Chris' 1994  R100GS/PD ULTIMATE JOURNEY Erin's 1997  F650
Living a Dream . . . 2 Live-N-Ride

Nov 24, 2000

TOP NORTH - Begin the journey west

-- Story by Erin --

After we left Atherton on November 12th, we made progress into the real outback of Australia. Our first stop on the northern coast was Karumba on the Gulf of Carpenteria, 670kms west of Atherton. This is a sleepy little fishing town with a really good westerly view for sunsets. If you don’t fish there isn’t much else to do there but admire the sunsets. The morning after we arrived in Karumba we were rained on-----lots of it! November is the start of what the locals call the "Build-Up", characterized by steamy hot days and big thunderstorms. This was to be the norm for us as we crossed the north to Katherine. We sat out the rain showers under a flimsy picnic shelter with 6 other young Aussie fisherman. While we played cards, they enjoyed their first VB (Victoria Bitter beer) of the day at 9:00 a.m. At about 11:00 a.m. the showers stopped and we found that our tent was flooded. The ground under and around our tent was so saturated that the floor of our tent just couldn’t keep out the water. We searched around town for a cheap room to hang up our wet belongings and ended up staying in one of the overpriced cabins in the caravan park.

On November 14th we left Karumba. On the way we stopped in the first town out of Karumba, Normanton. Here rests the replica of the largest Crocodile ever caught. I don’t remember exactly how big it is but the picture below showing me riding on top of it and my bike near by should give you some perspective! This salt-water crocodile (called a "salty" by the locals) was found on the banks of the Normanton River just out of town. Yikes!

Our next stopover was Mount Isa, about 700km southwest of Karumba. Mount Isa is a sizable mining town with a big lead smelter that dominates the horizon. We spent an extra day here to poke around town (they have a K-Mart!) and check out the Riversleigh Fossil Center. Just north of here in the Lawn Hill National Park, containing the Riversleigh station, which is the sight of one of the most abundant fossil finds in the world. Scientists will be researching this area for many more years to come.

A note should be made here about the condition of roads in the Far North Queensland area. The main roads that connect the major towns are mostly single-lane (not one lane in each direction) with soft shoulders. They are also not all weather. By this I mean that they are not raised and do flood often. Before we arrived in Australia we had heard stories of what is called a "road-train", basically a truck pulling 3-5 trailers. Well, in this region we had to share the single-lane road with these behemoths. These road-trains are usually pulling 3 trailers (50 meters long!) and run at a consistent 100 km/hour. They do not pull off to the shoulder to let you pass, and you wouldn’t want them to. If they pull off the road at those speeds they risk losing control and crashing. At the very least they will throw up so much dirt and rocks that you would be dusting yourself off for days and looking for a new windshield. The only alternative is to pull off and stop on the shoulder of the road and hang on tight until they pass. If it has rained recently the shoulder can be like quick sand and get you bogged. The truck drivers appreciate this gesture and will always give you a wave and a smile as they pass.

Make way for the Road Train -- This is 3 trailers, each trailer
is stacked with 2 layers of cattle.

These road-trains do a lot of damage to the local wildlife. Poor kangaroos, wild boars, cattle, eagles, rabbits, goannas and various other animals don’t stand a chance when a road-train bears down on them. You can see the carnage on every major road in the north of Australia. This does nothing for population control however, as the government authorizes controlled killings of various groups of animals each year, including wild horses, kangaroos, camels, donkey’s and boars.

Chris taking a rest among the Termite mounds -- A typical site in the outback.

We left Mount Isa on November 17th, crossed the border into the Northern Territory and arrived in Tennant Creek (population 3,500) some 635 kilometers away. When we crossed the border into the NT the roads immediately got better. We were treated to wide two-lane roads with paved shoulders and painted line markings. (These are the things you focus on when there isn’t much else to see in the monotoned/monochrome feeling of the outback.) In TC we met Graham and Pauline Buxton who we had been writing to by email since before we arrived in Australia. Graham and Pauline are both transplanted Poms (an affectionate Aussie nickname for the Brits) in the healthcare field and Graham works with the local public health organization working with the area's population of Aborigines. He and Pauline gave us the grand tour of the Tennant Creek area, which is rich in Aborigine history and culture. Geographically, TC is the center of the northern part of Australia and was also a big gold mining area in the early 1900’s. We took a tour of an underground gold mine, visited the important Aboriginal dreaming sights of the Devil’s Marbles and its female equivalent, the Pebbles.  The marbles are large square boulders that, through erosion, have had their edges rounded off, giving the appearance of large marbles.

Graham and Pauline

We wandered around the old Telegraph Station, which is only one of three remaining intact in the north. The telegraph station could send messages all the way to England via an underwater cable through Jakarta in Indonesia. The station workers would have lived a very lonely life out there! Our last night in TC Graham and Pauline cooked us a wonderful Indian meal, and the next day we bid them goodbye.

From Tennant Creek we headed north again, November 20th, in the direction of Katherine, another 700kms to the north. About 100 kilometers south of Katherine we stopped at Mataranka Homestead. Here there is a big thermal hot springs that we made good use of both that afternoon and the next morning. Although the temperature was about 40C/105F the Hot Springs was still a refreshing break! As we headed north the next day you could feel the humidity rise considerably.

Relaxing in the Hot Springs

We arrived in Katherine on the 21st and found that our friends Anke and Jan had arrived one day ahead of us. Thankfully we had ordered new tires to be shipped to Katherine. Our knobby rear tires had been ground down smooth due to the flat straight roads, the heat, and the composition of the pavement, eating away at the rubber. (We expect our current tires to last us only until we get around to Adelaide or Melbourne-----not the best mileage!) Katherine is a decent size town (pop. 11,000) and is the gateway to the popular northern national parks of Litchfield and Kakadu, and to the Northern Territories capital city of Darwin. The hot, humid weather kept us from going farther north, although we did take a day to explore and canoe the popular Katherine Gorge. In Katherine we also met another motorbiking couple, Canadian riders Cindy and Dan from Vancouver, BC. They had flown to Australia and bought 2 bikes in Sydney, a R100GS/PD and a Kawasaki 550, to travel around on for 5 months. We traveled together off and on for several weeks.

Prior to departing Katherine, we had a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner at our caravan park with Anke & Jan.  The menu included stuffed roasted chickens from the supermarket, canned potato salad, discounted (but fresh) cheese and bacon bread rolls, cucumber salad (hand made), and the local Aussie favorite for desert: Lemingtons -- soft vanilla cake, coated in chocolate, and sprinkled with coconut shavings -- delicious!

Having fun at Devil's Marbles

Previous Chapter | Next Chapter | Related Photos


TOP | About Us | Costs | FAQ | Journal Entries | Links | Motorcycles | Photo Gallery | Supporters | Guestbook | HOME

  Sure, send us an email E-mail Us

There are probably dozens of errors on this website (if not more).   
If you notice/have any problems, please send us an email: Webmaster

The goal is not the destination, it's the experiences along the way.