Airlie Beach to Birdsville
I’ve been eyeing off the Outback Adventure Trek’s Across Australia Tour for years. 90+% dirt between Airlie Beach Queensland and Fremantle Western Australia, roughly 6000km, crossing the Simpson Desert, the Gibson Desert, Finke, part of the Gunbarrell Hwy…and camping! Despite my reservations about my off-road riding ability this was the right time. I like the idea of a supported ride using hire bikes and only having to worry about the riding part.
My preparation was OK, I’d run the Boston Marathon 5 weeks before and I’d been riding a DRZ400 I’d picked up to practice on for a couple of months. I knew I could ride long days and handle some level of exertion. I did my best to anticipate what combination of riding gear would suit me best for very cold mornings and hot days working hard in difficult terrain. Then with the bags packed I flew up to Airlie Beach.
I met up with Rob who had ridden his WR250F to Airlie from Sydney and we spent a day looking around and getting ready. The tour meet and greet dinner (not included in the price) was at a local pub and the group was a surprisingly diverse bunch of 8 riders plus the crew. All were excited about what might be ahead of us with only brief mention of the broken hip and wrist that separately occurred on the last crossing.
The next morning I became acquainted with my bike for the trip, a Suzuki DRZ-400 that the tour operators had tweaked for my 195cm frame with a couple of inches of bar risers, higher rise alloy bars and an SDG tall seat.
The truck looked the goods too.
The first part of the trip was to ride to the beach for the official start of the Crossing of Australia and the obligatory photo.
Then we rode on tar to Bowen via the Big Mango.
The all important esky was eventually filled with our own selection of beverages and not too long after that we hit the gravel.
Lunch was provided at Bowen River Hotel with some entertainment. The quite cranky elderly publican expressed her ire, without elegance, to the consumption of cans of soft drink that weren’t purchased with the food.
The dirt on the day was a bit of a mix, white then red with a few mostly dry crossings, one of which brought one of the riders undone early in the trip. Thankfully no injury.
We finished the day at a place called Charlie’s Hut, although there is no hut. Importantly, I finally learned how to set up a swag and tried to become at ease with the prospect of sleeping in it.
After BBQ Steak and camp oven vegies, a couple of cans of gin and tonic and chatting around the campfire bed time was a pretty usual 8.30pm for me.
Breakfast was planned before sunrise which suited me fine.
The night was cool and the swag surprisingly comfortable. A hearty cooked breakfast with some chai tea (for me) was a good start for day 2. We rolled the swags up and we were ready to ride off in the very cool morning shortly after sunrise.
We continued on dirt on the Lake Buchanan Road stopping every once in a while to regroup and let the truck catch up. Morning tea was at 10am.
The riding was easy dirt roads with the occasional shallow sandy patch. We all became more familiar with the bikes and assessed how yesterday’s late afternoon tweaking of levers and bars had worked out.
We wound our way on good and mostly red dirt roads to our lunch destination, the Muttaburra Servo for fuel, lunch and a look at the Muttaburrasaurus across the road.
By the time we got there the instruments of on the bike had a nice covering of red dust.
I started getting texts and missed called from Mrs Wom who had been watching the spot track which showed me stopped outside the Muttaburra Primary Health Centre, and as she does, thought the worst. There’s good and bad with SPOT.
More lashes of dirt saw the afternoon pass by until we arrived at the caravan park in Longreach. It was time to make a decision about swagging it the whole way or taking advantages of more comfortable quarters during the trip when on offer. After an enquiry a two bedroom cabin with ensuite and two queen beds was available and the decision was pretty easy. Rob and I weren’t the only ones who chose a bit of luxury.
Transport for dinner on a courtesy bus was arranged to the local RSL for a great feed and a few ales. A perfect way to finish off a decent day on the road.
A bit of a later start on day 3 was planned because one of the bikes was having an issue that it was hoped might be sorted out at Centretune Motorcycles owned by Yamaha Dakar rider Rod Faggotter. Rod wasn’t there and they had no time to help with the bike, which was a shame. One of the softer riders on the trip did pick up an airhawk – no names :-). Others took their cement pills. There was only one for sale.
It was another day of nice open dirt roads, lots of different surfaces, some rocky bits, some sandy bits and a good opportunity to dial in some cornering skills and get more comfortable on the bike. It was quite a nice thing to ride, although a little older than mine it seemed to run well. In any case I’d made the decision to nurse it, it was going to be a long ride to the end, I was keen on doing what I could to ensure the bike made it.
Lunch was a pie at the Stonehenge Pub. The staff were chatty and the pattern of backpackers staffing more remote premises in the outback was becoming the standard.
Then we rode through Jundah, still regrouping every once in a while.
We were following the signs for a while to Windorah and the roads kept us busy. I got an opportunity to test out the GoPro following Rob for a while. It’s a wide open expanse in that part of Queensland for sure. And green from the recent flooding rains.
Then we turned left instead of heading into Windorah to our next camping spot at Coopers Creek.
What a beautiful spot to camp. We arrived with a bit of time to play in the creek crossing and on the sand around the campsite.
Next it was time to set up the swag! Note to self, you can feel wheel ruts under your back if you set up over them! Minor earthworks might be required in future.
Another pre dawn breakfast by head torch and a cold morning saw us pack up and head towards Windorah to top up on fuel. Today we were heading towards Birdsville and on the way the “Practice Dune”. Excitement and some apprehension were present in equal proportions for me, although how big could a practice dune be anyway?
It was much bigger than I expected, so I sat back and watched others have a crack at it with various degrees of success. It eventually became apparent to the others I was the only one that hadn’t had a go. I had watched the bikes go up the sandy ruts, jump about all over the place, stall or fall in the soft sand at the top and one rider hit the top too fast and launch himself into the air. Oh well, it had to happen some time. And it did! Straight up to the top, stopping right on the peak and a little fist pumping and cheering.
Getting down wasn’t so pretty but I held it together. Then had another go, all good enough.
This part of the road was tar but that eventually turned into gravel and we turned left towards Birdsville. There were a few interesting things to see, a hole in Mt Henderson,
Deon’s Lookout, where we had lunch
and awesome views and a snake on a hill near Betoota.
It was wide open and easy with the speeds increasing except that one of the bikes imploded and did not proceed. The bike was secured to the rear of the truck and our lead rider became a passenger in the truck.
The trip into Birdsville was easy riding.
Rob and I stopped in to have a look at Burke and Will’s Tree on the way into town. We turned of the main road into the access track and were immediately present with some very deep, muddy ruts. There appeared to be a 4WD stuck off to one side of it and the local Police were in attendance. I’d all but made the decision that the tree wasn’t important enough to take on the track that was before me then the policeman looked up and waved for Rob and I to go through. There’s no choice not to obey a reasonable direction I guess. So through we went and here’s the tree.
We rode back out to the main road and all met up at the famous Birdsville Hotel before heading to the campground.
The campground was busy and the facilities looked good but the nearby Lodge had some nice double bed/ensuite accommodation that was a done deal for me and some others – keep the swag fresh I reckon and the shower was appreciated.
With everything rechargeable plugged in some washing was in order before dinner was at the Birdsville Hotel which was surprisingly busy! The food was good pub fare. On the way back to the lodge I realised I’d lost my room key. I recalled hearing a clank when throwing the washing in the machine and went back to the laundry to see if it was there. Thankfully it was!
It was a bit of a walk from the lodge back to the campground with our bags but fortunately one of the staff of the caravan park and lodge with a ute offered to shuttle our gear both ways. Country service with a smile. Awesome!
Tomorrow, Big Red and the Simpson Desert, excitement and terror at the same time!