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From Desert Craters to Jungle Vines

29 November 2023

Words & Photos: Jamie Nicoll & Anja Foley

Jamie Nicoll and Anja Foley complete a three month overland adventure from Brisbane - crossing west then north through three major deserts in the 'Red Centre', before looping back via the Kimberleys and Cape York in the Northern Territory. With their Jamie-customised Toyota 4WD as the mothership there's plenty of classic Oz outback camping and exploring new, unusual and just damn good places to ride. This third instalment includes the 2000 km Canning Stock Route and some beach time at Broome, before making the 4000 km trip back to Brisbane via the Kimberley and the famous Gibb River Road, checking out the mtbing in Cairns and Rockhampton on the QLD coast.

How does Wolfe Creek Crater, just north of of Billiluna (Mindibungu) in Western Australia, become a riding destination? Well for us it marked the end of an amazing 2000 km of desert travel and our imminent return to the world of comparatively civilised infrastructure.

We had just crossed the Canning Stock Route - the 'world's most remote 4WD track'. It follows an ancient “Song Line” of indigenous water wells that in 1906 received the surveying scrutiny of Alfred Canning - resulting in the creation of 51 wells.

The track took us on a north north east direction heading through three isolated deserts. Starting at the outback village of Wiluna we traversed the Little Sandy, Great Sandy and Tanami Deserts. Ten days of rough and harsh track with huge variations in surface and landscape from red sand dunes, white salt lakes to rocky expanses, we worked to keep speed and flow while the imperative job of preserving our mechanical machine, the 30 year old Land Cruiser shipped from NZ especially for this adventure.

Exiting the Canning Stock Route but not quite ready for the busyness of the world we had been sheltered from, we turned right off the Tanami Road. Wolfe Creek Crater is known for its lack of erosion and obviousness amidst the surrounding flat plains. It sits high above this landscape and averages 875 metres in diameter. It is estimated that the meteorite that formed it was about 15 metres in diameter and had a mass of about 14,000 tonnes. It is now only 60 m deep with a highly salted lake dotted in the middle.

After another night lying under the stars with no covering shelter, we pedalled off from camp. The crater rim was what we hoped to ride, and we did. It proved high value and high tech with a jank factor too - plenty of punchy riding that needed navigating through the chaos of an exploded landscape. Even though it was all rideable for Jamie, Anja found her own groove criss crossing hazardous rocks and resident snakes. The 3.6 km counter clockwise loop was well worth the mission and a welcome change to our usual workout of being thrown around the vehicle for the past two weeks.

From Halls Creek we popped out a casual 700 km to get to the beach and the famous wee seaside town of Broome. An ‘ocean’ deal we had struck before the two weeks of dry desert crossing. The night markets, crystal clear turquoise water and white sand charmed us both. Especially camping right on the beach, which seems to be very much part of the overlander culture there. We had a lot of kilometres to go, over 4000 from Broome in WA to Cairns in Queensland via the abundant gorges and stunning scenery of the Kimberleys, and the famous Gibb River Road.

After a diversion up Cape York we headed down the QLD coast to Cairns and camped up at Mick Hannah’s place. Mick being brother to his sister Tracey - the famous duo that have held space in the elite MTB DH race scene for over 20 years. Mick and I were team mates for a time and we enjoyed catching up on life and his new contracts with Yeti and Shimano developing their e-mtb motors.

Again, we were blown away with the height and gravity this country has to offer. We had some good times out in the hills behind Cairns. I put my Santa Cruz Tallboy 120 travel bike through the abuse of the DH World cup track and Crankworx dual slalom. The landscape here is basically tropical jungle, lush green and large leafed trees and palms. We were amused that locals took extra care to not park their cars under the shade of huge mango trees which regularly drop big juicy fruit from 10 metres above.

Heading south along the East Coast back to where this three month journey started, we stopped at Rockhampton for a vehicle suspension check by our spring sponsor, Dobinsons. A successful family run business, we were impressed with their hyper-productive onsite factory which looks after custom suspension needs all around the world.

While in Rockhampton, we had time to sample the local trails from Guthrie Street, a well graded climb that seemed to lift you a lot faster than Cairn’s heavily switch backed climbing trail. Jackhammer took us to the top. En route we paused to investigate the riding options: Smoke Screen or Ant's Nest were our options. The decision was quickly made as Anja’s tyres, shoes and legs were overrun with gigantic ants after only a few seconds. K9 was our downhill pick, a fantastic playful trail holding true to its ‘black’ rating. A huge range of interesting features, fun rolls and jumps led us back to Guthrie Street while marvelling at a typical Australian landscape of eucalypt and rocky outcrops as our backdrop.

We've had such an amazing time travelling and riding around Australia these last three months. We may have even been bitten by the love of overland travel and this may well be the start of a global overland lifestyle, searching out remote and unusual places to ride. With the Land Cruiser parked up in Coffs Harbour in New South Wales, we have started investigating shipping options to Eurasia for next year’s mission. Wahoo! Thank you for your support and for cheering us on along the way. We really enjoyed sharing our adventures with you.