Published on August 27, 2019 at 3:00 PM
Cycling through the infinite emptiness of the Australian outback is magical. Between Kununarra and Broome lies the gigantic area that is called The Kimberley. It is ten times the size of the Netherlands and only 50,000 people live here, half of them in the two already mentioned towns. There are two main roads: the sealed Great Northern Highway and the unsealed Gib River Road. For the second time in a row, the wet season was not that wet and the Gib River Road has become an almost impregnable obstacle with a lot of loose sand and dust. We are advised several times not to take this route. Even people with 4WD have turned back after a few kilometers and even more do not venture into it at all. That makes it easy for us to choose: we go for asphalt. On the 1000 km sealed road to Broome we will encounter no fewer than two villages: Halls Creek and Fitzroy Crossing … and although this section on our trip has only 4 place names, Harry – according to good traditional practice that started somewhere in Serbia – has difficulty naming it correctly. Kununurra is cucumber or Kumkummera; Hall Creek is Hartsel (hamlet in Colorado, USA); Fitzroy Crossing is invariably Fitzcroy. Only Broome is named correct from the start.
First we enjoy the “bloody oasis” Kununurra. Kununnurra is indeed an oasis in the middle of the outback: everything is green thanks to the irrigation from nearby Lake Argylle. This town is also very spacious and has a good level of facilities with a large supermarket, camping shops and bottle shops. We enjoy a baguette with cheeses and a bottle of wine, while we write the blog about the Northern Territory. Our tent is surrounded by boab trees and cool rock formations. The camp kitchen is popular and everyone is in for a chat. We are having such a good time that we stay an extra day at the Hidden Valley caravan park.
On our restday at the caravan park we become friends with Bec and her dog Charlie. She is from Adelaide and has just returned from a yoga retreat session in Bali. Together with good boy Charlie, she drives in the same direction as we do (from Darwin to Perth) before heading back to Adelaide. She invites us to see her perform in Broome: she will sing with an ex boyfriend in a popular brewery. We puzzle for a while on the number of stages to Broome and suspect that we will never be able to get to Broome within ten days unless the wind is good for us.
It looks like we have a mini “jet lag”; at least we have to get used to the fact that we have gone back an hour and a half in time compared to Northern Territory. This means that it starts to get light early (5:30 am), but also to gets dark early (5:30 pm). We need to wake up earlier and go to bed earlier. On the day of departure we get up really early but end up hugging Bec and Charlie after 8:00 am and get back on the pedals.
Today’s goal is the Doon Doon roadhouse, a hundred km away. Just before we ride the last part of the Victoria Highway and turn south, we see a cyclist in a fluorescent yellow shirt ahead of us. We catch up with him. His name is Henry and he is from Sydney. We notice that we are talking to an interesting and amiable man and like to take a break at the exit to the Great Northern Highway to continue to chat. On the way to the rest area we are overtaken by a loud honking Bec, while Charlie keeps his head out of the window and keeps looking at us until we are out of sight. Also Bob and his sister Betty with their spouses from Canberra, whom we met a week ago, drive past us again hovering and cheering.
We talk to Henry at the picnic area. Henry is 72 years old and has cycled in North and South America. He wanted to do Pamir Highway until an attack on cyclist was committed there last year. Instead, he cycles from Cairns to Perth and can keep in contact with his wife and children. Henry has been very sporty and enterprising all his life and is full of great stories and we enjoy the moment of rest with Henry. Many will follow.
We cycle straight south and with the wind blowing from the southeast it means that we will have a headwind at least until we reach Halls Creek, more than 300 kilometers away. We hope that after Halls Creek we’ll get a bit of tailwind again if we turn towards Broome in the west.
The start of this Great Northern Highway is promising; the landscape around us, with the red-brown “ranges”, is beautiful. The last ten kilometers we are accompanied on the right-hand side by a mountain ridge that threatens to sweep over us like a big long tsunami wave. Wild horses are fleeing for us and luckily there are few roadkills on the road this time.
This impressive landscape continues to accompany us the next days as the headwind increases which makes the stages a lot harder. Today there are no places where you can have a rest in the shade. That is why we unpack our seats in a road side parking area and are happily invited to sit in the shade of the caravan of a sweet couple from Perth and even are offered coffee and cookies. When we are back on the bike again, Bec overtakes us again, Charlie’s head sticking out of the window again. She stops and we chat and she surprises us with two bottles of Coopers pale ale that we hope to be able to store cold at the Warmun Turkey Creek roadhouse.
Around the roadhouse it suddenly becomes “busy” in terms of cyclists: first we meet Simon, a young guy from Fremantle (near Perth) who is on his way to Darwin. He has only been on the road for three weeks and covers great distances every day, thanks to the tail wind according to him (shit, so we have that against). At the campsite we meet Chris from Adelaide, who is on his way to Katherine and Alice Springs. Chris pitches his tent next to Henry’s who arrived earlier. According to Chris, we will also come across a Japanese cyclist tomorrow, which he passed earlier in the day. Thanks to our encounters with motorized travelers, we know that more crazy people (that’s how they see us) cycle in front (a book writing Brit and a family on 2 tandems) and behind us (two girls).
We meet the Japanese cyclist early the next morning. He hardly speaks a word of English and seems to have crawled from under a stone; dirt and dust are stuck to him everywhere and his hands and nails are black. We think he says he is on his way to Cairns and that Australia is big with big roads. We hope that he will reach his destination, because we have the impression that he doesn’t has a clue where he is in this immeasurable country. The flag on the back of his bike is tight and blows in the wrong direction: yesterday’s headwind has continued to develop and is trying to push us back to Kununurra. Around noon we reach the Bungle Bungle caravan park, the gateway to the immensely popular and eponymous national park. Henry will undertake a helicopter tour from here. Another possibility to visit the park is with a 4WD bus. Both options, however, exceed our budget by far. We accompany Henry for a few hours in the caravan park and enjoy the screaming of a group of corella’s and a free wrap, good free cappuccino and expensive, but wonderfully cold, coke and fanta.
Unlike Henry, we will not spend the night at the Bungle Bungle caravan Park. Our plan is to cycle at least another 25 kilometers and then wild camp somewhere. The wind has decreased somewhat in the afternoon and with a strong headwind according to the forecasts, for tomorrow the last leg to Halls Creek will only be 85 km remaining. We take about 12 liters of water and when we cycle top-heavy back to the highway, we soon pass a rest area (Spring Creek). According to plan we cycle past this place while we are cheered from the parked caravans. Not much later we are overtaken by … yes, brother and sister Bob and Betty; it was they who cheered at us from the rest area. They offer us a delicious ice-cold bottle of mineral water and ask about our travel plan for the coming days. Because they will spend an extra day in the BungleBungle park, we jointly come to the conclusion that we probably meet again in two days at another rest area, called Mary Pool. They offer to cook dinner for us. Lovely people!
We find a reasonable good place to spend the night although we unfortunately have to share it with a lot of ants. When the tent is set, it is almost dark. We quickly cook ourselves a pot of food and crawl into the tent at 7 pm under a clear starry sky. Since Darwin we enjoy the stars, there are many more stars to see than in Europe and Asia. Without “light pollution” it is much darker and you can even see the galaxy.
Together with the next village of Fitzroy Crossing, Halls Creek does not have a good reputation among travelers. Most of them avoid these towns and they only stop for fuel, water and food and. Both towns are struggling with a lot of problems with the aboriginals present here. We are warned from all sides to take good care of our things. Well, and if you expect the worst, then it’s not too bad in the end. Halls Creek has everything, including a good, but somewhat expensive, supermarket. We can buy a beer, but we have to drink it on the spot, because you can’t take it with you.
When we have pitched our tent at the local campsite, Henry also comes cycling. The previous day we promised him to cook for him. He has cycled 110 kilometers with a headwind and says that he has had a hard time, but that the thought of a free meal kept him on the bike. He would like to buy a bottle of wine with the meal, but that is impossible here. We make Lahmacun, a rolled-up pizza from Turkey that we have so often feasted in Turkey.
During the night the wind has increased while the temperature has dropped considerably. This gives us a cold and rather late start. We have made the bold plan to cover the over 300 kilometers to Fitzroy Crossing in two stages: first 113 kilometers to Mary Pool rest area (where a dinner is waiting for us, isn’t it) and then 190 kilometers to Fitzroy. This crazy plan has one foundation: tail wind.
It continues to blow quite hard during the day and even though it is a bit sideways, it is enough to take us to Mary Pool within five hours. The landscape has become flat from Halls Creek and therefore even more empty. But we have since come to appreciate that emptiness and think it is wonderful. We don’t need navigation and the traffic doesn’t bother us, so we cycle endlessly next to each other, talk a lot, do puzzles and riddles and sing, while dozens of birds of prey keep circling above our heads, waiting for us to be exhausted fall of the bike.
On the very large site of Mary Pool rest area we quickly see the caravans of Bob and Betty and their wife and husband Karin and Terry. Further on we also see the figure of Henry who fell asleep on a picnic table while a number of cows surround him. We pitch our tent next to the intended dinner location, or next to the caravans of the two couples from Canberra. Betty also spontaneously invites Henry to dinner, so he doesn’t have to stay behind with his characteristic bag of instant couscous. The dinner is delicious and we feel like a king too rich. We get to see their photos of Lake Argylle and Bungle Bungle and a lot of chattering and laughing. As usual, our eyelids get heavy around 8 o’clock and we say goodbye to our four benefactors under a breathtaking starry sky with Southern Cross and Galaxy.
The next day we get up at 4:45 am and take down the tent at a starting sun rise. As usual, Henry leaves an hour earlier than we do. It is 190 kilometers to Fitzroy Crossing. Fortunately, the wind is good for us again and helps us to cover the first 120 kilometers in no time. At almost 30 km/h we cycle on slight slopes. Not normal! The next rest area, the Ngumban Cliff Lookout, at something of 90 kilometers, we reach just after 10 am. There we are approached by Dale, while Roelie tries to make a sandwich. Trying, because on this cliff the wind blows like crazy and blows the sandwich off the table. Dale invites us to sit in his caravan and quietly make a sandwich there. From his wife, Debbie, we are offered coffee, bananas and, to top it all, delicious calorie-rich ice cream of a Magnum Plus size, while the couple keeps talking about their travel experiences. They live in Cairns but have been traveling through Australia for the last five years, 51 weeks a year and enjoy it to the full. When it becomes clear to Dale and Debbie that we are cycling under the name “heart to beat”, something becomes clear to them. They tell us that about 200 kilometers away, at the Ellendale rest area, our name is written on the road and that there is something hidden for us in the bushes. We are incredibly curious and wonder who could have done this, maybe Bec? We will see it tomorrow! Anyway, after an hour we manage to escape the pampering and beautiful stories of Dale and Debbie and we continue our way with a wonderful descent from the cliff to the lower west. The wind continues to help us, but from noon we have to do the last 70 kilometers on our own.
Almost at the end, before the “center” of Fitzroy Crossing, we stop at the Fitzroy Lodge hotel and caravan park to celebrate this achievement – also our new record in terms of day distance – with a Pint of freshly tapped beer. We already know that you cannot buy a beer in the village. Then we drive the last 4 kilometers to the shabby caravan park where Henry is already waiting for us. The park is next to a good supermarket with a wide and fresh assortment and we make a delicious pasta, of course also for our Australian friend.
If you think we want to give our bottoms some rest, then we can tell that this is not the plan! We can make it to Bec’s performance if we keep cycling and set our sights on Boab Tree rest area, not as far as yesterday: only 160 kilometers this time … But in the end we are not going to make it today, because we face three problems. 1: we cannot leave early and have to do the shopping first. We leave Fitzroy Crossing at 8 am. 2: the wind is coming from the northeast today while we have to cycle the first 40 kilometers in a northerly direction, so unfortunately no tail wind. 3: after 60 kilometers, Roelie’s shifter is stuck in almost highest gears. Luckily we are able to reach the Ellendale rest area where Henry is waiting for us for lunch. We open the shifter there and see that one of the gear cables between the shifter on the handlebar and the gear box in the bottom bracket is broken. It does not look good and we fear that we will have to hitchhike the last stretch to Broome. But Henry indicates that he has two spare cables with him and fortunately Pinion simply uses the standard universal cables for her innovative excellence. Together we watch a Pinion instruction video on our laptop and with the excellent help of Henry and some tools from a neighbor, two new cables are mounted to the shifter and gear box. Three hours later Roelie takes a positive test run.
It is almost 4 pm and therefore too late to continue cycling and we are looking for a place to set up the tents. Again we make a delicious pasta and again Henry feasts with us. A dear Danish lady comes to bring us half a bottle of wine to bring our best mood one level higher under another unforgettable starry sky.
Because of all the commotion with Roelie’s bicycle we would almost forget to say that just before Ellendale on the road in big red letters “❤️HEART TO BEAT ❤️” is written, exactly as Dale and Debbie had told us yesterday. Further on there is an arrow pointing to the right with text in out own language below. The arrow points to a red-lacquered tree in the bushes where a jerry can of water with a bag of sweets and a message from Bruce and Cathy from Sydney that we met in Litchfield three weeks and more than 1,600 kilometers ago is somewhat concealed. What an unforgettable moment and what a wonderful action by Bruce and Cathy! The jerry can with 10 liters of water could not be offered at a better time: Ellendale, where we unexpectedly have to stay overnight, has no water tank. We also realize that nowadays we can be very happy with little: in this case a few liters of water, a small bag of candy and a self-repaired bicycle. Life is wonderful!
The initial plan yesterday was to cycle 70 kilometers further than Ellendale so we are adjusting our stage classification today. It was decided to cycle to the Willare roadhouse, 145 kilometers away. There is still a bit of tail wind but not as strong as the previous days and from the afternoon it will turn sideways and maybe even a bit head wind. It is expected to be tougher today than the monster stage to Fitzroy Crossing. And it became that too. Up to the boabtree rest area it goes outstanding. After that the wind is no longer an ally. The wind does something else funny: so-called dust devils, a mini tornado full of seeds, leaves, dust and ash are created. We reach the Willare roadhouse on our gums and it turns out that we are not allowed to camp there. The roadhouse houses a motocross festival and there is hardly enough room for the crossers. An employee tips us to camp at the adjacent truckarea or a picnic spot further down the river. Camping is forbidden in both places but no one will come to check it. The truckarea is a huge bare dusty area where drivers can spend the night in their trucks. It does not look inviting at all and, furthermore, it does not seem sensible to put our tents in places where tired truckers maneuver with their roadtrains. Henry checks the picnic area and does not return enthusiastically. If we are offered by the roadhouse to make free use of all facilities, it becomes clear for us: we will simply pitch our tent in front of the roadhouse when it is dark. The consequence is that we will not cook this day. In the last few days we have eaten pasta every night and we sometimes feel like something else. Nice to have dinner with the three of us in the restaurant of the roadhouse. Henry inquires about the menu and comes back grinning. The restaurant is already closed and for the evening they have a buffet and the buffet has a theme: it is Pasta evening! The overdose of pasta from the past few days is crowned with a towering plate of pasta. Well it is a buffet and then you see those hungry cyclists bragging a few more times. Very satisfied we pitch our tent in front of the gas station on a lawn that we share with a dozen cows and a lot of their pies.
It is Saturday and Broome is 175 kilometers away. We are not going to make it today, but on Sunday we will be well in time for Bec’s performance. For today we set our sights on the next roadhouse, which is 135 kilometers away. After that, only 40 kilometers remain until Broome. That’s what we go for.
In a good mood we arrive at the much nicer Roebruck Plaine roadhouse. It has a pretty good shop, a nice cafe restaurant and there is room for our tent. It is very expensive though: 38 dollars for a site. We do share the sitee with Henry. Oh yes and this time we finally eat something else: we make something Indian with biryani rice, chana masala (chickpeas) and canned turkey. And Henry, of course, we are forced to join him.
For the first time since we are in Australia, we wake up the next day with morning dew on our tent. The tent is quite damp, but does not have to be packed wet. We can take it easy, Broome is only two hours cycling away from here.
The three of us cycle the last part to Broome, where Henry invites us for an ice cream on a cozy terrace. We are going to say goodbye to each other. Henry stays two nights in this city in a hotel, we stay three nights at a Warmshowers address. When we finally walk to the bikes and want to say goodbye, two mountain bikers cycle there and wave to us. It can’t be true …: it’s Bruce and Cathy, our benefactors with the ten liters of water! It’s great that we can now thank them in person. Bruce tells how the paint sprayer refused service when spraying the text on the road. He laughs and shows the red-pink paint splashes that are still on his shoes and watch. Bruce and Cathy stay one more day in Broome at one of the caravan parks and we promise that we will try to come to them tomorrow.
With a warm hug we say goodbye to Henry, although Harry believes we will probably meet again on the way to Perth. We then cycle to the house of Fleur and Max and son Oliver, our Warmshowers hosts for the coming days. We are immediately welcomed with open arms and cosiness and we are assigned a real guest room instead of the expected place in the garden for our tent. Max and Fleur have a real cyclist’s heart. There are two e-bikes in the living room, and dozens of bikes of all sizes and allure in the driveway; a tandem where one can sit next to each other, a tandem where the second person can sit upside down and pedal, two bicycles with a high frame so that you are one meter higher than a normal bicycle, you name it. It is clear that Max is favored with a creative mind and two hands that can put this into practice. Max is also very innovative and inventive and is therefore very enthusiastic about our Pinion gear box. Fleur and Max have cycled a lot through Europe and talk about their last cycling trip through Taiwan. They cannot wait until their next cycling holiday in March next year when they will go to Portugal or Georgia. Of course they also want to know everything about our cycling trip and experiences so far.
And then it’s time to visit our singing friend Bec at Matso’s Brewery. We made it on time to Broome and her performance feels like a welcome party, especially when she shows her jazzy version of Roxanne of the Police. The song we sang twice as often to make sure that the bears in the US and Canada heard us and would avoid us.
The next morning Max takes us on a bike tour through Broome where we can get the groceries right away. At the first stop, the bicycle shop we meet cycling friend Henry (yes Harry, you have a predictive gift) and the tour is continued with an extra cyclist. Perfect!
It is already long after noon when we finish the bike tour and almost time to get ready to go to Cable Beach before the sunset where we have agreed with Bec and will see Charlie again. It doesn’t come to that, but gets better. Bec introduces us to Andy, the inventor, builder and owner of the chic Bali Hai Resort and has also been sentenced to life in a wheelchair for more than 30 years after a serious traffic accident. With Bec, Andy and Andy’s Japanese caregivers we drive to Enterin Point, the southernmost point of Broome. Andy invites us all to eat out at the restaurant of his resort as a farewell to Bec.
The food is excellent, Bec is a super nice person, Andy a source of inspiration, the Japanese girls are incredibly sweet and full of plans and dreams. And we? We are dreaming again about the continuation of our journey that will take us to an even more army part of Australia: Pilbara.