I spend the past week doing the Menindee Lakes and Darling River run in the New South Wales Outback. It was my first serious Outback sojourn on the moto, but it wasn’t that serious, there are many other significant tracks to explore in Australia, but that would take another whole level of preparation, including expensive mods on the moto (and proper Outback tyres!)
The good thing about exploring NSW Outback currently is that it is relatively cool, there is lots of water about, and the Menindee Lakes are full, as are the rivers and wetlands. This is because of La Nina, the ‘big rain’ that comes after long dry periods. And with the big rain, come the birds and the wildlife and Outback becomes almost hospitable.
I stayed in Menindee for one night, camped on a beach next to one of the magnificent lakes. The best thing about Outback towns is the proud, worldly pub, such an important institution, and this is where I learned about the best roads to take and the best towns to visit.
I decided to do the Darling River Run, a 1000 KMS Outback road that follows the Darling River to Bourke and beyond. Outback roads have a volatile personality and can change at any time, lurching from calm to belligerent, from serene to egocentric. The road itself is an A-B type of road, and there is also no intersection with the river, only at the towns, which I found disappointing. Still, at ‘towns’ like Tilpa (one of the most isolated places I have ever been), there is a friendly Outback pub and plenty of places to camp on the river, as there are in other towns like Louth and Wilkania.
I think the thing I liked best about this trip was ‘nothing’, the vast panes of nothingness and solitude, which is unique in an epoch when it is difficult to be alone.
During April, I went on a journey that was not long in time nor distance but was monumental on the adventure scale. Some of the best journeys that I have done have been short and shattering; it is a rare feeling, fleeting, reflective, a synthesis of rival life narratives.
Broken Hill is not that far from Melbourne in terms of distance, about 1000 kms as the cockatoo flies. However, in terms of head-space distance, you might as well be riding the fucking moon! On the first day of my adventure, I felt chock-full of ennui, so I pushed my trip back a day, which wasn’t a good idea because I was compelled to ride to Broken Hill in one day.
The ride there was hellish; I was so damn tired. I stopped to nap at half a dozen towns, sprawled out in the local park in leathers trying to get a 20-minute power nap between the uptight rose gardens. At Mildura, on the Murry River, the last stop of Victorian civilisation, I filled up with petrol and coffee and crossed the state border.
After Mildura, you enter the outback and the 300 kms road to Broken Hill. Before the trip, I talked to my friend Stuart, and he advised me to ride fast (apart from the other things he recommended, this is all I remembered). The outback is like an Australian autobahn (fun fun) with Kangaroos, meaning (in theory) that you can ride as fast as you want. As it was getting dark and Broken Hill was still more than a three-hour ride away, I thought this was sound advice.
I opened the throttle and rode on the magnificent stead on my sovereign road into the dusk. After about an hour and a half, anxious of the outback at night and concerned its great void may form a friendship with my own, I plucked my eyes off the horizon and glanced down as the fuel gauge in existential horror. It was almost empty WTF!
I had forgotten (or perhaps had never known) that bikes have crap fuel economy at high speed. The fuel was nearly drunk, and there was still more than 150 Kms to Broken Hill. I thought about all those shit British backpackers that run out of petrol in the outback and decide to walk to the next town, 200 kms away, in the summer heat and get burned up about half an hour later. I did not want to spend the night sleeping in the void, cooked like a Wolf Creek backpacker in the morning.
I slowed right down, like seriously slow; I did not know I could ride so slow. Then it started to get cold, Tasmania cold, and the outback put on a vast and eternal extraterrestrial display that, for a moment, distracted me from my temporal predicament. I rode like this for an hour, then another hour, then another with the nagging fuel gauge threatening only a few kilometres more of modern life.
I arrived at Broken Hill at 1130PM, at the Palace Hotel, where Priscilla Queen of the Desert had cut a path into the jungle a generation ago. I spent a few days in Broken Hill, having a bit of a look around this wonderful outback city, micro-dosing its many delights.
Hackneyed, I know, but like all great adventures, regardless of their scope or cost, it is the journey that counts.
I often get asked what is the best part of Tasmania to visit, especially when riding a moto. The answer is that it is all good, and you cannot go wrong. I grew up in Tasmania and spent the first 18 years of my life on the northwest coast, and I have been there too many times to count. But it always seems fresh, and I find a new place and a new angle to see this wonderful island each time I go.
This time, I took my adventure bike, started on the northwest coast, and headed south via the west coast. This is the first time I have taken a decent bike to the island, and it made all the difference on the relentless roads. It was in the middle of summer, but it was still icy, about 5 degrees, so I needed layer upon layer of clothing. Plus, it rained. It always rains on the west coast, part of its lush, misty appeal (and keeps the hedonists at bay).
Queenstown is a small mining town with a fearsome reputation. The hills around Queenstown were once denuded due to the pollution from mining, but as mining has receded, the trees have returned. It has some pretty impressive pubs on the main street that have seen better days.
From Queenstown to the south is a crazy road. It goes on and on through a lush rain forest with zero human habitation. There was also no cars and no tourists, so the riding was super fun. I stopped at the Frenchman’s Cap hike trailhead and walked about 1 Kilometre to the world-famous Franklin River. The fight to protect this river spurred the Australian conservation movement and sent (brown) ripples worldwide. Once, it was about saving a muddy old river in Tasmania; now, it is about halting the mindless excess of industrial modernity.
I avoided Hobart as it is overrated and full of blow-ins and went to Cockle Creek on the far southern tip of Tasmania instead.
Cockle Creek is a special place. It has numerous bays and beaches and is nestled on the edge of the southwest wilderness world heritage area. I walked the southwest track for a couple of hours and made it to the furthest tip of Tasmania.
I went to Bruny Island from Cockle Creek and stayed there the night. I got a fantastic ploughmans lunch at the local cheese factory along with some beers and oysters and ate them on a deserted beach. There are many things to like about Australia, and indeed, beer on your own deserted beach is one of them.
A fantastic trip and I hope to do it again and again. Tasmania is small and compact, but the riding effort between places is pretty tiresome, given the crazy mountain roads. This is especially the case on the west coast, best to take your time.
One of the few fun things permitted during the virus-restrictions in Australia was fat-motorcycling for exercise. Sure, you could not go far at first, but after a while, you could ride a lot further than your local supermarket or bottle shop.
This is a long, day-ride I did from Melbourne to the high-country, past Lake Mountain and Woods Point. It was a terrific ride; twelve hours of slow reflective, staccato riding, as no overnight rest-stays were permitted. Â During lock-down I am sure that my brain shrunk due to lack of stimulation, so getting out into the spacious mountains with tight-cornered, dirt roads lined with huge shedding eucalyptus trees, and lakes and rivers, and devoid of tin-cars was expansive (to say the least). It was freezing cold and the moody dirt road was all-consuming, but I developed a fresh perspective on this fabulous state beyond the deep, reductive ruts of the inner-city.
Riding up the Black Spur
This is one of the most popular motorcycle routes in Victoria; from Melbourne to Marysville through the Black Spur. There are usually lots of tin-cars, but today there were few.
Marysville to Woods Point Road
This road is pretty special, remote, mountainous, and again no cars. After the turnoff to Lake Mountain is gets pretty wild, and it is only sealed until the Warburton turn off
Marysville to Woods Point Road (dirt!)
This part of the journey was the most difficult, up over the top of a mountain on a narrow dirt road, through a dense forest. And I didn’t see anyone, apart from a couple of 4WDs from the hunters and fishers crew.
Woods Point is a pretty amazing place; remote, only accessible by dirt roads, and with a large pub called the Commercial Hotel.
The road to Jamieson passes next to the river and goes past the salubrious Kevington Hotel
Jamieson to Eildon road
The road from Jameson to Eildon traverses the Eildon national park; about one hundred kms of windy, meditational road free of the heady-clutter of Modern life (except for the moto, I like its clutter). This road was sealed all the way with slow, meandering, but disciplined corners. A very big day in a very big world where people are getting smaller and smaller.
The Christmas period in Australia is the traditional road trip time. Straight after fat Christmas dinner, millions of Australians pack up their car, campervan, boat, and 400-litre Eskys and herd-off to a beach or river or forest somewhere to empty the Eskys and fill their bellies. This is a predictable Australian pilgrimage, worshipping the mercurial god of hedonism; thus, it is not hard to guess where they are going and go somewhere else.
Pub 1: Narrandera, Star Hotel
The first stop of my journey was Narrandera, a place that no one visits. This was a five-hour ride from Melbourne, which always ends up being eight or nine hours as I tend to stop all the time looking at nothing in particular. The ride was straightforward, not too long in the distance, and the A39 through Nagambie and Shepparton was free of Eskys. But the challenge of the day was the heat; the temperature climbed to 40 degrees, which was new territory for me. I stopped and took the lining out of my jacket, opened all the vents, and drank a litre of water. But the water didn’t seem to help as an hour later I needed another litre. This was the theme of the day, stop to drink some water.
I arrived at the Narrandera, Star Hotel early evening. The building was spectacular, as large and more critical than Old Parliament House. It had 22 rooms, but only 4 were habitable as it was in the timeless process of being converted into a lodge (I was saddened to hear that it hadn’t been licenced since 1972). I settled into my regal room connected to the colossal balcony and watched the latest episode of The Crown on Netflix
Pub 2: Coonabarabran, Imperial Hotel
I woke early the next day, well-rested in the stately room and continued my journey down the A39, Newell Highway. The day was again hot; I was almost drinking as much water per hour as my bike was petrol. I arrived at the Coonabarabran, Imperial Hotel early in the stinking-hot evening and had a couple of frenzied beers in the bar before checking in.
The hotel room was small, the tap in the pissy-sink leaked, and the huge creaked fan didn’t do what it was supposed to do. The pub had seen better days, but at a similar price to what I was paying for pub accommodation many years ago, who is complaining. I went to the local supermarket, bought some dinner, and sat under a tree.
It was here that I felt very alone and existential,
realising it was just me and my little lunch-pack and the road-narrative of the
next pub. Still, it could be worse; it could be the narrative of the same pub and
the same lunch pack day after day. I was glad to have an exit strategy.
Pub 3: Bingara Imperial Hotel
Today I rode through the magnificent Pilliga Forest and the town of Narrabri on the way to the Imperial Hotel Bingara. Bilgara is an extraordinary place, protected by B and C roads; it is a town where only curious travellers go (as opposed to the industrial-hedonists pasted to the coast).
I went straight to the bar and ordered a pint of Guinness from a young German backpacker, obviously in the know. The town is home to the Roxy Theatre and cafe, one of the most magnificent examples of art deco architecture that I have seen.
In Lismore, I camped and partied at a festival called Tropical Fruits, an LGBTIQ festival for Suzuki V-Strom 1000 riders. It was a lot of fun, I stated for five days, but I prefer the freedom of the open road.
Pub 4: Dubbo, Castlereagh Hotel
I left Lismore at 7AM, and I didn’t arrive at Dubbo until 7 PM. This was the toughest ride of the whole trip, and I am unsure why I planned such a long ride on my itinerary (and even booked the hotels in advance). I went on the B91 (Armadale Road), which traversed several national parks, including one ironically called Guy Falks National Park. This perhaps wasn’t the wisest idea given the temperature reached 40 degrees by 1130AM and this was during a state fire emergency.
Still, I checked the apps and asked other bikers on forums, and the road was okay (but I checked today as I write this, and it is closed). Today, I went along many isolated roads there the traffic was light and the towns few. The Blac Stump Way, the Premer Hotel and Barmedan were the places that I recall. These are places that I am unlikely to visit again.
The Castlereagh Hotel was a tough, working man’s hotel and the lady at the bar told-me-off for booking my room online. I ordered beer and the roast of the day (beef) and checked into my room. The room was small, but pleasant enough, complete with pissy-sink and fan.
In the evening, I heard a ruckus downstairs
and went out on the balcony and saw the local cops put some of the drinkers into
the back of a paddy wagon. A local
ritual I presume.
Pub 5: Beechworth: Tanswell Commercial Hotel
Today’s ride from Dubbo started out very hot, about 40 degrees by 10 AM. I regretted not leaving earlier, but then the temperature dropped significantly just after Parkes, which was welcome. But what was not welcome, was the bushfire smoke, so thick that visibility dropped to 150 meters. This was a spooky, reflective day of riding, I could hardly see a thing, and I was on some serious B and C roads. At a town called The Rock, visibility was down to about 100 meters, which made the journey slow and torturous.
I arrived at the last pub of my journey,
the magnificent Tanswell Commercial Hotel in Beechworth late afternoon and
settled into the front bar. Beechworth was thick with smoke and no one was about,
the only activity was at the Tanswell Hotel. There was a hillbilly band playing
and the crowd was friendly, in an almost desperate, apocalyptic way. I drank too many beers this evening, thinking
they would be the last.
I woke well-rested and rode home on the
instrumentalist Hume Freeway for three hours in the rain.
During the year, I bought a sparkling new moto, a 2019 Suzuki Vstrom 1000, which is a major step-up from the bullet-proof 2008 Suzuki GS 500 that I had been rinding too many places that it wasn’t meant to go. I have been itching to take it on an adventure ride since I bought it and I thought that riding 1600 kms to go to a party for NYE seems like a good start. It’s a long way for a party, but half the fun is getting there through the windy B and C roads in the south-east of Australia. It will be hotter than hell on the road (and maybe a few bush fires), but there are some beautiful towns along the way where the beer is bottomless and that narratives boundless.
I have a bit of time on my hands and I will be in the slow lane staying at grand county pubs along the way, many with long bars and huge balconies adjoined by tiny rooms. These pubs are such a special part of Australian rural life; the centre of their communities. Many have seen better days and their accommodation is under-utilised, but there are a bunch of ways to book them now (even Air BB), and they are much better than the soulless modern alternatives.
Here is my itinerary. I will blog along the way. If anyone has any tips or suggestions, I would love to hear from you. Have a great Xmas and NYE
27 December, Narrandera, Victoria, Star Hotel
28 December, Coonabarabran, NSW, Imperial Hotel
29 December, Bingara, NSW, Imperial Hotel
30 December, Tropical Fruits Party, Lismore, NSW
31 December, Tropical Fruits, Party, Lismore, NSW
1 January, Tropical Fruits, Party, Lismore, NSW
2 January, Tropical Fruits, Party, Lismore, NSW
3 January, Tropical Fruits, Party, Lismore, NSW
4 January, Dubbo, Castlereagh Hotel, NSW
5 January, Beechworth, Tanswell Commercial Hotel, Victoria
6 January, Walhalla, Victoria (camping, no pubs damn!)
Fraser Island is a considerably sized sand Island off the coast of Queensland, Australia. Some say it is the biggest sand island in the world (and some find meaning and significance in hierarchising anything and everything).
I set off for my six-day, 90 Kms, hiking adventure on Fraser Island from mid-winter Melbourne. Queensland is warm all year round, which is disastrous for human perspicacity but is ripe for hiking. Hiking on Fraser island is best in the winter as 1) there are fewer tourists, 2) the snakes are asleep, and 3) your brain does not boil in the heat (it is a mild 24 degrees Celsius). I flew into Brisbane, then hopped on a small aircraft with two propellers to go to Hervey Bay.
Hervey Bay is geographically bright but culturally grey. A go-to climate fantasy for captive Modernists escaping from Modernity by creating an even worse version. I checked into my Air BB in a laconic Queenslander (a type of wooden house on stilts), then went for a walk along the boulevard of mistaken dreams. I had dinner in an obese fish-and-chip shop, a pint of Guinness in a grim gambling den masquerading as a sports bar, then walked back to the Queenslander for a laconic night’s sleep.
At the crack of dawn, I was on the ferry to Kingfisher Bay, a quick 40-minute ride across to the island. The ferry master discussed the European history of the island through a tedious frontier narrative; the stuffed dingo toys for sale at the bar were a lot more intrepid.
As soon as I disembarked, I started walking, eager to escape from the 4-wheel drives full of families with babies inviting to be devoured by the dingos. It is illegal to feed the dingos on Fraser Island; there is a $10,000 fine; however, it is not illegal for the dingos to eat the babies as dingos are not legal persons under Australian law.
Day 1: The first day, I walked from Kingfisher Bay to Lake McKenzie. This was an easy walk along wide, sandy paths through scrubby bushland. There is a beautiful wooden pier on the way, and thankfully, I did not meet any other people. I wanted to walk by myself, experience solitude and reflection, read in the evening, and listen to the birds. Admittedly, I felt a bit dark before I left, but the life in the Fraser Island rainforests buoyed a starved Modern soul.
Lake McKenzie is remarkable, a large freshwater lake in the middle of the forest. I pitched my tent in the well-equipped campsite surrounded by a hysterical dingo fence, then went for a swim in the beautiful lake. In the evening, I watched Netflix on my phone (pre-downloaded) and listed to ABC Radio. It was pitch-black dark by about 5.30 PM, so luckily, I bought an excellent re-charge battery for long, lonely evenings in the tent.
Day 2: From Lake McKenzie to the utilitarian named Central Station was a leisurely stroll. I stopped and had lunch at the deep Basin Lake, fringed by reeds and home to frogs and freshwater turtles. I walked through the rainforest with towering trees, banksia woodlands, melaleuca wetlands, and eucalyptus. Just before Central Station, there is a spectacular sandy creek traversed by the meandering wooden walking trail. The walkers camp was in the middle of a rain forest that rained. I set up camp, hydrated my dinner, and settled in for the night.
Day 3: From Central Station to Lake Wabby was a very long way, and I welcomed the physical challenge as the past could of days had been pedestrian. I walked through the vast rainforest with mammoth trees, and I still had not met anyone on the path, which suited me fine. I set up near Lake Wabby, then walked to the lookout. Lake Wabby is beneath a giant sand blow; the sand island fights the trees, attempting to reclaim the island.
Day 4: Lake Wabby to the Valley of the Giants was a very long day again, but I was not weary. It is incredible what you can achieve when you are a little scared. I walked through the central high dunes, cloaked with open eucalypt forests and woodlands. Most of the day was through the cool, dense rainforest with a cacophony of birds and the odd ray of sunlight shining through the canopy.
The Valley of the Giants walking camp was deserted like all the other places I had camped; just me and my post-apocalyptic fantasies. The camp is within a forest of giant satinay and tallowwood trees. I set up camp and walked about, too scared to stop in case the existentialist caught me.
Day 5: After deep sleep, I made some strong coffee, then walked through inspiring stands of brush box, satinay trees and never-ended cool rainforest of piccabeen palms and kauri pines. Lake Garawonga was a gorgeous lake, big, bold and fresh, like Lake McKenzie. I set up camp but was starting to feel a bit Kurtz, the horror, the horror.
Day 6: The last day’s walk was the easiest of the hike, and I was in the village of Happy Valley (which was neither) by noon. I found the local bar, bought some deep-fried, salty fat chips and beer, and waited for my 2.45 PM ‘taxi’ back to Kingfisher Bay to catch the ferry. The taxi (a 4-weel drive) cost me a reluctant $160 but was worth the expense. It took about an hour to drive back to Kingfisher with several embarrassing piss stops. The driver told me stories of nubile attracted dingos and that there were only 200 on the island (there must be at least eight warning signs for every dingo).
I arrived back at Hervey Bay at dusk and rested before my flight back to Melbourne the next day. A great winter hike, and Queensland has a whole series of ‘great walks’ similar to this. I am looking forward to discovering the others.