Friday, April 27, 2012

Two Day Western Gold Fields Trip

Day 1

We start off at Maccas as usual, with a brekkie and more importantly, the coffee that goes with it.  As I'm a bit of a coffee snob (this is where my wife would ask: a bit?) I'll have to stock up on valuable Maccas latte.  Who knows what instant coffee atrocities are waiting out there for me.  We set off about 8:30 all fueled up; our tanks and the bikes'.

Just half an hour before we arrived at Maccie D's, the fog covered the whole town and I knew it was going to be a cold start, but it should warm up nicely.  As we leave Hamilton, we take it easy.  I already like this, the pace is nice and I get time to have a look around.  I hate having to rush to get somewhere and concentrating on the road so much that I don't get time to enjoy the scenery and isn't that what this is all about?  Out on your bike, seeing the countryside and enjoying the camaraderie of good mates.
There was a lot of map reading, pointing and chin scratching going on during this trip.
We head straight towards Chatsworth first along sealed roads and then onto Woodcutters Lane heading to Cobra Killuc Nature Reserve, our first, but brief bit of offroad for the day.  Being a small reserve, we don't spend much time there and really only use it as another road to get back onto Woodcutters Lane.  We end up on the Woorndoo-Dundonnell Rd, heading east.  This road is great.  A long open gravel road and great scenery all around.  The first section has old stone paddock walls running parallel to the road.  We briefly veer off course to take a look at a small hill, which looks like it might have been a volcano at some stage, but it seems to be used as a quarry now.  Back onto Woorndoo-Dundonnell Rd, which has now turned into Dundonnell-Derrinallum Rd and we sight Mt Elephant in the distance.  A great section of road whe you can relax a bit, not having to worry too much about kangaroos jumping into the road.  It's nice a wide as well and the surface is well maintained, but most sand.
Back roads from sealed... great unsealed roads.
We take a bit of a breather in Derrinallum and get some grub.  The maps come out and we start planning the next bit.  Yes, we had all this planned before, but what's the fun in that?  I like this way of doing it.  There's no rush.  We just take it as it comes.
Great country scenes.

From Derrinallum it was a pretty uneventful section along the Hamilton Hwy all the way to the bustling metropolis that is Cressy.  From there we start heading north along Two Bridges Rd.  I spot something cool next to the road.  Some sort of eagle diving down onto a field and catching something.  Now, I've seen them dive down and normally they just sit there and peck away at something, but this one picked it up and flew off with it.  Something small and white; I couldn't see what exactly it was, but it was about the size of a small ferrit.
An old cottage.  I think the sign said $150 a night, breakfast included.
From here we head up to Rokewood and then up into some hills along Paynes Bridge Rd.  A nice gravel road again and dotted everywhere between the trees are houses.  All I kept thinking was that I wouldn't want to be here when a fire comes through.  We head through a farm along a fire access road.  Here we feel naughty, because we have to open a farmer's gate and go through one of his paddocks to get to the fire break, but luckily the only thing that's moving around the homestead are a few horses and I wouldn't have expected them to object to use moving through.

Now we're a bit lost.  The maps come out again.  I grab the GPS and together we figure out where we are and where we need to go.  Now, that's where a GPS comes in handy.  It's great looking at a map and figuring out where you're going, but if you're not sure where you are now, then that map's not going to mean much to you.  So we set off along some back roads, heading to Mt Cockatoo.  We have to backtrack a couple of times, because the first time the landowner doesn't know where Mt Cockatoo is and the second time we get to a gate with a big "Private Property" or in other words: "Keep out you trail bike hoons!!" sign. We go through a small settlement with loads of plots squeezed into a small area.  Again, a fire disaster waiting to happen and I didn't have that in my thoughts for long before we passed a house where a fire was burning under some trees.  A little girls just standing wide-eyed next to it and the owner's car parked in the long driveway that winds down the hill to his house.  The owner was probably somewhere behind the fire trying to stop it, but I didn't see him.  We stop for a breather on the next junction and I comment on this, but both Slowpoak and James Cook say it should be fine.  He's probably just burning off some grass.  Not too long after that, as we head down the road, the CFA truck comes flying around the corner with its lights flashing and sirens blaring.  Looks like a bit more than just a mild fire then.
Waiting for those wallabies to jump out and help you down off your bike.
Finally we find a way into Enfield State Park and up the mountain, but we don't quite make it to Mt Cockatoo.  Instead we ride up a very steep hill to hop onto Mt Misery Creek Rd.  Nothing daunting.  Really good fun.  I love this DR up these hills.  First gear and you just cruise up the hill like you're on a tractor.  Just don't loose your momentum!  Luckily you don't need much momentum.  Aside from a lone 4WD parked next to a stream, there's nobody around.  It's quiet and the temperature is just right under the trees.  Perfect.

We head down the road to get onto Incolls Rd and up onto Bald Hill (if I'm not mistaken) we park up next to an aviation beacon to take a few minutes to relax, take photos and plan the next bit.
The view from Bald Hill
Just a km or two down Incolls Rd, we see a power line service road and we can't resist it.  we check the maps to see where it comes out and we're off.  Long rolling hills aren't a problem, but the road is covered with loose gravel, worse than sand.  Even Slowpoak, with his bar stabaliser, almost comes undone.  Nothing too serious until we get to the bottom of the hill where the road goes around a lake and through some trees.  It's an area where it seems that it's quite often very wet and the 4x4s come to play.  Around every corner is a mud hole full of ruts, deep ruts.  Some are half dry, but luckily they mostly all dry.  We all take our time navigating around this and probably especially me as it's at one of these that I came off during the last ride.  This time I'm not going to let that happen again.  It's actually quite fun, until your back wheel starts sliding off the camber along the edges of the road and the whole bike wants to drop into one of the big ruts.

Soon we're out and off again.  Now we're hungry and we head to Smythesdale nearby.  I love this town.  There's nothing much going on here, but it's just one of those quaint towns with a nice coffee shop and bar, antique stores and some mid-1800 history.  It brings out the yuppee in me.

From Smythesdale we head north and as the light starts to fade, we head straight for Talbot along sealed roads, until we get to Learmonth, where we take some minor roads, switching between sealed and unsealed, but all well maintained and it gets us to Clunes quite quickly.  At Clunes we still find the service open and Slowpoak and James Cook fills up.  James Cook also has a Safari super tanker, but he says he didn't start off with a full tank, so he needs to top it up.  I leave mine as I still have loads and I hate heading out in the bush with a full tank if I don't need to.  The DR just gets really top heavy.  Clunes is a nice little town, also an old gold rush town, but I don't get the opportunity to take photos as we head out to Talbot for the final stint along some main roads.

Taking a break in Clunes while the other fill up.
At Talbot I go into a bit of a photo shooting frenzy.  What a great little town.  I'm not expecting it to become a bustling business center for the region any time soon, but it has loads of character and history.  It's really well set up.  All the old buildings have plaques in front of them explaining when they were built and what they were used for over the years.  It's great.  Like having your own tour guide who you don't need to tip.  In the Post Office, the town also apparently has the best example of a regional government building.

Talbot Post Office
Behind that sits the original police office, which is now someone's residence, but well maintained.  The goal and stable are located on the same premises.  The town also has a Bank of Australasia and a London Chartered Bank building.
The old London Chartered Bank

Great old buildings with loads of character.
I expect Wyatt Earp to walk around the corner at any minute.
As we came into town, I also noticed a sign saying something along the lines of 'Best preserved historical street 1927'.  There also seem to be a fair amount of arty people around.  I spotted an art gallery and some other art related businesses.  Also something that seemed to be a nice coffee shop, but unfortunately closed by the time we got there.

We're off to the hotel (yes, we stayed in a hotel, because we could).  We check in and the hotel owner warns us that we need to come in at 6 and order as quickly as we can, because they've got a footy function there that night and it might get really busy, so we get ready while we wait for 6 and then head.  Order a few beers and our food and chat for an hour or two while the hotel slowly fills up with what looked like the local cougars.  They got quite rowdy, slamming back beers.  There were a couple of young guys around as well, playing pool and then the odd lost local straddling in, ordering a beer and disappearing...and no, it wasn't magic beer.  Knackered, I take a shower and hit the sack early, getting in some rest for the next day.

Day 2

We're up at 7, Slowpoak has some instant coffee, I refuse and we're off.  Slowpoak mentions something about a storm last night.  What?  How could I not hear it?  Well, because I use the time between sundown and sunup to sleep.  The one thing I was aware of were the mozzies.  The only place they could bite me was on my head and they didn't waste that opportunity.  Back down to Clunes to get some brekkie and real coffee.  I'm happy, because I get proper coffee, food and the opportunity to take some photos of Clunes.  The weather's also turned a bit and we get a few intermittent showers as we sit there.

Today should be fairly straight forward.  Just a slow ride back to Hamilton via Ararat.  On the way to Talbot yesterday, we saw a hill just north of Learmonth, called Mt Beckworth, located in a reserve of the same name.  We all agree that this looks interesting and we can't pass up the opportunity not to go there, so head straight for it.  Coming into the park we ride past several vehicles parked at camping spots with University of Ballarat logos on them.  We head out on a road which takes us around the foot of the hill and then find a track heading straight up it and into the low clouds.  James Cook is so anxious to get onto it, he stops too quickly and drops his bike.  The track starts off simple, turns technical and then we get to a parking spot from where we walk to the top, but this isn't the top.
Slowpoak tries to muster some courage for the climb ahead.
The track continues south, dipping down and then starts to rise.  Nothing super technical, but we hit rocks and Slowpoak tries to go around, but he loses momentum and gets stuck on the edge of the road between some rock and a tree.
Up a hill with nowhere else to go.
The three of us look at the road snaking up the hill and we all decide to turn around.  We help each other turn our bikes around as the hill is steep and the bikes simply slide back when you use the brakes.  We head down the hill, along the access road and out of the reserve, defeated, but at the same time, we did get some amazing views from it.  The access road's also not bad and I enjoy the ride all the way out across a farm to the main road at Waubra.  From there we head to Lexton and then jump on the Pyrenees Hwy.
Wonder where this road goes?  Let's take a look.
Great old houses and ruins.  Makes for great photo ops.
This is where the rain starts.  Slowpoak stops first to put his rain jacket on (damn those Klim weatherproof pants!), so we lose him, James Cook and I have to stop too.  My gear is a bit more involved to transform into a weatherproof and I tell them to head off and we'll meet up in Ararat's main street.  It start pouring down now and I finish just in time.  Just earlier we had some old Enfields go past us.  Really nice, but I don't want to be cought on those in this rain.  That said, I have the Mitas E-09 tyres on the bike and they're not designed for wet tarmac!  Nonetheless, I gun it to Ararat.  So much so, that fail to see other two in Elmhurst at a servo taking cover with another biker.  Whoosies!  With that, I get to Ararat not too long after it stops raining and ride around for 15 minutes looking for them.  I eventually head back out of town, thinking they might have been somewhere as you come into town and it's then that James Cook comes riding in.  Anyway, we all catch up, have lunch at a bakery and decide to go and see One Tree Hill.  There should be a track which can take us to the Western Hwy and then across to Moyston, where I plan to fill up, because track and fill tank, are two words I don't like to use in the same sentence.

The view from One Tree Hill is great.  James Cook laughs at two people coming up in their car, never leaving it, taking photos from it, pointing and then heading back down again.  'What's the point?', he asks.
The view from the top of Ararat Hill.
The track heads north across the Ararat Hill Park, but after a steep climb, we have to turn around as the road is a dead end.  Then we take another branch and head down a steep goat track.  I'm on my brake constantly and move slowly so I can pick the right line.  When I come around a corner, I see Slowpoak starting to pick his bike up.  He's gone down a washout and lost the bike.  I want to help, but I can't stop and also can't park the bike anywhere.  He's soon got the bike up and he heads down the hill.  Luckily it isn't too far anymore and head out of the reserve with a nice little winding road.

Going up should be okay, but going down was a challenge on this bike.
From here it's pretty straight forward and we head towards Moyston.  Yes, of course, the garage isn't only closed, it's gone out of business!  I might have just enough fuel to get to Dunkeld from here, but it'll be tight.  The road starts off as sealed and then turns into a great open, wide unsealed road almost all the way to Dunkeld, where it turns to sealed again about 10km before the town.  Fantastic!  A nice relaxing ride through to Dunkeld.  The scenery is spectacular, with farmland all around and the Grampians in the background.  About 1km before we get into Dunkeld, the bikes starts surging and comes to a very undignified silent stop.  Bugger!!  James Cook heads into town to go get some fuel and while we wait, Slowpoak says he has to head off as well, 'cause he really needs to go to the loo.  That's okay, just leave me here, with no guarantee that you'll come back, but I can see the urgency in his face and realise he really needs to go.  He's not gone for long before he comes back around the corner!  The fuel can is in his lap.  What's this then?  Apparently when he got to the fuel station, James Cook thought he was there for the fuel and shoved the can into his hands and said he's off for a coffee.  Slowpoak, without protesting, heads straight back with the fuel.  Now that's a mate!  Anyway, eventually we end up back in town, I fill up, return the can, Slowpoak takes the public toilets to a place of no return and we all stand outside the coffee shop to say goodbye to James Cook as he heads home and we head back to Hamilton.
God pointing the way home.
All in all, a bloody great trip.  I loved it.  We explored and took chances on different roads and tracks.  There was loads of map reading, people dropping bikes, running out of fuel and some good coffee in between.  I'm looking forward to the next one already.

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