20 August – 6 September 2015
This section covers the remaining 430k from Katherine to Darwin including my 12 days stay with Sally, Allan and family in Coolalinga 30k before Darwin as well two daytrips to Darwin. With the 4,000k biking from Perth to Katherine my Australian adventure ended up being 13,800k and my preliminary trip total to 36,000k.
When I rode into Katherine Thursday morning I expected to ride out the same day. Sally – that would host me in Darwin – said she would try to set me up, but I hadn’t heard from her, so I assumed I didn’t work out. At the visitor center I got a map and some information about the sights up to Darwin. I unsuccessfully tried to use their one hour free wifi – they even called somebody to boot the router which didn’t help. Neither did it work the 2-3 other places in town I tried. Instead I stocked up, had lunch and sent Sally a text that I was heading north. She responded quickly with a contact in Katherine – she had just lost my number. I hesitated a little calling as I was a day early and it was very short notice but there was all to win and nothing to loose. No problem – Sandy was at work but had her mother-in-law Pam call me with directions and when I got there she offered me to stay her guest room (she lived just across the street). In the afternoon I had a shower and tuned the bike for the last stretch and in the evening I had dinner with Sandy an family.
I was mentally exhausted, and therefore keen to get the bike trip over with, but Pam insisted I should go and see Katherine Gorge – I could even borrow her car. I don’t like automatics and instead decided to stay another night and bike there in the morning – 80k but without the luggage it should be fairly easy. I rode out early morning – flat and calm the first half and then rolling hills into the NE headwind so it took 1 ¼ hour on the bumpy road. People had told me about one lookout but it turned out there were several so I hiked around for 4 hours on the very hot day, talking to many different people and having lunch at one of the viewpoints – being used to the helmet I had forgotten my cap and got a little burned. Riding back mid afternoon I faced a W/SW (!) headwind – only about 15 k/h but still. If that was a pattern it might be helpful riding north to Darwin. I spent the afternoon getting a shower (wow - 2 in 2 days!) and get ready for an early departure and in the evening Pam cooked us all a lovely dinner.
Everybody had highly recommended Liechtfield National Park but it would be a 120 kilometres detour just to see the closest falls – instead I decided to do Edith and Robin Falls being closer to the highway. I left at 8.30 riding 45k to the Edith Falls turnoff – rolling hills and NE headwind on a terrible road without much shoulder making it dangerous with the dense and heavy traffic. 20k more rolling hills to Edith Falls where I again met Andy who stored my stuff in his car while I did a short hike up to the fall and pools where I had lunch. I met Don and Jessica who kindly offered me dinner if I camped by “their” spot just off the highway, so I got my stuff from Andy and rode up there (again into a SW afternoon wind) finding a camp spot in the bush nearby – nice dinner and great conversation until 22.45 which was unusually late for me.
It was a humid morning making me sweat just packing – so the early wind was welcome though I knew I had to face it shortly after. I was very warm so the 30-40 k/h headwind felt nice, which was more than I could say for the riding. No shoulder so I had to be on the road and hope for the best on this busy highway with lots of heavy traffic. Many times the roadtrains ran me off the road but other times I couldn’t get off the road because there was a 10-15 cm edge from the pavement to the gravel. Several times they squeezed by with oncoming traffic and a number of times they came unnecessarily close without oncoming traffic. Three times I could have touched the roadtrain so they could only be 15-20 cm from my rear pannier – they might be good drivers but nobody has that much control over the rear of a swerving a 53.5 meter roadtrain. Interesting experience just sitting there holding tight and hoping for the best while the roadtrain passes by – it takes a while and feels like forever. I had 12-15 incidents in a few hours so for once I wasn’t sure how much longer I would be immortal. It seemed like a conspiracy – a last attempt to prevent me from getting to Darwin. With very reckless driving I flick the “bird” in disapproval and until this day it had only happened around 5 times in Australia. That number multiplied many times on this stretch of road, which I consider the most dangerous in Australia – not because of the road itself – but because of the drivers. After 50k of rolling hills I had an hour’s rest in Pine Creek where I stocked up water before getting back on the road. Another 32k of rolling hills and reckless truck drivers to Emerald Springs were I had a - much needed - long lunchbreak waiting for the wind to turn SW. It never happened so I headed out and did another 20k and camped in a scorched area just outside Hayes Creek.
Another humid morning and early wind. Two “close calls” on the 5k to Hayes Creek where I stocked up water and 6k later I got off the highway to ride a backroad to Robin Falls. A bit tough riding with the constant rolling hills (more often 5-8% and occasionally double digit) but at least I was off the horrible highway - only a few vehicles on this very cosy, narrow, winding road. It was even more bumpy/washing board than the highway so I constantly braked to keep speed below 10-15 k/h and often I had to stand in the pedals to minimise strain on the rear of the bike. Riding W I had a sidewind for 25k before the road turned N into the strong wind the remaining 30k to Robin Falls – in this case the wind didn’t matter much as I couldn’t go fast anyway. My initial idea had been to continue to make the last day to Darwin easier, but it was a beautiful spot with a lovely little creek running next to it, so I decided to camp even though it was very early – a nice camp spot for my last night out in Australia. In the afternoon I did a short walk to the falls (very little water this time of year), had a refreshing hour-long soak in the creek while having lunch and then reading in the mosquito net keeping the annoying flies away. Except for some locals hearing loud music while they had an hour’s soak, it was very quiet and the running creek very calming. After sunset it was still very warm and humid so I stayed under the net to read for a couple of hours hoping not too many scorpions, snakes, spiders etc. would pay me a visit.
I was an overcast morning before I headed out at 8.30 for what turned out to be a very representative day for my trip from Perth. Rolling hills into Adelaide River where I got hold of Sally to notify her of my arrival later in the day. Then long gradual hills before it flattened out a bit the last kilometres to Darwin, or rather Coolalinga 30k before, where I would stay with Sally and her family. There were a few short decent stretches of road but mostly it was terrible - bumpy/washing board including the new stoned sections were I was showered in sand and stones. All 100k I battled a 30-40 k/h headwind, which was about the daily average since I left Perth. To be representative something had to break and it was my camera that finally stopped working - fortunately I was prepared and had a spare camera handy. I can only repeat myself – I can’t recommend buying Panasonic Lumix cameras. As the zooms have become bigger, the quality have declined – the first model I had lasted many years and took 25,000 pictures while this one lasted 10 months and only took 7,000 pictures. I was positively surprised that the bike made it all the way to Darwin without many more problems. Being patched with gorilla tape and cable ties on both sides at the rear rack it seemed likely that it would also break at the top, which properly would have been impossible to fix – however, the only thing that broke off was one of the cross supporters and on this last day it didn’t matter much.
Sally is the daughter of some people who are good friends with Barry and Heather that I met shortly on the Nullarbor when they invited me for coffee and biscuits in their caravan. It’s a weak connection but Sally’s been very accommodating and helpful from the first time she wrote me in Perth offering to send me bike parts if needed, receiving my packages with spare stuff, etc. Still I didn’t know how long I could stay and 11 days until my flight to Singapore seemed a lot to ask for. But it was no problem with this lovely, easy-going family (husband Allan and their kids Jack, Patrick and Sarah) and I gratefully accepted. We had dinner together the first nights but I didn’t want to impose to much so I cooked for myself in the guesthouse the remaining days. I had my own room in the guesthouse which was particularly pleasant as it got more humid by the day – to cool the room down before sleeping was a huge treat.
I arrived in the middle of the event of the year. They are deeply involved in sprintcar racing (Allan was Australian champion and is now retired) so a lot of friends still racing stayed on the property in their trucks and caravans always working on the cars. I didn’t know anything about this sport so it was interesting to be around all these passionate people. Sprintcar is the 4-wheel equivalent to what we in Europe call speedway (on a motorbike) and they even refer to it as speedway – like in speedway no gears so a lot of power (over 700 hp) is needed to move the vehicle. The first weekend they competed for the Northern Territory title and the following weekend (as I left) for the Australian title, so there were people around the whole time. I went to see the Northern Territory final providing great racing and a few crashes.
Otherwise, most of time went with practicalities getting ready to leave Australia to go to Singapore, getting in touch with family and friends after 7 weeks from civilisation, helped out a little in the garden and not least updating my website. I also did two half day sightseeing trips to Darwin. The first time I rode along the coast from Eastern Point to Cullen Bay on the way visiting the Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory - it’s properly not a popular viewpoint but to me most of the aboriginal art is childish and probably wouldn’t be in a museum if it wasn’t aboriginal; it’s a big money machine. The second time I continued from Cullen Bay down the coast to downtown Darwin through the Bicentennial Park and the Waterfront. The coastal ride was nice but Darwin itself was not very interesting, mostly because nothing exists from before 1974 when cyclone Tracy slammed the town – only a few houses were left standing.
What a privileged and great finish of my 10 months trip around Australia.