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.

Bush flying in South Australia in the 1970s

On 11 June 1978 I was pilot in command of a light aircraft for a routine cross-country flight in South Australia, which turned into an unforgettable flight.

I penned an account of this flight many years later, and it was published in an Australian flying magazine. The text of that article is reproduced below under the heading, ‘A Memorable Flying Lesson’.

In providing a little background to the flight in question, I confess readily to indulging in rambling reminiscences of the years I flew around South Australia, of which I have very fond memories. If you’re not a pilot or you don’t have any interest in aviation, you might prefer to jump straight to my account of the 11 June 1978 flight.

Prior to commencing this public blog, for some years I published a private blog accessible only to a family and a few friends. This post appeared in that blog in 2017. I thought it a story worth re-telling to the growing number of people who view the content of ‘South’. In this post I have included the comments made by readers on the original post, as in some ways their content adds to the story in the post. To the few who have already read this post on my previous blog, I apologise for its reappearance here.

Please forgive the poor quality of the photos in this post. They are mostly copies of prints created from 35mm slides which weren’t much in the first place, and which are now over 40 years old.

A few memories from my early days of bush flying in southern Australia

Just over 40 years ago, the young bloke in this picture (concentrating hard on the task at hand by the look of things) was doing a fair bit of flying around the  Eyre Peninsula and the west coast of South Australia in a Cherokee 180 registered VH-WIL.

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I arrived in Port Lincoln in February 1978 and immediately became a member of the Port Lincoln Flying Club. I had only flown Cessna 150, 172 and 182 models prior to my move to South Australia, with a grand total (including all training flights) of around 150 hours. I had an unrestricted private pilot licence and an aerobatics endorsement covering spins, stall turns, loops, barrel rolls, aileron rolls, Immellman turns, half-loop and roll and half-roll and half -loop. I had no training in night flying and no training in instrument flying save for the most basic introduction to flight solely by reference to instruments as part of my private pilot training.
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Lizzie came to Pt Lincoln in early 1978 to take up a job as a midwife at the local hospital. She bravely did a lot of flying in light aircraft with me from that point on. This was an era when Lizzie and I both had curly hair. Mine was natural.
Typical bush landing strip on farmland north of the Eyre Peninsula. Door of VH-WIL open before starting up, letting the heat out and the flies in.
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This was the pride of the fleet of two aircraft at the Pt Lincoln Flying club – an ageing Piper Cherokee 180 registered Whiskey India Lima (VH-WIL). Barry Firth, the chief flying instructor gave me a 30 minute ‘endorsement’ on WIL in March 1978, after which I was all good to head off and fly it whenever I felt like it (subject to the aircraft not being flown by another club member). It was even easier to fly the Piper than the Cessna models I had trained on. In this picture, the aircraft is parked in a paddock near Coorabie, which is on the edge of the Nullarbor Plains west of Penong. This was one of my regular stops. As you head west from Ceduna Coorabie is the last district which has arable land.  It’s hard country.  The vegetation and ground surface on which the aircraft is shown was uniform over the whole strip. The dirt road on the right was not used as it was too rough. In very dry times (the default setting in Coorabie) the soil in this paddock would erode away from between the durable grass tussocks, creating a surface about as smooth as a paddock full of short white posts of varying heights and not too close together.
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WIL took me many places. This photo was taken on Three Hummock Island in Bass Strait, when Noel (my brother) and I flew over there to see my friend Rob Alliston (who was brought up on the island). A side story of that trip is that when I inquired about the airstrip (a grass strip in those days) I was confidently informed by Rob that it was 1000m in length and entirely suitable for my planned visit. Upon arrival after flying over Bass Strait in this single engine aeroplane, direct track from Cape Otway, and after overflying the paddock deemed an airstrip it became immediately apparent that while Rob had gone metric in recent years, the strip had not. It was 1000 feet long. We landed without incident (short field landings were a regular part of my SA flying, even at that early stage).  For the takeoff, according to the aircraft’s performance charts, with the weight carried I would need the air temp to be below 10C and to have a headwind component on takeoff of above 20kts. Fortunately, Bass Strait produces such conditions daily, so the departure was uneventful.
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Ceduna was a regular destination and/or refuelling stop on trips further afield.  It holds many fond flying memories for me.   I have landed at Ceduna in dust storms, driving rain, strong winds, thunderstorms, and at night with kerosene flares lined up down both sides of the runway. 

The groundsman at the airport back in the late 1970s was a young fellow with a family, who used to get overtime if he had to put out the kero flares for a night landing (there being no electric lighting at that time). So on my fortnightly flying trip to Yalata (west of Ceduna) I would defer my departure from Yalata to dusk to ensure a night landing at Ceduna, which kept me current at night flying, and the groundsman with a bit of overtime pay. He generally gave me a lift into town to my motel after he had collected the flares and stacked them away.
On one occasion (some years later after I obtained a commercial pilot licence and an instructor rating) I landed at Ceduna airport with two student pilots in a C172 and the wind was blowing 40 knots right up the strip shown in the photo above. There was a flight service unit at the airport (the official presence of the regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority), and they informed us by radio that 40 knots was the steady wind strength – no gusts, just 40 knots. The sky was blue.

We landed and stopped short of the first taxiway to the right in the above photo (just before the three white cone markers on the edge of the strip), and were faced with the dilemma of taxying with a 40 kt side wind. An aircraft on the ground in such a situation gets much more lift from the wing into wind than from the partially shielded wing on the downwind side of the aircraft. Net result, the aircraft wants to flip. My two student pilots were rather large lads off the land, and at my request they exited the aircraft while it was still pointing into wind and one got hold of the left wing tip while the other leant his considerable mass over the left wing strut. This was our best effort to keep the aircraft right way up. As it turned out it was successful. I then taxied at less than normal walking pace to the square of bitumen outside the flight service office, and parked into wind. That square was no more than 30 or 40 paces wide.

When we were ready for departure, the wind was every bit as strong as when we landed. I deemed the crosswind taxying option more hazardous than taking off directly into wind straight across the bit of tarmac outside the flight safety office which was for aircraft parking only. So the three of us climbed aboard. The airspeed indicator was showing 40 knots before I had started the engine. I fired up the engine, did the pre-takeoff checks, applied full power and we were airborne in the remarkably short distance before the edge of the tarmac. I was relieved that I never heard any more about that takeoff from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority. While it was the best safe option available for the departure, it might not have conformed precisely to all relevant rules and regs. But the silence of the regulator thereafter was a win for common sense.
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My job in SA as a wandering minstrel, required regular flying trips to Mudamuckla on the northern Eyre Peninsula and not too far south of the Gawler Ranges. I was the beneficiary of the generous hospitality of a farmer called Doug Marchant who flew his old Cessna 170 tail dragger out of a paddock beside his farm. He not only made his strip/paddock available to me, but also lent me his FJ ute to drive myself into town and back. This was very flat wheat and sheep country. Doug’s landing paddock was slightly concave with the middle of the paddock being slightly lower than all the fences. He had two strips mown across the diagonals from corner to corner. So each strip started with a slight downhill, which from mid-paddock became a slight uphill.

 I recall a particular takeoff from this strip early one afternoon in mid-summer where the OAT (outside air temperature) gauge on the aircraft was reading around 50C.  There was no wind to speak of, and only occasional thermal activity (willy willys were very visible over the dry stubble paddocks). No matter how I held them the PA-28 performance charts refused to confirm that I could safely clear the fence in my chosen direction of takeoff, even though I was the only person on board (i.e. the aircraft was lightly loaded). Indeed, the implied prediction of those charts was that if I attempted a takeoff I would wrap the aircraft up in Doug’s fencing wire. Unlike most Cessna singles, WIL has manual flaps operated by a handle between the front seats. It looks something like a handbrake lever in a car. The beauty of manual flaps is that they can be lowered to any of the three stages on offer virtually instantaneously (in a Cessna, the electric flaps come down and retract quite slowly).

So I chose my takeoff direction, did my pre-takeoff checks while taxying, then without stopping at the very start of the strip to stand on the brakes while I applied full power (stopping thus is standard short field takeoff technique) I did a U-turn keeping the taxying speed up which meant that as soon as I was pointing down the strip I already had 5 knots or so of speed over the ground. I applied full power as I came out of the U-turn and accelerated across the paddock towards the well maintained 5 strand fence which was rapidly looming larger. I would normally put one or two stages of flap down for takeoff from the start of the takeoff roll. But flap causes drag, and slows acceleration. So I started my takeoff roll with zero flap. Then as I got quite close to the fence with gravity still firmly in charge, I quickly pulled on two stages of flap which increased the apparent camber and effective angle of attack of the wings thereby creating more lift (for a short time only, because flap also increases drag) which with the help of a little back pressure on the control column allowed the aircraft to pop into the air to about fence height, just long enough for me to clear the fence before the aircraftt began to settle back towards earth. But by the time it was doing that I was over the fence with at least a couple of kms of flat unfenced stubble ahead of me. My wheels might’ve just grazed the stubble, but by staying just above the ground (a couple of feet) in ground effect, I was able to accelerate sufficiently in level flight to eventually gain the required airspeed to climb out with the two stages of flap set. I was then able to retract the flap in stages in the normal way and climb out at the usual airspeed.

This is a variation on a useful but not always taught technique of the soft field takeoff.
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WIL carried Lizzie and me over many many miles of ocean during my three years in Port Lincoln. It was a 135NM flight to Adelaide from Pt Lincoln, via Spilsby Island and Corny Point. Most of this was over water. We did the trip many times at night. One of the landmarks and emergency landing options en route was Wedge Island, shown in this photo. There was a rough landing strip on it which was actually just part of a dirt road on the island.

In 1981 I obtained my commercial pilot licence, and until the end of 1982 when I left Adelaide and moved to Melbourne to study, I flew regular charters from West Beach (Adelaide’s main airport) to and from Wedge Island with tourist groups, consisting mostly of divers and fishermen. The strip was outside normal legal landing parameters (the aircraft performance charts said it was way too short). But the operators had a dispensation from the regulator (the Civil Aviation Authority, which in 1995 became the Civil Aviation Safety Authority) for a handful of nominated pilots to conduct commercial operations in and out of there. This required special training on the island airstrip (with Barry Firth, then CFI of the Pt Lincoln Aero Club) in a variety of conditions. Apart from the short and narrow track with a curve in it for takeoff, the approach to the south was towards rising terrain, which meant there was no overshoot option. I was pretty proud to be one of the limited group of pilots authorised to conduct commercial operations in and out of this strip. There were only four pilots who did charter flights in and out of this very poor but very interesting strip. We flew in marginal weather at times with very strong winds (often across the strip), heavy rain, and decidedly marginal visibility en route from Adelaide to the island. I recall the welcome sight of its distinctive shape suddenly appearing through grey curtains of rain on many a trip (see photo in the header of this post showing Wedge Island coming in to sight with a heavy rain shower coming in from the south).

That strip has long been replaced with a proper large safe airstrip. But during all those years of conducting charters on and off the dirt road, there was never an incident or accident. I was proud to have contributed to that record. The aircraft type we flew in and out of Wedge Island was the wonderful Cherokee Six (PA-32). We were often near max weight with 5 passengers in addition to the pilot, and their luggage.
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A pilot’s log book is an interesting document. There is a legal requirement to keep a log book and to record the details of each flight on the same day as the flight occurred.  But a pilot’s log is so much more than merely a legally required record. Pilots are justifiably proud of the record of their flying careers and the hard won gradual accumulation of flying hours. A pilot never throws a log book away.  That said, agricultural pilots who, legend has it, traditionally exceed the duty time limits, seem to have trouble locating their log books when the regulator comes knocking.  Either that, or they keep a log book for the regulator, and another for the grandchildren and posterity.

For every airborne adventure experienced by pilots since there have been log books, there has been a single or at most a double line entry in a log book. Such entries may not reveal at all that a life-threatening or life-changing experience occurred on a particular flight, or it may make the briefest of allusions to the fact that it was no ordinary flight. Pilots are masters at understatement in their log books, with at most a bland abbreviated and often cryptic addendum to an entry which tells nothing of the real story.  This propensity for understatement is not a quality which carries through to social gatherings where pilots need no encouragement to wax lyrical and at length about their flying experiences.

Thus I come to the log book entry of a flight which is the real subject matter of this post. The entry is for 11 June 1978, in VH-WIL, it had a duration of 2 hours and 37 minutes of flying with me as pilot in command,  the time being entered in the ‘Day’ column (which as you will learn, was not entirely accurate). On that flight I took off from Murray Bridge, overflew Victor Harbour, Cape Jervis, Lake Fowler (near Edithburgh on the Yorke Peninsula), Wedge Island and Thistle Island (both in the southern waters of Spencer Gulf), for a landing at Port Lincoln. The meandering departure track we flew on departure from Murray Bridge was a scenic route chosen to overfly a few places my passengers wanted to see from the air. The only hint that this flight had some elements which created indelible memories, is the afterthought entry “Landed after last light. Heavy Cb activity”. A Cb is a cumulo-nimbus cloud –  a thunderstorm cloud.  This addendum  was an afterthought – my original decision as to the content of the log book entry was to simply record it as just another flight.  Now to the detail behind the log book entry. The departure from Murray Bridge was in fine weather. The arrival at Pt Lincoln was not.
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The story begins the previous day, 10 June 1978. It was a Saturday. I had been asked to fly a couple of friends of ours together with their infant daughter from Pt Lincoln to Victor Harbour for a slap up dinner they were attending on a nearby rural property.  Lizzie and I were also invited to the dinner. It was a most enjoyable banquet at the extravagant home of a vet, on a country block not too far from Victor Harbour.  

As for flying logistics for the trip, Murray Bridge was the most convenient strip to land at, not the least because fuel (avgas) could be purchased there. I had arranged this with the MB flying club. The account below is exactly as it was reproduced in the magazine ‘Australian Flying’. I have resisted the urge to edit. The rather uninformative map in the above photo was inserted with my article by the editorial staff without my knowledge or approval.

The 11 June 1978 Flight

A MEMORABLE FLYING LESSON

“In 1978 I had flown 180 hours since first solo. A couple of lengthy cross-country trips had enhanced my view of myself as an accomplished navigator. Soon, the glory of being a ‘200 hour pilot’ would be mine. I liked to think that at 180 hours I was already flying like a 200 hour pilot.

A weekend trip was planned in the flying club’s trusty Cherokee 180, across the Gulfs from Port Lincoln to a small airfield east of the Adelaide hills and back. I was the aero club’s newest member, and a newcomer to South Australia. The trusting passengers were my girlfriend and a married couple with babe in arms. Meticulous planning and preparation were undertaken, including the fully prepared log on the back of the old flight plan form which was enough to keep a team of navigators writing constantly for the duration of the flight. All maps were pre-folded, all frequency plans were drawn, both mains and confidence were fully topped up, and off we went.

The trip over via a scenic route went exactly according to plan. An enjoyable weekend was had by all, and I extracted the passengers from the party mid Sunday afternoon. I had plenty of time to check the aircraft and make it home before last light. I had doubled the ’10 minutes before last light’ planning requirement for my ETA. The weather forecast was unexceptional.

I planned to top up the tanks to full fuel at the airstrip where the aircraft had been parked. A knowledgeable looking instructor there reluctantly agreed to sell me some drum stock. He wheeled the drum over, and wound the pump handle for a while then put the fuel caps back on. I checked the contents myself, and noted that the fuel level in both tanks was beneath the tabs. I told him I’d prefer it filled up, but as he explained, he was short on fuel and had given me “enough to get back to Port Lincoln”. That was re-assuring. After all, he was presumably well past the 200 hour pinnacle, and he wore epaulettes.

The takeoff and climb-out were uneventful. Blue skies were the backdrop to sharply defined cumuliform clouds, some of spectacular vertical extent. A photographer’s delight. As soon as we levelled out in cruise, operational matters were all well under control and I took the opportunity to make a brief captain’s address to the passengers, and to fire off a few frames on the Nikon. Smiles and ease prevailed in the cosy cockpit as we left the coast behind and headed out over the sea.

About half way back, the blue skies ahead were progressively overtaken by cloud. Visibility was still fine. The sky ahead was all cloud, and the sky behind was all blue. I did a groundspeed check and noted that we had an unexpected head wind of about 30 knots. So I descended to try for a better groundspeed. Just as well too, because some of that cloud was a bit lower than it looked at first. The sea was as I had never seen it. We were now down to about 1000 feet. Rolling and breaking surf with huge trails of streaking foam covered the sea from horizon to horizon.

There was now some blackness beneath the clouds ahead, with dark purple-green pendulous formations in the lowering base, the likes of which I had not seen before. Failing to understand the significance of what I was observing, I merely registered idle curiosity at the spectacle. Our greatly reduced groundspeed was now visible to even the untrained eye. A check revealed a headwind component of 45 knots. As I lifted my head from this groundspeed calculation, my poise was disturbed by the odd wisp of cloud rushing past the cockpit. I responded by descending to 500 feet above the sea.

By now there were a few heavy and very noisy drops of rain hitting the windscreen, and the black and grey columns of rain ahead did not augur well. I reached for the microphone and tried to radio Adelaide for a weather update on Port Lincoln. I was too low for the VHF to work, and the old HF proved, as usual, to be about as reliable as mental telepathy. There was a lot of static and interference on the radio.

Wedge Island slowly appeared ahead and the 45 knot headwind was confirmed by another groundspeed calculation. I did not know there was a strip there. Eventually Thistle Island loomed out of the murk, but took an uncomfortably long time to get any closer. By the time we flew abeam its eastern tip, the rain was constant and heavy and made conversation below a shout impossible. I didn’t know there was a strip on Thistle Island. I didn’t think to look.

But I did realise that the black curtain ahead dragging its hem in the seething sea was no place for a VFR (visual flight rules) Cherokee 180, even with a ‘nearly 200 hour’ pilot at the controls. I descended further to remain clear of cloud, and at about 300 feet above sea level, finally realised that the dark maelstrom ahead was not for me. I then recalled having flown a few weeks earlier to Spilsby Island, north of my present position. So a quick free-hand pencil line on the WAC chart and off we headed, laying off 30 degrees of drift on the diversion track. The forces from the northwest reached Spilsby Island before I did. Retreat back to Thistle Island was required.

By this time daylight was all but gone. I did a 180 and applied 30 degrees of drift into wind again, and headed back to Thistle Island. At this point it occurred to me that Adelaide should be in the clear, and that with the 45 knot tail wind the trip would be quick. But then the penny dropped. The amount of fuel I had on board was precisely ah, well approximately……ummm……let’s see those gauges …… E to F and fluctuating all over the place.…..ah ……took off at ……but that ATD didn’t really help, because I had no idea how much fuel I had on board at departure, except that it was ‘enough to get back to Port Lincoln’. The fuel calculation ignoring the recently added fuel was a bit tight for comfort. So I concluded that even with a tail wind of 45 knots, running the risk of fuel exhaustion over the sea in the dark was not the best option. I was not aware of any strips on the Yorke Peninsula, much less any strips with runway lighting.

So once again, from the northwest tip of Thistle Island I set heading for Port Lincoln only to fly into a dark wall of rain. The rain which had been merely very loud now became deafening. It combined with the turbulence and the just visible chaos of the sea 200-300 feet below to lead me very belatedly to the conclusion that an immediate tactical retreat was called for. I turned up the cabin lights, and went onto the instruments. I held the wings level for a moment, noted the heading and then started a tentative shallow banked 180 degree turn. No instrument observed in the course of my somewhat random scan revealed anything constant. After a minute or so of turning with entirely unsatisfactory deviations in all axes, I levelled the wings on a very approximate reciprocal track and looked hopefully out the windscreen. I was rewarded by the sight of the dark outline of Thistle Island looming up at a frightening rate. As I later learned, I must have flown over the quite adequate grass landing strip there three or four times that evening.

I then circled for a while in the closest thing to VMC (visual meteorological conditions) on offer in a small area of rapidly fading gloom. I could just see the white highlights on the sea by looking straight down. On each orbit as the nose passed through a north-westerly heading, I peered hopefully in the direction of Port Lincoln township, until eventually I vaguely discerned or possibly just imagined a dull glow through the curtains of rain and darkness in that general direction. So I set heading for home again only to fly into the horizonless rain and turbulence once more, forced to retreat with yet another lucky 180 on the instruments. Three times this occurred, as thunder and lightning now added further drama to the situation. Caught between the seemingly impenetrable weather and the prospect of an over-water flight to Adelaide with fuel exhaustion a possibility, I responded by circling in the orb of gloomy visibility near Thistle Island simply because it was better than the other two options.

During the fourth or fifth orbit I spotted a red marine light in the general direction of Port Lincoln township and headed for it. We were about 200 feet above sea level by this stage. The driving rain intensified as if to force us back, but that red light remained visible. I flew towards it and eventually over it and was gratified to then see the faint glow of the township lights through the rain. It was by now pitch black. I had no night VFR training, and had never even been airborne at night.

As the solid rain and turbulence, the disorienting darkness and the thunderstorm threatened to end the flight short of our destination, the reliable little Cherokee plugged on until it was over the wharves of Port Lincoln. I then tracked coastal to the north at low altitude on the lee side of the hills where the thunderstorm and wind from the north west were violently spilling over. I searched for the rotating airport beacon and the lights of the airstrip and could not see either. I grabbed the microphone and dialled up the HF and made several unanswered calls to Adelaide for the lights. I tried to replace the mike on its clip but could not do so in the turbulence. I let the mike drop to the floor, abandoned radio communications and kept one hand on the control column, the other on the throttle. We were in the lee turbulence of the coastal hills being battered and bashed by a once-a-decade thunderstorm, like nothing I had ever seen. Last light had arrived about an hour before normal last light. I had to lean away from the perspex to my left after my head was banged into it a couple of times. The baby was crying. Her parents were silent. So was my girlfriend.

I knew by a rough estimate of elapsed time since overflying the township that the airport must be nearby. But even though I could follow the coast by the crawling headlights of cars on the highway and those parked on the side of the highway with headlights on, there was no airport beacon and there were no runway lights. I flew on because I had absolutely no other option. I learned later that a priest had looked out of the Port Lincoln hospital window and seen us, and offered up a prayer for our survival.

Then through the rain I intermittently saw the faintest outline of the runway lights on runway 01 dead ahead. There was no airport beacon to be seen but it was definitely Port Lincoln airport. My joy however was short-lived, because even though I could see about one third of the runway lights, we were tracking towards them laying off more drift than seemed consistent with the aircraft being re-useable after landing. I did not fancy doing a cross wind landing in conditions such as this, but overshooting into the black void beyond the runway was something I fancied even less. I was not going to do that. So I continued the approach, reduced the power and lowered some flap. With large and repeated control inputs I managed to occasionally achieve an approximation of the desired attitude and approach path. The successful outcome of the imminent landing or arrival was not assured, but whatever that outcome I had no doubt it was the lesser of two evils. The only certainty was that we were going to be on the ground shortly.

Perhaps the priest did me a favour with his prayer after all – and me not even a Catholic. Because just as I was approaching 50 feet or so over the runway, the undercarriage mere seconds away from some unauthorised modification, a flash of lightning accompanied by a simultaneous crack of thunder illuminated the terrible stage for a fleeting fraction of a second. It cast its white reflection off the water lying on the otherwise unilluminated cross runway, which was grass and puddles and directly into wind. The aircraft was virtually pointing straight up it. I cut the throttle, banked a little and straightened up, flared and touched down gently.

As the aircraft stopped in what felt like little more than its own length, I peered through the near horizontal rain at the illuminated windsock some 100 metres away. It was alternating between being rigidly horizontal and flapping wildly as the storm whipped it. Then as I watched it, the rain came down in a solid mass. Conversation was impossible. The windsock was now totally obscured from view, and the limited visibility which had permitted us to land moments before had gone.

I taxied off the strip in the general direction of the hangar, the control column rolled fully into wind. Water was driven into the cockpit between the door seal and the fuselage. I felt a hand alight on my shoulder, and give a brief comforting squeeze. I still don’t know which passenger did that. I taxied gingerly across the grass at a snail’s pace until the flying club hangar came into view.

Silhouetted against the club room lights were the still forms of a few club members standing in the open doorway of the hangar. They had waited for the last hour or more for either the start of the search, or against the odds as they saw it, the return of their beloved club aircraft. I learned that a SAR (search and rescue) phase had been declared.

I broke the club rule, and taxied out of the elements and the dark onto the smooth dry concrete floor of the hangar. The disc of the rotating prop was now visible in the fluorescent light. I eased the mixture back to idle cut-off and the engine and the noise ceased. I turned the master switch off. I opened the door and climbed out after my passengers. I turned and looked back at dear old WIL, water dripping off her white and red paint and forming small pools on the dry hangar floor. The odd hiss escaped as a drop found its way through the cowling onto something hot.

The club members helped us unload the aircraft, with hardly a word spoken. The downpour intensified forcing deferral of even a run to a parked car. The hangar doors were then closed and locked. I cancelled my SARWATCH (search and rescue watch) by telephone, filled out the maintenance release and the club docket, farewelled my passengers and went home with my girlfriend. The passengers seemed uncertain whether to respond to the situation from which I had delivered them, or the situation into which I had taken them.

My log book entry for that flight records the name of the airfield of departure, the route to Port Lincoln via Wedge Island and Thistle Island, and the flight time of 2 hours and 45 minutes.

So many lessons concealed in so few words.

The lessons include:

  • Have a known quantity of fuel in the aircraft before start up.
  • Know what a cumulo-nimbus cloud can do. Also know what one looks like from a distance, as well as from up close. The latter experience is to be reserved for those who are not airborne.
  • Confidence needs to be actively monitored and managed.
  • Official predictions of weather conditions and the time of last light are merely a starting point in making decisions dependent upon those events.
  • Timely retreats can save your life.
  • There is no correlation between the wearing of epaulettes and the quality of advice which comes from between them.
  • A bit of luck doesn’t do you any harm.”

In the Jan/Feb 2002 edition of the Australian Flying magazine, my account of this flight appeared.  I submitted it and consented to its publication on the basis that there be no editorial change whatsoever. The editors initially baulked then agreed. But this didn’t stop them changing the title without reference to me. The title I chose appears was ‘A Memorable Flying Lesson’. The editors of the magazine went for a title with the more tabloid-press ring, of ‘Flight to Hell & Back’, which misrepresented the whole experience. Whatever. Even though more than 40 years have passed since this flight, I continue to remember it very clearly. So does Liz.  For what it’s worth, I thought I’d share it with you.

The thunderstorms, torrential rain and gale force winds we flew through that night were declared in the local newspaper to be a once in a decade weather event. Apparently it was also a memorable storm for those on the ground in houses or cars.

Early winter ride to the Flinders Ranges, South Australia

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Departure from Apollo Bay, to rendezvous with my brother Noel on his Yamaha FJ1200 at Hamilton in the western district of Victoria for a week or so of riding in  South Australia, including the Flinders Ranges.  I’m riding a 2008 BMW R1200GS which I’ve had from new, and which ticked over 200,000kms late last year.

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Approaching the southern end of the Flinders Ranges on day two. Noel had just pulled over to remove the remains of his speedo cable which had disconnected and destroyed itself.

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Going north into the Flinders Ranges as the late afternoon light took on its golden glow was a rewarding combination of time and place.

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The southern hills of the Flinders Ranges came into view as the sun neared the horizon. The low angle light of late afternoon brings everything out in stark relief with intense colours and long shadows.

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Red soil, the hardy bush grasses, saltbush plains, the foothills of the Flinders Ranges on the horizon and a windmill, all bathed in the late afternoon light. This was part of that afternoon’s answer to the question, why do we ride.

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Thirty kms out of Hawker. Warmth still rising from the road and soil even though it was early winter, with the air cooling rapidly as the sun’s warmth faded. We often stop just to sense all that is around us in quietness.

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Between Hawker and Wilpena Pound we stopped to enjoy the serenity. When we arrived at Wilpena resort,  having had to dodge roos coming at us from the left and right of the road  on the 5km road into the resort (they just don’t let up after dark) we apparently rode past an unlit sign off to the side which might have helped us avoid our fate which was to unwittingly enter the caravan park and camping ground maze. It was heavily timbered, there were only curving roads which followed no pattern, and there were no signs. The sun had long set so we had no western glow to guide us, Wilpena is not in the GPS list of places, and there was no moon. So we rode around and around, totally lost, seeing only tents and caravans, until we finally had to swallow our pride and ask directions. It was a weird feeling of disorientation after successfully navigating 590kms to get there, to be totally lost in such a confined area. But don’t worry, Wilpena Resort is now in the GPS.

GS 6 July 17 edit 4-10pm
The mighty GS cooling down after the day’s ride of 590kms from Pinnaroo to Wilpena Pound. We rode from Hawker to Wilpena after sunset, and it was Rooroulette all the way. Noel and I slowed down to 50-60kph and were mighty pleased we had excellent driving lights this time.  On our last trip to SA we got caught out well and truly by the dark (a series of closed garages and no fuel, but that’s another story) and had to ride from Burra to Waikerie in the dark, with headlights not much better than a torch. It was true roo and emu country. Countless sightings that night. Tonight I rode in the lead, the time honoured ‘Roo Boy’ position, as Noel would have it.  I had to brake on dozens of occasions as roos came out from the left and right, solo and in groups. Only one warranted max braking and he missed my front wheel by a couple of metres. After a most welcome hot dinner at the Wilpena Pound Resort dining room, Noel and I unpacked in our room, and then rugged up and rode 2-3kms out to the resort airstrip – because it was a very dark place on this moonless night. It’s in a bit of a valley, surrounded by horizon silhouettes of the rocky peaks of the Flinders. This silhouetted range is Wilpena Pound. I took the Nikon out and Noel brought the tripod. We were rewarded with a spectacular view of the Milky Way as we stood in the absolute quietness, the air perfectly still and getting colder by the minute (it was 6C by the time we rode back to the resort). We stayed there long enough to see the view of the Milky Way change quite markedly as it faded on one horizon and intensified on the other. Paradoxically, staring for a while into the Milky Way makes me feel both insignificant and wonderful.

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In addition to capturing the Milky Way, this photo on the lower left shows the Large Magellanic Cloud, a neighbouring galaxy – a bonus I didn’t see/recognise until I downloaded the photo and was so informed by a passing astronomer.  The mountainous horizon is the northern ridge of Wilpena Pound.

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Adjusting the settings on the Nikon D810 at the Wilpena airstrip on a cold, dark and wonderful night (Noel took this).

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After an early morning departure from Wilpena, en route to Blinman, we were unexpectedly rewarded with 30-40kms of great ocean road quality bitumen winding through the hills. The roo population meant that we travelled at a lowish speed enjoying the scenery and stopping frequently to enjoy views such as this.

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The mighty GS in one of its natural habitats.

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In the northern Flinders Ranges, we had 120kms of dirt roads from Copley to Arkaroola. This was a good stretch.

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A lot of loose gravel and corrugations were encountered. We didn’t see much traffic.

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So inviting.

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Late afternoon arrival at Arkaroola.

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We had to ride along a valley in the shadows for the first 5kms or so of our early morning departure. It was cool.

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Noel and I are brothers, we are close, and we enjoy riding together. This photo was taken after riding out of Wilpena along the valley of the shadow of cold still air and turning south where for the first time that day we had the sun on our backs. This photo seems to capture something of the camaraderie of being on the road together.

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Noel and I estimate that while riding to and from Arkaroola, we saw more than 100 roos crossing the road at an inconvenient time i.e. right in front of us. There were also scores of emus, always in a hurry it seems. On the eastern edge of the Flinders Ranges we encountered a lot of goats. I also came a cross a few brumbies, and one pair of donkeys.  In terms of wild life close calls – we both had a few. I came too close for comfort to a small roo en route Hawker to Arkaroola. Then on the way to Arkaroola I narrowly missed a family of goats when I was going down hill on thick loose gravel where control was reduced. My closest encounter was on departure from Arkaroola, in flattish country east of the hills, when a large roo I didn’t see came across the road at an angle towards me. It was a dirt road, I had been doing about 80kph and I applied max braking relying on the ABS which gave me the best possible braking in the circumstances. Fortunately it was a flat section of road. I believed I was going to hit this one and braced. He kept up his speed and I reckon I missed him by a metre. As he passed in front of me his head was at the same level as mine. I’m confident that given my speed (80kph washing off fast to a slower speed) I would’ve walked away had I hit him, but the bike may have finished the trip on a truck. I love my ABS brakes. Noel had a close call with a wedge tailed eagle which was having a meal on some road kill. It got airborne as he approached, then circled back to the food in front of Noel – he ducked his head down onto his tank bag believing it would hit the screen. They missed each other. He also had a few roo encounters similar to mine.

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Typical northern Flinders Ranges terrain with the road crossing a series of ridges, valleys and creeks.

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Fortunately most creek crossings at this time of year are dry.

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We rode on a lot of this going through creek-bed crossings. The GS moved around a lot under power on gravel such as this, but never uncomfortably.

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A damp creek crossing.

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A wet creek crossing.  It’s a tribute to the mighty Nikon that this raging torrent with the force of approximately two runaway freight trains, could be made to appear so still and unthreatening.

 

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Get the weight back, pick a line, look ahead and wind the throttle on.

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Noel on the Yamaha FJ1200 playing in a creek crossing puddle. The speed and splash seems to be a direct result of him being aware the manoeuvre was being photographed. He emerged covered in muddy water with his engine steaming away. I invited him to have 3-4 more runs at progressively higher speeds to see if I could get a ‘really good shot’. But he declined.

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Dry creek bed. In a deluge, the creeks flood and rocks such as this become the concealed creek bed beneath the water – staying upright would be a challenge in moving water over such a surface.

GS and road kill
This is the road to Parachilna (visible in the distance) once out of the Flinders Ranges. Noel took this photo with his Nikon P900. At the time I had slowed down to ride past a dead roo with a large wedge tailed eagle having a feed. It reluctantly got just airborne and settled back on to the road when I gave it wide berth. When Noel rode past the same eagle and road kill a short time later (at a higher speed), it got airborne and  instead of retreating to safety either side of the road or by climbing, it nearly collected him. He ducked down with the chin of his helmet on his tank bag hoping to shield behind the small windscreen. A near miss.

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Not so shiny now. But it’s good honest dirt.

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Parachilna Gorge is in those hills in the background. This is the T-intersection of the road from Blinman with the Outback Highway (Hawker to Leigh Creek and points north). I had a close encounter with a group of emus on this road. Noel rode a fair way behind me to avoid eating too much of my dust.

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At Parachilna, the pub is renowned for its quandong pie. The quandong is a wild peach which for some reason seems to have resisted domestication and commercial exploitation. It is neither sweet nor tart, has lovely texture and flavour, but is still worth only about 30% of what the pub charged for it. But as it was Noel’s shout, I didn’t lose any sleep over the price.

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80kms north of Adelaide on the last Saturday of our ride, after dark and in the rain, Noel noticed a grinding sound/feeling under load. He correctly diagnosed it as a sprocket carrier bearing (which is in the rear wheel). It was a slow ride into Adelaide with Noel in front waiting for his back wheel to lock up, as we crawled along at speed which required me to put my hazard lights on when traffic approached from behind. Fortunately we made it to Kym & Jo’s house where we and our bikes were accommodated in style, and on Monday Noel was able to buy a replacement bearing and we were under way (in heavy rain, but at least in daylight) around midday.

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The offending bearing.

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We took the long road back home via the Coorong. This was dusk on a cold and wet night in Kingston in the south east of South Australia, where we spent our last night of the ride. What a contrast to the northern Flinders Ranges.

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About 75kms from Apollo Bay on the Great Ocean Road. My home territory. I take a photo from this spot just about every time I ride this stretch of road. Today it was blowing a gale, and my window was brief if I wanted to keep the Nikon dry.

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Missing the second shadow.  The GOR on the approach to Pt Campbell from the west. I had a coffee and huge chocolate brownie in front of the fire at Forage on the Foreshore, looking out over the bay with a strengthening cold sou’ westerly whipping it up. Wasn’t fussed that I didn’t have the wetsuit and goggles with me.

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Between storm clouds there was sunshine. This was taken looking SW from the car park at Peterborough. The sea has the texture and colour of a rich oil painting. Makes me want to break out the old palette and oils for a bit of variety from taking photos.

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I wasn’t faintly moved to take a photo of anything today, until I got to the Bay of Islands near Peterborough. The rocks reminded me of those moored ships off Newcastle, but the rocks are so much more impressive.

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Tucked away safe and sound with the other toys, looking as if it has been nowhere at all in recent times. I rode from Lavers Hill in the dark – a slow ride given the wildlife in the Otways. It was 10C in the lounge room at Cawood St when I first arrived. No prizes for guessing the first task! The fire was quickly lit and the house soon warmed up.  Another top ride with Noel Edwin.

I also used to enjoy finishing a lengthy trip (weeks or a month or so) in a light aircraft, and putting it back in the hangar or on its tie-downs in a paddock basically exactly where I found it at the start of the trip.

In both cases, once it is parked, unpacked and secured at the end of a trip, and about to be left alone until the next trip, there is a feeling of deep appreciation for the inanimate object, for the  machine that has served me so reliably and taken me to such wonderful places, and finally delivered me back in one piece to exactly where it started. I pull up short of talking to machines, and patting engine cowlings or fuel tanks is in the same category. But before returning to the life less exciting while such machines remain parked,  I find that I linger and admire the machine that has been with me through whatever the adventure was, and count myself most fortunate to have had my horizons extended in such a manner. Somehow the experiences the machine has given me are imprinted in it, and it will forever remind me vividly of them. This is one of the reasons I cannot see myself ever parting with the GS.