Monday, 24 April 2017

Gunning

Woke at 4am this morning to watch the MotoGP of the Americas and another skillful win by Marc Marquez on the Honda. My boots were very worse for wear after the stream crossing and needed some duct tape support the complete the road trip. Should be less than 1,000km now till home, and I still have plenty of duct tape.



Today's route loosely followed one of the rides recommended in my Bike Atlas. Leaving Kandos, I had heavy fog for the first 20km before breaking out into bright sunshine at Hill End. A tiny remnant of the gold rush (the diggings are still visible), I'm guessing it's a dormitory town for Bathurst. 

Bathurst was in full swing, and I headed for the bike route through Oberon to Goulburn. The route has been fully sealed, and alternated between cropping, pine forestry and native bush. Different from yesterday but still surprisingly beautiful. I stopped in Taralga at a very hip cafe for a country town - must be the Grey Nomads lifting the culinary standards. So many restored or preserved buildings from the 1800's.


With a small distance target, I spent the day tooling along on country roads at 80 to 90 km/h, letting the local traffic pass me. The last run to Gunning took in a bit of the Hume Highway, where I was able to get off and parallel run. Some nice cloud porn of the towering afternoon cumulus.

Waiting for a reunion with Bruce, riding down from Gosford. Alex will join us from Canberra in the morning (says he's going to 'woose out' and bring his car if the forecast rain comes). Motel again for convenience and a dry start at least. Washed the bike - no sign now of last 9,000km. Trip meter seems to have called it a day, +330km today.

The Antipodean Mariner

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Bylong Valley

Quite a bit to post today. The target was Kandos in the Bylong Valley, a town I had stopped in in 2011 riding back from Maroochydore on the K1100LT. Staying on the New England Highway to Tamworth, the Powerhouse Motorcycle Collection was a must- stop and I had the run of the place for an hour with the Duty Curator. 100% bike heaven.



The next bit went west a bit due to poor navigation skills. I picked a road different to the recommended route, and which changed from seal to gravel half way up a mountain range. It was the classic 'investment' decision - turn back and waste 50km or press on. I pressed on at 25 km/h, passed by locals in 4WDs. A glimmer of hope as the road reverted to back to seal was dashed by gravel again. A warning sign of water over the road (it was blazing sunshine) turned out to be an actual creek washout over the road with about 10m of muddy water of indeterminate depth.

There is nothing less suitable for a stream crossing than a Triumph Trophy, and with my heart in my mouth I sized up the problem. Some 4WDs had made a single track to the side of the waterhole and remembering the saying 'Look where you want to go and the bike will follow', I headed for the single track paddling like a duck. I bucked and wove through to other side and thought I was going to throw up. Captain Obvious later observed that I should have stripped the bike and carried the luggage over first.

When I got to seal proper, I almost cried. There was the double indignity of finding out that I came out 30km  past where in needed to enter the Bylong Valley anyway.


Bylong to Kandos didn't disappoint and I stopped at the Anglican Church. The Church Is still consecrated and they had had a service that day. Two cousins were cleaning up the grave sites of long lost relatives and had a key and I got a tour inside the tiny chapel.


The stained glass windows commemorated both the Gospel and young men of the Parish who had died in WWI and WWII. 


The valley will soon be opened up to open cut coal mining - it will be interesting to come back again in fives years time. I made Kandos and splurged on motel. Washing is done, pub is next door and the MotoGP is on TV at 5am tomorrow. Riding to Gunning tomorrow to meet Alex and a night in Canberra.

The Antipodean Mariner

8,760km

Saturday, 22 April 2017

New South Wales

It's getting about 5C cooler every day heading get south (no surprises really) and this morning's fog in Crows Nest was actually cloud due the elevation on the Toowoomba Tablelands. Following the Country Way still in the former of the New England Highway, I've been through Toowoomba, Glen Innes and Armidale to set up camp in Uralla. The small towns are so bike and caravan friendly.

Crossing in to NSW, the change of climate and the deciduous European trees make for a yellow, red and green Autumn landscape - different again from central Queensland. 

The 'Top Pub' is within walking distance, the little fireplace is set up for later and I have an episode if 'Fargo' to watch on Netflix. Tamworth tomorrow and the Powerhouse Motorcycle Collection. 

The Antipodean Mariner
8,543 km

Friday, 21 April 2017

Going solo

After 20 days on the road together and almost 8,000 km, Bruce and I went our separate ways at Goomeri, Queensland. Bruce is taking a coastline loop to catch up with friends and to be back in Melbourne on Thursday, and I'm staying in the countryside to Canberra. Big man-hugs on the roadside and I don't think either of us wanted to make eye contact at that moment. A very emotional parting after such a fantastic and unique shared experience.



The Country Way has turned in to the New England Highway and I've set up camp in Crows Nest, just north of Toowoomba. Planning the next legs, I can stay away from the major population centres in Central NSW and get within striking distance of Canberra on Monday night before the ANZAC Day holiday on Tuesday. Roads are windy, traffic is light and the scenery beautiful. Just under 1,200 km to Canberra. After Canberra, planning to ride through the Snowy Mountains and return to Melbourne via Beechworth and Mansfield. The journey is drawing to its inevitable end.

The Antipodean Mariner (singular)
8,084 km

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Central Queensland Tablelands

We have followed Australia's Country Way, a road network linking Rockhampton and Sydney and which has again blown away my preconceptions of Queensland as a dry flat land. We stopped outside of Springsure to admire the towering lava cliffs of the Minerva Hills. There us a National Park and Canyon network behind but we didn't find out about these until we were about 100 km past Springsure.

Riding into Rolleston, we were surprised to find a big posse of bikes parked in the main street. The posse turned out to be a collective of mental health professionals who do an annual ten day ride running mental and physical 'wellness' clinics for men in rural Australia. Bruce got the full suite while I had a coffee and had a chat with a mental health nurse about my new employment status.

Last night in Monto was our last meal together. Bruce, my road mate, is heading east to Brisbane, Coff's Harbour and Grafton while I follow the Country Way toward Canberra and a night with son Alex on ANZAC Day.

One of the things about a road trip is that it can only be experienced and relived by those who did it, and we have had some cool experiences together - thanks, mate!

The Antipodean Mariners
7,644 km together 

Park life

The Grey Nomad season ticks along all year, but really picks up in May after the end of the 'wet season' and cooler temperatures in the Outback and Queensland. To give you an idea of the relative numbers of Nomads, here's the powered van site area in Emerald...

...and here's how we are living in the camping area adjacent. Luxurious! 

The Antipodean Mariners 

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Kilometres in the bank

Over the last two days, we have been working our way south from Atherton, through Innisfail, Townsville, Charters Towers and tonight in Emerald. The Bruce Highway was narrow, congested and slow, and we took the first opportunity to head back inland to the Central Queensland Tablelands. We are living well again now that we are back in the reach of supermarkets, and have a well oiled routine of one setting up camp while the other buys in the night's meal and wine. Last night was Greek chicken, potato salad and beetroot with a Sauvignon Blanc - we finished the last of the Johnny Walker with coffee.

Charters Towers was last night's stop - maybe where my father-in-law was evacuated to as a child during WWII? Again had the whole grassed campsite to ourselves while the caravan park heaved with 4WD's and caravans.


In Clermont, the local mining museum had a huge dragline bucket from the coalfields courtesy of Rio Tinto Coal.

Our destination over the next three days is Coff's Harbour, NSW and then separate routes back to Melbourne next week. The country continues to change, the weather gets cooler and the land gets greener. We are still loving the small country towns and seek them out in our route planning. We over 7,000 km across Australia now.

The Antipodean Mariners

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Encyclopedia Britannica (Improve yourself)

This post has very little relevance to our road trip. At an unnamed and inconspicuous roadside rest stop we found a full collection of the Encyclopedia Britannica's 1991 Edition. Rendered obsolete by the Internet, and with some poor Mum and Dad probably still to make the 300th easy payment of $19.95, the volumes were languishing in four cardboard boxes in the bush, unloved and unwanted.


It seemed sacrilegious to leave the abandoned tomes to the White Ants, and with very little better to do with our day, we set about create a little oasis of knowledge for our fellow travelers. 


When Bruce got noisy, I had to remind him that he was in a library.


We left instructions for the next users of the Rest Stop - in a 'worst case' situation you could even use it for dunny roll.


The Antipodean Mariners

Turning point

Yesterday was a day of extreme contrasts as we left the open savannah and Brahman cattle and ended the day amongst sugar cane and banana palms.

We were packing up yesterday morning and found a little tree frog had taken up residence in a kit bag. We splashed him down with a few drops of water and released it back into the undergrowth near our campsite. 

The road climbed up to the Atherton Tablelands and with a lot of traffic heading back to the coast after the Easter Holiday. We were forced on to the shoulder by one road train and followed a lot of caravans and camper trailers. The tool kit came out for the first time this trip but not for our bikes. A Land Rover pulled up behind us in Mt Surprise, loaded up with a family and camping paraphernalia. They had blown a radiator hose and were going nowhere. We were able to make the hose pressure tight with self-binding silicon tape and cable ties, and we last saw them (still driving) in Atherton heading for home in Cairns.

The Atherton Tablelands were cool and lush - a temperature drop from 34C to 19C in a day's ride and even a few spots of rain. Atherton was the most northerly point of the road trip, and at 16:15 the point at which we started heading south back to Melbourne. 

We are following the coast to Townsville and then heading back Inland to Charters Towers. Heavy tropical rain this morning.

The Antipodean Mariners

Monday, 17 April 2017

Gulf and Savannah

Every day presents us with a new perspective of Australia, and yesterday's run through the Gulf of Carpentaria and Savannah country was truly breathtaking.



Karumba was a short 70km hop from Normanton, and as soon as we rode out of town the brackish water tributaries and wetlands were teeming with birds - cranes, egrets and other wading waterbirds. Looping back we followed the railway line which is still in use today by the Gulflander rail car. The line was unique for being laid on steel sleepers with no ballast, and which was capable of surviving the frequent floods which would have washed away conventionally built track. The Black Bull siding is maintained as a 'tea and cake' stop for the Gulflander.



A lot of the Savannah Way is sealed with a single centre lane with wide gravel shoulders. We were lucky with Easter that traffic was light, and there were no road trains, as they stick to the centreline and all other has to pull off onto the shoulder to pass. It made for a nice photo though sitting in the middle of the road.


We pulled of the Savannah Way, just outside of Georgetown, at site of the Cumberland Gold Mine and settlement. The mine was famous for extracting capital from it's London investors for ever diminishing gold for each ton of ore mined. Just the chimney for the boilers and lake remain as a reserve for birds (and a few cattle). A curious lizard came out of the undergrowth to check us out.

The pub's kitchen in Georgetown was closed for Easter and so we cooked up a storm in the campground, washed it down with a bottle of red and half a bottle of Johnny Walker around the mini-fireplace. Today's destination is Atherton Tablelands behind Cairns.

The Antipodean Mariners 

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Tropic heat

We have moved from Nevada-like desert dry to tropical wet in just two days. After a quick pack and the morning at the Mt Isa Experience, we didn't hit the highway until about 11:00 and made Cloncurry about 12:30. The local Woolies provided with us with a healthy lunch of Caesar salad, cabinosi and orange juice in the local park.

The temperatures on the road have been a steady 34C and we are taking water stops every hour or so to stretch. Heading north from Cloncurry, we had to keep a weather eye out for Brahman cattle, wallabies and the occasional lizard on the lightly trafficed Developmntal Road to Normanton.

We got in just on sunset, and had a slow setup talking bikes with a fellow traveller who had ridden around South America over a year. Normanton has thousands of small (baby) cane toads clustered around any light source, all competing for a meal of the flying bugs.

They threw us out of the Purple Pub at 8pm closing, and we came back and had a swim in the dark - the perfect end to a long, hot day on the road. I had to throw the tent fly off in the middle of the night to get some breeze through and it was 29C at dawn this morning.

We'll skip through Karumba and then pick up the Savanah Way to Georgetown. Two weeks today since we rode out from Melbourne.

The Antipodean Mariners

Crossing over

Yesterday's run from Barkly Roadhouse to the Queensland border was the first time that I have used the term 'boring'.

The lush, high grass and trees of the Barkly Tableland abruptly stopped at the Soudan Well, giving way to kilometres of open, brown grasslands. A road sign proclaimed that this was the beginning of the catchment for Lake Eyre in SA, and it was hard to tell whether the country changed or whether this was as a result of the bush being cleared for cattle grazing.

It was hot - 34 to 35C most of the day - and we met a cyclist riding from Townsville to Perth at one of the roadside rest stops. He was looking for shelter for the night, and we gave him the bad news that there was not a tree in sight for next 100km. We were drenching down our tees and jeans wherever we could find a water tank, the evaporative cooling at 120km/h nice for about the 40 or so minutes it took to be completely dry again.

We crossed into Queenland just before 15:00 and took the obligatory border photo. Passing through Camooweal, the country got hilly and the roads got windy just out of Mt Isa, and we rolled into the mining town just before 17:00. Good Friday, and everywhere was shut. Took our first (unplanned) 'alchohol free' day and had to make do with two chicken curry and rice ration packs in the caravan park.

The weather is changing, with the cold, dry desert mornings giving way to milder and slightly more humid dawns. Today heading to Cloncurry and then north to Normanton and Karumba, a port town on the Gulf of Carpentaria. The burramundi are running, and the fishermen are flocking there to get up in to the mangrove tributaries.

We have been on the road for two weeks now - chronologically half way. Yesterday's run 450km, 4,936km behind us as we ride out for Cloncurry.

The Antipodean Mariners

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Eastbound

Yesterday was another day of big kilometres and high speeds as we try to claw back some days after Uluru and Kings Canyon. We have made the decision to abandon the Tablelands Highway from Cape Crawford to Barky Station, and have instead turned right at Threeways NT and are eastbound for Queensland.

We stopped yesterday at the Rev. John Flynn Memorial at Threeways NT. John Flynn was the founder of the Inland Mission Service and the Royal Flying Doctor Service. John Flynn's life was biographically researched and published by my late father-in-law, Dr Scott McPheat, and Flynn's life was a big part of Ali's family's history as well.

We met a fascinating character at Barkly Roadhouse in Peter, an Aussie living in London and reconnecting with the land of his birth by circumnavigation of the continent on a Honda CB125. Starting in Perth and crossing the Nullabor, he is now heading north to Darwin at a steady 65 km/h and will ride through the Pilbara back to the start point. Proof that you can see a lot with very little in the way of equipment and possessions. 

The Roadhouse is an oasis of grass and shelter trees, and has been one of the best stops on the road trip. Today's target is Mt Isa, about 520 km.

The Antipodean Mariners

The view from my tent yesterday morning
Devils Marbles
Rev. John Flynn Memorial - founder of the Flying Doctor Service

Peter, riding a Honda CB125 around Australia

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Aileron NT

Not much to blog today. We had a late start from Erldunda Roadhouse, and groceries to buy in Alice Springs before the larger towns dry up in the NT. Alice was well stocked and we were only stopped for about an hour. The roads are soooo straight that we resorted to slow slaloms along the centreline. Speed limit is 130km/h and we were overtaken a few times by even quicker locals.

We skipped lunch and the next road house at Aileron appeared on the horizon at 16:00 as the shadows were getting longer. Two other riders heading south were stopped for the night and told us that the next two towns north were pretty rough.

We have set up shop in a nice grassy spot, made a cuppa and set out for Tennant Creek for tomorrow.

The Antipodean Mariners
3,898km in

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Kings Canyon

We've taken an unscheduled day in Kings Canyon, north of Uluru, based on recommendation from a couple of other bikers whose route we are paralleling.

The road in was surreal - sinuous tarmac and wide bends through everchanging landscape. My preconceptions before doing the road trip were that central Australia was a sandy desert. Uluru and Kings Canyon were a sea of green and gold. We splurged yesterday and took a helicopter flight over the Canyon. Our Pilot said they had experienced four times the annual rainfall this Wet Season, and had a whole year's rain in one day after Christmas  - the spent centre of a tropical cyclone.

As the sun set on the Carmichael Ranges, the full Moon rose in perfect unison.

Today we walkdd the canyon rim - 6km in 3 hours. The top of the Carmichaels was seabed 400 million years ago and we were able to find fossilised worm trails and rippled lake bed in the petrified sandstone. This walk was a big workout for Bruce after his broken leg in December.

Tonight were are back at Erldunda Roadhouse after ride out of Kings Canyon. Tomorrow's target is to get north of Alice Springs. Steak, red wine and an early night to make some serious 'northing' over the next three days. Darwin is on cyclone watch and we'll have to assess the weather forecast at Tennant Creek before committing to riding north to Daly Waters. We are getting the benefit of Melbourne's winter blast with cool Southeasterly winds and 26C.

The Antipodean Mariners 

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Uluru

We have spent a layday at Uluru, taking in the vast monolith which dominates the landscape from every angle. Plenty has been written about Uluru - when you're standing in its shadow it is truly breathtaking.

We had an easy ride from Erldunda Roadhouse via Curtin Springs (the Owner wanted to call the Station Stalin Springs - he was a big fan of Joe's - and was persuaded by his sons to go for something a little less controversial), and arrived in Yulara, the Uluru resort town, early afternoon. Peak season has yet to start but the place is packed. Bruce and I got up at 5am to get a quiet spot for the sunrise on Uluru, and were rewarded (through not following the road directions) in having a quiet layby to ourselves.

In the pre-dawn, we could identify the planets Mercury and Venus, with Mars setting in the west. The sunrise was spectacular - one more ticked off the Bucket List. We walked right around Uluru, 10.8km in the morning cool. I rode out to Kala Tjulu (The Olgas) this afternoon and walked up one of the canyons. Totally different geology from Uluru. I did a really short detour on to the dirt road to West Australia, beating a hasty retreat back to tarseal lest I end up with 310kg of road bike on its side in the bulldust.

Tomorrow we will break camp and ride to Kings Gorge for the night - the days picked up riding up from SA are coming in handy now.

The Antipodean Mariners

Uluru