Tuesday, June 10, 2008

DAY 229: Humpy Doo to Darwin

9th June 2008

45 km @ 16.3 km/hr

Sunny, 31 deg C

Elevation of destination 37 m

Distance to date 14056 km (8785 miles)

Another nice lie-in until 0830; Kingsley keeps similar hours to me so no need to jump out of bed too early. At around 5 I woke for the loo, but when I opened my eyes felt as if I was in a completely surreal situation - it seemed like I was lying outside rather than inside, the glass door behind me was open so that only the mesh was between me and the outside, so I guess that was partly the reason for this - I just lay there for 2 minutes battling with my impressions versus reality - where was I !? Also, it was, typically, so silent outside with no wind, as always at night. It was a strange, spiritual-like occurrence. The sounds you hear at night are often so weird - unknown birds, bats or animals providing a kaleidoscope of sounds that challenge the imagination. It reminds me, if needed, that Australia is a magical place, and these odd experiences are ones I will always remember..

Once Kingsley was up and making breakfast that was a signal for me to join him in a big bowl of muesli and chopped banana and percolated coffee. We had a great discussion about cycling advocacy and Aboriginals for about 2 hours, which was very stimulating, until around noon, when I finally and reluctantly took my leave. I love this kind of stimulation and could have gobbed on for longer...I think we may meet again though since I’ve been invited to call again on the way back down in a few days time; if I manage to get the proper chainring I could avail myself of his chain whip to AGAIN attempt to renew the transmission, but more than that I would like to spend some more time with him - he’s a bit of a cynic (lol) but very good to talk with.

I had instructions from Kingsley how to find a bike path that takes you 20km into the city of Darwin, but I somehow missed the start of it and only found it 15km from Darwin - it is an old railway track and well suited for cycling. The road bends from heading NW to heading south as you approach the CBD. It’s a strangely-spread city due to the presence of the busy international airport and several large mangrove swamps, which in this relatively narrow peninsular squeeze development drastically - thus was built the ‘city’ of Palmerston 30 km south, which houses many of Darwin’s 120,000 residents - there’s simply no available space for more housing close to the centre.

The outer suburbs look much like any other town / city - several km of square industrial and retail buildings such as tyre fitters and car showrooms - but the traffic wasn’t as frenetic as in most cities, and this probably reflects Darwin’s relative smallness. It feels fairly relaxed cycling around the city centre; mind you it is a bank holiday today (the Queen’s birthday, God bless ‘er).

I grabbed an iced coffee as I toured around trying to find the YHA, and eventually found this anticipated abode for the next few days only to be disappointed - no male beds available at all for 2 days! I had failed to get a reply from my hoped-for Warmshowers hosts who I think may be away for the holiday weekend, so had to find an alternative. I had decided a good alternative would be to get a private room at the YHA as a ‘treat’, even though it cost around $70/nt. Not to be!

I tried another backpacker place but they were full too, so nothing for it but to head back down the Stuart Highway the was I came and find one of the several caravan parks.’ I came across the nearest one to the city after going back 7km - the Leprechaun CP - $15/pppn - and went for it. The camping area was choc-a-bloc - horror!! - so I went back to the office and was offered a nice quiet shady private site away from the mob, and got one, phew!!!

I went out to a little supermarket nearby for some supplies and cooked myself pasta with corned beef and washed down with a bottle of Banrock Station Shiraz Cabarnet (yes, the full bottle), so if I get garrolous please forgive me; I’m usually more temperate than this as you know, but I have been a bit stressed lately he he.....I do miss Lyn very much actually; it seems a long time since we had fun together.....I am enjoying what I’m doing, but also looking forward to coming home and seeing her again. Not sure about going back to work at SEPA, but I expect it’ll be OK once I’m sat behind my desk again putting the environment to rights...

There’s lots of noise here from an RAAF military exercise going on this weekend - jets flying over every few minutes making about 120 dB of noise - better than gabbling backpackers though, God forbid.

DAY 228: Day off in Humpy Doo

(didn't take any pics today)

8th June 2008

36 km @ 19.1 km/hr

Sunny, 30 deg C

Elevation of destination 20 m

Distance to date 14011 km (8757 miles)

I slept very well as expected and felt better for it. Kingsley and I rode out to Palmerston where he had a job sorting a lady’s computer out. We called at Bakers Oven for some sustenance on the way back and he showed me how to carry on into Darwin, only 40km from here.

In the afternoon we attempted to change my transmission i.e. Fit new chainring, sprocket and chain, however after getting the old bits off I was dismayed to find that St Kilda Cycles have for the second time sent me the wrong chainring - the 5 holes in this one are too close together to fit. I will have to return this for the second time, which is a real drag, I was relying on them as bicycle experts to ask me the right questions to enable them to supply the right part - they didn’t ask for the exact dimensions of my old chainring and I assumed they knew what I needed - clearly not. So I STILL can’t do this task and will have to persevere with the old setup.

I spent the rest of the day eating (I’m always hungry), drinking (always thirsty) in between chatting with my interesting host.

DAY 227: Bark Hut Roadhouse to Humpy Doo

7th June 2008

90 km @ 16.4 km/hr

Cloudy, 30 deg C

Elevation of destination 20 m

Distance to date 13975 km (8734 miles)

Guess what? I was kept awake again by my chatting and door-slamming neighbours. ‘Nuff said, too tedious to write. I got going soon after 8 but only got 4km when I saw a sign for the Bird Billabong, only another 5km down a road to the right, so as I had plenty of time I decided to have a look. The road was pretty rough gravel and badly corrugated, but I picked my way through it, and a walking path comprised the last 1.5km. Here there was a very good bird hide set over the waters of some 1km square bilabong.

I stayed about an hour in this peaceful place, and identified a few birds for the first time, such as the Rainbow Bee Eater, Radjah Shelduck, and Plumed Whistling Duck. As a bonus for 10 I saw a small herd of 7 wild pigs rooting around the banks. They passed within 10 metres of me but never knew I was there. They were smaller than I would have expected though - little bigger than a small dog though fatter; around 15kg weight. Perhaps they were a parentless young family....Anyhow on balance this was a nice detour and worth the effort.

I continued on with the wind mostly on my right, so not much help. I stopped at the Corroborree Roadhouse for bacon and eggs and was so thirsty downed 2 x 600ml iced coffees. I wasn’t feeling too positive today to be honest, maybe too many short nights of sleep are taking their toll.

I also stopped at the Windows on the Wetlands Centre, where there’s some good interpretation of the flora and fauna of these wetland areas. I also caught a talk by one of the rangers about cane toads (introduced species that are now out of control and poisoning and threatening extinction of lots of other different animals), the monsoon season floods, the attempt to grow rice commercially in this area and other subjects of interest.

Traffic was getting busier by the hour as I neared Darwin, although it’s not a huge city; around the size of Inverness at round 120,000 population, but it is a strategic city with busy port and airport and very popular with tourists.

I got to Humpty Doo and gave Kingsley a call, whereupon he came to meet me and escort me back the 4km to his house. We got on very well, both being mad about cycling, and talked for the rest of the evening about all kinds of stuff, bikes and otherwise. I was very tired and went off to sleep in an instant - a chance to get a peaceful night wasn’t lost on me.

DAY 226: Aurora Kakadu to Bark Hut Roadhouse

6th June 2008

95 km @ 16.9 km/hr

Cloudy, 30 deg C

Elevation of destination xxx m

Distance to date 13885 km (8678 miles)

Well, the dingos weren’t a problem and it was a very quiet night. I did have to kill off a lot of mozzies once in the tent though - they were clearly getting in somehow - and I think I know how; there are a few little holes in the mesh inner that I will have to sort out in the morning. On waking I realised I had been bitten a few times whilst asleep. After breakfast I set to with the Duct tape and actually found about 10 holes up to around 5mm - plenty of room for a resourceful mozzie. As I understand it they are attracted initially by the CO2 we breathe out - is this true? Then they can sense the pulsing vein or artery to inject into. The tent is somewhat the worse for wear, and if it deteriorates further I may dump it rather than bring it home after the trip. I have slept in it over 200 times though, which is probably more than most tents used for a holiday only once a year.

The receptionist here yesterday had warned me that the bore water should be boiled, and while I thought this might just be simply a cautionary approach, I didn’t take any chances given the few gastric upsets I’ve already endured this trip, and filtered 3 litres with the Katadyn for use today. It certainly tasted fine after that, even though I haven’t loaded the 3rd stage carbon granule filter that is supposed to improve taste.

A dingo was wandering around the camping area this morning as bold as brass, and I also saw another one scavenging at the side of the road just after I got on the road - there’s certainly plenty of rubbish there to go at! At the front of the place beside the road on a large area of grass hundreds of Corella were assembled, all pecking around at some tasty delicacy. They are such playful characters like most parrot-like birds - in one of the films I watched at the Bowali Centre some Corellas were playing together with sticks and feathers - pretending to have a tug-of-war, and stealing them from each other, all during the wet, a time of plenty when lots of food was available. Traffic had to slow down as they wheeled around and across the road.

The road was quietish as yesterday, and the SE wind was behind me again so it was an easy ride. Scenery not as nice as recent days but OK - mixed woodland with several interesting river crossings - South and West Alligator Rivers and their various branches. There are no Alligators in Australia but some explorer way back didn’t know that and they were crocs of course. This is one of the densest croc habitats in Oz as I understand it - every such crossing has “Exreme Danger” signs just to remind you of this, although I haven’t seen one of the beasts yet.

After 42km I was surprised to come across a rest area compete with toilets and tables, although the latter had no roof and looked a bit too exposed in the hazy half-sun, so I got in the shade of the very large Kakadu NP interpretive panels and got the billy on. As I was sipping my tea and eating my Scottish Finger biscuits a couple stopped by - and the guy was from Dundee originally. He was pretty impressed that I recognised his accent as Dundee, but not so much to offer me a cheese and tomato sandwich as he made some for him and his wife lol.

After 50-odd km I passed through the north entrance and out of Kakadu NP, though the scenery was no different of course. The tailwind continued to blow me on and in no time I was arriving at Bark Hut Roadhouse, where there’s a bar, restaurant and caravan park with pool. I decided to stay here tonight ($9 pppn) since Kingsley, my Warmshowers host for tomorrow night, would be out until late afternoon and I didn’t want to arrive too early.

After showering etc. I went to have a look at the Mary River Park 3km west of here down the highway, and was surprised to find it was a very nice caravan park too, with lots of nice grassy campsites by the river. There was no mention of this place that I saw in brochures or in road signs - the latter are usually numerous and overstated, but not this time obviously. Oh well, this place will do.

When I got back a Wicked campervan was just pulling up next to my tent - hmmm. Now stay cool, it’ll probably be OK - and I think it will be since the 2 Dutch guys came up to chat, and they seem very polite and sensible. They’ve just met 2 Japanese girls and are travelling with them now. I spent an hour down at the very nice pool, before cooking a very basic pasta with what little bits I had left.

It was still early, so I headed over to the bar clutching PDA and keyboard, and sat rather unsociably typing these humble events whilst everyone else discussed cars and other things with motors to drive them along. A young lady called Lily entertained us with some very good dancing - not bad for a 2-year old actually - and I showed my appreciation with a $2 coin which she ran off with before I changed my mind.

I have about 85km to do tomorrow so won’t rush - it’ll be nice to have company tomorrow night and I’m looking forward to meeting another fellow cyclist.

DAY 225: Merl (Ubirr) to Aurora Kakadu

Thurs 5th June 2008

85 km @ 17.3 km/hr

Sunny, 32 deg C

Elevation of destination xxx m

Distance to date 13790 km (8619 miles)

Just as I was settling down to sleep, after 11 last night, a van drove in and parked right at the side of me, radio playing, and I had to ask the guy to turn it off please - the site was utterly silent before this. So that kind of woke me up again, and my run of bad luck with camping and noise continues! He could have chosen anywhere....Anyway I slept OK once I realised all was quiet again; I think I’m getting hyper-sensitive to this issue.

I only had a little muesli left for breakfast but when I tipped it in the bowl a few hundred ants came out with it, so I had to dump it. These ants are so tiny they can get in anywhere -a few were even in the peanut butter, which I can probably still use having removed them - some people eat ants regularly, well, the Green Ants at least, as a reputedly good source of vitamin C when in the bush, so they can’t be harmful eh?

I was away for 0815 on a very quiet road in very warm conditions. It has been pretty warm at night lately, and it has been a dilemma whether to keep covered up to keep the mozzies away from my skin or uncover for coolness. I’ve taken to sleeping just in the silk sleeping bag liner as a compromise. My left foot / leg was ‘lame’ again so I took it very easy, with the wind on my left so of little advantage for a change.

I could have turned right directly for Darwin when after 37km I came to the Arnhem Highway, but as it was only 4km away and I had plenty of time I turned left and rode back up to the Bowali Centre (Kakadu NP Visitor Centre) where I watched the films 2 days ago. It was more the food and drink that I was after today, and I had another decent sandwich, and iced coffee. I did pop in and watch some more film about Kakadu too, and also met the German man from the cruise yesterday and chatted for a while. I also rang Kingsley to let him know when I would be arriving - probably Saturday - and that’s OK. I’m looking forward to some more ‘home comfort’ with a Warmshowers host again; it’s been a while.

Thus fortified I returned to the Arnhem Highway and headed for Darwin, well, initially to the Mamukala wetland viewing area. The road was a bit busier but fine despite no shoulder, though it felt hotter today than it has been. The flies were a pain and I had to don the net the whole time.

Mamaluka is a large wetland some 30km west of Jabiru, approximately 2 km square, completely filled with water lillies, so it was hard to see many birds, and in fact there were few around anyway at this middling hour. I spotted a few Jacana walking on the lillies, as they do, and the usual Corellas (so common recently) and Terns swooping around for flies. It was lovely and peaceful though, and I got the billy on for a coffee to enhance the enjoyment. A man came into the hide and saw my Caithness CC shirt, and it turned out he was from Wick originally - he told me his name but I forgot it, but it was a Caithness name allright.

After a pleasant hour I cycled on, scaring some Jabiru paddling around in a little billabong by the road in the process, and just another 12km west arrived at Aurora Kakadu Resort, wher I paid my $12 and set up in a huge empty camping area - this will surely be a very quiet night lol? However I could smell burning rubbish, and the source was a hole in the ground behind the camping area where their rubbish - paper, plastic and cans - were smouldering away. There was charred rubbish for some 200m radius of the ‘pit’. 2 dingos were in attendance, presumably looking for scraps, but they loped away lazily when they saw me. After setting up I went and got a little shopping at the expensive site shop and went to see the manager or whatever the guy on the desk was. I told him nicely that there was blue smelly smoke blowing over the campers, and he rudely snapped back that there was nothing he could do about it “what am I supposed to do” I think his words were. He advised me to move somewhere else - which is a fiddle to do when you’ve erected the tent and put everything in it. Burning this kind of waste is outlawed in Europe - it is not good for ones health - and I may ring the EPA here up to see if they are interested.

I was low on food so decided to eat at the resort bar, and my spicy chicken pie and chips was very good indeed, and I said so - I don’t JUST complain, see! I also managed to squeeze in 2 schooners of XXXX Gold at $3 each during happy hour. By the time I got back ‘home’ I could no longer smell the burning waste, but the dingoes were howling mournfully again.

DAY 224: Day off Merl (Ubirr)

Weds 4th June 2008

Sunny, 28 deg C

Elevation of destination 26m

Distance to date 13705 km (8566 miles)

Everyone was inside by 9 last night; probably escaping from the mozzies, out in their thousands. There were some weird screechings in a tree nearby at around midnight - possibly a bat? The dingoes were also vociferous again earlier on. When I went to the loo in the early hours I saw a very big spider between the tent inner and outer, probably a Huntsman, which are harmless, but I couldn’t be sure. When you shine a torch at spiders their eyes light up like diamonds - when I was sleeping in the bush recently I saw these ‘diamonds’ and had to go and investigate in case they really were - only to find a spider; luckily I didn't reach down and touch!

I started the day by cycling around the 2km Mangarre walk, which was deserted. The vegetation is very dense around there, known as Monsoon Rainforest. The walk partly borders the muddy and tidal East Alligator River, which represents the border between Arnhem Land and Kakadu. The former is entirely owned by the Aboriginal community, and an expensive ($220) permit is required for a visit. I looked for crocs to no avail; some very big ones have been seen here, and it is very much their environment with plenty of fish available, although I would have thought that there was too much human influence what with quite a few boats and anglers. Fish is by far the mainstay of their die, and as i understand it most attacks on humans have been a result of someone swimming in their domain and so acting as a territorial threat. I spotted a lone sentinel in a tree on the riverbank, the Brahmini Kite, itself watching for fish, plus a pair of Jabiru took off and passed right over me - they are big, impressive birds close up.

Next I hid the bike and walked around the interesting Bardedjildji Walk, which again partly takes in the river but also passes through some weird rock formations and a little gorge.

For lunch I had a Barraburger that I had been told were commonly served up here - a piece of batterred Barramundi on a roll with salad - delicious!

I had booked on the 1500 ‘indigenous’ cruise down the river, and spent a nice couple of hours listening to how the bush can provide all ones food needs - and we tried a few ‘new’ wild fruits - and were showed how animals are hunted with home-made spears and other devices. The more I hear this stuff the more I realise just how much essential survival knowledge has been gained over the millenia by this ancient race.

Lastly I went to see the main claim for fame for Ubirr, the many Aboriginal rock art sites. Some of the drawings are hundreds or thousands of years old, yet remain legible. Many are painted in ochre, fruit and vegetable dyes, or animal blood. Kakadu guides gave short talks on various aspects of the area, for example the main ‘gallery’ comprises a 60m-long collection of drawings of the various foods that sustained the community at that time, and the guide points out what the significance of the elements of the work are. There’s a massive rock overhanging these drawings that would have made a perfect dwelling place for scores of people, and it’s weird to think that where I was standing this function probably held for thousands of years and scores if generations. I joined a hundred or so others and walked up to the viewpoint - a 100m high hill that overlooks the surrounding land in every direction - to watch the setting sun, but it had been cloudy for most of the day and this didn’t change. I chatted again to the same German guy I met today and quizzed him about his recent crossing of the Gibb River Road, which he says is in very good condition just now.

A very full and exciting day then, and it was a quick cooking of rice and tuna and into the tent to escape the mozzies. I had left the pannier with my food in under the picnic table in the shade, but it was full of tiny ants when I opened it, and I had to take everything out to get rid of them; they were all over my last muffin so I had to throw that out. It’s tricky when you only have a tent, knowing what to do with your stuff.....

DAY 223: Malabanjbanjdju to Merl (Ubirr)

64 km @ 16.5 km/hr

Tues 3rd June 2008

Sunny, 28 deg C

Elevation of destination 26m

Distance to date 13705 km (8566 miles)

At last a quiet night - and a full 8 hours. I was up and about soon after dawn (0700 approx) and away soon after 0800. I used the last of my water making milk for the muesli and thought about asking someone for more, but didn’t bother as I haven’t far to go to a new supply.

It was a slow plod slightly uphill against a light wind but in just over an hour I wheeled into the Bowali Visitor Centre. This is another well-designed, spacious building, complete with nice cafe, movie theatre, and tourist advice.

First stop was the smart cafe for a very good roast beef and salad roll, and iced coffee which didn’t touch the sides as it went down. At the information desk my main question was “where can I see birds?”, And the immediate answer was “the Wetlands Visitor Centre on the Adelaide River floodplain”. Goody, because that is just off the Arnhem Highway that I will head for Darwin on eventually. I then asked about indigenous rock art, which is supposed to be very common here, and learnt that Ubirr is a good place; there’s a 1km walk around several examples, and Ubirr is not only just 39km away it’s also got a good NP camping area. So that’s where I’ll head after Jabiru....

I then spent a very enjoyable 2 hours watching 2 films about Kakadu - the flora, fauna and ’6’ seasons of weather - which were excellent. The first went through the seasons from wet to dry to wet again showing how this affects the living environment, and the second described the same seasonal cycle through the eyes of a family of Kookaburras. The latter brought out the fragility of animal life, at times of widespread flooding and severe drought for example, and how everything is interdependent. It was nice just to sit back and both see the whole of Kakadu NP in pictures, and to get a feel for the issues, and the films considerably enhanced my experience of this area so far. After more refreshments I rode the remaining 5km into Jabiru.

Jabiru is a strange place - a modern town broken into clumps of buildings (mostly hotels) with wide open spaces in between; it took a while to get to the centre - which is actually a collection of shops and civic buildings with a sign saying “Town Centre” just to make it clear lol. I got onto the internet at the library ($8/hr) and was pleased to find it was a good fast connection, so only cost me $6 to do everything. I also checked out Erik’s website and was pleased to find he has indeed broken the old record for the fastest lap of Oz - by 3 or 4 days too! Check out www.lonebiker.dk

I did a little shopping at the well-stocked supermarket, then as it was only 1445, and the town wasn’t very exciting, I decided I’d got time to get to Merl campsite near Ubirr, 45km away.

I had to go back the way I’d came for 4 or 5km, then take a right for Ubirr. This road was very quiet and after a while becomes very scenic, with winding bends, good tree cover and shade, and ancient craggy sandstone mountains to the right. There were lots of areas of water too so plenty of birds, especially Corellas and Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos, and presumably plenty of Salty Crocs in the many muddy creeks. Croc warning signs were everywhere. This was the most pleasurable bit of road I’ve rode since Cape Tribulation - especially beautiful in the late shady afternoon with the myriad landscape colours highlighted to good effect. I’m very glad I chose to take this (for me) big return detour. I stopped many times to look in the murky creeks and take pics, and also when I spotted a guy who’d been at both Pine Creek and Cooinda caravan parks whom I had a chat with.

I was almost sorry to arrive at Merl, but the NP campsite was excellent too - very large separated camping areas so there’d be lots of space, individual picnic tables and benches, and not too busy either. There’s lots of big trees for shade, but also millions of mozzies unfortunately. I hurriedly threw the tent up and went for a shower, then covered myself in anti-mozzie repellent. This did the trick because for the next hour while I was cooking and eating they didn’t land or bite, even though there were still clouds of them. The dingoes were howling mournfully again all around the camp - what a pitiful sound. There are lots in Kakadu; I’ve heard them every night. I’m now at the eastern end on Kakadu having traversed all 185km across it from west to east - it must be close to the size of Wales I guess.

As I write, at 2100, all is quiet, all is well, except for the dingoes by the sounds of it. Tomorrow I’ll probably try some of the many walks around here which will mean staying another night.