Solo Motorbike Tour of the Flinders Ranges, South Australia

I did this ride solo on my BMW R1200 GS motorbike. I’ve owned it since new (2008). The bike had its 230,000km routine service just before this ride. The engine is original and has never been overhauled. It performs as it did when new. But a thorough wash and polish no longer brings it up like new.

I rode daily for nine days and covered 3,385kms. For perspective, this is 348kms more than the road distance from Adelaide to Darwin.

The first day was my longest, when I rode 699kms from Apollo Bay to Murray Bridge in South Australia.

I started and finished at Apollo Bay on the west coast of Victoria.

My route was:

Apollo Bay – Ararat – Stawell – Horsham – Bordertown – Murray Bridge – Clare – Orroroo – Hawker – Blinman – Parachilna – Copley – Arkaroola Village – Leigh Creek – Hawker – Orroroo – Peterborough – Burra – Birdwood – Woodside – Strathalbyn – Victor Harbor (two nights) – Milang – Wellington (ferry crossing of the Murray River) – Keith – Naracoorte – Apsley – Naracoorte – Mount Gambier – Nelson – Portland – Warrnambool – Peterborough – Port Campbell – Apollo Bay (bold indicates overnight stay)

I arrived back in Apollo Bay an hour or so before sunset on Friday 23 April 2021.

The rich rolling plains of the Victorian western district. The Grampians are visible on the horizon. I rode to the Flinders on a pretty direct track, the first day taking me through Horsham and Bordertown to Murray Bridge. From there I headed north to Hawker and the Flinders Ranges.
Curious detour from the highway west of Horsham via some dirt roads, and some dirt that was barely even a road.

Murray Bridge to Blinman

I left Murray Bridge before dawn, heading north to Hawker and the Flinders Ranges. Cloud almost prevented me seeing the sunrise.
My route took me through the Adelaide hills well east of suburban Adelaide. There was low cloud and some fog over the higher hills. Reminders of Hans Heysen’s paintings were around every corner.
This layer of stratus over the Adelaide hills was very thin. Had I been in a light aircraft I could’ve overflown this area in clear blue skies at 1000′ feet or so above terrain.
An iconic sight in rural South Australia. This sandstone ruin was well north of Adelaide, not far south of Hawker. A couple of paddocks on from this location there was a substantial but temporary settlement (buildings, containers, vehicles etc) established in a stubble paddock on gently rolling country. Apparently it was the accommodation for crews from the BBC and Stan while they were making a film in the area. On my return trip the paddock was empty again.
Heading north from Hawker into the northern Flinders Ranges. Not in the Otway Ranges any more.
Completely overcast skies are not the norm in this area between Hawker and Wilpena Pound. But there were flash floods here in January this year. This cloud was brought about by a trough passing over the lower part of the state.
Looking south from higher country north of Wilpena Pound. Brief but heavy localised rainshowers fell late in the afternoon.
Blinman, the highest town in South Australia. My GS was checked out by the well known corrugated iron kangaroo on duty in front of the bakery.
The bathroom basin in the Blinman motel. The red sign says: “Do not drink ther (sic) water. Use the box water provided.”
The bore water from the taps was hard but I’ve showered in worse bore water in other parts of rural South Australia.
Behind the motel were a couple of rounded hilltops which were unexceptional until the final moments of the sunset when a narrow gap in the clouds suddenly and fleetingly turned them molten red.
Behind the Blinman motel.
L: Before dawn. R: Same scene at sunset
(Move the circular slider left and right to see the two pictures separately)
Behind the Blinman motel.
L: Before dawn. R: Same scene at sunset

Blinman to Copley via Parachilna Gorge

I left Blinman in still cold air and low light before sunrise. At this point the sunlight had reached the nearby hilltops but was not yet warming my back.
Then suddenly, as if a switch had been flicked, the sun was warming my back. Absolutely everything had a long shadow, even the stones on the road.
About to start my descent through Parachilna Gorge to the dry flatlands to the west. I saw some very healthy wild goats climbing rocks beside this road, including a robust looking shiny black billy goat, with white markings and big horns. There were a few other goats and kids with him. Wild goats seem to have road sense – I have seen plenty on previous rides and have never had one bolt across the road in front of me. Kangaroos, wallabies, emus, cattle and sheep on the other hand seem to lack road sense. On this trip I had moments with all of these creatures except cattle, and one moment with a deer, when I had to brake or steer to reduce risk. None of these were near misses though. The only near miss was with a rabbit sitting still in the middle of the road. My crash bar must have passed his ears with only mms to spare.
As I descended through Parachilna Gorge, I kept finding chilly gullies still in the shade. There were many creek bed crossings, both smaller and larger than this one.
The sun eventually catching up with me as I rode west following the gorge down to the flat country. (In the previous similar photo, the sun was not quite over the ridge).
These magnificent gum trees growing in the creek beds are a sight to see and a mystery. These creeks become deep raging torrents when flooded. Assuming such events are at least annual, how does a young gum tree sapling hold its position in the rocky and sandy soil of the creek beds when water and sizeable natural debris are flooding over it for days or longer?
It is not difficult to see how established gum trees such as this one are secure against all that floodwater can throw at it.
The road between the western edge of Parchilna gorge and the settlement of Parachilna to the west. The curves ended very abruptly. The land is flat like this all the way to Lake Torrens out to the west.

Copley to Arkaroola

Encouraging sign at the start of the dirt as I headed east from Copley.
Off the flatlands to the west of the Flinders, and eastward into the hills and gorges. This part of the road was in great condition.
Not high on the list of things I hoped to see as I rode on this remote dirt road deep in the northern Flinders Ranges en route to Arkaroola.
The triangular red flashing warning light directly under the tacho together with the symbol beside the N in the larger display indicates that the flashing tyre pressure (27 in this case) is below permitted tolerance. The flashing 27 is the reading from the rear tyre internal pressure sensor. It should have been at 42psi, but the air escaped relatively quickly. I had until about 20psi to keep riding slowly to find a suitable spot to fix the tyre. The early warning was most useful for this reason. 36psi is the correct pressure in the front tyre.
The culprit – fencing wire. Other punctures I have had over the years have been harder to find.
Painless extraction.
Perfect location for roadside repairs. Only one vehicle went past just after I parked here. It was going at a fair speed with a lot of dust. I doubt the driver saw me. Didn’t see another vehicle between then and my arrival at Arkaroola.
While I had ridden from Apollo Bay to the site of the puncture with my tyre pressures 36 front and 42 rear (psi), after fixing the puncture I decided to lower them both to 25psi. This lower pressure gives far better traction and control on gravel. At 36 and 42 on gravel roads such as these the bike slides around quite a bit. At 25psi front and back it is much more stable and feels as though it has a much more solid grip on the road. I hadn’t reduced the pressure earlier as the road was in reasonable condition and I didn’t consider it necessary. Even though the bike was moving around a bit it was tolerable and safe. But having done it, the feeling of stability and control was substantially increased. I should have done it on leaving the bitumen as I usually do. My total distance on dirt roads on the entire trip was around 300kms.

The red marker shows the exact location of my roadside puncture repairs. The Spot satellite messenger (the orange device on the left) created this location marker on a satellite image of the area.

On the eastern side of the northern Flinders Ranges, heading out of the hilly gorge country into gently undulating country.
Arkaroola reception building.
Sunset at Arkaroola.
It had been a dusty day. (Photo taken inside my motel room at Arkaroola).
This was taken only a short walk from my motel room at Arkaroola just after the moon had set. The air is wonderfully clear this far inland in good weather. I carted my tripod on the back of the motorbike all this way to allow me to take a few photos such as these in the beautifully clear night air in the ranges surrounded by desert. I’m glad I did.
This image and the following shots of the Milky Way were taken a km or so down the exit track from Arkaroola on the eastern side the settlement. I wanted to get completely away from any artificial lighting. I didn’t have to walk far to achieve this.

Arkaroola to Peterborough via Copley

I headed south from Arkaroola parallel to this mountain range on my left.
Still heading south.
The mighty GS beneath this solitary overachieving tree (at least in this neighbourhood) as I turned west to ride through the gorge country to Copley.
That left turn ahead leads down to one of many dry creek beds full of stones. The technique which seemed to give the best ride through these stone filled creek beds was to stand on the pegs, put my weight back a bit and give it a squirt of power through the loose stones. The bike would wriggle around a bit (yaw left and right for any pilots reading this) in the gravel, but with the power on and the front wheel slightly unweighted it would track straight to the more stable dirt road on the other side.
Once I returned to Copley, I was on the bitumen heading south to Hawker. I dropped in to a garage at Leigh Creek just south of Copley and restored the tyres to highway pressures (36 and 42psi front and back respectively). The temporary plug that fixed the puncture was holding well. It is said that a plug repair is only good to get you to the nearest garage or tyre supplied. I decided to see how far I could get with the repaired tyre. That highway intersects with this dirt road going off to the left (the east). This is the road to Parachilna Gorge and Blinman. The dip in the range of mountains where the gorge has carved its path can be seen in this photo.
I spent a night in a motel at Peterborough on my way to Victor Harbor. Believe it or not, when I asked at reception about parking options for the bike I was told to put it on the path right outside my door. My sort of motel.

Peterborough to Victor Harbor and the Fleurieu Peninsula

Heading south from Peterborough through the mid north of the Flinders Ranges, I was looking for some sandstone ruins on the right side of the highway so I could take a photo of it well lit by the early morning sun shining from behind me. Had to settle for what was on offer.
Heading south through the Adelaide hills en route to Victor Harbor. There were many similarly impressive avenues of gum trees.

My hosts for two nights, Barb and Colin Francis, who provided me with luxury accommodation and world class hospitality at their home in Victor Harbor. Barb and Col and Liz and I have done some extended motorbike riding together in the Victorian high country. We know them from our days in Port Lincoln in the late 1970s, when Liz nursed at the local hospital with Barb. Col owns a couple of BMW motorbikes, among numerous other vehicles. His tourer is the BMW R1200 RT. Col and I did a relaxing tour of the SW Fleurieu Peninsula on the bikes shown, including a visit to Cape Jervis.

I should also mention the other Francis family member in the photo on the left. Barb is holding Rose (pronounced as in the drink, not the flower) the affable chook. Rose and her companions live in the lap of luxury in quarters (with more than adequate indoor and outdoor living and recreation areas) built by Barb and Colin. They produce eggs (which I had for breakfast and which were delicious), and provide company of sorts. But on balance, I think these chooks came out clear winners in the deal with their life of leisure and luxury fully catered for in return for a few eggs a day which I’m guessing they were going to lay anyway. I suppose there is also the occasional less than onerous social obligation such as this photo shoot, but I don’t think that changes my assessment. As the photo shows, enthusiastic and intelligent social engagement and involvement is neither required nor provided.

Colin took me on this road less travelled on our tour of the lower Fleurieu Peninsula (see the gallery of three photos immediately following), which included the track with this vista of Cape Jervis. The land on the horizon is Kangaroo Island and the water in between is Backstairs passage.

While in Victor Harbour, my puncture repair eventually started to leak. 700kms on the repaired tyre was quite acceptable. I had a new tyre fitted in Victor Harbour.

Fleurieu Peninsula to Apsley, Victoria

Crossing the Murray River at Wellington.

At next to no notice I contacted my friend Ian to see if he was on a flying mission (a regular occurrence) or, improbably as I thought, on his farm east of Naracoorte. Turns out he was home and he kindly extended great hospitality for an overnight on the farm. Ian’s claims to fame beyond aviation and photography are too numerous to mention. But I will note two: (1) at the age of 24 he rode a Honda 50 motorcycle (50cc and top speed less than 40kph) from Adelaide to Darwin in four 15.5 hour days plus a final 15 hour day; and (2), there is cave on the Nullarbor Plain between the head of the Bight and the SA/WA border, accessible only by abseiling down from a high sheer cliff to its entrance which faces the Southern Ocean. This cave is called IOJ cave, named after Ian in honour of his voluntary services with his aircraft to exploration and mapping of cave locations in the cliffs which are visible only from sea between the head of the Bight and Eucla. This involved flying the length of that stretch of coast over the sea and below cliff top level, with high tech cameras recording the sights and other data as they flew. Ian has abseiled off the cliffs directly above the cave bearing his name, and entered the cave with the experts who were exploring, surveying and mapping the caves and tunnels penetrating inland from the cliff under the flat plains above. He is the only friend I have with a cave on the Nullarbor Plains named after him.

P.S. The Stuart Highway which connects Adelaide and Darwin was not fully sealed until February 1987. Ian’s epic ride on the Honda 50 was well before then.

This is Ian’s much loved C210 which he uses for his aerial photography business which regularly takes him to all parts of Australia. The original connection I made with Ian was through a flying instructor from the Eyre Peninsula who taught Ian to fly, and who also did all my training for my commercial pilot licence. His name was Barry Firth. He was a very good friend and flying mentor to both of us. Sadly he died 10 years ago.
The 800m (or so) private airstrip on the farm.
I do like an open fire, and I have one at Apollo Bay. But the thought of firewood in this quantity and of this quality is beyond my wildest dreams. Firewood is in plentiful supply on this farm.

There is an intermittent creek, dry when I was there, which meanders through a paddock beside the airstrip paddock. It supports an exotic array of beautiful gum trees of which these are only a small sample.

Apsley to Nelson via Piccaninnie Ponds

While South Australia is the driest state on the driest continent on earth, the south east of the state never got that memo. It seems to have more than adequate rainfall, great soil and things seem to grow very well here. Towns like Naracoorte and Mount Gambier are quite unlike Blinman and Copley.
Piccaninnie Ponds. This unprepossessing looking body of fresh water, not far from large coastal dunes and the Southern Ocean, is quite remarkable. I was drawn to it solely because of that fact, even though I had no plans to swim or snorkel here. Below the surface of this ‘pond’ is a limestone sinkhole with caverns and tunnels that extend to depths of over 130 feet, with water visibility in excess of 100 feet. I wonder how long the early settlers here looked at this little coastal pond before realising what was beneath the surface?
It is a good principle of motorcycling not to ride your motorbike up every interesting looking little track. I believe this narrow track leading to the ocean but consisting entirely of sand would have ended in tears, a lot of sweating and possibly pulled muscles. Damage to the bike would be highly unlikely though.
The Glenelg River mouth at Nelson (not far from the S.A. border).

The Spot Satellite Messenger showing three greens, which indicates that my message identifying my location for the night has been sent to my family. They each receive an email with information including a satellite photo showing my position. The blue dot with the red marker is where the motorbike was in the picture on the left when I activated the Spot device. The Spot Messenger will work anywhere on the face of the earth. It uses satellites, not telephone networks.

Narrow road between Nelson and the river mouth. I stayed too long enjoying the sunset over the estuary. This track had a virtual guard of honour of wallabies, all on duty for the night shift as I rode back into town. The GS did not leave the factory with headlights of this quality. In fact the headlights it was delivered with when new, could probably have been used as safe lights in a darkroom during photo processing. But thanks to brother Noel, my bike now sports a proper set of driving lights as shown.
After riding around in the rain and dark near Nelson, I headed straight to the only pub in town for a warm up and a meal, before going to the Pinehaven motel and cottage. The publican and locals were very welcoming. I was even offered access to a shed in which to park my bike while I had a meal. But it seemed pointless for it to be undercover for 60 minutes out of 9 days (plus of course the one night at Peterborough when it was under a verandah). So I parked it in the rain on the footpath in front of the pub. The locals were either in the restaurant eating, or at the bar sorting out their footy tips and engaging in loud and convivial Friday night banter. I headed for the fire to dry off my riding jacket, and to eat some delicious local seafood. A welcome respite after a cold (and sometimes wet) day’s riding.
Back in totally familiar territory on the Victorian west coast. This is Boat Bay a few kms west of Peterborough. I did a very memorable swim here on 14 March 2015. My account of that swim is in an earlier post on this blog, titled: ‘Two Ocean Swims West of Cape Otway.’ Suffice to say that conditions were nothing like this on the occasion of that swim, when we swam most of the way to the most seaward stack in the picture.

Nelson to Apollo Bay

Port Campbell for lunch at ‘Forage on the Foreshore’. This was the view I had as I ate. There was a solid swell blown out by strong onshore winds. Only 97kms to run to Apollo Bay.
Great food at this restaurant. As usual, I had their delicious French toast, comprising the following (I quote from the menu even though I don’t understand each and every word):
Thirty-Two 80 Specialty Bakery Japanese milk loaf, caramelised bananas, Istra bacon, Schulz’s Organic Dairy quark cheese, Otway Walnuts
A casual roadside stop on a side track between Lavers Hill and Apollo Bay. The Otway Ranges has very high rainfall and does its main feature, the cool temperate rainforest, very well. Grass like this just happens and appears without bidding or effort.
Just out of idle curiosity, I wonder if these sheep in their red dusty paddock (which I photographed in the mid north of the Flinders Ranges a few days earlier) would, if shown the previous photo, believe that grass such as this even exists.
The winding curves of the Great Ocean Road through the cool temperate rainforests of the Otway Ranges, between Lavers Hill and the Johanna beach turnoff.
Back in familiar territory in the Aire River valley, 25kms or so from Apollo Bay. The bridge over the Aire River is just a dozen steps behind the bike.
I spend quite a bit of time in Apollo Bay watching weather and swell forecasts to ensure I don’t miss out on being present on the relevant dune, point or clifftop to take photos of significant swell events. It turns out that while I was enjoying day 9 of my ride, the biggest swell of the year to date hit the entire west coast. From all reports it was bigger in the morning than the afternoon when I returned. The above wave was breaking over Little Henty Reef off Hayley Point at Marengo, just south of Apollo Bay.
The surf was blown out along the beaches I could see while riding home. But apparently at Bells Beach it was memorable and rideable – well, sort of. It was reliably reported to me (first hand) that at Bells there were about 200 spectators on the cliffs at Bells and 5 surfers in the water. One young fellow ended up in hospital (broken jaw) after a big Bells wipeout on a 9′ 4″ long board connected to his ankle by a leg rope. He was rescued by jet ski, and taken a few kms east to a sheltered beach at Torquay from where he was taken to hospital by ambulance. He’ll be OK. Gutsy effort surfing at Bells at all that day. Even gutsier on a long board, and next level hanging five on these massive faces prior to the wipeout that injured him. I have seen the video of his hang five rides.
This photo and the one above it were taken just before sunset. It was generally overcast but a few sunset rays got through to put a hint of pink on the cumulus clouds over this part of Bass Strait.
This shot was taken just after the sun had set and the light was seriously dropping. Great to know that I don’t need a 3,000+km ride to see sights like this.
This was an unexpected and very fitting coda to a great ride.

Postscript

During my motorbike ride, this blog ticked over its ten thousandth visitor. WordPress defines the ‘visitors’ metric as “the number of unique users that have visited the site.” It defines the ‘views’ metric as, “when a visitor loads or reloads a page.”

This blog commenced with my first post on 24 June 2017. I have published 135 posts in total. The blog currently has 139 followers. A follower is someone who receives notice (by email or on their WordPress reader) when I publish a new post. Being an email follower is the simplest means of receiving such notice. Instructions on doing this are on the top of the right hand column of each post, when viewed on a laptop or larger screen device. It simply requires that you enter your email address in the space provided and then press ‘follow’.You will then receive an email with details of your subscription (it’s free) and an unsubscribe link.

While the majority of visitors are from Australia, overall since the blog commenced, it has been viewed by visitors from 84 different countries.

The most viewed post by a good margin (published on 27 August 2019), is “A Swim and a Walk at Cradle Mountain.” It has been the most viewed of any blog post since the blog commenced (572 views to date, and counting), and for the last year, the last quarter, the last 30 days and the last 7 days. The link to this post is:

A Swim and a Walk at Cradle Mountain

I have no explanation for the apparent popularity of this particular post.

My blog remains totally uncommercial and entirely uninfluential. I enjoy sharing some of my photos and some of my experiences and observations. I am pleased there are some out there who apparently enjoy viewing and reading the random content on my posts. I always welcome comments – statistics as to readers are so dry.

6 thoughts on “Solo Motorbike Tour of the Flinders Ranges, South Australia

  1. Hi John. I’ll try again. I wanted to comment about the Flinders Ranges. I went there in my little teardrop caravan a few years ago. I’m still trying to find time to do it again. One of my favourite places is Kanyaka, an extensive ruin some distance south of Hawker. Great for night skies. You can see them here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sFAC-DWAueI
    I’m 71 now. I live in Ballarat and spend much of my time learning about photography around Port Campbell, Queenscliff, and places in between. I grew up at Warrion near Colac and my brother and I tried out diving along the coast, usually uneventfully, however he did go on to diving on the Loch Ard, probably in the seventies. He and I planned to dive on the City of Rayville, a hare-brained scheme if ever. Because tank filling was a bit hit and miss in those days we decided to snorkel part of the coast. I was there recently and I cannot imagine how we got down there, but we did, snorkelling in fleecy singlets because we couldn’t afford a wetsuit. There is a blowhole somewhere there in the cliff face. The first we knew of it was when we were washed in. I got out by riding a big swell and landing on a rock shelf.I looked around to see my brother pretty well buggered, because he had been washed right in and had swum out. I was able to pull him up by his singlet onto the same shelf, also on a big swell. I used to know some Apollo Bay residents. I knew James Fry of Skene’s Creek (RIP), JannyFlitton of Apollo Bay and another, a Helen Murnane who grew up at Naringal. My wife and I, these days, spend much time trying to get good photos of Gibson’s Beach and the stacks there, as well as the usual formationd throughout that area. We like night sky stuff, but struggle with it a bit.
    I didn’t reply to talk about myself, but it is easy to do. I enjoy and value your posts. Thank yo, and I look forward.
    Cheers,
    Frank Carroll.

    Like

    1. Thanks Frank. Success this time. Thanks for your interesting comments and observations. I’m sorry now that I missed the Kanyaka ruins on my recent ride. I hadn’t heard of them. The drone video you provided a link to was very well done. As for your activities and interest in the west coast from Apollo Bay to Port Campbell (and no doubt beyond), and in particular in the shipwrecks there, it seems we have some overlap of interests. We also have a common interest in photographing subjects such as Gibson Steps, and in night sky photography. I can’t imagine there is clearer air on the planet than the night skies above the northern Flinders Ranges at their clearest. I really noticed it on my recent visit there having taken quite a few photos of the stars along the west coast of Vic in recent years where the night sky, while it can be spectacular, is certainly less clear than the outback night skies.
      Your early exploits with your brother in snorkelling on the west coast sound as though there was some luck in you both surviving those adventures.
      I don’t know any of the people you mentioned in the AB district, but the Murnane name is certainly a well known name in the area.
      Thanks for sharing those interesting stories about yourself.
      I’m pleased you enjoy my posts on this blog.
      Cheers,
      John

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Fantastic photos as always, John. Also as always, wish I’d been there with you.

    I spotted an error in your postscript – you said that your blog remains “entirely uninfluential”. I’d argue that’s up to the reader and certainly isn’t true in my case! Keep up the great photos and stories.

    Cheers,
    Andrew

    Liked by 1 person

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