Finally sharing “The Big Trip” - The first Leg Darwin NT to Port Douglas  QLD

201011 Map Darwin to Townsville Trip

Departing Darwin on the 9th September we would fly home some 5 weeks later having ridden 5883km of amazing country

200909 Day 1 Darwin to Katherine-1 Ready to ride

Sitting back and reflecting on this trip there was so much to share that I think I simply didn’t know where to start so I didn’t. One thing that definitely is true for this trip is that every challenge we came upon was certainly worth the effort. Like doing an ocean passage, suffering through a storm but in this case the heat and dust the destination and experience made it all worth while. The trip was in two stages - the first being from Darwin to Port Douglas where we had a few days rest from riding before completing the second stage from Port Douglas to the Tip of Australia and back to Townsville. 

Day 1 Wednesday Sept 9 Darwin to Katherine 317km / 196m

On Wednesday September 9th we road out of Darwin as prepared as we could be with Deb and Ross to Adelaide River. Though they weren’t joining us on this trip it certainly wasn’t going to stop them from being with us at the beginning. A leisurely lunch was enjoyed together at the Adelaide River Pub before they returned to Darwin and Andrew and I continued onto Katherine for our first overnight stop. 

200910 Day 2 Katherine to Daly Waters-04 Alex Petrena Lee and Andrew

Always great to finally catch up with friends

200909 Day 1 Darwin to Katherine-5 Petrenas rescue wallabies

In Katherine we stayed with long time friends Petrena and Alex Ariston who run a successful Indigenous Art Gallery and Cultural Experience called Top Didj. Petrena is also a wildlife carer so hopping around the yard literally are Agile wallabies in various stages of care and preparation for release. It was great to catch up after what we determined was almost ten years, appreciate the fine art work in the gallery and meet Manuel Pamkal a Top End Aboriginal Artist who works with Petrena and Alex to share his Aboriginal culture and paintings. 

Manuel Pamkal a Top End Aboriginal Artist sharing his culture at Top Didj

The Larrimah Pub

200910 Day 2 Katherine to Daly Waters-09 The NT Stubbie and Pink Panther Larrimah Pub

Day 2: Thursday 10th September Katherine to Daly Waters 276km / 171m

We continued south to Daly Waters for an evening of entertainment only experienced a few weeks prior so we were beginning to feel like locals. 

Just north of Daly Waters is the township of Larrimah with a population of 11 (as last counted in 2018). It is home to a pub which once claimed to have the highest bar in the NT, an oversized NT Stubby and a pink panther. Historically it is also renown for being the location of the Gorrie Airstrip the largest dirt airstrip in Australia constructed during WWII and home to over 6000 RAAF personel based there at the height of war efforts against the Japanese. 

More recently Larrimah has been in the news due to a Missing Person - Paddy Moriarty who disappeared without a trace on December 16 2017. Rumour has it his disappearance was due to a bitter rivalry over providing pies in the town. We can only confirm the pubs pies were pretty good for our lunch. 

200910 Day 3 Daly Waters to Borroloola -03 GLorious Dust Shower

Getting swamped by dust from passing trucks was about to become the norm.

Caranbirini Conservation Reserve 

200911 Day 3 Daly Waters to Borroloola-17 Caranbirini Conservation Reserve

Day 3: Friday 11th September

Daly Waters to Borroloola 390km / 242m

As we headed out early from Daly Waters the day started with dodging wallabies before hitting a galah, and finally being swamped by dust courtesy of road trains on a 5km dirt detour. After passing Cape Crawford we were for the bike in new territory heading for the township of Borroloola. 

Just 44km south of Borroloola is a very understated sign marking the entrance to the Caranbirini Conservation Reserve. The Reserve includes a collection of limestone rock formations, some reaching as high as 25 m or 82 feet that form the "Lost City”.  The rock formations in the afternoon light were truely stunning and certainly worth the stop and 2km (1.2m) walk in full gear. 

The Savannah Hotel in Borroloola being the only hotel in the town was our accomodation for the night and had the most welcoming staff and management. There happened to be a table outside our hotel room under a tree with a good breeze so they offered to bring our dinner to us. A nice way to end our trip in the Territory and the last of the bitumen for a while as we headed for Hells Gate just over the QLD border. 

200911 Day 3 Daly Waters to Borroloola-22

Fine Dining Borroloola Style 

200912 Day 4 Borroloola to Hells Gate QLD-07 First crossing Wearyan RIver

Lots of water crossings on Day 5 between Borroloola NT and Hells Gate QLD

200912 Day 4 Borroloola to Hells Gate QLD-21 Woologorang Dust Holes

Day 4: Saturday 12th September

Borroloola NT to Hells Gate Roadhouse QLD 

317km / 196m

As we road out of Borroloola we were surprised to find ourselves riding out in fog. Not the conditions we would have ever expected. 
The road conditions were far better than what we recalled from our previous trip in a 4WD back in 1987 though there were still a few stretches of bull dust that required Lee to stretch her legs and Andrew to test his maneuverability skills.

200912 Day 4 Borroloola to Hells Gate QLD-31 Hells Gate Roadhouse200912 Day 4 Borroloola to Hells Gate QLD-32 Green grass to pitch the tent

Creek crossings were also higher in number and depth than what we had anticipated leaving both of us with soggy boots given Lee would walk briskly through first before Andrew brought the bike through. Crocodile warning signs never make one feel totally comfortable walking waterways.
It was certainly a relief to arrive at Hells Gate Roadhouse to find beautiful green grass to camp on and welcoming hot showers. 

Hells Gate roadhouse was named after the gap in the escarpment through which the road passes just a kilometre south. In the early days of settlement the police who were based in the area and stationed on Nicholson River would escort travellers to the gap through which they would pass and then be on their own until they reached police protection in the township of Katherine in the NT. Given that would have been a long lonely trip by horseback or foot in a harsh and hardly explored region of Australia, Hells Gate seems a very appropriate name. 

200913 Day 5 Hells Gate to Adeles Grove Lawn Hill-07

There were times we really did wonder if we were on the right “road"

200913 Day 5 Hells Gate to Adeles Grove Lawn Hill-14 Lawn Hill River Crossing The deepest bit

Day 5: Sunday 13th September 

Hells Gate Roadhouse to Adeles Grove Lawn Hill

185km / 114 m 

After talking to the staff at the Roadhouse and getting a few local tips we decided to detour off the main road, Highway 1 just after the community of Doomadgee and take the back route through station country to Adeles Grove. The road proved to be most scenic but did have us guessing several times if we were in fact on the right road particularly when it would appear we were going through cattle yards. Seven creek crossings in total for the day with the last being Lawn Hill Creek proving to be what we believe is the limit of depth for the 1260.

200913 Day 5 Hells Gate to Adeles Grove Lawn Hill-18 Are we on the right road

Actual road signs for direction were very few and far between if at all

200913 Day 5 Hells Gate to Adeles Grove Lawn Hill-18b Arrivng Adeles Grove

Adels Grove Campground, at least it had signage

200913 Day 5 Hells Gate to Adeles Grove Lawn Hill-20 Adeles Grove

Adels Grove was originally gazetted in 1904 as a mining homestead lease. In 1920 a gentleman by the name of Albert de Lestang took up the property and over the next thirty years established an experimental botanical garden. From the many plants and shrubs produced  Botanical gardens throughout the world were supplied with seeds including the Brisbane Botanical Garden, which according to Adels Historical notes still has 536 samples. Sadly in 1950 a fire wiped out the gardens and the buildings of the Botanical Gardens. As Albert was in his late sixties and had lost everything in the fires he relocated at that time to Charters Towers.

In 1984 the area was reopened as a camping ground. It is an oasis with tall palm trees to camp under, a river and cascades to swim in along with the added bonus of a restaurant, wifi for communications and the all important hot showers. The short drive of 10km to Lawn Hill National Park is another major drawcard for people to base themselves at Adeles Grove. We decided to stay two nights taking the opportunity to catchup on the washing, communications, relaxing from riding and enjoying some good restaurant food. 

200914 Day 6 Adeles Grove Lawn Hill-6 The swimming hole

The swimming hole on Lawn Hill Creek

200915 Day 7 Adeles Grove to Gregory River-01 Finally a sign

As good as the signage gets on these tracks. 

200915 Day 7 Adeles Grove to Gregory River-09 Caravan city200915 Day 7 Adeles Grove to Gregory River-03 Gregory River Hotel

Day 7: Tuesday 15th September

Adeles Grove to Gregory River 85km / 52m

It was just a short run from Adeles Grove to Gregory River but it felt like we had gone from the Bush to the Suburbs when we came across the wall to wall camper vans and caravans parked alongside the Gregory River. Thankfully with our trusty 1260 we were able to venture further up the river to find a perfect private camp area with easy access to the river to set up our tent. 

The Gregory River is home to the Gregory River Marathon run annually by the North West Canoe Club based out of Mt Isa. Andrew and I had competed in the 43km canoe marathon several years in a row when members of the Katherine Canoe Club back in the late 80s and finally in 1991. Just yesterday really. 

It was a step back down memory lane when we met the owner and operator of the Gregory Hotel and talked about characters and avid supporters of the marathon such as Laurie and Betty Fray who had built our canoes and kayaks over the years before we launched our own business “KKraft”. A venture that was short lived due to the reality of dealing with fibreglass and resin and the call to open a computer business. 

The highlight of our campsite was the wildlife that ventured through each afternoon, from small blue herons, finches to the resident wallaby. Certainly a perfect place to pitch a tent for a couple of nights. 

200916 Day 8 Gregory River Qld-11 Finch

Afternoon visitors to our campsite 

200917 Day 9 Gregory to Karumba-2 Artesian Bore from 1897

Day 8: Thursday September 17th 

Gregory River to Karumba 417km / 259m

A world without phones - that was us for a few days whilst we travelled from The Gregory to Karumba. Our bike charger wouldn’t charge the battery pack due to the corrugations on the road shaking it out of position despite the many strategies to secure it from duct tape to cable ties. The battery pack itself also decided it had had enough and failed to charge anything, so no communications at all, something unusual in this connected world. 

After Gregory River we rode on to Burketown - checked out the Hot Spring, the only attraction of the town that we could find. The bore was drilled by the QLD government in 1897 when Burketown was expected to be a thriving centre with the establishment of a large meat works. Unfortunately by 1959 it was determined that the water was not much use, being unable to be used for drinking, domestic use or irrigation. Even using the water for Public Bathing was a challenge as it flowed at a temperature of 68 C or 154 F.  

From Burketown we continued onto Normanton taking the shorter dirt route along the gulf country that was also short in signage. It had us questioning our direction once again particularly given the total lack of traffic for several hundred kilometres. 

200917 Day 9 Gregory to Karumba-13 Burns Philip and Co Warehouse 1870s

Burns Philp Building built in 1884 operated as a general merchandise store servicing the district for more than 120years

200917 Day 9 Gregory to Karumba-14 Council Building200917 Day 9 Gregory to Karumba-15 Normanton Purple Pub

In terms of where we had been travelling Normanton was one of the larger centres, with a population of 1210 people back when the 2016 census was held. It was obviously also large enough to have resident police stationed who decided it was a good idea to random breath test Andrew as we rode into town.  Given the direction we had ridden in from and the amount of dust that we were covered in, we were not sure where they thought we might have stopped off for a cold beverage or two before arriving into Normanton. 

Despite the unusual welcoming experience we still had to appreciate the large collection of buildings with character still in existence from the 1800s when Normanton was the port for the Gulf of Carpentaria Cattle industry.

200919 Day 11 Karumba to Mt Surprise QLD-01 Brolgas

The Purple Pub is a typical country pub in the centre of town which achieved fame when a past publican painted it purple. The day we arrived we were advised not to bother with a visit for lunch as the chef had thrown in his towel the night before - safer apparently to head for the local cafe according to the local constabulary. We took their advise. 

200918 1 Day 10 Karumba with Mooney Family-06 Welcome to Karumba

Karumba is a fishing destination that sits on the banks of the Norman river in the Gulf of Carpentaria. We certainly weren’t heading out of our way to go fishing but to meet up with good friends from   northern QLD who happened to be holidaying and this looked like the best point to rendezvous. Definitely the highlight of the road to Karumba was the unexpected number of  Brolgas - more than it was possible to count along with the odd Jabiru. The Brolga is the “Big Bird" that is on Katherines A1.

We set up camp at Sunset Point Caravan Park in what was the smallest dustiest allocated space to date, but it wasn’t about the campground it was definitely about catching up with friends not met in a long time.

200918 Day 10 Karumba with Mooney Family-14 The group

Finally catching up with the Mooney family and boy had the boys grown.

200919  Day 11 Karumba to Mt Surprise QLD-04 Croydon Hotel

The Croyden Hotel established back in the towns heyday of gold mining and the last pub standing in a town that once boasted 36 Hotels on the goldfields. 

200919  Day 11 Karumba to Mt Surprise QLD-03 Croydon Old Butcher Shop

Day 11: Saturday 19th September Karumba to Mt Surprise 466km / 289 m

Saturday was all about making miles towards Port Douglas on the east coast north of Cairns. 

After backtracking through Normanton we stopped for a morning coffee break in the township of Croydon. Croydon was once an important Gold Mining town and linked to Normanton by “The Gulflander” that at its peak moved around 10000 people between Croydon and the port of town. Unfortunately though it was our intention to stop and check out the Gulflander siding and the historical precinct the heat of the day and the distance to be covered took away any enthusiasm for lingering and playing tourist. 

We overnighted in the community of Mt Surprise and stayed in what felt like a luxurious cabin after a long hot ride and 7 nights camping in the tent on sand or dirt. 

200919  Day 11 Karumba to Mt Surprise QLD-12 Butterflies

Butterflies were in abundance at the Bedrock Caravan Park 

200920 Day 12 Mt Surprise to Port Douglas-04-2

Such a change of scenery as we headed towards the Atherton Tablelands 

200920 Day 12 Mt Surprise to Port Douglas-05-2

Rolling hills and Greenery 

Day 12: Sunday 20th September MT Surprise to Port Douglas 338km / 210m

Leaving Mt Surprise the scenery changed dramatically with the greenest of green rolling fields that were in such contrast to the brown dusty open spaces that we had become accustomed to since leaving Darwin. 

Riding through the Atherton tablelands the scenery not only changed but the temperature. Around the small community of Julatten we were seriously looking at stopping to close all the vents on our riding gear. The first time on this trip that we had felt anything like cold. 

It was an amazing feeling to come down through the ranges and to see the ocean.

We had covered sound 3000 km (1864 m) on this leg of our journey and were ready for a little comfortable relaxation beachside where the bike and all our gear could be cleaned and we could look and feel a little more civilised. 

Time for a break before the next challenge. 

(For more photos) 

Part 1 of our trip - Darwin to Port Douglas following the gulf

© SV Katherine 2018      Cover Photo: Katherine on Anchor Isle Tabarca Spain