Desert in Bloom
Dunmara – Tennant Creek
It was almost like someone had flicked the temperature switch to “winter mode”. The nights were cooling off quickly and we found ourselves seeking out the sun rather than the shade during our snack stops. The chilly mornings saw us cycling in full winter gear, complete with long johns and thick gloves. We were seriously wondering how we would cope with the even colder temperatures around Alice Springs.
On leaving Dunmara we noticed the scenery changing from the fertile, tropical forests to low scrub, announcing the start of the arid zone or dry centre. However thanks to the recent strong wet season, the desert was in full bloom. We cycled through avenues of yellow wattle bushes, admired the spiky pink flowers by the roadside, stepped over white blossoms on creepers covering the ground and marvelled over the gum trees that seemed to be blossoming all around us.
Most of the creeks were still full of water and sometimes we happened upon a serene billabong complete with an assortment of birdlife and once a family of wild ducks frolicking in the shallows.
We see evidence of snakes most days, unfortunately most are mangled on the side of the road. We have seen a few brown snakes, about 1.5m long and even a rattle snake. A brown snake was sunning itself on the road but quickly slithered off into the bush as we approached. Displayed in glass tanks in the zoo they can look fearsome but in the bush, in their natural environment they are placid and beautiful. Even though Australian snakes are famous for their deadliness, they are also very shy. Staying away from long grass and making some noise as we walk into the bush is all that is needed to make them scatter.
We gently climbed all day, cycling towards the hamlet of Elliott. Many people we met had warned us against staying in Elliott. “It’s just got a really bad feel about it,” they said. “The shops windows are barred up even during the day. I wouldn’t stay there if I was you.”
Elliott would have been a convenient overnight stop, but we also needed a reason to finally start wild camping so we looked for a campsite 10km before Elliott. It was quite tricky as the vegetation was very thick. It was hard to get in, and with cattle fences on either side, the options were limited. Finally we found a clearing, it wasn’t far from the road so we could hear the odd Road Train roaring through at night but it was covered enough so that we were even able to make a fire.
In the morning, the legs were feeling heavy, but the beautiful scenery kept us going, together with the hope of finding some food in Elliott. Some travellers find the scenery here monotonous, but at our gentle speed we see constant changes in the landscape as the beauty is often in the detail from the wild flowers, butterflies and birds to the subtle variations in soil colour in this ever changing landscape. Of course we are very lucky to be here during such a strong wild flower bloom.
We were almost a bit disappointed when we arrived in Elliott. All was quiet on this Saturday morning. Sure, the fuel station windows and doors were covered in mesh wire, and a few hung-over characters were loitering about, but otherwise we did not see much suspicious activity and felt perfectly safe.
Elliott was the only hamlet on our way and our only real hope of getting some food supplies, but the shop was very basic. Everything was 2-3 times the regular price. Of course it must cost a lot more to get food items into these remote communities, but $5 for a loaf of bread that expired 3 days ago is still a lot for a poor cyclist!
The over priced campsite at Renner Springs was right next to the road with poor facilities so we decided it was better to bush camp more often moving forward. The grocery store was virtually empty except for a few cans of mushrooms and peas which cost us an arm and a leg.
At lunchtime, Freddie had another puncture. We soon discovered a gash in the back tyre. The puncture resistance is now low as our tyres are reaching the end of their life (after 10,000km) but the tread is still good so we hope to nurse them through to Adelaide where we have new tyres awaiting. For the moment, we swapped her rear tyre out for our spare tyre and fixed the old one with superglue.
At Banka Banka station, we managed to scrounge some water from the chirpy owners. We are really in quite remote territory now. The stations here are huge – Banka Banka station is small by comparison, covering “only” 2,000km², on which they are planning to put 2,500 heads of cattle. To count the number of the water holes they have on the property they needed to charter a helicopter. The largest station in Australia is larger than Israel at 24,000km², 8 times the size of the largest station in the US.
15 km down the road we struck gold, well not real gold but a lovely bush camp spot near an old quarry. The more sparse terrain is now much more bush camp friendly as we have enough cover and clear ground to pitch on. We were surrounded by wildflowers and young gums giving the impression of a little garden with an almost perfect circular clearing amongst the tall spinifex grass. In the morning we woke to the sounds of a kangaroo jumping around our tent, obviously curious as to the nature of our presence.
On our final day cycling into Tennant Creek we had the last crumbs of instant coffee, the last peanut butter and jam and the last slice of bread. At lunchtime, we dived into the emergency food supplies and cooked some instant risotto. We arrived at the Threeways roadhouse, 25km before Tennant Creek, starving. Some overpriced muffins gave us the energy to push the final distance to Tennant Creek where we planned to spend our time eating and resting.
Amazed by the amount we ate over the last 8 days on the road, we went straight to the supermarket to buy some items for dinner and breakfast. However, to our horror, the supermarket had just closed. We got a takeaway from Red Rooster and dejectedly pitched our tent at the local campsite.
Our supermarket visit the following day led to two discoveries: Firstly, everything in the supermarket was much more expensive than in the rest of Australia – bad news for two hungry cyclists – and secondly, they had hairy kangaroo tails in the freezer, yum!||