Remember me saying how we got up at dawn before the flies. This morning – nothing. Nada. Not one. No sign of the swarms of them that pestered us until sunset. One just doesn’t know what the next moment brings in the outback. We left our beautiful camp to the sound of finches chirping in the rafters of the picnic shed and the gentle craw of black cockatoos flying into the morning sun.
We wound though the blood red landscape enjoying the asphalt and not having the bikes rattling and banging under us as they had constantly for the last two days.
We chatted to couples caravanning around Australia (the so called ‘Grey Nomads’) and stopped in the small town of Bedourie for breakfast. To our amazement the town had no mobile phone coverage! Ye gods! This is a reasonable sized town and the waitress assured us that they sat in a Black Triangle of zero coverage stretching across three towns. They all used landlines or drove out of the Triangle to use their mobile. Amazing even for the outback.
An hour later we avoided near disaster when flying around a corner we hit a section of unmarked gravel road. No bloody warning sign and the corner meant we never saw it coming. Richard took the beema into it at 110km/h and as we both had spent so much time on gravel in the last couple of days knew not to hit the brakes. We wobbled along for the 10km of gravel until the asphalt started again. Lucky. And what did I say about never knowing what the outback brings next?
The road cuts through barren red flat land dotted with scrubby trees, eroded dry creeks and the occasional group of skinny cows. The road is a single sealed lane wide enough for one vehicle with gravel on either side. When two vehicles meet head on one each moves left with half the vehicle on the road and half in the dirt till they pass each other and then they move back on the sealed road. This is fine for four wheels but a big problem for bikes as we have to practically stop before moving into the dirt. Fortunately, all the cars coming towards us pulled right off the road so we stayed on the asphalt.
An oncoming 5 meter wide, 50 meter long road train weighing 75 tonnes travelling at 100km/h is another matter. Just get the hell out of the way cos he ain’t stopping for nothing! Check out the video below:
The small town of Dajarra is little more than a garage/pub/general store. A lovely young traveller from Wostershire in the UK (yes, as in the sauce) was working there for a few months. All the rodeo watching, off road driving and pig shooting you’d ever want. Lucky him… A couple of nurses talked of the epidemic of diabetes and resulting health impacts sweeping through the local indigenous and non-indig people. A huge problem and cost in this country, like so many others.
Travel doesn’t get better than this.
We arrived in Mt Isa totally exhausted and in need of a shower and a comfortable bed. After 6 solids days of riding (including about 500km of dirt road) I was so happy when Richard said he’d booked us into the Isa Hotel for two nights so we could have a full day’s rest. And rest we did.
The first thing we saw as we entered Mt Isa was the huge emissions stack of the mine site in the centre of town. It was strange to be back in a city complete with traffic lights and round-abouts. In Mt Isa, pedestrians give way to cars and 4 wheel drives rule the streets!
The local pub menu challenged diners to a “Man v Food” challenge – a 1.2kg steak, half a kilogram of hot chips, 10 onion rings and a coleslaw and green salad. Eat it in under 30 mins to earn your place on the honour board and be presented with an engraved steak knife. Hmmm, I fail to see what is honourable about gluttony! After two nights of blissful sleep (complete with pillows!) we left The Isa bound for the Northern Territory. The GPS instructions to Tenant Creek said, “turn left in 680kms”. Not exactly mind boggling navigation!
After a quick fuel and coffee stop at Camooweal, we hit the NT border. I was so excited to be crossing my second State border of the trip! Woohoo, I have ridden my bike from Newcastle, NSW to the Northern Territory…some 2,600km so far!
We stopped briefly at Barkly Homestead (a former cattle station now a Roadhouse in the middle of nowhere) for fuel and a snack…and to buy the obligatory sticker for the MT’s windscreen.While the road remained straight and unchanged as we headed west towards Tenant Creek, the landscape was interesting and varied.
The Barkly Plains was simply beautiful with its acres of golden grasses and broad sweeping plains. This gave way to Mallee shrublands, stunted Eucalyptus forests and finally rocky outcrops on the approach into Tenant Creek. All beautiful in their own unique way.
One surprise was the lack of road kill on this long straight stretch of road. No dead kangaroos at all, but we did see a couple of dead cows and emus along the way.
We rode until close to sunset and set up camp on the outskirts of Tenant Creek. Having shopped in Mt Isa we indulged in olives, cheese, fresh bread and a bottle of Rose, followed by potato and leek soup.
Glamping? Don’t mind if we do!
Another fabulous day in the Australian outback!
The day started with the distant crowing of a rooster. Not the usual thing you hear first thing in the outback but it beat the sound of 52 meter road trains roaring past during the night.
After we packed up we headed into the small town of Tenant Creek looking for a cup of decent coffee. No luck there. Tenant doesn’t have much of anything except boarded up shops, a lot of government agencies trying to improve the life of local (mostly indigenous) people and petrol stations.
We ended up in the Lone Star petrol station watching a procession of people buying mountains of fried food, coca cola and flavoured milk for breakfast. The small selection of fruit sat neglected in the corner. The cheerful shop manager with dyed red hair with blue streaks kept ducking out to have a cigarette between serving people, loading more fried food into serving trays and telling kids they should be at school- even though it’s school holidays at the moment.
A quick check of tyre pressures, lube my chain and off we headed for the 550km ride to Alice Springs. Another tough day of navigating – ‘turn right in 550km’ says the GPS.
The blood red dirt rolled past and we reached the Devils Marbles, a series of huge granite boulders piled on each other courtesy of 1700 million years of geological activity and erosion by water and wind. I’ve been wanting to come here since I was about 14 and did a project on them at high school. It is a sacred place for Aboriginal people who have been coming here to conduct Men’s and Women’s Business for thousands of years.
From there we headed south to the first of our stops at road houses for coffee and fuel at Wauchope, followed by the eclectic and somewhat decrepit station at Barrow Creek. The walls in the pub at Barrow are covered in graffiti and pictures of thousands of people who have traveled through there. And signed bank notes of different currencies.
An Aboriginal family milled around in the shade and a few vehicles came and went. Spectacular granule topped bluffs soar around the place giving it a surreal air.
The countryside changes so much as you move south from plains to rugged hills to stunted eucalyptus bush. Everywhere red dirt tracks lead off to remote aboriginal communities with huge signs warning of penalties if you carry alcohol into these places. Grog causes huge social problems here. We read in the paper today that Aboriginal women in the Northern Territory are 23 times more likely to be bashed by their partners than white women. Appalling.
Strong winds buffeted us all day with crazy gusts pushing us all over the road. Adding to this, many section of the road here have no speed limit so you can go as fast as you like. Cars passing us at 160kmh plus made for some interesting riding.
After crossing the Tropic of Capricorn for a second time, now heading south and some 620km west of our last crossing near Bedourie, we finally came into Alice. I felt such a huge sense of achievement – riding my little MT07 over 1600km in two days. After checking into a hotel Richard found his clothes had been contaminated by petrol leaking from our spare fuel container so we had a joyous session at the local laundromat.
Tonight a well earned rest in a soft bed with no local rooster to wake us up. And tomorrow we head to Uluru.