Friday 28th April dawned cool and foggy as I rode my heavily laden KTM690 across to Woodend to rendezvous with Peter and Dete (both riding Suzuki DR650’s) and Finn (Triumph Tiger 800) to commence our ride to Wirrealpa. Our ride plan as pretty simple really. Ride as much as possible on dirt roads and tracks and arrive at Wirrealpa late on Sunday, camping along the way. Our aim for day one was to meet Trevor (BMW GSA 1200) at Manangatang in north west Victoria and then camp somewhere along the Murray River. So, four of us met at Woodend for a coffee and then we were on our way.
Dete had mapped out a back roads route which took us through some forest areas and some interesting old gold mining towns between Maldon and Wedderburn. Many of these old towns still have impressive brick buildings, particularly churches, and I made a mental note to return to places like Kingower and Tarnagulla another day. We had lunch in Wedderburn and continued north west on back roads before time got the better of us and we detoured onto the Calder Highway so we could keep our meeting time with Trevor. Soon after meeting Trev we were setting up camp on a high bank above the Murray River west of Hattah, camp fire blazing and I had a delicious meal that was prepared for me by Trevor. Trev has a knack of preparing the best camp fire dinners and he did it again this trip carrying an array of fresh, frozen and tinned food in the BMW camp kitchen. Tonite we dined on Chicken Tikka Masala with Basmati rice whilst sipping a red wine. Very very nice. However, it had been a big day so we were soon sleeping warm and cosy in our tents.
April had been a wet month in south eastern Australia so the country was looking fantastic. Multiple shades of green where everywhere, water in the paddocks and no dust. Almost perfect.
I had spent some time planning the route after day one so after a leisurely breakfast we packed up and headed along the River Track which follows the Murray through the Hattah Kulkyne Forest north to Mildura. A really nice ride except for sections of wet slippery muddy track as a result of the rain. A couple of very slippery sections managed to catch Trevor and Dete and we arrived in Mildura carry some excess mud on two bikes and their riders. A trip to a car wash was needed and Dete and Trevor were observed (unfortunately not on camera), washing each other with a high-pressure hose in the car wash bays!! After a visit to the shops for our final supplies we fuelled up and headed for Wentworth and beyond.
We took the old Renmark road to Lake Victoria and then on to the Chowilla/Dangalli turnoff just over the South Australian border. The last time we were here the sand was very soft and the decision was made to take an alternate route and avoid the sand. This time the sand was more firm after the recent rains, but still a challenge, so we decided the ride a few kilometres up the track to camp and then make a decision on our route. We camped in the bush about 5 kms north of the main road and enjoyed another night under the stars. Tonight, after pre-dinner nibbles around the camp fire, Trevor whipped up a feast of Butter Chicken with Coconut Rice. Yummy.
Sand is the great leveller for Adventure bike riders. Riders either like, hate or tolerate sand and a few people really enjoy sand-riding. On a bike, the challenge is getting the right balance between speed and comfort. The best way to ride in sand is standing up, weight back with steady smooth throttle control. I find that around 80 – 90 km/hr speed works best for me, bearing in mind kangaroos, wallabies and emus! Some riders prefer slower speeds for safety but this normally means more physical work controlling the bike.
Anyway, after dinner we discussed the riding conditions and everyone agreed to continue north along the track in the morning and hope that the sandy track would be OK.
The morning dawned cool and overcast without any wind and we had soon had breakfast and we were packed and ready to roll by 9:00am. The track was really good with some hard-packed sections interspersed with some very sandy sections and the occasional small sand dune. Plenty of wildlife to keep your attention and a couple of abandoned homesteads and outbuildings to visit. The country ranges from open plains to scrubby bush and in some places the bush encroaches onto the track. About 100 kms from our camp we were back onto a formed dirt road with big smiles on our faces. I think that it is fair to say that for our “non-sand lovers” this ride was quite an achievement and a good experience. Well worth the ride if you are travelling through this area.
We stopped to regroup at the intersection with the Yunta to Coombah road and we could see the dust from a vehicle approaching from the east, the first car we had seen since leaving Wentworth. As the ute got closer we can see a motorcycle in the back and, low and behold, it is Barry from Portland who was also heading for Wirrealpa.
Barry had driven to Swan Hill with his DR in the ute and it had fallen on him as he was unloading it and he had injured his shoulder so he decided to drive to Wirrealpa instead! Small world! So we now had a group of 6, albeit one riding on 4 wheels, so we headed for Yunta for a very late lunch. Somewhere on this road Trevor punctured his rear tyre but we soon had this fixed and our new support truck even had an air compressor!
After a steak sandwich and bike refuel in Yunta we decided to camp on the dry creek just east of the town and we soon had our camp set up and the camp fire blazing. Pete headed back into Yunta for a shower and the rest of us decide we could survive another day. Everyone was pretty tired after having fun in the sand so, after witnessing another magnificent outback sunset it was another early night but not before Trevor again weaved his culinary magic with a so-called “saddle bag mix” of Pork (yes Pork) Rogan Josh with Udon Noodles!
We woke to a stunning sun rise and clear skies. Barry felt that his shoulder had improved somewhat so he arranged to leave his ute at Yunta, unloaded his Suzuki and joined us for the rest of the ride to Wirrealpa. Being close to Yunta, we had a nice breakfast at the Caltex servo and also picked up some sandwiches for lunch before heading north west on the main road to Arkaroola; Tea Tree Road. We stopped at the old gold mining area of Waukaringa where to hotel ruins sit proudly on a rise looking across the vast landscape. While the group visited the old mine sites I headed off to visit Curnamona Station to see if I could organise for us to ride across their property on station tracks on our way home. The owner of Curnamona was very friendly and agreeable to my plan but she pointed out that the neighbouring station, Kalabity, had just been sold so I would need to contact the new manager for their permission. I decide to make contact with Kalabity by phone from Wirrealpa and then I went and waited under a shady tree for the group to catch up.
The previous week Tea Tree road had been closed due to flooding but it was now dry and dusty with corrugations and occasional nasty sections of wheel ruts. Probably the worst road for the trip. So we pushed on towards Frome Downs where we would turn west toward Wirrealpa. I had organised with the owners of Wertaloona Station and Wirrealpa to travel on station tracks for about 80kms from Frome Downs west to Wirrealpa so, about 90 kms north of Curnamona we turned onto a little used station track, two wheel marks across the open plain. Perfect! By now it was lunch time but we pushed on to the ruins of the Wyambana Outstation where we had our sandwiches under a shady tree and examined the ruins of the old buildings.
Wirrealpa’s boundary fence is just west of Wyambana and the station tracks were in better condition than the main road. This was to be the scene of my big “crash” for the trip. I was leading our group and I arrived at the gate so I pulled up next the post and removed the chain, as I normally do. The problem this time was that the gate swung towards me and, because of the position of my bike I could not open the gate or move my bike. As I tried to wriggle the front of the Katto out of the way it overbalanced. I put my foot in a hole and down we went. And did I get assistance from my good mates who had by then arrived at the gate? No! Just laughter and a rush to get their cameras out! No harm done and we were soon on our way again!
As we headed west across Wirrealpa we crossed the gas pipeline from Moomba, past cattle yards and the airstrip and then we were soon setting up camp at near the Wirrealpa Shearers Quarters (circa 1850), our base for the next four days. Our first job was to light the old wood fired boiler to get hot water for the showers. Then, clean and refreshed, we were soon enjoying dinner and a wine in the Shearer’s kitchen with five other riders who had also arrived a day early.
After breakfast, I caught up with Barbara and Warren Fargher, the owners of Wirrealpa as well their son Richard who had come up from Adelaide to help his parents during our visit and Roxanne, a backpacker from France who was working on the station. This little team did a fantastic job to organise everything for us and to cater for our group during our stay. The food was delicious and plentiful, accommodation was good and everything ran smoothly.
Our main group were due to arrive on Tuesday afternoon so, after a delicious cooked breakfast, five of us headed out for a ride to Lizard Rock to check the condition of the station tracks after the recent rains. Warren had suggested that we would have a good ride if we continued south west past Lizard Rock until we came to “the old netting fence” which is over 150 years old!!. Then we could turn left and follow the fence out to “The Ten Mile Creek” or turn right and head north until we hit the Balcoracana Creek and then we could pick up the track north to the Blinman road. Good Aussie outback directions! We chose the second option and Warren was right, we had a fantastic off-road ride. From open country to sand dunes, rocky gullies, gravel, creek crossings and hills. This ride had it all including spectacular Flinders Ranges scenery as a backdrop. Five riders arrived back at the shearers quarters with big grins on their faces ready for a late lunch!
During the afternoon, there was a steady stream of riders arriving, all with stories to tell about their adventures getting to Wirrealpa. I was checking the arrivals and I was pleased when the last riders pulled up at the Shearers Quarters. Eighty people had registered for the event but a few had to cancel so 74 was our final tally. The average age was 60.2 years but with ages ranging from 30 to 75!!
Soon accommodation was found, or tents were erected, there was a queue for the hot showers and then riders renewed old friendships or made new ones. Dinner was an enjoyable BBQ at the wool shed followed by many discussion over a beer or wine around the camp fires and then off to bed. For most it had been a long day.
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