Port Hedland to Katherine, a set on Flickr.
Day 6, up at sparrows, said my goodbyes and headed off into the morning sun. The cows were once again out in force but this time they behaved, I reckon I got the only suicidal cow in WA the other day. Amazingly the road train drivers don't even lift off when they see them standing by the side of the road, quite obviously a 600kg beast doesn't harm a road train when they make contact. Today I was headed to Broome, 600kms further along the north coast. The scenery was forever changing from green fertile bush to dry baron plains to charred remnants of the aforementioned, The soil changed constantly from deep reddy brown to nearly every shade of orange you can imagine. Groups of small birds seemed to find fun in swooping down in front of the bike, while overhead or waiting in the occasional tree top, goshawks kept tabs on their prey, perhaps it was me. The road itself was incredibly straight and tedious, but at least the caravans and camper vans have once again replaced the mine site vehicles. I still can't figure out which road trains are going to affect your stability when coming in the opposite direction, some nearly blow you off the road while others pass as gently as an angels fart. I've studied their shape and size but their doesn't appear to be a common denominator for the turbulence. Shortly after lunch I rolled into Broome and after disappointment at a few of the campsites I finally got a great little spot in the Palm Grove Holiday Resort. Quite pricey, but that seems to be the norm in these parts. The ablution block comes a very close second to the Anchorage in Kalbarri, and I very quickly made use of their swimming pool. Once refreshed I investigated the town which is pleasant, but the Cable Beach area is very nice. It's a happening kind of place that is absolutely chockablock full of tourists, but not to the detrement of it's atmosphere. It has a great vibe and is wonderfully clean and tidy. In the evening I wandered down to Cable Beach to take the obligatory shot of the ships of the desert at sunset and followed that with a pint in the beachside bar. All in all a great day.
Day 7, I left Broome bright and early as usual, and headed to Derby. The scenery pretty much the same as the day before but steadily getting warmer, eventually reaching 35˚C. Derby seemed like a nice place with plenty to do, but patience got the better of me. So I decided to fill up, get a spare 5 litre fuel container just in case, and filled that up, and headed off along the Gibb River Road. The first 120kms or so isn't so bad as there is a single bitumen road that takes you that far. It would appear that vehicles don't give up that single strip of bitumen as I was run off the road and into a deep sandy gully within the first 50kms. After the bitumen it's hell on earth. I did visit the visitors centre in Derby to get a little advice on distances etc. There should've been a sign up on the wall saying "Any motorcyclists wishing to ride the Gibb River Road make sure you either have the ability to complete the Dakar, or be a complete twat!". Unfortunately I didn't know any better. There was one guy in the visitors centre who had just completed the trip in a 4WD and was offering his tuppence worth, eventually ending the conversation with "well that's what you guys buy those bikes for ain't it?". On approaching the dirt I let a little air out of the tyres, hoping for good traction and control, pah! The road consists of gravel, sand, rocks, stones, corrugations, oh and creek (river) crossings. The biggest problem I found was there was no consistency for any length of time, the stuff under the tyres changed in an instant and then just as you may be getting to grips with that surface, it'd change again. Then there were the idiots coming the other way in 4WDs and camper vans, people who obviously have no regard for their vehicle whatsoever, flying along as fast as their nerves would stand. They also had very little regard for the safety of others coming in the opposite direction, showering them in whatever the road surface was and blinding their vision with the thickest cloud of dust you could imagine. My first stop was Manning Gorge Roadhouse which is 200kms in. They also have a campsite another 7kms further into the bush, which was my only real option. I arrived absolutely knackered and filthy dirty, with lungs full of dust. While I was setting up camp I was approached by a lovely couple, Ian and Angela, who had recently retired and were travelling around Australia with a caravan. They offered me dinner, which I graciously and desperately accepted. We had a great evening exchanging horror stories about the Gibb and life in general. It was common belief around the site that I still had the worst ahead of me. I slept terribly.
Day 8, When I arrived at the Manning Gorge Road House the previous afternoon, the guy behind the counter took my money for the campsite explaining that it was 7kms out the back to the site. So I said I would fill up when coming back through in the morning. When I arrived at the pumps at 7.00am the following morning, they were all locked up, the bloody place doesn't open until 8.00am. So I wasted an hour of the best time of the day to travel just waiting for the place to open. The previous day I'd lost count of the near misses I had just from the tyres, particularly the front, sliding about all over the place. I'd been warned by many campers at the site that the first 25kms going in the direction I was headed, are about the worst, as the grader had been through but not cleared the rocks. And there was plenty of proof in the campsite that these rocks were capable of inflicting punctures. I managed to get through the rock section and continued on my unpleasant way. About 50kms out from the road house I came upon a fairly deep looking water crossing and gingerly took the plunge. With about 2 metres left to go the engine sucked in water and stopped dead. A million miles from anywhere, standing in a river with a flooded engine, great! I couldn't budge the bike by myself, but after a couple of minutes along came Errol, a guy that had been chatting to me while I packed the bike earlier. He was travelling with another camper van, so they all got out, and the two guys took off their socks and boots and helped me to push it out. I took the plugs out, turned the engine over until petrol spat out instead of water, replaced the plugs and bingo, the Beemer fired up. I have given this bike such a flogging over the past couple of days and felt so guilty about what I'd done. After many thanks the camper vans pootled off while I packed everything away again. About 20kms further on I fell off in deep sand, inevitable really, it was all happening today! After another passing vehicle stopped and the driver helped me get the bike upright, I struggled along for another 210kms until reaching Home Valley Station. What a relief to find such an oasis in the middle of nowhere, well not exactly, I only have another 66kms of the Gibb left to do. This station is wonderful, great campsite, great facilities including a pool and a wonderful restaurant which I patronised later that evening. What a terrible day, I hate this Gibb River Road.
Day 9, Up early again in an effort to get on the Gibb before anyone else, not a chance! Onwards I meandered through quite a rough section of mainly rocks and gravel, then the bit many people had warned me about, The Pentecoste Crossing. This is the widest river crossing on the Gibb with a uneven rocky base. I stood at the waters edge and weighed up my options, didn't really have many. Their was a couple who had just driven through in a 4WD stopped over the other side, waiting to take pictures, probably of me falling off! I wobbled in, deciding that riding with my feet as kind of outriggers was the best way, not too much speed else the bow wave gets too big and does what it did the other day. I made it to half way where it gets quite shallow and studied the next deeper section, while I was waiting, another 4WD came passed and gave me a good indication of the depth, about 3/4 of the way up their wheels. Without too much much drama other than bouncing from one rock to the other, I made the other side and I was elated, I had crossed the Pentecoste and was nearly out of the Gibb. The couple on the other side had some great pictures and have promised to send them to me. The section around El Questro was really rough and corrugated but didn't last too long and before I knew it I was back on tarmac. I managed to ride the Gibb River Road, 600kms of dirt, no punctures and only one very minor tumble. 50kms later I was in Kununurra, and pitched my tent at Hidden Valley Caravan Park. Good facilities and great grassy campsites for the tents, has a pool, and good kitchen facilities all for just $12, bargain! I believed Kununurra was big town, but was surprised how small it was. It's surrounded by fantastic countryside and Kununurra Lake which is teeming with wildlife. Unfortunately an unwanted guest has made it's way over from Queensland into the North of Western Australia, the Cane Toad. This venemous reptile is killing all kinds of wildlife throughout the Northern Territory and has now started invading the west, many have been caught in the Kununurra area. The Indigenous people in and around Kununurra are very friendly and welcoming, in fact the only positive encouragement I got along the Gibb was from a young Aboriginal guy who drives it once every year.
Day 10, I was expecting a long day in the saddle today, which was to be the ride to Katherine along with an excursion to Lake Argyle which is about 80km away from Kununurra towards Katherine. After visiting Lake Argyle I decided to spend the day and night there, as it is absolutely idyllic and surrounded by spectacular countryside. I also needed some time to mull a few things over, well one thing really, my diabetic care. Since leaving Perth the temperature has been steadily climbing, not ridiculously but up in the 30s. My Insulin isn't maintaining a good low temperature and this has affected its ability to bring down my blood glucose levels. I'm not at all confident that I can carry Insulin through Indonesia and South East Asia for 4 months and believe it is going to work effectively, in fact I'm sure it'll all be dead long before South East Asia as Indonesia is too humid and the cooling effect of the Frig wallets will be compromised. So it is with a heavy heart that I have decided to bin the ride to the UK as it will place me in too much danger. I'm rather gutted, but diabetics can end up in a world of trouble if they are unable to maintain good control. I didn't sleep well last night knowing that I've failed, but hey, there's always cooler Europe. Anyway, today I'm relaxing and thinking, and floating around in a pool that has the most unbelievable view, and just coming to terms with things. The Lake Argyle Caravan Park is absolutely fantastic, it has a resort type feel about it, yet it is just a caravan park/camp ground. It cost a huge $12 for one person, and that includes the use of all facilities. I am planning on coming back here next week after visiting Darwin to get tyres fitted. I must admit today has been the first day that I have felt how I wanted to feel for the whole trip, not rushed, able to soak up the atmosphere, and it's sensational. The sights, sounds and colours of the Kimberley region have proven to be much more wonderful than I could have imagined, and living in Western Australia for the past 22 years, I've seen many TV programs and advertisements promoting the region. If anyone is looking for a stopover in this area, skip Kununurra and come here instead, more bang for your buck!
Day 11, Bit windy in Lake Argyle last night but the MSR tent stood up to it well. Didn't sleep the best again despite the fact that I am thoroughly enjoying myself. I set off to Katherine today where I will spend three nights. Then on Monday I can shoot up to Darwin to get my tyre fitted and then back again. Then on Tuesday I'll head back to Lake Argyle. The scenery today has been the best yet, from Timber Creek to within 50kms or so of Katherine the roads meandered through spectacular countryside, I could take a million photos but none would do the feeling or scenery any justice, so I just lapped it up. I saw another cyclist on the road today, and I've pitched my tent next to a young couple from Switzerland who are riding a tandem from Darwin to Perth. I can't imagine what compels someone to cycle the long country roads of Australia. There would be days when you start in the morning and at the end of the day get to the point in the road that you could see in the morning when you set off. It takes all sorts I guess. I've just been for a walk out of the back of the campsite to have a look at Katherine Hot Springs. It is a little creek, beautifully shaded, with presumably hot water running through. It was chockablock full of people, it's obviously a very popular local spot. The Riverview Tourist village is I guess adequate, it's your typical sleepy town campsite with the very basic of everything, but it has hot springs! May give them a try tomorrow. Now I'm just relaxing, I've put my watch on 1 and 1/2 hours as I'm now in the Northern Territory. So it'll very soon be dinner time.
Please be patient for blog updates as I can only do it when I have Wifi available, which hasn't been often in Australia.