Cape York to Wilsons Promontory on the BMW R 1200 GS Rallye X – Part One
After putting the final instalment of the Melbourne-Alice-Darwin-Proserpine yarn on the K 1600 GT to bed (Link), it was time to start my next long distance epic.
From the tip of Cape York, the northern most point of Australia, I am planning to ride all the way to the southernmost point of the Australian mainland, Wilsons Promontory.
My mount this time around, BMW’s new R 1200 GS Rallye X. The distance a little shorter than the last adventure, a little under 5000km, but including around 1000km of dirt, dotted with a few river crossings and sidetracks along the way.
This morning started with what in enduro terms would be called a ‘special test’.
Miles Davis and I were latecomers to the 2017 BMW GS Safari Enduro, only flying in to Bamaga the previous evening. Thus while the rest of the group had already been out to the tip of Australia the day before via the main tracks, Miles and I took a challenging road less travelled backtrack from our overnight digs at Punsand Bay through Roma Flats out to the tip of Cape York, the Northernmost point of Australia.
It has been a while since I have been seriously off-road on a big GS and this was straight into the deep end stuff, the sand was subaqueous in places and the track well cut up. When Miles, who has just completed the epic feat of finishing the Finke Desert Race on a R 1200 GS Rallye X, is feet down and paddling in places, you know it is a little testing…
Unfortunately, we had no photographer with us and in the challenging terrain did not really have the chutzpah to stop and take photos through this particularly testing little stretch, thus you will just have to take my word for it.
Adding a little more challenge to that little opening trek was the fact that the previous rider of my machine had failed to make the tyre change cut-off time the previous day. Thus the rear Continental TKC80 was pretty well toasted when I got on the bike, the picture below shows the shape it was in by the end of my 500km on the bike today.
There is just only so much an off-road tyre can do when put under a 240kg R 1200 GS Rallye X while being propelled in earnest by 125hp/125Nm of Boxer grunt.
After the morning’s little deep sand warm-up, I was sweating like a gimp in a sauna by 0730, and still had 500km to go…
Luckily the rest of the day was on the general GS Safari Enduro main route, and was far from technical. Still, any slight lapse in concentration was going to be costly. Over the previous few days there had already been numerous medical evacuations, with seven riders down fairly hard.
With the surfaces constantly changing, big floodway washouts and soft dirt built up in unexpected places, there was no room for taking your eye off the ball. Any momentary lapse could easily result in catastrophy. This is not mentioned to be melodramatic, but adventure riding can be very unforgiving, and there are always nasty surprises to catch you out, even on what can seem to be the more mundane stretches. Thus today, caution was key.
There are three different editions of the BMW Safari. The GS Safari, for most adventure punters, the GS Safari Enduro, like this one, caters for the more hard-core adventurers. Then there is the TS Safari, a road only event that this year will visit Western Australia for the first time, and like the early days of Safari will also be held in conjunction with GS Safari. Those events will be staged from October 9 through 13 this year.
While you are perhaps right to be cautious and even a little intimidated by the premise of the more hard-core GS Safari Enduro, the other two GS or TS Safari events are geared towards the average motorcyclist. Put simply, there is no better place to explore the capabilities of yourself, and your GS, than in the supportive environment that is GS Safari, full of friendly advice and encouragement and like minded folk.
I can’t recommend highly enough the participation in these events for GS owners, particularly those new to the fold. Get out there and get amongst it! GS Safari Enduro though is a different matter, you need confidence, a level head, reasonable skills and some sort of fitness if you are to enjoy yourself.
After exiting Cape York Miles and I headed along Development Roads to Bramwell Station, crossing the Wenlock River and Archer River before completing a 500km day when rolling into Coen later that afternoon.
If heading to Cape York from the south, Coen is the last small town/village in Far North Queensland, from thereon up it is sparse roadhouses only, and no real civilisation. Originally a Gold Mining outpost, Coen now serves the cattle stations and remote aboriginal communites in FNQ. I can thoroughly recommend the local pub, The Exchange Hotel.
While for the most part today’s riding was far from technical, at this time time of year at least, if you are planning your own trip towards the cape you should be aware that, in most years, it is generally only navigable between the months of April and November. Outside of that period the roads are officially closed, to all traffic. This is harsh country, and when the wet arrives, it brings with it conditions that basically cuts this upper part of FNQ off to the whole of the outside world.
Friday we depart Coen and head east into Lakefield National Park before then turning south-east along Battlecamp Road and in to Old Laura before an overnight stop in Cooktown.
The third day, Saturday, will see the group head further south towards Cairns along Bloomfield Track, for a wind up shindig that signals the end of 2017 BMW GS Safari Enduro. Cairns will not be the end of the trip for me though! I will continue working my way south to complete a tip to tip adventure, from Cape York to Wilson Promontory.