Making Tracks… and Bush Food

After this whirlwind week of flying around the world I came back to Yulara to find my gear & bicycle in the exact spot I left it a week earlier. Thanks to Pam at the Ayers Rock Campground.

I had already spent three days here, and must be one of few tourists to stay put in the grounds without visiting “The Rock”

But I met up with some great people hanging around the campside. Ofcourse I met up with the Korean cyclist Choi, who arrived two days after me despite taking the ‘easy’ road. He just smiled and said; “yes, I am a very, very lazy cyclist.” He confirmed this by telling us how he lived off bread & jam the first two months in Australia and moving on to biscuits for the next two months, after which he kept swapping between these two meals… and I thought I was bad with my pasta & tuna!

Then there was a young German/Taiwanese couple on bicycles, whom were heading north and carrying (if that’s possible) even more gear than I do! As it turned out, Patrick and I have been facebook-friends for over a year 🙂 Nice to run into some of them every now and again…

A Brazilian guy, Marcelo, got off the same plane as me and I’d noticed the bicycle-box he carried. He was out for three days to cycle around Uluru.

And then there was Stuart. I’ve met Stuart 2 years ago along the Gibb-River-Road and he’d decided to surprise me by flying in and joining me down the Great Central Road back to WA.

So real early one morning we set off, since as supposed, we had to go and see the sunrise over the rock.

In 1873 a surveyor called William Gosse stumbled across this landmark and named it Ayers Rock in honour of the then Chief Secretary of South Australia, Sir Henry Ayer. But at least 10.000 years before that it’s been known as Uluru under the local Aboriginal people. Now it’s officially dual-named as Uluru/Ayers Rock. Just to keep things confusing.

We met Marcello out there too, so the three of us rode our bicycles around the rock. It was funny to see that at least three people told us we’re cheating. It is after all a walking trail…

Those same people have probably driven their big 4WD’s in, do the strenuous walk (9km flat) around, and get back in their air-conditioned cabins…

And we are cheating.

After admiring the Rock from all sides (except the top, people are asked not to climb since it’s a sacret place for locals) we unanimously came to the conclusion that yes, it is indeed a very big big rock. And red too.

As we bid Marcelo goodbye and headed towards the Olga’s (another lot of big rocks) we saw something unusual on the side of the road. At first we thought a sign, but it seemed to be moving.

When it got closer we saw it was a guy pushing a wheelbarrow along. The tea was just ready when he reached us so we had a chat and some chocolate together. Conrad is walking from Steep Point in Wa to Byron Bay in NSW for awareness of suicide in young men.

He gave us some information of the road ahead. Mainly that the road between here and the border was going to be “pus“. And we better not even bother going in Docker River, since it’s “a dump“.

As it turned out, he wasn’t far out on the road condition. One of the first days out of the National Park we struggled from before sunrise to after sunset only to get in a meagre 60km.

I quickly discovered that travelling with Stu isn’t the worst thing I could’ve done.

With his background of being a hunter for years and later a tour guide in combination with being an excellent chef, and me having a background as a hungry cyclist and being an excellent eater…

I can say I’ve hardly had a time in my history of bicycle-touring that I’ve eaten this well. (when I have to make my own food that is)

The Central Desert of Australia is nothing I thought it might be.

Its not a dry dead and barren land. The red centre is green. There have been good rains this year, so there are flowers and lots of plants, tree’s and animals.

A lot of which are edible…

a lot of which are extremely poisonous as well.

So you got to watch not to end up in a ‘into-the-wild’-situation.

One evening as we set up camp when I noticed the ground being wet. Looking up I realized it came from the Mulga-tree I parked underneath. All the branches were covered in a sticky substance made by little insects. This substance is very sweet and you can actually just eat it of the brances. “Bush lollies” they’re called.

Another great gift of the outback are the honey grevillea flowers.

Especially when we ran out of chocolate…  A sweet nectar sits within the flower and you suck it out. Just watch the ants. Ants have a terrible taste and smell. I never did realize this before but the only ants that are edible out here are the honey-ants. But they’re not the easiest to find and you need to go digging so we left that one for next time…

I did manage to make a beautiful ‘damper’. Damper was originally developed by bushmen who travelled through remote areas weeks at the time, only taking basic rations. With just flour, water, salt and milk (powder) it’s an easy thing to make on the road.

On our map we’d seen a watertank at Lasseters cave.

Harald Bell Lasseter had claimed to find a gold-reef in central Australia in 1897. He’d spend years and years to raise funds and get an expedition to find it again. Finally he came to an unlucky end in 1931 as his camels bolted and he spent 25 days in this very cave before trying to walk with the assistance of a friendly Aboriginal family and 1.7 litres of water to the Olga’s where he hoped to find a relieve party.

He made it to Irving creek, 55km down the track before dying around the 28th of January 1931.

He wrote in his diary; What worth is a reef full of gold, I give it all for  loaf of bread…

Lasseter’s reef has never been found.

And the watertank was empty too. Which was no good to us at all. Lucky we didn’t need to walk to our relief party.

We had our bikes, and our relief came quickly in the form of a couple with a caravan who filled up our bottles. Phew.

When we got to the Aboriginal community of Docker river we were suprised how well stocked the shop was. We were prepared for the worst as a few people by now have told us it wasn’t a nice place. At first sight it looks a little rough.

The petrol stations in this part of the country don’t stock petrol but “opal’; it works the same except it doesn’t get you high. Petrol-sniffing is a problem in communities where the unemployment and boredom is high.

The bowsers are locked up in cages. And to get into the shop you also go into a big cage with locks everywhere. On the side of the roads you see signs telling you that grog & dope are prohibited in the communities.

But the people seem all very friendly and helpful. Whenever a car passed us on the road it’s all smiles and waves and often they stop to ask where we are going. It’s much nicer than people speeding past spitting gravel in your face and taking photo’s from behind their windows…

As soon as we hit the WA border the road became better.

Not good. But better.

We called in at Giles weather station to check what the weather was going to do. Even though we’re in the desert and the temperatures are rather pleasant to high during the day, at night and in the mornings it can still be pretty fresh.

Giles weather station is the only staffed weather station within an area of about 2,500,000 square kilometres. Named after Ernest Giles, an English explorer and the first European to travel this area in 1872.

We had the pleasure to see a weather balloon go up. Done by a man in a funny suit. It’s anti-static. That’s necessary so the balloon doesn’t burst and becomes a ball of fire that burns at 5000 degrees celcius…  -I paid attention-

On one of the doors you find this painting made by a local guy. It represents the way he sees the weather station.

On display here is surveyor and roadbuilder Len Beadell’s grader. It is estimated to have graded over 30.000km of roads in the late 40’s and 50’s.

Another good reason to cycle with Stu is to see how great my bicycle is 🙂

I didn’t get a flat, or a cracked rim…

My racks didn’t break either.

This all is very lucky since I’m not half as good as repairing stuff as he is…

But I can cycle! even against wind.

Because of the amount of rain wildlife is flourishing too.

Not only are the ants absolutely everywhere, now it’s getting warmer the flies are coming out to join us too… hurray.

But more of a worry are mosquitoes who can carry diseases.

Bigger animals are out in full force too. Like the camels.

Originally arriving with the Afghan cameleers in the late 1800’s. But with the advent of trucks and trains they became unnecessary. They now roam the deserts of Australia in their millions and programs are set up to shoot them to reduce the numbers.

They are an impressive sight when you come across them on the road.

Another animal roaming the inlands of Australia, and I mentioned them before, are dingo’s. A direct descendant of wolves in Indonesia.

When they’re around you want to watch your gear because theyr’e very sneaky.

As we noticed one morning when Stuart’s bags had been savaged and we lost some food and approximately 10 litres of water from one of the waterbags that had been chewed through.

Still, in the morning they weren’t shy to come into our camp and have a good look around for anything edible.

But we now make sure we store it well out of their way.

And so we are slowy covering the km’s along this Great Central Road.

To be continued…


10 thoughts on “Making Tracks… and Bush Food

  1. Yeah I think I cheated as well last April walking around Uluru with my brother and then getting back into the 4WD with air-co, although that wasn’t really needed as it was under 30 degrees. It’s great to see the same spots I’ve been to but now with you on the photo. Did you like Kata Tjuta better as well?

    It’s as always great to read your adventures and wish you all the luck and strength specially now as I feel sorry about the loss of your grandparents. One thing is sure, they will be always on your mind.

    And your photo’s are beautiful all the time.

    Take care and safe travels!!

  2. Amazing Mirjam.
    I still think there is a discovery channel doco here ,you are seeing more of this country than the Leyland brothers and at a much slower pace and with a lot more focus on the people as much as the place ,something that is often missed when people visit and film the centre of Australia.
    Very envious…

  3. Hoi Mirjam,

    Alweer een prachtig verhaal met schitterende foto’s! Dat filmpje is trouwens ook wel grappig :-).
    Goed om te zien dat je weer helemaal ‘en route’ bent.
    Geniet er van op weg naar de kust,



  4. Hi Mirjam. Nice to see you have some company for a while, especially after news of your Grandparents. Really tragic, I’m sorry, there’s just not much one can even say. Lovely to see your beautiful and upbeat photos here and I’m sure the soothing mix of nature and time are the best balms for you at the moment. Love from the Emerald Isle xxxx

  5. Hey, sorry for lazing, but I’m still lazy. ;-p

    I told you I would blame you. I went on the Merrini loop road after Kings Canyon and I fucked. My trailer tyre blew out 10 times for 3 days and trailer got some damage. Moreover it was bush fire season! Damn smoke! Well, anyway I can say now it was fun. lol And I couldn’t go to Oodnadatta track because of bushfire. It was closed. In fact I already gave up to go though.

    I’ve just arrived at Pimba, north of Pt Augusta. I threw my trailer away at Alice Springs so I can go more fast and further. Therefore… I’m getting more lazy. Hahaha I’ve been told about you from many people. You’re a famous (crazy) girl. I miss you. 🙂

  6. Hi Mirjam, It was amazing to see my photo with you after 7 years! You are my motivation to keep cycling and enjoying this beautiful place called Australia!
    Hope to keep in touch!
    Marcelo Ribeiro

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