Tasmania and lots of other places along the way

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Our plan had been in place to go to Tasmania for the National Veteran Motorcycle rally for 12 months or more but at the last minute I crashed the car on the way to work one week before leaving and it got written off. Bugger. How are we going to get ourselves and the old Douglas to Tasmania now?
At least we have some options. Our good friends had some space in their trailer to take the old bike and we could ride our BMWs or take the Ural outfit so we would still get some camping in. The Ural option won, so it was a quick rethink on the packing and we were ready to set off for Melbourne on Friday to catch the ferry on Saturday.
Conveniently, my big brother lives in Melbourne and was able to put us up for the night.
All went well though rather slow down the Hume highway until all of a sudden the rear tyre went flat. One good thing about Ural, they provide an enormous tool kit plus grandpa had purchased a jack for just such an occasion. It didn’t take too long and we were back on the road.
One or two wrong turns the next morning and we arrived early for the Spirit of Tasmania. It was running late and was still on its way in. We left 2.5 hours late so had plenty of time to chat to other motorcyclists and hear all their stories. A crazy guy from Western Australia, a Melbourne bloke who was just going to Tassie for a week ride and an Italian woman riding her bike all over the world. We did a lap of the boat and found a few good spots to pass the time but mostly at the stern deck just watching the water. The sea was so blue, inky blue.

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We got into Ulverstone late and put up the tent we haven’t used for two years in the dark. The rally started on Sunday, out came the Douglas for the first days run and Paula and I went for a walk in Naw I want to poo National Park. I even saw a seal from up on the headland.
Monday I had a ride on the 1914 Douglas and tried to remember all the quirks like the foot clutch goes forward not down, the air lever is on top and the fuel lever below (no twist grip on this baby) and don’t stop with your foot on the clutch and the brake as you will fall over. Luckily I didn’t do that. It starts really easy, just push, push, push and let out the decompression lever and it fires and your away. I got plenty of starting practice because, even though I could put it back to neutral or low gear at intersections, it really requires a lot of time and forethought and mostly it was easier to just stop it and then get going again. By the end of the week I was getting the hang of it though.
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We had another tourist day to the Tarkine forest and saw sinkholes, walked up hills and saw lots of beautiful greenery and trees. Surrounding all of this is forestry and plantations and I find it amazing that people have to fight so long and hard to protect these beautiful, small remnants of what once covered a huge area. Given half a chance, they would rip it all out.
After the rally we set off for some camping and exploring the north east. Up Jacobs ladder on Ben Lomond to a small ski field. What a road, lots of hair pins and gravel and a really steep grade. We took some dirt back roads then the highway to Scottsdale with many many corners. We stopped by a gorgeous little creek for a cuppa because Grandpa was a bit weary by then, but he was having fun just the same. A beer and a pub dinner revived him.
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No trip to Tassie is complete without a trip to a cheese factory. We stopped at Pyeangana for some great cheddar and awesome blue cheese and watched the cows coming into the automated milking shed. Maybe we should buy some of these machines for the dairyfarmer in the family when we have a spare million or two.
There is lots of great camping on the coast from Bay of Fires heading north, so we thought we would cut across country via more forestry tracks. We had a map but the signs didn’t really match the numbers so we just followed our noses, ending up on the road slightly less travelled. No matter we only ended up about 20kms south of where we were aiming for but had a camping spot right on the beach and were lulled to sleep by the waves.
The next morning we rejoined the road and continued north to Mt William National Park, stopping at Eddystone lighthouse and checking out more red rocks. From here you can see Flinders Island in the distance and quite a few smaller islands closer, one with a lighthouse. The hills on Flinders look enticing.

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You have to come prepared here as there isn’t any water shops or fires allowed but we survived on hot cross buns, beer and cheese plus some dehydrated meals which were nowhere near as good as mine. There was plenty more coastline to explore, a walk up Mt William and a wind farm to visit but it started raining so we decided to go back to the tent and hang out with the kangaroos. Now they know how to relax.
Then it was our last day in Tassie and headed back to the ferry along the longest straight road in tassie between Gladstone and Bridport. We had breakfast at the best bakery in Bridport, a short walk around Launceston, then Port Sorrel and an amazing Soul burger in Devenport. A full moon was rising as we set sail and we were lucky to get a cabin with a porthole for our one night cruise.
The holiday continued with a visit our son’s dairy farm, said hello to the cows and had a quick visit to Blue Pool up past Briagalong where there is another walking track that I could check out another time.
Finally we were on our way home and made another detour to visit our daughter and family. Then it was home. It felt like we had done a lot of holidaying in two weeks. Grandpa was due for a rest because he had been working hard to keep the Ural on track but I was fine as I had been having lots of naps in the sidecar. The Ural proved itself to be a good camping mobile and I’m sure we will get plenty more adventures in it.
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Heading West – part 1

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Shiny clean and ready to go

Saturday, we headed out of Townsville and up over the Hervey range, so at last Grandpa got to ride up and over the hills. We were so excited about the next part of our trip, getting onto dirt roads and finding little places and lots of open spaces. The aim was to follow the Savannah Way, a rugged tourist drive around the Gulf country to NT. It didn’t take long. A bit of a short cut to Georgetown via Einasleigh, 70km of dirt, not too bad. We started to see wedge-tail eagles and boy were they big. No way would I stop on the side of the road for a snooze, they would carry you off.

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Lunch on the dirt

Einasleigh pub was the real deal, not just your touristy outback pub. All 5 locals were there and the publican was drinking with them, so service was slow. It did however, have a fantastic display of models made by the publican’s father.

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We camped the next night at Leichardt’s Lagoon just before Normanton. A fantastic bird filled lagoon on a station. So many water birds making noise until sundown. Even though we were in winter the sun was not setting until 6.30pm, not like at home where it would have been dark for an hour.

We were starting to see termite mounds and they got bigger and more of them.

Normanton’s icon is the giant fibreglass crocodile in the main street, meant to be life size. I know they grow big but that is hard to believe anything could grow that big and scary. We got some supplies and filled up. We need to be prepared because the next place might have a shiny new supermarket fully stocked or the truck might be due in tomorrow and there is nothing on the shelves. I love these places where you just have to wait for the chat to finish before anything happens but at least you know you can ask questions about the way ahead. That is if they get out of the place. The roads going north/south are tar and the roads east/west were mostly dirt. I suppose they figure that if you leave town you just want to get back south to civilisation.

So, on our way to Burketown. The landscape is real savannah grassland and beautiful tropical rivers. They just look like they are infested with crocs.

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120 kms of dirt road to Burketown and I was feeling pretty good about it. I was learning to handle the corrugations OK and the bikes seemed to handle them too. We got to Burketown for a fantastic Barra pie and Roadkill sausages for dinner. Too bad about intending to stay the night, the caravan park was full, but there might be room at the free camp down the creek, they said, “Yeah right, like we are going to camp there!” There was a roadhouse 30km further along the road, Tirranna Roadhouse is just a fuel stop and takeaway in the middle of nowhere but it was the direction we were going in.

Lawn Hill National Park is the place to go when you are in this part of the world but we were not sure how to arrange a visit there without backtracking too much. It would be about 400km round trip or we could stay overnight. There was another track which would make a loop right around and bring us back out onto the Savannah Way further west. So we packed up and set off through Gregory Downs to Adele’s Grove and Lawn Hill Gorge. These places were huge stations now turned into National Parks. Imagine having this paradise in your backyard. It would go some way in compensating for the isolation and heat and dust and flies and hard work of living here in the old days.

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It would have been great to spend more time and paddle along to gorges but a quick walk and a look and we were off early in the afternoon to see what the rest of the track was like.

First we came to gates into another station and then another with an obscure sign KFC? Then a creek crossing…. Kevin ploughed straight through but I had seen that there was no hard bottom on the crossing and I am sure I would fall off whether it was sand or rocks or whatever. He looked back from the other side and I was just staying put shaking my head. He looked at the next crossing and it looked deeper and what about the next one and the next. There were a few crossings still to come. I would have loved to camp there as it was one of those beautiful tropical paradise creeks with crystal clear water, paperbarks and pandanus palms. So, what now? Back to Tiranna Roadhouse and spend the night. Back along the rough, corrugated road to Gregory Downs and put up the tent again. I had had a few scary moments on the way out along this road and another 70km back along the same way made me think that all this dirt road might not be fun after all.

More discussion and talk about the road ahead. It will be OK, we told ourselves, we just need to take our time. We had supplies for 3 days and hopefully enough fuel to keep us going to Borroloola. We packed up again the next morning and set off along the tar for about 80km till it turned to dirt after Doomadgee. The corrugations started straight away and were constant. I had been having increasing problems with my right hand (the throttle hand) going numb and tingling and burning and cramping so that having to hold on to maintain control of the handlebars was getting painful. Everyone has heard the tales of bulldust up north, fine powdery dust which can be really thick. We came across this pretty soon and picking the easiest way along the road became harder and harder. We had probably gone about 10km and I had to stop. I asked Kevin, “Do you want to keep doing this for 300Km??” At least he is not the kind of bloke who has to be tough. He replied “I was wondering when you were going to stop”. Someone coming in the opposite direction stopped and they reckoned the road got worse. SO that was that decision made. We turned around and decided to go back and follow the tar to get to Northern Territory, much safer that way. It would add quite a few more miles but that was OK, we didn’t have a strict schedule to stick to. The bulldust got me though and I made a soft landing and only a broken hook on the pannier.

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We stopped back at Tirranna Roadhouse one last time for lunch and then set off south back through Gregory Downs and east to Burkes and Wills Roadhouse for the night. This is the main road heading north up to Normanton so there were tourists and road trains aplenty. The next day we continued on our circuit heading south to Cloncurry and then west to Mt Isa and Camooweal for the night. We headed further west into Northern Territory along the Barkly tableland. The country was flat as flat and no wildlife anymore. No kangaroos, no birds of prey. Not sure why that was, probably no water. There were cattle and the only fences were on the boundaries from one station to another, so with the speed limit 130k/h you need to keep your eyes open. The most amazing thing was the ‘virtual’ cattle grids painted on the roads. Either the cattle are really smart or really stupid to take notice of some lines painted on the road.

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