170729 Pine Creek to Gungurul
It’s 207 Google-map-kilometres from Pine Creek to Jabiru. Two days ride, unless I visit one or more of the parts of the UNESCO World Heritage Kakadu National Park that are open, and suitable, for The Public.
The Kakadu Highway between Pine Creek and Jabiru is asphalt with but one pass to test the legs, some six-kilometres from Mary River Roadhouse where the road climbs to the plateau, and even then it’s short and not even that steep.
There is, of course, Gunlom and Coronation Hill. 36 km from the highway. Been there already with Ram in the sublime comfort of The Beast. Do I really wanna revisit? Short answer … no.
The Stand Out ‘Must See’ of Kakadu is unquestionably Jim Jim Falls. Water drops 200m off the Arnhem Land Plateau into a deep plunge pool, where you can swim and enjoy the spectacular view. Sounds well perfect and worth the 130km gravel-ride roundtrip, with its crocodile-infested river crossing. Right? Eer, not quite.
Jim Jim’s stunning reputation is all true. Northernterritory.com tells me Jim Jim is an “imposing 200m high waterfall” (https://northernterritory.com/kakadu-and-surrounds/destinations/jim-jim-falls).
Whilst Parksaustralia.gov.au confirms that there’s a “2 km return walk through monsoon forest and over boulders to a deep plunge pool or family-friendly beach pool” (https://parksaustralia.gov.au/kakadu/discover/regions/jim-jim-and-twin-falls/ ).
But let’s look at the road. As we know Australia’s a Nanny State and does not believe any individual has any ability to know what’s right and best for themselves nor understand how to calculate personal risk, and therefore puts enormous efforts to warn the unwise and unwary of imminent danger and death. So, we know when we read ‘official’ sites’ information we can build in a fat leeway about just how bad it’s all gonna get. Even taking that into consideration Parks Australia’s Jim Jim Falls brochure has this to say about ‘Road Access’: “The 50 kms … unsealed, often corrugated. Please observe the 60 km/hr speed limit …”. Oh Yes! Please!!! Observe. The. 60 km/hr. Speed. Limit. Rocks and stones whistling past as a huge 4WD barrels past is always a bit unnerving (https://parksaustralia.gov.au/kakadu/pub/jimjim-twinfalls.pdf).
Parks Australia goes on … “Only high clearance 4WD vehicles can continue from Garnamarr Campground to Jim Jim and Twin Falls” which means either very rocky, very sandy/dusty, perhaps with outrageous inclines, corrugated to death, or a mixture of all diabolical Aussie road conditions.
I will also be confronted with the half-metre deep creek crossing in croc-country. Parks recommends I use a snorkel.
Back to the brochures. Every one of them tells me the falls are best seen “from the air in the wet season”. That’s when all the impressive photos are taken of huge volumes of water thundering over the rim of the plateau. At the moment it’s just another plunge pool.
Peddling along Kakadu Highway, still a good day or so from the turn-off, I can dwell on the thought of riding over 100km on a road requiring ‘high-clearance 4WD’ to be able to enjoy a swim in a plunge pool at the bottom of impressive cliffs over which no water is falling. So-called Jim Jim Fallen or Jim Jim Fell, since there is no falling going on.
The prospective ride to Jabiru is quite civilised. Mary River Roadhouse is some 60km from Pine Creek. Gungurul campground is another 50km, putting me over the half-way point. Lunch and an iced-coffee plus water supplies at the Roadhouse before camping at Gungurul.
What I’ve read about Gungurul suggests I shouldn’t expect much. Darwin4wdrentals.com tells me it’s “One of Kakadu’s quietest campgrounds”. Apart from pit toilets, a fire-pit and picnic tables there’s nothing there. It’s on, or at least near, the South Alligator River. Possibility of a wash?
My experience of campgrounds and ‘busy-ness’ suggests that if it’s easy to get to, has decent facilities, water near-by (for fishing if not swimming) and good shade, then it’s not going to be ‘quiet’.
I’m not sure what to expect, really, with Gungurul, but the ‘quiet’ bit sounds OK and I’m fully capable of wild-camping so, all shall be well.
Mary-River Roadhouse turns up in good time for lunch. They have a nice covered area with BBQs. Perfect for lunch. After approximately 10 000 wraps eaten for lunch over the last two-years I’m keen – being honest, desperate – to pimp them up whenever I can. The simple act of toasting them on a grill takes wraps to another level. The BBQs are not the usual freebee ones. These are gas powered, manually operated outdoor kitchen style BBQs.
I go inside to get my ice-coffee and ask about the BBQ.
THEY DO NOT HAVE ICE COFFEE!
My world has ended. They are very sorry. Innovative approaches are a key part of the Permanent Wanderer … “Can you make one?” I ask, “Two teaspoons of instant, fill with ice, top with milk?” “Yeah, I’m sure I can do that”. Now for the BBQ … “I’m on a bicycle and was wondering if I can prepare my lunch – just wraps, y’know, toasting them – on the BBQ under the patio?”
The friendly look on the woman’s face doesn’t fade and she says “Yes, that should be fine. You’re brave on a bike aren’t you?” “Yeah, the go-slow approach. Best way to see a country” “Rather you than me” she tells me good-naturedly and heads off to make my ice-coffee.
The result is perhaps the best ice-coffee I’ve ever had. No sugar, the odd taste of instant made smooth with milk and the ice turning it into a genuine ice-coffee.
Lunch done I’m languidly cleaning up and getting ready to roll whilst a dude on a quad is doing yardy things. He’s coming ever closer. Eventually he is here. I’m curious as to what’s going on.
“Y’know these BBQs are only for paying guests don’t ya!?” Despite the meaning of what’s he’s just said there’s not much sting in his voice since I’ve already used the BBQs and he doesn’t have much leverage. Truth is I feel like laughing. It just strikes me as a funny thing to say. “Well, I bought the ice-coffee” I tell him, “that’d make me a paying guest”. It doesn’t seem to ease his pain. “I asked permission to use the BBQ and they said yes”. His disgruntled look doesn’t fade as he guns the quad and roars off.
Seven kilometres after leaving the roadhouse I’m climbing The Pass. At the base of the climb a track heads off to the north. Experience has taught me that tracks only exist for a purpose and in a place like this, on the edge of Kakadu, it’s most likely to have a billabong at the end of it. Which makes even more sense since it’s at the base of the Arnhem Plateau scarp and there’s bound to be a creek running off it. But I don’t know if it’s going to be a 500m ride or a 5000m ride. There’s neither sign or information to tell me. I take on the climb.
At the top of the climb a walking-track heads off to the north. I think about it too, but carry on riding. I’ll ask Scott when I get to Jabiru what he knows.
I know I godda be getting close to Gungurul as it’s that time of day and those number of kilometres. Sure enough, just before the bridge over the Sth Alligator River there’s the sign telling me the turn-off is another 2km away.
Below me, as I cross the bridge, I can see pools of water, inviting and tempting. I look forward to camping and rinsing off the day’s ride. The turn-off comes and I’m pleasantly surprised to find it’s asphalt all the way to the campground. That’s where the joy ends. It’s pretty easy to work out why it’s one of Kakadu’s ‘quitest’ campgrounds. It has a slope, it’s a rocky as hell, dry and dusty, where it’s not rocky it’s got metre long spear-grass, and since it’s been ‘controlled-burnt’ recently there’s pretty much no shade since all the leaves have fallen off. It short it’s awful. Two vaners are here, both with generators, even though it’s supposedly a no-generator campground. I’m agitated. I like wild camping but this? This is awful. What to do?
I try, I do, to find a suitable spot to put my tent but for a soft-floored tent like mine there just isn’t anywhere.
But there is a track to the river with a sign saying something like “Walking Track. 1 hour 800m return”. 800m’s not far, thinks I. I point Dreamer down the track and start exploring. 700m later I come across a picnic table under a stately gum. The ground’s still black from the burn but it’s a far nicer camp ground than the actual campground.
Excitedly I head to the river only to find that it’s bone dry. Warm dry sand stretching hundreds of meters in each direction without a trace of water.
Squirming my toes in the warm dry sand I figure I can leave Dreamer and Zi-Biddi next to the picnic table and pitch my tent on one of the upper flood banks. Y’never know about flash floods in these parts. Putting the tent smack in the middle of the Sth Alligator may result in a wash I’ll not really enjoy.
Tent pitched, I string up my MSR water bladder into an improvised shower and clean myself down.
Even though Mardugal Campground, where there’s water’n’all, is but half a day’s ride away tomorrow I realise I’ve only a few litres of water left. Five more litres would make me feel much more secure. I head to the vaners.
Vaner 1 declines, claiming he too doesn’t have enough. The idea that a vaner is down to their last 5 litres here strikes me as implausible. I wish him well and head to the other, who does have enough. Small talk about travel and adventure, the usual questions about cycling and I head back with enough water to ease my concerns.
170730 Rambling on
Next morning bright and early I’m rambling. I’m still thinking what to do, Jim Jim Falls or not. Coinda and Yellow Waters aren’t far either but they are not the place for me. Waaay tooo commercialised, expensive and crowded. Mardugal Campground is well situated, coming just before both Jim Jim’s or Coinda’s turn-offs. It’s also the last decent campground with facilities – running water, solar-powered showers, that kind of thing – before Nawurlandji and Malabanjbanjdji campgrounds. There’s another ‘but’ too. I’m within striking distance of Jabiru. Mardugal is just over half way. If I ride beyond it and from what I already know of the other campsites, I may as well continue to Jabiru.
Midday-ish I arrive at Mardugal. There are two camping areas. This being the dry-season and the main tourist group the campground’s designers had in mind (I’d say the only group) being motorised, there are large open areas with low fences around to stop the 4WD’s from making ever new inroads into the scrub to seek the shade and dustless grounds totally lacking in the designated camping areas. I can’t see my little tent going up in either one of the camping areas.
At the ablution block there are nice shady trees and large grassy areas. My tent and camp will go juuust fine here. I leave Dreamer and Zi-Biddi, take myself and my travel-stained clothes and head for showers. With my clothes drying rapidly in the warm sun, I make lunch and enjoy the dish-washing facilities to clean-up. Quite a difference to Gungurul yesterday.
As I’m scrutinising the ground thinking where best to put my tent a works-vehicle turns up. A dude, in a uniform, walks towards me.
“Ya ain’t thinkin’ of campin’ ‘ere are ya?”
Give a man a uniform, tell him he’s a task, fill his head with authority, and they invariably use it.
“Actually, I am, yeah”
“Didn’tcha see the sign?” pointing back to where his vehicle’s parked.
“No. I came in there” pointing to a gap in the little-pole fence near the watertank.
“Well ya can’t camp ere!”
“Why not? It’s perfect for my tent”
“Imagine if they all camped ere”
“Well, they wouldn’t. They’ve all got trailers or too much stuff. And they don’t like to carry stuff far. If they can’t park their car right next to their tent, they won’t bother”
“What if the Ranger comes?”
“I’d have the same conversation with them and hope their wisdom and understanding prevails”
“It’s the rules! Ya can’t camp ere”
We are clearly not getting far and it’s pretty clear he’s unable to see either reason or separate the needs of a tiny cyclist from that of a huge 4WD’er.
“You should always question rules” I tell him somewhat ominously “Afterall we did judge the Nazis for blindly following them”
He’s taken aback for a moment, not expecting the change in tempo “Eer, yeah, my grandfather was in the war”
“I’m English. All of my family was” just to get my point across.
“Well … ya still can’t camp here” but now lacking the conviction he had before.
Nothing to do “Sure, I’ll move”
“There’s plenty of camping sites” trying to be helpful.
“Yeah. Not particularly good for a small tent though. I’ll move”
I tour the sites again and again can’t find anywhere really suitable. So I go bush, winding Dreamer between the trees and bushes until I find a patch of open ground with shade and far enough from the dusty campground that if a vehicle drives past I won’t get drenched in clouds of dust.
By evening large numbers of campers are now ensconced at Mardugal, including the ubiquitous group tours, all of who make regular forays to the ablution block.
Although my site-manager didn’t use the best technique, I reckon he saved me from prolonged disturbance.
170731 The Last Bit to Jabiru
55km to Jabiru. A whole day to do it in. Unless I ‘do’ Jim Jim. There are other sites along the way. Most I’ve already been to. Lookouts, rock art and billabongs.
There is Muirella, to which I have not been. Sounds good. And I’m tempted. Billabong, though no shore access. Showers even. But it’s like 30km from Mardugal. Not sure I really need such a short day. Will see.
3km from Mardugal and 500m beyond Coinda is Jim Jim Billabong. Which has absolutely nothing to do with Jim Jim Falls. It’s like 6km for the Kakadu Highway and I figure ‘why the hell not?’ and turn down. Some 2.5kms later I’m back on gravel, bits of which are long stretches of soft sand. Charming. I plough on. For one, I’ve but a couple of thousand meters to go. Can’t be too hard. And it’s not.
Jim Jim Billabong is nice laid-back campsite adjacent to a huge billabong, with plenty of shady trees and is everything a un-serviced campground should be, in contrast to Gungurul.
A bit of a wander, a few photos, then back on the ride.
The track along which Jim Jim Billabong lies is the old Kakadu Road, and it parallels its asphalt big brother for like 10km. Sounds good to me. Then there’s the random tracks heading south. May as well try one of those too. So I do.
I wind my way down one of these tracks until a small collection of buildings. Not sure if it’s a tourist facility or an Aboriginal community. Either way, I turn back then take another random right heading east, the direction I wanna go in. Soon enough I’m back on the old Kakadu road and are eventually faced with a decision. Straight ahead along what is little more than a bush track. Or right towards Patonga, an Aboriginal community and hopefully another road heading east. A look at the GPS suggests I’d be better going along the track.
After a few moments of doubt and pain I arrive triumphant at the Jim Jim Falls road. I turn left towards the Kakadu Highway and Jabiru, rather than right and the Fallen and its plunge pool.
Scott tells me the track at the base of the scarp leads to a very nice plunge pool, not visited by the hoards coz there’s no sign and it’s not on the maps. Next time, thinks I.
Jabiru, 31 July 2017