I was writing and photographing in The Great Australian Roadtrip (2007). A collection of feature articles (totaling around 12 pages) came in AMCN (Australian Motorcycle News) spread over 2 issues in 2008. The articles are listed below with the scripts. You can read more about the trip here.

Article 1 : Roadtrip Part 1 : Published in AMCN February 2008 issue.

 

Download PDF of the Article from here.

 

Article 2 : Roadtrip Part 2: Published in AMCN in March 2008 Issue.

 

Download PDF of the Article from here.

Scripts of the Articles:

 

Sometimes I thank myself that we were not riding in the days of the Gondwanaland, otherwise we would not been able to pride having done a whole continent on motorbikes.

But time flies fast. The trip culminated successfully after 72 days and 20,453kms.

And right now I am sitting in a cozy room in Melbourne. I don’t have any preoccupations about tomorrows route, where we will have food, what will be the weather. Nothing. I am back to ‘abnormal’ life. It feels strange and surreal to think that just this Christmas we were crossing the Nullarbor and stood at the edge of the Great Australian Bight cliffs braving the screaming winds threatening to blow us off like leaves into the blue vast expanse of ocean ahead.

Life is unfair and tough after such an experience.

So how did it all start and go? I am as eager as recounting each day vividly as perhaps you are waiting to read about it.

Here goes, I will try to cram the experiences of twenty thousand kays over seventy two days in a few thousand words.

Club History

This trip was carried out by an Indian club called xBhp. It means ‘x’ amount of braking horse power. It primarily started as an online club at xBhp.com but gradually made it’s mark offline. Over the years it has done things in India differently and it has earned so much popularity now that it has fan clubs and hate clubs dedicated to it!

By 2006 it had enough members spread over India who visited the club website online. Many of them were interested in an all India meet. Biking from all corners to meet at a central point did not seem to feasible to gather enough people at such a nascent stage, but a team representing the club going all over India did. And that’s exactly when the idea for The Great Indian Roadtrip happened.

The trip did indeed happen. See Box 1 for a trip summary.

 

Box 1

The Great Indian Roadtrip

Leg 1 : 15th August 2006 to 18th September 2006

Leg 2 : 4th October 2006 to 15th December 2006

Kms Done : 18,780 kms

Route for Leg 1 (Outline)

Delhi – Chandigarh-Wagah-Jammu-Srinagar-Sonamarg-Kargil-Leh-Sarchu-Manali-Kaza-Peo-Rohru-Musoorie-Delhi

Route for Leg 2 (Outline)

Delhi – Agra - Jaipur - Udaipur - Ahmedabad – Rann of Kuchh - Silvassa - Mumbai – Pune – Goa – Mangalore – Bangalore – Mysore – Ooty – Munnar – Kumarakom – Kovalam – Kanyakumari- Dhanushkodi – Chennai – Vijaywada – Hyderabad – Rajahmundry – Vizag – Bhubaneshwar – Puri – Kolkata – Siliguri – Darjeeling – Gangtok – Nathu La – Siliguri – Kolkata – Lucknow – Agra – Delhi

The Vehicles

• Kinetic Italiano Blaze (Scooter : 12 Bhp : 165 CC)

• Kinetic Italiano Jupiter (MotoScooter : 15 Bhp : 150 CC)

• Kinetic Hyosung Comet (Streetbike : 27 Bhp : 250 CC)

• Honda CBR 1000RR Fireblade (Superbike : 160 Bhp : 1000CC)

• Tata 207 (Backup fourwheeler : 65 Bhp : 3000CC)

Photos Clicked : 29, 587

Video Footage : 25 Hours

Accidents : 2 Medium with the GT250 and 2 Mild with the scooters. No accidents with the 1000RR or the four wheeler.

Maximum distance in a day : 815kms (Chennai to Hyderabad)

Highest Point : Khardung-La ( 18,430 ft ), Ladakh

Min/Max Temperatures : ~ -10 degrees in Khardung-La, ~45+ degrees in Rann of Kutch

Maximum Speeds (speedo error not accounted for) : Blaze ( ~120kmph ), Jupiter ( ~125 kmph ), GT250 ( ~145 kmph ), Fireblade ( ~260 kmph ), Tata 207 ( ~110 Kmph ).

Trip website and details : http://www.theGreatIndianRoadtrip.com

End Box 1

Birth of the Australian Trip

After the Indian trip we were asked by someone that when would we do the next Indian trip. I thought, why a second Indian trip, why not a trip outside India! We were also aware of the fact that many people from developed countries came to India for rides, either as a one off country or part of RTWs, but hardy any Indians made efforts to reciprocate the same as a dedicated activity.

Off we went hunting for a country. After a little research it was clear that the country would have to be Australia.

 

Why Australia?

  • Australia has Vast open spaces (the NT and WA were mind blowing)
  • Australia has best of the roads which allow for freedom to travel (Thunderbolts Way, Oxley Highway, Tasmania, 91 Mile straight were heaven)
  • Australia has Unlimited Camping opportunities in the Outback (we did not camp anywhere though)
  • Australia has Beautiful Parks and Reserves (Litchfield, Kanjini and Kata Tjuta were amazing)
  • Australia has the Best of the motorbikes (from Moto Guzzis to Urals, we saw it all!)
  • Australia has the best of the technology available to aid such an endeavor (wireless broadband in Uluru via our NextG modem, anyone?)
  • Australia has colorful people and social environment (we loved seeing people from ten different nations on our walks in Sydney and Melbourne within a kilometer!)
  • The moderate climate of Australia is also conducive to roadtrips if undertaken in the right season (we undertook it in the wrong season but got away with everything! No rains, no flash floods and 14 hours of sunlight to ride in!)
  • Both Australia and India share a strong passion in sports, specially Cricket (every second person used to ask us about the series all over Australia, but hey we finally won once! Its all in good spirit!)
  • There were some close xBhp members and friends of ours who had shifted to Australia from the Delhi xBhp group. (one member actually came on board as a full time team guy, Aditya Pande from Adelaide!)
  • There is no language problem (English with the Australian accent wasn’t too hard for us to understand ;)!

Thus, it was Australia. We specially liked the fact that we not only be doing a country by road but a whole continent. How is that for a brag factor!

Before I start on the travels let us see how the statistics stand at the end of the trip in Box 2

Box 2

The Great Australian Roadtrip

Dates: 1st November 2007 to 12th January 2008 (72 Days)

Riding Days: 44

Total Kms done: 20,453 kms on road. 850 odd kms on sea (Spirit of Tasmania)

Average Kms per day: 464kms (in 44 riding days) or 284 kms (including non riding days).

Longest Distance in One day: 1234.5 kms (yes that’s the actual figure, we added 5 kays by loitering here and there after reaching the destination). Dec 25th 2007 : Norseman to Ceduna

Route Taken: Melbourne-Wangarrata-Bairnsdale-Thredbo-Canberra-Katoomba-Sydney-Cessnock-Port Macquarie-Gold Coast-Brisbane-Hervey Bay-Rockhampton-Whitsunday Islands-Charters Toweres-Mt Isa-Tennant Creek-Alice Springs-Uluru-Katherine-Darwin-Kununurra-Halls Creek-Broome-Port Hedland-Tom Price-Carnarvon-Geraldon-Geraldon-Cervantes-Perth-Augusta-Albany-Esperance-Norseman-Port Lincoln-Adelaide-The Great Ocean Road-Melbourne-Devonport-Hobart-Launceston-Melbourne

Best Place: Augusta (WA) because of its beaches and no congestion

Best Roads ridden (in order of visit) :

  • Great Alpine Way
  • Oxley Highway and Thunderbolts Way
  • The M1 to Brisbane
  • In Kata Tjuta National Park
  • 91 Mile Straight
  • Great Ocean Road
  • Devonport to Strahan
  • Best Places Visited (in order of visit)
  • Melbourne
  • Thredbo
  • Katoomba
  • Whitsunday Islands
  • Uluru
  • Geraldton
  • Augusta
  • Hobart

Best Experiences

  • First sight of the countryside after leaving Melbourne
  • Morning Rainbow in the beautiful village of Thredbo
  • Lying in crystal blue waters of Whitsunday Islands
  • Watching the city of Mt.Isa emerge in the middle of nowhere at dusk with a million teeming light bulbs
  • Watching a rainbow in front of the mystical Uluru with dark black clouds and the mighty bright sun shining through them
  • Walking on the beach in Geraldton
  • Walking on beaches of Augusta
  • Riding through Pinnacles Desert
  • Walking in London Court in Perth CBD
  • Dinner with an Australian Family in Perth (Thanks Simon M)
  • Doing 1200kms on Christmas Day
  • Standing at the edge of the cliff at The Great Australian Bight
  • Crossing the nothingness of Nullarbor and the Never Never land
  • Seeing the devastation cause by Gordon Dam (not the best experience, but a unforgettable one)
  • Tuesday night at Joe’s Garage in Hobart
  • Meeting up with ‘Desi Bikers’ at Federation Square in Melbourne after the trip finished

Worst Experiences (not necessarily worst because they taught us a lot)

  • Riding the Barrys Way in rain with ultra slippery ground
  • Riding in heavy rain for the first six days of the trip in Victoria and NSW
  • Sun rising at 5 AM in Brisbane and waking us up
  • Riding in heat in NT and WA
  • Fighting sleep on ultra straight roads in the north
  • The biggest problem for us were the cross winds, threatening all the times to throw us off the road
  • Staying in isolated places like Halls Creek where the only two motels had extravagant rates for lodging.

What we were expecting, but didn’t happen (good and the bad)

  • Flashfloods in the North, utter chaos on roads
  • Unbearable heat up north
    Hot weather in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane – but everywhere we went it was cool, until of course we hit north
  • Us hitting a Kangaroo or some other weird form of life on the road
  • No accidents
  • We thought we will see more than the four odd bikes we saw in thousands of kays in the northern and central outback
  • A track day at Phillip Island!

Some interesting questions asked to us in the trip

  • “Are you Casey Stoner?”
  • “If you are Indian how come you are not black?”
  • “If you are an Indian how come you speak English so well?”
  • “Is’nt India still a British Colony?”
  • “Can you do a mono for us?”
  • “Did you meet any aliens in the outback?”
  • “How did you ride from India?”

End Box 2

The Roadtrip

Destination Day 1 : Melbourne to Wangaratta, which came across to be a beautiful sleepy village.

Me, Aditya and Kulpreet started off from Federation Square, the meeting place of Melbourne at 10.30 AM in the morning. The first day is usually spent getting into the groove. The daily usual routine would be waking up and ready, packing our stuff and getting on the bikes and getting started. We arrived in Wangaratta at just before 6 PM after numerous photography breaks.

The ride was fantastic, to say the least. We did not expect the scenery to change so drastically and so soon after we left Melbourne. The first view of the green countryside was surreal. Everywhere we could see different kinds of trees with incredible shades of green.

For the first time I realized the power of technology. When we reached Wangaratta we realized we hadn’t booked a hotel room and it was around 6 PM. So we took out our MacBook and connected it to he internet using the wireless broadband NextG modem that we had got. A couple of minutes later we had booked a hotel room over phone after searching for its reviews on the internet. We just fed the address into the GPS and were on it’s doorsteps in no time. Perfect.

Destination Day 2 : Wangaratta to Bairsdale

I have always maintained that Kerela & the Himalayas are some of the most beautiful places that I have ridden a bike through. The route which we took today in Australia reminded me of those places. The difference being that they were politically in a difference place, geographically they are on the same blue speck teeming with life in this vast empty space. The obvious differences were the fantastic sealed roads throughout & the well mannered traffic. However, back in India there is always an added sense of achievement to find order amidst chaos!

Back in India, we do have sealed roads in many places now. Places like Kerela (a state in India) is described as God’s own Country have good sealed roads in most routes, like Munnar and Kumarakom. The landscapes that we rode today in Australia were nothing less than heaven. In fact it will be utterly pointless if I try and use flowery language and hope at least some of the experience will go through to you all. The highlight of today’s ride was definitely the Great Alpine Road, the sweeping corners, riding through the clouds with visibility less than 10 metres.

It seems there is some preoccupation with names in Australia having ‘The Great’ prefix. (not counting The Great Australian Roadtrip!)

The bikes, the GT650s, I might as well give a brief review of the two days ride that we had on it. Hyosung in Australia are the underdogs of the two wheeler chain. I first saw the GT650R way back before we even thought of the Gaur (we have Gt250s in India and we had one in The Great Indian Roadtrip). The first look of the bike gave an impression of being fast and handsome. Of course we have the Japs and the Italians with all the performance and the style, but personally after riding the bike for two days and 700 odd kms I feel that it can be used as a good entry level street bike. It was sharp and quick around corners (I am not one of the guys who would like to get rid of the chicken stripes just for bragging rights) stable at high speeds and over bumps and feels big and solid. A good VFM for what its worth.

We also rode through Hotham Village today, it was quite cold there and we managed to spot some snow in the nearby mountainsides (and that was the only time we saw snow in Australia).

Destination Day 3 : Bairnsdale to Thredbo

It was a cloudy day today and as expected it rained a lot. We were supposed to reach Khancoban but ended up just short at Thredbo Village which was indeed beautiful. It is here where we discovered YHA, the youth hostels. They were cheap and inexpensive, offering everything that backpackers like us required. Today we also had the toughest day of our ride in the whole trip. It was raining and we were doing the Barrys Way, hundred plus kms of unsealed roads which, nobody told us, gets slippery like hell on road tyres when wet. Even our van was slipping sideways, lets not talk about the bikes. Somehow we made it in the rain at snails pace. The dirt slushy road gave way to a fantastic sealed tarmac at Ingebyra, which felt almost like flying after the pathetically slow murderous pace. Barring this, the scenery was excellent and we would have enjoyed it tons more had the rains spared us.

Destination Day 4 : Capital of Australia : Canberra

I had heard that Canberra was too sanitized. I did not know how to exactly decipher that phrase but today we reached the capital of down under from Thredbo via Jindabyne and Cooma. And again it was raining today. Along the way we had our first brush with an Australia motorcycle group – the Netriders. They were in a bunch with even ladies riding the bikes like Ninja 9rs et al. One thing which was obviously different in Australia from India was how developed the biking for leisure culture was.

In Australia people spend a lot on their motorbikes, and they have all the bikes, accessories and facilities (read: insurance, legal imports, tracks etc) available. In India the culture is coming up fast and for sure. Just recently India saw the first high capacity motorbike launched – the R1 and MT01 by Yamaha. Before this the only legally available ‘power’ bike that we had was the Gt250, or the 500CC Royal Enfields (if you want to call them power bikes that is).

Next day, we paid some quick customary visits to the Telstra Tower and the Parliament in Canberra and our business was pretty much over there.

Destination Day 6 : Canberra to Wollongong

It was still raining. And it was becoming irritating. Primarily because we could not do photography, which is a very important factor in our trips. We could do the 20000 kays in 15 days or less but except the brag factor we probably would not have much to take back or share. We had a waterproof point and shoot camera with us but it could not match the quality and creative possibilities of the DSLRs that we were using.

Anyways, we were proceeding slowly, with our daily distance hovering around 300kms mark. We were told that there won’t be much to do and see once we get up north (which we discovered were mostly assumptions). A small mishap happened – a bike’s side stand went into the mud whilst it was parked on the side road and dropped on the second bike standing to it. Thank god both of them were our bikes (and a Ferrari wasn’t standing next to them either ). One of the bike’s gear level clipped off and made it problematic to ride. We decided to take it to the nearest Hyosung dealer from where we were – Wollongong. It was almost five and almost whole of Australia’s shop’s shutters were about to close. (excepting 7-11s etc).

This was another thing that we noticed in Australia – most shops shut bang at 5 Pm or whenever the scheduled time is. And a Friday evening is the worst time to shop for something valuable, specially when the shop is about to close! All that seems to be on their mind is to shut shop and get beer – which is not a bad thing at all!

Destination Day 9 : Sydney

We did a small round circuit of the Blue Mountains : Wollongong to Katoomba to Lithgow and to Sydney via Bells Line of Road. Again rains spoilt the fun and we could not really afford to see anything else except the wet road ahead and battle the fog on our visors (didn’t anticipate so much rain and cold and didn’t put anti-fog on the visors, another invaluable lesson learnt!).

e surely arrived at the outskirts of Sydney pretty early, around 12.30 Pm, but the city took us by surprise. Sydney had worse traffic than many Indian metropolitan cities. OK, the horns were not there, people werent shouting, but the traffic was slow as if it were following a snail. For an outsider Sydney would be really hard to traverse with all those one ways, tons of confusing road signs and traffic.

The biggest mistake that was ours was that we booked our lodge in the Sydney Central YHA. It was bang in the center of all the hustle bustle of ‘one of the greatest cities in the world’. I had read a fair bit of text about Australia’s culture in a couple of books like Lonely Planet’s Australia and Culture Shock ‘Australia’ by Lisa Sharp. It was mentioned that Australians were really upfront in some things, about the rivalry between Melburnians and Sydneysiders and about the high headedness of the Sydneysiders. Of course I, as a foreigner was reading it as a mere text and was in no way going to shape my mindset according some books. But some of it was confirmed when we checked in to the YHA. We enquired about our booking and along with it we wanted to know where we could park our van and the bikes. The ‘guy’ at the reception told us nonchalantly that “we were in the middle of Australia’s greatest city and how could we expect parking’!

Our mistake!

Despite the big problems that big cities like Sydney may have it will not fail to startle even the hardest of skeptics. Within a kilometer we can see many faces from different parts of the world, it feels truly cosmopolitan, truly global. Tall glass building reflecting each other, creating an illusion of never ending array of skyscrapers. Porches, Nissans, VWs, Harleys - adding glamour to the roads. White skinned, tanned and dark skinned people all walking on the same sidewalk, busy on mobile phones, smiling, calculating the next business move in their heads. You can truely feel the rush and the dynamism all around. One thing we couldnt help but notice - there were far too many Asians than the Euro-Aussies themselves. Me better not get into this territory as I hardly know anything about the history and demographics of the vibrant country. I can still recreate the scene where a Porsche was in front of me at the red light, a monorail was passing not far above me, some huge SUVs on the left red light, hundreds of pedestrians from all walks of life waiting across the road and waiting for their walk signal to be green in tandem…

The highlights of Sydney were meeting Mick (Ed!), the Sydney Opera House and the ultra cosmopolitan vibes. Oh yes, and the only parking ticket we got in the entire 20,000 kays.

From one great city of Melbourne to another, Sydney and now onto the east coast towards Brisbane.

Destination Day 12 : Cessnock

As we were heading out of Sydney (thankfully, and avoiding big city blues) we saw an accident involving multiple vehicles. An interesting point I noted was the way these accidents are handled. The traffic kept moving, albeit slowly and the ambulance arrived within a few minutes through the shoulder lane. The police cars were already there and no one was blocking the accident site. Everything moved in an order as if that accident was just another routine for the day, which I do not mean in a demeaning way. When I first rode on the freeway in Melbourne everything seemed like a clockwork, everyone driving in lanes (well most of them) and indicating before a lane change. This might be taken for granted by the Australians but for us it was a huge disciplinary exercise coming from India.

In corners, for example, here in Australia you wont think twice before touching that knee down and taking a fast one. However back in India, there could be anything round the corner – a cow, a bicyclist, an ultra slow moving vehicle, sometimes even traffic from the opposite direction!

Moving on however, today we fantastic sunshine (that would continue for the rest of the trip!) End of rains! Of course we did not know then and took maximum advantage while going to Hunter Valley. We lodged in Cessnock’s YHA which was located in a creepy ultra silent place which was amazingly just off the highway.

Destination Day 13 : Cessnock to Port Macquarie via the Thunderbolts Way and Oxley Highway

“Thunderbolts Way, yeah baby” We heard Bob Turner say. We met Bob, a mature gentleman on a Royal Enfield (didn’t expect that!) near Walcha. Today was by far the most fantastic ride through winding roads of Thunderbolt and Oxleys Highway and lush green Australian countryside. Today we also happen to meet two ‘Ducatistas’. They both were working in Qantas. Yes, we thought, the trip was getting exciting by the minute!

Today we were educated of two ‘facts’ (or otherwise, we don’t know!) : One, Casey Stoner was born in Walcha and not Kurri Kurri, and two hardest core tourers use Ducatis! (please verify the facts at your own risk!).

Destination : Brisbane

Brisbane or Brizzy. Yes another slashed word. I noticed that Australians like making words shorter and probably save bandwidth over the internet. I have even the Melbourne Cricket Ground being abbreviated as MCG and finally as M! Now I double dare anyone make that even shorter!

So we arrived into the capital of the sunshine state of Queensland. Aptly named since the sunlight here used to penetrate our closed eye lids as early as 5 AM! We were hosted by a warm Indian family of Mannu Sharma or cbr_ryder (as he is known on our club website!).

Brisbane was the last ‘mega city’ we would see for a long long distance now. The closest next would be Darwin, and that too is very small compared to it.

Brizzy, as other big cities we had seen now (Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney) had the cosmopolitan feel with not a big CBD, but nevertheless tall rise building making a statement that yes we are growing. I somehow imagine how would be the skyscraper landscape of New Yoirk city, which somehow I feel has been projected larger than life by all those Hollywood movies (maybe its is like that in reality). Most of the people we had our discussions about the relative size of Australian Mega cities, count how many blocks is the Central Business District. I simply see how many skyscrapers I can count. (and just for the heck of it I saw a Manhattan Skyline panorama on the web and was flabbergasted!)

Some days after we left Brisbane, Queensland was hit by a major storm and we saw Sydney floods on the television. Like I said we had been very very lucky in our travels!

Box 3

A Day in the life of three Indians road tripping down under

Rule 1 : the one who wakes up first demolishes the other two’s cozy peaceful sleep

Rule 2 : the one who captures the toilet seat first tests the other two’s patience

Rule 3 : rarely all three will have a bath on the same morning

Rule 4 : breakfast will be either eggs or bread and jam with milk. Courtesy : the hostel’s common kitchen (well mostly)

Rule 5 : Me and Kulpreet wear our two piece riding leathers and boots. While Aditya relaxes and watches morning news on TV

Rule 6 : Check route. Check distance. Calculate approximate riding time. Speculate Weather.

Rule 7 : Pack all stuff. Specially the umpteen wires, the two laptops, prepare cameras and tank bag for the ride ahead.

Rule 8 : Mount GPS : Enter first stop after deciding where will be the first stop for refueling. This step was very easy in the NT and WA. Usually the GPS instruction would read go straight for 500kms! Once it was 1199kms (when we started from Norseman for Ceduna)!

Rule 8 : Finally start off.. .yay!

Rule 9 : Try not to get knocked down by a Kangaroo, crosswinds or the amazing roadtrains.

Rule 10 : Refuel. Refuel. Refuel.

Rule 11 : Drink Water. Drink Powerade. Drink Red Bull. Drink Water.

Rule 12 : Stop. Click. Resume. Stop. Take Video. Resume.

Rule 13 : Applies to the outback : Talk to yourself . Punch your helmet so that you don’t fall asleep. Take No Doz tablets as required.

Rule 14 : Applies to the outback : Drink Water. And pour water on top of your head.

Rule 15 : Input lodge/hostel address once the destination has been reached.

Rule 16 : Arrive at destination. Check in. Change into casuals. Take out the stuff from the van. Set up mobile control center (laptops / wireless broadband/ plethora of wires)

Rule 17 : (and the most time consuming after a big ride) : Copy all the images taken in the day from the cameras. Edit and upload them. Write Blogs and integrate with photos and videos and post it on the internet.

Rule 18 : Book lodge for the next day by referencing the web for reviews

Rule 19 : Aditya, mostly takes up the role of the chef and cooks us great food.

Rule 20 : Put all electronic devices for charging (specially Aditya’s iPod!)

Rule 21 : Sleep. Of course after setting the alarm.

Rule 22 : Kick ass of whoever starts snoring first

End Box 3

Destination : The Gold Coast

Before leaving Brisbane we did a day’s trip to the expensive sounding Gold Coast. And it was. We head from Brisbane via the scenic Mt.Tamborine way with Mannu on his CBR. I tell you even he was surprised by the punch the GT650s had. We hit Gold Coast early evening. Immediately we saw tall extravagant looking buildings, lots and lots of bikes and swanky cars, ladies with scanty dresses and men with flexed muscles. It somehow felt like out of a Fast and Furious movie. And guess what. The schoolies were on. And there were thousands of wanna-explore-the-wild-side teens everywhere. And we three were the odd ones out with the maximum clothes on (leathers!).

We went for a short walk on the Surfers Paradise beach, and it exactly seemed what we had in our minds – water, beach and a jungle of tall buildings with a zillion lights at night.

Whatever, swankyness rules, sometimes.

Destination : Whitsunday Islands via Rockhampton

The name itself exuded exotica. We were really looking to see the fabled white sand, crystal clear waters and in general get our first real ‘Aussie beach experience’. And sure we did. We arrived in Airlie beach, our headquarters for exploring Whitsunday Islands for a day. From Brisbane we head out to Glasshouse Mountains and halted at Hervey Bay for the night before arriving here. A tour was duly booked to the three of the islands in the Whitsundays group : Hamilton Island, Long Island and Daydream Island. The Islands were very well marketed and rightly so. I have noticed that most of the tourist spots are very well marketed in Australia and that’s one of their key strengths. Day Dream Island and Hamilton Islands were actually said to be owned by a individuals. Hamilton seemed more of a small city rather than just an offshore Island. The AUD 80 pp cruise and visits to the islands was definitely worth it! For me Long Island with its clean and soft beaches and crystal clear waters was the best!

The Start of nothingness : Destination Never-Never

The Never-Never, the top end, the red center – all were beckoning, and we heard them as we left Airlie Beach and started for Charters Towers. The fabled Australian outback would soon be on us. ‘Soon’ is a relative word here, where the sunshines from 6 AM to 9PM in the night, where the roads know no turns, where the trees forget to grow tall, where the mighty crosswinds rule and where the fifty plus metres roadtrains trot the bitumen threatening to push you off the road and into a red dusty oblivion. I would rather prefer a jet plane pass right over my head than cross these over stretched giants on wheels in high speed crosswinds.

Gentlemen, welcome to the gateway of the outback.

Somehow I knew this would the ride of our life…

I would like to invent so many clichés to describe the wonderful land we were riding into. The hint of nothingness that we experienced.

We experienced the taste of outback and what can go wrong even if you are on a straight highway without a phone signal and without money. That’s what happened to us when we decided to do 800kms (from Charters Towers to Mount Isa) in a day. This was going to be the biggest distance yet on the trip and we were ready for it. But not quite. Aditya missed a turn in the van and went straight from Hughenden, instead of taking a left. Plus he missed the two red gleaming bikes in the middle of a relatively empty town. The result was a comedy mix up. The three (the operator 3) GSM phones were not working (and wont be working in the next ten thousand odd kms, biggest mistake getting a three connection, we should have gone for a Telstra CDMA). Anyhow, with some help from a man in a dinosaur museum in the very sparsely populated village of Hughenden we managed to track our misguided missile who had reached Cloncurry in the Air conditioned van drinking lemonade. Cloncurry is supposed to have the highest temperature recorded in the history of Australia, an unofficial 53.1 degree. “A warm welcome guaranteed”. We reunited with Aditya and thankfully that was the last time there was a mixup in the trip as far as directions went.

We were officially on the ‘Overlanders Way’ which is the route from Townsville to Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory. This route was used for over a hundred years by Aussies to drive cattle from Center East Australia to the East Coast for over 1500kms. This route later also served as a life line in WWII.

Mount Isa struck me as a marvel when I saw all sorts of showrooms and a highly developed city in the middle of nowhere. Just some kays back we were desperate to see some population and now city teeming with life pops up. Awesome.

No matter how developed, green, curvaceous and touristy the Australian east coast may be, I have to admit that the best part of the trip for me has been experiencing the Never-Never – the outback, the emptiness. I just want to find myself riding again in these parts alone again and again. It was magical. The rustic golden beauty, the mirages, the sinuous straight roads bring another ultra straight road into view is all but some breathtaking experience. There is no one to disturb, the sun shines a lot and you are one to one with yourself. Stop wherever you want, whenever you want, do whatever you want on the empty highways. We have slept and even meditated once in the middle of a deserted road. The road wants you and you want the road for company. See, I get carried away each time I think about the outback. And to tell you, this is not the ‘real-deal’. Going inside one of the unmarked unsealed roads would definitely be an even more enthralling experience. Unfortunately, we would have to do this much for now. And we didn’t even buy an EPIRB(Emergency Position Indication Radio Beacon) lest we get lost!

The outback also hosted us some great natural spectacles like ‘dust devils’, the countless mini twisters that gather dust, some of them even moved across the road as we rode ‘through’ them, the only hint was a vacuum for a millisecond and then a pull as we got out of the mini wind system. Another great sight was blue sky filled with black smoke from a bush fire. It looked as of a war was raging out somewhere. In one case we rode through hundreds of kays of roads with one side with green grass and other side burnt vegetation. The fire probably couldn’t cross the road to the other side, saving us thankfully from another stupid riddle.

Contrary to what some people advised us about the outback being ‘bludy boring’, we found a lot of interesting things to boot. From the ‘Most Central Pub in Australia’ – Ti Tree to the very interesting roadhouses spread over the vast expanse of the outback.

One major thing to take care with the bikes was the fuel. At constant high speeds the fuel tank used to dry up in 220 odd kms. But if were to ride like gentlemen (100 odd kmph), like we did from Victoria to Queensland, we used to get a good 18kmp or 300+kms range pretty easily from the GT650s.The roadhouses soon became our popular checkpoints on the map. In fact these are the only places where you can get fuel, rest and cold beverages on such a trip. I started to have a certain sense of respect for their owners for two main reasons : first they were running the show isolated from the rest of the population and second they used to meet so many new people from so many nationalities in such isolated places with each customer to tell an interesting story. Many roadhouses used to have stickers of the visitor clubs, communities etc on the walls and many other interesting artifacts.

Our journey in the outback can be summarized into this route : Charters Towers – Mount Isa – Tennant Creek – Uluru – Katherine – Darwin – Broome – Port Hedland and then from Norseman to Ceduna. This was the route where we felt really far away from the civilization.

Rather than describing the same elated feeling associated with the outback again and again I would prefer to list down the best and notable experiences or places we went to in this part of Australia :

  • Tennant Creek : Was a weird shady place with a certain uneasiness about it. We only lived their for two days while transiting. Once while going down to Uluru and the last time while coming up and towards Darwin.
  • In the outback you hardly choose the place you want to stay. The distances between two livable towns is usually so big that you really don’t have no choice but to book your bed there.
  • Usually the lodges are extravagantly priced. Rightly so, from the labour to resources, everything is bound to be expensive in such isolated and sparsely populated places.
  • If you like star gazing then the outback night is the place to be.
  • Usually, you can verify the earth is round by noticing the substantial curvature which the view of the horizon offers across a sparse vegetated desolate landscape.
  • One of the most thrilling and mentally rewarding experiences you will have is overtaking a roadtrain at high speeds. Trust me its thrilling!
  • If you are a budding rock star and you want to shoot a picture for your first worldwide release album, then the outback is the place to be – barren trees, spooky landscape etc al. And you will most probably get the single green tree standing alone in the middle of nowhere too.
  • Like to have your eggs without too much of a hassle? Don’t bother carrying a burner. Just keep it on the road for 10 minutes and relax in a shade (if you can find one).
  • We got to know that the Northern Territory had a 130kmph speed limit from 1st January 2007. Bad luck for us. Mick,the ed, had mentioned that the fatality rate had risen from zero to infinite after the speed limit was imposed. We also think that riding fast would help us maintain the required alertness for such long straight rides.
  • Devil’s Marbles, a creatively named site with huge round boulders strewn all over the place
  • Wycliffe Well : A place just south of Tennant Creek, touted as the UFO capital of Australia and one of the places with maximum UFO activity in the word. Although sighting an alien still remains my dream.
  • Tropic of Capricorn passes just before Alice Springs. Although its just a virtual line on the globe it still was thrilling to se the sign and pass through it. Incidentally we passed through Tropic of Capricorn again somewhere in Western Australia. This line also dissects Australia into two even halves.
  • Australia has 18 of the 20 top venomous snakes in the world. And the only chance you may get to see some of them and return alive is one of the reptile centres. We went inside one in Alice Springs and it was quite interesting, and loathsome with all the creepy crawlies.
  • Alice Springs was an interesting and developed city, at least if you compare to others that we were in recently.
  • We also had lots of fun spotting Indians across Australia. We even met one working in Erldunda Roadhouse en route Yulara (Uluru)!
  • The Kata Tjuta and Uluru are very strange. They are basically huge rocks jutting out flat ground in the middle of Australia. They definitely had some surreal feel to them and we did not try climbing the rock and respected the Aboriginal values. The rainbow made it and even more surreal experience to visit the place.
  • The millions of termite mounds either side of the highway makes it very interesting. Some are taller than we are! Specially at Mataranka, near Katherine (top-end).
  • The landscape changed dramatically as soon as we reached within a 100 kms of Darwin. The outback was a barren canvas but that soon changed to a splash of green as we moved through lush green forests and tall trees. This is also a very interesting feature of the outback. The scenery usually changes to something a little more green just before a major settlement.
  • Darwin was the next ‘big’ city after Brisbane. At least by qualification, since it was the capital of Northern Territory. It also said to have the highest youth population in Australia. The heat and humidity was almost unbearable though. On Sundays the city is practically dead and shut down, as is common in major settlements across Northern Territory.
  • Floodways can be fatal if you ride just after rains on the highways. We were warned by a victim in Kununurra where a thunderstorm hit the night we stayed over. The next day we negotiated a couple of stagnant pools of water on the road, which threaten to deceive the non wary rider as being non existent.
  • Broome, in Western Australia was the next big we stayed in after Brisbane and Darwin. One good thing which I noticed was the development and facilities available in most of the towns of Australia (except maybe like Tennant Creek and Halls Creek, which were really ghost towns).
  • We decided to take a not so worthy alternate route from Port Hedland to Tom Price and then to Carnarvon.
  • None of us could swim, and none of us drinks. I noticed that these two activities can get you quite a social circle, specially while you are traveling through hot lands.
  • Signs like ‘Limited water supplies for the next 423km. Obtain your supplies here are really encouraging.
  • Area from Geraldton to Perth and then to Augusta was beautiful and had quite substantial greenery. We thought the outback had ended until of course we hit the Nullarbor, which is a different story.
  • Perth, like I said was a shock to me. I think it was the most beautiful city I have visited in Australia. The swan river and environs are simply beautiful. So is the bell tower and the London Court. But the ‘most isolated city in the world’ tag might not help it’s tourism for sometime to come, though it definitely adds to the exotic value.
  • Augusta, Western Australia was our favorite place with all those beautiful beaches with blue and green crystal clear waters.

Crossing the Nullarbor Plain : ‘One of the Life’s Greatest Journeys’

This specially holds true for us since we did it in one day, and on the 25th Dec 07, which was the Christmas Day. Before the touring gurus go haywire over me ranting about the relatively mediocre total of 1200kms that we did in 16.5 hrs today (including 2.5 hours of breaks), let me please state that we were not trying for any records, it was just happenchance that we had to do these many kms in a single day. There is no decent place to stop in between the two towns (except roadhouses in maybe Nullarbor and Eucla). This ride was special in many other ways too. First of all it was Christmas and we were in the middle of nowhere to celebrate it. Second, we were crossed the longest straight stretch of road in Australia (146.6kms) in pretty quick time, third, we saw the cliffs at the awesome Great Australian Bight and finally of course the personal target of 1000kms in the trip was achieved. In 2006, in the India trip, the best we did was 820 odd kms, from Chennai to Hyderabad. I rode a Fireblade in the trip, along with 12bhp scooters!

Doing 1000+ kms in Australia, specially in the Northern territory and Western Australia is no big deal at all due to the almost non existent traffic and 100+ speed limits. In fact we did not encounter a single traffic light in the 1200kms that we did today. But like I said, today was special.

The major deterrents for us on this day was the blinding glare of the rising sun. Trust me our eyes hurt like hell for the first couple of hours into the journey into the east.

Actually crossing the Nullarbor begins at Port Augusta on the eastern side and ends at Perth, the most isolated city in the world, but the actual ‘feel’ comes when you do the part between Norseman and Ceduna, and that is exactly what we were doing today - in one day.

After the ‘interesting’ checkpoint of Australia’s longest road we were looking forward to the Great Australian Bight . In this section the road runs almost beside the cliffs. There are around 5 viewpoints marked on the Eyre Highway. The turnoffs to he right will take you to the edge of the cliffs in less than a kilometre. The sight is overwhelming and scary if you have vertigo. We recommend you approach the very edge of the cliffs cautiously and on your knees lest a wind blows you off from behind. The Southern Ocean merged into the blue skies almost seamlessly as the waves splashed at the feet of the mighty cliffs below us creating a white foam and intense drama. It has to be seen to be believed!

A word of caution : If you are a social animal, you may be much better off making friends with a soft toy on your dashboard or tank pad and keep cuddling and talking to it, else you will have to do by talking to yourself for most of this journey. Yes, this is the country of the ‘Null’ - no trees, no humans, only the road, sunshine and crosswinds whisphering secrets from a million years from the times of Gondwanaland.

We reached Ceduna at around 9 PM and the Never-Never was almost behind us now.

The distance from Ceduna to Adelaide seemed a mere 700kms after the Christmas Day total. Adelaide was Aditya’s hometown for the last two years, so officially he had completed the full circle of the Australian mainland. From here on it will be civilization again at every point and we missed the outback.

Needless to say the highlight of the section from Adelaide to Melbourne was The Great Ocean road. We had our apprehensions and tried to look at the road being overhyped. But our critical viewpoint was dismissed as we rode through it. The road is truly a mix of some awesome vistas, twisties and touristy traffic. We reckon one would probably enjoy it best on a bike on a weekday’s early morning ride.

It was great happenchance that we arrived in Melbourne to complete the full circle on the New Years Eve. This gave a chance to be a part of the fantastic experience at the World Party in Federation Square, Melbourne. We celebrated the coming of the new year with thousand of other people from many different nations under a common sky and with world class fireworks. Something to remember for a long time to come.

But hang on. The best is still to come. Although we had done the Australian mainland full circle, the beautiful island natural state of Tasmania was still left. And we were all waiting for it. We took the Spirit of Tasmania with our bikes and van in it to the famous island to see what the hullabaloo was about.

 

Tasmania : The Natural State under down under.

I would like to describe Tasmania as a spaghetti soup. Its full of corners of extreme kind and it is surrounded with ocean and penetrated with water bodies. We also experienced wilderness like we had never seen before, and that too just off the main roads. The freshwater lakes strewn all over had a brown color on the banks due to the tea trees. Every few kays we would see a sign indicating a tourist photo spot.

Tasmania seemed to have the best riding environs in the whole of Australia, no doubts about that, but the skill level required to negotiate these corners were indeed of a high exponent. Our interpretation was corroborated by a newspaper release which said there have been at least 8 motorcycle accidents on Tasmanian roads since the new year started with one fatality.

It was the outback inverted.

The route which we took in Tasmania was Devonport – Strahan – Queenstown – Hobart - Huon Valley - Coles Bay – Launceston – Devonport

 

The highlights of Tasmania for us were :

Route from Devonport to Strahan
The winding roads
Lots of other bikes
Omnipresent sweet smell of (pine?) in the air.
Wilderness areas
Lots of side dirt paths leading to shores of water bodies of all kinds : rivers, rivulets, creeks, lake, ocean
Tuesday Bike Night at Joe’s Garage in Hobart
The landscape around Queenstown reminded me of the jagged mountains and ruggedscape of Ladakh in India
We met a guy on a CBR Movistar replica, Jesse. He accompanies us for a good deal in our rides in Tasmania.
The environmental drama and damage caused at the Gordon Dam.
Getting a BMW 1200GS from Moto Adventure Tours for a day.
The clouds and beaches at Coles Bay in the Freycinet Peninsula, but we were really disappointed not to see the Wineglass Bay, which was rated as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

Box 4

The Hyosung GT650s

Engine Capacity : 650CC, V-Twin

Power : 76 Bhp

Average : Speeds near 100 kmph give around 18 kmpl (range 320+km on a single tank), speeds around 150kmph with frequent outbursts of acceleration give 10kmpl. (range ~220km on a single tank)

Services done : Wollongong, Alice Springs, Darwin, Perth, Melbourne

Tyres used : 2 times rear, 1 time front. Dunlops.

Engine Oil used : Castrol Power1

Other consumables: One set of chain sprockets, tail light bulbs

Speedo Error : ~10%

Top speed attained : err, Better if don’t mention.

End Box 4

The End : A continent conquered

Yes, we have done it. The emotion was that when we met up with ‘Tez Riders’ at the Federation Square for a last photo session with the Indian flags in Australia. And it didn’t seem long when we were preparing for the trip, and we started off on the first day from Melbourne in rain. All I can say god had been with us for very long and had protected us from any serious mishaps down under. The Hyosung GT650s had been very faithful to us all along. The kind of stress they went in the 72 days was surprising. For a 650 road Vtwin they had performed very well, and we did not even feat dropping them because the parts were so cheap. All in all we would say that the action performed speaks louder than any words. We have done Australia with Unsung Heroes, no more.

G’Day, for now.

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  About Me   As a Journalist   The Great Australian Roadtrip (2007)
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