Month: April 2012

To The Gulf and Gorge

To The Gulf and Gorge

Location: Undara – Lawn Hill, Queensland, Australia
Distance: 1021km

Back on the road again it was good to know it would be downhill almost all the way to Normanton; the road losing some 700m in elevation over the next 400km. Despite this, I only managed to make it to the Einasleigh River – one of the few in this part of the country that doesn’t flood the road due to a fancy new bridge built a couple of years ago – about 80km along the Savannah Way. The old highway and remains of the original bridge made for a nice camp spot though and I watched the sun fade while I downed the last of my beers. Unfortunately there wasn’t much of note over the next few days; early starts, late finishes, relaxing in the heat of the day in whatever shade I could find. Towns and rest areas are few and far between out here. Long straights of 10-15km were common, very little traffic and an endless supply of savannah scrubland was all I had for company so I had the tunes blasting for some extra stimulation and watched the insects go about their business. One afternoon while on a nothing stretch of road “The Sunscreen Song” came on so I pulled over for a drink and found myself in a swarm of dragonflys, dozens of them all buzzing around this one particular tree.

A few days later I arrived in Normanton where I had planned on stocking up on food for the next couple of weeks. Pity it was a Saturday afternoon of the Easter weekend and the only shop open was bare of a lot of the basic and scarily expensive. Karumba seemed like the logical place to go. Once of the few townships on the Gulf Of Carpentaria I could spends a couple of nights there before doubling back and stocking up after the long weekend. The 70km was too far to complete that afternoon so I camped about halfway there in what was essentially swampland and had lovely evening with the resident hordes of mosquitoes. Karumba itself was much more pleasant. Cool sea breezes, few mosquitoes, beers and fish & chips at sunset. The majority of people who visit seem to fall into one of two categories. The grey nomads who stay for the majority of the dry season escaping the cold south of Australia and those chasing Barramundi (of which there was plenty to be caught). After 3 nights I was ready to move on and double-timed it back to Normanton spotting even more birds than I did on the way out. Massive flocks of galahs, brolgas, egrets, jabirus, kites, pluvvers and a dozen other species I didn’t recognise. Stocked up in Normanton I decided to try my luck and see just how “flooded” the road to Burketown was but I wouldn’t find out until the morning.

Just before the Little Bynoe River a short side road led to what little remains of Burke & Wills Camp CXIX, the last of their camps on their expedition to traverse Australia. At the river there was about 30-40cm of fast flowing water to tackle but a couple of locals out fishing (for Barra of course) said the Bynoe and Flinders Rivers were nearly a half meter and flowing just as fast. That was a no go for me. While the depth wasn’t a problem and I could unload the bike, crossing multiple times in murky, fast flowing water wasn’t overly temping especially given the local inhabitants, Salties. Backtracking I was back in Normanton again before setting off late to knock a dent in the empty 200km run to Burke & Wills Roadhouse. The following morning the trees disappeared and I was riding through endless, shade less, grassland, a couple of rests stop along the way provided some relief from the heat and I eventually rolled in to the roadhouse a half hour after sunset, with nearly 8 hours on the clock. After a feed the manager kindly offered me a place to camp and a hot shower. I slept like a log that night.

Looking at the map it was another empty stretch of 150km to reach Gregory Downs, except this time there weren’t even any rest stops marked. With that fact and my legs still feeling pretty knackered hitching a ride seemed like a good option and after a few “no”s I was soon loading up the bike on the back of J.D’s and Luke’s truck, two electricians headed to Doomadgee (somewhere I would reach in about a week). Zipping along it was just over an hour before I was dropped off at Gregory Downs. Not much more that a pub, a couple of houses and scattering of sheds. Strangely the owner was complaining about it being too busy as a result of some local nutjob in Burketown burking down the pub there, leaving Gregory Downs at the only watering hole for a couple hundred kilometers in any direction. Enjoyed a decent chicken Kiev for lunch (why the identical meal is cheaper at lunch than dinner I’ve never understood) and did the usual chilling out for the middle of the day. When I finally left I had barely made in 500m before stopping at the beautiful Gregory River for a quick dip slightly wary of the invisible crocs. By the time I was going there was only a bit over an hours riding to be had before dark. The first 20km on the last bitumen I would see for a while before it turned to the loose red gravel and dust that the road trains love to kick up everywhere, luckily they seemed to have finished their runs for the day and I had the road to myself.

The next morning was fortunately a Sunday (I lose track of the days all the time) so I passed but a single road train on the 40 or so kilometres to the mine turn-off where the road roughened up a bit for the rest of the way to Adel’s Grove. Stopped for a couple of basic supplies before the last 10km into the very quiet Lawn Hill National Park, somewhere I’ve wanted to visit for a long time. I had 3 days here to relax, swim, do some walking and snap a few decent photos. Sunrise looking out over Indarri Falls will stick in my mind for a long time to come. The warm, morning light, crept slowly down the gorge walls, making them glow golden-orange. Local wildlife could be spotted in abundance too, various turtles, archer fish, fresh water crocodiles, dozens of different birds, pythons, lizards and a few wallabies. I had some good company too in my camping neighbours, Adam and Tamsin (keen cyclists) and their kids Odete and Thea. Some good food, coffee and a beer or two were all very much appreciated but the luxuries were about to come to an end. It was time to take on the even more remote and less used roads to Doomadgee and Borroloola. Adam and Tamsin were also headed the same way in a couple of days so I would probably cross paths again at some point.

Posted by admin in Australia, Cycling, Travel, 5 comments
Stuck In A Lava Tube

Stuck In A Lava Tube

Location: Cairns – Undara, Queensland, Australia
Distance: 395km

Swimming in crisp, chest deep water, I could see nothing ahead of me but black. My hands were invisible even when but a whisker from my face but I swam on, as far as I dared. Above me tiny bats zipped past on fast beating wings and droplets of water seeping through the cracked roof fell periodically. Behind me echoing shrieks of those still to enter the water, complaining of the cold, bounced off the walls. I had raced ahead wanting to have the place to myself, at least for a moment or two. Floating in 190,000 year old lava tubes full of fresh rain water is not something I expected to do everyday, but there I was again, simply because of a spur of the moment decision and a random act of kindness.

Over two weeks ago I had set off from Cairns and just in time too. Although it had been wet with drizzle the last few days the heavens truly opened the day I set off for Yungaburra and were set on drowning the place over the coming days. A quick pit stop at Gordonvale allowed me to lighten my load – there was little chance of snorkeling west of Cairns – before taking the twisted Gilles Highway up some 800m into the Atherton Tablelands. Not a difficult climb by any measure but the relentless rain made it less than enjoyable spoiling any chance of admiring the view back down towards the coast and nearing the plateau I was well aware of the drop in temperature. I had contacted James and Sarah on Warm Showers a few days earlier looking for a place to camp, a shower and somewhere warm to dry off. What I got was something rather different, an upgrade so to speak. Off the highway, along a couple narrow little backroads and finally a down a lush green path I was welcomed and given my own cabin in the countryside above Lake Tinaroo to take over as my own for the weekend. James an Sarah were both lovely, laid back people and had both toured here in Australia and Sarah in Tibet and Mongolia so there was plenty to talk about and learn. The rain was no less intense up here but I could sit under the veranda and watch the lake disappear behind the clouds but it never drowned out the whine of the jet skier’s boats. The climb had taken more out of me than I knew so I had a lazy Saturday but on Sunday morning we visited Lake Eacham – a beautiful freshwater lake formed in a now extinct volcano crater – for breakfast. Even with the rain it was a beautiful place, the water a deep, rich green, turtles and archer fish swimming by the shore in between the pandanus. Cooked a rather good korma for dinner with went down well and finally got around to patching up my holey front pannier properly.

Come Monday morning I discovered the reason for my very stiff rear break, a partially snapped cable housing, probably the result of crashing into a dodgy kerb in Rockhampton. It could stay like that for the time being though, no hills to speak of for the next couple thousand kilometers.. The cloud hadn’t cleared off but they were holding back momentarily so I could enjoy the back roads to the Gallo Dairy where I found some delicious passionfruit yoghurt and feta cheese and then on towards Atheron to stock up on some food and vote in some kind of election; I look forward to getting off the electoral roll. That was about as long as the clouds could hold back the flood and it became a wet, and then very wet and finally flooded road type of ride. Twisting my way south towards the highest road in Queensland at 1143m. A local though I was having trouble when I stopped for a photo, why else would I stop in such weather? By the time I arrived in Ravenshoe I looked a lot like a drowned rat and felt pretty much the same as well but soon dried off in a pub before setting up for the night under the BBQ area at the tourist information centre; they do come in handy sometimes. Innot Hot Springs had been something I was looking forward to but the rain had swollen the creek and almost put the bridge under so the hot springs themselves were well and truly drowned. It was the middle of the following morning that I found myself at the Undara turnoff. I had been undecided about whether to stop by or not but in the end the decision was made for me. Although the road had been excellent I had been fighting a very strong headwind for 15km and I knew the road was cut not so far ahead. I needed somewhere to kill a day or two.

Two weeks later and I’m still here, although I’m finally moving on tomorrow. On my first night as a paying customer I’d seen one other couple walking around I little hope of there being much action around the camp fire but I did discover a few of the staff had a including the manager enjoying a drink or two. The short of it is after realising I couldn’t ride further west with the flooded road Steve (the manager) offered me a bed and food in return for a few hours work each day. So for the past two week I done various things around the resort from cleaning windows and raking paths to housekeeping and picking up rubbish. Made a couple of trips to the Mount Surprise pub for supplies of the alcoholic kind, an 18th birthday and also a made a mad 10 hour road trip to Charters Towers at night (plenty of roos and pigs to dodge along the way). I saw some of the lave tubes a half dozen times, swimming in them just as many time, others once once or twice and climbed Mount Kalkani (an extinct volcano) to see a rather bleak sunrise but it still worth the effort. I also managed to keep the legs in half decent shape by riding some of the walking track. Once through a half meter of water by the 100 Mile Swap (named so because it is 100 miles from Cardwell), at least the bike was clear afterwards.

The second week finished up with the Undara Country Rock and Blues Festival. More rock than blues but still some decent entertainment to be had by the bands who played over the 3 days. Finally there was a staff party on the Sunday night with most of the band members. After a couple of games of darts and pool and few too many beers, the night ended in bit of a blur. Stumbled back to bed sometime around 4am. Haven’t done that in a long time. I’m glad to be getting back on the bike tomorrow. As much fun as I’ve had here, hanging out with some of the long time staff I’m itching to move on. I heard on the grapevine the road is now open all the way to Normanton, some 450km west, so flooded roads shouldn’t be a problem for a while.

Posted by admin in Australia, Cycling, Travel, 4 comments