If you've enjoyed reading this blog, you might like to read the story behind the story in "Excess Baggage" the book of this trip. For full details, click here:
Friday 18th March 2011 – I arrived back in the UK yesterday morning after, I’m pleased to report, an uneventful flight back from Hong Kong. Despite my cold, I had a great week in Hong Kong with my brother and ended up staying in a very posh hotel room for a very cheap price so it seemed like a fitting end to my journey. After 7 months of life on the road and endless adventures its going to be strange establishing a “normal” life again, but I guess that’s what life’s all about – ch-ch-changes ...
So that’s it, as Jim Carey said on the Truman Show, “Good morning and, in case I don’t see you, good afternoon, good evening and good night”.
Friday 11th March 2011 – Here’s a funny story for you all. On the plane to Hong Kong during a bit of mild turbulence I started to feel a bit queezy. However, never having suffered from any form of travel sickness I discounted the possibility that I may be sick and decided to go to sleep instead. Sometime later, the girl in the seat next to me starts shaking me awake as, it turns out, I was vomiting in my sleep! On awakening I grabbed the sick bag and proceeded to empty my guts into it. I then managed to wake the man on the other side of me and make my way to the crew station where I announced, somewhat obviously, “I’ve just been sick”. The attractive young male steward then gave me another bag and suggested I might like to go to the toilet to clean up. “Clean up?” I thought. It was only then I realised I’d been sick all over my clothes. Anyway, I made it to the toilet and, as I wasn’t sure which end the next attack was going to flow through, I wheeked down my trousers and sat on the toilet. A few minutes later, said attractive young male steward knocks on the door. I could barely manage to say “Just a minute” so he then proceeded to unlock the door from the outside and pop his head round. Talk about an undignified sight – there I was with my head in a sick bag, my trousers round my knees and covered in puke! Nevertheless he handed me a cup of some sort of gastric relief compound and left me a pair of Quantas pyjamas to change into. When I eventually managed to peel off my clothes, I realised there was sick all over my underwear too. I made a pathetic attempt to wash it in the sink but given the taps are tiny and so is the plug hole, I soon realised this would be a fruitless exercise so I stuffed my clothes in the bag he’d given me and made my way out. They then took me up to Business Class and put me on oxygen for half an hour before sending me back to my seat for an uneventful remainder of the flight!
Thursday 10th March 2011 – So my time in Australia is finally over and I’m waiting at the airport for my flight to Hong Kong to be called. I woke up with a sore throat, runny nose and a light head today that has been gradually getting worse. I read somewhere that runny noses usually indicate tears that haven’t been expressed. I managed to fight back the tears for most of the day today, but saying goodbye to my friends, their little girl, their dogs and, of course, the bike, was more than I could take and I’ve been bubbling ever since.
My last few days in Melbourne were a mixture of freezing cold, cold and hot weather and were passed happily tying up loose ends and exploring the city. I put an advert on the web for the bike but as I’d had no takers by the time I left, I gave it to my friends.
People keep asking me what have been the best bits of the trip and I would definitely have to say looking after all the animals, especially the two whippets, riding to Mount Molloy in 8 days in the scalding heat and riding over the 30km of dirt track on the Omeo Highway. These are the bits that gave me the greatest sense of achievement. But really, the whole trip was fantastic and I was blessed with meeting some fabulous people, getting a reliable bike and seeing some of the most wonderful sights. I feel deeply grateful to everyone who had a hand in making this trip possible and incredibly lucky to have the good fortune to have been able to undertake it.
So will I go back and do the western side of Australia? Well, it occurred to me the other day as I was riding along on my friend’s push bike, that perhaps cycling an electric bicycle would be a good way to cross the Nullabor and go up the centre. So watch this space, I may be back ...
Sunday 27th February 2011 – The last 395km from Lakes Entrance back to Melbourne should have been a beautiful ride along the South Gipsland Highway but unfortunately the weather broke for my final ride and I got completely soaked! The final approach to Melbourne meant joining the freeway system and navigating my way through roadworks, heavy traffic and a number of tricky junctions. As with the approach to any major city, this was a nerve wracking experience, but I managed to find all the right roads at the right time and made it back to my friends’ house without incident.
So that’s it – the ride is over. In the last 7 months I’ve ridden from one side of Australia to the other and back again, covered 15,630km, avoided floods, cyclones and heat exposure, met some of the kindest, most helpful and genuinely nice people I could have hoped for, and had the time of my life.
I fly out of Melbourne to Hong Kong on 10 March, spend a week with my brother, then from Hong Kong to London on 17 March. Between now and then I’ll have to try and sell the bike and squeeze my expanded load of luggage back into the 2 bags I came here with.
I’ll write again before I leave, but for now, thank you to everyone who’s been reading this blog – I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.
Friday 25th February 2011 – I had the day off yesterday so wandered around Tallangatta and caught up on my laundry.
Today I wanted to get to Lakes Entrance on the south coast. According to my HEMA Motorcycle Atlas, there are 3 ways one can get there from Tallangatta: (1) take the Omeo Highway (described as “The road is generally tarred, but there are some quite rough gravel and rock sections which can be a test for the unprepared.”) – clearly not a good choice for me; (2) the Redbank Road which follows the right bank of the Kiewa River (described as “a simple back road ... so its a lot of fun”) – sounds right up my street; or (3) the Kiewa Valley Highway (described as “... a little on the dull side”) – err, perhaps not. So which one did I end up taking? Yes, you’ve guessed it, the Omeo Highway with 30km of gravel road to tackle!
Somehow I took the turning before the Redbank Road and ended up on a road that junctioned with the Omeo Highway. As I’d already gone about 45km at this point, I didn’t particularly want to go back so I decided it was time to face my fear of gravel and keep going forward. There are 2 gravel sections on this road, the first about 10km, the second, about 20km. The first was by far the worst – there were some really steep turns and badly rutted sections. I discovered the best way to tackle them seemed to be to keep your feet up and just keep moving. On the 3 occasions that I put my feet down I found it was very difficult to then get going again.
The second section was much longer. It took me 1.5 hours to cover the 20km involved. As long as the road is going straight its okay, but as soon as it starts climbing (or descending) and turning, the 2 wheels of the bike start going in different directions and you start skidding across the surface. The downhill bends are the scariest as you can’t use your power to control things like you can on the uphill bits. At one point a couple of guys on dirt bikes went whizzing past me in the opposite direction and it occurred to me that perhaps taking things faster than first gear might be easier, but given how hard it was to control the skids at slow speeds I wasn’t prepared to take the risk. Another guy with the full BMW adventure touring gear stopped as he passed me to check I was okay. As I said “yes” I could feel tears welling up but I knew blurred vision wasn’t going to help so I stuffed them back down and just carried on. As I got closer to the end of the track, the road flattened and smoothed out a bit so I was able to get it into second gear and 30 km/h!!!
I’ve never really considered myself a religious person, but one thing I have found throughout this trip is that, if there is a God, then I sure ask for His help a lot!!!
So I made it to the bottom of the dirt track in one piece only to discover I still had another 50km to ride to Omeo. And this wasn’t easy riding either. The road twists its way down through the mountains with huge sheer drops right off the side of the road. When I pulled into the petrol station in Omeo a guy came rushing up to me asking me if I’d seen “an old bloke on a BMW” as he’d lost him and thought he may have gone over the edge. In the cafe where I had lunch, the owner told me how 3 bikers had come to grief a few years ago. It was foggy and the first 2 went straight off the road over a cliff, the third saw the second’s tail light rise up and realised what was happening so put his bike down on its side and just managed to escape going over the edge.
From Omeo I joined the Great Alpine Road (the second best bike ride in Australia and the fifth best in the world, according to the cafe owner). About half way down and within about 5 minutes of each other I had 2 near misses with oncoming cars, the second of which had me hit the brakes so hard I almost kissed the tarmac so, realising my riding was becoming eratic, I pulled over to discover I was shaking like a leaf. A little rest, a few gulps of Powerade and several enquiries from passing drivers as to my state of health later, and I was back in the saddle for a much more sedate descent to Lakes Entrance.
So here I am in a lovely, very cheap, motel room where I think I’ll stay for a couple of nights before doing the final run back to Melbourne. I can’t believe my trip is almost over. Its been the best, most terrifying and most uplifting thing I’ve ever done. As another biker said to me the other day “you’ll miss not riding every day, won’t you?” and the answer is, of course, “yes”.
Anyway, its not quite over yet ...
Wednesday 23rd February 2011 – What a joyful day’s riding it was today. I left Tathra, rejoined the Princes Highway north for a few kms, then took the Snowy Mountains Highway west to Cooma then Jindabyne. It was the most gorgeous day – clear blue skies, radiant sunshine and stunning clarity. It was quite cool climbing up over Brown Mountain so I had to dig out my windproof jacket again. At Jindabyne, I turned onto the Alpine Way to Thredbo. This is where the Kosciuszko National Park starts and where the Australian ski resorts are located. Until this point the roads had been lovely wide open ones with sweeping bends and gentle gradients, but after Thredbo the road narrowed and became another tight alpine pass. At one point a pack of other riders, heading for the SuperBike Races at Phillip Island it turned out, passed me. However, round the next bend we had to stop for road works. One guy looked at my overloaded bike – before he could say anything I said “Don’t say a word.” So he turned away then obviously couldn’t resist and said “Moving house?”. It was quite funny though.
It took me most of the afternoon to get from one side to the other but it was beautiful country so I didn’t mind at all. So thanks to Mark (from Canberra) for suggesting it.
I then took the Murray Valley Highway to Tallangatta (which is back in Victoria) and booked into the local hotel which was doing a super cheap deal for motorcyclists. Its not the plushest place I’ve stayed but the 2 guys that run it are very friendly so I may even stay a day.
Tuesday 22nd February 2011 – Yesterday, Nick lent me a push bike and took me off to see the National War Memorial. It’s an impressive building that also houses a museum of wartime artefacts. He left me there to look around, then I cycled part way round Lake Burley Griffin before heading off to look at the Houses of Parliament. Alas, the bike proved to be perhaps the most uncomfortable I have ever ridden so I ended up pushing it most of the way round Canberra.
That evening I met up with a gentleman called Mark, one of my blog readers, who lives in Canberra. He was very interesting and recently spent a month riding a Royal Enfield round India. He also gave me lots of advice on where to go next – he suggested going through the Snowy Mountains instead of along the coast. After that I went back round to Nick’s to return the bike and have dinner. It was really nice to be able to relax in a real house again and to meet his kids.
Today I left Canberra and took the King’s Highway back to Bateman’s Bay before heading south along the Princes Highway to Moruya to meet up with Steve, a friend of my friends in Melbourne. It was only when I left him and got to a petrol station that I realised I’d lost my wallet. Panic stricken, I fled back to the pub where luckily they’d just found it. God, that’s twice I’ve lost it now and twice the good honest folk of Australia have handed it in.
I’m now in Tathra where I just managed to get the last room in the Inn – a family room with 7 beds in it! Another (very attractive) biker called Mick had just checked in when I arrived, so we tentatively arranged to have dinner together, however, by the time I’d had a shower, changed and sorted my stuff out, some other woman had nabbed him first. Honestly, it just never seems like I’m going to meet someone. Every guy I meet is either married, separated, fancies someone else, doesn’t fancy me or is completely unavailable. I think I’m just going to give up on looking for love with someone else and concentrate on finding it within myself – then maybe it will just come along without me having to try.
Sunday 20th February 2011 – I met up with Nick for dinner last night and again this morning. We took the bikes out to the NASA Deep Space Communications Complex. This is where they "listen" to space.
I had a fabulous time looking at all the exhibits and taking photos of the satellite dishes. Nick, however, seemed a little restless (having been there many times before) so I suggested he could leave if he wanted and I’d go back via the Mount Stromlo Observatory.
Until 2003 Mount Stromlo housed about 5 different telescopes but they were all destroyed in a massive bushfire and now only the shells of the buildings remain – the actual telescopes were damaged beyond repair. By this time, I was on a bit of a space mission and decided I would go and find the Planetarium. As I didn’t have a clue where this was, I went to the Tourist Information Centre first only to discover it too had been destroyed in a fire in 2008!
So my space mission had to be aborted for the day and I had to content myself with going to see “127 Hours” at the pictures instead – if you haven’t seen this film, its about a guy who falls down a ravine and gets his arm trapped between a boulder and the rock face. He eventually has to cut his arm off to get free. And, yes, its a true story!
Saturday 19th February 2011 – What a great time I had in Bateman’s Bay. It was lovely to see Rod and his family again and also to meet up with another old friend, Shane.
On Friday, Rod took me for a drive to Shallow Crossing. This involves taking a dirt track up into the forest for several miles before the road descends down to the River Clyde where a concrete weir has been built across the river. As there has been so much rain it was completely submerged and we had to drive quite slowly across it to avoid being swept away by the current.
We then went up to look at some old gold mines. You wouldn’t have known they were there unless you knew they were there. To the untrained eye they just looked like piles of earth but upon closer inspection one could see huge, seemingly bottomless, pits had been dug. I found it amazing to think that people had walked in all the equipment they needed and probably spent months at a time burrowing for the precious metal.
Again my heart strings were pulled leaving my old friends but as I’ve now booked my tickets home I need to keep moving. So I took the road to Canberra this morning. It wound up through the forest before coming out onto an open plain where I nearly got blown off the road on several occasions the wind was so strong. Just as I made my final turn into London Circuit in Canberra a car in the right hand turn lane decided to go straight on and nearly knocked me off my bike! Admittedly, I was in the left lane, but I was indicating to go right (as were a number of other cars) so I don’t quite know what that other driver was up to. Anyway, I’m safely ensconced back at the YHA now and hopefully will meet up with Nick tonight.
Wednesday 16th February 2011 – I left Sydney today. The thought of riding through the biggest city in Australia on a fully laden motorbike wasn’t one that I’d been particularly looking forward to, but I noticed that Route No 3 from Mona Vale Road would take me all the way through Sydney and out the other side at Woolongong where I could pick up the Pacific Highway to Bateman’s Bay. A girl in my room tried to convince me it would be shorter to take the road outside the hostel all the way into central Sydney where I could pick up a “distributor” road which would then take me over the Harbour Bridge then I’d be able to pick up “some other road” that would take me south, but upon looking at my map this seemed like a very complicated route and as Route No 3 didn’t involve a single turn I decided to take it instead even though it probably was a little bit longer.
So I set off into the vast metropolis of Australia’s premier city. I put myself in the middle lane on Mona Vale Road and pretty much stayed there all the way to the Pacific Highway. This route bypassed the centre of Sydney and took me through suburbs called Pymble, Ryde and Huntsville as well as passing the Olympic Stadium. It was very built up so it took me 2 hours to travel the 100km to Woolongong, but I made it without incident and didn’t have to stop once to consult the map so I was happy with that. I then phoned Rod to advise him of my progress only to be advised “well, its still another 3 hours from there”. God, I should be used to the distances in Australia by now, but they still always surprise me!
Anyway, I made it to Bateman’s Bay just before the rain came in so all in all, it was a pretty good trip.
Monday 14th February 2011 – I took the bus into central Sydney today. Its been about 6.5 years since I was last there but as I looked out across Circular Quay (which is rectangular, incidentally) it seemed as if it was only yesterday. Its funny how memories can distort time, or is it, how time distorts memories? As I travelled down the east coast I went through many places I’ve been through before yet didn’t recognise at all, then others that I had really clear memories of in my head but didn’t even see. Weird isn’t it?
Anyway, the bus went over the Harbour Bridge (the other night on the ride we went through the Harbour Tunnel) so now all I need to do is get a boat across and I’ll have crossed it by most means.
I then took a tour of the Sydney Opera House. Wow – its impressive from the outside, but inside it really takes your breath away. Unfortunately they wouldn’t let us take any pictures of the inside so I’ll just have to add those images to the reliable stack of memories in my head!
Saturday 12th February 2011 – God, I’m exhausted. I’ve just spent the last 3 days with Glenn & Emilia and the Northern Beaches Social Riders. This is the motorcycle club that Glenn runs, but it’s not just any old motorcycle club, they also raise money for charity, tonnes of it – so far they have raised AU$300,000. They do this through a combination of raffles, events and people paying to be pillion passengers on their rides. Thursday night was raffle night at the pub, then yesterday, they had a big ride through the streets of Sydney. The main instruction I was given was “Ride in staggered formation and keep as close as possible to the person in front.” Easier said than done I have to say! Now keeping in mind that most of the riding I’ve done over the last 6 months has been in pretty remote areas where you can go for miles before you see another vehicle, having to ride at a distance of approximately 10 feet from the bike in front, came as something of a challenge to me. Add to that the fact that I had absolutely no idea where we were going and was surrounded by enormous Harley Davidsons, and you have all the makings of some truly appalling riding from yours truly. Arriving at Harry’s Pie Shop (a local Sydney institution) at Woollamolloo, I was, once again, a jibbering wreck. After pouring out my terror to anyone who would listen it seemed to clear my nerves a bit and on the way back I got it together and did a much better job of keeping tight with the other riders and actually found I really enjoyed myself.
Glenn & Emilia, John and the rest of the NBSR are a fabulous group of people and my heartfelt thanks go out to everyone who chatted to me and made me feel so welcome. And special thanks go out to Glenn and Emilia who welcomed me into their home, barely knowing me, and showed me some of the local sights of the area. I am truly grateful.
I also got a chance to take a ride out to Palm Beach (aka “Summer Bay”), where “Home & Away” is filmed and saw a few of the key landmarks used in the series.
Now I’m back at the Northern Beaches YHA and feeling a mixture of deep gratitude and nervous exhaustion. Although it was lovely meeting everyone at the NSBR I do find meeting lots of new people quite nerve-racking so its nice to be able to spend a bit of time alone again.
I’ll stay here till Tuesday or Wednesday then make my way down to Bateman’s Bay where I’ll see my dear old friends Rod & Kim.
Wednesday 9th February 2011 – When I left Byron Bay it was a cold, drizzly morning. In fact, it got so cold at one point, I had to pull over and dig out my windproof jacket. However, by the time I arrived in Port Macquarie it had brightened up a bit and I was able to have a very pleasant stroll around the town.
The next day was also quite cool but again it brightened up later and by the time I got to Newcastle it was lovely. I decided to follow the Pacific Highway into the town instead of joining the Newcastle/Sydney Freeway, which took me all round the coastal beaches of Newcastle and beyond. It was really pretty.
Eventually I had to join the freeway which was very scarey but managed to make it to the YHA at the Northern Beaches by 3pm. I then made contact with Glenn and John from the Wilcannia servo and Glenn invited me round for dinner. So I had a lovely evening with Glenn, his wife Emilia, John and their other friends Mark & Stephan.
Monday 7th February 2011 – Byron Bay has been just what I needed, rest and relaxation in beautiful surroundings. The campsite is right on the beach and therefore benefits from cool sea breezes as well as warm sunshine. Its a bit of a hippy town – lots of massage clinics, art galleries and shops selling brightly coloured clothing. And more campervans than I’ve seen in my entire tour of Australia! Its a big surfing destination.
On Friday night a group of 20-something lads, then a group of 20-something girls, checked into the lodges next to mine. As you can imagine the 2 groups instantly bonded, the music was cranked up and the booze began to flow. God bless them, they very kindly asked if I would like to join them, so I had a cocktail, then politely left them to it. Just as well I’m pretty deaf as I managed to sleep through the ensuing din.
Saturday was spent cleaning the bike, wandering around and acquainting myself with the town and walking up and down the beach in my bikini in an attempt to get a tan. I mention this only because in a town full of 20 year old stick insects, one does become particularly conscious of one’s “fuller figure”. Anyway, I managed to get a bit of a tan and second degree burns on the areas that I missed with the sunscreen.
Sunday I went sea kayaking. This was brilliant fun and as they didn’t have enough canoes for everyone I got paired up with one of the guides, Shane, a very attractive man from New Zealand. Shane encouraged us all to stand up and see if we could see some dolphins from an “aerial perspective” which resulted in me nose-diving into the sea. Later, a shoal of fish were having a feeding frenzy on the surface but no dolphins were to be seen. Shane then leant over and said “Just between you and me, it probably means there’s sharks about.” Jesus Christ, thank god he didn’t tell me that before I had my little dip! On the way back in, a lady got a bit panicky so Shane offered to take her back in. This, of course, meant I had to get onto her kayak – this time I managed not to plunge into the water but I ended up on my back with my legs split between the 2 drifting canoes before I finally managed to pull myself aboard – not the most elegant manoeuvre!
Today it was wet and windy so I did a pile of laundry in the morning then took a walk up to the lighthouse. Oh, it was so nice to feel the cool wind and rain on my skin after so many days of sweltering heat.
Tomorrow I shall leave this wonderful place and continue heading south to Sydney. Probably stop at Port MacQuarrie.
Friday 4th February 2011 – The ride from Gin Gin to Noosa Heads found me in a rotten mood. I was hot and tired and fed up with riding alone and not having anyone to talk to. And more road works – at one point I got so hot waiting in a long queue of traffic that I pulled the bike over to the side, got my bottle of water and started pouring it all over myself. It was only when I’d finished that I realised the truck driver behind me was watching the whole affair!
Anyway, I found the YHA and booked in. Another small, stuffy room with no air conditioning, I was not a happy bunny. However, I managed to make contact with my brother’s friend, Andrew, and the next day he came and took me off to the comfort of their gorgeous country home, complete with swimming pool, fans and air conditioning. I had a really lovely visit with Andrew and his family, so, when I left this morning I found myself in floods of tears again. It was just so nice to be with people I knew again and to be looked after.
I left about 9.30 this morning which ensured I missed the rush hour traffic into Brisbane but meant I ended up doing most of the 300km to Byron’s Bay in the sweltering heat of the day. It seems to take me longer to cover distances when its really hot and it was 4pm before I got to the Bay. Unfortunately, the YHA was booked out, so I found a campsite which had small “lodges” available and booked into one of these for 3 nights. After all the travelling of the last few days, I feel exhausted and need to recharge.
The good news is, I’ve managed to make contact with Glenn & John, the two guys who rescued me in the middle of the desert on my way to Mount Molloy, so I’ll be stopping off in Sydney to see them later in the week.
Tuesday 1st February 2011 - Having fled south for the last 3 days like a Wild West outlaw, it would appear I’ve managed to outrun the most imminent danger. I’ve just seen a TV report saying the cyclone is currently heading towards Cairns.
Thank goodness, I’m not sure I could keep this pace up much longer (I’ve been doing 400-500km a day). I saw a newspaper report this morning saying Yasi was heading for Rockhampton which almost made me weep as I couldn’t have taken riding all this way and still getting hit with it.
Anyway, I’ve made it to Gin Gin today. I left Carmila at 6.15am and whacked off the first 128km to Marlborough by 7.30. One serving of bacon & eggs and 2 cups of tea later, I was back on the road and was in Rocky by 9.30. Then it all started going pear shaped. You’ll probably be aware that Rockhampton was one of the towns badly hit by the floods? Well, although there wasn’t a lot of evidence of it in the town itself (either they've done a spectacular clean up job or my route just didn't go past the worst areas), there were countless road works where they were piecing the road back together again between there and Gin Gin so progress became quite slow.
Most of the time I’m quite happy riding along by myself, but today, I could really have done with some company. Mile after mile of endless bush and only my thoughts to keep me company. So you may wonder what I think about while I’m beetling along. Well, for a long time I had the constant criticism of some anonymous person in my head justifying every move I made, but now, I seem a lot more at peace. The main thing I seem to do is read road signs, you know, “Road Work Ahead, Reduce Speed”, “DIP”, “What is the highest mountain in Queensland?” – yes, that was one of the signs today. Because its such a boring stretch of road the authorities suggest you should play “trivia games” to stop yourself from nodding off and this is one they give you to get you started. All very well if you’ve got someone to play it with! (The answer, by the way, is Mount Bartley Frere, or something like that.)
So off to Noosa tomorrow where I’ll hopefully get to stop for a few days.
Monday 31st January 2011 – I awoke to a calm and peaceful morning today. Cyclone Anthony did a bit of mischief down at Bowen but we were unaffected in Townsville. So, by the time I’d retrieved my bike from the toilet block, it was about 7am before I got on the road. However, I made good time and got to Ayr by 8.30 so stopped for a cuppa in the local servo. The headline on the paper read “Anthony and the Goliath” and the girl behind the desk was quick to advise me I’d be best to head as far west as possible and get away from the coast because the second cyclone (Cyclone Yasi, aka Goliath), currently over Fiji, will be a category 4 and will destroy everything in its path. As I’d already missed the turn off for Mount Isa (in the west), I left the servo like a bat out of hell and continued south with the intention of turning off at Mackay. However, by the time I’d reached Bowen and had a chance to consider her advice, I decided I’d be better off getting as far south as possible as the cyclone isn’t due to hit until Thursday which gives me another 2 days to clear to impact area.
So much for spending a month meandering my way down the coast – at this rate I’ll be in Sydney by next weekend!
I’d made Mackay by 1pm. However, I then ran into a strange phenomena that I haven’t encountered in Australia before – a traffic jam. A van had run into the side of a bridge which meant all the traffic from 4 different directions was backed up for miles. It took me 2 hours to travel the 30km from Mackay to Sarina! I’m now in a small village called Carmila, about 100km south of Mackay. Tomorrow I’ll try and make it to Hervey Bay.
Sunday 30th January 2011 – When I left Mount Molloy the owner’s brother-in-law told me to watch out for 2 cyclones making their way towards the coast. However, I was too busy trying to fit the plastic supports inside my panniers so they wouldn’t collapse again (I think this is why the last set ripped) to pay much attention to the weather reports, so I was up at the crack of dawn this morning and on my way south down the Bruce Highway. I wasn’t exactly sure how far I’d go, but, Townsville seemed like a good target.
It was a fantastic ride – somehow all my nerves had gone and I was handling the bike (even with all its luggage) with no difficulties. Needless to say, I was loving every moment. Its sugar cane country between Cairns and Tully, then banana country from Tully to Ingham. Everything is so green and lush at the moment and the Great Dividing Range (I think) to the right gives a spectacular backdrop. So I meandered my way along and by about 1pm had reached Townsville so decided to stop.
As there isn’t a YHA in Townsville anymore, I decided I should camp, so made my way to the caravan site on the foreshore. As I asked for a tent site the lady behind the desk said “Do you know about the cyclone that’s coming in tonight?”. “Err, vaguely” I said. So she showed me the weather report with the cyclone heading straight for Mackay, a town about 30km south from here. So she suggested I take a cabin instead and park the bike in the toilets overnight so that it doesn’t get blown across the park when the cyclone hits. So I’m off to go batten down the hatches and make sure everything in my cabin is on the floor before the winds comes.
Saturday 29th January 2011 – I got the call late yesterday afternoon saying my new panniers had arrived so this morning I jumped on the bike and headed up to Atherton to collect them (I ordered them from the same place I got my tyres as I thought I’d be going back that way before I changed my mind and decided to go down the coast). I took the road to Mareeba via Kuranda which is very windy then took the road back down over the Gillies Ranges to Gordonville. Now I’ve done some twisty roads since I’ve been in Australia, but this took the biscuit. About 30km of hairpin bends and steep descents with amazing views over what must have once been a volcanic mountain range. I loved it!
Friday 28th January 2011 – I decided to do a bit of sunbathing today so donned my bikini and headed down to the lagoon on the Esplanade. This is the first time I’ve done any sunbathing since I arrived in Australia and like most Brits abroad my stunning white flesh practically blinded the locals. I did, of course, apply sunscreen but when I later got changed back at the hostel I realised I hadn’t applied it very evenly as my tummy and legs were covered in red blotches where I’d obviously missed some bits.
One thing I’m happy to report about Australians is that the men here still uphold the fine tradition of short shorts and what the locals call “budgie smugglers” (i.e. speedo style swimming trunks). I must confess its really very nice to see a bit of leg from time to time!
Friday 28th January 2011 – Contrary to my first thoughts, I’ve now decided to return to Melbourne via the east coast highways – going through the centre at this time of year would mean dealing with temperatures in excess of 45C and I’m not sure I’m up to that again. Whereas the east coast route will only be about 30C! Plus its a much more populated and interesting route and is also a more direct route to Canberra and Bateman’s Bay. The only trouble is there’s a cyclone developing off shore so there may be more flooding, but hey ho, either way there’s risks involved and I’d rather take my chances on the coast than melt in the desert again.
So the plan is to spend 2 weeks getting from Cairns to Noosa (just north of Brisbane), where I’ll stay with a friend of my brother’s, then another 2 weeks from Noosa to Canberra, then a final week or so getting back round to Melbourne where I’ll stay for a week so that I can sell the bike before flying to Hong Kong on about 12th March (dates not confirmed yet) then back to the UK a few days later. Along the way I hope to take in places like the Whitsundays, Fraser Island, Byron Bay, Coff’s Harbour, Newcastle and Palm Beach (where they film Aussie soap opera “Home & Away”). So its going to be a great trip and I intend to savour every moment.
I feel quite sad that my trip is coming to an end. I’ve had the most wonderful time here and I can’t believe I actually managed to ride the width of Australia in 8 days!!! It would have been great to have had some romance but I think the lack of it has made me learn how to find happiness within myself and that in itself is a wonderful thing. And who knows, I’ve still got 6 weeks to go ....
Thursday 27th January 2011 – I’m free! I’m back in Cairns, staying in an insect free room at the YHA and acutely aware of how much anxiety I’ve been carrying in my body since arriving in Mount Molloy. I’ve ordered a new set of panniers for the bike as one of them has developed a large tear, so I’m staying here for a few of days until they arrive. It feels good to be back, even though its not the same town it used to be – enough of it is still the same to make me feel at home.
Monday 24th January 2011 – Over the weekend I spoke to both my mum and my dad who are dealing with health issues at the moment and last night had an overwhelming desire to go back and help them. So this morning I phoned the owner’s sister to get a contact address for the owner. Suddenly it was all too much and I was in floods of tears, so she took the situation in hand and arranged for the owner’s son to move back in and take care of the pets and to contact the owner to let her know. I’ve still got a couple of days work to do this week, so we’ve agreed I’ll leave on Thursday and start making my way back to Melbourne (as this is where my flight departs from).
Having just done a massive ride up here, I’m going to give myself a bit more time to get back again so I’m hoping to be back in Melbourne by the end of Feb and home by early March. As the east coast is still affected by the floods, I think I’ll go inland and come back via the “red centre” (i.e. Darwin, Ayres Rock & Alice Springs). I might then try and “nip” across to Canberra and Bateman’s Bay to say goodbye to friends there, then return to Melbourne.
This trip was originally meant to be for a year, but as I’ve done pretty much all the things I came here to do (apart from crossing the Nullabor) and had more adventure than most people have in their lives, I think returning home after 6 months is still a bloody great result! So keep tuning in for the final updates of my trip down the centre!
Sunday 23 Janurary 2011 - As if to test me, a Praying Mantis flew into the living room last night. The cat immediately went after it and half killed it but left it with just enough life to flounder on the floor for a few hours. So, after another sleepless night from the dog barking at every shadow that passed, my resolve for staying in the house was severely dented this morning. Then, this afternoon I came home to find the squirming dissected innards of a cockroach on the kitchen floor with the cat overlooking it with a gecko in her mouth. So in answer to the question at the end of my last entry, it would appear I’m the type of adventurer that has absolutely no stomach for insects. To say they are “creeping me out” would be the understatement of the year! I can’t stand them!!! So I think I’m going to have to look into finding some alternative accommodation with fly screens and air cooling devices because this is freaking me out!
Saturday 22nd January 2011 – The wet season is well and truly upon us this week. It must have started about 4 or 5 days ago when I took the dog for a walk up to have a nosey at a lovely old Queenslander-style house that’s for sale on a nearby hill. Just as we got there, the heavens opened and we had to shelter on the veranda for about half an hour for the rain to subside enough for us to run home (not that it made any difference, we still got soaked). And its pretty much been raining ever since.
The rain also brought out a huge plague of “flying ants” which swarmed the kitchen. These just look like petals being blown in the wind, but they are actually termites that lose their wings and burrow into the woodwork of your house. The rains also heralded the first appearance of bats in the house. All this, combined with the presence of frogs, geckos (small lizards), huge moths, spiders, flies, ants and the dog having several barking fits during the night, all left me feeling somewhat shaken, and by Thursday, I had practically decided I should move out and entrust the care of the house and pets to the owner’s son. I even got as far as writing an email to that effect, but luckily, my internet account ran out of credit and I couldn’t log on to send it. By Friday morning, I had re-assessed the situation and decided I needed to focus on all the positive aspects of living in the house. Within a few hours I started to feel better and after a particularly fun night in the pub, by the end of the day, I had changed my mind and decided to stay. After all, what kind of adventurer would I be if I ran away after only 2 weeks because of a few wee bugs (well, lots of bloody great big ones actually, but you know what I mean)?
I'm just hoping the roads will be open tomorrow so that I can get back down to the coast for work and a music festival to raise money for the Queensland Flood Disaster Fund.
Sunday 16th January 2011 – After a few days of air-conditioned luxury in the car, I decided it was time to take the bike for a spin again, so I rode it down to work and back again. This is the first time I have ridden it naked (i.e. unladen) for weeks, and what a difference it makes. The road to the coast crosses the Great Dividing Range so is another windy, twisty one full of hairpin bends and steep decents, but I managed it with scarcely a touch on the brakes. It reminded me of how much I used to love riding – back in the days before I lost my confidence and became a jibbering wreck – not that I’ve been that bad for quite some time – but it was lovely being able to throw the bike around a bit for a change and not worrying about it all collapsing underneath me.
Now I must make special mention of the unsung hero of my travels here. The bike, which is a stallion of a machine, has been a magnificent travelling companion. It has stayed upright despite having the most nervous of riders at its reins and its provided utterly reliable service day after day in the most challenging conditions. It even has great fuel economy despite the mass of luggage its had to bear. I couldn’t have asked for a more trusty steed and I feel very lucky to have found it. Its going to be really great to get out on it some more without all the baggage and really let it run free! Do I sound like I’m talking about a horse here? Well, I guess it is something of a mechanical horse, albeit, not quite so frisky.
Thursday 13th January 2011 – Oh boo hoo. I had been so looking forward to going back to Cairns, but OMG, what a mess they’ve made of it. Obviously the town planners were more interested in increasing their bank balances than in preserving the essence of the town. Every spare bit of land has been filled with either a horrible hotel or a hideous shopping centre. What used to be a lovely, open, low level town with a sense of space and plenty of green areas, has been transformed into a concrete labyrinth. And, worst of all, the lovely little house we used to live in in Clare Street and had such happy times in has been knocked down and turned into a set of soulless apartment blocks.
On the plus side, the Esplanade has been very nicely landscaped to include a swimming area and the central plaza is still pretty much the same, but beyond that, yuk, yuk, yuk!
Maybe its true, one should never go back. Although I’m sure I’ll return again just to make sure I wasn’t just suffering from heat stroke and impaired vision!
I stopped off at Kuranda (a 60’s market town) on the way home, which, I’m pleased to report, is still exactly the same as its been since the beginning of time, so all is not lost!
Wednesday 12th January 2011 – Sorry I haven’t been online for a while, life in Mount Molloy has been pretty full on since I arrived and this, plus the fact that everyone wants to know if I’ve been affected by the floods, means I thought I'd better update this again.
Thankfully, I have not been affected by the floods. These are all happening much further south, with Brisbane currently being inundated. The CBD has been shut down and people are being moved to evacuation centres around the periphery. The news is just full of stories of communities being devastated and I give thanks that I was not caught up in any of the major floods on my way here.
I actually arrived in Mount Molloy a few days early so the people I’m house-sitting for used the opportunity to introduce me to the community. On Friday they took me to a local swimming hole (oh, the joy of being immersed in cold, refreshing water) followed by dinner at the pub where I met many of the locals. On Saturday it was their son’s 21st birthday so I spent the day helping them prepare the local hall for a big party that night, where I met most of the rest of the good people of Mount Molloy. Sunday was breakfast at the owner’s mother followed by lunch with her father. On Monday, they finally left and I headed down to the coast to go and get “orientated” at the owner’s business. It turns out she has a spa in one of the towns there and part of the reason she chose me to be her house-sitter was because she was hoping I’d help out at the spa. I agreed, thinking it would only be a couple of half days a week, only to discover she’d rostered me on for 4 full days. So now I’m doing massage on Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays! The people at the spa are very nice but I’m not exactly sure I want to be spending my time doing quite so much work, especially seeing its on a voluntary basis! Anyway, the busy season will be over at the end of January so hopefully it won’t be for that long.
After my orientation I returned to the house and decided to blitz the kitchen. The family that own it are, how shall I put this, quite “casual” when it comes to housework, and, as a result, the kitchen has an ant infestation. So 5 hours later I’d scrubbed the fridge to within an inch of its life and removed all traces of food on every surface I could find.
This is a beautiful house but it doesn’t have any insect screens, air conditioning or overhead fans, so the only way to keep it cool is to leave all the doors and windows open. This has the consequence that every insect known to man comes for a visit every day. I have a standing fan in my bedroom which keeps the mossies off during the night, but for the rest of the time, I’m a living target. Despite smothering myself in insect repellent I have been eaten alive. I’m just hoping I don’t get Denge Fever!
The owner’s son was supposed to be moving out when they left for their holiday, but he was still here on Monday, then on Tuesday he went missing, as did the dog. I searched the pub and his grandmothers but no-one had seen him, however, today, when I got home, the dog had reappeared and a few items had been moved around so I presumed he’d returned the dog and gone to his new residence.
I have also been working my way through a huge mountain of laundry that was left behind, and, as I’ve now got 3 days off, I’m hoping to do a bit of a cobweb and nest removal programme. But first, I’m going to Cairns tomorrow to visit my old stomping ground from when I lived there in 1989 which I am really looking forward to. The owner has left me her car so its making getting around a lot easier (and cooler).
Thanks to everyone who has been sending me emails checking I’m okay, I do appreciate it.
Thursday 6th January 2010 – Well, 3,330 km and 8 days of riding later, I’ve finally made it to Mount Molloy. And what a beautiful place it is. High up in the rain forests, just a small town with one main street containing a pub/hotel, a cafe, a post office, a general store and 2 art galleries. It was sunny when I arrived but we’ve just had the most almighty thunder storm. I loved it! The sound of the rain hammering down on the tin roof and the energy of the storm was fantastic. The house I’m to be looking after is absolutely beautiful too. I think I’m going to love it here (apart from the mossies that is, of which I think, there will be many!).
Wednesday 5th January 2011 – Ride statistics:
Charters Towers - Atherton
Distance: 502 km
Total ride duration: 10 hours
Temperature: humid but cooler
So I’m almost there. I left a very humid Charters Towers at 6 am and took the Gregory Development Road up to Ravenshoe. As this goes up into higher ground it was actually quite cool, so this combined with a much better road surface, made for a really lovely ride. I arrived in Ravenshoe by 1pm. This put me in a bit of a quandary as I couldn’t decide if I should go to Cairns to get a new tyre for my bike (the front one has been bald since Cobar!) or continue inland along the Kennedy Highway. So I asked the Tourist Info man and he said I could get the tyre replaced in Ravenshoe. However, when I turned up at the recommended place, it turned out they didn’t stock tyres for road bikes. So the man there said there was a bike shop in Atherton and to try there. So that’s how I came to be in Atherton. I found the bike shop and they have the tyres so I’m going to take it in there in the morning then continue up to Mount Molloy.
So I’m almost there, only another 100km to go!!!
When I woke up this morning and thought about having to do another Development Road in the blistering heat, I almost didn’t get up at all. I had really scared myself yesterday and I didn’t want to end up over-exposing myself again. So I prayed (I’ve been doing a lot of that recently), “I’m going to need some help today God”. Within a few minutes, it occurred to me that I should just ride as far as Charters Towers (250km), then do the Development Road tomorrow morning when its still cool.
So feeling a lot better with this plan, off I set. About 70km outside of Charters Towers, I saw the first sign for “Water Over Road”, however, it was only over my side, so I was able to pass it quite easily on the other side of the road. 10km later though, another sign warned of more “Water Over Road” and this is what I was presented with:
It was 300mm high, flowing quickly and the road was full of pot holes so I decided the best thing to do would be to turn back and get some breakfast at a nearby roadhouse, then see how it was on my return. When I got back an hour later, all the cars that had been queuing up had gone and I was the only one there.
The depth indicator showed it was now 200mm high but this was still too high for me, so I decided to wait and see if it subsided anymore. Just when I was thinking about how a truck driver ferried Ewen and Charlie’s bikes over some rivers on the Road of Bones in Long Way Round, and how good it would be if that happened to me, a lovely man called Keith pulled up in his Land Cruiser ute and offered me a lift over. He was so masterful and just took complete charge of the situation. He drove his ute onto a verge so that the ramp at the back wasn’t too steep then just walked my fully laden bike over as if it was a push bike. We needed to unload it to get it up the ramp, then I had to stand on the back of the ute and hold onto it for dear life so that it didn’t topple over as we forded the creek. A couple of other guys helped us get it back off again. I gave him a huge hug at the end which he seemed to appreciate even though I was soaking wet!
I was so overcome with gratitude that I cried practically all the way into Charters. I have met some of the kindest, most helpful people here. They never make a fuss, they just assess the situation, realise I need help, and provide it.
So now I’m in Charters Towers in a lovely old traditional hotel with gorgeous big verandas and a cool afternoon breeze. I’m going to try and make it to Ravenshoe tomorrow, then it will just be a short trip to Mount Molloy the next day. And then I’ll be there!
Monday 3rd January 2011 – Ride statistics:
Balcardine - Hughenden
Distance: 480 km
Total ride duration: 8 hours
Temperature: unbelievably hot!
Had the day off yesterday, but back on the road today.
Balcardine onwards saw the introduction of my first 3-trailer road trains. As I came out of Longreach I encountered 4 of them in a row so I got whipped all over the joint.
I set off at 6 am again so made good time to Winton, but the ride up the Kennedy Development Road to Hughenden, oh my god, I thought I wasn’t going to make it. Its 214km of single track, heavily rutted road without a single stopping place to offer any shade. I pulled over at the side of the road about 6 times to drink and soak myself in water but by the time I got to Hughenden, I was a jittering wreck. The man at the petrol station gave me a seat in his shady workshop and then let me use his shower as I was shaking with heat exposure. Although I made it to Hughenden by 2pm and could have tried to do another 100km or so, I figured I should quit while I was still alive, so booked into the local motel.
Tomorrow, Charters Towers, then somewhere up the Gregory Development Road, maybe Ravenshoe if I’m lucky.
Saturday 1st January 2011 – Ride statistics:
Cunnamulla - Balcardine
Distance: 674.6 km
Total ride duration: 10.5 hours
Temperature: don’t know but still very hot
Well, how did you spend New Year’s Day? I bet it wasn’t riding 675 km in the hot Ozzie outback! But I made it to Balcardine – woohoo! I got up at 5am and was on the road by 6am. This is definitely the best time of day to ride. It was still quite cool and amazing colours brought out by the rising sun. Plus, there are loads of animals about at this time. I saw kangaroos, emus, cows, birds of prey, and even a wild boar crossing the road ahead of me! Most of them wait until you get up close to them, then decide to run across in front of you. I practically chased 4 young emus up the road at one point!
The cooler temperature also makes it much easier to cover the distances. By 8.30am I’d arrived in Charleville. The lady at the servo called the police for me and confirmed that the road from there to Augathella was closed, which meant I had to do a short detour (of 100km!) along the Warrego Highway where I joined the Landsborough Highway which took me to Augathella. From there it was a straight run up the Landsborough to Balcardine. Although the scenery is lovely, the Landsborough is a really bad road to ride – tonnes of pot holes and bumps, on several occasions I found myself flying through the air as I hit a bump too hard. By the time I got to Blackhall, the last town before Balcardine, the lady in the service station said part of the road had been washed away so to be really careful. As I’d been going for 9 hours by this stage and was completely knackered, I took her advice and reduced my speed to 80-90 kph. And just as well, apart from the missing piece of road, I also passed a terrible crash. I couldn’t make out which way up the car was but as there was also a road train at the side of the road (untouched), I imagine the car was trying to overtake and misjudged it.
Anyway, I arrived safely and found a nice motel. The owner said someone had managed to get through from Townsville, so I plan to take the same route next, which is:
Balcardine – Longreach – Winton – Hughenden (one day)
At Hugenden I’ll be able to join the Flinders Highway which will take me through to Charters Towers, where I can pick up the road to Mount Molloy. So only 2-3 more days riding, yeh! I haven’t decided if I’ll have a rest day here in Balcardine tomorrow, or press on while the weather is still good. I have blisters on my bum from all the riding!
Friday 31st December 2010 – Ride statistics:
Cobar - Cunnamulla
Distance: 406.7 km
Total ride duration: 6.5 hours
Temperature: 40C (at Enngonia Hotel)
So today I thought I’d try a new strategy for combating the heat – a wet T-shirt. This turned out to be remarkably effective and kept my body temperature to a more acceptable level. I also made sure I stopped every hour or so and drank at least one bottle of Gatorade (a special hydration drink with lots of salts, etc). As a result, the ride up the Kidman Way from Cobar to Bourke (which I’d been dreading) was a real delight. Everything was green and lush and I even saw a flock (?) of emus and several herds of goats (one of which I narrowly missed riding right into!). Plus, I can now say I’ve officially been to “the back of Bourke” (an Ozzie expression meaning the back of beyond).
I had reached Barringun by early afternoon and as it was literally a 2 building town, I decided to press on to Cunnamulla. The Mitchell Highway (which I joined at Bourke) was another good road but had no stopping places on it, so, about 60km out of Cunnamulla I had to make an emergency roadside stop when all the Gatorade started filtering through. You know its just typical – I hadn’t seen another vehicle for miles, then, as soon as I have to pull over and bare my all, one comes along! Luckily, I just managed to conclude my business before it arrived.
A few kilometres on there was a sign saying water on the road. Luckily it wasn’t all over it and was the only bit of flooding on the road I encountered, but when I arrived in Cunnamulla, the girl in the bakery advised there was no bread because everyone was panic buying because the floods are due.
The forecast is actually for good weather for the next week, but now the flood waters in northern and eastern Queensland are making their way over to here. At lunchtime the Police in Bourke said the road was passable to St George (a town due east of here), but the bakery girl said they expected it to be cut off by tonight. So my plan is to try and outrun the flood waters by heading north west. Hopefully, if I leave early tomorrow, I’ll make it to Charleville from where I can either continue northwards to Balcardine or go west to Windorah then north to Longreach on back roads. The latter option will add a huge detour onto my route, but its better that than getting caught in the floods.
So its New Year’s Eve and I’m stuck in a grotty, north facing, motel room – so its absolutely boiling in here, even with the air con going. Anyway, at least I’m safe and sound so all is well. I hope everyone reading this has a great New Year and that 2011 brings you all that you wish for.
Thursday 30th December 2010 – Ride statistcs:
Broken Hill - Cobar
Total ride duration: 7 hours
Temperature: 40.7C (at Wilcannia road house)
This morning, in the hostel, I met another couple who were on a bike. I told them about the problems I was having with my accelerator hand and he showed me this device he had called a Cramp Buster. It has a round bit which clips onto the accelerator and a bit that sticks out that your wrist rests on. I could tell immediately that this would help me tremendously so I whizzed over to the bike shop and got one for myself. What a difference it makes – you can rest your wrist on it which holds the revs constant while the rest of your hand can have a rest!
After my experience with the fuel yesterday and a warning from Sam that my fuel tank would not take me all the way to Bourke today, the second thing I did was buy a self-venting fuel carrier and filled it with fuel! It took me till 2pm to ride the 191km to Wilcannia (which included 1 hour for a belated brekky at the Little Topar road house). When I found myself gasping for breath whilst talking to some people at Wilcannia, I realised I was really overheating so went to the Ladies and plunged my head (and everything else I could fit) under the tap. By the time I came back out I was a mess but at least I could speak again. And just as well, as a couple of very attractive bikers (Glen & John) happened to ride up at this point and proceeded to dowse themselves in water too. After the usual exchange of travel plans, they asked if I would like to ride with them to Cobar. God, I could have kissed them (in fact I did later on!). So I followed them 200 of the 260km to Cobar (I had to stop 60km before we got there to use my emergency fuel tank to fill up). Luckily they were waiting for me at Cobar so I was able to thank them profusely for escorting me – its so hot and deserted I’d never have made it without them (or my Cramp Buster and my fuel reserve). Did I mention they were riding on to SYDNEY!!! that night! God these guys are hardcore.
Needless to say, I didn’t make it to Bourke today. I knew I wouldn’t after yesterday’s ride. So its off to Bourke tomorrow and hopefully on to Barringun, just over the Queensland border.
Wednesday 29th December 2010 – Ride statistics:
Whyalla – Broken Hill
Total ride duration: 7.5 hours
Temperature: 37C (at Olary Hotel)
I almost cracked the 500km in a day mark, but not quite. The reason the ride took so long was because I had to keep stopping. First, I couldn’t figure out the best place to carry my water bladder. Initially I had it on my back, but it was very uncomfortable so eventually I settled for strapping it to my kit and leaving the tube out so I could drink from it whenever I stopped. Then I ran out of fuel. Somehow I managed to mistake a picture of a caravan on my map for that of a petrol pump which meant the place I expected to have a service station didn’t. Luckily the hotel owner at Olary, Sam, came to my rescue and sold me enough to get me through to the next servo. Then my hand kept cramping up so I had to stop every 40km to give it a rest.
Broken Hill seems like a really interesting town – a big mine is here plus its also HQ to the Royal Flying Doctors and the School of the Air. I wish I could spend time here but, alas, I must press on.
Tuesday 28th December 2010 – Well my time in Whyalla is coming to an end. The boat trip with the 2 bikers never materialised but I did run into another biker yesterday who took great interest in my trip so that cheered me up immensely. Tomorrow the lady I’m house-sitting for returns and I can start making my way north to Mount Molloy in Queensland for my next house-sit. Although I’ve managed to gain 3 days to complete the trip (I now have 12 days instead of 9), most of the coastal regions of Queensland are completely flooded, thanks to Cyclone Tasha, so I’ll probably lose time because of road closures and detours. To avoid as many floods as possible I shall be taking an inland route up the Mitchell Highway as follows (weather permitting):
Day 1: Whyalla – Broken Hill
Day 2: Broken Hill – Bourke
Day 3: Bourke – Charlesville
Day 4: Charlesville – Balcardine
Day 5: Balcardine – Emerald (if passable)
Day 6: Emerald – Charters Towers
Day 7: Charters Towers – Mount Molloy
(with a few rest days thrown in whenever appropriate)
As more floods are forecast and because I’ll be travelling on my own, I shall be checking in with the local police at each port of call, just so that someone knows to send out a search party if I don’t arrive!
Despite the intense heat, huge distances and treacherous weather conditions, I am really looking forward to this part of my trip. I’m not sure how often I’ll get to update this blog, but I’ll definitely let you know if I do/do not make it!
I spent Christmas Day with a family whose mother used to live in the flats I’m based in. They were really great fun and, despite the fact I didn’t know a soul, I really enjoyed myself. It was really strange having Christmas in the sun though!
In the evening I finally managed to speak to my Dad who had a stroke a couple of weeks ago. Thankfully it was not too severe and only his speech was affected. It was a great relief to speak to him and discover that he’s making a very good recovery and even his speech hasn’t been affected too much. I also managed to speak to my mum whose husband has been losing health for some time. I felt very torn afterwards about whether I should stay here or go back home and try and be there for my parents.
On Boxing Day, I went to dinner at the parents of the lady I’m house-sitting for. Again, great hospitality but I felt the need to be on my own with my own thoughts that day.
Friday 24th December 2010 – Whyalla is dominated by a massive steel works so I couldn’t come here and not have a look around.
I took a tour today and discovered steel is actually made from a combination of iron ore and other raw materials. These are shipped in from nearby mines at Iron Knob (and other places like Japan). Coal is then baked until it becomes coke which is used to fuel the massive blast furnace in which the raw materials are mixed.
It leaves the furnace as molten iron and waste materials. The molten iron is then transported by rail to the steelmaking and casting plant where it is made into large steel blocks.
These blocks are then melted down again (and combined with recycled steel to make different grades) in the rolling mill where they are made into steel rails. These go into the cooling ponds until they are ready to be stored and shipped to customers.
The whole site is 1000 hectare big (don’t know what that is in real money, but it was miles and miles!) and also incorporates the old shipyards.
I had no idea what a massive scale industry steel making is. It seems they run this plant on a very “clean” basis but its easy to see what a vast amount of energy is required to power it all and difficult to say that steel making is an environmentally friendly process.
Thursday 23rd December 2010 - On the way into Whyalla, the first thing you see after the steel works is the HMAS Whyalla – a warship sitting in a field overlooking the car park of the visitors centre. Its 2km from the coast so I had to find out how it got there. Apparently, from 1947 until 1978 Whyalla had a thriving ship building industry. This was the first ship built and, after 40-odd years of active service, it was sold back to Whyalla for $5,000 in 1988. It then took another $500,600 to winch the thing into its current position.
Wednesday 22nd December 2010 – Whyalla’s strapline is “Where the Outback Meets the Sea” and I’d say this is a pretty accurate description. At Port Wakefield (about 100km north of Adelaide) it suddenly becomes Road Train country. Dozens of 2 and 3 trailer trucks roar up and down the highway. Then, at Port Augusta, the road splits in two – one branch going to Darwin and the Northern Territories, the other heading west to Perth and Western Australia. I took the latter and as I cleared Port Augusta it really felt like I was entering very remote territory. After another 50km or so, the road split again – one branch continuing to WA, the other to Whyalla and the Eyre Penninsula. There is absolutely nothing between here and Whyalla.
Whyalla is a strange town. The first thing you see as you approach is the enormous steel works which extends right down to the sea. Then there is a small town centre which leads round to the marina/wharf area at the south eastern tip. The rest of the town spreads westwards in a large wedge-shape from this point. Its mostly houses, industrial estates and the odd shopping precinct. Its very spread out so having your own transport is essential for getting around. I wouldn’t even be able to go to the shops without my bike here!
Wednesday 22nd December 2010 – The lady I’m house-sitting for advised me today that she’d be home on 29th December now, not 1st January as originally planned. This is really good news for me as it gives me an extra 3 days to make the trip to Queensland (provided she doesn’t get caught in the floods there and have her flight cancelled!).
Wednesday 22nd December 2010 – The owner of my hotel told me to head down to the wharf at 10am as this is when the fishing boats come in, usually followed by schools of dolphins. So I jumped on my bike at the appointed time and set off. Two guys on Triumph Rockets whizzed past me and, when I later arrived at the wharf, I found them there. So I wandered over and started chatting to them. There were no fishing boats in sights but upon hearing of my desire to see dolphins, they offered to take me out on their boat next week sometime! Can’t wait.
I then went off to meet the lady I’ll be house-sitting for. She introduced me to her landlady who said I’d been invited to share Christmas with a former resident and Boxing Day with someone else (can’t remember who now). So I’ve barely been Whyalla for 12 hours and already my diary is full!
I’ve been so lucky with all the wonderful people I’ve met on this trip. Some days I feel so unbelievably fortunate to be able to do this trip that I just ride along with the biggest smile on my face. I am so blessed.
Tuesday 21 December 2010 – On returning to the hostel in Adelaide I discovered there was only one decent mug left, so for the last few days I have been hiding this in the kitchen after each time I’ve used it. However, this morning I came down for breakfast to find that someone had stolen my milk! If this isn’t a karmic payback for such selfish acts then I don’t know what is.
Anyway, I left Adelaide today and rode round to Whyalla – another 400km run. Took me forever. I kept stopping to look at the sights or to give my bum a rest. During one stop at Port Pirie I patted the cutest little dog you ever did see. Its owner turned out to be a Brit who had emigrated to Perth and was looking for a house-sitter, so I gave him my details and availability and, with any luck, I’ll be able to look after his dog in Perth after I finish in Queensland. Which would mean I’d get to ride across the Nullabor on the way back to Melbourne (a must for any self-respecting motorcycle adventurer).
Monday 20th December 2010 – I stayed 2 nights in Mildura. As soon as I rode in I felt it was perhaps a bit of a rough town and, when I saw a guy being pinned to the ground by 6 police officers, it confirmed my suspicions. It had been great to rest up and not have to contend with the mossies again, but I was glad to leave.
The final ride from Mildura to Adelaide started off well – huge prairies of wheat interspersed with massive citrus orchards – but as soon as I hit the Barossa Valley the wind really got up. I was having to bank the bike right over just to stay on the road. At one point I pulled out to overtake a truck but had to give up as the combination of the crosswind and the tailwind meant I almost became detached from the bike so pulled back in PDQ. I’d been making a conscious effort to loosen my grip on the handlebars when I set off, but the winds made it impossible to keep it up and by the time I got to Adelaide I was worried I’d inflicted some permanent nerve damage on my accelerator hand.
As soon as I pulled into the YHA in Adelaide I met a young American lad, Dave, who was trail-biking round eastern Oz. He was really lovely and I spent the whole evening exchanging stories with him. My room-mate, Robin, also an American, was really interesting too. She had just spent 2 months sailing across the Pacific on a yacht. She said her thoughts would cycle through the following sequence “What should I make for breakfast, when’s my next watch, WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE, what should I make for lunch, when’s my next watch, WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE ...” which amused me greatly.
So its been nice being back in Adelaide. I still love it but I’m ready to move on now. Roll on Whyalla tomorrow.
Wednesday 15th December 2010 – Next day Nick continued to guide me through the back roads of New South Wales to Deniliquin. There were huge plagues of locusts everywhere and we both ended up covered in insect splatter as we rode through the swarms. At one point I nearly drove off the road when one of them got up under my visor and started buzzing around in front of my face!
The day before Nick had commented that I tended to lose speed in the bends, so I made a concerted effort to keep up with him and noticed if you keep your power up and lean into the bends, you don’t lose any speed. Now I know this might seem pretty obvious to most bike riders, but I’ve never really got the hang of this before. Anyway, just when I was busy congratulating myself on my new found skill, we came riding into floods all over the roads. The first couple were okay, but when Nick dropped down a hole and barely made it through to the other side we really had to pick our way very carefully. I think we both felt we’d earned our “river crossing endorsement” at the end of it.
We camped at Deniliquin that night and despite Nick buying a mosquito net for his houchie, still couldn’t get the thing to work so slept at Motel Maden again. The ironic thing was that I was the one who ended up being eaten alive by mossies while he never got a single bite!
This morning he had his own bit of hilarity when I walked into a spider’s web and went completely berserk. Not long after I found a huge spider on my boot and had a girlie screaming fit. Luckily he came to my aid and disposed of it.
Nick was missing his family, so today he decided to start making his way back to Canberra. I was really sad to see him go as I’d really enjoyed his company and felt my riding had improved greatly by following him. We parted ways at Barham and I rejoined the Murray Valley Highway to Swan Hill. As this meant passing Lake Boga I turned off and took a run up to the house I’d sat a few months ago. Nobody was about, but it was nice to see the place again. I then proceeded up to Mildura where I booked into a motel, had a swim and smothered myself from head to toe in Stingoes to try and stop the itching of my mossie bites.
Monday 13th December 2010 - Well, Nick turned out to be a gorgeous Italian stallion of a guy (and a very nice person too). We left Canberra on Monday morning and rode back along the M31 highway to Gundagai where we picked up a back road and started making our way across to Wagga Wagga. It was a beautiful ride through undulating hillsides and farmland. At one point the road was closed due to flooding so we were diverted god only knows where but miraculously, eventually made it back to the main highway and into Wagga.
We found a nice little campsite and set up camp. Nick had been bragging about the tiny amount of luggage he’d bought with him which he attributed to the fact that he’d bought a “houchie” instead of a tent. A houchie is basically a tarp with a poncho strung up above it. However, when the mosquitos started coming out it started to look like this might not be quite such a good idea. I suggested that he might like to share my tent instead, but he insisted on using the houchie. I then had a mild dose of hysterics when barely 5 minutes after we’d gone to bed, I heard him saying “Jill ...?”. So it turns out my one man tent, can actually take 2 people, although I must state, as Nick is a married man, accommodation was provided on a “lodgings only” basis.
Sunday 12th December 2010 – So I continued up the M31 Hume Highway today to Canberra. It was a great ride – sunny skies and light winds and not too much traffic on the roads. As this is the main road between Melbourne and Sydney I had always imagined it would be densely populated, but quite the reverse. I only passed through 2 towns the whole way to Canberra. When I stopped at one of them, Taracutta, for lunch I felt like I should be throwing my poncho over my shoulder, rolling a cigar from one corner of my mouth to the other and ordering some hard liquor (instead I just asked for some bacon and eggs and a cup of tea)!
I later discovered that a series of by-passes have been built round all the towns so that's why it seems so deserted.
Most of the journey involved riding through great plains of what seemed to be farm lands, although there was quite a bit of flooding and a few fields even seemed to be filled with tall purple thistles.
It took me till 4pm to get to Canberra so I had plenty of time to consider the subtleties of riding a motorcycle. I’ve discovered truck drivers really don’t like you overtaking them on hills – if you do, they come hurtling up behind you on the downhill stretch and practically run you off the road. One can also receive quite a battering from all the insects that fly into you. I was hit so hard by one today that I half expected to see a dart sticking out of my kneecap when I looked down. I’ve also discovered that if I lean forward over the tank, then I don’t have to grip the accelerator so hard and hence I can un-cramp my right hand.
Anyway, I’m meeting up with one of Lisa’s friends tonight, Nick, who is going to ride across to South Australia with me, so it should be interesting to have some company on the road.
Saturday 11th December 2010 – Arrived at the ferry at 1pm so had to wait for 4 hours before I could check-in. So I got talking to a couple of guys who were part of the film crew for “The Hunter”, a film starring Wilhelm Dafoe and Sam Neil. They were pretty funny and most put out by the thank you gift of a tea towel that had been given to all the crew. I also met up with some of the other bikers I’d met on the way out – like 2 of the WA boys and the group from Sydney.
This morning the ferry docked at 6.30am so I rode off with the intention of riding up the Tullamarine/Citylink Highway up to Raceway Suzuki – a journey of about 15 minutes. However I couldn’t find my way onto it and ended up taking a 20km detour via the Western Gate Freeway! It wasn’t really a problem as I still got there for 7.30am. Another guy arrived at 8am and kept me company until they opened at 9am. Then I met up with Lisa for breakfast while they serviced my bike.
Another bit of poor navigating added another 30 mins onto my attempt to find the road to Albury (turns out its the road to Sydney). It was horrible coming out of Melbourne, strong winds and heavy traffic, but once I got clear of the city limits, it brightened up a bit and the remainder of the trip was most pleasant.
Friday 10th December 2010 - On Tuesday I took a boat tour from Strahan round McQuarrie Harbour and up the Gordon River which was very good but a bit overcast. Then on Wednesday I packed up and headed for Cradle Mountain. It was dry when I left Strahan but about 20 miles into the trip the rain started again. By the time I got to the turn off for Cradle Mountain, the fog was also coming in. Before long it was so thick I had to pull over and stop as I could barely see in front of me. I eventually made it to the National Park and found the campground. I had booked an "Alpine Hut" which was basically a wooden hut with 3 bunks in it – no electricity or heating. So I spent the rest of the afternoon in the Camp Kitchen trying to dry off. A really nice couple from Geelong, Mark & Judith, came in and started chatting and before I knew it, about half a dozen people from various places were all joining the party.
Next day the fog lifted and we could see Cradle Mountain so I caught the park shuttle bus up to the start of the Dove Lake Circuit and spent a very pleasant 2 hours walking round the lake at the base of the mountain.
On the way back I stopped at the Tasmanian Devil Sanctuary and got to see loads of gorgeous little Devils. Apparently they’re not that ferocious really so I was even able to stroke a couple of them.
In the evening Mark and Judith did a “loaves and fishes” dinner for everyone to use up all their veggies before returning to the mainland – delicious.
So today, after a very stormy night in my hut, I set off for Devonport and the ferry in the sleet. Tasmania has been a wonderful land of contrasts – sunshine and sleet, sea and pastures, forests and flowers. My bike was coughing a bit on the way to Cradle Mountain, but seems okay again today, but I think I’ll run it up to Raceway Suzuki when I arrive in Melbourne tomorrow for a check-over before I head north to Canberra to meet Nick.
Friday 3rd December 2010 – Today I met up with my gardening enthusiast friend, Anne, from the Bridport YHA. She took me all round the local beaches near her house then took me back to her place to meet her family and have a barbeque. It was great to see her and be looked after for a day. So thank you Anne for all your hospitality, I really appreciated it.
Saturday 4th December 2010 – I left Hobart today and headed south to a small village called Dover. It was a long and twisty ride and by the time I got to a place called Cygnet I was exhausted, however, that was only half way so I had to press on. On arriving at Dover, I booked into the local caravan park and, for the first time, pitched my tent. It was surprisingly roomy inside for a one-man job so I felt quite pleased with myself. I then set off to the supermarket only to discover there was a backpackers hostel right behind it! I didn’t wimp out though and spent quite a comfortable night in my little orange home.
Sunday 5th December 2010 – What a day. I rode all the way from Dover in the far south to Queenstown in the far west, a distance of some 400-odd km. I didn’t exactly set out to do this, but every campsite I came too was unsuitable so I just kept riding until I came to a better one. Half the problem was it was a very overcast day and I was feeling a bit miserable, however, after I passed a place called Derwent Bridge, the sun came out and my whole mood changed. The final 86km from there to Queenstown were through Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park which was absolutely beautiful. The road rose up into the mountains which afforded spectacular views of scrub-land, mountain tops then decended through rainforested valleys. I left Dover at 10am and arrived at Queenstown at 6pm. As I couldn’t find a campground there either I decided to continue onto Strahan but luckily, on the way out of Queenstown I saw a motel offering backpackers accommodation. It wasn’t the nicest place I’ve stayed in, but I was so tired I didn’t care.
Monday 6th December 2010 – I left Queenstown early this morning and rode the last 40km to Strahan. More steep, twisty roads, but luckily all the traffic was going in the opposite direction so I had a clear run. When I arrived in Strahan I parked the bike and wandered over to the wharf. There was a guy offering motorcycle tours, Al’s Motorcycle Tours, so I started chatting to him. He then offered to take me for a ride around the town on his Harley. God, this guy really knows how to handle a big motorcycle – he had me up and down hills, whizzing round bends and doing U-turns in areas the size of a postage stamp. Afterwards he asked me if I wanted to have tea (dinner) with him that evening, so I said yes. He then cooked me the mother of all barbeques. There was steak, pork chops, lamb chops, sausages, onions, you name it. I managed to spill relish all down the front of my T-shirt so ended up doing a bit of a wet T-shirt competition for him, which, he didn’t seem to mind at all!
Thursday 2nd December 2010 – To get a better understanding of the lie of the land in Hobart, I joined the Hop On Hop Off bus today. The driver was really excellent and gave a very informative commentary of the history and geography of Hobart. One of the stops was the Female Factory which was the old female prison in the days of transportation. After serving their time here for various crimes and misdemeanours, the women would be placed with free settlers, many of whom were men who had left their families at home. Needless to say, the “servants” either willingly or unwillingly became the object of their affections and usually ended up pregnant – a crime for which they were sent back to the Female Factory again. Most of the babies were then born there too but few survived and something like 1,200 were buried on the site of the old prison. I’m not usually too concerned with women’s issues, but I found this to be a really shocking story.
Wednesday 1st December 2010 – Leaving Coles Bay I rejoined the main road south which weaves its way along the coastline then heads inland along the side of a river. I stopped for petrol at Triabunna and decided to turn into the town for a look around. Somehow I managed to put the bike in neutral (instead of first) whilst turning at a junction which made me realise I was really starting to lose my concentration so had an extended lunch break here.
After, I continued down to Sorrel where I had another stop and tried to decide if I should continue south to Port Arthur or head west to Hobart (only another 35km). Eventually I decided Hobart was the better option. One enters Hobart from the east on the Tasman Highway which becomes the Tasman Bridge which spans the Derwent River. Its a spectacular crossing, enhanced by the fact that the sun had now come out.
I felt particularly pleased with myself for finding the street where the YHA is located on my first attempt. I had to do a few circuits of the one way system though to position myself far enough down the street to ride the bike to the door. The warden then suggested I could leave the bike in a lane down the side, so after unloading all my gear, I did this. Unfortunately, it was quite a narrow lane and I had to ride the bike in nose first which meant I couldn’t then get it out again. So I had to push it back onto the pavement and out onto the street and take it off to a dedicated motorbike parking bay a street away. By the end of all this and carrying my gear up to the third floor I was once again soaked in sweat. Seems to be an occupational hazard of bike riding! And given it took me about 1.5 hours to do all this it was a good job I decided to skip Port Arthur and come straight to Hobart.
Tuesday 30th November 2010 – Last night I met a French lady in the hostel. Her English was a bit patchy so I endeavoured to fill in the missing words with my school-girl French. We ended up having quite a good conversation and I felt quite pleased with myself for managing to string a few sentences together.
So this morning I said au revoir to my new French friend and headed south for Coles Bay. The hostel manager, Paul, a keen biker, suggested I should take the road to St Mary’s instead of going all the way along the coast. This took me up the St Mary’s pass and down the Elephant Pass – both narrow twisty roads, but compared to my rainforest epic, a piece of cake! I even passed some of the WA boys on the way up. I passed some more of them outside the Motorcycle Museum at Bicheno but as I didn’t know it was there until I was level with it, I wasn’t able to stop so continued onto Coles Bay. I got there about 1pm, checked into what can best be described as a “traditional” YHA (i.e. needing a lot of work) then headed off to the Freycinet National Park and, by a remarkable stroke of good luck (rather than navigation) found myself at the start to the Wineglass Bay walk. So off I set – this time just in half motorcycle gear (I managed to strap my jacket to the bike). What a climb – took me almost 2 hours to do a 1.5 hour walk – but it was worth it as the view of the bay was fabulous. Unfortunately it was quite overcast so the colours weren’t as good as they’d been around the Bay of Fires but still a good view.
That night I decided to eat in the local pub. I sat next to a lovely couple called Wendy & Ross who were on their honeymoon. They were really interesting so it really brightened up my evening and, at the end, they even paid for my meal! I couldn’t believe how generous and friendly they’d been.
Next morning I went to the bakery for breakfast and got talking to some people who were part of a group of bikers over from Sydney. After I finished eating I paid for my food then put my wallet in my jacket and returned to the hostel. When I came out a few minutes later, one of the bikers was leaving a note on my bike saying he’d found my wallet and had put it in my luggage. Apparently it had fallen through the lining of my jacket. God, imagine if they hadn’t found it and I’d gone riding off without it? I could have gone miles before I noticed and then I wouldn’t have had a clue where I’d lost it! So thank you so much to the lovely biker from Sydney who tracked me down and returned it – I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your kindness.
Monday 29th November 2010 - I awoke this morning to clear blue skies and sunshine, so I packed up the bike and rode the half mile down to the backpackers hostel and checked in there. Then I took the road to Billabong Bay to see the Bay of Fire. This is so named because it is flanked with huge boulders which are covered in a sort of red algae which looks fiery red when the sun shines.
It was a beautiful ride and the ocean was crystal clear with gorgeous white sandy beaches. Another road took me round the other side of the bay where more fabulous beaches were. One even had a 30 minute walk to another beach so, in full motorcycle apparel, I decided to do this. Not the smartest of ideas – I was soaked in sweat by the time I got back to the bike!
Tomorrow I’ll continue south to Wine Glass Bay then on to Hobart.
Sunday 28th November 2010 – I set off from Bridport to St Helens today. The ride started wonderfully, passing through lots of lilac poppy fields and gentle rolling hills topped with whisping clouds. But as soon as I left Scottsdale the road started winding its way up into the cloud base and before I knew it, I was riding in a downpour. I’d entered a beautiful rainforest but due to the fact that the road had turned into 25km of continuous hairpin bends and I could hardly see through my visor as it was covered in rain and kept fogging up (even my mirrors fogged up!), I hardly dared take my eyes off the road. I did notice some huge green ferns though.
At the end of the pass was a long clearing with nothing in it but a roadhouse. As I was completely drenched by this time, I stopped to warm up. I was so wet my boots had completely filled with water! After a warming cup of tea and an all day breakfast, I stepped back outside to discover the rain was off, so I filled up the tank and continued on to St Helens.
The hostel I had hoped to stay in wasn’t going to open for 3 hours, so, as I was still soaked, I decided to book into a nearby holiday unit as they had a bath available. Oh the bliss of sinking into a hot pool of water. Funny how water can blind you or heal you just depending on the circumstances!
Saturday 27th November 2010 – As I have 3.5 weeks before I need to be in Whyalla, I’ve decided to go to Tasmania for 2 weeks instead of going east around the coast to Bateman's Bay (as my friends were going to be away). I could have sworn the ferry was at 5.30pm yesterday and that check-in, being 2.5 hours before, was at 3.00pm. So Lou guided me down to the ferry terminal (thank god, as I’d never have found it myself) and got me there for precisely 3.00pm. However the man at the gate then advised me boarding would commence at 4.30pm. I thought this was a bit odd, but didn’t question it, however, when at 5.30 we were all still waiting to board and I was advised that boarding wouldn’t commence to 6.00pm, I fished out my ticket to discover that the ferry was actually scheduled to leave at 7.30pm, not 5.30pm (damn 24 hour clock, I always get confused with it)!
However, the extra wait was not wasted as I met a big group of bikers from Western Australia, and another couple of guys from WA called Pat & Martin. There was also a group of bikers from the Australian Outlaws but they were a bit too scary to talk to.
So this morning the ferry docked in Devonport and I rolled off to start my loop of Tassie. The roads here are much better than on the mainland apart from all the road kill, and, alas, I think a few Tasmanian Devils will among the victims. My route took me east to Port Sorrel, then to Exeter, then across the Batman Bridge to George Town and Bridport where I checked in to the YHA. There was a group of gardening enthusiasts there who were very friendly and one even gave me her number to contact when I get to Hobart. A very intense young man called James also checked in and did his best to convince me he was totally over his ex-girlfriend by talking about her all night! The warden was also very friendly and, as there was a band on at the local hotel we arranged to go together to see it. Unfortunately the whole town experienced a blackout that night when a car ran into a power line, so we had to abandon that outing.
So the last month in Melbourne was lovely. Apart from a few torrential downpours, the weather warmed up and I was able to get out and about and explore the local, and not so local, area. And, of course, I got to walk the doggies every day. They are such delightful creatures – so friendly and obedient and affectionate. A couple of nights they even burrowed under my covers and spent the night keeping me cozy. And the unexpected bonus from all the walking is that I’ve lost about half a stone in weight and am a lot fitter!
Wednesday 10th November 2010 – When I returned to Melbourne I was in a bit of a quandary about whether I should sell the bike and get a car. Because I’d be here for a month, it would give me time to sell it, but, surprisingly, I found I wasn’t that keen to do that just yet. However, I explored all the options, like buying or renting a car, putting the bike on motorail, leaving the bike in somewhere like Brisbane then flying to Whyalla, but none of them were going to be that easy or inexpensive. Then, yesterday, I decided to see what I’d get for the bike if I sold it. I took it back to the place I’d bought it and it turned out they weren’t buying any new stock and, even if they had been, I’d have only got about half of what I’d paid for it. So this put an end to my swithering and I decided to keep it. Funnily enough, I found myself feeling enormously relieved with this decision. Guess I wasn’t ready to give up the adventure just yet!
Wednesday 3rd November 2010 – So I left Lake Boga on Monday and rode the 366.4 km back to Melbourne. It was a sunny day but quite chilly, but nevertheless I made good progress. Somewhere between Echuca and Bendigo a big orange light started flashing on my dashboard. Thinking this was the oil light, I pulled over and poured in half a bottle of oil. However, on restarting, the light didn’t go out. As I was getting low on petrol and needed to find a garage anyway, I decided to press on regardless, all the time thinking “Funny, why would the oil light stay on when I’ve just added more oil?”. Then it struck me, this wasn’t the oil light at all, it was the fuel light telling me I’d gone onto the reserve tank! Doh! Luckily I managed to make it to a petrol station before running out so all was well.
The panniers have made a big difference to the handling of the bike and I felt my old confidence starting to return as I neared Melbourne. Even found myself whooping out loud as the city skyline came into view.
So now I’m back at my friends’ house and looking after their 2 gorgeous whippets for 4 weeks. Hopefully this time won’t be too eventful so it may be a while before I post any more news.
Friday 29th October 2010 – Well, there’s a lot more to this house-sitting business than meets the eye – just taking a friend’s dog for a walk once a day is completely different from living with two of them. So far I’ve had them jumping all over local school kids, plunging into the lake for a swim and not coming back out again, running off uncontrolably, being followed all the way home by an overfriendly puppy and then having to take the puppy home again and then having to walk home again myself (an additional 5km walk!), having an old paw wound go septic and having to enlist the help of neighbours to help me get the dog to the vet and back (as I can’t take her on the motorbike!), only to discover the dog in question also has infections in both ears and having to administer a variety of medications to clear it all up. Not to mention being swarmed by locusts, flies and droganflies, having to walk in temperatures of about 30C (give or take 2 degrees), the feeding, the picking of barbs out of their paws and the pretty much 24 hour following me around that they like to do. And that’s only the dogs. There’s also the cat, the general housekeeping and all the gardening duties.
Having said that, its been a brilliant week. The animals are so loving and all the walking has improved my fitness and reduced my waistline considerably. Plus I’ve met some lovely people – like the neighbour who gave me a lift back from the Post Office the day I decided to walk into the village not realising this was a 7km walk each way!
Off to Melbourne on Monday to do it all again (this time for 4 weeks) for my friends and their 2 whippets. Can’t wait!
Sunday 24 October 2010 - Riding across the Mallee Highway from Tailem Bend to Ouyen involved travelling through what is obviously flour country - miles and miles of wheat fields criss-crossed by railway tracks and flour silos at each station. But as soon as I reached Swan Hill this changed into fruit country – vineyards and fruit farms for as far as the eye could see. Australia has been suffering from drought for the last 10 years, but this winter, the drought finally broke and the country has been experiencing flooding in a number of places. Lake Boga, where I’m staying, is now full for the first time in 10 years.
As I rode into Lake Boga there was a sign saying “Pull over if locusts impair your vision”. At first I thought I’d mis-read this, but my hosts assured me there are indeed plagues of locusts everywhere and even pointed out some hatchlings as we took the dogs for their first walk. Within the next month these should grow into huge swarms capable of stripping whole fields so the council is doing what they can to kill them off as soon as possible. Hopefully I’ll be long gone by then.
Tuesday 26 October 2010 - I’ve been left in charge of 2 dogs and a cat. The dogs need a lot of attention and I practically broke my toe as I fell down the stairs last night to let them out in the middle of the night. The cat, of course, only needs fed and patted and that’s enough for her.
While I was in Adelaide I got news that I’ve got a 3 month house-sit in Northern Queensland from 10 January. As the one before it ends on 1 January and is in Whyalla, South Australia, this means I’ll have almost 4000km to cover in 9 days to get there in time. As this is cyclone time, I’m seriously considering selling the bike and buying a car.
Saturday 23rd October 2010 – Adelaide was a wonderful city. If I had to find a word to describe it, I would say EASY. Everything about the city is easy - its easy to get into, its easy to get out of, its easy to get around, its easy to make friends, it easy to find what you need. Its all just so easy. I loved it.
The first week I spent mostly exploring the city centre and getting my bike sorted out. When I bought the top box there was only one key for it, so I thought it would be wise to get another one cut. So I found a locksmith who advised me “if that doesn’t work bring it back and I’ll make it work”. As it happened, it didn’t work, so I took it back and, sure enough, he made it work! See, EASY! I also noticed, after my ride up into the Adelaide Hills, that my chain was loose so I took it to the bike shop to get it tightened. They promptly informed me it was already on the last setting so to get it tighter I’d need a new chain. And, of course, when you get a new chain you also need new sprockets, so 4 days and $400 later the new parts had arrived, were fitted and it was once again ready to ride. Unfortunately, I wasn’t.
There's a notice in the lift at the YHA which suggests various acts of kindness one can do to help one's fellow travellers. So to get myself out of my somewhat self-focussed nervous state, I decided I would go and volunteer my services at the RSPCA office around the corner from the YHA. I was only stuffing envelopes (hundreds of them!) but they have an area through the back where they keep animals that have been handed in and, as its kitten time just now, there have been lots of kittens coming in and out. So I spent about half an hour stroking one mother and her litter of 8 tiny black and grey & white kittens. They were soooo cute. Unfortunately, if they can't find homes for them they will have to put them down. On hearing this I immediately volunteered to take them all, but the lady in charge didn't seem to think that a motorcycle would really make a suitable home for them!
After Lilly left, I got a new room-mate - a Swiss girl called Corrine. She was really fun too. I'm not exactly sure what I did, but when she left she gave me a big hug and thanked me for really cheering her up. The room felt very empty after she'd gone. Its so easy to meet people when you're travelling. Everyone is really friendly and outward focussed, whereas, when you're in an office, people tend to be much more inward focussed. Now I understand why I never really feel like I fit in when I'm "settled" - I connect better with people with an outward focus.
Anyway, back at the hostel, I finally met some men. A dutch guy, an Ozzie biker called Al and another Ozzie guy called Bradley. Bradley missed the shops the other day so I made him some pasta while Al regailed us with stories of working in the mines and close encounters with sharks.
The second week I was there I decided to explore North Adelaide. What a beautiful part of the city - full of lovely houses and open parklands. There is a lookout there called Light’s Vision which overlooks the whole city and the Adelaide Hills. I kept finding myself being drawn back there for hours at a time. I even started meditating there! Funnily enough, I got my own vision while I was there, something that I’d forgotten since setting off from Melbourne, about why I’d come to Australia in the first place. I’m not going to say what that is just now, but you can be sure riding a motorcycle has got everything and nothing whatsoever to do with it!
Speaking of the motorbike, by the time I left Adelaide, despite several rides around the city to try and overcome my nerves, a new chain and new panniers, I was still a jittering wreck when it came to setting off. After an hour I stopped in a parking area for a rest and gave myself a right good talking to. When I got back on the bike, something had changed and the fear had gone. I was actually “riding” the bike, rather than just being a nervous passenger with no sense of control. I wish I could say this lasted all day, but it was a particularly long and hot ride to Ouyen, so it was difficult to sustain my new found determination, but I arrived safely with no major incidents so I was very happy with that.
At this point, you may be wondering what on earth possessed me to ride motorbike round Australia when I’m obviously so scared of it? Well, overcoming my fears has got a lot to do with that vision I was talking about.
My first house-sit in Lake Boga starts tomorrow so I’m very much looking forward to this.
Friday 8 October 2010 – OMG! What a ride from Kangaroo Island to Adelaide. First an unexpectedly twisty road from Cape Jervis, then I had to navigate my way into Adelaide from memorised directions (as I have no GPS or any way of mounting a map onto my bike). Nevertheless, I managed to make it all but one street from the YHA before I had to pull over and check the map. I almost dropped to my knees and kissed the tarmac when I pulled up in front of the hostel I was so relieved to have made it. As soon as I got checked in I went off to the nearest bike shop and bought a set of panniers to re-distribute my luggage. Just as I was in a repacking frenzy my new room-mate, Lilly, arrived and obviously sensing I was on the verge of a melt down, took me off to the pub where, a glass of wine later, sanity was restored.
Sunday 10 October 2010 – I got an email from my brother yesterday saying that his good friends, Pete & Sue, lived in Adelaide and that I should give them a call. So I did and they invited me to come and visit them in their home in the Adelaide Hills today. They gave me directions which included the phrase “I hope you don’t mind bends?” OMG, that has got to be the twistiest road I have ever ridden. I missed the turn off to their house so Pete had to come and get me. And thank god he did as I’d have undoubtedly chickened out and left the bike at the bottom of the road if I’d been on my own. It was time to meet my nemesis – A DIRT ROAD! As he was leading I just had to follow and miraculously managed to get it up not only the dirt road but the hill that it became up to his house. We then had a lovely day exploring the Adelaide Hills in their nice comfy car. Getting the bike back down the dirt track was even more scary than getting it up there and left me pretty shaken as I got back onto the windy road home. I was going so slowly, even a cyclist overtook me! God, I really need to get a grip on my nerves – think I’ll go and find a nice empty car park somewhere and practice manoeuvres for a day until I get my confidence back again.
Thursday 7 October 2010 – So I waved good bye to my room-mate at the YHA on Tuesday and rode the 60-odd km to Cape Jervis where I caught the ferry to Kangaroo Island. It was a gorgeous sunny crossing and I even spotted a baby dolphin leaping through the waves.
My bike handling skills have been getting progressively worse over the last few days and, having now ridden round the island unloaded, I realise that the way I’ve got the bike loaded really doesn’t help matters. I have 2 large roll bags and a top box all on the back of the bike so anytime I stop by using the front brake everything lurches forward and throws the balance out – hence the reason I nearly dropped the bike in Warmnabool last week. So as soon as I get to Adelaide I’m going to see if I can get some panniers which will hopefully lower the centre of gravity and make the handling a bit easier. Otherwise, I’m going to become a nervous wreck and spend the entire trip avoiding any uneven surfaces, gravel or adverse cambers! Which given virtually everywhere outside the cities falls into this category, means I won’t be going anywhere much at all!
Anyway, back to KI (Kangaroo Island). So I set off from the YHA in Penneshaw yesterday morning to go and explore the island. I needed fuel so I stopped in American River. Another biker rode up as I was pulling away, so I stopped to speak to him. He’d flown his bike over from America and was finishing off a tour of the western half of Oz which had taken just over 6 weeks. As we were talking, a storm appeared from nowhere and threw sand and rain everywhere. After that the wind didn’t stop all day, so it was a hard ride. I got as far as Seal Bay (where I saw some lovely sea lions), then decided to head back. It’s quite a big island (150 km long and 50 km wide) with only 2 main roads. You have to travel about 50 km from Penneshaw before you get to the point where they split, so as I was freezing and knackered a trip a quarter of the way along the southern route was enough for me. Today the sun was shining in Penneshaw, but I decided to catch up on some domestic chores (like having a message) instead of doing the inland road as it was bitterly cold and I reckoned the weather wouldn’t be too good in the middle of the island. My room-mate later confirmed it had been wild, so I think I made the right choice.
Have decided to go to Adelaide tomorrow for a week where there will be a bit more to do on foot – see, I’m looking for ways to avoid riding already!
Monday 4 October 2010 – Again, I was exhausted by my long ride on Saturday, so decided to spend a couple of days in Port Elliot. Yesterday I didn’t make it much further than the village shops and the nearest beach, but today, I thought I spotted a whale from the hostel balcony so went charging over the headland to see if I could capture some shots of it. As I approached I realised the mass I’d spotted from the hostel wasn’t really moving or changing shape at all, and upon closer inspection, it turned out, it was actually a rock. Just as I was dejectedly putting my camera away a family with a huge number of children arrived on the scene and pointed out where a real whale was! Hoorah, I saw a whale, albeit it was a bit too far away to really make out any detail.
Then on the way back I decided to take advantage of the gorgeous South Australian sunshine and paddle along the beach. As I was putting my shoes back on at the end, I thought I saw some seals by the jetty, so again, I raced round only to discover it was 3 guys in wetsuits and snorkels. Oh well, so maybe my wildlife spotting skills need some improvement, but I’m definitely not short of enthusiasm.
Off to Kangaroo Island tomorrow.
Saturday 2 October 2010 – I rode from Robe to Port Elliot today – a 300-odd km journey. The roads were relatively clear apart from a plague of flying bugs everywhere, presumably brought out by the sunny skies and increase in temperature. By the time I stopped for lunch in Meninges I was covered in the little critters. When I went to the loo, one of them must have got caught in my clothing as when I took my trousers down I got bitten about 5 times on the bum! Having just read something about scorpion bites I waited for the onset of poison-induced paralysis but after about 10 minutes I figured it was probably just a bee so got some sting relieving ointment instead.
A few other bikes were on the road today, most of which seemed to pull into the servo at Salt Creek. One even had a trailer attached to it which the rider assured me made no difference to the handling, although a 1300cc engine was required to pull it.
On arriving at the Port Elliot YHA I was informed that I’d be sharing a room with another girl, but that she’d already claimed the bottom bunk so I’d be on the top one. Now, for a 20 year old backpacker this is no inconvenience, but for a 47 year old stiffie like myself it was a major challenge. It doesn’t take a structural engineer to figure out that if you put the equivalent of a flattened whale on top of 4 lollipop sticks it is not going to be the most stable assembly, so clambering up the tiny set of ladders attached to the side of the beds almost toppled the whole lot. However, I’m glad to report that after a few attempts I have now perfected the technique and can manage the assent and decent without incident - much to the relief of my roommate!
Thursday 30 September 2010 – so I left Port Fairy yesterday. It was a fun visit – nice people at the hostel and a disasterous attempt to French plait an English girl’s hair (I warned her I couldn’t do it!).
So it was a huge drive to my next port of call, Robe. It took me 2 hours to do the first 130 km but what a fabulous ride. One of the women at the hostel told me about a back road that I could take to Nelson and then on to Mount Gambier. It started where the Great Ocean Road seems to run out at Portland, and went up through acres of pine plantations. There was hardly another sole on the road so it was great to get a break from the constant traffic of the highway. I stopped in Mount Gambier to see the Blue Lake – a lake formed in the crater of an extinct volcano – which was very impressive but not particularly blue.
I then picked up another back road called the Southern Ports Highway and made my way up to Robe via a gorgeous seaside town called Beachport which had amazing turquoise blue seas and a huge jetty which stretched far into the ocean.
Today, as is becoming my way, I went off to explore the town. At the harbour a fishing boat was unloading is catch of shark. It turns out the shark are only about 2-3 feet long and quite small and skinny but the deckies do have to behead and gut them so I was right to refuse the job with the Port Fairy boys. This boat also seemed a lot cleaner and more organised I have to say.
I continued my tour of the town which included a visit to the Old Gaol House. This was now a ruin so I wasn’t detained too long!
Need to do some bike maintenance tomorrow then I’ll be back on the road the next day.
Wednesday 29 September 2010 - After my first real run of any distance on the bike I found I was quite exhausted so decided to land at Apollo Bay for 3 days. Was amazed at how tired my legs were so contented myself with short walks around the town and along the beach, watching the waves swell and crash for hours on end. Even the weather picked up and I got beautiful sunshine for my last day. Unfortunately, the next morning it was chucking it down again, but I felt I really should press on so quickly loaded up the bike in the downpour only to discover I hadn’t secured my load very well and had to do it all again in the soaking wet – you know what they say “more haste, less speed”!
Anyway, the rain dried up within a few miles so all I then had to contend with was the freezing wind.
The warden at the hostel told me to turn off the road at Cape Otway to see some koalas. Just as I was wondering how far I’d have to go before I saw any I saw a large contingent of Japanese tourists pointing wilding to the trees and enthusiastically taking pictures. And sure enough, there they were. I fired off some shots too but alas, my camera didn’t really have a long enough lens to get close enough. See, its true, size does matter!
Next stop was Port Campbell National Park. This is where the 12 Apostles are so I spent the next couple of hours getting on and off the bike to explore every nook and cranny of the place. Magnificent views but biting wind.
When I got to the Warrnambool I was obviously starting to tire as at a set of traffic lights I almost dropped the bike. A car ahead of me tried to run a red light, thought better of it and slammed on the breaks then reversed back behind the line. All of this I saw and gave him plenty of space to manoeuvre but must have lost my concentration for a moment as next thing I knew I was ripping my arm out of its socket trying to hold the machine up! Luckily I managed to get it back in balance but it was a bit of a scary moment.
Again, by the time I reached Port Fairy YHA I was exhausted so decided to stay there a couple of nights too.
So today I decided to go exploring again. I went round Gilbert’s Island and in the space of an hour got soaked by rain, lashed by hail, blown dry by the wind and warmed by a sudden outbreak of sunshine. On the way back, I passed the wharf where a boatful of fishermen invited me to come on board. Having nothing else in particular to do, I decided I would. They were hilarious and quite drunk and, when they heard I’d worked on a prawn trawler on my first visit to Oz, offered me a job as a “deckie”. Upon further enquiry it turned out they fished for shark and cray (lobster) and went out for 5 days at a time. As the boat was not in the finest condition, and I was also pretty sure being a deckie would involve having to kill the beasts when they arrived on deck, not the mention that the skipper, nice as he was, had 2 black eyes, I decided to decline their kind offer. To make up for the priceless experience I’d no doubt be missing out on, one of the others then offered me the skipper’s hand in marriage! Again, I politely declined.
Friday 24 September 2010 – I’m finally on the road. Left Melbourne this morning and managed to successfully navigate my way down to Geelong and then the Great Ocean Road. And what a great way to start my trip - one of world's classic bike rides. And it didn't disappoint - lots of long sweeping bends, steep cliffs dropping off just feet from the road, fantastic views and load of interesting places to stop and explore. Made it to Apollo Bay by 4pm and as I was starting to lose my concentration and, to some degree, control of the bike, I decided to stop and book into the YHA. Will stay for a couple of days so I can explore some of the local area by foot – maybe see a Koala or two if I’m lucky. Only a couple of scary moments – the first when the tailwind of a passing truck nearly blew me off the road, the second when another biker came hurtling round a bend on the wrong side of the road and nearly went straight into me. Other than that and a moment of getting a bit mesmerised by all the bends, a fantastic run.
Wednesday 22 September 2010 – I’ve got the bike! And its perfect. Took it for an inaugural ride after I picked it up and it runs like a dream. Feels light, holds the road well, and, now that they’ve replaced the exhaust with a quieter one, speeds along like a big yellow stealth bomber! Although I like the name Yellow Peril, I think I’ll just call it Yellow as Peril may prove to be a bit predictive!
My friend showed me how to get out of Melbourne but then left me to my own devices so coming back into Melbourne was a bit of a hair-raising experience. Its funny how roads look completely different when you’re in the passenger seat and not really paying attention. Nevertheless, I managed to navigate my way to the correct exit and back to my friend house again.
Thursday 23 September 2010 – for the last few days I’ve been suffering from an attack of the runs. They seem to be of the nocturnal variety and last night was a particularly bad dose. As a result I’ve not really been eating very much over the last few days and by the morning I was a bit of a quivering wreck. This meant I couldn’t go back to the bike shop to get the top box fitted in the morning as planned. However, after several cups of tea and some light hearted conversation with my friends, I felt well enough to go back to the bike shop again. By the time I got back I was feeling considerably better and it felt as if the previous night’s attack had been a final purge to cleanse my system for the journey ahead.
Just got a call this morning saying that all my paperwork has been cleared and that I can go and pick up the bike tomorrow. Whey hey, I'll be able to get on the road soon!
Sunday 19th September 2010 – My friend that I'm staying with and I managed to have a day out together today. We went to a place called The Homestead and walked around the grounds. In the bush we could see a "mob" of kangaroos so set off in pursuit. We managed to get quite close and there was one giant buck who kept a watchful eye on us while his companions bounced away. As they all bounced off, we changed our direction and started walking away. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a giant buck had come after us and was standing up on his hind legs watching us just about 10 feet away. For a moment I thought he was going to charge us but as we hastened our speed he bounced off in the opposite direction. Bit of a scary moment though!
After lunch we went to meet one of my friend's friends, who, apart from playing on of Paul Robinson's wives on Neighbours, is now heavily involved with animal welfare. They have a houseful of cats, dogs, ducks and chooks and she has a friend who runs an animal shelter. She offered to take me there so hopefully I’ll be able to take her up on her offer next week sometime.
Wednesday 15th September 2010 – after 3 days of fruitless searching for a bike, I finally found one today. On Monday my friends took me into Elizabeth Street in Melbourne to look at what the bike shops had to offer. Somewhat tired and jetlagged I found it difficult to put UK prices out of my mind and was shocked at how much Ozzie second hand bikes cost. One guy offered us a 22 year old Honda for $8,000. I just laughed out loud. Getting increasingly depressed and alarmed we eventually came across the Triumph showroom. It settled me greatly to see some Bonnies again even if they were completely out of my budget at $15,000.
The next day, we started trolling through internet ads and bike magazines all to no avail. Then, my mate found a Moto Guzzi California for sale on e-bay. We arranged to go and see it the next day. Unfortunately, it turned out to be in fairly poor condition and also had the twin problems that (a) my legs wouldn’t reach the footstand and (b) it had a heel operated gear lever. It was surprisingly stable though. Nevertheless I decided against it. On the way back, my pal remembered there was a Suzuki dealer nearby so we swung by to see what they had. Immediately Lou picked out a bright yellow SV650 with upright handlebars. One of the girls on the Moto Guzzi run had one of these and let me try it but, because it had dropped bars, I didn’t find it very comfortable and discarded it as a choice. However, the upright bars made all the difference. I took it for a test ride and as it was nice and light, felt good and was within budget at $4,700 I decided just to buy it.
It turns out that you need to have a local address to register a vehicle in Victoria though so I then had to spend the next day running around getting bank statements and telephone bills to prove my address so this delayed the delivery. Hopefully I’ll get the paperwork sorted tomorrow and will be able to pick up the bike on Wednesday.
Sunday 12th September 2010 – my first full day in Australia and my mate took me on a Moto Guzzi Owners Club ride out. At the first stop I found my knees had completely seized up from being on the back of his Rosa Corsa which has pillion pegs about 6 inches below the seat! Noticing that I was having difficulty dismounting, one of the other owners organised for me to go pillion on the back of 2 other rider’s bikes that had more leg room. The first one was a California model and the driver had us sweeping through bends so smoothly I actually forgot my usual fear of cornering. The second driver had an even more comfortable bike but was a much faster driver, so much so, that we overshot a left turn and had to do a U-turn to rejoin the pack. For some reason the driver crossed over onto the right side of the road and then turned straight into the path of an oncoming car in the left lane. Just as I was imagining the pain of taking a full broadside hit and ending up in a wheelchair, the driver had the presence of mind to accelerate onto the grass verge at the side of the road. Luckily we just missed the car, but ended up in a bog instead. Another rider came to our assistance and together we managed to push the bike free of the marsh. After that he slowed down a bit and at the next stop I was handed back to my friend's capable charge. Not bad for a first day adventure!
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