While we were having breakfast on our last day in Derby, a female caravan park patron wandered over to our camp site, had a good look at our bikes and told us that a pushbike had been stolen from outside her caravan during the night, despite it being chained to a tree. Ours had been propped together and covered with a ground sheet right next to our tent, but not chained. Karen and I took the message as a warning and locked our bikes every night from that day on.
We rode six kilometres out of town to the Prison Tree, an old, hollow baobab tree which was allegedly used as a temporary prison late last century. While we waited for Peter and Mihkala, we spoke with a retired couple named Ken and Rai who gave us some maps they no longer needed. We would soon meet up with them again. At 8:30am the Kombi rolled up. Mihkala and her bike were soon ready to go, with Mac riding in the basket on her handlebars as usual, his ears flapping in the breeze.
Our convoy of three bikes was soon away, with Peter driving the Kombi into town to do some shopping and banking. Seven kilometres later Karen and I passed the two thousand kilometres since Darwin milestone. Peter dub-a-dubbed by us eight kilometres later when Karen, Mihkala and I were in the middle of our first stretch break, and he drove on to await our arrival for morning tea at the intersection between the Derby and Great Northern Highways. Karen and I had been changing the leader every five kilometres ever since we resumed riding in Darwin, and Mihkala took her place at the front of the pack when her turn came to lead. She set a good pace at the front and had no trouble keeping up with us when we were leading either. Of course, Mihkala was not weighed down with thirty or forty kilograms of gear as Karen and I were, and because of her regular running regime, she was probably fitter than us as well.
I must admit that while I had never tired of the sight of my wife's bum as it had moved atop her bicycle seat in front of me for the previous twelve thousand kilometres, it made a refreshing change to look at a different, and equally attractive derriere when Mihkala was in the lead. I made the most of it while I could, knowing that Peter would be taking her place the next day. While Pete's bum is no doubt considered attractive by most of the female half of the world's population - and by a substantial percentage of the male half as well - I have to confess that it really does nothing for me.
Fifteen kilometres after morning tea we arrived at the Fitzroy River and crossed the Willare Bridge. The river below was a lazy trickle compared to the height of the Wet when it can break its banks and become a hundred kilometres wide, its rate of flow greater than any other river in the world apart from the Amazon. We cycled into a camping area on the far side of the river for lunch. Although Karen and I had ridden only sixty one kilometres, and Mihkala a very creditable fifty five, we decided to stay overnight by the Fitzroy. The distance from Derby to Broome is a bit over two hundred kilometres. Karen and I alone would have tackled it in two days, but with no water worries and the safety provided by two extra people and a vehicle, it made more sense to divide the journey into three, especially with Peter and Mihkala riding with us.
The Willare Bridge Roadhouse
(a long way from Darwin, a long way to Perth)
Peter had arrived shortly before us and had found a good, secluded campsite above the river and well away from the highway and the day-use area. During the afternoon we watched crocs sunning themselves on the far bank, jabirus and great egrets fishing in the shallows, and archer fish cruising around the roots and fallen trees a few feet out from the shore in search of unsuspecting insects above. The decision to camp away from the day-use area proved to be a good one as the noise from a rowdy group of fellow campers filtered through to us during the night.
Next morning we were on the road at 7:15am, with Peter now on his bike and Mihkala and Mac in the Kombi. A nice south easterly breeze was mostly helping us. The highway had been southbound from Derby but it now swung westward away from the river. Peter rode strongly for the first thirty kilometres to our second stretch break in she shade of a big boab where the Kombi was waiting. We arranged morning tea for the first good spot Mihkala could find after another twenty kilometres, then hit the road again. Throughout the next hour Peter gradually slowed down and fell behind. Karen and I slowed as well, but by the time we reached the Kombi at fifty two kilometres, Peter was still languishing a few hundred metres behind us. His legs and bum were hurting, but he was more concerned about an even more vital part of his anatomy which had gone completely numb. It was time for he and Mihkala to switch places again.
After morning tea Peter drove off in search of a campsite while Karen, Mihkala and I resumed riding. We had barely travelled two kilometres down the road when a sign announced the Kimberley Colourstone display centre and we dropped in for a look. It was similar in many ways to the Zebra Rock display we had visited in Kununurra, but none of us were about to part with our money and add weight to our bikes, so we were soon on our way again. The rest of the day's riding went smoothly. At ninety three kilometres we found the Kombi parked by the road and Peter led us down a dirt road to a flooded quarry area. We set up our camp near a large "No Trespassing" sign.
Our quarry campsite
Some of the excavations in the quarry were full of water, a boon to the local bird population. A grebe had taken advantage of the conditions to construct its floating nest amongst the branches of a partially submerged shrub. Five eggs waited patiently inside the nest for mother to return. I chased birds around a paddock for the best part of an hour, trying to find the elusive red-browed pardalote. This bird has a vast range encompassing the entire northern half of the continent, but Karen and I had never seen one despite spending large amounts of time in the north. I was almost certain the birds I was chasing were red-browed pardalotes, but our sightings had to be definite. Almost certain is just not good enough.
Sunset over the quarry pools
We were up just after dawn the following morning, but packed up with no urgency. Broome was only seventy four kilometres away, so the day would be a short one. Peter rode with us for the first thirty seven kilometres to morning tea at Roebuck Roadhouse. He was still finding the riding difficult, but Karen and I stayed with him and we all rode in together, with Mihkala taking a photo of the moment. In appreciation of the support vehicle, Karen bought everybody an ice-cream, then it was another driver swap and a blast into Broome with the wind behind us.
Robyn from Birdwood Downs had arranged for Peter and Mihkala to stay with a friend named Paul. Karen and I had been offered the use of his yard for our tent too. After picking up a load of brochures about Broome from a tourist information centre, we rode to Paul's place, but it was located in a light industrial area away from the water, and Karen and I found it uninviting. After thanking Paul for his offer, we rode out to the Roebuck Bay caravan park and paid for a week's accommodation as soon as we saw the location. It was beautiful, with the red soil of the Australian desert blending into a pristine, white sand beach with unbelievably blue water beyond.
We put up our tent and spoke to nearby neighbours to get them to watch our stuff while we went down to the beach, all of twenty metres away. Peter and Mihkala arrived on their bikes with Mac, and all five of us had a swim, our first in the Indian Ocean. All of us ignored the "Beware of Crocodiles" sign prominently displayed in the middle of the beach. Other people were swimming, and there was safety in numbers, as everybody knows. We had also been assured by the caravan park manager that the water was safe. He said the sign had only been erected by the council to protect themselves from litigation in the extremely unlikely event that a rogue salty ever appeared in Roebuck Bay. We all enjoyed our swim, but for some strange reason we did not seem to spend a great deal of time in the water. During the rest of the afternoon we discovered that the local supermarket and grog shop were only a couple of hundred metres away, on the other side of a public park possessing free electric barbecues. What more could a couple of tourists ask for?
In the evening, with the sun setting behind us, Karen and I sat at a table in the caravan park, overlooking the beach, reading our tourist brochures, sipping wine from our plastic cups and watching the water of Roebuck Bay disappear towards the horizon. The tides of Broome could only submerge a two storey house, and not a three story house as in Derby, but they were still very impressive for a couple of travellers who had grown up in Sydney where the tides would barely reach the top of a ground floor doorway.
The scene was so idyllic, and the attractions of the area so numerous, that Karen and I wondered whether we could do Broome justice by staying for only one week. We were in no hurry to leave. The determining factor in our rate of travel down the coast hinged on the seasons. We had left Darwin in mid Autumn, well after the end of the Wet, and did not need to be in southern Western Australia until Spring when the famous wildflowers would be in bloom. Winter had only just begun, so we had three months to kill. What better place to spend winter than in the sun and warmth of the tropics?
What the heck, we thought, and we decided to stay in Broome for a fortnight.