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Yamaha Journey Vol.10

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


#02 Australia: A Spiritual Motorcycle Quest to Ayers Rock
Betoota – Uluru

In part two of her epic 8000km adventure through the Australian Outback, Sonja Duncan heads into the remote Northern Territory to reach one of Australia's most powerful natural landmarks.

Sunset in the remote town of Betoota, a little town with a population of zero.

Betoota, Queensland, Australia

The shoe tree just outside Birdsville where passing travellers left their shoes in homage to the ruggedness of the road.

Birdsville, Queensland, Australia

The Devil's Marbles, an incredible geologic formation that was extraordinary up close.

Devils Marbles, Northern Territory, Australia

The grand flanks of Uluru, the largest monolith in the world, unchanged for tens of thousands of years.

Uluru, Northern Territory, Australia

The Rainbow Serpent

Just before the sun rose I checked my boots for bull ants, the only residents we encountered in the remote, fly-blown town of Betoota. The previous night we explored a derelict hotel and wandered the rooms thinking of the people who had stayed here back at the end of the century. This used to be a changeover town for the stagecoach but the last horse drawn service was in 1924 and no-one lived here anymore. .Satisfied, I wouldn't get bitten I tugged them on and climbed aboard the Yamaha. The engine purred to life, causing me to grin as we set out for the highlight of my motorcycle odyssey: Ayer's Rock, or Uluru, as the aborigines call it. The giant sandstone formation is one of the world's most notable natural landmarks, sacred in Aborigine culture and a UNESCO world heritage site.

We hit the road, little more than an arid and hot expanse of golf-balled shaped rocks that rolled endlessly to the horizon. The previous night marked our second day under canvas. Just before bed I'd rolled out my yoga mat and pulled some poses under the majestic blue dome of sky. I limbered up with the half moon pose and then a headstand. This morning on the bike I felt more confident as my limbs and muscles flowed into the rhythm of the motorcycle.

As we pressed on in this vast topography we caught sight of a Rainbow Serpent mural of red, white and black rocks in the side of a hill that had been constructed by Aboriginal artists. It stood as a powerful presence, sentinel to the magical landscape we were motoring into. The aborigines believe that the snake brings rain, and creates human beings by sending conception spirits into the Outback's watering holes.

Soon the panorama changed from harsh grasslands to rolling sand dunes. I knew if I could make the end of this road, the rest of the Big Loop would be easy. We were hundreds of kilometers from another soul and it was so remote I was pushing the 400km fuel range of my bike to the limit. Richard carried a spare 10 liters of fuel on the back of his but we never needed it.

Birdsville or Bust

Hot and dusty, I was elated to finally pull up to the front of the Birdsville Hotel built in the 1800's. Its an Australian icon, a pub in the middle of nowhere, that my school friends and I used to talk about reaching one day. I never thought I'd make it there aged 50 on a motorcycle.

The town's only claim to fame, aside from its remoteness, are horse races which are held every year. In the bar we looked up to see battered Akubra hats nailed to the ceiling. They belonged to Australian Outback souls who had long passed, leaving just memories of this parched and desolate part of the country. After affixing a Birdsville sticker to the front of my bike, we hit the road once more, passing a shoe tree, a sign draped with old shoes from travelers. They had left their footwear as a mark of respect for the ruggedness of the road.

After 166km of challenging track we hit smooth asphalt once more. Shortly afterwards we discovered the perfect campsite next to a broad expanse of water. Given that schoolchildren in places like Bourke have never seen rain, so dry are parts of the Outback, we were entranced by the flowing currents of King Creek. Dirty, hot and hungry we stripped out of our gear and jumped straight in. The chill, roiling waters felt balmy and soothing. They massaged my muscles and rejuvenated my body. We emerged, set up our tent and enjoyed a glass of wine, before drifting away into deep, beautiful sleep.

The luxury of Mt Isa after a long, winding road

We were awoken by the melodious chirping of finches and the caw of cockatoos. The road, single-lane asphalt, unfurled beneath us. It felt fun and refreshing as I leaned into the corners and enjoyed the aroma of the fertile soil. An hour later, we passed the Tropic of Capricorn, the dividing line between the southernmost hemisphere and the difference between the temperate zones of the south and the tropics to the north. We pressed on and thrilled to a dry, blazing red landscape marked by dried up creeks, skinny cows and gnarled trees.

The landscape was soon dominated by huge billowing clouds of dust thrown up by giant road train trucks: 5 meters wide, 50 meters long and weighing as much as 75 tones. They sped past us at 100km/h sucking the air from under us and causing me to weave a little before regaining my composure. They were such powerful vehicles.

We arrived in Mt Isa like conquering heroes, riding into a small city that to me, after so much time alone in the Outback, felt like a throbbing giant metropolis. Richard had a surprise for me. Two nights in the Mount Isa hotel to regain our strength for the final push to Uluru. I luxuriated in hot showers and two days of sleep. We left programming the GPS which had just one simple instruction: turn left after 680km. We sped across the state border into the Northern Territory, the least populated of all Australia's states, and some 2600km since we started.

A walk though the Devil's Marbles!

The Yamaha fell into step with nature as we streamed through the Barkly Tableland, sweeping acres of golden grasses and soil as black as coal. We pushed on into the Mallee scrublands where stunted Eucalyptus forests emitted the intoxicating fragrance of the wild. We camped overnight in Tennant Creek before we hit the road and then arrived at the Karlu Karlu conservation reserve. Soft, lancing rays of sunlight illuminated the Devil's Marbles, gargantuan granite boulders that had been formed by 1700 million years of geological activity. They balanced precariously on top of one another, as if a giant had recently been playing with them. The site is curated by Warumungu aborigines. They maintain strict rules because native groups come here to act out sacred rituals that reenact creation stories which have great spiritual power. When I was fourteen I'd done school projects on this area. To be standing here blew my mind.

After a few hours, I flung my leg over the Yamaha and motored happily past other trails that led to secluded Aborigine communities that you needed special permits to visit. We left them undisturbed, happy that they were living in the same way they had been for 40 000 years.

Strong winds picked up across the yawning planes as I used the motorcycle's power to lean into the Wild Willy's, small dust devils. Winds rapidly shifted direction in seconds, but I felt so confident in the saddle I enjoyed flexing the bike back and forth as we surged on to Alice Springs, another famous Outback in the middle of the desert. There are six uniquely Australian languages spoken in the town. We'd covered a staggering 1600km in just two days.

The culmination of a spiritual journey: the majesty of Ayers Rock

We set out on the Stuart Highway under a vivid, azure blue sky, the air crystal clear. We rode an ancient landscape past flowering wattle trees, glorious red granite bluffs and sprawling cattle stations.

Suddenly Uluru, its broad flanks a magical cerise, filled my visor. I was overwhelmed with a powerful spiritual longing. I felt like a tiny speck in space and time. The journey on the Yamaha suddenly took on an emotional aspect. Exactly six months ago today my older sister, Susie, had died. All my life she had been very protective of me. We were best friends and shared every part of our lives. I had done this trip in homage to her joyous life. When the road had challenged me, like the rough track to Birdsville, or the darkness had closed in on me, I felt her comforting voice in my ears, “slow down little sister” or “take it easy here.” She'd been my guardian angel on this journey.

We parked the bikes up and watched the sun fade over Uluru, the center of Australia, and to me in that moment, the center of the universe. I crackled with emotion as darkness fell over the giant monolith and we turned in ready to wake in a few hours to see the sunrise over Uluru, and to experience a spiritual awakening.

That night we met a Polish woman who echoed my deep passion for motorcycling and the new world it was opening up for me. She had ridden though the USA, South America, Italy, Eastern Europe and even parts of the Middle East. Once she drove her motorcycle on ice with spiked tires. She had incredible stories that inspired my own motorcycling ambitions. I watched her ride and she handled the machine effortlessly. Her parting words to me, “Keep on riding my darling!”

Before sunrise Richard and I jumped on the Yamaha and rode to a vantage point overlooking the giant rock formation. The sun rose gloriously, bathing the rock with powerful rays that turned it magically from a deep brown to vibrant ochre red. I felt that every rock, tree and bush we saw had been created by mythical creatures from the Aboriginal stories we had heard about the Dreaming. I felt like I had new eyes. In that moment Susie stood with me. Together we had made it.

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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