March 2005 - Initial PlanningMORE...
With the Queensland Labour Day long weekend fast approaching, it was time to start planning my ride from Cairns to Winton for the Autumn in Winton weekend.
In 2004 I had undertaken this ride by taking a day off work; riding to Winton on the Friday and returning to Cairns on the Monday. The ride to Winton was via Greenvale (1,160km), while the ride home was via Townsville (920km).
This year, I decided to take a different rout. With my family in Sydney travelling to Bingara to visit my aunt and cousins on the weekend before Winton, I decided my ride to Winton should be via Bingara. Bingara is a small town (pop. 1,500) located in the valley of the Gwyder River about 170km north of Tamworth on the road to Warialda.
Once my clients heard that I was travelling south, requests were received for ship surveys along the way.
After work on Tuesday 19 April, I pack my travelling gear onto the DL650 Vstrom and headed south along the coast. My first stop was Port Hinchinbrook where I overnighted on board the ship I was to survey the following morning.
After the Hinchinbrook survey, I continued south along the coast to Bowen for my second ship survey. With this second survey completed, I was free to roam. Heading south to Mackay, I then turned inland thinking Nebo would be a good place to overnight.
I arrived in Nebo after dark thinking, “there is bound to be some hard-top accommodation available”. How wrong I was. Both the Nebo Motel and pub accommodation were fully booked. Something to do with work at a mine site nearby. After providing some support to the local publican, she directed me to the Nebo Rodeo Grounds, informing me that the best place to camp there was just near the second “No Camping” sign you come to. It was a beautiful clear but dark night in Nebo, so I just rolled out my swag and slept under the stars.
From Nebo, I decided to start heading south again. This day, Thursday, I took the Fitzroy Development Road down through Blackwater, Woorabinda, Taroom to the Leichhardt Highway. I was good to get back onto some dirt roads again. The DL650 was in its element.
Once on the Leichhardt Highway, it was a short hop on a sealed road to Miles for my next overnight stop. Hard-top accommodation in Miles is not cheap. A basic room in the local country pub cost $50 (food extra). After providing more support to the local publican (and it getting dark), I was in no mood to leave and erect my tent. I put up and forked out.
From Miles the next day (Friday) it was an easy ride south, crossing the boarder into New South Wales and travelling on to Bingara. Leaving Miles after a hearty breakfast at a local cafe, I travelled on down the Leichhardt Highway through Moonie, Goondiwindi (the boarder), SE to Yetman and then south through Warialda arriving in Bingara mid-afternoon.
It was great to be in Bingara again and meet with all the family, but that’s another story. Three days were spent in Bingara, with must of my time playing golf (4 rounds at $10 per round, including club hire) on a full course running along the bank of the Gwyder River.
Leaving the family and Bingara after lunch on Monday, I decided to start making my way to Winton for the following weekend. With plenty of time on my hands, the next town to visit was Tamworth about 170km south. I arrived in Tamworth to find it full of American type cowboys/girls all trying to sing. Not my scene so I headed NE to Armidale. Armidale is a lovely town nestled into the New England area. It is mainly an education centre but also provides the services for the surrounding district. Two nights were spent camping in Armidale before I headed off towards Winton.
From Armidale, I headed west down the slopes of the Great Dividing Range, through Bundarra (more dirt) and then north to Inverell. From Inverell I headed west to Mooree (cotton country) and then up to Mungindi to again cross the boarder back into Queensland. From Mungindi it was north to St George for my next overnight stop.
At St George, I camped at a lovely camping ground right in town. The manager of this park happened to be a man from Winton, so we had a few beers together and talked about his home town.
From St George on Thursday morning, I headed north through cotton country to Mitchell, then west on the Warrego Highway to Morven where I connected with the Landsborough Highway to Tambo and Blackall for my final overnight stop before Winton.
My ride through cotton country was during their harvest season. The roadside was lined with cotton balls that had come loose from the cotton bales. This produced a rather eerie sight, like snow on the ground.
Friday so me ride the short 390km distance through Barcaldine and Longreach to Winton.
From previous recommendations, I had booked my accommodation at Winton in the Tatisals Hotel, a lovely old-world country pub right in the centre of town. The rooms were airy, clean, air-conditioned and good value. This pub also had the cheapest beer in town and the best-valued meals.
From Friday afternoon onwards, other Ulysses riders started to drift into town. The main rush of riders arrived during Saturday afternoon. Saturday night we all met at the North Gregory Hotel for dinner (not the best quality or value) and later migrated to Tatersals for after-dinner (cheaper) drinks.
On Sunday, some members decided to ride to Longreach (352km return) for lunch while others, myself included, headed west on the Kennedy Development Road to Middleton (328km) for lunch.
The ride to Middleton takes you through some spectacular scenery. You start by travelling through flat mulga country until you gently descend onto the vast flood plain of the Diamantina River. You then climb up into the Swords and Carters Ranges before again descending down into the valley of Middleton Creek and Middleton pub for lunch.
With all riders returning to Winton during Sunday afternoon, we met at the Winton Hotel for a BBQ dinner. Most then had an early night, having to start heading home on Monday morning.
Having previously travelled the Greenvale and Townsville routs back to Cairns from Winton, this trip I decided to give the Kennedy Development Road between Hughenden and The Lynd a go. This road has a reputation of not being the best of dirt roads, however I had my DL650 and felt adventurous.
Departing Winton on Monday morning, I rode north to Hughenden.
From Hughenden to The Lynd (256km), the road got progressively worse, however never impassable. The short sections of sealed road were much appreciated. Taking this rout reduced my journey to Cairns by about 250km, although there was little time saved due to slower riding over the dirt.
I arrived back home in Cairns at about 8:00pm on Monday night to be greeted by my ever-faithful dog, Angel.
My trip covered about 5,600km over 13 day, including 9 days of riding. With perfect weather all the way, the Suzuki DL650 Vstrom from Wayne Leonard Motorcycles performed flawlessly. A Scottoiler on a chain driven bike is a must. I never had to touch or oil the bike’s chain during the whole trip.
Purchasing & Preparing the Bikes
Our search for suitable bikes to tour the Philippines mainly involved keeping a close watch on the bikes listed for sale in the Motorcycle Philippines (MP) free classifieds and using the contacts of Martin Gino, our trusted friend in Manila.
Martin is also the HU Community Contact for the Philippines.
You can buy almost any type of motorcycle in the Philippines, from a Triumph Rocket III to the smallest of Chinese made scooters. Most of the major Japanese brand motorcycles officially released in the Philippines are sourced from China then assembled and badged in the Philippines. A Honda XLR200 released in the Philippines costs P105,000 new. A similar bike, if fully manufactured in Japan, would cost about P300,000 new.
When purchasing a second-hand motorcycle in the Philippines, You basically have three options; Chinese made & imported, Chinese sourced/Philippines assembled, and fully imported non-Chinese. For a percieved better build quality, we decided it was better to buy a fully imported, non-Chinese model.
In determining the type of bikes that would be best suited for this tour, consideration was given to the type of riding to be undertaken. The speed limits in the Philippines are 30kph, 50kph and 80kph (maximum). The roads we would be travelling on vary from good sealed roads to rough dirt tracks. The models had to have reasonable parts availability. The bikes must be properly licensed and legally able to carry 2 persons. With this criteria, we decided on dual-purpose type bikes of 200cc to 250cc capacity. Anything bigger would just be over-kill in both power and mass.
It wasn't long before the first suitable bike came to our attention. It was found in the MP free classifies, a 1991 Honda AX-1, asking P90,000 (about USD1,650 in 2005). The AX-1 was only released in Japan and grey imported into the Philippines. It is the same bike as the Honda NX250 (Baby Dominator) except that has been modified for the Japanese market by fitting duel headlights and replacing the alloy steel spoked wheels with all alloy.
1991 Honda AX-1
Martin Gino inspected the bike and reported back that it was in excellent condition with 18,000km on it. The bike is a single cylinder water-cooled 4-stroke with electric start (only) and having provision for a pillion passenger. The only down-side to this bike was that the tyres where starting to perish, no mirrors, and a missing chain guard and front drive sprocket cover.
After the price was negotiated down to P75,000 (about USD1,300), I transferred P85,000 to Martin and the deal was done. The extra was to cover some of the costs for modification and a bit for Martin's time and effort.
The next step was to prepare this bike for 4 weeks of touring on Philippines "roads" carrying a rather large Australian and his gear. First, new tyres were ordered. Not being a common size, the tyres have to be specially imported. This importation involves a lead time of about 3 months. Lucky we bought the bike 7 months before it is needed.
While waiting for the new tyres, work started on the other preparation. This involved-
- Giving the bike a complete service;
- Fitting mirrors, chain guard & front sprocket cover;
- Overhauling the rear shock and fitting a heavier spring for the expected loads;
- Strengthen up the rear sub-frame to take the expected loads;
- Replace the existing rear rack (not considered strong enough) with an MMC stainless steel rear rack suitable to take a Ventura/RJays/Gearsack rear bag.
While the AX-1 was being prepared, the search was on for another suitable bike for Greg Haig, my touring partener. This took longer than we expected. Dual purpose type bikes are not that readily available in and around Manila.
While looking for other bikes, our tour group numbers dropped to only two, myself and Greg. The others were unable to get time off work. Greg is more of a gung-ho type dirt rider, so his bike was to be more dirt orientated than the AX-1.
It took another 2 months before we found another suitable bike in good condition. It was a '91 Suzuki DR250 with an asking price of P75,000 (about USD1,350 in 2005), located in San Fernando about 130km north of Manila.
After an inspection by Martin, he negotiated the price down to P68,000 (about USD1,200 in 2005) after all outstanding taxes had been paid and the bike was purchased.
1991 Suzuki DR250
This bike is not standard. Inverted front forks and an after-market exhaust have been fitted and the rear suspension had been beefed up. Like the AX-1, this DR250 also needed some work to bring it up to an acceptable standard for our tour.
- Giving the bike a complete service;
- Fitting mirrors, chain guard & front sprocket cover;
- Getting all the lights to properly work;
- Strengthen up the rear sub-frame to take the expected loads;
- Fit an MMC stainless steel rear rack suitable to take a Ventura/RJays/Gearsack rear bag.
Fortunately, the DR250's tyres were found to be still in an acceptable condition for the tour.
Now that the bikes are purchased and being prepared, time can be spent planning the trip.
Detailed Trip Planing
With bike preparation well underway, thanks to Martin (Herc) Gino in Manila, it was time for the more detailed planning of our trip.
Note: Since purchasing our bikes, a motorcycle rental business (Nice Bike) for touring foreigners has opened in Angeles, north of Manila. Their bikes range from scooters up to Suzuki DR750's. Prices are very reasonable at under USD30 per day (August 2005). The only downside is no insurance is available, if you break or loose it, you pay for it.
To assist with this trip planning, a summary of the proposed trip was first posted on the Motorcycle Philippines forum. Replies from the forum assisted in refining the plan.
When planning anything in the Philippines, you must remember that everything happens at "Filipino" pace. If you expect that something will take half a day, plan on it taking full day.
The first thing we needed to know was the distances to be covered. For this, I purchased a Hema map of the Philippines (scale 1:1,750,000). This map was quite up-to-date, however some of the distances printed on the map were nowhere near accurate.
Fortunately, I have an old road map of the Philippines (by an unknown publisher) that I salvaged from one of my earlier trips to the Philippines. This map was not very up-to-date, however the distances shown where very detailed and reasonably accurate.
Combining information from the two maps provided a reasonably good approximation of the distances we would need to travel.
Long-distances buses in the Philippines generally average about 50kph. We decided to also make this speed our average touring speed in determining time frames.
Another thing to consider are the ferry (RoRo) crossings between islands. Although these trips generally only take a few hours, it is best to allow a full day per crossing. This allows for loading and unloading the bikes, and the paperwork at each end. Two of the longer crossings will be between Mindanoa to Negros and Panay to Mindoro. Hopefully both of these crossing can be made at night, giving us more time to explore on land.
Philippines Tour Map
LUZON (6 – 7 days)
The first day of our tour will be to get out of Manila and ride north to Lucap, just outside of Alaminos, the gateway to Hundred Islands Nation Park. There are two routs to Lucap, inland through Talac (240km) or via the west coast of Luzon through Iba (330km). Either of these routs is doable in a day. Which one we take, will be decided upon after we get out of Manila.
After Manila, Hundred Islands NP should provide a welcome respite to get our thoughts together for the rest of our tour. This will be our first and only scheduled overnight stop on the tour. All future overnight stops will be decided upon as we go.
From Lucap, we will ride north through Baguio to Bontoc. The road from Baguio to Bontoc takes us over the highest road in the Philippines at 2,255m. From Bontoc we head south again taking in the famous 2,000-year-old rice terraces before heading back towards Manila via San Jose.
We don't intend to actually return into Manila, more to skirt around it via Marikina before heading south along the eastern shore of Laguna de Bay. We should then join up with the main highway into southern Luzon at Lucena. Making our way south to Matnog may include a side trip along the way to the active Mayon volcano.
Estimated distance on the island f Luzon is 1,700km.
SAMAR & LEYTE (3 – 4 days)
From Matnog, we catch our first RoRo to Allen (1 hour) on the island of Samar. These RoRo's depart Matnog at 0600, 0700, 1000, 1300 & 1400 hrs (Nov. 2005). We will then be travelling down the west coast of Samar to the 2km long bridge that joins Samar with island of Leyte.
Travelling through Leyte, we will make our way to Liloan to catch the RoRo from Liloan to Surigao. There is only a passenger service from Maasin to Surigao, no RoRo.
Estimated distance on the islands of Samar and Leyte is 450km.
MINDANAO (3 – 4 days)
From Maasin, we will catch the RoRo across to Surigao (6 hours) on the northeastern tip of the island of Mindanao. Mindanao is unfortunately noted for its political unrest, particularly kidnappings, murders and armed resistance to government forces. Most of this unrest occurs in the southern parts of the island. Our tour takes us along the (hopefully safer) northern coast of the island to Dapitan.
Estimated distance on the island of Mindanao is 700km.
NEGROS (3 – 4 days)
From Dapitan, we will catch the RoRo across to Dumaguete (4 hours) on the southeastern tip of the island of Negros. There are three alternative routs to take through Negros to Bacolod, our port of departure. One is north along the eastern coast, through Silay to Bacolod. The second (and shortest) is north along the east coast to Tabon, crossing the island through Canlaon to the west coast and then north again to Bacolod. The third rout is around the southern coast of the island and then north along the west coast to Bacolod.
The month of our travel, November, is the sugar cane harvesting season on Negros. This will mean lots of heavy traffic, cane-hauling trucks. Most of this activity will be along the east coast and northern end of the island.
The actual rout taken will depend on available time, however we will probably opt for the southern/western rout to avoid the traffic.
Estimated distance on the island of Negros is 350km – 400km.
PANAY (3 – 4 days)
From Bacolod, we will catch the RoRo across to Iloilo (2 hours) on the southeastern tip the island of Panay. Panay offers us three choices to get to our next RoRo crossing at Caticlan on the northwestern tip of the island. One rout takes you north along the eastern coastline then west along the northern coast to Caticlan. The shortest rout takes you through the centre of the island to join up with the north coastal road to Caticlan. The third offer is west along the southern coast then north along the western coast to Caticlan.
Again, the month of November is the sugar cane harvesting season on this island. Like Negros, most of this activity will be along the east coast and northern end of the island.
Like Negros, the actual rout taken will depend on available time, however we will probably opt for the southern/western rout to avoid the traffic.
Another “must see” is Boracay, a small island off the coast near Caticlan. Boracay is about 9km long by 1km to 2km wide. It is very much a tourist island but still with some charm left for the weary traveller.
Estimated distance on the island of Panay is 250km – 300km.
MINDORO (5 days)
From Caticlan, we will catch the RoRo across to Roxas (6 hours) on the southeastern tip the island of Mindano. This needs to be on or about day 24 of our tour so that we can arrive back in Manila for our scheduled departure back home.
The island of Mindano is known as the breadbasket of the Philippines. This island provides most of the fresh produce for Manila. There is not much to see or do at Roxas, so straight after arrival we will be making our way north to one of the best-kept secrets of the Philippines. This is the little known area around the town of Pola, about halfway along and 6km off the main road to Casiligan. Pola is a very friendly and, by Philippines standards, clean town servicing the local fishing industry and surrounding rural area.
A few days will be spend in and around Pola before continuing our journey north to Calipan. Further north from Calipan is the well-known and frequented Puerto Galera tourist area. If time permits, a short visit may be made there.
Estimated distance on the island of Mindoro is 150km – 200km.
BACK TO MANILA (1 day)
From Calipan, we will catch the RoRo across to Batangas (3 hours) and back onto the island of Luzon for our final return leg to Manila. Again there are alternate routs to Manila from Batangas. One is to the west of Lake Taal and the other is to the east of the lake. The western rout takes you through Cavite, an area of lowland swamp that has been converted into many aquaculture farms. The eastern rout is the main one taken by the regular transport between Manila and Batangas. Not being particularly keen on fish farms and lowland swamp, we will probably take the western rout, calling in to see the Taal volcano.
Estimated distance from Batangas to Manila is 100km.
That is the trip planning done. Mind you, what is planned and what actually happens may be quite different; but then that's all part of the adventure.
Next will be the packing and final preparation before we leave for Manila.
Being on call for jury service over three weeks has limited my riding somewhat. On Thursday 22 September 2005 at 3:30pm Patrick Peck (of Patrick & Belinda Peck fame) and I left Cairns and headed south along the highway to Kennedy. I was riding my Suzuki DL650 and Patrick was on his Yamaha Super Tenere. Kennedy is about 180km south of Cairns.
Arriving at Kennedy at about 5:30pm, I was able to check to determine if I was required for jury service in Cairns the next day. I wasn’t, so I was free to ride. Patrick stocked up on his food supply at the Kennedy store ( I had come properly prepared) before we started our westward jurney inland to the foot of the Great Dividing Range.
About 3km west of Kennedy, we took the turnoff to Blencoe Falls. The road to Blencoe Falls is 67km of rough dirt road climbing from the coastal plain to about 850m above. This road was built by the Australian army during WWII and is now only seldom used. The first 40km take you through dense rainforest (Wet Tropics National Park) as you climb the mountain range before the country opens up into cattle country.
By 7:00pm the light was fading and we came to a small clearing by the side of the track next to a stream. It was here that we made camp for the night. Dinner was cooked over an open campfire. Patrick brought out his Kennedy store tin of beef stew only to find that he had no can opener or anything to heat it up in. Luckily I was better prepared so Patrick was able to have his hot stew for dinner.
Waking at 6:00am on Friday morning, we had cups of tea and coffee for breakfast before breaking camp and heading on our way.
The track up the mountain range was not too bad and the weather had been kind to us. The track was dry all the way. After about 2 hours of riding, we reached Blencoe falls. Even in the dry season, these falls are quite spectacular. Near the falls there is a campsite with basic facilities. We finished a cold breakfast at the top of Blencoe Falls.
Blencoe Falls plunge 90m to a pool below before cascading 230m to the start of the Herbert River gorge. These falls are one of the most stunning waterfalls in Australia. The falls are on part of the traditional land of the Warungnu Aboriginal people.
As you take the short 200m stroll to the lookout and listen carefully, a distant dull rumble becomes a roar as you get closer to the falls. At the lookout, you soak up the sights and sounds of Blencoe Falls as the water races towards the Herbert River. Here, relic hoop pines shrouded in mist create as eerie feeling.
From Blencoe Falls we rode the 100km of dirt road to Mt. Garnet. Without stopping at Mt. Garnet, we travelled the 15km of sealed road east to Innot Hot Springs. It was here that we had lunch and spent an hour or so relaxing in the hot spring thermal pools.
After lunch and a relaxing soak, we rode 5km out of Innot Hot Springs turning left onto the Silver Valley Road. This dirt road takes you the 45km to near Herberton. As we approached Herberton, we came to another dirt road that lead towards historic Irvinbank, an old tin mining town now almost deserted. Not having visited Irvinbank for some 20 years, we decided to head that way and from Irvinbank to Petford.
It was getting later in the day. Patrick and I wanted to get back to Cairns before dark. At about 10km from Irvinbank we came across another dirt track that bypassed Irvinbank and made straight for Petford. With time against us, we decided to give Irvinbank a miss this trip and head straight for Petford.
We arrived at Petford at about 4:00pm. Back on the sealed road again we took 2 hours to travel the final 140km to Cairns through Mareeba. We arrived home at about 6:00pm, tired but exhilarated.
In a little over one day, we covered 750km including about 400km of dirt.
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