Australia by BMW
F650 (Sept 1996)
"Riding the Boomerang"
1996 Bruce Clarke
following is a transcription of a journal I kept while touring Australia on a
rented 1995 BMW F650 motorcycle. I rode from Sydney north to Port Macquarrie,
Byron Bay, Hervey Bay/Fraser Island, Rockhampton, Airlie Beach, Townsville, then
west to Julia Creek, Camooweal, Tennant Creek, south to the Devils' Marbles,
Alice Springs, Ayer's Rock/the Olgas, Kings Canyon, Coober Pedy, Port Augusta,
Kingston SE, then along the south coast to Warrnambool, the Great Ocean Road,
Geelong, Phillip Island, Lakes Entrance, Batemans Bay and finally returning to
Sydney. The total distance travelled was 9755 kilometers (5853 miles) by
motorcycle used was rented from Clubman Motorcycle Rentals of Sydney, Australia.
(Phone (612) 9519-9991; FAX (612) 9955-8169). I have no affiliation with Clubman
Rentals other than as a satisfied customer. They currently have a web page at
journal may be freely distributed so long as it is unaltered. I have recorded my
notes with metric measurements and Australian dollars. At the time of this trip,
$1 AUS = $0.80 US. 100 kilometers = 60 miles; 1 meter = 3 feet; 0 Celsius =
freezing; 20 C = room temperature; 38 C = 100 Fahrenheit.
typed up my notes exactly as I first wrote them. Many of my notes were written
late at night by flashlight, so some entries were very terse or used poor
Sept. 4, 1996:(Victoria,
BC -> Sydney, AUS: by plane)
flight from Victoria to Vancouver was delayed 90 minutes because some doorknob
phoned in an anonymous bomb threat. My flight then connected to Honululu via
Canadian Airlines. As I left Vancouver the temperature was 12 C and rainy -
fairly miserable for early September. I then switched to Air New Zealand in
Honolulu and flew on to Auckland, NZ. In Hawaii the boarding desk warned me that
because the departure tax for the Auckland airport hadn't been paid yet on my
ticket, my luggage was checked through only as far as Auckland.
Auckland I had to get my bags, go through New Zealand customs, pay the departure
tax ($20 NZ), and check-in for the flight on to Sydney. Annoying.
after some 19 hours in the air and another five or six hours waiting in various
airports, I reached Sydney on a warm sunny day....
Sept. 6, 1996:(Sydney,
New South Wales: no miles rode)
warm sunny *Friday* because I'd crossed the International Dateline. I was picked
up at the airport by Melanie Ruehland of Clubman Motorcycle Rentals. She drove
me to the shop, where I dropped off my camping gear. I met Glenn Ruehland and we
finished the rental paperwork.
thing I'd noticed when flying in is that Sydney is a huge sprawling city. From
the air the suburbs are swarms of brick-red tiled roofs.
I'm renting is a 1995 BMW F650 with hard saddle bags. (The shop also rents a
variety of bikes: Harleys, BMWs, Japanese, even Moto Guzzi.) The F650 is a a
major departure for BMW; it's the first chain drive bike they've ever made.
While previous BMWs have been built entirely in Germany, this model is a good
example of the European Union at work: the engine is a liquid-cooled four valve
single built by Rotax of Austria, many parts come from a variety of European
countries, and the assembly is done by Aprilia in Italy.
originally supposed to get a Yamaha XT600. A group of riders from Japan wanted
to ride identical bikes (makes sense as you only need one set of spare parts,
tools, etc.). I was offered a no-cost upgrade to the F650 with hard bags. As it
is I'm being charged only $2500 AUS for four weeks. This works out to about $90
AUS per day; I checked out about half a dozen places in Australia and this was a
very good price.
discuss with Glenn and Melanie that I want to see a few areas: Alice Springs,
Ayer's Rock, the Great Ocean Road, and Phillip Island. I tell them I was
thinking of riding a loop up the coast from Sydney to Townsville, then west to
Three Corners and south to Adelaide, finally returning to Sydney. This loop is
about 8500 KM without any side trips.
and Melanie assured me that many of their renters do just such a tour in a month
- in fact they've nicknamed this ride "the boomerang" because you loop back to
where you started from. Apparently a Dutch rider had just finished a boomerang
last week in 30 days with several side trips including Kangaroo Island and the
Oodnadatta Track. Melanie promised to prepare a sample itinerary outlining the
boomerang in more detail by tomorrow.
the boomerang I need to maintain a pace of 325 to 350 KM per day. This sounds
pretty easy; say four hours of riding each day. In the northern stretches I
should be able to get ahead of schedule because there isn't much to do between
the towns except ride in a straight line.
decided to hit the road immediately. I realize that Sydney has a lot to see, but
I'd rather go through my planned loop and finish a couple days ahead of
schedule; I can then sight-see in Sydney if I have some extra time at the end of
the trip. Tomorrow I plan to pick up the BMW at 8:30 sharp and head north about
300 KM to Port Macquarrie.
warned me that the Australian cops have an aggressive anti-speeding campaign on,
complete with photo radar and big fines. She tells me that one recent renter
reached up over $900 in speeding fines in one month. The cops also will record a
foreigner's passport number if they ticket you, so that when you show up at the
airport you can't leave Australia until you pay the fine.
has reserved a room at a 'backpackers' hotel near their shop. $45 for a small
dorm-style room with communal washroom. That's okay by me but I thought the
asking price was a little steep for such a simple place. I've brought a tent and
sleeping bag with me to save money while touring for the next four
of tired but it's still early in the day. It looks like my hotel room is a few
KM south of Sydney's center. I think I'll go out and buy a few postcards or
something. (Later) I did walk around the neighborhood for about an hour. I can
see that Sydney is a group of small towns that merged together. The roads wander
in all different directions rather than being laid out in a grid pattern. It's a
strange mix of old brick facades and industrial-looking buildings.
I was a
bit taken back by the looney driving I've seen exhibited in Sydney today. I hope
that it's just because it's Friday afternoon in a big city and not typical of
quite a few motorcycles; mostly mid-size to large Japanese bikes. Not very many
cruiser-style bikes as are prevalent in Canada.
expenses: $45 room. $4 food.
Sept. 7, 1996:(Sydney
-> Port Macquarrie, NSW: 400 KM by motorcycle)
to sleep at 6:45 PM and slept until 5:30 AM. I packed and was ready to go by 7
AM. I watched the TV weather forecast: dry everywhere except the extreme south
coast. Alice Springs was 34 C - about 88 F. It's a beautiful sunny morning in
picks me up from the hotel with the bike he's riding today - a Moto Guzzi Quota
rental BMW F650 is all black with two huge 'Nondango' panniers. All my gear
fills the bags only half-way. The F650 has 11555 KM on the odometer and has NSW
plate 'YAQ 34'. At 9:15 AM I fire up the BMW and head out into the left lanes of
Sydney's Saturday morning traffic. The cars are hectic but not as bad as I saw
yesterday. I ride north over the Harbour Bridge and catch a quick glimpse of the
famous Sydney Opera House 'sails'. I ride through at least 25 or 30 KM of
suburbia before I reach the Pacific Highway - the local stretch of Australia's
National Highway 1.
A lot of
Aussies had warned me to avoid riding the Pacific Hwy as it's 'dirty' and
crowded with trucks. I found that the Hwy was busy until I got about 100 KM
north of Sydney, but then the traffic died off. By the time I reached the
Newcastle turn-off there was hardly any traffic.
scenery improved from scrubby eucalyptus trees to some very nice hilly roads;
some nice sweeping curves, etc. Two signs keep popping up on the roadside: in
blue "Rest, revive, survive" and in white "Keep left unless
After about 200 KM I
stopped for gas and saw a guy filling the oil tank of his very nice-looking
mid-70s Harley Sportster. He told me that he'd topped up the oil and then hadn't
tightened the lid properly. When he fired up the engine the tank's lid blew off,
spraying oil all over the back wheel. He now had to replace all the oil and wash
the back tire off.
I saw a motorcycle cop
riding a big Japanese sport tourer - I think it was either a Katana 1100 or a
GPZ1100. It looked wierd to see a sport bike painted up with police logos. I
think the cop was off-duty because he wasn't wearing a uniform and had a
full-face helmet with a mirrored visor.
I saw a kangaroo -
squished dead on the side of the road. I also saw three photo-radar
Eventually I reached the
scenic Hwy 10 turnoff for Port Macquarrie. I reach the town and then spend a
good 30 minutes riding around asking directions for the caravan park. Whoever
laid out the streets for this town was a moron; the lanes wander all over and
there are tons of roundabouts (God I hate these). I finally reach the campground
next to the ocean and pitch my tent.
I realize I haven't eaten
all day so I walk to a nearby takeaway and order a hamburger and large chips. I
find that in Australia when you order a hamburger you get a giant burger about
the equal of maybe two Big Macs for $3. These burgers don't just have lettuce
and tomato - we're talking onions, pickled beet slices, grated carrot, cheese, a
fried egg, a thick slab of bacon, etc. Hear that gurgling sound? That's just my
arteries clogging. The large packet of chips was the size of a small loaf of
bread. I ate maybe a quarter of the chips and was stuffed full.
One annoying thing I did
not take into account is the spring's early sunset. By only 6 PM it was dark out
so I had to wander over to some picnic tables under a fluorescent light to write
in my journal.
Petrol is fairly pricey
here - about $0.75 per liter. For you Americans who can't work a calculator,
that's about $2.50 US per US gallon. Today's expenses: $15 AUS for fuel. The
tent site was $15, and I spent about $10 for food.
Tomorrow I plan to get
riding a couple of hours earlier. The stars above are exceptionally clear with
southern hemisphere constellations. The Milky Way is very easy to see in some
detail. I saw a bright shooting star overhead. I went to sleep about 7
Sun., Sept. 8,
(Port Macquarrie -> Byron Bay,
NSW: 425 KM)
I slept until 5:30 AM and
then packed. I see a beautiful sunrise over the Tasman Sea, then start riding
around 7 AM. After puzzling my way through the roundabouts I stumble onto the
Pacific Hwy and head north.
Roundabouts suck: they're
circular intersections. You enter the loop and circle around it clockwise until
you get to the branch you want and then split off. They're very confusing; I
find that I pull up to a roundabout and am about to enter when some car driver
comes flying along well above the speed limit and dives in. At first I thought
it was just a matter of my not being familiar with roundabouts, but even the
Aussies themselves seem confused. Some dive into the roundabout with reckless
abandon while others are very timid and reluctant. Maybe the reluctant ones are
tourists also, afraid to take a spin on this automotive roulette
The highway is fun to
ride: not much traffic, scenery of rivers and sugar cane fields, farms, hills.
Average pace of 100 KM/H.
Just north of Urunda, I
turn onto Hwy 78 to ride a great curvy country road into the town of Bellingen -
very picturesque. As I leave town I'm doing about 80 KM/H and a Ducati Monstro
whips past me like I'm standing still. He takes the heavily banked curve in
front of me so fast the bike was almost parallel with the horizon.
I climb into the steep
hills of New England National Park. Extremely narrow lanes, cliff drop-offs,
steep roads. I almost got smucked in the corners a couple of times by cars
coming across the center-line into my lane. I stopped at a lookout point to snap
a couple of photos. I see the Ducati come back down the hill very fast. He was
all over the road and couldn't stay in his lane. I bet he won't ride this road
too many more times like that.
I descend the other side
of the hills into Dorrigo. As I stopped to check my map Ducati-man whips by me
I get on the narrow
single lane road to Nymboida. Very hilly. I reach one 10 KM section of very
rough gravel road. I skittered around a couple of hairpins.
The pavement returns and
the road straightens out. Soon I'm in the large town of Grafton and I have to
stop and ask for directions. I get back on the Pacific Highway. The roads was
very fast and I made good time. At one point an oncoming car blinked his
headlights at me. I figured he meant a radar trap was ahead so I slowed down.
Around the corner I find cop cars and ambulances galore. A pickup truck with a
camper is strewn about in a broken mess of debris - it appears it was hit
head-on by a semi-trailer!
The road split off into a
scenic road through the town of Lennox Head. The surroundings are spectacular;
surf pounding against wind-swept hills and beaches.
As I enter the town of
Byron Bay, there are swarms of pedestrians and parked cars. Apparently there's a
big Australian football match in town. I find a caravan park right in town with
great beach access.
Byron Bay is a surfer
town; lots of teenagers in baggy shorts and No Fear t-shirts. This town is on
the easternmost point of the Australian mainland. The old lighthouse is the
brightest in the Southern Hemisphere.
Expenses: Fuel $15. Food
$10. Tent site $9.
The F650 is a great bike.
Although the single cylinder does not have a lot of power or torque, it has a
very smooth transmission and excellent clutch feel. The brakes are strong with a
great linear feel. Wonderful neutral handling; it feels like riding a big
mountain bicycle. Light weight (420 lbs). The handgrips, controls, and footpegs
are positioned perfectly for me. The engine is very smooth and restarts very
easily once warmed up. The seat height is just a tad higher than I would like
(33 inches) and it has tubed tires. I guess for an enduro it's pretty much
mandatory to have spoked tires but tubeless is the way to go.
After dark I walked down
to the beach. You could see two foot high waves pounding on the white sand by
the starlight. I could see very fine detail of the Milky Way - dark nodules,
nebulae. I could see satellites easily. A beam of light from the nearby
lighthouse kept sweeping by the dark beach.
Today I saw many bikes -
all big Japanese, BMWs, or Harleys. I'd read that because of beginner licensing
restrictions Australia gets a lot of 250 sport bikes that don't come into North
America. I also saw a Suzuki Across 250; it looks exactly like a three-quarters
size Katana 600.
After dark it occurs to
me: Glenn was supposed to give me a spare pair of tubes and tube levers, but
forgot. I wonder if there's a manual or toolkit under the seat. I will check
One odd thing I've
noticed: the wall sockets are not only 240 volts with a plug layout different
from North America, but there is a tiny rocker switch next to each socket. When
you plug in an electrical appliance you not only have to turn on the appliance
but also flip the socket's rocker switch. Wierd.
Mon., Sept. 9,
(Byron Bay -> Hervey Bay, QLD:
I went to sleep at 7 PM
and woke around 5 AM. I went for a walk on the beach; waves five or six feet
high were spashing in. I saw a grey furry animal hiding in some rocks. Hoping it
might be some exotic Australian wildlife I took a closer look only to find it
was just an ordinary cat.
Just before I flew down I
bought a decent quality three man dome tent. It was a great idea - I now have
tons of room for me to stretch out and unpack my gear. A couple of light showers
passed by early in the morning and the inside of the tent stayed quite
As I packed a bicyclist
told me about his trip to Vancouver and Whistler. He then told me about his
suggestions on places to visit while heading up the coast. He asked me how much
the motorcycle cost to rent and was shocked at the answer. He said to me "you
could have got a small car a lot cheaper." "Yeah" I answered, "But then I'd be
stuck in a small car instead of enjoying myself on a motorcycle."
I looked under the BMW's
seat and found a decent toolkit but no manual or spare tubes. I guess I'd better
make sure i don't ride over any nails.
I took off around 7:30 AM
on a sunny and warm day. I rode through twisty country farm hills to the town of
Marwillumbah. Very pretty. A stupid driver taking her kid to school pulled out
in front of me and I had to brake hard.
I continued down a rough
country roads towards Mount Warning National Park. As I got closer I could see a
huge amount of road construction. I decided I didn't feel like riding down a
rough bumpy gravel road and so turned back to the Pacific Hwy.
The pleasant countryside
was soon replaced by a multi-lane superslab highway as I crossed into the state
of Queensland from New South Wales. It was fairly busy with cars as I cruised
along in the slow lane at 100 KM/H and avoided the clusters of cars. One driver
would hog the fast lane and several other cars would bottleneck impatiently
behind, a few feet between their bumpers. I could see their brake lights winking
on and off like lights in a Christmas tree.
I passed by the city of
Brisbane. At one point I had to pay a toll of one dollar to ride over the
longest bridge I've ever seen. Heading north from Brisbane the heavy traffic
slowly died away. I soon rode through flat grasslands with dry stunted
In Gympie I turned north
onto Hwy 1, now called the Bruce Highway instead of the Pacific Highway. At
Maryborough I split off onto a scenic road to Hervey Bay, a small resort town.
Here I found a caravan park with tent sites for $10 per night and booked two
Fraser Island is a large
sandy island off the shore here. Several people have warned me that the island's
roads are very treacherous for even experience dirt riders. I book a tour
package for $58 AUS that includes a bus ride, boat, lunch and the 4WD bus on the
Today's expenses: $15
fuel. $10 food. $3 laundry. $10 tent site. $58 for tomorrow's boat
I've seen a couple of
riders on the new Yamaha Thundercat 600 and Thunderace 1000. I've also noticed a
few big Harleys and a lot of BMW boxers. Strangely I haven't seen any BMW
K-bikes or any other F650s. One odd thing: other than BMWs and Harleys I haven't
sen any pure touring bikes such as the Honda Gold Wing. Instead I've seen lots
of large Japanese sport bikes such as the CBR-1000 and ZX-11 fitted with
aftermarket hard luggage.
A fair number of riders
wear shorts and t-shirts, even on the highway. This seems a bit strange to me as
it's been only as hot as 25 C at most and I am quite comfortable in my leather
jacket, boots, heavy gloves, and blue jeans. When I stopped for gas in Gympie, a
cute blonde was surprised that I only put $3 worth of fuel in the tank. I
explained to her that I make it a point to pull over for gas every 100 KM or so:
it makes for a good rest from road fatigue. $3 AUS -> 4 liters per 100 KM
-> 60 miles per gallon.
Tues., Sept. 10,
(Hervey Bay/Fraser Island: no
The wind blew in from the
ocean all night long making my tent flap noisily. Luckily I'd packed a pair of
ear plugs and slept fairly well. At sunrise I walked on the beach and watched
some kind of pelican hunting for fish.
At 8 AM I caught the
double decker bus to the ferry "Fraser Venture". Behind me a woman spoke to two
visiting friends in German with a thick Australian accent - very strange
sounding. The ferry ride was about thirty minutes. I talked with a family from
Sydney that had gone whale watching yesterday. When we docked at Fraser Island
we climb into a 4WD bus.
Fraser Island is 125 KM
long by 25 KM wide and is made completely of a fine white sand similar to icing
sugar in texture. It's impossible for conventional vehicles to operate in this
deep fluffy sand - even 4WDs often get mired. I'm sure I would not have got
around very well if at all on the motorcycle.
Over many thousands of
years vegetation has settled on the island, creating a sandy loam topsoil. The
island gets a lot of rain and now supports a vast rain forest of large saguinay,
brushbox, and blackbeech trees. These trees were logged for many years as the
high silicon content of the sandy soil makes them very insect resistant. Such
timber is highly valued for boat building.
Fraser Island has about
45 fresh water lakes and creeks. We stopped at one, then went north up the white
beach to a colored sand formation called the Cathedrals. Wind has carved the
soft red sands into unusual cone shapes. If you've ever been to Arizona's
Petrified Forest, this area looks like the 'Tepees'.
We then drove south and
stopped to look at the wreck of the 'Maheno'. This was a luxury liner that
carried passengers between Australia and New Zealand for 40 years. In 1936, it
was being towed from Sydney to Singapore for scrap metal when a storm blew up.
The 'Maheno' was beached and couldn't be pulled loose. Four of the six decks are
now buried in sand and the ship is a rusting mess, but the hull is still
We stopped at the Eurong
Resort for a lunch of roast chicken and salad. The salad was okay, but chicken
was dry: even though I'd had no breakfast I only ate half my chicken. I ate my
lunch sitting with an older couple who are spending three months on the road
with a caravan.
The bus carries us next
to the Central Station nature trails. Here we see a giant turgid fern.
Apparently there are only 26 of these plants in the entire world; half a dozen
plants here, some in northern Queensland, and the rest in New South Wales. The
fern can only live in a rushing stream - the stalks are hollow and use the
stream's pressure to hold the fern's fronds erect. If the creek dries out, the
plant will die. The fern reproduces with spores, but no one has seen any of
these ferns produce spores once they were discovered a century ago. The youngest
examples of the fern are about 400 years old. The fern we look at has a couple
of fronds snapped over (it has maybe two dozen fronds, each a good 3 or 4 meters
high). The park rangers are upset because they think someone may have
deliberately hurt this particular 1500-year old plant in an act of
We get back on the bus
and drive to Lake Jennings. The 'road' is only wide enough for one bus, so when
the last bus bursts a fuel line, trapping the first two buses at the
It takes 90 minutes to
fix the line and get the buses going. We arrive at the ferry, which has been
kept waiting meanwhile. Many of the passengers already onboard are very annoyed.
We finally get underway at 5:30; I get to see a beautiful sunset from an "ocean
I have mixed feelings
about today's adventure. I saw a lot of interesting sites but it was too rushed.
We travelled for 30 minutes on the bus, stopped for 20, drove another 30
minutes, etc. We apparently drove 110 KMs in the sand, and I'd say our average
speed was about 30 K/H. We spent more time on the bus than at the various sites.
Many people come over in the morning from the mainland and then stay at one of
the few resorts. They can then explore the island in detail.
All bloody day long there
was a couple on the bus with two young kids, say three or four years old. The
kids were crying and one got car sick from the bumpy roads. I was a bit
disgusted that the parents would drag two such young kids along: the children
were not enjoying themselves and were too young to appreciate Fraser Island's
scenery. It would have been much better for everyone if the parents had instead
taken the kids to a kiddie park or zoo.
When I got back to town I
ate some fish and chips. I then explained to the caravan park manager that I'd
be leaving early. She gave me back my key deposit money and asked that I make
sure to turn the key before leaving.
Today's expenses: $6
food, $10 tent.
Wed., Sept. 11,
(Hervey Bay -> Rockhampton,
QLD: 425 KM)
I woke up at 5 AM and
left by 6 AM I had to backtrack a good 20 KM towards Maryborough to get back on
the Bruce Highway. Little traffic; the weather was sunny and warm. Average speed
of 110 KM/H. Hilly country with many tropical trees and birds.
Near Childers these was a
forest fire. The smoke was so thick that it was like driving through fog. Some
small farm towns. When I stopped in Miriam Vale for gas and breakfast I
accidentally left my suggested itinerary behind. I remembered it about 10
minutes down the road and said "Ah screw it." Dang! Luckily I could remember
most of the suggested route.
While riding through the
sugar cane fields I passed over several tiny train crossings: small locomotive
engines tug the cane from the various fields on tracks about a half-meter
I passed Gladstone and
Larcom as the temperature warmed up. By the time I reach Rockhampton at noon it
was quite hot. I pitched my tent at a caravan park. By 1 PM I decide to walk
into town. About a block north of the park I cross the Tropic of
The center of town is
located on the pretty Fitzroy river. The entire center is made of old
turn-of-the-century buildings with ornate brick facade, iron scroll work,
colored tiles, etc. I snap photos of several buildings.
I stop by a motorcycle
shop and see several motorcycles not sold in North America, including a Suzuki
RGV250 and a Honda CBR250RR. I also saw a couple of new Triumphs touring
The temperature is 30 C
in the shade. The fly for my tent has a reflective coating on one side. I face
it outwards and the tent stays cooler.
I saw a sign saying
"Gentlemens' Club: Beer, food, and pokies". Thinking this sounded vaguely
obscene, I wondered what the heck a pokie was and asked someone. It's a poker
I noticed at least two or
three dead kangaroos on the side of the road. I haven't seen any live ones yet.
I've also seen tons of different birds - some very noisy and songful.
Today's expenses: $10
tent. $15 fuel. $12 food. I also paid $20 for four more rolls of 24 exposure
Kodak Gold 100.
Thur., Sept. 12,
(Rockhampton -> Airlie Beach,
QLD: 500 KM)
I'm sure glad I have ear
plugs: the caravan park is right between the Bruce Highway and a railroad track.
Through the night the traffic was heavy but I slept well due to my ear plugs. I
woke up at 5 AM and was riding by 6 AM.
Leaving Rockhampton it
was cloudy and cool. The terrain consisted of grassy plains with many trees.
Lots of sugar cane fields, some bananas and pineapples. The roads were fairly
straight and level with a sweeping curve maybe once every kilometer or so. I was
able to maintain a steady rate of 120 KM/H. It becomes more sunny.
Near Mackay the terrain
becomes greener. Lots of slow 80 KM/H traffic. I ended up riding in a circle
through Mackay when I could have bypassed the town completely.
I've found that if I run
into a strong head wind at more than 100 KM/H the F650 bogs like it has bad
fuel. If I slacken off the gas and drop my speed below 100 KM/H the surging goes
away. This BMW has a large rectangular radiator on the front below the
headlight. It only happens in a head wind so I think the problem is that the
F650 simply doesn't have enough power to overcome the combined wind resistance
of 100 KM/H plus a 50 KM/H head wind. Needless to say this makes passing or
overtaking maneuvers difficult when it's windy.
Just north of Mackay I
got stuck behind a station wagon pulling a caravan, an old pickup truck, and two
semi-trailers. They were doing only 80 KM/H. I wait for a straight stretch of
road and start to pass them. No problem. As I reach the semi in the front, I see
there's a dump truck in front of him that I couldn't see before. No problem. All
of a sudden I get blasted by a ferocious buffeting headwind and the bike's speed
drops from 120 KM/H to 90 KM/H. I can now see some oncoming cars. No problem I
can still get in front of the dump truck.
Uh oh: there's a ratty
little pickup truck loaded down with heavy pipes in front of the dump truck: so
he's the one holding up the whole procession. There's no room to squeeze in
between the dump truck and the pickup. The cars are getting close. Uh oh. All of
a sudden that wind stops and the bike leaps forward to 120, 130 KM/H. Zoom - I
pull in front of the ratty pickup just in time.
"Yahoo!" I start shouting
out loud. I scared myself so bad my knees start shaking and knocking against the
motorcycle's plastic gas tank. Heh heh, what fun!
I got into Airlie Beach
around 12 noon. I stayed at a caravan park that's only $6 per night to pitch a
tent. I tried booking into a couple of river tours and they're all booked up. I
did some laundry and walked into town for dinner. Airlie Beach is actually a
pretty little town on the ocean. All sorts of tourist shops, restaurants, etc. I
dropped off a roll of film to be developed overnight.
You know that saying that
dogs look a lot like their owners? While eating dinner outside a scruffy old man
with a huge shaggy beard limped by. A few seconds later his mangy old dog also
limps by, begging for table scraps.
A couple of days ago I
ordered a burger with cheese. The cook asked if I wanted salad with it. No, I
told him, I just want a burger. When I got the burger I was disappointed to find
that it was very plain with no lettuce or any fixings. Today I ordered a burger
with salad and discovered that Aussies call all the fixings in the burger salad;
lettuce, onion, pickled beet slices, etc. I've also noticed that hamburgers
don't usually get served with slices of tomato. In fact the only tomato I've
seen so far are thick slabs of the red vegetable (actually is tomato a fruit)
fried and served with eggs and bacon.
Expenses: $15 fuel. $12
Food. $6 tent.
Fri., Sept. 13,
1996 (day 7 of 28):
(Airlie Beach: no miles
I got up around 7 AM. I
was picked up by "Wetland Safaris" at 8:30 AM by the guide in his beat-up Holden
Commodore. It's sunny, hot and humid. We pick up the four man river boat and go
to Repulse Bay. On the way we see a huge wedgetailed eagle being attacked by
four brown kites (like a hawk).
At the Proserpine river
we get the boat into the river and head upstream. The river has low sandy banks
covered with mangrove forests. We see many birds: cranes, pelicans, kites,
kingfishers. There are many white-nippered crabs and mud crabs on the banks for
the fish and birds to eat.
We see several small
crocodiles in the half-meter to one meter size, and one female about two meters
long. On the way back to the boat landing the guide points to a white-breasted
sea eagle's nest high in a tree - it's easily the size of a large laundry
basket. The guide whistles and tosses a fish onto the sandy shore. The sea eagle
swoops to within 8 meters of the boat to grab the fish.
The guide then tosses
another fish high in the air and a brown kite snatches it high above our boat.
When we near the landing, the boat skims near the shore and we see hundreds of
mullet fish (about a sixth of a meter) hop rapidly along the water surface like
I go back into town and
write up some postcards. I also buy a newspaper to read the weather forecast.
Unfortunately the forecast is useless as it focuses on the big coastal cities,
ignoring the small interior towns I plan to ride through. I grab some lunch and
sit under some shades at the beach. The temperature is about 28 C and a cool
breeze is blowing in from the water.
Expenses: $10 food. $6
tent. $40 for river tour. $4 for postcards. No fuel because I didn't do any
There are lots of
sailing, diving tours, but I'll have to leave tomorrow to stay on schedule. I
plan to go to Townsville about four hours north of here. If I leave at 6 AM I
can get a full afternoon to spend there.
Mokes: I've seen a few of
these. They're a Jeep-like contraption based on an Austin Mini.
An Aussie named Kevin
told me that he'd just drove his caravan from Darwin to Airlie two weeks ago.
"No worries mate," he said. "The longest stretch without gas is between
Camooweal and the Barkly Roadhouse - about 260 kays." The F650 I'm riding is
supposed to go 360 KM on a full tank.
Kevin said that the
Barkly has the most expensive gas on his trip, about $0.95 per liter. Someone
has warned me prior to the trip that gas can reach $1 per liter so I wasn't
surprised at all.
He also told me that the
roads were very good to about 50 KM west of Mt. Isa; then the road becomes a
single lane of pavement with gravel shoulders until you get to the Northern
Territory border. At the border the road becomes very good again.
Kevin also told me that
this stretch of road is not a desert wasteland but is actually the pretty green
right now. "Watch out for all the bloody cattle on the road," he tells
Sat., Sept. 14,
(Airlie Beach -> Townsville,
QLD: 320 KM)
I started riding at 6 AM.
Between Airlie Beach and Proserpine there was an incredibly thick fog. I had to
slow down to about 60 KM/H. The fog condensed on my visor and eyeglasses, making
it hard for me to see. Heading north from Proserpine the fog cleared and it
became warm and sunny. I was able to get my speed back up to 110 or 120
Just past the town of
Bowen I decided to stop for gas. I bought $4.50 in fuel and then went into the
fast food restaurant for a quick bite to eat. I ordered coffee and toast for
$3.20 at 7:15 AM sharp. I sat and waited. The place wasn't very busy and I
noticed other people grumbling about the long wait for their food.
Finally I went up to the
counter at 7:30 and said I'd been waiting 15 minutes and wanted to cancel my
order. The woman behind the counter walks over to the cook's window and asks
about the order. I can see the cook take the toast off someone else's breakfast
plate and put it on a separate plate. The cook then hands the plate to the
counter lady: they're going to give me someone else's toast and make that poor
bugger wait even longer!
The counter lady brings
me the plate and says "Your toast is ready, sir."
I say "Too late, I'm cancelling my
"But your toast is ready, sir."
I say "I want my money
"But your toast is ready, sir."
I ask again. "Can I have my money
back? I've run out of time waiting for you."
She says "But your toast is ready,
I give her
the most disgusted look I can muster up and say "Keep it!" as I walk out of the
"fast food" restaurant.
Geez, that annoyed me. I
waited more than 15 minutes to get two lousy slices of toast and a frigging cup
of coffee, and they took the toast off someone else's plate. No apologies or
regret for the lengthy wait. It's the first crummy service I've had in
Australia. Everywhere else has been very good; it's too bad this one experience
will be remembered more than all the others combined.
After another couple
hours of pleasant riding I reach Townsville. I gas up and find a tent site for
$9 per night. I saw lots of hawks, kites, and eagles today. I also witnessed a
road crew burning scrubgrass on the side of the road. Many of the birds were
circling above, swooping down for snakes and mice as they ran out of the burning
After setting up camp I
walk into town along "The Strand", a beach-front boulevard. A wedding party is
taking photos in front of the many parks and an artificial waterfall.
I reach the Great Barrier
Reef Wonderland and spend $28 for a ticket to see all three of the major
attractions. The first was the Aquarium: it's very similar to Kelly Tarleton's
Undersea World in Auckland, NZ. Lots of interesting displays on the great
barrier reef, coral islands, sharks, etc.
I then spent about
fifteen minutes in the small Museum of Tropical Queensland. It mostly features
the local animal life; it's okay but small.
I finally saw a film
playing at the Omnimax Theatre called "Destiny in Space". The Omnimax is a huge
dome-shaped screen that fills most of your peripheral vision for a more
impressive image. The film shows astronauts working in space. It had nothing to
do with Australia but was still very interesting.
I then walked around
Townsville's downtown center. Lots of neat buildings with old brick facades.
Dozens of motorcycles: SR500s, VFR750s, Harleys, TDM850s you name it. I got a
really good look at a TZR250 - it's like a small FZR400 with a two stroke twin
engine. Very nice - I wish they sold them in Canada.
There's a big military
base near Townsville. I see what looks like an Aussie F-15 take off and zoom
over the beach. I also see a trio of Australian army helicopters buzzing the
palm trees on the shore, looking like a scene from "Apocalypse Now".
Sun., Sept. 15,
(Townsville -> Julia Creek,
QLD: 640 KM)
I was up very early and
started riding at 6:15 AM. It was sunny and 18 C. As I head away from Townsville
into the hills there's a layer of clouds sitting just 20 feet above the ground.
Seeing the clouds whip by overhead makes me feel as if I'm flying an
The landscape is very
green with many trees and green bushes. I see a dead kangaroo on the roadside
every kilometer or so. I then ride up into some hills of fiery-red rocks. The
roads is very twisty and narrow.
Five kilometers before
the town of Charters Towers I finally see a LIVE kangaroo. He was about a meter
tall and was standing on the side of the road.
When I reach the very
green town I stop for gas. A cute teenager kept yawning and telling me she was
up late last night partying with her boyfriend. As I left town I was a bit
distracted and almost got smucked by a car.
Another 100 KM down the
road I stop at Pentland for gas. A friendly old timer keeps telling me I should
ride to Darwin. Sorry mate, not enough time. The terrain begins to flatten as I
ride on and becomes very dry and barren. Trees almost completely disappear.
Dozens of dry creeks and river beds. There are still lots of dead kangaroos on
the roadside. I see a big emu on the road and scare him away with my
I've collected a bunch of
500 ml plastic bottles over the last week. I force myself to pull over every 50
KM and drink a half-liter of water. I find I also have to take a wizz at every
stop; this is actually good as it means I'm getting plenty of water in my
The temperature has
climbed to 30 C. Several locals have mentioned that they think it's hot. I'm
actually comfortable on the bike even with my leathers. I only break a sweat
when I have to stop: the wind on the bike sure keeps me cool.
Except for a few
stretches of good hard gravel, the pavement is still fairly good. I see another
vehicle every few minutes. I sometimes see a semi-truck pulling a couple of
trailers but no three trailer road trains that I've heard so much
I stopped for lunch in
Richmond. I noticed a special for $4: Chico roll, hot chips, and a Coke. I
wondered what the heck a Chico roll was so I ordered it. It turns out a Chico
roll is like a Chinese egg roll with oatmeal added to the stuffing. Err, very
interesting. I don't think I'll order another one any time soon.
I'm quite comfortable
until maybe about 50 KM short of Julia Creek. I then start to feel a bit tired.
Finally I get into the tiny town of Julia Creek - an oasis of green in the
middle of yellowed scrubland.
Expenses: $20 fuel (now
$0.80 per liter). $12 food. I decided to get a caravan instead of pitching a
tent; it's only $15/night and the the hut has air-conditioning and color TV (wow
- two whole channels). The temperature is now 37 C.
Around 6 PM the sun
started to set. I heard what sounded like a lot of birds squawking so I went
outside to learn what it was. I look up and see a huge flock of large white
cockatoos flying overhead - perhaps a hundred. After they flew away I looked
back down and was surprised to see two small kangaroos (about a meter tall)
grazing only 10 meters away. I kept quiet and followed along the fence line as
they shuffled along. The two let me get within about five meters of them.
Suddenly four large kangaroos come bounding by: they were close to two meters
As I kept watching I
could soon see a good dozen or so. Eventually they bounced off after I'd taken a
few pictures. How typically Australian: I'm sitting in the outback eating a meat
pie and chips while watching kangaroos hop around.
Mon., Sept. 16,
(Julia Creek -> Camooweal, QLD:
I slept very well: it was
extremely quiet and I didn't need earplugs at all. I woke up while it was still
dark and packed. The air cooled off quite a bit during the night; the
temperature is maybe 10 C.
I start riding at 6:30
AM. As I leave Julia Creek I see many hawks and eagles. I almost hit a large
wedgetailed eagle with my helmet as he swooped away from a dead kangaroo. A
thick swarm of metallic green budgies flew across the Flinders Hwy in front of
me. The terrain starts to become greener with more hills. Surprisingly there are
soon enough trees to call the area 'wooded'.
There are still dead
kangaroos every KM or so on the side of the road. Passing through Cloncurry I
start to notice three trailer-long road trains. I also see hundreds of brick-red
cones sprouting about a meter high from the red soil: white ant colonies. In
some areas they are so common they look like the stumps of a burnt-out
The road stays fairly
interesting - many hills and rocks. When I stopped for gas in Mt. Isa the young
woman at the gas station gave me a hassle over cashing a one hundred Australian
dollar American Express Traveller's Cheque - she'd never heard of one
Fifty KM west of Mt. Isa
I stop at a rest area and am offered cake and tea by a retired couple. They're
driving a camper from Townsville to Perth via Darwin to visit their adult
children. A few kilometers later the Barkly Hwy changes from a double lane to a
single unmarked lane of rough bitumen with dusty red shoulders. Eventually I
reach Camooweal, a tiny town of 50 people. It's the last town before the Barkly
Homestead, another 260 KM. I pitch a tent for $6 and do some laundry.
I eat some lunch and then
ask about the road to the Camooweal Caves National Monument. "Oh!" exclaims the
clerk. "You weren't thinking of going there were you?" She then tells me that
currently the road is extremely bad and that even many 4WD vehicles are getting
stuck. I guess I'm stuck here in town with nothing to do for the rest of the
afternoon. It's a hot dry 38 C.
Expenses: $15 fuel. $12
food. $6 tent. $6 oil. $4 map.
While I was sitting at a
picnic table studying my maps, a fierce whirlwind below right through my camp.
It was like a miniature tornado. It blew all my books and papers (including my
Lonely Planet guide - those things are heavy!) off the table and then pelted me
with rocks and pebbles. When it finally blew past I couldn't find my road map.
Another camper pointed up. I looked and saw a tower of dust swirling away. At
the top of the whirlwind at least 75 meters up was my map. The road map stayed
at that height as the column blew out of sight. I ended up walking to the gas
station to buy another map for $4.
Three young woman in a VW
van are stopped for the night on the way back to Townsville from Ayer's Rock.
They rave about how great the experience was. The climb to the top was
"fantastic but knackering".
While oiling the chain on
the motorcycle, I notice that the rear sprocket and tire are starting to show
some wear. The rear tire is a non-original IRC brand (the stock tires are
Michelins). I also see that whoever mounted the tire put it on
Here in the caravan park
there's a mid-70s Ducati twin parked under a cover. Apparently some rider broke
down a couple of days ago and has had to go fetch parts.
I spent a couple of hours
staring up at the stars. I went to sleep around 9 PM after seeing several
satellites, shooting stars, the Magellanic Clouds, several nebulae,
Tue., Sept. 17,
(Camooweal -> Tennant Creek,
NT: 485 KM)
I woke up at 5:30, packed
and hit the road right at sunset. The F650 has occasionally a bit stubborn to
start but nothing like today. It took a good ten minutes to get it to fire up.
Scary: I'd hate to have had a breakdown in Camooweal of all places with hundred
of miles from the nearest motorcycle shop.
It was sunny and about 15
C. The terrain was flat and featureless. After a few kilometers I crossed the
border into the Northern Territory. I saw scores of carcasses being picked at by
the very large black wedgetailed eagles. These birds are similar looking to a
bald eagle with all black feathers and are as big as a large turkey. I get a
really good look at one as he swoops within a few feet of my head.
I again see many white
cockatoos and the metallic green budgies. I also saw two huge bluish-gray storks
about two meters tall standing on the road - I find out later that they're
I saw the biggest
kangaroo yet - over two meters tall. The stupid bugger wouldn't get off the
road. I had to slow to less than 80 KM/H and hoot the horn several times before
he finally leaped off the road.
The number of carcasses
is lessening. I see some cowboys herding cattle by horseback. I'm now in
grassland with a few trees.
I reach the famous Barkly
Homestead. It's a roadhouse surrounded by green grassy lawns and manicured
flowerbeds. Barkly is the only gas for the entire stretch between Camooweal and
Three Corners, a distance of 450 KM. I ate a hearty breakfast of sausages, eggs,
toast and coffee.
I ride on to Three
Corners. Now there are no wildlife or carcasses to be seen. It's dry and hot at
Three Corners is as far
away from Sydney as I'll ride. I turn left on the Stuart Hwy and head south 26
KM to Tennant Creek (pop. 3500). I gas up and pitch my tent.
I had to set my watch
back 30 minutes because the Northern Territory is an earlier time zone. I spent
an hour walking around the 'downtown'. Tennant Creek is a sleepy little town
with lots of closed and empty shops. I ordered a burger, chips and a Coke for
$7.20 (a bit steep) from a Chinese woman who spoke with an Australian
So far I have stuck
exactly to the itinerary as suggested by Glenn and Melanie. Glenn told me that
I'd see lots of motorcyclists doing a 'boomerang' but along the whole stretch
from Townsville to Tennant Creek I've seen maybe half a dozen
Just as I wrote the
paragraph above a German named Reinhard pulled up on a mud-caked Yamaha XTZ660
Tenere. He's on the road for two years (!). He left Germany and rode overland to
India via Turkey and Iran. He then toured through Malaysia, Indonesia, and
Singapore. Reinhard was spending a total of six months in Australia, followed by
a six month tour of Canada and the USA. I should have asked him where he bought
his lottery tickets! In the last month he started out in Darwin, rode east to
Townsville and south to Bundaberg then west to Boulia via the Channel country.
Reinhard then tried to ride west on the Plenty Hwy but the road is washed out,
and so he had to use the Barkly Hwy to get here.
I washed my bike as well
as I could using a garden hose and my bandanna as a washrag. I got the bugs and
most of the reddish road dust off the bike. The soil in many areas of the
outback has been a rich coppery red sand, In some places the landscape looks
like picture of Mars sent back by the Viking space probes.
Around 6:30 PM, I decide
to call some friends to say hi. I phone my parents and get my youngest brother
on the line. "Hey Pete, how's it going?" I ask.
"Fine, but why are you calling me
it two in the afternoon?"
"No, it's two in the morning.
Learn to do math."
I can't believe the wimpy
tents some Aussies use. I look around the campsites and all the foreigners
(mostly Germans) have heavy duty four season tents with reflective flys, mesh
screening, polyurethane tub bottom, etc. All the Aussies seem to have are these
flimsy Fisher Price kiddie play tents that look like they'd dissolve in a light
shower. Surely Australia must get *some* lousy weather at least
Reinhard the XTZ660 rider
complains to me that he rode to here from Mount Isa (a good 650 KM) and saw
'nothing'. "Very boring," he said. "Nothing to look at!" I couldn't believe it:
is the guy blind? The scenery is fairly boring sure, but what about all the
animal life? Along that stretch of road I saw literally hundreds of eagles,
storks, cockatoos, parrots, even kangaroos. I figure the guy is probably riding
all-out in the heat of the day when the animals are hiding.
I saw another whirlwind
blow through the town, looking like a weak version of a tornado.
Expenses: $20 fuel. $6
tent. $15 food.
Wed., Sept. 18,
(Tennant Creek -> Alice
Springs, NT: 510 KM)
Slept okay. Up early as
usual and left Tennant Creek by 6:30 AM. The flat grasslands surround me but I
see a few more bushes and trees. Virtually no dead carcasses on the road, and
thus fewer birds. I see a few wedgetailed eagles picking at the odd kangaroo
The sun rises on my left
as a huge blood-red ball. The sky is cloudless with temperature of 20 C. I see a
bright green iguana-like lizard on the road.
I stop at the Devil's
Marbles. Over thousands of years granite blocks have slowly eroded to form
spheres or egg-shaped boulders the size of cars, stacked like towers of giant
I pass through the one
store towns of Wauchope and Ti Tree. I see large tour buses of German tourists -
it must be a bit boring of a way to travel. The temperature is getting very hit
as I pass south of the Tropic of Capricorn.
About 40 KM north of
Alice Springs powerful winds pick up. I see another whirlwind blew across the
road 500 meters in front of me. Very scary.
Today is the first day
I've seen large numbers of motorcycles touring: mostly dual-purposes and
enduros, a few large Japanese bikes and a couple of Harleys. I saw a plain black
shovelhead bearing the custom license plate "EAT ME". I see a BMW K-bike for the
first time in Australia.
I pitch my tent for $6 at
the Wintersun Caravan Park 2 KM north of the downtown core and then walked
downtown. It's a very nice place: lots of green trees line the streets. There
are many tourist-oriented stores, bars and restaurants. I drop off a roll of
film for development.
I visited the "Panorama
Guth" a display museum of central Australian and aboriginal art. Interesting for
about half an hour.
Expenses: $20 fuel (at
$0.95 per liter). $14 food. $11 photos. $6 tent. $3 for Panorama
Thu., Sept. 19,
(Alice Springs: no miles
I slept in until 6:15 AM.
As I walked into town, a tame dingo ran across the Stuart Hwy and started
following me. I tried to shoo him away and told him to go home. He would scare
off a few meters and then start following me again. The dingo had a collar with
no registration tag, was well-fed and looked like he was well taken care
After trying to get him
to go home I walked by a BP gas station. A beautiful blonde named Tania walked
out and said "My, you've got a very nice looking dingo."
"Err, thanks," I
answered. I then explained that the dingo wasn't mine and asked her if she could
call the SPCA. Tania gave him some water and said she'd watch after the dingo
until the SPCA could pick him up.
When I got into Alice
Springs I saw a Honda/Harley dealership and bought a couple of t-shirts saying
"Harley-Davidson of Alice Springs, NT" for $30 each. While in the dealership I
noticed that the prices for new motorcycles are astronomical compared to North
America: $12,990 AUS ($10,400 US) for a plain vanilla Harley 883
I ate a breakfast and
then paid $18 for a day pass on the "Alice Wanderer", an air-conditioned bus
that loops through Alice Springs to visit about 15 major attractions. I first
visit Pitchi Richi (the local aborginal expression for "come and look"). This
place has a collection of old outback artifacts from the pioneer days. Wagon
carts, mining tools, etc. They have the replica armor worn by Mick Jagger in the
movie "Ned Kelly".
A man named Pat then
served up billy tea and damper bread, afterwards demonstrating the use of
boomerangs, throwing spears, and the didgeridoo. Very good for $6.
I next went to the Old
Ghan Rail and Road Transport Museum, paying $6 to enter. First I entered the
Road Transport section. This area contains many ld restored cars and trucks. Of
particular interest to me were four restored motorcycles: a 1923 Indian, a 1911
New Hudson single (3.25 HP, 50 KM/H for 75 Lbs), a 1912 Delux V-twin (700 cc, 65
KM/H for 90 Lbs), and a pretty little BSA Bantam.
The Old Ghan still runs
on a short 20 KM section of track. It pulled into the station and I went to take
Next I checked out the
Aviation Museum and the Strehlow Memorial. The Aviation Museum was small but
free. Near the aviation museum was a free display of the crash of a plane called
the Kookaburra back in the 1930s: very interesting. The Strehlow Memorial was a
display of aboriginal artifacts collected in the 1930s and 1940s by a professor
named Strehlow. It was pretty mediocre for $4.
Near the Aviation Museum
was a large mound of rocks similar to the Devil's Marbles. A sign stated "This
site is of important cultural significance to Aboriginal women. Any males
entering this site are subject to fines of up to $20,000." Yes,
The bus then took me to
the Old Telegraph Station. I had started the morning with $50 cash but has spent
it on the bus and attractions. The Old Telegraph was $2.50 but they wouldn't
accept a traveller's cheque so I couldn't pay to enter. I had to sit outside and
watch birds while waiting for the bus back to town.
All afternoon I have been
agonizing over whether I should stay a third night in Alice Springs so I can
ride out and visit some of the Western Macdonnell range. Sadly I have decided
that I can't really afford the extra day if I want to spend time at both King's
Canyon and Ayer's Rock.
Expenses: No fuel. $6
tent. $60 2 t-shirts. $16 food. $18 bus. $16 for attractions.
Fri., Sept. 20,
1996 (day 14 of 28):
(Alice Springs -> Yulara, NT:
I read in yesterday's
newspaper that the area around Adelaide and Melbourne is still cloudy with
frequent showers. I woke up in the middle of the night because it was actually
cold, about 7 C or 8 C. I'd fallen asleep lying on top of my sleeping bag when
it was hot in the early evening, and now had to crawl inside my bag to warm
I started riding at 6 AM
and stopped at the BP station to check on what happened to the dog that followed
me (and to see Tania again - yum yum). The gas station was still closed. I
headed south and passed three other gas stations still closed. As I headed out
of Alice Springs I saw a radar cop. I figured I might as well have him do
something useful, so I stopped and asked him about gas. He then told me the next
gas station was 100 KM down the road so I'd better go back and wait for a gas
station to open. I went back to the nearest station and filled my tank at 7
I zipped down the road at
120 KM/H. I decided to go straight to Ayer's Rock rather than Kings Canyon. My
thinking was that both were about 450 KM from Alice Springs, but Ayer's is
bigger and has more things to see. I decided to camp two nights at Ayer's and
then either a third night or ride the 300 KM to Kings and camp a night
Very few birds or animals
other than cattle. It's cold. The terrain is much greener with more big trees. I
stop to check the gravel road to the Henbury Meteorite Craters, but it was
fairly rough so I skipped it and headed on to the tiny town of Erlunda. I fuel
up and turn west.
At Curtin Springs a gas
pump jockey admires the F650. He tells me that he just bought a Yamaha XTZ660;
he was going to buy an F650 but found the tank was too wide to stand on the pegs
comfortably. I also see an Aussie touring on a clapped-out old Z1300.
About 50 KM away I start
to glimpse Ayer's Rock. It's a very distinctive purplish-red rising from the
fire-orange desert sand. There are many contrasting green bushes and trees. I
also glimpse the range called the Olgas. The crosswind is fierce - it's hard to
control the motorcycle at times.
As I reach the resort
town of Yulara, Ayer's Rock is 20 KM away and looms across a wide arc of the
horizon: it looks magnificent. I find the very neatly manicured campground at
noon and pitch a tent for $9 per night. Yulara houses 2000 permanent employees
plus all the guests. The structures here are one or two stories and have been
painted in earthy desert colors to help them blend in with the natural
I realize I haven't eaten
all day so I walk over to the shopping center and get a sandwich and chips. I
stop at the Imalung Lookout point and snap some photos of Ayer's Rock and the
Olgas. The temperature has risen to 25 C, despite the gusting breeze.
I talked to a ZX-9 rider
from Melbourne doing a tour almost identical to mine in the route, but he's
taking two months to do it. There are quite a few motorcyclists here. I noticed
that a local company rents Harleys only. They want $170 per day -
I found a brochure for
"Race Motorcycle Rentals" in Alice Springs. They rent a variety of dual-purpose
bikes from 250 cc up. The prices are similar to Clubman Rentals. I notice that
the going rate for a BMW F650 is (gasp) $840 Aus per week, whereas I'm getting
mine for $625 per week. I guess I got a pretty good deal.
Expenses: $9 tent. $20
fuel. $12 food.
Sat., Sept. 21,
(Around the Yulara area: 165
I woke up at 4 AM
shivering from the cold. I curled up in a ball in my sleeping bag and fall
asleep again. I started the F650 at 6 AM fairly easily. It's so cold I can see
my breath, so I don an extra sweater and wear my rain pants over my
I ride the 20 KM to the
official park entrance and pay $10 to enter (The pass is good for five days). I
reach the road encircling Uluru (Ayer's Rock) and ride to the sunrise viewing
area. There are many tourist buses and camper vans, some cars, and just one
The sky is lightening.
The Rock looms hundreds of meters out of the soil. The sun brightens the
monolith gradually while the ground stays dark. The granite seems to glow red
against the dark sky and ground. Finally the sun rises and the ground is
illuminated. After a flurry of snapping shutters all the hundreds watching have
left in the buses, leaving just two campervans and one still shivering
I've read that the walk
around the Olgas is hard so I decided to get that done first while the morning
was still cool. I hopped on the BMW and rode 50 KM to Kata Tjuta (The
The Olgas are a cluster
of thirty red granite monoliths similar to Uluru but each is smaller in size. I
first entered the Olga Gorge walk: it's a narrow V-shaped valley between two of
the monoliths. It's full of spearwood vines because it's shady and even now has
a couple of shallow pools of rain water. It was so cold I kept all of my riding
gear on (except my helmet - I thought I'd probably look a little dorky walking
around in it).
I rode north to the
Valley of the Winds walk. The entrance sign states that the walk takes four
hours to hike 7 KM. This is a bit of a bit of an exaggeration - I did it in
about 2.5 hours and my speed was average. The hike is a loop around one of the
central monoliths. Many vistas of plants, valleys, red monoliths, etc. There
were a couple of tricky hills where you had to be careful to watch your footing.
Beautiful if stark and harsh.
There were also a couple
of buses of Australian teenage kids. I guess teenagers are obnoxious everywhere;
when I got back to the parking lot I overheard one very plump girl who didn't do
the walk ask a boy if it was worth the hike. The guy answered "I just wasted two
hours walking around a bunch of big red rocks. Nothing to see."
Hmph. I think he should
try opening his eyes next time.
By the time I reached the
F650, the temperature was about 20 C. I headed back to Uluru around 1 PM. On the
way I stopped at the Kata Tjuta viewing area: this consists of a metal grid
walkway and stand set above a red sand dune. The view of the Olgas is
magnificent and surroundings are rich in the various plant-life of the central
desert. I saw a field of wild purple and yellow flowers and snapped a close-up
I reached Uluru and
stopped at the car park near the "Climb area". There's a white chain leading up
the shallowest slope of Uluru at a 45 degree angle. This climb is very
controversial. For years the Park Rangers allowed visitors to climb Uluru. The
local aboriginals, however, regard Uluru as a holy place and disagree with
letting anyone climb: it's as if foreigners were climbing up on the roof of
The park reverted to
native ownership in 1987. Since then the park management council has struggled
to decide whether to allow people to continue climbing. If the council bans
climbing Uluru it might reduce tourism and cut the flow of the almighty dollar
into the local aborginal community. I get the feeling the issue is coming to a
head and climbing will be banned in the near future.
I decided not to climb up
and instead walked around the base (truth be told I was too tired from hiking
the Olgas to climb anyhow). By now it was fairly warm (35 C) and the black flies
buzzing around were driving me nuts. The walk around Uluru is a flat strip of
red earth and rock.
The two hour walk allows
one to get a good impression of Uluru's size and appearance. By the time I get
back to the bike (two hours and ten KM) I was very tired, hot, and thirsty (even
though I'd carried a liter of water on the base walk).
I rode back to the resort
campground, gassed up, and ate a big dinner (my only meal of the
Expenses: $9 tent. $10
fuel. $12 food. $12 film development.
Sun., Sept. 22,
(Yulara -> Kings Canyon, NT:
I was tired from
yesterday's walks and decided to sleep in a bit. I woke up at 6:30 just before
sunrise and headed out by 7:30. It was sunny but very cold (5 C) so I bundled up
in an extra layer of clothes.
I rode east on the
Lasseter Hwy with the sun in my eyes. I turned north and rode up the Laritja
Road. As I climbed a long gradual hill I saw a large brown animal on the road.
Since most cattle around here are black I thought it was a kangaroo. I slowed to
80 KM/H when I saw it looked more like a horse. As I got closer I realized it
was a wild camel! I was able to ride within about 20 meters of it when the camel
suddenly turned and ran off the road into the bushes.
Before the days of
railroads or trucks, supplies were carried into the outback on camel trains.
Some escaped and now there are about 20,000 living in the wilderness.
As I get close to Kings
Canyon I see a great ridge to the north. It looks very much like the sort of
mesa or butte you'd see in Arizona. The wind picks up and I start to get pushed
around. At times it is hard to keep the BMW in its own lane. An old trick I've
read about is to stick out your knee on the side the wind is blowing from. I
tried this and it did seem to help somewhat.
I reach Kings Canyon
Resort just 6 KM from the canyon. While fueling up I meet a Dutch couple renting
a beat-up old XT600 out of Melbourne. $10 gets me a camp site so I pitch my tent
and ride to the canyon. Despite the fact that I have blisters on my right foot I
decide to do the 6 KM Canyon Rim Walk rather than the 4 KM creek
A steep climb takes me up
100 meters to the canyon rim. Kings Canyon is carved out of soft red sandstone;
it looks like it could easily be one of the small arms of the Grand
Once I get to the top the
hike is not too hard but my blistered foot is extremely painful; every step
makes me wince. I finally reach a point where an old tour guide's handmade
bridge exists. It consists of a bundle of old branches tied together with
bailing wire and put over a crevice in the rocks. Luckily the park service has
added a good sturdy metal bridge right beside it.
I hike on and reach the
Garden of Eden. This is a deep shadowy gap in the rock that holds a pool of rain
water. Apparently the water lasts even through very dry periods. Many cicad
ferns and palm trees grow around it's edge. The pool also supports frogs and
Further along I see some
strange beehive-like rock mounds. Finally I reach the descent and hobble back to
the motorcycle after three hours of waking.
I go back to camp and
enter the only cafeteria to get some chow. There are no menus written up yet so
I ask the counterman what I can get to eat. He starts telling me that at 6 PM I
can have a sumptuous "Stockman's Supper" feast for only $11.50. I explain that I
haven't eaten all day and that I'd settle for anything, even a sandwich. He
tells me sorry, no service until 6 PM. I end up going to the gas station's store
and have a nutritious lunch of iced coffee and a tin of Pringles potato
Expenses: $10 tent. $16
fuel. $10 food.
I've noticed that
Australians men are always either clean-shaven or have shaggy full beards.
Anyone I've seen with a moustache or goatee is almost always a
I've been studying maps
for the last hour or so. I have to be back in Sydney in 12 days. The shortest
route from here is about 3000 KM. I've rode about 5800 KM in 16 days so it is
quite doable but I'll have to be careful not to dally anywhere. I've decided to
skip the Oodnadatta Track and stay on the Stuart Hwy until I get to Adelaide,
then ride the No.1 Hwy with a side trip to the Great Ocean Road. I think this
should get me back to Sydney with a couple days to spare.
I had zillions of bugs
bite my legs back in Airlie Beach. The bites have healed up but now they're
itchy and I also have the painful foot blisters.
Mon., Sept. 23,
(Kings Canyon -> Coober Pedy,
SA: 745 KM)
I left Kings Canyon quite
early (6:15 AM). The temperature was pretty warm at first (15 C). I kept my
speed down to only 90 KM/H as it was sunrise and the sun was glaring in my eyes.
A bus passed me (oh how embarrassing - passed by a bus) and I decided I'd better
Just then I saw a
kangaroo bounding away from the road. I dropped my speed to 80 KM/H and looked
for his companions. One kangaroo about 1.3 meters high darts out from a roadside
bush and starts running up the right lane parallel to my path. I nail the brakes
and toot the horn frantically - if he darts into the left lane I'll almost
certainly hit him. The horn scares him away from the left lane and I miss the
kangaroo by two meters while still doing 60 KM/H. It was pretty
That scared me and I kept
my speed down to 80 KM/H for a while. Just a few more kilometers up the road a
small group of brumbys (wild horses) scurries off the road. After the sun rose
higher the glare was no longer in my eyes and I sped up to 120. I soon cross
over the border from the Northern Territory into South Australia.
The temperatures were
cool and I made very good time. Just north of Marla several blinked their
headlights at me so I dropped my speed to 100. Sure enough there's a police
roadblock. The cop seemed to have a bit of an attitude problem but let me go
without too much delay. I reach the little town of Marla and see something in
the sky I haven't seen since I left Townsville eight days ago:
In Marla three different
motorcycle riders approached me to ask questions about F650. They all were
concerned about reliability, having heard that the bike is assembled in Italy. I
assured them that the motorcycle has been very good so far; the factory must
have some Bavarian supervisors.
I then headed on to
Coober Pedy and encountered a problem I've noticed before - head winds. A fierce
wind (40+ knots) was blowing from the south. If I was just 10 degrees off that
head wind I could ride 120 KM/H easily. As soon as I rode head-on into the wind
the F650 would buck and surge horribly. It was awful: the speed would drop to 80
KM/H and the engine kept 'missing'. I would downshift to keep the revs up but
the engine still felt completely gutless - but only when hitting the wind
head-on. It was so bad that I started weaving the motorcycle left and right to
get out of the head-on wind.
Finally I reach Coober
Pedy, a town famous for opal mines. For many miles the city is surrounded by
cones of dug-up rock and sand. The town itself looks like a cross between an old
Western town and a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Apparently some scenes from Mad
Max 3 were filmed here. I decide to spend a couple of nights here because there
are a lot of interesting sites around town.
Although the mileage
today was pretty high, it was very easy to do because of the pleasant
temperatures and straight roads; it's too bad I ran into the heavy winds late in
I walked around the town
of Coober Pedy. Many of the stores and residences are tunneled-out mine shafts.
The name Coober Pedy is aboriginal for "white man's hole in the
At the campground I met a
pretty blond South African woman named Monique. She asks me about my tour and
raves that she would love to have a street motorcycle but her "family would
never let her". I then find out she used to go dirt riding in her small home
town on a Honda XR250. I feel like grabbing her by the shoulders, shaking and
telling her to forget what her family thinks, if she wants to ride just do
Expenses: $25 fuel. $6
tent. $12 food. Fuel is still about 98 cents per liter but I'm getting good
mileage - about 30 KM per liter.
Tue., Sept. 24,
(Coober Pedy: no miles
I slept okay; it was so
quiet I didn't need earplugs. The temperature dropped to 10 C overnight. I went
to the Last Resort Cafe for a very good breakfast of fresh croissants and jam. I
stopped at the Umoona Mine Museum for half an hour. I found the blister on my
right foot was so painful I lanced it and a lot of pus came out -
The temperature quickly
climbs to 25 C. In Adelaide and Melbourne the weather forecast is still cloudy
with showers and a high of 15 C. I'd hoped the weather would be a bit better
than this by late September.
I spent an hour at the
Old Timer's Mine. This was definitely worth the $5 to enter. When a man was
digging an additional room for his underground house, he broke through the wall
of some old opal mines abandoned in 1920 or so. He turned the tunnels into an
opal mine museum. When digging the entrance to the museum in 1987, the owner
uncovered a seam of green opal worth $50,000. You can now don a hard-hat and go
exploring the old tunnels looking at displays of the old mining
I spent $20 to ride on
the Radeka bus tour of Coober Pedy. The air-conditioned bus took me around to
several sites including a half-built dugout home and an underground Serbian
Orthodox church. We then stopped at the old graveyard. One fellow made a keg of
beer just before he died. In his will he inherited a whole bunch of mates to
have a drink. His last keg was mounted on top of his grave and all his buddies
had a drink on him.
Apparently the graveyard
is built on an opal-rich field, so when a grave is dug, people sift carefully
through the diggings. During a funeral a few years ago, a priest stopped reading
in the middle of a funeral, stooped down and plucked up an opal, put it in his
pocket, and then continued on with the funeral. After the funeral it turned out
the opal was worth a couple of thousand dollars.
We stopped at Coober
Pedy's 18 hole golf course. The course doesn't have a single blade of grass but
consists of carefully groomed gravel. We also stopped at the cavern home of
The bus then reached an
open pit opal mine and I found an opal the size of a bumblebee. It had a bit of
color but the guide said it was worth just a couple of dollars.
We then stopped at a
viewpoint of the Breakaway hills and at the Dog Proof Fence. This fence
stretches 5300 KM across southeast Australia and was built to keep dingos out of
the sheep country.
Aussies recognize my Canadian accent, most ask if I'm an American. When I say in
a very polite pleasant tone "No I'm a Canadian," I invariably get a profuse
apology. "Oh I'm sorry," is the usual response. "I didn't mean to insult
I told one Aussie "That's
okay. If you came to North America, most people couldn't tell your accent from
that of a Kiwi." He bristled and said "I don't think I insulted you _that_
Expenses: $6 campsite.
$12 food. $25 attractions. No miles rode.
I now have only $250 of
my original $1250. I'll have to go to a bank soon to get more money.
Wed., Sept. 25,
(Coober Pedy -> Port Augusta,
SA: 530 KM)
On the road at sunrise
(6:20 AM). Initially I rode southeast and the sun in my eyes was a bit
bothersome. It was windy but not as bad as a couple of days ago. It was cool (10
C) and the clouds were starting to cover a substantial part of the sky. I ride
past several dry salt lake beds. There are a fair number of dead kangaroos and
now sheep on the roadside. Lots of wedgetailed eagles are picking at the
carcasses. I start to see heavily wooded areas again, alternating with dry grass
Near Woomera I start to
see dozens of motorcyclists. The Ulysses Club is having a run to Alice Springs.
There are literally hundreds of motorcycles, mostly Honda ST1100s, Gold Wings,
and CBR600/1000s. Surprisingly only two of the bikes are Harleys. I try talking
to one of the ST1100 riders at a gas station in Woomera but find him to be an
unfriendly old grump.
Within 50 KM of Port
Augusta the terrain changes drastically. It's very green with many trees and
pastures. I reach this town of 15,000 and pitch a tent at the Fauna Caravan
Park. Just as I start pitching my tent I get hit by a very brief burst of rain -
just enough to surprise me.
The last day or two I've
started worrying about the back tire; it's getting bald in the center. I phone
up the local motorcycle shop and arrange for the owner to take a look. He tells
me he figures the back tire is good for maybe half the distance from here to
Sydney. I decide to replace the tire while it's convenient. (Clubman Rentals
warned me I'd need to replace the tire sometime through my trip and have agreed
to knock the price off the rental cost.) The price to mount the tire is $110
total and will be done in a couple of hours.
The shop owner asks me
who I rented the F650 from. When I tell him "Clubman Rentals", he answers "Oh I
know Glenn: I just sent him a couple of bikes last week for renting
I wander to the downtown
core of this pleasant town. I notice a lot of motorcycles of all varieties. The
weather is now mostly cloudy and 20 C. I realize I'm down to $180 cash so I try
my bank card at an ATM and am able to get $200 out of my account in Canada
I walk down to the yacht
club and see the ocean, in fact the first large body of water, for the first
time in ten days.When I returned from the downtown area to my campsite, I
noticed another motorcyclist. He was a young Japanese guy with a scrappy-looking
beard, and he had that weather-beaten look that said he'd been on the road for a
while. His motorcycle was a rusty early 1970s Honda CB-175, a little red and
white twin with the oh-so groovy-looking valenced fenders.
This rider had a mountain
of gear tied onto his bike, more than I was carrying on my 650; tent, sleeping
bag, cooking gear, extra gas can, etc. I tried asking him where he was riding
but he couldn't speak English at all and so I couldn't get the question across
to him. I should have just showed him a map of Australia and asked him to point.
I did notice that he had a New South Wales plate on his bike.
Expenses: $9 food. $7
tent. $15 fuel. $110 tire (will be compensated). The price of fuel has dropped
to $0.80 per liter.
Thu., Sept. 26,
(Port Augusta -> Kingston SE,
SA: 640 KM)
A slight amount of rain
fell during the night. I slept well and as usual started riding at 6:30. The sky
was mostly cloudy. As I rode south I kept dodging between the rain clouds. I
could see patches of rain streaming down on either side of me. Trucks sprayed up
a fine muddy mist from the wet pavement fogging my visor. It's very damp and
cool (7 C). The terrain became hilly and the sun came out. Pastures, flocks of
sheep, rolling hills - very pretty.
As I closed within 50 KM
of Adelaide the sun disappeared and the temperature dropped. I could see a huge
black rainstorm approaching from the west. I hurried through Adelaide. It's a
very pretty city with many old churches and brick facade buildings. I stopped at
a gas station briefly to warm up as I was shaking with cold.
I rode south and reached
a very hilly section of hairpins with many trucks. I would have liked to take
photos of the city views but I was too cold to want to stop.
I reached Murray Bridge
as the rain starting to pick up. It was very windy and cold. I stopped at a
restaurant and eat a hot breakfast and coffee. The woman behind the counter
tells me the weather has been like this since the weekend.
As I eat breakfast the
rain stops and a few patches of blue sky show. A Harley rider tells me the
weather is much better on the south coast. When I reach the No. 1 Hwy I end up
going the wrong way and pull a U-turn (after looking for cops of course). As I
reach the turn for the coastal highway I see a wall of grey cloud to the south.
I almost turn east but then grit my teeth and resolve to ride as far as I can in
I reach the falling rain
and punch through a curtain of water for a few seconds. I then break through
into sunny skies - the rain clouds are heading west and away.
The temperature climbs. I
ride under blue skies along the Princes Hwy. A strip of land off the shore
creates a saltwater lagoon 140 KM long. The scenery is beautiful: on my left are
picture postcard farms, on my right are salt marshes teeming of
I reach Kingston SE and
decide to stop. The cold winds wore me out and I am too tired to ride safely
much further. I camp in an almost empty caravan park. It finally warms up to 18
C. There's a light wind from the west. Nice beaches but it's a rather boring
Expenses: $15 fuel. $7
tent. $14 food (I drank a lot of hot coffee today).
Fri., Sept. 27,
1996 (Day 21 of 28):
(Kingston SE -> Warrnambool,
VIC: 640 KM)
Up and on the road by
6:30. It was cloudy and cold at 7 C. A bit of a breeze. I ride Alternate Hwy 1
through the small ocean town of Robe and Beachport. I see several kangaroos and
large birds as I pass tons of farms. Although I am only a few KM from the ocean
I get just a few glimpses between the hilltops.
In Millicent I stop for
gas. I ask the gas attendant about the weather. She tells me it's unusually cold
and that I'm lucky it's not as windy as yesterday. Note: the gas station didn't
have any hot coffee or tea for sale. At that point I would gladly have paid $2
for a cup of hot coffee.
I ride past several
logging clearcuts and planted forests of pine. I cross the border from South
Australia into the state of Victoria. In Mt. Gambier I'm shaking from the cold
and my hands are going numb. I'm wondering where i can stop for something warm
when I see the big golden 'M'. Soon I'm sitting in a warm McDonald's eating a
breakfast and a coffee. I go in the washroom and unthaw my hands with the air
I continue on past sheep
pastures and farms to a small town called Heywood. I stop for gas and a coffee.
A pump attendant checks out the F650 and tells me that there are lot of cops on
the Great Ocean Road with radar guns.
I start to run into some
showers. I get hit hard by rain for a few seconds at a time under the various
clouds. I find it's just enough rain to wet my helmet visor.
I stop at a small gas
station west of Warrnambool. The owner sells me a much-needed coffee and tells
me that the weather has been very poor for the last three months. As we talk the
rain stops and the sky starts to clear. He gives me a coupon for a free hotcakes
breakfast at the Warrnambool McDonald's.
I circle through
Warrnambool and finally find a very good caravan park called the 'Figtree' only
a few blocks from the downtown center. As I pitch the tent a miracle happens:
the sky turns mostly blue and it warms up.
I walk downtown to
Flagstaff Hill. I can see a marshland called Lake Pertobe and a very pretty
park. I then spend a couple of hours wandering around the busy downtown. I
ordered a hot dog but it came with only ketchup - who ever heard of not putting
mustard on a hot dog?
I see a small girl start
to wander out into the city traffic and stop her. She wants to show me her toy
ring and just doesn't understand how dangerous the traffic is. Her mother
finally sticks her head out of the clothing store she's shopping in long enough
to call her daughter back inside.
I notice that my watch is
behind Victoria time by 30 minutes due to the time zone change. As I study my
maps I see that it is about 300 KM of twisty road to Geelong, then another 200
KM to Phillip Island. That leaves me five days to cover the last 1000 KM to
Expenses: $10 tent. $15
food. $15 fuel. Gas has dropped to $0.75 per liter. I found today that my
average rate of speed was greatly reduced because I stopped many times to warm
Sat., Sept. 28,
(Warrnambool -> Geelong, VIC:
320 KM in 6 hours. Very hard work)
I watched some TV in the
caravan park's games room until 8 PM and then went to sleep. I woke up at 6 AM
and looked outside. It must be a freaking miracle - the sky is cloudless! In
amazement I get out of my tent and look around. The only clouds are a few wisps
in the east, colored pink by the rising sun. It's cold; there's even some ice on
my motorcycle seat.
I pack and hit the road.
On the way out of Warrnambool I stop at McDonald's and have my free hotcakes. By
7 AM I am turning onto Hwy 100, the Great Ocean Road. the road passes through
some sheep and dairy pastures. The road then reaches the ocean shoreline and I
immediately see several towers of rock off the shore. I stop at a scenic
lookout. It is sunny and 15 C.
Here I see the Bay of
Islands. The southern ocean has pounded at the soft layers of yellow sandstone
and limestone. The bay has dozens of big rock towers. Sea birds have nested in
holes on the sides of the cliffs and spires. It's a magnificent
I put some film in my
camera and try to take a picture. The film jams and won't advance. "Argh! I
can't believe this is happening!" I yell out loud. Wonderful scenery on a sunny
day and I can't take a frigging photo. I struggle with the camera for a good ten
minutes unloading, threading, and reloading the film. I finally get the camera
working but the first several frames are ruined. I have my fingers crossed that
I'll get some pictures for today.
I move on to the London
Bridge. This is a sandstone arch. It used to be connected to the mainland but
January 1990 the rock collapsed, stranding some tourists on the remainder of the
arch. They had to be rescued by helicopter.
Every few KM there is a
scenic turnout to look at the fantastic rocks off the shore. Loch Ard Gorge, The
Twelve Apostles, Mutton Bird Island.
A man and his wife with a
BMW stop to say hi and examine the F650. He has read of it and is very curious;
he asks how far I've ridden. I answer "About 8500 kay so far." The wife
immediately says "You must be a Canadian!" and explains that she can tell
because I pronounce the word 'about' as "a-boot".
Eventually the road
swings away from the ocean and climbs into the hilly farm country. The steep
hills are very green and freckled with sheep and dairy cows. I pass through the
Otway National Park and see a couple on a Harley Sportster. I wave and get no
response: unfriendly bastards.
Just as I reach Apollo
Bay a guy whips by me very fast on a GSXR-750. It's extremely windy in the bay.
The wind is cold despite the sunshine. I gas up and head east. I see the GSXR
rider in the gas station parking lot so I wave to be friendly. He just stares
coldly at me. What the hell's his problem?
Woof! The road is a
narrow ribbon of bitumen carved into the cliffside. (Apparently the Great Ocean
Road was built in 1932 by the government as a "make work" project during the
depression.) It's extremely twisty and hilly with lots of hairpin turns
overlooking the pounding surf below. I see a fair number of cars and hundreds of
motorcycles; mostly Japanese sport bikes with the occasional Harley, Ducati or
BMW. For no reason apparent to me, one twit on a CBR600 comes way over into my
lane on a long straight section. I wonder if the stupid jerk did it deliberately
to try and spook me; I'd hate to think the guy is such a poor rider he did it
accidentally. He got a blare of the horn and a nice middle finger.
Finally I pass under a
wooden placard reading "The Great Ocean Road". I've been thinking before today
that any road audacious enough to call itself the Great Ocean Road had better be
truly great. I found out it is indeed great.
By the time I reach
Geelong (pop. 25,00) I am sore and tired. I pitch the tent and wander into town
for a couple of hours. Industrial town to support all the farms in the
surrounding area. Pleasant shops, but many are closed due to the Australian
Football championship game between Sydney and North Melbourne. I try watching
the game while eating Chinese food. It's wierd. The teams have 18 guys each and
try to kick or swat an oval ball around a huge oval-shaped field. The goalposts
are in the middle of the field for crying out loud. Wierd game.
I saw a Honda CBR1100XX
Blackbird at a dealership for the first time. Australian riders sure aren't very
friendly. I waved or nodded to dozens of riders on the open road and got only a
few nods or waves back - say 10% of the riders. Maybe it's because there are so
many more riders in Aus that it's not as unusual to see another
I am very tired so I get
back to my tent early. I will get some sleep and ride through Melbourne to
Phillip Island tomorrow morning. I twisted my knee hiking in the Olgas and Kings
Canyon and it seems to be flared up - the knee is very painful to walk
Expenses: $10 fuel. $9
tent. $11 food. $20 for photos and new film.
Sun., Sept. 29,
(Geelong -> Phillip Island,
VIC: 210 KM)
At 4 AM it's raining so
hard the sound wakes me up despite ear plugs. By 6 AM it stops and I start
packing. As I leave Geelong the sky is cloudy and grey. There's very little
traffic on this early Sunday morning.
As I reach Melbourne it
starts to rain very hard. I stop for gas It sure seems strange to hear the east
Indian pump attendant speak English with both an Indian and a heavy Aussie
accent. Although it's rainy the temperature is fairly warm at 14 C. I take the
Princes Hwy out of Melbourne. As I ride past the city center the many
skyscrapers are partly shrouded with rain clouds.
I ride to Dandengong and
find Hwy 180 to Phillip Island. By the time I reach the Island I'm sopping wet
and cold. I ask for directions at the Information Kiosk. The coldness has addled
my brain; I leave my keys on the Kiosk desk. I get them back after a panicky
moment of searching.
I enter the little town
of Cowes on the Island and decide to splurge - I pay $35 for an on-site caravan.
I get out of the rain and let my belongings dry out. My boots and gloves are
Around 12 noon the rain
stops and a few patches of blue sky show up. I do some laundry and adjust the
BMW's chain. At 1 PM rain starts to fall extremely hard: there's no way I'm
riding to the penguin parade in this weather.
I walk around town. I'm
running low on cash again but the ATMs here don't recognize either my bank card
or my credit cards. There's a world class motorcycle racing track on Phillip
Island. I find a store selling sweatshirts for only $14 that say "Phillip Island
- the real home of motorcycle racing" and have a cartoon of a penguin riding a
race bike. I discuss the fact that I'm returning to Sydney soon and the clerk
recommends I do overnight stops in Lakes Entrance and Batemans Bay.
Around 3:30 PM the rain
lightens up and I decide to ride to the Penguin Reserve on Summerland Beach. I
buy a ticket to see the "Fairy penguin" parade. The penguins don't walk up on
the beach until sunset so I ride over to the Nobbies, a group of small rocky
islands where various birds nest. The islands have wooden walkways so that you
can walk out among the seagulls' nests and see the young hatchlings.
I go back to the Penguin
Parade and sit on some concrete bleachers on the beach. As the sun sets hundreds
of mutton birds (shearwaters) fly overhead. These birds migrate here from Alaska
and Japan to breed.
As it gets dark we can
see clusters of fairy penguins waddling up on the shore to their nests. These
tiny penguins are only a third of a meter tall. After they reach the shore you
can use the wooden walkways to see them up close as they return to their
It's truly amazing how
many tourists still used their camera flashes even when told dozens of times in
several different languages that flashes are forbidden because the bright light
dazzles the penguins' eyes. I finally hop on the BMW and ride back to the
Expenses: $35 caravan. $8
food. $8 fuel. $14 sweatshirt. $7.50 for penguin parade.
Mon., Sept. 30,
(Phillip Island -> Lakes
Entrance, VIC: 320 KM)
I slept well and left
Phillip Island at 7 AM. The sky was mostly cloudy with a few patches of blue
sky. It's 12 C and windy at times. I ride through Worthaggi and Inverlock, then
turned northeast to Leongatha as this route looked sunnier than the south
coastal roads. The roads gently curved between the farm hills.
I reach Morwell and turn
onto the straight and fast Princes Hwy to Sales. When I reach Bairnsdale the
traffic dies off and I am again on a pleasant farm road. I soon reach the resort
town of Lakes Entrance.
There are dozens of
interconnected lakes here. About a century ago a channel was dug through the
beachfront so that fishermen could use the lakes for safe harbours.
I pitch the tent for $8
and then explore the town. There's a bridge to 90 Mile Beach. I spend a couple
of hours walking around. It's a very pretty place with nice beaches. I get a
close look at an echidna, an animal the size of a small football similar to a
porcupine. It burrows its nose into the sand and then spread its yellow and
black quills like the thorns of a cactus for protection. I wait a minute and the
echidna pulls his snout out of the ground and stares at me. I also see a large
black snake with thick yellow bands.
I developed the roll of
film that wouldn't load properly on the Great Ocean Road. I get 17 good photos
out of the roll, and many of the shots were spectacular.
Expenses: $13 photos. $8
tent. $13 fuel. $10 food. Gas is at the $0.80 per liter level. I had less than
$100 cash so I went to a bank and get a cash advance off my credit
The distance to Sydney is
only 750 KMs. Tomorrow I'll ride about halfway to Batemans Bay. I'll then drop
the bike off in Sydney on Wednesday and spend a couple days in Sydney before
Tues., Oct. 1,
(Lakes Entrance -> Batemans
Bay, NSW: 450 KM)
At 4 AM pouring rain
wakes me up. It stops soon but a howling windstorm blows in. Trees are bending,
twigs and branches snapping. I go outside at 6:20 AM and see bands of dark
rainclouds approaching. I wait to see if the weather will change. I pack and
start riding late at 8 AM.
The road leaves the coast
and climbs into the hills. Lots of logging and clearcuts. the temperature drops
to 7 C or 8 C and it starts to rain lightly. The wind is harsh, pushing me
around on the bike. I stop in the tiny town of Cann River to get gas and realize
my hands are numb from the cold. I eat breakfast in a nice warm restaurant with
my hands wrapped around a big hot mug of coffee.
I cross the border into
New South Wales. The twisty road drops out of the cold hills. The temperature
warms up as I rode the winding farm roads - very pretty scenery.
I pass through the town
of Eden. A logging truck keeps racing down the hills to pass me at 130 KM/H,
rides my bumper, then drops way behind when I pass him while climbing up the
next hill. I reach a series of long uphill climbs and watch Mr. Tailgater
disappear in my mirrors.
I reach the town of
Batemans Bay after a couple of stops to rest. I feel fatigued; I think it's
because this road was fairly curvy with few straight stretches. I pitch a tent
for $16 (ouch - this is the most expensive tent site yet) and walk around the
fishing town. It's not as nice as Lakes Entrance. I'm very tied and go to bed
around 7:30 PM.
Expenses: $15 fuel. $16
tent. $15 food.
Wed., Oct. 2,
(Batemans Bay -> Sydney, NSW:
I'm wide awake by 5:20
AM, excited by the idea of completing the tour. I pack and start riding at 6 AM.
The weather is mostly cloudy and fairly cool.
The first hundred KM are
yet more curvy farm roads. I find myself pushing to get to Sydney and have to
remind myself to slow down and take my time. I stop for coffee in Nowra, and see
a guy riding a heavily modified CB750. The road changes from a quiet highway to
a busy multi-lane freeway.
I pass through Wollongong
and enter Sydney's suburbs. The Clubman shop is easy to find despite the very
hectic traffic. I finally pull into Clubman Rentals, 376 Princes Hwy, St. Peters
and thumb the kill switch. The boomerang has returned! I return the keys to
Glenn and check the BMW F650's odometer: 21310 KM. My trip has taken me 9755 KM
(5853 miles) in 26 days - an average of 360 KM (225 miles) per day.
Glenn is a bit surprised
that I'm turning in the motorcycle two days early. I explain that I still
haven't seen any of Sydney and that I'd planned all along to spend a day or two
looking around the city.
I catch a taxi to the CB
Private Hotel, a "backpackers" hotel in downtown Sydney. It's $30 per night for
a small room with just a bed and a small table. The weather is near 21 C and
At 1 PM I walk a block to
the Darling Harbour Monorail and hop on for $2.50. I let the monorail carry me
for a full loop. The cars circle a track about 8 or 10 meters off the ground and
allow you a good view of various sites around the downtown.
I then get out at the
City Centre station and take the elevator up a revolving restaurant tower
similar to the Space Needle in Seattle. From the top you get an incredible view
of the city and surroundings. Sydney is a very beautiful city with a huge
harbour. I can see hundreds of various boats out on the water. From up here at
305 meters most of Sydney's famous landmarks are easy to see, including the
Opera House, the Harbour Bridge, Hyde Park, etc.
I leave the tower after
eating in the cafeteria (good but a bit pricey) and walk a few blocks north to
Circular Quay. This is the hub of Sydney's public transport; the trains, buses
and harbour ferries all meet here.
I arrange to take
tomorrow an all day tour package that includes a harbour cruise, bus ride, and
lunch for $88. I then walk over to the wharfs and purchase a $3 ticket to take a
harbour ferry back to Darling harbour. For only $3 this was a great deal; the
ferry ride is about 25 minutes and gives you a terrific view of the
When I reach Darling
Harbour at 4 PM I walked around to the Aquarium, the Maritime Museum and the
Powerhouse Museum. They each cost $10 and take a good two or three hours to
tour. Unfortunately they all close by 5 PM and so I don't have time to look at
any of them.
I noticed that the
Maritime Museum has an Australian destroyer and a Russian Foxtrot submarine open
for touring. I'll definitely want to check these out later.
I wander back through
Chinatown to my room. there are many picturesque old buildings. I've noticed a
lot of small commuter bikes (GSX250, CB250, etc). I also notice several adult
bookstores. They often have signs up saying "We swap your old books". I can't
think of anything more bizarre than swapping used pornography.
Thu., Oct. 3,
(Sydney: No miles
I didn't sleep too well:
I think after four weeks of sleeping with just a thin foam pad and a sleeping
bag, having a nice cushy bed was too much of a good thing.
I got up early and went
walking at 6:30 for over an hour. Downtown Sydney is a very beautiful place with
parks and footpaths to enjoy. I've noticed that there's a heck of a lot of
construction going on in Sydney; an LRT track, dozens of skyscrapers, new
buildings for the Sydney 2000 Olympics.
I notice that Sydney's
downtown has at least a dozen McDonald's Many of these have a 'McCafe' attached
by the front door. These serve up cappucinos, pastries, etc. very similar to
Starbucks in North America.
I wander back to my hotel
and catch the bus for the day tour I'm taking with AAT Kings. The double decker
bus carries about fifty passengers over the Sydney Harbour Bridge to the
northern suburb of Manly. This is a very pleasant beach resort area with many
shops. Captain Cook first commented about this area that the local aborginals
were very "manly looking" and so the name stuck.
After stopping at
Arabanoo Lookout, we go back into Sydney, passing through the Argyle Cut and the
Rocks. I then go to a replica of a paddleboat steamer. Virtually all the other
200 passengers are students from a Japanese high school. The lunch was very good
and the views of Sydney Harbour are superb.
At 2 PM the paddleboat
returns to the dock and I get back on the double decker bus. This time we tour
around the Kings Cross and Bondi Beach areas, stopping at the Gap of the harbour
entrance and Mrs. Macquarrie's chair.
Finally the bus returns
to downtown and drops me off. I grab a hamburger and do some laundry. I think
about the day. The bus tour was okay but I think I'd have been better off using
my time to visit the many museums or other sites in the downtown area. The
harbour could have been viewed just as well from one of the cheap Sydney public
I talked to the check-in
desk and have arranged to leave my bags there Friday morning while I spend my
last day in Sydney exploring. I plan to visit the Maritime Museum and if time
permits the Powerhouse Museum.
Fri., Oct. 4,
(Sydney: No miles
I got up at 5:45 AM after
sleeping okay. I packed and left my luggage behind the hotel desk. Most places
are closed until at least 9 AM so I walk around and get breakfast. I buy a day
pass for the monorail and plan to use it to save time getting around town. I
then head to Circular Quay and walk over to the Opera House for a close-up view.
I always figured the 'sails' or shells were cast concrete painted white but
they're actually made of milk white bricks.
I then head back to the
Maritime Museum. The museum was $15 with tours of both the Australian destroyer
'Vampire' and the Russian Foxtrot submarine "Podvodnaya Lodka".
The museum itself is
so-so: a few sailboats, some early exploration history, and an interactive CD
display on the Titanic sinking and recent uncovering. There was also a rather
underwhelming display donated by the US Government on American colonial whaling
in the South Pacific. Yawnsville.
The tour of the destroyer
HMAS Vampire was, however, excellent. An older gent who'd served on the aircraft
carrier Melbourne gave a very detailed tour on the Vampire. He told us quite a
bit about the history, the day-to-day operations, and life onboard the Vampire.
I then did a self-guided
tour of the Foxtrot. This is a diesel-powered patrol sub the Russians used
through the 1970s and 1980s. There was no tour guide but there were several
signs in English explaining what happened in each room. Apparently an Australian
company actually bought the submarine from the Russian government and is making
money of the admission entry. This display was very interesting as
I then went to the
Powerhouse Museum as a couple of people had recommended this museum. It cost $9
to enter and was not worth it. The museum is housed in the building that used to
be the powerhouse for the old electric trams. It now holds a hodgepodge of
displays on science, art, and design. The displays are oriented towards children
and are often interactive. It's great for the kids but not that exciting for
adults. I left after only an hour.
It was only 1 PM so I
went to the nearby IMAX theater and paid $14 for a one hour movie called
"Special Effects: Anything Can Happen". Narrateed by actor John Lithgow (3rd
Rock from the Sun) this was very interesting. They showed how some special
effects were done for Star Wars, Independence Day, Jumanji, etc. They showed
some scenes as originally filmed for Stars Wars and then showed how much better
they looked when refilmed in IMAX's 70 mm format.
I got back to the hotel
at 3 PM, grabbed my bags and caught the express bus for the airport. I arrived
about 4:15, checked in, and bought some cheap boomerangs to give to friends as
I really enjoyed my ride;
it was easily my best road tour yet - well, except for all the crappy weather
around Adelaide and Melbourne.
AUS for a round-trip economy air ticket with travel insurance. $2500 AUS for a
mid-size motorcycle for four weeks. My total for food, fuel, miscellaneous
items, and shelter were about $1600 AUS. All in all, well worth the money - a
real bargain actually.
I will give my Australian
ride the highest praise I can think of: I would very much like to go back again
for another motorcycle tour. I'm very glad I left a couple of extra days for
visiting Sydney. This is a truly wonderful city to spend time in. Beautiful it
look at, many places to visit, and teeming with gorgeous women.
Before I went to
Australia, I posted notes in the newsgroups rec.motorcycles and aus.motorcycles
asking for advice. Several people warned me that riding in the outback is "very
dangerous", "I would never do it", "are you crazy?", etc. Interestingly these
comments came from people who have never actually tried riding in the outback.
Riders who _have_ been into the outback said "no worries, mate - just make sure
you've got plenty of water, a reliable bike, and a decent-size gas
I found the outback to
actually be very safe for riding. The highways were in good repair. I never went
more than 270 KM without seeing a fuel station, and there are very few other
vehicles to cause you problems. The only real danger (at least in spring) is all
the animal life on the roads. The Northern Territory has no speed limit outside
the towns but it's rare to see anyone exceeding 120 KM/H. Why? Because of all
kangaroos and cattle on the pavement!
I found the BMW
F650 to be an excellent bike, except when encountering a strong
drivers: Tend to
drive a bit faster than in North America, especially in the city. They generally
tend to be a bit more skilled than in NA, and many Aussies actually know how to
signal a lane change. There don't seem to be as many incompetent drivers in
Volvos or mini vans.
Generally 60 KM/H
in the city (though people rarely obey this) and 100 to 110 in the country.
There is no speed limit outside of towns in the Northern Territory, but it was
rare to see anyone going more than about 120 KM/H; kangaroos make impressive
Roads: In good repair; about the same as
Canada or the US.
Banks: All the people who gave me advice
on this were wrong. I was told by many people (including my bank) that I'd have
no problem using my bank cards or credit cards in bank machines. Wrong: ATMs do
_not_ always accept your cards. In fact, I found my bank card worked only once
out of ten different banks in various places throughout southern
Hotels: Generally a bit cheaper than in
North America, especially once you get away from the major cities. Lots of
backpacker hotels, hostels, bed and breakfasts, etc.
Caravan parks are
in virtually every town, and are very cheap.
Fuel: Extremely expensive compared to
North America. On the coast about $0.75 AUS per liter; $0.95 to $0.99 per liter
in the interior.
Food: Generally cheap and easy to
Helmets: Mandatory. Helmets are supposed
to be "Australian Road Standard". Technically DOT or Snell are not recognized
standards, but I was stopped at police road blocks a couple of times and no one
bothered checking my helmet.
People: Very friendly. Lots of good
Weather: Pretty good for the most part,
especially considering it was early spring. It was rainy about three or four
days on the extreme south coast around Adelaide and Melbourne.
Rentals: Telephone (02) 9519-9991. FAX (02) 9955-8169. Web page at
I highly recommend this
rental agency. Glenn and Melanie run a very professional operation. They rent a
variety of Japanese, Moto Guzzi, BMW and Harleys for rates ranging from
$500/week to $1450/week (Aus dollars).