September 2010

September 15 — After having a wonderful time in the UK, albeit their coldest August in 17 years, we arrived back to a very wet & soggy Karratha, most unusual for this time of the year.  Tomorrow we finally leave this mining town and for the next 3 weeks will be cycling through Millstream & Karijini National Parks making our way to Exmouth.  Internet access will be limited during this time.

September 16 - Karratha to Bush Camp, 66.62 klms, Avg speed 11.5 kph, Cycling time 5.45 hrs; Total kms 15,989.11

What a contrast, a few weeks ago we were walking through the lush, green Yorkshire Dales and now we’re cycling through dry, arid, rolling Spinifex hills with little shade, blustery headwinds, panniers bulging with a week’s supply of food & waistlines bulging too—it wasn’t a good day. Having cycled a mere 10 kilometres we stopped at a Roadhouse for a cup of coffee. Then we set off to climb to Western Australia’s highest town, it’s a long time since we’ve done any hill climbs and the pressure was on. There was not a lot to look at on the way other than the long iron ore trains making their way either to port or back to the mines. We did see two pussy cats though and they didn’t look hungry so we think they were feasting on the native birds here. However for one pussy cat the feasting is over, he/she was having the big sleep in the middle of the road, yuk! We camped in a dry river bed to the squawk of the local Corellas and the toot of the ever present iron ore trains going all night. We’re back on our cycling diet of de-hy food, processed cheese, tinned ham, black tea and porridge. Gone for a while are the cold beers, fresh fruit, bread, vegetables and good coffee, so no doubt we’ll lose some of the condition we picked up in England. Day one back on the saddle and we weren’t feeling too bad.

September 17 - Bush Camp to Millstream Chichester National Park, 72.97 klms, Avg speed 10.3 kph, Cycling time 7.04 hrs; Total kms 16,062.08

Slow going again today after an early start we again faced horrendous head/side winds again, I didn’t think we would make it to our camp site but once we changed direction towards to park we had more favourable winds and arrived late pm after 7 hours of peddling. Just to really make our day, we can kiss the sealed tar roads goodbye for another few hundred kilometres until we’re closer to the town of Tom Price. Luckily we have a day of rest tomorrow. Greg put the tent up in the wind and we retreated to the well equipped campers kitchen in the vain hope of escaping the wind. The only time we did escape the wind was when we both piled into the drop dunnies to have a shower. Greg would rig up our shower bag in the corner so we could both have a tub and try and wash away the dust. Not the most pleasant of bath rooms, but needs must.

September 18 - Millstream Chichester National Park

Crikey, it was windy today, at 9am winds from the E at 35kpm with wind gusts of 52 kph, thank goodness we were having a day’s rest.  This beautiful park covers more that 200,000 hectares and is a landscape of spectacular escarpments & winding tree-lined watercourses. In contrast there is the lush oasis of the Millstream wetlands, the water that feeds the oasis springs from an aquifer estimated to be 2,000 square kilometres.  The arid-land plants & animals respond dramatically to infrequent rainfall, the wetlands supporting many plants, bird & insect species.  The area was once an active pastoral station for more than 100 years running 50,000 head of sheep, sadly decimated by the dingos.

September 19 - Millstream National Park to Bush Camp, 56.13 klms, Avg speed 9.4 kph, Cycling time 5.57 hrs; Total kms 16,118.21

The blustery winds that have been with us since Karratha are still in force with the same strength as yesterday so it’s going to be another mentally challenging ride.  Greg struggled today, which is unusual for him although he is carrying an additional 14 litres of water & a new, slightly heavier tent.  After 6 hours of tough cycling we disappeared down a track lined with electricity pylons & set up camp.  We were both covered in red dust from the usual, inconsiderate 4WD’s so the restorative powers of a bush shower & endless cups of tea worked wonders.  The wind howled during the night and we tried to sleep with the uncomfortable thought that we’d be pushing against the wind on a gravel road, not too much fun in store....

September 20 - Bush Camp to Mount Florance Station, 35.06 klms, Avg speed 7.4 kph, Cycling time 4.42 hrs; Total kms 16,163.27

Now, I’ve had it with these headwinds, all morning we battled ENE winds of 35 kph, with gusts of 56 kph, at one stage I was riding at a snail’s pace of 4 kph &  after 4.5 hours had only covered 35 klms with another 10 klms to ride to Mt. Florance Station.  We were just about to have lunch under the only shady tree in sight preparing to battle the last stretch when a miracle happened....the neighbour of Mt. Florance Station (Kim) who’d previously stopped to have a chat (he was heading in the opposite direction) reappeared so we loaded our panniers & bikes in the back of his ute & he drove us to our campsite at Mt. Florance Station.  Thank you Kim, we’ve added you to our “hero of the day” list. We ensconced ourselves at Mt Florance taking full advantage of the facilities.  Green grass under large shady trees to put our tent on, warm showers, a shelter from the howling gale, tables to sit at and prepare food, chairs with backs to rest weary bones and, much to Greg’s delight, the occasional ABC radio signal to keep in touch with the world. We slept soundly despite the bloody wind.

September 21 - Mount Florance Station

Our camp site was great with lush, green grass, shady trees, hot showers & flushing toilets while being surrounded by the drought affected 300,000 + hectares of Mt. Florance Station.  The owners, Robyn & Tony, greeted us warmly & Robyn finally got rid of our food parcel that we had sent her in July.  From the Station our plan over the next week was to ride 75 klms to Hamersley Gorge, followed by 75 klms to Karijini National Park (another food parcel to be collected), 50 klms to Dales Gorge then 108 klms to Tom Price.  With the wind still howling around us we jumped at the opportunity to ask Robyn if we could get a lift with her to Tom Price, she was going there the next day & kindly offered to take us —YIPPEE!!

September 22 to 28 - Tom Price (pop. 6,500)

The town is located approx. 1600 north of Perth & is 747 metres above sea level making it the highest town in WA.  The town was named after Thomas Moore Price, who worked for the American company, Kaiser Steel.  He arrived in the area in the early 1960’s to appraise deposits of ore & played a major role in lobbying the Governments to allow mining to proceed & for the ore to be exported.  In Sept. 1962 he returned to America & sadly died from a heart attack, at the age of 71, only 2 hours after being advised of the very rich ore deposit discovered on the mountain here.  In recognition of his efforts the town & mountain have been named after him.  Tom Price is the gateway to the Karijini National Park & its spectacular gorges so we’re going to base ourselves here for a week, by the time we leave we now hope the strong winds are still blowing in the same direction as we’ll now heading west to Exmouth so they’d be perfect!

Wow! We took a tour to Karijini with Pilbara Gorge Tours for two reasons, 1) we wanted to see Karijini National Park given our plans had changed, & 2) we needed to pick up a 9kg food parcel we’d sent to the Eco Resort within the park. We were picked up by Jeff from the caravan park with a bunch of other people from the caravan park. First stop was Dales Gorge which was one of the places we had intended to camp for a few days prior to arriving in Tom Price before the head winds hit. This deep gorge is full of water which seeps from the bed rock. You can swim in it but it was a long way down and we needed to move on. Next was the Karijini Visitors Centre which apart from being a beautiful building is a mine of information about the geology, flora, fauna and Aboriginal inhabitants. The afternoon was spent visiting the other side (western) of the park including Joffre, Hancock, Red and Weano gorges which were all different but equally spectacular. Jeff kindly stopped the bus at the Eco Resort so we could pick up our food parcel before we headed back to Tom Price just as the sun was setting. A fantastic day with a great group of people.

Caravan parks are usually full of people from all over the country doing all sorts of work. The lady doing housekeeping and cleaning amongst a whole stack of other jobs asked us if we wanted a lift up to the top of Mount Nameless (yeah, that’s its name) to see the view and watch the sunset. We both jumped at the offer so Judy picked us up in her 4wd and we made the slow and steep climb to the top. Judy had very thoughtfully packed three chairs, a table and a whole stack of nibbles which went down a treat with our bottle of bubbly and  a few beers. Mt Nameless looks over the town of Tom Price, the Rio Tinto iron ore mine and the vast landscape further on. We had a quick walk around to take in the view and then settled down to slurp and sip the sunset down before making the slow decent back to camp. What a great way to spend a few hours, thanks Judy we had a ball.

No visit to a mining town is complete without a mine tour and our visit to Tom Price would be the same. We hoped on the bus while Bob the (no, not builder) bus driver took us through the Rio Tinto Tom Price open cut mine. Everything is big. Big signs, big trucks, big holes, big tyres, big crushers, train loader, fuel tanks and so on, all made possible by big work forces paid big pay packets. There ain’t nothing subtle about the mining process.

We’re keeping a keen eye on the forecast winds for our planned departure on Wednesday the 29th. The temperatures are rising and we’re currently sitting in 37 degree heat with almost no humidity at 6%. Great beer drinking weather, but we both know that little luxury will be one of the first to go when we leave.

September 29 - Tom Price to Beasley River Rest Area to Cheela Plains Station, 130.0 klms, Avg speed 7.4 kph, Cycling time 0.00 hrs; Total kms 16,163.27 (130 klms not included).

One of the fastest rides we’ve ever done covering 130 klms in under 2 hours!  Due to the extreme heat & windy conditions, our neighbour at the Caravan Park, Gil, kindly offered to drop some water for us at our rest stop for the night at Beasley River.  Gil then decided he wanted to drive us there so Horsey, Crazy Ruby, panniers, excess water & 2 happy cyclists piled into Gil’s ute at 7.00am & by 9.00am we’d reached our destination.  Gil had also given us 4 icy cold beers because as he said it was too hot to be without cold beers. He’s a good man is our mate Gil and we were very appreciative of his generosity. The Beasley River Rest Area sounds quite romantic, however, it was a hot, dry, dusty place with not a drop of water in sight, luckily it had some large gum trees providing shade from the sweltering sun.  The RA also had some dunnies so here I was sitting on the loo reading a note stuck on the inside door addressed to us!!  The note told us to call into Cheela Plains Station, 2.5 klms up the road, where there was a message about Peter & Maureen (Mo) who we’d met a couple of days previously & who we’d heard had subsequently rolled their car & caravan but miraculously walked away with few injuries.  Greg rode up to the Station while I stayed behind to guard our stuff and he returned shortly afterwards to say we’d been offered   accommodation at Cheela Plains with swimming pool & an air conditioned room....yeehaa!  With the by now warm beers loaded we arrived at Cheela Plains Station, beautifully located in the hills of the Pilbara & a stunning homestead cleverly made out of steel shipping containers ( we are still in cyclone alley).  Adrian & Ester were house sitting the Station for a couple of months & they went to see if they could help Peter & Mo when they heard about their accident a few klms away.  In the end Peter & Mo, Mo’s sister & brother in law & friends Shirley & Charles all stayed at Cheela Plains for several days recovering from the shock of the accident.  We’d met them all at Tom Price Caravan Park & they wanted to get a message to us about the accident so Ester came up with the brilliant idea of the toilet note (no mobile reception in the area).  Ester & Adrian then kindly invited us to stay & we caught up on the events of the accident while we lazed in the pool & chatted around the dinner table drinking our very cold beers thanks to their large freezer. Dinner was a real mixture of what I had prepared in Tom Price and what Ester had in both her pantry and vege patch. Chilli Con-carne, salad and rice. We went to bed early as we wanted to be on the road by 5.30am to beat the heat and wind, or so we thought...

September 30 - Beasley River Rest Area to House Creek Rest Area, 116.02 klms, Avg speed 12.9 kph, Cycling time 8.58 hrs; Total kms 16,279.29

An horrendous day, probably one of our worst riding days.  We left Cheela Plains at 5.30am as we had a long ride ahead, the day was hot ( Greg reckons about 40 degrees) with no cloud cover as we battled warm headwinds for most of the ride.  We were carrying plenty of water but with parched mouths from the winds & warm water to drink it was virtually impossible to quench your thirst.  When we spotted a tree with shade we rested both not feeling hungry by lunchtime, the heat had zapped our appetites away but we forced some tinned leg ham & tomatoes down our throats, by 2.30pm we still had 35klms to cycle.  It was one of those days when you wished a car would stop & offer you an icy cold drink—none of them did though.  A few klms from our destination Greg had to stop to lay down, his belly was awash with so much liquid he’d drunk during the day.  By 5.30pm we finally arrived at the House Creek Rest Area, took over the one & only spare table & had more liquid to drink, lots of cup of sweetened tea & miso soup.  Greg’s tummy finally said it had had enough of all this liquid & forced it all up!  After that Greg felt much better & he set up camp under some beautiful gum trees while I cooked Chicken Rendang for dinner.  We thought we’d sleep like logs but had a restless night as we had to get up early again tomorrow.