Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Motorcycling in Australia - pt 6 Back to Bright, last days

Echuca. A small town formally an important port on the mighty Murray river with paddle steamers offering the many tourists leisurely trips. An abundance of cafes and specialty boutique style stores, a very popular spot for travellers.

However having visited previously and my desire to discover places new sent my riding north across the river back into NSW and beyond.

Click map for enlargement.

So on my last leg of my journey and trying to deny the fact that shortly the bike must be returned and work awaited back across the ditch, I needed to get back into the outback as much as possible.

North of Echuca is Deniliquin, the Ute capital of the world. Alot of farming stations in this area that support the need and desire to own a Ute.

North of Deniliquin the road became straight again.
The landscape completely and totally flat... and treeless.
Almost half way to Hay the next town, stood a lone tree, or the dead trunk that still managed to stand. As I approached a huge wedge tail eagle flew from the nest, lifting its huge 1 metre tall body into the air to circle high above until I left the area.

Once arriving at Hay, another smallish town, I continued north to a derelict pub 40km out of town. This pub is completely in the middle of a huge unpopulated flat expanse of silence. Apparently it has been bought and the new owner plans to restore and open again. I am thinking a trip back here in a couple of years is needed, to have a drink at the pub.

Half way back to Hay I stopped to enjoy the sunset. As I was a couple of hours too early I sat and became completely immersed in the fantastic environment surrounding me. The huge space is something that soothes and mesmerises me. The quiet, so huge it can almost be felt, only broken by a Skylark singing from some lofty place in the big sky, or the frogs chirping from the recently filled pond, or the clicking grasshoppers and other insects in the grass world. Time seemed to be still and I felt as one with the nature and world around me. How I wished to sleep there for the night and let my spirit feel the night on these huge flat plains.
Sunset came gently and creeping in slowly swallowing the bright light of the day leaving the plains bathed in the golden light of dusk.
The fragile sounds of the day quietening to a almost deafening silence until some hidden evening sounds emerged.
The sun disappearing over the flattest of land, leaving me with extreme emotions from total joy to sadness.
So hard it was to return to human habitation that night.

The following day I headed east across the flat plains. Gradually I noticed the landscape changing. Soon I was in gently rolling hill country with farms and forest.

The beginning of the great dividing range, the mountain country of Australia.

A quick stop at Wagga Wagga, a much too big town for me and then through to Tumut.

Tumut, familiar to me from a previous visit, is part of the hydro electricity production scheme in the mountains. The lakes beautiful, though very low at the present.

Up from Tumut onto the high plains.
Through the alpine areas of Australias highest mountains the road at 1250 metres above sea level and very gusty wind.
Past Mt Kosciuszko and Jindabyne ski area. Wonderful twisty roads, alot of fun after the thousands of straight kilometres behind me.
This area familiar to me and so wonderful to be here again.
Once over the high plains the road descends in lovely switchback corners and winding curves emerging in the rolling hill country where I crossed the border back into Victoria. Stayed a night at Corryong, famous for Man From Snowy River connections.

Waking the next morning, excited with anticipation of returning to Bright, the small town in which I lived and taught in 2002. Fighting the urge to take the quickest route, I headed out onto a previously untraveled gravel road over the mountains.

A wonderful ride up through deliciously scented eucalyptus forest, teeming with bird life.
Good quality gravel road that meandered up into the mountains.
Gradually climbing up higher into the mist and cloud. Temperatures here suddenly lower and actually needing extra clothes under my jacket, a huge difference from a few days ago.

From the top I was able to see Victoria's highest mountain, Mt Bogong, across valleys to the south.

Descending into the valley brought sadness as the evidence of the recent forest fires became apparent. Burnt stark trees standing sadly, bare skeletons on the hillside. I slowly passed through this burnt landscape, the scent of burnt charred embers still lingering in the still morning air.
Stopping to attend to a tear, I was to discover something wonderful.
On closer inspection, new growth was to be seen. leaves starting to sprout directly from the trunks. I was to learn later that this forest was burnt a year ago. Within a year new leaves sprout. The following year the leaves drop and new branches sprout and grow. The tree survives the fire to grow again.

Further on, Dinner Plain high plains and near Mt Hotham, again my heart is touched as I see this very familiar landscaped scarred from the recent fires. Since living here, two huge fires have torn through, in 2003 just after I left and again in 2006.

How long will it take to completely recover? From this devastating fire comes life, many of the trees rely upon the heat of the flames to open seed pods.
However all the wee animals must have suffered terribly.
Up on Dinner Plain some of the areas were missed by the flames. This area once farmed by cattlemen droving cattle up here during the warm months and taking them to lower pastures when the snow comes. Many wonderful little cattleman's hut remain, used now by hikers. A very beautiful warm and sunny place.

Riding down to the valley from Mt Hotham my heart racing as the kilometres were covered.... feelings of coming home overtaking me.

Dropping into the valley and into the little village of Harriettville, all familiar and welcoming.
A short ride along the valley floor, forest covered ridges running alongside. Afew horses and cattle, a salmon farm, fruit and nut orchards. lavender farm, all bringing many memories of cycling and horse riding here.
Approaching Bright the years of being absent brings recognition of new homes built and development.

So setting up camp still feeling emotional about being here, and I hear a voice not heard for 5 or so years. I discovered, camped nearby a hang gliding friend from England, here for the summer flying. Bright being one of the best places for this activity.

So catching up with another hang gliding pilot, they decided to fly. I accompanying them to the launch site and drove the vehicle back down, stopping often to feast on the best blackberries ever.

So after the flying John suggested we take the motorcycles for a ride up the tracks through the forest. Up to a lookout over the town. A bit much of a challenge for me but great fun.

Mt Buffalo in the background, another wonderful hiking area and launch site.

From Apex lookout a wonderful view of this lovely little town, Bright, surrounded with wilderness.

So with a visit to the school and the warmest welcome imaginable by staff and my previous students, it was very hard to leave this little haven.
Remembering the leaving day 5 years ago, I had the feeling I would return, and that feeling prevails. When the time is right I will be in Bright!

Until that time it was a bit of a dreary ride across the state to return the

motorcycle. Caught in rain and high wind on the final 2days I was almost ready to hand over my trusty friend Bluey. So many beautiful places that touched my very soul. Generous friendly people that restored my faith in humanity some. So many challenges and unexpected experiences that I was able to overcome and adapt to. So much achieved that I dreamed about and more that I did not expect. So much personal growth, believing in myself knowing I can have adventures alone and am accepted by others in unfamiliar environs. So much enjoyment, every day every moment I absolutely loved. Even those frightening times riding in the sand and feeling out of control. Such fabulous memories and images. Yet of course a sadness for ending my days of freedom and adventure.

So now 3 months back and well and truly into my wet, windy, cold Wellington life.
However I am starting to dream again, where to next...............................

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Motorcycling in Australia - pt 5 Mungo National Park

From Burra I headed to Mildura and the gateway to Mungo National Park. In 2002 when living in Bright, Victoria, I planned to visit Mungo but never made it, so was very excited to share its treasures, and many treasures there are...

(click map to enlarge)

Mildura seemed to me to be just another biggish town with my much avoided fast food stores. Oh for the little towns with out Mc Ds and KFC !!

Just out of Wentworth west of Mildura I found some beautiful sand dunes. Stunning with the evening light. Another photographers dream location.

The patterns of the sand I found mesmerising and incredibly seductive, I just can not get enough of this wonderful textural and colourful world

Such a wonderful simple landscape with so much passion and awe.

In detail so fragile and delicate hidden mysteries and secrets

Reflecting and holding the last light of the day, creating wonderful pattens and smooth shapes.

So very quiet and peaceful was this spacious place. My heart in love and my spirit at such peace here. I felt like I had arrived. For so long I had dreamed about being amongst dunes and surrounded with such space. Being here is beautiful with its spiritual aura engulfing me in its beauty.

Waking early next morn with the dream of Mungo consuming me

With some information gained from the Aboriginal guide I decided to take the slightly shorter and less busy, dirt road to Mungo. Needing to take fuel I again tanked up with 5 litres spare and set off.

However after much harsh riding through rough corrugated hard packed surface and then soft bull dust and sand , I discovered my spare fuel
tank had shaken off and lost on the road.
Thankfully I was to meet a lone farmer on the road checking his fences or something. He kindly offered to fill my fuel tank to allow me to continue to Mungo and make it out to the nearest fuel station at Pooncarie.
Such kind souls these tough Aussie farmers.

So on to Mungo. The dirt road often catching me with the soft sand. Hard slow going for me in incredible heat. Upon arriving I set up tent after a chat with the two Aboriginal staff at the information centre. I decided to take a rest before the sunset tour. But had a problem. With the doors of the tent open the persistent flies harassed me and with it closed the 50degree heat was too much to bear.
Thankfully Rod one of the rangers arrived to talk me into taking one of the air conditioned shearers quarters units for the night. Believe me it did not take much convincing!!

So after indulging in cool environs and relaxing serenely I braved the never ceasing heat to join the tour.

Graham our Aboriginal guide is a wealth of knowledge on the Aboriginal, archaeological and geological history of this amazing place. Once, about 40,000 years ago this area being a lush lake area sustaining Aboriginal communities living on the shores. The layers of silt and sand that gathered over the years has now been eroded exposing the secrets of the past. Graham pointed out black circular areas among the white silt, which are the fossilised remains of camp fires from thousands of years ago.

Grahams knowledge and connection to this great land was very passionate and inspirational. His perception of the disgraceful treatment of the earth hit home with me as I completely sympathise with his view. I found him to be a very inspirational man indeed.

And what an inspirational place, so full of history and spirits.

See more images here

And so very beautiful with stunning colours and shapes.

After the most memorable night at Mungo under the glorious stars so vivid and radiant I headed out to the main road and up to Poonacarie to fuel up. Then back through Mildura and south.

At this point the bike started to demand attention. Running rough I drained some of the fuel line and cleaned the spark plugs hoping for an improvement, which seemed to work. However a little further down the road the front tyre started to feel very strange. Such luck it was that I was only a couple of km out of a little town where I was able to find a place to repair it.

From here I travelled west back towards Adelaide, not that I had any intention of visiting the city. However I did have a desire to check out where the Murray River meets the ocean. So all the way down to the bay I rode. Through another Wellington and unbelievable it was more uninviting the the previous one, and incredibly windy!

This whole area being very windy and to me unattractive I did not loiter long.

Consulting the map I followed the Murray back north towards my destination of Morgan, a small town on the Murray River kept alive I think by the many 'shack' owners who visit weekends and holidays. The Murray River I found to be impressive in its wanderings, cutting its way through high cliffs and lagoons which sheltered a multitude of bird life. I, about this time, was getting the idea of kayaking the length of the Murray from the Great Dividing Range to the ocean. Would be fun I think!

Upon arrival at Morgan I decided to fill in time, as I was due to meet my cousin, one of the 'shack' owners, that evening. So I took a ride out into the countryside on the search for Mt Marys pub where I was told I could get the best meal ever. The company I was keeping in the pub where I acquired this information, was lacking in stimulating conversation, so I decided to try my luck at Mt Mary.

Mt Mary was once a busy town with its own school, post office and the railway carting trees from here to Morgan to fuel the paddle steamers. However now the total permanent population numbers 2. The barman and his lovely wife.

These cheerful people run the pub and provide fantastic meals.

As dusk came I decided to take advantage of the light and photograph. This is when I discovered the dear of Blue bike would not run. So it was parked up and I was invited to join a small partly of folk on the porch for a drink and chat. Turned out two of the group had grown up here 60 or so years ago, and the wonderful stories they had to tell!

What a wonderful evening with these friendly genuine people.

And the bike..............well a young guy happened to pull up in his Ute. Brian one of the locals organised the bike to be taken back to Morgan for me.

And the next day I picked it up from one house pushed it across a road and down a bit to Kerv's house.

Kerv is one of the memorable characters from this trip. Motorcycle mad, with a shed full of classic to brand new bikes including a Wasp side car dirt racing bike, old Honda side car police bike, 1200BMWGS and various others. After meeting him for a few minutes a couple of things became apparent. He is passionate about motorcycles and he knows his stuff. So with a little help from bystanders he soon found the problem, dirty watery fuel and a dirty tank. He had it sorted shortly after.

I am not quite sure about what he thought of this silly little kiwi wandering around in the desert in summer ! But he treated me with much respect as a fellow motorcyclist and I feel very privileged to have met this very interesting, energetic and passionate man. He tells me he is having his 3rd 21 birthday next January.
So on the day I needed to leave these lovely kind people he decided to ride with me awhile. First stop to Brians block out in the bush, down a dirt road.
Brian is one of many people I met who have become concerned for the environment and making efforts to retain its naturalness.

He provides water for a group of young wild emu who have become tame to humans and provided me with a really good close up look at these fantastic birds. Stroking their bodies I discovered they are bony creatures with the hugest thighs you ever seen! No wonder they can run so fast.

So it was again I was to leave a place and people with a sad heart, but one full of warmth with faith in the human race after spending time with down to earth decent people who extended such kindness to me.

Another character I was to meet around this time at my camp site was this Major Mitchell Parrot. He delighted me for an hour or so playing on the wire. Spinning around the wire hanging upside down with just his beak, or one leg. Flying back and forth to the tree. He was just so full of love for life, delighting in being .
We can certainly learn alot from these wonderful creatures. And how cruel it is to lock them up in a cage denying them the freedom to dance to life as this little guy was.
These elegant Ibis also charmed me with their beauty
And on my was back through Mildura ,toward Echuca I took a little break near the river, and was entertained and amused by these lovely local aboriginal lads showing off.

So into Echuca I ride caught in a rather heavy thunder storm.
Treated myself to a hotel room for the night and consulting my map decided to check out Hay, one of the flattest places in the world apparantly.

So that will be in the next and final instalment of my wonderful adventure....................