Archive for March, 2010

Nothing like what you expect

MOUNT ISA   to NORMANTON

So how do you prepare for a 550 km, 5 day bike ride in Australia’s outback?  First, you break the ride into roughly equal sections, hopefully taking in a few rest areas, or at least somewhere to get water, for your overnight stops.  Next you pack your food; 5x spam, 5x tuna, 2kg rice, 2kg oats, 24x pita bread, 3x fruit cake, 3x Allen’s snakes, 5x dehydrated peas, 24x muesli bars, tomato sauce, 1kg Gatorade powder and plenty of tea!  When that’s loaded, and your bike now weighs 50-60kg, you can sit back and relax, rest assured the next 5 days will turn out nothing like what you expect.  This is cycle touring!

The ride to Normanton, promised to be the least exciting leg of our Oz trip – we were only going this way, for the sealed road to Cairns, and to avoid back tracking up the coast road.  But along this lonely stretch of highway, with only one town and a roadhouse, we met so many colourful characters, that the time and the kms just seemed to fly by.

In Cloncurry, we met an English builder who had seen our article in the Mount Isa paper.  Then Peter & Cheryl, who put us up at the Gilbert Park caravan park.  Then we accidently woke the staff at the Quamby Hotel – it was 10am, but seems it had been a big night at this “pub in the scrub”!  Then it was Lyle, travelling in his home-made camper, and Kurt returning from a holiday in Tasmania, at a roadside rest area.  Then Kevin & Vicky, the friendly managers at the Burke & Wills Roadhouse, who did everything possible to make our stay enjoyable.  Then Wendy, who invited us to stay at Waren Vale Station while filling up her 4WD.  Then at Waren Vale, it was Delia, the manager, and the work crew including, Luke, Joog, Digs and Jo. Amazingly, these folk didn’t even grumble when at 6am they had to take us, and our bikes, to the highway on quad bikes, as overnight rain had made the road impossible to cycle!  Finally, in Normanton, there was Patricia from the Gulfland Caravan Park, and literally taking the cake, Deb from the Purple Pub, who had baked Jess a surprise birthday cake!!  It’s an exhausting list; that really does show “outback” hospitality is hard to beat!!

For our rest day in Normanton, we did what everyone else does – fish.  With a new hand reel, a pack lunch and a lot of hope, we dangled our line of the Norman River bridge.  There were only two winners this day – Jess who hauled in 2 mighty cat fish; and that lucky “barra” that somehow managed to get away… he was this big – honest!!
We now head east, across the bottom of the Gulf Penninsula to Cairns – from the outback to the reef, and crossing over the Great Divide – it is sure to be a great ride.

Stay tuned and we wish a wonderful and safe Easter to you all!

Jules & Jess

The stunning Mount Isa to Cloncurry ride at sunrise

 

Graham the toilet frog in Cloncurry

 

The only thing in Quamby - is a pub!

 

Gulf Savannah is not the most exciting country

 

But this was interesting - termite mounds that look like a cemetery

 

The Burke & Wills - unfortunately not there when those chaps passed through

 

The view, when the stony country drops into the black soil plains (100km from the Gulf)

 

Luke and Joog on Waren Vale Station - getting our bikes back to the highway

 

Incredible how quickly the roads get flooded up here

 

The birthday girl, enjoying a meal (not out of a tin) !

 

Deb even baked a suprise birthday cake !!

 

Jess the winner - hauling in her catfish!

 

A replica of the largest croc ever shot... and by a lady too!

 

The barra that got away. He was this big - honest !

Every day is a long straight road

 

TENNANT CREEK to MOUNT ISA

The only good thing about getting up at 4 AM is that you get to see the sunrise, and over the grassy plains of the Barkly Tableland – that’s magical!  We are up this early to beat the wind.  The riding here is hard enough – six days of dead straight road, unbearable heat, flies that are even worse, and only one roadhouse and town along the way to keep you motivated.  If you can get a few hours “wind free” it is worth it.  After that experience, it’s no wonder we liked Mount Isa!

Mount Isa is ‘real’ mining town – you can’t forget it either, as the mine is right in the centre!  The Mount Isa Mine is like an ‘iceberg’ what you can see on the surface, is only a small part – it goes down 2 km and has a tunnel network stretching over 1,000 kms – that is 10 days cycling for us !!!

It feels like a mining town too – prosperous, hard working and welcoming to all.  It’s been over 80 years since, John Campbell Miles, found lead in the surrounding ochre-red hills, but I reckon, he’d be proud to see that the pioneering spirit is still alive and well here today!  It’s a hard place not to like.

Did you know, Mount Isa is one of the biggest cities in the world? Well, sort of… Camooweal, 188km to the west, is administered by the Mount Isa City Council, which technically makes the city area 41,000 sq kms and the stretch of the Barkly Highway between the two, the longest main street!

It’s no surprise that such a ‘big’ town should have a ‘big’ school.  We visited the Mount Isa School of the Air to learn how kids on remote stations receive an education.  Imagine your teacher giving lessons over the radio, while you and your class mates sit scattered hundreds of kms away!  The school has 220 children enrolled, from 150 families in Prep to year 10, and covers roughly a quarter of QLD!  It’s proof, there are no problems in life, only challenges – and the School of the Air, is a great example of overcoming the challenge of making education a reality for isolated kids!

Now what happens if you get sick on a remote outback station? Thankfully, there is the Royal Flying Doctor Service and we gave the Mount Isa base a visit to learn more.  These doctors are busy – doing 15,000 visits a year, across 550,000 sq kms – now that really is flying!  Imagine, if you’re hurt, and in the middle of nowhere, then the lights of the Flying Doctor plane appearing over the horizon, must surely feel like an angel has arrived.  It’s a wonderful service, an Aussie icon, and another great example of over coming the challenge of isolation.  The live up to their motto – The Furthest Corner.  The Finest Care!

We’d also like to thank Neil, Billy & Jenny at the Moondarra Campground for putting us up while in town, and being the perfect hosts.  It’s been great having a real bed for a few nights!

From Mount Isa, we now cycle through the hills to Cloncurry, then north to Normanton in the Gulf of Carpentaria.  It’ll be more straight roads, plenty of flies, one road house and one town.  Are we there yet??

Enjoy the ride!

Jules & Jess

Kids, check out the following websites to learn more;

http://www.mtisasde.eq.edu.au/touristInfo.html

http://www.flyingdoctor.org.au/About-Us/Our-History/

Cycling from 4 AM to beat the wind

 

You get to see the sun rise

 

And on the Barkly - that's magical!

 

Then the head winds start (we wish they were cross winds!)

 

The mental challenge of 6 days of this, is the hardest part

 

A shady rest stop (can you count the flies? - about 1 million!)

 

A windmill means water, and is always a good thing to see

 

Dinner time ... hmm looks alot like last night?

 

Our camp for the night, luckily sheltered from the rain

 

Are we there yet?

 

Yeah baby! Back in QLD ... a long way from Argentina !!

 

Mount Isa a real mining town - and there it is, right in the middle!

 

With Tim Moes (Principal) chatting with the School of the Air kids about our ride

 

With Royal Flying Doctors, Capt Martin Hurst and Jeni Sloan from the Mount Isa base

 

Getting a closer look at mining life on the Hard Time mine tour

The long paddock

 

KATHERINE to TENNANT CREEK

There is not much, except for cattle stations and the occasional roadhouse on the 660km stretch of highway between Katherine and Tennant Creek.  It truly feels, just like one “long” paddock !

To get a closer look at station life, we caught up with Danie Luttig who showed us around Mataranka Cattle Station.  Mataranka is no hobby farm – it 770 sq km and holds up to 5,000 head of cattle.  That’s bigger than some of the countries we cycled in Europe!!

The station is managed by Charles Darwin University, and is where young stock men and women come to hone their skills before moving onto other stations.  Being a “jack (or jill) -aroo” is a hard but rewarding job.  In the dry season, when the mustering is done, you can be out for weeks rounding up the cattle! But it’s a lot of fun too – everyone lives together on the station, and “Chook” (the station cook) make sure no one goes hungry!

The Stuart Highway (the road we followed from Katherine), roughly traces the route John McDouall Stuart took in the late 1850s, when he trekked up from Adelaide, surveying a path for the Overland Telegraph Line.

We think travelling by bike, is about as close as you can get to being an overland explorer today.  You can easily relate to the hardships they must have faced –heat, flies, monotony of the scenery, and the constant search for water etc.  Riding along, we could almost hear one of Stuart’s men saying “John, we haven’t seen anyone for days, we are hungry and our feet hurt –are we there yet !?”

But like Stuart and his men, we got there eventually…

From Tennant Creek, we now turn east, across the Barkly Tablelands to Mount Isa.  It is 600 km away, we’ll have a strong headwind, and there will be only two opportunities for a cold drink along the way.  We’d love to say it will be fun – but that would be a lie.  Wish us luck.

Stay tuned and enjoy the ride!

Jules & Jess

With Danie Luttig and "the boys". Mataranka Station.

 

Cattle in the yards

 

Station camp at sunset

 

"Chook" the station cook

 

Look no hook! Ella hand feeding barramundi, Mataranka.

 

My favourite pastime - fixing punctures roadside.

 

40 degress and rising - even the roadmarkers are starting to melt!

 

Jess cooling off in the Daly Waters Roadhouse Pub

 

This is what it's like - for 660 kms !

 

Our camp at sunset, just off the Stuart Highway

 

Early morning road train thundering down the Barkly Stock Route.

 

Cyclists - all the way out here? These German guys must be crazy!

 

Views across the Barkly Tableland - this is our next challenge!

 

Are we there yet ? Tennant Creek, 50kms to go.

 

The Threeways - turn left if your a Queenslander !!

Dreamin’ country

DARWIN to KATHERINE (via KAKADU NATIONAL PARK)

It’s when you start “doing” something that you realise just how hot it is up here. Your sweat even sweats when you’re cycling! For six days, there hasn’t been a moment when we’ve been dry – now that’s gross, huh?

Leaving Darwin, it didn’t take long to work out the “road train” is king of the highway and you had better give them plenty of room. Towing four trailers, these trucks roar past, and if you get too close – suck you in towards them! It definitely keeps you on your toes.

By chance, while looking for a place to put up our tent, we bumped into territory legend, Terry Baldwin. He has lived around here for over 50 years and is about as “fair dinkum” as you’ll ever get. We spent a memorable night, sitting around the table in his “bush camp” style home, listening to tales of crocodiles, buffalo, cattle and adventure. Terry, you are what makes our country great – good luck with the Buffalo Industry Hall of Fame!

Kakadu National Park is wild and stunning. For three days, we cycled through its wetlands – over rivers filled with crocs, past sacred aboriginal sites, all the while, listening to the constant call of birds, swatting flies by day and mozzies by night. If there is ever a reason to take climate change seriously – then the risk of losing a place like this must surely be it.

After Kakadu, we passed through the historic gold mining town of Pine Creek. There is still gold to be found here, as we discovered, finding a half buried $2 coin on the roadside out of town!

Now in Katherine, we are having a rest day before we continue south along the Stuart Highway to Tennant Creek.

Stay tuned and enjoy the ride!

Jules & Jess

 

Want to learn more? Then check out the link below;

http://www.environment.gov.au/parks/kakadu/

On the road to Kakadu !

 

Most roads close up here in the Wet Season

 

Now that's a big croc !!

 

Road Trains. When they pass you - get out of their way !

 

Heading into the "wetlands"

 

View from Beatrice Hill. See the rain falling in the distance.

 

With Territory legend, Terry Baldwin

 

You can't swim in the water here !

 

Tammy "in her office" ! The Bark Hutt Inn, Arnhem Highway.

 

Welcome to Kakadu !!

 

Stunning wetlands

 

Nice but deadly rivers

 

Nouralangie Rock. A sacred aboriginal site and art gallery.

 

Immitating the rock art

 

This is Australia and we love it !

 

A "classic" billabong

 

Jess enjoying "a very small" bit of shade

 

Termites the "carpet cleaners" of the bush

 

An historic outback windmill in Pine Creek

 

Sunrise at our campsite on the Copperfield Dam

 

Cattle Country. Katherine, NT

“This is Darwin, luv!”

DARWIN

Dazed and bleary eyed, we passed through the terminal and began building our bikes outside.  The air smells familiar – it’s good to be back in Australia. Twice we have locals approach us, and offer a place for us to stay.  It’s the wet season, and it’s pouring so we take up the offer.  Welcome to Darwin!

Darwin is an interesting mix and grows on you easily.  It is a modern capital, but with a distinctive frontier feel about it.  Twice it has been flattened – first by the Japanese in WWII, then by Cyclone Tracey in 1974.  Combine that with suffocating heat, waterways filled with crocs, and the constant reminder of isolation and you can start to appreciate how resilient and independent the locals are.  They also tell it like it is.  As we found out, fumbling around trying to insert our credit card in the machine at the supermarket. “This is Darwin, luv – swipe it”.

After a brief tour of the major sites, we headed to the ABC radio station to share our story.  A word of advice, you will never win trying to introduce your partner “boxing style”!  Jokes aside, it was a great experience and we thank Leon Compton for having us on his show.  You can listen to the reply on our Media page if you are interested.

Next we met crocodile guru, Tom Nichols, of Darwin’s Crocodile Management Program.  His team keep troublesome crocs out of Darwin’s waterways and teach locals how to be “Croc Safe”.  They trapped and removed over 250 crocodiles last year!  We patted a recently caught “saltie” and secretly hoped this would be as close as we ever come to one again.

We rounded out our stay, having dinner with Greg & Kathy, whom we met while fixing a puncture in Mitchell Street.  A retired couple they have cycled to Darwin from Sydney, and are now making preparations for the journey on to Western Australia!  It was a great dinner, and nice to realise we aren’t the only crazy people up here on bikes!

From Darwin, we head across to Kakadu National Park, then down the Stuart Highway to Katherine.

Stay tuned and enjoy the ride!

Jules & Jess

 

Want to learn more?  Then check out the link below;

http://www.nt.gov.au/nreta/wildlife/becrocwise/index.html

4 AM putting the bikes together outside Darwin airport

 

Welcome to Darwin!

 

Thanks for letting us stay in your shop Phil !

 

Darwin - an interesting mix of capital and frontier town

 

Surf's Up! Darwin waterfront precinct

 

"The Wet Season" Storm clouds brewing over Darwin Harbour

 

"Sweetheart" The heavy weight king of the billabong!

 

Up close, with 5.1m and 780kg of crocodile!

 

Invasion fears, after the bombing of Darwin during WWII

 

A WWII gun embattlement on Darwin's shorefront

 

Jess "live" on ABC Radio Darwin

 

With Tom Nichols and a "croc trap"

 

Jess patting a "Saltie" !

 

Sunsets here are amazing!

 

Magnum's for dessert !! Dinner with Greg & Kathy before leaving.