Daryl Beattie Adventures
Cape York to Cairns
With Damien Ashenhurst
Getting off the plane in Bamaga in far (really far) North Queensland, you enter the simplest airport imaginable. It’s essentially a medium size shed on the side of a runway, and there was a gaggle of blokes milling around all talking dirtbikes, a language we all instantly recognised.
This was the group that preceded us and had completed the ride from Cairns to the Tip, they were clearly pumped from the experience. Tales of amazing tracks and a warning to be wary of one particularly difficult drop-off which, given we were heading in the opposite direction, that would be a climb for us. I’ll point this one out when we get to it.
From the airport we took a bus to the Loyalty Beach campground which faces north-west on the right-side ‘horn’ of Australia, we were now closer to Port Moresby than Brisbane.
This is where we met up with Daryl, truck driver and chef Scooter, as well as Peter ‘Buddha’ Luczkowski who would serve as our lead rider for the week. For anyone unfamiliar with Buddha, he swung spanners for the likes of Jeff Leisk, Mick Doohan and Kenny Roberts Jr.
Daryl of course was runner-up in the 1995 500cc Grand Prix Championship which means we were already in the company of motorcycle legends, but it was about to get better. Jeremy Burgess, head engineer for both Doohan and Valentino Rossi then rolled in. Not a bad line-up right? And the stories told over end of day beers were unforgettable.
After looking over the fleet of Hondas CRF450Ls and choosing our weapon for the week, we got suited-up and made our run to the northern most point of the Australian mainland, better known as The Tip.
From The Tip you look directly at York and Eborac Island and if you stay on a straight northerly path then there’s not much else between there and Papua New Guinea. Not much else except crocodiles, turtles, and Irukandji jellyfish. Oh yeah, and fishermen have been reporting that shark numbers are ‘out of control,’ so as much as the beautiful clear blue water looks inviting in the heat… don’t do it.
In the evening we watched the sun go down over the water, which is a bit of a novelty for us east-coasters. We then enjoyed some prawns and beers on the beach before we settled in to our swags under a blanket of stars.
Getting Rolling Proper
There were a couple of standout days on the Cape York to Cairns ride and day two is one of them. Most of the best river crossings happen on day two and the best swim–stop of the entire six days is a welcome addition to the lunch break.
Not long into the ride out of Bamaga is the crash site of a DC3 which went down in 1945 en route from Brisbane to New Guinea killing all five on-board. It’s a strange thing to stand at the site of the traumatic deaths of five human beings. Not sure if I can think of a worse way to die besides a plane crash, where you know it’s going to happen for far too long time before the end comes.
From there we jumped on the ferry across the Jardine River and make our way to the Old Telegraph track, one of the many famous trails we’ll ride during the week. The track skirts the Jardine River National Park and is so much fun to ride with a great mix of standard trail conditions interspersed with lashings of sand and bermed corners. The customary oppressive heat wasn’t present and we rode in perfect weather with every single rider loving every single minute.
Our first river crossing required each of us to assist the others across as the exit was too steep to ride up out of – this is the section we were warned about on arrival by the previous ride group. The procedure was simple; you ride in until it gets too deep and then dismount and push the bike up the embankment in first gear until the guys on the shore can grab it and take it from there.
There were campers swimming nearby watching our progress and not long after our trip across we then became the spectators, watching a couple of four-wheel-drives drop in to the river from insanely steep mud ramps. At the worst of these points called Gunshot, it’s not unusual for a fourby to end up on its roof after flipping.
Once we reached the Heathlands Resources Reserve we turned in to check out Fruit Bat Falls and grab some lunch. The falls are croc-free with perfectly clear water and it’s a brilliant place to cool down and refresh. Given it was school holidays there were a fair few people about but its big enough to not get crowded. We stripped down and leapt in – Buddha didn’t even bother taking his riding gear off – just his boots. Good way to do some washing and you dry off in minutes.
From there we rode more epic trails on our way to Bramwell Station which is the most northerly working cattle station in Australia. Bramwell takes tourists looking to camp or stay in the on-site cabins and puts on a mighty meal with entertainment at night.
Grabbing a spot under a tree to set up the swag I was surprised to be woken by light rain. I threw the weather cover over the top and went back to bed, keen to start the next day’s adventure.
Day three started with perfect weather and a hearty breakfast. I swapped bikes with Daz for the day to get an idea of how the CRF450L feels with the FMF exhaust and Vortex ECU. Daz also has an aftermarket seat on his bike which is brilliant because the Honda’s stock seat is far from amenable. The difference in power delivery with the FMF and Vortex is huge.
The CRF’s slightly doughy response disappears and the bike comes to life, making it easier and more fun to ride in the twisty trails. The stock bike is a mellow machine for a 450, but to be fair this suited the type of riding we were doing fairly well, in that it’s not fatiguing. Daz also states that the Ls are a lot easier to maintain than the previous X model. The bikes are all fitted with IMS tanks to give them a range of around 200 kilometres, but aside from that they are stock.
I’m not overly offended by the mild engine, and certainly Honda has a fix with the FMF/Vortex combo that you can order straight from the dealer, but I would be doing some work on the suspension if taking one home long term.
Its reliability however is being highlighted on every trip the guys run and I doubt the engineers had in mind the stuff Daryl Beattie Adventures puts them through. Yet they seems to be as tough as the best of them. Honda recommend a top end service only every 32,000 km which is might impressive for a 450.
Day three had so much in it it’s hard to squeeze it all into this feature. We had great river crossings, and in my mind the best riding of the week on the Frenchman’s Track. Frenchman’s had received a decent amount of rain and was just utter perfection for kilometre after kilometre of constantly varying terrain. I was feeling pretty stoked to be on the bike with more mumbo through there.
At one point we picked our way through a scratch trail section with little left of the track after severe storms earlier in the year. The ground was at times ridiculously slippery and had me checking if I’d got a flat rear tyre.
We also had to dodge ant mounds on the trails that were only about three inches high but have zero give in them. Chris Watson of Watsons Motorcycles hit one at speed and nearly had a huge off – a lesser rider would have eaten shit, hard.
We ducked down into the Pascoe River and took a break, once again entertained by the four-wheel-drives making their way in and the climbing the rough incline back out. Full props go to the bloke in the old Ford Courier who made it look all too easy.
More epic trails followed until we hit the main road to our destination of Archer River, which has some wicked corrugations on it. Everyone’s arse paid a heavy price for what must have been a foam shortage in Japan when the Honda’s seats were being put together.
We set up camp as the Whistling Kites circled above us and the more spread out camp reflected the state of the snore wars as those that make the loudest racket were banished at the persistent behest of Watto. I won’t name the worst offenders… they know who they are.
It was Daz’s 49th birthday and so we toasted a few and once again listened to some of the greatest stories from Jeremy Burgess, a man we all agreed needs a podcast because he has seen and done so much.
With a lot ground to cover on the fourth day we hit faster open tracks and roads. Ant hills and random cattle were the only other signs of life for most of the day as we headed towards the Kalpowar Crossing campsite. We stopped for lunch at a waterhole where Buddha tried his hand at trying to catch a Barra for dinner but with no joy.
That night we headed down to the river to spotlight for crocs and there was no shortage of eyes looking back at us. Redman and Warren entertained us all with a crazy joke session – how they can memorise so many jokes is beyond me and unfortunately I can’t print most of them because they aren’t suitable for the kiddies. This was a great riding crew who all had a similar pace and got along brilliantly.
Once again the night sky was just the most amazing sight and we drifted off to the sound of the nocturnal animals scurrying about.
Into the Lion’s Den
As the hotter weather set in we took on the toughest track of the ride, the Starcke track. At about 70 kilometres long it’s a non-stop run of sharp corner-after-corner with some deep sand sections, bulldust and big ruts. It’s not technically challenging for an experienced rider, but it is fatiguing and the heat was taking its toll.
Redman was wearing an adventure jacket and was sucking in the big ones. Luckily when you have a mate like Watto who’s happy to throw rocks and logs into river crossings so you get drenched by the splash, you’re never too far away from a bush bath.
We passed through Cooktown and grabbed some lunch before heading out past the Black Mountain and into the loving arms of the Lion’s Den Hotel, one of the greatest pubs in the country. As was the established ritual, we set up camp after arguing about snoring and then headed into the Annan River with a couple of cans to cool down.
Everyone was pretty buggered after a long day but the atmosphere at the pub could lift anyone’s spirits.
Run the Creb
The final day is no stroll into town. From the Lion’s Den it doesn’t take long to reach the Creb Track, a clay-based 70 kilometre run that took us right through to the Daintree, signalling the end of our time off-road for the week.
The Creb was pretty busy with a lot of four-wheel-drives but it’s a brilliant ride. It has some great hills with epic views and a heap of fun erosion mounds, but the highlight is the rain forest coverage that is like nothing else you can experience almost anywhere else in Australia.
One thing that is often overlooked on the Cape York ride is the variety of terrain on offer day after day. The scenery changes slowly but the trails are never the same for very long and Daryl and the crew know all the very best tracks, so on a Daryl Beattie Adventure ride you get to ride quality trails one after another and it never gets boring.
The End is Nigh
Arriving in Cairns is bittersweet. Six days on the bike is about enough for most (especially with that seat), but knowing you’re heading back to a normal life with phone reception and traffic and deadlines is kind of a bummer.
We rolled into Cairns Honda which is Andrew Porta’s dealership. Andrew was on the ride all week and can ride bloody well. As the fine gentleman he is he offered us each a beer on arrival as we wandered around his shop checking out some of the great machines on the floor.
From there it was a check-in to a hotel smelling like a prisoner of war with full riding gear still on. After fouling some hotel towels that started white but ended entirely desert-dirt red, we reconvened for beers before some of the boys had to head to the airport. The post-ride catch up reinforced what a great group of blokes this was and how relaxed Daz and crew make you feel on a Daryl Beattie Adventure ride.
Daryl Beattie Adventures has established itself as a premier tour outfit for good reason. Nothing is left to chance and you’re left not wanting for anything more. Not only are the destinations all bucket-list but so are the tracks they take and to know that Scooter is always there for support in the mighty Iveco is comforting.
I peppered Buddha with questions about 500cc two-strokes for six days, eventually promising that this would be the last question, which was a lie, and his stories were so good to listen to and his knowledge unmatched.
Having Jeremy Burgess follow us in his Land Cruiser and camp with us each night was pretty damn special and regardless of what he’s achieved in racing, he’s just a bloody good bloke to spend time with.
A Beattie ride isn’t about gathering around and listening to Daz tell stories of his glory days on a motorcycle. If you ask him he’ll tell you anything, but the real topic if you want to get the most from Daz is the outback. He loves it and it’s obvious and ultimately infectious. I’ve never met anyone that’s a more knowledgeable and enthusiastic ambassador for far flung regions of Australia than Daryl.
Even though he’s been to his tour destinations time and time again he still looks at it all with genuine wonder and admiration, and he really enjoys seeing the response from the folks he takes there. This is my second Daryl Beattie Adventure tour and I sincerely hope it’s not my last.
I have brought back just a small percentage of the wonder that’s out there to be seen via this story, but I encourage you take the chance to go see it yourself, then we can all get a better understanding of what this amazing country is all about outside of the coastal suburban view on Australia.
Head to the Daryl Beattie Adventures website and pick a tour. You’ll regret nothing and appreciate so much more how lucky we are to live in this incredible land.
Daryl Beattie Adventures is owned and operated by the man himself and offers adventure tours of Central Australia, Finke Desert, Madigan Line and the Canning Stock Route, with a huge line-up of 2020 events already on offer, including Africa Twin Tours.
To check out what’s on offer head to the Daryl Beattie Adventures website at https://darylbeattieadventures.com.au/ (link)