Blog 182 The Top End 4th – 11th September 2011


Continuing our journey up to Darwin we stopped off at Newcastle Waters. This was a cattle drovers stop off point back in the day and is now virtually a ghost town.

There is a preserved general store and pub both made old corrugated iron that serve as a reminder of what a busy place this once was. In the days before reliable long distance road transport cattle were moved around the country by stockmen on horseback along droving trails thousands of kilometres long. Cattle and horses need regular water and that was why they stopped at Newcastle waters as it has plenty of that.

There are some pictures below, the guy in the rocking chair didn’t say much.

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That same afternoon we called in for a look at the Daly Waters Pub, we splashed out on lunch and a light beer which gave us chance for a good look around. A couple of coins in the charity box also allowed us to stick our calling card to the bar too.

We met the car travelling up the street, he stopped for a look and commented that we have the same air conditioning.

The last pic is of the now redundant Daly Waters airstrip and hanger one of the oldest in the NT. This was used during WW2 and right up untill the 1970′s.

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Here are some sights from our journey up the other Stuart highway from Alice Springs to Darwin, the roadkill is a bit bigger out here as are the termite mounds which were getting bigger the further north we went.

The old truck (a Chevrolet I think ) was being delivered to it’s new owner to be restored. 

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That night we stopped at Bitter Springs, a truckie down the way recommended it to us. There is a posher resort at Mataranka just down the road but this is the locals spot and free !

The campsite at the end of the road was walking distance from the warm springs and it was great after a hot ride to go for a dip. It was a lovely temperature and crystal clear, I took my facemask and snorkel with me and we took turns swimming up and down watching the thousands of tiny fish and turtles. You can just drift down about 100 metres with the current-bliss !  

There were three other bikes in the campsite too. They were Aussies on their own adventures one of them Dave was a mine of information about where we were headed next which was really useful.

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We rode back to the springs to photograph them before we left then got on our way and after a few hours riding arrived in Katherine.

After filling up with fuel and ordering a tyre from Tyres for Bikes in Brisbane to give it time to get to Darwin (while we explored the area) and topping up our food supplies we headed for Katherine Gorge.

There were boat trips but we opted to hire a kayak and paddle ourselves instead. The first part was a bit of a mission as the current and wind were against us. The really scenic part was at the end of the first section, the river turns into a set of small rapids and we moored the canoe up here to have a look at some of the rocks. We crossed the river and had a look at some of the aboriginal rock art before having a dip and a relax on the small sandy beach.

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The paddle back was much more relaxed and we dawdled along enjoying the views and keeping a look out for freshwater crocs. We were back just before closing and after retrieving all our bike gear we turned our attention to where we were going to stay that night.

A few fellow travellers had recommended Edith Falls and it looked fairly close so we headed there. It was in a national park and the campsite was a very reasonable $7 each, once the tent was up we grabbed our towel and swimmers and took the short trail to the falls.

Our timing was good as the setting sun was making the rock surrounding the falls glow deep orange, after taking some pictures we had a quick dip in the large pool beneath them. We were still having to be careful where we swam because of crocodiles so this was a treat after a hot afternoon. The water was cool but refreshing and it was almost dark when we got out.

We slept well and woke early to do the walk to the upper falls in the cool, it was a 2.5km loop walk and was well worth it, not only were the top falls more impressive but the pools were beautiful too. We were the only people there as it was still fairly early and it was like paradise swimming in the crystal clear pools with the falls crashing behind us.

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By the time we got back and packed we were into the heat of the day but it was worth it. Our next stop at Pine Creek was initially just for fuel but a sign to a lookout led us off on a tangent.

The lookout itself was over a man made lake which was the flooded remnant of an open cast gold mine that was sunk here in the early 1900′s this was latterly reworked in 1985 for 10 years. As we descended the lookout and headed out of town we passed a railway shed and mining display that looked interesting. There was all sorts of old pit equipment: steam engines, pumps, winches and a stamp battery which is a machine for crushing rocks to extract the gold. There was also a restored English built loco there and it was an interesting place to have a poke around and free which was good.

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Our planned destination that night was a small town just outside Darwin. Nick (from Cairns) put us in touch with Marge and Alistair and they invited us to stay. We had arranged to meet Marge at work but unfortunately we were running about 10 mins late and we just missed each other. They weren’t at home either and after a bit of detective work we found out they had gone out to their block of land in the country. With the help of a neighbour we managed to get them on a mobile and got some rough directions so we set off to meet them.

Their block of land was well tucked away but with Doris, the instructions and Karen’s navigating skills we managed to get there fairly easily. We had a great reception when we got there, they had some of the family there and we all got along well.

The farm itself was Alistair and Marg’s country getaway and it was great, simple and comfortable with everything you need and open plan in a way that’s impossible in the UK climate. The pictures below explain better than I can, to our delight Al & Marg said we could stay there and use it as a base to explore Darwin for as long as we liked.

It wasn’t until we got there that we received three old messages from Tyres for bikes saying that the tyre I ordered previously was out of stock with their supplier so they were waiting for a call to know what to do.

We had a great few days at the shed and loved every minute of it. Below is the shed, plunge pool, green tree frogs in the bog, Wally the Basset Hound and his self service dinner and a picture of Karen with Marge and Alistair. (Incidentally the green tree frogs disappeared a while later and Karen found out why when she walked into the toilet one morning and came out very quickly after coming across the black snake that probably ate them.)

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With everyones help we hatched a plan to explore Lichfield Park next day. This is the smaller and more easily accesible of Darwin’s two national parks. We rode in on the dirt from the top end working our way south through the park.

The dirt road was hard packed and easy riding which meant we could easily cruise along at 60-70kmh, everything was going great until we suddenly hit a patch of deep soft sand which whipped the front wheel out from under me and resulted in our scariest fall since Mongolia. The bike went down hard on it’s left side but I managed to stay on until the world stopped bouncing around. When I looked around Karen was nowhere to be seen and for one terrifying moment I thought she must be under it but when I called out she had been spat out the side when it dug in.

Fortunately we were both fine if a little rattled, the crashbars did their job yet again and only the left hand water jerry suffered any damage. These never normally touch the ground even when the bike is on its side but I think it dug in and pirouetted on it this time causing the damage which hopefully should be repairable. The bike ended up on the right side of the road but facing in the wrong direction. There was orange dust in everything afterwards but she still fired up okay and we carried on slightly more gingerly although there were no more sandy surprises.

Pics of the road, termite mounds and damage below

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Our reward for our efforts was a great day in Lichfield, the temperature was in the high 30′s by then so it was great to discover that there were lots of good places to swim.

Our first stop was Wangi falls which has a huge pool beneath it which you are allowed to swim in .Once we had dried off whilst having lunch we moved on to Tolmar falls which was just a walk down to a spectacular viewpoint. Then it was on to Buley Rockhole which is another great swimming spot set in a series of cascades, after this we went to Florence falls which has a big deep swimming hole at its base.There were lots of big fish at this one and we both had a snorkel around looking at them, there is also a huge submerged rock in the middle which is what Kev is sat on in the picture.

The last thing we looked at were some magnetic termite mounds, these are alignned on a north south axis to control the sunlight on the mound. The termites aim is to create a stable comfortable temperature in their home, they are clever enough to alter the mounds bearing slightly to suit local shade and wind conditions.

The other picture is us with a huge cathedral type termite mound this is thought to be about 100 years old. Termite’s are amazing creatures despite their tiny size they are the principle grazers in the top end consuming more grass than everything else put together. They live on cellulose which they store in their nests making them nutrient rich silos, eventually the colony will abandon their nest which eventually degrade to release nutients back into the impoverished soil. The walls of the mounds set hard like concrete and are made from a mix of the termites saliva and excretia so even this adds to the huge nutrient rescouce left behind when a mound degrades. It is only in recent times that people are beginning to understand how important termites are to the ecology here in a region where any nutrients in the soil are washed away in the wet season. 

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The next day we had a doing day in town trying to source some spare bearings etc without much success. We found a good camping shop to replace a couple of worn out things and buy a mosi net to sleep under when it’s hot and give us a break from the flies when they are troublesome.

We also met Colvin and his family who kindly took in a couple of parcels for us, he is a fellow Guzzi rider as is Phil his mate who popped over for a look at the bike. Phil invited us to stay at his place if we were in town later which we gratefully accepted. The parcels were the fuel bladders kindly supplied by Paul at “Liquid Containment”  see http://liquidcontainment.com/fuel_bladders.php  if you are interested.These are collapsible lightweight petrol containers to help with the big distances between fuel stations coming up.

The other parcel was a rear differential (drive gearbox) from Kev in Cairns, he had a spare and kindly let us have it until I can get my spare in the UK shipped out to replace it. Our old one is still making some noise and although they are rebuildable its a lot easier to just swap the whole unit((4 nuts and 1/2 an hours work). The old one is making a clicking noise when you roll the bike, its not discernible over the engine and its not whining so I am probably being a bit over paranoid but we are just playing safe as we are entering some remote places. Kev (in Cairns) is going to take a look to see if he can work out whats going on with ours when he gets a chance.

We also took our water jerry in to see if anyone could cut the damaged section out and weld a new piece in but it’s an awkward job and no one was very keen and the quotes reflected that. In the end I found some chemical metal that said it was drinking water safe so I bought some to see if I could make it water tight. Water is scarce and precious in the outback and we could not afford to lose the capacity.

We also tried six suppliers in Darwin to see if anyone had a tyre in stock, the only one I could find was a Chinese one called Kings Tyre. We have always tried to stick with premium tyres for obvious reasons but it seemed now we had no choice, besides it was load rated higher than the Metzeler Marathon we were replacing and a few people here had said they weren’t bad so we bought it.

Below is Colvin,Phil and Kev; a picture of our new fuel bladders and Kev repairing our damaged water jerry which was successful (wonderful stuff, chemical metal)

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Coming up: More of Darwin and our journey into Kakadu national park,

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