April 2010

April 1st—6th;

Early April was spent cleaning the apartment and removing clothes, wine, cooking equipment etc, etc that we’d accumulated over the last 7 months. Greg had two cases of wine that we’d not managed to drink, despite some very determined attempts, and fortunately the wine merchant took them back. Terina delivered  some lovely Mud Crab she and Keith had caught while they were at their holiday house at Dundee Beach. They’d invited us to spend Easter with them, but we just had too much to do so we had to decline. We did manage a lunch on Easter Sunday with Alex, Lee-ann and the boys at Il Piatto restaurant in the Darwin Casino, which was, once again really good and great to catch up with them before we left Darwin. The carpets were cleaned, the bikes washed and oiled, the panniers packed, the Estate Agents final inspection passed, the fridge emptied, we’re ready to roll.

April 7 – Darwin to Katherine, 25.44 klms, Avg speed 16.5 kph, Cycling time 1.32 hrs; Total kms 13,104.57

We said goodbye to our unit at 6.30am & peddled the 18 klms to Darwin Railway Station as we needed have the bikes there by 8am.  No time to feel sad about leaving, I was too occupied getting over the shock of dealing with a bike loaded with 35 kilos, it all seemed such a breeze 7 months ago.  Tricia, Jeff, Terina & Keith spoilt us with a champagne breakfast at the station as we waited to board The Ghan, our departure from Darwin couldn’t have been better, what good friends they are.  When we left the comfort of the air conditioned train at 2.00pm, Katherine felt incredibly hot so after loading up Crazy Ruby & Horsey we peddled to the Caravan Park a few klms away & jumped in the pool.  The Park’s grounds were covered in trees & we listened with delight at the sounds of the Butcher Birds & watched the antics of the Apostle Birds we didn’t see these birds in Darwin & we had missed them. After cooking a Chicken Rendang for dinner, why not get those sweat glands really pumping, we had the best night’s sleep in a week finally relaxing after a busy time preparing to leave Darwin.

April 8 – Katherine to Mathison Rest Area, 100.05 klms, Avg speed 17.0 kph, Cycling time 5.53 hrs; Total kms 13,204.62

We were on the road by 7.30am riding on gentle undulating to flat grades through open & Spinifex grasslands.  We were lucky to have a tailwind most of the way considering we had to cycle 100 klms, a hot day but fortunately with cloud cover, it was ideal conditions for our 1st ride except for the heat.  Horsey wasn’t happy & decided to break 2 spokes, luckily not far from a Rest Area with shade so Greg fixed pretty quickly & by early afternoon we’d reached our camp for the night, a Rest Area with shade, drinking water & loos, luxury!  We’d both drunk 6 litres of water during the day & barely had a pee, luckily we don’t have to carry too much spare water at the moment as we can obtain water from water tanks in some Rest Areas or at the Caravan Parks we’ll stay at.  Tonight we shared the Rest Area with only another couple of cyclists, it’s still too early in the season for the Grey Nomads (4WD + caravan) to be travelling, apparently they leave their nests just after Mother’s Day on 9th May when the huge migration starts from the southern States up to the warmer northern States so watch out!

April 9 – Mathison Rest Area to Victoria River, 92.48 klms, Avg speed 17.3 kph, Cycling time 5.20 hrs; Total kms 13,297.10

The Victoria Highway we’re riding on isn’t busy at all & this is beautiful country with the highlight being the scenery of the flat-top mountains (mesas) & the colourful gorges as we neared Victoria River.  Another hot, gentle undulating ride, mainly favourable winds with some cloud.  A large, black pig came out of the long Spinifex to cross the road, I’m not sure who was more startled, me or him, as he dashed back into the grasslands.  We checked into the Victoria River Road House & had cold beers (yay) & dinner gazing over the majestic rocky outcrops of the Gorge, it is stunning scenery.

April 10 – Victoria River Road House to Timber Creek, 90.99 klms, Avg speed 16.0 kph, Cycling time 5.41 hrs; Total kms 13,388.09

On the road again at 7.30am to have a few hours riding in relatively cool conditions before the sun’s sting comes out to bite you.  It was mostly flat riding for the majority of the day except for a gentle 4 klm climb near Kuwang Lookout, did I say gentle??  Due to low vegetation & lack of shade this section of the ride was hot with sporadic cloud cover, with a slight headwind for most of the day I was struggling so I rode in Greg’s slipstream for the last 14 klms to Timber Creek....how good was that!  Timber Creek is a small, outback town & doesn’t have a lot going for it, 2 Caravan Parks, a roadhouse, pub & expensive supermarket supplies.  Neither Caravan Parks had received glowing reviews but my preference was to stay at The Wayside which actually looked closed when we rode by which was probably why the phone had been disconnected.  A quick peek at the other Caravan Park didn’t have me jumping for joy so we had lunch in the park opposite The Wayside as we contemplated life for a while.  As we did this Alex from The Wayside appeared, said his Park was open & told us to have a look around which we did & booked in for 2 nights.  We found out The Wayside (aboriginal owned) was managed by the same person as the other Caravan Park until the middle of last year when the Joint Venture ceased.  Since that time Alex, who has worked there for many years, has been struggling to run the park on his own as well as the supermarket out the front & a Consultant from Broome has been brought in to assist the aboriginals in running the park.  We hope they make a success of it as it was a lush, grassy Park with a great swimming pool too.  We headed to the hotel (pub) to see if our food parcel had arrived (it had) & had a beer at the bar as we checked out the list of names on a whiteboard the police had barred from drinking at the pub.

Timber Creek to Saddle Creek Rest Area, 117.75 klms, Avg speed 17.1 kph, Cycling time 6.53 hrs; Total kms 13,505.84

After 2 day’s break & stocked with food from our parcel, it was time to get back on the road by 6.15am as we had a long ride ahead to a Rest Area where we could pick up water.  Horsey still not happy & this time decided to have a flat tyre, rather than Greg trying to find the cause he put in a new tube & 30 mins later we were on our way again.  We had little shade along the way however a tailwind pushed us along & we arrived at Saddle Creek at 3.30pm.  I felt fine but Greg said he was starting to run out of steam towards the end of the ride so we sat in the shelter & had endless cups of tea followed by Savoury Mince, Mashed Potatoes & Vegs for dinner—after a hard day’s ride it was very yummy.

April 13 – Saddle Creek Rest Area to Keep River National Park, 83.54 klms, Avg speed 15.7 kph, Cycling time 5.18 hrs; Total kms 13,589.38

Ahhh....the smell of the road kill, now that’s definitely something we haven’t missed but today it was not only wallabies but lots of cane toads (that’s good) & unfortunately a beautiful Frilled Neck Lizard.  Greg said he saw a wild horse in a creek (live), we also saw cattle being mustered which was exciting & both saw another favourite bird, the crane like Brolga .  For a while we were following an escarpment on another hot day making our way to Gurrandalng Bush Camp in the Keep River National Park, 18 klms of dirt from the Victoria Highway.  3 klms along we called at the Ranger Station to have lunch beside Cockatoo Lagoon, very pretty covered in water lilies, plus fill our water bags/bottles with 48 litres of water to last us the next couple of days.  As luck would have it, Ranger Richard was driving up the Gurrandalng that afternoon so we filled all our water bags & he carried 48 litres for us, luxury, now we can have some decent showers & endless endless cups of tea.  It was that hot today Greg wanted to find 10 cold beers by the road side by midday, we had a hot, humid & airless sleep that night.

What a great camp spot, some stunning scenery especially the beehive rock formations that are similar to the Bungle Bungles.  In the cool of the morning we walked the awesome Gurrandalng ‘Brolga Dreaming’ Walk, a 2 klm loop that weaved through the sandstone rock formations sculpted over  250M years by erosive rains & floods. 

April 15 – Keep River National Park to Lake Argyle, 62.12 klms, Avg speed 14.7 kph, Cycling time 4.13 hrs; Total kms 13,651.50

Another early start as we expected a tough ride to Lake Argyle, our cycling guide said the last 12 klms were very steep—something to look forward to.  It was also an exciting day as at 8.30am we crossed over into Western Australia, our 3rd State/Territory, & into a different time zone, we gained 1.5 hours so it was now only 7am!  There are strict food Quarantine regulations as you pass through the inspection checkpoint at the border & honey, fruit, vegetables & unprocessed/raw nuts & seeds are not permitted.  Greg said he’d like to work as an inspector—2 guys sitting in air conditioned comfort, with a big plasma tele, kitchen, fridge & exercise bike not being rushed off their feet.  Lake Argyle Camping & Caravan Park is located on top of the mountains & even though the ride was challenging in some parts we didn’t find it as difficult as the guide had said.  We’re staying here for 3 nights, our 2nd food parcel has arrived & they sell beer here too—what a perfect place to stay.

Lake Argyle & Ord River Dam is an extraordinary artificial lake surrounded by colourful scenic mountains.  The lake was created by damming the Ord River & forms a storage reservoir for the Orr Irrigation area.  It is the largest man made lake in the southern hemisphere, construction was completed in the 1970’s & now also houses a hydro-electric plant that supplies power fo the towns of Kununurra & Wyndham as well as the Argyle Diamond Mine.  At flood capacity it is estimated the lake would cover over 2000 sq klms and it is HUGE, it’s like looking at an open sea.  We went on a fantastic 3.5 hour boat trip touring the many bays, inlets & islands & watched the sunset swimming in the Lake with 25,000 freshwater crocs (they don’t bite) drinking champagne.  The resort also had a fantastic swimming pool that opened 2 weeks ago so with a great camping area, stunning scenery, beer & great birdlife we could have stayed longer.

April 18 – Lake Argyle to Kununurra, 76.16 klms, Avg speed 16.6 kph, Cycling time 4.35 hrs; Total kms 13,727.66

It was cool last night, well only slightly, but we both got a decent night’s sleep.  There is 1 disadvantage being in WA, it starts to get light at 5am & the sun is up at 5.30am so if we need some cool riding we’ll have to be on the road at 4am! Today it was 7am & we battled a headwind for the first 35 klms then a great tailwind as we turned back on the Victoria Highway into Kununurra where our first challenge being back on the bikes after 7 months has finished for the next 5 days.  After riding 649 klms in hot conditions we think we’ve coped pretty well albeit with a few saddle sores & heat rash.  Kununurra (pop 6000) is an agricultural centre located on a flat plain surrounded by orange rocky mountains of Mirima National Park.  It’s the gateway to the Kimberley region so an ideal base from which to explore.  

April 19 – 22 Kununurra

Explore Kununurra we did, walks through Mirima National Park, rides along Lake Kununurra & Greg took a 6am flight over the Bungle Bungles (Mountain Range), Lake Argyle & Argyle Diamond Mine, I much prefer to keep my feet on the ground especially in small planes!  Our 5 nights in Kununurra soon passed & it will be remembered for serving the most expensive cup of coffee we’ve had since leaving Sydney—$4.75 a cup & not that great either.  A couple of reasonable feeds at the Gulliver's Tavern mad up for the crook coffee. We did ride out of town slightly to get coffee at the Ivanhoe Farm Cafe which was beautifully shaded by huge mango trees on a green grassed lawn, but again the coffee was “crap” according to Greg. We really are having coffee withdrawal symptoms as we’ve not had a good cup since Darwin. We also rode to what is a fantastically located restaurant cum bar appropriately called the Pump House as, you guessed it, it was once a pump house to pump irrigation waters from Lake Kununurra into the irrigation channels. We were going to have dinner there but stayed only for a drink to watch the sunset as we think we were going to be the only diners. Greg’s Mum Robin had kindly posted us a couple of books from Sydney which fortunately arrived two weeks after she’d posted them and the day before we left Kununurra. These books, extra fuel for our stove and food for the next few days plus a new cycling top and sunglasses for Greg completed our economic contribution to the coffers of Kununurra before leaving town early tomorrow morning.

April 23 – Kununurra to El Questro, 105.38 klms, Avg speed 15.1 kph, Cycling time 6.57 hrs; Total kms 13,833.04

I think we both woke with some trepidation today, firstly we had a long ride ahead & secondly half of this would be on gravel along The Gibb River Road (The Gibb).  Because there is only one time zone in Western Australia and we are a few kilometres East of there the sun rises very early. Unlike NT where at this time of the year the sun rises at about 7.00 am, here in WA the sun gets up at about 5.15 am. With us being relatively close to the equator there’s no twilight at either end of the day so for us to get on the road early to “beat the heat” we almost have to get up before we go to bed. So up we were at 4.30am & on the road at 6am riding through some magnificent scenery as we crossed the diversion dam bridge of the Ord River scheme & the Durham River bridge.  A short, sharp climb then descended into a 7klm gentle downhill & with the benefit of a cool morning & tail wind we’d peddled 58 klms by 9.30am ready to tackle The Gibb.  This road was built to transport cattle to the Derby abattoirs in the 1960’s & was gradually extended through to Wyndham.  This was needed to keep up with the expanding market & to replace the costly air transportation of beef that was initially flown out by DC-3s.  The Gibb opens in the dry season from around late April to Nov, many cattle properties now have accommodation & camping facilities to welcome tourists, some of which we’ll be staying at.  The first 35 klms on The Gibb weren’t too bad, with slight corrugations, due to recent grading, the views of the rugged Cockburn Ranges were fantastic, it was hard to take your eyes off them.  At the turn-off to El Questro the last 16 klms were slow & into a headwind, Greg had hallucinations, slight concussion & was hyperthirsting and “Emu Bitter Dreaming”.  We arrived at El Questro at 1.30pm after nearly 7 hours of peddling, booked in for 3 nights & set up camp near the river, had a swim & fixed Greg’s life threatening condition with cold beers watching the sun set.....he made a miraculous recovery! Ahhhh the restorative powers of beer.

April 24 – 25 El Questro Wilderness Park

Imagine owning a property covering 1,000,000 acres, that’s how huge this place is.  In 1991, when it was a working cattle station, it was bought by a young English aristocrat, Will Burroughs, for GBP£1,000,000 who developed the Station into an iconic Australian outback tourist destination offering a range of accommodation from luxurious Homestead, cabins & riverside camping (that’s us!).  The new owners renamed it El Questro Wilderness Park & there’s so much to see & do here with acres of rugged ranges, tidal flats, rainforest pockets, gorges, waterfalls & abundant wildlife.  Not a lot of the attractions were within walking distance so we booked on an “All Day Tour” which was excellent covering an early morning walk to Emma Gorge & freezing swim in the rock pool, morning tea at Emma Gorge Resort (decent coffee & yummy French pastries), swim in the Zebedee Thermal Pools, lunch at The Steakhouse at El Questro & finally a cruise up the Chamberlain Gorge drinking champagne & platters of fresh fruit, for $165.00 we thought this was excellent value.  The night continued with an El Questro BBQ which was also pretty good value with a good choice of well cooked chicken, lamb and of course beef and an excellent array of fresh salads which is like gold for us as fresh food in this part of the country is a rare treat for us and about to get rarer, all this followed a tomato soup entree all the while being entertained by “Buddy” & his whip cracking & music show, not something we’d normally rush to see however this was pretty good. 

Our last day at El Questro was spent attending a 5am Anzac Day Dawn Service, fixing a flat tyre on Crazy Ruby (again the join in the tyre liner caused a tear), cleaning the fuel stove,  having the best coffee since leaving Darwin & putting our feet up & reading for the rest of the day—did we feel guilty?  Mmmmm...No!

April 26 – El Questro to Home Valley Station, 50.84 klms, Avg speed 12.8 kph, Cycling time 3.57 hrs; Total kms 13,883.88

Cycling the 16 klms back to join The Gibb, it’s already getting hot at 6.20am, luckily we had a great tail wind once back on The Gibb which kept us relatively cool.  Sightly more sand today which you could ride through, that’s a good sign.  The rear views of the Cockburn Ranges were magnificent, great scenic riding.  There had been a large wedding at Home Valley Station so quite a lot of traffic heading back to Kununurra, majority of drivers being courteous & slowing down with only a few flinging up dust & stones.  At the 50 to 60 metre wide, 500mm deep, croc infested Pentecost River we decided our plan of action would be to ask a driver to slowly drive across with us pushing our bikes behind.  We waited & waited & saw lots of vehicles crossing from the other side but none from our side, however, 4 guests from the wedding driving a ute crossed the river, 3 of them hopped out, our panniers & bikes were loaded in the back & “Ben” drove back across the river dropping us safely at the other side, how generous was that, a huge thank you to Ben & his friends.  Before midday we arrived at Home Valley Station, owned by the Indigenous Land Corporation, it is a 615,000 acre working cattle station, Indigenous training facility & tourism destination set at the base of the majestic Cockburn Range, it’s also one of the best Barramundi fishing spots on The Gibb.  We booked in for 3 days, picked up our 3rd food parcel (yee-haa), set up camp surrounded by beautiful Boab trees & with cossies on heading for the swimming pool for the rest of the day, oh....& they serve cold beer here too!! Very important is that, as the day time temperatures are still in the mid to high 30’s falling to the mid to high 20’s in the evening. The humidity is less than Darwin but still around 50-60%. On our 2nd day at Home Valley we walked the 1.5 klms to Bindoola Gorge which was full of water. Very tempting to just jump in and have a swim and I think that’s what the crocs where thinking, so we made our way back to Home Valley and jumped in to their pool instead. As was the case with last night’s dinner, today's lunch started with the process of picking out the tomatos, that I’d bought in Kununurra  a week ago, that were about to explode and eat them before they went completely rotten.  In a couple of days that will be the last of the fresh food for about another week until we get to Mount Barnet Roadhouse. As you can imagine, our lunches of warm tinned ham, soft squishy tomatoes, onion and maybe some mustard, washed down with warm to hot water and finished with hot powdery apples, doesn’t really get either of us salivating. But we’re usually that bloody hungry by lunch time that it actually looks OK, mmmm.   Home Valley Station will be our last beer for two weeks so me thinks that Greg will be doing plenty of “Emu Bitter Dreaming” over the next 14 long hot days. Who knows, I may even join him...

April 29 – Home Valley Station to Bush Camp—Bamboo Creek, 68.34 klms, Avg speed 11.4 kph, Cycling time 5.58 hrs; Total kms 13,883.88

We woke at 5am and left at 6am to slowly ride up the Home Valley & Twin Rivers Look Outs, fantastic vast views from the Pentecost Range as we reached the top.  The road is in great condition from the recent grading, at this stage we haven’t had to push our bikes through sand—always a good sign.  Due to the lack of rain The Gibb has opened about a month earlier so very little traffic around, saw about a dozen cars today.  We reached Bamboo Creek around lunchtime, our destination for the night & sat in the shade for a few hours having lunch, filtering water & drinking endless cups of tea to rehydrate.  We crossed the road & disappeared into the bush to set up camp knowing we only had a few hours of daylight left, by 6pm we’d showered, eaten our Spag Bol & then raced into the tent to take cover—the mozzies were out in force!  As we contemplated reading for the next few hours an enormous glow appeared over the horizon, it looked like car headlights except it got bigger & bigger & bigger & a full moon suddenly rose into the sky—what a fantastic sight.  With that, the stars twinkling in the sky & the silence we slipped into a comatose state & woke up late the next—5.10am.

April 30 – Bush Camp to Ellenbrae Homestead, 44.67 klms, Avg speed 11.4 kph, Cycling time 3.53 hrs; Total kms 13,996.89

Greg looked at the map & said the place we’d camped last night was known as Mosquito Hill—aptly named.  Just after Bamboo Creek we crawled up Rollies Jump Up then pushed our bikes across the Durack River, the road much sandier today with more corrugations.  My day’s ride is always based around breaks & food so suggested we stop a few klms up the road for a rest plus is was also getting hot.  Riding along we saw the turn off to Ellenbrae Homestead (our next camp) was 5klms away & advertising “Scones, Cream & Jam”, much better than a GingerNut biscuit & a few jelly snakes.  After bumping down their long drive & crossing a small creek we arrived at a lush & very green Ellenbrae Homestead & were treated to Marcia’s delicious Scones washed down with several cups of tea.  Thinking what a great place to camp, we were told we’d be camping at Ringers Camp back down the road—best described as sandy, dry & more mossies but it did have a rustic area with flushing toilet, table & chairs & even a hot shower if you lit the “donkey”.  Greg played “Mr Washing Machine” and in the tub washed soaked and rinsed a load of dirty dusty clothes, while I went through our 4th food parcel we’d sent to Ellenbrae to ensure we’d have enough to eat over the next few days. Marcia & Cheryl produced an Australian Defence Force Ration Pack Menu “D” that had been left at Ellenbrae Station by the ADF on a visit last year, with an invitation to take what we wanted. We did very well with a can of tinned fruit a great treat, as well as some Chicken Italiano & BBQ Beef in cryovac packs, coffee, sweets, biscuits etc. Perhaps not things we’d normally buy, but any change in diet is welcome. We’d already organised with Marcia to have a meal that night & were served Minestrone Soup, Roast Beef & Lime Meringue Pie with Ice Cream—a wonderful treat for us bush campers.  During the night we heard the howls of the dingos then something strange happened, it turned that cold Greg had to find his sleeping bag, something we haven’t used for many many months.  We’re staying for a couple of nights, not much to do here expect swim in the water hole with the freshies (crocs) & eat more Scones with Cream & Jam.