Australia by BMW F650 (Sept 1996) "Riding the Boomerang" (c) 1996 Bruce Clarke

The 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.
The 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
This 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.
I have 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 grammar.

Wed., Sept. 4, 1996:(Victoria, BC -> Sydney, AUS: by plane)
My 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.
In 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.
Finally 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....

Fri., Sept. 6, 1996:(Sydney, New South Wales: no miles rode)
Yes, a 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.
One 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.
The bike 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.
I was 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.
I 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.
Glenn 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.
To do 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.
I've 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.
Melanie 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.
Clubman 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 weeks.
I'm kind 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 Australian driving.
I saw quite a few motorcycles; mostly mid-size to large Japanese bikes. Not very many cruiser-style bikes as are prevalent in Canada.
Today's expenses: $45 room. $4 food.
Sat., Sept. 7, 1996:(Sydney -> Port Macquarrie, NSW: 400 KM by motorcycle)
I went 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 Sydney.
Glenn picks me up from the hotel with the bike he's riding today - a Moto Guzzi Quota 1000 enduro-style.
My 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.
The 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 overtaking".
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 traps.
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 PM.
Sun., Sept. 8, 1996:
(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 wheel.
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 again.
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 tomorrow morning.
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, 1996:
(Byron Bay -> Hervey Bay, QLD: 450 KM)
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 dry.
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 trees.
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 nights.
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 island.
Today's expenses: $15 fuel. $10 food. $3 laundry. $10 tent site. $58 for tomorrow's boat trip.
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, 1996:
(Hervey Bay/Fraser Island: no miles rode)
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 recognizable.
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 vandalism.
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 lake.
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 cruise".
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, 1996:
(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 wide.
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 Capricorn.
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 today.
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 slot machine.
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, 1996:
(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 rode)
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 skipping stones.
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 riding.
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 me.
Sat., Sept. 14, 1996:
(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 KM/H.
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 order."
She says "But your toast is ready, sir."
I say "I want my money back."
She says "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, sir!"
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 bush.
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, 1996:
(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 airplane.
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 horn.
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 system.
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 about.
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 tall.
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, 1996:
(Julia Creek -> Camooweal, QLD: 435 KM)
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 forest.
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 before.
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 backwards.
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, etc.
Tue., Sept. 17, 1996:
(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 called brolgas.
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 35 C.
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 accent.
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 motorcycles.
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 now?"
"Why? Isn't 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 occasionally!
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, 1996:
(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 road kill.
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 marbles.
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 Guth.
Thu., Sept. 19, 1996:
(Alice Springs: no miles rode)
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 of.
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 Sportster!
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 a look.
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, $20,000!
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: 450 KM)
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 up.
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 AM.
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 there.
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 surroundings.
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 - ouch!
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, 1996 :
(Around the Yulara area: 165 KM)
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 jeans.
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 shivering motorcyclist.
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 motorcyclist.
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 Olgas).
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 photo.
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 their church.
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 day).
Expenses: $9 tent. $10 fuel. $12 food. $12 film development.
Sun., Sept. 22, 1996:
(Yulara -> Kings Canyon, NT: 310 KM)
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 walk.
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 Canyon.
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 birds.
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 chips.
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 foreigner.
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, 1996:
(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 speed up.
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 close.
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: clouds.
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 the day.
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 ground".
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 it.
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, 1996:
(Coober Pedy: no miles rode)
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 - blech.
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 techniques.
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 Crocodile Harry.
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.
Although sometimes 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 you."
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_ badly!"
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, 1996:
(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 plains.
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 out."
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 easily.
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, 1996:
(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 the rain.
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 seabirds.
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 little town.
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 dryer.
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 Sydney.
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 up.
Sat., Sept. 28, 1996:
(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 sight.
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 motorcyclist.
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 on.
Expenses: $10 fuel. $9 tent. $11 food. $20 for photos and new film.
Sun., Sept. 29, 1996:
(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 soaked through.
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 burrows.
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 caravan.
Expenses: $35 caravan. $8 food. $8 fuel. $14 sweatshirt. $7.50 for penguin parade.
Mon., Sept. 30, 1996:
(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 card.
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 flying home.
Tues., Oct. 1, 1996:
(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, 1996:
(Batemans Bay -> Sydney, NSW: 275 KM)
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 sunny.
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 harbour.
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, 1996:
(Sydney: No miles rode.)
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 transit ferries.
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, 1996:
(Sydney: No miles rode.)
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. Extremely good.
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 well.
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 souvenirs.
I really enjoyed my ride; it was easily my best road tour yet - well, except for all the crappy weather around Adelaide and Melbourne.
Total expenses: $1500 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 and 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 tank."
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 headwind.
Australian 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.
Speeds: 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 speed bumps.
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 Australia.
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.
Camping: 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 find.
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 looking babes.
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.
Clubman Motorcycle 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).

Bruce Clarke