We’ve got around a bit at CMG over the last 20 years, riding bikes in all the best and worst places, just for you. Back in 2009, we ordered Steve Bond to follow the convicts and visit Australia to test-ride the new Yamaha R1 at the Philip Island track near Melbourne, and he dutifully obliged.
He didn’t seem to be in any hurry to return to the Ontario winter, however, and persuaded Yamaha that he really ought to put in some time on a more street-friendly motorcycle. And that was the last we heard from him for six days.
He eventually emerged after 3,400 kilometres, blistered from the heat and gibbering uncontrollably. He was prised from the Yamaha FZ1 and put on a plane back home to the welcoming snow. Somewhere along the way, he managed to spit out the story of his own six-day endurance trial and we share it with you here. Enjoy. -Ed.
Words and photos by Steve Bond
“Has the dog sniffed your bag?” asked the attractive uniformed lady as I waited for my luggage in the Sydney airport.
I thought for a second, but the reality of the situation hit me and I decided it was best left unsaid. My rollie bag finally appeared and I presented it, plus my backpack, to a disinterested beagle who declared me and my bag contraband-free.
Just getting to Australia is the Iron Butt Rally of air travel. Five hours from Toronto to Los Angeles, a two-hour layover (where Kiefer Sutherland is one security line over from me) and then 13 hours to Sydney – a flight that seemed twice that long due to the in-flight Adam Sandler movie.
When I finally arrive, it is with the jolly demeanor of a Gulag prisoner.
THINGS THAT CAN KILL …
When I was invited to ride the new R1 in Australia, it made no sense to go all that way only to come straight home again, so I plunked down the plastic, extended my airline ticket and put in a request for an FJR1300 through Yamaha Australia.
Despite reading Things That Can Kill You in Australia (Volumes 1 through 26), I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to escape the Canadian winter and do some touring.
Exiting downtown, I notice a couple of peeler bars and it begs the question: much like a draining sink, do strippers rotate around the pole in the opposite direction in the Southern Hemisphere? Sadly, I don’t have time to actively research the question but the physics of it all remains with me for the rest of the day.
On a related note, since my bicycle shorts were uninhabitable after the track session (leaving my delicate nether regions chaffed from the resulting underwear abrasion) I’d taken the advice of my friend Jean Gattie on long-distance riding and decided to go “commando”, which seems to work quite well.
By the time I hit the town of Nowra, an information kiosk reads 42 degrees. My gloves are soaked with sweat and I forgo protection in favour of making it more tolerable and stuff them under the cargo net.
Within an hour, the backs of both hands are red and starting to blister – the Aussie sun is indeed ferocious. The heat almost finishes me off and after a paltry 300 km, I decide to call it a day and stay my first night in Bateman’s Bay.
It’s a scenic coastal town with surf, and flat sandy beaches where a swimmer had his hand chewed by a shark that very afternoon (as per Volume 16, Chapter two, page 26 of Things That Can Kill You in Australia).
Okay, so no dip for me then.
ONE GREAT ROAD
The next morning is a fresh start and I take scenic Highway 1 aka the Princes Highway, a two-laner that will take me all the way to Melbourne, about 1,000 km away. It’s a nice road, traversing through forests, rocky outcroppings, farms, scrub brush and coastal areas with pavement we’d kill for in Southern Ontario.
I haven’t seen much in the way of wildlife – a few roadkilled roos and wombats (which look like 50-pound groundhogs) and a dead snake the size of a fire hose, but other than ravens and wild parrots, nothing.
Along a stretch of farm country, I spied an echidna (spiny anteater) but when I got close to photograph it, it wadded itself up into a spiky ball, dug its claws in the ground and I couldn’t budge it.
My third day gets me past Melbourne and onto The Great Ocean Road, one of my “must see” destinations of this trip. Hand-carved from the coastline by Australian servicemen returning after the First World War , it officially begins at the Memorial Arch, about 150 kilometres west of Melbourne.
In Southern Ontario, a 20-kilometre stretch of twisty road is nirvana; The Great Ocean Road is 250 kilometres of such heaven. It clings to the coast past pristine beaches, rocky headlands, sheer cliffs and towering forests.
The pavement is baby-bottom smooth and, even though it’s Friday of the Australia Day long weekend, traffic is light and when I come up behind a car, they all use the numerous pull-off spots to let me by. Very civilized.
An interesting side trip is the Cape Otway lighthouse, the oldest surviving lighthouse in Australia, which has been in continuous operation since 1848. Prior to its construction, hundreds of lives were lost here on the aptly-named Shipwreck Coast. Near the lighthouse, I notice numerous koalas lounging in the trees.
About 100 km west of Apollo Bay is a natural wonder called the 12 Apostles – rocky outcroppings that were once part of the mainland but millions of years of erosion have worn away the softer rock, leaving the hardier formations to withstand the relentless grinding of the ocean. (Which reminds us – did you ever figure out about the strippers and the poles? -Ed.)
It’s an ongoing process as two of the 60-metre-high Apostles tumbled into the sea in recent memory, one in 2005. I’m experiencing the same feeling of reverence I got when I first looked upon the Grand Canyon. The rest of the tourists are obviously feeling the same way as everyone speaks in hushed tones, as if not to break the reverie.
In the parking lot, my thoughts are disrupted when I’m accosted by a Red Wings fan who takes exception to my Toronto Maple Leafs hat. And they know the Leafs suck half a world away. Sigh.
I decide that I’ve done as much of the Great Ocean Road as I have time for and turn around and head back for Melbourne – retracing a 150-km stretch of greatness.
MORE GREAT ROADS
On the return leg, I take The Great Alpine Road, which starts back at Bairnsdale (another 500 kilometres east of Melbourne) and traverses The Great Dividing Range (it seems that all is Great in Australia) before ending in the wine country at Wangaratta.
The terrain varies from rolling hills to desert to eucalyptus forest to alpine meadows. It twists and turns northward for more than 300 kilometres with an incredible variety of entertaining corners and, even though it’s now the Saturday of the long weekend, I go stretches of 20 minutes or more without seeing another vehicle.
If this isn’t heaven for a motorcyclist then it’s gotta be in the same postal code and for once, I don’t curse the sportiness of the FZ.
The pinnacle of the Great Alpine Road is Mount Hotham, at 1,861 metres, one of the more popular Australian ski areas — at least in the winter. Here, the road is tight and twisty for almost 80 kilometres – yee-hah!
By the time I get to Wangaratta, it’s 8 p.m., and I’ve covered more than 800 km since I set off that morning, mostly two-lane twisty roads.
Next stop is Canberra, the Australian capital, about 600 km away and I have two choices – the boring Hume Freeway or the Snowy Mountain Highway. Three guesses which one I took.
Once out of the mountains, the heat climbs to 35C again, but I reach Canberra at 5:30 p.m. I’m now into the home stretch. Sydney is only 280 kilometres away, and I notice “Driver Reviver” stations featuring free coffee and cookies. Free coffee? I’m there.
As I’m sipping, an Australian couple sits at my table and we chat. They wonder how anyone survives at minus-15C while I feel the same way about plus-40C. To an Australian, “inclement weather” means partly cloudy.
They feel obliged to tell me about Ivan Milat, Australia’s worst serial killer (see Volume 12, Chapter four, page 45, of Things That Can Kill You in Australia). “Three of his victims were found just behind those trees.” Gulp, er thanks, must be getting on.
I arrive back in Sydney in a steady drizzle, six days after leaving, having covered 3,406 kilometres in total. The FZ wasn’t the best tool for long-distance touring, but it performed flawlessly, if thirstily, averaging 5.9 L/100 km.
Six days. 3,400 kilometres. I really didn’t want to be on the road that much but I figured I could sit around and read at home. I wanted to see as much of Australia as I could. I think I did that but 3,400 klicks doesn’t even scratch the surface.
Things I learned about Australia:
Toilet is “dunny.”
Everywhere in Australia is about 1,500 kilometres from anywhere else.
Five p.m. is “beer o’clock” – my kind of place.
Order a meatpie (a traditional Aussie lunch) and it comes served on a bed of green paste. I gingerly tested it and it’s mushed peas. Tastes better than it sounds. And looks.
The only decent cup of coffee I got the entire time was at McDonalds. Everywhere else, you ask for coffee and you get some form of crappaccino.
The “Aussie Bush Salute” used to wave away the bane of the outdoors – the Australian fly. About half the size of our house fly, they don’t bite but are annoying as hell, buzzing undeterred about every facial orifice.
“G’Day” is NOT the Aussie general greeting. More than likely it’s, “How ya going?” They DO say, “No worries” an awful lot, though.