Very cold start again, just above freezing. The views of the Rawlinson Ranges were amazing in the sunrise. We had a quick ride to Docker River and saw some wild horses along the way. We went into the village and logged into our internet at a picnic area (see Mike's separate note below). Nothing was open yet. There is an art centre there and a camping ground a few kilometers afterwards. There was also some bitumen for a few kilometres. As we appproached the NT/WA border there was a sign which said "Road Closed Ahead". Ah, it's good to be going home where no one else is welcome! Apart from the Shire sign advising of the various settlements coming up all the way to Kalgoorlie (!) there was only the sign advising that the Outback Way is called the Great Central Road. The bitumen ended immediately and off we went after stopping for our flask coffee. We saw a group of three young, quite chubby dingos on the road that scurried off into the bush. At first the road was very rocky and bumpy for a long way, jiggling us along and trying to detach our kidneys from our lower backs. After a while it settled down and later on became a brilliant road which we hope we have for keeps.
The scenery is remarkable, the hills are so close you feel you could touch them. Maybe we spend so much time staring at the road ahead that it has altered our perception, but when we look at the mountains they are so three-dimensional it's amazing. The road is pretty quiet. We had the usual 09:00 and 12:00 convoys. The groups of three 4WD'ers are the worst, always racing along like lunatics. At one point we were stationery on the right hand side of the road and one of these idiots roared along towards us. No time to wave but enough time to gesture to us that we were on the wrong side of the road. Go back to the city you numpty! The caravaners are always friendly, even reducing their speed to a crawl. The locals are the best. They will always wave or give a thumbs up out their window, today a lovely lady yelled "Hi!" out her window and waved with the biggest smile possible. We had our ever present easterly wind to help us, but even the undulations on the road seemed effortless on the surface. There were rough patches but overall we are impressed. We rode until 3:00 pm which leaves us with a short ride into Warakurna tomorrow. We were both exhausted. The last few days have been really demanding and we have been very hungry. We were on auto-pilot towards the end but found a bush camp just off the road. The flies are very irritating again but disappear when the sun goes down.
Mike's words on Docker River:
We were looking forward to visiting our first Great Central Road (GCR) community today, and were very pleased to find a sealed road connecting the GCR to the township which is nestled in beautiful hills. After about a kilometre along the access road we passed what we thought was the school and a few houses; all looking neat and well presented. A bit strange to also pass some wild horses roaming the main street, but hey, we are in the outback. Just after passing a sign indicating no photography, we started to notice the garbage lying everywhere, and through this haze of rubbish we were pleased to view a roofed picnic table in what we expect to be the centre of the township, and we thought it would be a good spot to remove some of our warm clothing as the sun had now risen. After wading through the garbage, we got to the table which was pretty much covered with what looked like peanut butter, or some other other brown sticky goo. Looking on the bright side, only half of the table and bench seats were covered, so there was a spot for us to cower and do our business - Great stuff. Interesting that there was a wheely bin not 2.0 m (or maybe it was 2.5 m) from the table, which was completely empty. Now this makes me think that either the bin had just been emptied by the council, or the locals like to play "shoot the hoop" with their rubbish and they're just not good at it. Then again, maybe the half metre that the bin can move around messes with the aiming, but then one couldn't really explain the overshoot of 30 odd metres; Who knows, but we didn't wait to find out.
We had dingo tracks alongside the road for a few kilometres this morning. The landscape really opened up into savannah and was very beautiful in the dawn light. The road continued in good form. We were looking forward to our first roadhouse at Warakurna and had a short day so we knew we would be there by 10:00. We had checked the websites of all three of the roadhouses coming up as we remembered that their hours were reduced on weekends and felt safe that we would always hit a roadhouse on a weekday so no worries there. We ddn't even consider public holidays. We took a roadside break at tea time. Shortly afterwards a road-train thundered by carrrying fuel, but did slow down for us. We had to call ahead to the roadhouse prior to arrival as a condition of our permit. Just before we did this at the turn off to Warakurna, I fell off my bike while standing still(!), grazing my shins. Flies love blood so Christmas came early for them. When we arrived at the roadhouse we had to show our permit and record it on a register. We then bought fried chicken and chips which were delicious. We also checked into the campsite for the night. The lady behind the counter told us that they close early today at 12:00 as it is a WA public holiday. How lucky were we to have a short day today? Otherwise we would have missed out due to our own ignorance! So we went back after eating to buy some more food for the day.
Giles weather station is a few hundred meters down the road towards the community. We wanted to see the station and they used to offer tours, but not any more. As you go down the road to the turn off the signs say that it is closed to outsiders due to Covid. We tried calling the numbers listed, one of which was Warakurna police station, but noone answered and the other number listed for "Emergencies" was discontinued. A few locals drove by and gave us a wave, so we figured we would cycle just a littled way until we could see the station instruments. According to the lady working the counter at the roadhouse, the balloon goes up twice a day at 08:45 and 20:45 which you could view from the road, but she also said that the weather station was its own universe, so perhaps that is subject to change. Although Warakurna is in WA, it is on Central Standard Time and we haven't turned our watches back yet. It sure is interesting moving west in the winter.
We have set our watches to WA time which is a little weird as it means that we wake up at 04:30 and were on the road by 06:00. WA is very wide and it seems what is good for Perth has to be good for everyone, including the West Australians living out here! Just goes to show how the big city dictates. Sunset is before 17:00 here! We set off with the usual heavy load being day one of three before our next water point. We had a crosswind today and the weather was definitelly cooler. The first car of the day passed us around 08:00. The morning went quite slowly as we kept having to criss-cross the road to find a good spot for riding. The road was a bit sandy and corrugated. The quality improved for the second half. It goes much quicker when you can just ride along, not having to swap to a different channel. Saying that, it's good that at least there are definite channels in this road, caused by tyre grooves, 4 of them to choose from.
Wherever we have been on this trip, be it rough road or smooth, the traffic is determined by how far you are from the "chuck out time" of the next campsite. So today around 11:15 all of a sudden about 15 vehicles passed us going eastwards. Prior to this we had seen about 5 vehicles all day. This includes a wonderful carload of locals who all hung out of the open windows and waved and smiled, shouting, "Hello!!!" including a barking dog which was also held out the window. These types of travellers are a pleasure, they take their foot off the accelerator a bit just so we don't get blanketed in dust. The 15 in a row came barrelling towards us at 100 km per hour, seemingly without seeing us at all. A couple actually sprayed me with gravel in their haste to get to the end of road. We wonder why these people are even on this road at all and what they are getting out of the experience. Are they going to ride the next few 100 kilometres up the other guys arse seeing only dust? We guess that they feel they are really doing something adventurous here and can imagine them trading stories with their mates, "Didn't drop below 110km the whole way!" (but what exactly are they seeing along the way). It's only a road. There was a time when they were all like this.
We aimed to be off the road by 14:00, due to the sun setting at 17:00 so we were looking around at options for bush camps by 13:00. We saw a large camel by the roadside and stopped to have a chat. He was pleased to see us and even stood and ate some leaves from a nearby bush. Then we heard a big "gurumffing" noise behind him and there were two other camels there and on the hills in the distance at least another 7. A little way further we found the perfect bush camp complete with camel footprints which are HUGE. Also no flies today.
We woke to hear dingos howling around 04:00. We were a little apprehensive about today as a few motorists heading east had told us about roadworks and sandy road conditions around this distance between Warakurna and Warburton. Mike had been up in the night with stomach issues and nausea, he had had similar symptoms after Marla too. Around 05:30 about ten 4WD towing caravans hurtled passed with all lights blazing. It was strange, had they wet the bed? We have never seen a caravan so early, let alone a whole group of them in the pre-dawn like this. Mike wondered if there wasn't a stop-go around the roadworks. We set off at 06:15 and the road was good. After 15 km we saw the warning signs, "Grader Ahead" and the road was brilliant. We waved at the bloke operating the grader. A road train passed us pulling three trailers of gravel and dirt. On his return journey he stopped for a chat. He said that we would have about 30 km of this good, newly graded surface and then the road would return to it's usual form. We had next to no issues with the surface today. It was a little sandy after the roadworks area and also quite corrugated by the end of our day but that was it. We have had far, far worse on this trip, even on this road.
We stopped for morning tea and a 4WD drew up and two ladies inside stopped for a chat. They are school teachers based in Warakurna but they travel round to the community schools in the area to teach. It was interesting hearing about their lives out here. One of their comments related to the water quality in Warakurna. They said that the water is high in nitrate and they buy water as drinking the tap water can make you ill. Mike mentioned his stomach problem and they said that one of their colleagues cannot drink the water at all, he gets sick everytime. When Mike had had the same issue after Marla we wondered about the water, but I was not effected, the same as here. When we showered at Warakurna we saw that the floor tiles and basins had blue streaks from water and wondered what was in the water to do this. The high nitrate level isn't harmful but it can cuase stomach upset and the locals are not effected. We wonder now if we should buy bottled water at the next two roadhouses. We have about 7 more days on this road. What we wouldn't give for a Swedish lake right now to filter water from! Water had been the most critical issue on this trip, both quality and quantity. Mike has taken Immodium and feels okay, but it's not a good thing when you are thirsty and then you have to worry about what the water will do to you. Later on another construction worker drew up alongside us and chatted to us. As we came near to the end of the day a road train coming towards us slowed to a crawl which was very nice of him. He stopped to ask if we were okay and offered us water. We thanked him for taking care to slow down and he was happy to do so. Makes a change from the idiots who race towards us showering us with gravel and dust. The evening is overcast, sort of looks like rain but none was forecast.
The road was not as straight today, it had more bends and undulations which makes the surface a little less consistent, but it was a good ride and we arrived at Warburton Roadhouse around 11:30. There was not much traffic on the road at all when compared to a few days ago. The roadhouse has precooked hamburgers and chips which they keep warm and we got some of those and also resupplied. They had no sugar left which was a problem as we had only a cup left ourselves and with a rest day tomorrow this would disappear quickly. Anyway, we bought some artifial sweetener and hoped for the best. We have learnt when resuppling to buy twice what you think you will need, so that meants 4 packs of various Arnott's sweet biscuits, plus savoury biscuits, three loaves of bread, 4 small jars of jam and so on. You don't even think of the price or actually even know what things cost, you just pay the total whatever it is. Otherwise reason might take over and you would leave things behind. Then we would be sitting in the bush crying over what we did not buy. We went outside to pack our shopping away, fill up with water for the next four days and eat the hamburgers. These outback roadhouses at first seem a bit strange... everything is in cages including the fuel tanks. This one has a campsite adjacent which is behind high fences and barbed wire, the gate always locked. A bit like a prison. Many locals from the Warburton community came and went as we stood there and they were all friendly and curious about our trip. A car pulled up with four ladies in it and we got chatting to them and asked questions about living in Warburton. They liked it there, said they could live in their family groups, there is a swiumming pool and clinic and even a Centrelink office, so they don't have to deal wiith "the city mob". Anyway, when I told them we couldn't get sugar in the roadhouse shop as they had run out, they offered to drive to the community shop for us to buy us some (as we are not allowed to visit the community as part of the permit conditions). Wasn't that nice of them? They asked "brown or white?". We gave them money and they were back in a few minutes with the sugar.
After this we went to the art gallery a little further on and they opened up for us. There is an amazing collection of art here, both paintings and glasswork all done locally. Very impressive. The gallery had a lovely outdoor area for sitting in and we hung around for a while. Many people that we chatted to had told us of 30 km of bitumen from Warburton onwards, so we weren't concerned about getting back on the bike quite late in the afternoon as we wanted to get about 10 km down the road to camp for the next two nights, including a rest day in a nice bush setting. The bikes were super heavy with food and water and surprisingly, the road was still very rough gravel. There was a creek crossing full of water; our first on the trip. The bitumen only started 10 km later, which again just means you have to take the local knowledge with a pinch of salt. After about 7 km on bitumen we found a good campspot just off the road. After showering and eating we had a suprise visit from a dingo who walked right up to us and sniffed around our bikes, coming quite close to the tent. We stared him down and he eventually loped off.
We had no more dingo visits on our rest day but it did rain a little and was overcast. The conditions were the same this morning and we took out our rain jackets in case. It was the warmest morning we have had for ages, over 10 deg C. We set off again on bitumen which went for about 28 km in total, so about 20 km this morning after 8 km that we had already done. We liked the bitumen! It was quite uppy downy. The sunrise was spectacular this morning and the sky was wonderful all day, with many clouds. After the bitumen ended we had expansive views of the plains from high points along the road. At first the surface was quite soft and corrugated so not great for riding, but after a while it improved a lot to the point where we would say it was excellent. If you are a cycle tourist this means that you can just ride along on the correct side of the road for hour after hour without thinking. As the road improved so the headwind got up and by the end of the day it was strong. We decided to try to ride 90 km by just doing 10 km intervals after the 60 km mark. This worked quite well, riding for 10 km then collapsing on the ground for 15 min and then riiding another 10 km. It seemed to make it managable. The reason for us wanting to do the longer day is that we expect the headwind to be worse tomorrow so that gives us some wriggle room if we want a shorter day.
The road had been very quiet all day again, hardly any traffic at all. At the 90 km mark we looked around for a campspot and found one not too far away. It had been a warm day and we hope it cools down a bit overnight. By the time we got off the bikes and set up camp we were exhausted.
We were distrubed in the early hours by a lone howling dingo which sounded very close to the tent. We zipped up the tent outer at that point. It was a more normal temperature when we woke up later, around 4 degrees C. We got up at 04:15 as we were awake and keen to get in some kilometres before the headwind started. It was still pitchdark when we set off at 05:45 and we used our lights and headtorches. The road quality was still excellent as it climbed slightly uphill, the dawn breaking behind us. We are continually struck by the priviledge of cycling the Great Central Road. The sunrise, the wild (bush) camping, the road which we have almost always to ourselves and the beauty of the surroundings. Suddenly the road crested and what lay before us but bitumen, stretching as far as the eye could see! Wow, did we whoop and carry on! Two locals at Warburton had told us we could expect 50 km of sealed road sometime before the next roadhouse. Usually when three people tell you something about the road you know it is just myth, but two locals? We were inclined to believe them and as it turned out they were right! We crossed into the North Eastern Goldfields and now the road markers are counting down to Laverton, 434 km away and the end of this road.
We lapped up the bitumen, which indeed went on for 51 km to be exact. The headwind/crosswind did get up but it was not as bad as yesterday. The road is super quiet and almost all traffic is oncoming, first day out on their great adventure. Without fail every vehicle, roadtrains included, slow down to a crawl for us and everyone is super friendly, waving and tooting at us. Most caravaners want to stop for a chat. This makes a change from the "Uluru or bust" mentality that we experienced at the other end of the road, which and left us covered in dust and gravel. We stopped at a pull off and there were boulders placed around a hole in the ground with a metal grid placed over it. It turned out to be one of the natural wells that you get in this area. You could see the water inside, about a metre and a half below ground level, which just shows how close the water table is to the surface. As we sat there enyoing our morning coffee, a flock of finches arrived and they all hopped inside where there was a little beach they could sit on and drink. The flora is different now, many flowering bushes and beautiful light grey bushes. Most people who drive this road will say it all looks the same, but on a bike you notice everything at a much slower pace. After we had ridden 60 km we decided to do our stints of 10 km again and although we were very tired by the end of the day again, we were pleased to have covered the 92 km, leaving us with less than 50km tomorrow to the roadhouse. Towards the end of the day we pulled over for two roadtrains that drove together in a cloud of dust that looked like Armegeddon. Then we started noticing camel footprints on the road in places and wondered where the camel was. We would peer into the bush but to no avail. Suddenly he popped out of the bush and onto the road. Seeing us, he of course took off like a shot down the road in front of us, running from side to side. As the road went steeply downhill at this point it was a crazy sight, this massive camel running hell for leather along the Great Central Road for over a kilometre. Then he stopped, turned side on and looked at us again. We kept going and he eventually dived off into the bush. We found a bush camp soon after.
Heard some clop-clop in the night, it might have been a camel, judging from the camel footprints going along the road nearby. Then we also saw a camel in the bush, checking us out. Only three cars passed us today. It was a bit of countdown to Tjukayirla Roadhouse as we had read all about their famous "Tjuka Burgers" on their website. Last night's meal was a little light on as we were aware of the water we had available, so we were looking forward to a good feed. Four kilometres before the roadhouse we hit bitumen and the emergency runway for the Royal Flying Doctor Service which is the actual road. We pulled up to the roadhouse which looked pleasant and went inside. Mike suggested shopping for food first as we needed lunches and some snacks for the remaining four days on the road. We then asked about the meals as there was a huge kitchen which looked busy and also tables set out for eating at. "Oh, we are not operating at full capacity today," said the lady, "Our supplies for the week arrived yesterday so I am sorting that out". Sounds a bit like your problem, not ours since you are the one running the show. "Actually, we cannot cook you anything today." We have sort of learnt not to act surprised. If we have learnt one thing on this trip, it is what everyone says is true, Australia has great experiences to offer visitors, but hospitality is not one of them. Anyway, she sold us three loaves of bread and the other odds and ends. I asked about wifi which was advertised (we had no Telstra service; only Optus available), she said, "You have to log into it on your phone and it is VERY expensive." As Mike said, well, it's up to us to decide if it's expensive or not. We asked if there was a laundry and she turned to the bloke there and asked, "Do we have a working machine at the moment?" Oh man, what the F.... are we paying for here?! Luckily he replied, "The one in the men's bathroom is". On the campsite map she pointed to the unpowered sites, ablutions and camper's kitchen and gave us change for the washing machine. He escorted us into the site through locked gates. It was very nice actually and we were the only one's there. We checked out the camper's kitchen which had a sink, some grimy grotty BBQ's and a table and benches. No kettle in sight. Anyway, we had wonderful HOT showers and got the laundry going and then I went back to the roadhouse to see what we could get to eat for lunch. There were some frozen homecooked meals and so I asked her if they would defrost them for us. "Oh you can do that yourself in the Billabong Room". A fairly crucial piece of information that wasn't provided previously. The Billabong Room was another prefab building with microwave, fridge, wide screen TV (not that we care about that), toaster and kettle. So we removed ourselves there and had a lovely few hours indoors, eating egg mayonaise on toast as they did sell hard boiled eggs and had mayonaise. I had asked the lady for another loaf of bread but she said that she should not really have sold us three as she normally only sells one per customer. I mentioned that we did have to cycle 300 km to Laverton over the next four days, but she did not seem to care! Mike suggested that we sit on the pavement and ask passers-by to buy an extra loaf on our bahalf. What a nuthouse this place is!
After lunch we were going to tuck into some fruit and custard. The custard was off and we noticed the expiry date was in March. Back to the roadhouse I went with the custard. "Oh, you'll have to bring the fruit back too," she said when I told her that I had poured it over the fruit. We could not believe that someone so rude and obviously disinterested in helping people could be in the job, especially when she told us that they had just taken over, and she had not checked the dates on all the stock. Anyway, we have clean washing and clean bodies and we can even shower again later if we like. Just a word of warning, do not rely on any of the establishments on this road, you may be disappointed.
Interesting that the Aboriginal locals on this road, and particularly in Warburton, have shown the most care; it's been unexpected and appreciated.
In summary: good road, bad headwind. We woke around 01:00 with a numerous dingos howling right at our tent. They sounded unhinged. We were on the road by 06:00 by letting ourselves out through the pedestrian gate. We had a bit more bitumen for a few kilometres and the road surface was almost always excellent today, we suspect this is the "highway" as the motorists describe it. The headwind kicked in after 25 km and just dug in for the rest of the day. We barely looked at the view. Headwinds are demoralising for cycle tourists. There is nothing you can do, whatever effort you put in the wind will suck up and not thank you for. Our plan for this last 305 km stint to Laverton is to ride three 80km days and one of 65km, but we weren't sure if we wanted to ride 80 km into this today. Mike hit on the idea at around 46 km of riding to 53 km and then rest, and then do three 9 km intervals with rests between which would take us to 80 km. This is a variation on the 10 km stints we have been doing on previous headwind days. If you are not a cycle tourist carrying 4 days of water and food between you and riding into a headwind up a slight hill, you might wonder, "How much difference would 1 km make anyway?". Just be thankful you don't have to worry about it. After this we had a plan, the 9 km mark came around quickly enough and we ate at each break.
We had quite a few cars oncoming today, including the odd convoy. Most slowed down nicely, first day out and all. One bloke asked me if we needed anything which was nice. At one of our breaks from the road, another bloke drove by and gave a thumbs up, then actually did a u-turn to come and check that we were alright, which was really nice of him. He warned us of bad weather coming on the weekend, by which time we will be in Laverton. It is so crazy, we take 4 days to get to Laverton and by that time those people leaving Laverton today will be at Yulara, which we left 12 days ago! A while later a carload of locals stopped beside us, asking, "Are you alright for water?" when we said that we were, thanks for asking, he countered, "You sure? I have a litre here, you can just take it?". It is a funny thing with water, first day of four you are sort of not keen to carry any more, the weight on the bike is so great. With the headwind it was cold anyway and we were barely sweating. It is really nice when people are kind enough to offer assistance and although we complain a lot about motorists on this road, you get these offers from at least one person almost everyday. We stopped at White Cross which has a wonderful view over the plains and a lovely cave, at the same time as a small tourist bus. The tour guide also offered us water. The tourists took photos of us through the windows. It's a bit weird when this happens, but to be honest, there's not much other wildlife. We found a great bush camp just after White Cross. We might try to get up earlier tomorrow and get an extra hour in before the wind, but it will mean riding in the dark so we are not sure.
We decided to wake up even earlier than usual, 03:30, and were on the road at 05:00. It was a little crazy, but that is what the thought of a headwind does to you. The moon is waxing and not even half-full, so we relied on our bikes lights and headtorches. It was very, very dark under the stars. Outside of your bike light's gleam you could see nothing. The sky started lightening around 06:15. It was worthwhile getting the early start as we rode an extra 15 km by 06:00, our usual start time. The wind was not so bad in the end. The road was busier than yesterday and we passed a mine site which created a lot of the traffic, including road trains. We ended up riding longer than we thought and stopped at 13:00. The road has deteriorated somewhat due to the mine traffic. Spinifex plants cover the land by the thousands. They look like sea urchins.
The road was busy with mine traffic til quite late. The surface was sometimes good and sometimes bad today. It is pretty dark now til around 06:30. We pulled off at Limestone Bore well where there is a picnic area, but could not see any sight of the well. Good thing we didn't need water! One may need to hunt around for it. The road had a few climbs around Cosmo Newberry and we got a phone signal there but no internet access. It is still pretty windy, almost a headwind and we were quite tired. It is good to see the distance markers counting down to Laverton, 100 km to go, now 80 km. We camped after about 75 km which leaves 60 km tomorrow, and we know the bitumen starts sometime before Laverton, at least 30km (!?), may be more. We hope it's more! We have been on this road for over 2 weeks now. We are looking forward to eating in Laverton. It's amazing that we have ridden from Uluru, over 1000 km, and have only managed to buy a warm meal twice, both times not freshly cooked. Pretty rubbish really, but it's all part of the experience!
No internet access for 8 days, and only a Telstra phone signal near Cosmo Newberry! Hence the delayed updates.
Cold night, perfect for star gazing which Mike did for a long time before sleep. We really cannot overstate the beauty of the night sky here. Everything was sparkly when we woke up, our frame bags glittered in our torch beams, as did our saddles and even the tent. All icy. Minus 3 degrees C. We really need to start waking up later. The thing is though, the temperature drops as the sun rises so it is actually colder at 06:00 than it is at 04:30, but we do need to start cycling a bit later as it's starting to be a bit dark. I have taken to checking around for dingos in the bush when it is dark and cold, not sure why. Actually, maybe it's because I see their footprints before we go to bed. I think we are safe when it comes to dingos though. We have noticed that much of the dirt along the road is covered by the green fuzz of new shoots and sometimes we see pools of water by the roadside so we guess it must have rained recently. We were super excited when after 8 km we saw bitumen lurking in the distance. We weren't sure when the bitumen started out of Laverton. A blue state government sign annnounced this as part of the Outback Road upgrade. Out here, we almost love the "Royalties for Regions" as much as we love bitumen. Shortly thereafter we passed the rest area turn off which that caravaner had recommended two weeks ago when we had not even reached Docker River. Then the bitumen disappeared again to be replaced by roadworks and a couple of stop-goes. That was quite deflating. While waiting for one of the traffic lights to turn green a road worker told us that the bitumen reappeared with 11.8 km to go to Laverton. All the road workers are very friendly, all slowing, waving and greeting us. They are a pleasure.
We felt pretty accomplished as we reached the sign for Laverton. Having this road behind us is a big achievement and one not many cycle tourists attempt. It's quite something to think that we have ridden here from Uluru. ULURU. Living in Perth that seems like a very long way away. If we wanted to go there we would only really think of flying there, your thoughts would not automatically turn to this road. We suppose one day it will be sealed all the way through, that seems to be the plan. The road will gain things from this but it will lose things too.
Laverton is a cute place, very neat and the people are friendly. On the main drag we stopped where we thought the supermarket should be. There were a few Aboriginal locals sitting outside but it seemed shut. They asked, "Where are you going? Where have you come from?" which are very common questions, the Aboriginal people seem especially interested. When we said we were looking for the supermarket they said it had moved and directed us along the road. We still couldn't find it so we asked a young woman walking through the bush with a young man and two children. They gave is more specific instructions and we got there. The supermarket is good, well-stocked and there is a takeaway place as well. We shopped, and ate pies. Then the young woman, kids and man arrived, and the woman was going beserk. It seems she had derailed in the previous 5 minutes, and we don't know what either the man or kids had done to upset her that much. Then we headed back into town to get to the campsite, stopping at the art gallery as I wanted to buy a silk scarf which is dyed with ochre that the local women's art group makes. Mike got chatting to a bloke while I was in there who turned out to be one of the road workers we had passed earlier. He was also from Perth and pretty amazed by our trip. He spends two weeks out here, and one week at home, and seems to enjoy it. Later on we went back to the supermarket and met two other guys who were also working on the road and had seen us. Indirectly, we had met all the roadworkers during the morning's ride, and they were all keen to hear about the ride. We had to go back to the supermarket as when loooking ahead at our route we found that Menzies (which we will reach in two days) has no grocery store/supermarket and therefter we have 4 days to ride to Coolgardie (via the unsealed Golden Quest Trail). Good thing we checked.
It is 124 km from Laverton to Leonora but we had planned to turn off about 19 km before Leonora onto the Kookynie Road, which is part of the Golden Quest Discovery Trail. This would take us to the Goldfields Highway, and then on to Menzies, which is also reachable on the highway from Leonora. The road between the L's is brillliant, small shoulder, very quiet and of course bitumen. We even got a few rest areas thrown in with clean, empty bins, picnic tables and one had a shelter. There was even internet coverage! What? Is this the civilisation people talk of? We really enjoyed the ride, slight tailwind, only really road train and mine traffic, it was a cold start but warmed to a lovely day. The scenery is dominated by the colour of the earth here, it actually looks like metal, almost black in places and very shiny. You can smell the mineral wealth in the goldfields, literally as we passed a massive nickel and cobalt mine and you can smell whatever was belching from the chimney stacks for much of the day. There were a couple of large mining operations, interesting to see the activity from the road.
Turning onto Kookynie Rd we saw Malcom Rail Head. We had assumed that this would be historic remains, but it was actually a fully functioning railway connected to the mining. The road trains that we had been seeing often carried shipping containers and many were stacked here, as well as fuel tankers, some of which were waiting on the rail lines. As we followed the railway we thought it looked quite newly built and could see piles of old sleepers alongside in the bush. The Golden Quest Discovery Trail has points of interest relating to the history of mining in the area, but none of them seem to be there anymore, on this leg anyway. For example, the distance to Melita Homestead is given on a road sign, but when you get there it is gone. There is an offline app which provides a lot of information about the history of the place which is useful. There are also small picnic areas along the way. The road itself is unsealed and so far brilliant and we are really pleased to be cycling it. Found a brilliant bush camp spot too. In the end we were on the road from 06:30-15:30 which is long, but that is how you ride 130 km I guess.
We had a crazy dingo visitor last night, howling it's head off a few metres from our heads. Freezing cold night, minus 3 degrees C this morning, everything was covered in ice, even the tent poles were iced up and Mike had to defrost them in his gloved hands to prise them apart. It only hit zero degrees after 10 km on the bike. We had 26 km on the unsealed road to Kookynie. It was rough in patches, corrugated, but not sandy. We passed a recently abandoned gold mine which was a bit of an eyesore. Kookynie is really quaint and a lot has been done to make this a nice place to visit. It has 13 permanent inhabitants, but at the turn of the 20th Century it had 3500 due to the mine there. There are informative signboards and a great picnic spot where we had our coffee and a train with people carriages came past and tooted. After this the road is sealed which was good and the next 25 km to the Goldfields Highway went quickly, passing the turn off to Niagara Dam on the way. We saw two skippies this morning (our first since before the Oodnadatta Track started) and some cows.
Hopping onto the highway towards Menzies we had a raging tailwind. The weather forecast is not great, there should be some rain tomorrow and then the wind will be very bad for us for a few days. We had been planning to continue on the Golden Quest route over a few days of unsealed road after Menzies, which would bring us into Coolgardie, missing out Kalgoorlie and as much of the Goldfields Highway was possible. With the rain forecast though, we have decided that the dirt roads are not worth the risk. They may even be closed if it is wet. So we had a pretty quick 40 km into Menzies where we bought Thickshakes and muffins and sat at a picnic table next to the hotel to discuss. The road direction after Menzies would make better use of the wind. Menzies is a lovely little village, beautiful buildings and a nice campground and layout, but it does not have a grocery store and has sort of struggled post-covid. The wind was too good to miss, so we decided against camping here and set off straight towards Kalgoorlie. The tailwind raged and we ended up cycling a further 40 km by 16:00, so super-long day but we made a lot of progress. Tomorrow the wind should be okay for the morning and we have less than 90 km to Kalgoorlie. The highway is not too bad, quite a few roadtrains but not much other traffic, hardly any caravans. The shoulder is very narrow, but in all probably better than the Stuart Highway. There are also rumble strips down the centre line which is handy as you can hear the normal vehicles as they cross them to overtake from behind, but not when the roadtrain crosses them! We feel we did well making use of the conditions today and hope that the kilometres we have banked will help through the coming week. Suddenly it feels like we are getting close to home, even the landscape seems more like WA. We clocked 4200km today so not much further to go.
We always worry a bit about using a major highway like the Goldfields Highway going into a town or city, but there is no reason at all for a cycle tourist to avoid this road. The shoulder we had today for the last 90 km into Kalgoorlie was mostly far more generous than any on the Stuart Highway. It is heavily trucked with road trains and mining traffic, but we prefer this kind of traffic to caravans and tourist traffic. The drivers are working after all, and very professional. We feel that we trust the traffic more. The road is pretty flat and we were in the Great Western Woodlands for almost all of it. We still had a pretty favourable wind all day and as predicted, the showers came at 08:00 as we pulled up at a sheltered picnic table and benches at one of the rest areas, which was convenient. It rained quite heavily and it felt like a novelty to put on rainpants, jackets and booties. We are using Vaude booties for the first time and they are fab as they come up very high, mid-calf which is great as when you take the rain pants off, the booties still provide warmth. Stopping at the rest stop meant we were off the road when two road trains came along behind an oversized load pilot vehicle and police escort, each carrying a massive steel tank, almost the width of the road! Riding in the rain was okay, the road trains of course throw tonnes of water, but they gave us a lot of room. A couple of times we pulled off the road when it seemed a safer option e.g. coming up to a rise on a curve with a roadtrain coming up behind and one approaching! The driver gave us a thank you toot. Actually, a few of the road trians hooted at us on the highway, mostly to let us know they were coming, or to say "Hi!". Probably the same drivers pass us numerous times. When they hoot it gives me a heart attack. We stopped at the information bay just before the town and then headed for the Super Pit.
The Super Pit did not disappoint. It is HUGE! We had to cycle up a corrugated gravel road to get to the viewing area. Here we were thinking we would have a day without corrugations. We would not often say this, but do not miss going there. Very impressive. Not sure that the massive hole in the ground is worth the amount of gold they have pulled out, but we are proud West Australians so we say, "Of course it is!". After this we got onto Burt St (historic street in town) as we had researched where to go for lunch. We decided on Sheffield's for a woodfired pizza. When we got there of course, we were told that they did not cook meals until later and they do not do pizzas on Mondays or Tuesdays. Big surprise! We took shelter from a cloudburst and then set off for the Supa IGA in O'Connor whose deli is the best thing we had seen since the buffet at the Crown Plaza in Alice Springs. Fabulous, hot roast beef, roast potatoes, etc. We went to two campsites, Acclaim Parks Goldfields and Prospector which were not good, but the manager at Goldfields was very friendly and helpful. Then we called Discovery Park on Burt St and could book in so rode back there. This is a very good park, immaculate in fact and so we will happily spend a rest day here. The other two were really old and run down and not in a very good part of town. Doing a campsite tour is one way to add kilometres to your day! It was very cold and windy overnight as another storm hit.
A pair of caravans pitched up last night, one in the late afternoon, the other around 19:30. Two couples with a few kids. The family who arrived in the dark after seven had a 4WD and off-road van as well as a boat on the roof, all of it looking like it had been driven off the showroom floor today. The tyres were not even dirty. The whole lot would have cost over $250 000. They parked about 5m from our heads and proceeded to talk into the night, they were heading for a big adventure obviously and there were some gear problems to sort out. Not sure what as everything was brand new. All the gear and no idea. We have encountered such a variety of people on this trip. Many are hardcore seasoned travellers, as unassuming in nature as the gear they use. Then you get these overbearing types who have a "conquer all" mentality. By way of contrast, we met a delightful group of older people from Tassie who were on a trip, some with hired camper trailers, laughing as they admitted to being total novices. They will probably have a more authentic experience than those who invest a fortune. Anyway, back to OUR trip...we were happy to be on the road at our new start time of 07:00 which is sun up. We wake at 05:30. It helped that we camped under a massive security spotlight that came on at 05:00. I think we should always camp under one! Today we joined the Great Eastern Highway headed towards Perth. This is the best of the three major highways we have ridden so far. It has a good shoulder at all times and is a great road. It seems the road trains here can only carry two trailers, so that settles things down a bit. We had a headwind which ended up not beuing as bad as expected (as we were expecting the worst). It was freezing cold though. It only warmed up as far as 13 degC all day, but it was dry if overcast. We stopped for a rest at Coolgardie and after that we were really cold, took ages to warm up.
Abouy 65 km in we turned onto the service road for the Perth-Kalgoorlie pipeline. This is the famous water pipeline that runs from Mundaring to Kalgoorlie, and is a feat of engineering completed in 1903 due to the efforts of CY O'Conner and John Forrest. West Australians are always trailblazers! You see the pipeline all the time and you can cycle alongside it on a gravel path that varies in quality. Of course Mike is very interested in the pipeline considering his work as an engineer in Perth. It is quite nice to have a road/track all to ourselves, even if it is corrugated at times. We passed Bullabulling Pump Station and camped shortly after. Bush camping is very easy along the pipeline. We were planning to head north at Southern Cross, but after experiencing the quality of the Great Eastern Highway, we may change that. What a pleasure it is to drink good quality water, Kalgoorlie is the first town with decent water we have come across since who knows when. Thanks Water Corporation!
We had a misty drizzle for most of the morning. First stop was the Dedari Pump Station which Mike was excited to see due to a professional connection. Only when leaving the area on the access road back to the highway did we see the signs saying it was closed to visitors, but we had accessed it from the Perth-Kalgoorlie pipeline maintenance trail which had no such signage. We were disappointed with the narrow shoulder back on the highway. We stopped at a few picnic areas and the weather was pretty good, no wind, but no sun either. The road was also busy with trucks and due to the narrow shoulder it was a tight squeeze, with one roadtrain actually forcing me off the road, well, let's say I was encouraged to explore the gravel surface beyond the sealed road. After this we would often leave the bitumen when things got a little too close for comfort. We rejoined the pipeline track late in the day which was pretty sandy, as we wanted to camp along it, and away from the highway. Then we had to get back on the highway again due to the "State Barrier Fence", which used to be called the "Rabbit Proof Fence". A while later we got back on the track. We both had a strange feeling about the area, not sure why. There was a weird place calling itself the Koorda Quarantine Station, a lot of industrial stuff lying around and a few dongas. Not sure what that was!? Also, the bush everywhere was full of rusty metal cans, like old tin food cans and broken glass, all looked as if it had been there for years. In getting back onto the track we walked through an area which had been sort of churned up by a machine recently, but felt like an old rubbish tip. Anyway, eventually we found a good place to camp right along the pipe. It was less than 5 degC at about 17:00. We have decided not to persevere on the Great Eastern Highway beyond Southern Cross into Perth, but will stick with our orginal plan to go north into the wheatbelt for a few days. We are tired of the highway truck traffic.
By 19:00 last night it was only 1 degC, so no surprise to wake up to minus 6 degC. We drove across the Nullabor in 2006 when we moved from Sydney to Perth and our memories of Southern Cross were of everything being frozen in the morning, so we were expecting it to be brutal camping 60 km from there at the same time of year. This morning we had ice on everything, the tent fabric ended up turning solid and Mike had to bang ice sheets off it. Our saddles, tyres, frame bags, Smart Phone bike mounts, cycle computors and handlebars were covered in ice. The tent poles could not be seperated to fold until Mike breathed on them(!). We eventually got on the road just after 07:00 and it was busy with trucks. The shoulder was minimal with a steep drop off so the ride was not great. A sign advised of roadworks ahead and we were able to turn off there to Karalee Pump Station to get on the Pipeline Track. All along the track up to now we had noticed a disused rail formation which was always covered in grey railway aggregate. We saw the same thing here but it was a smooth gravel track! Turns out it was a fabulous rail-trail which ran for about 8km. It was actually part of the Pipeline Heritage Route and was designed to be driven one way in an easterly direction. We stopped for our flask coffee at the end. It was a beautiful morning, clear and sunny and we were at least warming up. As the track rejoined the highway there was a massive road drain and we don't know how any cars would have been able to make it on to the trail.
The roadworks are not active but ran a long way and the progress had been to compact the soft shoulder which we could ride on easily, so this was good for us, we could stay well off the road. As we neared Southern Cross the roadworks ended again and the shoulder narrowed. We saw the first pastures that we had seen all trip, green fields of wheat. We turned off at Ghooli Pump Station and they have interesting display boards there. Back on the highway with the tiny shoulder we were hooted off (friendly warning) by a roadtrain coming up from behind as there was one oncoming. This road is a nightmare. We try to stay out of everyone's way, but it seems that the business of heavy truck traffic is dictating the culture here. If that is the case, more must be spent on widening the road. When two roadtrains pass each other from oppposite directions there is barely enough room for them to do it. There is road-widening work underway. Luckily we were able to turn right onto an unsealed road which was in perfect condition and actually met up with the guy grading it towards the end!
At Southern Cross we went to the Caltex Petrol Station where we had a freshly cooked meal. Mike had a burger and chips and I had lasagna and chips and salad. I think I fell a little in love with the old lady who brought it out after a 20 min wait. Delicious! Then we turned off the highway, heading north to Muckinbudin on the Wheatbelt Way. What a relief! Just a little road, green pastures and us. Hardly any traffic. We will spend 6 days on this road to Perth. You would save a day or even two on the Great Eastern Highway, but we wanted the slower experience of the small Wheatbelt Towns and we also wanted to arrive alive in Perth. We found a great little bushcamp in a corner forest, opposite a field of sheep, which we have not seen for so long. From here on it will be small campsites all the way, our last bush camp is tonight we think.
We were so happy to be on the Wheatbelt Way again. The road is very quiet, still a few road trains about but they keep a low profile. Cold and frosty morning again, minus 3 degC. We headed off through Bullfinch which is almost a ghost town and the day just drifted along with green fields, the occasional flock of sheep and a farmer sowing crops. Domestic life! We are enjoying the scenery. The day was sunny and beautiful and we warmed up. About 10 km from Mukinbudin we had to wait as a few shepherds tried to get two flocks of sheep from one side of the road into a paddock on the other. It took a while. Arriving in Mukinbudin we saw grain stores and large farming equipment. Reminds us of the Canadian prairies. We stopped at the cafe for fabulous hamburgers and chips (2 out of 2 for Wheatbelt lunches so far) and then set off for the caravan park which is at the footy oval. It is a great camping area with new ablution blocks and a delightful campers kitchen. It only cost $15 for an unpowered site with alll these facilities! We love these little rural towns.
No frost this morning and a much warmer start at 3 degC. We were expecting a strong crosswind today but it was a lovely ride first thing. Very quiet road, we saw only 2 cars for the first 30 km or so. The road wound through green fields and pastures and it all seemed idyllic. About 20 km from Trayning the wind really whipped up and we took shelter under our MSR Bothy by the roadside to have our flask coffee and deliberate. We had planned to reach Wyalkatchem, which was another 100 km day. We seemed to just churn them out nowadays. However, we would have this crosswind all the way from Trayning to Wyalkatchem, and looking at the wind forecast it was due to continue to gust to 60 km per hour for most of the day. There is also very little protection from the wind over the vast open land. So, with only 3 and a half days riding to Perth we decided to take our first early mark and call it quits for the day at Trayning. The caravan park was a delight! About the size of an average roadside pulloff, it has demarcated caravan bays with small artificial turf areas and propertly signposted tent areas on lawn. The ablutions and camper's kitchen were once again pristine and fully equipped. The payment is via honesty box and we had to pay $12.50 for the two of us for a night. We have the place to ourselves. Actually, it looks like we have the whole village to ourselves; we did not see a soul all day. I guess the weather had something to do with it. Mike put all the guy ropes up on the tent and it isn't even budging. We hope for a better wind tomorrow, or at least a lesser wind. We still plan to be home by Wednesday, three days from now, but will see how we go. The great thing about The Wheatbelt Way is that all these little places have campsites so you have so many options. For anyone comtemplating where to start cycle touring in WA, we would recommend this area.
A wild and windy night, and a little rain was still about this morning. It was windy on the bike (headwind), but not too bad. Much of the morning was spent in fine mist and cloud. We were a bit unsure whether we were going to go all the way to Goomalling or camp at Dowerin. We enjoyed the ride especially as the road seemed to have been recently widened and had a better shoulder than the Great Eastern Highway, even though there was next to no traffic. We really appreciated the quiet road and can't believe some cycle tourists would choose thhe Great Eastern Hwy over it. Just before Wyalkatchem we descended down out of the mist and the day was suddenly clear and sunny. We stopped for muffins to have with our flask coffee and then continued on. The road was pretty uppy-downy. We had a rest about 15 km before Dowerin where we thought we would continue to Goomalling. At that stage it was only 12:30 so it seemed early. Getting back on the bikes we both began to feel very hungry and were running out of energy. We would have to get a proper lunch in Dowerin and it would be 14:00 by the ttime we got going again. Our legs were tired too, and we were tired from the headwind. So, Dowerin it was. Another perfect little villlage. We took shelter from the rain eating delicious meat pies and sausage rolls from the bakery. We also booked online for the campsite. It is new and absolutely pristine. It has amazing tent sites, each within it's own little bullrush enclosure, the cutest tent site ever. Camper's kitchen and bathrooms are all brand new and slightly luxurious. We were really impressed. $10 a night for us, with power if we wanted to use it. The campsites keep getting cheaper in this area, it's crazy. We relaxed for a few hours around the camper's kitchen, which had lovely outdoor seating. We met a caravanning couple who were setting off on the identical trip to us, just in reverse, and driving back of course.
We woke and checked the weather forecast. It was to be a wet and windy day, pretty miserable really, and Perth is in immediate LOCKDOWN for 4 days. We were paying $10 per night for accomodation in a lovely spot. It all conspired to end in a rest day today. We didn't need a rest day, but it was very nice lying about all day drinking tea and looking at the internet, while it drizzled. One less day to be spent in lockdown conditions at home. After the freedom of the trip it is a strange concept that when at home we will only be able to exercise for one hour per day and will have to wear a mask when out of our home. On the other hand, it's only until this Saturday at the moment. I don't suppose we will want to leave the house at all, certainly not to exercise!
We were refreshed and a bit excited after the rest day. We had about 170 km to ride to get home. The weather was forecast to be good today, overcast but no wind or rain. The plan had been to spend the last night into Perth at Lake Leschenautia, but we called Mundaring Shire yesterday and it is closed due to the lockdown. Actually, we won't be able to use any accommodation in the Perth region due to the lockdown. So our thoughts turned to a crazy idea, would it be possible to ride all the way home in one go? Short answer, yes if you were being chased by a gun-toting madman. Ever the optimists we set the alarm for 30 min earlier and were on the road at 06:30. The rising sun turned the misty morning pink and orange. The sheep dotted green fields here could honestly by Shropshire or Herefordshire, so similar in appearance. We were surprised when a convoy of caravans passed us going east. Must have escaped the lockdown; we have NEVER seen caravans on the road at 07:00 by choice. We made really good time to Northam, stopping at Goomalling for a break. The campsite there was busy and definitely not as nice as Dowerin. The road grew busy with truck and roadtrain traffic and it was quite hilly so not so comfortable. We reached Northam by 11:00 and that was 70 km so we were going welll. We ate again, near the starting point of the Avon Descent.
After Northam there was a lot of climbing, some on a secondary road and some on the Great Eastern Highway. We chatted to a local who told us of the road block on the Great Eastern Highway preventing people entering the Perth Region without an exemption. We had checked out the WA Gov website and could not see anything about not being able to get in, so we thought we should ring the info line to check. The person who answered said if we had proof of residency in the Perth region and that we were returning, that is allowed. We were relieved at that as we did not want to feel we were trying to sneak in on the Kep Track! We turned onto the rail trail section of the Track at Clackline. We have ridden Kep in both directions before (2008) so it was familiar, as was the pea gravel. We stopped at Bakers Hill Pie Shop (YUM). A few kilometres later we found a good bush camp spot right on the track. We had ridden 100 km by 14:30 and have about 75 km to go, much of which is downhill as we have to lose 300 m descending into Perth. The last 25 km will be on the principal shared path from Midland to the City. So we could have made it today, but we were suddenly keen to spend another night in the bush. We are pretty relaxed these days about bush camping and the trailbiker, bloke in a 4WD and two girls on horseback that came along the track by our tent did not worry us. Home tomorrow!
Mike's first words this morning were, "Well at least we weren't murdered in the night!". No offence to the local inhabitants, but one always feels relieved nothing weird happened when the bush camp is this close to civilisation! We were both pretty excited to get up and so were ready in record time and on the bikes by 06:35. We used our head torches and bike lights of course because it was also overcast/rainy. The surface of the Kep Track gets better the closer you are to Perth so we flew along. It felt amazing that this was our last day and we were riding home. As the sky lightened, the birds woke up and we were in the Perth Hills serenaded by song. It was a drizzly start and pretty wet. Soon we hit the high point of the track from which we would hurtle downwards for kilometre upon kilometre, all at the gentle gradient of a rail trail. We stopped for flask coffee and delicious muffins we had bought at the Bakers Hill Pie Shop yesterday. We were mindful of the lockdown and requirements for mask wearing unless the exercise was "vigorous", so we maintained a high speed at all times! We passed through Helena Valley and Chidlow and all of a sudden we were passing Hovea Falls. The picnic area and the Falls surrounds are very picturesque. We were amazed at the work that has been done in this area as our memories were of very stony gravel and a very barrren aspect. It is now a pristine dirt track akin to a suburban trail. No wonder when you see the housing estates sprawling up the hillside. As we neared the Trail Head we came across many people cycling and walking, and the carpark was full. We began to feel more comfortable being out here during the lockdown; it seemed pretty relaxed. The heritage trail continued for us to Midland where we jumped onto the Principal Shared Path to Perth. Apart from a diversion after Bayswater train station due to construction works, the cycelway carried us seamlessly into East Perth and we headed for Claisebrook Cove and the Riverside Drive cycleway.
It was a picture perfect day in Perth when we arrived and we were just so happy that the weather was good. Finishing this trip by riding home was a unique experience for us. We stopped for some photos at Elizabeth Quay and then wound our way along the placid Swan River to UWA from where we climbed up into Kings Park. A while ago we decided this would be where we would end the trip; our favourite place in the city and very close to home. The view from the War Memorial did not disappoint. It was so good to have a world class cycle route into the city, we will never forget the ride through the hills down to the river.
The total distance cycled during this trip was 5,013 km.