Monday, January 02, 2017

On yer bike!

Two big things I did in 2016 were get a job in New South Wales, and buy my first motorbike. The two are related - unlike in Queensland, learner riders in NSW don't need to be supervised. 

After Christmas, I decided to head out to the coast (a full day's drive in itself) and catch up with family and a friend who's assembling the parts for my next car restoration. 

I camped on the first night in Tenterfield, on the New England Highway. First night in a swag, and I slept like a baby.

After a surprisingly decent sleep in the swag in Tenterfield, I headed east over the Great Dividing Range down the Bruxner Highway to Casino, Lismore, Nimbin (argh, hippies!) and Murwillumbah. The ride down the Bruxner was lovely - it's a good road, with nice sweeping bends and coffee at the bottom. Nimbin, where I stopped for lunch, is in a valley and was stinking hot. It's also Australia's marijuana capital, and I almost had to hold my breath passing a couple of the cafes. The winding road out of Nimbin was fun. I tried keeping up with a couple of big bikes, but was reminded of a puppy trying to run with the big dogs and getting into trouble, so slowed down again.

One of the reasons for the trip to M'bah was to see a man about a Dodge, specifically a 1926 Dodge next in line to be restored. It's being assembled from a mate's huge pile of parts, so we spent a day picking through chassis, engines, gearboxes, axles... Bob will put everything together to make sure it fits, and then I'll bring up a trailer and take it home to clean, paint and assemble. (We went for a test drive in a customer's 1930 straight 8 Dodge, which Bob had been fettling. The disappointed owner had never been able to get it to run properly, despite sending it to the most expensive restorers in Queensland. Once Bob had adjusted the valves clearances, it ran beautifully).

On the fourth day, the CB and I were a tad naughty, and ventured over the state border at Numinbah Gap into Queensland. In theory a NSW learner rider can ride in Queensland without an escort, even though a Queensland learner needs to be supervised. In practice, I wasn't sure a QLD cop would appreciate the interstate licencing subtleties. We only went a few kilometres into enemy territory though, to Natural Bridge in Springbrook National Park.

In the afternoon, I shot back over the border into NSW and started the long ride home. I stopped at the Moo Moo cafe, where the local cafe have an enormous replica of Mick Doohan's motorcycle. The Australian tradition of Big Things never ceases to amaze me. Then I found the Pacific Highway, and headed south.

Plan A had been to stay on Highway 1 all the way to Grafton. After a while, though, I was bored and turned off onto the road through Lismore and Casino. On the plus side, I wasn't on a giant concrete highway any more. On the negative side, as soon as I headed inland away from the coast, the temperature soared. I flipped up the visor at Lismore and it was like opening the firebox of a wood stove! I checked the day's weather observations later, and it had been 42C in Lismore and Casino.

The run down to Grafton from Casino was enjoyable though, about an hour of straight-ish road through forests and farmland. I camped in a caravan park in Grafton - although in hindsight it was really too hot and humid for a swag, and a nice cool motel would have been cleverer, even though the park had a pool to cool off in. Live and learn.

The fifth and last day featured the best and hardest riding of the trip, and possibly since I bought the bike.

We headed inland from Grafton, climbing the Great Dividing Range again up the Gwydir Highway. Various roads in Australia have been branded as 'ways'. Thunderbolt's Way, Waterfall Way and so on, maybe to draw in tourists. Well, the section of the Gwydir between Grafton and Glen Innes should have been called the Smokey Way, as the views faded into haze from bushfires.

The road up the range was fan-bleeding-tastic. The road was one curve after another, mostly third and fourth gear with a few hairpins. The temperature dropped deliciously as we climbed, and I had my visor open to suck in the smells of eucalypt, flowers, damp soil and a hint of smoke. I felt like a dog with his head out the car window!

At the top I turned off the highway to the Raspberry Point lookout, and spent about a half hour enjoying the cool air, views and smells.

Raspberry Point's been added to my list of compulsory stops for next time. Afterwards, I made one more stop to check out a waterfall which, sadly, had no water. Timing is everything. The road to the carpark was gravel, which I'm still nervous on, but am getting better.

Then onwards and downhill again, towards Glen Innes. At one point I spied a black cloud and sure enough, the road went right under it. The first minute of rain was refreshing, but after that the refreshment started going down my neck. It was pretty heavy - the rain was bouncing off the road - but then I came out from under it and the road dried immediately. As in, there was a line across the road. Wet one way, dry the other!

I stopped at Glen Innes' standing stones, and had a pub lunch. Afterwards, I stopped just out of town at a lookout and looked back at the Great Dividing Range I'd just ridden over. There was a huge thunderstorm brewing, no doubt fuelled by the humid coastal air rising up the range. Guess I escaped just in time.

The track up to Sutton's Lookout, where I got the thunderstorm photo, was the hardest ride of the trip, and I'm surprised I didn't drop the bloody bike on the way down. It started as broken bitumen (easy), then gravel (nervous but OK...), and then a surface like railway ballast. And once it was like that, there was nowhere to safely turn around. Of course, going uphill wasn't too hard because you control the bike with the throttle. The front end danced around, but the back did as it was told and I got the shot.

Coming down though, I knew to use engine braking and only use the rear brake. Easy said... there was one point where I had to put my right foot out to catch a sudden lurch to the right, and then of course it wasn't on the brake pedal! thankfully we got down intact, but on road tyres, rolling rocks, cross-ruts and a steep gradient, there were a couple of very unpleasant moments. The photo isn't of the toughest section, mostly because my knees were too wobbly to walk back uphill!

Back out on the blessed bitumen (thank you Mr Mac Adam) I rode home via Copeton Dam. The total for the five days was 1422km including a rest day in Murwillumbah, but between the heat and 'technical' sections, I was pooped. But happy.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Our Biggest Triumph Road Trip Ever

Every year, I try to do something different for Christmas. that way each Christmas holiday is memorable and they don't all just turn into a big blur. Last year I spent Chrissie with family in New Zealand. In 2015, I was invited to Christmas with a friend in Sydney. Having driven my Triumph to central Queensland and back during the year, it seemed up for a longer drive.

Part 1

I took three days to drive to Sydney, taking every scenic route along the way.

Mt Warning, on the Queensland - New South Wales border
On the first day I turned off the main highway and drove through the Tweed Valley and the My Warning volcanic crater. It was a slow drive, but much more enjoyable than baking on the Freeway. I stopped for the night in Grafton.

The next day, I continued south on the back roads, and rejoined the main highway at Coff's Harbour. The road south of Grafton passed through small towns, following the river and railway line south. I stopped for night 2 at Port Macquarie.

A slightly disturbing dog statue at Glenreagh, on the road between Grafton and Coffs Harbour.

Out to the coast again

Tacking Point Lighthouse

Pelicans at North Haven

On the final day of the drive to Sydney, I diverted through the Hunter Valley and the Wollombi Forest. The drive through Maitland was tedious, with heavy traffic, roundabouts everywhere, and hot! After the hard part, though, we were rewarded with a drive through the forest and a tiny town called Wollombi. Driving through the hot forest with the windows down meant that I could smell the cinnamon smell of hot eucalypts. It was about 39C by Wollombi, so I had to stop for an ice cream, and tried a few Hunter Valley wines as well.

Getting an ice cream in Wollombi, in the Hunter Valley north of Sydney

A shed older than my car!

Instead of crossing the Hawkesbury River on the Sydney to Newcastle Freeway (an easy drive, but boring), we crossed the river at Wiseman's Ferry. Parts of the Wiseman's Road were built by convicts in 1831, and prior to SH1, the ferry was the main way of reaching Sydney. So it seemed appropriate to bring my car over the old-fashioned way.

Wiseman's Ferry

Crossing the Hawkesbury River the old fashioned way.

And so to Christmas, with the attendant presents, food, drink, a swim in the local pool, coffee and Star Wars. 'Twas a good one.


Part 2

After Christmas I didn't want to head straight for home, and so once the food coma had worn off, we headed further south. First we visited Canberra, a city always in the news as it's Australia's capital, but not on the Aussie tourist's radar. I toured the art gallery, Parliament House, NASA's Tidbinbilla ground station and the Telstra Tower with its viewing decks.

Approaching Parliament House, Canberra

One of NASA's big dishes at Tidbinbilla

After Canberra, we headed back out to the coast (along with the rest of Canberra - there was a traffic jam when we reached the coast at Bateman's Bay!) and drove south through the seaside towns and bays of southern New South Wales. The coastal roads here led from one small settlement to the next, and the scenery was some of the nicest of the whole trip.

Eventually the road led into a vast forest southwest of the NSW town of Eden. Halfway through the forest, we crossed the border into the state of Victoria. That section of road was, frankly, boring. It was hot, and despite a lot of steep climbs, there weren't any lookouts to admire the surrounding hillscapes. We stopped for the last night of 2015 in Orbost, and unlike the NSW coastal towns, Orbost was quiet and peaceful. I slept through the start of 2016 - been there, done that.

New Year's Eve camping at Orbost, eastern Victoria

A seal playing beside the wharf at Marlo, eastern Victoria

After Orbost, I visited a friend in the nearby coastal town of Marlo, and then continued west. Eastern Gippsland didn't impress - it was all straight, flat and hot roads with no views of the coast. Southern and Western Gippsland, however, were much prettier, with windy roads and small towns. We took a diversion to Wilson's Promontory, the southern most point of the Australian continent.

Welshpool Jetty, southern Gippsland, Victoria. Ferries still leave from here to Flinders Island and Tasmania.

At Wilson's Promontory, the southernmost part of continental Australia

I don't camp at 'The Prom', as it was packed to bursting with campers from Melbourne. Instead, I pitched my tent 70km north in Foster. The next morning I drove north-west to Melbourne, and visited a friend who is similarly afflicted with Triumph-itis. We spent the rest of the day working on his GT6, and I got a few ideas for mine. In the evening we went to a 20/20 cricket game at the MCG - the ultimate Melbourne thing to do.

In Melbourne I stayed with Craig, another Triumph nut. And like last time I was in Melbourne, his GT6 was in pieces.

After Melbourne, it was all north once again. I spent two nights in the mountain resort of Bright, enjoying the local brewery quite a bit. After a two-day break, Gerald the Herald and I headed north through the mountains, taking every minor road we could find to avoid the Hume Highway. It was a good day's driving! We stopped at Yass, a typical inland NSW town.

The back roads between Bright and Yass

The next day, I decided to take a recently sealed tourist road north from Goulburn north. This road climbed up the Great Dividing Range and skirts Sydney to the west of the Blue Mountains. It eventually led to Oberon and Bathurst.

Bathurst is the home of Australia's greatest motor race, an annual 1000km event held on normally open roads. We did four laps of the circuit, sticking tho the rigidly-enforced 60km/h limit. Mind you, the change in elevation is enough to pop your ears, and parts were second-gear steep.

Bathurst race circuit.

It was another three days driving from Bathurst to get home.

The next day, the Herald had the first of only two mechanical problems in the whole 3100 mile / 4980km journey. The exhaust fell apart in the Bylong Valley near Muswellbrook, and was fixed by John Daniel of Muswellbrook Tyrepower. A big plug for them - John even offered me a new for the night and showed me his large car collection.

The exhaust headers, repaired in Muswellbrook

The next day, we continued north. At Tamworth, I visited a motorcycle museum, filled with tasty two-wheeled treats. One day....

The Tamworth Powerhouse Museum's motorbike collection.

I stopped that night at a tiny place called Nymboida. It was a warm, dry and moonless night, so I was able to dispense with the tent's outer layer, enjoy the starry sky, and listen to the stream ten metres from my tent. Possibly the best night of the whole trip!

The other mechanical problem Gerald had was at Byron Bay, only 170km from home. I found that the an air hose's clamp had worn through the radiator's bottom tank. We made it home to Brisbane by not tightening the radiator cap so that the cooling system wasn't pressurised, and stopping every 10  or 15 minutes to top up the coolant.

And so, after fourteen driving days and nearly 5000km, we made it home. That was my biggest ever road trip, and probably the Herald's as well.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Still got it: The Herald goes camping again

2014's been an interesting year, so far. The geology company I worked for went into receivership, and so my company 4WD went back. No 4WD meant no great camping expeditions into the unknown. Fortunately I've managed to keep working, which means I've still had enough outdoors time to keep sane, but eventually I decided it was time to spend a break out of town, walking and exploring the countryside. I used to take the old Herald camping, so I figured, why not again? There are some great spots within a day's drive of Brisbane, even at Herald speeds.

We headed south, and spent a couple of nights near Murwillumbah, in northern New South Wales, so I could climb Mt Warning. The peak is in the centre of the enormous volcanic crater that forms the Tweed Valley, and was named by Captain Cook. Shortly after seeing it, he found some reefs nearby. He named a nearby a peninsula Point Danger, just to make it obvious!

Gerald the Herald, camping near Mt Warning

Flashback - camping alongside the Buller River in New Zealand, c.2005

The view south from Mt Warning. Byron Bay is out of shot to the left, and was mostly hidden in the smoke haze.

The view north and east from Mt Warning. The Numinbah Gap is in the centre, and Murwillumbah and the Tweed Valley are visible to the right.

After climbing Mt Warning, we headed north into Queensland along a brilliant road through the Numinbah Gap. It winds up and over a pass, and seemed perfect for the Triumph. After that, we headed up to the camping ground at O'Reilly's in Lamington National Park. The climb up from Canungrah to O'Reilly's is an old logging road, very narrow and steep, and was mostly a second gear affair. The next day I took the Saturday minibus to Binna Burra, and walked the 21km track back to O'Reilly's. 

The two walks were a real contrast. Mt Warning is a three hour climb. It wasn't hard with a day pack, and some people even run up. Bastards. I just chugged steadily, and got a kick out of the last section, a chain up a rock face to the top. Down was even better! And looking south towards Mt Warning two days later from the Border Track was very satisfying - as Hillary said, I'd knocked the bugger off. My calves had seized up the next day though, and I hobbled the first few hundred metres of the Border Track.

The Border Track is really just a long walk through the forest, with great views from lookouts cut into the forest. It's pretty easy - it climbs and drops a few hundred metres, but that's over 21km so hardly counts. It was pretty windy on the ridgelines even in the forest, and I actually had trouble keeping warm in shady areas. That's not usual for Australia.

Something I finally figured out - O'Reilly's is about 6km north of the crater rim, and yet it has a great view of volcanic hills receding into the distance, with Mt Warning in the middle. So everyone says. Thing is, the resort is in the wrong place to see into the crater, and the peak is a different shape. The answer, of course, is that the view is west towards the Great Dividing Range rather than south into New South Wales, and the peak isn't Mt Warning, but another volcanic peak called Mt Lindesay. The fact that Mt Warning looked so different from O'Reilly's and from the Border had been bugging me for a couple of years!

Spot the difference: Mt Warning from the northern rim of the crater

Mt Lindesay from O'Reilly's. Both volcanic, but not the same mountain!

Gerald heading home

Sunday, March 30, 2014


In March I spent a couple of weeks back in New Zealand, catching up with friends and family, and going tramping (hiking) in the Victoria Range above Reefton. As well as camping equipment, wet weather gear and food, I hauled my camera up the hill. And it was worth it.

The track climbed 1100m in 9km. It follows an old mining trail to the Kirwan's Reward gold mine which operated at the turn of the Twentieth Century. The miners used horse and cart to haul their supplies up the hill. We found the remains of a few carts alongside the track, and chunks of quartz from the remains of the mineralised formation the miners were chasing. There's not much left, and what there is is hidden in steep, thick, remote rainforest. It's amazing that Kirwan found it at all.

The lower portion of the track winds through red beech forest. The air smelled of honey dew, and we were followed by bush robins and fantails. We even saw a weka when we stopped for a rest.

Higher up, the forest is dominated by silver beech. It's lower, darker and claustrophobic. Luckily we could see flashes of scenery through gaps in the trees.

A welcome sight - Kirwan's Hut

Just resting
 Looking back

 Sunset after a long day's walk

 Morning mist

The next day we checked out the remains of Kirwan's Reward mine, and climbed to the ridgeline to enjoy views from the Southern Alps to the Paparoa Ranges.

Our last night was capped off with a gorgeous sunset. The next day we descended to the valleys and returned to the world.