Australia Prt 7, Nsw & Vic: Swan Hill to Renmark

Route: Swan Hill – Balranald – Mungo NP – Mildura – Wentworth – Lake Victoria – Renmark

Day 61: 9 April 2019
From 12 km before Swan Hill to 12 km before Balranald
97,93 km (Total so far: 2487,54 km) – Altitude climbed: 182 m
Weather: Sunny, strong head and tail wind

It was a very windy night. A cold wind. I had pitched only the inner tent so it blew right through. Except for my nose, I was warm enough, but it all made a bit too much noise. I was camped in a bend of the little Murray River, so it came in right from the water.

After little under an hour cycling, I reached Swan Hill, on the 10th day after leaving Melbourne. It is here the expedition of Burke & Wills reached the Murray River, 18 days after leaving Melbourne. That actually puts my performance to shame, beating them with only 8 days. Some may think I’m heavily loaded, but I carry, food and water included maybe 50 kg.
The Burke & Wills expedition was carrying 20 tons !
But they didn’t have bikes to transport it. They did it with wagons, horses and camels.
Thus, once again, it is proven the bicycle is a superior mode of transport.

The Murray River floats through Swan Hill at an elevation of still 70 meter asl, 30 meter lost since Echuca. I buy provisions, new cycling gloves and go for lunch in a Vietnamese restaurant in town.

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Before the historical bridge over the Murray is a small memorial for Charley Gray, an important member of the Burke & Wills expedition. Oh, maybe I haven’t explained that yet, for the non-Aussies, this expedition was all about trying to be the first to cross Australia south to north and happened in 1860.
Burke & Wills were on their way for the state of Victoria, whilst John McDouall Stuart, a much more experienced explorer, was aiming the same for the state of South Australia.

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While I was having my lunch in the Vietnamese restaurant, the wind must have shifted a
bit, and I also changed direction a bit, going north west towards Balranald and Mungo National Park.
A strong wind was blowing in my back now, and at times I was pushed forward at 30 km/hr.
That’s too much fun to continue for too long.
Another flat tyre.
In the back, of course.
Probably a thorn I picked up when the sandy bike lane ended a few kilometer outside off Swan Hill.
I decide to pump it, and see how much longer I can go.
Twenty kilometer, that was.
Good enough. I stop at the junction with a sandy path to pump it again, when suddenly a guy appears out of nowhere.
“Hi, don’t be scared. I brought nothing with me not to scare you”, he says.
“I wasn’t scared”, I think and say “hello”, while pumping my tyre.
“I’m a bushman” he says, “I lived here all my life, from when I was this little (holding his hands low to the ground) until now”.
I was a bit disappointed at this.

My first bushman, and he looks like one of these beggars in front of the supermarket or the bottle shop, a completely worn jeans, double the size he needed, hair that hasn’t been washed yet in 2019, filthy hands,….
I was hoping for something more Crocodile Dundee style.
At least, he could make sure he had a hat like Mick Dundee, don’t you think ?

Mick DundeeHe went on to tell I had to be careful, for other guys in the bush who where using amphetamines and other drugs.
Did I want him to bring me to Balranald, he asked.
I declined, explaining him I wanted to cycle.
Now, and I swear I don’t make this up, he started to tell me about a Japanese cyclist he once met, and that guy didn’t carry anything, “not a drop of oil and hardly any water. They had to rescue him and …..”

Many people know about the famous G.J. Coop who published two diaries about his cycling adventures in Australia, ‘Heading West’ and ‘zzOz (zig zag across Australia)’. His trips must be more than ten years ago now, and people were always warning him, because ‘there was this Japanese cyclist and ….’.
I thought I was gonna piss my pants when this guy started to tell me the exact same story.

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Not a hill in sight 🙂

Joining the Yanga Highway, I’m on a busier road.
There would be an opportunity to leave it again after crossing the Wakool river and ride via Weimby Kyalite and the Windomal Roads towards Balranald but I chose to stay on the highway for once.
The road I came off was gradually turning more and more towards the west and at the end I was almost battling against the wind again. After turning 90 degrees on this highway, that strong wind is blowing right in my back again, so I want to make the most of that.

I’m now riding through ‘Mallee country’, harsh scrub, low growing mallee eucalyptus.

Despite my long break in Swan Hill, I still have the longest distance since arriving in Australia, 97,93 km. I didn’t go over the 100 km mark, just because I saw an ok place to camp, 12 km before Balranald.

I could identify two birds again today: the Black-Faced Cuckoo-Shrike and the Crested Pigeon, two very common birds.
And more emu’s as well.

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Day 62: 10 April 2019
From 12 km before Balranald to along Marma Box Creek Road
85,37 km (Total so far: 2572,91 km) – Altitude climbed: 109 m
Weather: Sunny, moderate tail and side wind

The Yanga Highway seemed bussier then yesterday. Or maybe my progress was just slower due to a much reduced tail wind.
For five kilometer I rode on the Sturt Highway, then crossing the Murrumbidgee River and entering Balranald, another stop on the Burke & Wills expedition as well.
There are two supermarkets (Iga & Foodworks), a bakery and a pizza thing for all your needs.
As I won’t see any shops until I arrive in Mildura, 320 kilometers further on, I buy food for six days and load the bicycle with about 16 liters of water (which I hope to replenish at Mungo National Park).

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On this scale, a ‘high’ fire danger still seems pretty good.
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I am in…

I continued cycling north over the Ivanhoe Road and had three nice encounters.  First a ute stopped. He had a bike rack with a shiny black bike, the Australian brand which name I forgot now. This guy hopes to ride the Birdsville track five weeks from now.
Then a ute coming from the other direction stopped for a chatting, curious where I was going to.
At the junction with the Ivanhoe Road and the Marma Box Creek Road (the road towards Mungo), another car stopped. An Estonian couple, already 1,5 year here, working on vinyards and factories, said ‘You really don’t want to go that way’.
Well, that’s exactly the way I plan to go.
A lot of corrugation is awaiting me and even in the car they went very slow, they said.
And the part between Mildura and the park is even worse.
We chat a bit longer before we go our own ways.
At least I know what’s coming up.
I stop a bit earlier as planned. Suddenly both sides of the dirt track were fenced off.
And as fences can go for 30 kilometer or more here, I call it a day.

Oh, btw, at the junction of Ivanhoe & Marma Box Creek Road, there’s a small concrete tank with a tap from which you can take water.
It looked good to me. I used it for cooking.

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The camping is fantastic here. Far away from any town, there is no light pollution. The stars, the Milky Way….. at nighttime, there is often no wind …. complete and perfect silence.
You hear nothing at all.
Perfect.

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Day 63: 11 April 2019
From along Marma Box Creek Road to alongside Lake Mungo
73,85 km (Total so far: 2646,76 km) – Altitude climbed: 247 m
Weather: Sunny, light tail wind

The fence for which I made an earlier as planned stop yesterday only lasted for a little while, so nothing to worry there.
I ride through a landscape that really starts to feal as ‘The Outback’, although those really remote areas still have to come, where I am many, many hundreds of kilometers away from a village or town, instead of the 150 km I go out now.
But the sand is red, sometimes plains with just scrub, sometimes these low Eucalyptus Trees that grow a maximum of about 7 meters high only. I think these are the Mallee, but I still need to get to know the exact names of the flora here.
Everything is so different from ‘home’. The differences between kangaroos, wallaby’s, pademelons, every colored bird we would name a parrot, could be a cockatoo or a parakeet as well.
All these trees we don’t have, gum trees, box trees, coolabah trees, eucalyptus trees….
But all in all, the landscape reminds me at times to Southern Patagonia, bare the color of the sand.

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At the junction of Marma Box Creek Road and Balranald Road (not sure of this name), there is another concrete water tank where I refresh myself a bit. I still carry enough water, so don’t refill here.
Not a lot of traffic, I think I saw seven cars today.
Three assholes who pass at full speed throwing stones from under their wheels and a big cloud of dust, the other four slowing down, two of them stop for a little chat.

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Again, I stop early, a few kilometer before the official Lake Mungo campground from the national park. I prefer a quiet night on my own, and that’s exactly what I get.
I take a small side track towards the dry Lake Mungo. Careful not to push the bike over thorns towards a nice spot I enjoy the late afternoon with a view over this flat desert land.

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How good do your campsites have to become ?  Looking out at the dry Mungo Lake, the Walls of China in the far distance.

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Day 64: 12 April 2019
From Alongside Lake Mungo to near Mungo Lookout
72,55 km (Total so far: 2719,31 km) – Altitude climbed: 200 m
Weather: Sunny, light head, side and tail wind

DSC06321A full day in Mungo National Park. The loop road through the park has to be ridden anti-clockwise, it’s a one way track.
First to the most famous part of the park, the ‘Walls of China’, a long dune, consisting of clay on this side, white sand on the other side. Erosion has made nice shape in the hard packed clay.
But, you are not allowed to go on the dune without a guide and a guided tour is 50 AUD (1282 Belgian Francs or 32 Euro) which I find too much to walk around a dune a bit.
And honestly, I have seen much higher and more impressive things like this in Argentina.

Anyways, this Mungo area was inhabited by Aboriginals 40.000 years ago and makes it the oldest place in Australia where they have found traces of their culture.

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Red Top Lookout offers a more close-up view of the erosion.
Until here, one could retrace his steps, if you continue, it’s the one way loop all the way back to the park head quarters (60 km).

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Honk, honk, honk….honk, honk….
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“What on earth is that ?  Is that a red Kangaroo, sitting at that table ?  Oh no, it’s one of these crazy people riding a pushbike through these sandy, hot lands…”
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“Let’s be a bit charming, maybe he is naive enough to give me some food ?”
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“No food, but at least he helped me get to some water. Everything is so dry here.”
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“Thank you, crazy man.”

The track deteriorates a lot. Very corrugated and large stretches with loose sand where I have to push the bike.
By the end of the day I’m really tired of all the pushing and the washboard corrugations hurt my shoulders.
Luckily, there are hot showers at the visitor centre.

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The dry Lake Leaghur.

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Day 65: 13 April 2019
From near Mungo Lookout to 50 km before Mildura
58,67 kmkm (Total so far: 2777,98 km) – Altitude climbed: 123 m
Weather: Sunny, moderate head wind

Three flat tyres !
Yes, three.
And only after 250 meter into my trip today. That must be a personal record.
Must have happened while pushing the bike out of my camping spot, although I was very careful not to ride over any potential thorn or sharp thing.
Both the front and the rear tyre were losing air, and I still had the punctured tube with me from when I had that puncture between Swan Hill and Balranald. Couldn’t find the hole back then.

The Mungo Lookout has a water tap, so I filled that red bag on the back of my bike with water and started to work.
The three tubes patched, rear and front tyre exchanged (the wear on the back was already clearly visible after less then 3.000 km on rough roads) and the chain tightened, I could finally start, with 1,5 hour delay.

And the road from the park towards Mildura is bad.
Heavily corrugated and a lot of deep loose sand where I have to push the bike.
Throw some moderate head wind in and the going was tough and slow. Hard on the bike and the rider. Pulses, arms, shoulders and my back taking a beating.
Real Outback travel, that’s what I’m here for 🙂
The landscape is flat, light undulations with the lowest point at 55 meter asl and the highest 120 meter asl.

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Still 2,5 hours before sunset I was spent.
Off-loaded the bike and brought the bags one by one into the bush a bit off the road, then carried the bike to that place.
Not taking my chances anymore to have flats tomorrow morning.

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Day 66: 14 April 2019
From 50 km before Mildura to passed Mildura
79,69 km (Total so far: 2857,67 km) – Altitude climbed: 224 m
Weather: Sunny, light head wind

After a bit over twenty kilometer I was back on asphalt. But these first twenty kilometer were stil quite hard with a lot of loose sand and pushing the bike.
But these ordeals are the only way to make me appreciate asphalt.

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I didn’t like Mildura. I cycled around a bit in the place and there’s truly nothing to like about the place. Big city, + 50.000 inhabitants, a lot of noisy traffic a few bike lanes to which exactly one car driver paid attention. All the others come from the side streets, over the bike lane to the edge of the road without looking for a cyclist. For them, you are like a kangaroo, better dead than alive.

Even on a Sunday, supermarkets are open from 6 am till midnight.
Why ?
Do people really need to be able to buy a broccoli, a wooden spoon or a bag of tea at 11 pm on a Sunday ?
Can’t people think ahead anymore ?
Plan ahead ?
Just a few hours ?
Ridiculous.
The Bunnings warehouse lies five kilometer out of town. On the wrong side of course, but I need to go for a new bottle of shellite for the stove.
At least, Mildura’s library is a nice place to sit for an hour to do some necessary things online and recharge batteries.
The sun is setting by the time I reach the Murray, west of the town for a place to camp.
The river floats here at 35 meter asl, and still has a long way to go to the ocean.
Many people here and I retread a bit away from the river to find a quiet place and not pitch my tent between the river and the dusty dirt road where people ride up and down till midnight, of course without any regards to other people and the dust they are creating.
Time to go to a less populated place along the big river tomorrow, if that is possible during these Easter holidays.

Day 67: 15 April 2019
From passed Mildura to 10 km passed Wentworth
44,46 km (Total so far: 2902,13 km) – Altitude climbed: 85 m
Weather: Sunny, moderate head wind

As I was close to the city yesterday, I had good phone reception and managed to watch Paris-Roubaix on the laptop. On SBS with Robbie McEwen.
Excellent race.

I left my camping spot late morning and kept riding along the south side of the Murray River via the Redgum Track. Ample possibilities for people with caravans and campervans to come camping, which means the whole area is littered. Empty beer bottles and cans, cardboard, empty jerry cans, broken camping furniture, etc, etc….

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The Red Gum Track
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A lone fisherman on the Murray.

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A few kilometer east of Wentworth, I crossed the Murray again and rode for the third time from Victoria state into New South Wales.
Wentworth is the confluence of Australia’s two biggest rivers, the Murray and the Darling River, bringing waters from Queensland and northern New South Wales all the way down to the bottom of Australia.
The Murray-Darling basin covers 1.06 million sq km, the size of France and Spain, and covers 14 percent of Australia’s landmass.

They’ve built a small watch tower to have a better overview. On clear days, you’re supposed to see the different (green and brown) colors of both rivers, but is was a bit cloudy when I was there.

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Confluence of Murray and Darling Rivers.  Not the most spectacular under a grey sky.

A few kilometer west of town, I visited the Perry Sand hills, dating back from a previous ice ago some 40.000 years ago.
Pitched the tent a few kilometer further near a dry creek bed. The only place with a bit of trees and bushes in this otherwise wide open, flat landscape

Today, I saw a small Willy Wagtail attacking (or destracting) a much bigger Australian Magpie.  Good on you, I’m with you eh, Willy Wagtail.

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Hurray ! Hurray !

Day 68: 16 April 2019
From 10 km passed Wentworth to Lake Victoria / Rufus River
60,15 km (Total so far: 2962,28 km) – Altitude climbed: 59 m
Weather: Sunny, moderate head wind

About six kilometer from last nights camping spot, I arrive at the ten mile bridge, crossing the Great Anabranch of the Darling River. This 480 km natural watercourse is actually the original course of the Darling River, which has cut a new course further to the east about 10.000 years ago.
The Anabranch leaves the Darling River further north from here and enters in the Murray a bit south from here, after it’s confluence with the Darling River.

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My landscape for the time being. No complaints.
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Red Gum Trees

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The wind blows from the north west. That’s straight from the desert. And does it get hot today.
35 degrees in the shade. That’s well above 40°C in the sun. We’re going towards winter now, so I can imagine what it can be like here in summer.

I leave the Renmark Road for the gravel Rufus Road.
Not much traffic around here, but when a car or truck does go by, I move to the wrong (right) side of the road, just to stay out of the dust with this north westerly.
A truck driver stops for a little chat and to enquire where I’m heading.

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Blue-Tongue Lizard

Just as I felt I was getting cooked under the sun, there was a junction to my left and some trees giving shade. And there was more.
Water !
A creek, Frenchman’s Creek.
I pushed to bike to a place in the shade and went for a swim, ignoring the signs saying that it was dangerous and blah blah blah.
Returning to the bike, I saw the rear tyre was flat.
Just being careless for 25 meter pushing aside the track, and you’re punished.
No warning signs for that 😉

Moving on, the road is paved when I came nearer Lake Victoria.
Lots and lots of Pelicans feeding from the inlet. What a sight !
I rode back a few hundred meters to camp under the small eucalyptus trees.
There’s a tap with water at the toilet building and also at the information sign near the inlet.

In the morning, dozens of kangaroos jumping around my tent, all being wary, but also very curious. Brilliant

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Their eyes are so unreal. Like they are from plastic and glued on them.
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Too close for comfort.
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This one just caught a fish.

Day 69: 17 April 2019
From Lake Victoria / Rufus River to Coombool Swamp
72,96 km (Total so far: 3035,24 km) – Altitude climbed: 229 m
Weather: Sunny, strong head wind

A very frustrating day.
When I wake up, I see the rear tyre is flat, despite me bringing all the luggage into camp by hand, then carrying the bike over.
The road is worse than yesterday.
Very bumpy, endless corrugations, a lot of deep, loose sand where I’m required to push the bike, slight uphills, a strong head wind and 35 degrees in the shade.
And there’s always that heavy bike.
And the flies !
Not dozens anymore but hundreds flying and zooming around my head, on my shoulders, my back, my hands, …

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This is nothing compared to my back, which is black of the flies.

Then, there was the Old Wentworth Road I planned to take.
A sign saying ‘Road Closed’ was shoved to the side and car tracks were going in.
I followed my planned route, also because this road was smaller than the wide Rufus Road, which is never charming to ride, and it seemed harder packed sand.
That didn’t last long.
After 2,5 km I arrived at a gate with a sign ‘Shut Gate Please’.
As far as I understand, you’re welcome to enter it in that case.
A bit further there was a sign to ‘Keep Out’ (Talkeetna Station).
Bat that was at the unfenced side of the road.
What’s the interpretation here ?
‘Shut the Gate’, means you can come in.
There are also official road signs along the track like for a grid and these official white poles.
Probably they don’t want you to enter the private land beside the road.
Nobody will put official road signs on his private land, right ?
And the government will not put official road signs on private roads, right ?

I check my large scale map, and even on that one, this track is marked.

Five kilometers further on, another cattle grid. This time leaving no space for interpretation. I had to keep out. But, there was a phone number on the sign to enquire for permission.
Hard, in a region where there’s no phone reception.
I turned back, a 15 km slow, bumpy, windy, sweaty rond trip for nothing.

How are you supposed to plan a trip like that, if tracks on official maps, with all the road signs, end up being private ??
Back on the Rufus Road, I saw I just had finished my 3.000th kilometer for this trip.

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The track became even bumpier and sandier.

Today, I also entered my fourth Australian state, and I keep ticking them off in a nice order, because this one is the fourth smallest, South-Australia.
Quarantine rules require you to dump your fruit and vegetables in a bin at the border. No worries, I had just 1/2 broccoli and half a pepper left.

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All in all, not a good day, not at all.
But that happens on long trips.
Better tomorrow.

Day 70: 18 April 2019
From Coombool Swamp to Renmark
54,15 km (Total so far: 3089,39 km) – Altitude climbed: 154 m
Weather: Sunny, moderate head and side wind

Literally five drops of rain yesterday evening. And a pretty hard wind, which was welcome to cool things down a bit. The road was not as catastrophic as yesterday, but stil quite bumpy. And, as I was turning my wheels south for the day, the wind had shifted from northwest to southwest, so I was still fighting against it. Good thing was, due to this southerly direction, the temperatures dropped by 10 degrees compared to yesterday.
Went to the Toyworld in Renmark for a new tube. Presta is not so common, so that had to be brought in. I had to wait for an hour, which I used to visit the Chinese restaurant for a take away lunch which I ate in the beautiful park between the library and the Murray River.

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I will stay tonight with Ian, Keryn and Shannon. We had a superb diner and a couple of beers in The Club, next to the river and I could sleep in a real bed.
All is good again.
Looking forward to riding my bike in South-Australia, but more about that in the next post.

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