Monday, 29 July 2013

Broome to Perth

Saying goodbye to Cable Beach, Broome.
Once we had made the decision to ride straight home after our Broome stopover, we both started to look forward to four days on the road.

On the first day we had a wonderful outback ride to Port Hedland. The wind was behind us and Devil’s fuel consumption was down to a mere 3.6lt/100km. South of Port Hedland we took the inland route and the scenery all the way to Newman was nothing short of spectacular. We pitched the little tent at Kumarina Roadhouse and enjoyed sharing stories with the dudes that escort the wide loads on this section of the Great Northern Highway. With the falling temperatures, our cold meat and salad didn’t seem very appetising so Steve cooked up a storm on our little camp stove so we had something warm in our bellies.



Great Northern Highway, near Port Hedland.
The following day we trundled southward some more, through the desert country and the townships of Meekatharra and Mt Magnet. It’s hard to see that anything could live out here but we still had to keep an eye out for the cattle on the side of the road. The comforting tail wind had been replaced by a strong south westerly headwind and the turbulence, at the rear of the trucks, made us hang on tight when we passed each northbound road train. The heated grips were on all day and by the time we pitched the tent at Paynes Find Roadhouse the sky was completely overcast and we had to deploy all the guy ropes to prevent the tent collapsing in the 60km/hour wind. Further south, some of the wide loads had to delay their departure because of the 100km/hour wind gusts. We picked a good night to dine in the roadhouse tavern and I devoured a delicious plate full of lamb chops, mash, and veggies, swilled down with a glass of sauvignon blanc. I love staying at outback roadhouses. At around sunset, when the road trains drivers stop for dinner, I get the opportunity to gaze upon the awesome splendour of the trucks.

Of course it’s not over until the fat lady sings. When we crawled out of our tent at 5:30am on the last day, the air was filled with a fine mist. Daybreak revealed that Paynes Find was clouded in a thick winter fog. We both went quiet as we packed up the little tent for the last time and by 7am we were ready for the road. Steve took the lead. 80km/hr was the fastest we dared to go in the poor visibility. Several road trains caught us up as they had less to lose by driving at 100km/hr. When they appeared in my rear view mirror I put on my hazard lights until I was sure they had seen me. Steve was riding four seconds in front but I couldn’t see him. We rode on, but without a breath of wind the fog wasn’t lifting. Instead of being able to muse over the wonders of our six month ride around Australia, we had to endure our most difficult and dangerous 100km of the entire trip. At one point I shook my fist in the air and called out something that was unrepeatable. Every time we passed a lay-by, and Steve didn’t stop, I called out something else. After an hour it seemed like we would be riding in fog for the rest of our lives. Then about 30km outside Wubin, the fog cleared and before us lay the most beautiful green pastures I had ever seen. The sun shone and the fog was soon forgotten and we had a wonderful winter ride all the way home to Safety Bay. As we rode the last 50km towards home I didn’t feel elation for our home coming or commiseration for the life we were about to leave behind. It was just time to come home.

Only 1,000km to home.




Sunday, 21 July 2013

Kununurra to Broome

Koolama resting in Wyndham Harbour.
We made Kununurra our base for our East Kimberley tour and we settled in on the dusty powered site allocated to us. The outback town of Wyndham will always hold a special place in my heart, as the old harbour is the resting place for the state ship Koolama. I was so taken when I learnt about Koolama’s last voyage, I wrote a song about her for my “Songs in the Key of Sea” album. As I looked out to sea from the five rivers lookout I noticed myself singing “Koolama, Koolama, how are you? I’m resting in old Wyndham harbour.”

Zebedee Springs.
We were sucked in by all the hype and we took Dwarf (R1200GS) for a run out to Zebedee Springs. Zebedee is part of the El Questro Wilderness Park but it’s a wilderness that is found by hundreds of people every day. As you enter the car park a signpost reads “If the carpark is full, so too are the springs. Please visit another time.” We were lucky to arrive just as group of people were leaving the top pool. Steve and I took ownership of the tiny hot tub but that didn’t deter a family of five joining us for a bath. The pressure on this thermal spring has to be seen to be believed. The general public must vacate the springs by midday, then the tour busses move in; wilderness? I don’t think so. Emma Gorge was more able to absorb the numbers and we enjoyed a walk and a swim in the natural pool at the top of the gorge.

Red Dwarf.
The ride from Kununurra to Halls Creek is nothing short of spectacular. The Kimberley landscape, with towering hills and escarpments in every direction, is impenetrable and I felt the environment seemed more hostile than the Nullarbor. At Warmun roadhouse I spoke to one of the locals and we both agreed that it was the rocky hills and valleys that made it seem this way. When the terrain returned to open plain it seemed “safer” in my mind’s eye.

The roadhouse at Halls Creek was full to the brim when we pulled in for fuel at midday. Amongst the hustle to complete the refuelling as quickly as possible, Steve pumped 12 litres of diesel into the R1200GS. Steve realised when he tried to put the slightly larger diesel nozzle into Devil’s (F650GS) intake and Devil said “no.” The air was blue for a while but luckily Steve hadn’t started the big GS and she looked like a beached whale, tucked away in the corner of the roadhouse car park, while we figured out what to do. We got the RAC involved, as the roadhouse had no means of siphoning and then disposing of the contaminated fuel. A quick call to our BMW dealer in Perth confirmed that our strategy of siphoning the fuel out of the tank, then half filling the tank and siphoning again should work out just fine. Some of the local kids were fascinated by the bikes and they wanted to know “how much?” while they stroked the BMW badge on Devil’s tank. When I said “hey guys, just look, please don’t touch,” they did what they were told. Under the stress of the moment Steve and I started snapping at each other and I noticed an old Aboriginal man looking sad and concerned as he watched what was going on. All is well that ends well and the big GS ran as sweet as a nut on that lick of diesel.

Geikie Gorge, Fitzroy Crossing.

We spent the night in the caravan park at Halls Creek and when we walked into town for a bite to eat we found the best biltong ever at the local butcher. The chef at Russian Jacks cooked us a great pizza and the waitress told us to help ourselves to a complementary bowl of salad; when we went to bed that night we were all smiles again.

Fitzroy Crossing was another wonderful outback surprise. When we last passed this way, way back in 1985, Halls Creek and Fitzroy Crossing were places to avoid. These days you can pitch your tent on a patch of grass, and at Fitzroy River Lodge you also get the use of the resort pool; excellent value.

The scenery on the ride from Fitzroy Crossing to Broome is less dramatic as the Kimberley landscape gives way to the red dusty plains that are reminiscent of the Pilbara. There are plenty of stray cattle on the side of the road but you begin to feel a little more street wise, after thousands of outback miles, and you start to make judgements on what the cattle are likely to do. I slowed down for one lone beast that was facing the road and sure enough he galloped to the other side just meters in front of me.

Sunset at Cable Beach.
When we arrived in Broome we checked into the Palm Grove Caravan Park only to find that the camp site they had allocated to us was in “tent city,” an area full of backpackers working for a living. We stood there for a while looking at the dust bowl with no shade while one of the friendly dudes explained that they party pretty hard and he had been evicted from Cable Beach Caravan Park not long ago. After listening to this we did something we had never done before. I went straight back to the office and asked for our $220 back. Our rent was refunded without a question and now we are happily camped at Cable Beach.

We will hang out in Broome for a while, soaking up the last of the warm weather before riding home to Perth.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Darwin to Western Australia

Wangi Falls.
As we rode south, away from Darwin, I felt myself bunker down in the saddle, happy to be riding again. I could have ridden all day long and I didn’t really feel like visiting Litchfield National Park which was only an hour and a half down the road. Still we have come so far, and who knows if we will ever pass this way again, so I forced Devil (F650GS) to turn right and enjoy the run through the park to Wangi Falls. The road into the park twists and turns and tightens up, and is challenging for those who don’t wish to obey the 80km/hr speed limit. On one bend, a menacing tin top was half way into my lane before his forgiving front wheel drive vehicle brought him back onto his side of the road.

We found a good camp site at Wangi Falls and the $13.20 per night National Park camping fees made a welcome change to the $40 we paid in Darwin. The swimming hole at Wangi is dramatic beyond anything I could have imagined. The beauty of the twin falls tumbling 50 meters into a natural pool surrounded by palms and pandanas trees must be seen to be believed. Even though signposts said “fresh water crocodiles inhabit this area,” I joined hundreds of Darwin day-trippers and spent hours exploring the length and breadth of the 50 meter pool.

Steve, Jose, Jane & Pilar.
At Wangi Falls we met Jose Garcia and Pilar Moreno (Aventures En Moto). Jose has completed two Dakar rallies and now he is one year into an overland tour from Spain, on an R1200GS, two-up. From my king sized camp chair, I enjoyed watching their simple setup, knowing all along that I wouldn’t enjoy long term travel without the creature comforts of our big tent and a cold beer at the end of the day.

After three days fending off mosquitoes every time I went to the toilet, I wasn’t sorry to leave Litchfield. The part of Litchfield that we explored just seemed like a bunch of beautiful swimming holes and didn’t have the spiritual aspect that I found in Kakadu. Unfortunately I’d picked up an insect bite in Darwin which had formed into a ripening blister in the sweltering heat and was showing signs of infection under the skin. When the ranger did his rounds I showed him the bite and he said “Oh, are you sure that’s a mozzie or a sandfly?” The pharmacist in Katherine made a similar comment.

We spent a comfortable night in our little tent in Katherine and then we set off for Western Australia. I absolutely love these days on the road. It is a time when I am all alone, just me and my bike. My thoughts drift from admiring the stunning scenery and landscape, to things I have learnt along the way. I may recite a poem or sing a song. Sometimes I think of the folks back home and the ones who have passed on long ago. All the while I am smiling and every mile is like magic; therapy for the soul.

Only 3,500km from the border to home.
We felt like we had arrived in Western Australia about 200km before the border, when the landscape changed to what we have come to know as The Kimberley. We were quickly through the border quarantine inspection point and by 3pm we were relaxing in the infinity pool at Lake Argyle. Both the cold water and the sweeping views took our breath away; some folks spend two weeks convalescing in this spectacular man made attraction.

So here we are, back in our home state. By the clock it’s dark at 5:30pm; something we will have to get used to.

Lake Argyle.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Darwin

Oil changes and new tyres are a necessary evil when you travel long distances and we made contact with the BMW service agent, in Darwin, well in advance of our arrival on 29th June. $2300 later and Devil (F650GS Twin) and Dwarf (R1200GS) were back in our care. If everything is still working when we are 1000km down the road we’ll forgive them for making us feel like we were ripped off.

We arrived in Darwin just in time for firecracker night. This once a year event is held on Territory Day and punters take the opportunity to buy fireworks and enjoy their own firecracker show. We stayed home on the 1st July, but unfortunately our home was next door to the show grounds which were a designated “safe” zone for letting off crackers. Consequently from 5pm until midnight we were subjected to a continuous barrage of bangs, cracks and pops. The following morning, news radio reported that the fire brigade attended 200 call outs and eight people were taken to hospital with minor injuries; only in the Territory.

Sunset from Seafood on Cullen,
Cullen Bay Marina, Darwin.
Dining out in Darwin can be an inexpensive experience if you pick the right places and we made the most of our city stopover and gave the caravan park barbecue’s a rest. We fully recommend the all you can eat steak and seafood buffet at Seafood on Cullen; at $38.50 this meal represents excellent value. We gorged on salt and pepper squid, scallops, chilli mud crabs and garlic prawns.

The Darwin Sailing Club still makes visitors feel welcome and we thoroughly enjoyed sitting in the shade and looking out over the yachts anchored in Fanny Bay. Twenty years ago, when we were travelling aboard our yacht, Roma II, most of the visiting yachts anchored off the Darwin Sailing Club and the club was a hive of cruising activity. These days, Darwin boasts three marinas and the visiting yachts are spread far and wide in the Northern Territory capital; we felt a little of the cruising charm has been lost as a result.

Our week in Darwin seemed far too long, however I always take something with me from every place we visit. From Darwin I take the knowledge that white ants are not ants, they are cockroaches.

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Kakadu National Park

Yellow Water.
The road from Pine Creek to Jabiru showed a few squiggles on the map and Devil (F650GS Twin) and Dwarf (R1200GS) really enjoyed themselves. We bought our national park passes at the Mary River Roadhouse and then we were into the park. As we rode along I tried to identify the creek crossing where in 1985, when the road was still gravel, Steve and I had “walked through” first to test the depth of the water. The road is sealed now, and all the creek crossings have little bridges.

By lunch time, we were both feeling the heat and we decided to treat ourselves to lunch at Cooinda Lodge. This idea lasted until Steve saw the $28 price tag on a hamburger. After that, we parked the bikes at Yellow Water and had a cup of tea and an apple instead. It is wonderful to gaze upon the wetlands at Yellow Water and we were fortunate that the flood waters had receded and the boardwalk had just opened. Near the boat ramp, a 4.5m croc was showing off in the water. He seemed to be having fun parading his full length and strength to the punters on the cruise boats.

Nourlangie.
We picked Kakadu Lodge, in Jabiru, for our Kakadu experience and by mid afternoon we had checked in for four nights. By now we were so hot that we decided to swim first and put the tent up later. While we were cooling off in the pool, Steve counted the number of times we had put the tent up on this trip and he came up with 42.

Ubirr rock art.
The following morning we joined in our first ranger presentation at Nourlangie. Kakadu National Park employs six rangers during the dry season to provide interpretive presentations at various cultural and geological sites around the park. These presentations are free and provide an interesting way of learning about the park. Most national parks have information boards for you to read. Kakadu has these too, but to join in a ranger presentation takes the learning experience to a whole new level. The rangers bring along artefacts, like a crocodile skull and ancient Aboriginal tools and you have the opportunity to ask questions. I was really taken by the lessons on Aboriginal kinship and law. We enjoyed our day at Nourlangie so much, that during our stay in Kakadu we joined in presentations at Mamukala Wetlands, Ubirr, and a slide presentation on Estuarine Crocodiles. While we were enjoying the rock art in the main gallery at Ubirr, ranger Joel pointed out the intricate detail in the paintings. We couldn’t see this detail with our naked eyes, but through the binoculars the level of detail was amazing. Through the ranger presentations, our visit to Kakadu was transformed into an enlightening experience and has left us wanting to learn more about Aboriginal culture.
The bird observatory at Mamukala Wetlands is a bird watchers paradise. We spent hours watching the little Jacana’s walking on the water lilies. Timing is everything and if you happen to be at Cahills Crossing, the border to Arnhem Land, towards high tide, you can watch the crocodiles feeding on mullet and barramundi as the fish are swept upstream in the swirling water. From the safety of the lookout the crocodiles came so close to us that you could see the colour of their eyes. I am still amazed that they only have a brain the size of a walnut.

When we rode away from Jabiru, I peered into each little billabong and looked in wonder at the beautiful Pandanas trees. This is the first place we have visited that I didn’t want to leave. I feel a strong connection with Kakadu and I know one day I will return.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Daly Waters to Katherine

After a night partying at the Daly Waters pub we were pleased that the ride to the Mataranka Hot Springs was only a short one. With the promise of a homemade pie at the Pink Panther pub in Larrimah, we made haste to the little outback town, only to be told “it’s too early in the season and we haven’t started making pies yet.” The cafe on the highway was also closed, they had gone shopping. The folks up here call it Territory Time and it’s something you have to get used to. Smiling all the while, we joined the other travellers in the town lay-by and brewed our own cuppa.

Mataranka Hot Springs.
By lunch time we were setting up the big tent on a dusty camp site at Mataranka Homestead. When we were last at Mataranka, way back in 1985, the camp sites at this park were grassy. Now the seasons have changed and the continuous flooding has washed all the grass away. The hot spring was just as wonderful as we remembered and we lazed around in the 34°C shady pool for hours. Millions of litres of water flush through this pool every day and to swim in fresh water, without the smell of chlorine, is wonderful.

I should report, on the day we left Mataranka, the town’s roadhouse had sold out of the famous Mataranka pies by 11am and the cafe, which allegedly makes awesome fruit scones, had run out of scones and run out of flour too; Territory Time!


Jane and Arnold.
We made the town of Katherine home for a few days so we could wash and shop after over two thousand kilometres on the road. At the town markets I met Arnold Jalapala from Barlib Aboriginal Arts and Craft. I spent a long time choosing a set of Arnold’s music sticks. When I’d found my set of sticks Arnold played a tune with me on the didgeridoo. Sometimes magic moments just happen and this was one of them.

It takes a while before you realise how hot it is up here in the Top End. On the day we went walking in Nitmiluk National Park, we lazed around our campsite drinking tea and it was 10:30am before we headed off on the 8km Windolf Walk at the gorge. There are warning signs everywhere about heat stress and carrying enough water. I know when I’m beaten and I bailed out of the walk after the 4km Baruwei Loop, by now it was well over 30 degrees and we were walking in full sun. Steve took our last two litres of water and an apple and continued on to Pat’s Lookout. I waited for Steve at the visitors centre for two and a half hours before he turned up sweating and bedraggled and with not a drop of water left. After half an hour Steve still hadn’t cooled down so and he rode the 30km back to Katherine in shorts and a T-shirt.

Katherine Gorge from Pat's Lookout.
There is nothing like a swim and a few beers to wash away the cares of the day. We had learnt that we need to set out early, in the cooler hours of the day, to enjoy walking in the Top End.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Winton to Daly Waters

Luckily there was no overnight dew and we rolled up the big tent dry as we wouldn’t need it on the three day ride from Winton to Daly Waters. As we rode out of town we were surprised by a sign post telling us there was no fuel at Mckinlay (240km). Where fuel is concerned we always play by the rules and we obediently filled up at Kynuna (160km). As we rode through Mckinlay we couldn’t help notice the thriving roadhouse!

The south easterly trade wind was still assisting with our fuel consumption and Devil was purring along the Landsborough Highway consuming only 3.5 litres per hundred. Just south of Cloncurry a forest of ant hills appeared and we saw our first wedge tailed eagle since the Nullarbor Plain. I really enjoy these days out on the road. Life seems incredibly simple when all we have to do is ride, rest, and ride some more.

50m long road train dwarfs the bikes.
I remembered riding the road between Cloncurry and Mt Isa in 2010 and I was delighted to be back for a second turn. The road meanders through rocky hills and valleys and we both enjoyed leaning into one sweeping corner after another; this has got to be one of the best outback rides in the country.

By 4pm, the little tent was up in a caravan park in Mt Isa and we were kicking back in our big camp chairs, drinking beer and musing over the days ride.

Little tent at Daly Waters, where we met some other bikers.
When we are using the little tent everything, clothes bags and food boxes, stays in the bike panniers and the trailer. This keeps us tidy and minimises the work load when we are packing up and preparing for the next day’s ride.

Steve set the alarm for first light and by 8am we were queuing for fuel in the middle of town. We usually like to fill up with fuel the night before and while we waited we remembered why. Then we were on the road again. With the sun behind us we rode along as happy as can be. At lunch time we rested on the veranda at the old pub in Camooweal, while our hostess served homemade apple and rhubarb pies with delicious coffee. The Northern Territory border is only a few kilometres from Camooweal and we stopped at the border crossing, horrified at the graffiti on the welcome sign. While Steve took photographs I stood in quiet contemplation, excited about the road ahead, and at the same time, wondering when we would visit Queensland again.

Barkly Roadhouse was a welcome site when we pulled in for fuel and a camp site at the end of the day. We had the pick of the grassy sites and then made haste towards the unisex, ensuite style bathrooms. Communal ensuites simply don’t work when the campsite is busy because no one can use the toilet and shower at the same time and queues usually eventuate. Despite the ablutions, Barkly Roadhouse is a great place to rest up for the night and the tucker in the roadhouse looked excellent. I like the little sign at the front of the roadhouse which makes no apologies for the extortionate price of fuel, explaining that the roadhouse used 500 litres of diesel everyday to run the generators; point taken.

The next morning we were back on the road as soon as we felt the kangaroos were tucked up in bed. It is about 560km from Barkley to Daly Waters and we had to get on with the ride so we could be off the road by 4pm; kangaroos start becoming active around this time. The tail wind was still with us and the riding was sweet and easy. Three Ways, where the Barkly Highway meets the Stuart Highway, is a real staging post and it is only here that we felt we had arrived in the Northern Territory.

As we rode north, the south easterly wind which had been kind to us for so long, caused turbulence when we crossed paths with the south bound road trains. You don’t appreciate how many road trains are on the road until you have to make allowances for them every time you meet. As we trundled northwards the temperature started to rise, half a degree at a time, and by 2pm it was 30 degrees.

We stopped for afternoon tea in a free camping rest area. These rest areas are full of travellers and if you don’t claim your spot by early afternoon you will find there is no room at the inn. I attempted to use the pit toilet but was turned away by the swarm of flies when I lifted the seat. It amazes us how many people are prepared to spend the afternoon sitting in a lay-by when, for example, Daly Waters pub only charges $7 per person per night for an unpowered tent site which includes a hot shower and a flushing toilet.

We fuelled up on the highway before making our way to the Daly Waters pub. Our road map showed the road out to the pub was gravel. When I was paying for the fuel, just for something to say, I asked the attendant if the road was gravel and she assured me it was. No one was more surprised than me when it was bitumen all the way. I guess they spin this yarn to try and get punters to camp at the highway roadhouse instead.

Chilli and Jane at Daly waters pub.
The Daly Waters pub lived up to all the hype and that night we dined on outback steak and wild caught barramundi. We drank cheap wine in the beer garden and thoroughly enjoyed Chilli’s outback show. Chilli is the resident bush poet and balladeer and he made us laugh and cry. So here we are, chilling out in the Northern Territory and it feels good.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Emerald to Winton

The road runs west between Emerald and Longreach and we felt pleased to be heading in this direction if only to gain a little more daylight at the end of the day. We stopped for morning tea at the little town of Alpha. We chatted to an old lady who was manning the “free coffee for driver” station. Alpha is coal country and this old lady made a point of telling us that the townsfolk had nothing but praise for Gina Rinehart who made charitable donations where ever she could. As we walked away I overheard he say “I wonder how much she’s donated for the races?”

I always enjoy musing over the names of places and creek crossings that we pass along the way. Billaboo Creek worked its way into my mind and by the time we arrived at Barcaldine I’d written the first verse to an outback poem.


Barcaldine.
We sat on the pavement at Barcaldine while the girls at Ridgee Didge Cafe cooked us a good Aussie burger with fries. The cafe was on an intersection of a busy cattle road train run. We enjoyed watching the trucks pull up at the stop sign and then negotiate the right hand turn. The trucks kicked up the dust as they accelerated down the road and when our burgers arrived we had to protect them from being seasoned with something that wasn't pepper.

The Tree of Knowledge monument.
We couldn't leave Barcaldine without visiting The Tree of Knowledge. I spent a quiet moment contemplating where the founders of the Australian Labour Party held their first meeting, to negotiate better working conditions for the shearers, all those years ago.

By the time we arrived in Longreach, the landscape and the wonderful outback riding had made such an impression on me that the only way I could try to describe what I had found here was to finish the poem I started on the road to Barcaldine.




The black soil plans from a jump-up.


Jump-Up
There is a place called Poverty Plains and I know what they found there.
If you take a peek at Billaboo Creek you might find a dingo’s lair.
Cattle trains, running on lunatic soup, pass with a yaw and a sway,
The wild pigs and roos who didn’t hear them coming, took their last breath that day.
 

We called at a pub in Longreach, and there was an old bloke propped up at the bar.
I said “Are you a local around here?” He said “I’m no local by far.
There ain’t many locals in this town and there’s none in ‘ere to be found.
You only thought of as local if you got someone in the ground.”


We rolled out the swags on a jump-up and looked out over the Black Soil Plains.
They call this land Channel Country, she keeps pushing up fossilised remains.
This year the drought has taken hold, even ghost gums are struggling to breathe.
If it doesn’t rain in the next three weeks, all the sheep and cattle must leave.


The next morning we’re drinking billy tea and warming ourselves in the desert sun.
“Where to next, south or west?” “Let’s try out luck at Opalton.”
In the distance, cattle are kicking up the dust, taking part in a bangtail muster.
There’s a stockman, cracking his whip in the air, getting the beasts to do what they ought a.


The folks out west seem to smile a lot as they go about their day.
Bush poets and balladeers, they all pass this way.
As we roll up the swags and head on down another dusty track,
I know part of me will always ride free, in the outback.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Roma to Emerald

 As we tried to pull out of the caravan park in Roma, three road trains and three utes sneaked in front of us. The exhilaration of a morning ride was replaced by frustration as the road trains lumbered up the hills and the work utes, manned by drivers paid by the hour, seemed reluctant to overtake but insisted on driving close to the trucks and only a couple of car lengths from each other. Overtaking seemed like a hazardous procedure so we stayed in the queue, down to 40kph at times. Eventually, one by one, the road trains took their leave but we didn’t have the road to ourselves until we reached Injune nearly one hundred kilometres away.

We topped up with fuel and sipped a cup a soup while we enjoyed the warmth inside the visitors information centre at Injune; it was only 12 degrees outside.

From Injune we continued northwards. We had settled down by now and had fun with a few twists and turns along the way. Now and then we passed cattle grazing on the side of the road. We slowed down for each one but these old timers just looked at us as if to say “what are you slowing down for, we ain’t goin’ nowhere.”
We easily found the turning to the Carnarvon Gorge National Park. The first 25km is a narrow, sealed road. Then there’s an undulating stretch of gravel for a further 12km. We both got our boots wet on a creek crossing by making a slight misjudgement on the depth of the water. There were many young steers lining the unfenced road. These feisty beasts galloped away when we rode by and it gave us an uneasy feeling wondering which way they were going to turn. When the road turned to gravel we trundled along at an easy pace to the Takarakka Bush Resort campground.
Carnarvon Creek at the campground.
As soon as we arrived we could feel the peaceful atmosphere soaking into our bones. It was like everyone who stays there is under the spell of the Carnarvons (as the locals call them). No one rushed around, everyone spoke in a quiet tone; it is something I will never forget.



One of the many creek crossings.
We stayed at Carnarvon Gorge for three nights. On the first day we walked 14km along an easy track and enjoyed the moss garden, the natural amphitheatre, and Aboriginal cave paintings. When I was alone in the amphitheatre I couldn’t help myself and I sang. I was surprised that some of the low notes resinated more than the high notes.

When we rode away from Takaraka, and the gravel track turned to bitumen once more, I noticed that I didn’t want to “kiss the pavement;” off-road motorcycle instructor, Simon Pavey, would be proud of me. The cattle were still grazing close to the road, some of them locking horns over a tuft of grass. We were both pleased when the cattle properties were fenced again and we could adopt a more relaxed riding style.

Main crossroads at Rubyvale.
We made Emerald (named after the green pastures and not the precious stone) home for a few days and we wasted no time before visiting the eccentric gem field towns of Sapphire and Rubyvale. Sapphire is the only miner’s common left in Queensland. Under common law, each miner is entitled to own two head of cattle. These cattle are allowed to graze, untethered, in the confines of the common’s land. On the day we visited, a small herd were making themselves at home in the main street of town. If you accidently run over one of these beasts you are required to pay full market value as compensation. I dragged Steve into every jewellery shop I could find to gaze upon the beautiful sapphires. Lucky for Steve I found the selection of sizes, cuts, and colours completely overwhelming and I left town with only a souvenir to remind me where I’d been.

In Emerald we borrowed a hose and tarted up the bikes ready for the next part of the journey. When I settled down onto my sleeping mat that night I felt happy in the knowledge that we’d be riding the outback again in the morning.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Brisbane to Roma

As we rode away from Brisbane, we both knew we were taking the first steps towards home. Steve picked an easy route along the city’s suburban streets and we were soon riding in the countryside and passing through the little township of Samford. The bikes enjoyed a burn up the hill to Mt Glorious. We stopped at the rest area close to the summit but we didn’t make tea or bother to put on our wet weather trousers. Instead we decided to scurry down the mountain side as a light mist was filling the air and we both sensed that rain wasn’t far away. Too late. As soon as we rode out of the rest area the rain came and the descent became a wet and miserable experience. The tight hairpin bends seemed steep and menacing but there was nowhere to stop. We rode on past Lake Wivenhoe and the heated grips stayed on until the bikes were parked outside the bakery in Esk. Bacon and egg burgers and a large plate of chips provided welcome relief after two and a half hours in the saddle.


From Crows Nest we took the back roads through Haden and Peranga. Outside the pub in Quinalow we relied on a roadside mud map to tell us which road to take next. The bitumen soon turned to an unexpected stretch of gravel. The gravel road was short and sweet but it managed to make a terrible mess of the bikes.

We stayed the night in Dalby and then we trundled along the low road, through Kogan and Condamine, all the way to Roma. The hills of the Great Dividing Range had given way to open plains and cotton fields. When a bend appeared in the road we leant into it as we never knew when we would find another. We had to share this minor road with a few road trains. Sometimes the empty cattle trucks filled our nostrils with cow poo but we didn’t mind because riding in the outback is pure magic. When the road became only a single lane, we kept a keen eye on the state of the road verge; we only had to pull off the road twice but that was enough.

This is the busy season and there was no room at the first caravan park we tried to book into. We took this as a warning shot and from now on we will be phoning ahead.

I will always remember Roma as the home of the Bottle Tree. These beautiful trees line the streets in the CBD and the local nursery sells young ones for those who would like one of their own.

We are now relaxing at our campsite, drinking beer, and watching a flock of at least 100 kites circling overhead; life is good.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

On The Road Again

After the Ulysses AGM in Maryborough, we placed the bikes in a storage facility near Brisbane Airport, and flew home to Perth to check on the house and enjoy some home comforts.


When the time came to fly back to Brisbane, and resume our motorcycle ride around Australia, we had developed a taste for our reclining lounge chairs and the big TV; we didn’t feel ready for life on the road again. Fortunately there is something about airport lounges that can flick switches in the brain and as soon as I saw our flight number on the monitor I started to remember the wonder of travel. By the time we touched down in Brisbane I was feeling a little excited about being reunited with Devil again.


Devil and Dwarf wait patiently at Eagle Farm.


The storage facility, Storage King at Eagle Farm, lived up to our expectations. When we opened the roller door, there they were, Devil (F650GS Twin) and Dwarf (R1200GS), just as we had left them. The bikes seemed pleased to see us and they both started with the first push of the button. By now it was 3pm and we proceeded well through the thickening city traffic until Steve decided to dart into the inside lane which was for left turners only. This little sojourn separated the bikes and it took two goes, with Steve waiting for me and then me waiting for Steve until we rode together again. A GPS and bike to bike communications would help avoid situations like this but we like to keep it simple. After this episode I noticed a little frustration creeping into my riding style and we were lucky that the caravan park was only fifteen kilometres away.

Unfortunately our allocated tent site was lying six inches under water and the last thing we felt like doing was heading back to the office to negotiate moving to higher ground. Still these small things are sent to try us and by sunset the big tent was up and we were wining and dining at Ghazal, an Indian restaurant which serves authentic cuisine at affordable prices. Steve and I chinked glasses many times and we both said “it’s good to be back.”

Monday, 22 April 2013

Ulysses AGM in Maryborough – 2013

Camping at Maryborough Showgronds.
By lunch time on Monday 15th April we were riding around the AGM village in Maryborough looking for a suitable place to pitch our tent. We were looking for some high ground, but we needn’t have worried as someone cleverly arranged for the onset of the dry season to coincide with the start of the AGM. Eventually we settled on a position amongst some friendly trikers from Innisfail.

On Monday night we introduced ourselves to the Piazza, a licensed meeting place which holds 1200 people seated at tables of eight. Live music played, every night, from 7:30pm till late and you could dine on anything from Mexican fair to sweet pancakes depending on your fancy. We found the Warnbro Sound Wanderers crew and it was wonderful to see a familiar face again.

The AGM is a great place for bikers to hang out for a week. On Wednesday, while Devil (my F650GS) was still sleeping, I sneaked off to test ride the new BMW F700GS. I must admit that the new machine was a little lighter and more nimble under foot but I didn’t tell Devil. When I arrived back at camp Devil was still sleeping and she knows nothing of my infidelities.

Collection of Douglas motorcycles.
On Friday we joined a group ride out to Biggenden to see a private collection of Douglas motorcycles. It would be an understatement to suggest that owner Alan Cunningham is a collector. For a small fee, which all goes to charity, we were allowed to wander around and enjoy the eclectic mix of motorcycles, old cars and farm equipment. Afterwards we were treated to some good old Queensland hospitality at the local pub, which served home-style meals at very affordable prices. On the way home we broke the journey with an ice-cream at Childers. Unfortunately I missed the rider briefing outside the ice creamery. Apparently Jack, our ride leader, arranged with the other riders in the group to show them the way back to Hervey Bay. I didn’t know this and, as second man, I marked the corner, waited for everyone to ride on by, saw Tail End Charlie in my rear view mirror and then I took off, like a woman possessed, after the others. I hadn’t realised that I was supposed to go straight on. Steve was Tail End Charlie and he was riding on one wheel at times trying to catch me.

Warnbro Sound Wanderers at dinner.
Friday night’s dinner in the Hoecker was great, especially for those who brought along their head torches as the portable toilets had no lighting. This situation provided a bit of amusement and it was nearly a shame that by 8pm a floodlight had been delivered and we could see what we were doing again. For Saturday night’s dinner the toilets were moved to the other side of the Hoecker where the lights were so bright you needed sunglasses.

Grand Parade Maryborough.
Saturday’s grand parade was wonderful. The assembly point, for the 1300 bikes, was orderly and organised. The ride into town brought tears to my eyes as I acknowledged the locals who lined the streets and avenues along the way. So humble was the hospitality offered to us in Maryborough that one lady held up a sign which read “thank you for coming.” I could have wept inside my helmet, but I managed to hold back the tears and concentre on the bikes in front. On Saturday afternoon Steve and I attended the AGM meeting and then we went back to camp to socialise in the Hoecker once more.

The week spent messing about with bikes had been so much fun that while we were packing up our tent my thoughts turned to the AGM in Alice Springs in 2014; tempted.

Red Devil and me enjoying the Grand Parade Maryborough.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Ride Canberra to the Ulysses AGM in Maryborough

As much as I enjoyed the National Folk Festival, after six days living at Canberra’s EPIC centre, I was happy to be on the road again. Unfortunately my reverie was short lived. When we pulled into a local fuel station there was a problem with the payment mechanism; no one was moving. Steve stood with his arms folded while we waited fifteen minutes for the driver of the car in front to appear. When it was my turn to hand over the money, some dude was trying to pay with a debit card that didn’t have enough money on it. By now Steve was gesticulating to me through the window. His arms seemed to be waving all over the place so I said to the attendant “is the pump working?” “Yep, that’s $32, thanks.” I paid up and marched out to see what was wrong. “Where is the water?” he demanded. Water provides some moveable ballast for Devil’s (F650GS) panniers and I held the key. When we pulled out of the fuel station we were both a little agitated and I forgot to put my sunglasses on. Five hundred meters later we were stopped on the side of the road; take two.

Steve quickly redeemed himself by finding some back roads and took us on a wonderful ride all the way to Goulburn. A wrong turn somewhere on the approach to town and we found ourselves at the Goulburn bakery, eating custard tarts and asking “how do we get out of here?” In between making cups of coffee, the manager drew us a mud map on a paper pie bag and our passage was made easy.

As we approached Oberon we came across a nasty piece of road works. They had just laid thick gravel all over the road and then proceeded to escort us to the other side before the dirt had been compacted. I tried to ride in the thin tyre track made by the escort ute. I felt myself tensing up every time Devil crept into some of the thick stuff. I managed to keep going but the escort vehicle was going too slow for Dwarfie (R1200GS) and he had to stop, ankle deep in mud. I haven’t been so pleased to make it through a stretch of road words for a long time.

The towns high up in the mountains are beautiful and Oberon was no exception. We made tea, and watched the world go by while we sat on a park bench right in the middle of town. Unfortunately we couldn’t stop for long as we were heading to Katoomba and there was still some riding to do.

As we rode on, the views of the Blue Mountains in the east were simply stunning. I kept saying “wow,” and when I considered how close we were to Sydney I said “wow” again.

Katoomba, misty one day, raining the next.
What we didn’t know, when we paid for three nights accommodation at the caravan park at Katoomba, was by the following morning the fog would roll in and we weren’t going to see anything of The Three Sisters, or any of the spectacular scenery. After two days stuck in the tent, with the wet towels and jackets, I couldn’t wait to get out of the place. Steve didn’t dare suggest we stay another day. We made do with a quick glimpse of the mountains as we rode the scenic route back out onto the highway.

Lithgow was soon just a dot in our rear view mirrors and we were on the road to Mudgee. We turned off towards Rylstone and the quiet back road was a delight to cruise along. At one stage we came across a horseman mustering a herd of cattle. Devil slowed to a crawl and I felt a swell of importance when the cows seemed to think I was part of the muster team and they moved obligingly to the side of the road. The run through the Goulburn River National Park was slow but rewarding and it was 3pm before we arrived in Muswellbrook. A quick pit stop and we were back on the road again for the nonstop ride to Tamworth. Half an hour before sunset the tent was up, the weather was dry and we were happy.

The mandatory stop at the Golden Guitar.
Unfortunately the caravan park we chose was a construction site by day. On Saturday night the barbeque area was taken over by a group participating in a Variety Bash. Thankfully Sunday arrived, Variety left town and the caravan park fell quiet again.

While we were looking for things to do in the Tamworth Visitors Centre, Steve spotted a poster for our favourite comedian. Ross Noble was performing at the Town Hall on Sunday night. We bought tickets ten rows from the front; amazing. Why Ross plays in such small venues could be something to do with the DVD market. I’m sure the Tamworth Show will be available in store soon.

The Tenterfield Saddler.
From Tamworth we took the New England Highway in search of the Tenterfield Saddler. We found Tenterfield but the saddlery was closed for renovations. I still took a moment to sit on the veranda and remember Peter Allen’s grandfather, George Woolnough, who was made famous in the song.

By now daylight saving seemed to be a distant memory and we missed the longer evenings immensely. Living in a tent we prefer to have the daylight at the end of the day rather than the beginning. The beauty of the high country had brought with it bouts of mist and showers and the summer weather we had enjoyed so much seemed to be gone forever.

We like to avoid rain on ride days and we left Tenterfield with a smile on our faces and a clear forecast up our sleeve. All the Australian states seem to have quite distinctive architectural styles and nothing is quite as striking as the beautiful Queenslander houses. As I ride on by I like to dream about a romantic life on the land.

Bald Rock National Park.
Because of the incredible damage caused by the floods, there were road works everywhere as we headed northwards towards Kingaroy. At one stage we were stopped in the Lockyer Valley waiting for our turn to traverse. I looked up to my left and I was shocked to see the most unstable looking cliff face I have ever encountered. It was the type of thing you might find in a third world country but not Australia.

When the clouds gathered and a few spots of rain appeared on our visors, Steve pulled over and said “what do you reckon?” We chose not to put on our wet weather gear and five minutes later a short, tropical shower made us realise we had made an error of judgement. Steve stopped again and we both agreed that our gear would blow dry in no time at 100km hour. The only trouble was we kept riding in and out of the same rain cloud as the road twisted and turned. By the time we reached the day’s final set of road works we were soaked through. Once again the tent was full of wet clothes trying to dry out; next time we’ll be wearing the wet weather gear.

On Monday 15th April we will leave Kingaroy, the peanut capital of Australia, and ride to Maryborough for the Ulysses AGM; motorbikes and friendship – we are looking forward to that.