I'd always wanted to ride a motorcycle, so when I finally got my license, it didn't take long for me to saddle up and explore the coast to Townsville and Magnetic Island, inland to Charters Towers, and through cattle country back to Cairns.
With hopes of escaping the drizzling rain that had been falling upon Cairns for the week past, I strapped my bags onto the back of my recently purchased Honda CB400 and started to ride south towards Townsville. I picked up some electrical bits and pieces so I could wire a charging system for my phone and wired it to the bike at the roadhouse in Gordonvale where I refuelled, checked air pressure and stuffed myself with some GFC (Golden Fried Chicken). As I was adding air, I watched my valve cover roll into a crevice between the road and the curb. After failing to get my trusty Leatherman to accomplish the task, I chucked to myself as this Asian pulled out a pair of chopsticks and with careful dexterity, retrieved the fallen cap as if it was the last dim sum on the table. Everything in order, I made it to Townsville Harbour with a quick stop at the El Arish Tavern to catch up with an old mate.
I made it in time for the last vehicle ferry, 6pm departure. As I was waiting, I looked up and saw a sliver of the moon and wondered how I could be going to a 'Full Moon' party the following day. After arriving at Base Backpackers, I hastily I set up my tent before hopping back on two wheels to explore the island. 'Twas clear skies, cool breeze and provided me with spectacular views of Townsville's skyline. The roads were deserted which made for relaxing riding, however, as the motor between my legs rumbled, so did my belly. Unfortunately, I should have read the empty roads as a sign that it was because nobody had anyplace to go...including restaurants. Painfully hungry, I returned to Base where I had a beer and tobacco dinner while I waited for my Dutch friends Jaap and Mark to arrive on the last passenger ferry.
The following night was the Full Moon Party. Although there were many people (many Canadians), it was a little bit of a let down for all the hype. The 'Naughty Nautical' theme had many Sailor Moon costumes and guys wearing tacky Hawaiian shirts. Thailand style buckets were being sold by the dozens, and roaming security kept the aggression to a minimum. DJ’s were brought in, but the music was both dissatisfying and lacking volume. None the less, we were with a good bunch of people and I did have a really good time. I did not stay up until the sun rose; I made my decision to call it a night when the following three signs presented themselves: 1. I fell backwards on my head because I thought we were sitting on a picnic table with back rests, 2. The result of my fall was a security guard hustled over and kicked out my mate who was sitting next to me, 3. Thoughts of dragon slaying flickered through my head.
I had thought that post Full Moon Party would be an unproductive day, however, quite the opposite. I explored as much of the Island as I could, fighting through dehydration and a splitting headache. With little problem except for some slipping and sliding, I took my bike down the roads that were 'apparently' suitable only for 4WD vehicles. These places such as West Point and Radical Bay proved to be spectacular. Even though the Island was full, the difficult accessibility made it possible to have deserted beaches, peace and tranquility. I went on a few walks, the Forts Walk gave me awesome views and a bit of history, along with a lucky Koala spotting. Three of them actually, two adults and a baby in the pouch. I loved Magnetic Island and I will definitely go back again.
The road to Charters Towers was my best strip of riding that I have done so far. We left the sprinkling skies of Townsville and entered clear blue skies, clear roads, and stunning landscapes. It was on this road where I was able to truly test the limits of the bike. In under an hour, we made it 20km shy of Charters Towers and set up camp at Macrossan Park. In between two bridges, one for vehicles and the other for trains, countless Grey Nomads had set up camp, capitalising on the free site next to the banks of the Burdekin River. The large caravans and Cruisers, towered over our three little tents. With strong winds and hard ground, I had to use my bike as an anchor for my tent, otherwise, it would have blown away like a kite. That night I was able to try my new camp stove that I had recently purchased in Townsville. With Methylated Spirits as fuel, I rapidly boiled water for coffee, fried sausages and heated up my soup. Because of the rising and falling river waters between seasons, it was incredibly easy to find scattered piles of firewood, stranded as the dry sucked away its mode of transport. As dusk approached, we set up fire dangerously close to the long dry grass and sat around chatting and wondering if the hundreds of 'diamond eyed' spiders were plotting an ambush.
Charters Towers was once the center of a gold rush started by the discovery of gold in 1871 by 12 year old Jupiter Mosman. Although unprofitable, the remnants of capital investment in the towns city center still remain and is home to approximately 10,000 people. Upon Towers Hill, where the initial gold was discovered,
now holds a lookout over the city and good interpretive signage giving its visitors a brief history of the town. The hill is littered with abandoned mine shafts and the remains of WWII bunkers. Being late afternoon on a Sunday, the town was a ghost town. Only a scatter of shops were open, enough for us to buy some Mcdonalds and Methylated Spirits. I doubted that the following day would show much difference in traffic and reflected on how much different of a life people lived here compared to those in major metropolitan cities.
After Charters Towers, I intended to make a stop in one of the small townships along the way, possible Greenvale or The Lynd. After stopping in the first for food, and the second for petrol, the isolation and creepiness of a town with a population of 2 got to me and I continued on north and arrived at Undara in the late afternoon. The main attraction of this national park are the lava tubes created by the slow eruption of the area's youngest volcano, Undara. 150,000 years ago, lava oozed out of the ground and flowed along ancient rivers, boring through the basalt rock layer left behind by countless other volcanos which had erupted millions of years prior. The insulated lava continued to flow long after Undara stopped erupting eventually emptying out into a basin at river's end. This left behind a long serpent like tube with many openings where the roof's structural integrity failed. Of the 132 known sections, Undara guides take visitors all year round through 8 of them, explaining their history, unique characteristics, telling stories, and showing the various wildlife that now call it their home. Undara is a great place to spend a few days. There are plenty of walking tracks or tours to do during the day, and each evening, the are campfire activities such as sing alongs, crocodile talks, and story telling.
I awoke at 5am to the calling of nature. As I unzipped my tent and stuck my head out, I noticed the spectacular view of the night's sky dotted with specs of glitter. I decided to start the day early and enjoy the view with a cup of coffee. As I lowered my food bag from the upper tree branches, a Canadian camping tactic that I put into place the night before under the assumption that dingos and bears are one in the same, I realised that my first casualty from hastily packing the bike was my jar of coffee which now lay strewn along some back country road. So instead of coffee, I made far too much oatmeal and enjoyed the peacefulness of the outback as I welcomed the sun into the day.
My next intended stop was somewhere in the Cairns tablelands. After passing through Ravenshoe, Queensland's highest town, I stopped in the historic mining town of Herberton to discover the rich history this town held and that there are numerous walking tracks to wander and abandoned mine shafts to fall down. I'll have to make a mental note to return for an expedition. On my way to Atherton, eager to venture north and explore to find a camping spot, I came across some road works. As the road was unsealed, uneven and wet, I was concentrating on staying upright as I approached the traffic control person. Coming to a complete stop, I put my right foot down only for it to find soft slippery mud and down I went. With a bruised ego and broken brake lever, I decided to call it a trip and I weaved back to Cairns via Kuranda.
Over all my short tour was absolutely fulfilling. The freedom of riding a motorcycle through the Australian outback added fuel to my already burning desire for adventure. The danger and risk of this reminded to me by the scattered of various road kill passed along the way, emus, pigs, cattle, kangaroos, and Wedge tailed Eagles to name a few. I wondered, if I was to come off my bike, would I be passed like a fallen Wallaby, to have my bones picked clean by natures creatures? In a way, this inevitable end will eventually come, the only question remains, will I walk along the road wondering what lays across, or cross, embracing the road less travelled in search of something unknown and without definition.