Chapter 16 – A change of plan

Australia

Riding east from Kununurra I felt tired, very tired. Not only had it bee an eventful few days but I’d ridden 34,000 km since arriving in Oz last November and spent 160 nights in my tent. The pound sterling was weak, oil prices were soaring and as a result, since leaving Freemantle I’d been considering a different route to South America.

Finally, I decided I was ready for a change. Queensland was somewhere I could easily return to in the future if I so desired and missing it out now was no big deal. With my decision made I rode north to Darwin to plan my unexpected return to Asia.

The Pilbara and North West Coast

I turned off the Great Northern Highway just north of Nanutarra Roadhouse and headed inland towards Tom Price and the Karijini NP in the heart of the Pilbara.

En-route I spent the night in a roadside rest area where I met three related families from Queensland traveling west in their three campervans. I soon had a cold beer in my hand an invitation to join them at their campfire so after cooking up Bangers ‘n’ Mash courtesy of a ‘real’ butcher in Exmouth, I did exactly that. They had all recently retired from a life of running prawn boats on both the east and west coasts and were good for a yarn.

The following morning I was pleased to discover that although the final 68km to Tom Price was a dirt road, it was in good condition. My rear tyre was looking rather bald and I still had a long way to go before I could collect my new one from Billy.

The tourist info centre said the campsite in Karijini NP had been full the previous night but that the private eco resort charged $12.50pppn and was 50km closer so after filling up with fuel and supplies I headed off out of town.

After handing back my completed registration card the receptionist said “That’ll be $25”.

“Eh…how much!?” and I proceeded to explain what I’d been told in the visitors centre. “Well it is $12.50pppn…. based on two people sharing a pitch.” I decided to leave and take my chances at the NP campsite another 40km along the dirt road.

As it happens I had no trouble getting in and pitched up next to John and Lynn, a retired couple from Lorne on the Great Ocean Road in Victoria. I was soon drinking coffee with them followed by dinner and plenty of banter. They were great fun and despite being married for 18 years (2nd time round for both) they were obviously still smitten with one another (Oh how they’ll hate me for saying that – eh John!?).

I was shocked at how cold it was during my first night in the park and so put the flysheet on my tent to retain some more heat the following night. It was a god job I did as it poured with rain during the night and many fellow campers were caught unawares, getting a good soaking. As a result many left in the morning and I spent much of the day in my tent. Not only can the gorges be dangerous with the threat of rain but it takes the sun to bring the colours to life.

Pic – 2196

Eventually the sun appeared and I got to visit the majority of the gorges in the region. They were great to see but unlike Kalbarri NP there were a lot of people here eager to explore the narrow canyons. One such canyon was blocked by a walker who’d fallen and broken his knee cap. The accident had happened two hours before I arrived and when I eventually left that section of the park some four hours later I passed the emergency service vehicles on their way into the park. They still had to get into the canyon and prepare a stretcher to haul up the canyon side to extract him. It was a reminder of just how remote Western Australia is.

Did you know ? Perth is the world’s most isolated capital city being closer to Singapore than it is Sydney.

I had planned to visit the disused asbestos mining town of Wittenoom and its surrounding gorges after leaving the main park but I awoke to yet more rain and it took me all morning to pack up between showers. With no clear sky in sight I decide to skip Wittenoom and head north to the coast at Port Headland.

The crosswind whistled through the gap in my armpit where the ends of the detachable sleeve zips meet (only bad thing about my jacket) and no matter what extra layers I added I remained chilled.

As I descended from the gorges plateau so the landscape turned once again into vast gibber plains and eventually threw up some unusual rock formations close to the road. Resembling giant marbles and often stacked precariously atop one another I would have stopped to take some photos but for the weather. My thoughts were focused on finding a suitable spot in which to bush camp but the terrain had other ideas. I decided to push on in a hope of escaping the rain but with the sun setting at 1730 I wasn’t going to get much further. The rain stopped just as I rode into Port Headland but having paid for my tank of fuel I walked outside to find it pouring down again.

Still determined to escape the rain I continued east and after 80km was delighted to find a 24hr roadside camping spot by the De Grey river. Obviously a campers favorite, there were at least 30 vans and caravans spread throughout the trees alongside the river. I quickly pitched my tent and set about collecting firewood with the intention of having a good burn up to dry out my riding kit. “Don’t bother with that” said a voice from the darkness “We’ve got plenty” and so within minutes I was sat by a roaring campfire chatting with Don & Julie, supping cold beer and watching all my wet kit smoulder itself dry. As if that wasn’t good enough they insisted I didn’t unpack my stove and instead Don cooked steak on the fire whilst Julie prepared salad in their caravan. A miserable day had once again been salvaged by Australian hospitality.

Of course, the rain caught up with me and I awoke to the joyous ‘pitter patter’ of raindrops on my tent and once again packed up slowly in between showers.

80km further west I did something very unusual and checked into the commercial campground at 80 Mile Beach. Several people had recommended it and by turning up early I got my moneys worth. Having being packed away soaking wet yet again it was nice to have time to spread my tent out to dry before pitching it, I did my laundry, had a shower (rare treat) and then realized I was pitched directly opposite John & Lynn who I promptly joined for supper!

After a stroll along the beach with a cup of tea at sunrise I rode the 376km Broome.

Friends and travelers

On the campsite in Broome I met two Kiwi’s riding a pair of Suzuki DR650’s on a two month offroad tour of Oz. It was Sunday and so with the local bar/restaurant offering a Sunday Roast for $15 we shared a few yarns over roast beef and the first ‘pint’ glass I’d seen in Australia. When I mentioned riding up Cape Leveque to visit Billy and collect my tyre their response was “Whoarrr….. I wouldn’t ride up their unless I had to….blah, blah, blah….sand, blah, blah, blah… worst road since…., etc, etc” ‘Great’ I thought. Not what I wanted to hear especially now that my tyre was balder than me, offered no grip and was so thin it was likely to burst under its own pressure.

I had no choice of course but to go so the following morning, after lowering my tyre pressures, I set off. I was expecting 200km of dirt road from the Cape turn off but after negotiating a reasonable amount of sand and corrugations, the road suddenly turned to tarmac after 113km and remained that way until I turned off for Cygnet Bay Pearls at 210km.

Once in the Cygnet Bay compound I found George who had instructions to take me to Billy’s house. Buried in the trees, set back from the sea just far enough to offer some protection from the wind, Billy’s house is an idyllic, minimalist construction that reflects Billy’s mindset and lifestyle perfectly. Two separate rooms are spanned by a single roof creating a covered outdoor area between the two. One contains a bedroom and office/kit room whilst the other is a kitchen/dining/living area. The bathroom is an outdoor shower and bath overlooking the beach with hot water provided by a woodfire heating a bore fed 50 gallon drum. The toilet consists of a shovel and a walk in the bush.

Showering outside was great until the wind blew and I couldn’t get wet despite standing directly under the head!

Three further metal sheds provided a workshop, home storage and a garage for his collection of old motorcycles, a restored WWII UniMog and his dad’s 1960 Ford Falcon.

I spent 5 nights with Billy, catching up on his and Trish’s travels through Central Asia. We cooked Pearl meat on the wood fire, he gave me a guided tour of the ‘Seeding Shed’ where he returns each season to take up his rather skilled occupation as a pearl seeder and showed me around the tip of  Cape Leveque in his (owned from new) 1979 Toyota Landcruiser.

Techy bit –  (girls & pen pushers may want to skip)

During the day whilst Billy was at work, I worked on my bike. Back at 80 Mile beach I’d noticed the water pump leaking again and had been rather lucky to find ‘Phosphate Free’ coolant in Broome (Having used this the last time I replaced the water pump it lasted twice as long as the previous two pumps). I always carry a spare impeller kit with me so changing it was no problem and the modification I’d made to the oil return pipe in Queenstown worked a treat. I fitted a brand new rear tyre and the part worn front I’d posted from Albany. I refitted the smaller front sprocket ready for the next stint of off-roading along the Gibb River Road and gave her a general checkover.

I wasn’t too pleased to find some vertical play in the rear shock. A closer look revealed it coming from the top shock mount, a fault that the spherical bearing fitted whilst Danny was back in the UK last year had seemed to cure. The corrugated roads had obviously taken their toll and I would need to get it to an Ohlins service agent sooner rather than later.

I said goodbye to Billy, rode south 100km then turned east onto the back road to Derby. The Kiwi lads had described it as the worst of their trip but they’d also said not to ride the Cape Leveque road unless I really had to. At over 100km shorter than returning via Broome I decided it was worth the risk. In some places the sandy ruts were 300mm deep and I had a few ‘moments’ but by keeping the speed up I got through without any trouble and had a lot of fun in the process. Back on tarmac I had another 300km to ride to get to Trish in Fitzroy Crossing. Along the way I got my first glimpses of the Boab trees with their curious, bloated, wine bottled shaped trunks.

Having left their bikes in Kenya, Billy and Trish had both returned this year (Trish stayed in Pakistan last year) and whist Billy was farming pearls 500km away, Trish was once again teaching. No mean task in Fitzroy Crossing.

I spent two nights with Trish which allowed me to visit the nearby Geike Gorge and the Fitzroy River. Whilst appearing as nothing special during the dry season, in the wet season the Fitzroy River plays second fiddle to only the mighty Amazon in terms of flow with an incredible 2 cubic kilometers per minute surge under the roadbridge and into King Sound.

I spent Sunday night on the sofa and set my alarm for 0245 to watch the Moto GP from Donington Park. Shouldn’t have bothered; it was shite. Bring back the 990’s (or WSB!) I say.

More gorges… more water

I backtracked 50km from Trish’s and picked up the particularly corrugated road north to Windjana Gorge NP. The gorge itself was ok but what made it special were the freshwater crocodiles sunning themselves along the river banks. Having never seen crocs in the wild before that was pretty special.

The following morning I picked up the famous Gibb River Road that runs through the heart of the Kimberley and for the most part it was a joy. Snaking its way through gorges and climbing over 500m peaks, my view was forever changing. The further east I rode the deeper the creek crossings became and after taking on a splash of fuel at Barnett Roadhouse I rode into a creek thinking the grey surface protruding from either side of the water was concrete. It wasn’t. It was sand and I was too late to change my approach. Luckily for me as I looked ahead to the opposite bank I was directly inline with a deep wheel track and rode out without any trouble. It was a reminder though of how different each creek can be and that complacency could cost me dear.

A few kilometers further on I encountered a beautiful Black Headed Python sunning himself in the road. Untroubled by my presence I was able to park my bike and take a few photos. He was still sunning himself when I was ready to ride away and I had to give him a kick up the arse(?) to get him to move off the road as the next vehicle may have reduced him to roadkill.

The Pentecost River

“Mate… you don’t want to be wandering around out here… saltwater crocs in here mate…” said the two locals in their ute as they stopped to pass on their warning. ‘Great’, I was knee deep in water, it was 60m to either bank and the only crocs I wanted to see were those on my feet. I made a hasty retreat to rethink my strategy.

My mind had been filled with thoughts of crossing the Pentecost for sometime. If I was lucky it wouldn’t be the deepest river I’d crossed but it would certainly be the longest. What would the riverbed be made of, I wondered? A reasonably deep river with an even bottom generally presented no problems but unseen rocks had been my undoing in the past. My mind was so predisposed with getting across the river that I’d forgotten all about the crocs! DOH!

My recce had told me what I needed to know and that was that it was stony, uneven and was pocketed with unseen holes which meant there was a fair chance of falling off. I unloaded all my kit and within minutes a family in a 4×4 arrived and offered to carry all my kit across for me, an offer I gratefully accepted. I jumped on my bike and despite being bounced all over the place and with the water above my engine casings, I was three quarters of the way across and thinking ‘This is a doddle’ before I hit a large rock obscured from view under the surface. Suddenly my bike was pointing 90º upstream but all my momentum was carrying me forward and I inevitably went swimming. I wasn’t afraid of the crocs. Despite their diet of putrefied flesh there’s no way they’d have come close to my boots after months in the bush! (Eh Sis!)

Being unladen I picked my bike up relatively easily and rode out of the river to park in the sunshine. I collected my luggage, laid all my kit out to dry in the glorious sunshine and sat in the shade of a tree to make a cup of tea.

Little did I know that my days’ adventure wasn’t over. After cruising along the remainder if the Gibb River Road I turned north the Wyndham to buy supplies. Heading back out of town I saw a sigh pointing west 29km to the Boab Prison Tree. ‘Worth a look’ I thought, and set off along the dirt road. After looking over the tree (average) I noticed on my map another dirt road heading south to intersect the final stretch of the Gibb River Road. On the horizon I could see the red rocked escarpments that had presided over the final kilometers of the GRR. Camping below them at sunset would have been beautiful so turned south and set about finding the rather poorly marked track.

I followed a rather sketchy trail to a closed gate after which the track was more clearly defined. It wasn’t long before I found myself crossing two dried up creek beds that were rockier than anything I’d ridden since the (f*#@+*) Babusa Pass in Pakistan. I got through without too much drama but my heart was pounding and I knew I’d committed myself to whatever lay ahead – I didn’t want to cross those creeks again.

My footrests constantly glanced off the rocks until the rocks decided to trade places with my favorite riding surface – sand. Although only occasionally deep, the sand track was narrow and twisting, preventing me from building any momentum. Despite my lower gearing third gear was still often too high and I fought for control along much of the track. Unable to build any speed I paddled through the deepest ruts in first gear, occasionally stopping altogether to regain my breath and give my arms a break. All thoughts of camping along the track had long since gone out the window; there was no way I wanted to face more of this ‘cold’ the following morning. In fact I just wanted it to be OVER… NOW!!

And soon it was. I opened the gate, pushed my bike through onto the GRR and spun round to shut the gate only to read the sign ‘NO ENTRY… TRACK CLOSED’. If only they’d hung a similar sign at the other end of the track…

Another 20km saw me to a roadside rest area just before dusk and it wasn’t long before I was sitting next to a campfire, supping a cold beer and reliving my tales from the day. Australian hospitality saved the day again.

Purnulu NP – ‘The Bungle Bungles’

The Bungle Bungles were placed very high on my list of ‘must sees’ in Australia and I wasn’t disappointed. Gorges, chasms, ‘Bee hives’ and elaborately eroded dry riverbeds, sculptured by mother nature herself were home to too many species of plants and animals to mention. I spent two days wandering the parks trails, occasionally having the place to myself, occasionally dodging tour groups. It is certainly deserving of its UNESCO World Heritage listing. The only shock was the night time temperature of approx 5ºC.

Pic – 3132

The ‘road’ in and out of the park was a whole different story. Everyone I’d met had told of it taking in excess of two hours to drive the 53km from the main road to the visitors centre, such was the nature of the 4×4 only track.

The track climbed, descended and twisted its way into the NP, affording some beautiful views along the way. Two of the five water crossings were deeper than I expected and despite the final one being rather long I had no problems… on the way in…

On the way out however, it was a different story…

Unable to get a photo of myself mid crossing on the Pentecost I decided that the largest of the crossings on the NP access road would make a good photo. I left camp early, arrived at the crossing and set up my camera on the tripod. I set the self timer to the longest available (20sec) and jumped on my bike – counting down in my head. With five seconds to go I rode into the creek but I wasn’t on exactly the same line as I had been when I’d entered the park. The water covered the bottoms of my panniers and halfway across I hit a rock taking my front wheel out. NOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!

I managed to throw all my weight to the right to ensure I fell that way as I was fully loaded and falling to the left would have filled my laptop up with water. Falling to the right though created other problems. The air intake is on the right and the rock that had caused my fall was obscuring the engine kill switch adding to the time it took me to turn her off.

Somehow, thanks to the shape of the riverbed, I managed to pick her up on my own. I daren’t start the engine though and was pleased to see a 4×4 arrive and the driver jump out and race in to help me. Together we pushed her out to a safe spot in the shade and after laying my riding suit out to dry I donned my shorts and set about draining the water from my engine. The process goes like this:

Remove all luggage, rack, seat, fuel tanks, airbox drain plug, air filter and spark plugs. Soak up remaining water in airbox and disconnect fuel pump. Lay air filter out to dry. Spin engine over until water stops spurting from spark plug holes. Re-assemble and run engine. All this took 1.5hrs during which time I had many onlookers. “Yes, yes I’ve been for a swim”, “Yes, yes I enjoyed the bath”,  “No, no I didn’t want to do it like that” etc, etc…

There was a picnic area adjacent to where the track met the main road and I stopped as I’d planned to, to clean my chain and re-fit the taller gearing as I wouldn’t be seeing a dirt road again for a few thousand kilometers. It also dawned on me that I’d forgotten to make one of the most important checks after filling an engine up with water and that is to see whether the engine oil was contaminated. Mine of course was.

During this time an overloaded Yamaha XT225 rolled up and the rider removed their helmet to reveal ‘Papi’, a 29yr old Japanese girl who was working and riding her way around the country. We had a chat over lunch and arranged to meet at the roadhouse 60km north. With no off-road experience Papi didn’t fancy riding to the Bungles and so at the roadhouse started asking around to see if she could leave her bike at the campsite and join someone else for the ride in. Of course, being Australia it wasn’t long before she’d found a couple willing to take her. In fact, I hadn’t finished changing my oil in the truck stop before she returned with a big grin on her face.

With my oil changed I got another 160km under my belt and spent the night back at the roadside rest area I’d stayed in after my last eventful day. I sat under the stars drinking a cup of tea, listening to the highlights of Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday celebrations on the BBC World Service and reflected on the day. Once again a bad experience had led to a good one that otherwise wouldn’t have taken place. Had I not fallen off in the creek I wouldn’t have met Papi and received my invitation to Japan. What a day!

Pic – 3177

At 8am the following morning I ran out of fuel 18km from Kunnunurra.

I must have lost much more fuel than I’d thought in the river for I should have made it to Kunnunurra with several litres to spare. I took my jacket off, sat in the shade and 45mins later Jennifer arrived. She had no petrol (her Landcruiser was diesel as was most of the passing traffic’s) but offered me a lift to town. I thanked her but said I was reluctant to leave my bike at the mercy of thieves. She agreed and instead said she’d get some fuel put in a can in town and find someone to drop it off on their way past so I gave her $10 and waved her goodbye. 40 mins later she returned with $10 of petrol in a can saying that the garage wanted a deposit for the can so she brought it out herself. Not only that but she wouldn’t accept any payment for diesel for her own car as it belonged to the government and besides “If you were my family, I’d like to think someone would help you out”. What a top lady. Thank you Jennifer and cheers Kevin!

Onwards to Darwin

I had hoped to ride to Katherine Gorge that day but running out of fuel had put pay to that. With 500km on the trip I rolled into a stopover 40km west of Katherine. No sooner had I removed my crash helmet than a voice from the picnic area shouted “Hey Adam!” I wandered over to find Peter & Denise, one of the three related couples I’d shared a campfire with on my way to Tom Price. I soon had a beer in my hand, then another, then another then rump steak and stir-fried vegetables, then coffee. I couldn’t help but think of the film ‘Sliding Doors’.

I decided to skip Katherine Gorge for the time being and instead pressed on to Darwin in order to get my suspension repaired and to make further enquires into my planned change of route.

Tim & Dale Walker

When Danny and I stayed with Dutchman Maarten Munnik in Thailand at the end of 2006, we met Englishman Tim Walker who was riding his Honda XR650 from Australia back to the UK. When we arrived his bike was already crated ready for shipping to Calcutta but nevertheless we spent a few evenings together. Tim’s journey didn’t last much longer but his story had only just begun. After falling off approx 200km from Calcutta he broke his leg and was subsequently abandoned by his insurance company. His story is one of incredible hospitality and caring by the Indian people who never left him alone in hospital for a single night. Mothers of some lads he’d befriended prior to his accident ensured a bedside vigil was maintained and brought him meals etc daily. Once he could move around on crutches he set off around the various hospitals to get ‘quotes’ to have his leg pinned and plated. After choosing a hospital the bedside vigil continued and once discharged was taken into a locals’ home whilst he convalesced. Whilst the mothers looked after Tim the lads took care of his bike, arranging transport, storage and eventually, shipping back to Australia. Tim eventually returned to Australia and married his fiancé Dale in 2007.

I had stayed in touch with Tim and took up in invitation to spend some time with him and Dale in Darwin. Little did they know that ‘some time’ would turn into ‘quite some time’!

Earlier (in the techy bit) I mentioned finding some vertical play in my rear shock so after speaking to Jan at Shocktreatment nr.Sydney, I removed the shock and set off to the local bike dealer to get the spring removed. This would reduce the shipping price and time for sending it to Sydney. When I arrived at the bike shop they asked “Is this the one for Shocktreatment?” It transpires that Jan had realized the dealer had a trained suspension technician who could do the work in house. Jan would post them the parts which would reduce the turnaround time to 4-5 days instead of a week. Great.

But it wasn’t, and with hindsight I wish I’d sent it to Sydney. Just as I’d been warned back in Western Australia that WA stands for ‘Wait Awhile’ so I was warned that NT (Northern Territory) stood for ‘Not Today, Not Tomorrow, Not Tuesday, Not Thursday’! I should have seen it coming.

First the parts arrived late, then the shops owner took the suspension tech off motorcycle duties for a week to build the his ‘Sprint Car’ to go racing at the weekend. When they did finally dismantle it some 10 days later they discovered it needed another part. It took them another day to order it which meant it wasn’t delivered until the Friday but nobody went to collect the post until 1630 – on a Friday afternoon! By the time they got back the tech had left for the weekend. I finally got it back the following Tuesday – after 18 days!

During this time Tim and Dale were fantastic. As well as giving me a room and a key, they leant me there spare Suzuki DRZ400 to get around on and took me trail riding twice. We shared the cooking, spent most evenings enjoying a few cold beers in the garden and watching the Tour de France highlights. Thanks guys.

Surprise return to Asia

Earlier I mentioned finding an alternative to airfreighting to South America. During my research I learned that no direct ocean route exists between Australia and South America. All ocean freight is shipped via Hong Kong or Singapore and takes 60-68 days. ‘Mmmm… Singapore I thought. I could ride there…’

So that’s my plan. I’ll ship my bike from Darwin to East Timor, traverse the Indonesian islands of Timor, Flores, Sumbawa, Lombok, Bali, Java and Sumatra before returning to Malaysia and riding down to Singapore. From Singapore I’m told it will take 30-35 days to ship my bike to Valparaiso, Chile.

Sounds simple enough but I had a few hiccups just in Darwin. Firstly I had a battle royal trying to get the guy at the Indonesian Embassy to accept my visa application. The problem being that I didn’t have entry and exit flights booked, neither was I going to book any. He wanted me to apply in East Timor but I knew they would only issue a 30 day visa and I wanted 60 days. Eventually I managed to persuade him to consult a colleague who confirmed they would accept my Carnet de Passage as an alternative travel document. Phew!

Next up Perkins, the shipping agent, increased their prices for uncrated motorcycles by 350% (to AU$350 m3) the day after I arrived in town. To get around this I had to build a crate for my bike which then reduced the rate to that of normal ocean freight – AU$100 m3. Tim and Dale came to the rescue here to. Coincidentally they both worked in the bike shop that had repaired my shock and arranged for me to use whatever I wanted from their pile of broken pallets.

Last Ride

With my bike back together I set off to spend a week in Kakadu and Litchfield National Parks.

Kakadu  (Australia’s largest NP) is often referred to as ‘Kaka-don’t’ and with this in mind I set off wondering why. I also returned wondering why. Ok, it wasn’t the most picturesque of the many parks I’ve visited but the wildlife, and particularly the birdlife was nothing short of stunning. The parks other special feature was the regular ‘Ranger talks’ given free at set times of day in set locations. They were fascinating and gave a real insight into the 50,000 year culture of the Aboriginal people in the area. Not only that, but the parks campgrounds were half the price of WA AND had showers! So impressed was I with the wildlife that I undertook only my second paid for tourist activity in the country (Sydney Harbour Bridge was the other) and got up at 0530 for the 2hr dawn cruise on Yellow water. I saw so many species of bird I can’t remember them all but they included the Azure Kingfisher, Sea Eagles, Herons, Egrets and the huge Jabiru. And of course, plenty of crocodiles.

Running out of fuel prematurely close to Kununurra a few weeks ago had not been caused by spilling fuel in the creek as I’d suspected (although I was never totally convinced). My fuel consumption was down to 47mpg (16km/l) from the usual 68mpg (24km/l) despite servicing my bike at Tim and Dales. A trip to the BMW dealer confirmed my suspicion that the oxygen sensor was faulty and to rub salt into the wound charged me $95 to diagnose the fault using their plug-in computer and quote $460 for a new one! Chuffin’ ‘eck… that creek crossing back in the Bungles had been an expensive one!

Thanks to Tim I had a contact in a BMW dealer on the east coast and Toby sold me one for $350. He’d previously helped me out with the price of all the other BMW service parts I’d needed, but all up I’d still spent $1325 on my bike since riding into town three weeks previously and I hadn’t even fitted new tyres!

With the diagnosis complete and a new sensor ordered I rode back out of town and into Litchfield NP for my last night in the bush. Unlike Kakadu the campsite was rammed; unfortunately with foreign tourists. I say unfortunately because they tend to keep themselves to themselves and don’t seem to know how to react when you say ‘G’day’! Unlike the Aussies of course who all say ‘G’day’ to everyone on camp, on the trail, in the dunny etc, etc. The park itself was worth the visit with most of the billabongs looking extremely inviting. Unfortunately for me I was still treating an ear infection I’d picked up last time I’d gone swimming and couldn’t dive in.

I had no idea an ear infection could be so painful. I went deaf in one ear, my cheek swelled up so much I couldn’t chew my food and after a few sleepless nights I undertook an 8hr round trip by bus to visit the hospital (I’d already been to the doctor). Fortunately for me they managed a more successful treatment and I avoided doing a Van Goch – I was bloody close though!

Final Days Down Under

Back in town I rode to the bike shop and finished crating my bike. Tim leant me his car and the bikeshop trailer to deliver it to the shipping agent where I discovered that Customs had cancelled the inspection appointment I’d made which meant me going to them but once they’d cleared my Carnet everything went smoothly. Back at the shipping agents I handed over my bike and AU$293. That was it; the end of Australia. On Tuesday 5th August I’ll fly into Dili, East Timor, collect my bike and return to guesthouses, street food and, hopefully, a few months of cheap living!

Australian summary

After 9 months, 36,191km (22489m) and 160 nights in my tent my Australian adventure came to an end. It was hard; harder than I’d anticipated. In fact it was one of the harder countries I’ve traveled in – hard in a physical and mental sense that is. As a European it’s easy to not only underestimate the size of the country and the distances between places, but the remoteness, and that despite being a ‘western’ country, step away from the main centres and you may as well be in Central Asia.

The distances, the dirt roads, the temperature changes and the constant camping all add up and take their toll. Limited space on the bike means shopping at least 4 times a week – sometimes daily, and every time in a different shop – laid out differently. Imagine going to your local supermarket 4 times a week only to find they’d completely re-arranged everything every time!

Planning for food, water, tyres etc are just a few of the things I can’t think would be a major consideration in any other western country but they are in Australia.

That said, the Australian people have made it easier. I cannot speak highly enough of the people I’ve met and shared homes, campsites, food, beer and a good yarn with. Complete strangers have welcomed me into their homes like a long lost brother, given me the keys and gone off to work saying ‘help yourself!’

I’m sure that being the oldest continent on earth plays a role in the laid back and easy going attitude of its people. Mountaineering fan Tim Hobin once described the Himalayas as being ‘young kids’, still growing, feisty, argumentative whereas the worn down mountain ranges of Australia are the older statesmen, wise, content and relaxed. Think of the people that live in those regions and he has a point. The Himalayas run through Pakistan, Nepal and China; regions of great unrest. The Australians however are relaxed, confident and laid back.

As well as being the oldest, Australia is also the driest continent on earth. You wouldn’t believe it from either the wildlife or the flora and fauna though. I’ve not encountered such an abundance of wildlife anywhere else on my travels and the change in flora and fauna, although subtle, is enormous.

From ski fields to sparse bush, twisting mountain roads to outback dirt tracks, coral reef to sub-tropical forests, starry nights and bluebird days, Australia has a lot to offer and it’s with a tinge of sadness that I leave for Asia.


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One Response to Chapter 16 – A change of plan

  1. Interesting article, i have bookmarked your site for future referrence :)

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