A modest proposal
We’re just going to go through some of our favourite bike destinations: do tag along!
I was answering a note from my friend Sian Gillanders CKDNZ* in New Zealand the other day. Right at the end of her email, she had written, “Any exciting tours planned? I would love to do another one but just not sure where??!!”
Now, this is from someone I met on my Peru trip with Compass Expeditions last year, someone who rides her Buell everywhere in Unzud (including the infamous Brass Monkey Rally) and who is generally about as adventurous as you’d want to be and stay out of traction.
And yet she can’t think of where to go. That’s a challenge if I ever saw one.
We have given you pretty comprehensive guidance to the international bike tour operators and bike shippers (see ARR #68; and it’s on the www.roadrider.com.au website) but that’s just information and it applies to trips organised by someone else. What you clearly need to inspire you is our opinionated personal take on potential destinations (and non-destinations – see the latter part of this story!) for both organised and DIY motorcycle travel. Well. Have you ever come to the right place.
* No, not Completely Knocked Down in New Zealand, at least in this case, eh, Sian? Certified Kitchen Designer NZ. So, if you live in or near Queenstown or Wanaka in New Zealand’s South Island and need a kitchen designed, Sian (pronounced “Sharn”) is your woman. She’s based in Cromwell and her website is www.sgdesign.co.nz.
How do I go?
There are five ways to go touring on a motorcycle. And no, I don’t mean sitting down, standing up, err … from the pillion seat … Ah, no. I don’t mean any of these things.
I mean you can ride your own bike; ship your bike to your destination; rent a bike there; buy a bike there; go on a self-guided tour; or go on a fully organised tour.
We’ve covered all of these before, complete with advantages and disadvantages, including a very useful article recently by Bob Rosenthal about buying a bike overseas and then leaving it there, ready for you whenever you decide to pop over and go for a ride. We’ve also covered the nitty gritty, like paperwork, how and what to pack and so on.
So that leaves destinations. Hang on to your approved hard hats; this is going to be a long, wild ride!
Close to home
No matter where you live in Oz or Unzud, there are wonderful places within your reach and your bike’s. The two countries are very different, with Tasmania lying somewhere between mainland Australia and the North Island of New Zealand (motorcycling-wise, not geographically). The South Island is kind of out on its own.
In this first destination story, we will look at some of the places in mainland Australia that would most repay a visit. We’ll move on to Tassie and New Zealand, and then the rest of the world, in subsequent stories.
We suspect that even if you live in one of the states we’re writing about you will find some place here that you haven’t visited or that you didn’t even know about. If you know and would like to share a great motorcycle destination that we don’t cover (and there will be many), drop us a line — with a picture if possible. We will feature your suggestions at the end of this series of stories.
The obvious place is Margaret River with its beaches, forests, wineries, craftspeople and gourmet food. It’s a short run south of Perth via Bunbury, another good destination — check out the dolphins — over excellent roads. Don’t forget the forests around Pemberton, either, or the south coast around Denmark and Albany with its beautiful beaches bookended by vast rocky shield headlands. We like Mt Barker and the Stirling Range National Park, too.
York with its motoring museum makes a good day trip out of Perth, as does a circuit of the Swan Valley wineries.
North of Perth there’s some good riding up the coast on Indian Ocean Drive, past the Pinnacles, and inland to New Norcia with its monastery. Continue up the Brand Highway and you reach Geraldton, Kalbarri and eventually Monkey Mia with its dolphins. We actually think the stromatolites at Hamelin Bay, on the way, are more unusual and interesting.
What would we do? We would have said set ourselves up in the Prevelly Park campground near Margaret River and go on day trips, but we won’t because they’re anti-motorcycle. Try Conto Beach campground instead, about 20km southwest of Margaret River phone (08) 9752 5555; it has pleasant bush camp sites and wonderful day rides, but bring the wine home before you sample too much!
Contrary to (some) public opinion, there is far more to South Australian motorcycling than the Adelaide Hills. Don’t get us wrong; they’re great — and you can take just about any road leading east from Adelaide for a full day of thrills — but you can also go south to the foggy, forested loneliness of the Fleurieu Peninsula and the ferry to Kangaroo Island. A little further back east from there to Encounter Bay and you’re in Victor Harbour and Goolwa, both well worth visiting.
Keep going east and then south and you’ve got the desert grandeur of the Coorong on the coast and the wineries of the Coonawarra inland. How to choose? Down one way, back the other! Robe makes a good stop on the coast and then there’s always Mount Gambier with its volcanic lake.
But wait! There’s more! From the Flinders Ranges in the mid-north, mainly of interest to dual sports owners, right down to the Clare and then the Barossa Valleys there is good riding. But stay inland; the Princes Highway is dreary. Then of course there’s the Riverland along the Murray, too.
What would we do? We’d stay in a B&B in Birdwood, up in the Adelaide Hills, and go for day rides from there. If we didn’t feel like riding or if it was raining we’d go look at the National Motor Museum or at Bill’s across the road. Don’t miss Bill’s. Birdwood Visitor Information Centre, 08 8568 5577.
There are riders who will tell you the best way to see the NT on a bike is in the rear-view mirror but they have little or no experience of the place. There is a good run from Darwin out to Mandorah, all tarred now, and the triangle ride to Jabiru and Pine Creek before returning north to Darwin is recommended as well. We particularly like the Bark Hut Inn.
The ride to Wangi Falls in Litchfield National Park is as good as any you’ll find elsewhere, too, with the added reward of a cool swim at the end.
We like the Victoria Highway from the WA border to Katherine, a lot. From Alice Springs the good rides are out along the Namatjira Drive to Glen Helen and maybe Goyder Pass; and the Mereenie Loop to Kings Canyon — gravel surface at the end of Larapinta Drive and permit required (see the tourist office in the Alice). Head east to Ross River if you’d like a few more corners and south to Finke if you’re a serious dirt rider.
What would we do? We’d camp at Wangi Falls in Litchfield National Park and just mellow right back, with a swim every now and then, a serious boules competition and occasional supply runs into Batchelor (there are corners on that road!). But that’s just lazy ol’ us. Info from 08 8999 4555. Oh, and the manager of the motel in Batchelor is a helpful Ulyssian.
Here’s where it starts to get difficult. Queensland is a big state — not as big as WA, but with rather more variety in its landforms, especially vertically. So the easy way out is to say “anywhere along the Great Dividing Range”, but that would be cheating. Instead, let us just tell you about our favourite places.
North to south, there’s … no, there are still too many. We’ll just tell you about our really special favourite places.
We do like the Captain Cook Highway between Mossman and Cairns, but even better than that we like the Atherton Tableland: up along the Kennedy Highway through Kuranda, down by way of the Gillies, back up along the Palmerston — and that doesn’t even take into account the wonderful riding up on top, along country lanes reminiscent of England and past huge strangler figs like something out of Dr Who.
In fact, why are those giant pepper pots chanting “ex-ter-mi-nate!” …? Aaaargh!
There are lots of terrific places to ride on your way south but we’re being super-selective, so the next one is the Sunshine Coast hinterland. Just about any road up here around Kenilworth, Mapleton, Maleny and so on is worth riding; in fact, the choice area stretches south to the Glasshouse Mountains, Woodford and Dayboro. We like the market at Eumundi.
South of Brisbane you get much the same thing, centred on Mt Tamborine and up into the Border Ranges. We particularly like the Numinbah Valley Road, but the roads up to O’Reilly’s Guesthouse or Binna Burra Lodge are excellent, too. Although they’re dead ends, they do have campgrounds.
What would we do? You’ve probably noticed that we have been avoiding the coast; it is actually the least interesting (motorcycling) part of Queensland, with only a few exceptions. We’ll settle for one of those exceptions now: we would love to camp or stay in a hostel or something at Mossman, where all sorts of places including the Atherton Tableland, the Captain Cook Highway, Port Douglas, Cape Tribulation and even Cooktown are within reach. For truly great coffee, make your way up to the Coffee Works at Mareeba; 136 Mason Street, 1800 355 526.
New South Wales
And it just keeps getting harder, as the actress said to the bishop. Err, sorry, what? Harder to recommend destinations, of course. New South Wales, the state with the largest number of motorcycles, also probably has the largest number of riders’ roads. That might come as a surprise when you’re used to the mantra of “Great Ocean Road, Great Alpine Road” (more on those below) but it’s true.
From the Queensland border down into the Northern Rivers there’s a network of tarred and easy dirt roads that would be difficult to equal anywhere in Australia. Even better is the fact that they lead you to all sorts of secluded waterfalls and campgrounds, cafes and pubs. Make sure you check out the Uki pub — and don’t miss Nimbin (but don’t inhale)!
Also in this area is the first of the highways that cross the Great Dividing Range and run down to the coast. They’re all worth riding: the Bruxner, the Gwydir, the Oxley (which I reckon is actually Australia’s best bike road) and then, south of Sydney, the Illawarra, the Kings and the Snowy Mountains.
Oops; that’s taken us a bit far. Before we leave the north let us just mention the Waterfall Way through Bellingen and Dorrigo to Armidale and the wild country behind Macksville that holds many wonderful dirt roads (we have found them manageable on road bikes if it hasn’t been raining) and the original Pub With No Beer at Taylors Arm.
Away from the main roads such as the New England Highway, the Hunter Valley has many excellent roads — stop at the Moonan Flat pub some time — and the new Tablelands Way curves around the Blue Mountains on its way from Denman to Canberra, bypassing the smog and traffic of Sydney.
The Snowy Mountains deserve a chapter all of their own, but if you’re after a road less travelled, try the run from Tumbarumba up to Australia’s highest town, Cabramurra, and then back down to Khancoban.
What would we do? We would pack the camping gear and go riding on the Western Slopes. From Temora and Boorowa in the south to Coonamble and Coonabarabran in the north there are terrific roads to ride, there is beautiful scenery and there are pleasant caravan parks and campgrounds to stay in. And look, we haven’t even mentioned this area in the recommendations above! That just goes to show how much good riding there is in the Premier State.
We’d like to recommend the beautiful Cowra Japanese Garden, designed by Ken Nakajima and dedicated to the fallen of WWII, including the Japanese prisoners of war who died in the Cowra Breakout. The highlight of the year is Sakura Matsuri, the cherry blossom festival; this year (2011) it’s on the 24th of September. More information from Cowra Tourism, 02 6342 4333 or at www.cowratourism.com.au.
Traditionally, Victoria is the home of motorcycling in Australia. This is where the first and most influential motorcycle importers and dealerships were and, even today, Elizabeth Street in Melbourne is unequalled as a bike-shop Mecca.
So where to start with the destinations? Let’s stay consistent and continue south from NSW. Some of our favourite roads are covered in the “What would we do” section, below, by the way.
The triangular bit of Victoria in the far east is called, reasonably enough, East Gippsland. It has three terrific north-south(westish) bike roads: the Princes Highway, the Cann River Highway (also known as the Monaro Highway) and the Bonang Highway (some unsealed road). Indeed, there is a parallel fourth road, the Barry Way, which has a fair bit of dirt but is nonetheless well worth riding for all that. Once you get to the coast, the Princes Highway continues west.
All of these roads, even the major highway (the Princes is Highway 1, the around-Australia road), traverse some lonely country and offer some terrific riding. If you have a bit of spare time, consider the short detour to the pretty fishing and holiday hamlet of Mallacoota.
Where Victoria widens out, there’s the Murray River valley in the north with the Murray Valley Highway and the Murray River Road, more or less parallel from Towong/Corryong to Wodonga. Wonderful riding, and a connecting road over Granya Gap that’s to die for. Not literally, please.
The Murray Valley Highway continues west, predictably enough following the eponymous river. There are lots of nice places along there, including Rutherglen, Echuca and Swan Hill (make sure you take a photo of your bike in front of the Big Cod, so if anyone ever says, “There is no cod,” you can show them the picture and say, “Yes there is; look!”). But the road is also very flat and corners tend to be few and far between — and at right angles.
Better to head off to Beechworth and explore its surroundings; try the beers from the Bridge Road Brewery. If you just keep filtering south and west you will eventually find yourself in Melbourne after riding some of the nicest roads in Australia. The Whitfield/Mansfield road is especially recommended by The Bear because he once smoked two of his mates (well, all right, Grant Roff and Stuart Strickland) along here, despite being mounted on a DN-01 Honda while they were on proper bikes. Hah!
Way down south now is South Gippsland, where you can take any road and will never go wrong. Be careful, though. Some so-called “tourist routes” like the Strzelecki Highway can turn to gravel and be infested with log trucks.
Further west, there’s the Gold Rush country based more or less around Ballarat, where once again you simply can’t go wrong no matter what road you take all the way up to Bendigo. Further west again, the Grampians offer a great selection of tar and gravel roads, and there is no shortage of hills here!
Finally (we have to stop some time) there is, of course, the Great Ocean Road. Officially it runs from Torquay to Warrnambool, but you can keep going if you like to Port Fairy, Portland and eventually Mt Gambier in South Australia without regretting it.
The section from Anglesea to Apollo Bay gets the most publicity but we actually prefer the next stretch west (fewer tourists, better road surface and less gravel in corners). It’s more open, too.
What would we do? We’d ride a loop. Starting from Melbourne (as everything in Victoria must) we’d head east through Yarra Junction to Noojee for coffee before retracing our tracks for four kilometres and turning off to Neerim South, then continuing to Warragul and Korumburra. From there we’d take the South Gippsland Highway to Sale, the Princes Highway to Bairnsdale and then the Great Alpine Road/Omeo Highway to Omeo. There’s a choice here: either continue on the GAR to Hotham Heights and Bright or ride north along the Omeo Highway to the freshly sealed Bogong High Plains Road. That takes us to Falls Creek, Mount Beauty and, via Tawonga Gap, on to Bright to rejoin our comrades.
We would carry on to Wangaratta and eventually Cobram on the Murray. Further along the Murray Valley Highway we would turn off just before Nathalia to Barmah (the only pub in Victoria that’s north of the Murray River, honestly) and duck across the river into NSW for a few kilometres before crossing back to Echuca.
From there … ah, we’d find our way back to Melbourne some way. There are lots of roads to choose from! Whether you go back via Shepparton or Heathcote, stop in at the wonderful Royal Australian Armoured Corps Memorial and Army Tank Museum at Hopkins Barracks in Puckapunyal. Opening hours are a bit complicated, so ring 03 5735 7285 before you go.
That’s it for this month
Our space runneth out. Who would have thought that we’d have so many suggestions? As with all the other states, this has not done Victoria justice — but you can always buy Australian Road Rider when we feature a particular state. Victoria has its turn in the September and April editions, while January concentrates on South Australia, February on the NT, March and August on NSW, May on Queensland, October on New Zealand and November — our Summer Issue — on the magic that is Tasmania.
Ah yes, Tasmania. The Motorcycle Isle, as Bertrand “The Frog” Cadart would like it to be known, heads the next instalment of this tale. It is followed by the North and South Islands of the East Islands — sorry, New Zealand — and, in future edition, the rest of the world.
Catch you then!
Five ways to paradise
Just a quick note, expanding on the advantages and disadvantages of the five ways of motorcycle travel we mentioned in the opening part of this story.
Ride your own bike: The main advantages are the obvious ones that you’re familiar with the bike, you have it set up the way you like it and it doesn’t cost any extra. You can also learn more about the way it does things, which can be nice — or not, of course, if it happens to be inappropriate for some reason.
Disadvantages include the fact that you will need to arrange help if you break down, you’ll be wearing out your own machine and — possibly most importantly — riding to your destination limits you to the Australian mainland and, let’s be broadminded, Tasmania. The hop across Bass Strait on a ferry doesn’t really count as “shipping”.
Ship your bike to your destination: Most of the advantages and some of the disadvantages of the first option. Shipping does cost extra but your world opens out considerably and it is relatively affordable. Bike shipping is available to New Zealand, the US and various ports in Europe.
You can also put your bike on a ship — as distinct from shipping it professionally — to Indonesia and Singapore, and possibly to Japan. There may be more options that we don’t know about. This obviously opens up the world considerably more.
One disadvantage is that you will need to organise paperwork for the bike, including but not limited to insurance. If you use an experienced shipper like Get Routed (www.getrouted.com.au) it can arrange your paperwork for you. That’s a very valuable service and makes your trip far less complicated.
Rent a bike there: Renting is even less complicated but there is a trade-off, and that’s cost.
Usually, renting is expensive, especially if you want to stick around for a while; if it’s a matter of a day ride or a weekend, or even a week or so, then renting can be the ideal way to go. It’s also a good opportunity to sample a bike that you’d probably never ride at home.
A major advantage is that (usually, anyway) you don’t have to worry about mechanical mishaps because the renter will look after them and you if there is trouble. Check the paperwork carefully to make sure you understand what your liabilities are in case of a crash or theft.
And make a point of confirming rental arrangements close to the date; we have heard of bookings being lost.
Buy a bike there: The best thing I can do here is refer you to Bob Rosenthal’s story in ARR #65, page 60. He’s done it (in the US) and, as usual with Bob, has really got the research sorted.
To summarise, though, buying can be a good and very inexpensive solution, especially if you intend to go back and ride in the same country (or continent) again — and can find somewhere to store the bike in the meantime. It’s like our first option, above, but overseas.
There are difficulties, however. They mainly involve registration and insurance, for both of which you will probably need a local address.
Another version of the same thing is the buy-back, where you buy the bike from a dealer and they agree to buy it back at an agreed price when you’ve finished your ride. In this case the dealer will often be able to help with rego and insurance. How do you find such a dealer? Check the web near your point of departure and send emails. We’ve seen that work really well in the UK.
Go on a self-guided tour: This is basically renting with the organisation of the trip thrown in. In practice it can vary from being given a map with possible routes marked on it, as well as recommendations for places to stay and eat and so on, right up to a total booking service.
My friend Wolfgang at Dubbelju in San Francisco (www.dubbelju.com) provides the former and his customers seem to be very happy with the combination of advice and freedom that gives them. Often the places recommended will know of the rental company and will look after you just that bit little bit more, as well as taking extra care of the bike. Sometimes you may even get a discount, but ask the renter about that before you start.
Go on a fully organised tour: Everything is set up for you and a good organiser will even make sure you’re advised about the correct visas and other paperwork, inoculations, riding gear and so on.
Obviously, this is an expensive way of travelling, but you do get value with (usually) an escort, a mechanic and a guarantee that the food you eat along the way will not cause Delhi Belly, Montezuma’s Revenge or any of the other tummy troubles so common around the world. Sadly, even the best organiser can’t ensure the same quality control with meals you eat away from the tour — as The Bear discovered recently.
You are tied to the tour’s itinerary (although many tours will let you choose your own timing and even route during the day) but in many ways this is the most enjoyable way to travel. You can just concentrate on having fun.
What would we do? What we do do is we just call the local distributor of the brand and tell them we’d like a bike in … oh, Berlin, say. But of course we can do that because they know they will get what’s called “ink” in the trade — they will get coverage in the magazine. That’s only fair, seeing that you, the readers, will be interested in what we thought of the bike and how it coped. We don’t always get the bike, by the way.
And yes, we know you can’t do that.
What we would probably do if we were in your boots, depending on where we were going, would be to either take our own bike (riding it locally, shipping it for overseas trips) or take an organised tour. But that decision was not unanimous — self-guided tours were popular, too. And of course, for really short trips, we all agreed that we’d rent. It’s just so simple.
That really means we’d do any of the above, doesn’t it, depending on the circumstances. We strongly suggest you do the same …
Oh, and before you make any firm decisions check out the story later in this issue which suggests a few places you do not want to go.