The Territory

The Territory

Location: Lawn Hill, Queensland – Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia
Distance: 1318km

Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) had been a good home for a few days but doesn’t take me long to miss the open road. Adam made me another of his delicious coffees (going to miss those) while I loaded up the trucker including 16L of water. It was 140km to Doomadgee, nothing in between and road conditions were questionable at best. Quickly backtracked 20km past Adel’s Grove and a few sun baking snakes to the Lawn Hill Station turn off. “Just follow the signs to KFC” a passing station hand had said, “the road’s not too bad.” That made me laugh while I mentally applied a liberal amount salt to his advice. A few gates later, another snake and a herd of horses the station hand was right but that’s about as far as the “road” went. I crossed Lawn Hill Creek passing a funky smelling dingo and was greeted by a rough track on the other side.

 

KFC - KingFisher Camp.

Nothing to hide from the sun in out here.

Right about now some suspension would be nice.

 

A more accurate description would be a continuous, overlapping string of potholes created by cattle hooves; bumpy as hell. My progress slowed to a meager 10km/h or so playing a never ending game of dodge the worst of the pot holes even if that mean going off road, riding through the grass. The bumps managed to shake lose a couple of water bottles at some point before lunch which I walked back a couple of kilometres looking for but without success. By day’s end I had covered about 50km of the cattle track, passed a single ute, experienced my hottest temp so far, 43°C and worked up some impressive blisters on my palms (hard work steering with so much water on the front rack). At least there was a nice sunset and I had a lovely bunch of flies for company.

 

50km from anyone or anything, except the flies.

Sunrise on the Doomadgee track.

The murky Elizabeth Creek. Some didgos watched me from the other side.

 

It was more of the same the next morning, including a murky 3′ deep crossing at Elizabeth Creek with a couple of dingos watching on curiously. After an hour or so things looked up and I was riding on something that resembled a road and it stayed that way all the way to Doomadgee where I made a beeline for the impressively well stocked supermarket where I briefly ran into Luke who had given me a ride to Gregory Downs a few days earlier. Before heading on I checked in at the roadhouse to ask about the road ahead, learnt nothing useful but did get a look from the lade there that said “You gonna die!” That put a smile on my face but it would have been nice to know about the 10km sand dune inspired road I had to trudge through. Eventually made camp some 2 hours later, hot and sandy.

 

Teeny, tiny, frog.

Water trickles over the Doomadgee floodway.

Doomadgee Post Office.

+1 for pedal power. The sand sea road from Doomadgee.

My first border crossing!

 

Passed a whopping 2 cars on the way to Hell’s Gate, the last dot on the map before the border. No sooner than I had scoffed down a pie and coke Adam and Tamsin pulled up having left Lawn Hill that morning following my tyre tracks the whole way here. Over a quick catch chat up I was offered a ride to which I could hardly say no. The lady at Hell’s Gate was far more positive about the road ahead but did say we were the first tourists for the season. We made good time – a quick photo stop at the NT border – before making out way through some amazing rocky outcrops and a small range. The mighty Calvert River appeared and Adam and I, each with a big stick in hand and some keen eyes made a crossing on foot to scout the safest route. Some big rocks and a couple of holes over 1m deep but no crocs. The Landcruiser took it in its stride and we motored on to arrive at Robinson River on dusk.

 

Gearded up to cross the Calvert River.  Dawn at Robinson River Crossing. Beautiful. Robinson River, pretty but for the hiding crocs.

Allegedly the first tourist crossing of Robinson River for the season.  Easy peasy.

The TATO crew about to head to Seven Emu station.

Weryan River. Had to unload to cross here. 5 return trips :/.

 

The crossing could wait till morning. A big fire, baked bean jaffles and cold beer. Good finish to the day. We woke to a heavy fog, glowing soft pink and purple in the early light but was burnt off slowly by the rising sun. Although much swifter flowing the Robinson was an easy crossing with a smooth bed of sand and half the depth of the Calvert. Tall leafy paperbarks, pandanus and palms would make it a lovely swimming hole if not for the ever present but invisible salties. A quick blast up the road and it was time for me to move under my own power again. A hot and sticky ride into Borroloola with a couple of deepish river crossing and more corrugations than I care to remember made for slow going but I found myself a mascot, blind Elmo and ticked over the 5000km milestone. Ignoring all the usual signs I set up camp in a park next to the airfield where my mate Bill used to be based as a pilot.

 

My new mascot, blind Elmo takes a break.

Another foggy start leaving Borroloola.

270kms of nothing.

Really long, straights. At least the clouds kept the temps down.

Long hours in the saddle mean big meals.

Big mother trucker.

 

Another bank of eerie purple fog greeted me at the dawn of a long day to the Heartbreak Hotel at Cape Crawford. Little of note along the way apart from the gargantuan mine trucks. Each nearly 100m long, towing 4 trailers with 130 tyres. A brief shower arrived on dusk – the first rain I’d seen in nearly a month – heralding the start of some cooler weather and after temps notching into the early 40’s since Undara it was a welcome change indeed. The clouds hung low on the lonely stretch of road to the Stuart Highway; 270km of nothing but savannah. Some impressively close bolts of lightning sparked small fires but none lingered long in the constant drizzle. On a 60km stretch of dead straight road, Bob from the Heartbreak Hotel pulled up and offered a ride. An easy decision allowing me to reach the Daly Water Pub for lunch on ANZAC Day. Two-up, ten-pin bowling, a live band, a hearty parmigiana and cold beer.

 

Can you see the enthusiasm?

Ten pin bowling with 6 pins. I missed.

Daly Waters Pub. Money, underwear, bras, business cards, stickers and more.

 

I took a ride with Rob and Bev to Katherine where I found my first fully fledged supermarket since Atherton, 6 weeks earlier. Freshly baked bread, salami, cheese, yoghurt, chocolate and more, I was in food heaven.  The landscape changed little over the final 3 days to Darwin but I did manage to find one of my best camp sites so far. Far enough off the highway to avoid traffic noise, no mosquitoes and plenty of wood for a big camp fire. Watched the sun paint the horizon orange and pink before the stars came out and the milky way drifted across the sky.

 

Coldest morning so far. Actually pulled out the sleeping bag in the wee hours.

Try as I might I couldn't break the speed limit.

Bargain basement prices here in Pine Creek compared to the two previous road houses.

Luckily I was short on bananas.

Pine Creek Post Office.

My own private campfire.


 

It took me a week to finally leave Darwin, solely because I couldn’t book an earlier flight. Luckily it was a nice enough place to relax and sort our some housekeeping; final hep b shot, insurance and sent some unneeded gear home. Relaxed in Bicentennial Park, cruised around town, ate at the Mindil Beach night market and sorted many a photo. Finally on the 5th May it was time to leave and on the way to the airport I ticked over the 6000km milestone, some 1500km than I had originally planned.

 

Starry skies, campfire and far from the highway (quiet). Top camp site.

1 skink, 2 tiny, hiding, scorpions.

Adelaide River Post Office. The trucker warms after my last camp site in Oz.

Besides watching the top of a an overly active thundercloud somewhere above the Arafura Sea it was an uneventful flight from Darwin to Denpasar. 30 day VOA (Visa On Arrival) are issued without question for US$25. I’ll have to extend it somewhere down the road (a process I’ve heard all sorts of stories about) as 30 days for such a sprawling country is never going to be enough.

So simple yet, so good. Breakfast in Bicentennial Park, Darwin.

New harbour development in Darwin.


Sunset behind a storm from Mindil Beach, Darwin.

One of the many food stalls at Mindil Beach Night Market.

 

A tip for those who ever arrive at Depasar airport and need a cab. Walk a few minutes out through the car park and jump in a cab on the street, the price will fraction of that from the airport itself. Unfortunately with 2 large panniers and an oversized bike box that wasn’t an option for me and I ended up paying an exorbitant Rp250,000 (about $27) for the 20 minute ride to my hostel.  I didn’t care though. I was glad to finally be in a new country, with a language I didn’t understand, a smörgåsbord of new foods to try and that strangely familiar, funky Asian city smell. Humidity is through the roof and there are more scooters/mopeds/motorbikes that I’ve seen anywhere else before. Selamat malang.

A whisker under my 40kg limit.

Bike box. Qantas = $16.50, Jetstar = $15. Same box.

Posted by admin in Travel, 4 comments
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
The Uphill Push

The Uphill Push

Location: Gordonvale – Cooktown – Cairns, Queensland, Australia
Distance: 688km

Rolling away from Dan’s I took one last, short detour off the highway along quiet back roads lined by constantly swaying sugar can all in an effort to avoid the hazards of the Bruce Highway running into Cairns. Unfortunately back roads can only take you so far and I was shortly back with the traffic but welcomed by the sight of wide, well marked cycle lanes all the way into town. I had no plans to stay in Cairns as I knew I’d be back in a week or so but I did a mini tour  through the centre of town and along the Esplanade, the Lagoon (a public pool) heaving with tourists and locals alike.

Aiming for the beaches beyond the suburban sprawl of Cairns I was happy to eventually find a site right on the water but above the high tide mark somewhere beyond Ellis Beach and was soon joined was a half dozen other groups. Gobbled down a feed, lathered myself in insect repellent and stood on the beach, scrunching up the sand between my toes watching the sky fade from soft pink to blue to grey and then stars slowly warming up behind the clouds.

The Captain Cook Highway threads along the coast, Coral Sea to the east, mountains rising to the west and with the recent rains, impromptu waterfalls ran down every trough, gully and valley leading to the ocean washing out great swaths of beach. Easy to see why the majority of the morning traffic consisted of groups of touring motorbikes. A local farmer found me under a coconut tree in Port Douglas shared his abundance of knowledge about the road north and reminded me of the every present saltwater crocodiles which manage to eat a few dozen of his cattle each year. A brief visit to a lookout above Port Douglas probably wasn’t worth the reward given the effort to ride up but I did learn I was 15,050km from London the way the crow flies. At a guess I’d say I will have done triple that by the time I arrive.

Yet another cane field provided a home for the night – they are proving very reliable – just a couple of minutes from Mossman Gorge where I was welcomed by an invisible pot hole on the road leading in. The shock sending my gadgets pannier skittering across the road, miraculously with only some cosmetic damage. The gorge was a nice place to enjoy breakfast but my peace and quiet was broken by a trio of tour buses ejecting a horde of tourists for their whirlwind visit. “Everyone back on the bus in 30 minutes.” They always make me appreciate how much freedom travelling by bike allows. Stop where you want, when you want for as long as you want.

Boarded the ferry to cross the Daintree River where the sugar cane disappeared and was replaced by cool, green rainforest. My reward for a few kilometers of climbing was a shower under a roadside waterfall – apparently an amusing sight to a couple of the passing motorists – and a lovely view back down the coast overlooking where Steve Irwin met his untimely end. By the time I down the other side I was twisting through more rainforest in quickly fading, late afternoon light but as ever there was somewhere waiting to be found. This time, a perfect tent-sized patch of gritty sand just back off the beach.

Up early and into Cape Tribulation so I could check the conditions of the Bloomfield Track – not too much water in the creeks and the road mostly dry – I knew it would be a long, slow day. The early undulations started out gently enough, leading to a lovely swimming hole at Emmagen Creek where I was forewarned by a passing 4WD’er of the ridiculously steep road ahead. How right they were. Shortly after making the shin deep crossing I was met with a wall of a hill announcing the start of the Donovan Range. While granny-gear gave me just enough leverage to pedal, I had to stop after only a few hundred meters and trying to restart on the hill was a struggle of futility. The back tyre simply tearing the ground to pieces leaving me exhausted, sweating and making no progress. Swearing in frustration at the rainforest around me I had to push the bike uphill, a task my arms didn’t appreciate. The saddest part was there was no reward for all this effort. As the track had such a loose surface and snaked left and right the downhill run was done at a snails pace. I got to repeat the climb all over again on the Cowrie Range. Even steeper, a number of stretches of it were concreted but rather than provide a solid surface to pedal on it was mostly covered with a thin layer of algae and moss. More sweating and swearing and 8 hours after leaving Cape Tribulation I had managed to cover 50km. Slowest day so far. Another morning of rough roads peppered with rocks, washouts and random patches of sand lead back to the Mulligan Highway and Cooktown.

Arriving in Cooktown I wasn’t sure where I would be staying. I had hastily contacted a Couch Surfer member before setting off from Mossman but hadn’t been able to find any phone reception since to find out if I was welcome or not. Fortunately it worked out that I was and Gerry was fine host for a couple of nights. Taking me on his own guided walking tour of the town and headland, including his favorite spot overlooking to ocean. The legs appreciated the day off, given the previous two hard day and the ride back to Cairns to come. 330km in 3 days of headwinds required a rather solid effort but the countryside varied enough to keep it interesting. Marshland, open scrub, fields of legumes, small mountain ranges and all far more green than I would ever have imagined. I passed a couple of other crazy guys on bikes. Halfway back to Cairns found a cyclist fixing his third puncture of the morning, intent on reaching Cooktown by nightfall. Even with tail winds and no gear that sounded like a pretty mammoth task. Another was headed all the way to the top of the Cape. I hope he has a boat.

The last few day have been spent here in Cairns Couch Surfer Dave and now in a hostel (cheaper than a couple of camp site I stayed at). Eating and reading lots and generally doing nothing. Finally rounded up a whole lots of packages I’d been waiting on including some spare tyres, new shirts, books and an EPIRB. Now I’m set for whatever lies between here an Darwin.

Posted by admin in Cycling, Travel