RideWA – 16 to 23 August 2021

Day 0: Cable Beach to Broome, 5km

We flew with our bikes in cardboard boxes up to Broome, and got a shuttle bus to our accommodation at the Continental Hotel. We arrived on Saturday afternoon, and had one and a half days before we started riding. Our downtime consisted of cocktails by the pool, dinner at Matso’s Brewery, a buffet breakfast, and wandering the Courthouse Markets in the heat (hopefully helping our heat adaptation process). We also stopped by the supermarket for supplies for the first three days of the ride.

In the tradition of ultra-endurance race events, the RideWA route started at the ocean. On Sunday, we rode from our hotel through suburban Broome to Cable Beach, arriving in perfect time for the sunset. We were very happy to be on bikes, as the car park was chockers! After many snaps of the bikes and beach, we paused to enjoy the sunset then rode the first 5km of the RideWA route, before heading back to the hotel for dinner.

Highlights included the glorious sunset over Cable Beach, balmy evenings and mornings of outdoor meals, and talking to friendly staff and clientele at the hotel about our trip.

Day 1: Broome to Stanley Rest Area, 216km

We were up at 4am and set off at 5:20am, with breakfast consumed in the hotel room. We rode the 30km to Roebuck Plains Roadhouse, heading into the sunrise, and enjoyed coffee and a large second breakfast at the roadhouse. Great to have a menu for cooked-on-demand meals and gluten free bread – I had no idea how rare this was to be at other roadhouses.

We turned south as we left Roebuck Plains, heading towards Stanley Roadhouse as the first sign-posted landmark, although we wouldn’t reach there until tomorrow. It was interesting looking at the vegetation and wondering how much it would change over the coming days – the shrubs were taller than I had expected. Pretty much all the traffic was roadtrains and caravans, but it was relatively sparse and they all gave us plenty of room. The oncoming drivers all waved at us and were very friendly.

We had arranged for Greg’s uncle (owner of Port Smith Lagoon caravan park) to drop water for us at the highway end of his 20km long access road. We reached there around lunchtime after 145km, and the icy cold water was a treat. This was my biggest water consumption day – I went through 5.5L. I was carrying 5.5L but we wouldn’t reach our next water resupply until the middle of tomorrow, so the water top-up was essential!

It got properly hot, above 40 degrees C for at least three hours of the ride. I was suffering from heat stress most of the afternoon, and had to stop about every 30-45min to find some skerrick of shade as my heart rate climbed and I got vague. We did have a good cross-tailwind all day, which meant our average speed was 23.4kph. Terrain was very mildly undulating, with a max gradient of 1%.

By about 4pm the heat became more manageable and I started to appreciate my surroundings again, including some pretty orange and green birds in the shrubs. We rode through the sunset and reached Stanley Rest Area shortly after dark. We claimed a table on a concrete platform under a shelter, got changed, and prepared dinner – a packet of pre-cooked rice, foil packets of tuna, a small tin of corn, and an avocado between the two of us. I set up my bivy and settled in, but unfortunately sleep was intermittent – possibly due to the unfamiliar (first night in the bivy for the trip) or possibly the heat and long day had left too much adrenaline or stress in my system.

Highlights of today included seeing many soaring hawks (or other medium sized birds of prey), the glorious sunset we rode through as we approached Stanley Rest Area, and our first handup (free stuff) for the trip – we were offered cold beers by a caravaner who approached us very shortly after we reached the rest area.

Day 2: Stanley Rest Area to Pardoo, 246km

Breakfast at the rest area consisted of cold brew coffee (a coffee bag, steeped in cold water overnight), muesli, half a banana and half a 200mL UHT milk. We set off in the pre-dawn twilight, before any of the caravaners at the rest area had stirred. This meant a head start on the heat, traffic, and the many kilometres we had to travel today.

We had a few stops through the morning for sunrise photos, sunscreen application, and admiring hawks and a wedge tail eagle. We also saw some cows on the roadside – they did not attack us or jump into the road, and we had plenty of time to stop and try to photograph them. We reached Sandfire Roadhouse not long after 11am. I went in to survey the situation, and was delighted to be able to book a motel room for the afternoon. $150 later and we had air conditioning, a shower and bed to rest through the heat of the day. The food offerings were less delightful – I had resolved not to eat any non-gluten free bread through the trip, as I knew it would make me gassy and uncomfortable. So the best I could choose was a fried dim sim (yucky) and four spicy chicken strips (pretty ok) plus shares in a box of chips.

We attempted to nap through the afternoon. I got some shuteye but overall less than two hours. After icy poles we set off again around 5pm. The heat had started to dissipate, and traffic was negligible throughout the evening. It felt like about one road train per hour.

The stars came out and the moon rose – it was a waxing moon, so it was up early in the evening and bright. We had wanted to do some of our riding in the evening, but logistically it was challenging as we also needed somewhere cool to stay in the day. So it was great that it had worked out for evening riding today. I made an effort to snack during the evening, getting stuck into two of the salami and cheese wraps we’d made in Broome (yes, they were still delicious).

After the first while, I started to struggle – probably after 8pm, which is when my brain normally shuts down for bedtime. It was time for tunes – I put on some hip-hop and started bopping. It got me happily through the rest of the night.

We stopped frequently, often at the town distance markers which were spaced 10km apart. These are way larger than they look when travelling past! One of our stops was at a roadside parking area, where we had chats with a couple in a caravan who had set up for the night. They probably thought we were crazy, but they were also baking hot in their caravan! Greg started to struggle more towards the end and I got some nice night sky photos while I was waiting for him as we neared Pardoo. We entered the Pilbara as we approached Pardoo.

We arrived at Pardoo Roadhouse just before midnight. Greg had phoned and pre-booked accommodation – another $150. They said we had room 13, which would be unlocked, or the key would be in the door. The accommodation at Pardoo is a donga-style caravan park behind the roadhouse. We cycled on a dirt road and then wandered around with our bikes through the grass, looking for room 13. By this point I could hardly walk, as I had severe shin splints and my legs were so sore. We found room 13, but it was locked and there was no sign of a key. We continued wandering, wondering if there was another room 13 somewhere. We got barked at by dogs. We went around the front to see if there was a map or someone to call. As a last ditch effort, we went back around to the caravan park and I started trying doors. I found a door that opened – it was room 14/15, next door to 13. It had beds. That was enough. Toilets and showers were shared – the shower cleanliness and amenity was so poor, and I was so tired and grumpy, that I opted for no shower. Finally I was in bed sometime after 12:30am, with the alarm set for 4am the next morning.

Todays highlights: the motel room at Sandfire Roadhouse, and quiet night riding.

Day 3: Pardoo to Port Hedland, 155km

Same story as yesterday morning, but with even less sleep – breakfast at the accommodation and on the road before sunrise. At least it was a shorter day today. We were hoping to be done by lunchtime, to escape most of the heat of the day.

Riding through the colours of sunrise is always beautiful, especially out here with the wide open horizons and red dirt that lights up in the suns rays.

We saw our first hills for the trip, although the road skirted around them so we still had practically no elevation gain. We also saw our first water body (De Grey River) and first trees. Then coming towards Port Hedland we saw Sturt’s Desert Peas – I was very excited, and walked through the roadside grass on the busy highway to get some photos. Little did I know we would continue seeing them throughout the Pilbara and Gascoyne.

We also saw some smoke in the distance. We didn’t think too much of it until I was talking to some other travellers that evening (after I’d locked myself out of the accommodation). They mentioned the road into Karijini was closed – that was the way we were supposed to be going the next morning. I had actually been silently dreading the next day, which was 220km essentially all uphill with no supplies and only a roadside park area at the end. Although the following short day into Karijini would allow for some rest and swimming in the gorge, we would still be camping and wouldn’t have anywhere to get out of the heat.

Later this evening in our Port Hedland accommodation I checked the Emergency WA and Main Roads websites, and confirmed there was a large fire and the sealed road to Karijini was closed. Our past experience with fires had taught us that things tend to get worse, not better. So we altered our plans to bypass Karijini and instead stay on the coast road through Karratha.

But back on the road to Port Hedland – we passed the road to Marble Bar, which is where many of the iron ore mines are located. We knew we would have quad iron ore road trains along this 40km stretch of the route, but actually there were not too many, they gave us plenty of space and we didn’t get buffeted by wind. We only had to duck off the road once or twice when there was traffic coming both directions.

We were both struggling in the heat and headwind and fatigue as we approached the outskirts of Port Hedland. Thankfully our planned lunch stop was not far – the Walkabout Hotel, opposite Port Hedland airport. We arrived in the early afternoon, and I was so spent I couldn’t do anything. Greg ordered my drink (I requested pineapple juice, ice and a ginger beer to make a tropical punch) and we quickly decided our pizza order. There were some quirky country / mining town pub posters, but at least it was cool. After lunch and recovering it was the last leg into town.

We made our way into Port Hedland proper, copping abuse from one 4WD – this was the only time we got abuse on the whole trip, pretty typical of my impressions of Port Hedland. It is essentially an oversized industrial area and port, with some suburbs tacked onto the edges. We took the highway but had to backtrack to get onto the bike path to cross the bridge towards town, stopping for requisite photos of the railway and salt operations. The bike path then ended and we were back on the main road. This was fine while there was a shoulder, but when the shoulder ended we had to abandon that road as there was too much two-way traffic and trucks. We detoured into the suburbs, then to the supermarket to top up our groceries for the next 3-4 days.

Our accommodation had been booked one or two days earlier – it was the only place we could find, a private bedroom with shared ablutions at the Discovery caravan park. It was away from the central town area, so we got supermarket food for dinner. At least there was a pool – although it was freezing, it helped ease the muscles and provided some rejuvenation. The shared ablutions and kitchen were ok, but as we tried to sleep we discovered the void over the bed opened out onto another room without any walls between, and the room’s resident was a gamer that didn’t care to use headphones and played for hours into the night. Another disturbed sleep.

Highlights: changes in scenery and vegetation, sunrise, pizza, pool, getting washing done.

Day 4: Port Hedland to Peawah Rest Area, 104km

The advantage of our altered plans to avoid Karijini was that we had 300km less distance to do in the next four days, which meant that we could have a relaxed start today.

After a bit of a sleepin, we decided to follow the gist of the route I had plotted and see the town proper. I didn’t intend to ever go back to Port Hedland, so I figured we should see it while we were here. I had scoped out a cafe sort of near our accommodation that looked good, but in our investigations of the town we found a train carriage that had been converted into a cafe! As Greg is a mad-keen train fan, it was quickly decided that we would have breakfast there. Our first barista coffee and cafe breakfast of the trip, and it was a good one! My coffee had seahorse coffee art, and I got ricotta hotcakes with fried banana, bacon and maple syrup. Yum!

We finished exploring the foreshore at Port Hedland, then made our way out of town. We took Highway 1 that skirted around Wedgefield, and had bits and pieces of poorly maintained bike path and a decent shoulder. Although there were some over sized loads that we had to pull over for, traffic wasn’t too bad. And it was pretty interesting seeing a heap of infrastructure including iron ore railways and then the Port Hedland gas power plant for many kilometres on the way out of town.

As we passed the turnoff to Karijini, we realised that the road was not actually still closed. But we also realised that all the trucks were taking that route, and we had already made our decision to adjust our course. We were both happy with our decision at stick to the coast road.

After the interesting sites diminished, it became a pretty boring and hot slog. The disadvantage of leaving late was that we didn’t get much cool riding time. We had intended to finish at Whim Creek today as a bit of a “destination”. There was an old hotel there, although we knew it was permanently closed. About 2pm we stopped at Peawah Rest Area for a break in the shade. There was a shade with a table and concrete underneath, plus toilets. These were good facilities in our books, and we didn’t know what facilities there would be at Whim Creek. Plus it was hot. We decided to call it a day and stay at Peawah Rest Area.

Slowly it started to fill up with caravans. A lovely lady in a mini teardrop caravan stopped in the shade near our table. We had lots of chats with her – she had done bike touring in Tassie in her younger days, but now did caravanning with her dog. Like many caravaners, she lived in Mandurah and gave us some mandarins carried from her garden and topped up our water supplies. We caught up on some trip notes and spent most of the afternoon chatting, followed by an early dinner and early bed – setting up our bivvies on the concrete under the shelter.

Highlights: Relaxed start, stumbling on the delightful train cafe, having the time to explore and make decisions on the go.

Day 5: Peawah to Karratha, 153km

We had a medium length day to Karratha but decided to get an early start to avoid the heat.

It turned out to be a very special sunrise experience, the pre-dawn light was beautiful in the sky and on the spinifex, we rode past some red Pilbara hills as the sun was rising, and saw beautiful colours glowing on the rocks.

We reached Whim Creek after about an hour – there were a couple of 4WDs just packing up, but I was so glad we hadn’t stayed there as there were no toilets and it looked pretty uninviting. I was having a hungry day – it was already time for me to snack on a muesli bar and a cheese and salami wrap.

We crossed over Sherlock River, which had quite a lot of water and was beautiful. We saw lots of hawks, in the mornings they would hover along the roadside looking for breakfast and it felt like they were following along with us. We also saw the first hard evidence of extensive human impact on the land, with fences and overhead powerlines extending for long distances. This was also the first day with actual undulations, reaching a gradient of perhaps 3% – it was still mostly flat.

Reaching Roebourne, we were surprised by the beautiful heritage buildings of the old gaol. We were pleased to find Ieramugadu cafe run by the local traditional owners; I was pretty tired so I got an iced coffee to pep me up, and we shared a pecan tart. Yum!

It was only another 30km or so to Karratha, but this section of road was pretty busy. We have noticed that roads get progressively busier closer to towns, and if it is a large town the busy-ness will start about 15km out of town. Plus I guess Karratha and Roebourne are close together and far from many other places, so a lot of traffic goes backwards and forwards. We then turned into the main road to Karratha, which was another 7km or so and also quite busy.

We were pleasantly surprised when we reached Karratha proper – it is very cosmopolitan! We stopped at a bar/cafe for lunch, I had a Thai beef salad. We then checked into our accommodation, Ibis Styles Karratha, which was very comfortable and had a pool 🙂 We got washing done, went for a swim, and did some more grocery shopping. Practically every shop and cafe had a sign up looking for staff. Dinner was at another bar – mains and a drink each was over $120. Karratha prices are insane.

Highlights: sunrise, comfy motel room, pool swim, nice red wine with dinner.

Day 6: Karratha to Robe River Rest Area, 158km

We took the opportunity to enjoy a cafe breakfast in Karratha, and I also bought a takeaway gluten free bagel for lunch, which would be at a roadhouse. The Empire6714 cafe menu had fun, flair and flavour and promoted plastic-free and other environmentally sustainable initiatives. Best cafe in north-western Australia (in our experience!). Of course, it was still Karratha prices costing over $100 for breakfast – but that included coffee and a juice each, plus my takeaway for lunch.

After our delicious breakfast, we trundled the 7km back to the highway and then continued south, or actually west for a good chunk before turning more southerly. We passed a few gas plants on the way out of town – both of us find large infrastructure and industry interesting, so we had to stop for some photos. I also got a photo of the most common sign of the trip “floodway” – we saw many of these signs every day.

There were carpets of mauve mulla mulla flowers – I had seen several different species on the trip with different life forms, and now they were prolific. We had a few moderate (~3%) climbs, which also gave a vantage to see the spread of wildflowers. Coming in towards Fortescue River Roadhouse, we crossed Fortescue River (which had a reasonable pool of water) and saw the remarkable hills bordering the river.

The weather was still pretty hot and I enjoyed a Kirks lemon squash with my bagel at the roadhouse. The Kirks lemon squash and Bundaberg ginger beer were my favourite refreshing pick-me-up drinks on the trip – I also grabbed a ginger beer, which I carried in my insulated bidon bag to the campsite for a sundowner with some pringles. The sundowner became a bit of an end-of-day tradition when we could.

We camped at Robe River Rest Area. We were delighted to find that there was actually water in this river! My knee had been quite sore today. There were many people at the rest area, and they were all interested to talk to us and give us kudos for cycling. It was pretty funny, we discovered that we were doing a similar distance each day to the caravanners. They would pass us a few times because we would start early, and they would start many hours later but then pass us. We got changed into our bathers, grabbed our sundowner ginger beer and pringles, and waded into the river up to our bums (with shoes on for feet protection from rocks). It was a beautiful sunset over the water.

As we were enjoying the sunset, a family came down to the water and we got talking. They were really lovely and very interested in our trip, as the husband had done quite a lot of bike touring in Europe with the wife supporting. They invited us to their caravan for a home-cooked dinner, which we were happy to accept. We contributed an avocado, and enjoyed bolognaise sauce and salad in wraps, plus a beer. And great conversation!

Highlights: cafe breakfast, carpets of wildflowers, bagel and Kirks lemon squash for lunch, sundowner in the river at sunset, camaraderie with other travellers and conversation that was relevant to our experience.

Day 7: Robe River Rest Area to Yannarie Rest Area, 191km

An early start this morning, as we had a long way to go and were expecting our first day of contrary winds. The beautiful full moon set as the sun rose, but the tranquility was disrupted by lights and a low hum of noise coming from numerous mine sites on both sides of the highway.

The wind had been relatively mild in the early morning hours, but quickly picked up to a reasonably strong crosswind. It was slow going for 120km until we got to Nanuturra Roadhouse. We both had our headphones in and heads down just trying to keep up momentum and motivation. Whenever I glanced at the speed on my bike computer it was under 20kph, and what felt like significant sections were under 15kph. This was in contrast to much of the previous days, where a moderate tailwind had kept our cruising speed up around high-20’s to mid-30kph.

I had kept myself motivated by considering what I would like to eat for lunch at Nanuturra. Thankfully they had gluten free bread and meals-to-order, so I could get the steak sandwich and zesty lemon drink I had been dreaming of. Nanuturra was the last roadhouse coming from the Perth direction before heading out to Karijini National Park – this is where we re-joined the original route. It was very busy with many noisy people and groups. It was a bit much for me, and the culture shock of so many people was making me grumpy. It was noisy inside, so we sat outside – thankfully there were shady tables but a better break from the heat probably would have done us good. After lunch, we took the opportunity to have a last toilet stop and I was so sleepy I put my head in my arms on the table and napped for a few minutes while I waited for Greg.

This was our last resupply for the next 255km, which would be the longest stretch without supplies on the trip. In theory, it would be about 1.5 days to do that distance, although we actually arrived at Coral Bay only about 25 hours after we left Nanuturra. We topped up all our water bottles, grabbed an extra drink for the jersey pocket, and were on our way.

After we left Nanuturra we turned slightly more westerly and the wind became more of a tailwind. This picked up our average speed, so that by the end of the day we had averaged a remarkable 19.7kph. We arrived at the underwhelming Yannarie Rest Area just before sunset – we had seen the moon set and sun rise in the morning as we rode, and now we were seeing it in reverse at the end of the day. I did a quick wash of myself and change of clothes in the toilet, sprayed on the bug spray (mandatory for me at most places) and then prepared dinner – our usual pre-cooked rice, foils of tuna and half an avocado. After dinner, Greg washed the large collapsible mugs, and I filled them with water and coffee bags for breakfast. While we ate, we would do our daily spotto and I would write down my food and drink for the day. Then we tried to brush as much gravel off the concrete as possible, set up the bivvies, and went to bed.

It was a tough day, not much fun on the route or in the weather conditions. But we still found beauty in snatches, and I was thankful for caravanners giving generously of their water and fruit at Yannarie, otherwise we were probably going to run short of water.

Day 8: Yannarie Rest Area to Coral Bay, 183km

I was very motivated to get an early start so that we could get to Coral Bay at a reasonable hour – and to minimise the time spent in the heat and stronger winds, which tended to pick up through the day.

It was another special sunrise this morning, behind us today as we were heading west. We crossed numerous mild undulations, up and over red sand dunes. We seemed to reach the turnoff for Exmouth and Coral Bay quite quickly (thanks to a tailwind), and we crossed into the Gascoyne Region.

The road from the highway to the coast had numerous long sections of roadworks, which were down to one lane. Thankfully there was not much traffic, as the traffic controllers had to wait for us (averaging around 20kph) to finish riding through each section before they could let cars go in the other direction. When we got to Coral Bay, a caravanning couple saw us at the bakery and said they had passed us on the road, and they had been telling the roadworks guys that two bikes were coming through – apparently the roadworks guys were incredulous!

The roadworks were ok with no gravel bits to ride, but it got properly undulating the closer we got to the coast, with gradients up to 6%. Can you imagine?! We turned left when we reached the coast, and had another longish stretch to do before we reached Coral Bay. At this point, we saw what they were doing with the roadworks – they were widening the road by putting a strip of chipseal down each side. It was just tar and blue-metal thrown on the top. As the roadworks were still relatively fresh, the new work was rough and still loose in places. We tried to avoid riding on it, but that meant listening out for the beeps from our radars, looking in the rearview mirror often, and then veering over to the left.

It was getting hot and I was getting tired. The coastal vegetation was super low which meant no shade. At least we managed to have a tailwind practically all day, until we turned right for the final 12km stretch to Coral Bay. Then it was a block headwind, obviously the sea-breeze had come in. As it was the last stretch, I was motivated to finish and got through it ok. We saw glimpses of the sea, then finally the entrance signs for Coral Bay. We were here!

We made a beeline straight to the bakery. I got a vanilla slice – actually, I got two, as they had a 2-for-1 special, so Greg also got to enjoy a vanilla slice. It was the first one of the trip and was very very good. We then checked into our villa at Ningaloo Coral Bay (Bayview), which was very nice with fancy amenities like a couch, shampoo AND conditioner provided. We donned our bathers and had a quick swim in the caravan park pool, but it was full of kids jumping and splashing so that was short-lived. We did all of our washing so that we wouldn’t have chores to do tomorrow, then wandered down to see the beach and explore the other caravan park shops. We grabbed an early dinner of fish and chips and squid rings (pre 5:30pm) but sadly when we tried to buy single cans of beer at the bottle shop we were told it was six-packs as a minimum. We did not want a six-pack and I didn’t want to be wasteful spending money we didn’t need or buying water in a bottle or a large bottle of soft drink when the tap water was perfectly drinkable. So we enjoyed our very very good fish and chips with tap water and were happy.

Highlights: this is the day I had been most looking forward to, I was so happy we had reached Coral Bay at a good time in the afternoon and we now had two nights here to unwind. Coral Bay bakery vanilla slice and the fish and chips were also delicious. And I had enjoyed riding the red sand undulations through the sunrise, it reminded me of other trips to remote desert areas.

To be continued in subsequent blog posts…

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