Three Years on the Road
Brett Davis

74. The Bungle Bungles

A strong south-easterly breeze sprang up during the night, and waiting for it to abate delayed our departure from Wyndham for an hour the next day. I spent the time putting a patch on a flat front tube and posing next to Brian for a photograph. Despite our wait, the headwind was still quite healthy as we pedalled out of town.

Five kilometres down the road the patch came asunder so I replaced the tube. The wind and the hills then made for a long, difficult morning. The only moments of joy we experienced were when we found sixty cents on the side of the road, and when a motorist stopped to give both Karen and myself a chup-a-chup.

We reached the rest area at the Duncan Highway intersection after fifty seven kilometres in three hours and forty minutes, giving us a fifteen kilometres per hour average - very tough going. With both of us needing a decent rest and with temperatures well into the thirties, Karen and I decided to combine our morning tea and lunch breaks. We stayed at the rest area for almost two hours, hydrating, staying as cool as possible in the shade and hoping the breeze would swing more to the north. A young guy from Hall's Creek spoke to us for half an hour, assuring us that the nightmare stories we had heard from other travellers about the previous year's aboriginal riots had all been exaggerated. We hoped so.

After lunch the wind swung around to the east, becoming a cross breeze. The road flattened out too, which helped us to appreciate the excellence of the scenery through which we were passing. Every time we saw a memorable sight, I reminded Karen of her reluctance to ride this section of road. Even if we had taken the bus, I told her, we would have been coming through here in the middle of the night and would have seen zilch. Karen wholeheartedly agreed with me that we had chosen to do the right thing.

At the Kununurra information centre a girl named Tina had recommended we stay at a place called Kingston Rest, twenty three kilometres south of the intersection, which was owned by her sister Caroline. The property was also the site of Dunham Pilot Dam, a small dam in the hills which provided water for irrigation to the land below. Although Kingston Rest had not officially opened for the season, Caroline gave us directions to the camping area a couple of kilometres up a good dirt road. The area was bounded on one side by a large billabong, and contained a tank connected to a small ablutions block. A quick inspection of the toilet revealed that it was home to about twenty assorted frogs. After dismantling the cistern and pipes to remove all the offending amphibians so the toilet would flush properly, I discovered that I had used the last of the tank water. Karen and I had to shit in the woods and have sponge baths by the billabong that night.

Sunrise at Kingston Rest

A beautiful sunrise over the water soon gave way to overcast skies with temperatures in the low thirties. We filled our water-bottles back at the property and said goodbye to Caroline, heading out into another day of great scenery as the Ragged Range paralleled our course. At about fifty eight kilometres we stopped for morning tea at Jailhouse Creek, an unfortunate decision as the almost dry riverbed smelled of dead fish and the area directly under the bridge smelled like shit. We lunched at the more hygienic Bow River at one hundred and four kilometres, taking photos of our lunch site in the dry riverbed and of the graffiti sprayed onto the concrete bridge supports. I can't repeat what the graffiti said.

The final stretch to Warmun included the best riding of the day, which was a blessing for Karen as she was suffering in her nether regions. With a day of over one hundred and thirty kilometres following a long and difficult eighty kilometres the previous day, both of our bums needed a rest. The long layoff back in Sydney had softened our bodies and we needed more days in the saddle like these if we were to toughen up.

We set up our tent at the side of the roadhouse, next to a caravan owned by Bob and Zilka, the guides who worked alternate days for the Bungle Bungle tour we had booked in Wyndham and which we would be doing the next day. We paid for the tour, and also borrowed two of their chairs so we did not have to sit on the ground. Karen phoned Barbara to wish her a happy mother's day, then we bought hot chips and cheesecake for dinner. Our bodies obviously knew what they needed after two hard days - as many calories as they could get.

At 5:30am the next morning we boarded the 4WD OKA vehicle for the tour of the Bungles. It would have been nice to ride into the park and stay a while, but the logistics of the trip would have been difficult. Fifty three kilometres of highway took us to the turn-off then another fifty odd kilometres of rough dirt and gravel tracks took us into the park. There was no water anywhere along the way, and none when we arrived, so the day trip was the only way to go.

When we pulled up at the carpark for the walk in to Cathedral Gorge, Bob pointed out the damage that had been recently done to the park - by the rangers! While trying to reduce bushfire fuel they had been unable to contain their supposedly controlled burn, and wind had driven the fire right up to the famous beehive formations of the park. The fire's heat had caused the surface layers of the lichen covered rock to explode. The formations are extensive, of course, and only a tiny amount of damage had been done, but perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from the episode - sometimes all nature needs for protection is simply to be left alone. We had to laugh though, when we heard that the rangers had even managed to burn the roof off the public dunny!

Aftermath of the bushfire in the Bungle Bungles

Cathedral Gorge was impressive, but I think Karen was even more impressed by the excellent all-you-can-eat lunch at the tour company's permanent camp. For Karen, it was an open invitation to gluttony, justified by our limited budget and exceptional needs for energy. After lunch we bussed around to the entrance to Echidna Chasm. After the chasms, gorges, holes and gaps of Central Australia, and the magnificence of Cathedral Gorge, I was prepared to be disappointed by yet another chasm. Instead, I was amazed. Echidna Chasm is a vertical cleft into the Bungle Bungles massif. It seems to go on forever, and must be at least four hundred metres long. Just when you think that the chasm is about to end, it turns a couple of corners and goes on for another hundred metres. Yet again Karen and I were astonished not only by the grandeur of the geological feature, but by its unexpectedness as well. One day we will go back to the Bungles and give it the time it deserves. A week, minimum.

Echidna Chasm

Palms near the entrance to Echidna Chasm

Night fell as the OKA made its way back out to the highway. Along the way we startled two wild donkeys who began running along the road in front of us. Every time they tried to veer off the road, they seemed to be deterred by the sudden appearance of their own shadows from our headlights, and they would veer back onto the road. Bob explained that this often happened with kangaroos as well, who would sit by the side of the road as cars approached, and then bolt as their own shadows suddenly appeared beside them. While it may have been "bus driver dreaming", it might certainly explain the thousands of dead kangaroos Karen and I saw and smelled during our travels. The donkeys turned out to be quite fit. They ran for almost two kilometres before their tiredness overcame their fears and they veered away from the track and disappeared into the darkness.

Bob had allowed us to fill two wine cask bladders with water back at the permanent camp. When we reached the highway, he stopped the bus while I hid the water in grass beside a sign on the opposite side of the road. Next day we could cycle over fifty kilometres without having to carry this extra weight.

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