“The cost of not following your heart, is spending the rest of your life WISHING you had.
#AmericanBikerWoman – https://www.facebook.com/AmericanBikerWoman/
Welcome to day two of my motorcycle tour of Western Qld
What does it mean to ride solo through Western Queensland? There’s no doubt that the experience so far has been slightly different from my expectations. As the day for departure got closer I questioned my reasons for this bold experiment, what was I trying to achieve? I could see all the doubts in my mind’s eye. Then suddenly I was awake looking up at the faint outline of the inner tent. WTF, where was I?
The pressure wave lifted me from my cot and shock me awake, OMG the light and noise of a freight train’s horn. It shattered the morning peace like the arrival of an alien space ship, or at least what I think one my sound like. Then I heard people moving and car doors slamming. The rest area seemed like a hive of activity, looking at my watch, “F&%k 4.30am WTF was happening. Welcome to Western Queensland.
I opened my tent to peer outside, people were getting ready to hit the road, this was only day two of my motorcycle tour of outback Western Queensland, I need to find quieter camp sites.
I casually glance over towards the grey nomads, not a light on at all. How did they sleep through the train horn and all traffic noise, maybe there are advantages to hearing loss…go figure:).
Heading to Western Qld…the “Outback”
The afternoon before, I had pulled up at the Campaspe River rest area which is about an hour from Hughenden and strangely enough on the banks of the Campaspe River. This was my first night on the road and in the scheme of things it had been an easier to find a spot and pitch my tent than I thought it would be. To see how I got here check out Day One of my tour at the following link:https://digitalswaggie.com.au/?p=1982
Strangely enough, I actually managed to get some sleep, between the vehicles coming in at all hours of the night, the trucks with their engine brakes and the train with its bright light and earth shattering horn aside. I had managed to get about four hours. I guess this is the life when you take off for a motorcycle tour of Western Queensland.
Playing with fire
I went back to bed but only laid there awake, sleep had left me, so I thought to myself I might as well get up and make a coffee. There was some sticks and small branches left over from last night, instead of getting my gas stove out, I lit the biotite stove and watched the flames jump and dash around until the water was boiling in the billy.
The biotite stove was one of those luxury items that ordinarily you wouldn’t take on a bike. But there was peace of mind knowing you weren’t reliant on gas all the time. It’s also really good if open fires are banned. The Biolite is considered a stove not a fire. I’ve written a review of my Biolite II stove, you can read all about it on the following link: https://digitalswaggie.com.au/?p=1122
It was a stunning winter’s morning, cool and crisp, so I sat and watched the sky change from inky purple to bright orange and gold. I looked forward to getting back on the road, it was perfect riding weather.
After breakfast of muesli and coffee, I packed my gear, found spaces for all the “Necessary Items” repacked a couple of time and then managed to get on the road. Two hours after finishing my last coffee, it was still only 7.30 am.
White Mountain National Park
Riding up the great dividing range early on a crisp clear winter morning brings the serenity that all bikers look for. There was very little traffic on the road and the Kangaroos had long since left to find a leafy tree to sit under.
Thirty minutes into my ride, I came across the look out to the White Mountain National Park. It looks like I made the right decision to camp at the rest area, there would have been no place to securely park the bike and the small rest area shelter was exposed to both the East and West winds.
To be fair, the National Park Camping ground was further up on the right side of the road and required another 20 kilometres of dirt to get there. The scenery was spectacular and you got a sense of the vastness of the park.
There’s a little table and shelter on the rock escarpment overlooking the eastern part of the park. It’s more of a small rest area, but I was there at the perfect time.
The first stop after the White Mountain National Park is Hughenden, the road is quite straight, but edged by Eucalypts and your traditional Australian bush flora. It took a solid two hours of riding to reach Hughenden from my “sleepy” rest area.
Getting closer to the town the landscape changes and the country drys out, on the left of the road is a wind farm, with giant rotating blades and ominous shadows casting strange shapes across the dusty dry plains. I’m not sure if it was because I was getting tired or it was just that my imagination playing tricks on me. But I imagined the slow movement of a giant alien army across the flat dry plains of the outback. With their slow turning giant mechanical arms reminiscent of the film “War of the Worlds”, maybe these were the aliens I heard this morning.
This is the beginning of the outback section of my journey. No longer in the forested or coastal plains dotted with small creeks, this land is governed by water and all towns are based on water courses. Hughenden is situated on the Flinders River, which most of the time is bone dry. The town gets its water from the great artisan basin now using diesel or electric pumps. However, a giant windmill of yesteryear still stands sentinel over the town almost like the prehistoric cousin of the giant alien army further south.
The Flinders River is the key to the development of Hughenden, it flows from Western Queensland to the sea. It was first discovered by Europeans when Lt Stokes of the “Beagle” discovered an estuary and river mouth on the 30th July, 1841. However, it wasn’t until Europeans ventured into what was to become Western Queensland in 1861 that the head waters were reported. This came about when a search party led by Frederick Walker passed by the area looking for fertile grazing land, they natural resources of the area were reported. The geographical survey showed that the area was the head waters of the Flinders River. A year later William Landsborough’s party camped on the site of the current Hughenden on another expedition to find Burke and Wills.
Racing cattle never became a national past time
After reporting the expansive open grass land the race to claim the first and most fertile land in Western Queensland was on. Earnest Henry assembled 800 head of cattle, and raced them against another grazier from Bowen out to the region. Earnest Henry successfully got to the area first and established the claim before making his way back to Bowen to formalise it. The town was named after the ancient English manor house, owned by his uncle and where Earnest Henry had spent considerable time as a youth.
The town is a modern support centre for the pastoral community in Western Queensland and one of the larger towns in the Flinders Shire. Sitting on a small wooden platform on the western banks of the Flinders River. It’s difficult to picture what it must have been like 160 years ago for those first explorers.
There was no infrastructure, no roads and hostile aboriginal communities. I’m tempted to find a place to stay and explore this town in more depth, maybe another time. For now I’m content to sit back and admire the fortitude of those early explorers.
Bandit birds, beware
It’s a little early for lunch but I know the road ahead has little to compare to this river side park so I take out my stove and my tuna and rice prepackaged combo. I boil my billy and relax under the shade of one of the BBQ tables at the park. Keeping a wary eye on the local birds who are intent of stealing my lunch or any other interesting looking object.
This is my first experience with the outback mafia and I do my best to prevent any unwarranted attack by making sure all my bags are closed and any tasty looking morsel is hidden from view. Removing my jacket I instantly feel cooler and I stretch out on the picnic table.
After a short break I go down to the “River” to get some photos dry river bed of the mighty Flinders River. It’s difficult to picture what it would look like with flowing water.
It’s not long before my arguments to get back on the bike outweigh those that just want me to stay and explore the area. Soon enough it’s time to put my helmet, glasses and gloves on and fire up the engine. I have driven the 168 kilometre road to Richmond a number of times over the twenty five years, it’s a bumpy hot road with little in the way of interesting features.
The road to Richmond
Today is different, today I’m more a part of this environment. I feel the hot cross winds and bumps in the road more than when traveling in a steel box. I ease the bike into a small turn and head back to the main road, over the Flinders River and west to Richmond.
The road between Hughenden and Richmond is a dry, long, flat and energy sapping torment. The excitement I felt when hitting the road had long since dissipated with every cross wind or road training pressure wave that hit me.
You can see the horizon as you look across hundreds of thousands of arces of grass land. Dry and almost barren a part from the parched grasses and Prickly Pear weeds that seem to thrive in this harshest of lands. There are no trees to break up the monotony or to pull up and find some shade.
The KLR 650 was cruising on 110 kilometres per hour at just under 5000 RPM. In no way was it straining and even though the road was a continuous line of buckled tar it managed to even out the bumps with its 250mm of shock travel. It was doing a better than its rider in managing the road, the heat and the wind.
Land of ancient dinosaurs
I was starting to feel tied, my butt was sore and my ears were ringing from the continuous wind noise. Luckily there are a few rest areas where I could stop and rest. I took advantage of the solitude to catch a couple of micro sleeps by laying stretched out on the table. A practice I would repeat often on this trip.
As I lay there I became acutely aware of the stillness and pease of the place, you can drift into thoughts of what this land must have been like 100 million years ago. A time when dinosaurs roamed the shoreline and sea, and the climate was wetter than it is today. This whole area was once a giant inland sea that split the island of Gondwana Land in two.
It wasn’t long before I arrived in Richmond, it had been almost 10 years since I was last here and there was significant amount of development in that time. A new road house and parking areas were the main features of the town.
At one of the main corners I was confronted with a three dog road train with side loading buckets the type you might find in smaller or developmental mines. At the road house there were small “dongas” or. make shift accommodation for miners. A sign that this town was not only supporting the pastoralists but an emerging mining group.
Yet the most famous resident of this town is the giant Koronosaurus Statue at the “Koronosaurus Korner” fossil centre. The giant statue is a life sized replica of a fossil found in this area when it was a giant inland sea greets you. These aquatic animals were the top predators of this area over 250 million years ago. Richmond is at the northern end of the North West Queensland fossil trail.
Richmond was founded on the site of the pastoral lease Richmond Downs which was in turn named after the Richmond River area of New South Wales. Both Walker and Landsborough had camped in the exact area which was to become the Richmond township.
Its development grew as a result of the finding of gold in 1880 at Woolgar which is north of Richmond. It therefore became a staging post for stagecoaches on route to the gold fields and was surveyed as a town in 1882. In 1904 the Great Northern Railway reached the town on its way through to Mount Isa.
A grazing town with a tourist trail
Today the town is a support hub for both sheep and cattle grazing and is an important staging point for travellers going between Mount Isa and Townsville. Over the past 20 years Richmond has pushed ahead with providing tourism opportunities including hunting for fossils. It has also extended its facilities to make travellers stop for the night, except may be bikers with tents.
The town is RV friendly with free camping areas down near the man made lake “Lake Fred Tritton”. The Flinders Council has done a great job making Richmond a great place to stop. However, the park was not really camping friendly and specified it was for caravans and motor homes only.
There is a caravan park in town that boasts the best lake views for non powered sites but at $20 per night I was keen to move a little further down the line on my motorcycle tour and if possible find some wild camping spots.
Food bandits- beware the ducks
I fuelled up and brought some hot chips and a coffee milk drink at the road house, stuffed chips and milk into my jacket and headed over to the man made lagoon. As I sat under the shade of a small pavilion, I lay on the table stretching my back when I became aware of a family of ducks steering at me. A word of warning if eating hot chips, the ducks are masters at getting food from wary travellers.
One duck will walk out front pretending to be friendly with a slight limp while others will come in from behind. This is clearly a well practiced routine and I had valuable chips taken from me in what I would consider a well rehearsed pincer movement. It seems that motorcyclists make an easier target, so if you’re on a motorcycle tour beware of the bandit ducks.
Don’t wake the dead
In the middle of the lagoon is a small island, and just in front of me was an aluminium floating landing. Apparently, it is a favourite place for people to come and practice their golf swing. The island is called “Dead Man’s Island” and is the spot where the first person to die in the area is buried.
The spot where he died was preserved as his final resting place, when they built the lake they preserved his burial site as an island in the middle of the pond a very thoughtful sign of respects. Then they built a platform and allowed people to use his final resting place as a target for golf balls, I hope he liked golf? If he doesn’t it would be a kind of water torture for the poor fella.
Navigating your way out of Richmond isn’t difficult, there’s only two ways to go and a big sign tells you where you’re going just incase you get lost or aren’t sure which direction you came in from.
Not difficult to navigate, there’s a great big sign
The road to Julia Creek was more of the same, approximately 125 kilometres of undulating tar and harsh unforgiving dry grass land. I was getting tired as this stage and was looking for a place to pull over and camp for the night. Unfortunately, when you’re on a motorcycle tour it’s not so easy.
There is not much in the way of potential wild camping areas that are not directly exposed to the main highway. I did pull over a few times to stretch my legs but other than a single rest area there was no other opportunity for respite. Even in a car, wild camping in this area would be unsafe, let alone trying on a motorcycle tour. There was nothing to be done but to just keep riding.
When I arrived in Julia Creek I was keen to find a camp ground and freshen up, by this time I was more than ready to stop for the night and find a place I could get a shower. I had been told by one of the Grey Nomads I had met at a rest area just out of Richmond that the Julia Creek Caravan Park had outside baths that were heated by waters from the great artesian basin and I still had half a bottle of red wine in my panniers.
No room for a bikers on a motorcycle tour
I thought that one lone biker with a small tent may just squeeze into the camp ground. Unfortunately, there was no space for non powered single tenters like me only powered sites for vans (apparently). So not only were my hopes dashed for having a nice outside bath with artesian waters but a place to stay in town was also out of the question.
I was starting to feel that travellers like me were unwelcome in these areas as many of the facilities and resources were focusing on the travelling retirement villagers. Luckily the lovely lady at the desk suggested I check out the show grounds as they have space for camping.
The show grounds were just south of the town centre and has excellent facilities. They had free power, hot showers and extremely clean toilet facilities. The wind was quite strong which made pitching my tent an interesting experience. Initially, I considered using my hammock but due to the strong wind I found it almost impossible to tie up.
The sun was going down fast and had just finished setting up when the evening star appeared on the horizon. I had the most magnificent view of the crimson sunset from the entrance to my tent. For a motorcycle tour group this would be the ideal camping ground.
There’s nothing like an outback sunset on a motorcycle tour, and just then as the evening star appeared the wind dropped off allowing a perfect tranquility to fall over us campers, we had an uninterrupted view of the universe, with a billion little lights covering the sky.
Perfect spot for a glass or two of red
It was the perfect moment for a glass or two of red wine, unfortunately I had only one glass left in the bottle. In a car you have eskies or fridges, not so on a motorcycle tour, so I decided to make a quick trip into town. It was refreshing not to be wearing all my body armour and boots for the quick trip into town and I really enjoyed the short ride.
At the bottle shop I was presented with an $80 bottle of wine, I knew alcohol was expensive in these remote towns but this was ridiculous. I was wearing my black kevlar jeans, black gloves and had my helmet across my wrist.
Clearly I was on a motorcycle tour and not an owner of a mobile retirement home or mobile palace. At 6′ 2″ and 120 kg and having been on the road for two days, I must have looked a little intimidating. The young man at the bar sheepishly produced a bottle of house wine for eight bucks, which was much more in line with my palette and wallet.
As I watched the sun go down I thought of the next stage of my motorcycle tour of Outback Western Queensland. Today had been long but as the wind dropped I sat back in my chair and felt content in that I was at the start of a great adventure and I had two bucket list items to tick off. Click on the following link to read the next phase of this adventure https://digitalswaggie.com.au/?p=2003
Safe travels – Digital Swaggie:)