Thursday, May 01, 2008

DAY 190: Normanton to Karumba

Thurs 1st May 2008
80 km @ 17.0 km/hr
Sunny, hot, 30 deg C +
Elevation of destination 5 m
Distance to date 11331 km (7082 miles)
Earliest start ever this morning, away by 0630. I had woken up early and decided to try and catch the early birds in and around the River Norman, before continuing north then west to Karumba. Birds were plentiful too both by the river and in various waterholes and creeks all the way. Main birds seen were the 1.4m tall Brolga (lurking furtively in pairs in the background, and once they were on the road ahead); Small, Intermediate and Great Egrets, Magpie Geese, all the Ibises i.e. Glossy, Straw-necked and Sacred; Storks, and so on. There were hundreds of Black Kites and other similar raptors that I’m not sure of, sometimes flocking together in trees, which I haven’t seen before - we usually see them in 1’s and 2’s in the UK. They were continually flying over me, casting their sinister shadow over me as I rode along. This bird spotting helped break the tedium of yet more Savannah.
The first 30km was into what must have been a NE headwind - I haven’t seen anything other than SE for 2 months - until the road turns to the left 90 degrees, whereupon I had a tailwind for the last 40km. 35 km into the ride the trees disappear as the land has been cleared for crops - but there was hardly any soil, presumably eroded and blown away leaving a sad lunar landscape. Cattle rearing is still the main farming activity, mostly beef I think. At one point I passed 6 black cowboys replete with Stetsons, herding up a few hundred beasts, and each one waved at me.
The road is good quality surface and very quiet traffic-wise. By 1100 it was very hot though, and the sun beat down mercilessly, especially when I stopped to use the binocculars. I rolled into Karumba around 1130 but couldn’t find an iced coffee, so ice cream and lime pop had to do.
The actual town of Karumba (pop 750) is to me a bit of a dry, dusty place, and on this dog-day afternoon it wasn’t a comfortable place for a redneck hombre like me to be. I rode off in search of a riverside path (the Norman River is some 600m wide here) or some kind of scenic walk, or something interesting to see, but didn’t find anything, other than the Barramundi Research Centre, where the hatchling fish are developed ready for release into the river - I’ve seen plenty of this kind of thing in the salmon farms of N Scotland. There’s no interpretation and no signage of use to tourists, and to be fair it’s really a little industrial place based on being the only port in the area. I couldn’t see myself staying here, but happily some 8km back down the road is Karumba Point with 2 CP’s, decent cafe, and a nice pub looking out to the west across the sea and famous for sunset-watching whilst drinking beer.
Before I left Karumba ‘town’ I managed to get the blog up to date at the library, which has a fast Broadband connection, but at a price - $8. I hope you guys appreciate the sacrifice I am making to bring you these exciting glimpses of this wonderful country of Oz! I saw Dave and Lynn (from Mount Surprise) again and we agreed to meet for a pint at the ‘sunset’ pub for Happy Hour at 1630.
We did just that, after which I dashed back to check in at the CP ($10 pppn), shower, and get back the 1km for the sunset, but unfortunately I was too late, it had slipped below the horizon. Whilst down there I bought a fish and chip supper at Ash's, which was absolutely huge (a good double portion), cheap ($8.50), and very good too. And I got my iced coffee at last, so all was well with the world. I fancy a day off, as I’m feeling a little weary, but I’m not sure what I’d do with myself here. It's really just a place to come and fish for Barramundi.

Maybe I’ll wait until I get back to Normanton tomorrow.

DAY 189: Black Bull Siding to Normanton

Weds 30th April 2008
94 km @ 17.8 km/hr
Sunny, up to 30 deg C
Elevation of destination 10 m
Distance to date 11251 km (7032 miles)

This site was quite noisy in the night - the generator running all night and a lorry stopping in the big lay-by close to - but with earplugs in I managed to sleep fairly well. Erik was away by the time I got up at 0700, probably 100km up the road! I went to fill my water bag at the rainwater tank near the house before leaving, and invoked the extreme ire of the resident Rottweiller, who rushed at me, snarling, only to nearly have his head nearly jerked right off by a chain. I’m glad it was a strong chain. It doesn’t look as if this place will continue to be a camping site in the future judging by the present lack of facilities; funny how they charged Erik $5 but me nothing too....
There was no wind for the first hour or so but it was nice and cool, however by 9 it was pretty hot and not a cloud in the sky. Everywhere is so dry, demonstrating the lack of rain here recently. When you walk on the grass it crunches as if frosted - it breaks rather than bends, and bread goes crisp in a few minutes. Last night was pretty cold too and I was forced to add extra clothing - well, some clothing lol.
Scenically we could be riding 3 days ago - no change, Savannah skinny forest wall to wall. My mind wandered off somewhere; still conscious, but not really present as it were. Lots of birds again early on; I’ve never seen so many raptors - mostly Black Kites but some others with rounded tails which I think may be Whistling Kites, although they haven’t whistled for me yet. The Apostles were numerous again, scratting about the ground in groups of 12 lol until I susprised them and scattered them screaming up into the trees. There were a few ponds near the road, and muddy creeks where Herons were lurking, one of which was a pinkish colour (?).
I knew this was the day that the old Gulflander train runs from Normanton to Croydon, and as the line parallels the road all the way, I worked out when our paths would cross and waited for it, to get a photo, but for some reason the close-up failed. I had fancied a trip on this train on Saturday, but as it only comes up this way to Critter’s Creek, and as it’s pretty samey Savannah all the way, I’ll give it a miss despite the billy tea and tucker.
Some 10km from Normanton the road crosses the wide Norman River which is very low at the moment, but there are plenty of fish in there, and as I silently approached some Herons scattered, and something big that I didn’t see crashed into the water - a croc maybe. The rivers are full of them around here but you rarely see them.
Before long I was riding up the gentle hill into the town, the first 'hill' of the day. The place reminds me of Cooktown a little - old rambling buildings with a frontier feel to it. There’s no concentrated town centre really, the shops are well spread out. I had a pie and iced coffee then went to the VIC, where they have the only internet in town. Unfortunately it was running dead slow, and I didn’t even try to upload images, I just posted the text and answered a pile of e-mails. I will be riding the 71km to Kuranda on the Carpenteria coast tomorrow and I was told internet is quicker there.
I checked in at the central CP and it’s very nice ($11) - a beautiful 25m pool, fully-equipped campers kitchen, and only 200m from the Purple Pub, where I enjoyed a couple of welcome pints after showering and a few laps of the empty pool.
I had a wander around the town just after dusk, thinking about eating out, but plumped for self-catering instead in the empty CK (the CP was pretty full though). There is a high predominance of Aboriginal people around the town, more so than anywhere else I’ve been to yet. I find it difficult to acknowledge them as they often avoided eye contact with me, and my not-too-earth-shattering impression so far in Oz is that for the two races ‘rarely the twain shall meet’.