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The Cycling Dutch Girl: from Kosciuszko to Cape York

Alia Parker's picture
Mirjam Wouters, the Cycling Dutch Girl, at the tip of Cape York. Cycle Traveller
Mirjam Wouters says she was never a sporty person, just someone with an itch to see the world. Her passion for travel started young, when at the age of four she packed some cheese and a candle and set off on her first solo adventure. She was found by a stranger 5km down the road with her feet in a pond, feeding the ducks. Today, this wandering spirit continues to guide Mirjam, who is probably best known as the Cycling Dutch Girl.
Back in 2003, Mirjam packed her bicycle and set off from her hometown of Apeldoorn, The Netherlands, on her way to Spain to learn Spanish – at least that was the plan. Like many cycle travellers, Mirjam found she enjoyed life on a bike too much to stop and before she knew it, she had cycled to Morocco. Europe, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, China and Tibet, Nepal, India, and South East Asia followed, with Mirjam finally arriving in Australia in May 2009 ­­– with stints in New Zealand. And she's still here, cycling about! Mirjam estimates that she's ridden 56,000km around the world, of which more than 30,000km have been in Australia alone. She has been taking her time, getting to know Australia's remote communities and its peoples. Mirjam took some time out in northern Queensland for Cycle Traveller to pick her brains.
Camels on the Great Central Road, Australia. Cycling Dutch Girl, Cycle Traveller.CT: Where has this trip taken you in Australia so far?
MW: I arrived in Darwin, rode across the North, Gibb River Road and turned inland at 80 Mile Beach. Zigged zagged my way down WA avoiding highways as much as possible (and got fined for cycling without a helmet in Paraburdoo!) Got stuck in Mullewa for a while where I rode tractors over Harvest :) Great fun, especially since I didn't have a drivers licence (I do now). I headed towards Perth from where I rode bits and pieces of the Munda Biddi Trail before veering off to Margaret River. In a big loop of the South West, I made it back to the farm for seeding and just when I was heading straight across the middle towards the Alice, I ran into an exploration camp where I asked to top up my water bottles, but ended up working for six months instead. By the time I finished that job, it was a little too warm to get across the middle, so a friend took me to Port Lincoln from where I cycled to Adelaide, Melbourne, around Tasmania and up through the Victorian High Country, Snowy Mountains (I rode to the top of Kosciuszko) and towards Sydney. Here I had a bit of a break and visited family and friends back in The Netherlands and applied for a new visa. So a couple of months later, I set off again and headed to Tamworth, Goodooga, Cunnamulla, Camerons Corner, Strezlecki Track, Oodnadatta, Finke, the geographical centre of Australia, Uluru and back across the Great Central Road to WA. Then I flew to New Zealand for three months, came back to Brisbane and rode, mainly following the Bicentennial Trail to the Tip of Cape York. And this is just the cycling! In Australia, I've also done some motorbike trips, and 4WD (across the Simpson dessert and had a beer with Dick Smith in the Birdsville pub).
Mirjam Wouters as a child on a bicycle trip with her family in 1991. Cycle TravellerCT: How did you begin cycle touring?
MW: I guess the rough idea that it's possible to get places on a bicycle came from holidays with my parents when I was a kid. We didn't have a car so in our vacations my parents would load up the bicycles and cycle with four little girls around The Netherlands and into Germany, camping along the way. I'm the only one it rubbed off on because my sisters are all pretty settled with partners and kids and jobs. But it wasn't a decision I made. It just sort of happened. I went on a holiday in March 2001 with the idea of going to Uni later that year. This never happened and my 'holiday' still continues! I started hitchhiking around Ireland and then Europe, working different jobs in different places. After a couple of years I was tired of being dependent on other people. One guy came through the hostel I worked at on a bicycle and I figured that would be the way to go. Especially since the most exercise I got working at a backpackers in Northern Ireland was walking to the pub and back. So I found an old bike, loaded it up with shopping bags and a little basket and set off from The Netherlands. That was nine years and eight bicycles ago.
CT: Can you ever imagine this journey coming to an end?
MW: It's not one continuous journey; it's a lot of separate little trips... (and big ones). After 11 years travelling, this is the way I live. So I don't see it coming to an end any time soon. I don't cycle all the time, I work sometimes and I do other trips, hiking, riding motorbikes or visiting family and friends. But I like to be on the move. And I will keep going until I find something better to do. It's going to have to be good to beat this life!

Riding up to Cape York, Cycling Dutch Girl. Cycle Traveller.

CT: Earlier this year you rode up to Cape York. How was it cycling up there?
MW: The trip up Cape York: the first thing I would say is, dusty! It is rather funny, just when you think you're getting a bit of a tan, you have a wash and realise it's just red dirt! I rode up there in July during the school holidays, so that might not have been ideal. The Developmental Highway is the busiest dirt road I've been on in Australia, but on the bright side, a fair few people pull over to have a chat and, if you're lucky, share a cold drink and even food. Through Lakefield National Park, there are some great camping areas and also along the Old Telegraph Track. There are also glorious swimming holes and waterfalls where you don't have to worry about crocodiles. There are a lot of creek crossings that you have to wade through, and if they're really deep, you'll have to walk across four or five times to keep your gear dry. If you're lucky, a 4WD will pass and you only have to walk through with the bike while you chuck the rest on the back of the vehicle. That happened to me a couple of times too!
CT: Would you recommend others take that route?
MW: I definitely recommend it! But the main thing you must think about is to take your time, like GJ Coop, don't shoot up the road and be on the Tip in 10 days from Cairns, if you take a month or more, take the other tracks, find the wonderful camp spots and explore. My plan was to do this on my way down, but it didn't work out that way. Now I think I missed a lot and probably will go back and do it again one day. I did however get the chance to stay in Seisia a little while, visited some Torres Strait Islands and was lucky enough to time it for the Winds of Zenadth cultural festival.
CT: What sort of bike do you tour on?
MW: I am very lucky with my bicycle. (Actually, I'm rather lucky in general!) After going through about six €30 bicycles, I spent a little more and got a bike on eBay in 2005. Not too flash, but good enough to get me half way around Europe and through to Indonesia. By that stage, it was being held together with sticky tape, zip-ties and rubber bands (they have some very creative ways of fixing things in Asia). It worried me a little going to remote places in Australia on that bike... Then I got a message from a bicycle factory in The Netherlands: Multicycle was looking for someone like me to test their bikes and use pictures in their brochures and ads! I think they make the best top-of-the-range touring bikes. So I arrived in Australia on a brand new bike that I knew wouldn't fall apart in a hurry, I could take remote tracks and roads where I wouldn't come across many people (the longest is three days without seeing any one) and the bike keeps up perfectly! I carry a couple of spare tubes and a tyre, but not much else.
Life on the road. Mirjam Wouters, the Cycling Dutch Girl. Cycle Traveller.CT: What's the one piece of equipment (other than your bike) that you couldn't travel without?
MW: My little coffee pot. I am totally addicted to coffee and if I don't get my morning coffee I have trouble getting started.
CT: Will you need to stop to work soon?
MW: Yes. I must. Hopefully not for the next year or three though.
CT: And lastly, where to next?
MW: Ah well, there is a whole world out there and I want to go everywhere. Since I don't plan, but just kinda see what comes up next, I can never say for sure. But one thing that's pretty certain is I'll be jumping on a cargo ship in March to head back to New Zealand for a little while. I would like to make my way back North, East, South (China, Russia, Alaska, The Americas... or something along those lines).
Want to know where Mirjam goes next? You can follow Mirjam's adventures on her blog CyclingDutchGirl.
Images courtesy of Mirjam Wouters. 1. The tip of Cape York. 2. Cycling through camels on the Great Central Road. 3. Wouters family bike trip in 1991. 4. Cycling up Cape York. 5. Life on the road.

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