Across Australia on a DRZ-400: Pt IV

Warburton, Gunbarrel Hwy, Carnegie Station, Fremantle.

Our last four riding days since leaving the Simpson Desert were very scenic but not too challenging. Over the next couple of days we were expecting the “Adventure” meter to be turned back up as we got onto the Gunbarrel Highway.

We broke camp in darkness and ate our bacon, eggs, sausages and baked beans early so we could get to Warburton ASAP to fuel up and be on our way. It all worked fine except we arrived at Warburton Roadhouse 40 minutes before it opened at 9am.

So we decided to have an early morning tea in the carpark while we waited.

The roadhouse was an interesting place, a bit alcatrazish if you know what I mean. The accommodation on offer, including the camping was behind a high secure gate and the gate along with the 2m+ iron fence around the perimeter was adorned with razor wire. It looked more like a facility designed to keep people in, but here it was about keeping something out I guess.

The fuel pumps were surrounded by very sturdy steel cages with, when you get close to them, signs to discourage photography. Taking photos with indigenous people in them is culturally insensitive – don’t do it without permission.

We left there and continued west turning right onto the Heather Hwy which was to take us to the Gunbarrel Hwy. Because of a bike failure our lead rider was riding in the truck and one of our peers had the lead bike and GPS. The track for today may or may not have been loaded onto it but he was given instructions to turn left at the T instersection. It turned out that turning left at the T actually meant turning right off a straight road. Maybe it was bad instruction or maybe it was the inability of a Swedish bloke living in Singapore to correctly interpret it but the result was that we got well lost.

We regularly stopped to wait for the support truck and eventually it arrived with the news we were in uncharted territory for the tour. The decision was made to keep going forward rather than to turn and take the (now) left turn that would get us back on route. So forward we went in what thought to be the general direction we were supposed to be headed.

After a while we came across an indigenous community and spoke to a couple of friendly locals who were very helpful. “Keep going straight, when you get to the dump turn right, keep going and turn right at the tyre.” That apparently would get us onto the Gunbarrel Hwy.

There were two dumps, we made it to the second and had to do a U-turn. We took the first left, which we guessed would have been the first right near the first dump and off we went. Not a great start.

The twin track was barely discernible, had narrow, deep ruts, was sandy and was difficult riding. At least three of the riders had early offs and one decided it was safer in the truck. Our lead rider was back out in the wild with us. Then ahead of us — a rather daunting looking grey/white sand dune. I gulped, we’d all figured we’d seen the last of dunes for the trip and the track went straight towards and over it.

I don’t recall how many we crossed, maybe 5 or so. I do remember the shitty, sandy sections between some and pea gravel sections between others that really kept us on our toes. We rode for what seemed like hours, but stopping to group up occasionally. Finally we got to a point where the main track continued straight on and another went to the right. A few metres off to the right there was an old tyre on a star picket. “Turn right at the tyre” we were told. None of us were really sure if we were anywhere near where we were supposed to be but we did know that were weren’t anywhere near anything else! “Turn right at the tyre”….mmmm. Definitely a photo op.

The right turn put a stop to crossing dunes but the track got increasingly gnarlier, sandier, pea gravelier, and overgrown to the point you couldn’t really see what was under the wheels and the small trees on the side of the track developed a habit of changing gears for you as you rode through. It was tough keeping your feet on the pegs and I was grateful for the sturdiness of the Tech 7’s.

Then the small trees on the sides of the track started to get bigger and others had also grown in the middle of the twin track. At one point I was forcing the bike between branches, peering through to make sure there was a semblance of a track on the other side when 10 metres on my left another rider appeared doing the same thing. He wasn’t on the track I’m sure!

Out of the heavier overgrowth we finally came to an intersection which, according to our detailed instructions should have been the Gunbarrel Hwy. Here’s the intersection and it’s also a good shot of the pea gravel. One thing I’ve only realised since looking through the photos is the tin sign to the right is actually the name of the settlement we’d come from, Tjirrkarli. That fallen tree far right is in the middle of the track from the direction we’d travelled.

Four of us were up on the pegs for most of that part as was the lead rider. It was some while before the others arrived, we were wondering if they’d hit the thick stuff and stopped or got lost. While we waited another photo was in order, you can see the sign and behind us is the way we’d pushed through.

Eventually the others arrived and after a further wait we heard the truck clearing the centre of the track of trees before it joined us. At least the locals might be able to get a 4WD down there again!

We continued on, as confident as we could be that we were in fact now on the Gunbarrel Highway. This was ultimately confirmed by coming across Beadell’s Camp which was our home for the night. Today was really adventure riding at it’s best I reckon. Hard riding, lost, uncertainty, a bit of fear and success at the end. If the track had a name, it’s now been renamed the Nillson Track for without Mr Nillson we’d never have needed to ride on it :-). Although he doesn’t necessarily agree.

Beadell camp was a beautiful spot and after such a high stress day some refreshment was in order.

And there was plenty to discuss around the campfire that night.

The next morning, back on route, we were to ride to the end of the Gunbarrel Hwy, at least on the map. We’d been warned that broken bones were not uncommon, in fact on the last tour it claimed a wrist. We were also warned that on many occasions you would be presented with two or more options to negotiate the highway, pick the wrong one and you’d be in washouts, holes, deep ruts etc. In reality it was exactly like that and very difficult to pick which was the more recent option.

Not too long into it we came across a rest area dedicated to Len Beadell the surveyor for the Gunbarrel Hwy. Some of the group expected the road to be straight – hence the name – but I’ve read that Mr Beadell himself had quipped they should have called it the Corkscrew Hwy. In any case, it’s not straight. And it was tricky. Here’s a bit of video after leaving the rest area. Warning, there’s 6 minutes of it but it does show the variety of hazards.

The Gunbarrel Highway

Aside from the more technical riding through holes, washouts, deep ruts etc contending with branches encroaching on both sides of the track, the long sections of sand and slippery pea gravel tested my confidence. I didn’t have any offs, some did, and this continued all morning and into the afternoon.

There were some interesting things along the way including Geraldton Bore

Pump the handle and water comes out. I wasn’t sure if it was safe to drink but it looked nice and clear and didn’t smell

There was a local commercial vehicle sale yard too.

After a while the road opened up, we got to a section that seemed to have been recently graded. Given it was easier our lead rider headed back into the truck and our less experience peer jumped back on his WR250R. A couple of kilometres down the road, while it was still quite wide, deep sand and pea gravel took over for a while and then the tricky stuff was gone.

We stopped for the night at Carnegie Station. It’s a working cattle station and the staff there looked after us really well and spent much of the evening sitting with us and chatting around the fire. It was an eye opener getting to understand what life is like out there. It was also nice to get back into a hot shower after three days.

They also had a pet donkey called Barry, what a crack up he was! Almost like a big puppy. Barry wasn’t afraid of fire either!

Another bit of a sleep in the next morning and then a fast flowing trip into Wiluna WA just in time to beat the 12.30pm closing of the store so we could stock up on food and, back in civilisation, have a pie. Here is some roadside art there.

We also had some lunch in a rest area before continuing on some very nice, easy dirt roads to Sandstone WA.

Close to Sandstone is a natural rock formation called London Bridge. Doesn’t look like London Bridge to me but it is very pretty and the view of the valley through it is quite spectacular.

We stayed in the caravan park at Sandstone that night, nice facilities and a short walk to the local pub, which didn’t have any tap beer, just stubbies in trays of ice in the bar. I’ve never seen that before, but it didn’t seem to slow the boys down.

The next morning we were also not in a rush. Now we were closer to the coast and there was humidity about there was even some dew on the swags. There was only two days riding to go until we’d crossed the continent. The tough riding was over and this was the easy push to the end. Not quite a transport leg today but just sitting back clocking up k’s and enjoying the changing scenery. The first stop was morning tea at Payne’s Find Roadhouse on the Great Northern Highway.

A very brief tar interlude and we were back on the dirt and heading into wheat country. We spent our last night on the road in a nice camping area at Koorda. We were there fairly early in the afternoon and we waited patiently until the pub opened at 4pm. We ducked back to the campsite for a steak dinner with mash and pepper sauce and then back to the pub. Let’s just say we had a pre-finish celebration for the ride. A good night but a little bittersweet that it was all going to finish tomorrow.

That night in the swag was cold and the dew thick on the ground in the morning. I was up early as usual and slowly packed up while the others emerged from their canvas sarcophaguses (or sarcophagi if you prefer the latin) for the last time.

The tried and true bacon, eggs, sausages and beans were prepared and we got ready for the last, very cool, ride towards the Indian Ocean at Fremantle. There was no dirt on this section and it didn’t take us long to get onto the highway at Cunderdin and follow it towards Perth.

One of our number is a Perth local so he took the lead and navigated the freeways and traffic lights, hadn’t seen one of those for 18 days, all the way to South Beach.

On that part of the trip I had the only failure on the mighty DRZ after almost 6000km. The number plate fell off on a freeway. I had no idea.

Then it was to the shoreline for the official finish photo. We’d crossed the Continent from Airlie Beach to Fremantle on an epic journey that was over 90% dirt through a bunch of deserts and survived. Awesome!

We stayed at various locations that night and met up at Clancy’s Fish Pub at Fremantle for dinner and the ride debrief. It was a quieter night than the previous one. The ride was over, it was a fantastic adventure. But many of us were already thinking about getting to airports the next day or other methods and timeframes to get back to our normal lives.

We said our goodbyes there. Some friendships were made during the shared adventure. What a fantastic ride and a great time it was!

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