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In Darwin, the Red Centre Route ride is now complete!

Simon Parker's picture
Made it to Darwin. Red Centre bicycle touring route Australia. Cycle Traveller
Water – a precious commodity in Australia, the world's driest continent. Drinking enough of it became increasingly important as we cycled north to Darwin. Yet what was surprising to us at least was how often our route took us close to pristine water holes and streams, all swimmable, and all incredibly refreshing after a hard day in the saddle.
Having soaked up Bitter Springs at Mataranka, our next stop north was Katherine. About 30km east of Katherine is what most people come here for, and that's Nitmiluk National Park, home of the stunning Katherine Gorge – a must see in my view. A series of 13 gorges, we spent the best part of a day hiking to and from a swimming spot in the first gorge, which we had to ourselves. There are freshwater crocodiles in these waters but, generally speaking at least, they are considered harmless, particularly when compared to their saltwater cousins (which, by the way, are equally at home in fresh water, but which are kept at bay by a monitoring program run by the Park). The water was cool and refreshing after our hike, and we couldn't help but marvel at the sheer rock that towered above us.
Swimming hole at Kathrine Gorge Nitmiluk National Park. Cycle TravellerAnother stop north was at Edith Falls, which is also part of Nitmiluk National Park. The upper rock pool was particularly enjoyable; only a 1km walk from the campground, it was wonderful to relax on the sunbaked granite rock adjacent to a glorious swimming hole, complete with waterfall and yet more tranquility. 
Our trip then took us through both Litchfield National Park and the World Heritage Listed Kakadu National Park, each of which had plenty of highlights. The compact Litchfield, set atop a sandstone plateau, came complete with yet more delightful waterholes, towering waterfalls and pristine creeks, among other highlights. The town of Batchelor, on the eastern edge of Litchfield, yielded one of these highlights. This included the generosity of Jim Leach, owner of the Big 4 Caravan Park. Not only did he assist us with ideas on the best ways to cycle into Darwin, he also gave us our campsite for free. He was a fan of what we're trying to achieve and wanted to support The Australian Bicycle Route Project. Thanks Jim!
Litchfield is certainly special, yet Kakadu's seamless ability to combine amazing scenery with an intrinsic connection to its indigenous roots also appealed to us.
Yellow Water was stunning, with a sunset cruise getting us close – real close – to numerous saltwater crocodiles in their element, as well as countless bird species including Australia's only stork, the Jabiru.
Crocodile at Yellow Waters Kakadu. Cycle TravellerJust looking at a saltwater crocodile instills intense fear in me. Particularly when they get within metres of the boat you're nervously sitting in. They've been described as the ultimate hunting machines, supreme opportunists that'll make you pay the ultimate price if you're not careful. Able to remain poised under the water for long periods of time, waiting patiently until some hapless animal – or person – drops their guard and gets that bit too close. Thankfully it doesn't happen often, although I can't help but imagine a Gary Larsen comic strip showing a number of these beasts sitting around a drawing board, eagerly conjuring up a plan that sees them work out how to get into one of the boats overflowing with plump, succulent tourists...
But how can you tell whether the crocodile you're looking at is the deadly saltwater variety? "Well, the salties took care of all the freshwater crocodiles a long time ago in this area," says our guide, emphasising the territorial nature of the saltwater croc. I sit deeper into my seat, muscles tensed as I gaze at yet another fearsome croc cruise by. I'm positive it gives Alia and I an extra dose of its steely stare, as if to say, "Mmmmmmm, cyclists, my favourite...'
My macabre thoughts lift quickly though as our guide gently manoeuvres our boat to take in one of the most stunning sunsets you'll see -- a deep red sun plunging into the horizon, its thick, rich colour adding yet another layer of softness to an already sublime landscape.
Backroad to Adelaide River. Cycle TravellerUbirr Rock is another highlight in Kakadu; a chance to tap the knowledge of Australia's first peoples via one of two daily (free) guided tours. It was an honour to take the morning tour with Marcus, grandson of "Kakadu Man" Bill Neidjie, who fought passionately to protect his homeland in the 70s. Marcus knows the secrets of these lands and he passes some of these stories on to us as we sit under a rock canopy decorated with intricate art – it's a school room, thousands of years old. He teaches us some creation stories that are key to understanding the land and its creatures, and that explain many of the impressive rock art sites that dot this area. Much of our Marcus's talk emphasises respect and patience, a message to absorb the moment, slow down and savour what you have. Perhaps our guide's message has more resonance for cyclists, as ultimately it sums up what we do; at our leisurely pace we almost become part of the landscape, absorbing it and appreciating its intricacies as opposed to joining the endless masses of tourists that seem to rush through it at 130km/hr.
It's a message we ponder from the top of Ubirr's rock platform, a view that takes in vast wetlands to your north and west, and the sharp escarpment to the east that marks Arnhem Land. Our trip winds into Darwin not long after, and its been the ability to watch the gradual shift in scenery that's most captured our attention on this trip. Subtleties abound - of colour, of temperature, of smell, of sounds, of textures. From the red sands that get between your toes (and into your sleeping bags) through to almost beseeching sound of red-tailed black cockatoos as they arc away into the distance. Of dusk's refreshing coolness and tranquility to the red earth tones of a distant mountain range on the horizon. 
The sun bids us farewell in Kakadu. The Red Centre Route. Cycle TravellerYes, Australia is immense. But, as we've shown, it's doable, kilometre by kilometre, by bicycle. So, perhaps it's time you considered delving into its vastness, following the sun – and warmth – north next winter. Our maps, due out next year, will hopefully inspire you to tackle what is one of the country's great trips. Until then, keep an eye out as we begin our next mapping trip, from the country's most northern point at Cape York, down the Great Dividing Range, and ending up back in Adelaide. 

Images from top: 1. Alia and Simon at the finish of the Red Centre Route in Darwin. 2. Swimming hole at Katherine Gorge. 3. Crocodile at Yellow Waters in Kakadu. 4. Bicycle touring the back road up to Adelaide River. 4. The Norhtern Territory farewells us with a spectacular sunset over Kakadu. (Images copyright Cycle Traveller).


Congratulations on making it . An excellent project which will hopefully increase cycle touring in Australia.

Hi guys,
Hope your having a few days well of earned rest before setting out on your next leg, well done.
Vicki & I have just return from a 1700km run up the NSW coast & over the tablelands before we turned South. You might like to have a look at incorporating the traverse of Mt Kaputar & the run up Coolah Tops, for when you are coming back down on your Great Divide run.


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