Monday, January 14, 2013

A short Sunday morning ride

This morning I had some time off just to cruise!

Where to go? Well I have to admit I'm in no shape to go peddling around to Mandorah or to do any heroic jaunts south of Humpty Doo. Considering my current, pathetic physical condition I can only imagine a very short, very local ride. (I've been working on a hedonistic theory for reducing my itchy feet. The theory is that if I stay up late playing computer games and watching movies I will be suitably sedated so as not to pace the house resenting domesticity... The down side is my body and mind have atrophied to a state similar what a lobotomized sea slug might look like... I'm working on a new theory... )

If you like cycling Darwin is a great place to live. OK there's only one road out of town but around town there are plenty of cycle paths and parkways where cycling is easy and very pleasant. I decide to make a loop around the Casuarina Coastal Reserve and then continue on to Rapid Creek Market for some paw-paw salad and black sticky rice. mmmmm yum!

Since the brain isn't capable of inventing anything interesting to read I thought I'd just tell you about my ride.

The beginning of the ride was a bit emotional for me. I had to cycle past a place that used to be a very healthy woodland habitat and a favorite spot for large flocks of Red Tailed Cockatoos. The pocket of bush between Leanyer and the Lee Point Caravan park on Lee Point Rd was the source of inspiration for an artist friend of mine who lived across the road from there for years. We both used to admire the health of the woodlands and the variety of species it supported, then one day the buldozers moved in and the whole lot was gone in a matter of days! I called him not long after and could hear the Black Cockatoos calling desperately in a tone neither of us have ever heard before! It was quite unnerving to hear, those birds were obviously distressed and so were we!
What was will soon be forgotten by many who used to drive past that special pocket of bush and never known by the new home owners who come to fill the newly created estate of Muirhead!

Muirhead Estate. Wildlife exterminated! Woodlands no more!

 I soon passed Darwin's latest obnoxious development and was rolling down the trail to more familiar ground. The Casuarina Coastal Reserve Stringybark Walk. (Not officially a cycle path but for cyclists this track is irresistible). The blue bike I rode today was a freebie! I rescued it from a skip on a building site. When I found it the rear wheel and cogs were worn out, the chain rusted stiff and all the cables seized up. After just a couple of hours of free time and a bunch of horded spare bits I had it on the road and rolling beautifully. I've finally learned my lessons about chain sizes and gears etc.. I managed to find a matching set of cogs and chain to suit the bikes gear shifter and it worked very nicely.

Beginning of the Stringybark Track

The Stringybark track to Lee Point has been graded and quite wide for a walking path, its like cycling on a well packed dirt road. The upper woodland section is quite flat and winds a short distance through some typical woodland habitat with occasional views of the sea. A lot of the washed out drainage lines have been re-vegetated and closed to destructive cyclist traffic.

Not too far along the way the track splits and walkers are offered a choice of continuing to Lee Point or taking the Monsoon Vine Forest track back to Casuarina beach. If you ever visit Darwin I recommend walking (or cycling respectfully) along this track. It is the most beautiful track in Darwin! All paths head toward the sea. If you follow the official path it's a fairly gentle slope... If you're a ratbag and chose to take one of the washed out informal paths it can be quite steep and slippery. Radical cyclists seem to prefer the second (non)option.
As the track tapers off at sea level we pass an old WWII bunker, there used to be heaps of these all along the coast around Darwin, I think there are three in tact within the coastal reserve. WWII relics are still being found from time to time, including unexploded ordinance dropped by Japanese planes. This bunker is located near a freshwater washout very close to the water's edge. On a high tide the sea gets pretty close. The trees in the background are Casuarina trees, these are native to the area but were planted to help stabilize the dunes after sand mining in the 1960s decimated the natural dunes. Casuarina's are a favorite food of Red-tailed Black Cockatoos.

After passing through the Casuarina forest, which is a bit like being in a Radiata pine forest with pine needles lining the forest floor and the whistling in the canopy when the wind blows, the track goes up hill a bit and into a very different and not so common habitat, Monsoon Vine Forest. It's always a bit cooler in here, greener, quieter and darker than the open Woodland and a huge contrast from the Casuarina forest which literally buts up against it. Monsoon Vine forests are remnant forests and as close as we get to a tropical jungle. The wildlife that lives in this habitat is very specific. Before the well watered urban gardens of Darwin suburbs evolved, Monsoon Vine Forests were the only place you would have found the Orange-footed scrub fowl. Despite my dislike for urban sprawl I have to admit the suburbs of Darwin have actually created a sanctuary for many species such as the scrub fowl, frilled lizards and once upon a time Yellow spotted monitors. Several species are probably more numerous within the city than they are in their natural habitat. On this part of the trail you can usually see a Rainbow Pitta or two and Rose Crowned Fruit Doves. The Rainbow Pittas are hard to spot from a bike, usually you'll hear them kicking the leaves around before you see them if you're walking quietly. This time I did see a Fruit Dove, (sorry no photos worth showing).

Sandy Creek mangrove

The Monsoon Vine Forest path is fairly flat but gradually winds it's way back toward the beach. Before emerging at the Darwin Free Beach (nudist beach) there's a really nice footbridge over the upper part of Sandy Creek. Now we're in the mangroves and a very different environment. On the dirt tracks before entering the mangroves are small piles of shells and ashes. A lot of aboriginal people who live in Darwin take advantage of the rich stocks of bush tucker that can be found so close to town. Shelfish are a luxury that many people can't do without. I think that for saltwater people, to live in the city and not be able to eat their favorite foods would be far too much to bear. The number of delicacies they can find in a tiny patch of mangrove is amazing. Gathering shelfish is the work of the ladies and kids. Maybe I could blog a hunting trip next time. A dhunga Balanda like me gets in the way out in the mangroves and can be more trouble than we're worth, even when hunting with kids.

Finally we're back at the beach. The Free Beach is pretty big and there's plenty of privacy for those odd sandal and socks wearing naturists.

Wide open vistas at Casuarina Beach. It's lovely. The sand is packed hard after some overnight rain and fairly easy to cycle on.

Bee Eater

Headed back past the open paddock beside the Rapid Creek I saw heaps of birds. One favorite along this stretch are the Rainbow Bee Eaters that perch on an old wire fence. Waiting for passers by to scare up some easy tucker.


Plumed Whistling Ducks - Foreground, Corella's - Background

Magpie Geese

Rapid Creek market
A quiet moment at Rapid Creek Market

Pretty soon I've crossed the Rapid Creek Bridge and I'm at the Rapid Creek markets. This is the best place in Darwin to find Asian vegetables (I'm not too sure about the chemical content of produce you'll find here). I came here especially for some paw-paw salad and black sticky rice. I grab the desert first and an extra sweet rice and casava wrapped in banana leaf and savor every mouthful. Something happened to me when I was in Indonesia years ago and I've craved this stuff ever since! Unfortunately I didn't get my paw-paw salad. I was given a free sample of some sickly sweet icy desert and felt obliged to spend my money on that instead! What a sucker!

Monsoon Nightcliff
Low tide on Nightcliff foreshore looking at a cloud

Headed home I rode back along the Nightcliff foreshore and got to see the approaching clouds of the monsoon just before the rain hit and everything became engulfed by the drenching tropical rain we've been waiting for. I cycled home in the rain feeling happy and contented and determined to change my program and go back to using early morning rides as a means of sedating my restless spirit or at least temporarily satisfying the nagging wanderlust that dominates my soul!
It's been raining fairly steadily ever since and the smell of the rain is divine!

Red-tailed Black Cockatoo in the Casuarina

Actually I forgot to mention the smells. Every part of this journey contained it's on particular smells. Riding past the housing estate I sensed dust and oil and an unholy lack of life.
The woodlands had a combination of fresh new wet leaves, sweet oxygen and just a touch of fowers.
The Casuarina forest smelt like the sea and the resin of half chewed casuarina nuts.
Monsoon Vine Forest smelt damp and heavy but fresh
Mangrove was a heady slightly fermented smell like warm beer
The smells at Rapid Creek market are like a free trip back to South East Asia! Spices, fruit even the occasional smell of clove cigarettes if you're really lucky. I love the food here but I have to admit sometimes even the scent is enough. Sometimes when I'm squeezing through the tightly packed walkways the smells convince me that I am somewhere else entirely.

A sweeter life I have never know. Peace.

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