MMT’s epic 6000km Uluru tour
by Rolf, David P, Brett, Evan, Peter Ho, Tim L, Gary
This ride report was originally published in the June 2011 issue of the Motorcycle Tourers club magazine, ‘Chain Lube’.
Red Centre 2011 Ride report
So, the dust has settled on MMT’s Red Centre 2011 ride, and most of us have now returned to our suburban/urban/rural mundanity. How best to describe our 13 days on the road for those who weren’t there? A toughie. I think the following mis-quote from the adventures of the Roman empire summarises it best;
We, the Fearless 21, rode 5,920 kilometres (6,540 for those who did Kings Canyon) across the many and varied landscapes that lie between Melbourne and our continent’s centre. We saw the unforgettable scenery along the way, often enhanced by dramatic weather conditions. We also saw a large group of friends enjoying themselves in some rather odd locations, and saw the many bemused expressions from innocent bystanders we encountered on the road. We conquered highways, byways and a number of memorable topographic features, but more importantly, I think we conquered a few personal trepidations along the way too.
The best part of the whole trip for me though, was hearing frequent comments along the lines of:
“That was much easier than I expected”
“Why haven’t I done this before?”
“This was never on my radar screen before but I’m so glad I did it”
“I’m coming back here” or
“It’s great to be back here again after so long”
Seeing the long line of bikes strung out across the spectacular dusk scenery of the Flinders Ranges, or the undulating vastness of central South Australia, or howling past me while taking photos, or crowding the carpark at the base of The Climb up The Rock, were pretty reasonable second-best experiences too. Riding those roads and visiting those places alone is one experience, doing it with a large group of friends is quite another. Yep, it was a hoot!
From an organisers perspective, I’d like to thank all participants for being well-prepared and one of the lowest-maintenance groups I’ve ever travelled with. Collectively, we rode or drove over 115,000 kilometres without any issues, not so much as a flat tyre – not even one hissy fit! Many possibilities for pear-shaped outcomes lurked in my mind as we left Melbourne; breakdown; illness; accident; foul weather; wardrobe malfunction; accommodation cock-up; budgeting debacle; unfavourable winds; mutiny; scurvy; cannibalism; or any expression of the “are we there yet?” syndrome. Yikes! Was I going to be able to enjoy this?
Of course, I enjoyed it immensely. The group and the trip developed a personality and momentum of it’s own, I was able to just be along for the ride. Thanks guys!! (yep, Dee and Kate, we missed you).
By the way, everyone should take a pat on the back for just making it along too. It was Roger of the Motel Poinsettia in Port Augusta who pointed it out to me: “It’s unusual to see a group this size on the road. Most people just dream about what you’re doing, but they never get around to actually doing it – too many other “priorities” intervene and reality bites them on the arse. When you booked the rooms I expected maybe half the group to actually turn up – but here you all are. Amazing!”
Day 1 – Melbourne to Halls Gap
Monday 2nd May 2011 – “R” day, for Red Centre Ride. Unusually for me, I was fully packed the night before. Up, check the sky (gloomy wetness) then dressed in nothing flat, I even had time for some food before lane-splitting down the Hoddle Street Peak Hour Carpark to South Yarra by 9. Three bikes were there before me, confirming that I had, in fact, got the correct day. Phew! The last 72 hours had been a bit of a blur since arriving back in Australia from an epic ride across Patagonia (but that’s another story).
More coffee and a relaxed chat with Moff, Christian and Adz ensued while we watched Tim H, Max W, Evan F, David P, Michael V, John H and Brett F roll up. Adz was day-riding as far as Halls Gap only. Just the Geelong group and the Goldfields-Halls Gap direct faction missing after Fab and Aaron arrived and, umm, parked. Eventually. I was relieved to see nobody had over-packed, in fact most bikes looked like they were just off on a weekend trip. Brett’s Big Black Bag was maybe a little bulkier than usual – even after he left his curling wand at home – and both Evan’s and Max’s panniers stuck out alarmingly, but that was about it. Even Tim H had down-sized his suitcase. All very professional.
I walked over and gave Fab the 4 tie-downs I’d promised to bring along, because they were cluttering up my backpack. Otherwise I’d have handed them over that evening. Small things…
A short briefing in spitting rain where I bravely predicted clearing weather, and we were on our way by 9:40 to the second pick-up in Geelong. Just like that. A little anticlimactic really, despite my celebratory horn-honking as we merged onto the freeway. Windy across the Westgate, and already the group appeared to be spread over 5km of traffic. Sigh. Little did I know that Fab’s GSXR had baulked at the Westgate approaches and left him on the side of the road in Southbank, flapping his arms to attract Aaron’s attention. The blue Mazda/grey trailer combo would soon come to be known as the MMT Rolling Pit Crew (dial 1300 AHHH FARK), but the only requirement for those 4 tie-downs came less than 5 minutes into the trip. Who would have believed it!
Threatening black skies managed nothing worse than a sun-shower and most clouds had evaporated by Werribee. Pulling into the sunny Geelong BP we found Phil R, Tim L, Pete H and David W ready to go. A few phone calls confirmed that Fab’s GSXR had been trailered to the shop in disgrace with recurring electrical problems, and that Fab was relegated to Car Driver for the rest of the trip. Eighty kilometres on the road and one bike down already, hmmm.
Making the most of the weekday-deserted, dry Great Ocean Road we did the full monty run through Torquay to Apollo Bay. Wonderful. Remind me to do that again soon. Refuelling allowed us time to re-group and head to the usual corner cafe for lunch where Fab and Aaron caught up with us. With only John M, Gary V, Mike K, Ross K and Michael R absent en route direct to Halls Gap, we were, if I say so myself, an impressive-looking group. Waiting for my panini to turn up, I was treated to the first Innocent Bystander encounter of the trip. Thirty-something dad in wife-beater, thongs and boardies greeted me like we were old mates. “You fellas off to the races?” was the casual question, no doubt intended to impress the slightly embarrassed 12-year old son. “Nope.” I said. “We’re going that way” pointing west along the beach. “Ayers Rock. What do you ride?” Kid goggles while Wife Beater savagely spears cheesecake. “Oh, ahh, umm, I used to have a bike” he mumbles. Kid smirks, bowled over by Biker Cred. I could see the newspaper headlines, “Boy Joins Gay Biker Gang After Dad Crashes And Burns”. Ahh, its great to be kewl!
Listening to the seagulls squawk and waves thumping on the beach, Ayers Rock DID seem a tad remote. We idled away an hour and it was 2pm before we cruised off up to Lavers Hill and a turn-off down a road towards Simpson, which my map indicated might have a possible 4km of gravel. The gravel, or rather mud, started 100m past the turn-off cafe and continued for, ermm, 18 kilometres. Single lane, loose edges, black-footed wallabies, and oncoming logging trucks reminded us that yes, we were still in Victoria, Victoria. I slithered and clattered over the corrugations trying not to imagine what was being thought and said behind me . . .
Stunning country scenery made up for the road and nobody seemed to mind too much. What the hell, we were ON THE MOVE! Noticing how late it was getting, I turned up the pace a bit through Cobden to a re-group in Terang. Trusty tail-rider Tim H was less than 10 minutes behind so I kept the momentum going, up through Mortlake to fuel at Lake Bolac, the first of many one-pump bogan-in-a-ute towns we would experience.
With The Grampians humping up against the late afternoon sun, we headed north seeking a left turn to Willaura and the only sensible route to Halls Gap left to us by VicRoad’s failure to re-open the main Dunkeld road. Landslide, phooey! I took a left turn in about the right spot, but somehow it didn’t look like the map. We swung further and further south, then north, then south again, the mountains to our right, to our left, right again, but not really getting any closer. We should be in Moyston by now. I started picking random turn-offs that generally headed towards the setting sun, and increased speed to compensate for the unfathomable extra distance. Finally, I spied through the gathering gloom a blue car and grey trailer ahead. Could it be? Yep, Fab and Aaron, who had left Lake Bolac well behind us all, had obviously pulled some kind of hyper-dimensional overtaking stunt just to get in front.
Moysten finally and Halls Gap just minutes away. There was still light in the sky as we rumbled through town, Lead Rider Rolf frantically peering around through bug-splattered visor for some sign of the Pinnacle Holiday Lodge. Oh no, a U-turn on the main street, how embarrassing. But wait, there it was! And some familiar faces to wave us up the drive to our rooms among the trees. John M and Gary V were there, as well as Mike K in the white Fiat and Ross K plus Micheal R in the red mini-Rangie. Finally, after 485 eventful kilometres, the 21 Red Centre venturers (plus Adz) were united!
Halls Gap was quiet, at least until we all headed out looking for a meal. Even the Shell was closed by 6. With only a couple of places to choose from, most of us wound up in the same cafe/bistro. Which turned out to be just across the boardwalk from the only “early” opening cafe in town. Handy. A group of us wandered the gloomy main street looking for entertainment, finding very little apart from a group of teenage schoolkids with torches who were out koala-spotting. Or so they said. Pretty soon most of us had retired either to bed, or Moff’s room where some red wine was said to be available. Just as well, big day tomorrow, 7:30 on the road!
Day 2 – Halls Gap VIC, to Wilmington SA
One of the reasons Halls Gap was quiet, was that not only was the scenic highway from the south closed due to flood damage back in January, the scenic highway out to the north was still closed as well. Too bad if we ever get earthquakes or tsunamis in this country!
Early (7am) breakfast and a change of plan to head out through Stawell. John H volunteered as tail rider (something he would regret) and by 7:45 we had completely stressed out manageress Mimie and partner by all starting our bikes at this ungodly hour – they were happy to see us but even happier to see us off it seemed. Waving goodbye to Adz and heading east under clear blue skies, we soon plunged under a blanket of slowly lifting grey fog around Stawell. Joining the highway and heading for fuel in Dimboola via Horsham, Michael K managed to pick up the first (and only) Certificate of Achievement from the Victorian Police for hooning in the Fiat 500. Definitely a trophy booking!
Dimboola on a Tuesday morning had a certain country rhythm to it. James and Glenda Feery of Warner’s Service Station sure weren’t ready for sixteen $15 petrol sales. But Dimboola has a secret – it’s famous for being the Australian distribution hub for Kriega riders backpacks and assorted touring gear. Ask David P or myself if you want to know what we think about the gear – we love ours.
Westward we droned, through Nhill, Bordertown and Keith to fuel at Tintinara, no space to stop at the “Welcome to South Australia” sign, so John H had to content himself with a shot of a rather scary Big Koala. After Tintinara the flat scrubby country began to change as we approached the mighty Murray at Tailem Bend. We passed above the ferry we crossed the river on when heading back from Kangaroo Island 14 months before, and sure enough, the river was brown and swollen, possibly even visibly flowing. Less impressive than I had hoped though.
Day-dreaming, I nearly missed the turn-off to Murray Bridge and David P performed an impressive stop-and-indicate corner marking save as I flapped my hand at him and peeled off to the right. We bumped across the old, original highway bridge across the Murray into, err, Murray Bridge, climbed the opposite bank into the centre of town, and were immediately confronted with a sign pointing right to Mannum. I had carefully memorised that name as the town we DIDN’T want to go to, so confidently headed straight on, even after Michael V’s cheerful “as long as you know where you’re going” comment at the traffic lights.
Several kilometres further on the town began to peter out and it was apparent even to me that in fact, I didn’t know where I was going. Consulting the map I realised the Mannum road forked a few hundred metres north to head for Palmer and Mount Pleasant – our route. Never mind! A quick u-turn revealed the rest of the group scattered through a kilometre of traffic behind us. I pointed innocently back the way we’d come and got a confirmatory nod from tail rider John H. No problems!
The following hour through Palmer, Tungkillo, Mount Pleasant and Eden Valley was some of the most delightful riding I’ve done for a long time. The empty, undulating road wound up through stunning scenery over the back of the Adelaide Hills to Angaston, our next fuel stop. While part of the group went in search of a less dodgy service station (there was none) and a bakery (there was one), the rest of use realised that two bikes were missing, specifically, Moff and Tim H. Oops. While we milled around in confusion, the scouting party returned to fuel up. We gave up on our missing twosome, but as we departed for the bakery, surprise! Tim H and Moff arrived, somehow finding their way to somewhere they didn’t even know they were going. It seems they had been isolated in traffic at the u-turn and the corner marker had departed before they arrived at the first turn. Hmm. Suggestions were made for mandatory re-groups as soon as possible after all u-turns. Good idea, but how often was that going to be needed anyway?
Just goes to prove that everything will sort itself out if you wait long enough. After wolfing down bakery products we headed north, into the heart of the Barossa Valley. This particular maze of haphazard roads has always confused me in the past, and today was to be no exception. It seems the road-builders had never imagined that anybody would NOT be heading to or from Adelaide. Add heavy traffic, endless roadworks and poor signage – you have a recipe for the inevitable. We got to Nuriootpa soon enough, then I turned right at a major new roundabout with signs not yet erected. Obviously the main road to Kapunda, except . . . it wasn’t. We started dog-legging along palm-lined back-roads reminiscent of the Nile Valley, fascinating, but not what we needed. I followed a small white car for a while until it turned off down a dirt side-road, then fell back on my old trick of heading for the sun. Left, right, left, right, though somewhere called Seppeltsville and past the front gate of every major winery in Australia. Anybody who wants to re-trace that route, good luck!
Somehow, we arrived in Kapunda and paused for a map-read. Yep, straight ahead to Allendale North, left-right to Marrabel, left to Manoora, and right to Burra. What could go wrong? Just as I was moving off, Ross K and Michael R pulled up beside me and announced “the computer says turn right”. If they’d said left, I might have fallen for it, but clearly, right was towards Broken Hill and NSW, no no NO! Straight ahead was north – and this time, I was right.
Noticing the sun was getting low again, I picked up the pace as we left the Barossa chaos behind. An exhilarating ride through impressive scenery followed as the traffic thinned and the country opened out into the awesome southern Flinders Ranges scenery. Abandoned stone cottages from failed 1850s farms dot the landscape which always impresses me with its scale and grandeur. Soon enough we arrived in the historic town of Burra, a brief pause to check the map and admire the throngs of lycra-clad mountain-bikers crowding the main street (4pm on a Tuesday?), and onward to Peterborough. Shadows were long, colours intense, and the road deserted. Speeds increased for a memorable blast northwards, arriving to fuel in Peterborough just on sunset. Moff took the opportunity to give the squirrel a congratulatory head-scratch, and we were on our way again.
Next heading west into the blazing red glow, we roared across impressive open, undulating country towards Orroroo. As the road twisted and turned, behind me I could see a line of headlights swinging through the mauve and grey backdrop like pearls on a string. The riders at the back of the pack had a similar view forwards but of red taillights winding towards the stark black backbone of the Flinders Ranges, silhouetted against the dusk glow. Undoubtedly, some of the most impressive visuals of the trip, and completely unplanned. Ah, it was good to be alive and on a bike!
Rural scents of cut hay, moist soil and wood smoke appeared as the still air cooled. We rumbled down the main street of Orroroo, glimpses of startled, staring locals frozen in our headlights outside the old stone pub. They probably heard us coming from 10 kilometres out and wondered, WTF? Leaving town heading ever west, the sunset glow still spectacular, I could see 3 bright white lights at the base of the silhouetted ranges in the general direction of Wilmington, which was over 50 km away. What could they be? As we rode westwards, the ranges rose higher and higher against the fading sunset glow but those lights didn’t seem to come any closer. Velvety, inky black all around until suddenly we were there… floodlights in the road train assembly area on the outskirts of Wilmington. The clear dry air had made them look only a few hundred metres away all that time.
Seven pm, straight into the parking lot beside the old stone Wilmington Hotel at 1 Main North Road, familiar to me as a regular stop-over on my frequent Kalgoorlie –Brisbane commutes during the 90s. Still the same creaky wooden floor and big balcony overlooking the main street, but the place had been done over internally in a disappointing kind of flesh pink, with tasty olive-green carpets. Never mind. The facial expressions of the publican as she tried to work out how 21 guys would fit into 16 beds made up for the decor. Comment of the evening across the bar “when you said there was 5 couples, I didn’t realise youse were all blokes!” She warmed to us quickly enough and got quite chatty later on, giving us the run-down on local goss and why she wasn’t renewing the contract for the ATM in the lounge, among other tidbits.
We completely took over the top floor, before assembling downstairs for drinks, dinner, and in some cases, reflective moments outside in the deserted main street. The benefits of staying in country pubs of course, late check-in is always ok, and you can eat, drink, meet the locals, then stumble upstairs to bed without any complex logistics. Just what you want after a big day, 835km, arriving in a world that smelt, sounded and tasted different. We were on the cusp. Just 43 kilometres to Port Augusta in the morning, then turn right to Darwin…
Day 3 – Wilmington to Coober Pedy
by David P
It was day three of our trip away to the Red Centre and we’d just spent the night in a magnificent old country pub in Wilmington, about 260k’s north of Adelaide. This grand old lady was staring to show her age, but none the less was still able to stand proud in the main street showing off her beauty from a by-gone era.
As the motley crew of motorcyclists stretched & yawned into position out the front for a quick photo opportunity, Rolf asked if anyone would be interested in leading the ride to Coober Pedy. Why not I thought, so I volunteered. There were only three corners to mark (That’s one more than Melbourne to Daylesford – Ooopp’s) so how could I stuff that up??? After a quick glance at the map and a few Madonna poses for the camera we were off. I also had the added responsibility of finding breakfast somewhere along the way as no-one in town could be bothered to get up at 7am to serve breakfast. Port Augusta was probably our best bet for a feed.
From Wilmington we headed west through Horrocks Pass, which was magnificent countryside and a fantastic stretch of windy road through the hills. This was really the only twisty bit on the whole trip other than our stint along the Great Ocean Road on day one. We dropped down the range into Port Augusta. A fuel stop was required and there was a Hungry Jacks next door to the servo, so it made sense to stop there for something to eat.
Keeping in mind that we had a few miles to chew through and didn’t have bucket loads of time if we wanted to have a look around Coober Pedy in daylight. Fast food breakfast dining provided a new experience for some MMT members. The soft ambient atmosphere provided by the bright pink neon lights above made the whole dinning experience somewhat surreal. Suck it up guys I thought to myself, as this would be our last taste of city culture for a while.
Once we departed Port Augusta we’d be heading out to outback South Australia, and our first taste of outback riding. We rode about 200k’s to a roadhouse near Woomera for fuel, then a short hop of about 100k’s to Glendambo for a top up. From Glendambo to Coober Pedy is the longest stretch of road without fuel, 256k’s. We had a roadhouse lunch at Glendambo and fortunately had a slight tail wind to help push us along and save fuel. Gary was the only one who was going to need a fuel top-up before we reached our destination and was fully independent carrying a small container of fuel. I decided we’d have a road side stop three quarters into the stint anyway for a leg stretch and this would give Gary an opportunity to top up.
We arrived in Coober Pedy mid afternoon and the novelty of staying in an underground motel (Back Packers) soon wore off once the realisation of the distinct lack of privacy became apparent (All part of the experience boys). I booked dinner at the local Greek restaurant which was highly recommended by my neighbours who had recently visited the area.
The troops broke off into small groups and began to explore the area. The presence of drunken indigenous locals kept us alert while we walked around town. We sat out in the motel car park amongst the bikes and enjoyed a few refreshments before heading off for a most enjoyable evening at the restaurant.
Day 4 – Coober Pedy to Yulara
by Tim L
The day started with a quick breakfast at a Roadhouse in Coober Pedy, just a short distance from our accommodation. The ride, from Coober Pedy to Yulara is about 735 km’s as the crow flies. As we rode out of Coober Pedy, the opal capital of the world, we could see the vast number of opal mines, that riddle the landscape around the township. One could really appreciate the time and effort people have put into extracting the valuable stone over the years. The earlier form of mining was by digging a shaft with a pick and shovel. Driving or tunnelling along the level was then carried out with picks and shovels. When traces of opal are found a handpick or screwdriver is used.
Nowadays most if not all prospecting shafts are made by using a Calweld-type drill which are used to excavate holes about one metre in diameter using an auger bucket. The drills can dig to a maximum depth of about 28 to 30 metres and the opal fields are pitted with thousands of abandoned Calweld shafts.
Waste material or mullock, from the shafts and drives, was originally lifted to the surface by hand windlass, later being replaced by power winches (Yorke hoists) or automatic bucket tippers. Today truck-mounted blowers, which operate like vacuum cleaners, are more commonly used for bringing mullock to the surface and it’s this material dotted across the landscape we can see as we head up the Stuart Highway towards our first group refueling stop at Marla, 234 km away.
We traveled at a constant speed of between 130 and 140 km/h, moving from the mine fields into the outback landscape, which due to the recent wet weather was well populated with plants and remarkably green. A quick stop at Cadney Homestead gave Gary the opportunity
to put some more fuel in his scooter and for Christian to investigate an oil leak on his Moto Guzzi. The oil leak was later to be identified as coming from an oil seal, which would only leak if the revs were over 4000 rpm. It was also at Cadney Homestead that we saw our very first Road Train, albeit parked!
After refueling at Marla, we continued our journey north another 179 km’s to Kulgera, stopping on the way at the South Australia and Northern Territory border for a photo opportunity. We refueled at Kulgera and took the opportunity to get something to eat and take a few amusing photos around the petrol station. We continued north up the Stuart Highway, turning west onto Lasseter Highway, heading towards Mount Ebenezer and Yulara. Arriving at Mount Ebenezer, after traveling another 130 km’s, it was a relief to be able to refuel both the bike and oneself. Mount Ebenezer is an unusual stop, consisting of a shop, toilet and petrol pump. We had the pleasure of paying $2.20 per litre for petrol, which I believe was the most expensive petrol of the whole trip. The day was getting warmer and the flies were out in force. Everyone took the opportunity to buy something for lunch and eat it in the shade whilst watching other travelers come and go in their campervans or buses.
After a reasonable lunch break we mounted our steeds again and commenced our ride towards Yulara. The group needed to stop part way (after about 160 km’s) to allow Gary to refuel his scooter. Rolf thought the timing of the stop would coincide with our first glimpse of Uluru, so I was looking out for Uluru as we rode and also keeping an eye on the number of km’s we’d travelled so Gary didn’t run out of fuel. I was surprised to see Mt Conner on our left, jutting above the ridges and was almost tricked into thinking it was Uluru. Mt Conner, even from quite a distance is an impressive feature and gave me some idea of what Uluru would look like when we could finally see it. The odometer was reading over 160 km’s by now so I was getting a little anxious for Gary, thinking we’d better get a sighting of the rock soon and find somewhere suitable to stop. Luckily, the rock popped out from behind one of the ridges and it was surely a fantastic site to see. It looked HUGE even from a distance. Unfortunately, there wasn’t anywhere suitable for the group to stop that also had a reasonable view so we rode on a little further until we came across a wayside stop – which didn’t have a view of the rock! Anyway, Gary got to refuel and everyone got their first glimpse of the rock as we were riding – a very memorable experience!
We continued our journey towards Yulara (189 km’s) but didn’t stop there as we decided to continue on to purchase our Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park passes and have a quick look at Uluru before making our way back to the Yulara Resort where we were staying the next 4 nights. We purchased our passes, bikes costing $25 for a 3 day pass, and then made our way into the park, past the turnoff to Kata Tjuta (Olgas), which we will visit over the next few days, past the Cultural Centre onto the carpark at the base of Uluru. It was quite remarkable, standing at the base of Uluru after our long days ride. We wandered around looking at some of the information boards but we were all too tired really to do anything other than appreciate what a remarkable natural feature Uluru was and think of what fun we were going to have exploring the area over the next 3 days.
At this point it was getting late in the afternoon so we all jumped back onto our bikes and continued riding around Uluru and back out of the National Park to the Yulara Resort/Pioneer Hotel where we were staying. I think everyone was rather tired and happy to get our final destination for the day – it had been quite a long day’s ride but a very enjoyable one.
Day 5 – Uluru
What is it about a big old rock in the middle of this country that has the power to draw so many people to it? Is it the unusual way that it stands so high and proud amongst a somewhat flat desert landscape we expect of central Australia?
Whatever it is, I don’t think you will ever meet anyone who has been and experienced the magic of Uluru, who has left without an impression they will carry for the rest of their lives. There is a real energy you feel that you are in a special place.
Our day visiting The Rock was marked by mixed feelings. We started as a walk around the rock. With camera in hand, shooting every angle and detail, Fab, Arron and myself lost the rest of the group after the closest water hole. Not to worry, it’s a big circle, so we’ll meet up with them at some point. In fact, unbeknown to us, they actually headed in the opposite direction to that in which we headed. A few hours along the path, after exploring, and capturing every visual aspect of detail the rock could provide, we met up with the rest of the group. Thinking they were ahead of us, and had turned around, it was soon revealed they had in fact been walking in the opposite direction, and the way we had come was the last quarter back to the carpark. We decided it was a better option to head back with the group, and see if the gates which were closed for the climb earlier due to the wind increase had been re-opened.
Sure enough, access was again permitted, and streams of people were already making their way up the chain picketed rock face, so our contingent started preparations for our climb effort. Camera strap secure around my neck, I embarked on the climb at the foot of the rock to the first peg of the chain picket. Noticing the increase in the pace of my breathing, I began to wonder if I would even make it to the top. But being a determined, stubborn and even somewhat pig-headed type of person who hates being told that he failed, I persisted, just with frequent stops. It was however comforting when Rolf passed me to hear his heavy breathing also.
Finally making it to the top of the chain, I could have sworn I heard the rock laughing at me, as we discovered that we were only about a third of the way to the summit. Not to be beaten, I pushed on. The views were so rewarding as we made our way across the waving formation resembling a solidified ocean of rock. A few steep and slippery gullies near some rather scary drops over the edge convinced Michael K that enough was enough as his shoes failed to provide adequate grip over the scaled rock face. I could feel my heart racing as we arrived at the summit, part from my lack of fitness, but mostly from the thrill and excitement of making it all the way. I was slightly confused also, as I remembered seeing so many people climbing ahead of our group beginning, but we were almost alone when we reached our destination. Maybe they all fell off where Michael feared to tread?
A few celebratory group photos, and excited phone calls to family and loved ones were made before the first of the youthful school group rock climb challenge participants started arriving. Time to go, as the ambiance was about to be lost with adolescent chatter of gloating achievement.
As we commenced our descent, a realisation of my ever approaching mid-life where the same knee injury I was awarded from a couple of years ago as we were hiking around Dove Lake in Tasmania flared up again. The decision to make my was down the chain backwards paid off, and I reached terra firma of my own esteem without landing on my face!
I came, I saw, I conquered… I was a very happy man!
Day 7 – Kings canyon
“What’s the plan, Rolf?” was the question. “Don’t know about you, but I’m for The Rock on Friday, The Olgas on Saturday, and Kings Canyon on Sunday” was my answer. And so it went. Now on Sunday morning, the road out of town beckoned. The “town” being the somewhat institutional oasis of Yulara, and the road being the NT’s Lasseter Highway. A Sunday ride with a difference.
Assembly in the carpark for an 8am departure was slow, with many interested punters not arriving until the last minute. It slowly dawned on me that the only other person there with a helmet, or even long pants, was Phil R. OK, Aaron and Fab in the Mazda, Ross in the Honda sure, but what about Brett F, David P, Michael V, Christian, and Evan?? Carbound, the lot of them. Scared off by a piffling 620km ride coupled with a little bushwalk. So today it seemed, MMT stood for Melbourne Mazda Tourers. Appalling!
I nominated Phil R as the tail rider, he accepted, we checked the carpark for Beau (sadly negative), so the two of us set off. Seeing the now-familiar bulk of The Olgas receding in my rear-view mirror made me realise how quickly we’d all settled into Yulara and made ourselves at home. The average stay is apparently 1.5 days, at 4 nights we almost became part of the scenery ourselves. The dude at the Shell knew all the bikes, we knew all the paths and sand dunes across to the Yulara Village Square by day and by night (and the staff at all the cafes), we had walked around The Rock, climbed it, and flown over it. The Olgas circuit walk – done! Our $25 park passes were even about to expire. It was definitely time to get out and explore the neighbourhood.
A quick fuel stop at Curtin Springs for Phil, equal with Mt Ebenezer for the most expensive unleaded of the trip at $2.20/litre. At least in Curtin Springs though there was no dead mouse stinking out the restaurant! Eastwards, salty Lake Amadeus to the left and Ayers Rock lookalike Mt Connor to the right, we quickly reached the turnoff onto Luritja road 136 km from Yulara. No corner marking necessary, cars now well behind us too, we barely slowed to turn before roaring northwards. This road dog-legs across the vegetated red sand dunes, winding around and up and down through groves of weird-looking gnarled and twisted desert trees, varied, scenic and quite a challenging roller-coaster ride if you’re going fast enough. Which we were. Sadly, the road also seemed a popular gathering place for flocks of small brown desert finches, whose evolutionary survival mechanisms hadn’t quite prepared them for surviving a big black Suzuki. A number of flock-scale massacres ensued.
Eventually an impressive-looking escarpment rose before us, the Petermann Ranges, and the road curved left to run along the base of the cliffs, before a quick stop and re-group at spectacular Kings Creek Station. This place has the best coffee in central Australia, with the hot station-hands riding around in the tray of a Landcruiser ute a definite bonus. We waited for a convoy 12 German and Austrian-populated Britz Landcruisers to depart, then cruised on the final 30 km to the main Kings Canyon carpark and dismounted. A quick 310km for the morning and it was barely 10:30am!
Spurred on by the presence of numerous rather hot French backpackers, Phil and I stripped down to shorts and runners in the carpark, to the amusement of certain uncharitable onlookers. After milling around for a while, filling waterbottles and Camelbaks, off we headed. The signs said the Kings Canyon Rim Walk was 4.5 hours, so based on experience at Ayers Rock and The Olgas, we should manage it 2.5 hours, maybe 3. We overlooked one small detail here – this walk was actually a bit rugged.
After 10 minutes ambling beside the creek, lulling you into a false sense of security, it kicked off with a solid 20 minute climb up
what appeared to be a flight of giant stairs. Only 270 vertical metres apparently, same height as the Eureka Tower! Smoke break halfway up, while those of us with breath still in our lungs practised coo-eeing mating calls ahead to more French backpackers, who replied in kind. Unfortunately, “coo-ee” seemed to be their only word of English. Ah well. They were a bit young anyway. Once up on the plateau around the canyon, the walk began in earnest. We felt like, and probably looked like, The Lost Tribe as we wandered between the spectacular horizontally-layered red rocky bluffs under the deep blue sky and blazing sun. Especially after Evan tied an arab-style headdress on and Fab pulled his hoodie up to protect his lily-white complexion. Aaron followed suite, Christian flew the floppy-hat and safari shorts flag as the only bwana in the group, Brett F tried the cowboy rockstar look, Phil’s chequered shorts would obviously scare the snakes away, while Michael V stuck with good old-fashioned chopper-rescue red. Ross looked a bit like Harry Butler, with only David P and myself managing any kind of understated but classy dress-sense.
Several impromptu geological lectures were held along the way where extra-good bits of dune cross-bedding textures could be seen in the rock. Cracking the Kings Canyon rocks open you find they are snowy-white, wind-purified during dune deposition, nearly 100% sugary quartz. The distinctive red-orange iron staining that gives them their colour is literally only skin-deep, the highly soluble iron transported by groundwater and surface weathering processes. These rocks represent fossil sand dunes formed around the edge of the Amadeus Basin, a huge system of rivers and freshwater lakes 300 kilometres across draining the even more impressive mountain ranges which occupied central Australia around 550 million years ago. The Musgrave (to the south) and MacDonnell (to the north) Ranges we see now are just the eroded remnants of older ranges that were once higher than the Himalayas and the source of some very high-energy rivers, able to transport wheelie-bin sized rocks hundreds of kilometres. The sandstones and conglomerates of Ayers Rock and The Olgas were deposited in the middle of the system as part of the same erosional epoch.
The trail meandered around, up and down, this way and that, vague in rocky places but fortunately marked by little painted arrows. We
found our way to various canyon rim viewpoints, including the famous Priscilla “cock in a frock on a rock” outlook. Views back down the canyon, basically a wedge-shaped crack in the rock, were stunning, with some ant-like people even visible on the opposite rim.
We kept moving towards the head of the canyon and eventually descended into the Garden of Eden for a well-deserved rest under prehistoric-looking cycads. Phil had already eaten the only apple and happily the snakes seemed to be in hiding, so we had to content ourselves with just dabbling our fingers in the rockpools.
Climbing back out up to the plateau again seemed a big effort. The day was definitely warming up, but we comforted ourselves with the thought of the carpark which must surely be just around the next bluff. Until I stumbled on a little sign saying “3km” in each direction… we were only halfway! Celebratory muesli bars were eaten, waterbottles sucked dry, and we pressed on, even managing to catch up with the French boys before arriving at the carpark. It was nearly 3pm by then, so a 4.5 hour walk, hmm, about right!
On the bikes and a quick blast back to Kings Creek Station for fuel. Phil rolled in silently to stop beside the pumps, having run out of fuel just 300 metres up the road. Lucky Phil indeed! No eye-candy on display this time, we mounted up and blasted off for the 280 km of desert scenery back to Yulara. The mission, to arrive “home” by around 5:30 in time to meet up with the stay-at-homes for a run out to the Ayers Rock sunset viewing area, was accomplished. What a day – a tidy 620km ride and 6km scramble through some of the most amazing desert scenery you will find anywhere – where else but central Australia!
Day 8 – Uluru to Alice Springs
So on day 8 of the Uluru trip we headed of from Yulara at a painful 8:30am! We were all energised from the 3 days we had had exploring the resort, so we tried to see if we could get into the park on our expired park passes, but alas, the park lady was a Nazi saying “I can’t do it, I’m sorry I have a job to do”. With Rolf being grumpy from probably too many bundys the night before argued “that’s what they said in the gas chambers!” Ha, I nearly fell off my bike laughing… lolz. So we turned around and found a nice corner to line up on and do a photo shoot with the rock in the background.
After the frantic smoking and photographing was finished, we headed off in a very very tight slow group to get a nice riding shot on the way out with me leading :). Its a great feeling having 15 people following you on a bike, even if you have no idea where you’re going.
The fist stop was at Curtin Springs about 80ks away so that some people with smaller tanks could fill up to make it to Eldunda. Rolf being the one taking the group riding shots was at the back, passed by the tail rider, so we sat around speculating what could of happened to him and contemplated going back to find out, but then we heard the scream of a Japanese motorcycle coming around the corner. As it turned out he had a little bit of water in his tank and needed to drain the carbies when to much got in there. So with all my motorcycle ducklings back in a line we headed of to Eldunda where we would see one of the 3 intersections of the 455km ride. Eldunda was a great big roadhouse with a great big bain-marie and palm trees so we stopped for some dirty sausage rolls and Red Bull.
We headed off for the last 200km leg to Alice Springs and I was having a great blast as the weather was awesome and there were lots of grey nomads to overtake at high speeds.
We stopped around 150kms away in a small truck stop on a nice straight to let people fill up with petrol, but the group was broken up in the middle by a bus and as tail rider, John M come up to the truck stop he went for it ekkkkkk got in front of the bus and saw us stopped, slamming on the brakes eeK… but luckily didn’t get run over. 😀
With all my little motorcycle ducklings back safe and sound and full of petrol, we headed off again for the last 50kms to Alice. We arrived after the ‘boring as all hell’ entry to Alice to Toddy’s Back Packers which I found with no u turns! Yay… go me! Anyway, I had an awesome day and hope you all did too! 🙂
Day 9 & 10 – Alice Springs to Coober Pedy splinter group
Participants: David Wilson, Evan, Gary, John Mathews, Max, Tim Hughes plus Michael K (car) and Ross and Michael R (car).
Shortly after the Main Group departed on their coach tour the Splinter Group prepared to depart Alice Springs – minus Evan, who apparently had secret young man’s business to attend to in that bustling metrollopiss.
Basically we had decided at Toddy’s Backpackers to dispense with all semblance of structure and organisation. We all fuelled up at the nearby Shell Servo and headed south like tourists; no ride leader, no tail rider, no plan except “see you all in Coober Pedy”.
It was also agreed that our breakdown plan was to be….if anything goes wrong with your bike, just wait – the cars won’t be far behind. We were therefore permanently strung out over what must have been a 50 km ‘rubber band’. Even so, we all seemed to regroup at the unplanned fuel stops!
We arrived at Coober Pedy around 4.00pm after experiencing perfect riding weather all day. Ross and Michael R had phoned ahead and reserved an expensive suite at the Desert Cave. The rest of us went back to the Radeka – but this time we had a 6-berth room. With an Ensuite! And a Door!
Evan arrived shortly after and headed back down to the dungeon.
After a general clean up we all trooped over to Jimmy’s Pizza Bar for dinner. This was largely on my recommendation, as the coffee there on the way up had been excellent and I had been intrigued by the ingredients in their advertised gourmet pizzas. Sucked in! Never forget that self-praise is no recommendation. The pizzas were just OK but not up to Melbourne standards. However, the over-ordering was entirely our fault – a garlic foccacia and five pizzas among nine hungry grown men seemed reasonable, even if they were all 18″ in diameter. Nope. We took half the stuff back to the Radeka and put it in the communal fridge. And there they stayed.
Off to bed. Unlike our previous stay we did not have a snoring walrus to serenade us, but luckily Max stepped up to the task and played his bunk springs for most of the night.
On the following morning we again breakfasted at the big servo and left at 9.00am for Port Augusta. Once more, a structureless day of good weather and easy riding saw us arrive at the Poinsettia Motel in the late afternoon.
The rest you all know!
On a personal note, I could not (and still cannot) work out the price of bananas at Pimba Roadhouse. For one banana – 75 cents. For two bananas – $1.55. This happened on the way north and again on the way south. For me, this will forever remain the supreme mystery of the Outback.
Day 10 – Alice Springs to Port Augusta
“Start early, keep stops short” is the mantra to make distance easy. Always a challenge with a group though, so I was a bit surprised when it was popularly suggested that we move the 6:30 departure time back to 6am. I’d estimated that the ride would take us 12 hours, ETA Port Augusta 6:30pm just on dark, so having half an hour up our sleeves would be welcome. So it came to be, a bunch of MMT types crowding into Toddy’s kitchen at the opening time of 5:30, jostling with some sleepy backpackers who were awake for no obvious reason. David P, Michael V, Christian, Phil R, Adam M, John H, Brett F, Tim L and Peter Ho all seemed in fine form and raring to go. After a generous breakfast of burnt toast and International Roast the ten bikes plus Fab and Aaron in the Mazda+trailer assembled outside in the gloom, at 6:10 waking the neighbourhood by roaring off through the 3 degree air southwards through Heavitree Gap.
Turning right near the airport, it was obvious the group was well spread out behind me already. Maybe the cold air had prompted a few instant pit stops? Never mind, I settled into a conservative 130km/h cruise through the pre-dawn gloom, on the lookout for animals. Extended heavy rains, lush vegetation and plenty of surface water normally means animals don’t move around much or pose a traffic hazard, but there’s always one… or in this case, two.
Two light grey steers were standing motionless in the middle of the road ahead of me, blending perfectly into the colour of the dawn sky. A long air-horn blast spooked one, but the second beast remained, staring curiously at me until a second honk, when he/it was startled into completely losing his footing on the slippery bitumen, front legs sliding out and chin hitting the road, looking comically astonished as he went down in a tangled heap. I was less than 10 metres away, moving at walking pace, before he successfully got to his feet. A third honk saw the tail go up as he galloped for the roadside bush, hopefully never to be seen again. Lucky for him I wasn’t a road-train!
The air temperature dropped further just as the sun rose, briefly going below zero at one stage according the BMW rolling weather station behind me. The sky turned from grey to pink, then orange before settling into stunning Centralian Blue. The cliffs of the James Ranges and Mt Grevillea glowed all around us as the road snaked down towards the Henbury meteorite craters, Palmer Valley then the flats approaching our first stop at Erldunda, junction of the Lasseter Highway and the 200km mark from Alice.
Numb fingers were pressed on the hot baie marie glass as the group straggled in. Wind-chill had caused some to drop right off the pace it seemed, others to stop to don full wet weather gear to ward off the cold. In the Northern Territory. And we being Victorians!!
Hot food, hot drinks, cold petrol and we were off in bright sunshine for Marla Bore, 253kms south and back across the border in South Australia. Aware that we were slipping behind schedule already, I chivvied the group up to a comfortable 140 km/h. At least there was no wind. Yet. Marla duly appeared, but again, bike arrivals were spread over 15 minutes. Where was tail rider Brett? Oops. He was stopped, out of fuel 9 km back it turned out, beginning a very busy day for Fab and Aaron in the rolling fuel tanker.
Fuel only at dismal Marla, then off ever southwards on the rather desolate leg of 234kms to Coober Pedy, Moff on his trusty Yamaha replacing the embarrassed Brett as tail rider. Along the way, clouds appeared and the forecast south-westerly wind gusted in, then some rain! The group pace dropped off but I held the nominated speed, most dropping back except Michael V on the Cagiva, who got so impatient he overtook me in his excitement. Sympathising, I managed to miss the (second) turnoff into Coober Pedy thinking there was a third, so a u-turn on the open highway followed, fortunately only witnessed by Michael, pulling into the familiar Caltex station at 11:50, best lunch in town.
Michael’s satisfied comment “That’s how you get it done” sat well with me, but we were still waiting nearly 20 minutes for the last bikes to arrive. More fuel can carnage, with several riders convinced their bike had developed mechanical problems (or a hole in the fuel tank). But no, just higher speeds and a moderate headwind playing havoc with fuel consumption figures. And oil consumption, in Christian’s case – although it was not so much consumed, as sprayed down the left side of the bike (and Christian).
With 685 kms down before lunch, we idled away an hour in Coober Pedy waiting for the rain to stop, swapping text messages with the B-Team advance group a few hundred kilometres ahead of us. Watch out for the cockatoos, they warned us. And the cop south of Glendambo. Thanks guys! That’s unusual I thought, most be a bored copper out from Port Augusta for the day, no doubt on his way home southwards already.
The longest leg of 256km to Glendambo began uneventfully, the group spread out over 5km or so but mostly visible behind me. I was cruising along in “the zone” when some kind of sixth sense had me unconsciously roll off the throttle as an unassuming grey commodore approached. Unassuming until the front lit up red and blue. Uh-oh! Busted for the society-threatening velocity of 126 km/h in a 110 zone. He politely dropped it to 124, before I even asked.
A very pleasant chat followed, the quite good-looking copper agreeing that the road was in better condition than the 130km/h zoned NT stretch, and that there was no logic at all in the monthly “show the flag” exercise he was engaged in. Even less logic in the $60 “Victims of Crime” levy, given that neither of us could identify who the victims of this particular “crime” were! Lots of bikes on the road today, said he. Non-committal grunt, said I. We chatted amiably, my intention being to keep him busy until the whole group passed, but oh horror! a marked car passed us heading north as we stood there gossiping. Tailrider Moff subsequently became the first scooter-rider to be awarded a similar Stuart Highway Certificate of Achievement.
So to Glendambo, and more tales of fuel starvation, a particular Ducati 749 distinguishing itself for the third time. Some confusion about the nature of David P’s frequent, umm, nature stops prompted David’s comment to Fab “If you see me by the side of the road and I don’t have my penis in my hand, I probably need fuel”. Ahem.
Refuelled, pushing on into the afternoon towards Pimba, we started to see a lot of birdlife in the undulating grassy plain and rocky gullies. Too much birdlife. A flight of six glorious Major Mitchell cockatoos took to the air from a dead tree as I passed, sweeping across the road in front of me. Cockatoo number 4 swept up over the GSXR’s fairing, and as I ducked it hit me full in the face, at about 140km/h. Oof! Familiar slamming of helmet back on head, head back on shoulders, and arse back on seat. Just like being punched in the face. Peter Ho, close behind, later said it most resembled a firework going off – a spectacular radial explosion of delicately tinted feathers, followed by the inert, plucked carcass cartwheeling out to one side. I stopped up the road at the Lake Haart lookout ostensibly for a re-group and view appreciation of the water-filled saline lake, but in reality it was an opportunity for me to make sure my nose wasn’t broken. It wasn’t.
At Pimba, a long chatty stop saw a group decision to detour up the Olympic Dam access road to inspect the Defence Department ghetto called Woomera. What the hell, we had the time and when would we have the opportunity again? An odd, 1950’s era institutional town, the “town square” is filled with a fascinating collection of aircraft, rockets, spacecraft and pieces thereof. A chapter of Australian history most people are unaware of. Main business in town these days of course, is the asylum-seekers detention camp, although the military still livefire various weapons in the 650km-long Woomera Prohibited Area.
The final 173km leg south-east to Port Augusta was especially memorable, the sun getting lower behind us, colours deepening in the earth and sky, temperature dropping, patchy rain scudding across the road and the smell of wet earth and vegetation in the air. The group tightened up and increased in speed, like a herd of donkeys scenting the home stable. Darkness fell just 20 km outside Port Augusta, we could smell the briny Spencer Gulf ahead.
A left turn onto the Eyre highway (Sydney, or Perth?), and left again at the first set of lights a kilometre east, marked by a noisy cheer squad of familiar faces on the corner. Triumphantly we rolled into the accommodating Motel Poinsettia at 6:40pm, 1,240 kilometres covered from the driveway of Toddys Backpackers in Alice Springs. Woohoo! How easy was that?
Day 11 – Port Augusta to Clare
A late start with a very short 200km run to Clare was the original plan, because I had assumed either some bikes or riders would be needing some running repairs in Port Augusta after the long day before. In the event, no repairs or recovery was required and everybody was keen to see more of the Flinders Ranges, so a longer route and 9:30 start was settled on at the pub the night before.
Remarkably, by 8am next morning everybody was up, packed, loading bikes and running across the road for fuel. Almost everybody. At 8:20, woken by the sound of numerous idling bikes, Evan stumbled out, ciggy in hand and alarmed look on his face. “I thought it was a 9:30 departure” he cried indignantly. I couldn’t resist. Across the rumble of engines I bellowed back “Yeh, and it’s 9:25 now. Did you forget about the 1 hour time change at the SA border?” A look of absolute horror and cry of denial was followed by a wry grin when he realised he was the focus of a laughing circle.
We left 10 minutes before schedule in the end, surely an MMT first. It was good to see the whole group together on the road again, first time since the run from Yulara to Alice, three days before. A zig-zag lap around Port Augusta’s congested Thursday morning CBD gave everybody a chance to practice their corner marking and thoroughly confused the locals. East, across the final bridge then left up into the ranges and spectacular Horrock’s Pass to Wilmington, such a good stretch of road I was determined to ride it twice this trip. Sadly, the gathering clouds grew heavier and we were greeted with drizzle and a wet road.
A regroup in Wilmington saw most putting on extra layers of clothing, and we headed north to Quorn. Thanks to the Pichi Richi steam railway, Ross was almost a local here, so he and Michael R had gone ahead to audition suitable tea and scone providers. An old stone cafe on the main street awaited us in the drizzle, the smell of baking scones and sound of milk being steamed wafting out the door. Homemade jams and preserves completed the blissful scene as we gorged ourselves on our first taste of real civilisation for some time, waited upon by two clucking Aunt Mabel types.
Eventually we headed back out into the windy, patchily wet day. Leaving town, the GSXR began to cough, splutter and lose power, eventually quitting altogether. Same problem as the day we left Yulara it seemed, water in the fuel. Bit odd. Anyway, David P temporarily took over ride leader duties and the group headed off while I drained carbies and messed about, Fab and Aaron keeping me company. Turned out I could solve the problem simply by turning the fuel tap to “Prime” for a while, as the issue was in fact a tiny bit of dirt in the vacuum diaphragm on the fuel tap. You live and learn. I caught up with the group on a twisting, undulating rollercoaster of a road in classic Flinders Ranges scenery, tops of the rocky ramparts all around hidden by leaden clouds, the inevitable ruined stone cottages dotted all around us.
Up to Hawker and while strolling the main street, some were surprised to realise that this was the jumping-off point for scenic flights over Wilpena Pound 50km to the north, thence Lake Torrens and Lake Eyre. So close, and with good dirt roads I had ridden the GSXR over years before, but the idea of taking a group through there in the rain, hmm, not the cleverest plan!
So we turned south down the R M Williams Way towards Orroroo and Jamestown, passing Peterborough, famous for being the place where Australia’s three main rail gauges meet (thanks Ross!).
Peterborough also stands on the (in)famous Goyder’s Line, defined by George Goyder during his landmark 2 month survey in 1865 as the 250mm rainfall contour marking the limit of farmable land. Goyder was SA’s Surveyor General at the time, a scientist, specifically a geologist, and he mapped the rainfall line by observation of long-lived native flora. A good run of ten wet years was then underway and many farmers ignored the advice, recently-arrived Germans in particular, moving north and east of the line lured by the green, arable-looking grasslands. Inevitably, Australia did what it does best, returned to form, and kicked all their dusty, busted arses back towards Adelaide and the Barossa Valley by 1880. The many ruined stone cottages now visible thoughout the Flinders Ranges are a legacy of that time.
Interestingly enough, 146 years on, Goyder’s Line is just as accurate as it always was. That was some seriously good science, yet farmers still try their luck, lose, and claim Federal drought assistance. The photo on the cover of Midnight Oil’s 1987 album “Diesel and Dust”, showing plough furrows around a ruined stone cottage, was shot in the Flinders Ranges. Listen for the phrase “beyond the Goyder Line” in the lyrics…
Something else was niggling me though, Jamestown, what was that famous for? Not the Iron Lung. Of course, it was R M William’s home town. The Flinders Ranges are full of such iconic Australian history, as well as the inspiring and somehow so Australian scenery. Something about those mountains, plains and skies always stirs my heart. The area has always been popular with movie-makers too, most famously the Mad Max series, particularly the first, original 1979 episode which was filmed predominantly around Burra. Most of Wolf Creek was filmed here too. So even if you’ve never been here before, the scenery is somehow familiar and quite powerful.
Strong cross-winds, scudding grey clouds, showers and bright sunny patches combined to produce some spectacular vistas on the run south along the ranges. At one point the group rode right through the end of a rainbow so clear and strong I was worried it might be solid enough to cause accidents!
Arriving in a busy, damp Clare, we parked out a block of the main street in front of the historic Clare Hotel, lodgings for the night, before playing motorcycle Rubik’s Cube and somehow squeezing every bike into the pub’s fenced laundry compound out back. We took over the top floor, dried out, and scattered in groups to explore the town for a late lunch. Later, we were even joined by MMT’s Adelaide chapter for dinner that night (Hi Ken!). A very pleasant albeit damp day, 390 km closer to Victoria…
Day 12 – Clare to Swan Hill – Three states in one day!!!
by Peter Ho
Day 11 of our journey dawned and, yes, after the previous days ride through wind and rain and everything else that nature could throw at us we all anxiously rushed to the window to check the weather! It looked a bit damp but the rain of the day before had cleared – a huge sigh of relief went up from all!
The aim of the day was to get to our accommodations at the Jane Eliza Motor Inn in central, downtown Swan Hill.
I’d enjoyed the night before. Cocktails had started at around 6 and the night continued with a scrumptious dinner in the Clare Hotel Bistro. Ken S, one of our longest serving members, dropped down from where he now lives in Adelaide to catch up with everyone and a late night was had by all!
But the night before didn’t help me in the morning after! The hotel had promised us breakfast but had forgotten to tell the chef who turned up to sort out things for the day and discovered that she had lots of hungry bikers to feed! Thanks should go to her as she pulled together toast and cereal for all who wanted and needed it.
Our bikes were all parked in a small yard at the rear of the hotel and everything was wet from the night before but we all managed to get them out – after a bit of shuffling and twisting around the kitchen cold store, the Hills Hoist and the bottle dump!
I headed off to the servo to make sure I had enough fuel and to check the way out of town. The guy at the servo was very helpful and told me to proceed up the main street from the hotel and go left at the roundabout, follow that road to the end and then go left and follow the road to its end and then go right. He said that would take us to Burra, which was our next destination… He forgot one minor point – the first left didn’t end but was a U shaped road that took us back to the road that we had started upon! I should have relied on Google Maps rather than the servo attendant!
I’m not sure what the kids on the school crossing though as all our bikes went through it one way and then came back through it the other way – probably ended up in show and tell for the day. Anyway, after a few blockies and a stop to consult Google maps we finally reached the Burra road and headed off up a nice twisty, but damp, road through the hills.
We did a quick fuel stop in Burra and then headed off toward Renmark via Morgan where we stopped for a regroup and for Gary to use his remaining can of fuel. We then turned off the Highway and followed Morgan Road along the very full Murray River. Eventually we joined the Sturt Highway and headed in to Renmark – the town which was transformed by Australia’s first irrigation scheme. It is 258km north-east by road from Adelaide and a leisurely 570km cruise up the Murray in the Riverland. It’s a great citrus fruit and wine growing area and we saw plenty of this during our journey.
We stopped for fuel in Renmark and a late morning tea beckoned by the Golden Arches (attached to the servo) while John sorted out a rather hairy work problem over the phone – yes we were approaching home! Soon after Renmark we did our first crossing of the Murray and then headed off toward Mildura and our home state of Victoria. This road contains one of the longest straight stretches in Australia – 80 km with only one slight turn – not so good for the sport bikes in the group!
Mildura was our next stop for lunch and we really new we were headed home – it was the first city that we had been to in 11 days and we ended up stopping bewildered in a car park. We all broke into smaller groups for lunch as most of the cafes were full. Tim and myself and a few others enjoyed some hearty soups at a country style café – very enjoyable.
Next on the itinerary was to cross the Murray and the border into NSW and head down along the Murray towards Robinvale. There’s something about NSW roads isn’t there. No sooner had we crossed the border and the roads started to become very bumpy – even on the BM. They also grow their bugs pretty large in NSW – my whole visor was covered by a large juicy bug just before Robinvale and I had to stop the ride for an emergency wash down of the visor.
The road followed the Murray until we did a further crossing at Robinvale and then we headed off down the Murray Valley Highway to Swan Hill and the last night of our journey.
One more U-turn awaited us as we missed the hotel in the main street of Swan Hill and just to end the ride on the same note as we began it we all did one final u-turn!
The ride ended with a counter meal at the Commercial Hotel where we thanked Rolf for organising such a great ride and many of us then repaired to Max’s room for a quick drink before bed. Our ride to the centre was coming to an end with only the journey back to Melbourne remaining…
Day 13 – Swan Hill [Vic] to home
Saturday, 14th May. Last day on the road, just 340km to go, I think everybody was relaxed but also a little reflective of the days gone. Fab and Aaron had left early to pick up Fab’s GSXR from the shop before 12, so already the group dynamic was coming adrift. Getting everybody going was a chaotic affair, with several false starts and much revving of engines. Even after Peter Ho got his gloves on, there were still no volunteers for ride leader, so eventually I headed out the gates of the Jane Eliza Motor Inn into the crisp bright morning air, looking for a convenient petrol station.
Of course, the town ended before I spied a suitable servo, so we stopped and debated things for a while on the side of the road. Some could make Kerang without fuelling, some couldn’t. What to do! I couldn’t think. While we milled about in confusion, Michael V heard a pitiful meowing from the roadside ditch, and retrieved a very tiny, very cold kitten looking for a saviour. As we turned back into town for fuel, said kitten was reluctantly left to more Darwinian devices. The Murray Valley Highway south-east to Kerang was straightforward, but the town itself got complicated as a result of you guessed it, roadworks, caused by flooding four months before. A detour around the north of town through wheatfields brought us out on the highway past the turn-off I wanted. Umm. What the hell, the golden rule of leadership is to always look like you know what you’re doing, so I turned east and continued without pause.
Eventually, I spied a farm access road running south off the highway, and went for it. Must eventually connect to Pyramid Hill I reasoned. And so it proved, not before around two dozen 90 degree dogleg corners and a stretch of gravel though. We paused as we crossed the C336 to farewell the Bendigo/Castlemaine contingent, who took the opportunity to continue with us for a while yet. At this point the wind-chill was really making itself felt, and those of us with any clothing items left over, put them on. Ahh Victoria!
Further south, Max showed off his local farm roots (his origins that is) by taking us on a special shortcut through Eaglehawk around the back of Bendigo, where we really DID finally farewell John M, Gary V and Mike K. Several bikes nearly ran out of fuel by the time we got to the next servo at Harcourt. MMT, the well–oiled touring machine! Snacks and fuel at what became the official end of the Red Centre Ride, and after a gratefully-received Vote of Three Roots, the group broke up, departing in various directions one by one. Eventually there were just five of us left, so we saddled up and headed for the freeway to Melbourne.
Twenty kilometres down the road came the highlight of my ride-leading career. I had felt a bit different on the bike, but it took me that long to realise I had left my backpack at the roadhouse. Duh. Another few kilometres before the opportunity to exit/U-turn and I waved goodbye to the remaining four confused riders. “Why is Rolf turning back north? I thought that comment about Queensland was a joke?”
Backpack retrieved, I threw caution to the wind and resumed NT cruising speeds all the way in on the Calder, catching up with Evan in traffic on Flemington Road. The rest of the Red Centre Ride tourers had been absorbed by the metropolis. Home sweet home. What a trip!