2019 BMW GS Safari Enduro
Mildura to Alice Springs via Arkaroola and Finke
Shaun Terblanche chronicles the adventure
From Mildura to Alice Springs via the back tracks a hardy crew of just over 80 riders last week took on the most testing of BMW’s Safari events, the GS Safari Enduro. This is the more hard-core version of the regular GS Safari, and is immediately preceded by a two-day BMW Off-Road Training Course, handy for those that want to brush up on their skills before embarking on this six-day intrepid adventure.
BMW Australia’s recently named International GS Trophy Team also took part in the event. The week together serving to help them get to know each other better, and start to learn how to work together, ahead of their tilt at the International GS Trophy 2020 competition which will be staged next February in New Zealand.
Western Australian Shaun Terblanche was one of those trio that made the cut after the qualifying event was staged at Dargle in July. Originally from South Africa, Shaun obtained a motorcycle licence only six years ago, before moving up to an F 800 GS Adventure model two years later.
GS Safari visited Western Australia in late 2017 and this was Shaun’s first chance to experience this now iconic event on the riding calendar, needless to say he was hooked! Shaun and his brother Jaun signed up for the BMW Off-Road Training Course ahead of that event and after completing their first GS Safari they immediately signed up for the Victorian High Country GS Safari that was held in 2018.
Shaun then learned of the International GS Trophy, a team based event running over eight-days, staged every two-years in a different region of the world. He decided that this was something he wanted to have a crack at being a part of and, along with his brother, they started training hard ahead of the 2019 GS Trophy Qualifier.
Riders faced a range of obstacles and challenges at the qualifying event and day one saw the two brothers holding down second and third in the standings. A twist on day two saw the opening day’s top ten put on new F 850 GS models where they had to complete three challenges for a spot on the podium to represent Team Australia at the 2020 GS Trophy.
“My heart jumped when I heard my name being called out, I was heading to New Zealand, but unfortunately my brother Jaun missed out.”
Below Shaun recaps the adventure that was 2019 BMW GS Safari Enduro via daily diary that chronicled the event as it progressed.
2019 BMW GS Safari Enduro Day One
Mildura to Peterborough – 475 km
The morning started out at chilly five-degrees when we rolled out of town at 0815. After a compulsory fuel stop in Wentworth, about 30 kilometres from our starting point in Mildura. The anticipation of getting off the bitumen was satisified around 50 kilometres later as we turned onto a wide dirt road.
Around 130 kilometres in we joined Chowilla Track, here riders quickly realised that they had to be on their game today. You had to be extremely aware of your surroundings and be able to spot surface changes well in advance. The surface would change from hard-pack to deep sand in a matter of metres and could easily catch you out.
Tracks left in the sand by riders through before me told stories of bikes performing big GS tangos and riders getting well acquainted with the sand, with more than few taking a dive and getting a real taste for it… There were the odd few who had some flying lessons on their way to finding out sand is actually not really as soft as it seems…
Only a handful of R 1200 GS Adventure models would be able to reach the destination of Peterborough on a tank so a fuel drop had been arranged at the 330 km mark. Each bike received a little under ten litres of fuel from the back of a ute as dusty smiles and stories started emerging as riders congregated for their splash of go-juice. We then set off to complete the next 130 km to Peterborough, dodging the odd bull-dust hole along the way…
The normal route was closed to late riders at 1500 and then swept by Miles and Wes. The two blokes who brought the fuel left Tysen and I with two camp chairs and a few ten-litre jerry cans for the remaining riders. We were assigned to fuel up the remaining handful of bikes to come through and wait for the sweep rider, we also had to direct the late-comers on to the easier route through to Yunta, where they would then continue to Peterborough via the Barrier Highway.
Peterborough was a compulsory camp night for everyone, we pulled in as the sun was setting and a few riders lent a hand to set up the last few tents before dark. Fantastic bikes bringing awesome people together to travel epic landscapes.
Tomorrow the scenery will change slightly as we travel along the Eastern edge of the Flinders Ranges through some technical tracks and make our way up to Arkaroola.
2019 BMW GS Safari Enduro Day Two
Peterborough to Arkaroola – 459 km
Start time this morning was a bit later to allow riders to pack up their tents and get sorted for the day. As we rolled out of Peterborough we were greeted with some great views of the Black Rock Conservation area, this introduced the riders to the rocky terrain that was to follow in the afternoon.
Tracks rolled through dry river beds and flowed with the contours of the surrounding terrain. We worked our way through farm gates, each with its own unique DIY latch ranging from chains around the gate post, to wire latches and all manner of hooks.
After 180km we were happy to see the sight of Hawker on the horizon, this meant fuel and lunch, along with something to wet the throat. After a quick stop riders then made their way into the Flinders Ranges National Park.
A right turn onto the dirt took us on to Wirrealpa Rd, again the surface changed, this time to a somewhat slippery surface, with a few spots of off-camber through the bends to keep you on your toes. Riverbeds in the road kept it interesting, some were basically just dips in this not very well travelled outback access road, some were filled with rocks about the size of your fist, and the odd one was filled with a patch of bull-dust.
Riders who set a good pace in the morning had the opportunity to make their way through the Nantawirrina Aboriginal Area, some spectacular riding through river-beds and rocky technical areas had the riders’ attention.
The ride into Arkaroola is something special, winding through the hills and flowing into a little village that gives you a unique and somewhat serene feeling. Throw in a sunset as you ride in, and it is easy to forget that a crazy world of hustle and bustle even exists.
We are here for two nights, tomorrow we will explore some more of the local tracks and also head out to Lake Frome with a promise of deep sand, the GS Trophy Team has no choice, bring it on!
2019 BMW GS Safari Enduro Day Three
Arkaroola Loop Day – 122 km
Before the start of Safari the name Arkaroola was accompanied by the phrases ‘it’s a special place’ and ‘it will blow your mind’. Nothing anyone says can prepare you for the spectacular landscape in this area.
The morning started with a ride down Arkaroola Rd before we took a right turn into the Vulkathuna-Gammon Ranges. The first few kilometres were slightly rocky but we were still able to carry a relatively good pace. Every now and again you would cross a creek or see some bull-dust here and there. The tracks slowly got progressively harder and you had to be light on the bike and float, if you didn’t you were punished with a jerk of the front wheel hitting the big rocks which lay scattered across the track.
A few bikes were parked up as we rolled up to the intersection for the break-out option, this seems to have been the first of many tyre repair stops, two front punctures were attended to swiftly and riders were on their way again. The break-out route was swept and cleared right behind us today and no other riders were allowed to do the route as it would have taken them too long to complete the whole route in time.
The Trophy Team then had a challenge of our own with a large hole in the rear tyre of one of the bikes, we drove one plug in and it seemed to hold pretty well and we were on our way again. A few more kilometres down the road the plug then blew out and we were forced off the track again, this time we attempted a few things and got about four plugs in, only for it to keep leaking as we started pumping air in. By this time the sweep vehicle had arrived after attending to a few other incidents, and we were lucky to get a tube from them. Tyre off, tube in, happy days – we were off again to complete the rest of the ride.
The break-out had its moments, the caution markers put out by the lead riders were placed perfectly and riders really had to pay attention to these, by now when you see caution stickers you know this is tough stuff that can take out bikes and riders if not taken seriously. Many of these were to mark bull-dust sections, generally just over a crest leading into a downhill or uphill. The trouble with the bull-dust is that it’s like a fine dust with the consistency of talcum powder, and all of a sudden you can’t see and the bike could suddenly jerk in any direction, therefore there is no way to ride bull-dust holes other than going slow and be ready for anything.
The rocks then became bigger and went from being scattered to being EVERYWHERE!!! Creek crossings became longer and deeper, the creeks filled with shaley rock and riding through this sounded like glass shattering. The closer we got to the end of the track, the bigger and more challenging the hills became.
Everyone here is astounded by the abuse we are putting these bikes through, and they are handling it brilliantly.
In between all this you would then ride on some relatively flat plains and notice small bushes, no more than about 50 cm high, covered with yellow flowers, the rough area around it makes you wonder how they survive out here.
Bring on tomorrow, we’re heading up to William Creek, getting deep into the Aussie Outback now.
2019 BMW GS Safari Enduro Day Four
Arkaroola to William Creek – 450km
We left Arkaroola at around 0750 with the idea to do the hard track and meet up where the easy and hard tracks converge again. After the tyre drama yesterday Wes had a new tyre fitted, only to pull off the track after only 1.7 km where another puncture was discovered. This time one plug did the job and we had no further issues into William Creek, although we didn’t want to risk it by doing the rocky technical section so we turned around and rode the simpler option out to Copley. This wasn’t boring by any means, the ride was good, flowing through the valleys and twisting roads required attention as the surface was not forgiving when coming into the corners too fast.
Copley saw many riders pull in and buy some of their famous pies. After Copley we had a 112 km bitumen run to Marree, where bikes were refueled and some had their lunch stop.
The landscape started becoming more and more arid, mountains disappearing behind us as we rolled on towards William Creek on the Oodnadatta track. Caravans were plentiful and a few road trains travelled in the same direction as us, kicking up so much dust that you can’t safely overtake, meaning you are stuck behind them until the winds change and you can see that there is no traffic coming from up ahead.
Most of the Oodnadatta track is pretty well run out by cars, ranging from about 4 to 6 tyre tracks, with all the gravel pushed up in these gravel mounds running along the track, in some spots barely visible, elsewhere they may push up to about a foot high, so overtaking also involves crossing these but you get used to the idea. By the time you get to William Creek you are truly in the Outback, and the odd sand dune means you’re at the tail end of the Simpson desert.
A few riders opted to take a scenic flight over Lake Eyre, which had recently reached its highest water level in about 50 years.
Tomorrow we ride from William Creek to Mt Dare via Oodnadatta, the plan is to then hit the tracks again up into the Witjira National Park. We are being told that we can expect sand and bulldust.
2019 BMW GS Safari Enduro Day Five
William Creek to Mount Dare – 460 km
By now riders and bikes should have become well acquainted, changing wheel tracks meant crossing gravel mounds and the bike would do a tail wag and gain traction again as soon as you were in the other wheel track, an unnerving feeling for some riders. We continued our journey in a northwesterly direction on the Oodnadatta track, but the steady pace towards Oodnadatta was short lived for many.
The track became more like a hard packed rocky subsurface with gravel mounds running parallel to the wheeltracks, littered with tyre-busters and rim-busters so you had to be especially light on the bikes, keeping the vision up and moving around to avoid hitting the rocks that could potentially take you out, some up to the size of two fists put together. In the first 40 and 60 km out from William Creek there were no less than about 10 punctures and two dented rims, so the crew was on their toes and had to patch holes, fit tubes and even swap one wheel out to get riders on the move again.
A wheel change next to the track was the last of those, with no centre-stand on the 850 we had to improvise and prop a railway sleeper from the old Ghan railway line. I was now teamed up with the sweep crew again and we headed to Oodnadatta, home to the famous Pink Roadhouse, and it’s just that – PINK!!! Pretty much the whole exterior of the structure is pink. Inside, the dining room area, food counters, rafters, everything was pink. A quick stop and an update to the rest of the crew before heading up into Hamilton Station, a few raised cattle grids may have contributed to some GS airtime. Coming into the Hamilton Creek area the track was as smooth as anything, fast flowing with a thin layer of sand, beautiful riding through the desert, the closest feeling to flying on a bike.
At Hamilton Creek the plan for the day was changed after we heard reports of the track being in really bad condition, and going by the conditions leading up to day five, a call was made to go with a poentially less problematic option to ensure everyone made it into Mount Dare safely.
North of Hamilton Creek the landscape instantly changed and the track cut through large rocks strewn for as far as the eye can see, making you feel as though you’re on another planet. Float on the bike….
Small groups of cattle were the only signs of life out here, until we pulled up to another rider in strife, we tubed his wheel earlier in the day but unfortunately the puncture had tore further and the tube had blown. That had left him stuck next to the road for an extended period of time while being pestered by a gazillion flies. Quick work was made to get his bike onto the trailer, as the sun was getting low and we had to make tracks and get into Mount Dare before nightfall.
The shadows started covering the rocky creek bed in which we rode along for a few kilometres, making it hard to spot the traps and rim benders. The edges were a little smoother as the sand surrounding the creek bed would drop from the raised edges, covering the rocks and making for easier riding here and there.
The Mount Dare windmill was a good sight after a long day on the bikes riding, it was a camp night for everyone. Bikes parked up next to tents all around the bare sandy campground, each finding a spot next to a tree or in a group with a few mates, is one I’ll keep in the back of my mind forever. Grey nomads and other campers sat around the fire and shared stories under the stars.
The lesson from today was that you can not attempt this sort of trip by yourself without being absolutely prepared and having all the necessary tools and spares at hand to get you out of trouble in this barren land.
2019 BMW GS Safari Enduro Day Six
Mount Dare to Alice Springs – 577 km
There was a sense of excitement and anticipation (and most likely some nervousness) in the air as we prepared for the final day of GS Safari Enduro 2019, it promised to be a challenging one. The main route out up Mount Dare road to Abminga Track, a wide sandy track stretching about 30km, which took us out to Finke Rd, where we turned West for a 29 km gravel run into Finke, home of the famous Finke Desert Race.
At Finke we had the option of heading to Alice the hard way along 224km of Finke Track Access Road, or the easy long way round via Kulgera, 145km and then a 270km bitumen run to Alice Springs.
Abminga track was an eye opener for many, there was deep rutted tracks all over the road which was about 15m wide, maybe even wider in some spots. Some riders were unnerved, a few bikes tumbled and riders got to know the sand a little more intimately.
I pulled over to remove my inner liner of my jacket, and as I started rolling again I was excited to see the sand master, Miles Davis, pull up next to me, and I knew it was on. The two of us made good work of the second half of the track, and once again I learned by just watching the legend ride, what a privilege! We pulled up to the Finke Rd Intersection and a number of riders stopped there, big smiles and happy faces visible behind the helmets, what a sense of achievement, powering through the sand with the bike jumping all over the place, anyone in their right mind would think we are mad to even attempt this sort of riding on bikes that are on the other end of 240kg when put on the scales.
Miles and I kept going and he shared some more of his seemingly infinite wisdom with me, and I tried a few more things on the bike! There were a couple of concerned faces as we rolled into the fuel bowser at Finke, they had just run out of fuel…
This complicated things for us, once again we were in a position where only the 1200 Adventures would have the fuel range to reach Alice via the Finke Track, some riders were lucky to get the last few litres of fuel. This is where we started making plans, jerry cans were pulled off the support cars and bikes refueled, riders on the big Adventures also helped out by siphoning some fuel out and transferring to the other bikes, one way or another we were going to make this happen.
After yet another briefing from Miles, warning the small group of riders that had elected to attempt the hard route along the Finke access track, 29 bikes made it to the first stop about 5 km from Finke, by now one or two bikes have been dropped and this was the point where riders had their chance to make a decision whether they would continue or turn back with two of the crew riders, it was only going to get harder, but all the riders decided to keep going.
We were to stay together in one convoy, spaced about a minute apart, Miles leading the pack, and Chris acting as sweep rider, with crew and Trophy riders somewhere in between to help out where required.
From the 5 km stop I decided to ride the actual Finke Race Track for about a km or two, it is currently in good condition, whooped out with varying depth of sand, not everyone’s type of riding but I had a ball, another tick off the bucket list.
I jumped back on the access track and it was tough going, she demanded all the attention you had, and very precise inputs, the bike was like a raging bull. I have ridden sand a lot, mostly twin tracks and virgin sand dunes or beach riding, this was another ball game. Put 27 GS’s through the Finke Access track, which was already chopped up, and things got really interesting.
The fun lasted for about 20km, Miles pulled up and we wanted to make sure the group is progressing well, turns out we weren’t. A couple of riders had a hard time, this was not a she’ll be right moment, fitness and skill was clearly mentioned at the briefings. After about 30 minutes waiting for the sweep rider and car we knew something clearly wasn’t quite right, and another 10-15 minutes later Miles pulled the pin on the whole Finke to Alice run. We were gutted.
Suddenly 27 bikes had to return and ride back to Finke and the return run was carnage. About a dozen drops right where we turned, and a number on the way out. Pulling up to fallen riders made the 20 km back-track hard work. I pulled up to Wes and another rider to sort out another puncture. Tools out, plug, pump, and off again. I was now starting to run out of plugs and my repair glue was also running low.
About 2 km from Finke I saw a bike appearing from up ahead, Miles came to check what was going on. As soon as I sat down I saw red on my dash, this was the tyre pressure warning letting me know it was my turn, the pressure didn’t dropped quickly so I made the decision to ride out to the shadow of the Finke Water Tower where I stopped, found the leak and did yet another tyre repair, my first own puncture ever!
Back on the bike and we now still had over 400km to Alice, it was 1pm… Kulgera here we come, 145km of dirt then bitumen. By now this route had already been swept by the crew at the back of the ‘easy option’ riders, so the support vehicle with the trailer was ahead of us and Chris and the ute was re-sweeping for the riders who made the U-turn on the Finke Track.
All went well until I saw another rider next to the road, once again we were halted, he ripped a block off his rear tyre and there was no way to repair this, we didn’t have any spare tyres either, and the ute didn’t have any more space for anyone. We were 34 km from Kulgera Roadhouse and a quick decision was made that we would throw a tube in, nurse the bike to the roadhouse, leave it there and Dan would jump on the bike with me, we were running out of time again and had to get to Alice for the farewell dinner.
What an awesome sight to see the support vehicle with the trailer and spares when arriving at Kulgera Roadhouse, the message that the Finke Crew had to turn around, sent via the Garmin Inreach devices, got through to the crew and the decision for him to stay at the roadhouse was made, miraculously he had a spare wheel with a tyre fitted on the trailer, a quick wheel swap, fuel top up and snack stop and we were on our way again.
One more tyre blowout 70 km further on was swiftly attended to by the sweep vehicle and we made our way to Alice Springs on the bitumen. It was a hot and tough last couple of hours into Alice, hard to stay alert and focussed.
We made it to Alice Springs after an awesome week, the most beautiful places visited and traveled through, experience gained, riding skill improved, and made a bunch of new friends! A huge shout-out to the staff for running such an awesome event, every little detail attended to, tyre crew, doctors, mechanics, lead riders and sweep crew made sure we made it to Alice Springs and the truck crew ensured our bags turned up every day.
We covered approximately 2500km during the event and 126 tyres were replaced along the way. Unfortunately only one rider didn’t complete the ride, he was flown out from Arkaroola with a broken ankle and fibula, but he has had surgery and is on the mend, and is excited to get back on the bike.
What an epic journey, this certainly wasn’t an event for the faint-hearted, but everyone pulled together and made it happen. PSB (Post Safari Blues) has already kicked in!!! Bring on the next one!