The Long Ride South...and, erm, back.

In Darwin, we crossed our fingers and toes as the very serious quarantine lady inspected the bike's guts with a torch.  I toyed with screaming at her about the five days of bike-washing we had suffered.  Thankfully I then untoyed with it.

She passed us, but not without another mini-jet wash.  We were free to go.... after we had put in the new starter motor. 

Our Fellow Overlanding Brits and the Also Overlanding Icelandics got through inspection OK too, but poor Sven and his old Landrover then had to be towed home.  Their luck seemed even worse than our starter motor problems, with an entirely wrecked gearbox and engine.
We pitied them.

Had we known what lay in store, we would have been far more empathetic...
being towed out of the port.

There we were, in Darwin, with the bike, having driven from England.  It felt like it should be a momentous occasion.  As it was, it was a little worrying. 

The bike was definitely not feeling happy after the perils of disassembly in Dili.  And Australian roads are FAST.  There is no faffing about with Aussie roads.  Not unless you don't mind spending a few weeks in those comfy beds in A and E.

We made it back to the house and spent a couple of days wandering around the impressive botanical gardens, and doing various tasks to try and make our weary steed happy.

Two days later, fed, showered and oil-changed (well ok, only one of the crew got an oil change), we reluctantly left Chris' house.

With Chris at the house.  This man rescued us.
We sped off down the Stuart Highway. 

An hour and a half later we were in total outback. The landscape could only have looked more Australian if a crocodile had been sat gently gnawing on a kangaroo's foot while a possum took photos of itself in a cork hat.


Look how proud I am.  You'd think I built the thing.

I couldn't find any crocodiles, but I'm sure they were around.

There was red earth. There were termite mounds. There was bush.

There wasn't a whole lot else. For miles, and miles, and miles.

a fair old distance, really...

We travelled for hundreds of kilometres, on straight, flat road.  I stopped kangaroo-hunting.  I stopped singing.  At times I stopped breathing. 

We were suffering culture shock.  It was our first real roadtrip since Flores, before that fateful day in Kupang.  There were no scooters whizzing about our heads.  There were no overloaded buses with goats tied to the roof.  In fact there wasn't a whole lot of anything. 

The road was damn fine though, and we were in fifth gear at 100kph all day.   And the outback was eerily haunting...

In the evening we found ourselves a nice little camping spot next to the road, in bush-land.  Nothing around, for miles.  With slight trepidation (tarantulas, snakes, dingoes trying to kidnap me...), I set up camp, and changed into my pyjamas.  

Two hours later a single car drove past. 

Half an hour after that, the same car drove past again.  And stopped. 

A security officer politely informed us this was Commonwealth land, and would we please get off it. 


We politely informed him it took us an hour to pack up, and another to set up again, and could we please not get off it. 

It didn't work. 

In the dusk we packed up.  At prime kangaroo-hitting hour, we travelled the 50kms back to Katherine and spent $25 on a piece of grass. 

The man on the Katherine campsite waited for us to set up.  Then he wandered over and politely informed us we couldn't put the tent up there.  It was where the buses parked.

The next morning we woke with a mildly fuzzy head thanks to 'goon' (the Aussie term for cheap boxed wine- considered a tramps drink, but actually quite quaffable...), and went on our merry way.

Not a lot happened. 

We stopped in tiny outback 'towns'. 

In Adelaide River we ate overpriced chips with a Melbourne film-maker who looked exactly like a Blues Brother. 

We found a Swedish cyclist perspiring freely near the Tortilla Flats. 

We sniggered at the dusty postcards in Larrimah, and stopped sniggering when we realised we couldn't afford a drink. 

We met this dude.

Strike a pose.

We rocked up at Daly Waters, the famous outback pub, and asked for a job.  It was on the tip-off of an old Southern cowboy and his missus we found on the road.  They were travelling for four days to reach their million-acre ranch up north. 

Sadly the Daly Waters had a zillion backpackers who wanted to work there, and didn't want us.  We stayed for a drink anyway.

Little did we know we'd be there again far too soon.

Fifty kilometers down the road, strange noises started...

Still zooming along in fifth gear, we began to hear serious clunking.

Then grinding noises in 5th and 3rd. 

It all got a bit painful to listen to, and we crept along in 4th to pull up at Dunmarra, the next pitstop. 

We dragged everything off the bike and did some investigating.  It wasn't looking good.  It had finally happened.  The bodge-job we'd done in Thailand to repair the driveshaft had finally taken its toll, and royally messed up the gearbox bearings. 

We were 700kms from the nearest town of any size.   It was going to be one hell of a costly excercise, no matter the outcome.

The next town, 300kms down the highway, was Elliott, a town of 600 inhabitants.  There was a mechanic.  Allegedly he was expensive and rubbish to boot. 

The garage-lady sent us back up the road to Daly Waters, where despite a total population of 9, there was in fact a mechanic. 

We convinced each other he would know what he was doing, so we could order bearings from Darwin, who would of course have them in stock, and get it all done within a couple of days.  So fortified, we set off.

We crept, petrified the gearbox would explode on us.  (A fellow rider had optimistically suggested this might happen when we'd asked for gearbox advice in the past.  I really wish he hadn't...)

The only gear we could move in was 4th, so 4th it was.

We made it.  It took us over an hour, and several lifetimes of worry, but we made it.

Back at the cheering Daly Waters pub again, we immediately drowned our sorrows, and joined the rowdy rabble of travellers. 

Incredibly, three separate BMW-riders turned up to try their hardest to solve our problems.

In the meantime a hairy old guy from the pub tried to crack onto me.

We found some reptiles to comfort ourselves with.

This is a cane toad.  Mostly you see them dead.  That's because people shoot them.  They are immigrants to the country, and everyone's heard of Australian immigration policy.

a tree-frog.  these guys are everywhere.
Adam, the next morning, on realising the problem had not gone away overnight...

We made all the right noises to appease the very friendly but slightly worried BMWers about the wisdom of riding a dead bike, and set off to the local mechanic down the track. 

He was a friendly guy, but there was nothing he could do.  He was a car mechanic, and had never been anywhere near a BMW bike.  He sent us on our way, 300kms back to Katherine, where, he assured us, there was a bike garage who would definitely be able to sort it all out.

...back we go.
It was a slow old ride.  I had been wondering whether zooming along at 100kph the first time I had missed something.  Er, well, no. 

Road-trains overtook us.  So did the Landcruisers.  So did everything, in fact. 

In Katherine, 300kms later, we found the bike shop.  It was a well set up workshop with sparkly Harleys out the front.   We cheered up.

Then we found the mechanic. 

Adam started explaining the problem. 

The mechanic's reaction was bizarre.  Without waiting for him to finish, he told him there was absolutely no way he was going to do it, he didn't have time, even if he did have time it wouldn't be worth his effort, No way, No. 

Then he walked off.

Right then.  Well, that was that.

On the way out I kicked his stupid shiny Harleys.   

We had travelled 300kms in the wrong direction to find the only person who could help us, and he didn't want to.  Or couldn't.   Or something.

It was too late to do much else, so we spent the night in Katherine. 

It was a full moon, and late in the evening about 300 enormous fruit bats flew straight over our tent in the trees, where they started to fight each other.  There's nothing quite as uplifting as watching fruitbats chuck each other out of a tree.  I think someone sent them to cheer me up.

The next morning we sat about drinking coffee with an old guy who'd spent much of his life living in his tent, all over Northern Australia.  He ate hamburgers for breakfast and told us stories.

Some time after this we realised there was nothing for it.  We were going to have to ride all the way back to Darwin. 

We saddled up for a long, slow ride.

Not a lot happened for a while.

Somewhere near Pine Creek we started leaking really quite impressive amounts of oil.

An 80yr old BMWer riding around Australia pulled up and told us to put it on a truck.

We were fairly sure as long as we kept topping up the oil, the stupid bike would make it, so on we went.

Adam, a little unhappy on discovering the oil situation.

a roadtrain overtaking our measly 70kph...

where the hell is Noonamah???

Finally we made it back to Darwin, in 4th gear.  We found Sven's hotel, not wanting to land ourselves on Chris yet again, and settled in.  Sven was, not surprisingly, very understanding.

At BMW we found a much friendlier mechanic, and thought we were saved.

It wasn't going to be that easy.  The mechanic agreed to help us at his usual rate, if he could squeeze us in, if we provided the repair manuals for the work, if we took the gearbox out ourselves and gave it to him, and if we provided the bearings.  It seemed like a few too many ifs...

The next morning we posted SOS messages on the motorcycle forums.  We had a massive response from all over the world, and were struck by how much everyone helps each other out.  Someone sent us a manual.  Then someone else sent us another one.  Everyone agreed it wasn't going to be a fun job, mechanic or no mechanic. 

Then we found another Darwinian Saint in the form of Adrian, aka Podge NT, who sent us a message on ADV.  He turned up half an hour later on his shiny BMW for a chat, and offered us his incredibly well-equipped workshop, and his advice.   I think I might have had his arm off.

Getting the gearbox out in Adrian's workshop 

Adam called to order the bearings from the UK and found a helpful stranger there too, who offered us a second-hand reconditioned gearbox for 350 quid including postage.  We rejoiced.  Neither us nor a mechanic was going to have to fartle around inside the gearbox.  Bloody good job considering the BMW mechanic had got back in touch and told his price: $150 an hour.

Adam and Adrian, hard at work whacking the exhaust- iik.

One dilapidated bike and a happy Adam- the gearbox is out.
Some few slightly tense hours later, the gearbox was out.

And now the bike sits prone, waiting for the new one, and we've spent Easter weekend enjoying our air-conditioned hotel and having barbecues by the pool with Sven and the Icelanders and the Overlanding Brits.

Nothing can happen until later this week, when DHL will cause all sorts of excitement with their package.

For the meantime: here is a picture of my first ever possum, found in the back yard.


  1. crikey, last I thought you guys were still in dili or is it deli? I must have missed an episode.
    Sounds about right for aussie rednecks... I live in Perth and don't understand the way of life in outback redneck land. there are some really nice people out there however.. good luck on the rest :)

  2. yeah we've met a ton of good peoples here so far, just that odd one and he's to be found everywhere. most everyone's been really cool, apart from THAT mechanic...

    anyway, part's here, so on our way again soon :)


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