Y2K Off Centre Run Part 1
The day had finally arrived. After months of planning I was off on my 11-week jaunt around Australia, primarily to the Off-Centre Rally in the Kimberley, then a lengthy meandering home via the west coast. I had never been to an Off-Centre, nor had I ever had such a large break from work, and my off road riding skills were not brilliant, so I was in for a strong learning curve, but I was as organised as I could be and couldn't wait to get started.
I had planned to do this trip with Greg Aldis from Clubman Tourers. Greg rides a Honda Africa Twin, and as a well-experienced off-road tourer, I had a good mentor to share the road with. We decided for an easy first day to allow ourselves to ease into our lengthy sojourn, and our initial rendezvous was Eastern Creek Macca's at around 9.30am on July 25, 2000. We headed westward over the Blue Mountains, stopping at Raglan (Bathurst) for fuel. We worked our way through to Wellington for a late lunch, then onto Dubbo, where we got a cabin for the night as the weather was very inclement, but also to allow us to have an early start tomorrow.
Left Dubbo by 8am (26th July) in a sea of cloud and fog, which miraculously cleared about 10km west of town. Off to Nyngan in Big Sky country for breakfast, then onto our intended destination of Broken Hill through cold and windy conditions, filling up at Cobar and Wilcannia. I was leading and constantly checking my mirrors for Greg, and I was more than surprised when he was no longer in sight. I quickly turned around to see Greg stopped on the side of the road, and as I turned around I saw the Africa Twin totally blackened from an oil leak from the engine back. It turns out that Greg only noticed the leak when he looked down at his boot, and although the bike was still running, he quickly shut it off to minimise damage.
He started it up briefly but there was a loud ticking noise which sounded less than brilliant, so the plan was to call in the cavalry. I quickly rode back to Little Topar to call the NRMA, then back to Greg who had settled in with a book next to his mount. Due to the rapidly failing light, I had to leave Greg by the side of the road while I tried to dodge the Skippy's on the way to the Hill. I arranged to meet up with Greg at the West Darling Hotel, and he arrived around 7pm with a fairly philosophical attitude to such a problem only 2 days from home. We tried to forget about the situation by having a nice meal and an few beers (the start of a trend for me, not that it's any different from being at home, except I will miss my home brew heaps, not just for the cost!).
Greg had NRMA PLUS, a product I would recommend to all motorcyclists, as in a situation like this, they will pay for your accommodation, provide a hire car and ship your bike back home, all for an annual premium of around $140 – good value. Before all this could occur, both the local NRMA technician and the Honda dealer needed to assess the damage to the bike. In the wash up, Greg was at least thankful that the bike hadn't seized and he wasn't injured, but having taken 10 weeks long service leave, this left him in a situation without a vehicle (he doesn't own a car) and lots of time on his hands.
Thursday 27th July, only 2 days since our departure, we started the day with breakfast at the pub and then waited for the verdict from the gurus. Their prognosis was simple – the bike was stuffed (a technical term) and Greg was to on his way home in a tin-top. This decision was made after starting the bike for about 2 seconds and hearing a loud knock-knock sound (no pun intended). I left Greg about 11am and Headed towards Yunta in a strong headwind through mind-numbingly boring country From here, the scenery improved and the wind dropped but was still cold (I had to remind myself that this was still winter!). Turned off to Peterborough, Orroroo, Wilmington and the much famed Horrocks Pass – finally some great corners. From the top of the pass you get a great view of the Spencer Gulf, then descend to the plains en-route to Port Augusta.
I decided to push on for Woomera at about 3:30, but the overcast conditions, thick bush crowding the road and failing light made me feel a little concerned about the impending critters. A car passed me doing about 130kph, and I decided to stick to his tail, using his vehicle as a wood duck! The pub here wanted $77 a night for a room, so headed for the backpackers for a $16.50 room – a good option for a stop when you are on the road for long days. Back to the pub for a $14, 3 course meal (at least their food was reasonably priced) and then off to bed - you really tend to sleep well after several days on the road.
Friday, 28th July – I must have been tired – almost 12 hours sleep, but at least it is quicker to pack up and get on the road than having to pull down your tent. On the road by 9am, firstly to Glendambo for fuel, then to Coober Pedy which to me is a waste of space; a moonscape with dusty streets full of pisswrecks. You need to keep your wits about you out here; plenty of emus, dingoes, sheep and cattle, but the most impressive are the eagles. They remain on the roadkill until you are about 10 metres away, then take off in your general direction with their claws out – I wasn't really interested in fighting the bird for his dinner but they sure let you know their feelings.
Another break at Cadney Park roadhouse, then onto Marla at the top end of the Oodnadatta track. All these roadhouses are much more than just fuel stops. They often include restaurants and bars, accommodation from motel to camping and some have supermarkets, bank and postal facilities – mini towns under one roof. I was in no hurry given the length of my holiday, and decided to take a break at Marla overnight in a cabin for $20.90 (bloody GST creates some odd costs!), and have a relaxing meal in their restaurant. After paying for my room, a bloke on a Harley Springer Softail came in heading north. He was actually quite chatty, but his plans made me think that he couldn't be quite right. He was heading for Alice Springs that day, a distance of some 450km and it was already 4pm in winter – keen or mad!
Saturday 29th July, left Marla for Kulgera ($1.22 cpl), then Erldunda which is the turnoff for Ayers Rock and the Olga's. The first large rock seen on the way is Mt. Connor and is an impressive sight. A little further on and you can see Ayers Rock (Uluru) and the Olga's. Out here you have only one location to stay – the hotels, camping areas and shops are all at Yulara which is about 15km from the rock. In fact you cannot even stop on the side of the road anywhere for miles, probably due to the area being a sacred sight, but probably also to protect the flora and fauna which was plentiful.
Set up camp at the only camping area ($12.10 per night) with plenty of trees, grass and good amenities. I decided to stay for 2 nights here as I needed a break from doing miles and to allow me to check out the area. When checking in, the staff advise you of the sunset and sunrise times which are of great interest for the photographers and general tourists. I made my way out to the sunset viewing area about 5:30 with a sundown time expected of 6:16. There was an enormous array of cameras (Mr. Kodak would be impressed!) and there is good reason for this.
I have seen Ayers Rock heaps of times in books or on the TV (as you all have) but this would never replace the experience of seeing the largest monolith in the world in the flesh. What an awesome sight – erupting from the ground, it totally dominates the whole countryside. I stayed here until about 6:30 when the sun had disappeared, and I could still see people on top of the rock – a pretty dangerous proposition in the dark.
Although the days here were very warm, the desert nights are quite the reverse, so from shorts to the woolies in a short period. Overnight was so cold that by about 6am I decided that I might as well freeze on the bike than in bed, so I headed for the rock again to take some sunrise shots – a very moving experience! Back to the camp for a little breakfast, then out to the Olga's for a look. Equally as impressive as Uluru, and they are separated by about 40km, they can be seen from each other across the incredibly flat countryside.
Monday 31st July, and I left Yulara for the easy 300km ride to Kings Canyon. I stopped at Curtin Springs to clean my filthy visor when an R100GS rolled in. On board were Pierre Zakrewski and Michelle Ross-Stanton from Ireland and England respectively who had been travelling from the old dart since November 1997. Michelle's bike (R80GS) had some problem and had been left in Sydney so the were travelling together and heavily laden. He was a documentary cinematographer and had been taking and selling footage during his trip to fund the journey, and they had also worked as aid workers in Afghanistan and Cambodia. They were planning on getting to the Off Centre rally and I looked forward to seeing them there.
For those interested in their travels, take a look at their website; www.clubi.ie/zakandmich – well worth a look. The road to King's Canyon was good with spectacular wildflowers due to the good rainfall this year. Set up camp at the resort ($13) around 2pm, then rode back 10km for the King's Canyon walk. Just to imagine this place at the height of the wet season is mind boggling! Definitely worth the time.