Now that we've reached Darwin (the first town with a population exceeding 3 figures we've visited for a while), it's time again to update the blog. We arrived via a series of 'alternative' routes, looking like a couple of extras from a Mad Max movie; covered from head to foot in red dust, the bike sporting a couple of dents and scrapes from various escapades along the way.
It's almost 3 weeks since we left Malanda in the Atherton Tablelands to head for Cairns via the Gillie's Highway, a fantastic ride winding its way down from the Tablelands to join the somewhat less exciting Brisbane-Cairns Bruce Highway. Given that it's the holiday season, we surprised ourselves by being organised and booked a spot in what turned out to be a rather salubrious campsite to the South of Cairns. After numerous nights basic camping in National Parks and the likes, the golf cart escort to our designated camp spot blew us away!
We'd come to Cairns not only to pay a visit, but specifically to get some work done on the bike. The paralever bearings in the rear swinging arm were worn, the final drive rubber boot cracked and the fork seals weren't sealing any longer. I'd been put in touch with Terry Scanlan, an aeronautical engineer and BM enthusiast / mechanic in his spare time. Terry's extensive workshop was impressive, as was his workmanship, I'd certainly recommend him to anyone passing through Cairns (Terry Scanlan 07-4055 4809).
Terry rebuilt the final drive, complete with a new final drive oil seal (which we noticed was weeping) and paralever pivot bearings, whilst I replaced the oil and filter. Being more familiar with earlier Airheads as opposed to the later Oilheads, Terry didn't have a suitable drift to insert the new bearings, so instead knocked one up on his lathe. The same for the replacement front fork seals, a perfect drift made up to ensure a perfect fit. Last up we adjusted the tappets and balanced the throttle bodies, the bike now set for the next few thousand K's.
Terry's wife Sylvia, kindly prepared a fantastic barbaque spread that night before we set off again the following morning for Daintree to meet our soon to become friend, Neville.
We'd been put in touch with Neville by Ken and Carol in Brisbane and were looking forward to meet the Daintree crocodile spotter and to visit his rainforest abode. We were not to be disappointed, Neville welcomed us with open arms, giving up his bed and even emptying the compost toilet to accomodate us!
As Neville worked as a nature tour guide on the Daintree river, we joined him the following morning for an educational trip on the boat, spotting a number of saltwater crocs, as well as variety of snakes, birds and plantlife. It certainly was an interesting trip and as about as close as we'd like to get to the infamous 'salties'!
While at Neville's we went on a guided walk through Mossman Gorge. Our guide Raymond explained how the rainforest was utilised in every way; it was a kitchen, workshop, medicine cabinet. Although many of the trees were familiar to us from forests in Asia we discovered a lot of new uses for them. Raymond also told us how he hid in the forest from the trackers and policemen who came to take the aboriginal children to missions in a different part of the country. He managed to stay with his family; many didn't.
If you don't know about this dark chapter in the settlers' past, watch the movie "Rabbit Proof Fence".
We saw some cave paintings which clearly showed the ships of the early settlers or explorers, as well as animals around the area, for all we knew one of them could have been Cook's ship, the Endeavour...
One of the guys who lived in the community was an amazing dijeridoo player. He made it sound like a crocodile, or exactly how you'd imagine a crocodile to sound and listening to him play made the hairs on my arms stand up.
Neville managed to arrange a couple of days off work to take us on a ride up the coastal Bloomfield track to Cooktown, so named for the spot Captain Cook first landed in Australia back in 1770. We set off early in a drizzly rain towards Cape Tribulation, where the bitumen ended and the Bloomfield track (and fun) began.
Before too long we reached Emmagen Creek, our first crossing of the day. Em dismounted and waded accross, armed with camera to record the event. Neville crossed on his 650 Dakar without any concerns, so I followed with confidence only to slide and fall on wet river stones exiting the opposite side. We lifted the bike immediately to Emma's dismay; she didn't get a photo! Fortunately only my pride was injured and nothing else.
The track reminded me of trail riding in Malaysia, dense rainforest, rivers and slippery tracks more suited to a 250 Enduro bike than an Overlanding monster!
We arrived in Cooktown nonetheless, despite poor Em gritting her teeth for most of the way. She's turning out to be a hardy pillion, you'd not get me on the back for love nor money, especially on these roads!
Whilst in Cooktown we rode up Grassy Hill, where Captain Cook apparently climbed to look for a safe passage out of the bay where Cooktown is now located. Before returning to Daintree the following day we continued on a historical theme, checking out the Historical Society, documenting Cooktown's goldrush past.
The trip to Cooktown with Neville was one of the highlights so far, we had a blast and only wish we'd had longer. (Hamish)
It was hard to say farewell to Neville who is simply one of the nicest blokes I've ever met. We thanked him for opening up his rainforest hideaway to us and for the adventures we shared, not to mention his famous Black Sapote Milkshakes!
Neville is planning a trip to South America in 2007, with luck our paths will cross again. (Emma)
We were both excited to start a new 'chapter' by beginning the long journey West. A short day's ride took us to Chillagoe, site of some very cool caves
and a quirky little museum which was well worth the visit. It housed an eclectic collection of fossils, large spiders, gemstones, clocks from the 1970s, an x-ray machine stolen from the Germans during World War II and all sorts of other curios. We loved it! The oldest fossil was 1,700,000,000 years old, bits of stromatolites which are the oldest forms of life on earth, still going strong to this day.
In the evening we booked ourselves on a tour of the night sky at the observatory in our campground. I've been very anorakky in trying to learn all the constellations and was a complete girly swot, pointing out one our guide didn't know. Don't know if Hame was impressed or embarrassed! The telescope was the biggest I've ever seen, so powerful you had to move it to view the whole surface of the moon. Once our minds were blown by trying to take in the size of our galaxy (can't even think about the universe) we staggered to bed.
As usual Hame was up with the bloody larks, I'm not a morning person but he insists we get up at 6 (middle of the night if you ask me). He's right, I know, or we'd never get anywhere. As with every other morning he woke up and got dressed, made the coffee and breakfast and said cheerful things loudly while I lay groaning for a bit, before dragging myself up to stuff all the bedding into various bags and sacks. This morning however, felt worse than the usual morning. After I'd done my morning moaning for half an hour or so I realised it just wasn't getting light so I checked my watch - 4.30am. Not quite sure how he got it so wrong! He crawled back into the tent to wait for daylight.
We headed to Normanton where the dirt roads began in earnest. We'd been recommended the 'Purple Pub' which was indeed a pub that was very purple.
For a small fortune we got a motel room at the back of the pub as it had been a seven hour ride and we were a bit sore, but really it was because we wanted to watch the rubgy. We'd watched the previous two State of Origin games - a yearly rugby war between New South Wales and Queensland - and this was the final. As we'd always been in Queensland for the games we supported them, and were as ecstatic as the rest of the pub as they won the series for the first time in four years.
After Hame had waved the coffee under my nose the next morning we got back on Bertha and hit the dirt road again. The early morning light behind us was beautiful...
After a few kilometres our luxury purchase of the day, a box of wine, fell off the bike. We didn't realise until far down the road and we did turn around and look for it but had too many miles to go, to go back too far. We stopped off at a historical site further up the road and met a bus driver who'd managed to get his bus load of grey nomads stuck in a dip in the road. We offered to help although there was really nothing we could do. I asked him if he'd seen a green box on the road, "Oh yeah... ran over it!" he said cheerfully.
The historical site was one of the camps of the famous explorers Burke and Wills. In the late 19th century they attempted to cross the country from the South to the North, despite not being terribly experienced explorers and carrying far too much unimportant stuff. They almost made it; they could taste the salt of the ocean in the rivers and knew they were very near, but they had to turn back. They died of thirst on the way home again, only one party member survived becuase he was rescued by a friendly tribe of Aboriginals.
Another long dirt ride, about eight hours off road (after a quick stop off in Burketown to replace the wine) took us to Lawn Hill National Park, a place we'd been told about by lots of travellers. It lived up to its reputation and became another highlight of our trip. Camped near to us were a couple, Steve and Rose who by chance used to live in Malaysia. We swapped notes on travel and spent a couple of lovely evenings with them around the fire. Rose amazed me by sitting down with a bowl, casually stirring in a few ingredients, dolloping it into a big iron pot which was then covered with coals and producing a delicious cake. These guys knew how to camp in style!
Steve and Rose recommended hiring a canoe to explore the gorge in the early morning. Hame rowed while I took pictures which seemed a very sensible arrangement.
On the way up the gorge we rowed past one croc in the water and one quite large one sunning itself on a log, fortunately these were 'freshies', as opposed to 'salities' which are far bigger and scarier and will eat you up in a second.
I'll let the photos describe how beautiful it was.
We walked around the gorge and watched the sunset from the top of a hill, the views were stunning.
It was hard to drag ourselves away but we had suddenly become aware of how many more places we'd like to visit on our long way to Melbourne so we left after three nights - I think we both could have stayed three weeks. We said our farewells to Steve and Rose who we'd really clicked with, promised to take them up on their kind invitation to their home near Sydney, and set off, wanting to ride a few long days and get to Darwin.
For some reason we miscalculated (read didn't calculate) the distance we had to travel and so we arrived at the fuel stop holding our breath - but it was useful to discover Bertha could do 521km on a tank and still have a couple of litres sloshing about somewhere!
From Lawn Hill the dirt roads were full of corrugations. For those of you who've not had the pleasure see the picture below:
On the way to the main road we passed Riversleigh, a world heritage site where hundreds of fossils have been found. Although we still had a long way to go we stopped for a quick look and saw several fossils which were 25 million years old, laid down when the area was covered with rainforest.
Being in Australia is like being on a crash course in Paleantology and Geology, we've learnt a lot while exploring the country - there is just so much here.
We filled up quickly in Camoweal with incredibly expensive fuel and were tempted to stay at a campground as they had Roast Pork on the menu... but decided to push on and head to a rest area. Rest areas are great, free stops near the road with toilets, water and a fire pit. We love them!
Not far out of town we passed the border of the Northern Territory. The landscape was FLAT, 360 degrees of flatness for a very long way!
The sunset and sunrise from the rest area were superb, the sky changing colours over the vastness.
We had the luxury of more bitumen as we turned North, along the most featureless landscape I've ever seen. For 360km we saw cows, scrub and grass. The iPod really came into its own here or we may have fallen asleep!
We headed to Cape Crawford where we'd hoped to find a shop as our camping food supplies were getting low. We'd eaten all the nice stuff and were left with rice and dehydrated peas and not a lot else. Cape Crawford however, turned out to be a road junction. There was a campground there by the Heartbreak Hotel. It served delicious food, had nice soft grass to camp on but lived up to its name as our hearts were broken by drunk backpackers partying right next to us (note, never camp near the bar!). They were up and off just as the party finished, made us feel very old...
From Cape Crawford it was dirt all the way. We thought we were getting used to it but discovered just how many types of road surface there are in the outback.
Corrugations we'd met several times, but not like these ones. Imagine riding a jackhammer! We were introduced to 'bulldust'; potholes filled with talc-like powder, impossible not to wobble on. Add this to the 20 or so creeks we crossed, wash outs from the last big rains, wildlife, road trains and heat - it was a pretty entertaining ride!
On the way we stopped at the Lost City, huge sandstone formations created by erosion over millions of years.
On the way to our campsite for the night Hame decided to take Bertha for a little swim. Some famous last words were uttered "Shall I get off and walk through?" shortly before Hame decided we'd had enough creek practice and could get through anything two-up, shortly before we hit a rock and slid sideways into the water! Fortunately nothing was hurt except his pride and the food which got a bit wet.
From now on we'll go back to the old method of me getting off to walk through and check it (the old pillion croc bait trick) with Hame following soon after.
Our camp for the night was another National Park freebie, we love them too. Butterfly Springs was a stunning little spot, a creek safe for swimming with drinkable water, the usual firepits and we timed it just right for the full moon.
Leaving there in the morning was harder than usual and we didn't get away until nine, knowing we had a really hard ride ahead. it turned out to be one of the hardest rides we'd had yet. Eight hours of hard dirt roads, every single type of road surface we'd seen one after the other. Our language got more colourful by the minute, our bums got sorer and sorer and we couldn't wait to get back on the tar.
Our stop for the night in Mataranka was the perfect antidote, a campsite a short walk away from thermal pools. The temperature was just right, the stars came out and we soaked our soreness and the layers of dust we've been collecting away in minutes.
I've said before how much friendliness we've experienced. As I was checking in a man (also called Neville) came to admire our dirty bike and within minutes had invited us to visit him and his wife in Sydney. It turned out he owned the same model of bike as us. I've never felt so welcome in a place before.
As well as the road conditons we've come across some of the things in Australia that can kill you:
...and the car-eating cows...
Speaking of cows, they are very funny when we ride past. They're not quite quick enough to see the bike but they can hear it, and lots of pairs of soft cow eyes will follow the space where we just were, as we fly by. They know something has just happened, but they don't know quite what...
From Mataranka it was a fast but uneventful ride to Darwin for a few days stop to stock up on food, sort out tyres to collect in Broome and catch up on some e mailing. Both of us are looking forward to getting out of the city though, the outback has charmed us and we'll be back off to our favoured National Park camps tomorrow.
We finally caught up with Uli and Klaus, a German couple on an Africa Twin who'd met Ken and Carol and stayed with Neville in Daintree just before us. We'd e mailed them a few times and been chasing them across the country - it was good to catch up and compare notes. They are heading to Asia so we gave them lots of tips about off the beaten track destinations in Malaysia. At the same campsite were a Swiss couple on a R100GS who'd ridden from Europe and in the next campsite along were Americans David and Erika on a Transalp, we'd corresponded with them when they were also hanging out for a ferry back in Penang. They'd had a carnet however and had caught a different boat and ridden through Indonesia, it was good to hear about their adventures.
Our next major town will be Broome, a place I've wanted to visit for years. On the way there we will go through the Kimberley which Hamish is especially looking forward to, after celebrating my 21st birthday along the way.
(Oh OK, I mean 34th...)
(Written on 23/07/06)
Well, I wasn't expecting to update the blog so quickly but here we are in a town with an internet cafe so I may as well make the most of it and explain why we are in a town and not on the road...
Our last night in Darwin was great. We rode around the city a bit and discovered that Darwin is less like a city and more like a big village. After doing our chores we found ourselves outside the Deckchair Cinema, an outdoor cinema next to the beach. A good film was on ('Live and Become', French, very good) but what really sold it for us was the fact you could buy beer and curry to eat while the film was on, how civilised!
The next morning we left very late. We stop in a campsite for a few days and I'm always amazed at how stuff spreads itself out and refuses to go where it should...
We'd decided to go to Litchfield National Park for my birthday. The roads were a little rough but nothing worse than we'd had. Hame found a great campsite down a 4WD track and we managed to nab the last spot. It was quite a large spot so we had to look possessive as people drove by hoping to find a camp. After a while we felt bad doing that so as a young and friendly looking couple drove by we offered to share the fire. Soon after that a car load of students appeared so we fitted them in too and ended up pooling our supplies of food and herbs, beer and wine and having a party round the fire, celebrating my birthday at midnight - excellent!
In the morning there were a few fuzzy heads but the students were amazingly awake and organised, cooking pancakes, scones and damper on the fire. They even managed to create a birthday cake made of chocolate damper, I was really touched.
Mal and Jenny, the first couple who'd turned up, offered to take us in their van to some of the waterfalls in the park. We got on really well with them, being very like minded and with things in common - the boys, beer and engines; Jenny and I, talking!
We had a great day exploring the area and swimming in a huge waterfall at Sandy Creek. It was a stunning place, cliff walls easily as high as a 10 storey building and a massive flow of water into a big and incredibly deep pool at the bottom. If you look closely at the pic below you can just see Hamish and Mal chucking themselves off a very high rock into the water...
Drove by enormous termite mounds and through a deep creek on the way back, where we started the party once more. It was a great way to celebrate.
Hame and I were mindful of time running out. Five months sounded like such a long time to be in one country but as I've said numerous times, Australia is BIG. The further you go, the bigger it gets. So we packed up the next morning and went West, leaving the Northern Territory for a few weeks and heading into Western Australia.
After a night in a rest area we were finally on the Gibb River Road, in the Kimberley, an area of Australia in the North West that is bigger than the UK and a place we've long wanted to visit. We'd stopped in Kununarra to replace food we had to eat in a hurry (there are quarantine laws on fresh stuff as you pass into WA), get some info on the Kimberley and fill up with fuel. I think my head was still a bit mashed from birthday celebrations because I (the navigator) was paying very little attention to where we were going. Hame said he'd got good information about ways to get to Diggers Rest, our destination for the night but it turned out he'd not been paying much attention either!
We turned onto the Gibb River Road as it was getting late, but Hame said he thought he knew the way. The scenery was amazing, after so many days of flatness suddenly there were hills and escarpments all around us. The road we were after didn't appear and we found ourselves running out of daylight in the middle of nowhere. We thought we'd have to bush camp but then like a mirage came across a sign for Emma Gorge Resort. We knew it was there somewhere but also knew it was horribly expensive, nevertheless I suggested (!) riding to reception to see if there was a campsite nearby. There wasn't but there was one room left and we decided to treat it as another birthday thing and pamper ourselves.
As you can imagine I was really upset to have a nice hot shower instead of a river, fluffy towels instead of our rather smelly chamoix leather style camping towels, things that smelt nice and a big soft bed and of course we had to stay somewhere called Emma Gorge... (Funnily enough on the way to Kununarra we passed a township called Myatt!) Thank goodness for credit cards, that's all I can say.
In the morning we started packing up the bike when Hame noticed a crack in the pannier, a rather large crack which looked like it wanted to continue. As I was looking I noticed a crack on the bike's sub frame (the best way to explain it is to say it's the bike's skeleton, the thing that everything else is attached to, including me). Too many pies, obviously. We were quite horrified by these two discoveries but had had a sneaky suspicion it would happen eventually, so in a way it was a relief to get it over with.
There was no option but to ride back to Kununarra (very gingerly over the corrugations) and get it welded. The guys in the bike shop couldn't do it but coincidentally someone who worked at a local engineering firm was there and said he'd be able to do it in the morning. The guys in the bike shop told us very definitely we'd not be allowed to work on the bike in a campsite, but between us we charmed the caretaker of the Kimberleyland Campsite and he not only said he didn't mind, he let us use his workshop.
Hame got right down to business yesterday afternoon and took Bertha to bits.
Once on the job he discovered he had to take the sub-frame right off, a pain in the neck to do but easier to weld in the end. It was all done very quickly this morning so Hame has been painting the frame - which is now stronger than it probably ever was. Bertha is in about 1000 pieces, ready to be put back together when the frame dries. I'll let Hame explain more about all that next blog.
When it's all fixed - hopefully tomorrow or the next day - we'll be back on the Gibb River Road, over 700km of gravel, heading to Broome once again. And eating pies all the way...
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