August 1– Hi-Way Inn Roadhouse near Daly Waters to Larrimah, 91.81 klms, Avg speed 20.2 kph, Cycling time 4.32 hrs; Total kms 12,289.83
We had a quick ride to Larrimah with favourable winds & flat road. Unfortunately we’re now back amongst heavier traffic cycling on the Stuart Highway, the main Highway that leads into Darwin, it wasn’t as busy as we expected which was a nice surprise. Still with a narrow shoulder & road trains, loads of Defence vehicles & a multitude of caravans whizzing by we were glad to arrive at our camp stop, the Historic Larrimah Pub. There’s not much else at Larrimah, it’s a small town that came into being in 1940 with the construction of the nearby Gorrie Airfield, which was a major airfield servicing the war effort. The Pub was originally the World War II Officer’s Mess & had some interesting memorabilia. There was a great camp kitchen with comfy chairs where we spent the rest of the afternoon with Greg starting to feel the first stages of a stomach bug.
August 2 Larrimah to Mataranka, 75.75 klms, Avg speed 19.1 kph, Cycling time 3.57 hrs; Total kms 12,365.58
Despite many trips to the loo in the night & suffering aches & pains, Greg wanted to ride to Mataranka & thankfully it was another quick, flat ride with mostly tailwinds. The township (pop about 250) sits on the upper reaches of the Roper River servicing outlaying cattle stations & Aboriginal communities & is well-equipped for travellers. The area was made famous in the Jeannie Gunn novel ‘We of the Never Never’ - written in 1908 about nearby Elsey Station—the area is also home of the famous thermal springs. Our camping ground at Territory Manor is surrounded by beautiful trees with wildlife wandering freely through the grounds. As Greg has now worn a path to the loos we are staying put for 3 nights, last night he didn’t have a beer & watched me devour Roast Pork for dinner which was yummy .....he must be sick!
August 5 Mataranka to Katherine, 107.19 klms, Avg speed 19.8 kph, Cycling time 5.24 hrs; Total kms 12,472.77
Greg recovered sufficiently to devour 2 of Territory Manor’s delicious dinners while sipping on beer & wine overlooking the gardens & lake.....obviously he’d recovered. The next morning an elderly chap approached stating “you cyclists shouldn’t be on the road you know as you don’t pay tax”. Normally we try & escape from such ill informed people, however, this time Greg decided to take the bait. This fool actually thought his $700 annual car registration fee paid for all the roads he chose to drive on. He had no explanation as to why, if this was the case, funds also came from consolidated revenue of all Council, State and Federal governments for road construction and maintenance. The same consolidated revenue that was funded by all tax payers. He also couldn’t explain why if car rego was the sole source of road funding, the 3 largest cities in Australia all had toll roads. Greg explained to him that his car registration fee was to cover some of the cost of the damage his vehicle does to the roads, that’s why it’s a weight based tax. That’s why trucks pay more than cars. The damage cause by cyclists to the road was not quantifiable, the same as pedestrians, so therefore no tax is charged. Greg asked him if he too paid $700 he too could pay for the right to exclude other legal road users. Finally Greg asked him how much tax this fellow paid and if Greg paid more then he’d have to walk home (he lived in Qld). He declined the invitation and tried, in vain, to regain some semblance credibility. I chuckled to myself this was going to be fun, and it was. I’m sure we didn’t change his mind, he’s obviously a very important guy and everyone should get off the road when he approaches, but it’s good to vent some steam every now and again. Finally we escaped & were riding at a good pace along the Stuart Highway when we noticed a cyclist heading towards us. Surprise, surprise it turned out to be Glenys who we met a year ago when she & her husband, Max, were cycling up the east coast of Australia. This time they’d cycled up the centre of Australia to Darwin & were making their way back to Victoria. They take it in turns to cycle/drive the van & Max arrived shortly after. We bade them farewell & said we’d contact them when we got to Victoria in a couple of years. We cycled into Katherine mid afternoon & headed to The Coffee Club which opened 3 weeks ago, the place was buzzing & we devoured a couple of average coffees, rode to The Red Gum Tourist Park & caught the courtesy bus to the Katherine Club for an average dinner.
Katherine is the third largest town in the Northern Territory & home to about 9000 people, including many aboriginal people. It’s a bustling place welcoming more than 250,000 visitors every year heading north to Darwin, 300 klms away, to the West Australian border which is only 500 klms away or to visit its most famous icon, Katherine Gorge. I disappeared into the hairdressers while Greg waited 40 mins to get his coffee at The Coffee Club. We then called into Woolworths Supermarket & were like kids in a lolly shop. The last time we’d seen fresh food in this much abundance was in Innisfail more than eight weeks earlier. Fruit, vegetables, meat that didn’t come in tins, potatoes that didn’t come powdered, cheese that didn’t glow in the dark and prices that didn’t make you blush (too much anyway). We hadn’t had access to so much choice for 2 months so we stocked up well. We walked to The Country Club, had a pleasant dinner outside & chatted to Darren, from Hobart, who’d been walking through Katherine Gorge for the past 3 weeks, a place we’d visit over the next few days.
August 7—9 Katherine to Katherine Gorge, 33.46 klms, Avg speed 15.1 kph, Cycling time 2.13 hrs; Total kms 12,506.23
It was only a short ride to Katherine Gorge, which sits in the 2920sqkm Nitmiluk National Park but it was a tough undulating ride with strong headwinds. The Gorge consists of 13 picturesque gorges carved through sandstone by the Katherine River, with rocks & boulders separating each gorge. The ancient area holds enormous spiritual & cultural significance for the aboriginal Jawoyn people, evident by the number of art sites.
By 10am it was all over so we did a loop walk to a lookout then lazed around the Nitmiluk Campground pool for the afternoon then dragged ourselves to Sugerbag Cafe, overlooking the Katherine River, for dinner. Up bright & early the next morning (the days are heating up now) we did a great walk to the Butterfly Gorge, updated the web, then back to the pool before we hop back on the bikes tomorrow.
August 10-11 Katherine Gorge to Katherine, 31.35 klms, Avg speed 21 kph, Cycling time 1.34 hrs; Total kms 12,537.58
Return ride back to Katherine was 35 mins faster than our outward journey, more downhill & not battling horrible winds. For the next 2 days we caught up on office stuff, stocked up well on supplies as next large supermarket will be Darwin & a highlight was catching up with Mark & Denise for dinner. They had already cycled to Darwin & were back in Katherine before heading west into Western Australia. Travel safely guys & we’ll see you in the ACT in 2-3 years!
August 12 Katherine to Pine Creek, 92.04 klms, Avg speed 16.1 kph, Cycling time 5.42 hrs; Total kms 12,629.62
An undulating ride through more dry, savannah country again battling headwinds which at least kept you cool in the 41C heat. The fun taken out of this scenic ride was constantly watching the traffic, it’s now getting heavier as we head towards Darwin, thank goodness from Pine Creek we’re avoiding the Stuart Highway by using alternative side roads. Pine Creek became a busy mining town with the discovery of gold & by 1885 had about 200 Europeans & 4000 Chinese working the goldfields. Today it is a small town with a number of historic buildings & it’s also an ideal spot for bird watching with the largest number of bird species in the Northern Territory.
We’re staying at the Lazy Lizard Caravan Park for 2 nights, the Tavern next door dishing up excellent food, for the first time in months I was offered vegetarian food, a lentil & chickpea salad & the following night the chef cooked me a Tomato & Fetta tart, now I had a stupid grin on my face!
August 14 Pine Creek to Hayes Creek, 85.81 klms, Avg speed 13.1 kph, Cycling time 6.33 hrs; Total kms 12,715.43
Our ride today took longer than expected. We rode along the gravel Goldfields loop, a good choice, no traffic & through very pretty bush. Our plan was to camp at the historic Grove Hill Hotel, 60 klms away, which we reached at lunch time & enjoyed several cold drinks in their shady beer garden. It sounds inviting but the place & camp site was shabby, awful, junky memorabilia strewn about with a relatively large black snake winding itself towards the beer garden. After begrudgingly being told it was OK to eat our sandwiches in the beer garden (didn’t want the tour buses doing the same, they said, although they didn’t sell food of any kind) we rode another 25 klms to the Hayes Creek Wayside Inn & Caravan Park, arriving hot & sweaty at 5pm. Feeling much better after a shower we dined that night at the park’s cafe (there’s nothing else at Hayes Creek) & slept well.
August 15 Hayes Creek to Adelaide River, 72.58 klms, Avg speed 16.2 kph, Cycling time 4.29 hrs; Total kms 12,788.01
We both felt lethargic this morning, unusual for us, we put it down to the humid conditions of yesterday. The plan today was to ride on the hilly, old Highway along the Dorat Road, about 12 klms longer than going along the Stuart Highway, I could feel the heat & humidity already at 8.30am so to beat the heat I came up with a brilliant idea, Greg could ride along the Dorat Road & I’d ride the shorter way along the Highway. His concern was I might get a puncture (I could fix it but wasn’t carrying the tools) so he won me over and I’m glad he did. A most amazing, scenic ride, on a single lane road with virtually Nil traffic, one of those rides to put on my Top 10 list. We rode up & down the hills with relative ease & the humidity seemed to decrease too & by lunchtime we were sitting in a shady park having lunch. Adelaide River township is steeped in history from the early Chinese market gardens & military presence during WW11 to the discovery of uranium & the mining at Rum Jungle. Following the bombing of Darwin in 1942, Australian & American military headquarters were relocated here & the town is now the site of the third largest war cemetery in Australia, a resting place for some 63 civilians & 434 service personnel. The historic Adelaide River Inn Caravan Park has great shady, grassy sites, swimming pool & a wonderful beer garden next door, we didn’t have to be convinced to stay for 2 nights.
August 17 Adelaide River to Batchelor, 59.63 klms, Avg speed 12.7 kph, Cycling time 4.42 hrs; Total kms 12,847.64
We should have ridden 28 klms today but rode 60 klms, we got lost on the Coach Road to Batchelor, a gravel, quiet 4WD road that looked more inviting that the Stuart Highway. On the map it looked pretty straightforward but it was not the case, we ended up on private property so double backed & took a left. We didn’t see one car to ask directions, normally a blessing but not today. After riding 50 klms we stopped for lunch at a crossroads & waited, finally hearing a trail bike heading towards us, we were saved! The female rider said we were only 10 klms from our destination & said everybody gets lost on this road due to poor signage. We now felt slightly better & finally arrived at the Batchelor Resort Caravan Village, Greg feeling very peeved that our short day didn’t turn out that way. We booked in for 2 nights & ate at their Bistro, an average meal to top off our day.
Batchelor lies just 100km south of Darwin & is the gateway to Litchfield National Park. It began to flourish in 1949 with the discovery of uranium, mining operations ceasing in the early 1970s. Today The Coomalie Cultural Centre provides the opportunity for Aboriginal artists to practice, teach, display & market their skills, however we heard on the news recently the Centre is suffering a financial crisis & may close. We stocked up on expensive, limited supplies for our ride through Litchfield & had dinner at the Rum Jungle Tavern, nothing exciting to write about—can’t wait to get to Darwin with 100s of restaurants!
August 19 Batchelor to Buley Rockhole, Litchfield National Park Bush Camp 44.91 klms, Avg speed 16.0 kph, Cycling time 2.48 hrs; Total kms 12,892.55
Lovely ride in very warm conditions passing termite mounds & buffalo, bit of tail wind with one short, steep jump up to pant up. We’re starting to see clouds in the sky which must mean two things, 1) we’re getting closer to the coast and 2) we’re getting closer to the “build up” towards the wet season. We’ve been very fortunate with the weather and haven't seen rain for over 11 weeks. We think that will change in Darwin particularly as we get closer to Christmas. Litchfield National Park is only 1 hour’s drive from Darwin, the Park is overrun with tourists in their campervans, caravans or pulling their camper trailers. The Buley Rockhole National Park Bush Camp was full by 5pm but still the travellers poured in searching for a spot & asking to park/camp in our large spot. By letting a couple camp their van in the car park adjacent to our spot we were rewarded by a delicious dessert of oranges & dark chocolate—thank you Michelle & David & good luck with your move to Melbourne.
20 August—Litchfield National Park—Buley Rockhole & Florence Falls
Litchfield National Park—just 129 klms from Darwin this fascinating 143 sq klm area was designated a National Park in 1986. The natural features of Litchfield National Park, monsoon rainforest, stunning waterfalls, termite mounds, weather eroded sandstone outcrops & historic ruins attract over a quarter of a million visitors each year After an early morning walk to Florence Falls we returned to Buley fleeing as the crowds arrived & spent the rest of the day swimming in the rockholes trying to keep cool as the temperature hit 37 degrees.
August 21 Buley Rockhole to Litchfield Safari Caravan Park 38.06 klms, Avg speed 17.2 kph, Cycling time 2.13 hrs; Total kms 12,830.61
A short, easy, downhill or flat ride, Crazy Roby hitting a top speed of 56.1 kph! We stopped on the way at the Tolmer Falls, spectacular falls surrounded by a dramatic, sandstone cliff, it reminded us of the Blue Mountains in NSW. After bush camping for the last 2 days in a relatively dusty area, we felt very grubby, my spray on tan (dust) now wearing thin, so dashed to the showers after setting up camp. We relaxed for the rest of the day & Greg cooked his delicious salmon patties for dinner...yum...The caravan park is a joke. Old and barely clean facilities, a dirty and very basic camp kitchen adjacent to the owners filthy home, a caravan he’s lived in for the last 15 years with a tattered canvas awning on the side. We’re not staying here long, that’s for sure.
August 22—Litchfield Safari Caravan Park
Just 4klms down the road were the Wangi Falls so with panniers bulging with swimming togs, picnic goodies & books we disappeared for the day. With a huge crystal clear swimming hole at the bottom of the falls & pleasant bushwalking trails the place was abuzz. We found a sheltered spot away from the crowds & dozed, read, ate & swam. One the way to Wangi we made a reservation for dinner at Litchfield Cafe, unfortunately it met all our expectations—overpriced unimaginative food, slack service, owners/managers who didn’t care & it showed. The highlight was being surrounded by lots & lots of wallabies & their joeys. This place is next door to the pretty awful caravan park were we’re staying and is the only place within the park to get a feed other than a rather ordinary kiosk at Wangi Falls. What a shame, what a wasted opportunity. Greg’s “grilled” chicken breast was in fact a deep fried re-tread truck tyre covered with crumbs and with black grill marks painted on the side. My quiche, supposedly home made, had the texture of a disposable nappy except for the base which was crushed terracotta roof tiles blended with egg and baked. We did not enjoy our meal....
August 23-Litchfield Safari Caravan Park to Darwin River 75.66 klms, Avg speed 13.2 kph, Cycling time 5.43 hrs; Total kms 13,006.27
After cycling 18 klms we finally left Litchfield National Park & hit 30 klms of gravel road. We were expecting rough conditions with stories of lots of corrugations & sand but in the end it wasn’t too bad. There was little traffic, lovely scenery, hot conditions & my heat rash decided to make a reappearance too, lycra cycling nicks & heat not a good combination. After today, thank goodness, we only have 1 more riding day to Darwin as the humidity is beginning to rise. We’re staying at the Tumbling Waters Holiday Park for the next 4 nights, a hidden tropical oasis set on 100 acres nestled amongst 1000s of palms & tropical gardens. There’s a basic store cum post office next door to the pub down the road and where we buy expensive groceries as we’ve run out of food. Greg put the tent up, the last time in a while and we showered and dined in the camp kitchen while checking our mail. We have internet and phone for the first time in a week and there are things to organise before we hit Darwin. Greg booked an appointment with a GP as he needs more scripts and wants a bit of a check up. He’s also keen to hit the ground running viz-a-viz apartment hunting in Darwin city.
August 24—Darwin River
We hopped on our bikes & rode 8 klms to the Territory Wildlife Park at Berry Springs, it’s normally not something we’d visit however had heard great feedback & weren’t disappointed on our walk around the 400 hectares, getting an up close look at some of the Top End’s wildlife. Greg has said, “get ya dancing shoes on lovey” which is his way of saying we’re going to the pub tonight for dinner.
August 25-26—Darwin River
Days spent washing & checking for lose screws on Crazy Ruby & Horsey, working on the log & other stuff. We’re already enjoying the slower pace of not having to move all the time. Our last night in Tumbling Waters Holiday Park is just in time for the deck chair cinema. Tonight, projected on a screen on a grassy area we’ll watch Death at a funeral.
August 27-Darwin River to Darwin via Mandorah 72.86 klms, Avg speed 17.3 kph, Cycling time 4.12 hrs; Total kms 13,079.13
We had 2 choices of arriving into Darwin, from the east via the Stuart Highway or via the west, catching the Mandorah ferry for a 20 mins ride across to Darwin. We didn’t have to think twice & chose the latter having a very pleasant & quiet ride to Mandorah on a great road (Cox Peninsular Road) with gentle to flat grades. As we approached Mandorah we saw the sea for the first time in 2 months & then saw the city of Darwin across the water for the first time, how exciting. We had lunch at the Mandorah Hotel gazing over the sparkling turquoise waters to the city & then loaded Crazy Ruby & Horsey onto the ferry arriving at Cullen Bay Marina at 2pm. After checking into the relatively grubby AYH, Greg went to his Doctor’s appointment. So far our day had run smoothly, even getting the bikes on the ferry (the drama of catching the Manly ferry when we left Sydney hasn’t left me!) so we had some well deserved beers deciding where to eat that night. We ended up at a Turkish restaurant & was told it was their opening night—oh no, something we always try & avoid. It was a Basil Fawlty night—awful to non existent service, not getting the entrees we ordered, having only 30% of the wines advertised. It was that bad we didn’t order mains & felt like walking away not paying. The only saving grace was they made a mistake with the cost of our wine, in our favour.
On our 2nd & 3rd day in Darwin we hit the ground running looking at 10 furnished units in the city. The looking bit is fun, the dealing with Property Managers less so. They’re not very professional, have absolutely no sales skills, which drives Greg crazy, and accurate unbiased information is in short supply. We think we’re making progress but it’s laborious and slow. We’ve walked most of the centre of the city and will explore that outskirts on the bikes when we think we’ve got our accommodation sorted. Greg must be feeling the pressure, he’s been to the GP, having a sun spot removed, had his eyes checked, having a blood test tomorrow morning and is arranging a cardiologists appointment for a couple of weeks time. He keeps saying things like “Age shall not weary them is bullshit”. I think he’s just gettin’ a wee bit nervous about turning 48 next month. Ha Ha!!
Some cycling stats for 2009:
Cycling period—24 Feb to 27 Aug (Warwick to Darwin)
Avg klm per day-67
Avg klm per hour-14.6
You can explore the gorge system either by canoe, boat cruise (former limited access to all gorges) or by helicopter so we booked the Nitmiluk Super Land & Air Adventure incorporating a breakfast cruise through the first 2 gorges followed by the thrill of seeing all 13 gorges from a different perspective in a helicopter. Both tours were excellent especially when we discovered we knew the ‘copter pilot, it turned out to be Laird who was recently based at Cape Crawford offering helicopter rides to “The Lost City”.