Former ironwoman Bonnie Hancock returns to Gold Coast after record-breaking surf ski paddle around Australia

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After 12,700 kilometres paddling her surf ski around mainland Australia, former ironwoman Bonnie Hancock says in hindsight, she “had no idea what was coming”.

“There’s a part of me that’s very glad I didn’t,”  Ms Hancock told the ABC on a satellite phone as she paddled into the Gold Coast Seaway.

“I’ve been near hypothermic, the biggest shark sightings — oh my goodness so scary — and definitely some crocodiles up there in the Kimberley.

“If I knew all of that was coming I might of thought twice but it’s been far more incredible and also hard than I ever imagined.”

What started at Mermaid Beach last December, has ended 254 days later with an expected four world records and more than $65,000 raised for mental health charity Gotcha 4 Life.

Swells and sea sickness

While paddling 500 kilometres off the Great Australian Bight, Ms Hancock endured 17 days of six-metre swells, storms and freezing conditions.

woman wearing torch hat
Bonnie Hancock was treated for hypothermia, fatigue and dehydration during her journey.(Supplied: Bonnie Hancock)

She suffered near hypothermia and sea sickness, resulting in her being hospitalised for dehydration and fatigue at Esperance.

“I lost eight kilos over two weeks, I kept no food down,” she said.

“It was very touch and go … it was very scary for me.”

Ms Hancock said after eight months at sea, it was “a surreal feeling” to be back home on the Gold Coast.

“I’ve been out in the head winds in Far North Queensland and up in the Kimberley in the middle of the ocean and to be here safe on the Gold Coast shore is just fantastic,” she said.

“To be surrounded by family and friends I really couldn’t ask for anything more.”

A record-breaking paddle

While yet to be ratified, Ms Hancock’s journey is expected to break four Guinness World Records including fastest person to circumnavigate Australia by paddle, beating German woman Freya Hoffmeister by 78 days.

Bonnie wears a life vest sitting in a long canoe in rough seas.
Ms Hancock faced two weeks of large swells across the Great Australian Bight.(Supplied: Bonnie Hancock )

Other expected records include longest distance paddled in 24 hours by a woman — 213 kilometres off Cape York in July — and the youngest person to complete the journey at 32 years old.

“My hands, they feel like tradies’ hands,” she said.

“They’re very rough so I might need to get a manicure I think.”

Bonnie Hancock is also the first Australian woman to circumnavigate mainland Australia by paddle.

Journey of solidarity

Ms Hancock paddled with a sail boat beside her, sometimes staying out at sea for four weeks before returning to land.

She said she met “legends” including fishermen, gold prospectors and the ‘Cruising Kiwis’ — Rachel and Rob Hamill — who ferried her through “the Kimberley run, the crocodile country”.

“The weather was good, exceedingly hot though, poor Bonnie,” Mr Hamill said.

“She didn’t know it, she was just sticking with the boat and a crocodile was spotted nearby. We didn’t tell her that but said ‘Maybe we should call it an evening’.”

A man and a woman wearing black caps and black shirts stand outside in a city smiling.
Rob and Rachel Hamill supported Ms Hancock between Broome and Darwin.(ABC Gold Coast: Dominic Cansdale)

An Olympian himself who also rowed across the Atlantic in the 1990s, Mr Hamill said “it’s very difficult to truly understand what she’s been through and what she’s done”.

“She has been through hell,” he said.

“She’s done it with a smile; I tell you the most humble, determined, tenacious person I’ve ever met.

“She’s a very, very normal person and she’s a great testament to what you could do.”

Bonnie walks up the beach surrounded by people smiling with cameras.
Hundreds of supporters arrived at Northcliffe Beach to welcome Ms Hancock back to the Gold Coast.(ABC Gold Coast: Dominic Cansdale)

Ms Hamill said Ms Hancock was an “incredible woman with an incredible achievement”.

“She never complained, she was in a lot of pain and she was doing 100 (kilometre) days back-to-back.”

A new view of Australia

Beyond the physical triumph, Ms Hancock said the journey showed her a side of Australia she’d never seen.

“It makes you realise Australia is a beautiful country,” she said.

“The islands are incredible … those white sands of Ningaloo Reef, you can’t get better than that.”

woman paddling canoe in ocean
Bonnie Hancock has paddled around Australia to raise funds for mental health.(Supplied: Bonnie Hancock)

Ms Hancock said people could still donate to her charity effort, with a goal of reaching $100,000.

But now back on dry land, Ms Hancock plans to relax at her favourite cafe.

“Reading the paper and having some poached eggs, that is what I’m looking forward to,” she said.



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