Monday, August 04, 2008

DAY 284: Bush camp to Tom Price

44km @ 17.6 km/hr
Sun 3rd August 2008
Sunny, 28 deg C
Elevation of /destination 708m
Distance to date 17395 km (10872 miles)

The many local birds made a nice alarm clock, sounding off just before dawn. I didn’t have that far to go today, but the earlier I get to Tom Price the more I can get done and save tomorrow for exploring and internet. Only nuts and a cup of milk for breakfast unfortunately, but I’ll be in a cafe for breakfast proper in no time, I expect and hope. At least I haven’t so much weight to haul.
The 8% hill that I stopped at the foot of yesterday afternoon was still there this morning, but at least there was no headwind, in fact a small SE-erly was in the making. The hill was only 1km long thankfully, followed by a screamer descent of 68 km/hr (wheeeee!), then some quite large undulations as far as the T-junction at the Paraburdoo to Tom Price road. Thereafter it’s a gradual uphill to TP but it didn’t seem so draggy today since the sE wind was right behind me agan. The scenery all the way was very nice, big green hills with horizontal red stripes where the surface has slipped away to expose the rock beneath. There was little traffic on the Sabbath to worry about. Huge iron ore trains could be seen at several points where the road runs near the line from the mine, up to the port of Karratha I think, for export to Asia. These trains are about 2km long typically, with 3 locos pushing and 3 pulling. I’d hate to get caught at a level crossing with one about to come because they don't go very fast!
Tom Price seems a decent little place, greener than the other mining towns I’ve passed through like Mt.Isa or Port Hedland, and it boasts a goodly-sized Coles supermarket which I’m looking forward to raiding later. I got some good info from the VIC lady about places ahead of here, and it seems she knew that I was the guy seen on the gravel in Karijini NP - fame at last!
There is only one CP in TP so I paid my $29 for 2 nights and got set up with the pick of the camping spots, this still being before noon and the park almost empty. There is reasonable shade. I set about several chores immediately - washing clothes, cleaning all the dust off the bike and bags and charging batteries, in and between approaches by several caravanners who have seen me on the road and wanted to know all the usual stuff. "How many tyres have you gone through?" is the current favourite question. Touring cyclists are that rare I guess. Some scarcely believe it possible that someone could cycle all around Oz - such a thought is alien to them. I find it slightly embarassing somehow as I don’t think it’s SUCH a big deal.
I ‘phoned Lyn at around 0900 UK time and we had a good blather for a while, then I rode off with 2 empty panniers to Coles to buy food and drink - lots of it lol, then to the bottle shop for some beer. I bought steak, sausage and veg for a barbie, which was enjoyed in the busy camper’s kitchen swopping stories with other travelvers. Followed by fruit and Greek yoghurt, followed by Rocky Road and banana milk drink. Well, I didn’t have any lunch.....roll on breafast!
The piece

DAY 283: Karijini Eco Retreat to bush camp 31km N of Tom Price

51km @ 10.5 km/hr
Sat 2nd August 2008
Sunny, 27 deg C
Elevation of /destination 768m
Distance to date 17351 km (10844 miles)

Hit the road around 0845 and straight into the horribly rough gravel. I picked my way through as best I could, and after 3km where the gravel road continues to the Karijini west gate, new road to me, things improved a little - but not for long. Within a short time the surface was abysmal - full-width corrugations which were immediately bordered with loose deep gravel. Where the ruts eased occasionally there big stones in the matrix which caused a very bumpy ride. It was sheer misery, and I had to dismount time and time again where the road was just unrideable. What was ‘fun’ yesterday unladen was ‘hell’ with all the weight on. There were many steep, short climbs too that often caused me to walk, and the road climbed steadily for 20km - only gaining some 150m in height but enough to add to the pain. The scenery was very nice with craggy red hills and a wide selection of wild flowers, but I was usually too busy concentrating on staying upright to take it in.
The last few km of the 29km to the bitumen were better, and it was with relief that I rode back on the highway. As I was getting a drink an old VW Campervan stopped and a young couple stopped to chat, and gave me an apple and orange, which were gratefully accepted.
For a few km the wind was behind me and I was motoring at 25, but all too soon it flipped from SE to west, and I was ploughing up yet another draggy incline into a fresh headwind. I had trouble even making 10 km/hr, and I went through a bad patch mentally. Although I haven’t covered much distance today I felt very tired, and resolved to find a bush site and camp up, even though it was barely 3. Only 25km from Tom Price and a Coles Supermarket, plus all the other joys of a medium-sized town, too. I really expected to get there today.
I finally found a site very close to a sign announcing a 4km 8% hill, and the thought of grinding up that into a strengthening headwind was too much so just as well! I’m ahead of schedule, so my current slow progress isn’t significant yet. My luck with the wind has deserted me temporarily what with it shifting around to my disadvantage it seems.
I felt much better after lighting a fire and getting supper done and ate; this seems quite a nice site. It was quite stony though, and I had to tear a few armfuls of flower-laden branches down to lay beneath the tent to smooth things out. Plenty of birds around here in what is the only large group of dense trees for quite a distance.

DAY 282: Day off Karijini Eco Retreat


25km @ 10.8 km/hr
Fri 1st August 2008
Sunny, scattered coud, 25 deg C
Elevation of /destination 694m
Distance to date 17300 km (10812 miles)

A cool night again, but I’d decided to have another day here and ‘do’ the other gorges - a good decision as it turned out. No rush to get up, so I waited for the sun to get well up into the sky before abandoning the warm and cosy pit. I went to the kitchen to make a cuppa and chatted to a young German couple, but got cold again in the early breeze and went and got back into the sleeping bag and had my muesli lay in there.
I went and paid another $25 (grrr) and set off for Knox Gorge 12km away a la gravel. It’s hard yakka keeping going and upright but I quite enjoyed it with no panniers, tyres deflated and no time constraints. There are some short but very steep hills on the Knox Gorge road, and I resorted to pushing a couple of times. It was well worth it though - I was blown away by the walk down into the gorge; a scramble down a very steep track which is the original terrain rather than a constructed track, and down to the gorge floor 100m below. The gorge is 5 to 10m wide and again there is no constructed path; you make your own way along bare rocks, stepping-stone river crossings, vertical rock ledges requiring fingertip holds etc. It takes some care, and is not for the faint hearted. I didn’t have the right shoes - walking boots are recommended - so went very slowly and delibeartely. Vivid red dragonflies flitted around like huge sparks, and wide, flat water boatmen glided over the surface like gondolas. Some people braved the icy pools for a dip, but not I - too unpeasant unless it’s a scorching day! As walks go, it was amazing - unforgettable! It was quite a scramble back up to the top, and I was puffing by the time I’d finished. There’s a look-out at the top of the gorge where you can see the walkers way below, which is as far as most able people get - shame, they’re missing a lot.
Back on the bike, I rode 4.5km back down the road and popped into Joffre Gorge. Another look-out here where I watched a few hardy souls opposite and below descending what appeared to be a vertical rock face to the gorge floor. I followed the rocky path around the waterfall to have a look for myself what the way down was like, and it wasn’t quite as steep as it looked - 80 degrees rather than 90 lol - so decided to give it a go. There are yellow arrows showing you which route to take, which makes it safer, but really this is rock climbing in an albeit simple form. It felt quite safe though, and I made sure I had a good hand holds before moving every time. Unlike Knox Gorge you can’t walk up the gorge, but there’s still plenty to see down there; there’s a large, deep green pool, and off towards the waterfall upstream, through a narrow opening, is the natural amphitheatre - a 50m diameter bowl hewn out by the action of the river over millions of years. You again have to edge around the vertical wall to get into it. It’s a fantastic sight, and I’m glad I did come and see these other gorges after all; they have far exceeded expectations. The pics will hopefully show what it’s like.
It was now turned 3 and I was pretty whacked, but had to endure the gravel for another 8km back to Eco Retreat. I bought a barbecue pack - I couldn’t wait for the restaurant and it could be cold again tonight anyhow, so after a shower (another cold one) I cooked the meagre and vastly- overpriced steak and sausage, and made a pile of pasta to go with it, for an early lunch /dinner. I chatted to a couple from Bunbury WA who were travelling to Darwin to get work, and it turned out that like myself the lady had like been to stay at the Findhorn Foundation, and had lived there for a few months 7 years ago - small world! She went to Scotland from Oz especially for that.
The sun was setting in a spectacualar manner due to stringy cloud on the western horizon as I got back to the tent; for a few minutes there was a vertical ray of light pointing up from the sun beautiful end to an amazing day. The Pilbara gorges have turned out to be among the highlights of my Oz tour; unforgettable.

DAY 281: Dales Gorge to Karijini Eco Retreat

72km @ 11.7 km/hr
Thurs 31st July 2008
Cloudy, 22 deg C
Elevation of /destination 694m
Distance to date 17275 km (10797 miles)

Didn’t sleep too well for some reason but awoke early nevertheless to a neighbouring smoker coughing liberally over his or her first fag of the day. I decided to just get up and go, and after brekkie of jam butties got away by 0730.
I had originally thought to just head for Tom Price via the main bitumen road, and forego all the Karijini gorges, but changed my mind soon after setting off since I felt strong and positive enough to tackle the gravel through to the gorges, and Eco Retreat camping. I’d heard the road was rough, which had put me off, plus the ground is so hard for tenting in Karijini - loose red stone that last night felt like sleeping on a bed of nails - but hey, I’m up to it! Plus there’s a nice restaurant at Eco and SHOWERS too! I’m pretty mucky after 5 nights bush camping.
The first 11.5 km from Dale is bitumen, but just after the visitor centre the gravel starts and there will be no more bitumen today, or tomorrow for that matter.
The surface actually wasn’t too bad at first - for the first 20km I rode down a nice flattish strip in the centre of the road and allowed what little traffic there was to pass either side of me, which they were quite happy about. A tour bus stopped and the young lady co-pilot, who was a keen cyclist, asked me lots of questions and gave me an orange - cheers luv. I was pleased with my progress and at one point when the SE wind was behind me I was actually doing 30 - bit dodgy though on gravel, calm down buoy, there are still some rough patches here and there! The SE was short-lived though because very soon it was a a NW-er right in front of me, and my speed halved. Undaunted I plugged on, but the road surface deteriorated with increased and sometimes deep corrugation right across the road, and sandy patches, and I had to weave about at walking pace trying to find the best line to take. Hitting deep corrugations at speed is a scary experience, it feels like the bike is shaking itself to bits - don’t want to damage anything! Traffic was very understanding though and gave me a wide berth, slowed down, and gave me a wave or toot. They appear incredulous sometimes at seeing a cyclist in these remote places, and some of them tell me they’ve seen me several times on the road over the past few weeks.
I landed at the Eco Retreat just after noon, and went to look at the empty camping places to hopefully find a less gravelly one than that at Dale ast night. I found one, it was avaiable, so I paid my $25 (arghhhhh!!) and set up.
It was pretty cool in the afternoon, and sitting with a cuppa in the open kitchen / barbie area I could have done with a coat all right.
I rode out to Weano Gorge after lunch - a hard ride on a rough and rolling gravel road. There are some very steep but short hills and continuous undulations. The 10km took me 80 minutes, but it was worth it - at the Oxer Lookout there’s a 100m drop down to where 4 gorges meet, an absoutely awesome view, and there are some steep steps down to Weano Gorge itself, where you can walk through the deep gorge which is only a few metres wide, with vertical red walls towering above for 100 metres. The rocks have a crumbled appearance as if about to collapse - 2.5 billion years old - an amazing sight. Shame it was cloudy - the colours would have been even more amazing in sunshine.
I was much quicker coming back and got on with the blog since I planned to occupy my evening dining out, or so I had thought. After 30 minutes typing I had become very cold, and had to put on practically all the clothing I have (which isn’t much). I cycled up to the restaurant and confirmed that it was completely open ‘al fresco’, which would normally be attractive, but even as the first couple were being seated for dinner I heard them asking for the warmest table, and I figured what was the point in eating there in this cold weather? I would be cold, the food would become cold quickly, and it wouldn’t be the pleasant experience I’d anticipated. I’d been planning to push the boat out too and have whatever I fancied for once, cost aside. Never mind, I’ll get the chance again soon probably; maybe in Tom Price if I don’t stay here again tomorrow - haven’t made my mind up yet. I’ll see what the weather’s like tomorrow and if cloudy again I may just head on to TP since the other gorges I’ve not seen yet may be less spectacular.
Anyway it was just tuna sandwiches tonight, but at least I was warm inside the sleeping bag!

DAY 280: Bush camp to Dales Gorge

41km @ 14.9 km/hr
Weds 30th July 2008
Sunny intervals / cloudy!, 25 deg C
Elevation of /destination 670m
Distance to date 17203 km (10752 miles)

Another good campsite and peaceful night, so quiet in fact that this morning I thought I heard an animal scraping around near the tent which proved to be my tummy rumbing! Picking my way carefully through the sparsely-spaced spinifex I was back on the road at 0900 and rather than the expected SE-er, which ALWAYS blows in the morning, it was a dastardly NE-er! What hard work - plugging along slowly up a draggy incline again - thankfully it was ony 15km to the turn into the Karajini NP. Then another 10km mostly with the wind up to the NP visitor centre and what I believed was a caravan park. I must have misunderstood the map because there was no CP. I had expected to get a shower and get batteries charged - all my batteries are flat, even those in the camera. The shower could wait, or I can still get a good wash down, but the batteries? Ah - a sign at the VC desk said batteries charges for $4. Hmmm - and when I said I had 8 AA’s to charge the first reponse was that it woud cost me $32!!! You’re kidding said I? We evetually haggled it down to $4 for 4; still expensive. There is apparently no power anywhere in this NP. I wasn’t too impressed with the visitor centre either - they charge that for charging a few measly batteries but because no-one thought to put too many windows ino the exhibition area there are lots of lights on which will cost a hundred times more than my batteries - and still it was hard to read the displays. The video theatre was out of action too, and the shop sold very little worth buying. There’s an opportunity here to have a cafe - there isn’t another for 40km for example - someone needs to have a look at this place as a going enterprise. In contrast the VC at Katherine Gorge was excellent.
I collected some water from the tank, which was covered in bees all trying to get a drink in desperation and a few of which alighted on my person, and rode the 10km out to Dale Campground ($6.50 pppn) which is operated by the NP authority CALM. The caretaker couple were very helpful, but the site I was given was pretty dire - bare broken stone unsuitable for tents. I spent half an hour clearing an area of stones before setting up. Not a good day so far.
In the afternoon I rode down to look at the gorge and it is indeed very beautiful, but the water coming into it, in which people were swimming, looked pretty polluted with lots of green algae coating the rocks and bed. I think it’s fed from cattle country which might explain this. I got chatting to a couple from Sydney, David and Diane, and was telling them about the difficulty in getting batteries charged, and they kindly offered to charge some more up when they fire up their portable generator tonight!
I duly went around at the appointed hour of 5, and was invited into their caravan to have a beer and watch the news on TV while waiting. And I was also given a steak for the barbie for dinner tonight - great! That was very nice of them, and an hour later I was firing up the gas barbie and gas rings and making dinner and sipping some pink stuff. The cooking facilities are good, but there are no showers here, or even water, just composting toilets. I shall move on tomorrow west to see the other gorges.
During my ride here this morning there were some black clouds overhead, and it did indeed rain in Tom Price just 100km away. First cloud I’ve seen for months. It was quite overcast during the day here too. I’m surprised that this altitude isn’t colder than it has been the ast few nights - it’s warmer at night here than at the coast.
I had a nice sociable hour at the cooking area as people came, cooked, and left again, and learnt a bit more about what lies ahead.

DAY 279: Bush camp to bush camp 15km W on Karajini Drive

Position S 22 36.722; E 118 35.105
84km @ 13.5 km/hr
Tues 29th July 2008
Sunny, 31 deg C
Elevation of /destination 743m
Distance to date 17162 km (10726 miles)

As I opened my eyes I saw that there was quite a bit of streaky cloud on the horizon with the sun just about to peep over, so I walked up the small hill at the side of me with the camera. It was as spectacuar a show as sunset yesterday, and I sat and watched for a while as the surrounding mountains slowly lit up to their usual deep orangey-red. After a wash in the pool I picked my way across the km of barren spinifex plain back to the road and set off at 0830 with an easterly sidewind. What a great campsite that was, and what a relaxing day I had yesterday!
The 31m to Auski Roadhouse was pretty heavy going - a steady drag undulating gradually upwards with just a few distant mountains to look at. It seemed longer than the 2 hours it actually took me, and I was glad to roll in for long wished-for breakfast of bacon egg and beans. It was a fair old plateful too, just the job. I got the usual free ‘driver reviver’ coffee (or tea) funded by the government to persuade sleepy drivers to get some caffeine and wake up, and the 3 mugs certainly gave me a kick too. The truck driver at the next table was telling me all about his job e.g. They are only allowed to drive for 5 hours then have to have a half-hour break, plus they must have at least 7 hours continuous rest / sleep every 24 hours. They don’t have tacographs here, but have to keep a log of times that can be inspected at any time and must be complete. He was driving from Darwin to Perth - over 2000km - which will tae him 3 to 4 days. They have UHF ‘CB’ radios truck to truck, but if driving in remote areas (! it’s all remote up here!) they can be given powerful HF radios that cover Australia (I think that’s what he meant).
I took advantage of the rare internet terminal here ($5 for 15 minutes!!) and replied to a few e-mails before leaving, and also took on more water for possible bush camping again if I don’t reach the caravan park at Karijini.
The next section to the Karjini junction continued steadily uphill, and the scenery got much more interesting, and much steeper - to 6% for 2km - as the road passed through Munjina East Gorge. The diverse and very red rock faces and steep cliffs were amazing - a myriad of constantly-changing shapes and vistas; hopefully the pics will explain better than I can. Even after this steep section, when I was reduced to 7 km/hr, there was little you could call a descent; the road struck ever upwards.
After the gorge the wind did it’s regular shift from east to north, so as I was heading south I was flung along - for about 5km - but on turning right for Karajini NP / Tom Price it was all over, and I was straight into a NE-er, right in the face, and to add insult to injury the road continued to climb slowly as before. Pretty soon I was at 800m and had had enough for the day. It was 1530 and I started to look for a campsite. It wasn’t easy at all; either the vegetation was too thin or, more usually, the spinifex totally filled in all the ground between the trees and shrubs, and it's inpeneterable. This is horrible stuff - spiky grass that you can’t even go near without getting thorns in clothing, which then irritate the hell out of you by sticking into the skin at regular intervals. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve sat picking these out of my socks, and even shorts!! It’s evil stuff, but ubiquitous around here.
During one aborted attempt to get across to a likely campsite I accidentally stood on a broken plant stem which stuck straight through my sandal and into my heel - it was very painful, and I had to remove the shoe whereupon the broken bit of stem fully 5mm diameter came out with it covered in blood - ouch! I eventually found a good site off to the left that had a network of bare fractured rock ‘paths’ in and around the spinifex, and I managed to get way off the road behind some thicker shrubs and trees - perfect. Left is best today because the NW wind will take the smoke from my fire away from the road and add to my anonimity. There’s lots of good firewood here too, necessary not just because it’s nice to have a fire, but also because the repair to my stove pump was unsuccesful and I’ll need a fire to cook dinner on. I did actually buy a sliced loaf at the roadhouse, but prefer cooked food.
After putting up tent I got the fire going straight away, and within 30 minutes it was dying down having left a good red bed on which to place the pans. I did mash in one and veg and tune in the other, and as usual it tasted delicious. Samey, but delicious.

DAY 278: Day off at bush camp 31km N of Auski Roadhouse

Position S 22 07.207; E 118 47.207
Mon 28th July 2008
Sunny, 32 deg C
Elevation of /destination 466m
Distance to date 17078 km (10674 miles)

I slept like a log last night - whatever traffic there was, the sound was well muted by the ring of mountains around me, apart from a narrow gap where I came in. It didn’t take long for me to decide to make this a rest day - well, I have easily enough water; in any case I could filter some from the spring if desperate, and plenty of food too. I didn’t get out of the tent until the sun was well over the horizon then went and tossed some more kindling on the ashes, and with a couple of puffs it leapt into life again. In no time at all I had made tea and was toasting a muffin on the end of a sharp stick. The fireside was very cosy in the cool (10 deg C) early morning, and I sat around watching the Spinifex Pigeons and savouring the beautiful setting, until the sun was full on and had crept over some trees, at around 0840 where I was sat. After washing the pots in the spring water I went on patrol in the hils surrounding camp and did a big circle of around 4km. The early light really brings out the colours of this amazing landscape and the camera was snapping away all over the place. The ground is littered with fractured rock - weathered by millions of years of heat and cold repeated every day. The stones are quite sharp and one has to walk carefully some of the time. I was surprised how many wild flowers there are up here, each desperately clinging onto life in the harsh environment. Spinifex dominates all though, and there’s little for cattle to graze on here. I did see 2 last night though, who bolted on seeing me. The roads have been unfenced for days and the cattle just wander wherever they want to get food. There have been many roadkilled animals along the way that stink to high heaven.
From the tops of the hills I could see the Fortescue River valley far to the south and west, which is where I’ll be heading next, with more rocky red mountains in the further distance. These mountains are part of the Chichester Range, which Karijini NP is within. Back at camp a small group of vividly-coloured Red-backed Fairy Wrens were flitting around in the big gums nearby. Later on I shall sit quietly near the spring-fed water hole and see what comes and goes - as far as I can see there’s no water anywhere else around here. I’ve already seen plenty of bees drinking here, and also some large black and red wasps.
On returning from my walk I found a shady spot under a big old snow-white barked Ghost Gum and sorted images from the camera ready for uploading - this saves costly internet time, and the Dell Axim PDA does it easily - including rotating and cropping the images if need be. I deliberately chose SD card format for the camera so I can use these in the Axim, and it has made life very easy.
After this I gave the repaired fuel pump a go - and despite a bit of stiffness it worked OK, so I boiled up some water and had the rest of the packet of garlic mashed potato with a mug of tea. This is a lovely shady spot in the mornings and mid-day so I stayed here and started typing up my diary for today. One hour on at 1445 the sun has crept around and I will find another similarly cosy spot around the corner.
I also rechecked my 3 spare tubes to make sure they were OK, and they appear sound enough.