Dates: 5th – 12th September
Newman to Mount Augustus
Total Distance 2023: 6357km
Total Distance (2021 + 2023) : 7885km
Originally I had planned two days off in Newman but because we lost three weeks with the vehicle breakdown earlier in the expedition, I’d had to trim the extra contingency days from my schedule to make sure I had a chance of finishing the journey on time. With only one day off the bike in Newman, everything seemed a bit rushed.
I had planned in detail the next section from Newman to Mount Augustus, but there was an issue with a part of the route …Google showed that my plan was possible, but we found out that a small section of it through the decommissioned West Angelas Mine, owned by Rio Tinto, was blocked. I unsuccessfully tried to connect with the right people at Rio Tinto to ask for permission and then started searching for alternative routes. All alternative routes on Google maps were many hundreds of kilometres further and I could not afford to take extra days.
Suzanne at Turee Creek Station was most helpful. It turned out that if we could get permission from three neighbouring stations on our path it would be an excellent short cut. The other option was much further. Suzanne could get us through the first two, Prairie Downs and her station, Turee Creek, but Minina was uncertain. I decided to set off anyway and take a punt that Minina Station would let us through.
Suzanne directed us through a short cut that would save me about 40km, passing through Prairie Downs. The route out of Newman was complex, rough and stony in parts. After 20km we came to a locked gate for which Suzanne had provided the code. After the gate the road surface improved significantly.
After 70km I reached the entrance to Prairie Downs homestead and turned right onto a well-maintained shire road, direction: Turee Creek homestead.
Suzanne had tried the owners of Minina Station on our behalf, but on arriving at Turee Creek, I learned that we could not get permission to cross Minina Station – owned and operated by a husband and wife team, who were understaffed and in the middle of mustering, they weren’t prepared to let us through their series of locked gates.
We stayed in dongas at Turee Creek homestead where Suzanne pulled out the station maps to explain the alternative route – our only option to move forward, passing through various station tracks to get to Paraburdoo. It was a huge diversion from the route I had planned to take that would add a couple of extra days of cycling.
Yet again, the unplanned adventure turned out to be one of the most special experiences of the journey. It was a privilege to see this spectacular country in the east Pilbara region, closely aligned with the Tropic of Capricorn. Turee Creek Station covers about 670,000 acres and includes two blocks separated by crown land. Even though the track through and between the blocks was well-maintained by the station and mining exploration activities, it was not marked on any maps. It was only possible to make it out on a satellite map and with Suzanne’s directions.
Leaving Turee Creek homestead I covered 114km, cycling adjacent to the creek and Kunderong Range, then heading north across the crown land to the second block. Just towards the end of the day, I entered some spectacular hilly country – the part Suzanne mentioned that was going to be tough going. We camped beside a dry creek bed.
The first 62km of the next day was going to be challenging according to Suzanne. After crossing a wide, dry stony creek bed I entered a region of purple iron stone hills – the open landscape was clad with spinifex grass, pretty much the only grass hardy enough to survive the extreme heat that eminates from the ground for many months of the year. The road traversed the range and I struggled to pedal up some very steep climbs.
After the morning break (31km) I was confronted with the main pass. The track doesn’t have an official name but Suzanne said they usually refer to it as “The Cut” because a lot of effort has been made to grade the road and make a deep cutting at the pass to make it driveable. The descent from the pass was exceptionally steep and I was careful to keep the brakes depressed to control the descent.
The shorted route to Parburdoo was through the mine-site and Suzanne had tried unsuccessfully to get permission and an escort. This meant so we had to cycle/drive an extra 34km around.
Paraburdoo is another young mining town, this time owned by Rio Tinto.
The route out of Paraburdoo was indirect but at least I had bitumen for most of the day. I headed north towards Tom Price and then northwest towards Nanutarra before reaching the turn-off to the Meekathara-Ashburton Downs road.
I had entered the realms of the Ashurton River, one of the five large emphemeral rivers that segment the Pilbara like sections of an orange (De Grey, Fortescue, Ashburton, Gascoyne and Murchison rivers)
The quality of the Ashburton Downs-Meekathara road was pretty smooth and I made good progress over the gravel.
The weather on the last couple of days en rout to Mt Augustus was very warm; 36 degrees Celsius in the shade with a hot northerly wind.
The last day into Mount Augustus was a only 80km. I arrived excited about climbing the giant monocline – the world’s largest rock (2.5 times the size of Uluru)
Eight days to go – getting excited about finishing!