After 2 nights in Nimbin, the hippie capital of Australia, we wander on - it is more hippie circus with hemp leaves on each shop sign and it looks like we are pretty much the only ones here who were not looking for marijuana – one only needs to look at the prices of tobacco to realize that those kinds of smoke wares would be well outside our budget ......
We are now heading for Byron Bay, the most easterly point of Australia so we have to pay it a visit. Now we can say we were in the westernmost Pub, at the end of the most southerly road and at the most easterly point. Cape York, the northernmost place on the continent, however, we are not going to visit, we’ll make Darwin suffice for this end, as Cape York is not only damn far, but also difficult to get to. We still have so many other goals that our time seems to be running out fast.
So we pack our good old Liza again and then it goes downhill through the foothills of the Great Dividing Range, which stretches from the southern coast of the continent all the way across and up quite a distance into Queensland and separates the dry country inland from the fertile coastal strip and thus from about 80% of the total population. While we meander up- and downhill - a certain smell keeps creeping in my nose - it is vaguely familiar, but I can not pin it down ...
Byron Bay we have reached quite quickly, but what was once a sleepy town on the coast where backpackers gathered is now a chic place for the more well-heeled Flashpackers with their designer clothes and appropriate purses. Each shop is something with organic, eco or designer what-do-I-know. You can only stay on campsites where the cheapest campground for the smallest hut already costs $ 50 and there is not a single parking lot in town where you do not have to pay - we take a few pictures of the lighthouse and leave again.
A little further north is the so-called Giant’s Causeway at Fingal’s Head. We visited the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, and Fingal's Cave in Scotland, so it absolutely makes sense to also have a look at this place here.
The Giants Causeway is like it’s Irish namesake made from basalt rods, leading into the sea like a rough cobblestone road for giants. Fingal’s Head is a beautiful headland with beaches on both sides, the sea throws the best surfing waves towards the shore and the sand is so white that it squeaks (in the truest sense of the word) when you walk over it
The landscape has changed, there are more palm trees and it is tropical again... and it’s also slowly getting warmer. The last few days we have been freezing quite a bit, which may be because winter is slowly arriving here (or we might be turning into whimps)
Because the mosquitoes have driven us in the sleeping bag before 8 clock in the evening, we are also awake with the chickens - on or rather with the laughter of kookaburras. We do not know quite where we want to go today, but it draws us back into the mountains. That's not far from here and riding along the peaks we can also see the coast. We are now at the Gold Coast, and most of what we can see from that is plastered with skyscrapers.
Actually we wanted to have a look at Brisbane while driving through, but when we get near Kev just takes the highway and roars past it. Well - we are not city lovers and the glittering skyscrapers and the traffic that exists between them does not give us anything. In the suburbs we find a shopping center with an Aldi inside and while Kev is waiting at our bike I'm on the search for a few bargains for the camping stove. The air-conditioned shopping mall is bursting at the seams (just like at home before bank holidays) and while I wait in the checkout line I find out why: tomorrow's ANZAC Day and also the 100th anniversary of the day on which the Australia-New Zealand Army Corps joined the fighting units of World War I and were slaughtered on the coast of Gallipoli. Since a lot of commemorations, parades and church services are held tomorrow it will be one of 3 days per year where every shop is closed (the other two are Christmas day and Australia day).
When I get back to the bike with my purchases and we then somehow manage to stow everything in the sidecar (which is an art in itself) starts the search for a campsite in the bush.
We drive through the Hinterland (it is really called that way) and again this scent rises in the air – it really bugs me, I know that smell ... .. and then I've got it: Queensland smells of Maggi! Not that it would be important here, but it's true ....
Well – anyway, we are looking for a spot where we can spend the night.
The problem is that we seem to be in a fairly densely populated and also above average affluent area - so it’s getting late again, when we finally find a small freshly mown clearing in the woods. I do not know if we are allowed to camp here or not, but it's almost dark and therefore we should be alright – no one will see us. Blast, I forgot the mosquito rings. I quickly throw a chicken curry into the pan and then we go into the tent. I am covered with red bites on arms and legs - the bastards even got me through the clothes.
We head to the coast again, but here we are really at the corner, where the rich and beautiful cavort, unfortunately, we are only and - so we move on quite quickly again.
From Bente our good friend in London we got the address of Manuela and Bret. Manuela is German (with the most magnificent Bavarian accent, I've heard in a long time, and I mean that quite seriously), the two live in Gympie and again, we are invited to stay in the "shed". What people here call a shed! - it's actually a small house, with kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and a room that currently serves as a storage room.
When Manu came to Gympie which is now nearly 20 years ago, she was looking for a place where she and her horse (Gustl) could live, that was affordable and not too far from the sea (only 51 km to Tin Can Bay and 71 km to Rainbow Beach). She then lived at the "shed": "It was nothing special but mine" she says. After she met Brett, the two have built a new house on the hill above.
We only have 2 days to get to know Manu and Bret a little, before they go on vacation and we are allowed to stay! The offer we gladly accept, because we would like to see Rainbow Beach, from where the ferry to Fraser Island (which is the largest sand island in the world) goes, and then there is also a storm warning for Wednesday and Thursday, and we’d really appreciate to stay put and dry ...
We make our planned trip to Rainbow Beach, but when we arrive at the ferry that goes to Fraser Island and look at the sand road on the beach, we throw in the towel, the sand is very soft and deep in places and our sidecar with its one-wheel drive is just too heavy to even try.
Never mind, it's so beautiful here.
The storm comes as predicted and we are happy to sit in the dry and to watch as it pours for the next 2 days - I enjoy the luxury of having plenty of time and power available to work on the computer….
Saturday we wait for the floods to dissipate and decide to pack up Sunday morning to continue the journey but then disaster strikes –at breakfast I break a tooth in half on Kevin's bacon. My dear huby has tried himself in multitasking washing dishes and cooking at the same time - the result was Bacon you could almost use as coal - well and a broken tooth .
On Sundays there is no dentist, so we unpack the bike again, searching for dental practices in town ... and hope that I get my tooth repaired tomorrow.
As early as I can I’m at the dentists and fortunately, they fit me in that was an expensive fry-up. I'm back soon enough, so that it actually makes sense to still pack and leave.
We gather our scattered belongings, pack the bike (again) and set off. We hope that we are able to reach Rockhampton today, which after all is 500 km. Again and again we drive through clouds of Maggie scent, but I can not figure out which plant is actually responsible for it.
We stop only once to stretch our legs and have a bite to eat and then in the late afternoon we have to stop again, because the tank is empty and pump petrol across from the reserve tank. We still have to ride another 150 km but we decide to break our own rule and keep going even if we end up riding in the dark rather than to pitch our tent.
Cathy's sister and her husband live in Rockhampton, they have invited us to their place. We send a message via e-mail and confirm our arrival for the night and then our race against the sunset begins. Oddly enough, the indicators have stopped working all over a sudden... and then after it's really dark we notice that the light seems to be getting weaker. We reach the town and thanks to the GPS we can calculate that we will have reached our goal in a few minutes. Then the speedometer begins to flicker - oh God, we know from bitter experience what that means: we are running with the last remnants of juice in the battery, for some reason the bike has stopped charging (again!) soon it will die completely. We are driving without any lights by now but somehow we get there in the end. Literally on the last spark we stop exactly on the doorstep of Barbara and Shane’s house then Liza goes out and that's it.
I spend the whole evening writing emails trying to find expert help in town. How fortunate that we know Kerry and Stan (who we have met on Tassie). They have connections to a network of motorcycle enthusiasts which after a very short time of corresponding actually provides us with help. We use the next day in order to take the battery out and have it recharged at a workshop nearby and then we call the supplied emailed phone numbers, until we have someone on the line who assures us to be able to deal with a multimeter and is confident to find the problem. (We have a multimeter too, we just can not use it).
It turns out that the stator is broken again, it looks kind of charred and apart from the fact that it has just held a little longer than 25000 km and is definitely less than 1 year old, this is a clue that something else is wrong. It turns out that the diode board is also broken. Fortunately, thanks to Andi from Tasmania who has so generously provided us with BMW parts we have a new one amongst all the spare parts he gave us and after we have replaced everything the charging system works properly for the first time since Darwin. Everything is as it should be and now we can continue on our way again.
In Rockhampton it is currently Beef Week, this city is the hub of the cattle breeding world in Australia and celebrates this with a big fair every two years, but the tickets to the Showgrounds are not cheap, for us not worth the expense just to see some price bulls... ..
Barbara and Shane seem somewhat disappointed when we proclaim that we will already be leaving again but who knows what else will be happening to us and time is getting shorter....
We move up the east coast relatively quickly. Reaching the Whitsunday Islands The landscape is now more tropical - after all, we have crossed the Tropic of Capricorn again and have therefore officially arrived in the tropical belt. Everywhere we see sugarcane fields. The highway runs along the Cane Railway, the tracks on which the sugar cane is brought with special trains to its processing plants. People are waving and piping their horns at us more often here, not as much as in Asia, but definitely more than we're used to in Australia ...
Next to the friendly people and the warmer weather, the houses are something we really like in the Australian sunshine state. They are large and airy, usually with huge covered balconies running round most of the houses – the style is called Queenslander.
In Bowen, a nice little town at the end of the Whitsunday island chain we decide to stay 2 nights for a change (sometimes you do have to take a break and not put your house up and down every day).
The little campsite we have found is full of young backpackers, mostly French and Italians who are waiting for the start of some picking season (perhaps the giant mango at the entrance of the town could be a hint as to which fruit that might be?)
Then we finally arrive in Townsville. Stan is patron of the "Restored Bike Club" of Townsville and has emailed some of the members there and this way ensured a friendly welcome for us and Paul, who is one of the club members and lives on Magnetic Island with his German girlfriend Steffi has offered us a bed for a few days and offer which we take up only too happily. Magnetic Iceland is beautiful, with lots of bays and beaches, many of which have coral reefs to snorkel. Its typical our luck that the weather turns to windy just after we arrive and with that it is too rough for snorkeling. Firstly, the waves are too high, on then the sea is churned up and you just can not see anything (of course we try anyway and can therefore confirm that you could not see a thing). However, we make long walks along the tropical beaches, Kevin now and then tries to go fishing, but to no avail, and we both admire the beautiful views that open up around every corner here. We stay until the weekend, because on Sunday there is the Townsville heritage day and the "Restored Bike Club" is planning an exhibition at the event and we are invited to come along.
Our next goal is Alice Springs, which after all is more than 2000 km inland from Townsville.
In Hughenden we take a detour to the Porcupine Gorge National Park, where the small Porcupine Creek has dug a deep gorge through the sandstone. At the Pyramid rock there is a small bush campsite, from where a trail leads down into the gorge.
It's pretty hot and we are completely soaked in sweat when we arrive at the bottom and luckily there is a nice cool water hole at the foot of the Pyramid Rock where we take a refreshing swim (well – I do) before we climb back up again in the afternoon heat. As it gets dark, we get a funny visitor. I have thrown a few carrot ends from cooking on the ground and now there sits an animal that looks like a cross between a rabbit and a kangaroo. Although I usually do not feed wildlife this one gets a small apple which it clearly likes and this way I manage to get a few photos of the little marsupial ....
The 2,000 km to Alice drag on a bit, the highway is long and straight, there is little vegetation and lots of flat land – you are actually able to see the curvature of the earth on the horizon…. Most small towns apart from the mining town of Mount Isa consist of a roadhouse and not much else.
Eventually we arrive back in the Northern Territory, we are on the Australian Route 66 and at the edge of the highway there are the termite mounds, we associate with this state again. Some people have decorated them with all kinds of garments which sometimes looks really funny and gives us something different to look at. Finally we reach the Stuart Highway that leads from Darwin to Adelaide right through the middle of the continent. It's a strange feeling - we are almost back where we started from, the last section of our Down Under adventure - the Red Centre with Ayers Rock (or Uluru, is called today) lies in front of us.
Tennant Creek is the first town through which we come on the Stuart Highway, it doesn’t invite us to stop in any way, so we drive through and stop with lots of caravans on a heap of stones, called The Pebbles instead. The soil is too hard to get a tent peg in, but it is quite windy, so we tie our tent to the bike in the end, to stop it from flying off with us. It’s only another 500 km to Alice Springs, which we should actually be able to ride in one day, but then we make a detour to the Devil's Marbels, an accumulation of countless giant red rocks that look like stone marbles. Of course, we have to wander between the structures and take lots of pictures so that we stay the night in Titree, 100 km before Alice.
We should really tank here, but experience has taught us that the fuel is much cheaper in larger towns and so we only put 10 liters in the tank - which should be enough to bring us well to our destination - think again! 10 km before Alice, we stop at the roadside, not to worry we only need to pump petrol across from the reserve tank, we think and have to re-think again! The pump is not working. As luck has it there is a Toyota stopping beside us, they’ve been off-roading in the sand and are pumping the tires up again after the trip and the driver can help us out with a little petrol. We are just about to get on the bike and ride off again, when we hear a motorbike engine behind us and over the brow of the hill comes a blue Triumph Tiger with a sidecar…. AND…. the sidecar is on the wrong side! I can’t believe it, that must be the bike we have been told about time and time again for months! How awesome is that? Had we not run out of petrol and got stranded here, who knows if we ever would have met!. Quick we decide to jointly find a campsite, for it is natural that the four of us will have loads to talk about.
Astrid and Lolli have taken a year from work and have arrived and traveled almost simultaneously to us around Australia. It turns out that they, too, were on Tassie in January and that since then they have been touring almost the same areas. It's actually a miracle that it has taken so long until we finally crossed paths
We stay in Alice for two days and because we get along so well and have pretty much the same plans for the next three weeks, we decide to travel together this time.
We want to see the WestMacdonnells, Kings Canyon and Uluru and then be back in Alice in time for the Finke Desert Race. Claudia and Werner are a German couple who are also travel- and bike mad and whom we have been in contact with through the internet for quite a while now. They live here and have friends that are involved with the local scouts group. Claudia has arranged with them that we can help and work at their barbecue stall at the start and finish, and for this we then get tickets to the race and can camp at the Scout Hall.
So first our way leads us into the West MacDonnells. We drive into every gorge and then hike almost all of them to the end - I think for the first time since the cliffs along the Nullarbor we walk more than we drive
In the Ormiston Gorge we see for the first time dingoes and listen all night to their howling. From here we head towards Hermannsburg, where there should be a really good campsite in the Palm Gorge ... The 45 kms to Hermannsburg are worse than anything we have experienced so far: rock-hard gravel track with sections of deep loose sand, more than once we are skidding around deep holes, which we don’t always manage to avoid – especially since Kevin’s racing like a man possessed. A few times my heart almost slips into lower regions because we’re slip sliding quite badly.
In the end I almost burn my fingers on the sidecar shocks (they’ve worked hard) and the Tiger team had a Coke bottle explode.
At the entrance to Palm Gorge there is a warning sign that we are about to enter an extreme 4WD track and a guy in a Toyota tells us that there is in fact a river crossing with deep sand, this is noting for our heavy outfits and after a brief council of war we decide none of us fancies wrecking the bikes here so we drive on asphalt back to Alice and from there take the Highway to Uluru.
In Alice we restock with supplies, fill the tanks again and then we’re off. It's fun to be out with 2 outfits and Astrid and Lollie are pleasant companions. We have similar ideas about how fast and far we want to go every day, one takes pictures of the other and in the evening we share the kitchen duties after having pitched our tents and naturally the unusual vehicles in a double pack arouse even more attention than normal. After an overnight stop in Stuart Wells, it’s still another 350 km to Yulara, a small town at the entrance to the national park. In front of us the sky is darkening and then we just stop in time to put our rain gear on and then it pours. It's freezing cold, so that when we finally arrive we are completely frozen and wet down to the bone. We now belong to the 0.01% of the "lucky" people to see Uluru in the rain.
The campsite is not necessarily great and the girls at the reception have been standing at the back of the line when friendliness was distributed, but what the heck? There is nothing better so we will just have to make the best of it. In Yulara there is not much to see – lots of gift shops and art galleries with Aboriginal carvings, paintings and Digeridos, then we head for the National Park, where we ride once around this big red rock which is the one must-see when in Australia or else you have not been there at all, and make oodles of photos from all perspectives. It's not really a great consolation, that almost everyone else only has pictures of Uluru with blue skies and sunshine, but we're going to be here for another two days ...
In fact, we do eventually also get the "normal" view of the sacred rock of the Aborigines and we can even top our collection of Uluru photos with the sunset and rising full moon, now we really do feel lucky even with our wet and cold arrival and we all agree that this place is really something special. The play of colors from intense red to purple in the setting sun is something one has to have seen.
Another fascinating rock formation is right next door: the Olgas, or Kata Tjuta as they are called in the language of Aborigines. These unusual hills shine in an intense red and they are every bit as much worth seeing as their famous neighbour. Too bad that the cold weather has made me stiff and achy and I now can not walk to all the lookouts as I imagine they will be quite breathtaking.
After 3 nights in Yulara we head to Kings Canyon and 40 km before it stop at a super nice Free Bush Camp. Between the two tents and bikes we make a cozy kitchen / sitting area with tarps and after a delicious risotto we all warm up with Lollie’s Bush-tucker-tea – the receipe goes like this: 1.4 l black tea, 1 bottle of red wine, 1 good shot of hard liquor (in our case that's my fig liqueur which I made on the go), a ladle of sugar and a few orange pieces. All well warmed on the camping cooker (not boiled though, you don’t want to lose all the alcohol, do you?) - how wonderful life can be!
The next day we just leave our tents and ride to Kings Canyon. Although I am a bit concerned about my physical abilities I decide to give the 6.5 km hike a try. First it goes up quite a lot of steep steps, but then the trail leads around the jagged edges of the ravine. Around each corner there are different views for which to describe I lack the vocabulary. Although the sun shines from an intensely blue sky there is also a pleasant breeze. Whoever designed the trail has gone to a whole lot of trouble, it's just the right mix of climbing and steps and in the sunlight the jagged rock formations light up in an intense red - a pity that there is no camera which is capable to actually reproduce what the eye sees. Both the photos and my descriptions are only a pale reflection of the reality. In the end I am indeed absolutely knackered and hips, knees and back are about to collapse, but the hike was definitely worth it.
The tents await us and nothing is missing. After a group effort there is again some delicious camp food and Lollies Bush-tucker-tea rounding off a perfect day.
The only drawback is a group of backpackers who arrive shortly after dark making a huge fire, and a big palaver. After having told us about their plans for the next 3 months they have the audacity to ask how we are able to afford a trip such as we are doing! Fortunately Lollie is not short of an answer and now raises the question how one can afford to fly and drive around such an expensive country as this for a whole 3 months, right after leaving school and without ever having worked a single day.
On the way back to Alice we meet countless motorcycles, motor homes and cars with trailers having Rally vehicles strapped on them - it is the purest mass migration. We are glad that Claudia has sent a mail that we can stay in the Scout Hall, because our latest information indicates that throughout Alice each campsite is fully booked.
We meet with Werner and Claudia in the Watertank Cafe, where Claudia works and the two take us to our accommodation. Here we find everything our heart desires: a kitchen, toilets and showers, a huge gym where not only can we all sleep but also put bikes inside and then there is even a washing machine and wireless internet, which we are allowed to use.
For the next three days we go every morning to the start / finish area and help at the BBQ stall of the Scouts frying sausages, steaks, bacon, onions and eggs. It's actually really fun, though from time to time we have to work hard to keep up with the demand. I think I've grilled a whole cow in the end. In between, we have time look at all there is going on and to follow to the race.
At the end of each shift, we are quite tired and can’t stand the smell of grilled food anymore.
The Tiger has started to make problems for a change, we have to join forces and push start it in the morning when the engine is cold and Lollie thinks it is the valves so we start to look for a workshop. That's not easy, because most of them have something to do with the race and then there is the problem with matching spare parts.
At the end however we find someone who can carry out the repair and while Astrid and Lollie spend the whole day in the workshop we take a lazy stroll through Alice and up the ANZAC Hill, from where you have beautiful views of the city.
At long last the Tiger purrs again. Now we can make plans for a few more days together and a trip to the East MacDonnells before we have to part for good. We will then head south and towards Sydney and Astrid and Lollie ride north and then down the West coast to Perth. We are a bit jealous, because unlike us, for our new friends it will finally get warmer from now on.
It is not very far, the EastMacDonnells start right behind Alice. The gorges are very beautiful, we drive to the end of the road leading into the range and set up camp on one of the campsites - again making a shelter with tarps, but somehow we just can’t get a good windbreak it seems to blow strong and cold from all directions - slowly the cold is really getting to us all. Well, we hike around the canyon and enjoy the views - which are truly awesome, even if my back has suffered in recent times and gives me quite some grief as we trudge back through the sandy and dry riverbed I still enjoy the nature here. This is after all the Australia we really wanted to see
After just one night we return to Alice, where we set up our tents next to the Scout Hall. We take the opportunity to use the Internet again and I start researching companies for shipping the bike. Then we meet once more with our new friends here but the time has come after almost 3 weeks of exploring the Red Centre together, to say goodbye to Astrid and Lolli.
Somehow I am a bit sad that we only had such a short time but that's just how it goes – at some point the paths have to part again, sometimes with a laughing, then again with a crying eye.
It is also time for us, to put the foot down a bit. We still want to look at the Flinders Ranges and do so with time to spare to get Liza ready for shipping. What fills me with some concern is the fact that we have already been cold enough up here and the chances of warm days are getting less the more southward we travel......
The route through the interior is relatively monotonous - fairly flat with a couple of red rocks now and then. There are quite a lot of green bushes, which really is a miracle ( we are after all in desert and semi desert), but with our famous Holford-luck we have heaps of rain clouds mounting up in front of us again.
Sometimes you can see how it pours in the distance and we even pass puddles but at least we are slower than the storms and sometimes we can see rainbows in front of us and the dark clouds over the desert do look great.
Although we left late, we manage to ride almost halfway to Coober Pedi before we call it a day and make camp along the Stuart Highway. There are a few shrubs to hide behind and while Kev builds the tent I join my race against the dark to cook our supper before all the light is gone and then we have a Lollie-bush-tucker-tea in memory of the good times… and to warm up.
The next day begins foggy but it’s only morning mist burning off and thanks to Kevs enthusiasm we’re quickly packed and ready to leave.
The last 400 km to our destination, the mining town of Coober Pedi drag a little, the scenery is does not change much - sometimes with more, sometimes with fewer shrubs and every 150 km or so there is a roadhouse, where we refuel and / or have a coffee
The traffic on the Stuart Highway consists mainly of road trains (trucks with up to 3 trailers) and motorhomes. Australians have turned out to be quite nomadic people.
I find it funny that the road trains are getting shorter the further south we come. In Darwin they have 4 trailers, then somewhere between Katherine and Alice they seem to lose one and after we cross the border to SA they have only 2 trailers left - I wonder where the extra ones get to but find no answer to that important question. I am quite happy about it though as those giant monsters are extremely fast on the road and the wind they push in front of them sometimes hits me in the sidecar like a bomb.
It is already late afternoon when we finally arrive at the opal mines of Coober Pedi and I remember that Coober Pedi is supposedly an Aborigine word for white man in the hole - how appropriate! The area around the city has been dug over within a radius of about 50 kms and huge molehills mark the countless opal mines. The many sand piles are all differently colored from white to yellow to salmon pink and it looks really pretty - at least in the right light.
The town itself is nothing special - at least the above-ground part, which looks actually a little run down in places and then there are plenty of shops that sell opals.
There are underground churches and bars here, even underground camping and backpacker hostel - but we prefer to look for a campsite under the stars - we are not moles!
Thanks to the cold nights my arthritic bones need quite a while get into the swing and somehow we both can not bring ourselves to do anything much only to go shopping. We have no fresh fruits and vegetables because we refrained from buying any due to possible quarantine border controls between Northern Territory and SA (if you ask me, then I think the fuss is a money making game anyway because fruit flies are called so because they can fly and birds also do not care about borders when dropping undigested seeds – but that only on the side).
On the main road in town we even find 2 supermarkets and as usual are carrots, cabbage and potatoes the most affordable - our time in Australia has proven to me that you can pretty much cook anything with cabbage and carrots, from vegetable soup to pasta sauce ...
Outside there is an elderly Aborigine who has already tried his luck yesterday with me begging for money, but we have been too long in the country to believe him, that he should go hungry – he actually probably has more money than we. He has a mischievous wrinkly old man’s face and looks somehow sympathetic and he has obviously remembered that I have already said no to him, because he just grins at me - right cuddly.
After shopping I pop in the liquor shop, maybe I can find a cheap 4 liter carton of Dom Perignon de down-and-out, for a nice warm mulled wine in the evening. The choices at the store, however, are not very thrilling and when I come to the till with the cheapest 2 bottles of red wine the guy at the Checkout tells me that everyone only gets one bottle of wine or liquor a day and then I will even have to submit Photo ID for the purchase! This, to me is just really too ridiculous and I leave the two bottles of red wine standing on the counter and go – sorry but I am just allergic to being patronized!
With our shopping we return to the campsite and with dark rain clouds on the horizon we frantically start to spread our tarps over table and chairs. The rain soon arrives so we postpone further explorations and enjoy to spend the rest of the day sat here in the dry.
It has stopped raining during the night so we invest in the entry tickets to the Breakaway National Park – half of the round trip, where the track follows the longest fence in the world, the so called Dingo fence, is closed due to the persistent rain of the past few weeks. The fence was once over 9,000 km long and was built to protect the grazing animals from preying dingos, but today is only slightly more than half of it left.
The Breakaways are beautiful - a dramatic change to the otherwise endlessly flat landscape and streaked with different colored layers of rock. One can not get enough of the views, shame that the track which leads through the middle of it all is closed.
After this we have a look at some of the sights of Coober. The oldest part is built right into the sandstone. There are houses and even churches, all built underground and most of them a remnant of opal mining. The Serbian Orthodox Church is to be the nicest of the churches so we don’t bother with the second best and just have a look at this one. This part of the city looks like a giant quarry, everywhere ventilation pipes protrude from the hills - I imagine it being strange to live here – behind the entrance are the living quarters and behind that they keep digging deeper and deeper into the mountain in search of glittery stones ...
The next morning there is again thick morning mist hanging over the city - it takes forever to get our tent is enough to pack it up and then we head off again.
The area is flatter than Kazakhstan and that as far as the eye can see. The piste from the Stuart Highway to the Oodanatta track is relatively good, but then it starts with corrugation and deep ruts which have been plowed by the 4WDs in the rain of the last few days, sometimes it is still wet and slippery, but we can’t drive slowly, because then we really get shaken.
It's after 4 pm when we arrive in William Creek – which consists of maybe 3 farms and a roadhouse and since we meet already 4 people in this roadhouse – we think that must be at least half of the population. Here we have something to do now: After almost 9 months of riding around this continent we still have to drink our first beer in a real Outback Roadhouse. These places are not pretty – they have a purpose – being a watering hole. They don’t need more than a room, a bar and an assortment of rickety barstools. Sometimes they have been decorated inside with things the visitors have pinned to the walls (there is roadhouse, famous for a large collection of bras hung up inside) here the walls and ceiling are covered with business cards and handwritten slogans like "Brian was here" otherwise the place is fairly bare.
Australians love abbreviations - if you complain about something you can get the response: "Dilligaf" – translated this means: Do I look like I give a fuck!?” Here above the kitchen entrance is one I do not know yet: YCWCYAGCFTRFDS, and of course I have to ask. The information I receive is: "Your Couriosity Will Cost You A Gold Coin Donation For The Royal Flying Doctor Service" - well, sometimes you have to pay for your curiosity, so I put dutifully my change for our 2 beers in the old toaster which has been converted into a collection box for the RFDS - "hmm now, wouldn’t that have been a good idea for our collection box at the bike?!... ..."
After having stayed 3 nights at the campsite in Coober Pedi we are keen to finally put up our tent in the bush again tonight and so we don’t stay long and quickly get back on the bike, because there is not much daytime left. Our way towards the Flinders Ranges is following the old Ghan railway line, which in turn runs along the old telegraph line from Adelaide to Darwin ... and the older caravan route which the Afghans with their camels took to transport goods from one end of the country to another, and this route again followed the footsteps of Stuart, who needed three tries to finally successfully cross through the red center of the continent.
Under the vast desert stretches the world’s largest groundwater reservoir, which ensures with scattered springs that there is kind of an oasis from time to time. It took Stuarts epic struggle to find these springs (that goes for the settlers as the Aborigines always knew them), which in turn made it possible to graze livestock in these barren lands. The European settlers divided the arid land into huge Homesteads (the largest of which is bigger than Belgium and belongs to THE Kidman family - whose Nicole is world famous). The settlers spreading into these remote parts drilled boreholes for groundwater everywhere to supply the constantly growing herds of their cattle (or stock as they say here) and this to the extent that eventually the groundwater pressure dropped and many of the natural springs dried up – and (needless to say) the Aborigines lost out again.
From the track we follow a sign to an old telegraph station where we set up camp. As it gets dark, we admire a starry sky, it looks as if we were inside a sphere of glittering sky lights., We can not admire the spectacle for very long however, because the rain of recent days has ensured that the desert is teeming with live. There are thousands of puddles in which millions of giant mosquitoes have hatched and they are homing in on the only two living creatures in the area.
We wake up stiff to a gloomy overcast sky. Quickly we have a look at the remains of the Telegraph Station and the small settlement around it, then we see that we get packed and return onto the main track, because should it rain, we’d like to get bogged down, where there is some kind of traffic and at least a chance of help.
We are lucky, there is not more than threats coming from the clouds and so we slither and roll over the gravel track and through puddles - the powder-like dust in conjunction with rain becomes a sticky mass that gets into the tire threat and this in turn ensures that we often slide all over the place.
There is little variety along the way, so we definitely have to stop when we arrive at a field full of metal sculptures. Here lives a welder and mechanic with too much free time. Behind his house he has filled a huge field with works of art, which he has welded together from car and aircraft parts.
Now it is not far to the Flinders Ranges, at a roadhouse we stop. I am freezing cold and we are both starving hungry. I almost get a heart attack when I see the prices on the menu and am already thinking about leaving it, but there are things like kangaroo steaks and camel burgers! We decide to treat ourselves for once and what can I say? Camel burgers are absolutely yummy!
After the last 1500 km from Alice to here were apart from a few exceptions the landscape consisted predominantly of very long, very straight roads we now spend a few unforgettable days in the Flinders Ranges and rejoice in the curvy up-and-down on gravel roads through rugged canyons and the associated (currently even water leading) riverbeds.
When we were last in SA we have already seen the southern foothills of this mountain range – and like this time it was after the long crossing of the straight roads on the Nullarbor we already then fell in love with this landscape.
The Flinders National Park is dotted with beautiful campsites. There is no other luxury than pit toilets and rainwater collection containers, but they are always in an idyllic location and thanks to the fact that it is very cold (in the mornings there is frost on the seat), we are the only loonies who camp here.
We do freeze a lot though - our tent is made in Thailand and more suitable for hot temperatures and despite winter sleeping bag and down mattresses the cold creeps us in the bones at night - particularly if we get lost stargazing instead of disappearing in the tent as soon as it goes dark (which is now quite early). On top of that it has rained a lot everywhere in recent days - the humidity does the rest to strengthen the jitter factor ......
Well, whatever the case - the positives outweigh, there are far fewer people around, we have the campsites to ourselves and the scenery is amazing. The ridges look like jagged razor blades striped with rock layers in all shades of
Our bike slowly starts to play up, it takes patience in the morning until the cold engine is actually running, she starts with rattling accompanied with cruel croaking - sounds like the starter is sticking. Once the motor is warm however, we have no further problems for the rest of the day. Another worry is that once again we have an oil spewing cylinder head gasket. Let's keep our fingers crossed that we make it to Sydney, where we will give our girl some tlc before we pack her in a container ... ..
After a few days off-road mountain-dirt tracks we are trying to move a little faster and we are also slowly looking forward to finally spend a few nights in a bed again, at Karin’s place in Woy Woy.
The landscape is mostly flat again and the roads straight. The small towns through which we come are little worth mentioning, some of them consist of 5 farms and a Roadhouse but most of them have a field with a toilet where they let you set up your tent for free. In such a field, we meet Scott, who is traveling by bicycle the 5000 km from Perth to Sydney - there are definitely people who are crazier than us. It is already dark when Scott arrives and after having put up his tent next to ours I invite him to eat, because I cooked a huge pot of vegetable soup and he looks as if he could use a warming meal and then a cup of mulled wine before he disappears into his sleeping bag. As Kevin crawls out of the tent to take pictures of the sunrise Scott is already gone.
We also leave relatively early and after a short time we cross the border between Southern Australia and New South Wales and then we are already in Broken Hill, a city that lives from the mining of silver and other substances. There are unusual street names like Bromide road or Berylium close, cobalt road and so on.
A bit of fame came to the place, when a few scenes of Mad Max were filmed here and in the surrounding area – and that is mostly what it looks like: apocalyptical and that's why we don’t stay long but go another 180 kms to the next town, Wilcannia. When we arrive it’s getting dark, so we stop at the first campsite we can find. It is at the end of the town, right on the banks of the Darling River (it sounds even as if the river carries water!) All lights are on, there are plenty of spaces with electricity connections, an illuminated building with toilets and warm showers, dustbins - everything a campground could need, but it is strange, apart from us there is not a soul here ... .. and that we have never had on a normal campground before. We wonder what might be going on, maybe the place is closed? Cautiously we ask at a building just outside why there is nobody here and we are told this is just how it sometimes happens, one day everything is full and the next not so we take the key to the toilet block with a shrug and set up camp.
Since we disturb no one here I take the cookware and the chairs under the roof of the illuminated shower block and use the windscreen and the light to cook while Kev makes the bed.
We also eat here while we watch more and more lightning in the sky, the storm, however, is so nice to postpone its arrival until we're finished eating and we make it to bed with dry skin before it goes off properly.
The storm with thunder and lightning rages most of the night and we wake up to some smaller puddles in the tent and many huge ones in front of it. The sky is gray and it is drizzling so we decide without further ado, to stay here another day.
I sit myself with my book under the toilet roof and spend a really nice lazy day, while Kevin unpacks his fishing gear and a happily pulls one carp after another out of the river.
Today, it is a special day, our second anniversary on the road. One year ago we had just crossed the equator and it was sweltering hot - what a difference - of all things, we have to lament the coldest days of the entire trip so far in Australia - that I'd never have thought before.
We celebrate this day with spaghetti Bolognese, chocolate cake and mulled wine for supper
The next morning, the sky is still gray, the clouds hang low and to make matters worse, it is also very windy. Nevertheless, we decide that we don’t want to stay here longer, and so I look for another layer of clothes. I now wear long johns, fleece trousers motorcycle pants, a T-shirt, knit sweater, a fleece jacket and the motorcycle jacket and then 2 pairs of gloves, but Michelin woman still freezes everything she has off - crap!
We drive all day and eventually even overtake the crazy cyclist again, the poor guy is working hard in the headwind - but sorry tonight we will have too much lead in order to invite him to dinner - poor soul!
In the early afternoon we stop in a small town and decide to have a Fish n Chips treat - there is even Internet here - albeit extremely slow. We have a few emails congratulating on the 2-year-on-the-road anniversary and one from Andrew, who warns us to stay in Wilcannia, because the town has a bad reputation when it comes to drug offenses and theft - Well at least we know now why apart from us fools no one else was there!
It’s still quite a long way to Woy Woy and we can’t wait to get there anymore
The red Outback we have now left behind us and although we are still east of the Great Dividing Range and thus still not where civilization begins, the rain of late has made sure that the landscape is now much greener than usual and also wet ...
At last the sun is shining and laughing at us out of a blue sky, but the wind is still freezing cold.
Not a lot of variety in the outlook and so we keep driving for what it's worth.
In Dubbo, one of the larger towns en route we stop briefly and buy some supplies - at last there is cheap red wine in the 4 liter box again and you also need no more photo ID in order to buy one, so tonight we can warm up with hot wine again. In addition, we enjoy a roast chicken and have a picnic at the roadside.
We are getting a bit weary now and I am already mentally working on the packing and shipping of our motorbike and sidecar, which somehow menacingly mounts up as a big task in front of us.
We have received some quotes for the shipment of our bike and it seems as if things are not going to be as straight forward as we hoped. One agency has sent us an estimate to build a box and wants $ 800 Australian Dollars for the job, which means we probably somehow have to manage it ourselves and then one of the companies asks us if we can take the sidecar off and make 2 small boxes instead of one large one – well the answer is NO. Our Liza is also a cause of worry again, it seems that the leak at the left cylinder is getting worse and every 2nd day we have to add oil and the starter sounds dreadful every morning it looks like there is a lot of work waiting for us.
At least the sun is shining mostly now and we see to it that we are making it quickly across the mountains before the early evening cold comes.
I'd like to travel along the coast to Woy Woy, because I’ve been told that the chances are good, for whale watching, at the moment. They are on their way to the north and warmer climes, but Kevin just wants to get down the highway and arrive – I suppose he is right - perhaps we will get another chance to get to the coast again.
We get a warm welcome at Karin’s place, with a warm meal and a cold beer - both are extremely welcome but the celebration of the reunion has to be postponed because we both are completely done in and that bed has a magic appeal to us - funny only that we do not really sleep well after all those nights of shivering, the duvet and being inside a house is just too warm for us now... ..
The next day we actually celebrate being back with Karin. There are many stories to tell and we slouch all day on Karin's porch, giving each other all the stories, we have experienced since the end of March and in between the only thing I actually get done at least is to pack our sleeping bag in the washing machine and then on the line because it has sorely needed that.
A few days rest at Karin’s end up being almost 2 weeks. We organize spare parts for the bike, so we can make a fast and complete service, also find a repair kit for the camping stove, look for a new tent that that hopefully is sturdy enough to make it through the rest of our journey and back home.
We don’t really do any more excursions somehow our taste for explorations has been satiated for the moment and slowly we feel the need to wrap up all loose ends and prepare for departure.
We need to get to Helensburgh to Andrew and Bron where we can do all the things that need sorting, but when we signal our arrival, we learn that the whole family is struck down with gastroenteritis and they also are completely stressed out, as they have spontaneously decided to buy a new house, which means that the house that they are living in has to be spruced up ready for sale in two weeks, and now they’re in chaos.
Nevertheless, we are welcome and Andrew's pretty sure that we can somehow pack our bike with the help of a friend and he is even quite sure that we can bring it to the port.
So for now we say farewell to Karin, fight our way through Sydney and out on the other end again (4 hours later) and then build our tent in the garden of the Snelling family. Liza finds a parking space at the neighbours and while Kev firstly sets to giving a helping hand with the work in and around the house I try to sort the shipping details with Ivan from Bikes Abroad (who actually always answers my mails very fast and competent)
Andrew has made arrangements with his friend Ted to build the crate at his workshop and it is agreed that we should bring the outfit on Tuesday. Ted is a college teacher and he thinks that he could make this job a project with the students.
Then the next catastrophe strikes: while servicing the bike and changing all the oils Kev finds metal splints in the differential oil – this is not good!! So now we take the backend apart and the diff and starter to clever Trevor – the local bike mechanic and an ex BMW trained one at that. Once Trevor has opened the rear drive it comes clear that we were very lucky – one of the bearings is in the process of disintegration and all the others are not far off it either.
After clarifying with Horst (our sidecar builder) which differential he actually fitted in our bike there is a lot of phoning around until we have all the BMW part numbers and now we need to find someone who can supply them as well. In the end it is Thorsten from Perth who has the lot and will post them express the same day.
Well now we just have to wait and hope all gets sorted in time – meanwhile we try to make ourselves useful by helping the Snellings – I position myself where I am best: in the kitchen and Kev is building stone steps and dry stone walls and generally jumps in where help is needed.
On Monday the parts arrive as promised but it still takes until Wednesday when we finally get everything back.
It is actually my birthday and since we are on this trip that usually means nothing good – so I have resigned myself to another disastrous day.
It takes until lunchtime to put the bike back together and then we intend to do a testride. Bron is making stress that we should have some lunch first so we give in and sit on the back veranda with some sandwiches when I see two people entering the house which I never would have expected: Paul and Kerry! I sit there with an open mouth full of bread like a complete idiot and I am inclined to believe that I have lost my marbles – all that stress with the house chaos and the repairs at last minute to the bike have probably been too much for my nerves…. It really is our friends from Tassie which becomes clear when Kerry says: “Now close your mouth – that looks dreadful!”
They have spontaneously decided to visit their goddaughter and at the same time make it a birthday-farewell-surprise for us – they flew here just for the one day! What a brilliant surprise (I think they were making sure that we finally leave the country and take the Holford-chaos with us). While Paul and Kerry spend the day with Pippa we have our successful test ride and then we have another lovely surprise, Bron and Andrew have booked a table in a local restaurant and even already paid for the meals for the two Tasmanians and us and we have a brilliant last evening.
Saying goodbye the next day is not nice but we are sure we’ll meet again – maybe next year on neutral ground, in America?! Now that would be it.
Our bike’s top fit again (well most of it) so now Kev and Andrew plan for Friday to build the box and if possible also take it to Botany harbor. Andrew even takes the day off work for that (I really have no idea how we will ever even out our account on the taking/ giving balance) and the two set off right early in the morning in order to be there when Ted opens the workshop.
I busy myself with packing and sending a parcel home with all the surplus ballast that has once again accumulated and then I gather all our belongings and start packing the bags – we need to leave Andrew and Brons house tomorrow morning – there will be an open day where prospective buyers come to look at the property and it won’t look too well if there are squatters in the back garden.
Once again we can seek asylum at Karin’s place before we finally leave for good.
Kev and Andrew work really hard especially as the original plan of building the box with Ted and the students falls through – but the two of them succeed and deliver our bike safely stowed in its box to the harbor and there is not a minute to spare before weekend closure.
As a special thank you farewell treat I cook some Schnitzel and potato bake and once again it is time to say good bye.
Andrew takes us to the train station and we hump our bulky heavy gear on the train to Woy Woy – not the easiest feat but we safely arrive at Karin’s – for the third time – almost like coming home by now.
Our last days we use to prepare all our camping equipment and get it germ and sperm free for the NZ hygiene requirements.
Since I finally have some dates to work with I can book all the flights right up to the one taking us to Santiago de Chile and we even manage to watch the final episode the epic Australian search for the masterchef – Karin seems to feel that she is part of the battle – she feeds us quite some delicious suppers while watching the program.
On the 29th of July the day of departure has arrived – I am three sheets in the wind (as always when preparing to go some place new) and after a whole 10 months here it does feel strange to leave.
The flight is scheduled for just after 7 pm so Karin takes us to the train at 3 – should have plenty of time to get there, booked in and whatever else needs doing.
Everything goes well until I have to get through security. I am wearing my heavy leather bike trousers ( it’s cold in NZ!) So now they send me 3 times through the body scanner and then I have to wait for ages for a lady customs officer to arrive and do the body check – Christ what a performance and then we hear the announcement that Mr and Mrs Holford should proceed immediately to their gate – its right at the other end of the place – where else?
We get there puffing and panting at the last minute…. Even if they close the doors right behind us – we’re on the plane now and ready for a new adventure.
We had a blast of a time in OZ and will miss the starry skies, the bush concerts, the adrenalin rushes of deadly threats of being bitten or eaten, the truly unique fauna and flora but most of all the wonderful friendly people with their dry humor and their extraordinary resourcefulness who nowadays and quite rightly so are so proud of who they are and what they have achieved.