Arriving at Darwin Airport we were met by a whoosh of warm humid air as we found a spot outside to get all our stuff organised and the bikes put together. We were headed for Cullen Bay Marina to take the ferry to Mandorah to start the trip.
The streets of Darwin leading from the airport were lined with huge frangipani trees. We caught the 5pm ferry and it took 15 min. Alighting at Mandorah we had to negotiate four flights of steep metal steps from the boat up to the jetty - Darwin Harbour being very tidal. It was a 10km ride to Wagait Beach. We thought that we would be able to camp right at the Mandorah Inn where the ferry pulls in, but were told there that we needed to go to Wagait Supermarket. It was the first of four weeks or perfect evenings and we pulled in to the supermarket and were told we could camp at the oval. What a perfect spot - $5 per person, not another soul there, lovely ablutions and a caretaker.
A lazy start to the day! We woke up at 7am and got on the bikes at 9am. Isn't that what holidays are about! We set off into the beautiful morning - the first of many. The thing about the place is that the weather NEVER changes. During the dry season it is ALWAYS the same. Minimum temperatures of about 20 degrees and maximum average of about 33 degrees. There isn't any wind to speak of really although we endured a slight head-wind, head-breeze really) all trip. It's just fabulous. We noticed the trees that would become a trademark for the trip - the fabulous pandanus - large prehistoric looking palm like trees - reminded us of our yuccas at home and also beautiful brilliant green cycads. We took the Cox Peninsula Road. You see so much more on the back of a bike because generally you don't startle animals or birds, or if you do, it's just as you come upon them. We were expecting an unsealed section of road, but it appeared to have been recently tarred. All in all it was an easy and beautiful day on the bike. We arrived at about 12.15 at Tumbling Waters, so that was only three hours on the bike. Overall we would average 21/22 km per hour or so every day on the trip - helps to have flat terrain.
Tumbling Waters is a fabulous park - the hosts were so friendly and accommodating and there is a tiny lagoon with three freshies to look at. Palm trees everywhere. The first of our beautiful swimming pools!
Last night we had our first experience of cane toads! I got up to go to the loo and they were everywhere - all over the concrete walk ways and under any covered area. As you walk you hear them hop away. So gross. I nudged one with my BARE toes - gross! Worse than crocs.
We were off at 9am to the Territory Wildlife Park and ended up getting back to the campsite at 3pm! This place is a must see - what an experience. It's separated into different ecosystems that you will experience in the Northern Territory - they've got areas set up and they are completely authentic. The highlight was the nocturnal house. I could figure out what the attraction would be as it was daylight - I was picturing some sad, dazed looking owls etc. In reality they reverse the day/night cycle in there. It was pitch dark and the animals were their usual active night-time selves.
You can walk around or take the shuttle - we did a lot of walking as usual! After the park we rode a little further to Berry Springs Reserve which has huge thermal pools for swimming in - fantastic bright blue water and tropical fish swimming around.
On the way back to the camp site we stopped for supplies at the shop around the corner. This would be our last shop until Adelaide River - 3 days and about 190km's away.
We set off at 7.46am - fully loaded with food of course. The first bit was back tracking along Cox Peninsula Road to the turn off to Litchfield Park Rd. We would hit the gravel after 15.5km of tar. The gravel section was only 35 km in the end - and good quality all the way to the Finniss River Crossing, with one long sandy down hill. Some quite bad corrugations. Finniss River was a bit of an unknown as it was early in the dry, but of course levels were low enough to cross the bridge. We stopped and looked around, staying well back from the water's edge... It's a big river anyway. The last 8kms after this point were quite rough. We saw our first "Estuarine Crocodiles are known to inhabit this area" signs - I felt quite intrepid!
Quite some climbing now and particularly after Walker Creek - the first "jump up" for us. Beautiful views though - you can really see forever... Then just down the other side to our campsite. I must say - Litchfield Safari Park looked better in the pictures and had a funny above ground circular pool, which we were happy to collapse into at our first opportunity!
We set off at 7.50am and had a brilliant - if exhausting day, stopping at all the amazing views that Litchfield has to offer! We made many side trips - the first to Wangi Falls, which was still closed for swimming due to Saltie Crocodiles, but due to open in around a week. Back on the bikes and next stop Tolmer Falls. These were amazing and worth the walk - you sort of come out above them and you can't go right down to them as there are endangered bat colonies living there. Straight after Tolmer Falls was Green Ant Jump Up - a bit of a climb, but we were expecting worse.
Next stop - Buley Rock Holes and Florence Falls - first swims of the day - a bit crowded but again so worth it. There is a long climb down to Florence Falls - and mozzies at the bottom! The thing to do is to try to swim to the base of the falls - the water is thunderous down there. Last stop of the day was the magnetic termite mounds which are remarkable. Actually -termites are remarkable full stop. Different types of termites eat different things and produce different termite mounds - from the huge Cathedral Mounds to the magnetic termite mounds - so named as the all face the same direction enabling the colonies to keep as cool as possible. As with all features of the park, much effort had been spent on setting up a boardwalk so this could all be easily appreciated.
We then left Litchfield National Park and arrived at our next campsite, Litchfield Tourist and Van Park at 2pm. Now that's only 6 hours on the bike, but really that was our limit - it was so hot. We decided then that we would prefer to be off the bikes by 12-ish each day. The heat does take it out of you. We chilled down in the lovely swimming pool.
We arrived at Batchelor and were actually quite disappointed that we hadn't stayed there - it was beautiful - shady, palm fringed streets and gorgeous bougainvillea hedges. There is an amazing mini castle built in the centre by an interesting character who settled here. They had a good shop as well and we stocked up on sun cream and insect repellent. We had thought about taking a gravel road called the Coach Road from Batchelor to join up with the Stuart Highway. It was 30-odd kms of gravel but would mean missing out a large section of the highway and having a bit of peace and quiet. We didn't know much about the condition though. We stopped at the info centre and were advised to give it a miss - early in the dry it was really 4-wheel drive country only. So we would take Crater Lake Road - all bitumen to the Highway. We were feeling a little apprehensive about the Highway, but it could hardly be avoided forever. Crater Lake Road was quite hilly and brought us to the highway. We would have about 20 km to go before Adelaide River. It was flat and we probably averaged about 25 km and hour on that stretch. The shoulder went from I suppose 50cm in places to nil in others - you really just cling to that narrow strip and hope the road trains pass you when it's wider!
Adelaide River Campsite was okay with no privacy, but the pool was fabulous. We actually found 5 geocaches in Adelaide River - it's very historic with the old railway station and war cemetery. The whole region played a big role during the second world war.
We had decided to take Dorat Rd out of Adelaide River, joining up with the Stuart Highway again just near where we planned to camp for the night - Hayes Creek. Dorat Rd was one of the highlights of the trip - you turn off right actually right in the middle of Adelaide River and wander along this narrow little road, which gently undulates. Right off the beaten track. It was very hot. We stopped for a drink around the turn off to Daly River - it felt very remote -very beautiful. Imagine our shock when we came upon two road trains - or rather they came upon us - one thundering downhill straight for us on this narrow road - we pulled over (not enough room) and the other a short while later. Rejoining the highway, it was not too busy and had a wide shoulder, and we soon came across Hayes Creek and rejoiced when we saw the sign advertising swimming pools (plural)! It was a lovely spot with built in shelters so you could stay out of the sun and a gorgeous swimming pool.
The road was attractive enough and from Hayes Creek meandered around some hills etc before the final drag up into Pine Creek. This was our first day where we were on the highway the whole way and the road trains treated us well.
Arriving in Pine Creek - which is the gateway to Kakadu, we knew that one campsite was to be avoided, the Lazy Lizard - which has a very rowdy pub. We went to buy some supplies at the Toy Store - which isn't what it sounds like -it is has been owned and run by the Toy family for generations - Chinese migrants who came over as part of the cheap labour force to work the mines. So the Toy Store sells pretty much anything.
We found the fabulous Mango Smoothy place and also a tiny campsite behind the BP. Sites were only $12 per night so we booked in.
We knew we had to be on the road as early as possible this day and the heat is fatiguing and you can't afford to be fatigued when road trains are bearing down on you. We expected to be on the bikes for 5 hours. We were prepared in that we carried extra water - Mike took on an extra four litres in the "Baby" - the dromedary bag strapped to the back of his load. We were impressed by our 7.20am, start -the best ever. Let me say at this point that we may sound like slackers - but the winter sun was only rising at 7am so we were waking at first light (sort of) at 6.30am and by the end of the trip we were pushing to get on the road as soon as it was safe to do so.
Arriving at Katherine after 5 hours on the bike, we decided to camp at the second campsite we came to - about 4km out of town, Riverview Tourist Village (Campsite) - along Victoria Highway. It advertised walk in access to the hot springs. It was a great campsite though - very shady with palm trees and a lovely (all together now) swimming pool.
The campsite has a rear gate which is opened at 7am and through which you can access the thermal springs! They were quite lovely and refreshing! We spent the day walking about in Katherine, geocaching and bought tickets for a boat cruise in Nitmiluk Gorge. Overall Katherine was disappointing.
We would ride to Nitmiluk and camp overnight there before riding back to Katherine. We had booked into a midday cruise which we thought was a good idea as it would get us out of the heat of the day. The park is beautiful with an exceptionally good information centre and restaurant. The campsite is thoughtfully laid out and the swimming pool superb! Real luxury - resort style. The cruise was 4 hours long and went through three gorges. The tours don't run during the wet season as the level of the river gets too high.
We set off in not too much of a hurry, back to Katherine and had planned to camp at a different spot - Knott's Crossing on the other side of town. We lazed around at the pool for the afternoon - this was the first one with a spa as well (we became quite the pool experts).
We were hoping for a tailwind, having not had one the whole trip so far and got on the road early aiming to get the Stuart Highway section over when still early. Wow - what a tailwind - we averaged 25km an hour easily until the turn off to Edith Falls. The campsite was really picturesque and the swimming was fantastic.
First puncture of the trip! We were just packed when we realised Mike's front wheel was flat - Bugger! Anyway, off we went back to Pine Creek where Copperfield Dam had been recommended as a good spot to camp for free. There was a kilometre or two of quite rough track leading to the dam. It was manmade lake and very pretty - with little sheltered picnic tables along the waters edge. It was quite a long day at the Dam - but after Pine Creek the next stop was Mary River Roadhouse, another 70km away and as always, it wasn't so much the distance as the heat that determined how the day was to be spent. When you went into the water millions of little fish came to inspect you!
We would leave the Stuart Highway behind after Pine Creek and join the Kakadu Highway which we would ride all the way to Jabiru! The road to Mary River was lovely and we would enter the park officially the next day after the roadhouse. The campsite was big and open and birdlife abounded - Galah's, 28 parrots, cockatoos - white and black. It's truly a bird lover's paradise! Again a fabulous pool to enjoy.
Entering Kakadu National Park, we had the only climb of the trip - up onto the plateau. We carried an additional 15 litres of water and Coke as there was none where we would be camping.
We arrived at Gungural to be met be a couple just leaving who offered us each a bottle of fizzy lemonade "WA hospitality" they said beaming - how fantastic! A soft drink was never as welcome! We set up a tarp for shade (our tent ground sheet) which didn't keep us cool. We used some of the water to "wipe down" on arrival - just to move some of the grime off, and proceeded to survive the day. I don't recall ever being that sticky and generally uncomfortable.. It is AMAZING the difference that a shower makes, it is without a doubt the best invention on earth. It was crazy thinking that there was a great big river just a few hundred metres away, but you can't swim because of the salt water crocs.
Super short day - we were on the bike from 7.10-9.30! We were so desperate to LEAVE and be clean and we were so excited to get on to Yellow Waters. The campsite at Cooinda was busy and infested with mozzies! The pool was spectacular though - waterfalls etc.Even the outdoor toilets at the pool were set into an artificial rock shelter and the basins set in rock as well - very rustic. They had a lovely al fresco eating area as well - very laid back. We were spending a rest day here as well and were really looking forward to it. That afternoon we met a lovely WA couple, Colin and Sue who live in Perth and had flown up to Darwin and hired a camper van for a few days. We got chatting to them in the pool and they invited us round for a drink later. It was really nice meeting them.
Our plan for the day was to get to the pool and monopolise a couple of lounges for the day and that's what we did. First however, we had to get out of the tent which was challenging as it was covered in mozzies. I have never seen so many of the buggers on a tent before. We decided to walk to the nearby visitor's centre/shop and also check out the Yellow Waters. It is really beautiful and we considered taking a cruise, but the times didn't suit us. We didn't want to plan our whole day. We purchased a fabulous decorative bowl at the shop with outback animals and the phrase "Aussie Safari" which is also the name of our website so we thought that was cool! The displays of indigenous crafts and storied told by local people were amazing.
Later on, I was lying by the pool when I saw a familiar person walk by - on the carpark side where the tour buses park. Before thinking I jumped up and ran to the fence shouting "Hello!" Two men turned round and it was Peter Love - our friendly AAT Kings bus driver that we had originally got chatting to in Katherine, then bumped in to again at Edith Falls (on different days)! How hilarious! Mike came over and we had a good chat - he gave us more exact directions for those rice sculptures on the Arnhem Hwy as he had driven past them a few times in between seeing us. Most people just take a 2 day tour through Kakadu. We also saw a couple we met at Mary River Roadhouse again - they were surprised to see us.
Back on the Kakadu Highway - nearly at the end of it - to Jabiru which is a large mining town in Kakadu. Prior to the park being proclaimed a large uranium mine was built and there have been many other rich deposits found, but of course they are not able to be exploited within the park. There has also been resistance to the mining by local indigenous groups. As we got closer to Jabiru the scenery suddenly becomes more stark and the land almost barren. It's interesting because the local people call the area Sickness Country and traditionally would not camp in the area for fear of mysterious illnesses. When you think about it, the radioactive nature of uranium could cause this, as well as the apparent lack of life in the area. It's teaches us the lesson again that these local people are inexplicably linked to the land. They live so close to it. The visitor's centre at Bowali, just near the end of the Kakadu Highway is amazing and has wonderful displays. There is a cute cycle path from the visitor's centre to the main street of Jabiru.
We camped at the Aurora Kakadu Lodge which had no mozzies (they spray as they are not within the park and I say "good on them!"). It is a huge campground with so much space. Fabulous pool once again! We went to the first supermarket we had seen since Katherine and enjoyed the aircon! Amazingly we saw Colin and Sue again - they had met up with their friends.
I was so excited about this part of the trip - for me it was the highlight! We packed up and joined the Arnhem Highway for a short distance before turning off to Ubirr on the Oenpelli Rd. .Ubirr Art Site is not open during the wet season as there is severe flooding on the roads. The cycle was sublime. We passed through some remnant monsoon rainforest - one of the few tracts left in the park and as we rounded a bend a jabiru bird took flight from his roadside swimming pool. It was amazing. The rock outcrops that emerge as the last frontier to Arnhemland were beautiful. We would be camping at Merle campsite a few kilometre's from the art site. The campsite was really beautiful, each site set in it's own piece of bush so all were separate from each other. There was a lovely walk from the back of the campsite to Cahill's Crossing which we set off on after a shower. Cahill's Crossing is the causeway over the East Alligator River to Arnhemland itself. It seems that croc watching is quite the entertainment here and there are many cruises that you can take. It is a very popular fishing spot and fishermen come from all over the country to fish here. They are warned not to be tempted to fish off the causeway due to the croc danger and fishermen have been taken by crocs off the causeway. There is a viewing platform at the crossing and people can fish off that. There were two fishermen standing shin deep in the river water on the causeway. It reminded me of Kipling's great, grey, greasy Limpopo - water was very murky. Two men were fishing just below the platform where it was safe and we were soon hypnotised by their casting movements. Our eyes constantly scanned the water - surely we would see a croc! And suddenly I did - a great head surfaced on the other side of the river and the rest followed. From then on it was game on. In the end we saw quite a few crocs, on either side of the causeway. Those fishermen were mad. Their wives actually sat at the side of the river keeping watch over the water for impending death. They wouldn't have stood a chance. Those creatures don't even disturb the water surface, they appear and disappear without a ripple. We even saw a croc hunt down and capture a large fish at the water's edge and later that afternoon a huge croc sunning himself on the far river bank.
We went out to Ubirr in the late afternoon. The art was impressive, but it was a little confusing as to what period of time the pictures had been painted in. Some were clearly very ancient but other's were quite new and some had been touched up. In fact we were a little surprised to see that touching up the pics was quite accepted practice. The site is really beautifully "laid out" and you wander between the "galleries" assisted by artfully wooden banisters made from local tree branches and varnished to a gleam, but still in there original gnarled and twisted forms.
The highlight of the place is the view over the Arnhemland Plains that you get from the top of a flattened domed rock. Amazing.
It was then back to the campsite and sleep.
We enjoyed the short cycle back to Jabiru and booked in to the same campsite for the night. We found a geocache at the lake in Jabiru and then relaxed poolside for the afternoon.
This was our first day on the Arnhem Highway, which we had been warned could get very busy with road trains going to and from the mine site. We were headed for Aurora Kakadu Resort and it was to be a super short day. Along the way we came upon another cycle tourist with A LOT of gear - he looked really loaded up.
A highlight of the day was the Mamukala Wetlands -there is a fabulous bird hide and you can sit and watch the birds -particularly the magpie geese. We would see them flying along the roadside and even saw a pair with two baby geese right near the road. The adult birds flew off on our approach leaving the panicked babies behind - must be a survival strategy hoping to take attention away from the babies.
Just before arriving at Aurora, you cross the South Alligator River. The enormous floodplain of the river suddenly rolls out after kilometres of woodland areas and the view is just spectacular. As far as the eye can see are grasslands. It was an amazing experience. The River was worth a stop - a grey muddy expanse with wide mud banks and we could see a croc basking in the distance. We pulled in at the picnic area for a look-see, but didn't stay too long.
The camp site was HUGE - however we were informed no drinking water! Bit strange, but anyway. We used our trusty baby and the Puritabs, although it probably wasn't necessary.
We met another cycle tourist from Hobart who had cycled Darwin to Litchfield as well, and was returning the same way as us. We spent the day at the pool again.
Longer day today! We left the park in misty conditions which soon fined up and the day turned out to be quite hot. We left Kakadu after about 60km of riding and stopped for a geocache right at the entry gates! The mission of the day - to find the Wild Rice Carvings that our friendly bus driver had told us about. He had given us good instructions but Mike was better at applying them to the road! The carvings are literally 50m from the road - and no one knows they're there! They're not written about anywhere and certainly not signposted. They are AMAZING! We were grateful that we were told about them! The carvings are done in the boulders and expose the white rock underneath the blackened exterior.
We did have a bit of headwind that became more irritating as the day wore on especially since it had blown from the other direction every day since we started the tour! We were thinking at a stage of continuing on to Mary River Natonal Park but were unsure whether or not there was a pool there so ended up stopping at Bark Hutt Inn. As we neared the Inn the road became a bit more twisty turning at the heat was hammering down on us. Suddenly, around the bend came a AAT Kings Tour Bus - could it be???? Yes! Our friendly bus driver! Well, I don't know who was more excited - him or us! He nearly jumped off his chair in excitement! Mike nearly "fell of his bike" he waved so hard! It was just the boost we needed and the final 20 kms flew past... sort of. I wouldn't say that the Bark Hutt Inn was the best camping experience. The pool was super cold, but had the odd bug which looked a bit suspicious. It was also the place that we paid the most for a 1.25l Coke - $5.40!!! Anyway, it was a relaxing afternoon and at least we had brought enough food with us so we had plenty to eat.&
Well, the last real day of cycling in the holiday! Always a little sad! Journey's end. The morning was very misty, but the sun rose quickly. The only thing to stop for on this day is the Window on the Wetlands Display Centre and Viewing Platform. The views over the plains of Kakadu are beautiful. The Centre itself is viewable from the road for some distance and is high up on a hill - bit of a steep cycle up there, but worth it. We had a look around - it's usually the first port of call for tourists driving from Darwin to Kakadu, but I must say that the information centres in Kakadu are far more informative and relevant. They also provide fascinating insight into the local people.
So we sailed down the hill from the Window on the Wetlands back on our journey. The road had zero shoulder in many places and it was very narrow. Many road trains as well and they were all so considerate - many slowing up for ages behind us if there was oncoming traffic. I can't say enough about our admiration for the driving skills and judgement of these drivers. The road also busied up as we neared Humpty Doo. We had first though of camping there - apparently you can do so at the hotel, but the Bus Driver Dude had suggested Coolalinga as a good spot. Humpty Doo had a really cute cycle way that we hopped on with glee and from there it wasn't much further until Arnhem Highway came to an end and we joined the good old Stuart Highway again. The highway had an impressive shoulder and we were soon at Coolalinga Caravan Park which is about 7km from Palmerston and right next to a Woolworth's Supermarket that stayed open til 10pm! Imagine the luxury - food on your doorstep! We hadn't seen a Woolworths's since Katherine and one is inclined to go a little crazy! The caravan park was HUGE and the pool under tree cover which meant it was deliciously cold! Also there were pool noodles which were fun.
We had a rest day the next day before going into Darwin, so we caught the bus to Darwin's main shopping area, Casuarina Square (north of the city), and went along the coast to Nightcliff. The bus-stop is right outside the campsite which was very convenient - although we ended up rushing because we were slow to get up and about. You can hop on and off the metro buses as you please which is convenient. We also went to the Northern Territory Museum which was absolutely brilliant! Really worth a visit. We looked for some geocaches, but were not very successful. We ended up catching the school bus back from Palmerston and I bought a new bikini at Target - mine had worn out. So it was quite a long day out! Hot! You only realise the heat when you are walking about and not on the bike which is cooling. Seeing the sea again was wonderful - brilliant blue!
So we had a brilliant plan - cycle to the airport and purchase bike boxes then get the shuttle to Darwin where we had a booking at the Youth Hostel and then get the shuttle back to the airport for our flight in a couple of days time. This meant that we didn't have to look around town for bike boxes at a bike store. We followed a route we had found through Palmerston - so the back ways and then over the highway to the airport. It worked out really well although at one point we felt that we were going in the wrong direction... but we got there in the end. Pulling into the airport you really had that sense of "We did it! " coming full circle. We even packed in the same spot! Just more tanned than we were a month ago! The Shuttle was waiting and delivered us to the hostel but we were told that we were too early for our room but could relax by the pool which we did until we could collect the keys. True luxury as we had an en suite bathroom. All we wanted to do was stay inside. It's amazing when you travel you really don't feel like you have any privacy - you are always out in the public eye. It felt novel to have our own door to close!
We set off into the city. As it was lunchtime we bought a whole chicken, a litre of ice cream - a gorgeous NT make - can't remember the name! And ate it all up. We sat in the park that runs along the mangrove-fringed shore that is Darwin City. It's beautiful. We walked all over the city as usual, heading back in between to our air conditioned room. We went to the new foreshore development with it's giant wave pool and met up with the man who'd chatted to us at Gungural and his wife - it's amazing how that happens!
As always the best way to see a new city is to go geocaching. By the time you've covered all the available caching territory you can be rest assured that you have seen the whole place! We set off on foot from the city through the botanical gardens and along the coast back towards Cullen Bay. Then a break for lunch and out again in the afternoon - set a new caching record - 12 in one day! So as usual the "rest day" was anything but! We had a great time. Geocaching is the most effective way to learn about the history of a town or area.
Homeward bound! We had a 7.30am flight from Darwin, so had arranged a 5.45am pick up with the shuttle service. Our flight home was via Alice Springs where we disembarked for 40min or so. Arriving back in Perth the cold struck us! Winter holidays in warmer climes are the best!