Sunday, December 8, 2019

Australia - Roaming Free

These are the real Australians to me. Hardworking honest folks like you meet in the Outback
Now that the record had been set and the trip had officially ended, any pressure we had was now off. The original but vague plan had been to ride to Melbourne and ship home from there. But as we had lived very frugal we figured we could extend our trip a little further. After all we were here now and all we had to pay for was fuel and a little food. We knew we could free camp legally in Australia and as far as we know had no looming expenses on the bikes, chains or tyres coming up and therefor continued on north to Brisbane, all via inland routes of course. 

Our new home would be in The Netherlands. We’ve had a lot of questions, especially from Dutch nationals as to why on earth we would go back… The reason is very simple. It’s not because we don’t like Australia (in fact we love it here), nor is it because we missed The Netherlands. We’re not homesick or feel we’re missing something from Holland. The reason we go back is to look after my ageing parents. Just like Mike I’m an only child and the past years have been very hard for my mum and dad as both their only son and only grandson were on the other side of the world.

Back to the trip, we continued in a northerly fashion through the Great Dividing Range, circumventing Melbourne and through Mt Buffalo National Park. Along the way we stopped at Steve’s place, which is on a hill in a forested area… and the place where I had my first ‘off’ of the whole trip. I couldn’t believe it! I had been around the world without dropping the bike once and then back in Oz I dropped it on Steve’s ‘driveway’…!
In my defence, as it had been raining it was a pretty tricky ‘driveway’ for a heavily loaded road bike. As the bike was continuously trying to veer off left into the trees, I tried to swap over to the right hand track, and that’s when both wheels slipped from underneath me and the bike went down quicker than gravity. No damage to the Bonnie other than a scratched crash bar and, which together with the Barkbusters saved any further damage. What made it far worse is that I was unable to pick the bike up… it was simply too heavy for me. I know the way to do it but on the slippery ground it was just impossible. Had the bike been a more sensible weight then I probably wouldn’t have gone down for starters but at least been able to pick it up! Mike came up to help me but first had a session telling me off for taking the wrong line… For years ago I had learned him to ride, now he was learning me how to ride… times they are changing :-) It was to be years later that I realised that all his well meant advise worked on an enduro but not on a Bonneville, you just can’t even do 1/4 of the things on a heavy bike in such situations. What I should have done is slow down and move over to the other track in walking pace. With a dented pride and a few sore bones and muscles we nevertheless we enjoyed Steve’s hospitality and typical South African humour! We stayed for a couple of days during which Steve and his wife took us to a local race track, a the local chocolate factory(!) and we changed the rear tyres which had worn faster than anticipated due to Australia’s road surface which resembles a cheese grater.

From thereon we continued to Mt Buffalo, right up to the end of the park overlooking the beautiful Southern Alps and camped there. Wandering through the Alpine and Kosciusko National Parks, where we camped for free as some pencil pusher at Victoria National Parks had come up with the great idea to introduce a mobile phone only booking system… in a national park where you usually won’t have mobile phone coverage! There used to be a simple honesty box at campground entrances, take an envelope put your name and rego on it, pop in the cash (usually a fiver or a tenner) and drop it in the slotted pole. Easy. Then they came with ridiculous fees like A$18.35 or A$15.14… which most couldn’t pay as they didn’t have the pocket change. Now though you were assumed to have a mobile phone, which I don’t… 
Not a single time did a ranger come by to check if payments had been made and as it was out of season a bit we usually had the place to ourselves too.

We visited the Wombeyan caves. Not the biggest or most well known but therefore relatively quiet, away from the masses so to speak. A couple of year back we wanted to visit the Jenolan caves, only to find the place had rows of touring coaches parked outside. We therefor gave it a miss and went further south to the Wombeyan caves. Compared to a couple of years back it had become a lot more commercial too but still a great place to visit, especially so as you can go in without a mandatory guided tour.

On a totally different scale was a visit to Mt Panorama. For those of you not familiar with Australian racing: Winning at Mt Panorama is the holy grail. The circuit hosts the Bathurst 1000 every year. A thousand km racing with big real Aussi V8s. Great fun, so much better than the wimps doing F1. It’s a special place, where else in the world can you find a winery in the middle of the circuit? Better still, when they’re not racing you can ride the track! So guess what we did?

We continued to the Zig Zag Railway, a masterpiece of railway engineering whereby a series of switchbacks allows a steam train to ascent/decent along a cliff face. The zig zag rail way is now a working museum if you like, run by volunteers. Unfortunately when we were there it had been closed for 3 years due to the devastating 2013 fires. Behind the scenes volunteers have been working hard to get it open again though, which is aimed for end 2019 to early 2020. I hope they will get it done as it is a great piece of Australian history!

The Blue Mountains, as pretty as they are, we’re a disappointment. Too commercial, too tacky. The view points are still there, but it feels as if it won’t be long before you have to take a bus tour there to be able to see it. It’s nice enough but there are better places in Oz without the commercial clap trap. Towards Sydney we stopped at a state park, which offered free camping. There were just two other campers there. Great place along a river and in the woods. 

The next day we did something we hardly ever do: we rode the bikes into the very city centre of Sydney. We wanted to see the Sydney Opera House and thus went for it! Once there we persuaded the guards to allow us to park the bikes right in front of the gates so we could take a photo of ourselves and the bikes in front of the Opera House! Not only did they let us do it, on of them took the photo for us! We had lunch along Sydney Harbour and then headed for Wiseman’s Ferry. For Mike it was all relatively new as he was quite young when we had last been there. For me it was a trip through memory lane.

Stopping for a bit to drink at a small supermarket, I found a flat rear tyre when I came back out… Hmmm. I got a block of wood from a local builder who was renovating a nearby shop and had just started taking the wheel out when a voice behind me said ‘Jump in mate! I have a workshop a bit further down the road where you can change the tyre rather than getting sun burned here’ The voice was Vaughan Cummins from MSC Moto, who make the best steering dampers in the world. So off we went to his workshop, where I found the culprit being a lazy tyre fitter in Melbourne… he hadn’t cleaned off the rust flakes on the inside of the rim and thus several had worked their way through the heavy duty tube. I cleaned the rim from rust and refitted the tyre with a new tube, an 18” motocross one being the only size they had. That tube not only lasted the rest of the trip, it also took me from The Netherlands to the UK and back, followed by a trip to Sweden and Norway. In other words an 18” tube in a 17” tyre works fine!

We stayed with Vaughan for a couple of nights, did a loop through Wiseman’s ferry from there, which was not only a great road to ride but we could also leave the luggage at Vaughan! We had a farewell lunch together and then were off to the Waterfall way. 
Last time were were there it was soaking wet. So wet in fact that the whole road was a waterfall. Now it was dry, very dry. No waterfalls but still a great road to ride! From thereon we went to the National Motorcycle Museum in Nabiac, which is well worth a visit as they have a huge collection!

We slowly worked our way towards Queensland, enjoying every minute of the ride. This part of the world is so beautiful. Australia is known for its dry deserts but the Great Dividing range is a real treat. Just over the Queensland border we looked at a well known hang glider spot and then rode to the shipping company, just making sure we would be at the right spot as the timing would be very tight. We plotted it into our GPS and then left again for Mount Tamborine, a beautiful national park. At Canungra we found the Showgrounds thankfully had a new caretaker as the previous one had more than a few screws loose. We stayed there for a few days and then headed north around Brisbane towards Esk from where the ride into Brisbane goes via the beautiful D’Aguilar National Park and Mt Nebo. 

Australia's most famous

bird, the Laughing Kookaburra.
Being woken up by it's laughter
makes any day a good day!
We stopped at a McDonalds, using their wifi to look for a place to put the tents up for the last time, when a man asked us if it was our bikes outside. We started talking bikes, as you do, and at some point I mentioned the young girl we had seen on a KTM rally overtaking the boffins from KTM headquarters in Austria while doing a wheelie through a river crossing… he smiled and said ‘That’s my daughter, she’s KTM Australia’s PR manager’… ‘Where are you staying tonight?’ he asked. ‘Well that’s where we are looking at now’. He invited us to come and stay with him! Barely an hour later I rode the very same KTM 690 Enduro that his daughter Rosie had been riding in that video! We had a great evening together and didn’t have to pitch the tents, had our first shower in days and didn’t have to pack up a tent wet from condensation the next morning (which was good as we would fly out that day). How the shipping went you can read in the next post!