Perth to Melbourne, Part 1
Perth to Melbourne, Part 2

February 16th
Wudinna to Adelaide – 562 km

We woke late as usual, and went to a roadhouse for an unappetising breakfast before setting off east. The Eyre Peninsula was, I was beginning to realise, not much different from the Nullarbor. Certainly there were now wheat fields and fences and other greatly stimulating things to look at, but we were still riding along a flat, straight stretch of road for hours at a time, ducking underneath the rush of trucks’ air every fifteen minutes. The most interesting thing was a few sections of road that were under construction, where we had to ride at the edge of the road to avoid warm tar.

South Australia, unlike Western Australia, has strong concerns about the welfare of its drivers. Every two or three kilometres – all the way from the border – we’d seen billboards featuring weary eyes propped up by matchsticks, and grim words urging us: DON’T DRIVE TIRED. If the South Australian government had its way, we’d all be asleep all the time, an entire state of snoozing Rip van Winkles.

As we drew closer to Port Augusta, the landscape slipped away from farmlands and back into desert. I hadn’t expected that at all. With a hot sun, red soil, spinifex to the horizon, and low hills and mesas, it actually felt more like the Outback than the Nullarbor had.

We stopped for lunch in Port Augusta, and since we now had phone reception for the first time since Esperance, we called a few bike shops in Adelaide to see if we could have tyres fitted the next day. Our off-road tyres were now almost bald, and for the last few days I’d been gripped by a low-key fear of having one suddenly burst at 110. This had happened to Chris in Vietnam, which had sent him swerving into the oncoming lane (mercifully empty at the time). He’d described it as “the most terrifying moment of the trip,” but he has good reflexes and reacts well to such things. I don’t.

Leaving Port Augusta, we followed the eastern shores of the Spencer Gulf south, with only 300 k’s to Adelaide. The farmlands still hadn’t returned; the landscape around us was dry scrubland and salt lake. “We’ve now travelled further than we ever have on any land-based vehicle,” Chris said to me at a fuel stop, “and there’s been next to no change.”

“I know,” I said. “You could pick up any town around here and plonk it down in WA and they probably wouldn’t notice for a few days.”

“I don’t mean the towns, just… the landscape. There are huge parts of this country that we could pretty much just do without.”

“Yeah, that too. I’m lusting for mountains.”

We followed a dull highway into Adelaide and entered the outer suburbs at sunset, the glare making it quite difficult to read street signs. We promptly got lost in Adelaide’s park-girt CBD (that’s the first time the word “girt” has ever been used outside of the Australian national anthem or discussions of the Australian national anthem), and spent about half an hour trying to navigate one-way streets and confusing turns. I fucking hate driving in city centres. But it was quite satisfying to be in a city again, especially since it marked the hardest and most boring part of the journey being over.

We were staying at yet another nickel and dime YHA hostel, although, being in a proper city, it was large and clean and well-run. Our room had a balcony, which was nice. After unpacking and showering, we headed out into the city to find dinner, at about 8.30.

I wasn’t sure what to expect of Adelaide – it’s smaller than Perth, yet it’s located in the eastern states (i.e. civilisation). Turns out it’s like Perth. Every single restaurant, diner, eatery and general hospitality outlet had shut down for the night, even the fucking fast food joints. We criss-crossed the empty CBD wracked with hunger pains for half an hour, until I finally glimpsed a middle-aged couple emerging from an innocuous door. We opened the door and went down the stairs to find ourselves in a busy, bustling, upscale Indian restaurant. It was like two dying refugees in a desert stumbling upon Las Vegas. In the battle between frugality and food, our stomachs won, and we took a table. We deserved a nice meal after crossing the Nullarbor anyway.

After ordering, as we slowly began to unwind from a stressful day with a Little Creatures and a gin and tonic, it slowly began to dawn on me where we were. After more than a week of small towns and petrol stations and shitty roadhouse food and rough camping, we were in a fine restaurant in a civilised city, surrounded by men in suits and and women in dresses.

“Look at all these well-dressed people,” I breathed.

“Look at this rosewood finish,” Chris whispered, rubbing the surface of the table.

The bill came to $91.

February 17th
Adelaide – 0 km

We rose at 9 am, checked out, and stowed our gear in a precarious jumble inside of the compartments in the hostel’s luggage store.

We both had separate appointments with different mechanics, and were hoping to get done by early afternoon and be on our way, avoiding another night in expensive Adelaide. As we were checking out, the German desk clerk told Chris about a great mechanic who was “a real Aussie bloke,” and could fit tyres as long as he wasn’t “drinking beer all day.” Chris switched allegiances, but I preferred to stay with a licensed Kawasaki dealer, and took off for the western suburbs. I dropped my bike off, was told that they would ring me when it was ready, and walked back into the city centre.

I spent some time wondering which was the better city, Adelaide or Perth. They’re both small, dull places, of course, but one must be marginally superior to the other. I can’t really say, since I spent 21 years in Perth and only 36 hours in Adelaide, but Adelaide does seem to be the better designed city, and has more stuff in its CBD than Perth does. There are an awful lot of traffic lights, though, and not a lot of small cafes or eateries, which is what I was hunting for when I returned from the mechanic’s. Ultimately I suppose neither of them are particularly good cities, which is of course why I am moving to Melbourne and not Adelaide. All Australian cities are pretty much the same except in scale, though.

I did notice a difference in drivers during our time there, though. Perth is generally agreed to have the worst drivers in Australia; Adelaide, in my opinion, must have the most authoritarian. The slightest infringement of the rules results in a cacophony of honking from other motorists; even ignoring gentle guidelines (stay left unless overtaking) was met with an arm out a window violently motioning for us to get in the left lane. This came from a car that was already in the left lane, on an otherwise deserted highway. Chill out, guys.

And while I’m comparing Australian cities, what’s with this silly idea we have that anything other than Sydney or Melbourne is just a “big country town?” I hear it about Perth all the time, a guy near Mt. Gambier said the same of Adelaide, and I’ve seen Brisbane called that in a goddamn newspaper (“The Queensland floods have now devastated Australia’s third-largest city, even if it is one that feels like a big country town.”) Merredin is a big country town. Kalgoorlie is a big country town. Perth is not a big country town. Country towns don’t have skyscrapers and endless suburbs and metro systems and freeways and a population of over a million. I may call Perth a shit city at every opportunity I have, but it is still undeniably a city, as are Brisbane and Adelaide. And this silly axiom is in stark contrast to official government designations, which slap the label “city” on any LGA with a population of more than twenty thousand or so.

After musing over these weighty topics on my long walk, I went back to the hostel to start looking up shortleases in Melbourne. Jamie had gained apporoval on his house, but we couldn’t move in until the 13th of March, which was much later than our estimated arrival date. I made a few fruitless phone calls, including one to a bizarre woman named Judy who spoke with the speed of a glacier and revealed that the room she was advertising was to share with her. “Alright, I might give you a ring when we get to Melbourne,” I said, as I crossed her off the list in my notebook.

I went for another wander around the city, and found myself in Rundle Mall, which was indistinguishable from Hay Street Mall. (I later revisited it with Chris, who said: “Are we in Perth?”) Then I trudged back across the city and the deserted parks to pick up my bike for an agonising $463. Chris’ mechanic, by the way, turned out to be totally on the level. Chris said he was the best mechanic he’d ever met, and he got new tyres for half the price of mine. Apparently getting anything done at an official dealership is a bad idea.

By now it was four o’clock. Since we had daylight savings on our side, I was keen to push on, but Chris didn’t want to drive in rush hour and eventually I relented and agreed to stay in Adelaide another night.

We split up to check out nearby hostels, since the YHA was booked out, and eventually found one on Wakefield Street on the eastern side of the city. Not only did this mean we had to strap all our stuff to the bikes for a measly one kilometre ride, it also took us twenty minutes, because we were sitting in bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic. If there’s one thing worse than navigating a CBD, it’s navigating it during rush hour.

We had dinner at a Thai restaurant. “There are a lot of Asians in Adelaide,” Chris said.

“We’re in Chinatown.”


February 18th
Adelaide to Mt. Gambier – 437 km

The brief respite of clear blue skies and warm weather that we had enjoyed for the last three days was over. I woke up at 9 am to the sound of rain and said “Fuck.”

“What?” Chris murmured.

“It’s pissing.”

We went downstairs for the hostel’s free breakfast, and over my soggy cereal I read in The Advertiser that today was expected to bring the biggest February rain that South Australia had seen in 40 years. I trusted BOM more than I did a paper that went to press the previous night, but the website confirmed it: a huge, swirling mess of blue and yellow over the entire radar map.

It wasn’t going to change, so we decided to just grit our teeth and get underway. According to BOM, Mt. Gambier had clear skies, so with any luck we might be able to escape it and dry off later in the day.

We were soaked before we even left the CBD, constantly held up at traffic lights (“City of Lights” is not necessarily a compliment). My visor was fogging, I was freezing cold, and I’d forgotten to zip up the waterproof lining in my jacket.

One of Mike’s friends from Adelaide told me he was impressed by Perth because Adelaide has no freeway; he was wrong, but for some reason, rather than connecting the suburbs to the city centre, Adelaide’s lone freeway begins in the eastern suburbs and then heads southeast, shooting out into farmland and terminating at an irrelevant country town. What the fuck?

In any case, it’s much nicer than Perth’s freeway, snaking up through the eastern hills. I would have actually been enjoying it if it wasn’t such an awful day. It was a cruel and bitter irony that the first remotely interesting road we’d seen in two thousand kilometres came upon us on a day when I just wanted a nice, safe, flat stretch. Wet corners, low visibility, high speed roads and brand new tyres are not a good mix.

Along the way I saw a familiar yellow Animal Crossing sign, yet this one featured the sillhouette of a koala. That was quite a surprise – I hadn’t known they spent much time on the ground.

The freeway eventually rose above the hills onto a plateau, dragging us forward in the mist-obscured haze. We crossed a bridge over the mighty Murray River, and when we arrived at our first fuel stop we were bedraggled, freezing wrecks. Chris’ open motocross helmet was hell on his exposed skin; my own kept fogging up and obscuring my visibility.

The rest of the day faded into dismal repetition: soggy vinyards, wet fields and dark pine forests, stopping at a town every fifty k’s or so to warm ourselves up and begin the process of freezing to death all over again. At one point the rain grew so heavy I thought it was hailing. It showed no sign of letting up as we drew nearer to Mt. Gambier, and every petrol station attendent – after making a crack about how it was “a nice day for a ride” – confirmed that according to the weather reports, the storm was moving south-east. “You boys are keen,” commented one storeowner in the wine-growing town of Pandthaway. I have never been less keen in my life, I thought. My boots were filled with water up to my ankles, my jeans were drenched, and my hands were beyond wrinkled.

We finally rolled into Mt. Gambier – as miserably overcast and raining as everywhere else we’d been all day – and went to a motel. (Our plans to camp had been discarded as soon as we’d seen the weather report that morning.) As soon as we had the room key we began the process of emptying our bags, spreading out our wet things, and stringing up occy straps to create a crude indoor clothesline.

This is my shirt after spending the day in my supposedly “waterproof” jacket.

A hot shower was pure bliss. I turned the TV on just in time for the weather report; the map of Australia depicted a vast cloud belt covering everything from the Bass Strait to the Nullarbor. We waited for tomorrow’s forecast with desperate anticipation, and when it showed the rainfall moving east and clearing even Melbourne by noon, Chris said “Fuck yes,” and held out his fist for a bump.

After one of the most miserable, awful, horrible, shitty days of riding I ever had, the evening was quite pleasant, simply because it wasn’t miserable, awful, horrible and shitty. A hot shower, dry clothes and warm bed are all nice enough, but it takes eight solid hours of being in pouring rain to truly appreciate them. From my written journal:

Everything is drying; I am showered, clean, dry and warm; dinner is coming; I have a glass of wine and a comfortingly nostalgic WWII documentary on SBS. It’s still raining, dark and bleak outside, but I am inside. At this moment, I am content.

February 19th
Mt. Gambier to MELBOOOOOOOURNE! – 553 km

The next day was still overcast and gloomy, but without any suggestion of rain. We quickly packed our bags and put our gear on before checking out. The motel manager was the most incessantly overhelpful man I have ever met in customer service. “Is there a petrol station on the road out of town?” Chris asked.

The manager strode out from behind his desk and started pointing at the map on the wall. “Yes, there is, I think if you just follow the highway out here, you get to the edge of town, there’s a Harvey Norman here somewhere, and the petrol station should be just on the other side of that, sort of right at the edge of town, I don’t know what brand it is…”

“Okay… yep… okay, great.” Jesus, just let us go.

We had an atrocious breakfast at a petrol station, before mounting our bikes again and quickly covering the scant few kilometres of pine forest between Mt. Gambier and the Victorian border. The welcome sign was quite small, and I wouldn’t even have noticed it if Chris hadn’t pointed at it as he rode past, because it was hidden amongst the dozens of other signs from both state governments shouting about the dangers of driving tired. Victoria’s were even more ridiculous than South Australia’s: “FEEING TIRED? POWERNAP NOW.”

There were a few uncomfortable spells of drizzle, but nothing like the torrential rain we’d had to put up with yesterday. Victoria was lovely and green, a landscape of wet forests and lush fields and bridges over bubbling creeks. We passed through the town of Warrnambool, and then I saw my first ever wild koala… smeared across the road.

I thought it was a wombat at first, but as we drew closer I saw the trademark bushy ears and cute button nose, next to a long red streak of blood and viscera. Chris clapped his hand against the side of his helmet in mock horror. It was one of those things that’s so horrible it’s funny. The koala is cuteness personified; as a Western Australian who’d never seen one before, it hadn’t really occurred to me that they’re also wild animals existing in nature, which is red in tooth and claw.

“What was a koala even doing on the road?” I groaned at the next fuel stop. “I didn’t know they even went down on the ground.”

“How did you think they got between trees?” Chris asked.

“I dunno… I thought they just went from branch to branch, like monkeys.”

Chris laughed. “What, swinging?”

As we headed south towards the coast, the cross-winds began to pick up, but there were a lot of right angled roads – so a dangerous and irritating cross-wind would suddenly become a pleasant tail-wind. We soon arrived at the first of the coasts’s attractions, the stacks and London Bridge.

London Bridge doesn’t look very bridge-like anymore, since the first arch collapsed about twenty years ago – stranding a pair of very lucky tourists, who had to be lifted out by helicopter.

We had lunch in Campbell Bay, missing out on the lunch hours at a pub with a lovely view because we’d forgotten to wind our watches forward half an hour when we crossed the state border. After that we visited Lord Arch Gorge…

…and the Twelve Apostles. The Apostles are easily the most impressive of the coast’s formations, but after seeing all the others were were pretty much done with them. Kind of like in Vietnam, where it was karsts all the way up the country and Ha Long Bay did nothing for us.

Both attractions were swarming with tourists. We admired them very briefly and then got back on the bikes, eager to ride the Great Ocean Road.

I’m not sure where the Great Ocean Road officially begins and ends, but the stretch between the Twelve Apostles and Apollo Bay was surprisingly more mountain than ocean, switchbacking up and across the Otway Ranges through wet temperate rainforest. I was enjoying it too much to stop and take any photos, so here’s some from flickr, which don’t capture the switchbacking but are better than nothing:

Highway C-159
(Credit OneEighteen)
Otway view
(Credit alecto_23)

A fantastic bike road, and just what we needed after four thousand kilometres of mind-numbing flatness. I would have enjoyed it a little more if it wasn’t wet and covered in leaf litter and on new tyres, though. At the peak of the ranges is the tiny town of Lavers Hill, where we found ourselves enveloped in cloud, a thick white mist that reduced visibility to twenty metres. We slowed down, passed through the town, and soon descended the ranges on the other side.

On a map Australia is, for a landmass, pleasingly symmetrical, but the eastern half extends surprisingly further south than its western counterpart. Somewhere on this winding, hilly road is the southernmost I’ve ever been. The easternmost is a beach north-east of Sydney (the one where they film Home and Away); the westernmost is somewhere around Bath, England; and the northernmost is somewhere on a flight path between Ulaan Baatar and Moscow. Or, if you only include feet on the ground, somewhere in Berlin. I’m sure this is of interest to nobody but myself.

The next stop was Apollo Bay, a pretty little town of pastel-coloured beach houses. More importantly, it’s the starting point (or ending point, depending on your direction) of what people traditionally think of as the Great Ocean Road: the curving, winding road that clings to the cliffsides for about 75 kilometres. The kind of place where you’d film an advertisement for a red convertible.

One drove past us almost immediately after I said that, and we both cracked up laughing.

Beautifully, the clouds were finally parting. After an entire continent of bleak weather and flat landscapes, we’d earned this.

Immediately after we took this photo Chris cracked up, saying that in my bike jacket I looked like a bulky space marine from Starcraft or Gears of War. I think he looks pretty bulky too.

An absolutely spectacular road. It ended around Anglesea, and we took a highway to Geelong that soon funneled us onto a freeway stretching up the western shore of Port Philip Bay, just as the sun went down.

This was it – the final stretch. A pastel twilight sky with a few peachy clouds, and the city lights beginning to sparkle on the horizon. Soon we caught a glimpse of the distant skyscrapers, and as they grew, a fat yellow full moon rose above them. Visually speaking, it was a very auspicious arrival.

We crossed the West Gate Bridge, went through an impressively long tunnel, and ended up heading east on a sunken freeway. Jamie had told us to turn left on “City Link,” but I was pretty sure we’d overshot it, and I needed fuel anyway, so we exited the freeway and found a service station.

The friendly attendent told us Brunswick, where Jamie was staying, was north of the city, while we were east of the city in a suburb called Glen Iris. He lent us a street directory, and we plotted out a circuitous path through the northern suburbs to avoid tram lines and thus the dreaded hook turn. Then we returned to the freeway, took the correct exit, drove through Brunswick, and found ourself outside Jamie’s temporary residence: a very fine house on Aberdeen Street. Success!

All in all: 11 days of riding, 13 days in total, covering 4588 kilometres. 6 of those days were under grey, gloomy skies – very odd for Australia in February. I’m not sure how much it cost, other than “a lot more than we expected.” Chris kept nearly all the fuel receipts, but has yet to tally them up.

Overall, as I said earlier, it was something that was very satisfying to do – to have done – but not a ride I’m interested in repeating. Australia is a wonderful country and I love it dearly, but, as Chris pointed out, a good chunk of it consists of absolutely nothing.

But whatever, we made it to Melbourne.

Beautiful Melbourne Skyline & Yarra River
(Credit Dean-Melbourne)