Today was the pressure point for the five day ride. I needed to get to the Noccundra Hotel at Nockatunga Station for a photo. I had two choices. The first a known route down the highway from Winton to Cunnamulla and travel 300+k’s west to Nockatunga, about 1230 ks all up. The second was using a number of back roads including part of the Diamantina Developmental Road and Cooper Developmental Road about 900ks. Google Maps however suggests that this 900ks would take nearly 14 hours were the substantially longer route would only take an hour or so longer. I assumed by that that the big difference would be the road conditions.
I hadn’t really been able to find much information about the latter route, in particular road conditions and being new to this big Adventure Bike I was undecided about which way I should go. Frankly at the start of the day I, with my confidence shaken slightly by yesterday’s events and the possibility of riding part of the developmental roads in the dark I left Winton planning on the seemingly safer but longer route.
However, the ride to Longreach was all that was needed to forget the doubts and have a “harden the f#@k up” moment or two.
I got some fuel and bacon and eggs and coffee at Longreach. I asked a local police person (I would have said policeman if it was a bloke) if she new anything about the road to Jundah and beyond, clueless. I asked the lady behind the counter what she could tell me about the road to Jundah and beyond and she said “it’s just a road” and looked at me like I was an idiot. That’s all I needed to hear, so towards Jundah I went.
Well, the Thompson Developmental Road wasn’t a highway and it was a bit rough in places. There were lots of floodways where the concrete was broken and resealed with tar but all in all the main difference between that road and the road between Hughenden and Richmond I travelled on yesterday was that for much of it there was only one lane of tar with very wide gravel shoulders to use when an oncoming vehicle (or Road Train) appeared.
The Super Tenere ate it up. The remoteness was beautiful and frankly I found the riding quite exciting once I got used to the cattle who owned the road, the roos that often didn’t bother to get off the road when you rode past and the emus that I now know statistically will run across in front of you 3 out of four times when you get close enough to hit them.
At Jundah the General Store sold fuel from the yard next to the store. The sign said Diesel, Unleaded and Super. The unleaded and super came from the same tank. The lady there was very nice and was from Newcastle so we had a nice chat, I stood in front of the air conditioner in the shop for a while (it was already 40 degrees outside) and I was soon continuing on the Thompson Developmental Road to Windorah.
If anything this part of the road was better than the last, to get to Windorah you take a right on the Diamantina Developmental Road and ride 4ks up the road, not quite on the way but it makes sense to top up fuel where you can. Taking that small detour however did give me a chance to see the Windorah Solar Farm that generates much of their power. Those of you who know me would know I love wind farms, conceptually farm is the wrong word, but a solar farm is very cool.. well it’s very hot…enough.
Premium unleaded was available from one of the servos there and when I asked how far Eromanga was the attendant and some locals just sitting around suggested that I “take the Kyabra Road turnoff about 114ks out of town. It’ll save you 50ks over heading out towards Quilpie. There’s a bit of gravel but it’s really good”. I was feeling a bit bulletproof at that point and after a very positive experience in good gravel in the Midlands of Tasmania a week or so ago I decided to take their advice.
I’m an idiot! I’m sure that those of you who are experienced dirt riders wouldn’t have had too many problems, but this good gravel was mostly loose stones on hard packed dirt with trenches dug it in where trucks had driven through in the wet. I guess it would have been good gravel to the locals in their 4WD trucks with balloon tyres but not for a noobie on a riding a 350kg or so luggaged up Super Tenere.
While I had quite a few “moments” I did manage to see some incredibly beautiful landscapes including a billabong in the middle of nowhere.
The wildlife in the area all came to see what the noise was and at one point I found myself not only wrestling the bike over a particularly difficult bit of rocky road but at the same time dodging an emu that was crisscrossing and propping in front of the bike close enough to punch. I swear it was turning its head back towards me and poking its tongue out like Road Runner. I’m smiling as I type but I definitely wasn’t at the time.
For reasons completely unknown to me the GPS decided to turn itself back on and start working along this road. I wasn’t holding my breath for that to last but it was funny to watch while I wasn’t nearly falling off. It knew the name of the road and occasionally it showed me actually on it and could sort of work out how far I had to go, but mostly the GPS was more lost than me.
Eventually the gravel ran out (after one false start) and I was back on a single black tar strip to Eromanga which is apparently the furthest town from the sea, I’m not sure if it’s in the state or country or if it’s true, but it’s on the sign. There’s a refinery at Eromanga so there’s cheap premium unleaded available. I rode up to the pump and waited. I asked a truckie about what I needed to do to get fuel and he said “just fill it up, ride into the yard and find the office to pay”. Very trusting I thought but in reality there’s only two ways out of this town and there’d be someone waiting at the next town when you arrived if you forgot to pay. Not that I ever would.
From Eromanga on the Cooper Developmental Road following the signs to Thargomindah the road improved even more. In some areas there were long stretches of new two laned blacktop. I guess it’s because this area is oil rich and they don’t want to spill any of it getting it out of town.
The Noccundra Warry Warry Road turnoff to Nocktunga and the Noccundra Hotel is not where the GPS reported, it’s a few k’s earlier so keep an eye out for the sign. 20k’s after the turnoff is the Noccundra Hotel. No 3G, no power other then it’s own generator, didn’t see a TV anywhere and satellite internet if you bring your own satellite. They have unleaded fuel and I paid about $1.75 per litre for it just to top the tank up. Naturally you can get diesel too.
I had arrived shortly before 5pm and decided to have my first beer for the whole trip to celebrate the decision to take the less travelled route and reaching Nockatunga well before dark. I was stunned that the stubby of pure blonde was only $3.50 and mentioned I would have expected to pay more.
I got to chatting to the new publican, Margie, and her daughter who was visiting from Adelaide. I had covered enough distance today to enable me to reach home tomorrow without any problems (only 1340kms) but only if I missed one of the locations I should have visited for a photo this trip (Talwood). The other option was to head straight off and try for Thargominda or Cunamulla tonight and still do a longish longer day tomorrow but pick up Talwood on the way through.
I’ve had an inexplicable interest in this little pub and the area ever since I saw it presented as one of the FarChallenge locations so I decided to stay and experience a night at the Noccundra Hotel. I also felt good about spending some cash and supporting their business, it must be tough there in summer. Margie served up a decent beef in red wine stew with veges and potato bake and a few Gin and Tonics didn’t go astray. Bed by 10pm and set the alarm for 5am.
The accommodation (donga) had a double bed in it and a rattling air conditioner so the ear plugs went in and I slept like a baby (well a good one anyway).
This day was probably up there with one of the best day’s riding experiences I’ve had. Only 900ks but I saw some very unusual places, met some great people and it was really unlike anything I’ve done before. It struck me later that in the whole 900kms I didn’t overtake a single vehicle and didn’t pass any more than half a dozen going the other way, amazing!