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 The comforting tail wind had been replaced by a strong south westerly headwind and the turbulence, at the rear of the trucks, made us hang on tight when we passed each northbound road train.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.