Retirees’ Shake Down
Author: Drew Jackson Date Posted:25 June 2017
Many of us have a bucket list and some of us have to wait until circumstances and the stars align before we can start to tick some of those things off.
A journey around Australia is one of those things that is on many bucket lists and the roads are littered with grey nomads in their motorhomes and caravans who are doing just that. So it has come to pass that a small group of retirees is in serious planning for a lap around Australia on our motorcycles.
The original plan was to all use the same type of bike namely Suzuki DL650s but this idea quickly died as two of the participants are diehard BMW enthusiasts and one wanted to ride a single and the only Vstrom rider had a rush of blood and opted for an Africa Twin. The BMs were older models, one being a R75/5 and the other an original R80GS Dakar. The Kawasaki KL650 was an older one as well, but it came with pannier racks and lots of other farkles, the extras are probably worth more than the bike. Because of this it was felt that a short ride was needed to sort out any potential bike problems. I had originally invited a couple of friends from the SR500 Club to join me for a ride in North Queensland but their circumstances changed and they couldn’t make it , this meant last minute changes to the bookings I’d made and it also meant that I had accommodation for others if they wanted it. In the end six of us set off on a ride of just under 2000kms over five days.
When word got out around our club that a short ride to Cooktown via the backroads was being planned we picked up a couple of extra riders, one on an early DR650 and one on a Vstrom, the same one that was sold to help finance the Africa Twin. So it was six retirees who after a get together to discuss interesting roads and riding expectations set off from Townsville on an overcast cool day and headed to the World Heritage Paluma rainforest.
Our first stop was at Crystal Creek to top up our fuel before our next fuel stop at the Lynd Junction. The road from the top of the Paluma Range took us to Hidden Valley and then on to Mt. Fox. On the way the DR650 ditched its rider on an off camber dirt corner but no harm was done to either rider or bike.
At our first regrouping the Kawasaki decided it wasn’t going to restart and a quick bit of electrical work with the aid of a multimeter found the fault and we were soon on our way again towards The Valley of Lagoons and eventually the Lynd Junction.
We had lunch at the roadhouse where we were told the dirt road to Einsleigh was badly rutted after heavy rain. The group split in two with the DR, KLR and Africa Twin deciding to go on the dirt and the others taking the bitumen option to Mt Surprise. The dirt was in excellent condition and a steady 100kph was easy to maintain and we arrived in plenty of time at the Einsleigh Hotel to enjoy a cold drink. The next section to Mt Surprise along the river road was washed out in places and some of the creek crossings had deep sand in them at required a bit of caution.
This was where the MSC steering damper started to make its self felt. Over the next couple of days it proved its worth over and over, and I started to get used to the feel of the bike with the damper wound up past the half way setting.
We arrived in Mt Surprise and found ourselves in the pub before unloading our gear at the caravan park next door. The meal at the pub that night was pretty good. The cabins were basic but clean and my bed at least was comfortable. The following morning we loaded the bikes while Murray did a bit more work on his dodgy electrics. He then couldn’t find his keys. Luckily they turned up on the path into the caravan park while we were walking to a breakfast of bacon and eggs at the café that was also one of the service stations in town. After watching the Savannahlander load up with tourists we left Mt. Surprise and headed for Chillagoe along the Savannah Way.
The road to Chillagoe crosses the railway a couple of times and there is a stop sign on one of the crossings. I don’t think the ride on the train would be as much fun as riding through this country on a bike. On the way we stopped at one of the properties and had morning tea with the owner and he gave us directions to some natural springs and waterholes on the property. The tracks into these did have some deep sand and there were a few moments for all of us, but none of us actually fell off. Keith made a spectacular save at one stage. This road had a few more bumps and dips than I remember from my last ride along it. It was a pretty good test of rider and machine and when we finally met the section of road currently being maintained for a nearby mine we were pleased to be able to relax a little, although there were still a few soft patches to keep our attention focussed. A couple of road trains did throw up a lot of dust reducing visibility to zero for a while.
On arrival at Chillagoe we parked our bikes outside the Post Office Hotel and enjoyed a couple of cold drinks while we waited for Dave who had decided to get to Chillagoe via the bitumen. He turned up a few minutes later and we ordered burgers for lunch, these were excellent. We had booked into the Cockatoo Hotel and the rooms here were very good. That night we had the small rump steaks on the menu and if the pubs in Townsville saw the size of a small Chillagoe steak they’d need to rename theirs. Some red wine helped to wash away the dust and wash down the steak, such a versatile drink. We prepaid for breakfast before retiring and woke up at daybreak prepared the bikes and then sat down to bacon and eggs before heading for Cooktown. Our original plan was to do a lot more dirt but we’d had a fair dose of rough roads and it was decided that the dirt from Laura to Cooktown would be enough of a challenge.
Paul did a bit of work on his steering head bearings in Dimbulah while some of us found the public toilets to lighten the load. Fuel was taken on board in Mareeba. We went straight through Mt Malloy and Mt Carbine before stopping just south of Lakeland at a lookout to take in the vastness of this area. This is a big country and being out in this sort of country really drives this point home.
Lakeland was our lunch stop and we eventually got underway and headed to Split Rock where we checked out the rock art before proceeding onto Laura. A cold drink at the pub and it was off on the Battle Camp road towards Cooktown. We stopped after a few kilometres to check our map as the road didn’t seem to be good enough to be a main route. But it was and it didn’t get a lot better until after we’d left the Old Laura Homestead.
After the Old Laura Homestead we started to get into some interesting riding with creek crossings and lots of dust.
There are some sections of bitumen on the steepest sections and some of the downhill sections needed care but we all eventually arrived in Cooktown and the bikes found a park in the main street outside the pub, the bikes were getting into a habit.
The Rivers of Gold Motel was our accommodation for the night and it was very comfortable. Dinner on Sunday night saw us at the bowls club. Most of us ordered pizza and they were really excellent. We were able to get the Moto GP on the television but some of us couldn’t stay awake until the end me included.
The following morning after refuelling and paying our bill at the motel we went to the bakery on the edge of town before heading south to Atherton. We stopped for a photo at Black Mountain and another outside The Lion’s Den Hotel before cruising along the road to Wujal Wujal. There are some beautiful settlements along this section but the road was wet and the sky was looking threatening. This area reminds me of some of the villages in Northern NSW.
After crossing the Bloomfield River it was time to get into the rainforest, with rain! The hills that are still dirt are corrugated and there were sections of slick clay as well. The steepest hills are now concreted like boat ramps and the steepest of these is very long and on the day we rode down it, it was covered in mud and leaf debris, Paul reported that his rear brake was starting to smell. (or was it something else?) The creeks were flowing and the deepest of these saw us all taking it easy, Marty crossed first and stalled just short of the southern side. It was obvious that we’d need to help each other to get across safely. Nobody wanted to drown one of these bikes. The water was knee deep and our previously dry boots quickly filled with cool tropical water. The BMWs made it across in great style, the people in the 4WDs watched our efforts with interest before surging across shifting the rocks into a new pattern.
We sat down near the crocodile warning sign and emptied our boots. The ride to the Daintree Ferry was steady as the speed limit is pretty low and road was wet. We paid the ferryman $5 and we were soon on the opposite bank being rained upon.
We arrived in Mossman and went in search of lunch. We found a bakery that sold good pies and coffee and some of us emptied our boots out and squeezed the water out of our boots and socks a second time. The curry pie was good.
It had been decided earlier to avoid Cairns and the traffic and to head up the Rex Range to Mt Malloy and then on to Atherton. The rain persisted on the way up the range and we stopped at the pub to regroup and have some refreshment. It was then off to Atherton and our accommodation at Halloran’s Leisure Resort this was the most expensive we used but it was clean and comfortable. That night we booked the courtesy bus from the International Club and had a very nice meal and were also there in time for happy hour. The local dress code seemed to be chequed flannelette shirts. The next morning it was still drizzling and so we decided to leave the Blanco Falls for the next ride. The ride back to Townsville was straight forward with no dramas. There were roadworks on the Palmerston that took a while to get through.
I stopped at Crystal Creek for fuel as I was down to the last bar of my gauge and I haven’t yet worked out how far that will take me. I should have been alright as the last bar flashes when done to the last three litres and that should be good for about eighty kilometres.
We all made it back home safely and we all had a good time. This might be the basis for an annual ride with a few deviations on the route.
The ride did sort out a few issues with the bikes that are going around Australia with issues like tyres and suspension set ups being priorities for some.
Thanks to all the participants, Keith Thomas DL650, Peter Martin DR650, Murray Barr KLR 650, Paul Gilbert BMW R80GS, Dave Williams BMW R75/5 and yours truly on the Honda CRF1000F.