Y2K Off Centre Run Part 2
The horses birthday saw me head off for Redbank gorge (recommended to me by a fellow traveler) on the Mereenie loop en route to Alice Springs. The distance was only 261km but the road conditions were atrocious, the only saving grace was the beautiful scenery and wildflowers. The road had deteriorated following the heavy rains earlier this year, where the undulating road had deep sand in the low sections, leaving a coarse scattering of goolie rocks on the higher sections making the going tough, especially on your own.
I was becoming exhausted, and managed to put the bike down only once in the deep sand at low speed. There was very little traffic on this road and you tend to be a bit more conservative when you are on your own, but my attitude changed a little when I encountered two cyclists coming the other way – mad or keen? In fact I had seen more cyclists than motorcyclists touring this big brown land since leaving home.
While trying to negotiate this road I had a three blokes in a Magna from SA roar past me leaving me in a cloud of dust with their trailer waggling behind it. Thanks mate! A little later on at Tyler's Gap when I stopped to admire the view (and have a well earned break) I spoke to a bloke who said he was nearly taken out by the same Magna coming almost sideways through a causeway and he was well pissed off. I passed the turnoff to Redbank Gorge, having now decided to push on to Alice Springs for two nights.
The 261km from Kings Canyon to Glen Helen Gorge had taken me 5.5 hours and I was pleased to see the black-top and a fuel pump here after an exhausting stretch. As I pulled in for fuel, here were the inhabitants of the Magna; they had holed their sump just prior to getting here and were waiting for the RAC to tow them out; karma indeed! The run from here east to Alice Springs is very picturesque, following the MacDonald Ranges. I headed for the caravan park of Heavitree Gap, and set up for two nights ($16.40). It is a little disconcerting to have the caravan park surrounded by barbed wire (as were many of the other parks), but then seeing the large groups of drunk aborigines in the Todd River gave some logic for its presence.
Wednesday 2nd August was a day of replenishing supplies, checking the bike and hopefully meeting up with the others prior to departing for the Tanami tomorrow. Unfortunately the sun didn't rise on the campsite until 9:10 due to the steep cliff behind it, and it had been a cold night. I headed for Race Motorcycles to check for messages and found Frank Warner there. He had arrived the previous day and was staying at the Stuart campground on the other side of town with some other riders. I was glad to see someone I knew, and planned to catch up with him later that day in his campground.
Headed back to Simpson's Gap and Standley Chasm ($5 entry) which were well worth the trip. Once again it takes some imagination as to how awesome these places would look in the wet season. After stocking up on provisions I headed out to the Stuart campground to catch up with Frank Warner (R80GS), Rob Popplewell (R80GS), Kevin Barber (R80GS) and Ken Hamilton (Kawasaki KLX650). It was good to catch up with some fellow riders, and we planned our itinerary for the next few days across the Tanami over a few cleansing ales. Back to my camp for an early night in much milder conditions than last night.
Thursday 3rd August and I was up early and left by 7.30. The others were a long way off getting ready to leave and we eventually got out of town after 10am. We turned left onto the Tanami road, with the sign showing over 1000km to Halls Creek. The first 100km was good black top, then good dirt with occasional patches of tar in the middle (probably covering the crook sections. (Locals told me there are plans to fully seal the Tanami in a few years so it is good to be here before it becomes a major highway).
I'm not the greatest dirt rider but I made good progress and improved my skills markedly, bearing in mind that the R1100GS was over half a tonne fully laden which is a handful by comparison to the R80GS's and the Jap mud ferry! Road conditions gradually deteriorated until Yeundumu, where we filled up at $1.25 cpl in the Aboriginal settlement. Headed about 65km out of here up the Tanami where we bush camped a little off the road with the flies and plenty of cattle noises in the distance.
Friday 4th August had us leaving about 9.30 with the road conditions varying from fast to deep sand and bulldust. You get pretty good at seeing these sections in the distance while getting up on the pegs, keeping on the power while the bike does a death dance – several heart stopping moments! Stopped at the Granites Mine but we were unable to get into this gold producing field for a look so we headed for Rabbit Flat, Australia's most remote roadhouse. For this privilege we paid $1.50 cpl for unleaded, $3.50 for a pie and $52 for a case of beer which was welcome given the dust we had been eating along the way.
We camped in the basic area adjacent to the roadhouse and later Frank and I decided not to cook but walk back to the roadhouse for some more pies for dinner. While we were there, we met up with 3 blokes who worked at the Granites mine who were on their usual Friday night mission of having a beer before heading back to the mine which is a dry site. The decided to come back with us to the campsite with one case of beer which they shared with us. Later in the evening they went back for another case which we also helped them demolish. They have very little else to keep themselves amused with out here, and it turned out they regularly head for the campsite on Friday nights for some entertainment.
Saturday 5th August was a slow start for most of us, but Frank was up and away early as he wanted to go into the Aboriginal community of Balgo to check out the local art and get some fuel (he had called ahead before leaving Sydney to ensure they were open and he needed to be there before 11am). The rest of us left at about 9.30 and headed for the West Australian border. The road conditions were becoming worse and I put the bike down in deep sand with no damage, just pains from trying to pick the beast up. A little after this we encountered a 3 trailer road train carrying fuel (probably heading for the Granites mine) and he was on a mission, stirring an enormous dust cloud as he careered along.
You learn very quickly to give these suckers a very wide berth! We stopped at the border for a few pics, then for the first time in my life headed into WA. From the border to the Balgo turnoff the road was great due to the presence of a road crew here (none of these in the NT side!), but from here onwards it immediately deteriorated badly, back to the tough conditions again. We caught up with Frank near the Balgo turnoff – he had made it in to town but it was closed due to a funeral so no art and no fuel and he was running a little low.
We had been advised that the Sturt Creek crossing was a top spot to stop, and indeed it was a welcome sight, with flowing water and plenty of shade. While we rested our bones near the creek, a bloke walked over and asked if we needed fuel – a message from the heavens!! He was the mechanic at the nearby Billiluna Aboriginal settlement, and although the place was closed, he could call his mate on the UHF radio so he would make arrangements to fuel up. The rendezvous time was set at 14:00 hrs, so we headed off for our go-gas. There was a $2.50 per person surcharge for opening Saturday and the fuel was $1.40 cpl, but it sure beats pushing a half tonne mule!
Frank was keen to keep on moving for Wolfe Creek meteorite crater, where the rest of us were happy to set up camp back at Sturt Creek, so we parted company here, knowing we would see Frank at the Off Centre in about a week. We set up camp and lazed about in the stream and had a leisurely dinner. A beautiful spot after the dust, and the weather is certainly warming up – this would be a trying trip in Summer. Today we gained 1.5 hours crossing the border and it was nice to take advantage of that by taking it easy.
Sunday 6th August had us up with the knowledge we would be in Halls Creek that night. I had had enough of the dirt (mainly the bulldust and sand) and decided to head straight for Halls Creek while the others wanted to take a look at the Wolfe Creek meteorite crater, so I planned to act as a recon to find good digs and food for the rest of our team.
While having lunch at the Halls Creek servo, I met a Japanese couple who were touring Australia on their 250 chookies they had shipped over from Japan. One was a Yamaha, the other a Djebel (never heard of that one!) and they had gear packed over their heads on the back of each bike – they obviously hadn't heard of saddle bags! They were shocked to find my bike was 1100cc, and were very interested in my sheepskin seatcover. They were riding in motocross gear on vinyl seats – I can understand why they wanted one.
The aborigines here appear to be much more civilised with no sign of grog cans everywhere unlike Alice Springs – they seem content to sit under the shade trees and talk. I headed for the pub and managed to score a room for the four of us at $18 per head, with sheets on the bed, and air-conditioner and fridge, and an ensuite bathroom with plenty of hot water. While having a few beers in the afternoon, I bought a boab nut from a local Aboriginal who carved it before my eyes - $10. Dinner here was also a bargain – a $15 per head carvery by the pool.
There were several other riders who rolled in later (some were staying at the caravan park across the road) and we were able to talk about our respective plans to get to Mornington Station for the Off Centre rally next weekend. Some were going in via Fitzroy Crossing and the Gibb River Road, but the guru's in our group decided the cross-country adventure seemed to be the go. We met up with Manfred and Reggy from Austria, who often come out for the Off Centre They leave their bike at Ron Durkin's in Brisbane and simple fly out to Oz when it's on. Keen travelers.