Friday, February 27, 2009

The Big Wet

Tue 10/02

We're finally going.

It's 5am and we're struggling with our gear to meet the 5.30 deadline with the paparazzi (hi Tricia). God these bikes are heavy with all the junk on the back. We're both nervous about not doing a Ewan McGregor and dropping them on the way out of the car park.

Apart from stopping in Toowoomba for no reason except to look at each other in disbelief that we're actually doing this, today is just about getting a feel for the bikes and how they handle fully loaded. Boring for you guys, but a big deal for us.

Sleep comes at a caravan park in Roma, where we're oblivious to the road trains rumbling past.

Wed 11/02
It's probably unfair to say, but Charleville seems like a lot of places out here. You hear about these towns in the news, or the nightly weather report year after year, and when you actually see them you wonder why they even exist. Obviously they're hubs for surrounding cattle stations, but still...

We're not sure if Charleville is the place where we begin referring to Disinformation Centres, because the one here is staffed by very nice people. We ask about the state of the roads, our main worry, and find out the highway from Longreach to Winton is cut. We decide to go to Longreach in the morning anyway and work things out from there. Afterwards we wander round and check out the town in the dry heat, still not quite believing we've started the trip. The cold water is so hot here no-one connects the hot water for showers.

Thu 12/02
Stopping in Blackall on the way to Longreach, we head straight for the nearest aircon (the local DC). The local DC Dipstick proceeds to advise us, as she had a car load of Japanese tourists yesterday, to turn around and go home. Firstly because we'd never get through to Winton, and even if we did the Mt Isa Hwy would be impassable for weeks. We try hard not to panic (the NT web site has been saying the Barkly Hwy has been open for 2 weeks) and ride on anyway.

The DC in Longreach is shut when we arrive, so we wander into the ABC across the road and ask one of the journos about the state of the highway. She tells us the Thomson is rising, but it's not a problem. The road is cut not far out of town at the Darr however. Being as the library seems to have about the only internet access in town, we try looking up the latest flooding info there, but the sites are so contradictory we walk out in frustration after our precious half hour.

We decide to dump our stuff and go and check the Darr out for ourselves, crossing the Thomson on the way, which looks spectacular in flood, but is nowhere near the road. When we reach the Darr, there are several truckers checking the levels, the cops turning up shortly after. The truckers say the water is about 2ft at the deepest but would be down by tomorrow. The cops don't really care what anyone is doing, they just want to chat about the bikes. After a bit of bullshit about bikes and floods the first road train turns up, and we all watch as it slowly wades across. Word has obviously spread because the rest of them, who'd been waiting in town, cross soon after.

We ride without jackets for the first time today. It's only been 3 days (we joked before we left about how long they'd last), but its starting to get pretty hot out here.

Fri 13/02
We leave this morning thinking we'll be getting pretty wet crossing the Darr, but it turns out to be a complete anticlimax. The river has dropped nearly two feet overnight, and we barely have to lift our feet off the pegs.

Cloncurry. There isn't much to say. We're both shagged from the ride. No-one ever tells you this, but riding a bike is fantastic for the first hour, but afterwards seems to be an exercise in pain management. Or moving the pain around. It might start in your back, then move to your right hand, then maybe your arse. And if you haven't put your earplugs in right, your ears will really start to hurt, and getting your helmet off later will require the jaws of life.

We both feel for the two pensioners we pass, who are doing the same route on pushbikes. Completely mental.

Lucas nearly loses his bike at a floodway when the front wheel dives down a submerged pothole.

Sat 14/02
It's a short day today. The ride is beautiful from Cloncurry to Mt Isa, but there are a lot of roadworks, some of which aren't signposted. We come upon a section of road, maybe 100m, which has completely washed out, and so we stop and wait. And wait. And turn the engines off, and sit there looking at the mud, which doesn't look good. Actually it looks really wet and deep. We're both sitting there thinking "I wish we'd done that off-road course a few months ago", when eventually a road train starts hauling its way over the mud towards us. Sheer momentum carries it through, but it churns the mud up even more and makes us feel a little bit nervous.

Eventually it's our turn. Lucas goes first, and from Ann's viewpoint looks like he's riding a bolting horse. A horse which is doing its own thing, with Lucas just kicking it in the guts every time it seems as if he's going to lose it completely. Ann makes it over in an uneventful fashion, much to Lucas's annoyance, and when we finally stop in Mt Isa and Ann sees the state of his bike, boots etc.. she laughs until she's in tears. Days later she tells him its the funniest thing she's ever seen him do. In fact it's possibly the funniest thing she's ever seen anyone do. Lucas is considering a career in slapstick...

We have a look round Mt Isa. Such as it is. Deciding to give the mock mine tour a miss, we head out to the lake instead (recommended by the DC). At a closed flooded road, we're debating crossing when a guy on a trail bike flies across and is so completely soaked that we decide we've had enough of that for one day (Lucas has cleaned his boots by then).

Sun 15/02
We have about 650ks to do today so we head out early, wary of roos and kamikazee emus. Past Cammoweal, into NT and through the infamous stretch of the Barkly Hwy, which we'd been worried about for weeks. Of course the Barkly is a non-event by the time we get there, but later that day we see photos of what it looked like a month before. It's hard to believe the sheer amount of water that went through there.

As the day wears on, the monotony of the NT roads sets in. We'd been getting into the habit of stopping every 100ks or so, but the flies are so bad here the stops are reduced to a few gulps of water and plenty of swearing.

At one spot about halfway between Mt Isa and Tennant Ck, in the middle of nowhere, we stop to check out some massive termite mounds. Lucas gets the camera out, takes his helmet off and reels off 3 shots before the flies get so thick they're blocking the lens.

Later, we stop for fuel and a Barkly burger (with the lot) at Barkly Homestead (read truck stop), and quiz the cook about towns between here and Katherine.

"So what's at Tennant Creek?" Lucas asks.
"Coons." she replies.
"Right, ok. How about Elliot then?"
"Oh you don't want to stay there. That's a coon town."
"Okaaay. How about Dunmarra?"
"Coons. Coons. Coons."

We're both a little shocked, but she makes a damn fine Barkly burger, so we leave it at that.

The speed limit is 130 here, but we're trying not to hammer the bikes too much so are averaging less than 100. Even so, Lucas is watching his rear tire. We knew they'd be too soft for the heat and the weight on the back, but it's disappointing to see how badly it's wearing.

We make it to Three Ways, a truck stop where the Stuart and Barkly Hwys meet. Population 6. We're rooted. Ann's ear is killing her.

Mon 16/02
The only excitement on the way to Daly Waters the next day is Lucas's first bird strike. So far he's had near misses with kangaroos, wallabies, goannas and emus, but this bird's luck ran out in a puff of feathers.

Every now and then we come over a rise and get a glimpse of the vastness of this place. We'd never really appreciated the huge amount of nothing that's out here until this week. When you crest a hill and you look out over the landscape, and all you have is the noise of wind in your ears, it's almost like looking out the window of an airplane. It's the same incomprehensible scale.

We gave Tennant Ck a miss after hearing about recent troubles with motorbikes getting nicked. It's still so early in the trip we're both a bit paranoid about the bikes and all the gear, so it doesn't take too much to put us off. Talking about gear, we also thought we were taking the bare minimum with us, but the sheer amount of stuff we seem to be carting around is really starting to get to us. We're already wondering what to get rid of.

Daly Waters is tiny, but has a bit of history and the hotel has a bit of atmosphere. After WW2 the airfield was used as an international airport. Direct flights to the UK were GBP246. Believe it... or not.

Tue 17/02
Lucas has an up close and personal experience with a dingo at about 90kph this morning.

Afterwards we stop in Mataranka for breakfast. We aren't sure why such a small place has hundreds of aborigines sitting around everywhere, but the Canadian lady who runs the cafe explains that their community is flooded. She then explains that everywhere the aborigines go the alcohol restrictions go with them, and that one of the consequences of this is the local supply of light beer running out within the first couple of days. Apparently the town folk were not well pleased.

Arriving in Katherine we expect to be able to see some of the gorge, but ironically it seems everything is under too much water. It's a bummer, but this was always about getting the bikes on a boat in Darwin, so whatever we see along the way is a bonus. It must be a bit of a down day, because we'd been trying to keep an open mind about the locals, but the state of most of the aborigines around town is a disgrace. Sorry, but there's no better description for it.

Fri 20/02
After discovering a lot of Litchfield NP is still accessible we head there, and end up staying a couple of nights. Apparently the weekend warriors head here from Darwin, because it's almost the only stretch of twisty road in NT. Up until now Florida roads had ranked as the most boring we'd driven, but NT takes the biscuit. Completely mind-crushingly monotonous featureless dead straight roads. We can only imagine the living hell of riding the Nullarbor on motorbikes and promise to slap each other around if one of us ever suggests it. However, it's great to ride Litchfield in shorts and a t-shirt, minus all the baggage.

The falls have huge water, and access to the old tin mine at Bamboo Ck is closed, but we trudge out there anyway, determined to see the insanity of it.

Fri 20/02
It's a real slog to Kakadu. Maybe the thought of having to backtrack after coming all this way is a bit hard to take, but we both find it a pretty difficult.

We make it to Cooinda just in time to take the last cruise of the day out on the East Alligator, and it's really impressive to see the floodwaters. There aren't that many crocs to see at this time of year, but we get lucky and have one pose for some photos.

Sat 21/02

We spend the morning up at Nourlangie checking out the aboriginal rock art. After starting off on a bit of a hike, we decide it's way too hot and wuss out pretty early on. Pretty much all the rest of Kakadu is closed, so we head straight for Darwin instead.

Fri 27/02
Putting the bikes on the boat to Timor today is all pretty painless, but still stressfull because we've been gearing up for this for months. It's weird walking back to the backpackers and not seeing them in the carpark.

We had a fright yesterday when Lucas's bike died out on the road and wouldn't start. After pushing it to the nearest servo, where it only took 10 litres, it still wouldn't start. So we had it towed to Darwin BMW, who said weeell... we'll try and look at it today, but if you haven't heard from us at lunch time tomorrow give us a call. We didn't quite beg the guy, but fuck, the cargo cutoff for the boat was lunchtime the next day. Never mind that we had to see customs first and pack our stuff.

Thankfully they did look at it that afternoon, and it seems like it was dirty fuel or old fuel we'd bought in Kakadu (thanks BP), because after cranking and cranking it finally started. It might still play up later on, but we weren't feeling rich enough to pay them to drain the fuel tank so decided to risk it.

Darwin is like everyone had said to us, a nice place to spend a week or two. The beaches are deserted and we've been itching to dive into the water, but daren't risk it. We saw a bunch of locals swimming the other day, and maybe they know something we don't, or maybe they were too drunk to care (sorry, that was bitchy).

We're catching the 3.30am (god!) shuttle to the airport Monday for the flight to Dili and we're thinking there might just be a beach in Timor with our name on it......


  1. good to see it up and running :)

  2. Your now out of Aussie . Keep us posted on your adventure and have fun.Cheers N

  3. What? You didn't even make it to Indonesia to have someone mess with your fuel... ;-)

  4. well having a good laugh at your adventures...
    coon coon coon well that sounds like a outback
    aussie, dont think i would of ate her burger..!!
    hehe anyway keep up the info mustard..

  5. Loved reading the adventure to date.
    Looking forward to reading more.
    Make sure Lucas keeps an eye on those birds.
    Stay Safe.
    from Luis