Monday, August 11, 2008

DAY 291: Giralia Station to Coral Bay


Sun 10th August 2008
106km @ 19.8 km/hr
Sunny, 28 deg C
Elevation of /destination 5m
Distance to date 17956 km (11222 miles)

I was pretty tired so Mr.Snorer didn’t keep me awake, so I didn't have to throw anything at him, and in fact I slept very well. I awoke to a couple of hundred Corellas screaming and squawking over the sleepy campers. I could also hear the resident nags wandering around bumming early scraps from the punters, so took my cue to pack up before breakfast. The red dust was everywhere, and the station owners clearly don’t bother to water to try and get the grass to grow, very mucky underfroot.
It was quite nice to have a kitchen though, and I took advantage of the toaster to use the last 3 muffins, spread with PB and rhubarb jam.
I picked my way back along the 4km gravel road, which wasn’t too bad going the other way, but once back on the bitumen it was hard yakka with a draggy uphill for 12km, at which point it got quite hilly. The wind was on the side so no help whilst on this section of road (the Burkett link road) but as I had decided not to ride north to Cape Range NP (it’s fully 360km round trip to the end of the NP road from the junction I was coming to), if the wind stayed put for a few hours it woud be behind me to Coral Bay. All along this road I coud hear the song of the Chiming Wedgebill - 4 bright and resonant descending notes as if they were practising their scales.
I stopped at the junction with the Exmouth to Carnarvon road for a cuppa and snack, then was pleased to note that I did indeed have a tailwind, and a good one too. I flew the 50km south to the Coral Bay turn in just over 2 hours, and in view of the competely open landscape it was fortunate that this wasn’t a headwind, which would have been tough with no shelter. There wasn’t even a tree or bush for much of this section, a desert-like scenario. The road undulates gently in long straights. Still plenty of wild flowers though, and I caught the scent from time to time.
Although the NE wind was not quite in front of me on the Coral Bay road speed dropped considerably, and it gets quite hilly too. Still very open landscape with views of the sea as I got closer to the coast.
Coral Bay is a very small community, entirely, as far as I can see, devoted to tourism - the Ningaloo Reef comes down this far, and there are tours for whale-watching, swimming with Manta Rays etc., and 2 large caravan parks, which happened to be competely full, even for a small tent. I opted to stay at the smart Ningaloo Club backpackers, and pushed the boat out by booking a room to myself ($80/nt). This meant I could keep the bike in the room, which gives me a good chance to check it over thoroughly. I also booked a whale-watching tour for tomorrow ($120) - I fancied snorkelling with Manta Rays (did you now they have the biggest brain of all the fishes, and are extremely playfull?) but they’re booked up until Friday.
I had a quick swim in the (as usual) very cold pool and strode 100m next door to the small shopping complex, where there is a very good bakery - what a range of cakes and pastries they have - and there’s a nice seating area in the middle of the shops. I’m going to enjoy staying here!
In the evening I sat in the bar among the ‘young un’s’ and had one of the very popular house ‘burgers cooked by resident chef - help yourself to salad - very good value for $6.50, and you get a beer for half price too. There’s a big screen showing the Olympics, although no sound unfortunately, so I enoyed my supper with the first TV in months. Very enoyable.
There is internet here but no uploading, but there is another place that does allow which I’ll use tomorrow.

DAY 290: Bush camp to Giralia Station

Sat 9th August 2008
119km @ 18.0 km/hr
Sunny, 29 deg C
Elevation of /destination 25m
Distance to date 17850 km (11156 miles)

Much to my relief the ants did not overwhelm my tent last night, in fact as it went dark and cooled down they all scattered, presumably back to wherever ants go to keep warm. I didn’t sleep well though, probably due to all the caffiene I had yesterday - I should know better! It was pretty cold again overnight, but I just managed to keep warm enough.
As I lay in bed with muesli I watched the Grey-Crowned Babblers flitting from bush to bush, babbling away incomprehensibly as usual, sounding stessed out. I was far from stressed, not having a care in the world as Lyn rightly reminded me the other day on the phone, and happily hit the road for another chunk of Outback cycling.
Mostly flat, but the road is bumpy and narrow with no shoulder. Although it’s busier than the Tom Price to Nanutarra road it isn’t too threatening, and I only had to jump off a couple of times when 2 vehicles were crossing. This was quite a nice section scenically, little dark red mountains deither side, and lots of wild flowers everywhere, and with them some nice odours. Of course there are no settlemements whatsoever on these roads.
I stopped at the only rest area for the abominable loo (yeuchhh. strooth!!!) but took advantage of an offer of water from an old caravanner couple just to get me by. They also made me a cup of coffee which was welcome.
Just before the Exmouth link road turns off the North West Coastal Highway there’s an information area which has seats and is covered over for shade, so I took the opportunity to get the billy on and have a snack. Several other couples dropped by too with all the usual questions, but we learned plenty from each other about where to go and what to see as ever.
I turned right to head towards Exmouth, but I have been having doubts as to whether I will actually go there, and the main reason for heading that way, to access Cape Range NP where the Ningaloo Reef touches the coast. It’s around a massive 300m detour, and some of that is going to be against the wind in open country; however by heading this way I have another option of visiting Coral Bay, which is supposed to be very nice. I could even hire a car there and drive up to Cape Range...I’ll decide tomorrow.
It was 48km from the turn to Giralia Station caravan park, so I thought I might as well get a shower and see what it was like. The road after the junction is dead straight and flat, and I was fortunate to still have the easterly helping me along, although it wasn’t that strong it was still welcome. This branch road featured lots of clumps of red, ground-hugging Sturt’s Desert Pea along the shoulder - one of WA’s iconic flowers.The CP is down a 4km gravel track which became more corrugated the further along it I went, and the place itself was disappointing - dry and dusty with virtually no grass to pitch on, scruffy-looking, and not a patch on some of the bush sites I’ve found myself. Why did I bother?
At least there was a camp kitchen which I had to myself - I haven’t managed to engage any of the few caravanners here into conversation - but as I type I hear that my nearest neighbour is a world-class snorer - how I despise snorers! I may throw something at his tent later (I wish). Great. Next time I think of opting for a CP when I can camp in the bush I really must talk myself out of it.

DAY 289: Bush camp to bush camp 40km SW of Nanutarra

Fri 8th August 2008
127km @ 18.5 km/hr
Sunny, 28 deg C
Elevation of /destination 100m
Distance to date 17731 km (11082 miles)

My alarm went off at 0620 as usual, but this morning I actually took notice and roused myself. It helped that it wasn’t quite as cold as it has been, and I was packed up and away for 0750.
From a windless start the SE-er gradually gained strength until it was blowing me along nicely. This was the first time for a while I’ve had a consistent tailwind and it was to last all 82km to the junction with the Coastal Highway. The road undulates gently with long straights, picturesque with continuous mountain backdrop and lots of wildflowers along the roadside. The flowers and flowering shrubs gave a pleasant perfume that kept changing in character as different species dominated. By far the commonest is Mulla Mulla with it’s erect violet flowers similar to a truncated lupin and bell-shaped. The road is extremely quiet too, which adds to the enjoyment.
The Dutch lady who had been asking about my trip when in Tom Price passed, slowed down, and shouted “Hi David” through the window which was nice - she offered water but I was OK, and anyway only 30km from Nanutarra Roadhouse and an iced coffee or two.
I was at the roadhouse by 1315 and drinking my first one, and the lady at the counter said without me asking that cyclists can have free filtered water - she said the unfiltered stuff shouldn’t be drunk without boiling - and moreover said I could have a free shower too. But when I went to get the key from the manageress she said it would be $5 for a shower; so I declined, I don’t need one that bad. Then when I went to get my water the filter wasn’t working properly and I could only get about 3 litres of filtered instead of the 8 I wanted! I had to get the balance in untreated water, which is OK, because I can use this for boiling and cooking, or filter it myself with the Katadyn if desperate.
I washed a couple of items in the toilets (well, the sink in fact!) and hung them to dry on the rear rack, and also washed my Assos top and put it back on (nice ‘n cool!), then phoned Lyn since the opportunity time-difference wise does not arise very often, but unfortunately got her out of bed on the very morning she’d planned a lie-in, having had a late night working. She was very gracious about it though as usual, and seemed pleased that I'd rang.
I had a nice long break of 90 minutes or so, then hit the road again for another 40km, although the wind was now right on my left side, or slightly in front, so speed diminished. There was a fence both sides of the road now, this being more fertile cattle country, so it took a while to find a suitable site, but I finally found a drainage channel that led into a well-hidden bit where there just happened to be a flat piece of ground the right size for the tent. Just a few hundred ants to boss around and claim my territory - thankfully they disappeared back to their lair when it went dark and I had the place to myself again.
After a big dinner of rice and tuna I made some ‘iced’ coffee - powdered full-cream milk, strong shot of instant espresso and 2 sugars, poured into my spare drinks bottle to cool overnight if I can wait that long (in fact I drank this half an hour later as soon as it was cold, and then had trouble sleeping!!).
I see I got the dates wrong in the blog, so I’ll try and remember to correct that next time I upload.

DAY 288: Bush camp to bush camp 86km SE of Nanutarra

Thurs 7th August 2008
103km @ 16.9 km/hr
Sunny, 28 deg C
Elevation of /destination 181m
Distance to date 17604 km (11002 miles)

I must have been asleep before 9 since I’d felt very tired, but I awoke at 3 for a pee and once back in the bag I was too cold to sleep. I lay shivering for an hour but still hadn’t warmed up, so I put on all the clothing I had, which must have done the trick, as I didn’t wake up until the sun was blazing into the tent at 0740. I made an extra-rich dried milk mix for the muesli as a treat - it tasted like cream - then got on the road just after 9.
Initially the moderate SE wind blew me along nicely, but within the hour it dropped altogether, and for most of the day thereafter there was either no wind at all or it blew up briefly from any direction, so not much wind assistance today unfortunately. It was a reasonably pleasant ride through a long mountain range; gently undulating and little traffic to contend with. I had to stop after just 30m as I was very hungry, and eventually found a shady spot with leaning tree; not easy!
Not so many wild flowers today but plenty of cows who stared at me in amazement like groupies to a superstar, but these ones didn’t run away.
I was pleased to top 100km again since this was quite a hard day - this leaves me within reasonable striking distance of the Nanutarra Roadhouse by around 1500 tomorrow, so I can set that as a target and reward - big nosh and iced coffee! I have no idea what the wind will do though, it’s full of surprises lately. It’s usually SE in the mornings though, which as I’m heading NW again in the morning will be good, but I’m not holding my breath.
I found a good bush camp at first try tonight - a cracker too - behind a small rocky outcrop about 100m from the road and well hidden. There’s a convenient fireplace between some rocks, plenty of dry wood, and a nice shady rock ledge to sit on and watch the sunset whilst imbibing - a cup of red first while it’s still at 24 degrees, then some white as I eat when it’s gone cooler than the red. Oh, I'm so organised lol. I so enjoy this time - the feeling of peace and solitude it gives me is priceless - I’ve been looking forward to it all day! Bush camping is a wonderful experience.

DAY 287: Tom Price to bush camp 5km W of Ashburton Downs t/o

Weds 6th August 2008
106km @ 16.9 km/hr
Sunny, 27 deg C
Elevation of /destination 285m
Distance to date 17501 km (10938 miles)

Another very quiet night in the CP and very cold first thing so reluctant to get up again. The camp kitchen here is well out of the sun and consequently freezing in the morning so I left breakfast until as late as possible and got everything packed up first. Swopped website names and said goodbye to my neighbours after the kids had been playing soccer with the 2 resident ‘roos - they’re quite good (the ‘roos I mean). I managed to extract myself from yet more questioning about my trip from some other well-intentioned campers and get away just on 9 and straight onto the gravel road for Nanutarra and eventually to Exmouth.

This road is about to be metalled for the first 10km or so and the water bowser and roller were on the go, causing much red mud to be flicked up all over the bike. Still, it’s nice and flat, and in fact the whole 68km of gravel from Tom Price to the Paraburdoo to Nanutarra bitumen road is in very good condition. This may be due to the fact that it is so little used - I only saw a dozen or so other vehicles on this stretch. Scenery is very nice too, with continuous rolling hills either side of the road. There are plenty of undulations though, many with very steep, but mercifully short, jump-ups, where I had to push a couple of times. I punctured after some 40km - I just glanced back to check that the heavy water bags were still secure, since they sometimes start to slide off on bumpy roads - and that momentary loss of attention to the road caused me to ride over a large stone which caused a pinch flat. Of course there was nowhere to lean the bike so I had to strip the bags off without leaning the bike against anything, which is very awkward, as is putting them all back on again.
There are only occasional corrugations but I could easily pick my way around these. I was probably travelling just as fast on this road as I would be on a bitumen one. Spinifex Pigeons abounded, flapping away noisily as I approached, but not so many wild flowers as I’ve seen lately.
Once on the bitumen again the road continues in the same WSW direction so the moderate SE wind was just behind me, or sometimes on the side. Even this road is very quiet - I guess many folk use the coastal highway via Karratha. Suits me! The mountains continue and there is plenty of small tree cover suitable for camping, athough at my first attempt to camp the ground was covered with nasty tri-cornered Jackthorns, about 100 of which took an instant attatchment to my socks. I eventually found a nice flat site about 100m from the road but well-hidden. Once again I could sit back and admire the sunset, partly hidden by the hills, with glass of wine. I have a 2l bag each of Chardonay and Cabernet in the discreet 4l water bag to choose from. I didn’t bother cooking tonight, although I had a nice fire going, so just had tuna sandwiches. In fact, I’ve found out that I can use the petrol stove anyway; I’m able to prime the fuel by pumping with very short strokes such that the plunger doesn’t stick down at the bottom of the cyclinder, which is good news. The guy at Muzzie’s Hardware in Tom Price went to a lot of trouble to try and fix this thing for me, unsuccesfully, but much appreciated.
Beautiful and quiet here as I type by the fireside, crescent moon setting above me; just the distant clicking of crickets to be heard.

DAY 286: Day 2 off Tom Price

Tues 5th August 2008
Sunny, 25 deg C
Elevation of destination 708m
Distance to date 17395 km (10872 miles)

A cold night and dawn meant I stayed put, warm in sleeping bag, despite the usual early clatter of campers all around me as they prepared to leave. Some time after 8 I finally crawled out into the warming new day and went for my toast, butter (a temporary luxury much enjoyed) and rhubarb jam. Some time later after lengthy conversation with holiday family I realised I needed to speed up to get to the VIC to join the 1000 mine tour.
This is a 2-hour tour of Tom Price mine, owned by Rio Tinto / Pilbara Iron; one of the biggest iron ore mines in Australia, one of the world’s major suppliers of this ore, which is in huge demand at the moment due to buying from China. It was very interesting; facts came at us such as a tripling of save price to $220 (£115) per tonne; production from this mine alone of 28 million tonnes/year; 4 trains a day 2km long hauling $3M-worth of ore to the port of Dampier for shipping to China; massive dumper trucks with 3.5m diameter wheels whose tyres cost $100,000 each and only last 10 months; 220 tonne capacity dumpers which use 20 litres of fuel per km etc. It’s a huge operation making millions for the owners, and good wages for the workers too - a driver (male and female) will get $100,000 pa (£48,000). The town of Tom Price, named after an American who fought long and hard to persuade the company to develop a mine in this area and who died of a heart attack a few hours after learning of the discovery of a rich vein of pure ore here that guaranteed the go-ahead of development, was built by the mining company but was later taken over by the local council. The driver and guide was full of wisecracks as usual - one of his stories was about a tourist who was seen swimming in the towns large sewage pond and refused to get out even when told of his surroundings. The mate of the guy pleading with him to get out shrugged his shoulders, and said with typical Aussie humour “he’ll be OK, he’s not swimming, he’s only going through the motions”. “Yes, the guy said, but he’s the turd one we’ve found!” I think that stories probably a load of crap! You get the gist I think! A pretty good tour for $22, plus the $15 for a pair of trainers I had to buy due to the ‘closed-in shoes rule’ which I subsequently gave to the Op-shop (charity shop).
After a quick lunch and more shopping, back at the CP I got chatting to the family next door, and I was invited to join them in a 4WD drive up Mount Nameless, which lies right behind the CP and dominates the town. They have just returned from 16 years working in Japan and will set up home in Brisbane when they stop touring Oz next January. There’s a a great view of the surrounding land and of the mine from up there.
I had to pop into town again for some stuff I’d forgot to get, and I thought again what a cosy little place this is, and how I’ve enjoyed my few days here.
I bought croissants for dinner for a change, and filled with pastrami and garlic sauce. The best butter was very hard out of the fridge so I spread Greek yoghurt on first, which was very palatable. It got very cold and I was soon sat up in the tent reading and blogging with sleeping bag pulled up as far as possible.

DAY 285: Day 1 off Tom Price

Mon 4th August 2008
Sunny, some cloud, 28 deg C
Elevation of /destination 708m
Distance to date 17395 km (10872 miles)

The caravan park had filled up substantially last evening but despite tents either side of me I slept OK. I enjoyed the luxury of an electric toaster and a new jar of rhubarb jam to spread thereon before riding into town to upload for the first time in 10 days. These long delays will be common now until I get to down to Geraldton and Perth.

I set up to upload at Mount Nameless Internet Cafe but the 2 PC’s I tried didn’t work properly, so I gave up and went to the VIC, but their system wasn’t working either. Third time lucky, the computer shop machines were OK and I spent the next 90 minutes and $10 there doing my stuff.
I wanted to go on a tour of the local iron ore mine which operates once a day, but one has to has ‘closed-in’ footwear, and I only have sandals, so I found a $15 pair of trianers in Coles that will do the job. Maybe if I keep them clean I can take them back for a refund after the tour lol.
Not much else to report - mostly eating and chilling out, and gaining strength for some possibly tough days ahead if the wind assistance is indeed to be in short supply in the days ahead./
The centre of Tom Price is occupied by hundreds of Corellas who come and stand right next to you when you get some food out (pic). I haven’t seen any other birds here so they’ve obviously seen them off and taken over the town. They look very comical with their Mohican haircut, staggery old-man walk and heads cocked to one side looking up at you wistfully, willing you to feed them.