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.
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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