Friday, 20 July 2018

Broome to Cairns (by bus, with a little cycling and side trips).

Having finished my cycle tour in Australia in Broome, I spent almost 2 weeks in the town.  Broome is a hard place to get to; there aren't many flights there and those that exist are expensive, and as is typical in Australia, it is pretty isolated.  If you have got to Broome, you have probably expended a great deal of time and effort - not to mention spent a fair amount of money - to be there in the first place.

On their way home after a hard day's work on Cable Beach.
Once in Broome, doing anything interesting is also quite expensive, mainly due to the fact that in an already remote place, the places of interest are even more remote still, and also a very long way away.

I changed the title of this blog because of wanted to diversify my range of adventures a little, whilst still continuing to bicycle tour - there are not many better ways of traveling through a country.

Lots of Boab trees lining the streets of Broome.
Broome is an interesting place, being right next to the Kimberly - a quite unique area of Australia - it has quite a different feel to many other towns and cities in Australia.  Boab trees are everywhere, making things look different ( the story of how these trees are in this part of Australia is still something of a mystery).  Aboriginals are everywhere, mainly doing nothing but sitting around loitering as always, but perhaps more so than in many other towns, some are doing jobs, mostly in the tourist industry as guides in remote or culturally significant areas.  A few others sell art on the street or play the didgeridoo outside shopping areas.

Great colour contrast on the coast around Broome.
Perhaps I sound racist when I talk about aboriginals sometimes, but come to Australia, travel around some towns with significant populations of aboriginals and you might understand why they are so difficult to like.  It is no exaggeration to say that 99% of them do nothing, and many of them have quite an unsavoury feel about them.  They often walk around swearing at each other at the top of their voice, dressed shabbily, and look and smell like they haven't had a wash in about 6 months.

Aboriginals doing something (fishing), on the coast of Port Hedland.
Towns with a high population of aboriginals also experience a lot more crime, and this is a source of great frustration for many locals.  I have often been told about this in conversation.  Some people are sympathetic towards their plight, but most have had enough of them.  Money, charity, and services have been thrown at aboriginal communities, but it appears nothing makes any difference.  One woman told me of her volunteer work with aboriginal families; she started wanting to help, but was mortified by her observations of how aboriginal parents were treating their children, often abandoning them or abusing them.  To be frank, they are a real problem in Australia, and nothing seems to be helping them.  One wonders whether they as a people and culture are cut-out for the modern world at all.

I think aboriginals are at their best when they are totally isolated from any Western influence.  This is not to say that Westerners are to blame for their plight.  Modernity was coming for them and if it hadn't been the British, it would have been the Dutch, the French, or perhaps the Japanese.  I'm guessing they were lucky they didn't get the Japanese, or their culture probably wouldn't exist at all right now.  Pity only stretches so far, sometimes you just need to adapt to survive and thrive.  They aren't doing it, they need to get off their arses, full stop.  Obviously, the British pretty much destroyed their way of life, and this has to be acknowledged, but we can't wind the clock back.  Compassion and charity only go so far, aboriginals need to be encouraged to work, and that requires some tough love.

That said, in survival mode in a remote area, without booze, sugar, and drugs, things feel quite different.  I hope the remote areas of Australia stay remote and untouched, except by a few environmentally low-impacting tourists here and there (like me). 

Slug Island in Talbot Bay.
The greatest and most naturally awe-inspiring area of wilderness in Australia has to be the Kimberly.  I got a taste of this on a long day tour from Broome to the Horizontal Falls in Talbot Bay, part of the Buccaneer Archipelago in the coastal north of the Kimberly region.

The Narrow Gap of the Horizontal Falls
To get there it took an hour by seaplane.  In Talbot Bay there are no airstrips, just two large boats tied together and anchored with a couple of jetties off the side.  I had never experienced flying in a seaplane before, and I got to experience it from the co-pilot's seat.  I guess I was the youngest on the flight, and because of how tricky it was to get into the seat, this might have been the reason I was chosen to sit there.  It was a great experience, yet also slightly unerring as a torrent of warning and information came through my headset, and lots of levers, knobs, and dials were easily knocked in a tight space.  I sat very still, trying not to touch anything important.

As we flew across the Kimberly, the scale of the place really hit home.  There was no one out here for hundreds and hundreds of miles.  The landing was smoother than I expected as we dropped into our headquarters for the day in the bay.  It felt like I was entering Jurassic Park or something, it was ancient and remote, with pristine turquoise blue waters and sharks circling the boats and pontoons.

Soon after landing I got to get up close and personal with these sharks as they had a cage for viewing them.  The water was actually quite murky, but luckily the sharks came in very close.  They were mostly nurse sharks with poor eyesight, using touch to explore around the boat and cage.  This made them a little dangerous as they apparently do a lot of exploring by biting things they sense, i.e. fingers and and other appendages.  The water was murky as many large rivers empty into King Sound and surrounding coastal areas bringing a lot of sediment with them, nourishing the bay.

The wider gap.
A boat trip into Cyclone Bay and then through the Horizontal Falls was quite enthralling.  I had never seen a coastal area like it in Australia.  It had a New Zealand like scale to the coastal cliffs and bays, yet with a uniquely Australian twist.  The Horizontal Falls were quite something; the power of the tide being more evident here than possibly anywhere else in the world, a real marvel of nature.  I got quite a soaking at times in my position right at the front of the boat.

After a couple of trips out on the boat, it was time for another flight, this time a low-level scenic flight of the falls and surrounding coastline, landing 30 minutes later at a place called One Arm Point.  From here we took a 4x4 to Cape Leveque and a beach that could only exist in Australia, with sky blue waters lapping onto a white-sand beach next to iron-rich, colourful red rocks.

We had a delicious barramundi lunch here, as there was a little restaurant nearby.  We then took-off once again and dropped into a small town called Beagle Bay.  Home to a shell and pearl decorated church, built by German missionaries who were under house-arrest in the town during the first world war.  It was a pretty little church with some unique artwork.

The journey back to Broome, in total from One Arm Point was about 4 hours, most of it on characteristically outback red, sandy roads, only driveable using a 4x4 vehicle.  This was another first for me, as obviously I can't ride my bike on such roads.

In fact, these kinds of roads were part of the reason I decided to end my cycling in Broome.  I already have some idea of the kind of tour I want to do in this region in the future on a bike with wider tyres and a lighter load.  Then I can take the iconic Gibb River Road and also head into the Bungle Bungles, something I can't do on my current set-up.  One thing is for sure though, I am not done yet with this region of Australia.  I think the North-West is my favourite area of Australia so far, but boy is it harsh and isolated.  I wouldn't mind also suffering-through the warmer months up here and seeing the turtles on the beaches.  I camped and walked across many isolated beaches that were rookeries between October and March.  However, I dread to think how hot it would be at those times of year - and wet in many regions.

Back to Broome then, and I had some days to wait for my bus to Katherine in the Northern Territory.  I decided to put my hand in my pocket once again, this time for a humpback whale tour, although it wasn't anywhere near as expensive as the Horizontal Falls tour.

First though, I was lucky enough to be in Broome for the monthly "Staircase to the moon" celestial phenomenon, where the moon rises at low tide and creates a stunning effect on the mudflats at the town beach.  The picture below gives some idea of the effect, although it looked beautiful actually being there, with an orangey-red colour and a really intriguing light effect on the water and mudflats.

The Staircase to the Moon.
While I was in Broome, I had a few games of squash, and felt so slow that I knew it was time for a fitness regime to counteract the effect of slowly plodding into the wind on the bike for the past few months.  I also felt a little tubby, so I needed to lose a few pounds.

A huge boab tree in Derby.
I started to get into the habit of working-out every morning; circuit training, 400m sprints, and some speed work.  This gave me a bit of a purpose while in Broome and I continued this in Katherine after one leg of an epic bus trip across half of the country.

I did do some cycling, but no swimming.
The bus driver was more than a little irritated by me having a bike, and he wasn't the last.  4 separate drivers pretty much all complained about it and all grumbled that it wouldn't fit, despite the fact it got in easily every time and I did all the work anyway.  I can sort of understand why they were annoyed, but I had paid extra for it.  I felt like they shouldn't moan about it if the service was offered, and it was starting to grate on me paying extra only to have to argue with every single bus driver.

Katherine Gorge
It was about 22 hours from Broome to Katherine on the bus, and I arrived there at an awkward time, about 5 am.  Too early to check in anywhere, I decided to just suck-up the tiredness and cycle 30Km to Katherine Gorge, check that place out and then cycle back into Katherine for late morning/early afternoon.

I'm glad I went out there, the gorge was very nice and it gave me a chance to stretch my legs and do some exercise after 22 hours of sitting.  When I got back though, I was ready for a good rest, so settled-in to a cheap hostel that let me camp for just $11, a discounted rate for cyclists.

A wallaby looking for food just outside of the visitors centre.
I stayed in Katherine for a few days waiting for the next bus and continued my morning exercise routine.  On the final morning, I headed-out for a run to the hot springs, which were actually very pleasant on quite a chilly morning.  There were few people around at that time also.

After another 8 hours, I had arrived in Tennant Creek at about 2am in the morning.  Tennant Creek is not a great place to be arriving at such a time.  It's not a pretty town and the bars on the windows of every single shop tell you a bit of a story about how safe you feel there.  Fortunately, we were dropped at the far North end of town, so I quickly threw everything on my bike and cycled out of town and found a place to camp.

I had a bit of time the next morning and luckily managed to find a decent gym to have a workout in and get a shower before tackling the biggest trip yet, from Tennant Creek to Townsville, another 28 hours!  I am only now realising how bloody far this trip on the bus was now I am writing about it.

I managed to entertain myself with some podcasts and learning a bit of Japanese, but this was almost as tough as riding.

After a short break in Townsville, and riding along the very beautiful shorefront, the final leg was a paltry 6 hours up to Cairns.  I couldn't wait to get there, in total I had spent 64 hours on the bus over the week!

So, what an epic trip on so many levels.  This is living; it's living the life of a millionaire sometimes, while only working 10 hours a week.  But this trip wasn't just relaxing and sipping pina coladas on the beach, this was hardwork, discipline, suffering, discomfort, and despair intermingled with some of the most awe-inspiring experiences it is possible to imagine.  It might not be everyone's cup of tea, but I sure like it.

The North Queensland coast at a little snack break stop from Townsville to Cairns.
Australia isn't finished quite yet, though.  I am now in Cairns for almost a month and a half, and there is plenty of adventure up here, both on land and sea, so looking forward to being in one - incredibly beautiful - place for a while to do some running, hiking, cycling, and scuba diving.  It really really is outdoor heaven in this part of the world.

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