Category Archives: Trans-Australia

Day 42 – This is (not) the End…

Leaving Parkes that morning, my first impression was one of cold – the central west of NSW is not pleasant during winter, and there was an icy wind blowing all day. Thank god for heated hand grips!

The cold weather meant that the autumn colours were showing, and with the green green grass you could be forgiven for thinking you were in England!

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Stopping in Orange to refuel, I chatted to a pair of Harley riders briefly. One of them told me his thermometer was showing 32 degrees – Fahrenheit!

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Finally arriving in Bathurst, I stopped for a coffee to warm up, before making my pilgrimage to Mount Panorama, the most famous race circuit in Australia. It’s a public road most of the year, so you can do a very sedate lap at the 60 kph limit.

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Pressing further east, I was approaching the foothills of the Blue Mountains – however I had one more back road to cover, instead of the highway – running through Tarana on a tiny one lane bit of blacktop.

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I was now at the foot of the Blue Mountains, the part of the Great Dividing Range closest to Sydney. Up and over, I decided to do my last sightseeing stops of the trip.

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Descending again into the Sydney basin, my welcome present from my home city was heavy traffic, and a return to idiots merging lanes not looking out for bikes. Sigh. Slogging through the traffic, I arrived near home at dusk, for one last photo stop.

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I’ve avoided writing up this last day, because it’s something of an admission that the trip is finally over. However, I couldn’t put it off forever. I’ve got a lot of work to do on the bike now, a full teardown and maybe rebuild, lots of minor servicing etc. I’m also going to start planning my next odyssey, perhaps an even bigger trip next year if fate permits. Thanks for reading!

Day 41 – Telescopes and Volcanoes

Leaving Coonabarabran in the morning, I headed west into the Warrumbungle National Park. This is a mountain range formed as the remnants of an ancient extinct volcano – with the hard igneous rock jutting out sharply in strange eroded patterns.

The first feature of this area is the Siding Spring Observatory, home to over a dozen large telescopes including Australia’s biggest optical-spectrum telescope, clocking in at 3.9m lens diametre.

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Further in to the park, I pulled off the road and did a 12km hike up into the range to see the more spectacular formations. It was hard going at times, with a total elevation change of just over 500m! The low areas still bore the scars of devastating bushfires 18 months ago, and a lot of the facilities and trails in the area are still closed.

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From the top of the walk, there was an amazing 360 degree panorama over the entire park. The first feature is called the breadknife, and is only a few metres wide yet easily 100 metres tall.

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I encountered another bloody snake on the way back down – this time a red-bellied black snake. Very poisonous, but fortunately unlike brown snakes they’re not at all aggressive, and will almost always slither away.

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Back on the road, I was passing through the lush farm land of New South Wales’ central west.

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Rolling through many towns including the major centre of Dubbo, I arrived at my aim just on dusk – the Parkes radio telescope, known as “the dish”. This site was made famous during the moon landings, as the site to actually receive and re-broadcast the astronauts’ transmission.

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I found a room for the night in Parkes, a town strangely obsessed with Elvis – they have an annual Elvis festival and gathering of impersonators every year.

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Day 40 – Back in NSW

Almost immediately after hitting the road, I came to my final State border crossing, back into New South Wales.

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Very close to the border is the fascinating town of Lightning Ridge. It’s the centre of opal mining in Australia, and is the only place in the world to produce the rare black opals, prized for their vivid colours and firey reflections. If you’ve never seen opals, pull up some Youtube footage – they’re by far and away my favourite gemstone. Lightning Ridge is especially unique because for opals, unlike any other precious gem or mineral, literally anyone can stake a mining claim, 50 by 50 metres large, and dig it out themselves – there’s no big company that dominates the mining game; it’s all tiny owner-operators working their own lease and hoping to strike it big, much like the gold rush days of the 19th Century. As a result, the whole town is extremely odd – full of outcasts and misfits, and looking like a 3rd world shanty town in most parts. My first stop was a mining museum showing what the tunnels that criss-cross under the entire town are like.

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Then I toured around some of the sites the more eccentric characters in town have built. This is a giant concrete monument to the worlds’ astronomers.

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Then there’s the bloke who built his own castle out here, on top of his mining claim and tunnels. I don’t know where he got the energy!

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At least half of the township is covered in excavated spoil heaps, as the 50x50m claim limitation means the miners live cheek by jowl, in caravans or corrugated iron shacks.

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Meet Brian. He’s been working his various claims (including the current, appropriately named “Lunatic Hill”) around town for 46 years now, and still lives in a corrugated iron shack with only his two dogs for company. He still dreams of finding the big score. I asked him if he had any regrets or would do anything different – absolutely not, he still loves waking up every day thinking it could be the day he finds the big one. I admire his optimism.

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As with many things out here, improvisation and adaptation overcomes a lack of resources. The town is a fairly big tourist attraction, but instead of having proper signage and organised tours, the locals have developed “car door” trails – follow the appropriately painted and numbered car door to follow a route. Apparently, these are quite often moved, changed or replaced to get the tourists to visit the little individual claim shops like Brian’s.

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One last thing to see on the way out of town is Stanley – an 18 metre tall emu statue made out of scrap metal, old VW Beetles, and satellite dishes.

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I headed south along the highway as far as Walgett, and then, bored, decided to get onto the backroads, heading towards Pilliga. The grass slowly changed from brown to green as the land became more fertile.

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There’s an artesian bore spa there, flowing at a pleasant 37 degrees, in which I enjoyed a nice soak to relieve some of the road tension. Very popular spot though, there would have been 30 campervans and caravans clustered around.

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Turning south again through the Pilliga National Park, the Warrambungle Ranges came into view. This mountain range is the remnants of a long-extinct volcano, shaped by erosion over millions of years. It’s also home to the Siding Spring Observatory, a group of 12 telescopes including the largest optical telescope in Australia (3.9 metres) – they’re just visible on the right side of frame.

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With sunlight fading, I chose to stop for the night in Coonabarabran, a nice country town on the banks of the Castlereagh River.

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Day 39 – Mechanical Mishaps

While in Roma, I decided to get a last set of fresh tyres – the rear is toast, and the front has worked itself out of balance so badly one side is literally down to nothing while the rest is still OK. New and old front tyres:

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While I was in their workshop, I popped off the side cover to check the air filter – since I’ve been doing a lot of heavy offroad work. Disaster! At some point in the last few thousand kilometres, it’s worked its way off its mounting plate, and was sitting at the bottom of the airbox, letting unfiltered dust straight into the engine. The gauze anti-backfire screen was almost completely blocked.

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It was odd though, as I’d noticed a little bit of lack of power at high speeds, but attributed it to a dirty filter and the front tyre issue. It wasn’t blowing smoke or burning oil, and still seemed to be running smoothly. With no other option, I spent the morning pulling it apart, cleaning as much dust as I could from the inlet side, and changing the oil. From here, I’ll press on, and strip it down once I’m home and see if it needs a full rebuild. Big thanks to D & R Motorcycles in Roma for letting me use their workshop and tools.

Finally on the road after lunchtime, I was passing through rich pasture land and the occasional cotton or wheat field.

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Trying to make up for lost time, I blew through a number of small towns, and pulled up just short of the NSW-Queensland border as dusk approached. A little dirt track off the highway provided a beautiful campsite on the banks of the Bokhara River.

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Day 38 – Southward Bound

Early start this morning, after a burst water main caused a panic among my grey nomad neighbours at the rest area.

A little ways down the road, the traffic had stopped for no apparent reason. I waited around 10 minutes then as we all moved off again I saw the delay – a herd of cattle being mustered across the road. Most of the jackeroos were still on horseback, too.

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Today I finally turned south, the direction of home. The road passed by far-flung outcroppings of the Great Dividing Range – a welcome change from the flat grassland of the outback.

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My target for today was the Carnarvon Gorge National Park. I did a 14 km trek through the gorge and some of the side canyons.

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After I made it back to the bike, I pushed south as far as Roma, a major regional hub, as I’ll need another new set of tyres for the final leg of the journey.

Day 37 – On the Sheep’s Back

Before leaving Yaraka pub in the morning, I had a cup of coffee with the owners. They’ve just bought the place a few weeks ago and were incredibly friendly and generous – typical country hospitality. If anyone is in the area I recommend you drop by and have a beer, maybe stay the night. Even Fourex doesn’t taste too bad when it’s on tap and cold!

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Just outside Yaraka is Mt Slowcombe, which has great views over the surrounding countryside. They held the dawn service for Anzac Day up here, so the flag is still flying.

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Cutting cross country on patchy dirt roads, there was plenty of wildlife around. These two emus were running full tilt parallel to the road for several kilometres, they couldn’t get through the fenceline.

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The next stop was Blackall, a major regional centre with a lot of history. The saying “beyond the black stump” generally means the more remote parts of the outback. The original black stump was here, used as a base for the surveyor’s theodolites – anything further west of this point was outside the original colony of Queensland.

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Another interesting point in history is that the Australian Labour Party had its origins here, arising from a strike by the sheep shearers over pay rates. They formed a union and decided to seek political representation, first in the state and later federal parliaments. This is the memorial marking the spot of that first public gathering.

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The other major attraction in Blackall is also to do with sheep farming, an original restored woolscour. Australia “rode on the sheep’s back” to prosperity, mainly from wool exports. We’re still the largest producer and exporter of Merino wool in the world. The woolscour was a steam-driven plant that washed, processed and packed the wool ready for transport. This particular factory has been fully restored for historical and tourism purposes, still operated by a steam boiler.

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Back on the road, the terrain became more varied and interesting, as threatening clouds gathered overhead.

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Although I seemed to dodge the rain again, and was rewarded with a rainbow.

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On the flipside, I did come across several snakes, sunning themselves on the roads. I’m fairly game about most things, but snakes generally scare the shit out of me – considering we have something like 8 out of the 10 most deadly species around, I think it’s kinda justified. My uneducated guess has these two as Western Browns – dangerous and aggressive bastards. They were about a metre and a half long each.

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Country roads often have strange little random adornments.

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With sunset approaching, I pushed on to the next town, clouds still gathered overhead.

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Day 36 – Outback Queensland

Leaving Birdsville early in the morning, I passed the racecourse. During the race weekend, the population of Birdsville grows from around 120 permanent residents to over 7000, as it’s an iconic outback event. Quiet today, though.

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Heading east, there’s a whole lot of nothing – until you hit an indigenous art installation built into the side of a hill, visible from several kilometres away.

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The next town east is the vast metropolis of Betoota, population zero. No joke, that’s what the sign says. The roadhouse and general store that is the entire town closed in 1997, but the town is still gazetted and appears on maps. Interesting place.

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Still moving east, the road rises over a range of hills that have a lookout over the vast empty plains at the top.

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The land started to look a little more fertile, covered in low grasses with occasional lines of trees where the creeks run. This land hasn’t been cleared, they’re natural grasslands that make reasonable grazing pasture.

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I refueled in Windorah, a small town with around 100 residents and one major claim to fame – they’re the first town in Australia to be wholly solar powered. The power station on the edge of town makes for interesting viewing.

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Pushing ever east, I ended up passing through the Welford National Park. This character was sunning himself on the road. Bigger than you’d think, too – he would have been a metre long!

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Then I reached the Barcoo River, made famous by Banjo Patterson. During droughts it becomes a series of patchy waterholes and billabongs lined with coolabah trees, but when the rains come it links in a huge network of feeder streams and creeks, flooding and cutting off wide swathes of land.

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Livestock on the road was a constant issue – there’s far too much of the road network to fence off every paddock, so the stock wander onto the road, then stand there dumbly as you approach, until you honk the horn or rev the engine to scare them off.

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My stop for the night was in a tiny town called Yaraka, population 12, once the final station on the rail network. The campground behind the pub happened to have a dozen or so Vietnam veterans who had come to the town for Anzac Day the day before, so the pub was alive and kicking that night, as many old war stories were told.

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