That beautifully refreshing, soft patter of rain falling from the night sky as we slipped into bed early last night has transformed into what feels like the onset of the tropical wet season. Gusts of wind carry the rain horizontally in waves of noise and excitement; perhaps nature’s idea of a friendly reminder for us to keep moving so as to not get caught out when all hell inevitably breaks loose!
There is no doubt about it, we are tempting fate travelling north so late in the year. Every day, we feel the humidity rise as the air takes on heavy characteristics. Come afternoon, we’re treated to a spectacular display of dark and dangerous-looking Cumulonimbus clouds that stretch from the bottom of the horizon far into the sky, in an intense display of Mother Nature’s supremacy.
Only now, as the lashes of rain drench the mosquito screen and seep into our swag, does Rah confide in me that the confined, dark sleep vessel makes her feel claustrophobic. This means she cannot bear for me to pull the waterproof cover up to protect us from the falling rain! And so, as the sky slowly transitions from a deep blue to those perfect, early morning yellows and pinks, we lay awake in a damp swag chatting away until the rain subsides and we can make a start on the day.
By the time we’ve finished breakfast the sun is shining bright, and so we begin packing the damp bedding into the bags and then onto the motorbike. We say goodbye and good luck to our fellow DR650 riders and hit the road, though not before another swim at Fruit Bat Falls! These cascading falls are what dreams are made of. We float aimlessly, and as I close my eyes and clear my thoughts I can feel the natural healing properties of zero-gravity releasing all the built-up tension as a result of yesterday’s nightmare.
We fill up the water bottles before jumping back on the motorbikes. We ride flat-out back along Fruit Bat Falls Road, utilising the oversized speedbumps as launch pads with a little flick of the throttle, and then turn right onto the Northern Bypass Road towards the mighty Jardine River.
The deep red, earthy road beneath my tyres consists mainly of ball-bearing-like gravel – likely bauxite – that is loosely heaped and, in parts, a foot deep. Just to make things a little more interesting there is the odd patch of deep bulldust keeping me on my toes, and an endless sea of corrugation that keeps my speed in-check.
The Northern Bypass runs north alongside Jardine River National Park – an area that spans from the centre of the Cape York Peninsular to the eastern coastline – and then heads north-west mimicking the flow of Crystal Creek. We’re surrounded by a peculiar combination of gums and low-lying tropical flora; both of which are covered in that familiar lining of red bulldust.
I spend the morning with a deep sense of appreciation for the land we’re traversing today. I’m not exactly sure why, though the closer to the equator – and hence The Northern Tip of Australia – we travel, the more privileged I feel to have the opportunity to experience this part of Australia. Growing up on the Mid-North Coast of eastern Australia means I’ve been exposed to natural beauty before. I’ve lived, breathed and soaked up the impossibly green mountains and dense rainforests that house waterfalls you might expect to see in a children’s book of fairy tales, though there is something infinitely special about the pristine, untainted land up here. There is more harmony and peace in the vastness of it all, and at the same time a strong, underlying sense of unrelenting, unforgiving natural power that gives you a fresh perspective on the importance of our habitat. Maybe it is the lack of human contact that makes me feel this way, or perhaps the expansive landscapes of vibrant, earthy colours that provoke these emotions? Whatever it is, I feel more alive than ever to be exposed to it.
We reach the Jardine River Ferry crossing a little after 10am. There are two indigenous men running the ferry which doubles as a fuel station and general store. We top-up the tanks – at a touch over $2.00/L – and have a chat about the area, before handing over $67.00 each for a return ferry ticket. We’ve been warned of the exorbitant price put on the crossing, though in the same breath we’ve been warned of the prolific saltwater crocodile infestation, and rumour has it the other crossings have been ‘modified’ and are simply too deep to cross now.
I don’t really think too much about the cost, that is until we’re lined up and waiting to ride onto the ferry and it becomes known that I could probably throw a stone and hit the other side. Still, the deep green water and dark objects just below the surface are enough to make me appreciate all 45 seconds of the safe trip across! We ride onto the platform, apply the brakes and then kill the engines. This feels like a remarkable checkpoint; the farthest you can travel north before having to cross a major body of water. The peace and quiet we’re subject to highlights the feeling of accomplishment and provides us with time to soak up our current environment.
Earlier this morning, Dan and Dave made mention of a 10 kilometre unsealed dash, that they said was “quite rough and corrugated”, where afterwards the road is sealed all the way into Injinoo. In actual fact, we’re subject to 30 kilometres of washed-out, chopped up bauxite and then a very pleasant 10 kilometres of the most perfect black-top in the world – riding in the rain – before we reach the town of Injinoo. It’s so perfect I could kiss it! Especially after days of back-to-back concentration watching for sandpits, bulldust, gravel patches, ruts and wash-outs. Until this very moment, I’d forgotten just how good it is to ride a motorcycle unhindered by such extreme levels of focus: it’s pure bliss!
We ride through Injinoo – a tiny self-sufficient Aboriginal community situated just back from the north-western coast of the Cape York Peninsular – and continue through Umagico and on to the town of Bamaga. Unlike any other township or community we’ve visited so far, Bamaga has been established by Islanders. After World War II the people of Saibai Island in Torres Strait migrated to this land as abnormally high tides devastated their beautiful tropical island. Also, unlike any other township or community we’ve visited so far, we roll into town on our massively overloaded motorbikes and are absolutely stunned to see wild brumbies roaming free throughout the streets of town! Without a care in the world, they seem to be just another aspect that makes up this community, wandering around unnoticed by the local folk; like a pigeon to you or me.
The dusty, gutter-less streets lined with rich red soil and vibrant green grass are so very unfamiliar to me within the boundaries of Australian soil. It feels as though I’ve travelled to an entirely different country altogether! Our entrance is acknowledged with energetic waves and ear-to-ear grins radiating from the beautifully dark-skinned locals. Everyone looks happy, healthy and alive, and why wouldn’t you living here! I take note of a bakery, a pub, a grocery store and a post office as we make our way through town and continue on to the coastal town of Seisia.
As I ride through Seisia I’m overcome by a strong sense of nostalgia, which washes over me and leaves me speechless for a moment in time. Memories of a recent trip to Samoa come flooding back because, in many ways, Seisia is undeniably similar terms of colours, smells and the structures built upon its land – albeit a little more developed and with a bizarre twist of Australian outback thrown in the mix. There are old churches tucked in amongst the towering coconut trees, sitting proud over a white sandy surface littered with dried palm leaves, which dissolves into an ocean of intense, swirling light blues that take your breath away. “Am I really still in Australia?” I say out loud as I pinch myself.
We watch as an array of sailing boats, of varied size and shape, bob ever so slightly atop the faint ocean swell; moving in perfect harmony with one another. Inevitably by this time of afternoon, the dark and troublesome storm clouds are rolling in from the north, though they’re unable to cast their gloomy blanket over the land as the sun shines and fights back; lighting up the rusty-coloured, soil-infused sand in an impressive display of tropical wonder. This image is seared into my memory forevermore.
We waste no time in booking an open oceanfront shack for the night, unloading the motorbikes and then heading back towards Bamaga in-search of some lunch. It is a true and simple joy to ride The DR without its top-heavy bags strapped on, and this is the first time I’ve done so on the smaller countershaft sprocket. To say I’ve got more torque at my disposal is a gross understatement. The first time I open the throttle wide-open is in second gear as we head out of Seisia, and I very-nearly end up on the tarmac as the motorbike does its best to tear my arms clean from my torso; performing another accidental wheelie, as they’ve so lovingly become known. I feel Rah’s grip tighten and then pinch as we bounce off the rev-limiter briefly before I get a chance to grab third gear.
Upon reaching Bamaga we try our luck at the pub first, and then the bakery second as we find the pub only serves lunch Wednesday to Sunday. Rah and I make short-work of a chicken and salad wrap, a huge slice of hedgehog cake, and a large chocolate milk. Such luxury. No tuna as far as the eye can see!
We head back out to Seisia via the grocery store and park the motorbikes up for the day before taking a look around. The three of us and a young couple with their daughters have the entire beachfront to ourselves: one apparent perk of travelling during the tail-end of the peak season. We get chatting to the lovely couple who happen to be from Weipa. The guy actually works for Brendan, and becomes a little quiet as he finds out he is Brogs’ cousin. Maybe he took time off work for reasons other than to sit on a beautiful beach and watch the clouds pass-by whilst sipping ice-cold beer?
Whilst deep down I know that we shouldn’t, Rah and I strip-off and go for an extremely quick dip in the irresistibly tantalising tropical ocean; taking turns submerging ourselves in the extremely salty knee deep water, whilst the other is on croc-watch.
Rah and Brogs go for a walk along the beach while I opt for music and my book. Eventually I get around to preparing dinner – utilising access to fresh (well, fresher than we’ve seen for a while) produce whilst we’re in a town – and cook up a big green vegetable curry, which seems to meld perfectly with our location for the night.
We eat the spicy curry and watch as the moon rises up from the horizon, casting sleepy shimmering light over the perfectly still water until it is high in the sky. Today has been a very good day.