Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Merl Camp Site Kakadu to Darwin

And so on to Darwin. We stop in Jabiru at the bakery for an indulgence. Then on to Mamukala for a last glimpse at Kakadu wetlands proper. An excellent bird hide allows for great viewing of a variety of waterfowl. A large goanna prowling the shoreline is an added bonus.

The heat is intense as we stop at Bark Hut for lunch, fuel and a cool drink. 

On to Humpty Doo in 38 degree heat. The roadside is flanked by large mango plantations. Unfortunately it is not Mango season.

Darwin at last and we gratefully collapse at J & L's place. A shower (cold), a swim, another shower a beer and we're almost feeling human. 5 days of R & R await.

Muirella Park Camp Site to Merl Campsite Via Jabiru

Misty morning. Up and away as soon as possible. Jibaru for supplies, ice and fuel. Weird place reminded me of Woomera. Then on to Merl camp site, where we once again claim a camp site, drop our gear and head on down to the East Alligator river to wait out the heat of the day. The plan is to head for Ubirr in the late afternoon to visit the rock art and take in the views when it is cooler.

We set up a temporary camp in the shade next to the East Alligator river. Close to the famous 'Border Store' where we have access to cool drinks and ice cream. Right next door to a noisy colony of flying foxes.

After lunch, a short stroll upstream to Cahills crossing, where the road crosses the East Alligator river to enter Arnhem Land. After watching some vehicles cross over and cooling my feet in the river, someone points out that just 20 metres upstream of where I'm standing there is a rather large croc lazing on the river bank. At last – our first croc sighting. Within seconds I've spotted another (slightly smaller) croc even closer to where I was standing!

Back at our shady riverside spot, we pass the time reading, swatting flies and trying to identify the multitude of different birds that flit about the place. Lots of honeyeaters – including the superb Blue-faced honeyeater.

As the afternoon shadows lengthen, we saddle up, and make the short ride to Ubirr.

Truly astonishing art sites in an amazing setting. We are on the edge of the 'Stone Country' that extends eastwards from here into Arnhem Land. Amazing sandstone rock formations. The art is amazing, including a spectacular depiction of what appears to be a Thylacine – high up on a cliff.

We climb up past gallery after gallery of art to a lookout that provides 360 degree views across flood plains and stone country. Amazing contrasting colours. The emerald green of the flood plains and the red sandstone rock.

By the time the sun is setting we are joined by at least 50 others as we silently (for the most part) sit and stand and are entranced by the unfolding light show.

As the dusk gathers, we ride back to our camp site, endure the mosquitoes and have a simple meal before retiring for the night. The ice we purchased in Jabiru earlier is a godsend as we enjoy a cool drink.

Mardugal Camp Site to Muirella Camp Site with day trip to Nourlangie Rock

A short ride to our next camp site. Muirella Park – which we will use as a base for a day trip to Nourlangie Rock.

After dropping our camping gear we head on to Nourlangie. This is a rock outcrop that features some stunning rock art. A short 1.5 km walk takes you through various rock shelters and art sites to a lookout with glimpses across the plains to the distant escarpment and the so called 'Stone Country'.

Although only mid-morning by the time we get there, the heat is already building. Fortunately the walk is through some shade trees and aroubd shaded rock shelters. At last we are starting to get a taste of the real Kakadu.

We return to Muirella camp site and sit out the heat of the day in what ever shade we can find.

Tomorrow we'll head for Merl camp site (via Jibaru), the East Alligator River and the famous Ubirr rock art site.

Edith Falls to Mardugal Camp Site Kakadu

Reluctant as we are to leave Edith Falls, Kakadu beckons.

Did I mention how hot it is? Temperature on the road has been between 36 and 38 degrees Celsius.
Even though we try and have an early start, by 10am it's already well into the 30's. A brief stop at Pine Creek to refuel and pick up some basic supplies. Before we press on. By the time we stop for lunch at Gungurul it's 37 degrees and fairly humid. The landscape is withered, dusty and dry. Evidence of fires and burn off's are all around. The air is filled with smoke and riding in the heat is oppressive, even with 'T' shirts soaked in water. We stop at Mardugal camp site for the night. Beside a billabong with plenty of shade and some grass it is a pleasant respite from the heat of the day. Only two problems, you can't drink the water (it's radioactive) and the mosquitoes at dusk are overwhelming.

We are beginning to wonder if Kakadu is such an attractive destination after all.

Edith Falls Rest Day

Edith Falls is a fantastic camp site. The best swimming hole I've encountered in a long time.
Started the short circular walk to avoid the heat of the day. The short walk takes you to the upper falls and swimming holes. Beautiful setting and a refreshing swim in the early part of the day.

The evidence is all around of how much water must flow through this gorge during the wet. The rocks are polished smooth and the flood debris is scattered high around the water course.

Back down to the camp site and the main swimming area. There is a lot of recent landscaping around the swimming area allowing for easy access for both campers and day trippers. I would imagine that during the height of the season the place could get pretty busy. However, this late in the year, the crowds seem to have passed and although the camp site is fairly full each night the swimming area is almost deserted.

If you're ever in the area a visit to Edith Falls is a must.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Dunmarra Roadhouse to Edith Falls.

We are determined to push on to Katherine today and get as much of the Stuart Highway over as quickly as possible. By mid day the air temperature is up to 35 degrees Celsius. It's now warm enough for us to soak our T-shirts before setting off. That way we get at least 30 minutes of evaporative cooling. At this mornings coffee break at the side of the road, we are joined by three kiwis on bikes who are also heading north for some touring.

Katherine for a late lunch and shopping as we intend to spend a couple of nights at Edith Falls in the Nitmiluk NP 60 km north of the town before pushing on to Kakadu for a few days before getting to Darwin.

I press on ahead to Edith Falls while M & U do some last minute banking. Air temperature is now 36 degrees and bone dry. Wet T-shirt is only lasting for 20 minutes. Still long enough for me to reach the turn off for Nitmiluk NP. Last few km ride is through yet another section of the countryside that has been recently burnt off. I'm concerned we will arrive at the campsite to find it burnt out, and the creek dry.

My fears are ill-founded. Edith Falls are an oasis. The campsite is shady with grassy areas for pitching tents. All very civilised. The kiosk where we book in is manned by two young French girls, who as I arrive are chatting away to a group of French tourists in French. $9 per person for the campsite. Hot showers and drinking water on tap. Plus the falls and swimming hole – magic!

After unpacking the bikes we all head off for a swim. Crystal clear water full of small fish and as we swim across the pool a Darter bobs up, then dives below again chasing the small fish. Fantastic.

We will stay here for two night and do a day walk tomorrow upstream to another pool and set of waterfalls.

41 Mile Bore to Dunmarra Roadhouse

In the morning, the drip tray under the tap on the water tank is attracting a multitude of birds. Flocks of tufted pigeons, Galahs and Zebra finches all take their turns at having a drink and a bath. Scattering raucously whenever we make a move to pack up and leave.

On the road early – we soon knock off the 70 km to the Stuart Highway. For some reason it feels like a major milestone on our journey and we pause to take photos before refueling at the roadhouse.

A weird phenomenon with these remote roadhouses. The front desks, restaurants and bars all appear to be staffed by young European women traveling around OZ, who seem to end up working for weeks/months at one of these remote roadhouses. Meanwhile back in the UK and Europe young Aussies are also working behind the counters in bars and restaurants. Cosmic balance.

Barreling up the Stuart Highway towards Darwin we cruise at a steady 100/110 km an hour. The highway in is signposted at 130km but experience has proved that traveling at speeds in excess of 120km/hour for any protracted length of time results in a) burnt out tyres, and b) terrible fuel consumption. Most of the traffic (caravans, camper vans, freight trucks etc) travel at about 100km/hour. Only the occasional sedan blasts past at 130km/hour plus.

After 400km for the day we reach Dunmarra. A small roadhouse with a camping area, hot showers, a swimming pool, a bar and a restaurant. That will do us. Pitch tents then swim. Followed by happy hour at the pub. Free camping sites on the Stuart Highway are few and far between. Still it's only $6.50 per person for a camp site without power. Bargain. In any case they make their money out of us at the bar and the restaurant, where we treat ourselves to grilled Barramundi with chips and salad. A pleasant change form our usual fare of Cous Cous / powdered mashed potatoes, beans and tuna. We are served by a young French girl who has very little English but a charming smile. We retire to bed replete and happy.

Inca Creek to 41 Mile Bore (70 km east of Stuart Highway)

My bed is a section of square concrete culvert – one of half a dozen that have been dumped at the rest area to use a picnic tables. It is flat and level and perfect as a raised sleeping platform. There is an exceedingly small chance of rain and the ground is less than ideal for pitching a tent – so it is a night under the stars. The concrete has retained its heat from the day so provides a heat source until the early hours of the morning.

Morning sky is blood red from all the smoke from the fires we'd passed through the day before. A quick breakfast before we head off to Camooweal. Last stop in Queensland before we cross the border and gain ½ an hour. After fueling up I order a second breakfast (scrambled eggs on toast with fired tomato and hash browns with toast and black coffee while I charge my laptop in the roadhouse. Marco & Ursala sit outside under a tree and brew up their own coffee.

The Barkly Highway deteriorates after Camooweal. Lots of road works and chopped up bitumen. Country is more open with less bush and huge skies. Once we cross the border into the NT, the road improves. (Evidence that one the benefits of being a territory rather than a state is that you get extra federal funding for infrastructure such as roads.)

Stop for lunch at Barkly Roadhouse – a welcome oasis on this long stretch. Our destination for the day is another free roadside campsite – 41 Mile Bore – about 70 km short of the 3 ways intersection on the Stuart Highway. No facilities except a picnic table under cover with a water tank. We sleep on the concrete floor next to the picnic table.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Terry Smith Lookout to Inca Creek Rest Area (70 km short of Camooweal).

A quick update while I have battery in my laptop and coverage on Telstra 3G

Up early and a slow careful ride into Cloncurry (80km). Of course – no motorcycle tyres available. Try Mount Isa – 120 km further up the road.
Quick call to the two motorcycle shops Google maps knows about. The first only has Kenda 'knobblies'. The second (the Harley dealer) has 2 Metzler Tourance dual sport tyres! Yippee! Hold them both I say I'll be there shortly (hopefully). One small problem, the Harley dealer can't/will not fit them. I'll have to try the other shop.

Again I set off at a slow (90km) pace, trying to preserve what little rubber I have on the rear wheel. Slow and steady, and the ride is improved by the scenery approaching Mount Isa. Broken rocky hills and an undulating road keeps me distracted as the kilometres slowly unwind. I'd left M & U baclk in Cloncurry shopping and having a brew.

Finally Mount Isa appears – whew! Fortunately the 2 bike shops are a block apart so I stop at the first to confirm he is happy to do the fitting. No sweat $30 will do the truck – come back at 2pm. Swing by the Harley dealer just as M & U catch up with me. Marco has checked the supect piece of metal in his tyre – turns out to be just a shard of rock that has not penetrated far. Still we take both Metzler's – just in case. M will carry one as spare. It will fit all three bikes and by the time we reach Darwin it will probably be needed.

Lunch while we wait for the tyre to be fitted. Then back on the road. Our planned camping spot is surrounded by bushfires/burn off, so we press on another 30km.

I have mobile coverage and just enough batter in the laptop to upload these update to the blog. Photos will Have to wait.

Leichardt's Lagoon to Terry Smith Lookout rest spot. Via Karumba.

Woke at 5 to the sound of rain. Dawned grey and overcast with intermittent light showers. Barely enough to settle the dust. Packed and headed for Karumba via Normanton. Karumba just a small fishing village overrun by tourists. Expensive, so we have coffee, a barramundi burger as early lunch, then head back down the highway to towards Cloncurry via the Burke and Wills roadhouse. Clouds soon clear and the temperature rises to a pleasant 30 degrees. Although it's Sunday they are working on the roads. Little traffic and we avoid encountering road trains on any of the narrow (single lane) sections.

Reach the lookout at about 4pm to find it already full of grey nomads. Set up our tents next to the picnic table but have to use rocks as the ground is to hard for tent pegs.

After unpacking the bikes Marco and I check all the tyres. Not good news. My rear tyre is almost down to the canvas. (To much high speed riding under load.) Marco discovers he has a piece of metal lodged in his rear tyre, so we will need to ride VERY slowly to Cloncurry an hope to fine tyres there. More likely we will have to press on to Mt Isa. (200km) Fingers crossed we can find something locally, otherwise we will have to wait while they are shipped from 'down south'!

Beautiful sunset to end the day. Another good one!

Cumberland Historic Site to Leichardt's Lagoon Camp site (20km short of Normanton)

Boring ride due west across the savannah. Not much traffic, but due to early start there are lots of wallaby on the road side. Care taken to distinguish between the wallabies and the ant hills. They are the same size and general colour. Watch for the twitch ears!

Stop at Croydon for coffee and some supplies. Call Celeste to tell her where we are and where we are planning to go. Also Leigh & Hez who are about to fly to Lord Howe.

Leichardt Lagoon camp site is 25 km short of Normanton. A private camp site on a station. $7 each with hot showers. Good enough!

After setting up camp, I head into Normanton for beer and to check it out. The place is dead – only thing open is the Pub. Locals advise that there will be no garages open tomorrow (Sunday) so we will ride to Karumba where fuel is available on Sundays.

Like last night, there are heaps of water birds on the lagoon next to the camp site. Mossies too!

Undara to Cumberland Historic Site (25 km west of Georgetown) Via Kalkani Crater in the Undara Volcano NP

Met up with Matchless Claude and wee rode out to the Kalkani Crater together and did the walk. Short climb to the top with circumnavigation of the crater rim. Most excellent. On the way back down we pass a guided tour coming up. The guide asks if we saw anything of interest. I mention a tree in full blossom full of bees. The guide responds with 'Did you eat any?' We say no why? “They're hallucinogenic – will cause you to have weird visions!” responds the guide. Claude & I look at each other. Mmmm? Not worth the climb back up we both respond. The tour party laugh and we go our separate ways. Claude is heading in the same direction as me – at least for the next 60km or so. We head down the highway towards Mt Surprise to re-fuel.

I find M & U parked under a shade tree in Mt Surprise. Perfect timing.
We review the plans for the day and agree to press on beyond Georgetown to a camp site 25 km further west. Travelling west in the afternoon is stressful with the sun directly in your eyes. The road in places is single lane bitumen, with the protocol being that approaching vehicles pull over to the side with one set of wheels remaining on the bitumen. Being on bikes we cannot pull over to the gravel shoulder so we stay as far left as practicable and hope the approaching vehicles do the right thing. We (so far) have managed to avoid any close encounters on these single lane sections with road-trains.

Lovely spot to camp. An old gold mining centre (Cumberland), with an old dam creating a billabong refuge for birds and wildlife. Nothing remains of the settlement except the chimney stack from the smelter and the dam turned billabong. It's still relatively early so we are able to pick out a good site. No facilities so we are bush camping.

The local landowner turns up to drop of some salt lick for his cattle. Chats for a while and shows us some bush tucker growing next to our camp site. Small fruit that taste like cooked apple.

Tomorrow we will press on towards Normanton.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Millaa Millaa to Undara Volcano National Park.

Day dawns clear and cool. Quick breakfast, pack the bike and off we go. Back down the Kennedy Highway past Ravenshoe and farewell to the Atherton Tablelands as the country flattens out and becomes drier. The vegetation starts to look like the typical savannah grass and low open forest.

Not far to Undara NP – about 170 km all up. Get there before lunch, set up camp and book a tour for later in the afternoon.

While visiting the shop for some lunchtime supplies, I notice a ancient battered and dust covered motorcycle leaning against a tree, being worked on by an equally battered and dusty individual. I know immediately who it is.

In Cooktown, I'd encountered Bruce & Tony on their way home from a motorcycle rally held up on Cape York. During our evening conversation, they had told me of the many interesting characters and their bikes that turn up at these rallies. On of the characters they had told me about was Claude and his 1950 Matchless twin. Apparently the bike looked as though nothing had been touched on it for 50 years and it was being held together with spit and wire. It was unmistakeably the same machine. Claude & I agree to catch up later for a beer & a yarn.

Tour to lava tubes is interesting if tightly controlled. Qld National Parks only allow licensed guides to take people to see these remarkable features. Tubes and their remnants run for kilometres all over this area. From the air they look like green ribbons as they support denser forest due to their capturing water run off.

Back to camp and down to the bistro for a beer with Claude and an excellent vegetarian curry. Also spent time chatting to three Americans from Montana. Two sons taking their father for a tour up the east coast of Australia. A pleasant evening concluded with catching up with this blog.
Tomorrow will do drive to Kalkani Crater in the NP, where you are allowed a self guided tour. Afterwards back on to the Savannah Highway and meet up with M & U before we press on towards Normanton & the Gulf.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Cooktown to Millaa Millaa and a Rest Day.

Up early, say my goodbyes to Bruce and Tony, fill up with fuel and then ride up to the Captain Cook lookout. Great views and a reminder how astonishing a mariner Cook was. Cooktown was where he careened Endeavour on the sandbanks at the mouth of the river to effect repairs after the ship struck the reef that now bares its name off Cape Tribulation. It took 48 days make the repairs and wait for favourable winds so he could navigate a safe passage out through the reefs. Cook made many trips to the top of this hill at low tides to check out possible routes. All this without charts, and modern navigational aids.

Out on the Mulligan Highway – a super highway after the Bloomfield Track. 110Km limit, sparse traffic, good surface, surprisingly interesting scenery and only the occasional cattle on the road.

Made Mareeba (Coffee Works) in time to have lunch with Bridie N who happened to be in town, before taking some of the scenic back roads of the Atherton Tablelands through Herberton and Ravenshoe (via Queensland's highest road). Ended up at the pub in Millaa Millaa after 400km of excellent riding for the day. The Atherton Tablelands at this time of year is a motorcycling paradise.

Pub fish and chips then early bed. Woke up to mist and drizzle and decided to give myself the day off. Not a lot to see in Millaa Millaa – an old logging and dairy area that has seen better days. Visited the local museum and pondered the photographs of the early settlers. Tough times and apparently little respect for the environment. Only small protected pockets remain of the huge stands of gigantic Kauri Pines ( that once grew here. A sad reminder can be found behind the local museum where a cross section of an 870 year old Bull Kauri quietly rots away, eaten by ants.

The railway was closed in the early 1960's and the town has been slowly fading away ever since. Typical of many country towns in Australia as agriculture is taken over by corporations using more efficient less labour intensive farming methods and the young people move to the cities for work. Such is life.

Finally some good news. Spoke to Marco about tomorrows plans, and discover that the replacement part for his bike had arrived early and had just been installed. He should have is bike back before close of business today. I plan to head off to Undara Volcanic NP tomorrow and M & U will follow on – albeit a few hours behind.

It may still be grey/misty/drizzly up here tomorrow, but the weather will clear a few kilometres inland as we head out along the Savannah Way!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Up the Bloomfield Track. Noah's Beach to Cooktown.

There are lies, damned lies and advice about road conditions offered by locals. It may be dry season, and the creeks may be low, but I'm about to discover that the first 35km of road from Cape Tribulation to Cooktown (known as the Bloomfield Track) are not for the faint hearted.

The gravel road starts just out of Cape Tribulation village and there are warning signs that the road is for 4WD vehicles only. A few km into the drive I encounter the 1st creek crossing - Emmagen Creek. Crystal clear water and a rocky bottom – looks OK. ¾ of the way across (it's about knee deep), I'm distracted by the view upstream and deviate from the main route and suddenly find myself on loose river boulders rather than compacted stones. Result – the back wheel drops into a hole and the bike is stuck fast. Hung up on some large boulders with the back wheel spinning uselessly!
Fortunately the water is not fast flowing and the bike is securely lodged allowing me to dismount and unload all my gear and carry it to the far bank.

While I'm scratching my head wondering how I'm going to get out of this, a car turns up. Just a plain old sedan (an old front wheel drive SAAB). The driver (Richard) turns out to be an north American, who (although he has lived in the Cairns area for a couple of years) has decided to drive up the Bloomfield track for the 1st time in a borrowed car.

Long story short – while I sit on the bike to stop it from falling over, he removes the boulders that are keeping me stuck and we manage to get the bike out and up the slippery bank on the other side. My feelings are mixed at this stage. Relief that the bike is now safely across, mixed with trepidation about what lies ahead! Richard pushes on ahead while I repack the bike. “If he can make it in a front wheel drive sedan, then I can make it!” I tell myself. Onwards!

The next hour is the hardest riding I've ever done. I oscillate between feeling total terror and absolute exhilaration, my blood awash with adrenaline.

The track varies between wet creek crossings, steep (I mean VERY steep) ups and downs, dry dusty boulder strewn creek crossings and corrugated gravel. The very worst of the steep hills have concrete paving which helps. Total concentration required at all times, with little opportunity to enjoy the passing scenery. Most of the time I'm standing upon the pegs, which makes control of the bike a lot easier.

I finally emerge from the 'track' at a small aboriginal community called Wajul Wajul where there is a brief section of sealed road, before it returns to gravel for the final kilometres back to the main Cooktown road.

Shortly before rejoining the main road, you pass through Rossville where the (apparently) world famous “The Lions Den Hotel” is located. ( Stop for lunch and a cold drink. Find Richard – my American friend – having coffee and we exchange horror stories about the track. Then on to Cooktown – Richard says we'd probably run into one another again, as Cooktown only has one street (not true) and bugger all people.

Back on the sealed road, I pass the mysterious Black Mountain ( A totally strange phenomena – a couple of mountains consisting entirely of very large black basalt boulders – the colour apparently caused by algae growing on the surface. Eerie!

In Cooktown I cruise up and down the main street, find a café and order coffee and cake. No sooner have I sat down on the veranda overlooking the street and the river mouth, than along comes Richard. I buy him another coffee as some compensation for his roadside assistance.

I find a camp site at the local caravan park, and as I'm pitching my tent, two motorbikes turn up. There has been a motorcycle rally up on Cape York, and these were a couple of Victorians making their way back to Cairns. They and their bikes are covered in the notorious red bull dust that plagues the roads all over Cape York.

Bruce and Tony tell me that they had their dirt bikes (Suzuki DR 650's) shipped up to Cairns on a trailer, then by barge up to the Torres Straits where they disembarked for the ride down to the Rally at Bramwell Station on the Old Telegraph Line Peninsular Road. Apparently over 200 bikes from all over Australia turned up. 

When I tell them I came up the Bloomfield Track they shake their heads indicating they think I'm crazy to attempt it on such a large heavy bike, especially without knobbly tyres.

I head back up the road to the local supermarket for supplies and beer, while they set up their tents and have a shower to remove some of the red dust.

We spend an pleasant evening together. They plan a rest day in Cooktown before doing the Bloomfield Track as a short cut to back to Cairns. Good luck guys!

I'm heading back down to the Atherton Tablelands – hoping to hear from Marco that his bike has been cured of it's electrical problems.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Mount Malloy to Noah's Beach Camp Site (Daintree National Park).

An eventful day. Marco's bike started with the jump leads and we headed off to Mossman. It was agreed that he needed to have his electrical system checked, for although we had hoped that it was just a failed battery, the symptoms were suggesting that it may be more serious.

Great ride down to the coast from Mount Malloy. Fresh morning air and light traffic combined with a great road lifted our mood. We stopped at a lookout on the escarpment where a large group of motorcyclists had gathered. They were a bunch of riders out of Cairns doing a Sunday club run. They were complaining of the cold. We told them to toughen up. Marco's VStrom was now flashing all sorts of warning lights,so we pressed on to Mossman. I suggested swapping the batteries between his VStrom and the Ninja, to see if the problem went with the battery or stayed with the bike. So a quick roadside swap in Mossman and it appeared that the problem was the battery, as the VStrom started perfectly with the Ninja's battery, and all the warning lights went away.

By this time we had been advised that there was a motorcycle repair shop near Port Douglas, so M & U decided that rather than chance a total failure up the road to Daintree, they'd opt for caution, and wait in Port Douglas for the motorcycle shop to open in the hope they could get a new battery.

So – after re-arranging some of the food supplies, I sent off on my own up the Daintree road towards Cape Tribulation. We had booked a camp site at Noah's Beach in the Daintree NP, some 8 km south of Cape Tribulation.

Despite abandoning my comrades, I enjoyed the ride up the coast. Ferry across the Daintree complete with baby crocodile lazing on the riverbank. Road to Cape Tribulation from the ferry is narrow and winding, but sealed. Some road works as a consequence of wash outs and landslides, but fun nevertheless.

Noah's Beach camp ground is between the road and the sea, with the beach a short 20 metre walk from the camp sites. Perfect!
I pitch my tent, unpack my gear and head up the road to Cape Tribulation to get some additional provisions. I'm no sooner back at the camp when I hear the sound of approaching motorcycles. Low and behold, it's M & U!

Marco had found someone with a stash of motorcycle batteries at home and had popped a new one into the VStrom. So the team was re-united again! Unfortunately it's not all good news. The short ride up the Daintree road had demonstrated that the battery was still not being re-charged properly and that there was still some sort of weird electrical fault on Marco's bike! What we can't understand is why there is no warning light showing that the battery is not being charged? Mystery!

Net result is that M & U will return back towards Cairns tomorrow, while I press on to Cooktown up the coast road. Local information tells me that it is dry, the creek crossings are fine and the biggest problem will be the dust raised by all the tourists in their 4WD tanks!

We swim, have a very late lunch and sink a few beers. Despite the hassles with Marco's VStrom, life is good. No mobile connectivity here so uploading this will have to wait.

Tonight we sleep with the sound of waves crashing on the nearby beach!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Kuranda to Mount Malloy (Rifle Creek Rest Area).

After breakfast, a quick stop at the Barron Falls Gorge. Tourist train from Cairns arrived as we were admiring the view, disgorging a multitude of tourists, armed with cameras for their next photo opportunity. We all fled back up the track to the car park, where we chatted to a local who was selling fruit. He warned us about:
  • Traffic cops on the road to Mareeba,
  • That is was Market Day in Mareeba so the place would be packed,
  • That there was a rodeo on in Mount Carbine, just up the road from our intended overnight camp site.
  • That is was going to be cold overnight – at least down to 12 degrees! Queenslanders are soft!

He also claimed his grandfather – a bullock driver – had blown up the tracks for the first train up to the tablelands because it was affecting his trade.
We bought some mandarins from him. They were sweet. He tried to charge us twice, claiming early dementia when we pointed out we'd already paid.

And so on to Mareeba, with a weather eye on the lookout for traffic police. None were seen. However he was right about market day in Mareeba. The place was swarming with locals and tourists.

We headed straight for the Coffee Works and indulged ourselves in good coffee and cake. Then the ritual stop off at the local supermarket for the daily supplies. (one of the tricks of keeping the loads light on the bike is to limit supplies to just a few days worth.)

All good until Marco tried to start his bike after shopping. Dead battery! WTF! Push start gets it going, but we pick up some jumper leads just in case. Clearly he has a problem – hopefully its just the battery. However he will have to return to Cairns to source one. Bugger.

We already have a camp site booked for tomorrow night up in Daintree NP. If the bike starts OK tomorrow with jumper leads, Marco may chance the ride up to Daintree. Otherwise I'll press on by myself.

Friday, August 10, 2012

School Point Camp ground to Kuranda

For those of you looking for an alternative view to this trip – my companions Marco and Ursala have their own blog.

Another peaceful night. Spent some time looking at the stars before the moon rose. Rediscovered the globular cluster near the Southern Cross - Omega Centauri – NGC 5139 Nothing like a bit of star gazing to remind us of our place in the universe.

Misty morning sunrise at School Point camp ground - another dew drenched tent. Marco & Ursala are quick efficient packers. Unlike me. On average it has been taking us about 2 hours from wake up and 1st coffee to leaving. One of the most time consuming activities is dealing with a tent wet with dew. Marco takes to their tent with an absorbent cloth. Also as their tent is self supporting, once he has emptied the contents he can move it to a sunny spot to assist the drying process. I just wait until the sun has done its job.

So they have a head start this morning – giving them time to handle to dirt section without me hooning about. It also means that once I get going I can enjoy the dirt without worrying about leaving them behind.

We meet up again on the Gillies Highway on the way down to Cairns. Another wonderful twisty section of road leading back down from the Tablelands to the coast. Marco is still trying to get his brake pads replaced, and was hopeful that they would have arrived at the motorcycle shop in Cairns. Not yet, so we decide to have a picnic lunch on the esplanade across the road from the Cairns Base Hospital in remembrance of my sojourn there this time last year. 

Riding into Cairns on the last section of the Bruce Highway brought back powerful memories of the desperate ride I made into Cairns from Mission Beach last year. I cannot believe I rode all that way (130 km) in the condition I was in.
A much happier and more comfortable ride into Cairns this time.

We decide that a ride back up to Kuranda will be enough for the day and should provide a good starting point for heading up to Daintree, Cape Tribulation and Cooktown via Mareeba.

The ride out of Cairns was hellish. Road works to start with that forces us to do a quick dash up the inside lane to bypass the waiting line of cars. Followed by heavy traffic leaving Cairns heading north. We discover that Cairns drivers have no idea how traffic roundabouts work. There are a series of large roundabouts on the highway north of Cairns. It would appear on the evidence of today that local drivers consider a roundabout to be the equivalent of a 4 way stop sign intersection. Time after time they screech to a halt from 100 km an hour to a standstill before looking to see if another vehicle is approaching from the right. No idea at all about anticipation, and merging with traffic at the same speed. Again we are forced to take evasive action and do some serious lane splitting to jump the queues.

As there are no National Parks in the immediate area with camping facilities, we are forced to spend a night in a commercial caravan/camping site and are reminded yet again why we prefer bush camping. Still the showers are hot and the laundry allows us to do some much needed washing of cloths. Also we have power and the proximity to civilisation allows me to catch up with this blog and upload some photos to Picasa.

Murray Falls to School Point Via Mission Beach. Wednesday / Thursday.

So – catch up time. Sitting in a caravan park / camp site at Kuranda just out of Cairns. Friday night 10th August and with a decent Telstra connection at last.

Murray Falls was a great camp site. Despite the noise of the falls we all slept soundly. Early morning walk to the top of the falls before breakfast – 1.8 km each way. The view from the top back down the valley was tremendous.

Pleasant morning ride back to the highway and then a quick blast past Tully and the reeking sugar mill to the Mission Beach turn off. Coffee and a call to Jeannie to see if she had time to catch up. Of course she did!. Albert is away again in Afghanistan, so Jeannie was happy to see us. Still living in the shed – albeit much upgraded since I was here last year. Still lots of evidence of the physical damage caused by the two cyclones – Yasi ( and Larry ( The eye of Yasi passed right over Mission Beach. Jeannie and Albert are determined to rebuild their house, but it's obviously tough going. Still – Jeannie was as hospitable as ever and we had a great evening.

Thursday morning and we head off towards the Atherton Tablelands. Back road from Mission Beach to El Arish on the Bruce Highway. Weird synchronicity. I'd been listening to the news on the radio that morning and had heard a report about clashes between Egyptian authorities and militants somewhere in the Sinai at a place called – El Arish. Sure enough – the Queensland town is named after the same place. (,_Queensland)
A soldier settlement founded after the first world war and named after the Egyptian town where the Australian Light Horse were involved in some action against the Turks.

Premium Petrol in El Arish is cheaper ($1.44/litre) than Canberra ($1.60/litre)! Please explain?

We leave the Bruce Highway at Silkwood and make our way to the Palmerston Highway leading up to the Tablelands. Bliss! - Perfect road, perfect riding conditions – no traffic, no road works, no cops. Recommended. Noticeably cooler as we climb – a good 5 degrees cooler than down on the coast.

The Atherton Tablelands offers a great series of ideal roads for motorcycle touring. Lots of interesting geology and pockets of remnant rainforest protected in National Parks.

Lunch at Lake Tinaroo (man made), then a side trip to visit some of the many lakes that fill old volcanic craters. Lake Eacham and Lake Barrine ( Back on the road to our camp site for the day on the shores of Lake Tinaroo. School Point Camp Ground. About 16 km of dirt road after leaving the bitumen. Stand up on the pegs and let it rip! Poor Ursala has to take these sections carefully on her Ninja. It's not designed for these conditions. Slow but steady she gets there in the end.

The Qld National Parks have a terrible system for booking camp sites. Very few camp sites in National Parks or State Forests have facilities for self registration when you arrive. They want you to book camp sites in advance. Two problems – most of these camp sites are in locations where there is no mobile phone coverage which means you have to book in advance. This means that there is little room for spontaneity. You can't decide on the spur of the moment to stay somewhere, everything needs to be planned in advance. So Marco had to ride back to the highway where he could get coverage to ring Qld National Parks HQ to book a site.

Still – it was worth it. School Point was very pleasant. Despite the giant white tailed rats. (

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Alligator Creek to Murray Falls.

Tuesday 7th August.

Up and away early – pausing only to shoo the Brush Turkeys away from the bags as they attempt to examine everything that looks vaguely edible. The have the memory span of an earthworm, and return to the scene of the crime seconds after having been abused.

The plan was to drop Marco's bike off to have its brake pads replaced, then find somewhere to have breakfast and discuss our route. The plan comes unstuck when we find out the brake pads have not arrived.

We sooth our frustrations with an indulgent breakfast. Poached eggs with a hollandaise sauce with smoked salmon on toasted muffins, orange juice and coffee. Mmmm. We check out our options for tonight's stop and select Murray Falls NP as a good option. About 30 km north of Cardwell it will give us a total run for the day of about 240/250 km.

Townsville has a large peak of pink granite right in the centre of town. This same granite is found all along this stretch of coast, with flat tidal plains and estuaries interspersed with towering granite peaks.

A brief stop at the supermarket to stock up for the next couple of days and another coffee before we hit the road. Ingham for fuel, then on to a swimming hole on 5 Mile Creek just short of Cardwell. Perfect lunch spot off the highway and Marco & Ursala have a dip while I ring QLD National Parks to book a camp site at Murray Falls.

Last year when I'd passed though Cardwell, the countryside was still visibly scarred from the last cyclone. The damage is less obvious now, as trees have regrowth.

We pick up last minute supplies (pastries for afternoon tea, and orange juice and yoghurt for breakfast) in Cardwell before pushing on to Murray Falls.

Perfect camp site. Large open grassed area, with shade trees. Not to many people, and we have the pick of the place. Close enough to the falls to be able to hear them.

Back on the road. Monday 6th August.

I'm typing this while sitting in the tent at Alligator Creek campground – part of the Bowling Green Bay NP. About 6km off the Bruce Highway and about 30km south of Townsville. Met up here this afternoon with Marco And Ursala who have spent the last couple of days couch surfing in Townsville.

Left Hamilton Island on the 8:45 ferry to Shute Harbour. Bike collected, re-packed all the gear, re-fueled and back on the road by 10:30 am.

It was good to be back on the road again after the sailing around the Whitsunday's. The sailing was great, perfect weather, and excellent company. Despite a number of us coming down with what appeared to be a 24 hour virus that disabled most of us over a couple of days.

The Whitsunday archipelago are astonishingly beautiful and provide a prefect backdrop to leisurely sailing. We spotted whales every day, dolphin, dugong, turtles, giant batfish that came right up to the boat to be hand fed, monitor lizards on the islands when we went ashore and heaps of birds.

Celeste & I had an extra couple of nights at the resort. After the sailing, being in the resort was like being is Disneyland!

Tomorrow Marco needs to stop off in Townsville to have the brake pads on his bike replaced. Although he'd had the bike serviced in Airlie Beach, they didn't have the correct size brake pads. So we'll head off early and have breakfast in town and stock up with provisions while his bike is sorted.

No mobile coverage here, so typing this up in advance and will upload when I can.