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I'm doing a trip around the country, and looking to go Cairns-Katherine/Darwin-Broome using the Savannah Way. I've heard that road is dirt, and is usually a rutted out piece of crap, especially just after the wet season. Has anyone done this road recently?
Bikes are Surly disc truckers, with front & rear panniers.
Oh, the ride is for Angel Flight and Neuroscience Research Australia. Website is carecycleoz.com. We're aiming to raise at least $50,000 for each.
no i haven't cycled this road but I used to work in normanton and I know you are right about the road between normanton and borroloola - lots of fun and games to be had out there i imagine. the road between normanton and cairns is sealed all the way. i'm assuming you would be going well into the dry season as i think it would be a very horrible trip just after the wet, or anytime near the wet - you could potentially get cut off for a while at any point along that way.
i'd love to know how it goes on your surlys... i have just bought one and am yet to tour on it but it would be good to see how it fares on a road like that.
Yeah, should be leaving Cairns some time in early to mid June. I've got a few different routes planned out to get to Katherine, but I have no idea on the roads - no where online does it say whether or not highway x is sealed. A little annoying.
I'm hoping that the Surly's go well. I got them based purly off of the reviews I'd read online, saying that they're near on bulletproof. Had a quick ride of it after I picked it up - only about 10k - and it was pretty comfy. The only thing is the bar-end shifters take a bit of getting used to, and aren't very convenient. You do feel a little bit like a sir using them, though, but I'm considering changing them out. The disc brakes are very good (I was a little worried, heard and experienced bad things with cheap cable discs), and extremely easy to adjust. Enough about the bike, more on the route.
Plan B if the Savannah Way is closed to us is to go to Mt Isa, going through the tablelands to Hughenden, using the Kennedy Developmental Road. Most likely not sealed at all, but further inland so, in theory, shouldn't be as wet. Other than that it's heading back the way we came to Townsville and out to Mt Isa that way.
You can get from Cairns to Cammoweal on bitumen if you wish. You can also do it pretty much all on dirt too if you prefer. There is a dirt road from Mareeba to Normanton that's 500-600km with not much civilisation around. From Normanton, you can swing SW and go via the Burke and Wills roadhouse on bitumen and then head down to the Mt Isa highway. If you want to go closer up to the gulf, it's all dirt. We were up there in the 4wd last Sept/Oct and it's dirt north of the Mt Isa - Cammoweal highway in and around Lawn Hill and Doomadgee etc. The road between Burketown and Normanton is all dirt too. Beautiful countryside. Lawn Hill is well worth a look, but if you like civilisation I'd suggest staying at Adele's Grove rather than the National Park.
Good luck! That's an epic ride.
Litespeed Tuscany Ti & Trek 8000 rigid MTB
As far as I know, you can travel most of the Savannah way on sealed roads. I recently drove the bit between Lawn Hill NP and Borroloola. It was gravel (apart from a bit of bitumen around Doomadgee), but in great condition mostly. There were some ruts of course, and probably a few sandyish bits, but I can certainly think of worse roads to ride down.
We met someone walking that bit of road. She was swiss, and had a special lightweight barrow kind of thing. It's about 300kms or so between Doomadgee and Borroloola, and she was planning to walk it in about two weeks I think. She was loving it.
There are quite a few water crossings with short, steep ups and downs. This bit of road is pretty close to the coast, so it's wise to be wary of crocodiles. They're unlikely in most places, but I'd swim in the shallows of a rapid rather than some deep dark hole (and I did).
I'd consider taking the Buchanan Hwy to Top Springs, then the Buntine Hwy to the Duncan Hwy though. If you go right on the Duncan Hwy you end up skirting around Lake Argyle and pop out not far from Kununurra. If you go left, you roller coaster along to Halls Creek. Marella Gorge is well worth a stop before hitting the Duncan Hwy. If it was me, I'd head right up to Kununurra, because the road between Kununurra and Halls Creek is very pretty. Actually, are you considering the Gibb River Rd? If you are, you'd have to go through Kununurra. You can join the Buntine from the Victoria Hwy too, if you decide to go through Katherine.
The Buchanan and Buntine Hwys are mostly single lane bitumen and a bit of gravel. The Duncan is all gravel, sometimes pretty rough. It's all bloody remote too. The riding wouldn't be too tough though I reckon; it's pretty flat. This route would avoid the heavily trafficed Victoria Hwy between Katherine and Kununurra. Some of that road is pretty spectacular, but there are plenty of trucks and grey nomads.
Have a look at this journal. The author is a member here, so you could probably PM him for some tips. And check out his [url]website[/url].
The map on the header of this web-site should give you some guidance. There is a detailed, zoomable map here. There are also some relatively recent blog entries of this couple's cycle-tour along the Savannah Way from Cairns to Katherine.
I take it your Surly is 700C. I'd be fitting tyres of 40mm, or bigger if they're available and can fit in the frame.
Riding bikes in traffic - what seems dangerous is usually safe; what seems safe is often more dangerous.
OK. With 26" I can recommend strongly the Schwalbe Marathon Mondial if you are going off sealed roads. Get them in the 2.3" width if it fits your frame (should be fine in the Surly LHT), and you'll be much happier in any bull dust or sandy sections. You can run them as low as 25-30psi for the softer surfaces.
Do not run regular MTB knobby tyres as they are really crap for wear and puncture protection.
Good to see that IP has linked the Savannah Way website. This site will give you accurate road details in so much as whether sealed or not.
Mareeba to Almaden is sealed. Almaden to Chillage is 1/3 sealed (not consecutively) - then it's unsealed to Normanton.
Touring Mareeba to Almaden (possibly a visit to Chillagoe) is certainly worth considering. But rather than head over to Normanton, you could take the 'back road' to Mt Surprise - this is signed as the ALT Savannah Way. Interesting countryside and a ride I plan to do some time (have driven it plenty of times). While we're talking detours, after Mt Surprise, you can take the back road to Einasleigh, then Forsayth, rejoining the Gulf Development Rd at Georgetown. Mt Surprise turn off - Einasleigh is not sealed, Einasleigh to Georgetown is about 30% sealed in sections. The run down the back of the Newcastle range to Forsayth is sealed and a great ride - watch for wallabies and cattle. If touring via Forsayth a detour via Cobbold Gorge is also recommended.
Cairns to Forsayth, via Mareeba, Almaden, Mt Surprise and Einasleigh, is still served by the weekly 'Savannahlander' passenger train. I'll declare my interest here as I am involved in the operation of this service. We occasionally take touring cyclists out on the train, or transport them between locations. You could be transported between any intermediate location, and we can even drop you off in the middle of the sticks near a convenient road. For example, Wirra Wirra to Forsayth takes the train a bit over an hour - you could ride down the hill in half that time.
I've done half of this, Cairns to Doomadgee, (almost, I turned off for Lawn Hill), and it's a pretty good ride. Not many places in Oz where it's so flat, but best to be heading west to take advantage of the prevailing winds.
I pedalled out from Mareeba to Karumba via Chillagoe, a great dirt road, one of the best I travelled on and not so much traffic. The countryside around Chillagoe has to some of the most whacky in Oz with big limestone formations. Unfortunately no supplies at all for 500k but no sweat to carry it from Mareeba due to the flat conditions. There's some flowing rivers to get water, Lyon etc. I really enjoyed the riding as much as anywhere I went in Oz, easy as, just have to think about the water situation.
The section between Normanton and the Leichardt Falls is not so great, ie, bumpy in places but always rideable.
I met a couple of guys riding by themselves through from Katherine and they each said the road was better than they thought it would be. Seems there were plenty of cyclists out there in the dirt last year, we all loved it. Apart from the prawns in Karumba the countryside is pretty nice to ride through. Can't say I enjoyed my short stretch on the Mt Isa Camoweal road much, big highway could have been anywhere, what's the interest there, lot of truck traffic and tourists.
OK Wow, that's pretty cool. I got a bit disheartened when a friend of mine in Cairns said that it was probably a bad idea, because of bad roads. But everything that you guys have shown me has changed my mind. Hopefully we leave Cairns early June so we miss the wet and are able to take this road. Also about 600-700km shorter than the highway...
Gratuitous photo and site plug
Tyres are Continental comfort max (or something like that.... standard tyres the trucker comes with, anyway) and I probably won't change them until they wear out. Not that I'm ignoring advice, just that budget is fairly tight.
Just noticed your Ortlieb Roller panniers in that photo and how you have them clipped closed. I've just become aware that some people are not necessarily fully aware of how to close them for a waterproof closure. This shows how to do it:
The Bourke Developmental Road was the one I was thinking of. It goes through Chillagoe then sweeps in a big arc to the north around Staaten River NP, then Dunbar and Vanrook. I'd heard it was all dirt, but I didn't go that way as I didn't have jerries or long range tanks in my fourby.
I'd love to go back up there and spend more time exploring that area.
Litespeed Tuscany Ti & Trek 8000 rigid MTB
Friends of mine rode around Australia for their honeymoon. They took a route out to Burketown and along the Gulf. However they rode north to Port Douglas, the new road through to Cooktown, then north along the Battle Camp Rd and west to Laura. After that they rode along the Palmer River Rd and joined he Burke Development Road to ride through Staaten River and in to Burketown.
Epic riding, especially if you saw the rainforest, the river crossings and the bull-dust in their photos
This blog posting gives some detailed description of the route (from a few years ago now). A different couple - Tim & Cindie Travers from USA.
Photos shown here (Georgetown to Burketown), here (Burketown to Wallogorang), and here (Wallogorang to Borroloola).
according to a friend who is a surly enthusiast, they have bar end shifters because there is less cabling around the handlebars, that when touring you tend to change gears less often so it becomes a non issue and they are apparently a lot easier to fix if needs be. not having fixed any kind of gear cables i wouldn't know, but i wonder if there are any other reasons for bar end shifters?
i found i got used to them pretty quickly and they don't bother me at all.
In July-August, 2006 I did my first tour in Australia by bicycle. Cairns to Darwin. The section from Doomadgee to Booroloola is tuff as are stretches of the Nathan River Road. But the Lost Cities and Butterfly Springs make up for it.
I used a heavy touring bike with 26" 48-spoke wheels and Schwalbe Marathons. I also had a Bob Ibex trailer... Hauled too much stuff, but never was lacking.
I used a Hennessy Hammock and a white gas (Primus-type) stove. Eggs were fine for at least a week - just like on my Grandma's farm before refrigerators...
Ummm that sounds like a very good thing to do sometime soonish.
What day of the week does the train leave Cairns ?
If you are interested in taking trains I suggest taking the Gulflander from Croyden to Normantown. An excellent trip, but that means no bicycling that stretch. Search the Queensland Rail website for schedules and prices... My memory does not bother with such details.
The train heads out of Cairns on Wednesday, taking four days (three nights) to do the trip. The over night stops are at Almaden, Forsayth and Mt Surprise. You could google Savannahlander to find a stack of info on the Website.
Thing about the Gulflander is that it pretty much just parallels the adjacent Gulf Development road for 160 odd Km. The Savannahlander crosses six ranges on it's first day then cuts across from the vicinity of the Bourke development road, briefly crosses paths with the Gulf Development Rd, and deposits you smack in the middle of the Etheridge Shire. There is a standard tour package that uses both trains, but for a touring cyclist there is enough time use both services. The Gulflander Departs Normanton for Croydon on Wednesday and arrives around 12.30 that after noon. You then need to cycle the 189 km over to Forsayth by 8.30 am Friday for the Departing Savannahlander Service - quite doable. All you got to do is get to Normanton. (Cycle from Mt Isa or Cloncurry? - they still have surviving passenger services too)
Crikey!! It's not a cheap fare
One way fares are reasonable, for instance Kuranda to Mt Surprise is less than 130 dollars.
It is more than just a seat on a train !
Quite an experience
There are a number of factors that contribute the pricing that I won't go into here. Unless you're looking at the fare only table, many of the package prices include accommodation, tours, meals and transfers. However, if you were to look at using the train to transfer you across certain sections, then it starts getting a little more reasonable, say Almaden to Mt Surprise, or Mt Surprise to Forsayth etc...
...Also, it is not entirely beyond the realms of possibility that an ACF touring cyclist is favourably considered when requesting a 'trade' discount.
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