June 3: From Mt. Isa I set off into what would technically be termed the Outback–Australia’s legendary remote inland stomping grounds. Semantically speaking, there is little distinction between the Bush and the Outback; and the Savannah could be considered a part of the Outback as far as I can tell.
I had been dreading this leg of the trip due to its long, straight trajectory on the map–but it ended up being a very scenic and enjoyable stretch.
The brisk morning temps and ample kangaroo remains on the side of Australian National Highway A2 prompted a cautious early start. I took my time riding to the Queensland/Northern Territory border at Camooweal, where I purchased fuel for the next 270km into one of the more remote but accessible regions of the Bush. I even filled up empty water bottles with extra fuel just to be sure–as my range was nearly at parity with my stock capacity plus what I could fit in my spare gas can.
The rolling treed scrub of Isa opened into an endless flat grassy plain. This part of NT was uncharacteristically green for the time of year due to above average recent rainfall.
Stopping every 100km or so to top off the tank, I noticed that fewer and fewer people were headed in my direction. Only a handful of campers and semis were present along the way to Tennant Creek. The Green Hornet found its stride at 71mph, making quick work of the narrow 2-lane route west.
Along some of the lengthier straight stretches, I began to imagine what it must have been like for my dad to ride across the Nullabor (translates to ‘no trees’) Plain to the south of my location 35 years earlier. How lonely and isolated that must have seemed on his Honda 250.
I found my first dose of $8/gallon fuel at the Barkly Roadhouse between 3 Ways and Camooweal. Despite the sticker shock, I sucked it up and paid–figuring the alternative was hardly worth risking.
Two hours later I dropped into the gritty oasis of Tennant Creek for the night. The Traveler’s Rest Hostel is home this evening–a quiet, friendly operation situated on the western edge of town.
After stashing my gear, I had the chance to rapp with owner/manager Tony and his friend Bill. Tony originally planned for a 3 month visit to Tennant Creek. 20 years later, he hasn’t missed a beat.
“This is the bush. We like to keep it simple” said Tony of his modest but functional operation. At 74, he still drives down to the Greyhound station most mornings at 2am to collect exhausted tourists who are overnighting on their way to Ayers Rock. The man has some excellent stories about life in the Outback.
Bill is a British ex-pat who headed out on an around the world trip many years ago after growing up in Suffolk and living in London for a stint. Sick of the hustle, he never made it any further than the Outback.
According to Bill, “I knew I wanted to live here the minute I arrived.”
Bill now works and lives between Tennant Creek and the super-remote surrounding Aboriginal lands.
This country seems to have that affect on people. It offers all the seclusion and physical challenges you could ever want–in the most authentic sense imaginable. That notion pretty well sums up both the appeal and the fear of this land, depending of course on which side of the spectrum you reside.
There is no easy way out of this unforgiving land. If you decide you don’t want to be here anymore you better have a bush plane or chopper, or a reliable land vehicle, tremendous patience and several days to burn.
I am currently 2 days ride from Darwin, no less.