Road trip to Mallacoota

After spending many years travelling far afield, in the past few years, I have been closer to home on week-long road trips or weekends on the moto. Australia is comfy to travel in (despite the mythology); there is usually somewhere to eat and buy petrol (but please, never in the same place). Plus, there is an abundance of supermarkets, rustic park tables, or rambling pubs with noisy air conditioning and immense parmigiana.

We drove a 7-day road trip through Victoria along the coast and into the mountains in August. The first stop was Tidal River in Wilsons’ Promontory National Park. Located just over four hours from Melbourne, Tidal River is an excellent place to escape the city for some speccy nature. The area is home to various hiking trails, ranging from easy walks along the beach to more challenging multi-day hikes.

Tidal river in Wilsons Prom National Park

After exploring Tidal River, we went to Emu Bight Camping Area in Lakes Entrance. The deserted campsite was full of animals, including kangaroos, wombats, and cockatoos but no humans, which is how it should be.

Emu Bright camping area at Lakes Entrance


From Lakes Entrance, the next destination was Mallacoota, a small coastal town just a few hours away. Mallacoota is known for its beautiful beaches and crystal-clear waters, making it the perfect place to swim, surf, or relax in the sun. In addition to the beach, Mallacoota is also home to a variety of wildlife, including kangaroos, wallabies, and weird birds.

The coastline near Mallacoota

From Mallacoota, we made our way to Ensay, a small town in Victoria’s Alps. Ensay is known for its stunning scenery and outdoor activities, including hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, and a fab art deco pub, now an art gallery.

The Ensay South Hotel, now an art gallery

Finally, we made our way to Bright, located in the foothills of the Victorian Alps along the stunning Great Alpine Road. Bright is known for its local breweries and wineries, making it the perfect place to chill and sample craft beers, and it has a lot of great places to stay. We stayed in a cabin by the river and then went to Mount Buffalo before the long drive back to Melbourne.

View of the alps from the top of Mount Buffalo

Riding the Menindee Lakes and the Darling River Run, Australia

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.

Menindee Lakes and the Darling River Run (and those Outback roads!)

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.  

Riding from Melbourne to Broken Hill

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.

Salt Lake in the Mallee in Victoria

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.

Looking for a place to have a mico-nap in the Mallee

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.

Happy to arrive at the Palace Hotel, Broken Hill.
Beers at the Silverton Hotel near Broken Hill
Silverton, near Broken Hill

Motorcycling from Melbourne to Lismore via Country Pubs

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.

Mirool, Royal Hotel (rest stop)

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.

Star Lodge Narrandera

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.


Coonabarabran, Imperial Hotel

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.

Coonabarabran, Imperial Hotel

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).

Bingara, Imperial Hotel

 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.

Roxy Theatre and Cafe, Bingara

Lismore

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.


C
astlereagh Hotel , Dubbo

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.


Beechworth: Tanswell Commercial Hotel (bushfire smoke)

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.

Fast lane to tears..

When I got back from travelling, one of my most immediate goals was to buy a new bike. But not an average bike and certainly not a 125cc. I dreamed of my future bike while riding through a sand storm on the way to Lima in Peru (the bike had slowed to walking pace, and I couldn’t see more than 100 metres ahead). At this time I imagined that my next ride was going to be the largest cc moto I could afford,  something with about ten times the power of the 125cc.

So with what little money that I had when I returned, I went out and bought a BMW 1150 RT, an older model with a lot of kilometres on the clock, but still, a beautiful ride, something like driving a luxury car. I did a bunch of country rides and a long ride to Sydney with my friend David on the back, but the love affair with the BMW was to be short lived, as it turned out to be a Charleton and a one-trick pony.

BMW RT 1150 RT

In reflection, I’m am not sure what I was thinking, buying a BMW whale, it was a trophy bike for some other game. It was impossible to maintain, difficult to get between the fat traffic, and tricky to park on the footpath without maiming children.  What finally ended the affair was a mere flat battery. Replacing the battery required taking the fairing and petrol tank off, a task that took me half a day, and even then, the battery cost as much as a Llama.

So after three months, the BMW was sold for a considerable loss, and I purchased a bullet proof Suzuki GS 500, the third one I have owned, the most reliable, robust, and minimalist bike around.  I spent three years riding a GS 500 around London and I have owned two in Melbourne. I ride it almost every day, and it is socially flexible, unlike the BMW that was stuck in a fast lane to tears.

Camping in Natimuk, Victoria, Australia