Tuesday, June 03, 2008

DAY 222: Cooinda to Malabanjbanjdju

42 km @ 14.1 km/hr
Mon 2nd June 2008
Sunny, 28 deg C
Elevation of destination 12m
Distance to date 13641 km (8526 miles)

I’m starting to sound like a gramophome record but last night saw further loss of sleep in this crowded caravan park - lemme out! Some juvenile English girls were talking loudly and giggling way after everyone else had gone quiet last night, until someone nearby shouted to them “stfu”; and I added “hear hear!”, which did the trick. Then some young campers were banging around packing up and again talking loudly at 0530. There’s just no restraint with some people.
I had breakfast with Bob, having decided to quit here today - I don’t like the blatant overcharging and general commercialised feel to Cooinda Lodge (this is all there is in Cooinda). For example I was queueing for quite a while to pay my $15 camping fee while the guy behind the desk was trying long and hard to sell a $1200 scenic flight to some caravanners, which needled me.
Enough negative - the day started off positive thankfully with my visit to the Warradjan Aboriginal Centre, which is very interesting and gives good insight into how they lived here for thousands of years before the white man came - essentially taking from the land “...for need, not for greed”....which modern society could well learn from with our wasteful ways. Not only did they (for example) kill animals only when they were hungry, they actually ate the whole animal, throwing very little away. Theyhad respect for the environment which many of us don't. On a different tack, there was stuff about the “stolen generation” where black kids were taken from their families to be brought up fit for the ‘white’ world - an example of how the kids were treated was where a victim claimed that it was common practice for kids who did things wrong were ordered to strip completely before being beaten at the front of the class. What a mess our ancestors made of things.
Oops, that’s negative again! Well, there was also a good film about how the Aboriginals were turned off their land to make way for a uranium mine, the tailings dump of which is apparently leaking into the river system around here during the wet season. Ooops...... sorry!
I eventually got riding around 1100 into a headwind and gradual drag upwards for about 11km, but then things got easier for the last part. I decided to stay at a free NP camping area at Malabanjbanjdju (there’s nothing else there) which seemed quiet, and there was a bush walk by the billabongs too. After setting up I took a stroll there and spotted a few birds - lots of small and large Egrets, a Little Eagle or similar, and a small brown Kingfisher-like bird that isn’t in the Simpson and Day guide. The walk went close to the water and signs warned of crocodiles, which are pretty common here it seems, including the more dangerous Saltwater variety.
A few other campers are staying here too but it all seems quiet enough at the moment, lets hope it stays that way! Tomorrow I will ride into Jabiru which is less than 20km away, and I may look for a tour to try and see a bit more of Kakadu NP - unfortunately a lot of the more interesting stuff is too far off the main road for me, and only accessed on 4WD gravel roads. Then on to Darwin by next weekend probably.

DAY 221: Mary River Roadhouse to Cooinda

106 km @ 16.5 km/hr
Sun 1st June 2008
Sunny, 30 deg C
Elevation of destination 14m
Distance to date 13599 km (8499 miles)

After a decent nights sleep at last I felt much fresher this morning, but my left knee/leg is still sort of ‘lame’ and stiff - don’t know what that’s about, hopefully it’ll pass soon. My saddle sores are in remission at the mo though.
Less than 1km from the CP I was entering Kakadu NP, and the next 11km is mostly draggy uphill at grades between 2% and 8%. Traffic was very light, and the scenery interesting as I passed through a little mountain range - oddly-shaped rock formations and boulder-strewn plain, and lots of very large termite mounds. After 11km the road just undulates gently, but winds continuously.
The wind was SE again so mostly on the right side, but at various times it was behind pushing me along, then in the face slowing me down. Once more there is nothing like a shop or even a building for the whole day.
For lunch I sought out a shady spot where I could lean the bike and made coffee, and peanut butter and (blueberry) jam muffins, which were very nice with the muffins I’d bought in Katherine still being very fresh. As I was eating I watched the ubiquitous ants were carrying off any dropped crumbs back to their larder.
The landscape is Savannah, thinnishly-spaced trees but now they were taller, greener, and more varied, including palms, pandanus and other tropical-looking specimens. There has been a lot of deliberate burning, and I found the odour of burnt gums quite pleasant.
The middle part of the leg today was pretty slow, with the road bending into the wind and lots of shallow draggy climbs, but the last 25km was pretty fast downwind stuff.
A 4x4 stopped about 25km into the ride, and a man got out to speak to me, and it was Bob from Ingham - I met him in Tyto Wetlands the evening I camped there. I knew he was going to tour up here for a couple of months, and he assumed it was me ahead of him, although he wasn’t sure where I’d got to. We almost missed each other.
We had a chat for a while and parted with the expectation of meeting again tonight.
I arrived in Cooinda around 1630 and checked in at the (only, $15,) caravan park, and found Bob’s tent and pitched next to it. He was off on a wetland boat cruise. I wasn’t impressed with the very high prices in the ‘Lodge’ shop and skipped the iced coffee as a minor protest lol. I rode the 1km to Yellow Water, which is just a small boat terminal for the pleasure cruisers, but is next to a large wetland area. I spent a while with the binoculars watching mostly Egrets and Pied Cormorants, but also spotted a couple of Jabiru and Jacana (lily walkers). The pleasure boats were full, and at $70 for a 2 hour trip they must be making a fortune.
I found Bob waiting for his meal in the restaurant and had a beer, but at these prices only one, before cooking for myself and spending a nice evening chatting with my refound friend. It's such a shame these friendships are being made knowing we may never meet again - I could get on very well with Bob; my kind of guy.

DAY 220: Pine Creek to Mary River Roadhouse


61 km @ 15.1 km/hr
Sat 31st May 2008
Sunny, 30 deg C
Elevation of destination 122m
Distance to date 13493 km (8433 miles)

After the 2 noisy nights at Katherine I was looking forward to a peaceful one very much, but it wasn’t to be. It was fairly quiet for most of the evening but then at 11 a band started up in the pub just 80m away. A very loud band indeed, together with drunken shouting and cheering. I couldn’t believe it, I was almost asleep, but now sleep was impossible. How does the Lazy Lizard caravan park management think it right to take money off people to stay the night and then keep you awake taking money off others? I thought it might end at midnight; then 1; then 2, and it actually stopped at 0210 to be replaced by recorded music not quite as loud, but loud enough. Added to this, during quiter moments, a dog was howling just a few metres away in the CP. I’d had enough by now, and got dressed and marched into the bar at 0240 where some 20 people were still drinking, although the bar was shut. I asked the manager / owner, who was behind the bar, why he took money off me - $15 indeed, more than any other CP since Mt Isa - knowing this concert was going ahead. I said to him that I would have gone somewhere else had I known. He didn’t answer; just shuffled off, but a young blond woman snarled at me “it’s a f****** pub isn’t it?” - Yes dear, and right next door is a jointly-owned caravan park! Some of the gathered were sympathetic and said they were about to go home, but I walked out to intimidating sniggers and titters behind my back. Of course I was too angry to sleep then and didn’t get off for ages.
I slept from 4 to about 7 and woke to a wide variety of bird calls, many of which I didn’t recognise, and I looked out to see a male Bowerbird doing his dance again with female in attendance kind of dancing away from him, only this time I could see the bower he had made - see pic. It was a clump of coarse grass with some stones laid inside it - not very elaborate really. The contortions he was making were quite funny, sticking his neck out and strutting on tip toes for example. The feathers on the back of his neck open to reveal a shiny purple patch when he’s in this kind of mood too. That cheered me up a bit, but after packing up I was determined to get my $15 back - the owners shouldn’t get away with this, and having enquired at the shop I learnt that they were still in bed, and I went and knocked them up lol. The guy came out all grumpy looking but after stating my case and refusing to back down he went in and got me the $15. Thank you saith I.
A little earlier I had been talking to a caravanner from Brisbane, and he too was disgusted at the noise last night too. Furthermore he told me that when he and his wife arrived the day before the toilets were in such a mucky state that they found brush and mop and actually cleaned it themselves before they would use the facilities - how bad is that?
Anyway I hit the road feeling a little better, and after 2km on the Darwin highway turned right onto the Jabiru / Kakadu NP road. I had expected a headwind but it wasn’t too bad - mostly on the side and sometimes a little behind - and for the first 30km I made good progress. Traffic was very light indeed. Scenery-wise it was becoming more interesting with lots of bends and gentle undulations, huge boulders strewn around, and little red rocky mountains.
After 30km the undulations turned to hills and this lasted for the rest of the day; up / down / up / down a la Toblerone. The slopes ranged from 3% to 6% but weren’t that long. It felt hotter than recently, but this was probably due to the sun beiong in my face, giving an illusion of being hotter. The landscape got even wilder-looking and is very interesting to look at.
After 50km I was getting quite tired, and my right foot was giving me some pain, so I was glad when the roadhouse hove into view. Again, there are no other buildings en route today. The roadhouse CP is OK, a bit dusty, but only $8, and I celebrated with an iced coffee and chocolate cake as my ‘reward’. It was only 1430 and I could have carried on for a few more hours, but fatigue, plus the knowledge that there are no camping areas for another 60km and that you aren’t allowed to camp in the NP without a permit that takes a week to get, made it an easy decision to call it a day.
I finally got to have a sort-out of my gear which I’ve been wanting to do for a few days, and managed to dump a bagfull of unwanted stuff, and separate out a small parcel for sending to Lyn’s of stuff I’m not using.
After a good supper it was diary then bed at 2100; in fact many other campers were already asleep it seemed - they go to bed and get up early here!
I’m just a few km from the Kakadu NP boundary now, and tomorrow I should be at Yellow River, where there are extensive wetlands.

DAY 219: Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge to Pine Creek

120 km @ 20.0 km/hr
Fri 30th May 2008
Sunny, 30 deg C
Elevation of destination 209m
Distance to date 13432 km (8395 miles)

The ‘roos were grazing very close to my tent again last night, and I kept hearing the tearing sound as they ripped out the grass in my dreams, or in reality. I was awake at first light, 0640 at the moment, and decided to get up and get an early start to a longish day. Not that long in distance, but I had internet and shopping to do in Katherine that would probably take 2 hours. Before that I was luckily treated to the Bowerbird actually doing his courtship dance just a few feet away; a watching bird, which I assumed to be a female, wasn’t very interested though, and after a little while flew off after another (male?) bird, the hussy. Maybe he needs to practice more. I also took a pic of the bower itself.
It was very cold at that time, the sun not having climbed over the valley side, and I wished I hadn’t given Lyn my fleece hat to take back, I could actually do with it now. Once underway I started to warm up once moving, and especially when after 20 minutes when the sunshine hit me. Such a difference between early morning and afternoon temperatures at the moment. Thing is, it is still fairly warm when it’s sleep time, and it’s probably around 3 or 4 that it gets cold, and I then snuggle right under the sleeping bag flap, totally cocooned.
It took just over half the time to Katherine than the outward journey, today being wind-assisted. The SE wind was pretty fresh. In Katherine I tried another internet place that was a bit dearer ($8/hr) but at least twice as fast, and I was done much more quickly having replied to several e-mails. One was from the John O’Groat Journal asking for an update on the trip, which I will write up soon. I then topped up my food bag at Woolworth’s - a little nervous as usual about leaving the fully-laden bike on it’s own. At least in the internet cafe I could keep an eye on it, but in the supermarket it’s not as easy. I do push it inside the shopping mall, although a sign says no bicycles no-one has ever stopped me - maybe one day it will be taken outside and blown up...anyway despite some ‘characters’ hanging about I’ve lost nothing yet. I’m pretty sure there are CCTV cameras near where I leave it, which must help. After Woolies it was over to Subway for ‘elevenses’ which today was a 12” Tandoori on toasted wholewheat with tomato, lettuce, black olives, salt and pepper with Raita sauce please. I thought I’d save half for later but as it happened wolfed the lot down - very nice too with Paul’s (NT) iced coffee.
I filled up my 4 litre water bag in anticipation of a bush camp and hit the road again at 1230. There is twice the traffic north of Katherine compared to south, and I had to veer off a few times when vehicles were coming both ways. I decided to stop waving at caravanners and motorhomers now since I was at it every few seconds, and it was spoiling my concentration - I did wave when waved to, but often I can’t see whether folk are waving or not due to the bright sunshine. The road started flat, then started undulating almost to hilliness; finishing up gently undulating. There is nothing at all on this leg, not even a building, but I’m used to that. NT is incredibly sparse of population.
The SE-er was right behind me again, and the 90km from Katherine to Pine Creek was very easy. During the last 10km I tried and tried to find a bush camping site to no avail. I tried 4 places - 2 were too open and dusty, and in the case of the other 2, although they were well down side roads a vehicle was coming the other way both times, and I never like camping when I’ve been seen like that. Probably paranoid but there you are.
There are several caravan parks in Pine Creek so I chose the one with a bar so I could have a beer, and wasn’t pleased to hear it was $15 (Lazy Lizard) but I paid up and didn’t look pleasant at all. That’s the dearest for ages. As I was setting up some firemen were setting fires in the field next door - this happens all over NT at this time of the year, and is done to get rid of the old, dead vegetation and encourage new growth. Just now the ground is still pretty damp after the Wet and so this limits the extent of the fires. The burning trees looked quite spectacular with the setting sun right behind them.
I could smell fish cooking over in the restaurant and so the idea of pasta again was outvoted in favour of Barra and chips and salad - and it was very good. I bust my budget again this month, but hey, live a little! For the second or third time I’ve noticed indigenous men coming into a bar for alcohol, and the barperson asks them for their ID - wonder what that’s about? Must ask someone and find out. They always look so nervous and out of place in such places.