Western Queensland is a stunning place. Last year’s visit wasn’t enough for me, so I convinced a few friends to return with me and explore a little further west.
Once you get to Charleville, the towns get further apart. If you head back to the coast from there, it’s easy to find a town every hundred kilometres, which makes it comfortable to ride without a support vehicle because you’re never more than a day’s ride away from a shop or a pub.
Heading west, however, is more challenging. Towns are a couple of hundred kilometres apart – a two day’s ride on a bike. The terrain is dry and remote. So for this trip we brought a support vehicle. It would carry our food, water and camping gear while we pedaled through the mulga.
We each agreed to take a turn at driving the vehicle for a few hours. The driver would then park the vehicle and ride his bike back to meet the other riders, and complete the day’s ride with them.
Day 1 (Charleville to Ambathalla Creek)
As we slept in the historic Corones hotel overnight, we could hear rain beating down on the tin roof. It doesn’t rain much out here, so a break from the dryness is always welcome.
In the unusually fresh cool morning air, we eagerly jumped on the bikes and started our westward journey.
The Warrego River runs through Charleville. The water levels in the river can rise unexpectedly after heavy rain, so there’s a levee bank between the river and the town to guard against flooding.
We rolled slowly along the red soil of the levee bank, appreciating the river gums and the raucous cries of parrots in their branches.
The Warrego was at peace today. The little drop of overnight rain wasn’t enough to disturb her tranquil billabongs.
After following the river for a while, and getting bogged in some sticky black mud, we eventually found one of the many red dirt roads around town, and followed it westward.
As all signs of the town slowly evaporated, we grew more excited. We were on our way into the vast Outback.
After an hour we turned into Adavale Road.
We’d be following this long straight road towards the sunset for the next couple of days. It was paved for some of the way and dirt for the remainder.
There were no hills, no corners, and very little traffic – perfect conditions for a long lazy ride.
We stopped for a few minutes to check out an unusual memorial beside the road.
A century ago there was a air race to see who could fly from England to Australia in the quickest time. Ross and Keith Smith won the race, but had to land their aircraft here for emergency repairs in 1919.
Calum was taking his time in the car, and eventually caught up with us about forty kilometres down the road for morning tea.
Last year, Paul and I had squatted in the shade in a ditch by the road whenever we felt like having a break. Today we reveled in luxury. With fold-out tables and chairs, we boiled some water and made hot coffee.
This was a much more comfortable way to travel.
Calum drove the car another twenty kilometres up the road to the Langlo River crossing, then rode his bike back to meet us at Mt Morris Road. He looked happy to finally be out of the car and on the bike.
The Langlo River provided a serene spot for us to have lunch.
I inhaled a beef and salad sandwich I’d purchased earlier that day, then wandered around the river bank admiring the old gum trees.
This was an idyllic spot.
I did my “car shift” at Langlo Crossing, and drove a few kilometres down the road, over the shire boundary towards our campsite for the night.
When planning this trip, I saw “Lake Dartmouth” on the map, and thought a lake might be an interesting place to camp for the night.
Alas, Lake Dartmouth was dry – just a sign poking out of some dry mud under some stunted trees.
I wonder what the people of Dartmouth in Devon would think?
Instead of stopping at “Lake” Dartmouth, I drove a few more kilometres down the road to Ambathalla Creek. There was a large flat sheltered area beside a billabong which would be perfect for camping. We’d stay the night here – under the shade of a Coolibah Tree 🙂
I parked the car, unloaded the bike, and retraced my tracks to find my mates.
When everyone reached the camp site, Calum showed us all how easy it was to set up his tent.
Everyone approved of my choice of camp site.
We relaxed and watched the sun go down.
I grinned to myself. We were living out the first few lines of “Waltzing Matilda” – you can’t get more Aussie than that.
…And at night, the wond’rous glory of the everlasting stars.
(Banjo Patterson – “Clancy of the Overflow”)
Total climbing: 482 m
Average temperature: 17.2
Total time: 06:54:58
Day 1 was easy – long, straight and flat. Temperatures were perfect all day. The toughest part was at the start of the day when we got bogged in black mud. I’ll rate this section 7 out of 10 on the tough-o-meter.
Day 2 (Ambathalla Creek to Adavale)
The next morning we packed up our gear and continued our westward trek.
Paul drove the car ahead to our morning tea stop while the rest of us rode.
I’ve never ridden in a straight line for two days before.
The vastness was awe-inspiring. There was nothing monotonous about it at all.
After a couple of hours we reached the boundary of Mariala National Park and continued through it.
Situated on a small plateau, the National Park had impressive views of the horizon.
We stopped for a break and something to eat at a scenic escarpment.
My phone got reception, so I sent a quick message and picture to Liz to let her know I was OK.
Craig tells me the rocks out here are very old.
After our break we rolled down the western side of the plateau and continued towards Adavale.
Although the roads out here don’t see much traffic, we still made sure we moved out of the way when a large truck and its dust cloud approached us from the opposite direction.
The day grew warmer. Even though it was officially still “winter”, the temperature was nudging 30C.
Three kilometres to go – we were almost there.
I stopped at a flood-way on the outskirts of town to read a memorial to some Polish migrant workers who built it seventy years ago after the Second World War.
I thought about how everyone benefits when we welcome new people who want to work alongside us.
I also wondered about “Happy Sleg” – it sounds like he would have been a fascinating fellow.
Kochamy Cię Polsko!
The pub was the only show in town.
I got cleaned up, then introduced myself to Koss, the publican.
Koss is originally from The Netherlands, and used to be a school teacher before he moved to Adavale.
He poured me a beer and started telling me tales of the history of Adavale.
As I sipped the cool ale, and listened, I realized Koss had found his true calling in life – he was a perfect host and story teller.
He told me of the AIF light horsemen stationed out here before the First World War, who used to hone their riding skills by chasing emus through the scrub, then reaching out from atop their galloping steed to pluck a feather from the backside of the fleeing emu. If they managed it, they’d stick the emu feather in their hat as a trophy.
Or of the brutal times before the shearer’s strike of 1893 when a land-owner could dismiss a shearer without pay if they were injured or didn’t work hard enough. Without food, lodging or water in this harsh place, many an abandoned shearer would find a shady waterhole to camp at, and occasionally pilfer a stray sheep for food.
We talked, drank, and ate till the sun went down, then wandered back to our tents for the night.
At least once in their lives, every city dweller should stand on a stony and silent mulga plain and watch the sun go down.
Total climbing: 416 m
Average temperature: 17.3
Total time: 06:04:04
Day two was a little more challenging that the previous day because of the hill climbs into Mariala National Park and the slightly undulating elevation prior to Adavale. I’ll rate it 7.5 out of 10 on the tough-o-meter.
Day 3 (Adavale to Listowel Downs)
In the morning we pointed the bikes northward for a two-day ride towards Blackall.
Craig’s Great-Grandfather used to work on Milo Station, west of Adavale, so he was delighted to see “Milo” on a signpost.
Milo is on the way to “Hell Hole Gorge”
I had originally thought about visiting Hell Hole Gorge as part of our trip, but couldn’t find a reliable route through to Yaraka for bikes and a support vehicle. It would have been a day’s ride out and then back again.
Maybe some other time 🙂
The red road north was beautifully remote. Hard red dirt and clay surrounded on both sides by sparse Mulga scrub as far as the eye could see. It was mesmerizing.
So it was a pleasant surprise to pass someone’s front gate…
.. with a intimidating-looking uni-testicular bull standing guard out front.
I reckon the people at Leopardwood Park have a wonderful sense of humour.
Yes – this was remote. It was reasonably warm. The road was long. But it was enjoyable because I could zone out, turn the pedals, admire the scenery and not-even break into a sweat as I rolled over the flat, firm dirt road.
Calum had parked the car a couple of hours down the road, and set up the tables and chairs for us.
We stopped for a few minutes, made some coffee, and ate a few snacks….
…then rode off for another couple of hours.
After lunch, I took my turn at driving and set off to look for a decent place to camp for the night beside the road.
This was trickier than it seemed.
The total distance from Adavale to Blackall was 220km. We wanted to split the trip into two segments of similar length. If I stopped too soon then the next days ride would be way longer than it needed to be. If I stopped too far down the road, I’d be asking my mates to ride too far today, and they wouldn’t be too happy with me at the end of the day.
Plus, the place needed to be comfortable enough to pitch a tent and relax for the night.
Our course passed over a couple of small hills…
As I passed over the summit, I was struck by the strange-looking hills strewn over the landscape.
The landscape transformed. The Mulga gave way to larger trees and grassland.
I parked the car at a potential campsite, unloaded my bike and started riding back up the road to meet my mates.
I pedaled southward past a sign proudly declaring this as sheep country, but all I could see were a few skittish emus strutting across the road.
Eventually I heard Calum’s voice crackle over the UHF radio, and a few minutes later I spotted him riding towards me.
“Not far to go now, mate,” I said encouragingly. “The car’s only a few more kilometres up the road.”
By dint of good luck, the camp site turned out perfectly.
We pitched the tents, lit the fire, got out the chairs, cracked open a couple of cold beers and…
… watched the sun go down.
Overhead, the winter constellation of Scorpio blazed down at us, a twisted cosmic hook of stars.
Total climbing: 610 m
Average temperature: 20.4
Total time: 06:23:59
Day three was long, flat and warm, with one moderate “lump” in the elevation towards the end of the ride. It rates 7.5 out of 10 on the tough-o-meter.
Day 4 (Listowel Downs to Blackall)
We continued our northward push while the air was still cool and the sun was still low in the sky.
Even though the road was flat, the landscape was dotted with fascinating rocky outcrops.
A few sheep scurried across the road as we rolled by.
Calum and I spotted a man working by the roadside and stopped to chat.
Spencer Lipton has lived in this area all of his life, and has been working for “the Old Fella” at Cootabynia Station for the last ten years.
Spencer loves his work, and loves living around here, although I don’t think he sees many cyclists riding past his front gate very often.
A few kilometres up the road we passed Nina and Willie from Gowan Station.
They were grey nomads who had stopped to work for a few months in the Blackall area and were out checking the bores.
Water bores are vital for livestock in this dry landscape. Windmills pump artesian water into troughs for sheep and cattle. There’s an unlimited supply of water in the Great Artesian Basin, so the animals have all the water they need, provided the pumps keep working.
A few kilometres later we caught up with Craig, who had found a shady creek-side spot under a tree for us to have a coffee.
The day grew warmer.
The local wildlife relaxed in the sun.
While planning this ride, I was conscious of two constraints: Winter nights out west are very cold, and Most days out west are very hot. So the aim was to pick a “Goldilocks” time at the end of Winter which was neither too hot nor too cold.
As we rode off into a treeless landscape, fully exposed to the elements, I felt like we had timed it perfectly. We had started the day in cool temperatures of about 11C. As the sun beat down on us, it was only about 25C. No one was going to freeze or cook to death today 🙂
We stopped at a delightfully-painted bright blue fridge beside the road.
Someone at Lorne Station obviously loves books and had left a library of them outside their front gate.
Calum and I perused the titles for a while, but decided we didn’t have enough space on the bikes for any new literature.
A little later we turned a slight bend, rolled over a cattle grid and stared down the length of a stretch of dirt road which seemed to continue forever as it pointed over the horizon.
This was wonderfully vast country.
Eventually we caught up with Craig and the car parked under a roadside tree.
Our regular lunchtime ritual repeated itself – comfortable respite from the hours in the saddle.
Calum indicated that he’d take over driving when we eventually reached the paved road, so Craig drove the car to that point and waited for us.
After we reached the paved road, our progress became much easier. With a smoother surface, and bunched up tightly to avoid wind resistance, we almost doubled our speed.
We were no longer trundling along in the dirt at a leisurely pace – this was more intense, but I was grateful to be ticking off the kilometres more quickly.
When we reached the intersection with the main road near Blackall, I had a look at the road sign pointing back the way we had come. There was Listowel, where we had camped the night, Cootabynia where we met Spencer, Gowan where we’d said “G’day” to Nina and Willie, and Lorne where we had discovered the cheerful blue “Library” fridge.
On a map, Blackall-Adavale Road seemed long and featureless – but after spending a couple of days on it, I learned that it was a fascinating place. I was glad we had traveled it.
As we rode towards Blackall, my legs started complaining. We were approaching 110km of riding for the day, and Paul’s strong legs were pushing over 30 km/h.
I eased off on the effort and took the final section at a slower pace.
We crossed The Barcoo River, with dozens of grey nomads camped on its banks, and made our way slowly to our comfortable lodgings for the night.
We’d been “out bush” for the last few days, and were looking forward to a comfortable bed.
Blackall was an oasis. Green grass, tall trees, and a well provisioned pub.