Townsville (Alligator Creek campground) to Leichardt Falls via the Savannah Way
I’m sitting in a place called Leichardt Falls, the sun is shining softly though the trees (its about 27 degrees) and the water on the stove is just coming to a boil. It’s one of those leisurely rest days, where breakfast blends into lunch and time is marked by cups of tea. We are camped on the top of what is a waterfall in the wet season, overlooking the Leichardt River. Kites glide in the sky high above us and occasionally another camper’s voice carries to us on the breeze. It’s peaceful here and after doing 117km of dirt road yesterday, it’s a perfect place for a rest. But I am jumping ahead and will go back to the beginning of our time in the outback.
The epic left turn was finally upon us as we pedalled out of Alligator Creek, bidding farewell to Ash and Sophie with plans to meet again on the road or in Darwin. This turn inland towards Darwin was always going to be the most challenging part of the trip and at times has intimidated me. For weeks we weren’t even sure which road we would take, just that at some point we needed to chuck a left. But after a bit of research, map studying and date and kilometer crunching, it was decided we would turn left at Townsville on the Hervey Range Development road, followed by the Gregory Development road and onto the Savannah way at The Lynd. This would take us through Einsleigh and Forsayth and then up to Georgetown where we would stay on the Savannah way (which connects Cairns to Broome) until Mataranka (hot springs!) where we would finally turn north up the Stuart highway, cycling via Kakadu to Darwin.
The actual left turn wasn’t that epic, as we found ourselves cycling through Townsville suburbs, but it didn’t take long for the buildings to disappear and the land to subtly change; the appearance of termite mounds and a generally drier landscape. As we cycled, the Hervey Range grew larger and we were mildly alarmed, as we had been warned that we would need to push our bikes in order to ascend. This might be true if the idea of cycling 5kms causes you anxiety (exercise seems a foreign concept to a lot of the Queenslanders we have met recently) but for us it was easy, nowhere near as hard as Eungella! At the top of the range we had a great view right to the ocean and to our delight a camping spot presented itself just another 2km down the road, right opposite to some Heritage Tearooms.
Tearooms are a bit like camping at the base of a mountain you can climb up. You can’t just camp next to a place that makes Devonshire tea and not partake. So we patiently waited till 9am to eat the biggest scones I have ever seen. I was almost full. The day was spent climbing the rolling hills that are the northern end of the Great dividing range, carrying an extra 30L of water as there was nothing between us and the Bluewater springs roadhouse, about 115km away. Our camp was made 6km from the Gregory road turn off at what could be interpreted as a rest stop. It had a table, so we were happy. We built a fire and watched the super moon rise over a clear sky. A brilliant start to our outback journey.
The next day we were up early and pedalling keenly towards the roadhouse. I have decided to embrace all the greasiness associated with roadhouse food in my mind. So I was imagining all the horrible things I could eat (yes, I am totally food obsessed) and was rather disappointed to find a lack of greasy food on display on our arrival. On our way to the roadhouse we had ridden through a lot of roadwork and gotten some mixed responses from the workers; from blank stares of confusion, encouragement, and being videoed on i phones. It’s funny, people either completely get what we are doing, and why, or just think we are totally crazy. The people that get it, don’t really need an explanation, and the people that don’t, probably will never understand. I don’t really care if people think we are crazy (although it does get a bit tiring hearing it over and over again) it’s all a matter of perspective. People that buy big houses they can’t really afford and fill it with stuff seem crazy to me. Anyway, not long after leaving the roadhouse we were chased down by a farmer on a quad bike who wanted to have a chat. We told him our story and he told us about farming and travelling through Africa in the 1970’s. Its those kind of interactions that are so unique to cycle touring which I really treasure.
It was hot and the road kept throwing up hill after hill and the rolling resistance was high, making our progress slow and painful. Lunch time raised our spirits as some kind travellers (who totally got what we were doing) gifted us a loaf of bread (we had not been able to buy any) and we chatted with them and their kids for a while. All this improved my mood and then thankfully the road deteriorated, which meant it was smoother and faster for us. We reached Greenvale after nearly 120km where we were greeted by a myriad of people who had passed us or who we had chatted to during the day on the road. Then it was time for a much needed shower (I was covered in a thin layer of grime). This was followed by an equally important beverage(s) at the pub.
Due to some issues with my rohloff, which were sorted after a few phone calls to Commuter Cycles, we left Greenvale a little later than ideal. Lunch was at the Oasis roadhouse, where the kind woman behind the counter gave us an icecream after she heard we were cycling to Darwin. Here we also filled our water and hit the dirt road. It wasn’t too bad and we made camp about 30km down the road at a river, built a fire and prepared to relax in the quiet of the outback. Then the nomads with caravans and a generator turned up. My pet hate of this trip so far is definitely the hum of a generator in surroundings that would otherwise be serene. I can deal with it if it’s for a short while and quiet, but these were not. Still, even generators can’t spoil the fact that we now leave the fly off the tent which means every night we fall asleep while gazing at the starlight sky. Definitely something I will treasure forever.
We rolled out of camp and bumped up the road until we reached the very small (pop. 32 people) town of Einsleigh. The pub was the main feature of the town and we met some friendly locals who did their best to try and convince us to stay. We even got offered a job! I don’t think they see many women out here. If we hadn’t our Darwin goal, I reckon it would have been fun for a week or two. Instead we went for a nudie swim in the beautiful Copperfield gorge (totally worth it and free, unlike Cobbold gorge) and then bid everyone farewell. I have come to realize that 2 beers in the afternoon doesn’t lead to pleasant cycling afterwards. We slowly began climbing the Newcastle range as well, which added to my generalised, but thankfully brief, hating of everything. Soon the light started turning golden and we searched for somewhere hidden to camp. This part of the day really is magnificent in this country, the harshness goes out of the sun and the land is bathed in soft light after the sun sinks below the horizon. It always makes me feel at peace and is relief from the heat of the day. That night we discovered the excellent feeling of nudie stretching to the setting sun.
The road became bitchumen as we got closer to our next small town, Forsayth, the following morning. I was having a tough time of it and was feeling more hungry than normal. Most of the ride I spent fantasising about cold rock icecream. What I wouldn’t have done for a delicious icecreamy treat! Luckily things took a turn for the better when we arrived in Forsayth. There we met Graham and Nicky who ran a bed and breakfast in a charming turn of last centuary Queenslander. Think; large balcony surrounding the house, cool breezy rooms and really beautiful architecture. An oasis in the outback and a unique find for out here. I thought I can picture myself sipping beer on that porch. We had just checked in to have a cup of tea but when Graham offered us a really cheap rate to stay the night it didn’t take us long to decide an afternoon off would do us good. I did spend the afternoon sipping beer and reading my book, but Astrid got to work pruning the hedge for Nicky because she has been missing gardening so much. An added benefit of being in Forsayth that day was that the Savannahlander (a train that runs from Cairns to Forsayth) was turning up in town and that locals could go on it while it did a loop and turned around. So Astrid and I and a bunch of local kids leaped on the train with glee while it did it’s turning around. We were then treated to the most delicious dinner thanks to Graham. It was so exciting to have vegetables and salad again! There has not been much in the realm of fresh produce out here so far. It really was a treat staying with Nicky and Graham who are both such wonderful people.
We reached Georgetown in the morning the next day and stocked up on fresh produce and water and headed onward to Gilbert River, 75km down the road. Unfortunately Gilbert river had no water in it and the rest stop was nothing more than a dust bowl. We had planned to have a much needed full rest day here but soon decided to push on the next day to Croydon. Luckily Croydon was the goods. Something I have forgotten to mention earlier is that my mum has been sending “care packages” to us along to way, consisting of her amazing dehydrated wares and usually a few extra treats. In Croydon we were delighted to pick up another package and especially excited to see the 4 blocks of Lindt chocolate we has been sent. I may have accidently eaten an entire block in about 10 mins. The caravan park in Croydon was cheap, with free laundry, “beer and bullshit” around the fire at 5pm, and a pool. Rob, who manages the place was a top bloke and he along with some of the other gentlemen convinced us to come to the pub (which had just reopened that day post a scandal and the publican being made to leave town) for “two beers”. Somehow that turned into about seven.
On this trip I have really glimpsed another way of life, of taking the slow road and finding a peaceful existence in amongst the rush of modern life. There are people out here who have made the road their home, who stop at weeks for places because they meet people they like or find a place they are particularly fond of. They have no real end date or destination and I feel like that may be the ultimate freedom. There were three guys at Croydon that we met that were like that and it was a pleasure to spend time with them over cups of tea on our rest day. We also met a young guy, Liam who has been hitch hiking around Australia for the last 16 months or so. He had so many interesting stories and like us has the distinct impression, contrary to popular belief, that most people in the world aren’t rapists or serial killers. Although I don’t really feel like we are rushing I think we are both inspired to explore Australia at an even slower pace in the future.
After Croydon a strong tail wind helped us across the flat Savannah land 128km further west to Leichardt Lagoon. This was a friendly Grey nomad city and we were greeted with collective curiosity and then received some wonderful hospitality from our neighbors. They encouraged us to use their stove and gave us some red wine, which we drank while watching the sunset with them. The only downside was falling asleep to the hum of generators.
Normanton was only 26km or so up the road so we headed there the next day to pick up supplies, make some phone calls and use the internet. They have a truly great information Centre and library with really reasonably priced wifi, which has been extremely hard to find in Australia. I won’t bother starting on my abysmal wifi in Australia rant. We even ran into two guys who are travelling around Australia on postie bikes for ‘save the children’. Running errands in towns always inevitably takes longer than desired, so it wasn’t until the afternoon that we rolled out of town. A few k’s down the road we hit the dirt which was to be our friend for the next 120km or so. Towards the end of the afternoon we visited Burke and Wills camp 119, their second last camp before the Gulf. It was a slightly eerie place and had me reflecting on the bravery and ignorance of the early European explorers. It felt too weird camping at the 119 site so we found a spot near the river about 3km away.
We always try and leave early but even if we set our alarm for 5.30am, it still usually takes us around 2 hours to get moving. This is partly because packing our panniers is slightly like playing tetras but also because we like fitting in meditation and a cup of tea before we leave. So yesterday we left not really expecting to make it all the way to the falls as the going was pretty rough, lots of corrugations and the afternoon heat is quite wearing too. One of the nice things on these more remote dirt roads is that we have had many nomads, and travellers in general, pull up next to us on the road and ask if we need any food or water. We even met one couple who had heard about us in Artherton and someone else who did a u turn so that they could get their photo taken with us. It seems we are some kind of minor celebrities! Although the day was tough, somehow we ended up making it to Leichardt Falls and we were immensely rewarded for our effort. It really is a special spot.
So next for us is Burketown where we hear rumours of a splendid bakery. Our crossing of the outback is going swimmingly so far. I am enjoying the vast beauty of the land. It really is a different Australia out here and the people that have made this part of the world their home, certainly have to deal with a lot of things we never think of in the cities; huge distances between services, terrible roads, un-passable roads (in the wet), no phone reception, hours for any kind of emergency services and huge costs. The price of food out here is immense! One refreshing thing that I have noticed is the lack of commericalisation. Aside the obligatory XXXX Gold signs, there really are no chain fast food joints, no supermarkets, no pokies. Both of us are in good spirits, if a little tired. It’s hotter and rougher out here and even though we are still loving it, we are looking forward to some weeks off the bike in Darwin.
Till next time.
ps there are way too many photos of me! Going to steal the camera off Astrid for next time! (: