor lizard. She spotted all sorts of dead things on the road during the next 4 days including snakes, a possum type creature and eels. The only thing I found was a giant spider, the size of my foot. It turned out to be a stick.
40km later we reached the seaside town of Sungai Renggit. We had stayed here before on a previous bike trip in the hotel ‘Seng Huat’. The hotel cost us 30 Ringgit for the night and is run by an older chinese gentlemen. You can book this hotel by telephone only (and it helps to speak Chinese). His name card is attached here below.
On that trip we ate beautiful butter lobster at the end of a hot 70km cycle washed down with some cold beer at the ‘Beautiful Village Seafood Restaurant’ (not so appropriately named) . This is located on the street corner right beside the hotel Seng Huat. We highly recommend eating here.
After a 45 min break we set off on the second leg, heading further north to Tanjung Balau. By this time, the day was scorching hot. Even with layers of sunscreen on, I could feel my skin burning under the intense sun. We rode slowly along the coastal road for a few km until we spied a small bus stop with some welcome shade. We lay down in the cool concrete floor and rested for 30 minutes. Finally we gathered up the courage to get back on the bikes. It must have been close to 40 degrees and the road has very few tree’s offering any form of shade. The heat was unbelievably intense and sucked the energy from us.
Slowly we ground down the km’s. Stephanie was getting a very sore backside and we were both glad to arrive at the Pelangi Balau Resort located 5km north of Desaru in the small seaside kampong ‘Tanjong Balau’. We felt like we had been in a toaster all day and both had wicked tan lines. My bum felt like Mike Tyson had been using it as a punching bag.
Pelangi Balau is a small resort right on the beach which has seen better years. The staff here appear tired and disinterested. It cost us 150 Ringgit for a double room inclusive of breakfast. It seems to cater mainly to local Malay families, I was the only white guy there and there were no Singaporean cars that we could see. We left the resort and walked 200m to some food stalls for dinner. We ate some basic mee hoon soup and nasi goreng for dinner.
Day 2 (49km) – Tanjong Balau to Sedili Besar
We slept ok until midnight although I could almost count the individual bed springs pressing into various parts of my body. It wasn’t the most comfortable mattress I have slept on. We were woken by a noisy group of youngsters having a party in the corridor from around 1 am. I finally got up and summed up all the charisma I could muster (at 3am with a sunburnt body and lacking sleep) to ask them if they would mind moving away to some other spot. To their credit they were quite polite to me and left immediately.
We woke again at 7:30am to heavy rain. The breakfast in Pelangi Balau looked as interesting as the staff were interested in their jobs. Fueled up on some mee goreng and black tea we then rested in the room, hoping the rain would stop. To no avail, we finally accepted the fact we would be getting wet backsides and checked out. I let the staff know that it may be a good idea to get their security guard to take a walk during the evening to keep the noise levels down so guests can sleep. They seemed as interested in my feedback as I was interested in their breakfast.
Our sunburn was raw and painful to touch this morning, so the heavy rain was almost a blessing. The 1st 10km was flat and smooth and we made good time. It then starts to become a little more rolling, but the road follows the coast all the way. There are no towns or villages at all for the first 30km until you reach Sedili Kechil. A large bridge leads you into Sedili Kechil crossing a river mouth leading to the open sea. Here Stephanie spotted a large number of dead eels on the side of the bridge. The mystery was, how did they get there? We could only think that people had been fishing on the bridge and dumped them there.
2km later Stephanie also spotted this dead possum or cat-like animal on the side of the road. Does anyone know what this is?
(Ed’s note: Thanks to identification by David Lim after I wrote this post – I believe this animal is actually a variety of Civet Cat. They eat mainly berries, pulpy fruits, coffee, small mammals, insects and palm oil sap (which explains why the two of them we saw were on roads through palm oil plantations. As an interesting side note, Civet Cats are referred to as ‘Luwak’ in Indonesia. The coffee beans that they eat and excrete are collected and sold as ‘kopi luwak’ for human consumption, producing the most expensive coffee in the world at $100 per cup!)
The further north we rode and the more rural the setting, the friendlier people seemed to become. Groups of young children would invariably always shout out cheerful “helloooooooo’s” to us as we cycled past, in a genuine and friendly manner.
We cycled on without stopping until we reached Sedili Besar and asked for directions from a young chap. I can speak basic Malay and he told me that I needed a motorbike to reach Tanjung Sutera resort and it was back the way we had come from. From previous experience I have learned that asking for directions in this country can be a counter productive exercise – that is if you actually want to find the destination! We decided to ignore his advice and continued following our noses until we found some signs pointing us in the right direction. It was raining hard now and the final stretch into the small resort involves a steep climb and then follows the ridge-line of a Peninsula for 4km.
49km after leaving that morning, we arrived at the Tanjung Sutera resort. This cost us S$150/night inclusive of 2 lunches, dinner and breakfast. After the previous nights fiasco at the Tanjong Bulau we did not have high expectations. However we were happily greeted by a friendly receptionist named Syed and were just in time to sample a delicious buffet lunch, including ikan bakar (fried fish), crab in coconut sauce, tempet (fried beancurd) and spicy chicken in chilli sauce. I found a jar of condensed milk and must have been lacking sugar as could not resist a few big spoonfuls.
Syed even helped us with taking our bikes to the room in the rain. Nice chap. I don’t often get to say this in the tropics, but after being wet for over 3 hours on the bikes and finally stopping, we were feeling cold. The small bungalow we slept in was basic, but clean with plenty of space. Stephanie and I have fairly modest expectations for our rooms when we travel. All we expect is that they are clean, have a comfortable bed, a heated shower and are peaceful enough to sleep in. Aircon is also a bonus. This room had it all and we appreciated warming up under the shower and having a rest.
Dinner that night was also delicious, I had a beer (8 Ringgit/can) with cereal prawns, assam fish(spicy fish), brinjol (eggplant), mixed vege. Meanwhile the rain continued to pour down as he hit the sack for an early nights sleep. The Tanjung Sutera resort is quite remote, with no shops or villages for a few kilometres. The rooms are clean and basic, but spacious and the food is excellent. We recommend this place to stay and the details are here.
Day 3 (42km) – Sedili Besar to Kota Tinggi
It rained most of the night but stopped for a brief period while we had breakfast. We got to enjoy the nice view from the resort dining area this morning, overlooking the rocky coastline and the ocean.
Today’s route heads inland to the town of Kota Tinggi. Kota Tinggi means ‘high town’ in Malay so I was a little concerned we may have some stiff climbs. One of the joys of cycling holidays is you burn lots of calories so can eat well. 5 donuts, 3 pieces of toast and a bowl of lontong later we were ready to depart. Just as the rain started again.
Today is a shorter day, just over 40km. The first 15km flew by and we sailed along at 23km/hr. Stephanie seemed to be getting her cycling rhythm today and sat hard on my back wheel the whole ride. After 15km the climbs began. Nothing major though and compared to the Coromandel cycle tour we did in New Zealand in 2011 these hills were mere bumps.
The rain got stronger for the two hours we rode, getting to the point it was hard to see and the large drops stung our skin. We still managed to average 20km/hr and pulled into Kota Tinggi completely soaked to the bone. We had booked the hotel ‘Mayres‘ which proclaims itself to be the only ‘business’ hotel in Kota Tinngi. I was a little suspicious of this description and skeptically wondered if they were counting the world’s ‘oldest business’ in their description (I.e. prostitution). Once we reached the centre of Kota Tinggi I had to pull out google maps on my blackberry locate the hotel which turned out to be 1200m away.
The hotel Mayres turned out to be just fine, for 116RM per night for a double room (not including breakfast). The room was spacious and clean and even had a decent view of the bustling metropolis of Kota Tinggi. We could only check in at 2pm so had an hour to kill. We peddled back down to the ‘old town’ coffee shop and filled up on The Tarik, noodles and roti prata. Kota Tinggi’s drainage system was overflowing in the heavy rain by now, so parts of the main street were flooded.
We were both getting a little cold by now, so were happy to get to the room and get our of our wet cycling gear and warm up under the hot shower.
That evening we ventured next door to the Chinese restaurant ‘Korfu’. We had black pepper crab, cereal prawns and scallops with broccoli. Very nice food and together a bottle of Tiger beer cost 70 Ringgit.
Day 4 (70km) – Koto Tinggi to Tanjung Belungkor
Stephanie has a head cold this morning from being wet for the last two days. We walked across the road from the hotel and had Roti Canai (Malaysian version of Singapore’s ‘Roti Prata’) which was delicious, washed down with the Roti Canai’s compulsory companion – a mug of hot, sweet, smooth and frothy ‘teh tarik’ (tea sweetened with condensed milk, evaporated milk and sugar).
We set off at 9:15am on the bikes. It was overcast but not raining so perfect cycling conditions. Well that is until the heavens opened up after 45 minutes and we were nearly drowned for the next two hours. It rained so hard the rivers over flowed their banks and spilled across the road.
By now we were quite used to cycling in the rain, however I was uncomfortable when it gets so heavy that its hard to see more than a few metres. And this morning the route on road 92 which we were travelling had almost no shoulder to cycle on. Traffic was the heaviest we encountered so far and the cars splashed torrents of water over us as they whizzed past. The drivers by and large were respectful however and gave us room as we snuck along the verge in the pouring rain.
At the top of one hill I stopped to allow Stephanie to catch up. It was raining so hard and was getting dangerous with the speeding cars and lack of visibility. I was concerned she would be nervous and miserable. To my delight as she approached I saw a huge grin on her face. This was the grin of someone who was enjoying the pure pleasure of the adventure that only comes from throwing yourself headfirst into unpredictable and trying situation’s, and learning you can not only cope but thrive. It lifted my spirits to see this change in her. At the end of the day however she told me she actually wasn’t smiling at all but grimacing due to her bum hurting so much! So much for my theory.
We rolled the last few km into Tanjong Belungkor at 2pm. We had ridden 70km for the day, 260km in total for the 4 day trip.
We took the 3:30pm ferry back to Singapore and were happily back enjoying the comforts of home by 5pm. Our aching bums and sunburnt limbs the only physical reminders of a fun, healthy, reasonably environmentally friendly, low-cost way to spend some quality time together.
For me this trip also proved that I don’t need to spend $100,000 and travel to the most extreme places on earth to have an adventure – you can do it from home in a few short days and not very much money. The whole trip cost us S$220 each!
We made this short video of the trip – Enjoy the video and thanks for reading!