The Australian Adventure
across australia on a bicycle
Route: Stuart Highway from Darwin to Port Augusta, then on to Adelaide, 3000km, asphalt road
Major cities: Alice Springs (28.605 inhabitants)
Smaller towns: Katherine (10.766), Tennant Creek (7944), Coober Pedy (3500), in between a few settlements, farms and roadhouses
Climate: Up north tropical hot and humid, beginning of the rainy season
Further south hot and dry, beginning summer
Alice Springs: Annual mean temperature: 28.6 ° C, annual rainfall: 286 mm
In comparison Dortmund: Annual mean temperature: 13.5 ° C, annual rainfall: 838 mm
Prevailing wind direction: South east
Challenges / risks:
– Sun and heat
– Wind (headwind)
– Long distances (little options for water and food)
– Animals (poisonous snakes and spiders)
– Traffic (road trains)
The cyclist: Florian, 28 years old, travel-skilled, well-trained, strong-willed,
“What doesn´t kill you only makes you stronger” – mentality
Good touring bike, usual world trip luggage, water container (preferably full), food, sunscreen, harmonica, camera
Three years ago I was sitting in Arnsberg, in the kitchen of my parents. In front of me on the table an open world atlas. While explaining the possible route of a journey around the world to a reporter from the local newspaper I mentioned Australia in just one sentence: “… and then one time across!“.
I wasn´t really convinced ever to get this far. Already the plan to go to India by bicycle, which was my first destination, sounded not only to the reporter a little bit crazy. But now, three years later, I haven´t only left India behind me for a long time but I cycled a big circle through southeast asia and have managed to crisscross numerous indonesian islands to finally end up in australia.
Darwin, in my imagination a big city, turns out to be a big town. Although at least 150,000 people live here, the city center is quite compressed and things are rather leisurely than hectic. I´m here to do the final preparations for my journey to the inner of australia. Among other things I am building an additional luggage carrier out of an old backpack frame. I need more space for food and especially water.
Never before have I cycled in such an uninhabited and inhospitable area as the australian outback. Water is my biggest concern. In the canisters on my luggage rack I can transport six liters. Along with my water bottles I have a total of eight liter. That must be enough for a day. The possiblilites to get water are often over 100 kilometers apart. In my bags is food for several days, two friends gave me different polish specialties to keep strong.
Departure in Darwin
Early in the morning is it when I leave. I start at the sea of course, which I will not see for weeks. A few friends have come to say goodbye and then I´m off through the city to the Stuart Highway which is here a four-lane highway with lots of traffic. In the suburbs then the first traffic sign: “Alice Springs – 1479 km“, Between Darwin and Alice Springs are just the towns of Katherine and Tennant Creek and a few roadhouses.
It is hot and humid. My t-shirt clings to the body even before I started proper cycling. My heavy luggage and the busy traffic doesn´t make it feel like fun. On the first day I manage 100 km and set exhausted my camp in a forest next to the road. At night it cools down only slightly, the thermometer still reads 29 ° C and I try to sleep, covered in sweat.
Unrecovered I continue the next morning. In the bushes beside the road there is suddenly something moving. It’s a kangaroo – my first kangaroo – which jumps in leaps and bounds into the forest. In the next few weeks I will get to see hundreds of kangaroos, most of them, however, pretty dead. Road kill, hit by cars and roadtrains.
Rest day at the Katherine gorge
The first few days are exhausting. Although I´ve spend quite a while in Asia I have problems to cope with this heat and humidity. I do less than 100 kilometers a day. Four days after I have left Darwin I arrive in Katherine. My motivation is gone and I wonder in what I´ve gotten myself into. It’s time for a rest day and I make a trip to the Nitmiluk national park. At the visitor center you can book boat or helicopter trips or rent a canoe. On the other hand you can have a walk along the gorge for free. There are even places where camping is allowed, often with a water tank and squat toilet. It costs $ 3.5 to camp one night. That is cheap, the proper caravan park at the visitor center charges $ 30. I decide to park my bike behind the ranger station and hide my luggage behind a bush. Five hours walk is it to the camping spot at the gorge and I can only take the bare minimum with me.
But after one hour of walking my shoulders and neck start to hurt. A bicycle pannier is just not made for carrying it a long time over your shoulder. Walking is exhausting as well in this heat, the difference to cycling is marginal. In the late afternoon I reach the camping spot and get rewarded for all the effort: High above the gorge the spot offers a fabulous view, the evening sun is painting with warm colors on the huge rocks.
To fill my canister I need to climb down to the water before it gets dark. This area is part of a “crocodile managment zone“. That means it is examined regularly for crocodiles, especially during the rainy season. If one of the dangerous salties, salt water crocodiles, is spotted, it is caught and relocated. Swimming is still at your own risk and I limit my bath to a quick duck near the waters edge.
The night is quiet. The stars in the clear sky keep me company until I make my way back in the morning. My bike and luggage are still behind the park rangers house. Who should steal it here anyway?
A new lamp
Because it’s so hot and humid during the day I want to ride at night. Finally I got a strong lamp for my bike which is kind of essential during the dark nights .To explain how I got this lamp I have to go back a little further:
In April 2013, when I was traveling in India, I stayed in Chennai with a man named Nishit. More specifically in his apartment, Nishit was in fact not at home. I´ve gotten his phone number from another cyclist and called him not until the evening before my arrival. “Of course you can stay with me. I´m certainly not at home tomorrow but I´ll leave the apartment keys with my neighbors.” So a day later I was in an unknown apartment of a man whom I had never seen and about whom I knew nothing except that he apparently has great faith in people.
When I left Chennai a few days later Nishit and I still haven´t met, only on the phone he had helped me to find my way through this massive city.
A few months later, I was in Laos and pretty broke, I had this idea with these calendars. People who want to support me, no matter with what amount,would get a photo calendar in return. Nishit gave me a fairly high amount – and did not even want a calendar for that.
Again a few months later I got an email from Nishit. Inspired by me and other cyclists which he had hosted through the warmshowers network, he decided to quit his job to finally go on a longer trip by bicycle. Nishit opted for Australia as a starting point and only a few weeks before me he started cycling in Darwin. In Katherine he stayed with Craig, a young Australian. Nishit, possibly similar exhausted like me, decided to reduce his load and to leave some things there which he would not need anymore.
Now I’m Craigs guest and tell him about my plans to cycle at night. I tell him about my feeble lamp which runs battery powered since the dynamo hub defect in Thailand. In addition the front light is hidden by the new rack. Whereas speaking, Craig brings out one of these new super strong LED lamps and even two waterproof battery packs for it. “This is then probably meant for you” he says. Nishit had left them here. For the third time this unknown man helps me.
My canisters are full of water, my bags filled with food. The next supermarket will be in Tennant Creek, after 670 kilometers. It is evening and sun lights up the clouds. Sunsets here are often very colorful and the whole sky is lit from orange to pink.
With new strength I pedal into the twilight. It is only 27 ° C. After dark, the traffic increases significantly. Only now and then a road train rushes past. These trucks with up to four trailers can be over 50 meters long and they are especially at night a threat to me. In the dark, despite reflective safety vest on my luggage, the driver can´t see me very well. So every time a road train is approaching I drive off the road. The headlights are visible from miles away. It often takes several minutes until it reaches me.
It is a peaceful cycling at night: The crickets chirp around me, above the clear and starry sky. Sometimes kangaroos appear on the roadside. Once they get caught by the beam of my new lamp they stop eating and freeze for seconds. Than they usually disappear quickly in the dark,with a few bold leaps of their legs, but sometimes one remains dazzled until I´m only a meter away. Not surprising that so many of them are run over by cars or road trains.
After two hours I stop and make a coffee beside the road, the darkness is warm and everywhere.
Back on the road a sign appears: “Next rest area 2 km” and my map shows me that there is also a water tank. These rest areas are popular with tourists and travelers as there are often toilets and fire pits there and you are allowed to stay over night. For today I have had enough. I’m too tired to go further and turn in to the rest area. A few cars are parked there and a young man brushing his teeth appears in my spotlight. When he sees me he almost let go of his toothbrush and I can see that he is very surprised about the bearded guy on a fully loaded bike who appears out of the darkness and babbles something about a water tank. After I found the water tank and reassured that water is there, I make a pot of rice, eat and crawl tired in my tent.
On the way
Tennant Creek is the next settlement, and thus my next waypoint. Between Katherine and Tennant Creek there are six roadhouses. A roadhouse is usually a gas station / bar / hotel and caravan park (campground) alltogether. Sometimes there is also a small shop, of course the prices are quite high.
For me the roadhouses are very important because there is water. Mostly it’s water from a well, called bore water, which does not always taste good and might even make you sick. It is rich in lime and often salty. Purified drinking water is of course always for sale, but a 1.5 liter bottle can cost up to five dollars. I generally refuse to pay for water and prefer the bore water. When you are really thirsty you drink everything anyway.
The further south I get the more the climate changes. It is warmer and drier here, but at night it cools down significantly. For me, it is much more pleasant than the humid tropical heat. I start to get into my rhythm, start to enjoy this trip. I start as early as possible, when the sun comes up. At noon I sometimes take a break, sometimes I just continue cycling. The landscape is constantly changing and is not boring or dull until now. It’s always a little up and down, a lot of trees and bushes make the environment green, large termite mounds can be seen on the roadside. I enjoy the simplicity of the days: Cycling, eating, sleeping.
In Tennant Creek
Once arrived in Tennant Creek I head for the nearest caravanpark. My body needs badly a day off and a shower. Clean and fresh I start to explore the town for the only supermarket. Tennant Creek has 7944 inhabitants, not much is going on here. Many shops in the main street have closed, with only a pub and a bottle shop to buy alcohol open. In front of them stands a policeman and checks personal details of every customer. It’s not about age but about addresses.
For many of australias first people, also called aborigines, it is forbidden to buy or consume alcohol. Many of their living areas were declared to be dry communities and alcohol is strictly prohibited. This is the government’s response to the alcoholism problem of many native people.
The relationship between the new white australians and the natives is a complex issue, but basically it’s like in other parts of the world: Whenever countries or territories were colonized by white europeans that had dramatic consequences for the people living there, who were always and until today disadvantaged. Often it is because of the imposition of a foreign lifestyle or at least the expectation that these people need to adapt our, the better lifestyle. The fact that these people don´t want to or even can´t doesn´t matter.
I found the supermarket and it is like a paradise for me. Finally I can have fresh fruit and vegetables and as the campground has a kitchen, I can cook something different than rice with sauce.
It´s easy to meet people here. Australians are quite open and everyone a the caravan park has a few questions or at least a comment when they see me with my bicycle. Particularly well I get along with two young germans. Katia and Hauke are traveling by car and stayed here for a few days. I tell them about my trip and when they read about the new calendar on my website, they decide to buy one for their parents as a christmas present. They want to pay me immediately in cash, in dollars, of course. Again, without doing much from my side, my money problem has solved by itself. After another rest day I start the next leg to Alice Springs.