August 30, Day -1
Toby and I arrived in Darwin a day early. I was surprised that I did not have jet lag after 33 hours travel time. That may be because I did get some sleep on the 14-hour leg from LA to Sydney. The US Navy was in port today and the sailors on liberty crowded the bars in downtown Darwin.
We spent the afternoon at the Wall of Wisdom bar and then walked across the street to dinner. Did I mention that Aussie’s drive on the left, which means I should have looked right before stepping out into the street. My first mistake.
August 31, Day 0
The day before the tour starts. We had a meet and greet in the evening at the hotel and then walked a few blocks to dinner at an Oriental restaurant.
- Dave Winn from Cedar Springs, Mi.
- Tobit Poland from Muskegon, Mi.
- Ian Drinkwater a Kiwi from New Zeeland.
- Brian Berry a native of Zimbabwe living in Memphis, Tn.
- Ken Bernard from South Africa now living in Sydney, NSW, Au.
- Hugh Kerr from Edinburgh, Scotland.
- Sabina Hammond from Sydney NSW, Au
- Russell Smith from Edinburgh NSW. Au
- Paul Burslem from Sydney NSW.Au
- Neil McIntyre from Melbourne Vic, Au
- Jerry Truman from Melbourne – tour leader
- Mick McDonald from Melbourne – chase truck driver and mechanic.
September 1st, Day 1
254 km from Darwin NT to Kakadu National Park NT. Temp 30 C to 38 C. We got what I thought was a late start because of the need to get the bikes assigned and get organized. (Late starts become the norm. Compass will buy the gas for the rental bikes and they do that in the morning).
The bikes were assigned in the hotel car park where we were also given an outline of what to expect that day. I was assigned an almost new F800GS with only 2580 km on it. Riding on the left was not a problem this morning because the group rode as a pack following the tour leader. The first stop was a cruise on the Adelaide river to see the jumping crocks. That was followed by a picnic lunch at the river.
Then on to the Gagudju Lodge where we spent the next two nights. What was listed as a three-hour ride took all day. Riding on the left was not a problem as long as I rode (followed) the pack. I wore my AeroStich Darien Jacket and pants and was surprised at how comfortable I was riding in them but had to get it off quickly when we stopped.
I was also surprised to find that it was much cooler riding with the helmet face shield closed. At first I thought the heat was from engine but soon realized it was the 38 C temperature that I was feeling in my face. That face shield kept the hot blast of 38 C off my face.
Temp HOT! The day started very early. We caught a bus before sun up that took us to a sunrise Yellow Water River cruise. After watching the sun rise we spent two hours cruising the Yellow Water Billabong to see the birds and gators.
No riding was planned for today so we took a 200 km round trip to see the rock art at Ubirr in the park. This park is huge. Yellowstone is tiny by comparison.
272 km down the Stewart Highway to Katherine NT. The railroad from Darwin to Katherine was opened in 1889 and was still the end of the line in 1902 when the book “We of the Never Never” was written.
It’s easy to look at a map and add up the miles but until you have traveled the distance it’s really hard to understand just how big this land is. The speed limit is 130 km/hr on this two-lane road. There is so little traffic that we don’t hesitate to just pull out and pass what ever might be in front of us. By now we have established a pattern for meals. Breakfast is usually cold cereal and fruit from the support truck 80% of the time except when the hotel supplies a buffet breakfast.
Lunch is also usually a picnic lunch from the truck 70% of the time. Dinner is always @ 7 PM. Always at a restaurant, about 40% of the time Compass buys dinner from a fixed menu, and the rest of the time we buy whatever we like.
The group is becoming a cohesive group that, with a few exceptions, stays together and in the evenings drinks together. I being one of the exceptions, taking side roads to nowhere, and always seeming to catch up with the group by dinner.
673 km down the Stewart Highway to Tennant Creek NT. The distances we travel without seeing anything or anyone are amazing.
The lunch stop was in the town of Daily Waters. The town and Pub could be a stand in for Walk About Springs of the Crocodile Dundee movies. The walls were covered with things left by tourists, signed dollar bills, hats, license plates, and bra’s(?).
While we ate lunch an empty three cattle trailer truck train pulled in. This was the first time I saw just how much dust a truck train could create. Impressive. It brought back memories of an article in Road Rider magazine 35 years ago that said the best thing to do if you saw a dust cloud in the distance on the outback tracks coming your way the best thing to do was get off the road.
It turned out to be good advice on the few occasions we met a truck train.
508 km to Alice Springs NT or just Alice as the Aussie’s would say. Because I dislike riding in the pack I left way ahead of the group and reached the lunch stop ahead of everyone. I waited eight minutes for the group to arrive and during that wait I did not see another vehicle on the road.
Lunch was at the Devil’s marbles, an area of eroded granite boulders. Lunch is being served out of the back of the chase truck and is generally like a picnic but without the burgers on the barbie.
After lunch I decided to take a short, only about 2 km, side trip by my self down the Plenty Highway. This was the first time I had seen a single paved lane two-way road with wide shoulders. When you meet another vehicle each will move to the left partially off the pavement to make the pass. It will become more common on some of the back roads we will travel in Victoria.
So far the only kangaroo’s we have seen were dead ones along the highway or on my dinner plate this evening. ‘Roo is a mild but tough meat which is only cooked medium rare. I’m told most Aussies do not eat kangaroo in part because it is a national symbol and as kids most of them were entertained by a cartoon show featuring “Skippy” the kangaroo.
A second day in Alice with no riding planned. Most of the group will take an optional loop ride around the area or an early morning hot air balloon ride but Toby and I are doing laundry and visiting local museums.
Election day in Australia 330 km to Kings Canyon. It is still hot, 35C. The Aussies are required to vote and will pay a $AU200 fine if they do not. Those Aussies on the tour have already voted by mail. They have a system of voting in which you would rate the candidates from one to last.
When the votes are counted if no one gets 50% the votes of the last place candidate are redistributed to the remaining candidates based on the second choice on those ballets. The process is repeated until one candidate gets 50% of the votes. The landscape changed today.
What had been flat bush land north of Alice were now low rocky hills. A dingo (wild dog) strolled out into the roadway in front of my bike. What had been a little boring and tedious ride became more interesting.
A little further along two brunbys (wild horses) came running out of the bush and galloped along side the road for a few hundred yards. They were the most beautiful animals I could imagine. It is hard to believe they were wild. The flies started today and they are will stay with us for a while. They don’t bite but swarm around your face and you are constantly swatting at them. Most in the group bought a head net at the gas stop today and I bought one this evening. It was a big joke when I put it on backwards with the tag hanging down. Toby started calling me Mini Pearl.
Tony Abbot won the election and will take over the government before the tour is over. These Aussies don’t fool around.
306 km to Uluru. This was a relatively short day but the heat and generally late starts make the days seem longer. Toby and I skipped the cereal and coffee breakfast and decided to start early today.
Compass normally will buy the gas and do the maintenance on their bikes but because we started early we had to buy our own and then turn in the receipt for a refund. While we were filling the bikes at Curtain Springs an apparently wild emu strolled through the lot. At the Curtain Springs store we ordered ‘burgers and chips. While we waited we read a book on the history of this station. I remember a few things from that book. The station is one million acres, standing dry grass has nutritional value for the cattle, and the owner has issues with government regulations that made no sense. Sound familiar?
Toby and I arrived way ahead of the group and got settled in to our room except the chase truck was not there, so no luggage yet. Later everybody rode out to the Ayers rock for cheese and crackers with Champaign and watch the sun go down. Toby, Hugh and I had dinner together in the restaurant while the others opted for “cook it yourself” on the BBQ.
A second day at Uluru (Ayres Rock) Hugh Kerr dropped out today and caught a plane back home. I rode with him for a while the past few days and could see he was struggling in the heat. Sorry to see him go but glad he left without hurting himself. Up early this morning to ride out to the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park to watch the sun come up over Ayres rock and the Kata Tjuta (the Olges).
It’s cold this morning and I keep thinking I can see the sun come up back in Cedar Springs.
752 km to Coober Petty.
This is the longest day of the tour, just less than 500 miles. The hot weather finally broke today and with a high of 25 C the riding was comfortable. We crossed into South Australia at about the halfway point in the day’s ride. The speed limit dropped from 130 km/hour in the NT to 110 in SA.
The flies are still with us and it made finding a spot for the picnic lunch a bit difficult. At our first choice the flies were terrible. At the next choice they were only annoying. It was still difficult to eat a sandwich with a fly net covering your head.
The landscape in South Australia became very flat and the road changed with it. Still a very good road but missing the water control ditches and floodway used in the Northern Territory to handle the rains.
One new thing was the number of burned and abandoned cars by the side of the road, about one every 10 km. They were for the most part stripped of usable parts and burned. Lodging for this evening was in an underground motel. It was billed as living underground in an old Opal mine. The rooms were so small you didn’t have room to change your mind.
195 km from Coober Petty to Oodnadatta.
The temps today are back up in the low 30’s. Rain was forecasted but did no happen. After breakfast from the truck, we toured the Old Timers Opal mine. The mine tunnels are so low and I am so tall that I can describe the floor but don’t know much about the walls or ceiling.
Bought an opal for Liz. I think she will let me back in the house. The day’s ride was up the Oodnadatta ROAD to Oodnadatta. It was dirt all the way and if you rode in a pack you ate a lot of dust.
We made a stop at the Dingo fence for photographs. The fence is 5 feet high and 4 feet into the ground. It is meant to keep the Dingos to the north away from the sheep stations to the south. The fence runs well over a thousand miles across South Australia and New South Wales.
What had been sparse vegetation was now almost a featureless landscape broken by tree lines along the now dry creek beds. The road was in excellent condition, except for corrugation the last 20 km. My old dirt riding skills kicked in and I found myself going a lot faster than I thought I would.
Dinner was at the iconic Pink Roadhouse in Oodnadatta. It looks like a dump from the outside but was clean and well organized inside. The rooms were very basic but again clean and the AC worked.
411 km from Oodnadatta to Maree.
Temps today were in the low 30’s again and the forecasted rain again did not happen. Overcast skies most of the day did make the riding easier. Yesterday had been a short but very fast riding day. I made a mental note to slow down.
This decision was enforced by the road, which was generally smooth, but with short sections of terrible corrugations.
Lunch was at Williams Creek. It claims to be the smallest town in Australia with only 4 permanent residents and one was moving. Williams Creek is within the 6,000,000-acre Anna Creek Station. They have 20 permanent residents at the station. One source gave 40,000 as the number of cattle, others gave much smaller numbers.
After lunch we stopped at Coward Springs, an old stop on the now abandoned Ghan railway line where some of the group took a dip in the hot spring. This stop was notable for me because I managed to get off the edge of the road to the spring and got the bike stuck in soft sand.
This F800GS is not a dirt bike and was way to heavy for me to lift out of the hole the rear wheel had dug. I had to have help. To add insult to injury the first thing the help did was take a picture of my predicament.
The Gahn was the name given to the railroad that ran through Oodnadatta, Coward Spring and Marree. It was named in honor of the Afghan camel drivers that serviced the area before the railroad came. The tracks, which initially stopped at Maree and then to Oodnadatta were eventually extended north to Alice Springs NT. During WW2 traffic went from three trains a day to over 50 a day. The train to Alice Springs and Darwin is still called the Ghan but it now follows the route of the Stewart Hwy farther west. When the last train left Maree some of the locals were so upset that they kept uncoupling the cars so the train could not move. Coward Springs was one of many sources of water for the steam locomotives and a natural warm water spa for tourists today.
184 km Maree to Parachina.
Temps today were much cooler, the highest reading I saw was 27C.
I had read about a museum in Maree that was devoted to the history of the Railroad and made a decision to leave the group for this morning and see the museum. I rode around for a while looking for it and finally had to ask directions. This is when I was tripped up by the Aussie accent. I was told to look for the building with the mural out front.
I understood “mules out front”.
I finally had to ask for help at the Police department. It turned out that the museum had very little about the railroad but was instead mostly aboriginal items. I received an education on how to throw a boomerang and a spear. Boomerangs are not just for killing food for the table but can also be used for music. Most of the boomerangs the tourists buy, as souvenirs are toys, compared to the much larger (up to 4 feet) killing weapons.
Having left Maree a good two hours behind the others I went directly to the Praire Hotel in Paracina only to find that I was the first to arrive because the group had stopped so often.
My legs are killing me. I’ve spent the last two days riding the pegs on the rougher parts of the road. That’s something I have not done in 20 years.
The evening rituals are becoming a routine. Someone buys a round of beer and then someone buys another followed by friendly banter. Depending on the location we may go outside and take a lot of silly photos and watch the sun go down.
Dinners are generally 7PM or later. Tonight it was mixed grill consisting of camel sausage, kangaroo migon and emu fillet. Now that I have tried them I can enjoy a good beefsteak next time.
The flies are still with us.
A second day at Parachina We take the Parchina to Blinman track which is the most challenging road to date. It is dirt, dusty and winding. A fun ride if you are out in front or way behind.
In Biiman I saw a man cutting his lawn. It was the first time in two weeks anyone had grass to cut.
After a stop for coffee in Blinman we continue north through the Flinders Range National Park. Initially a pleasant ride on pavement but in the end a very challenging dirt road with numerous water crossings and more than once the road ran right down the center of the creek. Add to that this was a two-way road. What I saw of the canyon was beautiful but I was to busy looking at the road (creek bed) and picking my way through.
The F800GS that I was riding was a handful for me in the gravel of the creek beds. I played tail end charlie most of the rest of the day and several times I could distinctly see in the distance individual bikes and the plume of dust they raised being blown by the wind off to the side of the road.
I also got to watch the ballet of bikes as they leaned left and then right through the S curves. When the wind stopped blowing the dust cloud hung over the road and made riding miserable.
432 km to Lyndock.
Yesterday we started to see a little more green but today the roadside became lush with trees, grass, wheat & canola fields. At one point we past a field of tall grass with white rocks scattered about. Then one of the rocks stood up.
We were in sheep country.
There was an optional scenic route, the last dirt we would see on this trip. The chase truck could not follow us on this route. I became impatient while I waited for the group to decide who would take the scenic route and who would not. As a result I just left and now being out in front I saw all the wild life that had been scattered by the lead bikes when I played tail end charlie.
Day 16 219 km to Salt Creek.
Rain, almost all day. I passed up a chance to take a scenic ride around the Barossa Valley wine country. I find nothing scenic about riding a winding wet road in the rain. Instead I went direct to the National Transport Museum in Birdwood. Even though the Museum was not yet open when I got there it was a good decision, I hate riding in the rain. I spent my time waiting in a Cafe near the museum.
No rain inside. A hot cup of coffee and an East End Pie which contained bacon, egg and mushrooms. The filling actually looked more like prunes but did taste like bacon, egg and mushrooms. While waiting I met an employee of the museum riding a Royal Enfield. They are still being made in India.
The group arrived, the museum opened and we toured. The museum is home to the Badger, which will only mean something to those familiar with the story of Tom Kruse, the mailman of the Birdsville Track. When it came time for the group to leave I decided to stay a while longer by myself. At this point it was up to me to find my own way to this nights stay at the Coorong Wilderness Lodge.
On previous days rides in the outback there were very few chances to make a wrong turn, now there were many chances and Australia does not do a great job of numbering highways but it does do a great job with signs pointing to the next town.
I found myself going from town to town on the map and almost beat the group to the lodge using this method. The lodge was very remote and we had individual cabins that included a living room area with a couch and TV. The view of the water and the barrier island across was very relaxing. I would have liked to stay another day but the schedule said no.
401 km to Halls Gap.
Temp of 17C today, with overcast and a little rain. I’m riding with Neil today behind pack and trying to catch the pack when we came upon two semi’s hauling wide loads. Neil got around both of the trucks but I only made it around one before a combination bugs and road spray made me pullover and clean the face shield. 5 km later I passed Neil. He had been pulled over by the police for doing 115 km in a 100 km zone. It could have been me.
210 km Halls Gag to Port Campbell.
Temperature a high today of 11C. Rain all day, hard at times. The roads were winding and beautiful. They reminded a little of West Virginia but the rain took some of the fun out of the ride. I did discover that the heated grips, which I had earlier kept turning on accidentally, now made riding a little more tolerable.
We stayed at the Port Campbell Best Western where our hosts served hors d’oeuvres with the beer. Several in the group tried in vain to dry their wet stuff in front of the woodstove in the lodge reception/bar.
293 km to Melbourne and the final day of the tour.
Temps started out about 13C, warming all the way up to 17C.
Breakfast was from the truck but served in Mick and Jerry’s room because of the rain. Lunch was meat pies in a ocean side park at Appolo Bay. The Great Ocean Road was a great way to end the tour. Only the combination of knobby tires and wet pavement took the edge off the ride. There was a farewell dinner.
Most were still here at the hotel so we had a farewell breakfast in the morning.
We found most Australian restaurants under staffed and therefore slow and sometime disorganized. Toby’s comment was “I don’t want a dining experience, I want food”. Brian, Ken, Toby and I were still in Melbourne in the evening so we had another farewell dinner but this time it is at the food court.
As I write this it is now about 7:30 PM and I am aboard the Spirit of Tasmania 1 ferry on my way to the island of Tasmania. In my cabin I can feel the vibrations as the ship gets under way. I will get a good night’s sleep on the way. Good night.
Day 22 Temp – chilly.
Forecast for today is high of 18C, low of 10 C. Up at 6 AM and disembark from the ship in Devonport, Tas. The day is overcast. I waited at the wrong car rental counter for 20 minutes before I was told the office is across the car park. I’ve got a Mitsubishi ASX.
Getting the car instead of taking the MC was the best decision I’ve made here. It rained all day but I was warm and dry inside. The poor car is filthy from the dirt road sections of highway A5. This highway would have been a joy on two wheels but without the rain. Stopped at the Steppes Sculpture Park.
It was a series of stones set on end in a circle with a bronze sculpture on each stone as well as one on a low flat stone in the middle of the circle. There was no explanation of why the sculptures were here and because of the rain I elected not to take the half-mile walk through the woods to the homestead where I assume there would have been an explanation. (I have since learned on the web that the Steppes is a wildlife sanctuary and the sculptures represent the animals found in the sanctuary).
Spending the night near Hobart. Day 23 Weather is dreary in the am but sunny in the afternoon. Up early again and tried to get out of town but none of these damn streets go straight. I’m looking for Highway A3 east to Sorell but I keep going back west to Hobart on A3. Damn roundabouts and poor signage. I’ve been across the Tasman Bridge three times. An hour later I find my way out.
First stop today is at the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park. It was a slow day and I was the only one present to see the 11:00 AM feeding. They are called devils because the early settlers heard their howls in the night and thought only the devil could make a noise like that.
The Devils are not fast enough or big enough to take down their prey so they mostly eat carrion in the wild. They are solitary animals except at feeding time. They devoured every bit of the chunk of Wallaby meat they were fed. Meat, bone, skin and hair.
Next was a walk through a mob of kangaroos that was lounging in the sun. A few babies were playing but most adults did not even bother to look over at me. I was able to approach within 2 meters of a mother and her baby.
After lunch It was on the Port Arthur Historic Site. Port Arthur was opened as a penal camp in 1830 and operated until 1877 when it was closed and the buildings and grounds sold. Port Arthur was on a peninsula that was connected to the rest of Tasmania by the 100-meter wide Eaglehawk Neck strip of land. This made guarding the colony relatively easy.
During the day the guards could simply watch the 100-meter strip of land and at night dogs were staked out to give an alarm if any one tried to cross. Some of the buildings where torn down when the colony closed and the stones and brick carted off to Hobart to construct homes there.
The ruins of the 1837 church still remain and there was a wedding taking place within the still standing, but windowless and roofless, walls. Everyone that enters is given a card with a prisoner’s name. When you tour you find out the story of that prisoner. I had: Abraham Hood aged 20, a baker by trade from Edinbourgh, Scotland. Horse thief sentenced to 14 years.
Because he had a skill that was needed in the jail, he would have had a relatively easy life in the Port Arthur if he did not complain so much, once receiving 40 lashes. The Australian government has not tried to restore the remaining buildings to any specific time and generally just stabilized and cleaned things as they found them.
Not up early. Weather dreary, I’m guessing a high of 18 C today. Today I am going to take a highway B31 north. It crossed the airport road a few Km to the west. Logic told me to turn right when I found it. Lost again.
I should have taken the other right. B31 was a secondary road that took the path of least resistance through the low mountains that make up much of Tasmania. I was told that Tasmania was a great place to ride a MC and this was just another example of that. Breakfast was at a small cafe in Richmond, Tas.
I get the impression that nobody but tourists eat out in Australia. There weren’t many tourists today and this was the only one of four open at 10 AM. I’m anxious to make sure that I don’t miss the ferry back to Melbourn so the only touristy thing I’ll do is a stop at the Female Factory in Ross. This was originally the site of a road building work gang of convicts that built a stone bridge in 1836 that is still in use today. Inscribed on the bridge in roman numerals is the distance to Hobart in miles.
The town of Ross has a feel of the 1800’s with it’s tree lined streets and sandstone buildings. The Female Factory operated as a women’s prison from 1848 and 1854 and like other prison sites in Tasmania most buildings are gone. The only buildings that survive are those that were bought, when the prisons closed, and used as private homes.
At Ross the Assistant Superintendent’s Quarters still stands but posters and a diorama give a vivid picture of what life was like for the women confined there. I board the Ferry at 6 PM, buy a small bag of cashews for AU$4.50 and retire to my cabin. Good night.
Up at 6 AM, shower and pack up. At 7AM I am one of the last off of the ship but in no hurry. I have the whole day to explore Melbourne.
The airplane ride back home is the only activity on my schedule.