Riding Australias’ Southern Alpine Loop – Part 1

Filed in Australia, Riding, Travel by on June 12, 2013 2 Comments

The Idea

Having worked a full weekend prior and with a sunny one forecast for the next one amongst constant weekends of rain, I figured I’d forgo my usual overtime pay and just take the 2 days off instead, making a 4 day weekend and riding as far as I could manage to get a small taste of some long distance stuff and take in some nice roads along the way.

Preparation & Planning

I had only ever ridden to my local twisties or on the track, so getting my mind around preparing the bike, what to carry and the route seemed like a bit of a challenge. However, given that the upcoming weekend was forecast to be fine and sunny (a change from the wet weekends we’ve been enduring in Sydney for a while now), I HAD to make this happen.

Step 1– Figure out where I’m going. The two options I had in mind were either to head north towards the Gold Coast in Queensland or south to Victoria. Gold Coast seemed nice and sunny, but a lot of recommendations were coming in for the roads down south through NSW’s Snowy Mountains and then onto Victorias ‘Great Alpine Road’. At a guess, I figured I could make about 500kms a day and decided to head south on the basis of my mate who had done 11 days down south and kindly gave me his “Australian Motorcycle Atlas” with all the neat little notes describing the awesomeness of each road !!

Step 2– Bike & Gear – As I was on a fairly short time frame to prepare, I was lucky enough to have friends lend me a tailpack and tank bag, in addition to a backpack on my back with my DSLR and netbook, this would provide me with enough room for the 4 day trip.

Aside from that, I made the rounds of the local bike shops and got myself a puncture repair kit, a hand pump and tyre pressure gauge. This, combined with a few spanners and the bikes tool kit would be my support for the trip. Even though I am mechanically inept, it was nice to have something with me so at least I could take care of the simplest issues. I also took out a ‘premium’ roadside assistance policy in case I needed a tow in a really bad situation.

As an example of my mechanical ineptitude, during the task of bleeding the brake, I was doing up the rear reservoir only to drop one of the screws…somewhere within the bike. Took me a day or so of fishing around to finally figure out where it went and to get it back out !!

Aside from that, the bike was pretty fine. I also replaced my low beam globe which had been blown for close to a year only to find that the fuse had gone too. A last minute dash to some shops had me well stocked up on fuse for the trip too.

Step 3– Route planning – The next few days at work were spent on Google Maps mapping out how I was going to get around. I eventually came up with the following loop starting and ending in Sydney

This missed out on some of Sydneys key riding roads and got me straight down the highway to Victoria to enjoy what they had to give me there ! What suddenly worried me though is the fact that the route I was taking through NSW Snowy Mountains region would coincide with the annual “Snowy Ride”. A ride in the region that attracts about 3000 bikers over the weekend. I suddenly panicked and started thinking if I should alter my plans and head north, would there be any accommodation for me, would there be cops everywhere? I eventually calmed down and just decided to stick with what I had, and just try to stay out of their way, pass through the Snowies on Day 1 and get to a quiet area…

Once again though, my good friend JT came to my rescue and emailed me through a Google map layout of the ride he proposed. Comparing this to the Atlas confirmed that most of the key roads were covered in this loop, the only adjustment I could see was that down south I was getting mighty close to the Tasman Sea…so why not visit a town right at the edge of Australia? To some this may seem odd, but I’ve developed and odd interest in getting to certain points as little personal achievements (eg. Visiting the 7 Wonders of the World, trying to visit as many oceans as I can). That and I generally like being near the water…

Now, my mate had told me to just pull into town, look up the local pub and find a room. When I’m backpacking, I never book ahead and have no problem, but for some reason, I was just paranoid about being caught short so did a bit of searching to find roughly evenly spaced accommodation so at least I had an aim for each day and knew where to look first for a bed to crash. The 3 points I came up with were

– Khancoban, a small town along the Alpine Way (NSW) just past the Snowies. This would ensure that I’d be past the hustle of the Snowy Ride but not too far on as the Alpine Way and the roads leading on from it are quite technical, not the best to attack these after a full days ride.

– Lakes Entrance, Victoria – A town along the southern coast of Victoria looking out to the Tasman Sea. They also boasted having a YHA (Youth Hostels of Australia) with whom Id just taken a 2 year membership the weekend before. A great chance for me to interact with other travellers and immerse myself in backpacker culture!

– Bega, NSW – Coming back up along the coast of NSW there are several towns that are suitable candidates, however this name stood out because it is regarded as the cheese capital ! (You’ll see what I mean in photos later on…) Plus they also had a YHA !

So I had a route…had an idea of where to sleep…had a bike…had some luggage…time to ride 🙂

Day 1

I had intended to wake up early and depart home around 7am, before the peak hour rush hit the roads. I estimated this would give me a good 12 hours on the road before sunset. However, in a style I have become accustomed to, I stayed up late packing my gear, woke up late and hence set out at 930am. Not too bad, but I just had to be on the ball as there was a fair bit of highway to cover today and I needed to get past the Snowy Mountains region in order to avoid being caught up in the Snowy Ride.

As I hit the main arterial highway between Sydney and Canberra (capital of Australia) I started seeing more and more bikes with luggage loaded on the rear. Although I was concerned about finding accommodation due to all the bikers out, it was a buzz to be out on the roads with so many other like minded people.

The first rest stop I pulled into off the highway I was asked straight away by a rider on a Street Triple if I was headed to the Snowy….nope just a coincidence mate.

I made every effort I could to stick to the highway speed limit of 110km/h however it was getting quite boring and couldn’t help twist my wrist here and there. I did keep it under control though, I was told that cops were usually out in force for the weekend along this route. My salvation was in the form of 3 other sportbikes flying past me. I took this as my invite, inserted myself into the middle of the pack and hoped for strength in numbers.

This was thwarted by seeing the signs for “average speed cameras”. These work by taking a photo at one point and then at the next point calculating time elapsed. You get there too quick and you’ve been a bad boy. I wasn’t sure if these applied for bikes too, but just to be on the safe side….just happened to get off the bike for a stretch right before the end checkpoint

Following this, passed through the towns of Cooma and then onto Jindabyne, both of which were checkpoints for the Snowy Ride, meaning a LOT of bikes every where, and also police checkpoints for alcohol testing. These were the friendliest cops I have ever come across in my life, with a heavily modified car I am often on the wrong side of the law due to vehicle defects but seems bikes are well tolerated in these parts. Even had a brief exchange with one officer of the law who commented on my helmet pointing towards the road and telling me “hope it doesnt show the speedo”

At Lake Jindabyne

Late lunch at Jindabyne

I was starting to get worried that I was going to run out of daylight to try and get to my first target of Khancoban so I got a move on. However, during the last police checkpoint the cop had mentioned to me to be very wary of the upcoming “Alpine Way”. This was regarded as a good motorcycling road in my atlas however he warned me of it being very tight, oncoming traffic being head on and also wildlife as the sun was setting.

Although I was lucky enough not to experience any (living) wildlife, I had a few moments where I was up against the guardrail thanks to over-zealous bikers coming straight at me with no regard for how much road they left me.

From Jindabyne to Khancoban

Due to the technical roads and boy racers nearly running me off the edge, I needed a couple of extra breaks due to tensing up in the really tight stuff. Got to fix those bad reflexes of mine

One of the main reasons I chose this “Alpine” route was to get the scenery of snow capped mountains in the back. After reading numerous European ride reports online, I wanted to experience similar scenery however due to riding at the tail end of winter, this is the best I could manage

The Snowy region is well known for its hydro-electric schemes. In front of one of the power stations (Murray 1)

I finally got into Khancoban as the sun was setting and got myself into the only place that resembled accommodation for the night. I had looked this place up before I left as a fall-back with the intent of finding a place myself, but there really was no choice. And at $60 a night it wasn’t the cheapest either. Great bed though !

The place was mainly a pub, so as the sun set, all the workers from the hydro plants came down, as I sat there eating my steak it was fun to eavesdrop on a lifestyle so far from mine (I work in a climate controlled cubicle farm, these guys work outdoors all day). I guess the main draw was…the bottleshop !

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I take GSXRs to inappropriate places