June 23, 2007: Archer River to Kalpowar (287 km)

Leaving Archer River.

We all got up just after dawn to a magnificant sunrise on the river.

The ride out of camp was fabulous — washouts and fun dips galore. I need to find plenty of roads like this near me! I could have ridden this section all day.

Me coming out of camp:

I’m pretty sure that I’m sticking my tongue out at Peter in this photo:


We continued south on the Peninsula Development Road for another 60km towards Coen, one of the largest towns on the Cape. This section of the road was pretty uneventful — the usual bauxite, corrugation, and cow sighting. The “DIP” sign is the natural foliage of the Peninsula Development Road, and they’re out in force along this section. They’re tricky buggers, too — I’d wonder why a dip was even called out in the first place, and then the next one would have 6″ of running water and I’d soak myself through. It was generally best to slow down to 30kph or so for each dip sign, regardless of what the terrain wound up being.

The last few kilometers into Coen are paved, a novel experience after three full days of only off-roading. The TTR-230 did eventually make it up to 115kph, but keeping things below 85kph ensured that I didn’t feel like I was having dental work done.

Waiting at a relay point just inside of Coen:

We fueled up the bikes and ourselves in Coen next to the famed Exchange Hotel, to which people have long prepended an “S”. The Sexchange Hotel was unfortunately not open at the time, so we had to content ourselves with photos.

Coen is a gold rush town, originally settled in the 1870s but things didn’t really heat up until 1893 when the Great Northern gold mine opened. The Overland Telegraph Line went through in 1884, sealing Coen’s fate as a township and stopping point on the way north.

More of the same.

The Peninsula Development Road between Coen and Musgrave, all 107km of it, is very very similar. Imagine a loop of a 10km section of road, comprising “DIP” signs (with the occasional “FLOODWAY” thrown in for variety), red corrugated bauxite, occasional slivers of pavement, and sporadic white chalky dusty bits. Replay that loop over and over for 110km and you’ve got the Peninsula Development Road from Coen to Musgrave. It’s not a bad road — certainly more interesting than, say, Nebraska — but you do start to understand and appreciate why most of the “DIP” signs are altered with pithy sayings to break the monotony.

I did see one snake along the way, curled up along the roadside. As it slithered away when I passed, I saw that it was about an inch and a half in diameter, smaller than Fluffy, and mostly black with some green. I didn’t stop.

Musgrave Roadhouse, built in 1887, used to be a fortress telegraph station. 120 years later, it sells fuel and minor supplies to travelers and provides a nice shady spot for lunchtime sandwiches.

Mileage (kilometerage?) marker at Musgrave Roadhouse:

Shortly after lunch, our group was stopped by two construction crews who needed to let graders through. The second time, I arrived on my own, prompting the worker to exclaim, “it’s a lady!”, which pleased me to no end.

Lakefield National Park

Just about the point at which I was becoming convinced that the Peninsula Development Road would make me actively crazy, we turned off towards Violet Vale homestead and Lakefield National Park. Lakefield is the second largest park in Queensland and is mostly under Aboriginal land claim.

The group stopped just inside the park, at Saltwater Crossing, to do a little bit of fishing for Barramundi (Lakefield is the only National Park in Australia in which fishing of any type is allowed). Linc and Joel also took the opportunity to break down one of the DRZs, which had been having some carburetor trouble.

The rest of us sat around and chit-chatted and idly wandered about the riverbanks….at least, I did until spacing out down at the water, only to do a triple take when I saw a small freshwater crocodile staring back at me from only a few feet away! By the time I grabbed my camera from my waist pack, the croc had disappeared back into the river.

Joe makes a friend:

The 70km from Saltwater Crossing to the campground at Kalpowar was probably some of the best riding of the whole trip. There were some washouts, but mostly the track was grassy and open, weaving amongst the termite mound-filled fields of Nifold Plains. In places, 4x4s had cut the road open, leaving tall ruts of thick dried mud that would scrape my footpegs on either side as I rode along.

Nifold Plains:

Lagoon at Breeza Plains:

The water crossings at the Hann and Kennedy Rivers were fantastic — rushing water over long flat rocks that glimmered in the sun. I made it across both river crossings with no problems at all.

I’m the second rider in this photo, following Joel’s line:

A still shot from a video of Peter crossing the Hann River:

And the video:

Periodically, I would look in my side mirror to see Joel behind me, popping wheelies and practicing small stunts in the wide open grassy track. Too bad my camera was tightly packed away in my waist pack!

We arrived at the Kalpowar campground, the most developed in the park, at twilight; just enough time to get set up before dark. This wound up being a good thing, since the campground bathroom lights were solar powered — there was just barely enough light for the cold-water-only showers. After three days of bush camping and riding, though, that cold shower was one of the best I’ve ever had.

Our campsite was next to that of the Billy Tea Bush Safari 4×4 tour, a group of generally older people doing our same basic route in a specialized 4×4 van. They seemed to be enjoying themselves and the women I bumped into in the bathroom were all smiles and just as cheerful to be taking an ice cold shower as I was.

The sky was full of stars and the ground full of frogs…little tan colored guys about an inch long that would happily hop into open bags or onto pillows, feet, dinnerplates, and anything else they could reach. The local birds were quite prolific, too, and that night we fell asleep to the sounds of bats and birds in the trees and frogs in the marshes.

–> Go on to Day 6: Kalpowar to Helenvale <—

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