Hi, my name is Jill Maden and in 2010/11 I rode a Suzuki SV650 around the eastern half of Australia (Part 1). It was a monster of a machine and piled high with far too much luggage it was a nightmare to control.

In 2014 I am returning to ride around the western half of Australia (Part 2) but this time I'll be doing it on a much smaller bike, a Honda CT110 or Postie Bike as they're known in Australia. I'll be riding on both sealed and unsealed roads so it should make for an interesting trip.

I hope you enjoy reading about my adventures.

November 15, 2014 GMT
Friends, Films and Farewells

Friday 14 November 2014

Australia 2014 - (30) Darwin 2

Since arriving in Darwin I’ve been staying with one of my fellow Postie Bike Riders, Phil and his wife Jenny. They are a fabulous couple who have welcomed me into their home and provided me with everything I could possibly need while I’ve been here. Phil has even bought Ruby from me which is a huge relief as I didn’t want her going to someone who wouldn’t honour her travelling pedigree – I mean, in the first two months of her life she’s been all round Australia, becoming a commuter bike for a 16 year old learner rider would have been a bit of a come down.

On one of my sorties around the town I had discovered the Deckchair Cinema and had noticed that a film called “On Tour and Looking for a Feed” was going to be shown on Friday night. I mentioned this to Phil and Jenny and we all decided to go. What I hadn’t realised was that it was just one of about 20 films being shown that night as part of the Fist Full of Films Festival. It turned out to be a fantastic night with loads of local film-makers showing their clips. The “On Tour ...” film about two Aussie blokes who pick up a French hitchhiker and do a road trip of outback Australia was hilarious and the stars were even there at the end to meet and greet us.

I’ve now managed to change my flight to Monday so will be returning home then. I hope you’ve all enjoyed reading about my adventures as much as I’ve enjoyed having them. Until the next one ...

Jill x

Posted by Jill Maden at 04:33 AM GMT
November 14, 2014 GMT
The Devastation of Darwin

Friday 14 November 2014

Australia 2014 - (29) Darwin

When I was last in Darwin in 1989 my friend Lisa and I managed to get jobs working on a prawn trawler sailing from its harbour. We only had one night in the city before we left consequently I never really got to see the town and only have very patchy memories of it. As a result, I’ve spent the last few days trying to get my head around the geography of the area.

Darwin lies on a peninsula shaped like a shepherd’s crook meaning when you approach from the south the Stuart Highway goes north, then west, then south again before ending in the city centre. If you haven’t looked carefully at a map beforehand, this can be a little disorientating. Add to that the fact that there are beaches on three out of the four sides of the peninsula and you have a very confusing town layout. Even though Jenny had given me a guided tour of the city the day I arrived, it took several days for me to relocate everything she had shown me and figure out where it was in relation to everything else.

Having sussed out the lie of the land, I turned my attention to the history of the place. Two major events have shaped Darwin’s history - the bombing of the city in 1942 during World War II, then, Cyclone Tracey in 1974.

On 19 February 1942 the same Japanese air squadron that had bombed Pearl Harbour attacked Darwin. They bombarded the city and 243 people were left dead. Over the next 18 months a further 64 air raids were made. Darwin already had a strong military presence and nine large oil tanks occupied a hill by the Frances Bay harbour. These became targets for the bombers so a plan was hatched to build nine underground oil tunnels to store the oil in instead. In the end the tunnels were never really used and the original oil tanks still exist today but now hold diesel instead of oil.

Cyclone Tracey was the second major disaster to hit the city. On Christmas Eve in 1974 a cyclone warning was issued to the townsfolk. This was the second one in a few days and as the previous one hadn’t really come to anything most people ignored it. That night the cyclone hit and for 3 hours 250 mph winds struck. Seventy one people were killed and over 70% of the buildings were destroyed.

Both events devastated the town and called for virtual rebuilds. As such most of the traditional architecture was lost with only four of the famous Burnett style houses surviving along with some of the government buildings in the downtown area. The new Parliament House was added in 1994.

Not to be discouraged, Darwin has fought back and now has four main industries – tourism (especially cruise ships for which it has a dedicated terminal), defence (10% of the population work in this), oil and gas and construction to ensure there is enough housing for the oil and gas workers.

There is a huge gas plant in Darwin. Gas is piped over 500 km from the Kimberleys to this plant where it is compressed into liquid gas then loaded onto specially made tankers which take most of it off to Asia for use.

With the city being such a target for military action there are tonnes of old airstrips bordering the Stuart Highway. Additionally, Darwin Airport was originally sited much closer to the town centre and the old runway now forms the very long and straight Ross Smith Avenue. For some reason the Qantas Hanger was not torn down and built on like the rest of the airport and now houses a vintage vehicle museum.

There is also an old jail in an area called Fannie Bay which is a thoroughly depressing testament to man’s inhumanity to man. That aside (and the terrible humidity) I like Darwin. It's a big enough place to have all the services you could need, but not so big that it's difficult to get around.

Posted by Jill Maden at 06:28 AM GMT
November 13, 2014 GMT
Cooling Down

Wednesday 12 November 2014

Australia 2014 - (28) Litchfield National Park

After spending the last few days recovering from my intense ride from Broome to Darwin, I finally felt up to seeing something a bit further afield than the city centre today. I took a tour to the Litchfield National Park, about 110 km south of Darwin.

The bus collected me from the Transit Centre at 7.15 am and as I climbed aboard and saw there was only one other person anywhere near my age, a German lady called Tina, I began to wonder if the ‘AAT’ in AATKings stood for ‘Ancient and Aged Tours’. They were all lovely people, but given one of the main features of the tour was being able to swim in all the waterfalls and rock pools of the Park, and none of them were fit enough to do this, it seemed like either Tina and I or the oldies had booked the wrong tour.

Not to be put off, our driver, Gordon set off with a running commentary of the landscape through which we were travelling. After a stop for a cup of tea at a caravan park near Batchelor, and another to look at Cathedral and Magnetic Termite Mounds, we continued to the first waterfall of the day, Florence Falls. Tina and I headed down the track and soon were immersed in the gorgeous cooling waters at the bottom of the falls. As we dried off afterwards, a water monitor lizard appeared at the edge of the swimming hole. For once I managed to grab my camera and take a few pictures before it went for a swim itself.

After a stop for lunch, we continue to the next waterfall, Wangi Falls. This was considerably bigger than the first one and had several bus-loads of tourists all bathing in its waters. Again, Tina and I plunged in and managed to swim right out to the bigger of the two cascades where we got pummelled by the falling waters.

Our final stop was the Buley Rock Holes, a series of descending pools formed at the upper reaches of Florence Falls. A load of young aboriginal boys were bombing into the largest of the pools so Tina and I had to content ourselves with squirming around some of the higher, shallower pools.

There was one other fall we were supposed to see, Tolmer Falls, but alas this was closed due to maintenance work.

On the way back, a huge thunder and lightning storm developed and by the time we got back to Darwin the city streets were awash with water and, for once, the air was cooler. What a great day.

Posted by Jill Maden at 01:01 AM GMT
November 08, 2014 GMT
The Last Leg

Saturday 8 November 2014

Australia 2014 - (27) Katherine to Darwin

It was only yesterday, but already it seems like days ago, that I left Katherine to do the last 327 km to Darwin. There’s a 1.5 hour time difference between Western Australia and the Northern Territory which meant it was still pitch black when my alarm went off at 4.30 am. I had a cup of tea and a croissant to kill time and was on the road for 6 am. I was a bit disappointed to be shooting through Katherine and heading directly for Darwin as there seemed to be lots of interesting places to visit along the way but I’d been travelling so long I just wanted to get there.

I was back on the Stuart Highway – the one that runs up the middle that I’d taken to Alice Springs – and as I got closer to Darwin I suddenly started seeing bikes again, all going south, of course. Apart from one which had pulled into a rest area I stopped at and was on his way back to the city after a wee ride out for the morning.

I stopped at Pine Creek, an old gold mining town, and peered into a deep pit now filled with water which was once a large gold mine.

It was a nice ride. For once, there was a slight chill on the air, at least for a while. The road gained height and did a bit of weaving and twisting until about 40 km out from Darwin when it opened into a two, then three lane highway. I was going to be staying with another Postie Biker, Phil, and his wife Jenny and unfortunately missed the turn to their place so had to do a series of U-turns to get back on track, but finally got there at 11.15 am. Phil came home from work to let me in then left me to it.

Three loads of washing later and I reckoned I had killed off the last of the ants in my bags, then Jenny arrived home and took me on a tour of the city. For dinner they took me down to the water’s edge for pizza.

And that’s it, the journey is over. I’ve done 11,656 km on Ruby and another 3,540 on Rosie, my Postie Bike, giving a total of 15,196 km for the whole 10 weeks of the trip so far. I’ll have a week or so in Darwin, then, if I can change my flights, I’ll be home the week after and then it will all be over. What can I say? I’m so tired I feel a bit numb, not as elated as I expected. Maybe when I’ve had a chance to rest up I’ll feel better, but just now I want to sleep.

I’ll write again before I go.

Posted by Jill Maden at 12:20 PM GMT
November 06, 2014 GMT
Water and Onions

Thursday 6 November 2014

Australia 2014 - (26) Kununurra to Katherine

Well, the 200 Top Rides book was wrong – Kununurra to Katherine is not, in my view, anywhere close to one of the best motorcycle rides in Australia. It has its moments, but I’d say Halls Creek to Kununurra was way better.

One of the highlights though was Lake Argyll, the largest man-made lake in Australia. It meant a 70 km round trip to see it, but you never know when you’ll pass that way again, so I did the detour. And I’m so glad I did. What a beautiful ride up through the Kimberleys to the lake. And the lake itself was breathtaking and, at 6 am, there was no-one else to spoil the view.

Unfortunately the rest of the journey wasn’t quite so interesting. More flat bushlands for miles and only a brief bit of excitement when passing through the Gregory National Park when the Victoria River came into view.

One strange incident did brighten things up a bit. I stopped for a break at the junction with the Buntine Highway where there’s a memorial. As I stood there, a ute full of aboriginals drew up. Four adults, a toddler and a baby all piled out. One of the women took an already peeled onion out and sliced the end off it with a knife. They then all piled back in again and one of them shouted over to me to see if I had some sort of paper. “What, newspaper?” I queried. “Naw,” she replied. “Toilet paper?” I continued. “Naw, for cigarettes,” she said. “Oh, no, I haven’t got any rolling paper,” I replied. With that they all shot off into the yonder.

About 50 km out of Katherine I stopped to use the toilet in a rest area. No sooner had I got off the bike and taken my helmet off, than a small camper pulled in. It was Ian and Anne from the Fitzroy Crossing campsite. They gave me a glass of cold water and I recounted the strange event with the aboriginals and the onion. “Oh,” said Anne, “they were probably using the onion skin as a cigarette paper.” Mystery solved.

Posted by Jill Maden at 10:34 AM GMT
November 05, 2014 GMT
Kimberleys, Cattle and Kununurra

Wednesday 5 November 2014

Australia 2014 - (25) Halls Creek to Kununurra

Okay, I take it back, the Kimberleys are not all dull. Today’s ride out of Halls Creek was lovely, the road bending and twisting through rocky mounds and outcrops. Being dawn, the wildlife was out in force as well. Cattle were everywhere, strolling across the road without a care in the world. A kangaroo bounced out in front of me and herds of wild horses frolicked in the lush green scrub.

It was cooler too. Last night, as I ate my hamburger outside my room, I noticed huge hammerheads building in the near distance with flashes of lightning illuminating the sky. In the morning I noticed Ruby was covered in splashes of dirt so I guessed it must have rained during the night.

The first three hours were very pleasant riding, but after 8 am, the heat got up and, despite the beautiful scenery around me, it got harder to ride. I made it to the junction with the Victoria Highway by 11 am and as I pulled into a parking area for a rest, I hit some soft sand, went into a wild wobble and almost went over. I’d become so confident about riding into dirt parking areas, I hardly even looked at the surface anymore. Fortunately, Ruby proved to be as stable as a Postie Bike and we both stayed upright, but it gave me quite a fright and I was shaking for sometime afterwards.

Kununurra is an interesting town. Back in the 1940s it didn’t really exist, save for a handful of cattle stations nearby. By the end of the dry season the farmers were finding their cattle were losing their form due to a lack of foodstuffs, so they lobbied the government to help. In the 1960s the Diversion Dam was built to block the River Ord and provide the necessary irrigation to grow crops to feed the cattle. However, this never really took off and since then, various crops have been tried in Kununurra of which sandalwood seems to be the most successful. The man at the Kununurra Historical Society Museum advised me that the Chinese are currently proposing planting sugar cane there instead. Despite all this uncertainty, the town is now quite well established with all the amenities you would expect, including another Picture Gardens (which are now closed for the wet season).

Another big ride to Katherine tomorrow (503 km), but it’s listed as Ride 196 of my Top 200 Rides in Australia book, so hopefully it will be another good day.

Posted by Jill Maden at 11:12 AM GMT
November 04, 2014 GMT
If You Can't Stand the Heat

Tuesday 4 November 2014

Australia 2014 - (24) Broome to Halls Creek

Have I mentioned how hot it is? I was up at 4.30 am yesterday and on the road by 5.30 to do the 400 km to Fitzroy Crossing and it was like an oven by 8 am. And there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. I tried, for the first time, not wearing any tights under my riding trousers, but, as suspected, this only resulted in my much thicker and stiffer trousers sticking to me and making it very difficult to move, so I was back to tights again today.

But the early start did have me in Fitzroy Crossing by 11.30 am. There were 3 caravan parks to choose from – the first looked pretty rough, the second, I was advised by the tourist info guy was equally bad, so I went for the third, the Fitzroy Crossing Lodge. It was full of little wallabies bouncing about so I pitched my tent and retreated to the camp kitchen to try and cool down. It was no use though, the temperature just got hotter and hotter. I knew I was in a bad way when I started shaking and eventually I walked the half km back to the Lodge and spent the rest of the afternoon in the air conditioned bar.

When I got back to the tent at dusk, everything I owned had been infested by ants and the campground itself had been invaded by a herd of cattle. It was too much – I was outta there. I moved all my stuff onto a picnic table, took my ant infested tent down and made a bed for myself on top of the picnic table.

After dinner, it was still sweltering. I climbed into my sleeping bag atop the picnic table but couldn’t sleep. The table was only a couple of inches wider than my air mattress and I kept worrying I would plummet off the table onto the concrete plinth below every time I turned over. After sweating profusely for an hour I moved the whole assembly onto the concrete and eventually got to sleep.

I was up at 4.15 this morning and on the road for 5.15. Today’s destination was Halls Creek, only a short hop of 291 km away, but my god, it took 5 HOURS to get there. The first 100 km I did in one go but after that it all went pear shaped and I had to keep stopping every half hour or so. Why would that be? Oh yes, because of the bloody heat!

There was no way I was camping today, especially when I’d arrived in Halls Creek at 10.15 and had the whole day ahead of me. The Tourist Office advised there were two hotels in town, one was full and the other was $150 per night. Damn, I was going to have to camp after all. I checked into the local caravan park, took one look at the pitiful, un-shaded camping area, and checked straight back out again. Back to the tourist office where I said, “Give me the room at the motel.”

And that’s where I’ve been ever since – sucking up the air conditioning and spraying everything I own with ant killer.

I knew this section to Darwin was going to be hard, but this is ridiculous. At least there’s a youth hostel in Kunanurra tomorrow night, then hopefully just one last night camping in Katherine before hitting Darwin and staying with another Postie Biker and his wife.

And what’s the scenery been like? Well, I’m now travelling through an area called The Kimberley. If I’d gone to Derby, I could have taken a famous dirt track called the Gibb River Road which takes you past lots of gorges and swimming holes, but as the last two petrol stations on the track were closed, I had to decide against it, and take the Great Northern Highway instead, which apart from all the cattle and the odd escarpment is pretty dull. Does it sound like I’m getting fed up? Oh maybe just a tad. Ruby hit the 10,000 km mark today, which means I’ve done about 13,500 all in, which is a very long way. Plus, everyone is heading south, away from the heat, so there’s no-one to talk to again. Let’s hope things pick up in Kununarra.

Posted by Jill Maden at 08:54 AM GMT
November 02, 2014 GMT
Pearl of the West

Sunday 2 November 2014

Australia 2014 - (23) Broome

Broome found its fame as a pearling town back at the start of the twentieth century but by the 1970s it was struggling for survival. Enter one Lord McAlpine who poured money into the place and restored many of the old buildings but more notably saw its potential as a tourist destination and set up a number of "resorts" by Cable Beach.

Today, it strikes me as a strange, disjointed town. To the east, there's the town centre, with all its restored buildings, then, about 5 km to the west, you've got all the expensive resorts down by Cable Beach. Various housing estates lie between, but it's way too far to walk from the town centre to the beach so most people shuttle between the two on scooters or 4WDs.

I've spent the last couple of days doing virtually nothing - it is so hot and humid here, it's all I can do to drag myself from the hostel to the air conditioned shopping mall and back. On Friday night I discovered the town centre and the Sun Picture Theatre, the Oldest Operating Picture Gardens in the World. As I'd never been to a picture gardens before, I went to see Gone Girl there, a slightly disturbing film about a wife that fakes her death and tries to frame her husband for her murder.

Today's outing involved a trip to the Blue Buddah Temple to try and clear my karma about something that's been bothering me, followed by a trip to Cable Beach and the Port. I took Ruby and just rode in normal trousers and a T-shirt. Much to my disappointment, it wasn't much cooler in these than in my full riding gear. But in some ways that's good to know, as now I can stop fantasising about how much cooler I'd be if I was in jeans.

Anyway, back on the road tomorrow.

Posted by Jill Maden at 06:42 AM GMT
October 31, 2014 GMT
Mad Dogs and Englishmen ...

Thursday 30 October 2014

Australia 2014 - (22) Port Hedland to Broome

I’d been dreading today ever since I left Perth – 606 km from Port Hedland to Broome in the horrible humid sun. Now 606 km is by no means the biggest distance I’ve covered in a day, but after the mid-point at Sandfire Road House there are no further service stations until Roebuck, 291 km later. That meant (a) I’d almost certainly run out of petrol and (b) I wasn’t going to be able to get out of the sunlight for about 5 hours.

Knowing I’d run out of fuel, I bought a couple of stainless steel drinks canisters and filled them with an additional 1.5 litres of fuel, giving me a full tank, my 5 litre jerry can and these.

I set off at 6 am and got to the Pandoo Road House by 8 am. Those first two hours were quite pleasant – a relatively cool breeze and lots of cattle and road trains on the road to keep me on my toes. I even started trying to take some photos of a road train coming up behind me whilst I was riding along – something I would never have dared do before this trip. A serving of bacon and eggs for breakfast and I was back on the road for 8.45 am and immediately the temperature was up. By the time I got to the Sandfire Road House at 10.30 am it was 40 degrees C and I was seriously starting to wonder about the sanity of continuing. A man came up to ask me about the bike but I could hardly speak and just had to wave him away as I stumbled into the shop to pay for my fuel.

I’d been so worried about running out of fuel, I left with only a half fill water bladder. Now I was really going to be in trouble if I ran out of water. As I headed north I seriously considered turning back and leaving the remaining 300 km until the next morning when it would be cooler, but it was only 11 am and I was determined to get there.

An hour later I stopped for a break and half an hour later I came across a proper rest area so stopped again. As I headed over to the toilets I saw a dingo heading for my abandoned kit. “Oh no you don’t”, I thought, and raced back to my picnic table. The dog didn’t run off, so I grabbed my camera and took a few shots. “Yes, just mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun, eh?”, I said out loud to my four-legged friend.

Leaving the rest area, for the first time I suddenly had the sense that I was going to make it. I rationed my water and took a break every 50 km and by 3.30 I’d made it to the Roebuck Road House. I topped up my water bladder and knocked off the last 33 km to Broome where I checked into the Youth Hostel and collapsed in a cool air conditioned room.

But I’d done it. I’d made it up the west coast of Australia and was still alive and kicking – whoohoo! Inland to Darwin next.

Posted by Jill Maden at 06:06 AM GMT
Hedland Highlights

Wednesday 29 October 2014

Australia 2014 - (21) Port Hedland

Today I took a ride around Port Hedland and its sister town South Hedland. Port Hedland is surrounded by huge iron ore mines and the town only has a small shopping centre and little else. South Hedland, by contrast, had lots of shops but much less in the way of heavy industry.

In the afternoon I took a tour of Port Hedland’s harbour run by the Seafarers’ Mission, a Christian charity set up to support overseas mariners. The Mission provides a home from home for sailors based on the huge ships that come in to take the iron ore to China and other destinations and everyday they provide a ferry services that goes around all the ships picking up sailors from their vessels and taking them to the Seafarers’ Centre then on into town, or dropping them back off again. As a way to fund this service, they offer tours to visitors.

The tour lasted about an hour and half and took us from one vessel to another collecting/dropping off sailors. Steep gangways are lowered from their deck to our tiny ferry and the sailors have to hop over the harbour waters below onto the gangways and make their way up/down. It was a calm day today but I thought it would be quite scary if it was at all choppy.

The harbour was huge and so were the boats within it but I was loving being out on the open water where there was a respite from the constant heat and humidity.

Posted by Jill Maden at 06:05 AM GMT
October 29, 2014 GMT
Hot, Humid and Fiery

Tuesday 28 October 2014

Australia 2014 - (20) Karratha to Port Hedland

I took Ruby back to the garage for her service this morning and by 11.30 she had a new tyre, a new chain, had had her carbs flushed and was ready to go. Apparently there had been a bit of grit in the carbs which could have caused the coughing but otherwise the mechanic hadn’t been able to identify anything seriously wrong with her.

As we were late getting on the road, I decided only to go as far as Port Hedland, 235 km away. Not long after leaving Karratha I could see huge plumes of smoke on the horizon. As the next town, Roebourne, is another industrial centre, I thought it may be pollution from one of the plants there, but as I got nearer, I could see it was actually a huge bush fire that seemed to have been making its way across the highway for several days as there was a whole section of burnt scrub and scorched road later on.

The next place signposted was Whims Creek but instead of the highway going through the middle of it, there was a turnoff for it. Unfortunately it wasn’t signposted and I only caught a glimpse of a sign saying “Whim’s Creek Pub – A Must See” out of the corner of my eye to give me any indication that I’d gone past it. That was one “must see” I didn’t see.

Somewhere during the next 150 km, I hit the humidity I’d been dreading ever since leaving Perth. Whereas with dry heat your sweat just evaporates as soon as it reaches your skin, with humid heat, it clings to you, making you a big, hot, soggy mess.

About 40 km from Port Hedland I entered quadruple road train country. Port Hedland is the biggest port in Australia and serves the mining and resource industries. These massive trucks together with mile long trains transport ore to the port. At one point one came up behind me and couldn’t get past for the traffic in the other direction – it was quite scary.

Port Hedland is a massive industrial town surrounded by iron mines, salt mines and god knows what else. As soon as I rode in I knew I couldn’t just spend the night and ride back out again, this was a place that needed exploring. So now I’m two days behind schedule, but what’s the point in coming to these places if you don’t stop and see what’s there?

Posted by Jill Maden at 02:26 AM GMT
October 26, 2014 GMT
Feeling the Strain

Sunday 26 October 2014

Australia 2014 - (19) Monkey Mia to Dampier

Is it really only 8 weeks since I started this adventure? It feels a lot longer. And the strain is starting to show. My right hand is seizing into a claw and, as predicted by everyone I’ve spoken to, it’s getting hotter and hotter. I’ve been having to get up at 5 am to try and do as many miles before 10 o’clock (when it seems to get furnace hot) as I can.

Ruby is feeling the strain too. Her chain is now like a piece of wet spaghetti and her rear wheel is almost completely bald. Yesterday, she also started choking, as if she was going to cut out, and I wondered if a fuel line was perhaps getting blocked.

After leaving Monkey Mia, I went to Carnarvon to see the One Mile Jetty, and also to find a Honda dealer who could nurse Ruby back to health, but he couldn’t fit us in and recommended booking her in with North West Honda in Karratha – 600 km away. This done, we left Carnarvon the next day and had a reasonably short day at 252 km to Coral Bay. By the time I got there I was in a stinker of a mood. I hadn’t spoken to anyone nice in days and was in desperate need of a good chat. Luckily, Phil, an ex-pat from the UK, turned up on a Triumph Tiger Evolution about half an hour later and, like a bee to honey, I swarmed around him, begging for company.

He was great guy and spent the whole day with me, showing me around and letting me drivel on endlessly about life on the road. It was so good to have someone who understood the ins and outs of motorcycle riding in Australia and who was happy to explain some of the mysteries I’d encountered, such as hundreds of diagonal trenches that run off the side of every road - they’re used to drain water off the road surface when it floods.

Yesterday, I almost ran out of fuel. I’d added up the distances involved from my atlas and reckoned I should have just enough to get from Coral Bay to the Nangaturra Road House some 253 km away. I’d used 91 km worth of fuel getting Coral Bay but I hadn’t completely filled up my tank at the last fuel stop so had a few litres less than usual. As I rode along I could see the fuel gauge dropping rapidly. I could have filled up at Coral Bay, but I’d been given strict instructions only to put 91 grade unleaded in Ruby and nothing higher and as Coral Bay only had 95 grade, I had decided not to risk it. As I went past the 136 km mark that I’d calculated back to North West Coastal Highway, I started panicking – “Never ride past fuel” I kept saying to myself. Surely it couldn’t be far now? After another 6 km I rejoined the highway and emptied my 5 litres of spare petrol from my jerry into the tank. It was only 101 km to the next road house so should I should make it.

Thankfully I did and the rest of the trip was uneventful apart from Ruby’s coughing fits. A guy at the campsite in Karratha said it was probably the fuel overheating in the tank. Bloody hell, if that’s the case, I’m going to have a hell of a ride to Darwin!

Fortunately, she’s due her 8,000 km service tomorrow as well as a new tyre and chain, so I’ll discuss the coughing with the garage when I’m there and see if there’s anything that can be done.

Today, I took a ride out to Dampier to see the Red Dog statue. Red Dog was a dog that became famous in the 1970s as he befriended most of the people in the town. They made a film about him a few years ago which I absolutely love so I couldn’t come this far and not see the place where it all took place.

Back on the road again tomorrow, after Ruby gets the all clear - just a short hop to Port Headland, then a huge run to Broome the next day.

Posted by Jill Maden at 08:05 AM GMT
October 22, 2014 GMT
West Coast Wonders

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Australia 2014 - (18) Perth to Monkey Mia

I left Perth on Monday and took the Mitchell Freeway out of town. Now who builds a freeway that runs out in a housing estate? The Aussies, that’s who. After about 50 km it just peters out and leads to an intersection in the middle of a housing estate. I pulled into a petrol station to see where to go next and as my map indicated Wanneroo I turned right. A few left turns later and I got to a big intersection which offer two highways or the Indian Ocean Drive north. I had read something in my “200 Top Rides” book that came with my motorcycle atlas saying the road to Lancelin was gorgeous and in a split second turned onto the Indian Ocean Drive. And what a fortuitous choice that was – this has to be one of the most beautiful roads I’ve travelled in Australia so far. Stunning white sandy beaches at Lancelin, Cervantes and Jurien Bay, interspersed with more pristine dunes and scrub rich with diverse flora and forna.

At Hangover Bay I got off the bike and walked down to the ocean’s edge. I’d been to Cottesloe Beach in Perth the day before which is also on the Indian Ocean but had no sense of achievement there. This time though, it suddenly struck me, I had ridden from one side of Australia to the other – from the Pacific Ocean in Brisbane to the Indian Ocean right here. I’d done approximately 10,000 km in two months on no more than 125 cc. I was thrilled.

I spent the night in Geraldton at what was definitely the most expensive camp site yet – AU$30 for a tent for the night. It was a very nice camp site, I’ll give you that, but 30 bucks, bit of a rip off.

From Geraldton I took a loop off the main North West Coastal Highway to Kalbarri National Park. More breathtaking scenery including another huge pink salt lake at Port Gregory, magnificent cliffs at Eagle Gorge and more amazing flora.

The loop added an additional 200-odd km to my route meaning it was already noon by the time I rejoined the NW Coastal Highway. There was then a huge 130 km section to the turnoff to Shark Bay which took me to 2 pm to complete. It was 38 degrees C at the Billabong Roadhouse, at the turnoff, and the guy there warned me things would only get worse the further north I went but it should be cooler as I got closer to the coast.

I almost decided not to continue, but I wanted to see the dolphins at Monkey Mia in the morning so I kept going. I split it into three section of 50 km each. The first was reasonably easy and fortunately, the second took me to Shell Beach which is made from millions of tiny shells, which lifted my spirits, so the last section to Monkey Mia wasn’t too bad either, getting me in for 6 pm.

I just had time to put my tent up before sunset.

This morning I was up early to see the dolphins swim into the shore – I can't believe I was almost going to quit in Perth and miss this stuff.

Posted by Jill Maden at 04:41 AM GMT
October 19, 2014 GMT
Adverse Weather Conditions

Sunday 19 October 2014

Australia 2014 - (17) Kalgoorlie to Perth

I left Kalgoorlie on Thursday and did the 600-odd km to Perth in two hops, stopping overnight in Merredin. The ride from Kalgoorlie to Merredin started well. It was perfect riding weather, not too hot or cold and just a light breeze.

Not long after leaving Kalgoorlie I ran into a series of road works that spread over a 20-30 km distance. At various points the road was diverted onto clay tracks which had been dampened down by a water truck. It wasn’t until I felt my feet becoming wet that I realised mud was being sprayed all over me and Ruby. I hadn’t even managed to last a day without my nice clean riding kit getting mucked up again.

I stopped at the road house in Yellowdime for breakfast where I got talking to a cyclist, Mario, who was on his way east. We swapped info about the road ahead and when I stepped back outside half an hour later, the temperature had sky rocketed. Not only that, the wind had got up too, and I was now being pummelled across the road. I did think about calling it quits at Southern Cross where a huge dust storm was underway, but given it was only 10.40 am it seemed a bit early so I pushed on. However, when I saw a sign saying it was 108 km to Merredin I wondered if this was such a good idea.

Thankfully the winds abated enough to keep me on the road and I got into Merredin at 12.30 pm. I could have carried on to Perth, but the heat was too draining. By now it was 38 degrees C and the prospect of putting my tent up did not appeal. The caravan park had a Single Ensuite Cabin with air conditioning available for $70 so I took that instead. It was a bit of an extravagance, but I just couldn’t bear the thought of sitting in my tent all afternoon.

The next morning it was freezing again and I needed to rug up all the way into Perth. The approach to the city was actually easier than I expected, being well signposted and I managed to make it all the way to the hostel with only one stop to check the map for directions. It was 11.30 am and check-in wasn’t until 1 pm. I decided to take Ruby for a wash. It took a few attempts to find the car wash the receptionist had told me about, but when I did, I was dismayed to find that wherever mud had stuck to her chrome, it was starting to rust. I’d only left it a day, and already Ruby was corroding!

After checking in I went to explore the city. From a distance it looks very modern and clean, but from street level, there is a lot of poverty in Perth. All the main shopping streets were filled with down and outs. It made me feel uneasy.

I hadn’t been sure if I would continue up the west coast to Darwin after reaching Perth or try and sell the bike and fly home early, but this short experience convinced me to get out of Perth as soon as possible. So I’ll be back on the road on Monday.

In the meantime a huge thunder storm broke yesterday afternoon and it’s been pouring with rain ever since. As I don’t have rain jacket, I’m not quite sure what I’ll end up doing today.

Posted by Jill Maden at 03:58 AM GMT
October 15, 2014 GMT
The Super Pit

Wednesday 15 October 2014

Australia 2014 - (16) The Super Pit

Kalgoorlie’s Super Pit has to be one of the modern wonders of the world. Of course it is a huge scar on the face of the earth and uses a massive amount of energy to power the mining operations, but if you try and ignore that for a moment and just look at the engineering involved, it’s quite spectacular.

Back at the start of the nineteenth century when gold was first discovered in Kalgoorlie, men with pick axes and shovels would dig shafts by hand to extract the precious metal. By the 1980s Kalgoorlie was riddled with thousands of shafts going from the surface to 1.5 km underground and most of the easily accessible gold had been extracted.

Alan Bond, famous businessman and entrepreneur, saw an opportunity to get at the less accessible ore between these shafts by creating one big pit from which ore could be extracted at far less cost and started buying up all the individual land leases. Bond’s company failed to complete the takeover but in 1989 all the leases were combined and Kalgoorlie Consolidated Gold Mines (KCGM) was formed to operate a gigantic, ever-decreasing pit in which massive equipment could tear out the old underground workings and access the unmined gold in between.

Currently the Super Pit is 4 km long, 2 km wide and 600 m deep. They are in the process of increasing the depth to 1.5 km, the level of the original hand dug mines, by expanding the width of the mine. You can’t just dig a hole with straight walls as this will collapse into itself, so they have to go down in steps. It’s taken 3 years to get it to its current width and will take another 4 years to take it down to the target depth of 1.5 km.

In terms of gold recovery, geologists determine where the gold is located and explosives are set to blow this out. Huge dumper trucks are then filled with the rubble formed. The high grade rubble goes to the ore crusher, the low grade to the stick picking areas where the old mine shaft workings are removed and recycled before it is taken to the waste rock dump.

The ore is deposited into one of two stock piles where it is transferred into huge steel barrels filled with steel balls that crush it into a powder. This is mixed with water to form a slurry. This is then pumped into flotation cells where air is added and the gold floats to the top where it is removed to storage tanks and dried. When it is dry it is then sent for roasting. This converts the concentrate into calcine which is then leached and absorbed into carbon. The gold is then removed from the carbon by an elution process which leaves a concentrated solution of gold. Electrolysis is then used to plate the liquid gold onto steel cathodes. Once all the gold is plated, high pressure water jets are used to remove the gold. The gold is collected and dried in large ovens. The dried “cake” is then put in crucibles and put in a furnace of over 1000 degrees C to melt the gold before it is finally poured into gold bullion.

About four gold bars are produced each day, each fetching about AU$690,000, that’s AU$2.5 - $3 million a day. Considering it takes 200,000 tonnes of rock to be milled every day to produce this, you have to wonder, is it really worth it?

Posted by Jill Maden at 10:46 AM GMT
October 14, 2014 GMT
Lust and Gold Dust

Tuesday 14 October 2014

Australia 2014 - (15) Kalgoorlie

Kalgoorlie is home to the Super Pit, a massive gold mine on the edge of the town. I had hoped to take a tour around it on Monday, but the first available tour is Wednesday leaving me three days in which to amuse myself.

After a day of domestic chores and shopping, I explored the town including the Western Australian Museum which gave a history of mining in the area and had a large “headframe” which you could go up and view the town from.

Next, I took a tour of a brothel. Yes, that’s right, a brothel – you can actually have a tour of the oldest one in town (there are two now but there used to be 18 in its heyday). It was quite interesting from a historical perspective but left me feeling somewhat unsettled.

Today I took a ride up to the Super Pit Lookout and got my first view into the mine. My goodness, it is absolutely massive. I can’t wait for the tour tomorrow to see it all up close and see how the gold is extracted.

Finally, I went on to the Mount Charlotte Reservoir and Lookout. Kalgoorlie has very little water of its own therefore it is all pumped in through a pipeline from Perth, a journey of about 560 km. It is deposited into the reservoir and several other storage tanks from where it is distributed to both the mine and the people of the town.

Posted by Jill Maden at 01:18 PM GMT
October 12, 2014 GMT
End of the Road

After a very cold night, I started the "Ninety Mile Straight", the longest piece of straight road in Australia. And boy was it straight - it had two RFDS emergency runways it was so straight.

When you do these huge distances you start to go into a kind of daze and it was only when I saw a bunch of people crowded around a sign on the other side of the road followed by a bend, that I realised I'd come to the end of it.

Another 200 km on I'd come to the end of the Eyre Highway at Norseman. It was another 195 km to Kalgoorlie and I swithered about whether I'd continue, but the promise of a nice warm bed for the night in the youth hostle kept me going.

Turning onto the Coolgardie-Esperance Highway it was stunning riding. Tall groves of gum trees exuding gorgeous smells of eucalyptus. The railway followed the road and both overlooked huge salt lakes on either side. I eventually got to Kalgoorlie at 5pm, utterly exhausted. But I'd done it, I'd made it across the Nullarbor safely.

Posted by Jill Maden at 11:42 AM GMT
Riders on the Road

Friday 10 October 2014

Up until now I hadn't met, or even seen, many other bikers, but today was to be different. First, a guy I'd seen in Ceduna and also at the Nullarbor Road House kept catching up with me. He was with his family who were towing a caravan and setting an even slower pace than mine hence the reason I kept meeting him.

Loads of bikes seemed to be going in the opposite direction too. I presumed they were going to the Moto GP races at Phillip Island which Mark and Kim in Port Augusta had been heading to.

It was a beautiful ride today but after the storm at the Nullarbour Road House, it was freezing and I ended up wearing my liner and windproof jacket beneath by riding jacket all day. After crossing over the Western Australia border the road started to rise and at Eucla it swept round a big bend onto a straight which followed the base of the Hampton Tablelands for miles. I'm pretty sure I also passed the end of the Dingo Fence which crossed the highway round about Eucla but I'm not entirely sure as it wasn't signposted.

Eventually the road headed over the tablelands at the Madura Pass and led onto a much more wooded area. At Cocklebiddy I was keen to get off the highway and go and have a look at the Eyre Bird Observatory and the Old Telegraph Station but this involved a trip down a 5 km dirt track so I gave it a miss. It's not that the dirt still scares me, I just don't want to do it on a fully laden bike.

My final destination for the day was Caiguna. As I filled up Ruby's tank a guy on a Triumph Sprint pulled up behind me. We chatted for a bit, then another biker I'd noticed having a cup of tea came over, followed by two other guys towing bikes on a trailer. Then the guy following the caravan turned up.

After they all moved on, I was left with the guy who'd been drinking tea, Ed. He was trying to decide whether he'd continue on or stay there the night. When I said I was staying, he decided to join me. He was travelling around Australia on a huge 1400cc Suzuki and wearing only shorts, a T-shirt and a Drizabone rain coat. He was a little eccentric.

After we pitched our tents another guy on a 650cc Honda turned up and rolled out a swag to sleep in. Usually these have a mattress and sleeping bag included, but he only had the mattress and no sleeping bag. That night the temperature dropped to almost zero and when I got up he'd been up for hours having almost frozen to death.

Posted by Jill Maden at 11:32 AM GMT
Nullarbor Nasties

Thursday 9 October 2014

Australia 2014 - (14) Crossing the Nullarbor

I was up early and on the road for 8.30 am today. I continued up the Eyre Peninsula on the Flindler’s Highway to Ceduna. Two giant oversize loads were coming towards me and, as instructed by the pilots, I pulled off the road. Fishing about for my camera I suddenly realised the loads exceeded the width of the road and that if I didn’t move further onto the verge I would be taken out by them. I just managed to move over in time but the photos had to be sacrificed to act quickly enough.

At Ceduna I rejoined the Eyre Highway and this time, thankfully, there was only a bit of a headwind and not the gale I'd encountered a few days earlier. A series of road trains kept me bobbing up and down over my tank to avoid the tail winds but otherwise it was a good ride.

I was quite surprised to see that the farmlands of the Eyre Peninsula extended as far as Nundroo, a good 150 km into the desert. Thereafter, it went back to bush before becoming the Nullarbour Plan (from the Latin for “no trees”).

I had a stop at the Head of Bight to see if there were any whales in the seas below. Firstly I needed the loo – and if you’re of a nervous disposition, don’t read any further! It was a composting toilet and as I sat down to do my business a moth flew out of the toilet roll holder, through my legs and off to somewhere I did not see. As I walked over to the Visitor Centre I felt a strange fluttering from my nether regions but didn’t think too much about it. It was hot by now so I had an ice-cream to cool down. There was that flutter again. A lady started talking to me as I ate my ice-cream. Flutter, flutter. What was that?

I went back out to the bike and put my helmet on. Flutter. I adjusted my trousers and it stopped. Must have been imagining things. I swung my leg over and pulled off. There it was again – flutter. What the hell was that? I pulled over, wheaked down my riding trousers – nothing there. Flutter. Could it be in my knickers? I pulled them down too and ARRGGHH a moth flew out. “Jesus”, I screamed in horror and jumped about like a looney. I’d had a moth in my pants for about 15 minutes! I can’t tell you what a truly horrifying experience that was – mind you, it was probably worse for the moth.

It was cold going west so I had my windproof jacket on but by lunch time it was heating up and by the time I got to the Nullarbour Road House where I planned on camping for the night, it was baking hot. I could feel my heart racing as I attempted to put my tent up. I had to keep stopping to catch my breath it was such an effort.

As soon as my tent was up, I threw myself into the shower and in an attempt to cleanse myself of any traces of the moth, scrubbed myself and all my clothes raw.

Then it was dinner time. I went to the road house for a hamburger and just as I was finishing it an almightly dust storm blew up out of nowhere. When I got back to the tent, I realised I’d left one of the doors open and it was now completely full of dust. I’d had enough, I transferred to a “Backpackers Room” in a portacabin instead where I then had to de-dust all my gear.

Posted by Jill Maden at 10:40 AM GMT
Something in the Eyre

Tuesday 7 October 2014

Australia 2014 - (13) Eyre Peninsula

My night in the Franklin Harbour Hotel in Cowell was riotous – honestly, you’d think they’d never seen a woman before. There were about three groups of men scattered about the bar in various states of inebriation and no sooner had one lot come up and quizzed me about who I was and where I was going, the next lot would do the same thing. Eventually, I retired to my room for some peace and quiet.

Next morning I was on the road for 10 am and in Tumby Bay by midday. Walshy came and met me at the harbour and took me round to his place to dump my stuff before taking me for lunch at the Seabreeze Hotel. After a short nap he then took me on a tour of the local area in his 4WD. My goodness it’s beautiful – white sandy beaches lapped by azure and petrol blue seas on one side then huge swathes of wheat and barley fields stretching inland until the land begins to rise giving way to sheep farms. He took me from coast to fields to flocks.

On the way back we stopped in to see a couple of Walshy’s friends, one of which had a huge Honda Goldwing onto which he attaches a small caravan contained within a trailer which he tows along behind him. Whilst I marvelled at the scale and luxury of it all, I don’t think they could quite believe how I was travelling.

That evening Walshy cooked dinner for me and I showed him my Postie Bike Challenge photos. He is one of those guys that it’s really easy to be around and when it came to bedtime, I felt quite sad at having to retreat to my room. Walshy was such a gentleman he never even tried to persuade me otherwise.

Wednesday 8 October 2014

Today I left Tumby Bay and continued down the Eyre Peninsula to Port Lincoln, then took the road up the west coast northwards with the intention of rejoining the Eyre Highway. I got as far as Streaky Bay where I’m camping tonight and watching the total eclipse of the moon – a “red moon”, they call it as, after the eclipse, the moon glows red from the sun's reflection.

Posted by Jill Maden at 10:26 AM GMT
October 06, 2014 GMT
Sobering Events

Monday 6 October 2014

After my two big days, I had a rest day on Friday – both Ruby and I were in need of some TLC. I hadn’t actually done any maintenance on Ruby since I’d bought her in Adelaide – mainly because I couldn’t get her onto the centre stand – so it was time to put things right. Once I put my mind to it, I got her up on the stand straight away and spent the next hour lubing her chain, checking her oil, pumping up her tyres and giving her a bit of a clean. I then went off to the Pharmacy to get some bandages to wrap around her handlebars to pad them out a bit so that my accelerator hand didn’t cramp up so much. I had tried my Cramp Buster from my last trip but because I had to have the accelerator on full lock to keep her at top speed, it meant I couldn’t position it properly. The bandages were my next best bet but didn’t really work.

On Saturday it was the long ride back to Port Augusta from Coober Pedy. I set off early again and thanks to a good tailwind managed to get my speed up to about 90-100 km/h. But by lunchtime the temperature was 36 degrees C and I needed more stops to recover from the heat. By 3.45 pm I’d covered the 532 km and was back in Port Augusta. There was a couple unloading a giant Triumph Tiger Evolution from a trailer so I went over to say hello. Mark and Kim were a lovely couple from Perth and I spent most of the rest of the evening talking to them.

On Sunday I headed over to the Tourist Office to get some information on riding across the Nullabour. I’d forgotten there is a golf course that runs the length of the Eyre Highway, with a hole or two at each road house. I decided this would perhaps be a good time to take up the sport and that I should attempt to strike my way across the desert.

I set off this morning with every intention of doing just that but the universe had different plans for me. As soon as I joined the Eyre Highway an almighty wind got up and almost blew me off the road. I had to bank the bike right over to keep it going forward. I got about half a kilometre along then realised I would probably die if I continued so did a U-turn and went back to the junction with Lincoln Highway and headed south to Whyalla instead, thus regaining the tailwind. As I rode along I remembered that Walshy, one of the guys from the Postie Bike Challenge, lived in nearby Tumby Bay and texted him to see if I could drop by. He was in even nearer Cowell and tracked me down at the Bakery. He had some very upsetting news – Greg, one of the guys on the Challenge that got injured, had died. It really shook me up to hear that and made me really question what I was doing.

As it was still another 2 hours ride to Tumby Bay I agreed to meet Walshy there as he had things to do. But by the time I got back on the road, the wind had changed direction and was now blowing a gale across the road. I got 20 km out of Cowell and had to give up. I pulled into a rest area and texted Walshy to let him know I probably wouldn’t make it. I waited for 4 hours before the wind subsided enough to let me return to Cowell.

The day’s events made me realised that crossing the Nullabour is not a feat to be taken lightly and that if I was to do it, I would have to be prepared to stop when the winds got up – I simply didn’t have the power to combat them – and if I did have to stop, that I’d better have plenty of food and water with me in case I had to wait out a storm overnight. I had the capacity to carry 4 litres of water which was enough, but only a tiny amount of food. I needed to re-think how I could increase that.

Returning to Cowell I couldn’t face the thought of a night in an expensive, windy foreshore campsite. There was a hotel nearby which was only a few bucks more. It was a no brainer, I checked in. Tomorrow I’ll continue down to see Walshy then, winds permitting, tackle the Eyre Highway again the day after that.

Posted by Jill Maden at 11:38 AM GMT
October 03, 2014 GMT
The Mail Bus Run

Thursday 2 October 2014

Australia 2014 - (12) The Mail Bus Run

Twice a week, Australia Post run a Mail Bus service from Coober Pedy to Oodnadatta in the north then William Creek in the south dropping off mail and parcels to various cattle stations and road houses along the way.

We set off at 9 am and until the first stop at Mount Barry Station I got to sit up front with the driver, Peter Rowe. He was a fascinating gentleman who come to the outback 47 years ago and fallen in love with it. As well as doing the mail run he had also been a potter, an opal miner and is an extremely good photographer. His knowledge of the history of the region was phenomenal and he regaled us with numerous stories of how people had overcome the adversities of the land to set up reliable homesteads there.

Next stop was the Pink Road House at Oodnadatta. I’d been wanting to go here for years. It wasn’t that different from most road houses. It had fuel, a restaurant, a post office and a reasonable sized store, it was just unmistakably pink. But it gave it a unique character and I liked that.

We had time for a quick look around the town before leaving, including the old railway station where the Ghan had been extended from Marree, the outdoor cinema, the Transcontinental Hotel and the Hospital (founded by John Flynn who had also founded the RFDS).

From there we headed south along the Oodnadatta Track to a series of other cattle stations, dropping off parcels and bags as we went. The track runs parallel with the Old Ghan Railway so there were some interesting sights to see, like the Algebuckina Bridge, the longest one in Australia.

The track itself was in a similar condition to the Birdsville Track, in that it was quite badly rutted in places. There were also quite a few sections with long, hilly undulations and sweeping bends so I was glad I hadn’t attempted to do it on the bike, it would have been easy to have a spill and given how far it was between homesteads, I could have been waiting a long time for help.

We also stopped at Anna Creek Station, the largest cattle station in the world at 24,000 square kilometres – approximately the size of Belgium!

Last stop was William Creek where we had dinner then made our way back to Coober Pedy. By this time it was dark so again we were breaking the outback law and driving in the dark. Unfortunately, this time we weren’t so lucky and hit a kangaroo, which sadly, didn’t survive the impact.

We finally got back to town at 10 pm. Two big days in a row and I was wasted, but happy.

Posted by Jill Maden at 05:02 AM GMT
Breaking the Rules

Wednesday 1 October 2014

The number one rule of the outback, apart from “Never drive past fuel” and “Never walk past a toilet” as I had learned, is “Don’t drive at dust or dawn” as this is when all the kangaroos come out. I was about to break this rule – big time.

Today I was heading back to Coober Pedy. I’d had a brief glance at my map and added up that it should be about 675 km, this would mean a seriously early start to cover the distance.

I was up at 5 am and on the road for 6.30 am – dawn. I was heading east so the rising sun was in my eyes and I could hardly see a thing. Plus, there was another headwind! I was down to 70 km/h and had 245 km of this before I joined the Stuart Highway south again. It wasn’t all bad though, I saw my first ever dingo, and what appeared to be a piglet running across the road in front of me. I also saw three huge eagles rise up from the roadside as I passed.

I made it to Erlduna and the junction with the Stuart Highway at 10.30 am – it had taken four hours. A quick fill up with fuel and I was on my way south. The wind wasn’t so bad here but it seemed the road was continually rising, which was confusing as I should now be descending to a lower altitude, and Ruby could only manage 78 km/h.

By 12.15 pm I’d made it to Kulgera. Another refuel and when I asked the man behind the counter how far it was to Coober Pedy, he said “Four hundred and twenty k.” What? Surely that wasn’t right? But the sign on the way out the town confirmed it – oh God, I’d mis-calculated. I’d only done 319 km plus this 420 and that made a total of 739, not 675 as I’d thought. There was no time to lose, if I was going to make it to CP by nightfall, I better get a move on.

By 4.40 I was at Cadney Park Homestead and still had 153 km to go. “What’s the chances of getting to Coober Pedy before sunset at 80 km/h?” I said to the man as I paid for another tank of fuel. “Yeah, you should be right, it’s only 4.40 just now and it will only take 2 hours at the most.” Yeah, two hours if you can go over 100 km/h.

115 km out of CP I saw the guy who I’d seen walking down the road on the way up. As I was on the same side as him this time, I pulled up to find out what on earth he was doing. “Are you walking across Australia?” I yelled at him. “Err, yes, I am,” he replied. It turned out he’d walked from Sydney to Ayres Rock in 3 months, spent 3 months there working with an Aboriginal community, and was now walking home again, via Adelaide, a feat that would take him about 4.5 months. He was raising money for an Aboriginal health programme. It made me feel all my efforts were meaningless in comparison.

30 km from Coober Pedy the sun started setting. 5 km from the town it was almost dark. By the time I rolled into Reception at the Opal Inn Motel and Caravan Park it was 7 pm and pitch black. But I’d made it and had managed to avoid hitting any wildlife in the process.

I pitched my tent, blew up my airbed and transferred everything into the tent, then a couple at a picnic table nearby said, “We’ve made too much food, would you like to finish it for us?” It was a gift from the heavens. I couldn’t thank them enough.

And what was the reason for this insane dash to Coober Pedy you may ask? Well, I had found a way to do the Oodnadatta Track that didn’t involve taking Ruby down it – the Mail Bus Run – but it only ran twice a week and I’d got the last place on the bus the following day.

Posted by Jill Maden at 05:01 AM GMT

Tuesday 30 September 2014

Australia 2014 - (11) Uluru

There are some things in life that truly take your breath away and Uluru is one of them. I left it until mid afternoon before I ventured out to see this unique monolith. You start to catch glimpses of it about 30 km before you get to Ayres Rock Resort, but it’s not until you enter the National Park that you get the full impact of it. It is huge. I don’t think there is anything else quite like it in the world. It makes you want to fall to your knees in ceremony. It is quite the most spiritual thing I have ever seen. It seems to have a power about it that radiates out into the landscape around it.

It is considered a deeply spiritual place by the Aboriginal people and I can completely understand why. There is a Cultural Centre in the National Park that says something along the lines of “White fellas come and take their pictures and want to climb Uluru, but if they just sat in its presence for a while they would experience so much more”. After I read that I stopped taking pictures and did just that. What a truly humbling place it is.

Posted by Jill Maden at 05:00 AM GMT
September 30, 2014 GMT
The Heat is On

Monday 29 September 2014

Australia 2014 - (10) Alice Springs to Ayres Rock

After taking Ruby for her 1,000 km service (at 1,700 km) at Desert Edge Motorcycles in Alice and being served by the rather lovely smelling Dallas, I headed back down the Stuart Highway towards Ayres Rock. It was 10 am before I was on the road and the temperature was already extremely hot.

I had 443 km to cover to get to Ayres Rock and it just kept getting hotter. I had a 2 litre hydration pack on my back, a litre of Hydralyte in a bottle and another one litre bottle of water. By the time I got to Curtain Springs I’d sucked every one of these dry and even a chilled bottle of Powerade at the road house didn’t cool me down. In fact, I was starting to feel decidedly weak. Part of me thought I should just stay there the night and give up trying to get to Uluru for sunset, but the other part of me didn’t want to have to pitch my tent twice, so I pressed on.

When I eventually arrived in a heaving, sweaty mess, the girl at reception said, “Ah, it’s only 34.8 today, that’s nothing.” “We don’t even have temperatures that high in Scotland,” I replied, but she thought I was kidding.

I was completely exhausted by the time I’d put my tent up and even a cold shower didn’t really cool me down, so a trip to the base of the rock for sunset photos was out of the question. At least I’d managed to get some shots of Mt Conner on the way in.

Posted by Jill Maden at 04:45 AM GMT
A Town Like Alice

Friday 26 - Sunday 28 September 2014

Australia 2014 - (9) Alice Springs

Unlike the day before which had been freezing, it was a good ride up from Kulgera to Alice Springs – sunny but not too hot and best of all, no wind.

Alice Springs sits at about 600 m (2000 ft) so the road was slowly rising again. Bland bush gave way to rugged hilly outcrops and the earth became redder.

I arrived in Alice about 12.30 pm and went straight over to Dave and Cec’s place. Dave was one of the guys I’d met on the Postie Bike Challenge who had very kindly offered me a place to stay. It was great to see him again and meet his wife Cec. That evening they took me up to Anzac Hill to watch the sunset which gave great views of the town and the general lie of the land.

The next day Dave took me on a tour of the local surroundings. We stopped at the Transport Museum to see how much it would cost to get in should I want to go back myself, then the Uterne Solar Power Station – a mass of solar panels which Dave advised is due to be quadrupled in size over the next few years.

Alice Springs is surrounded by the McDonnell Ranges to the east and west, so next we headed out of town to Honeymoon gap, a place where the limestone ranges were carved through by ancient rivers when the continent was still forming. Today the river was dry but still flows in times of heavy rain. Next stop was Simpson Gap, another place where a gap has been formed by erosion. There was a group of rock wallabies at the foot of the cliffs – alas they were too quick and too far away for me to catch any photos.

After that we went back to Dave’s and collected Cec and went out to the Ellery Creek Big Hole, a gorgeous permanent swimming hole 88 km out of town. A swim and some lunch later we headed back into Alice to the old Telegraph Station. This is the only remaining original telegraph station of the Overland Telegraph Line (O/T Line) that ran from Darwin to Adelaide and connected Australia with the rest of the world via the subsea cable from Asia.

Not content with what had already been a pretty busy day by my standards, Dave and Cec then took me out to some claypans just out of town for a BBQ. I could barely keep my eyes open by the time we got home.

On Sunday, Dave and Cec had other commitments so I took myself off to explore the city. I had been there back in 1989 but it was too long ago for me to remember anything much. After a morning of wandering around the shops and the Sunday craft market, I took a tour of the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) museum. The RFDS is another amazing service that has developed to to service the people living in remote Australia. From humble beginnings back in 1928 it now has 61 aircraft and 21 bases across the country meaning no-one is ever more than 2 hours from a major hospital.

Posted by Jill Maden at 03:17 AM GMT
September 26, 2014 GMT
Tricks of the Light

Thursday 25 September 2014

Australia 2014 - (8) Coober Pedy to Alice Springs

I’m not sure if I haven’t been drinking enough or what, but the light seems to have been playing tricks with me today. Packing up my tent, I kept seeing a shadow out of the corner of my eye, but then when I looked, there was no-one there. Then, on the road to Kulgera, I had a weird sense of someone watching me whenever I stopped.

The light was also creating mirages on the road, making it look as if there was water ahead. Of course, I never got to it, it just stayed the same distance from me. And, as if all that wasn’t enough, I kept feeling like I was going to fall asleep in the saddle (I’ve not been sleeping that well). I eventually pulled over to have a lie down but couldn’t find a suitable spot so downed some Hydralyte instead and that seemed to put an end to it.

Then, about 40 km from Kulgera, again, a man was walking along the roadside, pushing a sort of trolley. After miles of being the only vehicle on the road, a 4 x 4 appeared out of nowhere and overtook me just as I got level with the guy, so apart from tooting my horn at him, I wasn’t able to stop and find out what on earth he was doing there. What is it with men walking along deserted highways 40 km from a town?

Posted by Jill Maden at 06:42 AM GMT
Gem of the Never Never

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Australia 2014 - (7) Coober Pedy

In the afternoon I took a bus tour of Coober Pedy. The town was founded in the early nineteen hundreds when opals were found there, prompting something of an opal rush which is still going on today. The whole town in surrounded by mounds of sandstone drilled out in the mining process. Anyone can stake a claim – all you have to do is go along to the Council Offices, pay $150 and state which lot you’d like. Each lot is either 50 m x 50 m or 50 m x 100 m. You, and preferably a couple of friends, then go off to your site, use a large drill to dig down up to 30 m (as this is as deep as opal can be found) and see if you can find the precious gems.

Our guide told us various stories of huge gains and losses. It costs around $1000 a day just for the diesel required to power the drill, tunnelling machine and giant vacuum that sucks all the rubble back out, so at that price, a lot of miners now have day jobs and just do it on the weekend.

The other remarkable thing about Coober Pedy is that because it gets so hot there that people started moving into the old mine shafts and there are a huge number of underground homes. I have to confess, I thought the whole town would be underground, but there are also quite a lot of surface homes too. The whole place looks a bit scruffy but our guide assured us, some of the underground homes are worth over AU$350,000.

We went to a museum based in an old mine which had living quarters as well as mining tunnels. I think I would find the whole living underground thing quite claustrophobic but I can understand why people do it.

Posted by Jill Maden at 06:39 AM GMT
September 24, 2014 GMT
Windswept and Weary

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Australia 2014 - (6) Port Augusta to Coober Pedy

I left Port Augusta yesterday and started making my way north. Originally I had planned on returning to Marree from Adelaide and taking the Oodnadatta Track to Marla, but having survived the 1000-odd km of dirt tracks on the Postie Bike Challenge, I didn’t want to risk doing it alone. It’s one thing doing dirt when you’re in a supported group, but quite another when you’re on your own and your bike is weighed down with luggage.

Instead, I took the Stuart Highway north. I wasn’t sure how far I’d go, I’d wait and see how I felt. It was windy and Ruby was struggling to keep at 80 km/h. But what a ride – a beautiful flat plain with the Flinders Rangers behind me and small mounds and escarpments in the distance ahead of me.

About 30 km in four dark men in black leathers on Harley-Davidsons passed me. They didn’t wave and accepting their undoubted dominance of the road, neither did I. A few km further on they’d pulled over and were walking back toward a small salt lake at the side of the road. This time, as I chugged past, they all waved and smiled at me.

The road seemed to be rising and Ruby was down to 70 km/h. A series of road trains whipped me as they passed and I discovered the best thing to do was duck down on my tank and reduce the surface my torso provided for the wind to hit. Even worse though was being overtaken by one – then you’d get caught in the slipstream and get towed in a zig-zagging dance behind them.

At Pimba I stopped to fill up and the four Black Angels were there. Immediately one of them came up to me and advised me there was a 250 km stretch to Coober Pedy with no fuel so to make sure I had enough. I wasn’t sure I was going that far but I had a full 5 litre jerry can on board so would be all right if I did.

Inside the road house we got chatting. The boys were on their annual two week ride together and on their way to Alice Springs. “So is that a 500?” one of them asked. “Hah, no, it’s a 125,” I replied. They couldn’t believe I was touring round Australia on such a small bike.

At Glendambo I caught up with them again. It was 1 pm and I had a decision to make – would I continue on to Coober Pedy or stay there? I reckoned it would take me another 4 hours to get to CP but it would mean I could then complete the remaining mileage to Alice in two days not three so I decided to press on.

That was a long 4 hours. The wind and gradually rising incline had me down to 60 km/h in some places and fatigue meant I was stopping more often. My accelerator hand was aching again from holding the power on. But again, the stunning scenery had me captivated. Long stretches of wooded bush, followed by acres of empty plains. And BIG, BIG skies.

About 40 km from Coober Pedy I saw a guy walking along the roadside. I slowed down to see if he was all right. “Yes, I’m fine,” he replied so I carried on but I couldn’t figure out what on earth he was doing there, miles from anywhere, walking along. A few ks further I saw what appeared to be some mining works so I presumed he must have been making his way there, but where on earth from?

It was 5.15 when I rolled into CP. I found the caravan park and used the hammer I’d bought in Adelaide to whack my tent pegs into the concrete-like ground. Half way through the night, the wind got up and practically blew my fly-sheet off. I jumped out of bed and removed it before it was carried away and spent the rest of the night curled into my two sleeping bags protected only by the inner shell of the tent.

Needless to say, I’m feeling very weary today but a tour of the town to look forward to this afternoon.

Posted by Jill Maden at 02:26 AM GMT
September 22, 2014 GMT
Slow Rider

Monday 22 September 2014

I loaded up Ruby and left Adelaide yesterday. Although I have considerably less luggage than my last trip to Oz, it still takes my two panniers, a top box and another small bag to carry it all, so looking at a picture it doesn't look like I have much less than I had before.

Australia 2014 - (4) Adelaide to Port Augusta

Nevertheless, although needing a bit more power to get started, Ruby stepped up to the task admirably. Having said that, I struggled to get her over 90 km/h but after a top speed of 80 km/h on the Postie Bike, 90 feels like I'm racing along.

It wasn't just the bike that was slow though, I wasn't really ready to leave Adelaide. After all the rushing around, I could have done with a day to recover, but I didn't want to be trying to find my way out of the city first thing on a Monday morning so I reckoned a Sunday departure would be better. And it was, but I found I was reluctant to do any long distances and kept stopping for fuel or sight-seeing breaks.

I took the same route out of Adelaide as I did last time as I wanted to see the pink lake again (which wasn't as pink) but it was a busy road and it would have been better to have gone through the Flinders Ranges.

I've been missing my Postie Biker friends. It's strange waking up on my own again and not having a tired, smiling face staring back at me. Not to worry, should see one of them when I arrive in Alice Springs in a few days.

Posted by Jill Maden at 08:16 AM GMT

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