We woke to the sound of kookaburras singing in the trees around our campsite. Being a well-oiled machine we soon packed up the camp and hit the road heading to Cobar. Richard had a near disaster about 10 minutes later when a 4WD vehicle heading in the opposite direction on the narrow dirt hit a big kangaroo that jumped onto the road as it was passing him. I watched in horror as the roo flew through the air from the impact, clip the back of his bike and then landing on Richard’s side of the road. It ran in circles and then limped off while Richard rode through it all miraculously unscathed – pure luck – and the 4WD didn’t even stop! It all happened in seconds. You take what you get on these roads ...
The ride to Cobar was uneventful after the kangaroo encounter and from there it was the long haul across the Barrier Highway to Wilcannia. This little town has a pretty bad reputation yet we have always enjoyed our brief stays there. Unfortunately the eclectic café we like there was closed for the Easter holiday so we grabbed fuel and headed off for the two hour ride to our final destination of Broken Hill.
Riding in to The Hill this time felt like coming home as we had been through there a couple of times before. We checked into the lovely Royal Exchange Hotel in the middle of town, grabbed a picnic dinner and a bottle of champagne and rode out to the desert sculpture park about 15minutes outside of town. We love the place and as the sun set over the outback we ate our delicious picnic, drank the champagne and remembered my sister. She loved this beautiful country of ours, nearly as much as she loved drinking “bubbles”.
The next morning we ate a luxurious breakfast at our favourite café, the super cool Silly Goat Cafe, and then were back on the road back to Wilcannia ready for our second foray onto dirt for this trip.
The Cobb Highway runs for 185km from Wilcannia to Ivanhoe in central western NSW and 80% of the road is unsealed. The country is flat and beautiful and there is barely a house to be seen in any direction. Roads snake off to stations with wonderful names like ‘Marfield’, ‘Gypsum Palace’ and ‘Burtundy’. We had to fiddle with air pressure in our tyres as the road surface varied a lot from gravel to sand to hard packed clay. All very ridable but you had to concentrate hard. Being pelted by dust and stones by trucks and vehicles going the other way seems normal to me now. But at least there were no roos.
After a couple of hours of bumping and sliding around we made it into Ivanhoe and grabbed water and some fuel from the local store. A pig shooting competition was being held around the town and we weren’t really in the mood to hang out in town to talk about pig-shooting achievements. So we headed off as the shadows grew longer.
The road south was sealed – I wasn’t up to any more dirt that day – but it was animal heaven, or hell depending on your point of view. We swerved around dozens of roos, emus, goats, cows and even a fox as the sun set on another day. Fortunately a perfect campsite appeared just north of the turn off to Hillston by a dried up river bed and in no time the tent was up, food on and more wine flowing. Ah, such is life!
We were on the road first thing in the morning and back on the dirt, this time riding into Hillston. The road was signposted as ‘dry weather only’ and we found ourselves ploughing through some treacherous sand and dust. Not very deep but it still sapped our energy with such intense concentration. Richard hit some pockets of sand that nearly tipped him over and I had a couple of white knuckle moments too. Plenty of gravel mixed in with deep ruts. Cotton farms started appearing near Hillston and then we were back on sealed road- heaven. We stopped in at The Shed, a cute little café on the banks of the Lachlan River and we had a long chat with the owner and her partner Max. We used the compressor on the back of his ute to inflate our tyres ready for the long ride back to Sydney.
From Hillston we headed south along the Mid Western Highway to West Wyalong through small towns like Rankin Springs that have largely closed down as big regional centers have grown. We had yet another terrific fortifying coffee at The Muddy Duck in Murrumburrah which joins onto the bigger town of Harden and then it was onto the Hume Highway passing through Yass and stopping at Goulburn.
I was getting seriously tired by this stage and it was now night time on day four. Yet home was only a couple of hours away so we pushed off into the cold, foggy night of the southern highlands. Big trucks covered in lights and the tail end of the Easter holiday traffic roared past us. I just hung in there following Richard and after what seemed like forever we were safe at home.
Three and a half days of riding took us over 2,800km with 300km of that on dirt. In hindsight it was a possibly a bit crazy to go all that way to Broken Hill to drink a bottle of champagne for Susie – but it was worth every moment.