Day 939 Thursday 9th May
Arriving in Darwin, hot and late due to the time difference of one and a half hours we took a camp ground described by an English couple at the gate as “should work a lot harder to gain some stars!!” Later we, and other guests agreed. The scrap metal dealer across the road was busy, and noisy in filling vertical containers with an enormous three pronged grab, which were wrong in thinking was an event that occurred three or four times a day, it was constant.
Day 940 Friday 10th May
We were dismayed to hear the early morning call was four chainsaws and a cherry picker warming up the the pre dawn gloom. While we are partial to tree sawing ourselves, we thought that this was a little early to be starting at a tourist camp where the inmates don’t have to wake that early. We had a swift breakfast using sign language to communicate with our fellow campers. At least it drowned out the noise of the scrap yard……
We beat a hasty retreat and spent the day sight seeing in the smallish grid system city. As it was easy to navigate, with no retracing our steps we walked most of the shopping town and a little of the CBD in four or so hours. The bus ride back was warm as the rattling air conditioning struggled to keep up with the heat of the day and the odour of the occupants of the vehicle…
Back at camp I asked the groundsman / handyman if there was a vice I could use to straighten a few tent pegs as even the steel ones we bought had been bent in the iron hard ground. “No” he replied curtly, “the tools are for me and my staff only”, not offering to carry out the ten minute task for me (like at many other camp grounds), he turned on his heel and left.
Day 941 Saturday 11th May
As Diane packed the last few items onto her bike and I sat on the ground pulling my boots on, the unhelpful handyman drove up and said we should have vacated our pitch ten minuets ago. As the park was half empty Diane and I rolled our eyes at each other and carried on without answering.
Riding the three hundred clicks to Kakadu National Park made for an easy day. The road now had very much changed from the desert sands and rock to green swampy land filled with blue gum trees, although the tar was still straight as an arrow.
We camped in a fantastic National Park run site with lots of shade and a fire pit with ample wood laying about. So we enjoyed our first bush camp fire.
While I was at the water tap Diane came over and quietly said “the fire is out of control, the leaves and scrub around the hearth are alight”! I quickly finished filling the container and stumbled as fast as I could over the tree roots and managed to put out the baby bush fire without too much fuss as we did not want to alarm our neighbours.
As we were now deep in the swamp land the humidity was fairly high so we slept trying not to move.
Day 942 Sunday 12th May
The National Park was home to the filming of the first Crocodile Dundee movie. The scenery was both stunning in its ruggedness and beautiful in its lush green undergrowth. We backtracked on our our road into the park to see Aboriginal rock art that we read was between two and twenty thousand years old. They had thought about where they were painting as it was done under the overhangs of rock and was protected from the wind and rain. The trail led us up to a plateau which gave a three sixty degree panoramic views of wetlands and steep red cliff faces covered with vegetation. It was a truly timeless landscape that had not altered for thousands of years, with only the sound of the wind for company you could feel the native spirits sitting next to you.
Back at the camp the mosquitoes came to enjoy supper with us, unfortunately we were supper!! We headed off to bed early to hide only to lie as still as possible and hope they don’t have a knife to get into the tent. Half an hour later the heavens opened and cleared the air of humidity but we dare not to open the door and provide supper for a million mozzies. A hot night passed with little sleep.
Day 943 Monday 13th May
In the cold light of an early morning we talked with a Chinese couple who wanted to stay another night but were evicted by the indigenous wild life. He said it drove him crazy, what with the little flies in the sunshine and mozzies by night, can’t say I really disagree. But we toughed it out.
Riding out from the tropical heat on a delightfully twisty road we passed and stopped to offer water to a cyclist heading the same direction as us. She gratefully accepted and told us excitedly that she was seventy five years of age and cycling around Australia. She has extensively toured Europe on her bicycle and was keen to hear of Africa and its pleasures. She asked where we were heading, Pine Creek was one hundred and fifty km away, she brightly said “I’ll be there tomorrow”! Bugger we thought, as we rode we commentated on the rises and falls in the road and how easily the bikes coped with them. Imagine having to pedal it? Give the lady credit…..
Having set camp at a very outback feeling backpackers we had a great evening with Jack and Dot. The bar filled with orange hi viz wearing mine workers sporting darker orange skin, stained by the red rock they worked to extract and send for processing, mainly in China. Mostly the guys sat quietly talking and looking very tired.
Day 944 Tuesday 14th May
We woke late and managed to say fair well to Jack and Dot who were heading north. As we would not see them on the road again we promised to stop by when we are in Melbourne.
We decided to stay another day at this laid back place and catch up with diaries / internet stuff and clothes washing.
Day 945 Wednesday 15th May
Determined to ‘do tourist stuff’ we took the short ride to Katherine Gorge, which was convenient as we did not leave Pine Creek till late morning…
After stocking up on a few veggies in town we were soon passing through more dramatic scenery and more windy twisty roads, rising slightly all the time.
The boat trip was the only option to see the gorge properly, we thought that cliff top walking would give us view but the terrain was too tough for walking and no paths along the ridge top existed. We did manage to find trail walking, it was a linear path with tracks off to the cliff tops, so we beat a hasty departure from camp to walk the six clicks of the shortest walk before the sun set. Looking out from the cliff top down the gorge on to blue water with a couple of tiny looking tour-boats leaving a white snail trail on the blue, we knew we had made a good choice in taking the tour as Katherine Gorge looked both dramatic and spectacular.
Back at camped we cooked tea with hundreds of fruit bats hanging in the branches of the gum trees, screeching loudly to their friends hanging out in neighbouring trees. I had never see big bats close up, and were they big, like water hanging in fat black leather bags. When they flew for the night the air was filled with leathery flapping wings, just like in the cheap scary movies!!
Day 946 Thursday 16th May
With our camp packed early and bikes parked ‘safely’ in the public car park we walked the seven hundred meters to the boat carrying our riding gear, boots and hats. Stepping onto the aluminium boat our guide said if we wished to leave our gear in their office we could, as the gorge is split into three navigable sections, with a short walk between each. Later we expressed our gratitude as it would have been real hassle in carrying it all.
The cruise was fantastic and as the pictures don’t really do it justice my ramblings certainly wont. Suffice to say some of the depths where the river is pushed into a vortices it was thirty five meters deep and fifteen years back it flooded and the level was nine meters above our heads.
We wild camped at a road stop area as were still trying to keep camping costs down, and we enjoy the solitude of it all, as camp grounds can be a little close pitched for our style, day after day.
Day 947 Friday 17th May
Again we had a short day and decided to stop the night at Daly Waters, strongly recommended to us by a couple at road rest area a few weeks ago, for its great nightly music and entertainment. The one horse ‘town’ boasted a museum, art gallery, gas station with a helicopter on its roof and a pub that competed with the museum in its collection of memorabilia of enough caps to make Abri very envious, and vehicle registration plates to make Dale follow suit. We took a heap of pictures as it was truly an outback experience. Alas the entertainment was not, in our humble opinion.
Day 949 Sunday 19th May
While we were in Darwin an advertisement took our attention, offering a three day tour to Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon for a very good price. As we are as far south we want to be for a while we thought it would be a change to be driven there and back, a decision we would later reflect on.
Arriving in Alice mid afternoon we found the tour shop and were told that the next group headed out tomorrow and there was room for two more on it. The mini coach could seat twenty, but all in we were a group of nine. Which was nice but our guide told us later they only make money at twelve or more.
As everything was included in the tour we packed a few clothes, bike boots as we have no walking boots, sandals and Diane’s flip-slop-flop shoes, (thongs here, caused a few raised eyebrows when we arrived in Oz).
Day 950 Monday 20th May
Realizing it was not going to get any lighter we stumbled out of the tent at five am, for a six am pick up. As Diane had packed I looked at the two bags and checked our gear, in the pre dawn gloom I managed to remove and not repack our towel, to be discovered that evening…
Being away from the bikes was akin to a fish out of water we struggled to think what we would need, would it be cold? Would we need our jackets? Thankfully we did remember our toothbrushes.
Greeting our fellow tour buddies on the bus our guide remarked how light we travelled, probably due to me unpacking and leaving behind what Diane had packed. Most of us dozed the first hour till we stopped at a camel riding farm where none of us took the challenge. With bladders emptied and water bottles filled we moved on to Uluru with a beautiful red sun rise behind us.
About an hour out of Yulara big fat rain drops hit the windscreen.
As we unpacked the trailer to have our lunch at our first camp the rain made talking a little problematic as it hammered on the tin roof. Our guide, Ben, said “it would be great at the rock what with the waterfalls and all”. Waterfalls? Soon enough we were under way again, off to the rock. An hour was spent looking at the Cultural Centre, where we could have spent all day. As the rain had now slowed to a steady downpour we set off on a section of the base walk, Ben took us to many parts where the waterfalls were spectacular, he was taking as many pictures as us tourists. When I asked him why as he was here three or four times a month, he said “it’s not often you see water on the rock, certainly not like this”. I walked in my sandals as I did not want to ruin my bike boots, Diane wore hers as they are on the way out. Ben left us to walk a six km section while he drove and would walk to meet us. Soon we were faced with streams of water heading out to wet the desert plants that flourish after rain. I was fairly wet so to the amusement of the others I gave Diane a pig-a-back across the mini rivers. Despite the rain we all had a great day and have very unique pictures of Uluru, not yer orange and red rock, but a purple-ish one with silver stripes of water rushing off it.
Back at base camp supper was soon served with help give by us to Ben, the chef. As it was still steady rain and our camp ground was awash we made the eating area our sleep area, even though tarpaulins had been hung it was still damp so we and a few others headed off to the bus to sleep.
Day 951 Tuesday 21st May
Ben had us up at five to be on the road by six am to go to Kata Tjuta. The rain had stopped but the sky was grey, so as we left the bus lots of rubbish bin liners were fashioned into non fashionable rain ware!!!
As the daylight arrived we set off on a seven km circular walk through the mountain range. The rock was the same as at Uluru and had been eroded into deep steep valleys which with time had become fairly covered with vegetation and trees. The paths of the walk had become rivers, so a fair bit of diversion was taken, and at one point on the return we became separated from the last of our group due to a call of nature and taking too many pictures. It was mostly due to a lady with a bright pink top on that we were able to find our way out, although Ben did wait for us at the fork to the car park. He told us of a fellow guide that had not waited there for one of his group, and a Chinese gentleman of a respectable age had missed the sign and headed off on another lap of the walk returning two and a half hours later!!!!
We headed back for lunch then packed for the three hundred km drive to Kings Canyon.
We past an area of good looking firewood which was required for tonight’s camp-fire oven cook out. Ben swung the mini coach and trailer to the left side of the verge and then performed a huge U turn driving over onto the right hand side. Diane and I were sat in the back and as we felt the bus slew down the slight incline we looked at teach other with eyes like saucers and said “it feels very wet”!! Sure enough we ground, well squelched to a halt. With all of us pushing we failed in pushing the bus out, even with the trailer un-hitched we still failed. While we all collected rocks and wood to ram in front of the tyres Ben dug down into the soft mud so the rocks could be laid level and not create a step up. With the new road built we all pushed as one person, with muddy, wet Ben at the helm revving the poor old engine flat out the bus moved forward , span the wheels even more and refused to budge. A four wheel drive, sixteen tonne tourist truck was flagged down, and after much searching by the crew they confessed they had no tow strap, neither did we but the poor guy that drove a four by four bakkie did have rope. Single handed this hero pulled us out. With wood collected we headed off again, just over an hour later, not too bad because we could have been spending the night there!
The rain which made Uluru impressive came close to making the slight incline to our camp ground impassable, the deep sand had turned into a slurry which we only got through by speed, even though the van fishtailed most of the way up we got there with the trailer still attached..
We made a fire and Ben cooked a great damper bread and rich gravy potatoes with herbs an onions. Us veg-heads tried the Roo but passed on the steak.
Our accommodation was tents tonight, all set up with BEDS in, although they were singles so soon we were asleep…
Day 952 Wednesday 22nd May
Bugger me we were up at five again and on the road to Kings Canyon forty five minuets later, in the dark, but dry.
Diane’s motorcycle boots were damp so she wore her thongs today, the lady in the office said we needed strong boots but as we had walked a lot in sandals and thongs on rough ground so we thought we would be OK.
The idea was to be near the top when the sun came up, the rock was the same sandstone as Uluru so the colours should be good.
At the start of our walk was a rock cut staircase of some four hundred steps, soon we had huffed and puffed to the start of the flat walking. The eight km were completed fairly quickly and we soon heading back for lunch and the journey back to Alice. Its difficult to describe the geology and different shapes so we hope the pictures will do it justice.
After two or so hours on the way back Ben did another of his famous ‘U’ turns, this time on firm ground, he had spotted a Thorny lizard in the middle of the road. Parking on the gravel, said lizard was recovered from it’s certain death sun bed and passed around like a baby by us gawking tourists. Apparently it is too cool for them now so that’s why it was on the tar warming up, we were privileged to have seen one.
Arrived back at camp at four and took much needed long hot showers, a change of clothes later we were walking into town for supper with our fellow tour goers. A good night was had and we weaved our way back in the small hours. Only having to climb the security gate as our key had been left safe in a pannier…..
Day 954 Friday 24th May
Talked with insurance company about the possibility of claiming for the repairs to Diane’s Honda suffered on our attempt of a little bit of Gibb River Road . The lady advised that maybe wait till we are back in Perth, but we decided to get one done here as Alice had a lot to offer the tourist, while we waited for a reply.
Lots of folks had advised us not to stop let alone spend time here as it was not known for its friendliness to incomers. We walked the two clicks into Alice for a bit of shopping and sight seeing. As with everywhere else we had stopped on our trip here we were ignored by the locals, certainly not given any grief!!!
Day 957 Monday 27th May
Took the Honda in for an insurance quote at local dealer. We bought the bike back then walked into town, which was going to become our main occupation here, but after sitting on bikes for so long it felt good to walk.
Day 959 Wednesday 29th May
Diane rang the insurance guys and was informed that the bike would be written off and collected from a place of her choice within seven days!!! Not the outcome we expected at all, we thought a full repair at best, or a compromise of parts supplied by them and a do it yourself job by us.
Day 960 Thursday 30th May
Spent a greater part of the day on the phone discussing the best option for keeping the bike as we were not going to let it go. The guy eventually said he would give us time to get back to Perth and start again from there.
Day 961 Friday 31st May
Rode the twenty km west of Alice to Simpson Gap, a river cut through the Mc.Donnell Ranges. Also we walked a path that climbed to a lookout point where good panoramic views over the lunar landscape could be had. We thought about hiring push bikes but as the day was in the thirties we took Diane’s bike.
Day 962 Saturday 1st June
Cooler day so we hired said push bikes and headed east to Emily Gap.
The information board told us the gap was named after Emily Burt, the wife of Adam George Burt, the second in command to the surveyor William Whitfield Mills in early eighteen seventy. Interesting to me personally as her maiden name was Fenn, my family name. Also Fenn Gap in Arriltyere was named after her, situated thirty km west of there. Even more of a coincidence the surveyor was called Mills, my paternal grandmothers family name….
Painted low close to the water line, when flooded, were a collection of Aboriginal pictures depicting the story of the caterpillars that formed the landscape there.
We cycled back to town and up to the Telegraph Station that was the middle of the continental telegraph line, run from Darwin to Adelaide in the early eighteen seventies. The Station was the start of Alice as a settlement even though it is three km out of town.
Day 963 Sunday 2nd June
Spent the afternoon at a Cultural Centre near the camp ground, in this precinct was the inconspicuous aviation museum. At first glance it looked to house a few old air-planes and worn out hard ware in a tin shed. But once inside I realized that the buildings were the old airport and the ‘planes were a varied mixture of the first flying doctor, John Flynn’s plane and a couple that had been flown from England here in the pioneering days of flight. Diane went to an art exhibition and left me there for hours reading the histories of these heroes and their crafts. I managed to spend an hour in the Central Museum of Australia before it closed.
Day 964 Monday 3rd June
Set an alarm for today as I fly to Perth to meet a friend of Chris and Jon who has a garage and is interested in talking about future employment for me.
Day 966 Wednesday 5th June
At last left Alice after a very productive two weeks and headed to Tennant Creek once again, where we had found an ideal lakeside camp for the night. The five hundred km ride was our comfortable limit, and riding the good two km dirt track into the camp at three pm was ideal. Not so ideal was the “No overnight stops allowed”. While I filled one of the water cans Diane found a free camp seventy clicks further down the road. Even after a short stop we always felt like we could ride another five hundred clicks, but the seventy would be just fine, meaning we would get to our camp at four, about as late as we would like. Pulling out back onto the highway I noticed the longer shadows and yellow sunlight, winter is defiantly on the way.
Three km down the road Diane overtook me and I started to gain speed to catch up, soon the total lack of power started that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Pulling over to the far side of the road onto a small verge I began to scratch my head as to what the problem could be. Soon discovered the fuel pump had failed. Thankfully I was carrying a spare, which when I packed it I thought it was a bit over kill, but here we are two and a half years later fitting it. Not having one would have given us a one to two weeks in town to while away as one was sourced and flown in. An hour later we were under-way again. Five thirty saw the tent up and supper cooking as the last of the good light failed.