July 30th – August 27th 1200km
Well we made it to Kununurra! For those reading this who have no idea where that is… it’s roughly half-way between Darwin and Broome just tucked into the northern part of WA, close to the border with the Northern Territory. We are in the Kimberley region now, an area roughly 3 times the size of England, which is often referred to as ‘Australia’s last frontier’. Here the rugged and varied sandstone landscape is home to some of Australia’s most out of the way and hard to reach tourist destinations such as the Bungle Bungle’s and Mitchel Plateau. From here we will head right through the heart of the Kimberley on the Gibb river road – an unsealed gravel road of about 650 km over to Derby, from where it is only 150km on to Broome. Is this a good idea – well that remains to be seen. We have come across conflicting opinions on the roads condition which in part comes down to different peoples perspectives and in part that the roads condition changes fairly frequently, depending on when it is graded and how much traffic it sees. Basically, as far as I can tell, at its worst it’s going to be awful – sandy corrugations making riding hard to impossible – and at its best it should be good, smooth surface. The only real way to tell is to go and ride it though so that’s what we’re going to do – if nothing else it’s sure to be an adventure!!
The trip so far:
We stayed in Darwin for 10 days in total. The first 5 nights with Brad and Tanya; a couple based in Palmerston, about 20km out of the city, who we found through warm showers and the next 5 at a campsite, a little closer in. We both really liked the city which, in both climate and atmosphere, is a real contrast to Perth. We spent our time there seeing the sights which included, luckily for us, the annual Darwin show (which even more luckily we received free tickets for) and generally preparing for our trip. A big thanks to Brad and Tanya for their hospitality and useful tips for the trip ahead!
Darwin – Katherine via Litchfield NP 530km
We left Darwin via a ferry across the bay to Mandorah. This cost $15 each and was fairly easy, although you do have to climb 3 flights of steps on arrival, which is a pain (especially when carrying a weeks’ worth of food). Going this way enabled us to avoid the main Stuart Hwy and enter Litchfield NP along the partially sealed Litchfield road in the NW of the park. From here we spent the next few days slowly making our way through the park, visiting all of the beautiful waterfalls and gorges. The area is very touristy (we are in high season here so pretty much anywhere in the territory is) but for good reason and for travel on a bike it is perfect as distances between sites are small. We left the park on the road to Batchelor, a nice little town, from where we followed the ‘old coach road’ – a really scenic 4WD track, over to Adelaide river and then the old Stuart Hwy, also very scenic (and hilly too) pretty much all the way to Pine Creek from where we joined the main highway out to Katherine. Notable places would be; free camping at the beautiful Robin falls, the campground at Hayes Creek which is a really nice site and has a butterfly gorge 1o min walk from the site and Edith falls where we spent a day hiking.
Katherine itself is only small, but a major hub for the Katherine gorge and Kakadu NP so has all the amenities of a much bigger town. We spent a few days here, re-stocking supplies, visiting the local sights and the very beautiful Katherine gorge. We have been very tempted to do a 5 day walking trek called the Jatbula trail, through Nitmiluk NP from Katherine gorge back to Edith falls, but were unable to as it was fully booked for a week in advance! (only 15 people allowed to go each day) Bit of a shame as it looks to be a fantastic walk but something for next time I guess – the same as Kakadu.
Katherine – Kununurra – 670km
So fully loaded with supplies for the week ahead we took the Victoria Hwy west. The SE wind which had been blowing into our faces on the way down to Katherine was now on our backs which has been a great help as we’ve had some big days riding. The scenery has been good, especially the Victoria river to Timber Creek section, and road good too Road trains have not been a problem so far, always being respectful and giving us plenty of space. We have camped mainly in rest areas along the highway where overnight camping is allowed and drinking water usually available. We also took 2 detours, first into the Keep river national park, which was awesome (known as a mini Bungle Bungles), and second down to Lake Argyle, Australia’s largest dam which was also very beautiful and the campground down there had a really nice pool!
So now we will spend the next couple of days here in Kununurra preparing for the next leg of our trip. It has warmed up a lot here now, with temperatures reaching mid-high 30’s in the afternoon. It is still reasonably cool at night and in the mornings though, which will change over the next few weeks I guess. The temperature will continue to increase reaching peaks in October, when it would be almost unbearable to ride. After that the rains will begin marking the start of the wet season and the majority of the land up here will become almost inaccessible as the rivers rise and the roads close! I would love to come up here in the wet (or just after) to see how different it must all look. For now though we had better get a move on and hope that it doesn’t come early this year!!