Australia, more precisely Darwin! This is where I will continue my trip. Not Asia anymore I know, and certainly no mountains down here I know too. But plenty of outback and dirt roads.
At first I get all the Australian essentials: good maps, mozzy repellent, sunblocker, helmet (cyclist must wear helmets here) visa extension und plenty of food and water. Then I am heading already to the first national parks: Litchfield and Kakadu.
Here in the tropical north it is the dry season now. Close to Darwin it is quite warm and humid even at night. But that soon gets better only a few days south. There are surprisingly many river and waterfalls. But I have quickly learnt, that you cannot simply jump into any waterhole here, this is croc's country! That can be quite frustrating when I reach such a water hole dirty and sweaty and may only look at it. But especially at Litchfield NP there are some great croc-free pools. I often wonder, where all that water actually comes from. They seem to get plenty of rain in the wet season here which is then stored underground in those sandstone rocks from where is later in the dry slowly released.
Between all theses waterfalls I mostly cycle through a savannah landscape that doesn't change much for hundreds of kilometers. Coming from China I am used to long distances but here the dimensions are even more extreme. I notice that after I check my first 1000km on the map. I is simply nothing and hardly visible at all! As I am mostly in parks at the beginning I am often camping on official campgrounds. Every evening I meet interesting people, have nice talks and often get invited for dinner. I really enjoy that very much. After 15 month in Asia where most oft the communication was done with hands and feet I am really glad I can have some proper conversation once again.
In Katherine I meet Adam and Nicole. I met them more than 4 years ago in Turkey. They have been on the road a lot too and only recently moved here and invite me to spend some days with them. I enjoy it very much having a home with a soft bed, a fridge and most of all good company for some days.
After Katherine I turn west. I don't mind at all because I had been fighting against a constant head wind so far, that now turns into a nice tail wind. If I can trust the locals that's what the wind is going to be like for the next several thousand kilometers. Well, we will see...
A first taste of the dimensions here? It is more that 500km to Kununurra and in between there is only one roadhouse and one tiny settlement with 300 people!
The vegetation is now getting drier and at the Victoria River there are some beautiful red rock formations. Then I meet the first Boab tree. That is this funny tree that looks like it had been planted the wrong way round with the roots on top. Simply a wonderfully beautiful tree with its over dimensional trunk.
Before Kununurra I reach Western Australia. Now who said, there are no borders on this continent? Here they take it very seriously with checking (no fruits or vegetables are allowed in), much more that at most country borders that I crossed so far.
The folks camping next to me cannot believe that I managed to squeze the 6 big bags that I came back with from the supermarket into my panniers as well. I bought a lot of supplies: 14 days I want to be on the Gibb River Road and there are only two small shops along that route. Like many roads in Australia this one has its origin in cattle transport. Today it is one of the most used dirt roads going straight through the Kimberley.
But before I am on the Gibb River Road at all I already add some extra loops, lets say the prologue. I just found a nice track on the map starting directly in Kununurra. This first part is already a highlight. There is zero traffic and I can spot a lot of animals, mainly birds. The scenery is great: red glowing rock formations in the background, Boab trees, bush und high, bright grass. On one stretch there is a shortcut: in the dry you can cycle straight across a dry marshland. Just like on a saltlake only it is brown here. The last kilometers before I join the Gibb River Road are pretty bad and I have to push the bike for 15km through deep bull-dust.
One of the Australien curiosities is, that there is hardly any soil here. that is mostly because in geological terms this continent has been rather inactive for the last millions of years. Australien earth is almost always sandy. So, as a matter of fact dirt roads are always sandy here. That can be anything from gravel or hard pressed sand (very good) to corrugation in all possible size, bull-dust (deep dust mostly covering holes and stones) to real soft and deep sand (very bad). Depending on the importance of a road a 'grader' periodically tries to take most of the corrugation away. How good or bad a road is, mostly depends on the amount of traffic and when the grader has been at work for the last time.
Here on the Gibb River Road it is now rather the end of the saison and the road surface shows that clearly.
Along the 800km the road crosses many rivers. Now in the dry most of them don't flow anymore but they have left behind a lot of waterholes. I can plan it that I am camping every night next to such a waterhole, allowing me for nice bath every afternoon. The scene when I reach the first roadhouse could have been used for an advert. As I approche the house on the dusty, bumpy road, going inside and then enjoy an ice cream on the veranda. Finally something cold again!
In regular intervals there are gorges a bit off the main route. Most have a beautiful waterfall and a pool with cristal clear water, perfect for a swim. From time to time the road climbs a little ridge offering from atop great views over this seemingly endless wilderness.
At the western end of the Gibb River Road I also add an additional loop, allowing me to spot many freshwater crocodiles and travelling along a beautiful karst range.
Then the ride becomes smoother again as I hit bitumen. Especially the last part was very rough but the missing 350km to the next town I find more tiring with its endless straight sections.
In Broome I meet the west coast. Here I rest for a couple of days and enjoy the beautiful Cable Beach and the town itself.
The next part looks rather boring on the map already: the 600km to Port Hedland. The first roadhouse and with that the first source of water is only after 300km. Such giant sections without water can truly only be found here in Australia. With filled up tanks I start and soon realize that I have to cycle against a very strong headwind too. The days are long and tough. Because by now it is getting very hot in the afternoon and the wind is usually not as strong in the morning, I start before 6 and have a long break at midday. The road offers no diversity, even car drivers complain about the monotony. Every day I look forward to the evening. then I search for a nice place in the bush. This intense australian red is even more beautiful in the last hours of the day. When the sun has gone down I lie next to my tent, enjoy this absolute silence and never get tired gazing into this unbelievable starry sky.
I am happy when I finally can make out some hills on the horizon - the Pilbara. I leave the main road and cycle on a sandy track into Millstream NP. The contours on the horizon were not wrong. I pass great rock formations and in the gorges there are cool, refreshing water holes.
The red rock were already telling it: there is a lot of mining going on here in the region. One of the rather unpleasant places is Wittenoon. Until the 70's asbestos was mined here. ¨On windy days, close your windows¨ I read in a brochure. Well, thank you for that one...
Next I am heading for Karijini NP. The approach is not that spectacular yet. but the true highlights here are down in the many gorges. I do a couple of fantastic walks through these gorges where I finally have to swim through the only 1m wide gorge - absolutely spectacular. Then there are many waterfalls and pools for swimming. Just the right place for a break.
After these parks the ride is mostly dominated by the sheer size of this region. I have got used that distances between water sources are 200-300km and 500-600km between supermarkets. In practical terms that means that I never leave a water tap without filling up 20 - 30(!) liters of the valuable fluid. In return I get rides through seemingly endless wides where the horizon looks like it has no end and with great camps in the bush at nigh where the dingos howle at night.
At Coral Bay I reach again the west coast. In front of the coast is the Ningaloo Reef, the Great Barrier Reef of Western Australia. Even only with snorkeling I see a lot of colourful fish and corals and can swim together with a turtle.
The wind has been my companion for quite a while already. There are hardly any days without wind. While I was inland the wind seemed to change direction every day creating head and tail wind every other day. Now that I follow the cost down south it has picked up in strength but more importantly it is now a constant head wind. For 2 days I have been on that dead straight stretch of road cycling directly into the wind already. On the map I can see that there is a curve ahead. It is only about 20° that the road turns, but it is the event of the day and brings a little bit of a relief.
Everyone coming from the south is telling me, that it is still cold and wet in Perth. So I am not hurring and make some detours down to the coast in between those long, lonely stretches. I get a bit of everything, from the white beaches and coral reefs at Ningaloo Reef, to empty, lonely beaches with dunes and bush to the spectacular rocky coast at Kalbirra.
North of Geraldton the landscape changes abruptly. The bush making space to wide fields and meadows. It is the wildflower blossom at the moment here. Everywhere there are endless flowers and the meadows shine in the most beautiful colours. On the other hand I quickly know why it is all that green here out of a sudden: It rains for the first time in month!
I spend some more nights along the west coast. On wide, empty beaches, between white sand dunes, at beautiful sweet water pools at rivers und finally the Pinnacles, a red sandy desert with countless bizarre looking limestone pillars.
Perth is the most isolated capital town in the world. No one can confirm that better then a cyclist who has actually cycled here! But the attribute capital town I only believe, when I really reach the very center as all around, Perth is mostly a very big collection of one-family houses. I can stay some days with Lukas and enjoy the the great views from his apartment in the 8th floor in almost the only multistorey building around. Meanwhile I update my equipment and enjoy some days rest. Then I also meet some fellow cyclists that I have already met on the road every now and then. Of course we have a lot of 'war stories' to tell each other...
When I heard about the Munda Biddi Trail for the first time I was already exited: a 500km signposted mountain bike trail through the forest south of Perth! After I have been quite some time on busy roads recently I can hardly await it. And I am not getting disappointed! Following deserted tracks, the trail winds its way through the thick forest. At the end of a days ride there is a little hut for sleeping with a rainwater tank.
For days I follow bush tracks and single trails through the dense wood. It is often sandy and there are some tough climbs in between. In one word: it is sensational. Although I have to fight quite a bit some time with my heavy loaded bike. Many of the trails are totally overgrown and during the 8 days I only meet two other cyclists. I enjoyed those days in the forest, far from any sort of traffic and civilization very much. This trail is truly outstanding.
The region in the very southwest around Margaret River is particularly green and as such there is a lot of agriculture here. The region is especially well known for its wineries. Here of course I cannot pass by and simply drink isotonic drinks. As I don't have to carry 20 and more liters of water with me at the moment and my panniers feel like half empty anyway I assign some space to a mobile 'wine cellar' until I is is going to be used for the water again.
The further to the south I get, the bigger the trees become. Around Pemberton I cycle through a fantastic forest. The Karri trees here get up to 80m high and are often some hundred years old.