to the ‘top end’

We’re on our way to Cairnes and behind so we’ll combine a biggish earlier route into one long post. Apologies.

The track, 1200 miles. (note: Australians use the word ‘track’ to mean a dirt road. Here on this blog it’s used in GPS language to mean a formalized route). The ‘top end’ is what Aussies call the top part of Australia, where Darwin is
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And, because we’re into maps this week, how that looks on Google Earth. I have a feeling this Earth shot was taken in the dry season
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And Australia so far
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First, to Fitzroy Crossing. Termite mounds all day. We’ve bought a light book on termites to find out more about their importance on the plains. More on this subject after I’ve visited a very special species in a couple of weeks
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Lots of boabs today
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And despite a warning back in Derby that snakes live in them we take the chance here to knock a fruit off one. You can rattle them
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After a long hot day we arrive at the Fitzroy River. This is the most important river in this huge area
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Lots of birds here
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We stayed at the roadside Fitzroy park. The biggest fanciest place we’ve ever seen on the road here. Not so fancy inside, but veryw welcome. It’s on stilts because the water level rises 30 feet, over the river banks and floods the countryside during the wet season. The wet season is far more dramatic and with much greater consequences than we had imagined. A complete transformation of the landscape with huge consequences for the wildlife. I’m going to get a chance to see it if I don’t speed up
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Wallabies hiding here. They’re a bit shy. With good reason as you’ll see below
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The next day’s ride to Halls Creek was maybe the hottest so far
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We took a detour out to see the Mimbi Caves. But when we arrived a sign said by appointment only. A locked gateDSC05749

Needing to get back on the dirt for a while, but uncorrugated only (reasons below) we continued out into the country a bit ending up in a small aboriginal town where photos looked unwelcome. A beautiful ride
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Later, back on route, today’s shade tree
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Then into Halls Creek
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The next day, more easting
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Over another river patiently waiting for the rains
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To the larger town of Kununurra where this bridge dams the Ord river. There’s a big agricultural story here. Also a dividing line here between fresh and saltwater crocodiles (freshies and salties, like sunnies)
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Looking downstream from the dam/bridge
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Massive white birds fishing. A bit like pelicans but with dagger-like beaks. And very large
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We walk down the bank looking for crocodiles
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An aboriginal family cooling off in the shade on the river bank
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There was more to see around Kununurra but we thought we’d keep going but the next day rode out to Lake Argyle. A great ride in. We haven’t ridden any twisties in weeks
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One arm of the lake, the largest artificial lake in the country. Although when dammed in 1971 it flooded some traditional aboriginal lands, it’s now home to 25,000 crocodiles, 26 species of native fish and 150,000 waterbirds (from wiki)
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The ride out. Lucinda rips through here, howling through the hills
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Over the original river Ord River
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Then back through the boabs. We park and go for a walk in the little valley for a while
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Later, onto a rise where we could see our next stop, Timber Creek
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Which looks like this, a typical northern town of 250 people, 200 aboriginals and 50 whites. It had a great bar and I like the choice of music the aboriginals picked on the jukebox and the way they danced. I also liked that they’re huge Aussie rules football fans and everything in town stopped and they crowded into the bar for an important game. I don’t understand the game yet except they send a massive army of players in tight outfits out onto the field which is oval shaped and they’re super hyper. Aussie rules football is absolutely huge here. Normal season play seems to have the audience equivalent of the play-offs at home. They call it ‘footy’

While we’re at it:

Servo = gas station

Traino = train station

Arvo = afternoon

Freo = Freemantle

I like these:

Q: Would you like ice cream? A: Heaps please!

Q: Would you like chocolate sauce on your ice cream? A: Lashings please!

Anyway
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We grabbed an air-conditioned (they all are) cabin in the RV park again as we have given up on camping in the heat for the time being. This is not me being a pussy: locals are staring at me in my black Klim suit and asking me in a seriously concerned voice “aren’t you too hot?” all day. The problem isn’t just that it’s hot: The main problem is outside of roadhouse zones there’s little or no shade. You get radiated on from roadhouse to roadhouse with maybe one or two shade trees in between.

I’m very lucky: outside my cabin this bird is busy building a house out of sticks. This is a big deal in Australia and they’re proud of this incredible animal. I’ve had the common nests pointed out to me every day this week
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It’s very precise in collecting the right sort of stick and placing it in the right alignment. If the stick isn’t quite right it pulls it and starts again
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This Bower bird’s courtship behaviour is unique (wiki). It’ll finish building an enclosed home like this then gather up shiny objects like shells, coins, anything it can steal that’s shiny and put them on the floor of the house. The female picks the male with the nicest house and best/most shiny things
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I hear that evening that the Victoria River that passes next to the town is stuffed with crocodiles and that someone got eaten close to here just the other day. As it happens the owner/manager of the campground/cabins has an aluminum boat parked right out front. So I ask him if he’ll take me out on the river. He doesn’t do boat trips for travellers so I suggest a fair price and he stuffs a cooler with beer and off we go. He tells me some incredible stories. For instance the one thing that creeps him out a bit is when he’s out fishing and a giant croc parks under his boat, waiting for him to make a mistake. He says the crocs are bigger than his boat and as he’s trolling for Barramundi fish (more on this later) the croc swims along underneath with its giant tail weaving out behind the boat. The guy who got eaten made just this mistake, reaching over the boat’s edge. He was taken in front of his wife and daughter. Yikes.
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Off we go. The crocs are mostly on the bottom, out of the sun at this time of day, so we head off to an area he knows where the wallabies come down to drink
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Fresh water jellyfish
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Cockatoos
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What a prime wallaby drinking spot looks like
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Later, down they come
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And here’s the story photo. A wallaby to the left and a croc to the right. Just a small one. If the wallaby gets too close the croc will launch explosively and with luck grab one
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Further down, on a shady bank, a big one. Not a monster but over 10 feet. They grow to 20 feet here. The record from Queensland down the road a bit is 8.63 metres, 28 feet (wiki)
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Cropped
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Mildly disappointed we didn’t see a monster we drink all the beer and head back
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Next day we head to Katherine alongside an escarpment
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Lunch at a roadhouse
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Into town. For some reason it doesn’t grab me after excellent Timber Creek, so we keep moving. I liked Timber Creek: an unadorned roadhouse, small mostly aboriginal population, a beautiful river, trees and birds, and an air-conditioned cabin.

Katherine
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Later, another roadhouse
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On the way to Darwin we see a water hole and stop, hoping for a swim, but instead watch some aboriginals swimming with the dog
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And swinging. The lady on shore in orange thinking the branch will break
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I ask them if there are any crocs here and they point down the road to this pretty river
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Later, into the big, hot, isolated Darwin everyone in the world has heard of. A town where the big fruit bats in the trees maybe outnumbering the people 1000 to 1, but who knows. The sound they make at dawn and dusk is incredible
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The first thing we do is drive through to the ocean, the Tasman Sea
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The waterfront looks like this. The water isn’t clear, it’s chalky
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There’s a new area with an enclosed swimming area in the plusher end of town
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At street level it looks like this. A procession for policemen with bagpipes. Wonderful sound
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It’s the uniform somehow
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On that subject, here’s a nice story about a footy fan I read over breakfast
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And another nice story below. We’ll write about Darwin after we’ve thought about it some more. It’s a great town and for once the bars don’t close at 10. On Tuesdays they don’t close until a more respectable 3
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We went for some road trips waiting for our bike service appointment
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First stop, the Adelaide River just out-of-town. The story here is that if you dive off the relatively short bridge in the middle you won’t make it the 100 feet to shore no matter how fast you swim. You will, with 100% certainty, be eaten by a crocodile. So we had to see this river. But unfortunately we couldn’t stop on the bridge – signs saying stopping is forbidden which we would have ignored but there was occasional traffic and no foot lane.

So to add to our frustration we couldn’t access the river well because of private land and a river tour facility that was closed
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But we could crawl through the bush under the bridge
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And there by good luck was a huge ‘slide’. A slide is what crocodiles make when they haul themselves up a mud bank to their favorite spot. This was a huge one and if you click on it you’ll see the claw marks are sharp and fresh. So we waited cautiously for a while for the croc to appear. But no
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So the next day we went off to a famous place called Crocodylus to see the breeding farm. I forgot to ask why this is necessary since the croc population is growing fast since they’ve become a protected species. And as someone said there are more wallabies to eat than the crocs will ever be able to deal with so the population is forecast to grow rapidly. Current research show the average size is going up too.. The breeding pens
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A male waits. The female will lay on average 30 eggs
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They have tanks of crocs in various stages of growth
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Then we wanted to see a big snake. And as much as we don’t like zoos or parks we head off to a large facility in the country where we can see things we might not see as we travel. The park is a long walkway in the forest and through a half-dozen pavilions
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This fellow dried out before making it across the path
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A pavilion
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I chatted with a nice zoologist lady and she walked me through what the various animals eat
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They raise baby chicks and baby mice for snake food. It’s all very professional
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And of course crickets
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And here’s a very bad boy, a King Brown, or Mulga, snake. There are at least ten species of snake that are very bad news as I suppose everyone knows, so we’ll stop there
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And in one pavilion they have a monster sized croc in a big billabong-modelled environment with a glass wall. Hopefully we’ll see one this size in the wild. He’s about 18 feet long and we had a staring contest like this. He looked murderous
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Our appointment time for Lucinda comes up. Normally long distance riders are shown straight to the bike-lift when they ride to a shop, but the only dealer who can work on Lucinda had all the staff away on training and we had to wait
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And here is one of the three things that concerned us on the Gibb corrugations. Lucinda developed a huge creaking sound that I couldn’t isolate. And the titanium pipe is parting up front. We incorrectly assumed they were related problems and the pounding of the corrugations had shifted something we couldn’t find. The third problem was that I wasn’t on top of the electrolyte story and hadn’t been feeling 110%, but that’s been resolved with little packets you stir into water that the road workers use.

We never determined why the pipe was parting but speculate the spring is strong enough to hold it there. The noise was because the rear Ohlins was dry and needed kindness. Even though I had it serviced in NZ. So we did a full service and fitted new tyres but left the big changes we need for Melbourne, where there’s a shop that does custom work
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At risk of making a political observation I think Australia is a great country for Canadians in particular to explore. More on this another time.

G’day!
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