The previous day has been pretty full-on. 200km from 8am to 11pm, passing 3 runners, riding at night, staying up until 4am drinking beer and receiving 40$ out of nowhere (literally).
You want to take it easy after a day like that.
I explored a little bit the few sights of Daly Waters. The place was John McDougall Stuart’s “last stop” before reaching the northern coast, on his 6th and final expedition looking for a route through the Australian continent.
Daly Waters was also the first Australian international airport, because at a time when planes didn’t have the range they have today, it was a convenient location for a stopover between Sydney or Melbourne, and South-East Asia.
Quite a lot of history for such a remote place.
Then I get back to the highway and keep going North towards Katherine, where I will take my next few-days-break.
On the highway I get passed by a road train convoy carrying two HUGE mine dumpers. Unfortunately I miss out on the opportunity to take a picture or film it. They are so big that they take almost the entire width of the road. Their enormous wheels are taken off and must be carried on a separate convoy. They are a reminder of the extensive mining industry of Australia.
I stop at Larrimah roadhouse, which has an interesting small zoo, where I’m right on time for the feeding of a saltwater crocodile, the much-feared reptile predator of northern Australia’s waters.
The next day I stop at Mataranka, a township 100km south of Katherine, known for the hot springs of Elsey National Park. I stop and go for a refreshing swim (without crocodiles) at Bitter Springs. Once in the water, I don’t want to come out! The water is not heated by an actual hot spot, it is rainwater absorbed deep underground where it is warmed by the heat of the Earth before being released.
As I go further and further up North, and get closer to Darwin, I can feel the weather gradually changing. The air around me gets thicker and thicker from humidity. I’m all sweaty after 10 minutes of pedaling, whereas in the centre, I could stay dry even wearing 3 layers at a time! The nights aren’t cold anymore and I sleep on my sleeping bag rather than in it. But in May the heat is nothing compared to what it could be a few months earlier, at the peak of the wet season, so I’m fine. In local slang, you say you “go troppo”, as in “going tropical” to say you’re going crazy! Makes sense considering how the wet heat feels! (it’s pretty common in Australia to contract words with “o”, like “serv’o” for service station, “amb’o” for ambulance, or “bottle’o” for bottle shop!)
I get to Katherine where I decide to stop for various reasons. Katherine is a “big town” by Northern Territory standards: it’s got something like 5,000 inhabitants! It’s actually the 3rd main town after Darwin and Alice Springs. But anyway, it’s a chance for me to kick back, re-supply on food at a reasonable price, get some internet access, and visit Nitmiluk National Park, also known as Katherine Gorge.
For my first night in Katherine I stop at Coco’s backpackers, a place that does a special price for cyclists! Of course it is still more expensive than what I usually pay (nothing!) but well, since I’m a cyclist, I’ll go for the cyclist rate!
A guy staying there just bought a second hand bike with a punctured tube, and I open my patch kit for the first time. In Melbourne I carefully bought spare tubes and repair kit, and in the end I used them… for other people! Since I’m getting pretty close to Darwin, I hope things will keep on going on like that.
Now do you remember Clem? Well that’s the other reason I stop in Katherine. While I’ve been going up the centre, Clem has been pedaling like hell the long way around, all along the West coast of Australia. He got to Perth, then up to Broome, and we are actually arriving in Katherine at the same time!
We were supposed to meet and catch up but shamefully, that didn’t happen. Clem broke his phone and he couldn’t contact me when he got in Katherine, and decided to carry on.
I must say I was a bit disappointed that we couldn’t meet although we were both in town. I was especially getting worried as I got word from him a few days ago, and suddenly couldn’t contact him anymore.
But well, I don’t know what I would have done in his place, and Clem is in a big hurry to complete his loop all around Australia, so good luck to him and congratulations for the achievement! As I write these lines now in early June, I can tell you that Clem is on his way to Uluru and is doing pretty good time to get back to Sydney where he started! He even met with Laetitia who stayed in Alice Springs! Australia is not as big as it seems…
Anyway, I spend 4 days in Katherine. Catch up with the blog, catch up with some people I met on the road and who are here as well, catch up with my rest, visit the beautiful gorges at Nitmiluk, and getting ready for the last leg of my trip!
When you are 320km away from your destination and you think “oh that’s nothing, just 2 days ride away!” you know you’ve spent a lot of time in Australia! But actually I won’t be going straight there. Between Katherine and Darwin is the very worthwhile detour into Kakadu National Park. 20,000 sq.km of rainforests, rivers, wetlands and a lot more, home to a big part of Australia’s fauna (and a paradise for crocodiles), and probably home of the first Aboriginal people to have lived on the Australian continent. So it will take me more than 2 days to finally make it to Darwin!
The ride goes on and the adventures are not over!