As the satay's off the menu, we've leap frogged to the surf. I therefore sit here in Brisbane and not in Medan, updating our blog.
Our agent in Penang not surprisingly, sung a familiar tune..."ferry sometime soon lah!" Aye, right. So with our Indonesia visas nearing a terminal condition, followed closely by our sanity, we made a decision to exit stage left, leaving Asia for Australia.
Not only was it tough to leave Asia after what has been home for the last ten or so years, but to get our backsides into gear to leave Koh Lanta, our temporary home for ten days or so. The tennis games got more competitive and the sunsets just more spectacular.
However, we had to establish exactly what the score was with the ferry in order to trigger our next decision; to abandon our plans to travel through the Indonesian archipelago to Timor Leste and on to Darwin.
It had always been a dream to ride this route and therefore extremely disappointing not to be able to so. However, we had to get this gig on the go and therefore, with no ferry pending, we left Penang in a Southerly direction for Kuala Lumper and to arrange our next mode of transport: a Boeing 777.
After our farewell some weeks previously, our good friend Markus got quite a surprise when we called him from a service station on the outskirts of KL to ask if he had a bed for the night. He expected us to be in a far flung exotic destination and not Sungai Buloh! However, he kindly obliged and therefore we celebrated our reunion with beer and duty free.
I took advantage of being in KL, home to the sole Malaysian BMW motorcycle dealer, in a final attempt to put the ABS gremlins to bed. With the red flashing ABS warning lights doing their best to resemble a Patpong night club, I was getting somewhat irate. Garry, the kindly service manager, hooked Bertha up to a diagnostic computer to establish a faulty front ABS sensor. At least the problem had been located and with the luck continuing to flow, they had one in stock! Then things got a little sticky when I remembered that I'd replaced the sensor connection block the year before as a result of a previous owner's fetish for insulation tape to fix broken connectors, therefore rendering it impossible to plug in the new sensor...bugger!
Garry, being the responsible BMW representative that he is, politely declared he couldn't touch it with a barge pole if a non-standard connection was to be used, however should I want to conduct such electrical surgery, then I was more than welcome to use BMW Malaysia's salubrious facilities. After some thought and discussion, I took advantage of a burnt out replacement 1200 wiring loom lying in a corner and removed the appropriate wires and connector and reconnected them into my loom! Hey presto, a BMW approved connection. What's more, a final hook up to Diagnostic Dan and no more go-go bar impressions! I was so happy I told Garry that if he was a girl I would have kissed him. He looked at me somewhat strangely.
I'm glad to say the day continued in a positive vein, as later that afternoon, some two 'phone calls later, we had ourselves and Bertha confirmed on a flight to Brisbane first thing Wednesday morning. It got better, as I had some remaining air-miles, we managed to redeem them, allowing us both to fly for a grand total of approximately 70 quid! Cause for celebration and the cause of our hangover the next morning.
Needless to say it was it was raining when we left the hospitable Mr. Markus and ventured into the congested city centre, (never fun on a loaded behemoth) to collect our redeemed tickets en route to the airport. Bertha was first to check in that afternoon, however not before a thorough scrub down in anticipation of Australia's tough quarantine requirements.
It was then back to the airport cargo bay to disconnect the battery, inform the friendly Malaysian Airlines officer, Rosli, that there was no need to drain the petrol tank as she was running on fumes anyway and tie her down to her own skid large enough to occupy four bikes her size.
We bid our farewell and took Rosli's kind offer of a lift to the hotel, before enjoying our final roti chanai at the local Mamak stall.
Whilst on the plane the following day, we were somewhat amused to find
"Crocodile Dundee" playing on the in-flight video. A reminding insight of what was to come over the next few months. As coincidence would have it, (the first of several as it turns out), a friend of ours living in Malaysia, Chris, was on the same flight. By way of introduction he kindly took us for a traditional Aussie slap-up meal upon on our arrival and of course a XXXX or two to wash it down with.
The next day we rose early in a our discount airport motel and set-off in high spirits to retrieve Bertha. However customs had other ideas. Despite their assistance and friendly manner, it still took the entire day to process the mountains of associated paperwork, therefore having to wait 'till the following day to go through a surprisingly brief quarantine check before exposing Bertha to the Antipodes.
As we'd expected the next stages of the paperwork trail to be somewhat of a formality, we'd planned to be on the go later that day and had therefore checked out of our motel. Emma was waiting patiently in the 'foyer' (if you could call the area next to the vending machine that), with a wealth of information of what to do next. After an expensive return taxi ride to buy some insurance, I set off on the bike to obtain a 'pink slip'. No, not new lingerie for Emma, but a road worthy certificate, the penultimate stage of the paper chase. A mere formailty - I thought.
To cut a long story short, Bertha failed as a result of 0.5mm, yes half a mil. The rear brake disc was worn 0.5mm below spec. Having lived in Malaysia for so long, the harsh realisation of being exposed to Western safety standards was tough to take. None the less, I tracked down a non-BMW (read cheaper) replacement disc from Chris at The BM Shop later on that day. Unfortunately by this time it was too late to catch the Road Transport office and therefore too late to set off that day. Being Friday, we'd have to wait until Monday now.
By this time I had several missed calls from a somewhat concerned Emma, still stranded outside the motel. We finally made contact and I assured her I would return soon - honest!
It was then a series of friendly coincidences occured, coincidences which seem to happen when you're travelling, perhaps even more so within the community of motorcyclists. Steve the mechanic at The BM Shop sympathised with our situation and the fact that Emma was still stranded outside the motel after 6 hours! He very kindly offered us to stay at his place that night, even arranging for his understanding wife, Sharron, to collect Emma from her staging post. We had a great night, drinking Bundaberg Rum and tapping Steve's brains with regard to outback routes.
Steve mentioned he knew a couple living locally who'd travelled extensively on their bike and asked if we'd like to meet them. He therefore put us in touch with Ken and Carol Duval, who of course we'd read about on the HU site. We called them the next morning and before we knew it, were sitting on their deck, drinking coffee, talking bike travels. Not only have they made us feel extremely welcome, but they insisted we stay, despite the fact they've had to leave for the night, leaving us the run of the house.
So perhaps some things are meant to be, even if the catalyst is a 0.5mm below spec brake disc!
Ken and Carol thoroughly spoiled us with their warm hospitality, and gave us some tips on 'Packingology' in which I think they both have Phds. They had a BBQ the day before we left and invited some other overlanders; Haydn and Diane who rode from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego and are next year heading to South East Asia, and Mark and Aasha who will be in South America when we are there. Ken and Carol are once more planning a trip, to South America too so we spent a great afternoon and evening swapping stories and routes.
Hame and I spent most of Monday whizzing around Brisbane getting the bike sorted and doing some chores. Finally, finally, we headed North out of the city with a legal bike, two brand new tiny sleeping bags to replace our huge and heavy old ones and some thermals for me (it's a bit colder than Malaysia here!).
It was cold and dark by the time we arrived at our friends Marcus and Lissa's in rural Imbil but they warmed us up with homebrew, Lissa's fantastic curry and a great welcome. Again, we were throughly spoiled with great Aussie hospitality and spent a good few days catching up and enjoying being in Marcus and Lissa's beautiful self-built house in the bush, and wandering around Imbil, a very Aussie village.
We made a plan to head to Fraser Island before going North to chase the warm weather, and the four of us spent a night camping on Rainbow Beach, near Inskip Point, where we could catch the Fraser Island ferry. Hame and I managed to roll gently off Bertha as we hit a bit of soft sand leaving the campsite and as we rode up to the ferry...
...Hame turned to me and said, "Erm, do you think this is such a good idea?" I'm usually the cautious one but with a bit of bravado I didn't really feel I said "Nah, no worries mate, she'll be right" (or something like that). And so off we went, and yes, the sand was soft. Hame managed to get half a tonne of big red machine onto the ferry while I watched. This is him coming back, on the way there I was too busy watching in case he needed a push to take pics.
It's hard enough to walk on sand, let alone ride a heavy bike so we spent the ten minute ferry ride wondering what we were letting ourselves in for - Fraser Island is the biggest sand island in the world!
Hame rode cautiously off the ferry and found the harder sand near the waterline. He soon found it was fairly easy to ride on. I was terrified at first as the bike felt very different, sort of squishy, but once we got going it was just amazing. The beach is 75 km long, and mostly deserted.
After riding about 40 km and enjoying every minute we found a camping spot in the dunes about 500m from the only tap on the beach and a kilometre or so from the nearest shop. With the Pacific roaring in front of us and clear skies at night revealing more stars than I have seen in years, it was perfect.
Every night as we were cooking, our headtorches would pick out a pair of eyes glowing in the dark from the corner of our camp as a dingo would appear looking for food. Fraser Island's dingoes are the purest bred in the country and there are very strict instructions on keeping them wild, absolutely no contact is allowed. They are not fierce, and once we stood up and looked bigger the dingo would run off, sometimes to appear again, sometimes not. One got quite brave and came within feet of us, but he soon vanished back into the night as Hame turned to face him.
Fraser Island is one of those Aussie icons I've been hearing about for years, and it lived up to its reputation. We spent one day walking through rainforest, over sandblows and along the beach; another day riding up the beach to see some of Fraser Island's famous landmarks.
The best day for me though was riding to Lake MacKenzie. We'd heard the roads were "OK", so taking off the heavy luggage we decided to go for it, thinking we could always turn round if it got too hard. At first I was terrified as Bertha seemed to spend a lot of time going sideways, but as we got going I realised all those weekends holding a petrol can in the pits while Hame took part in off road races through Malaysian jungle had been worth it - he kept us upright and moving over roads I'd have struggled to get down on my mountain bike. Hame's attitude to bits of road that made me close my eyes in horror was simply to hit the throttle. After I got over my fear I began to find it incredibly funny. The harder the road got and the more Bertha behaved like a bucking bronco, the funnier it got, I just hung on for dear life and laughed! This is a good bit of road, we didn't dare stop for photo's on the bad bits or we may not have got going again.
We arrived in one piece and marvelled at the lake, the clearest water I've ever seen with white sand beaches, surrounded by forest. The road back wasn't quite such a source of amusement; the sand had dried and poor Bertha spent 15 km in first gear, getting very hot and skidding a lot.
We could have stayed on Fraser Island for days more but were both keen to head North, and into the outback so with regret we left at low tide and enjoyed the last bit of beach riding.
Back on the mainland we rode West towards Roma but on the way had a bit of a problem, Bertha was not starting properly. Hame thought at first it may be the battery so we kept going. As we rode along we saw our first kangaroo. We'd been told that the times to avoid road riding are dusk and dawn as there are suicidal marsupials around but the one who bounced across the road about 10m in front of us obviously wasn't wearing a watch as it was lunchtime. It was great to see though, finally we were off on our way into the vast Australian bush.
By the time we had reached Miles, about 300km West, the bike wouldn't start at all, and charging the battery didn't help. Hame took it all to bits and confirmed his worst fears that it was the starter motor. After a few phone calls to a local electrics shop and then to Chris back at the BM Shop in Brisbane, we realised we had no choice but to head back there. We spent the night in a friendly motel in Miles then the next morning, back to Brisbane...
Hame is at present with the bike getting the starter motor reconditioned (I think, I'll leave the techy stuff to him to explain later). While it was good to catch up with the friendly Brisbane crowd again we are a bit frustrated that just as we finally got going we had to turn back again! Having said all that I'm secretly pleased to be back in the land of good camping shops though so I can buy more warm things, it is cold! Hame, of course, is fine and can't understand why I feel the need to wear everything I own.
Just as I finished writing yesterday Hame appeared with a mended bike, thanks to those lovely guys at the BM Shop. Sharon, Steve's partner, had kindly let me use an office computer to write up the blog so Hame picked me up from there and off we went for camping supplies, before heading off up into the hills.
Steve had suggested a route to us which took us out of Brisbane and up and over Mount Glorious; the views certainly were glorious. The road was twisty and steep, and at the foot of a hill was a sign which said something like "Really really twisty roads ahead, careful!". Hamish's eyes gleamed; I smiled indulgently and glued my hands to the grabrail.
We rode through more stunning scenery with hardly anyone about. Just as it was getting towards dusk we thought about finding a rough camp, but rounded a corner and found ourselves in Someret Dam, with a fab camping spot next to the river and a general store which sold wine. Perfect!
It was a chilly night (below zero), but the new thermals (I dragged Hame round a camping store on the way out of Brisbane to emerge with a warm jacket, warm socks and another thermal!) kept me warm.
Sometime in the middle of the night though I awoke to hear this strange grunting just next to my right ear, outside the tent. Hame was snoring gently on my left side so I woke him with a nudge and whispered very very quietly, "There's something outside!"
In the middle of the night all kinds of thoughts go through your head with just a flimsy bit of canvas between you and a grunting thing. I haven't read "Things in Australia that can kill you" but I thought I'd heard of them all; lying there I began to wonder what I'd overlooked. The grunting went on and on. Hame said very unconvincingly "Do you want me to have a look?" but thoughts of him being eaten made me ask him to stay with me. Eventually it stopped but returned several times, so I was sandwiched between two snoring /grunting things all night.
In the morning I asked the very friendly lady in the general store what it may have been and she said probably a koala! Now I wish we had had a look.
Australia is full of BIG stuff. Big hospitality, big views, big fields, big meals - Hame ordered a rump steak in a pub a few nights ago and got THREE huge steaks on as plate (he couldn't manage the third!).
There are also huge trucks - called Road Trains. They are massive, long and fast. To go past one Hame and sort of huddle together in "road train position" (this is on the bike, not in the tent) and brace ourselves for the wall of air which slams into us. It was funny the first few times, but got quite tedious very quickly. We'll soon be on roads which won't have so many as anything which isn't tarmacked seems to be on Hame's ideal route, and I'm happy to go anywhere. After Fraser Island any roads should be a piece of cake (Yeah I know, I'll be chowing down on those words soon).
The land we're riding through at present, although stunning in a very big way, is also incredibly brown and dry. This area of Queensland is in the grip of a drought so severe that there are children aged 5 or 6 in some towns who've never seen 'real' rain. Apparently the last time there was rain enough to fill Somerset dam was back in 1999.
We are planning to spend the next few nights camping and will be in pretty rural areas so I don't expect to be near a computer for a while - we just happened to pass a town with a library so while H is doing bank stuff I've popped in to use the internet facilities. We're both enjoying ourselves so much, Australia is like home enough to be familiar and full of things we missed in Asia, but different enough to be explored with great excitement.
Thanks for all the e mails, keep 'em coming!
About 5000 km and one month into Australia and we've not even left one state yet! Queensland has so much to offer; Hame and I could probably spend a year here and not explore it all.
Since I last wrote we've wound our way up from Brisbane, headed out West and then North towards Cairns. You can see the route on my incredibly hi-tech map below (compete with tippex marks where I accidentally re-drew Queensland's borders).
There's way too much to write in detail, but here are a few photies with the highlights of our trip.
After our brief stop at Someret Dam and its grunty things we rode to the Bunya Mountains National Park, where 160 million year old rainforest is the home to some of the only Bunya Pines in the country. These huge old trees were once a logger's dream as they are very straight and very tall, but thankfully in the park they are protected.
The campsite was home to (whatever the collective term is)s of wallabies which bounced around amongst the tents and left lots of poo which had to be dodged while we cooked our dinner.
It was also quite chilly, our blood still wasn't used to wintery weather so a kindly group of holidaying nurses lent us a spare sleeping bag to drape on top of ours.
With all our clothes on as well we were just about warm enough - it was minus something and I did wonder a few times druing the night why on earth we'd ever left the tropics!
Our next stop was Carnarvon Gorge, recommended by Marcus in Imbil. Although we were getting better at leaving early and getting on the road we stopped to watch a trail bike ride and then to wander around the Historical Village museum at Miles (very good) where we'd been when the starter motor went. This time I didn't have to push start the bike however! As Ken says, this is the real reason for pillions. Great exercise but try pushing half a ton of metal 'down' a hill...
My favourite sign of the week was "Wamboshire, Proudly Rural" - each shire has its own slogan and I think this one must be to do with sheep.
By the time we arrived at the turn off to the gorge (after a stop for the slowest fast food in Australia in Roma) it was getting dark, we were getting grouchy - and the intercom had been unplugged for a while! The road turned to gravel, cows and huge bulls appeared out of the darkness, small marsupials raced across the road in front of us and I got pretty scared for a while. Nevertheless we arrived in one piece and decided to try and plan better next time.
Carnarvon Gorge (yep, named by a Welshmnan) was worth the scary ride though; we spent two full days walking and exploring it.
For 3000 or more years the gorge was used as an Aboriginal burial ground and in several places you could see Aboriginal art. A guide explained the meanings of the pictures to us which was very interesting.
I hope to learn more about Australian Aboriginals while here, there is heaps of information and history about the white settlers and what a hard time they had 200 years ago but I think the fact that people lived here for 60 000 years before that is something more of an achievement!
We intended to head to Longreach but stopped instead to try and get rich in the Gem Fields. These are a quirky collection of holes, ramshackle houses and eccentric people all trying to find big gems. We went for a fascinating tour around the 'Bobby Dazzler Mine' while John, the owner, taught us loads about sapphires, geology and mining in general. Afterwards we bought a bucket of dirt and fossicked away for a couple of hours. We found some small sapphires but didn't get rich, however it was great fun.
And so to Longreach; almost in the middle of Queensland, right in the outback and home to the Stockmans' Hall of Fame and a 747 in a car park. We stayed at the 'Gunnadoo' Campsite which had more Grey Nomads (retirees in caravans) than we'd yet seen and some 'traditional bush entertainment' around the campfire at night, which we avoided like the plague.
The Hall of Fame was interesting and pleasingly did suggest that the first settlers might not have been able to er, settle without the assistance of the locals. This later became forced labour in some cases, although some enlightened people did recored some positive comments about those whose homes they had invaded. The white settlers did have one hell of a job and their stories were amazing but I find it incredibly sad that it was at the expense of a whole race of people. I also find it incredibly sad that many people we have met have been more than slightly cynical about Aboriginals without really looking at the root causes of the problems they are facing today. Right, I'll get off my soapbox now.
The 747 is actually a 'living' museum, donated by Qantas to the Qantas Founders museum next to Longreach Airstrip. This was also fascinating and we got to see all the bits of a plane that are usually restricted.
The roads have been amazing, so straight that a corner is a major event. I've never seen such BIG spaces, land stretching to the horizon in every direction. We have seen a huge amount of wildlife too, we've both been twitching away taking pictures of birdlife. We've seen emus and kangaroos running across the plains, huge numbers of birds of prey and a couple of very long snakes. We've also seen more roadkill than I've ever seen in my life, dead marsupials almost every kilometre on the main roads, which is such a shame.
People we've met have been so welcoming too, we've had big kindnesses and small kindnesses and we've both felt incredibly at home, (even though one of us is a Pom!) Whenever we meet people and say where we're from they say 'Oh, England'. And then 'Oh!!! Scotland!! My family were from there in 1880whatever! My great grandfather was a McSomething...' I'm sure Hamish is related to half of the country! But I can't say strongly enough how friendly just about every person we've met has been.
If you look closely you can see the size of Scotland compared to Australia!!
The intercom on the bike is one thing I'm really glad we added. It's great for passing the time over huge distances and communicating directions, needs to stop and interesting things to see. I can also plug in the iPod which is great for taking your mind off having a numb bum. We've had to invent a signal which means 'I'mgoingtosneeze!!!!' otherwise it scares the living daylights out of the other person. I've been particularly deafened as Hame has had a cold for the past week.
Our camping equipment has also been very good - we will get around to adding some kind of list to this as we found reading other people's very helpful when planning our trip. However, we still have way too much stuff and will be posting another parcel back from Cairns in a couple of days, (sorry Alastair and Sarah!) As you can imagine, there have been several 'discussions' between Hame and I about what 'essential' means.
Right, time to hand over to the other author to write about the last two weeks.
It’s official! We made it to the Outback. It’s a little vague where the Outback actually begins, so we asked the question when stopping off for fuel and a sandwich at Tilly’s Servo in Alpha, a small village along the Capricorn Highway; so named as it lies along the Tropic of Capricorn. According to Tilly, if you’re from the city, the Outback begins when you leave the suburbs. However for those living further afield it’s a few more hours inland. Great stuff, but where exactly?
All was revealed when we entered Aramac Shire, en route from Longreach to Muttaburra, whereby a prominent sign announced “G’day Welcome to Aramac Shire The Real Outback, Where the West Began”. So there you go, now we know.
Upon arrival in Muttaburra (population 200), we came to learn this small town had several other attributes despite its small size. It’s the centre of Queensland for one and also the site where in 1963, a local stockman came across unique dinosaur remains, later to be excavated and pronounced “Muttaburrasaurus Longdoni”.
However for us, Muttaburra wasn’t about where the west began, its geographical location or the local dinosaur, it was about the people and our time spent there. Camping at the town’s rest area for free met with our approval, especially given the fact that the water supply was continuously hot as it’s fed from an underground hot spring! Another appealing fact was that it was within the vicinity of the local pub, and with the Wallabies playing England live on the telly, it was another chance for me to humiliate Emma!
To cut a long story short, by the next morning Australia had beaten England, the XXXX beer beat my head and we ended up riding out to an outback station belonging to some bloke we’d met the previous night via directions scribbled on the back of a beer mat.
Upon arrival at Bill’s 28,000 acre station, my sketchy welding skills were put to the test assisting Trevor fabricating steel gates, whilst Emma assisted Bill unloading cattle from two recently arrived Road Trains. A couple of hours later I was rudely disturbed by a loud air horn blast. I looked up to find Em driving one of the mammoth Road Trains round the farm!
Not content to stop there, Em later hopped aboard the farm quad bike and helped to muster the newly arrived cattle out to pastures new.
Over the next day or two, I helped out Bill and Trevor to muster sheep, mark lambs, hunt wild pigs (another introduced menace) and drink their XXXX supplies, generally having the time of my life. Riding an XR250 dirt bike over endless plains, in UK summer temperatures, with kangaroos hopping off into the distance and artisan well windmills pumping away on the horizon, I had to pinch myself this was real.
Meanwhile Em took a trip to the local shops for supplies with Peta, Bill’s wife– some 120kms away and was introduced to some of the local amenities, surprisingly sufficient for such a small community. Both Em and I have been blown away by the Australian hospitality, in particular Bill and Pete’s who took us into their home and gave us an insight into life on an outback station. However, more than that was the warmth and friendship experienced.
It wasn’t easy to leave, however the show must go on, so it was back on the bike and North on yet more gravel roads
to Porcupine Gorge, a National Park some 70kms North of Hughenden. We arrived not long before sun down, time to pitch the tent, get dinner on and catch an early night.
The next morning we were rudely woken to the sound of highly strung strimmers buzzing away. I poked my head out of the tent to find a hive of activity taking place; tables being erected, temporary awnings going up, even a helicopter came into land! I went to investigate and established there was an 8km-running race taking place that morning up the gorge. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, Em and I signed up to participate. Before we knew it we were standing on the starting line down at the bottom of the gorge not knowing quite what we were letting ourselves in for. About an hour or so later we a little wiser and a lot more exhausted. Nonetheless we had a good time and another chance to meet the locals, some of whom had travelled some 5 hours from Townsville to compete.
After relaxing for the remainder of the day, we set off the following morning via Lynd Junction, whose claim to fame is Australia's smallest pub. Em quaffed a VB - no such luck for me, a Ginger Beer had to do.
Next stop was Undara National Park, home to the lava tubes, created some 190,000 years ago when lava flowed from a nearby volcano. The tubes themselves must be 10 – 15mts in diameter, and quite a sight to see, despite the damage to the wallet created by the fact you can only visit by taking a tour with the monopolistic tour operator. ‘Nuff said.
The campsite was good however, with our own private campfire and various marsupials paying us a visit throughout both day and night.
We therefore decided to stay an extra day and sort out some of the surplus luggage we’ve been lugging around. Heated discussions were inevitable as to what was deemed essential and non-essential, (like the size of Em’s wash-bag for example), however we made some progress and are on the way to lightening the load a little.
Entering the Atherton Tableland region yesterday after the Outback was quite a change to what we’ve been used to – it was raining for one. Not only that, but the scenery was much more akin to that of the UK; rolling green farmland but with masses of wild busy lizzies providing a wealth of colour by the roadside. We decided we’d give camping a miss for the night and treat ourselves to a traditional Queensland Hotel. The 95-year-old Malanda Hotel, the largest wooden hotel in Queensland, fitted the bill. Despite looking like it hadn’t had a refit since 1911, it all added to the character. And at 45 bucks night, who’s to complain?
Today it's off to Cairns to pick up some parts and give the bike a bit of a service. The dirt roads have taken their toll on both fork seals and paralever bearings, therefore they'll be replaced along with the usual 10K km service tomorrow. All in time for the next leg of our journey, North of Cairns and then along the Savannah Way to Darwin.
Now that we've reached Darwin (the first town with a population exceeding 3 figures we've visited for a while), it's time again to update the blog. We arrived via a series of 'alternative' routes, looking like a couple of extras from a Mad Max movie; covered from head to foot in red dust, the bike sporting a couple of dents and scrapes from various escapades along the way.
It's almost 3 weeks since we left Malanda in the Atherton Tablelands to head for Cairns via the Gillie's Highway, a fantastic ride winding its way down from the Tablelands to join the somewhat less exciting Brisbane-Cairns Bruce Highway. Given that it's the holiday season, we surprised ourselves by being organised and booked a spot in what turned out to be a rather salubrious campsite to the South of Cairns. After numerous nights basic camping in National Parks and the likes, the golf cart escort to our designated camp spot blew us away!
We'd come to Cairns not only to pay a visit, but specifically to get some work done on the bike. The paralever bearings in the rear swinging arm were worn, the final drive rubber boot cracked and the fork seals weren't sealing any longer. I'd been put in touch with Terry Scanlan, an aeronautical engineer and BM enthusiast / mechanic in his spare time. Terry's extensive workshop was impressive, as was his workmanship, I'd certainly recommend him to anyone passing through Cairns (Terry Scanlan 07-4055 4809).
Terry rebuilt the final drive, complete with a new final drive oil seal (which we noticed was weeping) and paralever pivot bearings, whilst I replaced the oil and filter. Being more familiar with earlier Airheads as opposed to the later Oilheads, Terry didn't have a suitable drift to insert the new bearings, so instead knocked one up on his lathe. The same for the replacement front fork seals, a perfect drift made up to ensure a perfect fit. Last up we adjusted the tappets and balanced the throttle bodies, the bike now set for the next few thousand K's.
Terry's wife Sylvia, kindly prepared a fantastic barbaque spread that night before we set off again the following morning for Daintree to meet our soon to become friend, Neville.
We'd been put in touch with Neville by Ken and Carol in Brisbane and were looking forward to meet the Daintree crocodile spotter and to visit his rainforest abode. We were not to be disappointed, Neville welcomed us with open arms, giving up his bed and even emptying the compost toilet to accomodate us!
As Neville worked as a nature tour guide on the Daintree river, we joined him the following morning for an educational trip on the boat, spotting a number of saltwater crocs, as well as variety of snakes, birds and plantlife. It certainly was an interesting trip and as about as close as we'd like to get to the infamous 'salties'!
While at Neville's we went on a guided walk through Mossman Gorge. Our guide Raymond explained how the rainforest was utilised in every way; it was a kitchen, workshop, medicine cabinet. Although many of the trees were familiar to us from forests in Asia we discovered a lot of new uses for them. Raymond also told us how he hid in the forest from the trackers and policemen who came to take the aboriginal children to missions in a different part of the country. He managed to stay with his family; many didn't.
If you don't know about this dark chapter in the settlers' past, watch the movie "Rabbit Proof Fence".
We saw some cave paintings which clearly showed the ships of the early settlers or explorers, as well as animals around the area, for all we knew one of them could have been Cook's ship, the Endeavour...
One of the guys who lived in the community was an amazing dijeridoo player. He made it sound like a crocodile, or exactly how you'd imagine a crocodile to sound and listening to him play made the hairs on my arms stand up.
Neville managed to arrange a couple of days off work to take us on a ride up the coastal Bloomfield track to Cooktown, so named for the spot Captain Cook first landed in Australia back in 1770. We set off early in a drizzly rain towards Cape Tribulation, where the bitumen ended and the Bloomfield track (and fun) began.
Before too long we reached Emmagen Creek, our first crossing of the day. Em dismounted and waded accross, armed with camera to record the event. Neville crossed on his 650 Dakar without any concerns, so I followed with confidence only to slide and fall on wet river stones exiting the opposite side. We lifted the bike immediately to Emma's dismay; she didn't get a photo! Fortunately only my pride was injured and nothing else.
The track reminded me of trail riding in Malaysia, dense rainforest, rivers and slippery tracks more suited to a 250 Enduro bike than an Overlanding monster!
We arrived in Cooktown nonetheless, despite poor Em gritting her teeth for most of the way. She's turning out to be a hardy pillion, you'd not get me on the back for love nor money, especially on these roads!
Whilst in Cooktown we rode up Grassy Hill, where Captain Cook apparently climbed to look for a safe passage out of the bay where Cooktown is now located. Before returning to Daintree the following day we continued on a historical theme, checking out the Historical Society, documenting Cooktown's goldrush past.
The trip to Cooktown with Neville was one of the highlights so far, we had a blast and only wish we'd had longer. (Hamish)
It was hard to say farewell to Neville who is simply one of the nicest blokes I've ever met. We thanked him for opening up his rainforest hideaway to us and for the adventures we shared, not to mention his famous Black Sapote Milkshakes!
Neville is planning a trip to South America in 2007, with luck our paths will cross again. (Emma)
We were both excited to start a new 'chapter' by beginning the long journey West. A short day's ride took us to Chillagoe, site of some very cool caves
and a quirky little museum which was well worth the visit. It housed an eclectic collection of fossils, large spiders, gemstones, clocks from the 1970s, an x-ray machine stolen from the Germans during World War II and all sorts of other curios. We loved it! The oldest fossil was 1,700,000,000 years old, bits of stromatolites which are the oldest forms of life on earth, still going strong to this day.
In the evening we booked ourselves on a tour of the night sky at the observatory in our campground. I've been very anorakky in trying to learn all the constellations and was a complete girly swot, pointing out one our guide didn't know. Don't know if Hame was impressed or embarrassed! The telescope was the biggest I've ever seen, so powerful you had to move it to view the whole surface of the moon. Once our minds were blown by trying to take in the size of our galaxy (can't even think about the universe) we staggered to bed.
As usual Hame was up with the bloody larks, I'm not a morning person but he insists we get up at 6 (middle of the night if you ask me). He's right, I know, or we'd never get anywhere. As with every other morning he woke up and got dressed, made the coffee and breakfast and said cheerful things loudly while I lay groaning for a bit, before dragging myself up to stuff all the bedding into various bags and sacks. This morning however, felt worse than the usual morning. After I'd done my morning moaning for half an hour or so I realised it just wasn't getting light so I checked my watch - 4.30am. Not quite sure how he got it so wrong! He crawled back into the tent to wait for daylight.
We headed to Normanton where the dirt roads began in earnest. We'd been recommended the 'Purple Pub' which was indeed a pub that was very purple.
For a small fortune we got a motel room at the back of the pub as it had been a seven hour ride and we were a bit sore, but really it was because we wanted to watch the rubgy. We'd watched the previous two State of Origin games - a yearly rugby war between New South Wales and Queensland - and this was the final. As we'd always been in Queensland for the games we supported them, and were as ecstatic as the rest of the pub as they won the series for the first time in four years.
After Hame had waved the coffee under my nose the next morning we got back on Bertha and hit the dirt road again. The early morning light behind us was beautiful...
After a few kilometres our luxury purchase of the day, a box of wine, fell off the bike. We didn't realise until far down the road and we did turn around and look for it but had too many miles to go, to go back too far. We stopped off at a historical site further up the road and met a bus driver who'd managed to get his bus load of grey nomads stuck in a dip in the road. We offered to help although there was really nothing we could do. I asked him if he'd seen a green box on the road, "Oh yeah... ran over it!" he said cheerfully.
The historical site was one of the camps of the famous explorers Burke and Wills. In the late 19th century they attempted to cross the country from the South to the North, despite not being terribly experienced explorers and carrying far too much unimportant stuff. They almost made it; they could taste the salt of the ocean in the rivers and knew they were very near, but they had to turn back. They died of thirst on the way home again, only one party member survived becuase he was rescued by a friendly tribe of Aboriginals.
Another long dirt ride, about eight hours off road (after a quick stop off in Burketown to replace the wine) took us to Lawn Hill National Park, a place we'd been told about by lots of travellers. It lived up to its reputation and became another highlight of our trip. Camped near to us were a couple, Steve and Rose who by chance used to live in Malaysia. We swapped notes on travel and spent a couple of lovely evenings with them around the fire. Rose amazed me by sitting down with a bowl, casually stirring in a few ingredients, dolloping it into a big iron pot which was then covered with coals and producing a delicious cake. These guys knew how to camp in style!
Steve and Rose recommended hiring a canoe to explore the gorge in the early morning. Hame rowed while I took pictures which seemed a very sensible arrangement.
On the way up the gorge we rowed past one croc in the water and one quite large one sunning itself on a log, fortunately these were 'freshies', as opposed to 'salities' which are far bigger and scarier and will eat you up in a second.
I'll let the photos describe how beautiful it was.
We walked around the gorge and watched the sunset from the top of a hill, the views were stunning.
It was hard to drag ourselves away but we had suddenly become aware of how many more places we'd like to visit on our long way to Melbourne so we left after three nights - I think we both could have stayed three weeks. We said our farewells to Steve and Rose who we'd really clicked with, promised to take them up on their kind invitation to their home near Sydney, and set off, wanting to ride a few long days and get to Darwin.
For some reason we miscalculated (read didn't calculate) the distance we had to travel and so we arrived at the fuel stop holding our breath - but it was useful to discover Bertha could do 521km on a tank and still have a couple of litres sloshing about somewhere!
From Lawn Hill the dirt roads were full of corrugations. For those of you who've not had the pleasure see the picture below:
On the way to the main road we passed Riversleigh, a world heritage site where hundreds of fossils have been found. Although we still had a long way to go we stopped for a quick look and saw several fossils which were 25 million years old, laid down when the area was covered with rainforest.
Being in Australia is like being on a crash course in Paleantology and Geology, we've learnt a lot while exploring the country - there is just so much here.
We filled up quickly in Camoweal with incredibly expensive fuel and were tempted to stay at a campground as they had Roast Pork on the menu... but decided to push on and head to a rest area. Rest areas are great, free stops near the road with toilets, water and a fire pit. We love them!
Not far out of town we passed the border of the Northern Territory. The landscape was FLAT, 360 degrees of flatness for a very long way!
The sunset and sunrise from the rest area were superb, the sky changing colours over the vastness.
We had the luxury of more bitumen as we turned North, along the most featureless landscape I've ever seen. For 360km we saw cows, scrub and grass. The iPod really came into its own here or we may have fallen asleep!
We headed to Cape Crawford where we'd hoped to find a shop as our camping food supplies were getting low. We'd eaten all the nice stuff and were left with rice and dehydrated peas and not a lot else. Cape Crawford however, turned out to be a road junction. There was a campground there by the Heartbreak Hotel. It served delicious food, had nice soft grass to camp on but lived up to its name as our hearts were broken by drunk backpackers partying right next to us (note, never camp near the bar!). They were up and off just as the party finished, made us feel very old...
From Cape Crawford it was dirt all the way. We thought we were getting used to it but discovered just how many types of road surface there are in the outback.
Corrugations we'd met several times, but not like these ones. Imagine riding a jackhammer! We were introduced to 'bulldust'; potholes filled with talc-like powder, impossible not to wobble on. Add this to the 20 or so creeks we crossed, wash outs from the last big rains, wildlife, road trains and heat - it was a pretty entertaining ride!
On the way we stopped at the Lost City, huge sandstone formations created by erosion over millions of years.
On the way to our campsite for the night Hame decided to take Bertha for a little swim. Some famous last words were uttered "Shall I get off and walk through?" shortly before Hame decided we'd had enough creek practice and could get through anything two-up, shortly before we hit a rock and slid sideways into the water! Fortunately nothing was hurt except his pride and the food which got a bit wet.
From now on we'll go back to the old method of me getting off to walk through and check it (the old pillion croc bait trick) with Hame following soon after.
Our camp for the night was another National Park freebie, we love them too. Butterfly Springs was a stunning little spot, a creek safe for swimming with drinkable water, the usual firepits and we timed it just right for the full moon.
Leaving there in the morning was harder than usual and we didn't get away until nine, knowing we had a really hard ride ahead. it turned out to be one of the hardest rides we'd had yet. Eight hours of hard dirt roads, every single type of road surface we'd seen one after the other. Our language got more colourful by the minute, our bums got sorer and sorer and we couldn't wait to get back on the tar.
Our stop for the night in Mataranka was the perfect antidote, a campsite a short walk away from thermal pools. The temperature was just right, the stars came out and we soaked our soreness and the layers of dust we've been collecting away in minutes.
I've said before how much friendliness we've experienced. As I was checking in a man (also called Neville) came to admire our dirty bike and within minutes had invited us to visit him and his wife in Sydney. It turned out he owned the same model of bike as us. I've never felt so welcome in a place before.
As well as the road conditons we've come across some of the things in Australia that can kill you:
...and the car-eating cows...
Speaking of cows, they are very funny when we ride past. They're not quite quick enough to see the bike but they can hear it, and lots of pairs of soft cow eyes will follow the space where we just were, as we fly by. They know something has just happened, but they don't know quite what...
From Mataranka it was a fast but uneventful ride to Darwin for a few days stop to stock up on food, sort out tyres to collect in Broome and catch up on some e mailing. Both of us are looking forward to getting out of the city though, the outback has charmed us and we'll be back off to our favoured National Park camps tomorrow.
We finally caught up with Uli and Klaus, a German couple on an Africa Twin who'd met Ken and Carol and stayed with Neville in Daintree just before us. We'd e mailed them a few times and been chasing them across the country - it was good to catch up and compare notes. They are heading to Asia so we gave them lots of tips about off the beaten track destinations in Malaysia. At the same campsite were a Swiss couple on a R100GS who'd ridden from Europe and in the next campsite along were Americans David and Erika on a Transalp, we'd corresponded with them when they were also hanging out for a ferry back in Penang. They'd had a carnet however and had caught a different boat and ridden through Indonesia, it was good to hear about their adventures.
Our next major town will be Broome, a place I've wanted to visit for years. On the way there we will go through the Kimberley which Hamish is especially looking forward to, after celebrating my 21st birthday along the way.
(Oh OK, I mean 34th...)
(Written on 23/07/06)
Well, I wasn't expecting to update the blog so quickly but here we are in a town with an internet cafe so I may as well make the most of it and explain why we are in a town and not on the road...
Our last night in Darwin was great. We rode around the city a bit and discovered that Darwin is less like a city and more like a big village. After doing our chores we found ourselves outside the Deckchair Cinema, an outdoor cinema next to the beach. A good film was on ('Live and Become', French, very good) but what really sold it for us was the fact you could buy beer and curry to eat while the film was on, how civilised!
The next morning we left very late. We stop in a campsite for a few days and I'm always amazed at how stuff spreads itself out and refuses to go where it should...
We'd decided to go to Litchfield National Park for my birthday. The roads were a little rough but nothing worse than we'd had. Hame found a great campsite down a 4WD track and we managed to nab the last spot. It was quite a large spot so we had to look possessive as people drove by hoping to find a camp. After a while we felt bad doing that so as a young and friendly looking couple drove by we offered to share the fire. Soon after that a car load of students appeared so we fitted them in too and ended up pooling our supplies of food and herbs, beer and wine and having a party round the fire, celebrating my birthday at midnight - excellent!
In the morning there were a few fuzzy heads but the students were amazingly awake and organised, cooking pancakes, scones and damper on the fire. They even managed to create a birthday cake made of chocolate damper, I was really touched.
Mal and Jenny, the first couple who'd turned up, offered to take us in their van to some of the waterfalls in the park. We got on really well with them, being very like minded and with things in common - the boys, beer and engines; Jenny and I, talking!
We had a great day exploring the area and swimming in a huge waterfall at Sandy Creek. It was a stunning place, cliff walls easily as high as a 10 storey building and a massive flow of water into a big and incredibly deep pool at the bottom. If you look closely at the pic below you can just see Hamish and Mal chucking themselves off a very high rock into the water...
Drove by enormous termite mounds and through a deep creek on the way back, where we started the party once more. It was a great way to celebrate.
Hame and I were mindful of time running out. Five months sounded like such a long time to be in one country but as I've said numerous times, Australia is BIG. The further you go, the bigger it gets. So we packed up the next morning and went West, leaving the Northern Territory for a few weeks and heading into Western Australia.
After a night in a rest area we were finally on the Gibb River Road, in the Kimberley, an area of Australia in the North West that is bigger than the UK and a place we've long wanted to visit. We'd stopped in Kununarra to replace food we had to eat in a hurry (there are quarantine laws on fresh stuff as you pass into WA), get some info on the Kimberley and fill up with fuel. I think my head was still a bit mashed from birthday celebrations because I (the navigator) was paying very little attention to where we were going. Hame said he'd got good information about ways to get to Diggers Rest, our destination for the night but it turned out he'd not been paying much attention either!
We turned onto the Gibb River Road as it was getting late, but Hame said he thought he knew the way. The scenery was amazing, after so many days of flatness suddenly there were hills and escarpments all around us. The road we were after didn't appear and we found ourselves running out of daylight in the middle of nowhere. We thought we'd have to bush camp but then like a mirage came across a sign for Emma Gorge Resort. We knew it was there somewhere but also knew it was horribly expensive, nevertheless I suggested (!) riding to reception to see if there was a campsite nearby. There wasn't but there was one room left and we decided to treat it as another birthday thing and pamper ourselves.
As you can imagine I was really upset to have a nice hot shower instead of a river, fluffy towels instead of our rather smelly chamoix leather style camping towels, things that smelt nice and a big soft bed and of course we had to stay somewhere called Emma Gorge... (Funnily enough on the way to Kununarra we passed a township called Myatt!) Thank goodness for credit cards, that's all I can say.
In the morning we started packing up the bike when Hame noticed a crack in the pannier, a rather large crack which looked like it wanted to continue. As I was looking I noticed a crack on the bike's sub frame (the best way to explain it is to say it's the bike's skeleton, the thing that everything else is attached to, including me). Too many pies, obviously. We were quite horrified by these two discoveries but had had a sneaky suspicion it would happen eventually, so in a way it was a relief to get it over with.
There was no option but to ride back to Kununarra (very gingerly over the corrugations) and get it welded. The guys in the bike shop couldn't do it but coincidentally someone who worked at a local engineering firm was there and said he'd be able to do it in the morning. The guys in the bike shop told us very definitely we'd not be allowed to work on the bike in a campsite, but between us we charmed the caretaker of the Kimberleyland Campsite and he not only said he didn't mind, he let us use his workshop.
Hame got right down to business yesterday afternoon and took Bertha to bits.
Once on the job he discovered he had to take the sub-frame right off, a pain in the neck to do but easier to weld in the end. It was all done very quickly this morning so Hame has been painting the frame - which is now stronger than it probably ever was. Bertha is in about 1000 pieces, ready to be put back together when the frame dries. I'll let Hame explain more about all that next blog.
When it's all fixed - hopefully tomorrow or the next day - we'll be back on the Gibb River Road, over 700km of gravel, heading to Broome once again. And eating pies all the way...
After Emma had spotted a crack in the sub-frame, we were left with no choice but to limp back to Kununurra for steel surgery. The cracked pannier was a small matter in comparison. Upon closer inspection, the right hand lower sub-frame tube had cracked just below the footrest hanger, ala Claudio in the 'Long Way Round'. Fortunately the tube wasn't sheared completely, however it wouldn't remain that way for long if we were to continue along the Gibb River Road.
Upon our return to Kununurra, we headed for the local bike shop, where we were fortunate to bump into Chris, a local fabricator. After a quick look, he confirmed something could be done the following morning. I used the remainder of the day to prepare the bike - my initial intention being simply to remove the airbox, allowing sufficient access to weld the cracked frame. However, upon consulting the faithful Haynes manual: 'to remove airbox, first remove sub-frame', I was left with no choice but to remove the sub-frame completely. A little more work than I'd bargained for. Fortunately we had an understanding campsite manager whose workshop I used felt more like the parc ferme from a Dakar stage than a campsite tool shed; folks replacing broken springs on their 4WD's, changing tyres and the likes.
By 8 o'clock the following morning Chris had not only welded the crack, but fabricated supporting braces for either side, ensuring the frame to be stronger than when it left Bavaria some 12 years ago. After a frustrating afternoon waiting for the paint to dry, I had the bike back together the following morning, complete with an oil change and a clean air filter, ready to tackle the Kimberley.
Whilst (loosely) planning our Australian trip, the Kimberley region in the far North West corner was one which appealed a lot. Tales of the Gibb River Road, a 700km unsealed gravel road traversing the region through numerous river crossings,
abounding with corrugations and bulldust, are legendary. So too are the spectacular gorges dotted along the way, offering cool respite after a hot and dusty day's ride. We were looking forward to getting started and to what laid ahead.
We left Kununarra at a leisurely pace and headed for Wyndam, some 100kms to the North. Our destination was Diggers Rest (second time lucky), a working station 40kms West of Wyndam, nestled beneath the dominating Cockburn Range. After pitching our tent in the garden,
we joined owners Roderick and Alida along with staff and guests, to a tasty stew by the fire, a welcome break for chief cook Emma! The following day we entertained various guests in our tent; a hen, a dog and even the resident emu!
However, the highlight of our visit was the sunset horseback ride. While the reins felt at home to Emma, I was struggling without a pair of handlebars and a throttle to turn!
Always up for a challenge, we left the following morning via the Karunjie Track, a small 4WD track skirting around the North of the Cockburn Range, via vast mud flats
and, as we found out to our dismay, a lot of sand. Not firm, tide just gone out kinda sand, but soft, riding on sugar sort of sand. Fun on a 250, not so much fun two-up on an 1100! Such conditions demanded alternative tactics, as Em was soon to realise when I instructed 'Hang on, we're going bush!'.
Following narrow cattle tracks through the scrub provided more momentum, eventually rejoining the Gibb immediately before the Pentacost river crossing, the longest crossing along the length of the Gibb River Road.
I was somewhat apprehensive about the crossing, at a hundred or so metres wide, the scope for getting it wrong was high. Em somewhat reluctantly walked across. Reluctantly, not because she wanted to be on the bike, bucking its way over riverstones one or two feet below the surface, but because of the saltwater crocs that inhabited the river! Despite my apprehension, we made the crossing with no problems and continued on to our camp for the night, a homestead promising cold beer and hot showers. Only there was no beer, cold or otherwise.
This lead me to spawn a breakthrough in camp cuisine, The revelation came to me whilst bush camping by the Gibb River the following evening: Powdered beer - just add water! If only...
Despite not having sufficient luggage space to carry the 'sociable brew', I would have to say that many an Aussie camper has taken pity on us and offered us a cold one (or two!), such is their warm genorosity. ( I will have to add here that these offers are usually in response to Hamish wandering over to their camp and drooling over their cans! - Em)
Continuing on down the track, we met up with three other bikers travelling in the opposite direction; 2 Germans and an Israeli, the only other bikers we would meet along the Gibb. The track had taken its toll on their tyres, necessitating a stop to repair a puncture. As is the norm whlist travelling in opposing directions, we swapped information on road conditions, corrugations being the predominant theme.
Now, during our time in Australia, I've made it a bit of a quest to find out what causes these bike and back jarring corrugations to form. Because if it's the result of one person, I'd like ten minutes in a boxing ring with him! I've asked as many different people as I've received different answers: road foundations, grader blade height / angle, vehicle suspension, the list goes on. However, what I tend to believe is what someone told me whilst in Kununarra, 'there is no answer to what causes corrugations'. Apparently an extensive scientific study conducted recently was inconclusive. So there we go, who knows?
We continued on down the track towards Mt. Barnett Roadhouse, the only petrol stop along the 700km stretch. Despite the low fuel warning light shining brightly for quite some time, I was confident we had suffice to reach the roadhouse. However, when the 31ltr tank swallowed 30.5ltrs, it didn't leave a lot of room for error! We camped the next few nights some 7kms behinfd the roadhouse at Manning Gorge, a tranquil oasis which turned out to be one of Em's top spots. We decided to stay an extra day to chill out by the falls, soaking it all in whilst attempting Spanish lesson No.2, being somewhat behind schedule in our fluency preparations for South America.
The following morning we stopped off for a mid-morning dip at Galvan's Gorge, its perfect plunge pool being fed by a waterfall running beneath a large boab tree, a common sight around the Kimberley.
These fantastic stubby trunked trees bare few leaves and would appear right at home in a Tolkein epic. Together with rusty red rock formations, cobalt blue skies and crystal clear watering holes, they are how I will remember the Kimberley.
Lennard Gorge the following day was quite different, with little vegetation and steep sided rock, it was for me more rugged and dramatic. We spent a fantastic few hours with the pool all to ourselves, before some other visitors came along, reminding us it was time to move on.
Our all too brief journey through the Kimberley was coming to a close, however not before checking out the freshies (freshwater crocs) at Windjana Gorge.
The gorge itself is quite amazing, originally an underwater reef and therefore full of ancient fossilzed sea life. Needless to say, Em was in her element. I just can't comprehend how long ago all of this happened, so instead just classify it all as 'millions of years', which has become a bit of a joke between us. Em will read out each piece of geological info the respective national park has to offer with great interest, to which I reply, 'Aye, millions!'.
Although we had a fantastic time along the Gibb River Road, it was somewhat of a relief to hit the bitumen some 70kms or so East of Derby (pronounced DErby, as opposed to DArby incidentally) for the remaining stretch.
We both felt a sense of achievement at making it through in one piece, although no big deal by Australian standards, there's not so many folks daft enough to ride it two-up on a motorbike!
We arrived in Broome with images of fish and chips and cold beer and were not to disappointed. The tyres I'd ordered whilst in Darwin had arrived, so I replaced the Heidenaus after an impressive 14,000kms with the same again, ready to tackle the next leg of our Australian adventure, South via the Pilbara, before hooking up with the Great Central Road to Alice Springs.
(This is Hame's cheerful morning face - Em)
16 000km so far!
I wish I'd visited Broome years ago, before the tourist masses descended. The tourists had taken over this sleepy seaside town, and the prices had risen accordingly. However, Cable Beach was huge and beautiful, the fish and chips were good, we were able to get all our chores done and despite being warned we'd not find a campsite with space left we found a brilliant spot - right next to the beach.
We met Steve and Lynn again - a couple we'd bumped into several times on the Gibb River Road who had saved us one night when we were parched - with ice cold beer and champagne! We returned the favour (with the beer anyway!) and caught up on travel stories before catching a movie at the oldest outdoor cinema in Australia, Sun Pictures.
From Broome we headed South on an incredibly straight road with very little to look at except miles of scrub and brown grass. We soon had enough of that and turned South towards Marble Bar. At first there was more of the same; flat browness, then suddenly lots of small hills appeared, red with iron ore against the deep blue sky. We both decided it reminded us of parts of Scotland and Northen England.
This was the start of the Pilbara, an area of land rich in minerals and scenery. As the sun sank lower we started looking for a rough camp, and soon came to Doleena Gorge, one of the few gorges still to have water during the dry season. It was absolutely beautiful, as the sun set the hills glowed red and orange, the water was still and the only sounds to be heard were made by birds.
That night we didn't use our tent, we simply lay on our sleeping bags on our tarp and slept under the stars next to the fire. It was magical.
In the morning Hamish's Scottishness came out - he wanted to climb the hills. I was content to lie around watching the wildlife all day but let him persuade me and I was very glad I did, despite the fact we set off in the heat of the day (only the poms are this silly) and struggled up through the spinifex. It sounds painful and it is; short and spikey grass which catches at your legs. The views were well worth it. On the way back to the camp we stopped at the water's edge to try and catch dinner as there seemed to be lots of fish. The pelicans and cormorants were ducking and diving and catching plenty, but we had no success at all - so we cheated and opened a tin of tuna instead.
As we watched the sun setting and the hills changing colour the pelicans fished, kockatoos flew overhead on their way to roost, birds of prey picked off any fish the cormorants missed and a rock wallably came down for an evening drink. We slept out again and I woke in the middle of the night to see the white bark of the ghost gum trees shining in the light of the nearly full moon and a pelican gliding silently by on the water. I thought how I didn't want this trip to end...
The outback is full of colour. Reds, blues and greens are everywhere but in the Pilbara the wildflowers were starting to come out adding splashes of pinks and yellows.
We fuelled up in Marble Bar, famous for its jasper deposits. We got talking to the owner of the roadhouse, Cheryl, who was desperately looking for staff at the roadhouse; she offered us both jobs on the spot. We would have taken them if we didn't already have plans as it would have been a great experience to work in such an isolated place. The three weeks on/one week off would have given plenty of time to explore the Pilbara... but we did have plans, and after fuelling ourselves up as well we were off again.
The dirt started shortly afterwards but it was 'good' dirt, through stunning colourful scenery, really enjoyable and wonderfully quiet, only two cars passed us in 150km. This is the road after the dirt finished, the hills were quite dramatic.
Hame had read about Karijini National Park so we headed there for a couple of days to explore more gorges. A nightmare of red dirt and corrugations - 46km of them - took us to Weano Gorge, a deep and narrow gorge carved from the tightly packed red rocks which erode in straight lines like brickwork. We climbed down into the gorge and walked along until it got narrower, and narrower.
Soon we had to wade through pools and along the creek bed until we came to a steep drop down to the Handrail Pool, we had to climb down using a rail and a rope.
The water was Very Cold, and as we went further it got colder, and narrower, until we could touch both sides of the gorge at once. Eventually we got to a part with a sign which warned us not to go any further unless we could abseil, so we turned around there.
On the way back we stopped at a viewpoint overlooking the place where four gorges met. It was an awesome sight, four incredibly steep and narrow gorges meeting directly below us.
The next day we went to Tom Price, a town named after a guy called... Tom Price. We went on a tour of one of the iron ore mines in the area, the only word I have to describe it is BIG. I know the world needs iron ore but we had to laugh when we read the sign which said they were trying to do it with the 'least environmental impact'!!
It was however, an interesting trip and despite all my horrors about the way the countryside was being ripped up I had a strange urge to have a go on one of the really really big trucks...
From here Hame and I had two choices, 300km of dirt through the middle of nowhere or a longer tarred route to Gascoyne Junction, venue of a bike rally we'd been aiming for. Of course we chose the silly adventurous route and spent eight hours bumping and bouncing our way along the road. The scenery wasn't much to look at but there were loads of emus - running alongside us, appearing ahead on the road, running madly off sideways into the bush. They all reminded me of John Cleese doing the Ministry of Funny Walks. We also saw a couple of large whirly winds, things I knew as 'dust devils' in Kenya as a child. They are like mini tornados, sometimes with a 'tube' stretching 60m into the sky.
We'd heard of the bike rally months back and had used it as something to aim for to get us this far West. The 'Off Centre Rally' is an unofficial meeting, every two years, of like-minded adventure bikers. Gascoyne Junction was little more than a few houses and a pub, but was transformed by all the bikers into one large party.
We pitched the tent then Hame wandered off in bloke ecstasy to stroll about looking at all the other bikes, take pictures, talk machinery and modifications and drink beer. He was, as you can imagine, in heaven. I, as you can imagine, wasn't, but made the most of it and met heaps of people, thoroughly enjoyed it, despite it being very bikery and blokey, and partied long into the night.
At some stage of the evening the next venue was decided, by the bloke with the loudest voice. It was great fun, we did meet some good people and I hope we make the next one. As we've both fallen in love with Australia there's a rather large chance we may be here.... watch this space!
We left the next morning with sore heads and some new friends; Pete, Steve and Chris. It was back on the dirt for a bit (which I've totally had enough of for now) before going North to Coral Bay, touristy but stunning and full of sea life. The snorkling was fantastic if a little chilly - we've been spoiled in the past by the 29 degree sea temperatures of Asia. We also went on a whale watching trip, and saw a humpback whale and her calf, as well as dolphin, lots of turtles and a manta ray - amazing!
We hadn't planned on coming as far South as Perth, in fact we do very little planning at all, tending to look at the map in the morning and decide then which way we'll go. As we were so near to Perth - only 1000km away! - we decided to come down and visit Hame's brother's sister-in-law (work that one out) Jen and her husband and family who we'd only met once. Feeling bad for not giving them more notice we called to see if they were home. With great warmth we were immediately invited to come whenever we could get there.
On the way to Perth we stopped at Hamelin Pool, which is one of the only two marine homes on earth of stromatolites, bacterial lifeforms which build themselves slowly into weird looking stumpy structures.
This may seem a strange thing to want to visit, but without stromatolites we wouldn't have evolved; for 3,000,000,000 years they were the only forms of life on earth. As they grew they produced tiny bubbles of oxygen which over all those years turned our atmosphere into one things could live in. They are the oldest forms of life on earth and the ones at Hamelin Pool are protected. They even have a captive one in a tank! Bill Bryson wrote about Hamelin Pool in 'Down Under' and I'd wanted to come since reading the book, and seeing fossilised stromatolites in Chillagoe weeks ago.
After a night sleeping in a luxuriously converted railway carriage in Dongara - our first bed for a month -
we arrived in Perth and were given a warm welcome by Jen and Rikki and a truly delicious meal of roast lamb - very welcome after all those camping meals. As I'm writing this guess what Hame is doing...
This time it's new brake pads, an ancient oil leak which can't be put off any longer, and a few other bits and pieces - I'll let him write about it in the next blog.
(1 week later)
We've had a fantastic week with Jen and Riki and the children. We've been made to feel so welcome and been wonderfully looked after, had fun with the kids, practised baby skills on Harrison who is 13 weeks old and it's going to be very hard to leave (but we will have to before I get any broodier!). Riki didn't bat an eyelid as Hame dismantled Bertha in the garage, I've enjoyed having girly chats while getting to know Jen, plus it's been lovely being in a big comfy bed and having a fridge! But the tent is calling us, adventure beckons again and we'll be leaving tomorrow morning. We're not looking forward to more goodbyes, it's been great getting to know another branch of our family and we could easily stay a lot longer...
All the way South it was getting colder and it's well and truly 'winter' now (only 19 degrees or so!), rain and wind with sun every now and again. We will head West then North towards the goldfields, the rough plan is to ride to Alice Springs along the Great Central Road - over 1000km of dirt across the desert. Hame said "We can go across on tarred roads if you want..." whilst looking sad, so although I could do without a week bouncing on dirt we've decided to take the Great Central road, after all where's the fun on tarred roads?!
Hame bought me an Aussie bush hat!
Not only did Riki and Jen welcome us into their home, but also their garage. Before leaving Malaysia I rebuilt the bike's top end as a result of stripped cylinder barrel studs, (yet another legacy of a former owner), and subsequently learnt I used gasket sealant that didn't seal. By that time we were in Australia. Originating from the base of the cylinder barrel, it was more a weep than a leak, however it was annoying and didn't appear to going away. It was time for remedial action.
As always (with me at least), such rebuilds never go quite to plan, therefore what I expected to take a day, maybe two to finish off, took several more. The first hinderance was when I realised I'd been supplied the wrong head gaskets from a later model, only after I'd smeared the cylinder base with lovely fresh gooey sealant. Sealant that was about to set without the heads being torqued down...barrel off again. Of course this was the weekend, so the bike shop's closed, so I can't get the right gaskets - great stuff. And into the bargain, I've hired a torque wrench for the occasion. At X bucks a day.
Monday morning I was back up to the bike shop, who I have to say were apologetic, throwing in a couple of small things I needed for nothing. The rest of the rebuild went ok, ok that was until I tried to fire her up. I assumed I'd jumped a tooth on the camchain and therefore thrown the timing, as it was turning ok, but wouldn't fire. Several adjustments, a flat battery and many expletives later, I gave up for the night and resorted to the contents of the beer fridge together with Riki.
New day, new outlook. I found the problem to be a worn locating lug on the right hand cam sprocket. All looked fine when put installed, however when tightened the sprocket rotated, throwing the timing. All good and well, but would I be able to source a replacement sprocket? After all, it's not exactly a servicable item. Fortunately the same said bike shop had a second hand one in stock (thankfully), so yet another excursion later and the bike was up and running again. Phew!
We eventually prised ourselves away from Riki, Jen and family, a difficult task as their hospitality was second to none, and set off for Hyden, location of Wave Rock. Yet another Australian geological phenomonen. Arriving just as the sun was going down, we had to wait until morning to check out the wave. Formed on the side of Hyden Rock as a result of water flow several millions of years ago, it was indeed an impressive sight begging for the imaginary surfing shot.
Back in Longreach we'd picked up a book called "Digger" by Max Anderson (more about the book later). We both really enjoyed it and it had made us want to see the goldfields for ourselves. We left Wave Rock after a really chilly night (will have to buy warmer sleeping bags for South America!) and rode up to Kalgoorlie across dirt tracks. We saw some strange lizards on the way, 'bob-tailed skinks' -
- and a couple of snakes, as well as a strange place called 'Cockatoo Tanks', two large concrete pools right out in the middle of nowhere. The outback is full of hidden surprises, tracks lead off the main roads and you can find all sorts of quirky places if you have the time to look.
We'd intended spending only a day or so in Kalgoorlie but it proved to be a fascinating place, with loads to see and some beautiful old buildings.
I'd envisaged hiring a metal detector and going off into the bush to make my fortune but I had to be content with a little gold panning in a pretend pool in the Miners Hall of Fame museum. It gave me an idea of how hard it was. The museum was great, we were able to go down into the old mine which was a little claustrophobic but educational. Back in those days it was very very hard work...
After that we got to touch some real gold, watch pretend gold being poured and wander around the reconstructed miners' village. Hame is thinking of buying a new tent.
We went ot the SuperPit lookout, a HUGE mine right on the outskirts of town where gold is relentlessly being pulled from the earth 24 hours a day, with some very big buckets.
After all that activity it was time for a beer in a pub with a mine shaft in it. Kalgoorlie Boulder has history everywhere, under every street and on every corner.
While Hame was catching up on his journal and fiddling with the bike, I went to a brothel. Not because our funds are running low, but because Kalgoorlie is home to the oldest operating brothel in Australia and has three which are open to the public (during the day as well). Questa Casa was encased in pink corrugated iron and there was no bell to push, so together with a few other uncertain looking tourists I stood on the pavement outside and tried to look innocent. Hard, I know.
Eventually the madam opened to the door with apologies for being late for the 2pm tours - she explained she'd just had a couple of policemen round to check on things. Brothels are illegal but there seems to be an informal arrangement that as long as things are done properly and safely, the law turns a blind eye. As the police station was 200 m down the road it all seemed quite bizarre.
We were taken on a two hour tour which was illuminating, I learned loads about the world's oldest trade. Prostitution back in gold rush days sounded awful for a variety of reasons, these days the women seemed to make lots of money - over $200 an hour - and be reasonably safe. The madam had to explain to one man who paid for the tour by credit card that the brothel would come up in disguise on his bill as "Mobile Mechanics Inc".
We were heading to Kookynie, the place written about in 'Digger'. We had learned after reading the book that all the characters are real people the author met while living there and writing, and it was in the general direction we wanted to travel.
On the way we stopped at Lake Ballard, where sculptor Anthony Gormley (he also made the 'Angel of the North' in Newcastle) has placed images based on inhabitants of a nearby town. He used a holographic image of their body shape then reduced it, made 150 statues and placed them over a seven square kilometre area on the dried lake bed. It was called 'Inside Australia' and was stunning.
We arrived at Kookynie to find the campsite behind the pub full, we'd clashed with a caravan safari tour. Our only option was to take a room as we were both ready to get off the bike, but as the hotel was an interesting historical building filled with artifacts from the area that the owners had collected, this wasn't such a bad option. We dumped our stuff and wandered into the tiny bar. The safari tour operators finished up for the day and joined us for drinks, and we ended up having an impromtu party, dancing and singing the night away along with the owners of the hotel, Kevin and Marg. It was a great night and yet again we met good people, but my head hurt the next day...
I'd never met characters from a book before. Kevin and Marg Pusey were exactly as described and didn't mind sharing their experience of being part of a story with us. We'd enjoyed the book and it was good to hear the author had not exaggerated anything, he was still warmly thought of in the Grand Hotel, where much of the action takes place. It was also good to hear what may have happened to 'the nugget'... my lips are sealed! Aside from the fact it was fun visiting a place we'd read about Kevin and Marg were good company and we thoroughly enjoyed talking to them, especially about local history on which they were both experts.
We wandered around Kookynie which was absolutely fascinating, more so after all our visits to gold mining museums. Kookynie had its own gold rush in the early 20th century and was once a buzzing town of 3000+ inhabitants. Now it has a population of 17.
Everywhere we looked there were scatterings of times gone by; ancient rusting cars, old broken bottles, horseshoes, neglected mining equipment and piles of rubble that were once houses. Many of the buildings have gone though, dismantled to be used to build cattle stations when materials were hard to come by after the war. We walked out to the cemetery which had its ownstories to tell. As well as all the artifacts lying around there were many mine shafts open and uncovered, we both decided it wouldn't be a good place in which to stagger home from the pub at night!
We bid farewell after a couple of days and thanked Kevin and Marg for their great hospitality. We'd installed ourselves on the lawn in the beer garden for our second night, that's the kind of camping we like!
A few more good dirt roads took us North to Leonora, famous for the 'Sons of Gwalia' goldmine, named after some of the first miners in the area who were Welsh (Gwalia is the Welsh word for Wales). There was so much to look at in the museum we could hardly take it all in, it was well worth the visit.
Herbert Hoover ran the mine when he was just 23. Apparently the owners of the mine were looking for a 'mature' man of 35 or so to manage things, however Hoover impressed them all so much (and grew a moustache to look older) that he got the job and made the mine a success. He later went on to become 31st President of America - obviously back in those days you still had to have brains to become President of the US...
Some of the old miners' cottages - which were lived in until the 1960s - had been reconstructed and opened to visitors, they were basic indeed. The mine still runs today but on a huge 'superpit' kind of scale. Feeling like we couldn't take in any more history for now we left, heading for Laverton which was the start of the Great Central Road (which I was pretending to look forward to).
We'd both found the goldfields incredibly interesting but we had to leave before I caught gold fever, just as I'd nearly caught sapphire fever.
We also dropped in on a deserted nickel mine which Hame found incredibly interesting (?). He took some great 'deserted nickel mine' shots.
We checked into the campsite in Laverton and checked the road conditions in a book jotted in by travellers - varying descriptions from 'good' to 'atrocious' - although we'd long ago learned not to listen too hard to what people say about roads. Looking forward to an early night we snuggled down into our bags, and were kept awake by a birthday party in the club next door until the wee hours. We seem to be very good at camping next to parties. After the 3am drunken basketball game finished we finally got some sleep.
Thanks to the nocturnal exploits next door at the Laverton Sports Club, we woke late and with little rest. Definitely not the plan to begin our cross-country adventure along the Great Central Road to Australia's iconic Uluru. I managed to prise Em from the tent with strong coffee and tender words, her enthusiasm waning at the thought of what lay ahead with so little sleep.
To be fair, after bouncing around on numerous dirt roads of varying conditions, Em had to be persuaded that the 1000 or so kilometre long Great Central Road was a good idea. A dirt highway stretching from Laverton in the North Goldfield region of Western Australia, to Yulara, adjacent to Uluru, the heart of the Red Centre.
After the habitual muesli and milk powder breakfast (and yet more coffee), we packed up the tent in a stiff breeze (always entertaining) and set off for fuel; our last fill of unleaded for a week or so. Due to the unfortunate practice of petrol sniffing within some of the communities along the way, unleaded petrol is not available along the Great Central Road, replaced instead with a specially formulated unsniffable fuel by the name of Opal. Fortunately, the bike ran with no ill effects.
Whilst filling up with fuel, the local policeman appeared. As we intended to report our journey across the desert, it saved a trip to the station, so Em approached him to inform him of our details. (He went by the very wonderful name of George Copson, obviously had a father called Bobby - Em)
By 11 o'clock we were finally on our way, full of excitement (me) and trepidation (Em). The dirt road was above average, mostly hard packed and well graded, allowing us to cruise along at a reasonable pace between the sandy, corrugated, 'interesting' sections.
It wasn't too long before wild camels were spotted, the first of many we'd come across along the way. Camels must be one of the few success stories of all the introduced species to Australia. Originally brought over from what is now Pakistan in the 1800's to transport supplies and produce, they now live wild, the Australian conditions well suited to the camel. So well in fact, that Australia is now the only place in the world where camels are found wild, resulting in exports to the Middle East no less. Talk about sending coal to Newcastle!
After rough camping by the side of the road the first night, we treated ourselves the second night to the luxuries of the Warburton Roadhouse and a hot shower. As per usual, Em rustled up a gastronomic extravaganza from what little food we had, whilst I talked to two local education inspectors in town for the night. We thought we were doing well, taking several days to reach Warburton; they'd left Kalgoorlie that morning, some 1000kms away!
Later on the next day we'd meet Danny, a road grader operator from near Geraldton, to the North of Perth, who'd been working on the Great Central for some two years, commuting the 2000 or so kms back home each month in his ute (pick-up truck).It was a good insight into life in these remote areas, working people travelling vast distances in order to do their job.
When in Warburton we paid a visit to the Tjulyuru Aboriginal art gallery and spent an intersting hour or so with the informative gallery manager, who not only explained the meaning behind many of the pieces, but provided us with an insight as to life in these remote Aboriginal communities. Of interest to me was the sheet glass artwork, whereby sheets of glass are formed around predefined moulds by literally melting the glass to create a fantastic transparent picture. Quite unique.
Warakurna, next town down the track, was home to the Giles Weather Station, Australia's most remote weather station. We'd read about the station conducting daily tours and were therefore keen to have a look. We rolled up on a typical outback day with wonderful clear blue skies and were met by David, the resident station caretaker. Along with three special needs teachers in town from Kalgoorlie, David provided us with the history behind Giles, being originally established in the '50s to provide weather conditions for the Woomera Blue Streak rocket tests.
Today however, Giles plays an integral part of international weather forecasting, with a weather balloon being released each morning at 11:15pm GMT (8:45pm local time), the same time a balloon is released simultaneously around the globe. Having been involved with the manufacture of toy balloons for the last eight years, I was somewhat interested in these large weather balloons. However, the interest soon waned, reminding me far too much of having to work!
After watching the balloon release and disapear into the big blue sky, it was time to get going again. Not before checking out the big yellow grader on site, however. After all, boys and their toys...The grader was the one used by Len Beadell's Gunbarrel Construction Company, responsible for the construction of the majority of the tracks in the area and the first traversable road through the centre to Western Australia. Another spin-off from the Woomera Blue Streak rocket project.
After an enjoyable couple of nights at a top camp spot near Docker River, just across the state border in the Northern Territory, our last day on the Great Central Road was to lead us to Uluru and bitumen roads.
All the way across the road, people had warned us of the deteriorating road conditions on the Northern Territory side of the border, we were not to be disappointed! We were therefore grateful to hit the bitumen upon reaching Kata Tjuta (The Olgas), an impressive cluster of red rock, accentuated by the late afternoon sun.
It was then a quick 50km blast to Uluru, like Sydney Opera House, a definite Aussie icon. We pulled up along with several others in the 'sunset' carpark to take the obligatory photograph -
- before disappearing to Yulara, (which must be Aboriginal for Tourist Town), to set up camp.
PS Despite Em's apprehension, she admitted to having a fantastic time on numerous occasions along the Great Central Road. With different scenery each day to enjoy and of course the camels, she even said she's do it again!
Yes, I did enjoy it, very much. The roads were fine, apart from the last 200km which were just corrugations extraordinaire and SAND. Even then it was Hame, not me, who moaned a bit! I loved the solitude of the desert, the vast stretches of nothingness, the sheer space. Both Hame and I love the country more than the city, and we are much happier people out in the middle of nowhere. It was a bit of a shock to get to Yulara which seemed to be a vast machine to get money out of tourists. It has meant that all accommodation is contained away from the rock, but was expensive.
We baulked at the sight of the tourist buses disgorging heaps of camera clicking clean smelling people. We definitely weren't clean although we did have the cameras. We pitched our tents in the Yulara campsite, and were horrified as we were soon hemmed in by other tents, then bemused as the family next to us suddenly burst into song. We'd ended up next to the Von Trapps! We soon made friends with them however and discovered they were fantastic people, a family band touring from town to town. Their folk songs were pure and haunting, and we loved living next to them and chatting for a few days.
In all our time in Australia we've seen about three police cars. So it was a bit of a surprise when we got stopped for speeding in the tourist precinct. Oops! Luckily the nice man was very understanding as it would have been a bit of a shock to pay the $150 fine and not be able to slip him RM50 as you could in Malaysia or bargain down the cost of a speeding ticket as is common practice over there! Not that we ever did that of course.
After all our solitude (we'd seen more camels than people for the past week) it was strange to get back to reality. We spent three days exploring Kata Tjuta and Uluru but of course could have spent longer. All the pictures of Uluru show it to be huge, red and magnificent. In real life it is huge, red and magnificent.
We'd decided not to climb the rock - it seems to be the spiritual equivalent of sitting on the altar to eat lunch in a cathedral, or uncovering your hair in a mosque. There are signs in the Cultural Centre and next to the rock itself written by the Anangu people, the tribe who have lived in the area, saying "We don't like it if you climb the rock" or words to that effect, yet loads of people still do.
We walked around the base of the rock and were amazed by all the shapes in it, the Anangu have stories behind each one. Western scientists apparently have not come up with a good explanation as to why Uluru is still standing in such a flat area, why it hasn't eroded away as well. The Anangu have their stories behind it and after being there it's not hard to believe them.
Kata Tjuta, or the Olgas as the settlers called them, were just as breathtaking. Made of entirely different material, they stand out majestically on the flat plains around them. The stories behind Kata Tjuta are so secret that only very old Anangu know them, and cannot share them. We had a great walk throught the Valley of the Winds, winding our way through the rocks.
The Cultural Centre has been built by the National Park and the Anangu, and it was truly excellent. I found it all very moving. Here are a people who have known and understood the land in so many ways and for so long, that they could have lived as they were forever, without damaging the land, in harmony with seasons and wildlife. For 60,000 years (but probably longer) Aboriginal people have lived here under strict laws which safeguarded the land they depended on, and then in a mere 200 years it has all been taken away. And the people who are left are just so lost. And the 'solutions' to the 'problem' are not working, and the government will not admit responsibility by saying "Sorry". It would help a lot.
And our modern way of life, the one that has overtaken and destroyed so many indigenous and harmonious ways of life is so destructive and out of balance that we are in danger of ruining things so much that there is no way back. Perhaps we are already there.
We'd intended going to Alice Springs but time had crept up, and we went to bed on our last night at Uluru thinking we'd have to start heading South, with only a few weeks left...
(Due to lack of inexpensive internet places along the way we've had to put the last three entries on in one go, this one should be read last)
It was hard to leave the Uluru/Kata Tjuta National Park but not hard to leave all the tourist madness. As well as being expensive it was just downright busy. At the sunset viewing spot for Uluru the people camping next to us said they'd counted 140 cars and 20 tour buses, and at the same time we saw three helicopters and 2 small planes. Madness! Fortunately we managed to find our own spot away from it all when we went to see Uluru at sunrise.
For all those who believe Uluru should still be called Ayers Rock it's worth noting it has been 'Uluru' for thousands of years by the people who have lived there for thousands of years, the Anangu; and 'Ayers Rock' only since 1930 when white men "discovered" it.
As usual our plans were loose, and right up until the morning we left we weren't sure whether to go right or left at the end of the road, North, or South... We chose South in the end as we're really beginning to run out of time and need to be in Sydney and Melbourne fairly soon. It was shame as I wanted to visit Alice Springs, but as we've been saying all along, we've got to save places to come back to!
On the way we passed Mount Conner, a huge and beautiful hill off in the distance. We felt somehow sorry for it, Uluru gets all the attention and we'd heard nothing about it. We stopped to look at it, at least.
The North South Highway was far quieter than we expected and we buzzed down it listening to music and pondering over the clash of clutures between indigenous people and western society. It's an incredibly complex situation but it's worth noting that the majority of people who'd told us horror stories about how we'd get robbed, murdered or begged from were those who'd never been to any of the communities or outback towns. All the positive viewpoints we'd heard were from those who'd been working in cmmunities for years, or who were educated or well travelled. Or had half a brain. We personally had no hassle, no negative events, we just met PEOPLE.
One World, One Race - The Human Race. It's really simple.
We arrived in Coober Pedy, main town on the opal fields, with the intention to stay one night, but of course found it interesting and ended up staying three. We found a leaflet for 'underground camping' and thought we'd check it out, so we are now camped in a cave.
In Coober Pedy most of the inhabitants live underground. This has many advantages; the temperature remains constant through cool winters and hot summers, the houses are very energy efficient, you can dig another room if you need to extend your home, and you might find opals as you dig.
It's an eccentric place with a frontier town atmosphere, full of eccentric people, none more so than Crocodile Harry.
Crocodile Harry is a Latvian who's lived here for years, many of them spent in a loin cloth chasing crocodiles and women. He lives in a 'dug out', the PC word for 'cave' in Coober Pedy and for years has opened his house as a living museum. He has a large collection of women's underwear stuck to the walls, I heard a rumour there are the signatures of 1000 virgins on his bedroom ceiling (of course I added mine) as well as t-shirts, thousands of signatures and bits of artwork done by visitors, and many of his own sculptures.
There isn't a bare bit of wall anywhere. Harry himself usually greets every visitor, but apparently he is quite ill and was in bed when we got there. I got a wave from the bed though but retreated fairly quickly before I was 'caught' - judging by the amount of underwear Harry still receives, even at 83 years of age he is still more than capable!
We visited the Old Timers' Opal Mine which I really liked and spent a couple of hours wandering around. I had a go at Noodling, which is another word for Fossicking, which is another word for getting really dirty and not finding much. But I got myself a few bits of 'colour' - precious opal. They are stunning, they catch the light and refract it into hundreds of colours.
We bid farewell to some new friends including Duncan, yet another Scottish descendant, before heading out East to join the Oodnadatta Track at William Creek. Although we would have liked to ride the whole track, time wasn't on our side and we had to start moving South.
On the way we crossed the Dog Fence, a 9600km fence which runs East to West across the country and prevents dingoes and feral dogs from the North (cattle country) from hunting in the South (sheep country) - now I know why Hame suddenly felt at home.
We also passed Anna Creek, the largest cattle station in the world - it's the size of Wales.
William Creek was one of the tiny outback towns we have come to love. Little more than a pub and a petrol station, it is nevertheless the centre of a geographically large community.
We found the Oodnadatta Track was a good road, despite being warned earlier in the trip it had "corrugations so big you can lie in 'em". Even though it runs through a very arid and barren land there was loads to see.
We rode parallel to the old Ghan railway which used to run from Port Augusta to Alice Springs and for 102 years, until 1980, was a vital link to the outside world for the settlers in the pastoral stations. Along the track were ruins of old railway buildings, remains of bridges and bits of the track itself.
We spent the night in the oasis of Coward Springs which was a beautiful campsite with its own spa, built around the natural springs. Unfortunately it was also an oasis for thousands of mosquitos, I got more bites than I've had for years.
We passed Lake Eyre; huge and white, a salty lake which hardly ever has enough water to fill it. Off in the distance on every horizon we saw dust devils, five or six at any one time, dancing their frantic journeys acorss the plains.
Hame just couldn't keep off the dirt roads and I'd grown to love them; so much more interesting with far fewer cars, so after a brief couple of hours on bitumen at the end of the track, we paused in Leigh Creek for the night before hitting the dirt again in the morning on our way to some hills, the Gammon and Flinders Ranges.
The campsite at Leigh Creek had the best camp kitchen we'd experienced (it had sofas and a telly - we don't need much to be content these days!) so as a change from spending the evening reading by torchlight in the tent with a wee dram or sitting around the fire with a wee dram, we parked ourselves on a sofa each for the night and switched on the ancient TV, amazed to find an entire evening of British television.
Back on the dirt in the morning we rode to Iga Warta, a small resort owned and run by the Adnyamathanha people, the indigenous folk from the area. We camped for a couple of days, enjoying the relaxed atmosphere and chatting to the guys that ran the place. Amazingly, even here we found some Scottish ancestory as the aboriginal owners are Coulthards... Clarence Coulthard told us he even had two Hamishes in his family, a nephew and a grandson.
On our first night we had just dropped off to sleep when we woke to a 'clip clop, THUD'. Hamish said "Was that you?", as if I always go clip clop in the night. He got out to investigate and discovered one of the semi-wild horses who lived at Iga Warta trying to eat the bike, and knocking a bag off the back.
It reminded me of a time a few weeks ago when we were rough camped next to the Gibb River. As we sat eating our dinner in the dark next to the fire we heard BIG rustling and crashing in the bushes behind us. I was convinced it was feral pigs - which I'd heard could be dangerous - so we slowly turned our torches on the bushes to have a look.
The torches were only bright enough to pick out pairs of glowing eyes and the crashing in the undergrowth continued. Fearing we were about to be charged Hame wheeled the bike around to use the headlight to see our would-be attacker. What we saw was terrifying indeed, a large head, huge horns, big body. "It's a big pig!" I said. "It's a big pig... with... with horns!" We stared further, in fear. Then I realised. "It's a cow". Oh.
Anyway back to the present. We woke on our second morning to strong winds and the ever present flies trying to crawl up our noses - the flies had been around for the last few days. It was a mission to pack the tent up in the wind, but not as much of a mission as riding in the wind was.
At first it was behind us, making us feel like we were in a vacuum, being sucked along. But as we changed direction we were battling with the wind, poor Hame having to lean all 400 and whatever kilograms of us into the wind. The wind picked up the dust, and soon we were riding through a huge dust storm, with even the sun being blocked out.
After a few hours we were through it and riding in magnificent scenery, the hills looking all the more stunning to us after all the flatness of the previous weeks in deserts.
We'd been moving mostly every day or so for the past few weeks so we decided to find a place to stay for a few days and explore the area. We chose Rawnsley Park, which had excellent bush camping with excellent views to match, a shop which sold beer and a lot of good walks around the area.
PS - The beer is taking its toll on Hamish's physique!
Here we are at the end of our 25000km ride around Australia...
It has been fantastic.
The last few weeks have been a bit of a blur of heaps of socialising, and increased beer, wine and food consumption (which explains why the four kilos we'd managed each to lose on our camping menus have come rudely back!) but I'll attempt to outline where we've been since I last wrote.
After watching five fantastic sunsets from our camping spot in Rawnsley Park, we left the Flinders Ranges and added it to the list of places to visit again when we come back with more time. With wonderful walks and beautiful bush camps, ancient rocks and loads to explore it's an area I'd definitely recommend.
We spent the next couple of days riding South towards Victoria through vineyards and orange orchards, the air heavily fragrant with blossom. We'd ridden into Spring. We rode along next to the Murray River, (through 'Riverland' named in the Australian way of being obvious!) stopping off at villages full of well-preserved old buildings and great campsites next to the river.
The nights were cold, we heard that the week before we'd arrived there had been a heavy frost which had wiped out the entire apricot crop for the year. Farmers here are up against so much, the ongoing drought, occasional floods, strange weather patterns, and China, which is taking over the production of so much stuff, and of course doing it more cheaply.
We visited a few wineries, with Hame at the handlebars I did the tasting for both of us (he was very patient as I got giggly by 10am) and discovered, amongst several other delicious wines, red champagne - another fab Aussie invention!
We called in to visit Kevin, the BMW enthusiast we'd met near Cairns months ago. He was really happy to see us and eager to show off his four restored old BMWs, they were pretty impressive. He had the most amazing tool collection I"d ever seen, I caught Hamish drooling over it when he thought no one was looking!
We'd been in touch with Gayle and Henry who we met on the Gibb River Road back in August. Gayle was away but Henry invited us for the night on the way to Sydney. And then we fell in love with yet another state, Victoria. Just when you think you've seen every kind of countryside there is to see in one country, Australia surprises you...
We rode thorugh green rolling hills, past distant snow-capped mountains (The Snowy Mountains, another imaginative name) and along windy roads until we reached Henry's farm tucked below the hills. Hame and I took one look and said, "We could live here!".
We could actually, within about 10 minutes of our arrival Henry asked us if we'd like to house-sit for him for a year from April. Although it was incredibly tempting we will be exploring South America by then... but what an offer!
We had a great night with Henry, he told us all about the area and his life there. In the morning Hame was up way earlier than me as is normal, rushing back in at 6.30am to tell me to come and watch a calf being born. Being an urban girl this was something I'd never seen so I ran off to watch Hame and Henry deliver a calf, who I named Hamish. I watched the cow softly lowing to him to get up in the early morning light and felt all full of country romance... then Henry said Hamish the calf would be ready to eat in a few months.
We admired Henry's merino sheep and alpacas - we'll be seeing a lot more of them in South America - before we had to go, somewhat reluctantly. We had a long journey to Sydney ahead of us, mostly on a highway which was a bit of a shock after all the months of outbackness.
It seemed to be ages before we were off the highway and I'd forgotten to charge the iPod - so no music - but finally we arrived in Gosford, to visit Steve and Rose (the camp-cake experts from Lawn Hill). Rose had prepared a fantastic meal (which accounts for at least one of the extra kilos) and we went for a lovely cliff top walk with the the following day.
It was great to catch up again. We feel very fortunate as we've been welcomed by so many people, too many in fact as we've had to turn down a few invites due to lack of time. But we'll be back, we're quite sure of it.
By chance old friends of ours, Bill and Jean, were holidaying in Gosford too so we spent the night staying with them in their caravan - which was more like a small house! We had a great night catching up and playing cards and laughing a lot.
After a Big Aussie Breakfast and more goodbyes it was time to hit the city...
We managed to navigate our way through Sydney (reminiscing about the time we were there together seven years ago, who'd have throught we'd be back on a bike!) to Andrew's house, a friend from bike days in Malaysia. An old mate of mine, Matt, who I'd not seen for ten years came too so we had an evening of lots of talking accompanied by lots of beer. I was fairly fragile the next morning.
It was a lovely drive down from Sydney to Kiama where my Dad and stepmum Sue live. Dad had called and told us to make sure we drove through Stanwell Park, it turned out to be a really stunning road built out over the sea next to the cliffs.
Dad and Sue had moved since we last saw them to a great house with a pool, despite the fact it was winter I managed to get in it every day! We had an excellent week exploring the area and eating lots, going for walks and chatting. We all had a lot of fun and it was really hard to leave.
But leave we had to, with only two days to get to Melbourne. Hame didn't want to miss the Australian Bike Show on the 6th and 7th October but we had to get there to allow at least a week to sort out some bike issues and details for flying the bike to Chile.
On the way we stopped off with Ron and Liz at Lakes Entrance and shared another hangover (the last one was shared up on the Gibb River Road where we met them when I asked if we could buy a six pack from them! Their answer was "No! But you can have one, come and drink it with us...") Another fun night - even Bertha got into the party spirit!
I got quite sad on the way to Melbourne thinking that this was our last big ride in Australia...
We're staying with my cousins Martin and Fiona who've very kindly given us a key and let us use their house as a base - this is a real blessing as we've so much to do this week. It was good to meet up with relatives I'd not seen for ages and catching up on all the news.
Hamish gave Bertha a total service yesterday at a workshop whose owner, Keith, let him work outside at the back (usually people are too scared to do this because of insurance issues.) Keith was a top bloke and we were ever so grateful. It took Hame most of the day as there were one or two things to sort out. Today he's off getting the shock rebuilt. It has been leaking gently for weeks and is still under warranty, luckily the agent is here in Melbourne. Then we'll have to get new tyres, tighten a few nuts and bolts, give her a good wash and generally get her ready to be freighted.
We've also met our shipping agent, Margaret. The whole process seems pretty straightforward (famous last words?!). We've been fortunate to aquire a steel crate from BMW in exchange for a crate of VB, and we'll be allowed to crate her up ourselves, which has saved us quite a bit of money.
We've got a pretty fantastic schedule for the next few weeks. In a few days we fly home for a family wedding in Scotland, then back here to Melbourne via Dubai - the plane stops there anyway but we're visiting old friends from Malaysia. We've another week here in Melbourne to get the last bits sorted for South America, crate the bike, catch up with a few more of my rellies and friends of Hamish, then we fly off to Chile on November 17th, via Tahiti and Easter Island. It's tough, this travelling thing...
When we booked the flights back in June we got pretty good deals, and as the agent was finding out about the Chile flight she asked me if I wanted to stop off at Easter Island as well as Tahiti for the same price as flying direct. Hmm, tough choice. Took me about 0.2 second to say yes. We finally arrive in Santiago on November 28th, and the bike should arrive a day or so later. We are very very excited!
So, Australia as a place to live?
Definitely. Australia has so much to offer, you could live here in any climate or environment you chose simply because of the size of the country. You could choose not to have seasons at all, or only very mild ones. You could choose dry or wet, hills or plains, mountains and snow or rolling green hills, desert or lakes... the list goes on. It's all here, if you have the skills Australia needs. Talking to people who've emigrated here has been interesting, and it seems as if Hamish and I would qualify - we've been offered jobs several times already and apparently there is a bit of a shortage of teachers and engineers, in fact there's a bit of a shortage of most skills.
Australia has much to offer everyone and it would be a great place to bring up children, there is just so much more for them here - more opportunites, more space, more freedom. The cost of living is cheaper and house prices are cheaper. There seem to be so many advantages, and we've yet to meet anyone who's emigrated and regretted it.
Australia is many times bigger than the UK but has a third of the population... it is healthier, friendlier and more relaxed. Culturally there are some similarities to the UK, it is 'Same-same but different' as they say in Thailand. Coming here we really have the feeling it is a land of opportunity, as cliched as it sounds. I could go on and on.
Of course there are negative points too; nowhere is perfect. But the positive points far outweigh them, as far as I can see.
I came here having been on short visits before, and not thinking of it as a place to live, mainly because it is so far away. Now though, I can't see any reasons why NOT to try and emigrate - after all it is only a plane ride away from the UK... However, we've a whole new continent to explore yet, so who knows where we could end up!
Next time I write in here it will be from South America...Must go and get on with those Spanish lessons. So far I think we know enough to order a beer and say thank you. What else do you need I wonder?
Adios for now and muchas gracias for reading our blog.
"A fantastic, informative and inspirational DVD."
"It's brilliant - thank you very much!"
Next HU Events
- Canada West: Aug 21-24
- USA North Carolina: Sept. 4-7
- France Mini: Sep 5-7
- Canada Ontario: Sept. 11-14
- NEW! UK - Haggs Bank: Sept. 19-21
- USA California: Sept. 25-28
- Aus Queensland: Oct 3-6
- Aus Perth: Oct 10-12
- Aus VIC: Oct 24-26
- NEW! Aus NSW: Oct 31-Nov 2
- NEW! South Africa: Nov 13-16
- NEW! HUMM Morocco: May 13-16, 2015
What others say about HU...
"I just wanted to say thanks for doing this and sharing so much with the rest of us." Dave, USA
"...Great site. Keep up the good work." Murray and Carmen, Australia
Check out the new Gildan Performance cotton-feel t-shirt - 100% poly, feels like soft cotton!
What turns you on to motorcycle travel?
New to Horizons Unlimited?
Membership - help keep us going!
Books & DVDs
Insurance - see: For foreigners traveling in US and Canada and for Americans and Canadians traveling in other countries, then mail it to MC Express and get your HU $15 discount!
Story and photos copyright © All Rights Reserved.
Contact the author:
Editors note: We accept no responsibility for any of the above information in any way whatsoever. You are reminded to do your own research. Any commentary is strictly a personal opinion of the person supplying the information and is not to be construed as an endorsement of any kind.
Hosted by: Horizons
Unlimited, the motorcycle travellers' website!
You can have your story here too - click for details!