From Katherine I decided to make the return journey to Katherine Gorge, a 70kms return journey. Katherine River sits in Nitmiluk National Park carving its way through magnificent sandstones, forming the area known as Katherine Gorge. A series of 13 gorges were formed through the 1.4 billion years old ancient rocks, sometimes giving incredible picturesque decor. After spending the morning canoeing up to the second gorge and relaxing the afternoon by the pool, I made my way back in Katherine the next day and get ready for a dash into Kakadu and Darwin.
Edith falls was the next destination. The section on Stuart Hwy was fast, averaging 26km/h thanks to the tailwinds blowing off so hard that dead leafs were overtaking me. The last 30kms into Edith falls were slower and less busy with traffic. Edith River,also part of Nitmiluk NP, makes its way through sandstones into a series of waterfalls, forming natural pools where it’s possible to swim and relax. The last waterfall ends up in a huge pool surrounded by immense sandstones rocks. Perfect place to spend the afternoon!
The next day was a mini milestone for me; entering the well-known and unique Kakadu National Park. After another tailwind dominated morning (going fast again!!) and a quick lunch at Pine Creek, I took the turn off towards Kakadu NP, another 60kms down the road. Tough day since I haven’t ridden 120kms for a while.
After spending a solid night sleep at Mary River RH (Road House), the day had finally come; making my way into Kakadu NP. The World Heritage-listed Park features vast wetlands and huge sandstones formations where waterfalls plunge into massive pools. It is also home of rare and sometimes unique aboriginal rock-art showing important spiritual beliefs and large gatherings. Some galleries are believed to be as old as 50000 years old, the oldest record of continual human occupation known on the planet.
My first night was spent at Maguk campground, a 20kms detour off the main road. On the corrugated and sometimes sandy road leading to Maguk I came across Adam and Anieska, a Polish couple riding for about 3 weeks. Both were going towards Katherine, but detoured into Maguk just like I did. It was great to finally ride with other people after spending most of the last 4 weeks alone on the road. Maguk was simply unforgettable. After walking on a sandy road leading to the car park, the track started to make its way into the forest. Small poolsbeing filled by cascading water started to appear, large rocks replacing the trees on each side. After a refreshing dip, we followed the signs in between the rocks for a further 200 meters before hitting the end where a large plunge pool was waiting for us. Swimming towards the waterfall was bliss for the 3 of us, having used so much energy to reach this truly beautiful swimming hole.
Relentless IT-related discussions between me and Adam forced us to leave later than usual. We said goodbye when we hit the main road; they went south-west while I headed north-east towards Cooinda, my next stop over. I had a single reason to get to Cooinda, do a sunrise cruise on the magical Yellow River. Being told it was $18 dollars a person at Cooinda campground, I was shocked when I had to pay $36 for a campsite. Rip-off!! But the cruise was absolutely fantastic. The wildlife on the calm early morning yellow river was abundant, including saltwater crocodiles!!
After the morning cruise, I left towards Nourlangie rock. I arrived just before 15h30, just in time for the ranger’s talks and demonstrations about aboriginal art-works at the 3 main locations around the prehistoric rock.Not knowing a lot about Aboriginal art-works and their culture, I found the talks quite educating and interesting. I took off for Jabiru at around 17h30, giving me about 90 minutes to cover the 30kms to Jabiru. Since the winds had dropped off by then, the hard peddling allowed me to get to Jaribu as the intense pink-purple sunlight dramatically faded away into large cumulus clouds. What’s more, I was rewarded with a reunion with Mike, another cyclist I’d met back in Katherine at Coco’s backpacker (awesome place to stay in Katherine BTW) a couple of days earlier. As I cycled around the caravan park looking for a spot to camp, I spotted Mike sitting alone at one of the open kitchen tables, reflecting on the events of the day. Despite the camp kitchen dimmed light and the weak moonlight, I recognised Mike’s silver-ish hair immediately. I called out “Hey Mike!!!” and both greeted each-other, offering me food just like the bike-tourer tradition dictates in these situations. It felt good to have caught up with the older boy and exchange tales from the road.
Originally from Melbourne, Mike cycled quite a lot over the world. On this journey he’d started from Perth, zigzagging his way up into Western Australia to finally reach Broome before heading east towards Katherine. Have a look at his crazyguyonabike page. He left for Kakadu before I took off for Katherine Gorge so he had a solid 4 days ahead of me and both hope I’d catch up with him so we could ride into Darwin together. But before heading into Darwin, I had 2 places to visit; Ubirr and Jim Jim falls. The latter turned out to be the highlight of my trip so far.
The day I biked towards Jabiru, Mike decided tohitch his way to Ubirr. That’s how he met Dave, the driver who stopped and offered Mike a ride. Despite Dave’s uncertainability of his Kia Sportage 4WDof handling making the entire corrugated and sandy road leading to Jim Jim falls, we decided to risk the journey anyway.Thanks to Mike numerous advices on how to tackle the road and Dave brilliant driving, we made it in one piece. I was useless sitting at the back holding the Jesus handle, admiring the scenery. The rocky walking track started from the car park where many organized tours left their 4WD monsters. We steadily made progress through the forest before the view opened up on the fall itself. Huge sandstones cliffs sitting on each side of the creek finally merged together right in front of us. At its merging point, the waterfall finally revealed itself, still flowing with a light dribble. The path was now making its way between boulders and sandy patches before reaching the first small beach. It wasn’t until we swam all the way across the waterfall’s deep plunge pool and standing on the slippery rocks right where the water felt that the three of us truly realized how lucky we were. A week earlier, the power of Jim Jim would have been too strong for anyone to stay there for as long as we could. A week later and the dry season would be approaching its peak, draining the creeks above to a dry sandy and rocky bed.The last strokes to reach the merging sandstones were pure magic. Standing on these rocks battered by the full power of Jim Jim during the wet season is something I’ never forget. Definitely a lifetime highlight.
The next day, I was convinced by Mike to try hitching a ride to Ubirr but after 45 minutes of no luck I decided to ride it. It’s roughly 80kms return trip from Jabiru, one of the best cycling I’ve done so far. Beautiful hot weather, clear skies, good winds, sandstones on the horizon. Ubirr is an important site for Aboriginal people with abundant rock-art and a superb view over the wetlands and rocky outcrops of Arnhem Land. Slowly making my way through the rocks, reading and admiring the several thousand years old drawings, I finally reached the top of the rocks giving a 360 degrees view. Wetlands dominated from the west towards east where it met the rocky cliffs of Arnhem Land. Pure beauty and serenity.
The day after was the first riding with Mike. From Jabiru, we both started on our own; me thinking I’d catch upwith him after his stop at the bakery, him thinking I’d come meet him at the bakery after my visit at Bowali information center. He finally caught upwith me at the west alligator river bridge around midday. Reunited, we made our way towards west and the park’s exit. We could feel we were getting close to civilization by the number of cars and road trains increasing by the minute. The driver’s impatience was also growing shorter as one road train blew me off my path, passing us at high speed and close enough we could have probably touch it if extending our right arm.That was the first and only close call I’ve had so far with a road train, Mike relating the same fact. We finally reached the outskirts of Darwin 3 days later, free camping at Fred’s park before entering the first large city since Cairns. It was really good 4 days riding with Mike, punctuated by numerous very interesting conversations and discussions.
We’re taking off for Litchfield NP in a couple of days and we’re both really looking forward to it. Based on the comments we heard from many travellers, Litchfield is better than Kakadu. I cannot imagine anything beating Jim Jim falls and Ubirr, but I guess we’re both going to find out!