Thursday, 1 October 2015


Thu 24 Sep - Kununurra and Doon Doon Roadhouse
Our Kunanurra stay was three days of blessed air conditioning and a chance to escape the heat.  We became experts in the siesta, getting up with the morning sun, seeing a few sights before breakfast then hiding inside until dark.

Hidden Valley National Park is a beautiful group of sandstone outcroppings on the suburban edge of Kununurra.   There is a lookout over the town and signs explaining bush food and medicinal uses of local plants. It is close enough to town to be popular with morning joggers and has some great looking rock features.  Well worth a look.

The country on the road out of Kunanurra is fantastic.  It's a mix of natural rock features, irrigated crop lands and small mines. Riding out of town meant riding through the Ord River agricultural area, then through the undulating country that forms the river basin.  Eroded Devonian sandstones provide the spectacular rock formations, and waters of the Ord support the plant diversity.
Today the winds were a mixed blessing.  Our first 30km was generally westerly and the winds gave us a strong push along.  Then the road turned south and we were riding into the wind.  It fought our progress but at least it was cooling.

At the 100km mark we arrived at the Doon Doon roadhouse where we did our now familiar trick of spending big on cold drinks and icecreams.  We arrived at 1 and left at 4pm.  Our campsite was a pretty spot not far from the roadhouse.  We had intended to go further, but haven't quite got used to the new timezone.   The sun is now setting around 5pm.   We expected more riding time and got caught out.  I blame the three days in Kunanurra under artificial light.  Town living has made us soft.

Hidden Valley National Park
A national park on the edge of town, a Kununurra must see

Boab country

Fri 25 Sep  - Doon Doon to Warmun
More beautiful country.  Overall I'd say the country from Kathrine to here has been some of the best in our travels.  This really is great place to live. No wonder the people who do live here are getting cranky about the efforts of the WA government to close down their towns. 

Closing down remote townships is a stupid way to make the problems with remote townships go away

In the midst of this wonderful country is tbe Savannah nickel mine. As we rode we were passed by road trains with dumper trailers carrying ore. Carrying ore by truck seems a labour and fuel intensive way of transporting metals and it got me thinking about the economics of working in remote Australia.  How valuable (dollars per tonne kilometre) does something have to be before its no longer worthwhile transporting.  How much do subsidies such as the diesel fuel rebate change those sums?  Is the tax system propping up business practises that might otherwise not be financially viable, and if so would more places remain wilderness if these tax perks weren't in place?
At the Warmum (formerly Turkey Creek) roadhouse we arranged a bus tour to see Purnululu National Park (aka the Bungle Bungle Range).  Both Maree and I had flagged visiting the Bungle Bungles as something we'd wanted to see but missed on our first trip, so visiting the National Park was one of the things we were looking forward to since the planning stages of the ride.   

Purnululu National Park is about 120km Warmum and 150km from Halls Creek.  The only access is via a 53km private road across Mable Downs cattle station - a corrugated track best suited to high clearance four wheel drive vehicles.  We'd both skipped it the first time for good reason.  Attempting to ride there was likely to destroy our bikes.   A bus tour was the only really practical way to make the journey. 

Clocking over 6,000km
Shadow selfie

la vache furtif

Sat 26 Sep Warmun to Mable Downs
We rose early for our 60km ride to the Mable Downs farm gate, the start point of our bus tour.  We arrived at 9am and then had a day to relax.  The bus tour departs 7am on Sunday.  We found a shady spot and then improved it by using grass and tree branches to create temporary roof.  Without really trying we'd made a bird hide.  From our covered position we watched as flocks of black cockatoos and budgerigars did their thing whilst and kites soared overhead.   

Sun 27 Sept - A bus trip to Purnululu National Park
We slept under a fly net and a bright nearly full moon. We awoke before dawn to the sight of an Venus low prominent in the sky.  After pulling down the tent and hiding our bikes we walked to the caravan park just inside the farm gate to meet the tour bus.  Given our distance from the nearest anything I'm not sure what the caravan park residents made of us casually strolling through the front gate the front gate. 

The bus trip visited Cathedral Gorge and Echidna Chasm, two prominent features of the Bungle Bungle range.  The range comprises eroded sandstone, once a riverbank later forced up from the surrounding land by volcanic activity associated with a fault line that rounds from Halls Creek to Darwin.  I suspect activity associated with this fault has also been responsible for much of the spectacular landforms that we've been enjoying during our last couple of weeks riding.

Cathedral Gorge is on the southern part of the range where finer river silts created softer sandstones.  These fine sandstones have eroded to form banded beehive shaped domes.  The coloured bands reflect the clay composition of the rock and the action of cyanobacteria.  The clay rich rock retains moisture, promotes bacterial growth and is stained black.  The drier clay poor rock is stained red by rusting action of iron oxides. The overall effect these rounded blocks projecting from the ground is reminiscent of abandoned city.

Echidna Chasm is on the northern side of the range, upstream of the ancient river where smoothed fist sized igneous rocks were deposited.  Here the rock is a conglomerate resembling a loose red concrete. Echinda chasm is a long, deep crack in the range.  About 20m into the fissure it opens out into  amphitheatre space before narrowing again to a passage little wider than your outstretched arms.  It's an eerie space that reminded me of the hidden passages of an Indianna Jones movie.
At the entrance of to the chasm there are Livingstonii palms, a relic of a rainforest past.  The creationtime story of the place involves an echinda desperate to escape a crow digging into the rock and shedding its spines in its efforts to escape.  The long stems of palm trees are the remains of its spines.

The bus tour included the an offer of campfire dinner back at the caravan park.  We politely declined in favour of returning to our bikes before dark.  We'd hidden our bikes quite well and were were a little concerned that we might not be able to find them in the dark.  Fortunately didn't become a problem and we were able to find our bikes,  enjoy a spectacular sunset and watch the full moon rise in company of our own choosing.

Mon 28 Sep - Mable Downs to Halls Creek
We are currently waking up at 4.30am, half an hour before dawn.  Whilst that sounds mad, in our minds solar time and clock time are two different things.  Here in the eastern part of WA clock time is screwy.  WA is a big state and wider than a usual timezone.  The current clock time seems a compromise to keep the state on Perth time at the expense of a solar reality.  We (and it appears most of the locals) cope just doing things earlier in the day - in effect creating a defacto daylight savings.
As we ride south towards Halls Creek we pass over bridges and sandy river banks.  On my first ride I swam in those rivers and held my head underwater listening to the clicks of underwater life.  Now it is only the green of established trees that give clues to any life at all.  The place is dry, and drier than normal.  The skinny looking cattle that stray over the road provide more proof that the country is stressed this summer.

The cattle are floppy eared Brahman cattle, bred for drought tolerance but not smarts.  As we ride cows regularly stray onto the road and look confused at our passing.  Sometimes they hold their ground other times they take one look and bolt.  Many times I've ended up herding a bunch of cows who'd rather run along the road at my pace rather than turn into the bushes. Sometimes its a bit concerning that such big beasts are so unpredictable.

These particular cows are a little bit famous.  We are passing though the cattle stations that were the subject of a 2013/14 animal welfare video depicting conditions inside Indonesian abattoirs.  It depicted poorly trained and poorly paid people working a crappy job and taking it out on the cattle.  At the time it created a massive scandal as people were outraged that 'those' Indonesians could treat 'our' cattle so badly.  The upshot was a temporary suspension of live cattle exports.  The scandal saw a unusual meeting of political interests, vegans and anti-Halal Australian nationalists.  Its an alliance I don't expect to see again any time soon.

We are still in boab country.  In the late morning I stopped at a particularly fruitful specimen and collected several nuts lying on the ground.  At lunch I cracked one open and we shared the pulp as a tasty treat.  In the afternoon as I rode I flung seeds in regular intervals along the road.   In my way I felt I was continuing the tradition of human dispersal of the boab.

The weather has moderated. We are now experiencing maximums of 32 degrees with evening minima in the teens.  The cool nights especially have improved cycling conditions. Calling 32 degrees a cool change feels a bit odd, but a welcome cool change it is.
Halls Creek was chance to fill up with water and enjoy some junk food under a shady tree.  We missed our chance for a more substantial supermarket shop because it closed early in response to a WA public holiday.

Tue 29 Sep - On the road Halls Creek to Fitzroy Crossing
Its just under 300km between Halls Creek to Fitzroy Crossing.  There are no roadhouses and no public water tanks between them  This is our longest stretch so far between facilities. On the whole a bad place for bike problems - so of course here is where I badly damage by back wheel.

I was riding and making good pace when I felt the thud of my back wheel hitting something hard.  The bike started handling badly as my back tyre lost pressure.  These are the classic signs of a pinch flat.  They are annoying but they happen.  I took the gear off, removed the back wheel, tyre and found the pinch flat on the inner tube.  I glued on a replacement patch and was started the process of putting it all back together when I noticed a loose spoke, then another.  This was more than just a puncture.  The spokes weren't broken, a chunk of the rear hub had been torn off.  Fortunately I was able to jury rig something with some kevlar spoke replacements.  It involved threading the kevlar around several of the remaining spokes, then repacking to reduce load on the back wheel. It's fairly ugly looking hack but its been holding up so far and I'm reasonably confident It will get me as far as Broome.

The country still delivers surprises.  We passed a granitic ridge line that resembles the Devils 
Marbles.  The suprising part of it was it didn't even have a road side parking area.  The are spectacular and are yet another example of the things you see when travelling at a human pace and miss when travelling behind a windscreen. Perhaps the NT is just better at exploiting this type of feature as a tourist thing than WA is.

A huge red full moon rises over our campsite.  The sky is full of smoke from nearby fires and as the moon appears over the horizon it appears a deep orange through the haze. The features of the moon, its rocky mountains and dusty lava plains, are clearly visible on on its face.  It is the only point of light and dominates the sky.

A wedge tailed eagle patiently waiting for me to get away from his roadkill dinner.
Not the devils marbles - a natural WA wonder that's not publicised

My back wheels is now held together with a few bits of cord

Wed 30 Sep - Arrival at Fitzroy Crossing
Once again we awake before the sun rises and the moon has set.  Mornings are a special time to ride, it is cool and dawn gives the land a rich orange palate.  A few kilometres down the road we reach the end of a plateau and head through a gap in the Ngunban cliffs.  The cliff face provides a scenic backdrop for our breakfast which we enjoy before the sun starts to bight.

Starting the day with the sunrise.
Breakfast at Ngunban cliffs

The road to Fitzroy Crossing is narrow and has several single land bridges across creeks.  As we ride we are assisted by an easterly wind, its hot breath formed in the central desert.  Our days of relief are ending as the temperatures start to rise.
When we arrive in Fitzroy Crossing the sun beats down and road is radiating heat.  We head to the supermarket, stake out a shady spot and order a couple of Fanta slushies. Slushy brain freeze and borderline heat stress is a strange combination, not recommended.

We've decided to have a rest day and have booked a hotel room for a couple of nights.  After checking in, showering and getting changed we decided to visit the pub.  Most of the people at the bar were local aborigines enjoying a  beer and a smoke on the balcony in the late afternoon.  Several locals introduced themselves and it being AFL finals season they wanted to know who were were supporting.  Not being big football fans had to wing our end of the conversation, . I can report that even here no one likes Collingwood.

Later Anna introduced herself to us.  She was here with her brother's friends - and for skin reasons she was looking for a different group to socialise with.  Anna told us about the best way to prepare boab nuts (roast the green ones in the coals - or put the pulp in a billy with a bit of sugar), and what various wild things taste like (yep, you guessed it - crocodile, goanna etc all taste like chicken) and how to find the bush banana (green fruit, yellow flowers).  Anna has a fascinating career working a cook at Fossil Downs station.  One of the stories she told was about the royal visit to the station in the 1970's and the preparations behind the scenes to put on a formal dinner. 

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