It was a very dark start to our new adventure. Leaving at 4.15 am from our warm home was quite a challenge to join up with 24 other cyclists to ride down the Darling River from Hebel on the Qld border to Wentworth NSW. This supported ride was organised by Pedal power, the peak cycling organisation in the ACT.
Goodbye spring tulips – you’ll be well gone before we return in 3 weeks time.
Some of the team loading up the bikes on the enclosed trailer.
23 bikes were loaded onto 2 trailers in front of Steve’s home in Cook by many helpers, all calmly co-ordinated by John and Julia Widdup. Quite a logistics exercise to transport us all between Cook in Canberra to Lightening Ridge – a 10 hour slow trip if all goes well.
Stunning canola crops seen along the Lachlan valley on the south western slopes of NSW en route to Dubbo.
Welcome lunch stop at the Valley bakery in Dubbo.
It was a very long trip in our 2 Hiace rental vehicles.
Early birds waiting to start the day at Lightening Ridge.
A Lightning Ridge lunar lookalike landscape – the end result of earlier opal mining activity.
Beer can house.
Locals find a living mining and selling opals but if pressed can even offer clairvoyancy services.
Lunching at the local cafe before saying ‘hooroo’ to Lightning Ridge.
at the underground mine.
Hebel hotel- a classic Queensland country pub.
The late afternoon briefing before the first day of the big ride.
Alfresco dining at the Hebel Hilton!
The Hebel chefs worked hard to feed the 26 of us camped at the Hebel store and campground.
Arriving at the morning tea stop on our first riding day from Hebel south on the unsealed road along the Darling River.
Last riders coming in for morning tea.
We’d planned for a bush camping night but fortuitously met Kel and his dog who kindly offered the cycling group the use of the shearer’s quarters on the old Cuttabunda property on the Bokhara River for the night.
Despite the colour of the river several riders took to the water for a refreshing swim. Others enjoyed yabbying and fishing and others just sitting. It was a welcome relief from the 30 degree heat.
Some chose to sleep in their tents beside the river.
Others chose to sleep in the shearers quarters together with mother swallow and her baby swallows.
The shearer’s quarters were alongside the beautiful Bokhara River.
Dinner preparation in the shearer’s quarters kitchen.
Last riders preparing to leave the shearer’s quarters early the next morning.
Chris was our last rider to leave camp following our iconic overnight stay at Cootabunda shearer’s quarters. He was also the first rider into Brewarrina after the day’s ride too.
On our rest day in Bourke many riders took a paddle steamer cruise up & down the Darling River. Our captain relayed to us the historic highlights of the river, the town and the re-building of the steamer, the Jandra.
The old Bourke wharf that was used by paddle steamers plying the Darling carrying bales of wool from the properties along the river. The paddle steamer trade slowly ceased after the railway reached Bourke when wool and supplies were transported by train to and from Sydney.
Our Bourke finale was a Poetry on a Plate evening at the Kidman Camp in Nth Bourke where we’d stayed and camped for 2 nights. A local poet Andrew Hull entertained us with songs, yarns and poems he’d written about stories and legends from western NSW regions and the Outback. Sarah cooked a delicious camp dinner for us all to enjoy while sitting around the big campfire.
The Henry Lawson Trek was on in the region bringing numbers of poets to the evening. Two recited some of Lawson’s well known poems, one of which was ‘When the ladies visted the shearing sheds’.
The legendary Breaker Morant from Boer War fame came from the Bourke region. He’s named on the war memorial Roll of Honour in Bourke.
Less dusty here.
Contemplating a swim in the Darling to wash off all that dust from the day’s ride. It was unfortunate that the river looked so muddy.
The early morning crossing of the Darling at Louth. The locals advised us that the dirt road on the western side of the river between Louth and Tilpa was in better condition than the east. We found this to be true making good time travelling to our destination arriving well before lunchtime.
Flies were a problem so Phyl and Sandy donned flynets to stop having to give the ‘Great Australian Salute’ while cycling along.
Our campsite at Idalia was situated alongside the Darling on lush green shaded grass. The camping/accommodation was closed because there was no hot water available following a recent fire in the shearer’s quarters. Sir John advised the owner that this would not phase our group who would happily wash off the red outback road dirt in a cold shower. Some even enjoyed a swim in the muddy Darling River.
A quiet afternoon was spent by Tony and Linda sitting alongside the river; birdwatching.
We witnessed a great spectacle on leaving the next day. A rogue sheep was chased by a motor bike riding stockman and his cattle dog. The dog caught the sheep pining it down while the stockman caught up. The stockman then slung the large sheep across the bike, whistled for his dog who then jumped up onto the pillion seat and they then all set off back to join the rest of the mob of sheep.
This is the bush camping site we found along the Darling. It had shade, some grass, was off the road and the river had plenty of water. The only thing missing was running potable water and bathrooms. Perhaps tomorrow!
5 – 10 mm of rain fell quickly making this dry weather only road impassable to all. Phyl skilfully drove the van pulling the bike trailer collecting all the stranded riders along the route. There was an abundance of sticky red mud on the bikes and in the van.
Paroo National Park offered us a welcome retreat to clean up ourselves and our bikes after the days muddy adventure.
Sunset in the bush in Paroo National Park.
Colourfully painted trees lined the edge of this station’s driveway close to Wilcannia.
After a very long day’s ride over corrugated dirt roads we at last reach the bitumen highway 3 kms short of Wilcannia.
The Wilcannia Golf Club was built on the site of the first Resch’s NSW Brewery. We ate at the club enjoying another tasty Chinese banquet with plenty of food for all.
A very strong wind at night brought down John’s tent so he packed up his gear and retreated to the camp kitchen area finding a protected spot to sleep for the rest of the night.
Our campsite in Wilcannia was opened only 6 months earlier and offered very little shelter from the strong and constant winds. Despite large flocks of Correllas descending upon the newly laid turf searching for seeds and worms the new grass seemed to be starting to grow.
The uninviting Wilcannia supermarket with its steel barred windows and doors had limited fresh food supplies. Even so, we managed to buy up much of what they had and poured a good deal of money into the local economy.
Miss Barretts coffee shop had Wifi and coffee – the only place offering both so far on our ride.
The beautiful old sandstone post office in Wilcannia.
Wilcannia hospital which is serviced by the Royal Flying Doctor Service that 2 of our riders needed to use.
Dining at the Windmill cafe and Gallery on night 2. The proprietor drew on the help of 2 local women to help service our large group.
Tolarno station where we camped had hot water showers, flushing toilets and a shearers quarters kitchen. Luxury!
We were offered a tour of the old Tolarno homestead in the late afternoon. The house had beautiful bones but is in need of some serious maintenance to return to its former glory.
After dinner briefings continue each day. This one is in the shearer’s kitchen at Tolarno with its almost ruined piano at the rear.
Peaceful and beautiful images of the Darling en-route to Pooncare.
At Narrandera Services Club on our last evening together we toasted the key people who made this great trip possible. We especially thanked John and Julia for all their efforts and presented them with a card and a subscription to an R M Williams magazine.
We arrived back in Canberra one day ahead of schedule after a fabulous outback cycling trip.