November 2010

October 30 to November 2 - Denham (Pop 1,200)

Denham is a tourist & fishing town with a lovely foreshore & is the main service centre for the Shark Bay World Heritage Area.  It’s here on 25 Oct 1616 Dirk Hartog, Captain of a Dutch trading ship, landed at Cape Inscription on what is now known as Dirk Hartog Island and was the first recorded white man to set foot on Australian soil.  Denham derives its name from Captain Denham who charted the whole of Shark Bay in 1858.  In the early 1860’s, pastoralists came to the area followed by pearling which declined during the depression & moved to Money Mia, 25 klms up the road.  We found the people of Denham really friendly, they served a fair  cup of coffee, fantastic cheap & delicious crayfish at The Old Pearler Restaurant (built from quarried shell blocks) & the local Bowling Club was the place to watch the Melbourne Cup, the horse race that stops a nation.  Shark Bay peninsula also hosts mainland Australia’s most westerly point (Steep Point), we won’t be going there so where we’re at is the most westerly point on our cycle tour of Australia.

November 3 — Denham to Monkey Mia, 27.85 klms, Avg speed 16.5 kph, Cycling time 1.41 hrs; Total kms 17,314.74

We’d heard from fellow travellers over the past couple of years how touristy Monkey Mia was, it was a hop skip & a jump from Denham so we had to come, probably expecting the worse.  It’s home to the world famous Money Mia dolphins that appear daily to interact with visitors & there’s only 1 resort here.  There’s only one word to describe the view from the beach—WOW—fortunately for us we’re visiting in the low season so the place is relatively quiet, considering the view, location, dolphins & other things we might see eg. dugongs & turtles you can understand why the place would be buzzing in school hols & the winter months.

November 5 — Monkey Mia to Denham, 27.28 klms, Avg speed 16.0 kph, Cycling time 1.41 hrs; Total kms 17,342.02

Back to Denham for 1 night to replenish supplies for our 6 day cycle ride to Kalbarri.  I can’t remember when we last rode 6 consecutive days, will be interesting to see how we go although we aren’t riding great distances each day.

November 6 — Denham to Nanga Bay, 55.93 klms, Avg speed 11.7 kph, Cycling time 4.45 hrs; Total kms 17,397.95

When we rode to Denham last week we had a fantastic tailwind so didn’t need to stop at Nanga Bay as planned.  But we definitely needed to stop there on our return journey as we battled head & side winds for most of our 56 klm ride .....grrrrrr ......Nanga Bay Resort is an ex-working sheep station & has a supermarket, liquor store, restaurant, lovely sunsets, great beaches & fishing.  This park has all the infrastructure and position to be a 5 star park but unfortunately it is severely lacking in TLC and hard work. The whole resort is sand and there was not a blade of grass to be seen.  The owners/management have either run out of cash or impetus as the whole resort is starting to show very obvious signs of deterioration, it’s a pity as the beach location is fantastic.  The place was deserted, we were the only ones there so we made ourselves comfortable in the camp kitchen & had a lazy afternoon reading before heading to the restaurant for an OK meal of Garlic Prawns & Hamburgers.  The service was great as we were the sole diners that night!

November 7 — Nanga Bay to Hamelin Pool, 57.19 klms, Avg speed 15.5 kph, Cycling time 3.40 hrs; Total kms 17,455.14

Cycling up & down significant undulations we returned to Hamelin Pool Caravan Park, the wind kinder then yesterday being mainly off headwind.  As luck would have it when we arrived at Hamelin the wind changed to NW, bugger that would have been a tail wind!  We sat in the shade & read our books again, what luxury, we’re really enjoying our life on the road.

November 8 — Hamelin Pool to Billabong Roadhouse, 82.10 klms, Avg speed 16.2 kph, Cycling time 5.03 hrs; Total kms 17,537.24

We left Hamelin at 6am as we wanted to reach Billabong Roadhouse, 82 klms away, rather than camp at the Overlander Roadhouse again.  We pushed through another headwind as we rode the 30 klms back to the NW Coastal Highway & stopped at the Overlander for a cuppa & a kitkat & the owner gave us a fresh peach which was a rare treat, so yummy. When we camped here last week the owner said the place was being renovated & it was good to see the renovations had started.  The NW Coastal Highway to the Billabong Roadhouse was very straight & hilly but luckily not too busy.  We’d heard how friendly the staff at the Billabong Roadhouse were so we’re looking forward to eating there that night.  The choice of accommodation in this area was a) camp in the dusty rest area across the road b) camp in the dusty Caravan Park next door or c) pay $90 for a room at the Roadhouse.  As we ate lunch under a shelter next to the Roadhouse it didn’t take me long to figure out we could afford the luxury of the room as we’d be bush camping for the next 2 nights so NIL expenses!!  Luckily Greg agreed so we spent a very enjoyable afternoon in our lovely room with air conditioning, fridge, tele & tea making facilities and enjoyed our dinner there too.  It’s was great place for a stop over & as we’d been told, all the staff were very friendly.

November 9 — Billabong Roadhouse to 200 Mile Water Tank Rest Area, 70.07 klms, Avg speed 15.5 kph, Cycling time 4.30 hrs; Total kms 17,537.24

You’d think these regular early morning starts & strong headwinds would lower your spirit but for us we take one day at a time and work out our strategy for dealing with the head winds.  For us our strategy is to get up at 4.30am, get on the road by 6am before the winds increase in speed & if the wind is really bad Greg will ride in front so I can take advantage of his slipstream, lucky me.  By leaving this early we usually arrive at our destination well before lunch, well before the winds increase in speed or change direction & it also means the rest of the day is ours for relaxing before another early start the following day.  So leaving Billabong by 6am we were back in the saddle, no complaints from us though with the air still quite cool & traffic relatively light.  Further south of Billabong we finally left the arid heath land into some rolling hills & the lovely smell of gum trees, trees we hadn’t seen since riding through the Kimberley some 7 months ago, what a wonderful & welcoming change of scenery.  By 9.15am we’d ridden 45 klms and stopped at the Nerren Nerren Rest Area for a rest & a snack—an orange, nut bar & jelly babies, it’s great all this cycling you can eat what you want!  We rode another 25 klms and arrived at 11.30am at our camp for the night, the 200 Water Tank Rest Area.  These 2 huge water catchment tanks were built around 1930 & were the last of a series of 8 tanks which refreshed travellers on the once dusty & lonely journey from Carnarvon to Geraldton.  Lucky for us these 2 tanks were still standing as they provided us with water, shade, seating & somewhere to cook & hang out our washing. We made ourselves at home for the rest of the day & chatted to other travellers stopping to replenish their water supplies.  Thank goodness for the shade, it was a hot day.  Greg pitched the tent well away from the water tanks & road, I cooked Curried Corn Beef (can’t be that fussy when you don’t have a fridge!) and we slept surprisingly well.  The road was busy during the day but luckily quietened down at night time.

November 10 — 200 Mile Water Tank Rest Area to Murchison River Rest Area, 49.54 klms, Avg speed 15.1 kph, Cycling time 3.16 hrs; Total kms 17,656.85

Another bush camp tonight so we loaded up our bikes with extra water, each carrying 17 litres of water instead of the usual 3 litres.  As soon as we left this morning the scenery changed again, a few more wildflowers, lots of bottle brushes, taller trees & fields of wheat being harvested, we had now arrived in a wheat growing area, what a delightful change from weeks & weeks or riding through arid, dry & desolate scrub.  We arrived at the Rest Area by 10.30am, lucky for us as the wind increased quite dramatically from the West which would have meant  battling a strong side wind.  This westerly wind blew hard all day & put doubts in our mind for our ride tomorrow as for 69 klms we’ll be riding West to Kalbarri, crikey let’s hope it changes direction tonight, best put our strategy plans in place!  The Murchison River Rest Area wasn’t as nice as we’d hoped, it was pretty dusty & the River was virtually dry, however, a few birds did enjoy what water was in the River which was lined with tall Casuarina trees giving us shade.  Greg pitched the tent along the bank of the River followed by more book reading as we tried to shelter from the wind which howled around us for the rest of the day.   We were in bed by 7.30am listening to the tent flapping in the wind.  Fingers crossed this wind direction changes otherwise it’s going to be a very long ride tomorrow! 

November 11 — Murchison River Rest Area to Kalbarri, 83.52 klms, Avg speed 17.6 kph, Cycling time 4.43 hrs; Total kms 17,740.37

It drizzled during the night, not heavily but enough for us to close the tent door, it’s a sound we haven’t heard for months.  Our wind strategy today was another early start & at 4.30am it was still drizzling & cold so we had to fish out our rain jackets which we hadn’t worn since leaving Derby in May.  On the plus side though the wind had changed direction in our favour so our cuppa tea & Weetbix breakfast was quickly devoured as we hit the road at 6am still wearing our rain jackets.  After 12 klms & riding through really pretty countryside, we turned West along the fairly open Ajana Kalbarri Road and into our tail wind—yeehhhaaa—this ride had steep to moderate undulations with low coastal vegetation & farmland taking us up onto the plateau on which lies Kalbarri National Park.  We should have been rewarded by the most amazing assortment of wildflowers but unfortunately due to the lack of rain the wildflowers are virtually non existent.  In fear of the wind changing against us we rode “like the clappers” & finally after 73 klms we stopped for a break, that was a record distance without a break.  We descended from the plateau & had a fast descent into Kalbarri arriving at 11.00am, a lovely little holiday town, tucked between the picturesque lagoon & the scenic beaches.  We booked into the Kalbarri Tudor Caravan Park for 5 nights & celebrated that night as from here on the towns are a lot closer together so we shouldn’t need to carry much more than 2 days food & 1 days water—a difficult concept to get used to. We’re really quite excited about our change in circumstances and the fact we don’t have to plan so far ahead. For a while anyway, gone are the diesel generators, salty and hard water, expensive and limited food, little or no radio reception, very restricted phone and internet. So life’s a charm at the moment.

November 12 to 15 — Kalbarri (pop 2,000)

“You’ll like Kalbarri, it’s a great spot”, we heard this so many times from fellow travellers & it was a great place, a spectacular getaway situated on the Murchison River, overlooking Chinaman’s beach surrounded by Kalbarri National Park with its stunning gorges, surf action around at Jacques Point & if you’re into fishing (not us) an ideal place to cast that line.  It’s been a favourite holiday destination for generations & we discovered great pizzas & great food, service & coffee at The Grass Tree Cafe.  When we rode out of Kalbarri there was so much we hadn’t seen, just means we’ll have to return one day.

November 16 — Kalbarri to Port Gregory, 68.47 klms, Avg speed 15.5 kph, Cycling time 4.23 hrs; Total kms 17,808.84

From Kalbarri we headed south along the now sealed Grey Road past the coastal gorges, climbed back up onto the plateau & then down again riding through open farm land—fields & fields of harvested wheat—there’s been little rain here over the past 4 years so nothing’s green.  Despite this, it was a beautiful ride with a predominantly blustery E side wind & then a tailwind for 5 klms as we changed direction for Port Gregory passing Hutt Lagoon along the way, otherwise known as the Pink Lake.  The pink colour is caused by the leaching of colour from the legs of Flamingos who feed along the shores of the lagoon. At last this is the explanation Greg tried to give me. The real reason is algae, which is mined here to produce beta carotene vitamins, it was a stunning sight.  We arrived at Port Gregory (pop 48) at 11.30am, it’s an old fashioned fishing village boasting fantastic fishing, diving & swimming protected by a 5 klm reef that forms a natural harbour.  We wondered if the residents were happy about the road from Kalbarri now being sealed allowing more tourists to discover this hidden gem, we could already see the signs of new housing development. We wondered along the jetty & saw the first signs of the start of the Crayfish season (YUM), a relatively large fishing vessel having its catch being weighed & loaded onto a Geraldton Fish Co-Op truck being closely monitored by the Fisheries Department.  With only 2 crates being caught & weighed we didn’t think the effort was worth it but later on found out that the catch was probably worth around $4000 & in the height of the season (from Nov to June) 20 crates could be filled each day.

November 17 — Port Gregory to Horrocks, 36.35 klms, Avg speed 12.0 kph, Cycling time 3.01 hrs; Total kms 17,845.19

We had a strong E side wind making riding very slow but lucky for us our ride today was much shorter than expected.  In Kalbarri we’d been told about a short cut to Horrocks—”head towards Northampton, take a right & head down a gravel road” - we estimated we had about 52 klms to ride looking at a gravel road on our HEMA map.  However, a new gravel road (not on our map) now cut through to Horrocks making our journey 15 klms shorter!  By 9.30am we rolled down the hill to The Horrocks General Store for icy cold drinks, the day was already hot & the temperature climbed to 42 degrees later in the day.  We sat in the shade at the Store & gazed at the glorious ocean views, it was a really pretty place nestled along white sandy beaches with the streets lined with cute fishing shacks.  Unfortunately these cute shacks are now being overshadowed by enormous, ugly, new developments.

November 18 — Horrocks to Northampton, 24.0 klms, Avg speed 10.4 kph, Cycling time 2.25 hrs; Total kms 17,869.19

We left just after 6am, for some reason I had doubts about my ability to ride up the steep hill out of Horrocks but it was fine, not too much panting, fortunately the cloud cover had kept the morning relatively cool as another hot day had been forecast. This was our slowest ride for a couple of months with strong NE headwinds, thank god we only had a couple of hours riding ahead.  Great scenery though as we climbed up hills & rode along winding country roads, unfortunately crossing dry river beds, but passing lovely farmhouses built out of stone, at last some houses with character, a far cry from the housing development in the mining towns of Port Headland & Karratha.  The Northampton Caravan Park didn’t look that inviting so we booked for 2 nights into the Sacred Heart Convent C 1919, now operating as the Old Convent & offering budget accommodation.  For $40.00 pn we had a comfortable room upstairs & rattled around the place with 1 other traveller, the latter mentioned something about “ghosts” which I quickly ignored. Greg insisted on calling me Sister Kathryn for our entire stay in deference to what he called “the bloody Catholics”.

November 19 — Northampton (pop Town 813, Rural 2000)

Northampton is a quaint town, set amongst rolling hills & is one of the oldest settlements in Western Australia outside of Perth.  In 1839 Lt. George Grey reported favourably on the area with lead & copper mining commencing in 1848 & 1855 respectively.  It was declared a town site in 1864 & the first railway in WA (from Geraldton to Northampton) was laid & completed by 1879.  In 1993 the town was classified by the National Trust as a ‘Historic Town’ & today the town has a large & diverse community incorporating agriculture, horticulture, crayfishing & tourism.  For us this quiet country town & our lodgings were an ideal place to get our admin. stuff up to date & wash & maintain our bikes.  Considering Horsey & Crazy Ruby have clocked up nearly 18,000 klms they are in great condition and will have a grease & oil change in Perth. Greg has been on the phone to a bike shop in Perth to arrange for replacement chain rings, sprockets, maybe chains and also to have some work done on his Rohloff hub gears. Mine are fine but his slip sometime, and after a conversation with the Australian distributor in Qld hopefully this can be fixed in Perth.  

November 20 — Northampton to Sunset Beach (Geraldton), 61.14 klms, Avg speed 15.5 kph, Cycling time 3.56 hrs; Total kms 17,930.33

Instead of cycling straight down the North West Coastal Highway to Geraldton we took the scenic route via the Chapman Valley passing by Lavender & Olive Farms & seeing our first WA Winery, Chapman Valley.  Because we hit the road at 7am nothing was open, the lavender wasn’t out & the valley was so dry, not a bit of greenery in sight.  For the first 10klms we seemed to climb lots of hills with a moderate headwind (where is this so called Valley & who’s idea was this?) but as we rode up & down the hills along the quiet roads with the spectacular flat topped Moresby Ranges in the distance we were so glad we’d come this way.  After climbing up & over the Ranges & seeing the Indian Ocean & the township of Geraldton in the distance, we had a great descent into The Sunset Beach Caravan Park arriving mid morning.  It was a hot ride today so thank goodness we had some cloud cover on our ride.

November 21 to 23 - Geraldton (pop 37,000 including nearby Greenough)

This is the largest city we’ve been to since leaving Darwin in April so it was a bit of a shock to deal with busy roads & roundabouts & having to stop at traffic lights.  Geraldton was once known as “a country town cut off from the sea by an ugly railway line”, well the line has finally been replaced by an open foreshore, changing the atmosphere & attraction of what is now the 2nd largest regional city in WA.  Situated on Champion Bay, Geraldton is blessed with beautiful beaches, year round sunny weather & windsurfing so yes, it’s windy too.  But being close to Perth (424 klms), with wide open spaces of pristine coastline, the magnificent Moresby Ranges in the background, outstanding historic architecture, the magnificent hill-top HMAS Sydney 11 Memorial, wildflowers blooming from Aug-Nov (not this year thou, too dry) & a grid of fantastic walking/cycling paths we really did like this city.  AND, somebody must have known we were coming because an excellent cafe/wine bar opened 4 months ago called The Provincial. Needless to say we coffee’d and lunched our way around Geraldton.  We could have stayed longer than our 4 days but with only 3 weeks to get to Perth we still have lots to see along the way. Also we can quickly make pigs of ourselves and get what Greg calls a “bit of condition” so we’ll head off tomorrow.

November 24 — Sunset Beach (Geraldton) to Greenough, 38.23 klms, Avg speed 14.2 kph, Cycling time 2.41 hrs; Total kms 17,968.56

A short ride today with the first 10 klms on cycle paths before we hit the Brand Highway.  Considering this is the only highway from Perth to Geraldton it wasn’t too life threatening but  we were pleased to get off & cycle into the Central Greenough Historical Village, Cafe & Visitor Centre.  11 stone buildings have been restored & are remnants of a once thriving community of pioneers who developed the area at the turn of the 19th century.  They were interesting to wander around & the Visitor Centre served a great coffee as well as telling us to go the back way to the S-Bend Caravan Park, only 4 klms away.  It’s a park under “new management” so we didn’t know what to expect but it was very pleasant with grassy sites, lots of shade, a camp kitchen with tables, a fridge & microwave where we sheltered from the blustery SW winds.  Still the sun shone, the birds sang & we could see the busy Brand Highway in the distance but couldn’t hear it so definitely no complaints from us staying here.

November 25 — Greenough to Dongara/Port Denison, 39.11 klms, Avg speed 12.7 kph, Cycling time 3.03 hrs; Total kms 18,007.67

Except for the last 2 klms, this ride was all along the Brand Highway, not particularly pleasant riding with a narrow shoulder & traffic that seemed to be racing by.  It was also a pretty slow ride battling winds again.  Dongara/Port Denison (pop 3,000) is just off the Highway is a rustic almost forgotten township famous for good catches of Western Rock Lobster & great windsurfing. We stopped for a coffee on our arrival at about 9.15am before heading to the Dongara/Denison Caravan Park to set up. The wind got worse and having put the tent up on our site we decided to move it half way through the day. It seems it’s always a toss up between trying to get some shade for the tent and shelter from the wind.

November 26 to 29 — Dongara/Port Denison.

A great spot by the ocean to have a few days off the bike with a couple of decent cafes, restaurants, cycle paths, walking trails, birdlife, sunsets & historic buildings.

November 30 — Dongara/Port Denison to Leeman, 87.19 klms, Avg speed 18.9 kph, Cycling time 4.35 hrs; Total kms 18,094.86

When the wind’s your friend (we had a slight tailwind) you can ride like Cadel Evans and we did today although I had to ask for a break after 70klms.  Greg....he’s not bothered about the breaks, he’s just happy to keep riding.  Because of our long ride we hit the road at 6am & only had to ride 17 klms along the Brand Highway before riding the scenic route via the Indian Ocean Drive, also much quieter as the big trucks stick to the former.  We rode past low scrub, lots of sand dunes, untidy, illegal fishing shacks & arrived at the Leeman Caravan Park before lunch.  Originally a small cray fishing village this delightful town boasts turquoise waters, white sandy beaches & offshore islands harbouring a great diversity of marine life.  A fishing fleet also traverses the oceans in search of western rock lobster, we saw a catch being whipped away to be sold overseas, unfortunately last year the WA Fisheries Department stopped the boats selling directly to the public....bummer! Accordingly we had Taco’s for dinner made with love by Greg in the camp kitchen while the permanent residents celebrated someone's birthday while smoking, coughing and hacking....noice.