Gibb River Road: The Central Kimberley Plateau. Easy Riding The Second Bit

08 September 2016

I leave before Rod and enjoy a wonderful road almost devoid of corrugations, only lightly sandy in places and pretty much flat, the Central Kimberly Plateau. A wonderful respite from the rough, corrugated climb through the Pentecost Range.

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Check out this as a surface. A bit bumpy perhaps but faaast

Seventeen kilometres later Rod turns up. Bailey thinks this is a great time to race around. As I ride off Bailey races past completely ignoring Rod’s calls. Bailey does pretty well for several kilometres before finally succumbing to Rod’s cajoling and climbing in the Troopy. I’ll probably see Rod next in Broome.

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Random billabong between 4 & 8 hours too early

A cyclist has a certain profile, more a silhouette. Waaay in the distance I can see such a silhouette. I’m sure it’s a cyclist. Falk, a tremendously accomplished German cyclist and I take time to swap stories in the shade of a tree. His website is worth a look although it’s German it’s still possible to understand he’s done some of Australia’s most icon desert tracks including the Canning Stock Route: http://www.anniestrada.bike/

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Falk, a true Wild Ride Warrior on a bamboo bike

He rides a bamboo bike with oversized but not Fat-Boy sized tires and doesn’t use a trailer.

He suggests I pull into the Barnett River Gorge. Checking the map I realise it’s a very convenient 80 kilometres from the Kalumburu turn-off. Perfect. I now have a plan.

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Central Kimberly Plateau views

The Gibb River Station turn-off turns up. There’s a sign:

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‘Fuel & Store’! It’s not on any map nor on any brochure. A hidden gem. Had I know I could have planned for a visit and not been stressed about water. Next time 😉

‘Fuel & Store’. Waddyamean ‘Fuel & Store‘!? It is not on any map, nor in any brochure and no traveler has mentioned it. It’s very conveniently located forty kilometres from the Kalumburu turn-off and would certainly have featured in my planning. I am sure it would have meat pies and iced-coffee. Oh Well. Now I know for next time.

It’s around 1400 as I make my way along the three kilometres of lumpy access track to the Barnett River Gorge where I meet Gordon and Alana. After a moments confusion I place them as the couple from the previous night. They’d made their way to the Drysdale Station before deciding it was too rough for them. We agree on dinner together at Manning Gorge tomorrow night, should I make it there.

It’s about a fifteen minute walk to the large billabong on the Barnett River with beautiful orange-red cliffs on one side and lush vegetation on the other. There are, apparently, no saltwater crocodiles here but it is decidedly spooky to swim the hundred meters to the small cascades up the gorge.

A forty-five minute walk gets me to the lookout above the river well beyond the cascades. It is picturesque and lovely and the swim beautiful tonic for 150 kilometres of hot and often hard riding.

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Breathtaking scenary

By the time I return to the carpark another Troopy has turned up complete with camper-trailer and boat. And a generator chugging away. Generators are becoming a thing of the past. Most travellers nowadays have sophisticated solar-panel power generation and powerful batteries. ‘Steady-Eddy’ as he calls himself on account of his forty to fifty kilometres per hour speed over gravel roads is an Italian émigré who’s kinda retired and decided to travel Australia in detail. He’s a nice chatty guy but doesn’t really understand why I ask him if he can move the generator to behind his set up. “You can hardly notice it” he tells me. Perhaps, but it noticeable nonetheless. He does move it and I go to sleep to its dulled chug.

09 September 2016

Steady-Eddy’s awake as I pull out at 0530 and immediately starts his generator. I’d have killed him if I was trying to enjoy a sleep in.

Easy day along a great road with only minor stretches of sand and/or corrugations.

I make it to the Barnett River Roadhouse before 0900 and spend a good two hours indulging in such delights as fresh milk, meat pies, chocolate bars, iced coffee and whatever else takes my fancy. I use my Telstra Country Card and wake up Ram. Nice to talk with her.

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Mount Barnett Roadhouse. Halfway

By 1045 I’ve negotiated the seven kilometres from Mount Barnett Roadhouse to the Manning Gorge campsite. Time for a swim and chill.

Manning Gorge has to be one of the most accessible of the Gibb River Road attractions. Right at the campsite is a large swimming hole with sizeable shallow areas and a beach perfect for families and kids. Of which there are many splashing around. Manning Gorge itself lies an hour’s hike across open rocky terrain in full sun.

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Manning Gorge, first water hole, looking back at the beach and camping area. Very accessible, perfect for kids and family. Beautiful

Gordon and Alana are just coming back from the hike and I meet them at the swimming hole.

I am to take Alana’s flip-flops for a dizzy German couple who decided to do the hike in barefeet.

We are not quite sure how they managed to get to Manning Gorge in the Kimberleys in the far north of Western Australia, a region know for its extreme hot weather, without yet realising that the cool of an Australian Outback morning shall be replaced by feet-blistering forties-something heat by midday. We are genuinely concerned as to their welfare. I guess every Australian has at least once blistered their feet as kids on the impossibly hot ground of summer. It can lay you up for days whilst they heal. It’s hard to walk on burnt and blistered soles. Gordon has already given his flip-flops to them but that still leaves two feet unprotected.

I meet several couples returning from the gorge on the walk but all of them have decent footwear. Where the trail starts from the gorge I finally find them. She’s got on Gordon’s flip-flops and he’s barefoot. They are very grateful when I hand them Alana’s and agree they had been foolish. I doubt they’ll do that again.

I have Manning Gorge all to myself. It looks nothing like the PR photos, with barely a trickle falling off otherwise dry black rocks into a large circular pool open on the downstream side and otherwise enclosed by short cliffs. It is beautiful and water surprisingly chilly.

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Had it all to myself. I should have stayed longer to enjoy it more. Next time

A Mertens Water Monitor suns itself on a rock but allows me to get some decent snaps. The Olympus is a good camera but lacks the precision, clarity, accuracy and zoom of the Sony.

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Madam Mertens sunning herself. Beautiful animal

Time to test the Olympus Tough’s waterproof capacity. I am tad scared of letting it go and losing it to the deep waters of the gorge even though I have the strap firmly around my arm.

It’s fun, floating about, filming as I swim through the shower and trying to take a selfie underwater which proves to be more difficult than I’d imagined.

After an hour or so I head back to camp where I join Gordon and Alana for dinner, a chilled beer and even the “ultimate sugar drink” rum, as Gordon put it. Really nice couple from Cairns.

10 September 2016.

I’m an hour early for breakfast at Mount Barnett Roadhouse which only opens at 0800.

Climbing day today: 410 meters to 540-ish meters. Doesn’t seem much does it? Add the heat, road conditions and load and it becomes much, much more.

After that it’s more down than up as I exit the ranges and make my way to the plains.

King Leopold Range: just how did a geonocidal Belgium King get a range named after him in the far north of Western Australia. King Leopold is un-affectionately known as the ‘Butcher of Congo’ (http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/35/181.html). But then again this was the Victorian Era and somehow Viccy managed to miss any similar title for Her efforts across Her Empire, including the systemic slaughter and displacement of Aboriginals. Perhaps they were pals sharing notes …

Anyway, I have to cross ‘his’ range.

It’s nice to have my MoJo back. It kinda disappeared a while back with all the rocky-sandy-dusty-wet-muddy-humid-hot-steep-why-am-I-really-doing-all-of-this?-stuff. After all my Epic centres on Riding the Nullarbor and Doing the Tanami. And if you go waaay back to perhaps the very first blog post the map shows me turning left at Halls Creek, not right and heading even further north before streaking along the Gibb.

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My original route did not include the Gibb. Nor a number of other routes I eventually took.

I confess to a certain apprehension when faced with the Gibb. That reputation thing. That ‘Is this a track too far?’ thing. That ‘Do I really wanna do this?’. It’s been fourteen months. A cool eight months more than I initially thought (I was, admittedly, quite naïve in my initial time planning). Yeah, it’s great, but most who know me well know I’m not good at long term commitment and tend to change things after a while. And ‘after a while’ is sneaking up on me on my Epic. What does one do when on an Epic and one wants a change? Obviously it’s become a normal functioning member of society. Get a job, settle, pay taxes, have a social life, have weekends off, that kinda thing. For sure it won’t last but it’s different than an Epic.

Such heresy has now disappeared as my legs, accustomed to the load and the demand, power me forth coupled with good climbing and corrugation techniques … don’t push, let it come, take breaks. Starting 0530 now feels late and take-off time creeps ever closer to 0500 and I love it. The relative cool of the morning. The outrageous sounds the birds here make, alien to the morning songs of Europe and yet beautiful and befitting the landscape. Watching the invisible sun turn the sparse clouds purple and orange. I’m on the road by the time the first rays paint the landscape. And I love it.

Yes, it is good to have my Mojo back.

There’s a few things for the intrepid cyclist between Mount Barnett and Windjana Gorge whose turn-off lies some 180 kilometres west, then add a further twenty to actually get to the gorge. The Aboriginal community Imintji lies about 80 kilometres from Mount Barnett. It has a shop which is bound to have Iced Coffee. If I get there on time. There’s Galvan’s Gorge to visit and Adcock Gorge. At neither are you ‘allowed’ to camp. The former just off the Gibb, the latter a solid seven kilometres of rough road. And when they put a look-out icon on a map you know it involves a (steep) hill-climb. I’ve that to look forward to between Galvan’s and Adcock. I’m also starting two and half hours later than normal. I can’t see myself making Imintji today.

Juuust before The Incline I turn into Galvan Gorge, again meeting Gordon and Alana who tells me a tour guide does not recommend Adcock Gorge “Little more than a stagnant pool”. Fourteen rough kilometres for a “stagnant pool”? Perhaps not.

Galvan’s Gorge is not large, the cliffs do not tower and the water is a tad murky. It is lovely nonetheless. A small waterfall trickles in, shady trees and pandanus palms. Two Merten’s Water Monitors lounge on a rock.

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Galvans Gorge

The pool has a rocky bottom as I gingerly make my way in before plunging forth. I make my way to where the pandanus palms line the gorge, haul myself somewhat inelegantly out of the water, make my way to the rocks and admire the Wandjini Head and other Aboriginal paintings.

Returning to the water I join a couple sitting under the waterfall. They tell me Imintji has a brand spanking new campsite and the wheels start to turn. It’s about sixty-four kilometres from Galvan’s Gorge to Imintji. It’s pushing midday. Quite a ride for the afternoon session. Twelve kilometres per hour overall speed means five hours. I don’t wanna ride in the dark and dark comes damned fast and just after 1700. And I’ve still got to get over the small range of hills that starts immediately once back on the Gibb. It means an 80+ kilometre day, including the seven from Manning Gorge to Mount Barnett Roadhouse. Quite a day on the Gibb River Road. I’ll see how I go.

I lost my sunnies when I dived into Galvan’s. They were still perched on my head. Silly bugger.

The Incline turns out to be a ‘mild’ 8% and there are few others. It maxes out at 530 meters. All downhill from now on. The road undulates but is hardly challenging, the surface improves. Late going past Adcock Gorge turn-off. Godda make a decision sooner or later: plan a stop or push to Imintji.

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Jump ups and inclines tend to result in a view of some kind of view

Fuck it! Time to push. It’s hot, mid-forties OTH, my water consumption soars. It’s all a race now against that blazing orb’s rapid descent into darkness.

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Central Kimberly Plateau views

I make good time arriving 1650, twenty minutes after the Imintji store closed. Good job I don’t need any food supplies, it doesn’t open until 0800 tomorrow and I’ll be long gone by then.

Imintji brand new campground isn’t on any map nor in any brochure. I have it to myself. The showers are state of the art, the place spotless, lush green adorns the central are. The actual campgrounds are hardly inspiring nor welcoming dust. I have the entire place

A large sign warns me that there’s ‘No Potable Water’ in a campground!? Hmmm. The bore water tastes great. The number of litres of water freely flowing down my throat kinda worries me. Just how much did I sweat out as I powered along, humping over the corrugations gritting down through the soft bits, letting the lactic acid build as I take on the inclines? The only time I stop is to fill my water bottles and grab a quick snack. It was a good race and I won it.

The shower is worth every bit. And I did 80+ kilometres on the Gibb. I’m feeling good. I’m also fucking tired. Godda eat and eat big.

John turns up. A Texan émigré, he’s the caretaker. He wants 19$ for the privilege to camp here. It’s excessive but I have a 50$ note, or 15$. He settles on 15$ and I settle in for the night, cooking dinner on the BBQ, two packs of noodles and can of spam. Can’t get better than that. All the power-plugs are sealed off with duct tape. Seems they don’t want people drawing electricity. I remove the tape and charge all my devices. It’s been a while since all were fully charged.

Hundreds of finches gorge on the seeds in the grass. They take flight simultaneously amid a distinct buzzing of tiny wings for no particular reason just to settle back again.

I hit the sack early. To appease John and to set up my mozzie net I camp not on the grass but on the concrete of the ‘Cultural Area’, then name given to where the BBQs are I guess in testament to the importance of BBQs to Australians. There are motion-sensor everywhere. I hope when I turn in my sleep I don’t set it off. After five minutes it’s out and I sleep.

The lights come on. Bleary eyed I get up to check what’s stalking me in my sleep. Nothing to see, except tiny bats flittering around. Back to sleep.

Awake again and this time damned fast as a large multi-legged animal is rapidly making its way towards my groin on the inside of my leg. My first thought is Huntsman Spider. They are big and they are fast and they are pervasive throughout Australia.

Instead it’s a large black cricket. Took a while to get it out of the mozzie net. Back to sleep. I hope.

Max

Imintji, 10 September 2016

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