I recently cycled 110 kms through the hills of Cape Otway as part of the Rainforest Ride – Cycle for a Cure but found it to be a bit of a cakeride in comparison to one I’d completed a couple of months prior. I managed to coax a University friend, Daniel, to circuit French Island with me. It was the beginning of Spring, we had had quite a lot of rain (by Melbourne’s standards) and I was in search of fields of blooming wildflowers, wild orchids and shlurping swamps. Fortunately Daniel is an easy going bloke with a long fuse and forgave me for the journey that nearly left us stranded for a night.
The day started well – we got the bikes to Stony Point and onto the ferry to Tankerton with no issues. Once off the ferry, we headed out in a clockwise direction, first to The Pinnacles for an elevated view of French Island and the mudflats that encircle it. As soon as we got off the Coast Road, we hit undulating sand tracks in the National Park that were impossible to ride up. It was here that we were met with a scourge of mosquitoes that seemed to follow us wherever we went, making the entire ride extremely frustrating. In my haste to leave I’d forgotten to fill my bottle and pack repellent. It was 30 degrees in the sun and the thick jumper I was forced to wear gave me a greater thirst for water I didn’t have and diverted the mosquitoes to cheap face bites instead.
So after pushing the bikes through chest high grass, keeping an eye out for tiger snakes, we walked into bone dry swamps only to find empty shotgun cartridges. Being chased back out by blood deprived mosquitoes, we pedaled on to Gartsides, a depressive abandoned pastoral property in the north-east corner that seemed to be being slowly reclaimed by the scrub. Daniel laid his bike down here, unknowingly on top of a bull-ant nest, to check out how much I’d underestimated the distance we had to cover and began cursing like a trooper when one bit him on the ankle. I threw his gear away from the nest during his fit of rage but a few ants hung onto his bag and as we continued on, he was bitten again on his back.
At this stage we were ready to leave. We’d cycled only 30 kms, were on the complete opposite side of the island and had not seen a living soul after leaving the ferry. After coming downhill on the West Prison Boundary Track we met a topless crazed German backpacker and a suspiciously friendly Chinese girl on pushbikes. The German guy conveyed to us that he was working in some sort of chain gang on a nearby farm to help with his travel visa, literally with a gun to his head! I couldn’t understand what the Chinese girl wanted but she was waiving for us to follow her – possibly to drug us and steal our kidneys. We declined and headed West on the aptly named Mosquito Creek Road.
I was so dehydrated by this point I couldn’t even salivate. I tried to force myself to eat a cheese roll but I was really only shoveling sawdust into my mouth. Being faced with a sizeable hill to climb I flagged down a linesman who appeared from the dust a Datsun with fake turf glued to all its panels had generated driving past. I asked if he could take us as far as he was going West and looking in his tray, seeing it was full, said, just hang off the back of the truck, I used to do it when I was a youngin’. I took the right side, Daniel the left and he towed us for a few kilometres up the corrugated gravel road at 40 km/h. While I had my eyes peeled for potholes, Daniel was having a hard time holding onto the tray because he kept losing his hold as he hit patches of sand. That lift was all we needed because the rest of the ride was downhill to the general store, where I passed on the hard earned thirst temptation for an ice cold sports drink. After a brief stop at the cricket oval we arrived back at the Tankerton Jetty with ten minutes to spare before the last ferry of the day.
In no way am I surprised that in the 1960s the state government had serious development plans for French Island: an International Airport, a causeway to Tooradin, a bauxite mill (aluminium smelter), factories and housing for over 3000 people, a toxic waste plant and (best of all) a nuclear power station [Parks Victoria]. At the same time, I can also see the reasons for two-thirds of the island and its surrounding marine environment being granted National Park status. It’s so unpleasant and inaccessible that it keeps people away, thereby allowing for the preservation of its uniqueness.