Blog 184 Leaving Darwin heading for the wild west 19th – 28th September 2011


After a leisurely pack up we headed back into Darwin to stay with Phil and Megan and hopefully find our spare tyre. They were at work but I headed into town to get the locating pin on the damaged jerry can welded in place and sort one or two other things out and left Karen doing a blogging and photo session in case the tyre was delivered. Phil and Megan got in around 6ish and spoilt us rotten, we had roast lamb and all the trimmings for dinner and it was a nice relaxing evening of easy conversation.

It was another work day for them next day but they said it was fine to stay for as long as we liked, the tyre had not shown up yet so we stayed in and made the most of the rare opportunity of Wi-Fi and wrote and published another blog.

In between times I washed my bike jacket and trousers as they were both really filthy, both scrubbed up well. We also burnt some pictures to DVD to send home in order to clear some memory cards and back them up. We rewarded our efforts with a swim in the pool to cool down before wandering down to the nearby beach to watch the sunset.Another pleasant evening of conversation, wine and good food ensued and it was like a bit of a holiday in itself for us.

There are a couple more pictures of Darwin sunsets here.

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We were still waiting for the tyre the next day so it turned into another computer session. I had to upload some pictures to flickr for Roger the editor of Gambalunga the UK Moto Guzzi club magazine for an upcoming article and we wrote some of the next blog and got the pictures ready.

The day seemed to vanish all too quickly and suddenly it was time to get ready to go out, the plan was to go to the deckchair cinema in Darwin. Phil and Megan wanted to see a film and asked if we would like to go too. Karen’s birthday was also looming close and it looked as though it would be on the road so this was a good way to treat her for an evening.

There are not many places in the world with an open air deckchair cinema but Darwin is one of them. Megan went straight there from work to save us a place in the queue Karen, Phil and I went into town on the bikes. Phil has got a beautiful old Guzzi Ambassador and the two bikes riding into Darwin city centre together turned lots of heads. We met Megan outside and got a really tasty take away curry from the cinema foyer, We enjoyed that washed down with a cold beer and then took our seats for the performance. It was the opening night of the Darwin film festival so there were a few speeches beforehand and then the main feature “Eye of the Storm” which was excellent. Aussies know how to enjoy themselves and it was a great setting.

Here are some pictures of the cinema trip and Megan and Phil.

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The next day (our last in Darwin) was another blur, we had a great time there and got lots done, it was good to have the days to ourselves to blog etc and Megan and Phil for company in the evenings. We extended our stay to give the tyre time to arrive but as it still didn’t show we felt that it was time to move on so we arranged with Phil to forward it via the greyhound bus service, he would text us when it arrived in Darwin we agreed that Broome would be the best place to provisionally send it.

We woke early next day and said our goodbyes over breakfast, it was a really pleasant few days.

The first couple of hours to Katherine we had no choice but to back track, the road was fairly dull and Karen was unusually quiet so I asked her over the intercom “are you alright” it turned out she was reading her book on the back. She would normally get travel sick doing this in a car but it seems that reading a book on the back of a motorbike doing 100km/h was not a problem.

We pulled into Katherine for fuel and when we went to pull out of the filling station onto the road we heard an ominous clonk and suddenly had no drive. We pushed it back in to the service station and took off all the bags so we could get it on the centre stand easily, I pulled out the back wheel to discover we had sheared off the drive cog from the cush drive plate like we did in Siberia. I pulled the necessary bits apart and after asking where I might find a welder set off to hitch hike the few km’s to the industrial area leaving Karen with the bike on the forecourt. As it turned out I only had my thumb out for a few seconds and the first guy I saw stopped and gave me a ride right to the door a good start.

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After breaking the last one our mate Casper got Dave Batchellor our local custom bike fabricator and welding guru to run a bead of tig weld around this replacement drive plate to strengthen it. Dave’s weld was still good it just cracked the other side of it instead but at least the two halves fitted together well which enabled them to be welded back together straight. An hour or two later it was fixed and they even got one of their lads to drop me back into town, too easy as the Aussies would say.

Our nice early start had evaporated but at least we were mobile again, we looked in our free camp book and saw we had two options one 54km and one 106km. The first one looked nice and had shade so we pulled in, got the tent up and started cooking dinner (corn on the cob, lamb, veggies and cous cous yum)

We were up at 5am next day and on the road by 7am, we stopped briefly at Victoria River for toilets and to damp down our water absorbing wrist and neck bands to help keep us cool.

We had developed a few strategies for dealing with the heat by now, I had some shock cord around my back attached to both sides of my jacket to make it gape open and catch the wind, we also wet our t shirts when there was enough water and I bought a $2 plant sprayer to squirt ourselves with when we are overheating. This is surprisingly effective as when you spray it as a mist it feels cool despite the fact that the water in the bottle is hot, it’s much the same as sweating as soon as you get moving the air evaporates the water and cools you down.

The heat was still bearable but ramping up into what they call “the build up” to the wet season.

It’s all topsy turvy up here the winter is the cool dry time and in the summer it’s hot and wet. We only have to cross the Kimberley region to the west coast before we start heading downwards so we should be okay. We need to be out of the tropical north before the cyclone season starts around November but it will get steadily hotter and more humid from now until the rains start. It has been quite fortuitous timing in other respects as it’s been easy to find spaces in campsites that 4 to 6 weeks ago were chocka so there have been benefits to being late in the season.

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We then crossed into Gregory National Park, we had been told Policeman’s Point was worth a look so we stopped there for a photograph and then headed on to Gregory’s tree. This is huge Boab tree at which was the camp of a British expedition in 1864 sent to recce the area. They left their calling card by carving the date of the expedition in the boab tree they camped by which is still clearly visible today. They also left a message on the tree for the next party that followed them telling them where to find a letter. Graffiti as a rule annoys me but given a few hundred years it becomes fascinating.

Heading back to the bike we managed to photograph a willie willie or dust cloud as I had the camera in my hand, they come fast out of nowhere and are gone just as quickly. The second photo is Policeman’s point. This area was the first place we had seen the giant Boabs anywhere in Australia and they are concerntrated in certain areas presumably because of water. Africans call this tree a Baobab.

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We stopped at the last free camp before we crossed the WA (Western Australia) border. We knew that there was a checkpoint coming that we were not allowed to take any fresh vegetables or honey over to try to prevent the spread of diseases. It was a bit early in the day to stop but we also knew we had some stuff to use up and it seemed a waste to just throw it away so we decided to stay.

We met a nice couple in their camper van who were doing the same thing and had quite a sociable day, someone else came into the camp and gave us a bag of salad to eat with tea as they were going across that afternoon.

It felt like we were entering another country, there was even a time difference of 1 ½ hours once we crossed the border. Surreal !

We had woken early to cross the WA border quite prepared to open most of our stuff for quarantine inspection for fresh fruit, veg, honey etc. It turned out to be a breeze and due to the hour and half time difference we arrived at Lake Argyle before we had left camp in the Northern Territory.

Karen asked if it was alright to take some pictures at the border and to our surprise they said “no worries”. We would have had a Kalashnikov pointed at us for doing this in Russia

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We were not sure whether to stay at Lake Argyle or not, it was so ridiculously early that people who had stayed there last night were still packing up to leave before the 10 am deadline.
In the end we decided to stay, it was a Sunday and we had a parcel waiting at Kununarra post office in the next town that couldn’t be picked up until Monday. Also we needed the tyre that still hadn’t shown at Darwin to overtake us so there was little point rushing. Karen was requesting a day off as her birthday had been spent travelling. A look at the camps pool sealed the deal and we booked in.

The camp ground had an infinity pool overlooking the lake so we spent a good few hours swimming and lounging in that. We also rode over the dam and down into a shady picnic area for lunch meeting up with some bike riders out for a day trip.

We rounded the day off nicely watching the sunset over the lake with the fellow travellers from last night’s free camp and a sundowner.

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It was a lazy rise next morning as we were not far from Kununarra but we still had to wait a while for the post office to open. The steering damper was there, hooray,!!!

I had been planning to fit one before we left England but had never managed to source the right one for the right price, this was for a VW beetle so would need a bit of jiggery pokery to fit so we needed to find a welder. Previous google searches for motorcycle steering dampers turned up plenty of results but they were all $350 + this one was $45 shipped, much more like it.

As we searched the industrial area for a suitable welder Karen spotted a potential workshop.There were initial hesitations from the welder as it involved welding a lug onto the fork leg. When he realised I could weld after I explained I had made the forks he said “Oh do it yourself then mate” and gave me free run of the workshop, this was the best outcome we could have hoped for as it would take a few tacks and a bit of time to get the right position for the damper and brackets.


Job done he wouldn’t take any money as he said he didn’t do anything so we left him some beer money to say thank you. The damper made the world of difference allowing me to relax a lot more on long journeys and bumpy surfaces.

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Our initial plan had been to do some of the Gibb river road, a rough dirt road into some spectacular country but our new Chinese tyre from Darwin (the only one we could get) already had a cut in it from the course roads and still felt squirmy on the hot bitumen. Also we still hadn’t had any word on the spare arriving in Darwin. Without a spare and with a slightly dodgy feeling tyre we played safe and stayed on the bitumen/ tar and headed for the Bungle Bungles. The bitumen/ tarmac gets so hot up here you can barely touch it by midday and blow outs from over heated tyres are common, the roads are littered with shredded tyres especially truck ones.

Due to the delay fitting the steering damper we left Kununara fairly late and stopped in the first free camp. It was one of the more basic and the flies were the worst we have encountered so far forcing us to rig up the new mosquito net between the bike and the tipi to cook under. Dinner and washing up done we were just on the verge of heading to bed when Karen looked across and saw the nearby hillside on fire probably only a few kilometres away. The wind was in our favour but it changes quickly and we were close to the scrub. We only had two neighbours in the whole free camp and after a quick discussion we all moved to the centre of the parking area in the gravel and away from the bush.
Having taken the tent down we made the decision to just sleep on the airbed under the picnic shelter for a quick getaway should it be called for. A ute (pickup) pulled in close to us all and said mind if I join you.

This gives some idea of the flies and the fires together with our improvised camp.

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Karen left her earplugs out that night and woke once when the fire did a big jump closer she said she could hear the trees falling as they burnt through, the night was thankfully uneventful as the wind stayed in the right direction.

Next day we saw some of the devastation and even rode past a fire on the roadside,  we could feel the heat on our faces as we rode past.

The birds you can see in the picture are eagles preying on the wildlife driven out of the cover of the bush by the flames.

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There was no water at our next fuel stop so we bought a 4kg bag (the only size) of ice and proceeded to stuff ice cubes into our drinking bags of course we still had half a bag left so we put our drinking bags down our jackets to help thaw them and cool us and strapped the remainder on the front.

It was like air conditioning !, here is a picture of me (Kev) wearing my water bag full of ice as a cool hat and having a cold drink at the same time. !

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The average daytime temperatures were 40-42 deg c. We have been setting the alarm between 04.30 and  5am to be on the road by 6.30am which gives us two hours respite from the heat but the pay off is the roos and other animals are more active then.  As most free camps don’t have water you can’t even cool off with a shower or swim so when we had the ice down our jackets it was utter bliss and we had an ice cold drink when they melted.

 The free camp opposite the Bungle Bungles turnoff was a real treat however,        a shady site with a shallow stream so no croc threat. As it was only midday we rigged up a solar shower for later and went and lounged in the stream, by laying down in a hollow we could just about get wet all over it was soooo good to be cool. We were delighted when later Geoff and Bev (a couple we have met several times on the road) rolled into camp as they had offered us a ride into the Bungle Bungles in their 4×4 if it worked out timing wise.

The track in is seriously 4wd only and even our motorcycle book said a small light dirtbike would make it but a 4wd would be needed to carry extra fuel and supplies. An indication of the state of the track is that the 50km to the entrance to the national park takes over 2hours in a 4wd.

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We arranged with Geoff and Bev to meet at 6.30am the next morning to head into the park.

 

Coming Next The Bungle Bungles and Broome

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