Thursday 13 February – A new blog post means we have the bike yeyy. I’ll just back track a little first. 8 weeks we waited in Darwin. 2 months – that’s longer than it took us to travel across Europe. The Toll group who we shipped with certainly took its Toll on us. We were prepared for a delay but no one can expect five so called ‘scheduled’ boats not to stop in Dili. Toll do not keep you informed at all, even when you have paid your money. They really couldn’t give a crap if or when your cargo gets to you. Just lots of excuses. We were not told of ‘other’ options as it’s their competitors, but to be honest after the 4th week it would have just been the decent thing to do, not mention it 6 weeks later. At one point we found out a Toll vessel would stop at Dili then sail on to Singapore but would then return to Dili on it’s way back to Darwin. We asked for the bike to be put on when it stopped the first time, but were told it was ‘not commercially viable’ and were given a 100% guarantee it would stop on it’s way back. It didn’t. You can imagine it was heart breaking knowing the boat had been to Dili and then showed up in Darwin minus our bike all because Toll group don’t care about their customers – the smaller ones anyway .
The waiting game took it’s toll on us too. Boredom, frustration, living in the most expensive city in Australia had a crappy effect on us both. Spending all day everyday together not really doing anything other than going to library to use the internet, didn’t make for all happy times. Paul woke one morning at 7.30am in anger/insanity and declared he was going to Toll. Off he went, no one was there obviously, so he came back a little calmer after the walk.
We ended up renting floor space at the shipping agent’s home after failing to find somewhere after the first place we were staying. During this time we’d been in contact with another guy shipping his motorcycle a few weeks after us, Dean. He had to get back to work so couldn’t even wait around like us, so would have to waste a lot of money flying around all because of Toll. It would have been cheaper, easier and quicker to ride back to Malaysia and ship from there.
The shipping guy did give us some free Toll sponsored £2 tickets to go see the aboriginal team – Tiwi Bombers play football. It’s not English football though, it’s a mix between football and rugby. Pretty good. Not quite the atmosphere you’d get in the UK, just a mum shouting ‘keep going boys.’ Paul annoyingly made up his own chant ‘who are we?’ ‘Tiwi’ ‘what we gona do?’ ‘bomb em’ ‘tiwi bombers, tiwi bombers’ he sang this all the way home.
The boat actually arrived in Darwin the day we went to the football but was unable to come into dock because of low tides so we went to look at it sat only a few 100 metres off the coast. That was the Saturday, Monday afternoon the boat docked. It takes Toll a day to first clean the container for African snails then a day to unload (push the bike out of the container), in the mean time we arranged for the very strict Australian quarantine inspection and customs to come and look at the bike. The shipping agent told us our bike had been requested for a search for drugs and explosives by the ‘secret’ customs which he’s not suppose to tell us. Not even sure why he did tell us. It certainly didn’t put us at ease, especially as the bike has been sat in Dili for the past 8 weeks with who knows going in and out of the container.
Wednesday was a nervous and restless night. We woke really early to get ready and get down to Toll early. Tom, was our quarantine inspector the shipping agents were giving it the ‘ohh, he’s really tough’ trying to make us nervous? I’m not sure. Only one person can go into the inspection so off Paul went, donning a hard hat and high vis. He told me it was pretty intense, 8 burly customs officials showed up, with 2 dogs to search drugs and explosives. They then gave him a grilling and apparently put on their paperwork he was a nervous character. Well, it sounds a pretty intimidating situation, so who wouldn’t be nervous. The same happened to me in Coles [supermarket]. I saw store security looking at me at the self checkout, so I looked away and then averted their eyes on the way out as they were making me nervous. Then a lady approached me and asked to search my bag. I looked guilty but only because they were staring at me.
Anyway, 30 minutes later Paul returned. We had cleared both quarantine and customs. Tom, the quarantine guy had looked at the bike before Paul even got to the warehouse. He wasn’t asked to lift off the fuel tank, no torches were shone anywhere, no air filters checked or anything – testament to the time we spent cleaning in Dili, plus the Magic Black Tyre polish we smothered everywhere, it looked brand new. The customs even got suspicious as they thought we were trying to bring in a brand new bike and asked for it to be started to check the mileage.
Getting on the bike felt so good but we had to get a new tyre and indicator to pass the road worthy inspection before we could finally leave Darwin. Those processes were both really easy, and the efficiency of Australia was finally working for us. The road worthy inspection is basically an MOT and you don’t book you just go to a drive in centre and wait your turn, simple.
We set off at 4.30pm that day with no plan of where we were going, we just wanted to get going. People were looking and even waving. It was a bit of shock at first, after 8 weeks of being stood still, it was a bit like ‘what are they looking at?’. Not far out of Darwin, we got a taste of what was to come – not a lot of anything but straight roads. Paul got breathalyzed as we passed through one of the small towns, doubt the police had anything better to do. We ended up in Litchfield National Park in some random German mans campsite. He was eating a very rare steak and red wine when we pulled up, was topless and had the company of a much younger Thai lady. As we drove to the camp spots loads of kangaroos were jumping around. It was the perfect end to the first day with the bike. In our haste to get going we didn’t really prepare and we only had noodles. Paul was excited to get to use the stove we brought in Indonesia only to discover it was now broke. Luckily Australian campsites cater very well and the camp kitchens are pretty well equipped. So so happy to have the bike back.
Friday 14 February – The next morning woke to a beautiful sunrise, morning dew and kangaroos. We were keen to push on but in hindsight we should have stayed and explored the National Park, but we needed to get somewhere to get supplies and as it was Valentines day we wanted some wine, cheese and bread as a treat and celebrate finally having the bike back.
On the drive to Katherine we started to see the first glimpses of red dirt, the typical image I had of Australia. It was hot, probably the hottest it’s been since Iran. The landscape is barren, and you can see for miles and miles and there is absolutely nothing, except the occasional burnt tree or weird termite mound. They’re like super termite mounds, over 2 metres high some of them. Some of the mounds have been decorated with t-shirts and shades, light entertainment on the endless straight roads of the Northern Territory outback.
We saw the first of many Road Trains which create a nice suction as they pass other than Road Trains and other vehicles, who all wave as you’re the only thing they have seen for quite a few miles. The only other thing to spot is the birdlife which is pretty insane. They’re usually eating some roadkill and only fly off at the last minute so you get huge birds only a few inches from your head. When we stop we usually see beautiful rainbow coloured parrots flying around, or squawking white cockatoos.
Being in the outback means you pay a premium for anything – $6 for a buffalo pie. No Greggs rates out here. Petrol is at a premium too, but still cheaper than the UK.
We reached Katherine which is what we thought was a small outback town. Turns out it’s one of the largest, even though it’s probably smaller than Nantwich. It produced a Tour de France winner in 2011. There were lots of aboriginal people lurking around, not really doing much. Just how we had encountered in Darwin. Only they seemed to be a little bit more integrated into the community rather than living on the outside. Whilst there is no direct exemptions, we saw signs like ‘no shoes, no service’ in a little shop. Most aboriginals don’t wear shoes. I get the feeling they know they are not welcome. One lady even commenting ‘oh they don’t pass the roundabout into this area, which we’re happy about’ I don’t know the whole story but there is definitely a lot of racism towards the indigenous people.
The campsite we got to was pretty luxury with a nice swimming pool. There were a few other campers, a young German couple who were working on a fruit farm. The lad’s arms looked horrendous. Scratches from his hands right up to his elbows from the thorns on Lemon bushes, and an older English couple from Loughborough, travelling in their car after visiting their Daughter in Noosa.
We were pretty surprised to discover how cheap wine is, especially if you compare it to soft drinks. It made for a nice valentines dinner. It chucked it down that night but the heat returned by the morning.
McDonalds was for breakfast. Paul asked if they did a bacon roll and the women looked at him like he’d asked to buy a porno magazine. Utter disgust. Pretty funny.
Over the course of the next few days we travelled a lot of miles, with the landscape remaining the same. Dry, rocky and flat. The missing wind shield is being missed with the faster speeds. Especially for Paul as he gets hit in the face with the little bugs that feel like rain drops as their blood splatters.
We made a diversion to Daly Waters, a famous pub in the outback. The inside is wall to wall with bits people have left behind like stickers, bras, flip flops, license plates, hats etc. Pretty cool, but we got snitched on by a super snitch snide old man for eating our own lunch outside. We thought we were just seen as we’d just been charged £4 for two cans of pop. Apparently not, we had to move.
Saturday 15 February – We left the Stuart highway which heads south towards Uluru [Ayres Rock] at Three Ways, and headed east on the Barkly Highway. Daly waters was to be the last fly free stop. They sniffed us out within a matter of seconds making any stop an annoying fly ridden hell. Flies are an unwanted feature of the outback. Landing in your eyes and ears, it’s more than annoying. I observed Paul threatening them , announcing he’d be killing their families. He quickly disappeared when it came time to set-up the tent – prime fly in ear time. The towns we passed through we’re tiny, proper ‘Wrong Turn’ towns, probably a little inbred and few murders here and there. They are made of up of mostly dilapidated, time warped buildings and characters fit for that sort of town. Bearded, wrinkly old men with thick accents. Our first night stay on the Barkly highway was in a place only marked because of the campsite. We were the only campers, other than a bus load of backpackers who stayed in what looked like cattle sheds. During the night there was a massive thunder storm. The cracks were so loud it woke us both with a bolt. Even made the ground tremble, my heart was racing so fast. When we woke the next morning the field had flooded. Our little tent had survived, not even a drip inside. The bike however, had sunk again. Clearly we didn’t learn our lesson in Malaysia. It had a softer landing this time though – a mix of cow crap and mud. So at least the newly purchased indicator didn’t snap off again, but my cleaning efforts were no longer so visible. The campsite guy gave us a wave and a chuckle as we were packing in the rain. Knowing probably it had been a bit of a rough night, and now a rough morning.
It was a pretty miserable day, the rain didn’t really clear. It was made brighter by a young Yorkshire girl working in the Barkly Homestead roadhouse who we spoke to for a little while, mainly because of the extortionate price of crisps – £3.50 and why the hell she was in a place with nothing in either direction for at least 200 miles. She was saving was the answer. Paul got a plate of chips for £2 instead, which I’m pretty sure she served us an extra large portion. Thanks Yorkshire girl.
Later that day we crossed the Northern Territory/Queensland border. A border the flies can unfortunately cross too. If only they invented a fence to stop the blighters like they did for the Dingos.
We stopped just past the border in a town called Camooweal, the sign announcing the population – 309. Paul again doing everything he could to evade the flies. He went off to find a shop to cry in and a drink to cool down, whilst I set up the tent. He came back with some melted Curly Wurlys and a story of a local man. An old man who was sat in a rocking chair on his deck asked ‘looking for a feed mister?’, ‘no mate, just looking for some cans’, ‘ain’t many places round here serving a feed mister’ ‘alright, cheers for the heads up’ and he went to the BP. A story Paul now sings ‘loooooking for a feed missss-terrrr’ in what is more a red-neck American accent, than Australian. This is when I’m glad Mark [Paul’s brother] isn’t around – I remember in Vietnam when ‘Mrs Tang’ was repeated about 100 times a day and fake phone conversations with Mrs Tang were made up. The boys thought it was hilarious. I could imagine this would escalate to made up stories of the outback man.
Tuesday 18 February – We left Camooweell pretty early as it was a hot night and an even hotter morning. Paul keeps waking in the night to go for cold showers, so he’s not sleeping too well. The days have all been at least 8 hours riding too.
The landscape in this part of the outback looks like it’s been modeled on an American spaghetti western, it’s just missing the horse mounted cowboys. They’re here, the cowboys, but they ride quads, dirt bikes or helicopters to round the herds. The modern way of cover vast ground. I imagine it’s what Texas looks like. Low rising, deep red sand cliffs and little other than a few naked and burnt trees.
So far the live wildlife has been lacking. I was looking forward to seeing Kangeroos, at least a Dingo, dart across the road but we didn’t see one. There was a stray emu mingling amongst the cows, but it got scared as soon as we slowed and ran straight into the fence in a panicked frenzy. I lost my respect for them, pretty stupid birds. The German couple we met a few days ago had to replace their entire windscreen because one ran off, then double backed on itself straight into their windscreen.
Mt Isa is a surprising stop on the Barkly Highway in that it’s pretty big. Big enough in that it’s not just based along the main highway anyway. It’s a town purely built for what is being dug out the ground, and the mines that surround it can be seen everywhere. It’s a good place to stock up but just as with the other outback towns, not much to see. We made it to Julia’s Creek by far the nicest outback town so far. We set-up camp and went to the public pool next door as quick as could to cool down and escape the flies.
The camp kitchen deserved a medal. It had a flat screen TV bigger than the one we used to own, a fan which kept the flies at bay, and a super freeze freezer. Happy campers. Still the heat didn’t subside and the little tent isn’t the most ventilated, so it gets pretty sweaty at night.