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Yamaha Journey Vol.11

This is the story about Sonja Duncan’s motorcycle travel on Yamaha MT-07 around Australia.


One Woman’s Quest for the Soul of Australia

Sonja Duncan


#03 Australia: The Final Push For Home
Coober Pedy – Newcastle

In the final part of her 8000km adventure on the Big Loop, Sonja Duncan leaves the spiritual landmark of Ayer’s Rock and heads for home.

Like riding onto the set of an apocalyptic movie.

Coober Pedy, South Australia, Australia

Time stands still for us and the dormant creatures lying beneath waiting for rain.

Lake Hart, South Australia, Australia

After a long haul in the desert we felt like we had reached the promised land.

Crystal Brook, South Australia, Australia

The soaring majesty stood as the final gateway between us and home on the final rides.

Snowy Mountains, New South Wales, Australia

The Underground World of Coober Pedy and the Salt Pans

We flashed across a red Martian landscape as my thoughts turned to an emotional reunion with my daughter, the highlight of the final stage of the Big Loop. But as the road rose straight to the horizon, the heady aroma of hot asphalt drifting into my nostrils, I wanted to savor every last second of my incredible journey. The mining town of Cooper Pedy, like something from the Mad Max science fiction movie, rose into view. This is the opal capital of the world but in the summer the scorching heat here climbs as high as fifty degrees centigrade so cafes, restaurants and hotels have all been burrowed out of the red earth and exist underground. We stopped briefly but the powerful lure of the long straight road rising up to meet was too strong so we chose to enjoy the world from the seat of our motorcycles.

We pressed through vast plains and then into the Lake Hart salt pans. We slid to a halt and I did a handstand in the middle of a giant frosted lake, glistening with salt crust, like icing on a cake. Beneath us lurked billions of dormant frogs, insects and fish waiting for a few drops of rain to give them life. We climbed back in the saddle again and raced through yawning plains where the government once tested rockets and atom bombs during the Cold War. When they developed space vehicles they used this vast and parched moonscape as a stand-in for the lunar surface. We pressed on, ever nearer to our triumphant goal on an endless road that was like heaven to me.

The Sweet Breeze of Port Augusta

Suddenly, as we blasted southwards into a tangerine dusk, the grime lifted from the red tank of the Yamaha. A refreshing southerly breeze that smelled of sea salt accompanied a stark change as the harsh red dirt of central Australia receded and the world went from the monochrome of the saltpans to the vivid colors of Port Augusta and the gateway to the fertile southern lands of southern Australia. A Garden of Eden lay ahead: a riot of color from the lush orange groves, apple orchards, and irrigated wheat fields of Victoria and New South Wales. I grinned inside my helmet as we traced the edges of the Murray River. Vineyards crowded its banks and the scent of grapes filled the country air. The road bucked and twisted, the river offering a cooling sensation like the best sort of air conditioning. I felt like we had reached the promised land.

That night we set up camp in the Murray Sunset National Park and ate some of the incredible food we had picked up along the way. The rich flavors of sweet pumpkin soup, pesto pasta with locally grown pine nuts, all accentuated with a local shiraz, exploded in our mouths. We lay back amid the Murray lilies and the blue-leaved mallee plants and gazed up at a crystal clear, star-studded sky which looked like diamonds thrown across black velvet. In that moment I didn't want my journey to end.

Oranges like No Other

We pressed through the winding road of Greater Sunraysia, surging through the odd swarm of fruit flies, and rolled to a stop at a country music festival. Cowboys listened to bands crooning about a lack of rain, horses and lost loves. We tapped to the beat but the aroma of the earth was so intoxicating that we didn't want to leave the road for long so we took off once more, only to stop again when we saw some fresh oranges at a roadside stall in Victoria. I'd never seen such bright, vibrant fruit, and the taste was so succulent and sweet I vowed I'd never look at a supermarket orange in the same way again. We set up camp in Gunbower National Park, an oasis without a soul in sight bar the melodious laughing of kookaburras, which sounds uncannily like another person.

In the morning the sun rose over the misty river and I limbered up with yoga before we both took a life-enhancing dip in the Murray River. Even the mud felt luxurious and cleansing. Back in the saddle we streamed past blossoming cherry trees before the road rose and we caught sight of the ice-draped peaks of the Snowy Mountains, the highest point of Australia. We veered north through the Kosciuszko National Park where we marveled at the wallabies and wombats grazing happily at the side of the road. That night, we slept next to a whispering creek, sunlight streaming through towering eucalyptus trees in a glade that enfolded us.

An Emotional Reunion as the End of the Road Nears

The road from Khancoban to the city of Canberra was a fast-moving dream of tree-lined bends and gorgeous mountain views that took my breath away as the Yamaha moved under me with grace and power. The thousands of kilometers we had shared together meant we moved in perfect unison, and my confidence was at an all time high.

We raced out of the mountains and down into open plains, zipping down thrilling roads with sweeping bends before, finally, we arrived in Canberra for a special liaison. I was here to see my daughter in a production of Miss Saigon that she was starring in. She'd followed my blog posts every day and hoped that we might make it to see her in the show. But I was a novice rider and I wasn't sure if I would make all those miles in time. But I had grown so masterful on the motorcycle that here we were, after a stop in a local hotel, showered and clean, before curtain up. My daughter was so thrilled her mother was in the audience that she excitedly told the whole cast we had ridden our motorcycles from the remote Northern Territory to see her in the show. It was one of the best nights of my life to see my daughter perform after crossing the vastness of Australia.

The Home Stretch and a Meeting with My Father

The following day we cruised over the Clyde Mountain and then rode down into Batemans Bay, a picturesque fishing town home to an oyster fleet. A blazing sun reflected off the coruscating waters of the Indian Ocean as we rolled up my father's driveway. As I pulled off my helmet the look of pride and relief on his face said it all. With my limited riding experience, he had serious doubts over this journey but here I was safe and happy and with a glowing sense of achievement. From his home, Dad had followed our entire journey every day on the internet. Over lunch by the river we spoke excitedly as I told him about the magic of the outback, the towns, the wide open spaces and the incredible characters we had met. We had been to the remote lands few Australians had seen. My dad beamed at me proudly.

The next day I kissed my father goodbye and set off for the final ride of the Big Loop to my home in Newcastle. I thrummed northwards up the A1 highway my mind working a million miles a minute. I'd ridden almost 8000km, crossed six states and territories in two and a half weeks. I'd learned more about Australia than I ever imagined and looking down on my road-worn, dusty bike, I realized myself and the Yamaha had conquered the remotest parts of the continent. I pulled into my house and felt bittersweet to be coming to a halt after being in perpetual motion for days on end. When I dismounted, I decided that I'm going to ride from South America to Canada next. The call of the road is now too strong to resist. I want to be on the road forever.

Sonja Duncan

Sonja Duncan is a mother of two, a self-made businesswoman who runs her own Environmental Management consultancy and a passionate motorcyclist. She only started on two wheels in April 2015 but aside from her 8000km Australian road trip she now plans to motorcycle all the way from Chile, at the southern tip of South America, to Alaska, via Newfoundland in Canada.

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