Monday, October 22, 2007

Australia East Coast Motorcycle Tour

Revised 24.10.2007

Back home after my sometimes challenging but enjoyable motorcycle tour. The weather and a lack of cold or wet weather experience on my part tested me on a few occasions however I overcame a number of difficulties to complete the trip and am very glad I gave it a go.

This is a report on the ride, the road reviews will follow, but I have included a preview slideshow of some of the roads ridden at the bottom of this post.

Click any of the photos to see a larger version


Sunny at Grafton, but when I filled up got a warning about weather south.

Day One Brisbane to Kempsey.
Motorbike roads - Mt Lindsey, Summerland way, Nymbodia, Waterfall way.
Things started out nice and warm, here in Brisbane it was 30 degrees and I nearly didnt take much winter gear but fortunately I took the essentials as I had overlooked that the southern states have very different weather to us here in the tropics.

Took awhile to get out of the city being a week day, then I went over Mt Lindsey and Summerland way and down the other sie in the farm belt I realised another thing that being Spring bugs were going to be out in force with the fields in bloom.

My first challenge came early when I encountered a hail storm after lunch south of Grafton at Nymboida and had to hide myself and motorbike in a rural bus shelter. It was a wild storm but passed quickly enough to allow me to suit up with my wet weather gear and ride on. A miserable ride over the range, I was cursing that I hadn't managed to ride it before the rain as its a superb bit of road but naturally in the rain and with the summit in cloud and cold it was no fun.

I had some luck as the rain or hail somehow dislodged my headlight lense (front of motorbike was sticking out but otherwise undamaged ) I stopped after the Nymboida range to take a photo of low lying clouds in the valley and a guy pulls up on a Suzuki SV1000 who had a misfire from wet plug leads, so while there he noticed my headlight fogged up (which was odd) I then saw the headlight glass loose and ready to fall out which would have killed the whole trip on day one! Very fortunate discovery and also the other rider had some cable ties that I used until next day when I glued the lense back in. Wild storms lashed the whole area that afternoon (and worse the next day). Another storm chased me all the way down the Waterfall way road to the coast. Each time I would stop within minutes the rain would start so I kept moving to stay in front of it.


This photo shows how dark it got. I took cover in a rural bus shelter just in time.



Click to watch hail storm


The dark storm clouds above that chased me down the Waterfall way.

Day two Kempsey to Cessnock

Motorbike roads - The Oxley H-way, Thunderbolts way, Buckkets way, Bulahdelah, Devils Hills.

I experienced some great riding in fine weather over the Oxley highway and visited the Aspley falls before Walcha. Then onto Thunderbolts way which I was one of the best rides of the trip then a zig zag back over to the coast on the sweepers of the Buckkets way then down the fabulous old highway at Bulahdelah and back over to Thunderbolts across the Devils Hills to Booral. After running late the previous day I was sure I would have plenty of time this day to sight see at will however I again was late arriving the motel. I has set what I thought was a easy kilometre target each day but this was already proving to take more time than I had calculated.


It can only be one place with a sign like that - the Oxley h-way

This huge ravine actually runs beside the road near Walcha on the Oxley h-way

The deserted old highway near Bulahdelah - motorcycle magic
Day 3 Cessnock to Tumut

Bike roads - Putty road, Bells line of roads, Lachlan Valley.

The next day the temperature plunged. On the Putty road I had to stop a few times and add more clothes until I was wearing all my gear and still it was cold. I had seen a number of motorbike groups the previous days however today there was simply hundreds of motorbikes on this road and I began to get an idea of how many people ride down to the GP. At the half way roadhouse there was 30 or more motorbikes stopped all QLD plates and a continual flow of motorbikes going past.


Waiting for a convoy of bikes on the Putty road

Riding over the Bells line of roads it got misty and the cold was such I had to stop try warm up - which in turn gave me time to enjoy the wonderful views.


Blue Mountains

This race track is getting alot of money spent on it.
By the time I made it to Bathurst it had warmed up again but I had an idea that worse was to come so I went to a BCF shop and got some thermal underwear. I had a nice ride then to Tumut via the excellent Lachlan Valley h-way from Cowra to Boorowa and the historic Harden and more good road via Beggan Beggan. This is a really interesting area and I had planned to stop and see more but as would happen each day I simply didnt have enough time to allocated to allow for as many stops as I would have liked.


Above - Cowra to Harden, more interesting than some may think.

Day 4 Tumut to Bainsdale

Motorbike roads - Snowy Mountains h-way, Tooma Rd, Murray Valley h-way, Tawonga gap, Great Alpine Road.

Up early and onto the Snowy Mountains highway and good thing I purchased the thermals as the temperature was crisp and cold. Now I am seriously wondering why the Snowy Mtns h-way is not listed in the Australian top 100 rides atlas. A truly superb road, well surfaced, good surveying, wonderful curves - its what I expected the overrated Alpine way to be when I last road this area.

I rode over to Corryong and taking the wrong route via Tooma (which turned out to be a blessing as I then skipped the Alpine way on the return to ride back via Cabramurra) this turned out to be a great ride, very scenic. It was about now that I first encountered a large group of riders from Sydney which I would bump into all the way to Bairnsdale. Nice enough guys but a few were riding dangerously and I would move ahead of them due to my stopping less but not traveling at warp speed only to have them roar past me on wrong side of road on blind corners to all pull up to rest (riding sportsbikes) while I rode past them again. This happened at least 4 times and it got to the point where in the end I got a bit pissed off with them.



Snowy Mountains Hydro

Murray Valley highway, Tawonga gap and the Great Alpine road, really superb riding roads which I shall talk more about separately later. A little rain to end the day but nothing more than a brief shower and by the time I got my wet weather gear on and sat at roadwork stop for 30 minutes the rain had cleared.





Tawonga Gap, Hotham (yes I was not kidding when I said it was freezing cold) and Tambo river near Bairnsdale

Day 5 Bairnsdale to Melbourne

Motorbike roads - Gippsland h-way

I was going to visit Phillip Island today and take in a few sights and return for the GP. I wasnt staying on the island much to many peoples surprise as I wanted to experience Melbourne itself.

On Friday leaving Bairnsdale I was upbeat about making it at least the island without rain as seemed to look like one of those Brisbane days that are overcast but don't yield rain, how very wrong that was. Leaving Sale towards Yarram I knew I was in for it - black wild storm clouds and almost like night it was so dark then down it came. I got lashed by a massive storm with high winds and freezing cold rain. I struggled on to Yarram by which time my hands were numb my nose was running non stop and I was shaking with the cold. My thanks to the attendant at the Mobil for letting me place my motorbike under cover and some words of encouragement. You know its cold when the locals are wearing beanies indoors and their breath is steam, now add rain and riding a motorcycle and being wet in places... after changing some clothes and rearranging some stuff I went to the nearby heated Coffee Palace cafe with lots of other riders trying to warm up. In hindsight I should have stopped and taken cover in one of the rural bus shelters like I did in Nymbodia and let the storm pass. It was a tough test that nearly got the better of me. I crept on at a slow pace, I stopped a few more times and spent another hour or so in a diner trying to warm up. I didnt make it to the island as it was miserable weather and all I wanted to do was get to my motel. A beautiful area and nice roads but the weather was too miserable to do any sightseeing or photo taking.


The rain stopped at Yarram but I ran into more all the way to Dandenong.

I liked Melbourne alot. I am not talking about the suburbs - these are the same the country over - but the city heart was wonderful. Very sophisticated and reminds me of European and Asian cities that have a real dynamic and living feel to them. Brisbane after business hours is a ghost town and very few places to get a meal or coffee. Melbourne was great, so many cafes and coffee shops and interesting alleyways. Wide footpaths and very grand facades on wide streets - a wonderful city heart. The riverside was nice as well and I generally liked the it all except for that ghastly federation square.



Race day and I went prepared for the worst weather but it turned out fine, in fact I ended up getting sunburned. It was great to hear the MotoGP bikes and see their real speed as well. A sea of motorbikes this photo just one of a few parking spots. There was so many people (claimed to be 150,000 on tv?) that it was perhaps more than the track was set up for, but anyway an interesting experience. I walked the whole track and liked the end of the main straight best where you could see and hear the bikes at 300kph+ - amazing! It was a very blokey type of crowd with alot of bearded men in HSV jackets smoking and drinking Jim Beam ... well seemed that way in some parts of the track and certainly many were there to drink as much as watch the race. I on the other hand would have benefited from having spent more to get a grandstand seat on the main straight perhaps as that would have given me the chance to observe the pits and all the stuff that I would have found interesting.



Click play above to view slideshow



Week 2, Day 1. Dandenong to Ballarat via Sorrento and the GOR.

Motorbike roads - Great Ocean road, GOR to Colac.

I headed off to the Great Ocean Road. The weather again turned cool and when I arrived at the Sorrento Ferry the number of other motorbikes there meant I missed my 9.00am ferry and had to wait an hour. This was to have a dire effect later in the day.
The GOR is a wonderful ride. I disagree with those who say it is over rated - popular with grey nomad campervans and too many low speed limit areas yes, but the road itself is amazing. I was leaving the ocean part of the GOR and moving into the Olway national park mountains area (which is magic riding) when I realised I was way behind schedule thanks to the 100's of motorbikes that made me miss the ferry and that clogged the roads and meant simply getting fuel was a long queue. Frustration set in a bit also as by now I was sick of all the bikes everywhere I went. Pull up for a coffee or lunch and you have a long wait, go to get a ice coffee from fridge and its empty, get slowed by or hassled to go faster from behind by bikes. So I made a big mistake of trying to make up some time and got a speeding ticket...



I pulled out to pass a car and then gathered extra speed as I rolled down a sweeping downhill section right into a radar trap. I felt stupid as there was alot of police presence already on this road and I had been careful to keep the pace moderate on the obvious high risk areas. On the other hand I had enjoyed a fair bit of spirited riding and the officers gave me a ticket for the speed at the top of the hill when I passed the car not the bottom which would have seen me walking. Oh well thats life, if you use the roads then chances are you will get a ticket at some time or another.


Start of Great Ocean Road - enjoyable even with the modest speed signage

I went on to the 12 Apostles and ran out of time to do more then this which was a pity as superb twisty roads and magnificent scenery. I was still a bit angry at myself over the ticket so I didnt take as many photos of the mountain roads around this area but some excellent riding to be had between Lavers Hill and Princetown. The section from Lavers Hill to Colac was average by comparison.


A spot that looks as amazing in real life as in photos


End of a rather long day nearing Ballarat.

Week 2 day 2. Ballarat to Bright.
Motorbike roads - Euroa to Merton, Mansfield to Whitfield.

Next day and OMG its freezing cold and drizzling rain in Ballarat. Crazy as last night it was warm balmy night where I was in a T-shirt and hot walking back from a pub to the motel. Today it was really miserable conditions so I made my way slowly north east to Seymour and fortunately the rain cleared soon out of town but the cold remained. Skip the old h-way ride from Seymour suggested in the top 100 rides atlas - its a bit average. The Euroa to Merton top 100 atlas suggested ride has a few curves but I'd be tempted to simply try the Goulburn Valley and Maroondah h-way next time, however Mansfield to Whitfield - now this is something quite special indeed.

An absolutely cracker of a road that has a bit of everything - one of the highlights of all the suggested motorbike roads on the tour. Today I am running ahead of time - for the first time on the whole trip so I try to get a new rear tyre at Mansfield but they only have a touring compound but at Wangaratta I find a bike shop with a Michelin Pilot so I go with that than rather than wait until Sydney even though I didnt want a full sports tyre -but it proved to be a good choice.


Victoria has so many historic towns.


Mansfield - the corners go on and on (click to see larger photo and look)

Week 2 day 3. Bright to Cooma.
Motorbike roads - Tawonga gap, Redbank rd, Murray River road, Corryong to Cabramurra, Snowy Mountains h-way.

This was to be my 2nd high country riding day and I had planned to revisit some of the graet Alpine road however its 2 degrees in Bright so I elect to skip Mt Buffalo or other spots I had considered as I am simply so sick of being cold. I enjoy the Tawonga Gap more this time without hordes of other motorbikes to spoil things and then I managed to find the Redbank road (listed in the top 100 rides atlas) which I missed on the way down first time but its average and in fact the excellent surfaced main road from Wodonga has nicer curves and as good scenery.

The Murray River road is however a true gem and another highlight of my tour. I remember this road from when I was young and I am glad to say it remains the same superb old school road with lots of sweeping curves. This road reminds me of all the old roads I recall traveling on with my parents when I was a lad - now sadly most of those roads have been straightened, widened and routed to bypass all towns and are barren lacking trees and anything of interest whatsoever.


Arriving Bright. A wonderful town.

The Hume water level was low, the upper reaches were dry like the dams in Brisbane.

At Corryong I decide I have to jetwash the Brutale. By now there are so many dead bugs on the leading edges and front of bike that a swarm of flys descend onto it anytime I stop and its disgusting. While here also I elect to skip the Alpine way for two reasons, 1 there is alot of snow visible on top and I am sick of the cold and 2 its a rather average road that is overrated so I take a bet the that other half of the Snowy Mtns h-way that gets no mention in the top rides atlas will be as good as the first half was. I manage then to find my way to Cabramurra via the Tumut Pond dam the route. This is the route I wanted to come down on and is a better ride than I imagined with good road surface all the way and better surveying. Then down to Cooma on the Snowy Mtns h-way that does indeed turn out to be excellent riding for a early finish in Cooma to warm up.






Above. View to the Snowy mtns that convinced me to skip Alpine way, Snowy Hydro dam, Cabramurra - Australia's highest town.

Week 2, day 4. Cooma to Sydney

Motorbike roads - Clyde Mountain, Kangaroo Valley.

Next day I decide to alter my route again. Since I had allready seen Brown Mtn on the way to Bega I elected to ride north to Canberra and down Clyde Mtn on the Kings h-way. Not sure if this was a good choice or not as it was cold as hell all the way to Canberra where I simply got lost and didnt stay long before more cold until I got down to the sea at Batemans bay. Clyde mtn is a fantastic ride but if I was going to Cooma then the coast road and Brown Mtn is a far better route on a motorbike.

Kangaroo Valley was very nice this afternoon and I again ran out of time. I really wanted to stay longer in the area but at least I got to a couple of the lookouts, the last time here I rode straight past the amazing spots in the photos below with a mate. I got into Sydney late and thus it was wise that I got the tyre when I did as my original plan had been to obtain same this afternoon instead.


The Clyde mountain is a fantastic climb that will test the clearance of many motorbikes



Looking towards ocean from top of climb into Kangaroo Valley, and Fitzroy falls top of next climb out of the valley.
Sydney. Beautiful harbour, the opera house and bridge, I liked the rocks area however somehow the rest of Sydney did not appeal so much to me. Its a big place, the sprawl reminds me of big cities in Japan I have often been to. As in Melbourne both are alot more multicultural and sophisticated than Brisbane but I cant say I enjoyed Sydney much, just seemed to be all business and too busy. I was amazed to find those grubby old non air conditioned trains running around - what goes there? I guess I wanted more street cafes and atmosphere but the streets are so crowded and footpaths too narrow for dining. Oh well I only saw a small part and perhaps its unfair to say too much based on that however comparing the city hearts of the 3 east coast capitals Melbourne is a clear winner for me.


Week 2, Day 6. Sydney to Armidale.

Motorbike roads - Wisemans Ferry, Wollombi road, Dungog, Thunderbolts way.

Heading towards home on the 2nd last day the weather again turned cool. The Hawkesbury region was a bit of a let down both the roads and the scenery not quite as as I had imagined. Very bumpy roads and thats saying something as I am used to rough roads. Alot of bikes on the Wollombi road from Sydney which is better sealed than the Wisemans Ferry area and has a few nice curves.


Not rain (thankfully) just haze or fog all the way north to Wollombi

I cut over from Maitland to Stroud Road via Dungog and made a great find. The road via Paterson is nice in itself, well surfaced and with a number of curves which makes it better than the bumpy tail end of the Buckkets Way but then in Dungog I found alot of motorbikes and thought ahm what goes here. Then I find road beyond Dungog to the Stroud Road is a superb bit of riding - beatifully surveyed and near new surface in parts.Back on to the Thunderbolts way and from Gloucster to Nowendoc is some of the best riding in the country. The resurveyed new river section is near to perfect.


Old road near Dungog


Love the Thunderbolts way - its one of the best rides in the country.
Week 2 Day 7. Armidale to Brisbane.

Motorbike roads - Gwydir h-way, Summerland way, Mt Lindsey.

Last day and I deliberately set this as a easy shorter day as I figured I would be tired by now.

Its still cool this morning and I don't feel warm enough to switch back to summer gloves or remove my scarf until I get back to Northern Rivers shire. I ride down the wonderful Gwydir h-way a road I have never ridden before simply as there is so many other nearby great roads but now I know why people ride this going south as it's a top bit of road - however via Ebor to Armidale over the Nymbodia range is better still. Spoiled for choice in this area.


Raspberry lookout, Gwydir h-way.
Back over the Summerland way I reflect on all the roads I have enjoyed and consider I am starting to change what I think makes a good motorcycle road. Lots of tight corner roads are not uncommon in these parts. Even elsewhere a series of tight corners is easier to find than a series of sweepers. A road with good surveying offering nice sweeping corners, and a good surface is not common anywhere and I am starting to enjoy these more than all the tight switchbacks.

This however could be related to the sort of bike I am riding. The MV Agusta simply won't cut a tight corner like the Buell did, its more like my old Speed Triple which also was more fun on the less tight corners. Oddly the Buell XB would be almost boring on sweepers, not sure if this was from its ease of lean or the twins breathlessness on the more open roads that perhaps kept the pace below ideal on those open roads. Very hard now to say what is the best sort of bike to own and where you should place the focus...?

Some people have already asked me would I do the trip it again - you bet. I would perhaps not tour at the same time of year though for a few reasons. Some people would like all the other bikers around but I found it too much. Normally you are few and far between and when you see another rider you mostly wave or chat if stopped but in this case there were so many that it all became a negative a couple of times.

The temperature and bug level at this time of year makes me think that early Autumn would be better with perhaps less bugs and less chance of huge drops in temperature. Additionally I would make the schedule more flexible and allow more time and not venture near the capital cities at all. Quite a number of other things I learned about touring by motorcycle of course.

So in the end it was with some reflection I rode back over Mt Lindsey, and then the final run home. 6300km in total. Glad I made the effort to get out there.







11 comments:

  1. Well done on the recent tour down south.
    I have been reading your blog for several months now and have been most impressed. The info you have provided has been excellent in preparation for a recent trip I did from Albury up to Mt Tamborine and return. Much of this trip I did is what you have just completed, and the rest further south I have done previously in the reverse direction.
    When on the trip up north I met up with another Brisbane rider who also reads your blog and has posted a comment. I will keep in touch.
    Nigel from Albury.

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  2. You lucky bugger - was wondering why it had been so quite here!

    Great write up - looks & sounds like you had an awesome time. I covered a lot of those roads when I did The Snowy Ride back in 2005 - was a fantastic experience and reading your review really brought back some of the memories.

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  3. Thanks Nigel, nice to hear from you and glad my ramblings could be of some assist.

    Hey Beaker, it was a top ride despite the cold and 10,000 bugs. I want tear offs next time :)

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  4. Been looking forward to this post and you haven't let me down.
    My boss rode down to the race from here in Brisbane over 2 weeks and he also rode the GOR. He told me he only got wet once on the whole trip, the liar.
    I notice the luggage on the back of the Brutale, you sure do travel light for a 2 week trip.
    Your thoughts on packing for such an adventure as that one would be a subject in itself.
    Your comments about the lack of time for side trips etc strikes a chord. Distances in Australia between major centres means that serious kilometres often need to be ridden if one is to get the trip completed within the time available. My wife in particular likes her days to be around 300klms to enable nice casual breakfasts in the mornings and a little time to sightsee during the day and time in the afternoons at the evening rest stop to just relax with a little daylight. I'm fast becoming a fan of this viewpoint and trips are now shorter as a result, but more relaxed.
    Anyway, great read and much appreciated. Peter of Brisbane

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  5. Hi Peter,

    Thanks for your comments, I might do a post on how I pack so light, it is something I have fine tuned from international travel. The distance per day was something I got wrong most every day. A lesson learned and 300k up to max 400k would have been better. Actually one of many of things learned :) regards.

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  6. Hi Peter, great write up on your journey, im sure many including myself turned green with envy as they read. Your photos are excellent and really make the reader feel as if they were along for the ride with you.

    Your previous question regarding depth of field, can really only be solved with apeture control, wide apeture = blurred backgrounds.

    Cheers
    Aaron GC

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  7. Ah yes Apeture control is a feature my camera does not have. Perhaps I can update it in the future as I often want more control over shots.

    I didn't have as much time as I would have liked on this tour and some places I didn't come away with very good photos. Of course the weather was against me at times too I guess.

    Glad you enjoyed them all the same.

    IC.

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  8. Congrats, you completed your tour and facing many problems and still completed bravely and read your complete blog and I guess first day was more difficult.

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  9. I just came across this site and it's very impressive. The huge amount of information and pictures have caused me to lose 3 hours of my day. Thanks for the great work and keep it up!

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  10. Great reading and a lot of useful info, thanks. I am doing the trip to PI this year and will be following more or less the same route. Just one question did you have problems finding accommodation at that time of the year, would you recommend to book ahead?
    Cheers

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  11. Hi Stef, I did book ahead and there are so many bikes on the more popular roads that some places would be booked out for sure.
    I'd probably ride a little different to this if I went again. I'd skip the Snowy Mtns ad continue south via Bega/Bombala and then return via Falls creek and couple days in Bright and ride all the good roads there instead of the Great Ocean Road.

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