Thursday, July 03, 2008

DAY 252: Bush camp to Kununurra

NB/ yellow flowered tree is the Kapok...

Weds 2nd July 2008
92 km @ 18.8 km/hr
Sunny, 31 deg C
Elevation of /destination 55 m
Distance to date 15063 km (9414 miles)

After a peaceful night I managed to get away by 0815. the SE tailwind was just striking up and would stay fairly fresh for the whole day. The road was much more undulating than yesterday, but nothing steep. The landscape is intersting; a large variety of trees, larger trees than has been the case as a rule, and red mountain backdrop. There's clearly more water in the ground around here.
I stopped at a creek bridge with a little shade after 35km and had a cuppa and jam butty, and as I was leaving Alistair rode up. He thought he saw a cyclist pass him yesterday whilst having a rest stop, and it must have been me. I had heard someone shout but didn't see anyone. We rode the rest of the way together and compared ideas about the Gibb River Road and had a good old natter - Al is delightfully chatty, although I have trouible understanding his NZ accent sometimes!
Some 15km later we reached the Northern Territory / Western Australia border (I'm back in the same state I started in, although a long way from Perth yet!) and quarantine checkpoint, so as Al had some fruit and veg which would have to be confiscated we stopped at the rest area just before the border and had a feed. Another couple came to do the same and gave me a lovely fresh sandwich so as to use the lettuce, tomatoes etc. up. No fruit, veg, honey or nuts with skins are allowed into WA. Processed food such a bags of cachews is OK though thankfully.
From the border to Kununura is around 40km, and we flew along in the strengthening wind, until with 15km to go I punctured again. I just pumped it up again (rear tyre) and managed to get away with this a couple of times until there was just 3km to go, but by that time the tyre was deflating very quickly so I stopped at a shady spot and changed the tube, and also put the spare tyre back on in case there was something embedded in the original one, which seemed likely.
After that I soon landed in town and did a quick shop before following Al to the Hidden Valley Caravan Park ($11 pppn). The site is quite busy but looks ok, with a stunning backdrop of red craggy mountains very nearby. As the sun went down these rocks turned a dramatic deep red colour; amazing. I had a glass of wine or two (OK, a bottle then), and chatted with Alistair.

DAY 251: Bush camp to bush camp 19km W of Saddle Creek RA

Tues 1st July 2008
154 km @ 20.8 km/hr
Sunny, 32 deg C
Elevation of /destination 50 m
Distance to date 14971 km (9357 miles)

The temperature dropped considerably last night, to around 6 deg C or so I’d guess. I was aware of being cold despite sleeping OK. Tonight I’ll get into my silk bag liner as well as the sleeping bag, which should help if it’s as cold again. I enjoyed the utter silence of the bush, without human intervention other than the odd passing vehicle. Even those sounds were muted as I was some 300m from the highway.
I got away around 0840 with thoughts of a ‘treat’ early on; the Timber Cree Roadhouse at 17km, and the SE to E wind had picked up a little from yesterday afternoon, being now moderate to fresh. I reached the roadhouse in under an hour, and enjoyed a toasted sandwich and iced coffee, and chats with half a dozen caravanners. I failed to see the rare Gouldian Finch, one of Australias rarest birds, which are found in reasonable numbers very local to here.
I continued in very good spirits after a couple of ‘down’ days; possibly the result of 2 good nights’ sleep, and of course the tailwind helped lift spirits considerably too.
At around 20km the road runs alongside the Victoria River, which is some 200m wide here and still tidal apparently despite being a long way from the sea. I think it's NT's largest river. There is pedestrian and cycle access to a bridge across the river which provides great views of the river near here too.
Increasingly throughout the day the characteristic Boab (bottle) trees make an appearance, becoming more common as one travels west. The are massive and strange-looking trees that provide fantastic shade if required. They look even stranger having dropped all their leaves recently. Some of them have split trunks whereby 2 or more trunks are evident. There are also many Kapok trees with their yellow flowers, and at the moment, avacado-size fruits - I don’t know if they’re edible though, as well as the odd red-flowered Kurrajong. Turkey Bush is also common and is currently showing it’s pinkish-mauve flowers. The grass cover in between is mostly Spinifex with it’s sharp thorn-like ‘grass’ blades, and Sorghum.
The scenery becomes rugged and mountainous again as you pass through another part of Gregory NP - the dramatic red terraced cliff faces as per the pics, however the road hardly deflects from being dead flat. This together with the good tailwind accounts for the high average speed (for me) today. It seemed a good day for getting a good distance in, and I kept going until almost 1800. After some 95km I spotted another cyclist under a shady tree, and it turned out to be a middle-aged couple from New Zealand cycling to Kununurra. We chatted for a while, and I forgot to ask their names, but I’m fairly sure I’ll see them again while I spend a few days there.
I had been told by the cycling couple that Alistair was only a few km in front of me, but I didn’t see him if he was. I half expected him to be at Saddle Creek rest area, but he wasn’t, and no-one seemed to have seen him either, so I must have passed him unknowingly somewhere. A few km before reaching Saddle Creek there was another magnificent display of red rocky mountains alongside the road, which looked deeply coloured in the late afternoon sunshine. As I was heading roughly west the sun was a bit of a nuisance in front of me, dazzling me and hiding the landscape from view.
I didn’t stay long at Saddle Creek (135km) since it was very busy with caravanners, and a bit dry and dusty, so after more chat and topping up water from the tank there I kept on going. Unfortunately the nice wild camping sites only lasted for another few km, and once the mountain range slipped away the land either side of the road reverted to cattle grazing and was thereby fenced off. However the strip between fence and road was wide in places so I easily found a camp set back from the road, and there were plenty of flat areas to pitch the tent too. I just hope the cattle stay the other side of the fence - I can hear them moving about nearby as I type.
I finished the last of my vegetables prior to crossing through the food quarantine checkpoint at the West Australian border tomorrow some 70km down the road. No fruit, veg, honey and unprocessed nuts are allowed into WA to prevent the influx of plant disease.
I will be in reach of Kununurra tomorrow, it’s only 94km away, and I will spend 2 or 3 days there as there’s lots to see and do, and I’ll decide finally whether to ride the 730km gravel Gibb River Road to Derby after taking local advice.

DAY 250: Victoria River to bush camp Dingo Springs Creek

Mon 30th June 2008
76 km @ 18.7 km/hr
Sunny, 31 deg C
Elevation of /destination 78 m
Distance to date 14817 km (9261 miles)

I slept soundly last night and felt much better this morning. I was up a little late and Alistair was just about to leave having been up for ages. I thought maybe I’d check out this area before moving on, and might even stay here another night since the caravan park is so quiet and spacious. We swopped e-mail adresses so that we could keep in touch - we are probably both going the same way to Broome. I’ve no doubt we’ll meet again soon. Alistair is great company, very chatty, and a good companion.
After breakfast I rode out to the Escarpment Walk just 1 or 2km west. This is a 3km round trip up a steepish rocky path ending up some 150m above the river valey on the escarpment edge. The pics will hopefully speak for themselves, but the view is very nice from the top, and the walk was well worthwhile. Heat was starting to radiate from the hot, dry red rocks as the sun climbed higher.
After a welcome iced coffee back at the roadhouse I decided to pack up and move on, since I was content I’d seen sufficient of the area, and was eager to seek new delights. There was a light SE wind blowing that helped push me along a little, but I was happy to ride slowly through Gregory NP and admire the rocky mountain scenery. It is pretty stunning and the colours so Australian. The road was pretty quiet except for the usual caravanners, and quite a good surface. There’s a lot of roadkill - mostly Agile Wallaby by the looks of them - these poor beggars obviously weren’t agile enough against the merciless vehicles! There were quite a few very smelly cattle corpses lying at the side of the road too, which must have made some impact even on a roadtrain.
It was easy riding and before I knew it I’d covered 55km without a break, so I lingered for a while by a shady creek watching the striped fish going about their business. A little later a kind couple in a campervan stopped to see if I had enough water, but I was OK. It was around 1600 and I thought I’d stop short of the next roadhouse / CP at Timber Creek and camp wild. My “Cycling Outback Australia” guide listed a good site at Dingo Springs Creek, and it did indeed look OK - well off the road and just about far enough from the Creek (which has plenty of water) not to worry about crocs getting me (I hope!). After setting up I strolled over to the creek and there was a nice pool just away from the main channel that looked perfect for washing the dust off my hot body. It was about 2 or 3’ deep and a walk around confirmed there was no croc in there, and it would not be easy given the shallow rocky pool entrance for one to get in, so I stripped off and got in - delicious and cool, a real treat! I washed a couple of things in there too before getting out and got dry without a towel in just a few minutes by moving around in the warm late-afternoon sunshine. It was perfectly quiet and peaceful as I read the paper and sipped my first cup of tea.
Dinner was ready just as it was getting dark, and the temperature dropped noticeably, and as soon as I’d cleared away I sat in the tent with legs in sleeping bag whilst typing this.

DAY 249: Rest area to Victoria River

Sun 29th June 2008
95 km @ 17.4 km/hr
Sunny, 31 deg C
Elevation of /destination 50 m
Distance to date 14817 km (9261 miles)

The curse struck again last night when a party of 6 young people from Merseyside arrived at the rest area at 2100, got the beers out and started making lots of row. This lasted until around midnight and whereas I had been ready for sleep just before they arrived, it didn’t come so easily then. On top of that someone was snoring very loudly nearby and I couldn’t drown it out. I eventually got to sleep around 1 I think, but felt pretty washed out in the morning.
After breakfast with Alistair we set off for the second leg between Katherine and Kununurra. The scenery became more interesting today with mountains and gorges either side of the road, and although Alistair was enjoying it it was rather lost on me as I was feeling somewhat negative. I’m going through a bad patch at the moment, partly due to lack of sleep, and partly due to the return of a sore bum. The road is pretty uninteresting at times too which I knew would be the case but have largely taken in my stride so far.
There was nowehere to stop for a ‘treat’ today so we had to make do with (eventually) finding a shady spot to have lunch, where we lingered chatting for more than an hour. I am enjoying the company; certainly the conversation and intreraction, and Al is a great guy, but I’m not so keen on riding with someone else for long periods - the dynamics just don’t feel right and I can’t focus properly. Most cyclists will understand this I think.
On arrival at Victoria River Roadhouse we decided to check into the caravan park since it seemed quiet and spacious, whereas after the row last night we had thought it best to camp in the bush. It is nice and relaxing actually, and I expect I’ll sleep OK tonight.

DAY 248: Katherine to rest area 102km SW of Katherine

Sat 28th June 2008
102 km @ 18.4 km/hr
Sunny, 32 deg C
Elevation of /destination 194 m
Distance to date 14722 km (9201 miles)

Not the quietest of nights by any means but up at the usual time and sharing breakfast with fellow travellers. When I returned to the tent backpackers owner Coco came over to me with a worried look on his face - and told me he had just reversed his trailer onto my tent! I went over to see what damage had been done, and the outer shell was ripped and frayed for about half a metre. To be fair, Coco was very concerned and even offered to pay for a new tent, but I didn’t feel I could ask that of him, especially when the tent was a bit battered anyway. He offered to take it to the camping shop to see what could be done, and was told to take it to the upholsterer, where he left it for repair, to be collected at noon. I wasn’t too happy as I’d no idea what kind of job they would make of it, but what could I do?
In the meantime I took a parcel to the post office for sending home unneeded stuff, but they were closed all day Saturday so that was out. By the time I’d fed myself at Subway and watched the didgeridoo painters for a while Coco was back with the outer tent, and it wasn’t a bad job, except wrong colour and different material - oh well!
I finally left Katherine at 1255 and headed SW on the Victoria Highway to Kununurra, the next big town 530km away.
The road was much quieter than the Stuart Highway thankfully, without a shoulder for the most part, through the usual Savannah woodlands with gentle undulations and long straights. The first rest area was at 33km and I stopped for a little while, but a noisy group arrived and shattered the peace, so I left them to it. There was another at 56km too, which was full of caravanners setting up for the night. I had noted from my guide that there was a camping area at 90km, but it failed to materialise and I finished up riding all the way to the third area at 102km as it was just becoming completely dark. Alistair was there as expected (he said he would probably stay here) so we camped together under the roofed ‘picnic area’ straight on the concrete.
It was quite a pleasant evening until 6 rowdy young English folk arrived in a campervan and made sure everyone knew they were here. They were incredibly loud on this very quiet night - completely oblivious to the other 20 or so people staying here tonight. They were aided and abetted by some middle-aged English tourists from the same area of England - Liverpool I think - who combined with them to spoil it for everyone else. Europeans like to stay up late whereas Australians (and cyclists) like to get to sleep earlier - no chance tonight! I had looked for somewhere to camp in the bush for the last 20km, but the road was fenced and there was nowhere suitable.

DAY 247: Edith Falls to Katherine

Fri 27th June 2008
61 km @ 15.7 km/hr
Sunny, 28 deg C
Elevation of /destination xxx m
Distance to date 14620 km (9137 miles)

I got away around 0930 after comparing more notes with Tim and Will, and with the SE wind mostly behind me for the first 20km i.e. as far as the Stuart Highway. Then the wind was mostly on the left side but in front of me for several km uphill and pretty tough.
I was in Katherine within 4 hours and enjoying the delights of Brumby’s bakery once again. First stop was the fast internet place I used when I was here last, and it didn’t take long to upload 12 days blog and pics - faster for my pre-sorting of pics from the many I took during this period. E-mailing wasn’t as succesful, since there seemed to be something wrong at G-mail, which kept breaking off. I actually lost an e-mail that Lyn sent me, strangely.
I had been recommended Coco’s Backpackers by the cyclists I met this week so I decided to give it a go. It’s right in the town centre so more convenient than any of the caravan parks, which are well outside. It’s basic, but friendly, and there’s yet another cyclist, Alistair from New Zealand, who is heading the same way as me. I think I will leave here tomorrow though, as I’ve been and done Katherine already, and I’m keen to see pastures new. Alistair will also ride the Gibb River Road, so we have been comparing notes tonight.
I did a big shop earlier at Woolworth’s, in preparation for a few days haul to Kununurra, where the next decent supermarket is situated. All I have to do know is to fit it all in the bags.
Hopefully the SE-er will persist and help me along for the next few hundred km.....