Day 5

A shorter day today.

Given only 300kms to travel and rain forecast early this morning on Adelaide we decided we’d leave late and try and avoid the worst of it.

We got away at 9:40am and headed out towards the A1 through the ubiquitous light industrial sites that could have been on the outskirts of any Australian city. We then passed through the market gardens which looked like they had seen better days. Apparently the original Italian farmers are selling up as the land is worth more for subdivisions and their kids are finding alternate careers in the city.

Once free of the Gardens the countryside is rather uninteresting, flat, scrubby with the occasional farm.

After about an hour we pulled into Port Wakefield. No water to see, just a bunch of petrol stations and roadside restaurants. We stopped for coffee and I took the opportunity to put the liner into my jacket and get out under gloves and a neck warmer. Della had sensibly done all this before we left Adelaide. I thought it would have warmed up but it hadn’t. In fact it was bloody cold!

We left Port Wakefield and headed north to Port Pirie through Lochiel, where people looked like they were searching for pippies on the sand flats and then past Snowtown. We hadn’t been able to watch half of the ghastly movie about the Snowtown murders so sped past that hamlet without a sideways look! As we got further north the farms became bigger with huge acreages of wheat judging by the stubble.

Wheat stubble for miles

It was also about this point that the weather began to look threatening. We had, had a few sprinkles and were putting off the inevitability of stopping again to put on the as yet untried wet weather gear.

It’s looking like rain

Tactics and a good roadside pull in dictated the timing. Despite being big, wet weather gear is not that easy to put on when you’ve already got three layers on and are feeling like the Michelin Man. Once it’s on though it has to be said its very stylish!

Let it rain, oh let it rain ….

Turned out to be a very good call as it did rain on and off for the rest of the trip. Apart from keeping us dry the added layer further kept the wind out.

We got to Port Pirie, which is just off the highway, in time for a late lunch. Can’t go past Macca’s on a cold day – particularly when nothing else is open.

Port Pirie holds the distinction of being the sixth most populous town in South Australia with over 14,000 people living there. It’s a smelting town, lead, and grain rail hub. Amazingly in this day and age many people in the town have elevated lead levels in their blood and there are other unspecified environmental affects. The town is running the 10byten program with a target of having 95% of the children in town meeting the national goal of 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of their blood. You couldn’t make this stuff up!

Grain silos

The smelter

I can’t say we were sorry to get back on the highway particularly as we couldn’t find our way out of town. I blame the poor state of South Australia’s road signage!

We had one more stop to look at the view of the cloud topped Mount Remarkable National Park and found our way into Port Augusta.

Remarkable?? National Park

Port Augusta has the largest solar electricity generator in Australia and a very large Coles hydroponic farm that runs off heat from sunlight reflected off 23,000 mirrors and desalinated water. apparently it provides their stores with salads nationwide

We checked into the Oasis Apartments and Della directed me to ramp up the kerb to park outside our unit. Front wheel went up fine, back wheel skidded, bike lent over, I cursed, couldn’t hold it up. Bother!!! Fortunately no damage done to me or the bike, just my ego.

Only other point of note is the security fence and gate at our accommodation.

Is this to keep us in or ….. ?

And that was the end of day 5

Day 3

A big day!

The day started at the Balranald Takeaway which opened early despite it being Good Friday. Two cups of surprisingly good coffee, a cheese and ham toastie and bacon and egg roll and we were on the road at 8:20am.

We headed west to Euston through flat country covered with scrubby bush and the odd sandy paddock. Not much to see apart from the inevitable road kill.

As we approached Euston we broke out of the bush to intensive horticulture with lots of grapes. The town is tiny, sits on the Murray River but has the very flash Euston Club Resort. A little incongruous in the circumstances and no doubt thriving on the pokies!

What gambling can buy

It was the first time we’d seen the Murray which was grey/green and despite the drought looking quite full. Environmental flows?

We didn’t stay long and headed further west to Mildura through more scrub – Mallee Scrub in this case. As we got closer to Mildura the farms became more organized. Huge areas of land tilled and ready to plant or covered with last season’s stubble. Nearer to Mildura once again more grapes. In fact it seems anywhere there is water Aussies grow grapes and make wine.

Mildura was actually a bigger and nicer town than we’d expected and is just across the border in Victoria. Population about 30,000. Probably a nice retirement location and again situated on the Murray with some lovely old houses in the back streets.

There was a vintage and exotic car exhibition going on in the Main Street. There was a huge crowd with lots of large people in singlets and shorts – what is it about big cars with big engines that attracts women with big bums? Is that Queen I can hear playing in the background?

Some of the Mildura crowd

A big car with a big engine!

We had a cup of coffee, filled the bike with petrol and headed further west. Once again flat open country, more huge fields and very long straight roads. On one section we did 15, 8, 9 and 16km straights with only a gentle curve between them.

Flat as ……

Straight as …..

Just before Renmark and close to the border with South Australia we passed through a very smart, well set up fruit fly control stop. The idea being not to take fruit into SA in case it was infected. It was notable that the more public spirited travelers tossed their bananas and apples on the side of the road well in advance. By this stage it was getting hot so I guess any fruit fly would have been short lived in the conditions!

We got to Remark in time for a late lunch. Renmark again sits on the Murray. Seems to have a thriving tourist industry and has lots of gorgeous roses in public spaces.

Renmark on the river

More petrol for the bike and this time started to head south west.

We passed through lots of small towns each about 50kms apart – Barmera, Waikerie, Blanchetown, and Annandale. All close to water so some agriculture going on.

Getting close to Truro we went across a very large flat basin and then up onto the range at Accommodation Hill, Dutton East. There’s a pull in at the top of the hill with an amazing view back over the way we’d come and a fence covered with soft toys – hundreds of them! Apparently the local farmer started it all by putting a gorilla which he found on the side of the road on the fence and the idea took off.

The view from Accommodation Hill

Soft toys

The only other thing of note is that at the top of Accommodation Hill, in the middle of next to nowhere, they’ve got broadband! But not in Wahroonga on Sydney’s upper N Shore in Sydne.

In case you felt like streaming a movie

We went trough Truro and then Noriootpa and after that started to skirt the Barossa. At that point we joined the freeway and finally got to the outskirts of Adelaide.

A long day with 575kms covered and some amazing scenery and places to see. Pretty good to check into the Mayfair for a shower though!

End of day 3

Day 2

A much more interesting Day!

We left Wagga Wagga at about 9:40am having walked to town for breakfast and unsuccessfully searched for some tinting to stick on my helmet visor to help with the glare of heading west late afternoon.

Almost as soon as leaving Wagga the country looked different. East of Wagga the country still looks quite green, west of Wagga the drought was evident.

Not much to eat here

Very little grass cover and what there was, crisped beige by the sun with the red soil exposed. In some places the sheep were hard to see as they were the same colour as the ground.

We got to Narrandera at about 11:00am for coffee. If Narrandera has a horse it certainly wasn’t evident when we were in town so we didn’t stay long. The loos lack something in sophistication too.

Not one for the newspaper

Out of Narrandera we headed to Hay and we’re surprised to see extensive, as in kilometers long, fields of cotton. The area of cotton has grown by 50% over the last year now covering 72,000 hectares. The motivation is water and money. Margins on cotton are higher than rice given a higher international price and water uses about 9-10 mega liters per hectare versus 13-14 mega liters per hectare. Although there are said to be lots of small family cotton farmers a lot of it looked very corporate. The capital investment to level the fields and provide infrastructure for water distribution would be enormous.

A few sheets and towels in this lot

Getting closer to Hay the country became flatter with little vegetation and huge skies with sheets of dappled clouds and vapor trails of those taking a more direct route to Perth than us.

A big dry country

We stopped in Hay for lunch which was actually pretty good and then headed for Balranald. Very flat country. There were two large trucks about 3-4kms ahead of us most of the way. We didn’t catch them but could see them most of the time as there was nothing in the way. We did pass a lunatic on a push bike headed in the opposite direction with a fly net over his head. We hooted and waved enthusiastically while thinking how pleased we were to have 500cc’s pushing us along. Only other thing of note was the road kill. A dead and often very smelly roo almost every 600m. A very good incentive to keep off the road after about 4:30pm in the afternoon.

The only other wildlife we saw were nervous Emu’s who wouldn’t hang around for a photo.

finally the ‘only in Australia’ moment was the school bus stop. Middle of nowhere but still a bus route for any local kids.

School…… anyone? ….. anyone there?

We checked in to the Balranald Club Motel at the end of Day 2.

Day 1

So we left Sydney just after 10:00am – to be precise, which Della is, 10 minutes late at ten past ten! Filled with excitement and anticipation of what was ahead, we headed for the open road and wide open spaces ….. only to get stuck in a Sydney traffic jam just 5 minutes down the road. Seemed every parent seeking relief from their bored kids on school holidays chose to go the Easter Show at the same time as we left. We finally shrugged off Sydney after an hour and a half of busy roads and slow freeways.

Once we hit the M5 things improved. We rode straight to Goulburn which took 3 hours. Traffic was light once out of Sydney and we stuck at about 110kpm all the way to Goulburn. A little cool as we gained altitude by Bowral but not cold enough to rug up.

We stopped in Goulburn for lunch at The Roses Cafe – very good frittata and chicken and mushroom pie – then filled up with petrol and got back on the highway to Gundagai.

We were supposed to turn off at Gundagai on to the A20 to Wagga Wagga which neither of us spotted as it was about 25km further on! So much for my map reading. Arrived in Wagga Wagga just before 5:00pm and decided we’d start a routine we’d continue with for the rest of the trip – filling the bike with petrol and checking the tyres in the evening to make for an easy get away in the morning.

Having got the bike ready we found our hotel, The Quest, checked in, had a shower to wash off the road. We then met Della’s cousin who she doesn’t know that well but who lives in Wagga. Being terrible with names I kept saying ‘Greg’ in my head so as to not forget him only to introduce myself to ‘Gary’ and wife Sue. As I said, Della doesn’t know them well! We had an entertaining dinner with them and that was day 1. Not much of interest given freeway riding but we covered just over 500kms and now we are ‘off freeway’ things will get more interesting.

Arriving in Wagga Wagga

We’re off!

I don’t think, and I’m hoping, that we can’t be anymore prepared. We’ve spent the last few weekends getting all the things we ‘might’ need. We’ve got spare petrol, oil, chain oil, two ways of pumping up the tyres, tool kit, plastic bags to put the petrol and oil containers in – so they don’t make everything else smell – a new tank top bag for sunnies, phone and wallets, and having looked at the mobile phone coverage more closely, a satellite phone. I’d rather get to Perth and regret paying the $375 for a phone we didn’t use than break down somewhere with no reception and wish I’d spent the $375.

So finally ‘we are off’ leaving Sydney with a speedometer reading 8,414kms and the bike full of petrol and loaded to go.

All set!
The bike well loaded

Looking forward to getting out of Sydney and getting to our first overnight stop at Wagga Wagga.

What else?

Well we’ve obviously mapped out the trip. We leave just before Easter hoping to avoid the school holiday traffic. It’ll take us three days to get to Adelaide where we’ll stay a couple of nights before heading to Port Augusta and then across the Nullarbor. We’ve booked all the accommodation through to Perth so that side of things should be OK.

What about the bike? Well we’ve done a bit of work on it too. Nothing major but a few things to hopefully make it more comfortable. I’ve talked about the seat but we’ve also added deflectors to the handle bars and faring. We’ve got a 50 litre Shad top box and two 36 litre Shad panniers. We also managed to track down a mini rack that attaches to the top of the top box and have bought a 20 litre waterproof bag from a bike shop in the UK which will attach to the rack. We’re thinking it will take the wet weather gear and maybe some tools.

Rack for the top box

We’ve joined the NRMA, bought a puncture repair kit and watched endless YouTube videos on how to fix a puncture. My partner also bought me an Advanced Rider Training Course for Christmas – yes I was offended! Actually it was really useful. Another Mick, recently from Ireland, took me for two one on one sessions and a final group ride through the National Park south of Sydney which my partner joined me for. The best thing I learnt from Mick was to counter steer. I think it must be called counter steer as its counter intuitive. Essentially to turn left you push the left handle bar forward and the bike just leans over and scoots around the corner on its own. You don’t have to lean with the bike, in fact its almost better to sit vertically and just let the bike do its thing. My partner reckons it makes her feel safer and I have to admit the bike feels more under control and is very quick to bring back to a straight line but just no longer pushing the left handle bar forward.

The bike has just been into Sydney City Motorbikes in Lane Cove for its final service. Oil and brake fluid change, chain, brake lever, clutch lever and accelerator all tightened up as was the spring given the bike’s going to be well loaded. Final thing to do is a motor bike mechanics course the week before we go.

One nice thing today when I picked up the bike was the guy who I paid for the service actually works in Parts and Accessories. As we were chatting he asked “your not the couple going to Perth are you?”. I said “yes” and he said “Wow, what an awesome trip!”

Can’t wait!

So what have we been doing?

Since buying the bike’s we’ve been practising for the big trip. Initially we had to pass our motorbike licence which is a serious undertaking requiring a number of skills to be mastered like turning the bike around within an area the size of a car space without putting your feet down – tricky! Having passed and got our “P’s” we then had to ride in convoy for a year until I got my full licence and my partner could ride pillion. We’re now well through that and have ridden 8,300kms together. We’ve been away for weekends to the likes of Forster and Mudgee which are good practice but not very long runs both being about 250-300kms out of Sydney. In preparation for the trip we’ve poured over the map to see where we’re going to stop and realised that on a couple of days we’re going to do in excess of 500kms. This required a rethink to make sure we knew what a long day on the bike felt like so we decided to ride from Sydney to Noosa in Queensland over the 2018/2019 Christmas break. We took two days to get up, spent four days there and then two days to get back covering 2,300km in total and more importantly 4 days, each over 550km.

Arriving in Noosa on New Years Eve

It was OK and certainly a good learning. We found it best to do two and a half hours first up. After that you can hardly feel your bum so a 30 minute break is required. Next leg one and a half hours with a further 30 minute break and then about an hour to get to where we were going. The most important part though was discovering that the rather narrow looking pillion seat was indeed too narrow and very uncomfortable for my partner.

We decided a seat rebuild was necessary and got onto Mick McCarthy at MJM Custom Motorbike Seats in Goulburn through the local bike store. Mick is not only a very nice guy but also a brilliant seat re-builder. He does work for locals as well as sending remade seat overseas! You take your bike down to Goulburn to get there by 8:00am and Mick sizes you and your pillion up as he plans what he’s going to do to make the seat more comfortable. You leave the bike for the day picking it up at 4.00pm. Mick did a great job on our seat which is now much more comfortable for both of us. We’ve had one day ride down into the Sutherland Shire National Park and it is was fantastic!

Rebuilt bike seat courtesy of Mick at MJM

The Journey Begins

This all started four years ago when watching the movie Wild Hogs. One of us stupidly suggested that as a part of our desire to circumnavigate Australia we should ride across the Nullarbor on a motorbike. Not having motorbike licenses a mere detail! We started one weekend doing the mandatory 7 hour pre-learner training, then got out L’s and then got distracted with landscaping our garden. After what didn’t seem like a year we thought we should do something about it, like buy a bike only to find our L’s had expired. We thought a renewal would be all that was required but found ourselves directed back to the 7 hour pre-learner training, and applying for our L’s. To avoid having this happen again we bought bikes straight away. My partner a Red Piagio Scooter and me a Honda CB500X.

Piagio 150cc Scooter

Honda CB500X