Bourke to Tibooburra
11th May – 15th May
(Days 11 – 15)
Total Distance: 1438km
Bourke – 11th May (rest day)
Bourke evolved as a major inland river port town, set on the Darling River, that flows from the junction of the Barwon and Culgoa rivers, 3370km to where it enters the Southern Ocean, just to the south-east of Adelaide. The Darling River system covers over one million square kilometres, or 14% of Australia, and the Murray-Darling River system is the country’s largest. During the pioneering days, the river was the main artery, important for Australia’s European heritage, vital for settlement and pastoral development. Paddle steamers brought supplies to towns and stations and transported wool onto major ports. Since the 1920s, river transport declined as the paddle steamers were replaced by newer, faster forms of transport.
The Darling is the slowest flowing river, reportedly, in the world – water moves along the shallowest gradient. The river varies from a series of scattered waterholes to 80km wide when in flood. With the recent rains, the river had peaked the week before I arrived and had since dropped about 7m from the high water mark.
I spent my rest day catching up on writing and organising myself for the next stint…with time to rest the weary legs.
Bourke – bush camp
The 12th May was my birthday and all birthdays on the road are memorable. My support crew greeted me with Chocolate Teddys and champagne (for the evening of course). I also received brilliant news from the other side of the world. My first TV series, Diamonds in the Sand, has been sold to National Geographic Asia & The Middle East (74 countries) as well as previously to Outside TV in the USA. There is also strong interest from the UK, Australia, Japan, Italy and Bulgaria. This made turning the pedals a whole lot easier as I left Bourke, gliding easily over the bitumen, the Darling River bridge, direction Wanaaring, 191km away.
My aim was to cover more than half the distance to Wanaaring – a fairly easy day on the deadpan flat landscape. The road was good quality tarmac with only one slight kink in it all day! Just to the north of the town were a few very large cotton farms and a ginning factory.
Pretty soon I was into station country with heavily treed country farming cattle, goats or sheep. A feature along the side of the road were the beautiful golden wattle trees in bloom.
Gradually the land changed, the soil becoming that typical outback fiery orange-red. As with everywhere so far, the land was in good heart, greener after the rains. I spotted a mob of nine emus running the fence and the occasional kangaroo and lots of different types of birds. Major Mitchell cockatoos were out in big numbers often feasting on paddy melons on the side of the road.
It’s so pleasurable camping in the bush, no one else around, a glowing campfire and the stars out in force. A great birthday gift!
Bush Camp to Wanaaring
79km (53km gravel)
There was uncertainty as to how much of the road to Wanaaring was sealed. After 10km of pristine tarmac, I hit the roadworks, then a short patch of bitumen followed by some pretty cut up rough road; long sandy sections and corrugations. The rough road certainly changes the perspective of the journey – it suddenly felt like I was into the outback proper. Cars stirred up clouds of fine dust and I was engulfed pretty often. My neck gaiter/Buff served a new purpose as I flicked it over my nose and mouth so not to breathe in so much dust.
About 15km before Wanaaring, Neil and Helen caught us. They had waited behind in Bourke to collect Morgan Cardiff, who had flown from Sydney via Dubbo to join the expedition. We had only ever spoken on Zoom so it was great to finally meet him in the middle of a dusty road near Wanaaring! Morgan will be doing two stints of the expedition, the first is from this point to Birdsville. He seemed pretty excited to be back out filming an expedition, having previously worked filming a South African endurance runner amongst other assignments.
Wanaaring is a very small town, population about 40 people. It serves the station communities and passers through as it is not quite half way between Bourke and Tibooburra. I stopped early so there was time to relax in the only settlement for a couple of hundred kilometres either way.
Wanaaring to Bush Camp
The only tarmac I will have from here until the end of the journey will be a few short strips around the towns and a few more kilometres near the finish of the expedition. Before setting off, I reduced the tyre pressure in readiness for some rough road. I needed to do the 235km to Tibooburra in two days, so both promised to be long and challenging.
The first 40km were similar to yesterday – quite rough and sandy in places. After that, the gravel surfaces were quite reasonable and I could move along at about 16km/hr. There was quite a lot of water around in small lakes and pools beside the road. Three weeks ago the road was closed due to the rains. Everything stops when that happens; no movement, no services, no travel. It is simply a fact of living out here.
I had to remain quite disciplined and keep my breaks shorter to make enough distance. The 119km took almost 8 hours, but we were rewarded with another superb bush camp and vivid sunset.
Bush Camp to Tibooburra
There was even more water around and lots of birdlife. I was surprised to see a pair of black swans as well as flocks of budgerigars, finches, galahs and more. With the bush scrub comes the flies. I had a tail wind at times, something I would normally celebrate, but as a cycled along, flies would use me as shelter from the wind for extra annoyance factor.
Entering the Sturt National Park, the landscape was almost totally void of trees and carpeted with green succulents plants, yellow, purple and white flowers.
Just out of Tibooburra, the granite stone formations for which the area is renowned were a spectacular feature. “Ti burra” means “the place of stones”. I was looking forward to a day off the bike to recover for the next much bigger stint to Birdsville.