Confessions from an Australian Cycling Escort

Cyclists taking a break on the Warrumbungles and Pilliga cycle | Shawn Flannery
Cyclists taking a break on the Warrumbungles and Pilliga cycle | Shawn Flannery

Confessions from an Australian Cycling Escort

We need to admit - the title does make this article seem a little more saucier than it is! The leader of our supported cycling tours, Shawn Flannery, has worked in the Northern Territory and cycled around the world. One of the tours he escorts is the Top End Kakadu Cycle. He shares his insights on cycling in Australia, must-do's in the Northern Territory, and answers very important questions, like where to find the freshest barramundi in Darwin. 
Cycling group along the Central West Trail |  <i>Shawn Flannery</i>
How did your passion for cycling start?

I began riding to school every day, which was some 15km away. This was when cycling was regarded as fairly uncool by my friends, who were just starting to get their licences and cars, and mates would often scratch their head and ask: 'why ride when there is a perfectly good bus?'.
Where is your favourite cycling trip in Australia? Have you ever cycled internationally?

Once again favourites are hard to pick, but it is tough to beat the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail. This is not just because of the excellent riding experience but also the passion of those who have seen a concept develop into a major asset for both cyclists and non-cyclists. 
Internationally, I did my first rail trail in BC Canada along the Kettle Valley Rail Trail and this was probably when I first got excited about cycle tourism. I’ve also done a bit of cycling in Nicaragua, Guatemala, Kenya and Bali.
Cycling the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail |  <i>Tourism and Events Queensland</i>
How did you end up leading cycling tours in the Northern Territory?

I first went to the NT for a guiding job. Having never been to the Top End before, I without too many expectations other than knowing it can be hot and the ‘Territory’ breeds some colourful characters. Oh, and there are huge crocs up there as well! 
I wound up travelling up there over five seasons and loved the whole NT experience.
Cycling among the gum trees in the Northern Territory. |  <i>Travis Deane</i>

What do you like most about the Northern Territory?

Probably because it is hot year-round, which means that a real outdoor culture is able to thrive. There's a popular outdoor cinema, the Mindel Night Markets, and the Darwin Festival in August - all of this operates when most of Australia is under the doona. There is a feeling of an endless summer that constantly recharges you.

Why is a supported cycle tour a good way to experience the Top End?

A cycling adventure in the NT is a great way to experience all the Top End has to offer - such as swimming holes, Indigenous rock art, and native wildlife - as well as feeding your passion for cycling. Most people who travel all the way to the north still want to see all of these major attractions and experience Kakadu and Litchfield National Parks, so to marry these two creates a great holiday experience. 
It is also possible for couples to travel on this tour if one person is not a passionate cyclist as there is still plenty to do and see as a non-cyclist.
Cycling rest stop by a waterfall in the Top End. |  <i>Travis Deane</i>

What do your clients seem to like most about the Northern Territory?

One of the highlights of the cycling tour is always the boat cruise up the East Alligator River. This is led by Indigenous guides who explain the cultural connection to the area expressed in the landforms, fauna and flora. 
Also, the rock art in the north is something to marvel at. There are ancient rock art drawings as well as scenes from more recent history, such as the ships and rifles of early European contact.
Breathtaking swimming holes abound in Kakadu National Park |  <i>Peter Walton</i>

What are some of the interesting local foods of the Northern Territory?

Top of the list is the Kakadu Plum, the Red Bush Apple and a myriad of plants used for both food and medicine.

What’s your favourite place on the Top End Kakadu Supported Cycle tour?

It is hard to give a favourite. Sitting on a boat on the East Alligator River listening to Indigenous stories is hard to beat, as is escaping the heat in one of the numerous rock pools in the Litchfield National Park.
Darwin has a real charm and was totally different from my expectation of a rough and fairly unruly frontier town, when in fact it is a gem with lovely botanical gardens, leafy suburbs and a thriving creative community. 
Kakadu Sunset cruise |  <i>Kate Baker</i>

Where is your favourite area to cycle in the Northern Territory?

Most of the Top End is fairly flat so it is fairly easy cycling wherever you go. 

For me, cycling north from Jabiru towards Ubirr and East Alligator River and through the Magela Floodplains is probably my highlight. Here the views of the Kakadu escarpment to the east are superb and reveal the geographical history of the area. This region was once covered by ancient oceans but it's now a flat landscape caused by falling sea levels and the erosion of ancient mountains.
Be a Responsible Traveller |  <i>Kakadu by Peter Walton</i>

Do you have a favourite coffee shop in the Northern Territory?

No hesitation, the Cornucopia Café at the Darwin Museum. The food and coffee are good, but the view over Darwin Harbour is amazing and no visit to Darwin would be complete without a trip out here.

Can you share some local knowledge with us?

You can’t beat heading down to the fish markets in Darwin and trying some of the seafood. My favourite is the barramundi and chips with the fish fresh caught within hours of being on your plate. 
Check out Stokes Hill Wharf, which has great alfresco dining right on the harbour with great views of the CBD. 
Finally, if you want to tuck in for a huge feed of fresh seafood and a full buffet, head to Cullen Bay and Seafood for a great value meal.
Become immersed in charming Australian landscapes.

Do you have any advice for a first time cyclist? What’s your best cycling advice?

Like everything, know your limits and don’t push yourself, everyone has different limits and abilities, know yours. 
Plus, it's always a good idea to get some cycling in before your tour so you are a little primed for your adventure.


Do you have any cycling advice to share, or travel tips about the Northern Territory? Let us know in the comment section below.


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