Published on August 14, 2019 at 9:00 AM
Published on August 14, 2019 at 9:00 AM
Do you know “Border Security”? It is one of Harry’s mother’s favorite programs. Well, now we are part of the spectacle ourselves: we walk into a room with a number of unpacking tables and officers in uniform and with plastic gloves peeping into all kinds of bags. We look around, and glad fully TV cameras are not there. Soon it’s our turn and a relaxed officer is alarmed by the way we came to Australia: on a bicycle, or as they say here: a pushbike. The wheels of the bicycles are taken out of the box and the officer picks up some remaining dirt from the grooves of the tires. The bikes have been in the shower in Bali and therefore pass the test. He then asks if we also have a tent. Yes we have, although it has not been used much in Asia. He wants to investigate the groundsheet of the tent in the laboratory on soil and seeds. The pegs also come along and get a shower with the groundsheet. Initially we are happy with his friendly service but then the he points out at question 9 of the form “Soil, or articles with soil attached, ie. sporting equipment, shoes, etc. ” and that we should have ticked the “yes” box there. That would be a big fine, but luckily we get of it with a warning.
We reassemble the bikes in the arrival / departure hall and cycle in the cool evening the 10 km to Warmshowers host Fleur. Despite the late hour, Fleur is awake and comes down to meet us. There is a large tent in her garden and we can sleep in it. There is also a Bali style bathroom just for us with a very nice rain shower. The next morning we meet her son Arkady (9) and mother Sheila (85). The latter has a broken ankle after a slider in Japan, where the three of them went on a hiking holiday. Arkady and Fleur go to school respectively work and we chat with Sheila until we get it on our hips: a lot to do today to be able to leave tomorrow: new sim cards, Roelie’s front wheel is out of round, Harry needs a new rear tire, we need a new cushion, provisions, medicines, maps and something for power in the Australian outback. We buy a new tire, disc brake, helmet, bell, solar panel, food and a fly net. What we don’t buy is Harry’s medicine. The English letter from our Dutch doctor is not enough for the pharmacy and only a prescription from an Australian doctor is accepted. This requires an appointment with a doctor and a consult. An expensive and time-consuming event, because you cannot “walk in” for a consult. We therefore stay an extra night at Fleurs. To thank her for the hospitality, we work in the garden during the day, help build a stylish chicken house and cook an Indian dinner. In between we go to the doctor and the pharmacy. We enjoy the company of Fleur, Sheila and Arkady and would easily want to stay longer, but a great adventure awaits us. Fleur has given so many tips about the route to Perth and we are so excited that we are able to say goodbye.
We need some time to adjust after 8 months in Asia. First of all, wearing a helmet is required, or it could lead to expensive fines. The wide roads, no scooters, all white people (with the exception of some aboriginal people), no squat toilets and toilet paper may be thrown into the toilet. And it’s so much quieter; the chaos of people, buildings, traffic, colors, smells and noises is now far behind us.
Fleur’s first good tip takes us to the ferry from Darwin. Then we are immediately overwhelmed by the total emptiness of the landscape. Although it is full of trees and termite mounds, there is nothing else. Only the road and we and a few birds and oh yes headwind, strong headwind and that wants to blow us away from the intended campsite at Tumbling Waters. Quite exhausted we arrive to the campsite. It is a long weekend for the people of Northern Territory. Monday is a public holiday (with the funny name “picnic day”) and therefore it is busier on the campground than usual. We pitch our tent among the others on the tent field. The campsite is beautiful: it has a camp kitchen, restaurant, swimming pool, open-air theater and a clean sanitary block. We skip the feeding of the freshwater crocodiles as well as the movie Shrek and enjoy #campinglife.
The next day we cycle further into the outback into Litchfield National Park. After 30 km of excellent sealed road we arrive on our first gravel road with a lot of dust. Along the way we see our first emus, wallabies and lots of parrots: white (even the beaks are white), black (with orange round dots on the bottom of the tail), light gray with a pink breast and bright green parakeets.
After the gravel road we get on asphalt again and then turn into the road to Wangi Falls campground. A sign says “full” but there is still room enough for a small tent as ours. First we visit the cafe for something cold: each ice cream and a big vanilla milkshake. There we meet Bruce & Cathy from Sydney who tell us about swimming at the Wangi waterfall plunge pool and that after a bit of climbing there is a kind of natural jacuzzi. A little later, when we the tent is up and we wear our swimwear, the plunge pool appears to be closed because someone was bitten earlier that afternoon by a “freshy”, a freshwater crocodile. Normally only “salties” bite and then the one who is bitten can usually not tell about it afterwards. Fortunately there are also fine showers at the campground. Around sunset we again walk to the waterfall where we are now the only people. We see wallabies hopping around with little ones and flying foxes hanging in the trees. The naughty freshy cannot be found. The flying dogs fly out on the way back to the tent. There are an incredible number of them and they don’t make any sound, so beautiful!
We visit Bruce and Cathy because they have offered to use their supply of drinking water. They have rented their home in Sydney for two years and are traveling through Australia. Bruce is a big cycling fan, he for example follows all the major European cycling events. They have beautiful travel stories from their travels around the world that we listen to while enjoying a cup of tea. In the meantime, a “huntsman”, a large green spider, is hiding in a Bruce shoe. For us a reminder that ugly animals are walking around in the Australian outback!
The next day we mainly see unique Australian animals: more wallabies, an emu that gets ready to walk along but changes its mind and a wild cat. Along the way we make a stop at the recommended Florence Falls. Roelie has been to Litchfield almost 20 years ago during a year of backpacking and has nice memories of the walks and swimming parties. On the bike it turns out to be a completely different experience. The urge to get away behind the steering wheel and to stretch the legs is missing. Harry finds changing clothes irritating and leaves the swimsuit behind the bike beforehand. Besides Wangi Falls, Florence Falls is the most popular destination and we are therefore certainly not the only visitors. Both the hiking trail and the plunge pool are (over) crowded and Roelie also returns without taking a dive. After that we still have quite a hard time: many hills and a lot of headwind. Just outside Litchfield is Batchelor, the first village since Darwin. A nice place in the sense that there is a supermarket and a tavern.
How nice it is to be able to chat with everyone again! We really missed that. There also seem to be many Dutch people traveling around, according to the Dutch backpackers we speak at the campsite in Batchelor. We don’t see them that much, but quite a lot of French people who in turn often speak poor English. But with the population itself there are no language problems and it often happens that we talk to Australians who appear to have a link with the Netherlands, usually because they themselves, their parents or other relatives migrated to Australia some time ago, but sometimes also work-related.
After three cycling days we are still less than 100 km from Darwin because of the detour through Litchfield NP. Pfff, this way we never get to our family in Perth within three months. For us this is a moment of reflection and a new mindset. It is clear that we have to cycle through Australia to reach Perth and not to visit all the touristic, scenic highlights. Although these highlights in western Australia seem to be more or less “on the route” on the map, in reality it is a detour of sometimes a few hundred kilometers. Fun to do with the car, but for us that means cycling for a few days and some “hassle” with water. Moreover, we already enjoy ourselves immensely on our bikes, the two of us alone in this immeasurable country. It is already a unique travel experience that we have never experienced before. Despite this new insight, the next day we are only 34 kilometers closer to Perth. In Adelaide River we first stop for lunch, but eventually we stay in this town that has all the amenities instead of the original goal; a parking area “in the middle of nowhere”.
The next day another question arises: are we cycling to a roadhouse at 80 km or to the next village at 115 km? That question remains open until we arrive at the roadhouse. The roadhouse is not super fun. Well is not fun. We actually only suffer from saddle pain, so let’s go on to Pine Creek. Along the way we see many road-kills: wallabies, a cow, a bird of prey (hit by itself while eating from a hit animal), wild boar, kangaroos, snake of the size ‘not-before-seen’ and a donkey (?). After another 35 km we arrive in the hamlet of Pine Creek. An oasis of sleepiness and tranquility with actually a nice caravan park with a supermarket and a wild west bar-like tavern.
So there is nothing else on the Stuart Highway. Nothing-nada-zero. No shops, no houses, no ice cream shops, no bike cafes: nothing. Very occasionally there is a sign. They do not use hectometer posts. There are (in principle) every 10 km small signs with the distance to the next ‘village’. On the road we are overtaken by the famous road trains. Every time we are passed by such a colossus and cling our steering wheel to avoid being blown into the roadside by the air pressure, we shout “All on board! The roadtrain!!!” It’s very different to cycle through this country in comparison Roelie’s previous experience with the car. There is no need to deviate from the route and to visit, walk or swim. So we abandon the idea of cycling to Edith Falls the next day and jumping into a plunge pool, and cycle to Katherine in one stage. That means our last day on the Stuart Highway.
Katherine is a typical Australian little town: very spacious, wide streets, large intersections, everything straightforward and divided into a block pattern. Katherine has less than 5,000 inhabitants, but according to “Outback standards” it is a big city and has a nice level of amenities, partly due to the fact that there is simply nothing in the wider area. For example, from here we head southwest on the Victoria Highway and the next hamlet of Timber Creek is 285 kilometers, or three days of cycling.
In Katherine we go shopping at the large Woolworth supermarket to get supplies for three to four days. We see many aboriginals with apparently alcohol problems. At the bottle shops (liquor store) police are present and you only get a drink if your identification is scanned and you do not appear in the register of banded drinkers. Many people warn us about stealing aboriginals. We feel a bit uncomfortable with this recurring finger to a specific population group. But it is also clear to us that there are many problems with and around these original inhabitants. At the campsite in Katherine there are warnings: “Lock up your valuables: Things will be stolen!”. That is somewhat difficult on the bike, but a warned person counts for two.
Back at the campsite we want to use the camp kitchen, apparently a basic facility in Australia, which we are very happy with. The camp kitchens are really very good and often equipped with a fridge, barbecue, toaster, microwave and kettle. But we postpone the cooking because Max & Ellen are posted in the kitchen and sing hits from the 50s and 60s. Just before dark, the microphone is fortunately stored away again and we immediately save our food and cook extra food for the next day: sausages, stir-fry potatoes and vegetables.
Our departure from Katherine is delayed when we are invited by the neighbors for coffee during the final preparations. Oh well, why not. Greek yogurt with fresh fruit is offered with our coffee. Although we have already had breakfast, we cannot resist this. Harry suggests unpacking the tent and staying an extra day in Katherine. It is now past ten o’clock and there are more than 100 kilometers waiting for us at the intended camping spot. The tent remains packed and the wheels are turned to the west. The wind does the rest. The strong southeast wind that has thwarted us as far as Katherine blows us into the wide world.
At the end of the afternoon we enter the parking lot where there are already many caravans and campers. Camping is free here and apparently not only Dutch people are charmed by free, but also the Aussies. There is water present but it may not be drinkable. This is indicated on the tank. The neighbors think we can drink it and other neighbors don’t think so. Since we throw quite a bit of water through our gobs none one day, we don’t think it’s a good idea to take a chance. We ask around and get drinking water from different people. One of the travelers who all of our sympathy immediately goes out is Gary. He drives around in a converted van and has crossed the look of a newly retired surfer with a Woodstock hippie. He comes to us a little later and offers us a pizza. If we feel like it, we are very welcome. Our pre-cooked food goes back into the ziplock bag and on to Gary’s bus. Gary is indeed a very nice guy and what follows is a nice conversation about anything and everything, including Western Australia. As a traveler, Gary is not particularly charmed by that. He has actually returned quite disappointed from his route through this state; he found it rather boring and very empty. Since his route largely corresponds to our route to Perth, we are starting to doubt a bit and that makes us think. Once back in the tent we discuss again whether it is smart to cycle the west coast. According to Gary, the east coast is a lot more interesting and easier in the sense that the distances between facilities are considerably smaller. We weigh the pros and cons and decide that we stick to the plan. It is funny to realize that we changed the plans for this every day in Indonesia and that we now decide to maintain the original plan every day in Australia. We enjoy the vastness and emptiness of the outback and when we look at it so globally at Wiki Camps we can regularly find camping and parking places, roadhouses, shops and water. The only part that will be more difficult is still far ahead of us and comes after Broome on the west coast. If someone offers us a lift there, we may have to accept it.
The next morning, all doubt disappeared and we even rejected the idea of a lift after Broome. We enjoy this country and the challenge that comes with it. The wind again blows in the right direction and subtle changes in the landscape pass us by: the vegetation, the color of the earth and thus the termite mounds, the change in rock formations. The most beautiful part of the route is the National Park where the Victoria River Roadhouse is located and where we camp. Here we experience for the first time since long small bike suffering: a flat tire. However, a penetration of the tire cannot be found. A grain of sand on the inside has probably scrubbed the inner tube until a hole has been created.
We take a wonderful shower. Not only cold drinks get at least ten times better after a day of cycling, but also a shower becomes a true wellness experience. While the clothes are lying in the week, we see the towel being shot from the clothesline by a sprinkler. But wait until the sprinkler stops before we hang up the rest of the laundry. It’s so dry here that the laundry dries at night too, so that’s no problem. Again we get talking to different people. Anneke speaks to us in Dutch because those cyclists are probably from the Netherlands. She and her husband have been living in Australia for 50 years. Anneke still speaks Dutch fluently, but her husband now prefers English. Two friends from Melbourne travel together and advise us to take the asphalted road to Broome and not the Gibson River Road. An advice that we will hear more often below. Even with a 4WD they are reversed after 50 kilometers. A young lady travels by herself and says that she has just sold her bike but is happy to buy a new one. A Dutch / Israeli couple with a big telephoto lens, we are delighted with the news that there are no annoying flies in Western Australia like in Northern Territory. In the morning we are again offered breakfast and coffee. This time we politely decline, we have already had breakfast and are ready to cycle to a real city in this outback: Timber Creek.
City? Timber Creek is not even a hamlet. It consists of no more than two caravan parcs, a “hotel”, a supermarket, two gas pumps and a police station. Certainly no more than 50 people will live there. Yet this hamlet is already indicated for 300 km on road signs simply because there is nothing else and you as a traveler can take in the basic facilities here: food, water and for everyone except us of course, gas.
Another 230 km to Kununurra, which we want to reach in two stages with another overnight stay in a rest area (Saddle Creek) along the Victoria highway. This plan stands or falls with a favorable wind; no wind in any case. Thumbs up because otherwise there is nothing in between and certainly no water. That is why in Timber Creek we have “pre-cooked” according to a concept that has already been tested: we put batter on a grill plate and (stir-fry) on it sausages, potato wedges and vegetables. That way we don’t have to use water the next day for cooking and just heat things up.
The next day we are literally and figuratively doing well. We cover the 120 kilometers to Saddle Creek with an average of over 22 km / h. We thunder over the supposedly dangerous crossings with Skull Creek, Snake Creek and Scorpion Creek. No skull, snake o scorpion to see and no drop of water. All creeks are completely dry. It is the dry season. It is still quite early when we turn into the dusty rest area, but there are already at least 15 caravans, campervans and other recreational and innovative vehicles. We are using the Wiki Camp app in Australia and have not yet encountered an Australian who does not use it. We understand that the average camper prefers to use these free overnight places along the highways: the caravans and campervans have more than enough water and are often equipped with a fridge (cold beer for him and cold wine for her), toilet and shower. The whole is kept going by a number of solar cells on the roof or next to the car. The warning on Wiki Camps that the rest area is good, but that you absolutely should not go to the toilet, is therefore not relevant for most. And it is always nice there, we now know. The campers often go to each other for a chat, share experiences and admire each other’s camps. This parking lot is also given a lot of food because those who drive further west tomorrow, have to hand in (almost) everything at the border of Western Australia. This way we can enjoy a delicious snack of fruit, ice cream, pastries, salads and chicken cutlets this evening and also the next day. We are offered coffee and tea, although we suspect that it must be written on our foreheads that we are hungry for an ice-cold drink. The water that we carry has passed the 40 degree limit and does not seem to quench the thirst anymore. We hope for water from our fellow campers again and first come to our neighbors. We are surprised when we hear that, contrary to what WikiCamp says, there is potable water in this area. A second, newer, steel tank has been placed on the site and it would contain drinkable water. We immediately fill our water bags with good faith that this information from our neighbors is correct. In the evening we are invited to sit by a campfire. The fire flares up considerably, because the wood must also be on, because it is not allowed to cross the border to WA. It is quite fun with these two couples from Canberra.
And then we start our last cycling day through the Northern Territory. It is only 69 kilometers to the border. The special, and typical Australian boab trees with an oversized trunk and relatively undersized branches we see since Timber Creek continue to accompany us. These boabs seem to have been drawn by a toddler or created by an artist and their often grotesque shapes surprise us every time.
In the two stops before the border we eat the fruit, salad and nut mix. At the border there is a large map with the Savannah Way, a popular “coast to coast” route from Broome to Cairns or vice versa. There is not much left of the map itself because it is completely covered with small stickers that are nowadays on apples and other fruits; apparently the last fruit is eaten here more often. We report to the border and get priority for the waiting caravans from the officer. The question is asked whether we have fruit and / or honey with us and then we are aloud to continue cycling after a very fleeting look in our storage bag.
Another 44 kilometers to Kununurra. First a fairly winding and hilly route but the last 20 kilometers on a straight road. On such a straight road, with less than twenty kilometers to go to Kununurra, we see from afar a shape that looks like a cyclist …, a cyclist? With luggage!?! Yes indeed, it is David from Spain / Basque Country who defies the headwind and comes cycling towards us. He is a jovial young man who started his journey in South America and, like us, he is happy to meet cyclists on empty Australian roads. David cycles from Albany on the southwest coast to Darwin in the north and then returns to Perth by plane to visit his sister who is living there. We exchange a lot of information (and Instagram addresses) and give David our remaining water: he goes into the outback and we will cycle into Kununurra with all the amenities.
In Kununurra we buy a baguette, cheese and a bottle of wine and cycle on to a beautiful caravan park just outside the city: Hidden Valley. We take a nice shower, do a hand wash and then enjoy camping-life with all facilities before we will get back into the outback again – which promises to be emptier than we left behind. The first 1000 kilometers in Australia are done, about 4000 to go to get to Perth. Oh yes: and now 20,000 km on the clock!