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Exploring the Northern Territory of Australia by motorcycle

Motorcycle touring in Australia

Ian Neubauer does battle with hovering temperatures, kamikaze kangaroos and the very real menace of dehydration as he explores a motorbike tour in Australia via the Northern Territory.

It was meant to be ‘mushy’ journey. Six days of self-guided motorcycling nirvana on 600 miles of sealed roads connecting Kakadu, Katherine and Litchfield, three of Australia’s most drop-dead lovely nationwide parks.

Meticulously planned over six months to coincide with the dry season within the ‘Prime End’, clear blue skies, rainless days and excellent driving circumstances have been virtually guaranteed. However what I obtained as an alternative was a self-guided survival course on the 1,001 methods the Australian Outback can bake you, shake you and principally suck the life out of you before sunrise.

This motorbike tour in Australia was a trial of heat, thirst, sand and sun in an unforgiving nation house to the world’s largest population of saltwater crocodiles, kamikaze kangaroos and probably the most technically difficult gravel roads I’ve come across in additional than 20 years within the saddle.

Final grog earlier than Kakadu

About 60 miles out of Darwin I pulled right into a roadhouse on the Arnhem Highway the place a billboard warns commuters that is the ‘last take away alcohol before Kakadu’. I had solely been on the street for an hour, but felt like I’d been driving all day.

It was a by-product of 30C-plus heat, air that is so dry it had already cracked my lips in two places and an 80mph velocity limit I felt obliged to stick to regardless of buffeting winds because where else might I experience this quick in Australia without getting booked?

I grabbed a meat pie and a few chilly water and topped up my gasoline regardless that I had solely consumed six litres since leaving city. “Refill each time you cross a petroleum station,” warned Jude at Southern Cross Motorcycle Excursions in the metropolis of Darwin. “Consider me, the last thing you need is to get caught out there at night time.”

“Why? Dingos?” I asked, referring to Australia’s wild dog.

“No. It will get really cold at night time this time of the yr. You’d freeze to dying first.”

Motorcycle touring in Australia

Dreaded street trains

The Arnhem Freeway is lengthy and lonely, a blisteringly scorching strip of tarmac that cuts via an ever-changing landscape of savannah woodland, stone nation and wetlands. I shared the street with holidaymakers of their 4x4s, faculties of bloodthirsty chickenhawks pecking at kangaroo roadkill and dreaded street trains.

These are large vans that haul as much as 4 triple-axle trailers which are so long they create pockets of turbulence in their wake robust enough to blow a fully-loaded touring bike right into a crocodile-infested swamp. The man-eaters are masters of subterfuge and almost unimaginable to see.

However it’s a given they’ll see anybody silly or drunk sufficient to ignore the yellow ‘no swimming’ indicators posted earlier than all rivers and floodways I cross – a part of the government’s ‘Crocwize’ safety campaign. In response to the Royal Darwin Hospital, the variety of individuals eaten alive by saltwater crocodiles in the Territory is on the rise: 16 since 2004 compared to solely 10 between 2004 and 1971 when croc-hunting was outlawed.

Motorcycle touring in Australia

The very last thing you’ll ever do

It’s 5pm once I’m pulled over for a breath check by a copper outdoors of Jabiru, the only township in Kakadu. My plan was to gasoline up right here and experience another 25 miles further west to Cahill’s Crossing on the East Alligator River. However the copper warns me to call it a day.

“It’ll be dusk soon and that’s probably the most harmful time to be on the street as a result of that’s when the kangaroos are most lively. Most of us gained’t drive right now until the car has a roo bar,” he says, pointing to the oversize bull bar on his paddy wagon. “There are tonnes of wild donkeys round here and wild pigs too. These pigs are brief however they’re strong muscle. Hit considered one of them doing 100 on your bike and it’ll be the very last thing you’ll ever do.”

I took the copper’s recommendation and peter within the carpark at a nearby Lodge. Amongst a sea of 4x4s and camper trailers I spot a solitary motorcycle: a 20-something-year-old BMW R100 GS Paris Dakar with excessive mudguards, 35-litre safari petrol tank plus a mini-roo bar and roo grill defending the headlight – for all the great it will do. Tied onto the again seat are a big backpack, a swag, fishing rods and a camping stove – principally every little thing it’s essential survive in the bush.

Motorcycle touring in Australia

The street to nowhere

The owner’s identify is Hub, a crusty previous petrolhead who rode all the best way from the town of Brisbane, a distance of 2,200 miles, in solely three days. Hub was sat at the bar, pissed as a fart, and boy did he have a bloody mouth on him. Listed here are a number of random snippets from the drunken conversation that follows:

“BMW stands for Bloody Extra Work. Last night time she broke down and I had to pull the bloody gearbox apart and exchange the seals. Finished work at two in the morning. I’ve been on the piss ever since.”

“My bike, it’s a bloody cellular lodge. There’s a bloody kitchen sink in there and a pub filled with piss.”

“I’m on the street to nowhere.”

“I’m into the three Bs. Bikes, beer and babes, although the babes are getting uncommon as my showers nowadays. I assumed you have been a Shelia on that fairly white bike earlier than you took off your helmet. Speak about a dramatic twist. Ever seen that film The Crying Recreation?“

Motorcycle touring in Australia

Dying of thirst

The following morning, my GPS advised me it was only a 35-mile journey alongside the Kakadu Freeway to my subsequent in a single day cease at Condamine. However I had two detours to make right now. 

The first was Nourlangie Rock, a sandstone escarpment made famous for the rock artwork painted by the Aboriginal tribes that when lived in Kakadu. I noticed depictions of kangaroos, barramundi, goannas, turtles and legends like Lightning Man.

He was a spirit man with a band of lightning in his arms and stone axes on his knees and elbows to make thunder. Some of these paintings are greater than 40,000 years previous, which makes Nourlangie the oldest museum in Australia. 

The rock art sites are only a half hour walk from the carpark at Nourlangie. But doing any sort of train in that sort of heat is taxing and you’ll want to always drink water. By the time I acquired back to my bike I used to be parched, but both my water flasks have been empty.

Motorcycle touring in Australia

Vacationers to the rescue

A sign on the bogs advised the water was not potable, so I rode on for half an hour until it obtained to the point that I used to be so thirsty I might not think about the street. With no different choice, I discovered a little bit of shade, parked my bike and stuck out my thumb. The primary automotive that passes, a van filled with French tourists, stops to see what the problem is. “Run out of gasoline?” the driving force asks.

“Water,” I gasp. “I want water.”

The Frenchies pulled over and obtained a 40-litre water container out from the back of their automotive. I crammed certainly one of my flasks, drank it, crammed the other flask, drank that too, then refilled each flasks, thanking them repeatedly between desperate gulps.

One of many Frenchies filmed the entire thing on his telephone while chucking in French commentary about some wild man they found dying of thirst within the Australian bush that’s in all probability clocked up one million hits on French YouTube by now.

Motorcycle touring in Australia

Garden of Eden

After the show had wrapped up, I obtained again on the street and adopted the Kakadu Highway one other 10 miles south to the turnoff for Jim Jim Falls, an iconic waterfall that cascades 259m over the Arnhem Escarpment into a plunge pool minimize straight out of the Backyard of Eden. 

It’s a 40-mile run on gravel to Jim Jim, a stretch I might normally do in less than an hour. However my GPS reckoned it might take me greater than twice that point. A minute into it I understood why: the street is awash with corrugations (ripples carved into the sandy floor by street trains and 4x4s).

The easiest way to handle corrugations, Jude advised, is to lean again and experience as fast as attainable so your wheels go over the tops of the bumps. But attempt doing that on a street that swivels via the countryside like an enormous Australian centipede, a really poisonous insect present in these elements.

Motorcycle touring in Australia

Out of water once more

I found it inconceivable to vary strains on the corrugations and every time I hit a curve I began to drift and risked coming off. So, I sat at 25mph, feeling the sharp sting of every God-damn corrugation on the street. It took me 90 minutes to succeed in the carpark, and one other 45 minutes on foot to succeed in the falls, by which era I’d run out of water again. ‘Not to fear’, I advised myself. ‘I’ll refill my flasks at the spring of the waterfall’. 

However I’d forgotten one necessary factor: most waterfalls within the Territory dry out in the course of the dry season. And while the plunge pool at the base of Jim Jim is nice for a swim, the water is stagnant and not potable. Once again, I had no selection however to throw myself upon the mercy of holidaymakers, this time a younger household from the UK who gave me half a litre of water for the walk back to my bike.

In 2014, a German tourist was not so fortunate. After strolling again from the falls on the most well liked day of the yr, he was discovered lifeless next to an Emergency Positioning Indicating Radio Beacon he’d activated in the carpark. 

Motorcycle touring in Australia

No remedy for corrugations

I wanted to cover 150 miles to succeed in Katherine, gateway to the 13 beautiful flooded gorges of Katherine Nationwide Park. But I also needed to visit Gunlom Waterfall, which Jude reckons are probably the most lovely swimming holes in the Territory. 

Gunlom lies at the end of heavily corrugated 20-mile-long gravel street. I reached the carpark inside an hour and then followed the steep strolling monitor to the top of the falls. What I noticed there blew my mind – a collection of 15 or 20 rock swimming pools interlinked with mini-waterfalls and crammed with the freshest, bluest water I’d ever seen. The massive waterfall that pours 100m into the plunge pool under had run dry, but the ledge presents unimaginable sweeping views of dramatic rock escarpments of Kakadu. 

After a refreshing swim, I discovered a shady spot near the ledge and shut my eyes. An hour handed before I awoke. With no more time to spare, I skedaddled right down to my bike, geared up and shot off.

Motorcycle touring in Australia

I hit the dust

This time I took a devil-may-care angle on the gravel, flying over corrugations like it was no one’s business till a tiny misjudgement adopted by a serious overcorrection on a patch of sentimental sand noticed the Beemer’s handlebars lock and this reporter hit the dust. I wasn’t harm by the impression however getting my 200kg machine again upright and dealing with the correct method proved extraordinarily troublesome in the powder-like sand.

Makes an attempt to journey my means out not only failed but buried the Beemer’s rear wheel even deeper in the sand. It left me with no choice but to dig a runway with my naked palms and fill it with leaves and bark to offer the rear tyre a little bit of buy. A pleasant Territorian referred to as Kevin, who works as a street grader with the nationwide parks, drove by at the very last moment to snap a photo and provided to drive behind me in case I got here off once more.

“I’ve been grading roads in the Territory for 52 years and I can promise you this,” Kevin stated, “There’s no remedy for corrugations. Fix ’em up and the subsequent street practice passes, they only come again once more like bloody mushrooms.”

Motorcycle touring in Australia

Nose to nose with kangaroos at 100mph

By the point I obtained again to the highway, it was near 3pm and I used to be nonetheless 100 miles from Katherine. I dropped the clutch and smashed it, punching it all the best way up to sixth gear on long desolate straights and arching into bends with the sort of peg-threatening lean only successive days of quick driving can breed.

Then, with out warning, three kangaroos crossed the freeway about 100m in front of me. I got here to a screeching halt, pulled over and ripped off my helmet. My coronary heart was racing. I might really feel my pulse in my hand. Driving a motorcycle in roo nation is Russian Roulette and the one strategy to mitigate the danger is to experience properly under the 70mph velocity restrict.

I referred to as it a day once I reached Pine Creek, a tiny town 55 miles north of Katherine where I smashed a brontosaurus T-bone steak and an unknown amount of lager at a pub earlier than crashing in a dodgy motel next door with lime-green wallpaper and a maroon-coloured bedspread.

Motorcycle touring in Australia

Near dying experiences

The following morning, I decided to altogether take away Katherine from my itinerary and head north to Litchfield National Park as an alternative, slicing my driving distance over the subsequent two days in half however doubling the amount of time I had to chill at swimming holes I passed along the best way. However, near-death experiences continued to dog me all the best way back to Darwin.

On one event, a wind gust caught the height of my helmet, almost garrotting me with the chin strap and briefly blinding me, forcing me to return to a lifeless cease in the midst of a freeway. One other time, two emus came out of nowhere and ran alongside me till, in a mad break with their logic, darting in entrance of me to cross the street.

And I almost died of boredom when my journey got here to an finish I needed to wait seven bloody hours at Darwin airport for my flight again to Sydney. As I sat there waiting, a poster for the Territory’s newest advertising marketing campaign, C U within the NT (no, really), catches my eye. “The Prime End is totally different from the Bottom End,” it reads. 

“No shit”, I say to no one particularly. “Attempt it on a motorcycle.”

Motorcycle touring in Australia

Who’s writing?

Based mostly in Sydney, Australia, Ian Lloyd Neubauer is a contract journalist and photojournalist specialising in journey journey. For the past 12 years, his escapades have taken place virtually solely in South East Asia and the South Pacific. However that’s starting to change following a current weekend outing with a bunch of hardcore trail riders at Watagans Nationwide Park on Sydney’s outskirts (as seen in difficulty 28 of ABR.)

Now, Ian has taken it to the subsequent degree with a experience by means of Cape York, Australia’s gigantic north-east peninsula. “Why don’t I experience a lot in Australia? It’s symptomatic of the phenomenon that impacts many frequent flyers like myself. We spend so much time buzzing around the globe in quest of the subsequent huge factor that we frequently overlook concerning the magnificence in our own backyards.

Cape York is in contrast to anything on the planet: it’s so scorching, so distant, the distances are so nice and the pink dust is omnipresent. But the one factor that stuck in my thoughts have been the individuals. The further north you go, the friendlier they are. And it’s beer o’clock just about anytime of the day.”

Journey a motorbike tour in Australia yourself

Southern Cross Motorcycle Excursions in Darwin supply a variety of guided adventures ranging from one-day runs right down to Litchfield Nationwide Park to 10-day Territory-wide tours on BMW GS collection or learner-approved Suzukis. For a GS800 with a information, backup car, meals and accommodation, anticipate to pay £370 per day.

Or go your personal means with a straight rental at £760 per week. Their long-weekend particular where you decide a mid-size Beemer up on Friday and convey it back on Monday is just £250. For more information, go to or name Jude on on +61 (08) 8985 1681.

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