Thursday, October 1, 2015

You should see; there's a place I want to take you

As we checked out of our caravan park cabin in Kununurra at 5am and headed towards the roadhouse for a toastie breakfast, we were stopped by local Craig who wanted to know where we were headed. 'Broome' 'On those things?' 'Yup'. After introductions and handshakes, we had a chat about the journey west and then he wished us well. After breakfast, we rode out of Kununurra, over the diversion dam bridge (a narrow bridge over the Ord River with no pedestrian access, but amazing views you wish you could stop for), then up the slow climb beyond. The country is Kimberley magic, where each new ridge or range tries to outgun the last for beauty and grandeur. Around 8 am we pass a guy in a low-profile-tyred black commodore/falcon sedan thing who is parked precariously on a corner shoulder with a flat tyre. As we ride past a heavily dreadlocked white bloke gets out of the passenger side where the car door has been open the whole time, and asks 'Excuse me, can I borrow your pump' and gestures how he intends to pump. I yell back 'It won't work on your car, mate!' This is the kind of remote you don't drive around without a spare in good nick. You certainly don't want to spend the next three hours attempting to pump up a car tyre with a bike pump in the high thirties end-of-dry-season heat. I don't even like pumping up bike tyres in it. Further up the road a bull runs across the road in front of me, somewhat sideways like an excitable Labrador puppy might. At first I think maybe the hoofed animal found it difficult to run on the smooth asphalt, but it was running like this on the dirt as well. An ochre red wallaby mum and no-longer-pouched joey are further up the road. The mum bounces off but the joey remains eating the roadside grass; so mum comes bounding back in front of me to round up joey who jumps across the road in front of me once, then twice to join mum. Kids. There are plenty of wedgetailed eagles also getting spooked from the side of the road by my wheels, flying off at the last moment from amongst grassy shadows and momentarily spooking me in return; but I'm quickly flipped into 'amazed' rather than 'spooked' as the huge raptors take off with an effort of flapping giant wings. We ride past the scattered Aboriginal communities set amongst the rivers, creeks and ranges, and make it to Doon Doon roadhouse by about 2pm. There are cold drinks and air conditioning, so we stay here until about 4.30pm, watching episodes of Archer and Doctor Who that I downloaded when in Kununurra. In fact, we stay so long the shop keep asks us are we planning to stay the night; are we going to leave? So we take the hint and ride on a short distance (because before long the sun is low in the sky) to camp amongst a stunning escarpment of red rocks glowing in the last light of the day.

The ride out of Kununurra

Burnt out area with ridges behind

This scree covered place was especially hot to ride through

Long shadow of late afternoon means its time to find camp

The view from camp

Sunset from camp

View from camp

The next day we continue rolling through rolling hills of rugged, picturesque country where the earths crust has been pushed up and its insides squeezed out; termite mounds below try to mimic the geology on a small scale. We ride past Nickel and Argyle diamond mines. The ranges tunnel the hot wind into our faces; the road radiates and shimmers. We click over 6000 km so far in our journey. Riding into Warmun, we check into a cabin so we can have a cold shower and shut out the outside world and its enduring heat. We have 60 km left to ride to get to the Bungle Bungles turn off; we have a tour booked for two days from now so there is no rush to go on.

Next day we check out at first light, around 5 am, and ride the 60 km by mid morning. We find a somewhat shady spot near the Mabel Downs property fence, about 1.5 km from the spot where we will take the tour from next day. I collect some bundles of grass and branches from a nearby rubber plant and make a bough shed to block out the relentless sun. We rest in the shade like kangaroos the rest of the day, watching the birds and the swirling whirlie-whirlies pass us from our makeshift bird hide. We can tell the sun is getting low when we hear the Red tailed black cockatoos screech, flocks of budgies trill and dart around, and honey eaters all start visiting the trees we are calling home for two nights. After dark we set up the tent and pick off the cattle ticks we've accumulated in our lazy hours. It's best to find these bloodsuckers the same day they find you, so they haven't burrowed into your skin too far and its easy enough to tweezer them off. We place them into the metho fuel bottle so they die; their preserved bodies floating to the bottom as we say 'Die, bloodsucking bastard!' We have quite the collection. I pick about six off me, including from in my arm pits and behind knees, the sneaky jerks. During the night a few large Brahman cows visit us, eating the grass noisily a few metres from our tent.

Free range cattle country

4.30 am next morning we rise to pack up the tent, hide our bikes under grass and sticks, and wander over to the Bungle Bungles caravan park where the tour starts. The road into Purnululu National Park is about 50 km of sandy track, traversable only by 4WD (or EXTREMELY KEEN fat bike riders perhaps). Our tour is a 4WD bus that holds maybe 20 people. It's expensive at $285 per person, but there is no way we can ride in carrying our gear and water on these tracks in this weather and with our touring bikes and stay sane. We'd be walking almost all of the 50 km, and that's only to get to the visitor centre. So 'adventure bus' it is. The tour departs at 7am and it takes over an hour for the bus to travel 50 km through Mabel Downs property, into the national park, to the visitor centre. Along the way there are a few creek crossings, and you travel amongst limestone ridges that look like dinosaur spines. We then briefly stop to look at Elephant Rocks. We head towards the cone karst striped beehives that the Bungle Bungles is famous for. Seeing them from a distance the distinctive horizontal stripes of alternate layers of oxidised rust, and the wetter clay with a covering of cynobacteria making it grey, show there has been no tilting forces since they were laid down in sediments. They look kind of like a colony of different sized 'grug's to me. Closer up they are a little less impressive because the individual layers are huge and rough, as we walk among them. Cathedral Gorge is basically like a open air cathedral where it is a shady, cool temperature sanctuary with impressive spires of rock surrounding you. There is just a small pool here at the moment, with some fish and crested pigeons. The tour next visits Echidna Chasm; creation story says it was formed when an echidna,  was chased in by a crow, leaving the Livingstonia Palm echidna spines along its escape route. The walk into the chasm is along the river bed where the more agile can rock hop between the larger stones to save on some rough walking on pebbles. The river bed is lined with tall palms and the bright red glowing rock walls beyond you kind of sense this must be what its like to be a crocodile swimming along a tropical river or creek. As you move into the chasm the walls get tighter and tighter, where you start to wonder whether you are a little claustrophobic. It feels like an adventure movie set or maybe a computer game as you squeeze through the walls, taking twists and turns where you aren't sure you can continue until you get to a bend and see there is a path beyond, climbing over boulders, ascending ladders, to get to the very end; a sudden stop in another open air cathedral.

Elephant rocks

Rising at 4.30 am the next morning, which is a few minutes before first light and about 40 minutes before sunrise, the moon is setting large and yellow over a range. A few Brahman cows wander into my shot as I take a photo of the retreating satellite. We hit the road, still travelling through the savannah with ranges on either side of us, and make the 100 km into Halls Creek around 12:30pm. We fill up our bottles at the water fountain near the information centre, then head to the roadhouse for lunch, as everything else is closed already on this Western Australian Queens Birthday public holiday. At 3pm we ride on, passing a floodplain with hundreds of white cockatoos and finches. We pass the turn off to Wolfe Creek, knowing we can't visit at this time of year - the water we'd have to carry would surely break our bikes in two if we tried to ride the sandy corrugated Tanami track the round trip of a few hundreds of a kilometres to get to the meteor crater. After 38 km we see the "FC 250" sign - 250 km to Fitzroy Crossing - and pull down a drainage scrape to find some dirt and wattles to camp amongst. In spinifex country you'll try to find some bare dirt to camp but this comes with the certainty of ants that will find their way into your water bottle if you don't put the lid on tight as possible, and into your food if you leave it unattended for 30 seconds. They don't bite necessarily, but they do keep your on your toes if you don't want to eat or drink them. After nightfall we watch a giant orange supermoon rise through a break in the trees, bright enough that we don't need to use our head torches while we eat dinner.

Moonset with Brahmans

Moonset from camp

Sunrise from camp

Sunrise from camp

Sunsets on camp

Camp for the night

Moonrise from camp
Next morning we're on the road ten minutes before sunrise, hoping to make it to Ngumban Cliff by nightfall. Around the FC 180 sign I notice Simon is missing so head back to see what's up. His bike rear hub hit a rock and is cracked, he has two broken spokes and a pinch puncture. He fixes the spokes (cassette side) with our kevlar spokes (lucky we bought extra!) and fixes the puncture and we are rolling again after an hour. I carry some of his water now, to try to save his rear wheel from some weight. By 10 am we've ridden 80 km, so rest near the (now dry on top) Mary River. By 12 pm its about 35 degrees in the shade so we find a spot under some trees to wait it out until 3pm. Back on the road, we ride until its unsafe to continue because the sun is so low in the sky and in our eyes, at FC 110 not making it to our destination, and find a rough camp a little further on from Moongardie community. I soak some cous cous and eat it cold with tuna as we buzz with anticipation for the moon. A bushfire on the horizon glows red in the dark, and we're hoping it stays on the horizon overnight. The wind has dropped (it was a easterly earlier) so we're not sure if that makes a fire less predictable or if it'll just kind of stay put. The moon doesn't disappoint; the 99% full moon being a glowing orange fireball like a sunrise on the flat horizon here (no ranges as far as the eye can see where we are camped). The Moongardie community seems adequately named tonight.


Early morning road

Beef imitating chicken

Flat again



Despite the bright moon, stars fill the sky
The sun rises at our backs down the road as we ride early next morning. A roadkill wallaby attracts a couple of wedgetailed eagles, which fly up into the trees waiting for us to pass, before they can continue breakfasting. We reach Ngumban cliff, blazing orange in the early morning sunshine. This is a magic place. One side of the road is dark grey coloured limestone Devonian reef to the south of Mimbi caves, the other bright red towering escarpments and pillars. We stop for breakfast looking out over a plain of spinifex and Mitchell grass towards a range off towards Ngumpan community. We then ride into Fitzroy Crossing and eat lunch and frozen slushies in the 38 degree heat of the shopping centre shade, before checking into the Fitzroy River Lodge. That afternoon we visit the Lodge bar in which white fella blow ins like us are outnumbered by Aboriginal locals, so its not long before we're in a conversation to see if we reach the required standard to be in the pub! We're asked, of course, where we are from and which football team we are rooting for. We're told the bombers only used to be good, and of course, everyone hates the magpies. Obviously, when in Rome, we say we are following West Coast. A lady from one of the communities up the road (river people) asks if she can sit with us so she can avoid sitting with her brother, as is the law. Sure thing, so we shuffle over and start chatting. Anne was a cookie with the MacDonalds at Fossil Range station during the 70s when the queen visited at Christmas time. I was expecting a sorry tale about rations and bad or no wages, but she recalls her youth as good times and pride as one of the 'working girls'. She also gave us some tips about bush tucker - goanna, crocodile, kangaroo, pig, bush coconut, boab, bush banana, bush potato, witchetty grubs. We had a little trouble understanding each other, as she speaks pidgin and we don't, but we seemed to manage and it wasn't long before she's slapping me on the arm as we all laugh at something funny.  An ignorant white couple across the bar kept staring at us like we were strange or crazy for talking to a black woman. Their loss, as she has great stories and knowledge to share. She assured us that the Fitzroy River is fine for swimming -- just freshwater crocodiles, but to not go swimming at Broome at the moment because there are 'alligators at Cable Beach'. "White fellas at Broome stripping off all their clothes to swim with the alligators. We swim in our clothes!"

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