Preparation with a little rediscovery of the Territory 

2020 1260 new -1

The Ducati 1260 arrived in mid July and initially all we could think of was that if Katherine was the beauty, then this machine was certainly a beast. With a 31 litre tank and a dry weight of 225kg (496lb) this had the potential to be a handful when loaded for touring. The first adjustment that had to be made was to fit the lowest seat available which at 84cm (33in) still didn’t see Andrew being able to get a full grip on mother earth, but it was much better. 

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As with sailing there are always unexpected elements to challenge you but the more preparation and planning generally done for a passage the more enjoyable and safer that passage can be. Preparing for a tour on a motorbike really isn’t that much different except the packing becomes somewhat more critical. On Katherine we have the luxury of our own cabin, a well stocked galley to cook in and refrigeration. None of that when travelling by motorbike but making it comfortable was going to be part of the challenge. 

Everything had to be weighed and I mean everything. In the preparation for our 5 week tour across the top of Australia. Lee nearly wore out the luggage scales. Initially we invested in a Lone Rider Tent that would allow us to stand to get dressed and had a vestibule that we could cook in or store the bike, but weighing in at 6kg this was soon ditched for a more compact 2kg hiking tent. Light weight sleeping stretchers, chairs and cooking equipment, even the utensils had to be scrutinised.  Sleeping bags were retrieved from the depths of storage and upset a few moths along the way. 

In the end our set up included the top bag holding our camping equipment, one side pannier for “The Kitchen", the other for clothing, spare parts and first aid kit. In total with the bike filled with fuel, the gear and us weighed in at around 400kg (880 pounds). 

Thats a lot of bike.

The luxury of this tent won’t be wasted it will come to good use when we head to Tasmania in February 2021

200916 Day 8 Gregory River Qld-04 Well setup at camp

Our smaller tent proved to be the perfect accomodation for the challenge of both the shakedown trip and the “BigTrip” to come  

Our first run fully loaded was to the fishing locality of Dundee Beach. A direct ride from home would normally be around 130km but of course we took the scenic route via Litchfield National Park and turned the ride into 300km. On this trip we were still getting the suspension sorted out and tyre pressures and quickly came to realise the limit of the bike in amongst a very pig rutted track. Some great photos of the bike amongst the Magnetic Termite Hills was the reward for the ride but definitely not the place to be so fully loaded. 

Magnetic Termite Mounds are a wonder of nature that are built to minimise the exposure of the termites to the sun. The broad backs of the mound face east west while the narrower side faces north south. Unique to the northern part of Australia they are often referred to locally as gravestones.  

200731 6 Campsite Litchfield Tourist Park

Sundowners with Deb and Ross Litchfield Tourist Park 

200802 1 Ride home which way

Next trip we headed to Litchfield National Park with Deb and Ross onboard their recently acquired BMW 1200, though without yet to arrive dirt tyres.  Litchfield Park was only established as a national park back in 1986 thanks to the Cattle Station family of Townsends negotiating to hand back a parcel of their land for park use to the NT Government. The 1500 sq km park is named after the explorer Frederick Litchfield who in 1806 was part of The Finnis party that set out to explore the region for settlement and mining possibilities. We are certainly thankful for the foresight to establish a national park in what is such a special area.

Litchfield is literally on our doorstep so it is a place we would normally do as a day ride. Covid-19 had the benefit of making us look closer to home for travel experiences while borders were closed so instead of a day ride  we decided to camp for two nights at the Litchfield Tourist Park. Being a long weekend it turned out a lot of other Territorians had the same idea. With camp set up on the Friday evening, Saturday was spent riding multiple tracks and adding to the list of not a good idea “Deep Sand”. 

200801 10a Bamboo Creek Tin Mine

Bamboo Creek Tin Mine was established in 1906 by two brothers then operated sporadically until 1955. It sits within the border of the national park 

RIde Trip to Lorella 2020

Our 7 Day journey - After Darwin the next  town is Katherine with a population of 10,000 people, The hub of Daly Waters in the last census of 2016 recorded a population of 9. 

This trip was just on 2270km round trip (1410 miles)

200815 7 Mataranka Homestead  hotsprings -3200911 Day 3 Daly Waters to Borroloola-01 SIngle Lane Carpentaria Hwy to Cape Crawford

Finally it was time to head off for a real tour. The destination Lorella Springs Homestead. This was initially to be the first part of our journey to continue onto QLD but at the time borders were still a little unstable. We did not want to risk getting stuck outside of the Northern Territory, so a one week trip was planned with Deb and Ross again on their BMW 1200.

First night out of Darwin was at Mataranka Homestead 431km south. The highlight of the homestead was definitely not the accomodation but the thermal pools that are accessed by a short walk from the campground area. The Thermal pool is part of Elsey National Park, a 13800 hectare park that was made famous by the book written by Jeannie Gunn called “We of the Never Never”. The book recounts Jeannie’s experience living on Elsey Station with her husband back in 1902. The Thermal springs flow constantly at a temperature of around 30 degrees (86F) so though not refreshing on a hot day they are still definitely relaxing.

Leaving Mataranka it wasn’t long till we turned off our one major road of the Northern Territory onto the Roper Highway. A single lane bitumen road that can be interesting when cattle trucks are roaring down the centre. Just like with boats, might always has right of way. 

The other challenge for the day was fuel. The run from Mataranka to Lorella Springs Homestead was 450km with no fuel stops. With a 31 litre fuel tank the bike has the capacity to do up to 600km but that was yet to be proven on dirt and we knew the BMW definitely wouldn’t make it on one tank, so a little extra fuel was carried in fuel bladders - more weight. Another parallell for sailing. When a boat is overloaded and too heavy on her waterline she will not sail well. Overload a bike and you are going to make your life hard. As soon as there was room in the tank the bladders were emptied and we were happy to say that the BMW took a little of the Ducatis load the next day when their tank was getting awfully low. 

200815 9a  Still waiting for the new petrol supplies to arrive Roper Bar

Roper Bar Store - It is a while since these pumps have supplied fuel 

200815 22a Towns River Sunset

Sunset from our camp over the Towns River 

200815 19 Towns River Campsite and BLuey to the rescue with water

We had a good nights camp on the Towns River where the true spirit of a fellow camper was shown. We had arrived with water but not excess expecting there to be water in the nominated campground that came with a bush toilet. Not a tap to be found and the river here was salt water. We knew we could back track inland a few kilometres and refresh our water containers but a kind gentleman by the name of “Bluey” who happened to be staying in the area unloaded several jerry cans of water and a bucket for a bath wash, rather than see us have to take the bikes back up the sandy track. In payment he took up residence at our camp for several hours sharing stories. 

200816 1 Morning constitution Lee had a visitor

The things you encounter when off to the toilet in the morning. 

200816 9 A welcomed sign the Turn off to Lorella Springs

Had to have been a new sign - the brightness of the sign really stood out amongst the dust so there was no missing the turn off

200816 3 More soft sand -1

The next morning after an unexpected visitor for Lee when using the bush toilet we headed out for the run to Lorella Springs Wilderness Park. The day was extremely hot and it was mid afternoon when we took on the last thirty kilometres to the homestead. That thirty kilometres took a couple of hours as the road had recently been graded and the corrugations been turned to bull dust. Feeling very hot and weary we were very happy to arrive at the homestead. An ice cold beverage from the reception fridge had never tasted so good.

200817 14 Lorella Station Bar and Reception area

Lorella Springs is a 4WD natural adventure park. It is a family owned property that covers an area of 4000 square kilometres. Uniquely they have set up the property to be shared by 4WD and fishing enthusiasts. With close to 50 designated camps areas Lorella can accommodate a lot of people without you even realising they are there. There is everything from Gorges, small billabongs to the gulf coastline. We saw multiple families giving there kids an amazing bush experience. Some travellers were return visitors, all were extremely praising of the experience. 

For us we were happy to just put up camp under a very shady tree and have our first day off riding by enjoying the nearby thermal pool and the luxury of the Homestead cafe.  

To really appreciate how big and how much is on offer at this unique place check out Lorella's Website . We certainly would look to pack up the 4WD ourselves and head back for a few weeks of exploration in the future. 

200817 3 Thermal Pools Lorella Station-2-2

The Thermal Pools

200817 3 Thermal Pools Lorella Station-6

Courtesy canoes are left along some of the water ways so that you can explore further - in this case it was a very short paddle

200818 9 One large Brahman Bull-1

Buffalo and cattle are just a few of the things to watch for on the road to Cape Crawford 

200818 12 Lee and Andrew  Lunch stop at Heartbreak Hotel Cape Crawford

Given time constraints we headed south the next morning, 140km of more dirt to Cape Crawford, but very happy that the early morning start had made the run out of Lorella so much easier. Cape Crawford literally consists of a roadhouse called Heartbreak Hotel 120km from the coastline. It apparently was named after a drover, Lindsay Crawford who discovered the northern most point (Cape) of the Abner Ranges in 1880. As for the name of the roadhouse the story goes that the original owner of the establishment had his heart broken when his fiancée headed off with a ringer and so the name stuck. 

200818 13 Overnight stop Historic Daly Waters Pub 1930

Daly Waters Historic Pub

200818 15 Eclectic interior of Daly Waters Pub

Turning west our next stop, 285km later, was at Daly Waters Historical Pub. The Daly Waters Pub is the oldest pub in the Northern Territory built in 1930. Not old in European standards but for our Territory that’s something special. The current owners have capitalised on the history of the building, the bar is littered with memorabilia left behind by people who have had a good time, hearty meals including the signature dish of steak and barramundi are served up, entertainers perform each evening in the open restaurant to a multitude of travellers passing though in motorhomes, caravans or in our case on motorbikes. No tenting tonight we were most impressed with the clean comfortable facilities offered by the pub. Complete with the best feeling hot shower. 

200818 16 The Evenings entertainment came from Nimbin 8 years ago

The evenings entertainment Daly Waters Pub 

200820 7 Another Plug Job this one thankfully got us home

Leaving Daly Waters we farewelled Deb and Ross at Mataranka as they rode through to Darwin and Andrew and I opted for an overnight stop in the town of Katherine to visit friends. 

Our last day on this trip proved to be somewhat challenging. Taking the scenic dirt road out of Pine Creek turned out not to be such a good idea. A large slashed tyre resulted not long after turning off onto the dirt road. It took several plugs to repair before we could limp back into Pine Creek. Over the next five hours we would ride, stop, repair and reinflate the tyre. What should be a three hour run home from Pine Creek took seven. Andrew was however by this time well practice in the repair of the tyre and we came to appreciate our small compressor and the need for an endless amount of plugs. Ross headed out of Darwin to collect us with a car trailer but through determination and one last effort Andrew managed to get the repair to hold and we made it home unassisted but happy to know had it not worked we had an exit plan. Thanks Ross. 

So ended our first true shake down trip. We had completed just on 2267km over 7 days of riding, challenged ourselves in the dirt, worked out exactly what we needed and didn’t need with our camp gear and were now getting excited about the “Big Trip.”

(Click for more photos)

© SV Katherine 2018      Cover Photo: Katherine on Anchor Isle Tabarca Spain