After discovering the joys of cycling in 2002 I took a group of fellow riders to China in 2006. Since then we have gone on to complete something like 42 other overseas cycling and trekking adventures which have taken us all over the planet. Message
  • Day9

    It's All Over

    November 30, 2021 in Australia ⋅ 🌙 18 °C

    Was it really only a week ago when we had 20 riders in Fish Creek for our first dinner ? Now a week (and over 300 km) later our peloton has been reduced to just 7 very tired riders. I guess we are just not as strong as we thought we were. Or maybe it was the Covid lockdown that has sapped all our energy ?

    Whatever the reason, when we discussed how to spend the final day of our adventure, no one showed any hunger to do any more riding, especially when it would be followed by a 300 km drive back to Melbourne. We all felt that we had done very well by cycling as much as we had, we had nothing left to prove. We might have felt differently if a day or two had been lost due to rain, but we had experienced fine weather for the entire trip. It was a bit like taking the final bite of a large dinner and then deciding that you really did not need dessert.

    It was decided that it would be far more pleasant to enjoy a leisurely drive home, starting with breakfast in Bairnsdale. So that's what we did.

    After packing our bags for the final time (actually jamming everything in anywhere it would fit), we bade a fond farewell to Lakes Entrance. There is a lovely scenic lookout just out of towen which gives a spectacular view of the Gippsland Lakes and the actual entrance to the open ocean. We stopped there for a final photo opportunity before continuing to Bairnsdale for breakfast at Mr D's cafe. It was a perfect way to end the trip.

    By the time we emerged from breakfast the outside temperature had risen markedly. It would not have been much fun cycling in those conditions, so we all congratulated ourselves on the extreme wisdom we had demonstrated. We had a final goodbye and pointed our car towards Melbourne. Well actually in our case it was pointed towards Inverloch, because that is where we were headed.

    Our journey took us via the lovely little township of Mirboo North, where we discovered another rail trail that we have never ridden. If this is trip is repeated next year, we may modify it to remove the High Plains and East Gippsland Trails and include the Mirboo North Trail instead. It is worth thinking about.

    After dropping Maggie back at Inverloch I continued on to Melbourne, finally arriving home around 3 pm. Another very successful and enjoyable riding adventure had been completed. Thanks so much to all those who travelled with us and those who made the trip from Melbourne to take part for just a day.
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  • Day8

    The East Gippsland Rail Trail

    November 29, 2021 in Australia ⋅ 🌙 15 °C

    The East Gippsland Rail Trail stretches some 96 km from Bairnsdale to Orbost, making it one of the longest rail trails in Victoria. In the early years of the Ghostriders we used to travel to Bairnsdale every year to ride this trail, however it has now been at least ten years since we last made this journey. It was time to see if anything had changed.

    One thing that had already become evident was the shrinking size of our peloton. After completing the High Plains Rail Trail, we bade farewell to Jan and Margot. This left only 11 riders to complete the final part of our rail trail odyssey. As it turned out another two riders abandoned on the final morning, leaving only 9 participants still moving. This was less than half of the number we had started with in Fish Creek, just a week earlier. I guess that shows that the relentless pace was really taking its toll.

    Our plan had been to base the team in Lakes Entrance and then tackle the East Gippsland Trail in two sections. The first day we would ride from Bairnsdale to Bruthen and back, and the second day we would ride from Nowa Nowa to Bruthen and back. It seemed doable (but I was to be proved wrong).

    Certainly Lakes Entrance was a lovely spot to use as our base, although it was evident that the last few years had not been kind to the town's economy. The large number of empty shops, deserted motels and quiet streets all gave witness to the fact that times were tough here. One thing that time could not change was the undoubted natural beauty of the Gippsland Lakes Region.

    We began the day by driving back to Bairnsdale and to the start of the trail in Howitt Park. Half of our peloton had already decided to follow Plan B, by starting at Nicholson instead. This cut the ride down from around 70 km to about 55km.

    When we finally started rolling out of Bairnsdale, our peloton had plummeted to only 4 riders. Fortunately the first 9 km of the trail is sealed, meaning that we could make good progress. Even so, when we arrived at Nicholson, we discovered that the other half of the peloton had already headed off to Bruthen. It took us about 20 km to finally catch up with them.

    Once we left the sealed trail, the surface proved to be very variable. The toppings changed regularly from soft sand to loose rocks to fine gravel and mud. I think "variable" would be a good description. Although not as rough as the High Plains Trail, it certainly was in need of some long overdue maintenance. The signage along the final section to Bruthen also needs improvement as it was not clear which route actually took us into the town.

    Fortunately Bruthren had not changed. It is still one of the prettiest main streets in the state, and the wide grassy central area gave us a perfect location for a leisurely lunch.

    We then repeated our ride for the return leg and somehow managed to get back to our waiting cars without anyone falling off or getting lost. Once again the temperature had started to climb and we were all conscious of the fact that we were getting tired. No one seemed particularly excited about getting on the bikes for another long day in the saddle.

    We did get back to Lakes Entrance in time for a walk along the marina to explore the wide variety of boats that were moored there. Some looked like they would not be able to stay afloat much longer.

    That evening the remnants of our team shared a final meal together at the Central Hotel. The dinner did not get off to a great start when the grumpy maître d gave us all a serve of abuse and sat us at the worst table in the room. We could not figure out what we had done to bring on his outburst, but it was enough to ensure that none of us would ever visit that establishment again. It was a slightly disappointing and unexpected end to an amazing week of cycling and fun we had shared together.

    After dinner we had a slow walk back to the hotel along the waterfront. It was a perfectly still evening with only the first and brightest stars beginning to shine. A truly magical experience.
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  • Day7

    Riding the High Plains Trail

    November 28, 2021 in Australia ⋅ 🌙 13 °C

    After celebrating our triumph over the George Bass Coastal Walk, it was time to head to the Latrobe Valley and pit our cycling skills against the Gippsland High Plains Trail from Traralgon to Heyfield and back. Although some of our riders had ventured to this part of Victoria, for most of us it would be our first experience on this trail.

    According to my calculations, if we started in Traralgon and rode all the way to Heyfield and back, we would be pedaling around 80 km. Of course we had already ridden well over 200 km in the past few days, so none of us had any great desire to set new Strava records (actually I can never understand why any cyclist feels the need to record their every pedal stroke, but that is another story). Sometimes discretion is the better (and much smarter) part of valour, so we all went in search of a "Plan B".

    A study of the maps showed there was a much better starting point in the car park on Burnetts Rd. Since this was a couple of km outside of the city, it seemed like the intelligent place to start.

    So that is where we started - well almost. When our peloton of 14 riders was gathered in the car park, we started to discuss the condition of the trail and whether we really wanted to ride another 75 km. The decision was quickly made that there was a much better starting point at Glengarry (about 6 km further on). They really are a much smarter group than they look.

    We were also met at the start by Dave Mc Morran, who had made the 2 hour drive from Melbourne to join us for the day. When we told him that he could either start at Burnetts Rd or Glengarry, he also decided that Glengarry would be fine. According to our new calculations, that would leave us a ride of around 60 km - enough in anybody's language.

    After transferring to the lovely little town of Glengarry, we assembled near the old railway station and headed off towards Heyfield. Everything went well for the first few minutes. Although the surface was rough and stony, we were able to make reasonable progress. And then we met the first challenge.

    After riding over a small bridge we were presented with an extensive sea of water. The trail disappeared completely. We pulled to a halt to discuss what to do next. Although I tried to persuade David Yates to sacrifice himself to the water, nobody was willing to take the risk. After all, we had no idea of how deep the water was. We had no alternative than to U turn and head back in search of an access path to the highway.

    Fortunately we were able to find a suitable detour along the somewhat busy road and rejoined the trail a couple of km further on. Although it was not under water, the surface was still quite bad. This is such a pretty region that it is a real shame that the trail has not been properly maintained.

    The poor condition of the trail (trial ?) meant that we had to concentrate hard in order to avoid crashing. This also meant that we did not have a lot of time to enjoy the surroundings as much as we would have liked.

    It was a great relief when we reached Dawson's Connection and were able to leave the trail for a few glorious km along delightfully quiet country roads. This reminded me of the back roads of Europe that make cycling there so magical. Unfortunately the respite was temporary and we were soon back on the rough trail again.

    We eventually bounced and swerved our way to the outskirts of Heyfield, only to find that the final few km were the most rough and dangerous of the entire ride. When you combine steep inclines, boggy dips and loose stones, it really does add up to a significant degree of difficulty.

    When we finally rolled into Heyfield, we were a little dismayed to find that our eating options were pretty limited. We finally were saved from starvation when we found a small food caravan that was able to serve up a variety of sandwiches and drinks. They were doing a roaring trade, especially after our peloton arrived.

    We then started off on the return ride to Glengarry. For some unknown reason the trail did not seem quite as rough when heading this direction (strange but true) and we were able to maintain a higher speed. You might think we had a tail wind, but that was not the case.

    After arriving back at Glengarry we enjoyed some icecreams from the grocers and then climbed into the cars for the long drive to Lakes Entrance.

    Will we ride this trail again ? Probably yes, but not for a few years.
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  • Day6

    In the Footsteps of George Bass

    November 27, 2021 in Australia ⋅ ⛅ 14 °C

    After three days of cycling (and one day of eating Devonshire Teas), it was time to exercise a different set of muscles. The George Bass Coastal Walk is surely one of the most spectacular short walks in Victoria, however up till a few years ago, it was also one of the least known.

    The walk itself begins at Punchbowl and then stretches some 8 km along the clifftops of the Bass Coast. Along the way you can expect an ever changing vista of vast ocean views and white capped waves breaking on the rocky shoreline.

    Thirteen walkers gathered at the Anderson car park to organise some car shuffling. Although we were all looking forward to doing the walk, none of us was ready to do it twice. That meant we had to make sure there was a vehicle at Kilcunda to get the drivers back to Punchbowl. That should have been an easy task, but when most of your group is of extremely advanced years, it took an undue amount of explaining to get the message across. Eventually we managed to elect Peter to be the designated driver. You could imagine my surprise therefore when I noticed that Peter was still wandering around the car park about 10 minutes later. At that rate it was going to be a long day indeed.

    Eventually things were sorted out and our 13 walkers were safely deposited at Punchbowl. Because of the increased popularity of this walk, parking is progressively getting harder and harder. There is no designated parking area, meaning that you just have to squeeze your car in anywhere you can.

    Once you start the walk there is really no "Plan B". You have to keep going till you reach Kilcunda. We were relieved to discover that the weather looked like being kind to us, although there was a steady wind blowing all day from the east. This meant that we would be walking into a headwind. For me it also meant that I would be hanging on to my hat grimly all day. I had already scored a sunburnt nose from the cycling days and did not want to add to the redness.

    We were finally underway soon after 10 am and very soon we were all marveling at the incredible views spread out before us. We were also marveling at the incredible stupidity of the fishermen who were standing on the very edge of the ocean, in spite of all the warning signs explaining just how dangerous the waves are.

    After an hour of energetic walking, the trail descends down to the sand, We found a sheltered location and settled down to enjoy our lunches, accompanied by the hypnotic sounds of the rolling waves. We were also hoping that we would not hear the ominous cracking noises from the rocky overhang, just above our heads.

    The second half of the walk undulates regularly and it was evident that the efforts of the preceding days were starting to take their tolls. I think that everyone was happy when the little town of Kilcunda came into view and we knew that a hot coffee was not far away.

    After sorting out the cars again, we left Inverloch to drive to Traralgon. Tomorrow we will be back on the bikes again, when we ride the Gippsland Plains Rail Trail from Traralgon to Heyfield and back again.
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  • Day5

    A Very Windy Ride

    November 26, 2021 in Australia ⋅ ⛅ 13 °C

    Everyone who is familiar with the Bass Coast Region would know that the wind always blows from the west. Always. That might have been true up to now, but today we witnessed (and experienced) the rare phenomenon of a howling gale blowing from the east. It was not only blowing from the wrong direction, but it never abated for a minute all day.

    Of course this strange situation was very welcome for the first part of the ride as we were riding with the wind right behind our backs. We met at the very start of the trail on the outskirts of Wonthaggi and were soon hurtling effortlessly towards Kilcunda.

    Such was the benevolence and strength of the wind that even the uphills seemed like downhills. It was almost embarrassing to be flying along with such little effort. We arrived at Kilcunda in record time and had plenty of time to enjoy the first coffees of the day.

    The next section from Kilcunda to Anderson is normally a steady climb. Not today. The tailwind made sure that we were whisked to the summit before we even realised the ride had resumed.

    At this point we turned southwards to ride the undulating section to San Remo. To my utter amazement, the wind still assisted us all the way. In the long history of the Ghostriders I cannot recall a morning where the wind was so helpful to us. Of course the ride was only half done. In the backs of our minds we all knew that the return ride would NOT be pleasant. And it wasn't. But that came much later in the day. First we sat down by the waterside to enjoy our lunches and watch the sea.

    Finally we could delay our departure no longer and off we went. The wind immediately blew in our faces. We experienced every cyclist's worst enemy of a vicious combination of uphill and upwind. Those riders fortunate enough to ride ebikes were soon switching up the power to the highest settings, and then wishing they had a couple of even higher settings.

    We fought our way slowly up the hill, finally reaching the Anderson turnoff. The wind was still in our faces all the way back to Wonthaggi. It was quite a battle, but we all made it back without mishap. (Well there was a small mishap, but we are all hoping that the blue tongue lizard was not mortally wounded when Andrea rode straight over it on the trail).

    When I was safely back at Inverloch, a look in the mirror revealed a very red face looking back at me. Unfortunately it was mine. A combination of sun and windburn had left me looking like some strange Santa parody.

    Tomorrow we leave the bike alone and walk the George Bass Coast Walk instead.
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  • Day4

    Rest Day in Inverloch

    November 25, 2021 in Australia ⋅ ☁️ 14 °C

    After two hot days of cycling and over 140 km covered, it was evident that the ageing legs of our team had taken quite a beating. There is only one known cure for this malady - a break from cycling. So that's exactly what we did. Nothing.

    It was delightful to have a slow start to the day and then catch up on a little bike maintenance (ie squirt the bike with a hose, give it a shake and hope for the best). This approach appeared to work a treat with the bike and their riders.

    The only commitment that some of us had made was to meet for a Devonshire Tea at the Bassine Cheese Factory in Bass. Where else would the "Bassine" Cheese Factory be located ?

    At the civilised hour of 11 am a group of us were gathered in the verandah outside the factory. We would all have preferred to be enjoying the warmth inside the premises, but one of our group (let's call her "Maggie") insisted on bringing along her little yapping poodle. That meant we were all banished to sitting outside in the biting wind.

    Fortunately the coffee, scones and clotted cream almost made the frostbite worthwhile. In fact we stayed on so long that some of the group decided to imbibe for a second time.

    Much later in the day we all gathered for dinner at the Esplanade Hotel in Inverloch. The dinners were going quite well until one of our diners (name withheld) decided that chewing was a waste of energy and decided to send a vast quantity of something called "ancient grains" straight down the tube leading to his left lung, instead of to his stomach where it was intended.

    After an extended period of choking, eye rolling, gagging and gurgling, we decided that the situation was serious enough for him to go to the nearby hospital (presumably to have his stomach pumped and the errant food rechewed). It was a slightly alarming end to the meal, but the person in question was discharged a couple of hours later (with most of his bodily functions working again).

    Tomorrow we get back on the bikes again for a ride along the Bass Coast Rail Trail from Wonthaggi to San Remo. What else could possibly go wrong ?
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  • Day3

    Storms and Tempests

    November 24, 2021 in Australia ⋅ ☁️ 18 °C

    No cyclist actually enjoys riding in pouring rain. Although it is possible to happily endure a few light passing showers, when the rain really sets in there is not a rain jacket on earth that prevents the water from progressively finding its way into every part of your anatomy. It soon runs down your legs and pools inside your shoes, adding a squelchy accompaniment to every turn of the pedals. It's just not fun.

    You can therefore imagine our trepidation when the Weather Bureau forecast just these conditions for the whole of Wednesday. Yep, not just rain, but pouring, continuous rain for the whole day. They even topped up their predictions but adding layers of flood warnings and promising damaging thunderstorms and large hail. It is little wonder that I told our riders that it is likely that we would have to resort to Plan B.

    We were therefore surprised and relieved when we awoke to only a few scattered clouds. There was no sign of thunderstorms, no rain and no wind. In fact it was as close to perfect as we could have hoped for.

    Maggie and I drove from Inverloch to meet the group at Fish Creek. They all seemed just as relieved as I was about the weather. I felt so confident about the rest of the day that I didn't even bring my rain jacket.

    I spent a couple of minutes augmenting my Lennie Gwyther story before we were underway. Even though I had carefully explained that today we would let the ladies take the lead, one again David and Henk ignored all the rules and quickly bolted out of sight. We had always suspected that David had strong feminine leanings, and this was even more evidence.

    In the early morning the air was still cool and clean, although we could feel the early heat of the sun when we left the shade. About 6 km from Fish Creek is an elevated viewing spot at the top of the Hoddle Range. This rewards the cyclist with one of the best panoramic views in Gippsland. The view extends southwards to the ocean and Wilson's Promontory. The big problem is that it is not signposted, and I suspect that hundreds of cyclists ride straight past without even knowing the spot exists.

    We were soon rolling down the eastern side of the range and heading past Foster towards Toora. By this time the conditions were becoming warm and humid and we decided that a mid morning drinks stop was in order. We arrived to find that the main street of Toora had been destroyed by some major earthworks. Since the street probably has only about 20 vehicles a day, none of us could understand why such an expensive undertaking would have been necessary.

    It was so comfortable at the Latte Dah Cafe that several people decided that they had already ridden far enough and decided to make that their lunch spot. The reduced peloton continued on towards Port Welshpool. The path is dead straight in this section, although it is slightly undulating. Unfortunately there was little shade and the high humidity started to take its toll.

    By the time I reached Welshpool, my GPS indicated that I had already ridden 35 km and I decided that, since I had nothing to prove, it was time to Uturn and head back to Toora for lunch. Allan also rode back with me to the Toora cafe.

    Over the next 30 minutes or so we were progressively joined by a succession of hot and tired Ghostriders, who were all most appreciative of the air conditioning. There was still no sign of rain, although a couple of darker clouds were dancing around the horizon.

    After a lengthy lunch and a lovely chat, it was time to get back on the bikes for the final leg of the ride back to Fish Creek. I think everyone was grateful for the fact that the final few km back to the car park is all downhill - a perfect way to end a long ride.

    And as for the predicted rain ? Not a drop !

    Tomorrow we have a "rest day" to explore the surrounding region. After riding over a 140 km on the first two days, I don't think that anyone will be sorry to give their backsides a break for a little while.
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  • Day2

    Remembering Lennie Gwyther

    November 23, 2021 in Australia ⋅ ☁️ 19 °C

    1932 was a tough year. The Great Depression had been ravaging the world's economies for the past two years. In Australia 1 out of 3 men was unemployed. Across the countryside groups of unemployed men wandered from town to town in search of work.

    Closer to home the Gwythear family of Leongatha had their own personal disaster. They owned a small farm of around 30 acres which was thrown into despair when the father broke his leg in an accident. It was at this time that nine year old Lennie Gwythear took on the task of plowing the fields and preparing the paddocks for the upcoming harvest.

    His father was so appreciative of this amazing effort that he asked young Lennie what he would like as a reward. Young Lennie was obviously a curious kind of lad and had been reading all about the building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which was now nearing completion. He told his family that he wanted to go to the opening.

    Instead of hitting the roof, Lennie was helped to pack his tiny haversack, saddle his pony "Ginger Mick" and then sent on his way with the family's blessings. Of course a journey of over 600 miles would be a significant feat for anybody, for a 9 year old undertaking a solo trip without any form of communications was breathtaking.

    As Lennie began his 6 week journey, the famous bush telegraph started to go to work. Towns were notified of his arrival and offers of accommodation and food made sure that he was looked after.

    By the time he reached Canberra, his story had captivated the nation, so much so that he was invited to meet the Prime Minister Joseph Lyons at The Lodge. He continued on his way, eventually reaching Sydney to find the streets lined with thousands of welcoming people, all waving and cheering for this tiny lad on his pony.

    His fame had grown so much that he was invited to take part in the official opening of the bridge. A few days later he was feted at the Royal Easter Show and even got to meet his hero Don Bradman, who presented him with a signed bat.

    Of course getting to Sydney was only half the task. He still had to get home. He climbed back on Ginger Mick and made the long journey back to Leongatha. On the way home he turned 10 !

    He arrived back in Leongatha to be welcomed by a cheering crowd of 800 people, including all the most important people of the district.

    Lennie went on to serve in the Army in WW2. He later settled in Hampton and got a job with General Motors Holden. He died of cancer in 1992 at the age of 70.

    For a long time this incredible story was forgotten, but in recent times his achievement has been celebrated by the erection of a bronze statue of Lennie and Ginger Mick in Centennial Park in Leongatha. No trip to Leongatha would be complete without a visit to this famous landmark.

    When we began the first day of our riding adventure at Fish Creek I explained to the group that the main aim of the day's ride would be to ride to Leongatha and visit the statue of Lennie. So that is exactly what we did.

    The conditions were hot and dusty, so the 75 km ride was a somewhat challenging start to our cycling. After riding through to Leongatha, we stopped at Koonwarra on the way back for lunch.

    By the time we finally made it back to Fish Creek, most riders said that their legs and nether regions could not have taken much more. Tomorrow our plan is to ride in the easterly direction to Port Welshpool and back again. The only potential spanner in our works is the absolutely terrible weather forecast, which threatens heavy rain, storms and flash flooding in the region. Will that stop us ? Most probably yes.
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  • Day1

    Dinner in Fish Creek

    November 22, 2021 in Australia ⋅ ☁️ 17 °C

    After being confined to Melbourne for much of the past two years, it felt wonderful to finally be able to return to the regions again. Over the next eight days over 20 Ghostriders will be riding the very best rail trails that Victoria has to offer. These include the Great Southern Rail Trail from Leongatha to Port Welshpool, the Bass Coast Rail Trail from Wonthaggi to San Remo, the Gippsland Plains Rail Trail from Traralgon to Heyfield and the East Gippsland Rail Trail from Bairnsdale to Nowa Nowa. We also plan to walk the George Bass Coastal walk from Punchbowl to Kilcunda.

    Tonight we began our adventure with a group meal at the Fish Creek Hotel. Nineteen people shared a meal and a lot of talking. Allan Barlin had travelled further than the rest, having joined us all the way from Wauchope in NSW.

    Tomorrow the riding begins....
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  • Day5

    Exploring Albury/Wodonga

    May 3, 2021 in Australia ⋅ ☁️ 20 °C

    The last time Maggie and I had been in Albury was more than 47 years ago. We had been married for about 2 days and were on our way to Canberra to spend our honeymoon.

    Of course the world of travel was a bit different way back then. The only resource we had to plan our accommodation was the RACV Accommodation Guide. There was no Internet, no mobile phones, no email, no GPS to help guide our way. We really were on our own.

    After looking at maps and studying the brief descriptions of each motel that the guide book offered, I chose a place in Albury for our overnight stay and received a printed voucher to present on our arrival.

    We left Melbourne with our little Renault 10 loaded to the rooftop with about everything we owned at that time. Although I had promised Maggie that we would have a lovely place to stay after the long drive, we soon discovered that the place did not live up to the description. The room was tiny, the bed situated right under the front window, only partly protected by an inadequate flimsy curtain. Every time sometime walked past the room (which was often), we felt like we were meant to say hello to them. It was an uncomfortable night.

    When our plans were made to spend a couple of nights in Wodonga as part of this trip, we were obviously curious to see if anything had changed in almost half a century. We soon found that the city was nothing like how we remembered it. Albury/Wodonga is now a thriving metropolis with very well-developed infrastructure. The shopping centres were modern, the coffee shops welcoming and the traffic appeared to flow smoothly. In addition we found a wonderful rage of beautiful parklands and bike paths to explore. Our main regret was that we did not have enough time there to do the place justice. If we repeat this trip next year, all agreed that we should include a day of cycling around the city.

    And as for our motel of 1974 ? To our surprise we found that it is still there. In fact it had not even changed all that much, apart from a sparkling new paint job. Apparently, such "retro motels" are now all the rage. It even has a huge hotel and restaurant added to the complex. But will we ever stay there again ? I really doubt it.

    On the other hand, we all left with very positive feelings for the city and a desire to return well before another 47 years had elapsed.
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    Michael Slattery

    That’s a very weird dinosaur 🦕 😁. We missed that one.

    5/7/21Reply
    Dennis Dawson

    It was in the special children's section of the Botanical Gardens.

    5/7/21Reply
    Kay Sweeney

    Awesome Dennis!

    5/8/21Reply
     

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