Circumnavigating Australia on a Honda VFR1200F

By Trevor Hedge, Photography by Trevor Hedge

It is the dream of every Australian to circumnavigate the continent at least once in his lifetime. And for motorcyclists, the only way to do it is on two wheels. After crossing Oz numerous times on everything from trailbikes to hard-core sportbikes, I decided it was time to do a full "lap."

The point of my departure was the motorcycle Mecca that is Phillip Island, and my chosen steed was a freshly minted Honda VFR1200F. True to form, the heavens above the Island emptied to make for a wet start to the trip. And that theme was to continue for the next 3000 miles...

Day one saw me make a beeline for Hunter Valley, a winery region two hours north of Sydney. Of course I did this via a 700-mile journey through Bairnsdale, Cann River and Cooma rather than slab it up the dreaded Hume Highway. This was to be the modus operandi for the trip, the chosen route favoring interesting roads over highways. Putty, Waterfall, Oxley, Bucketts and Thunderbolts are all heralded words in the motorcyclists’ vernacular and reflect some of the best roads Australia has to offer.

I was not on my Pat Malone this first day, merely one of thousands returning from our annual pilgrimage to the World Superbike races. Thus I crossed paths with motor-cyclists and motorcycles of all ages, shapes and sizes, some somewhat worse for wear after a weekend of camping and partying.

From Phillip Island all the way north to Townsville, the sun rarely broke through the clouds. The incessant rain had taken some of the enjoyment out of the ride and it was time to recharge my batteries. After a relaxing interlude on Magnetic Island, I pointed the VFR west toward the Northern Territory.

After Cloncurry the Barkly Highway cuts through scenic escarpments with rock formations reminiscent of the Kimberley in Western Australia. The road offers few bends but the scenery is pretty enough to make this part of the journey surprisingly enjoyable.

Fittingly, an approaching storm marked my entry into Australia’s Top End. The Northern Territory also ended the constraints of 100 kilometer-per-hour (60 mph) speed limits and welcomed the relative freedom of 130 km/h (80 mph) limits on the highway.

Darwin, the NT capital, certainly puts most Australian cities to shame in the social stakes. A bustling pub scene kicks off every day by lunchtime and continues into the wee hours, the pubs bursting at the seams with locals, tourists and backpackers.

On the flip side, however, there are reminders of those at the bottom end of the socio-economic scale. Passing through Elliott on my way to Darwin, I saw the trademark signs of vandalized public housing, dozens of stray dogs and barefoot aborigines struggling to scratch out a life amidst a fog of substance abuse. It was a depressing sight.

The Town of Katherine abuts the Katherine River and Nitmulik National Park, where I stayed in the comfortable chalet-style accommodations. I booked in for a gorge cruise and knowledgeable guide and boat driver Taffy made the experience thoroughly enjoyable.

I then headed for the Western Australian border via the scenic Victoria River region. Like Texas, Western Australia is big, and so is everything in it. The world’s longest train (up to 4.5 miles and weighing 100,000 tons) and trucks (A-B Quads well over 160 feet and 200 tons) service some of the world’s biggest mining operations. The rate at which mining companies are digging up WA and sending it to China makes me wonder if this is, in fact, a secret plan to combat climate change. Once they have dug enough of it up, inland WA can probably accommodate rising sea levels!

Shortly after passing through the quarantine checkpoint, I turned off the Victoria Highway for the scenic 20-mile journey into Lake Argyle Village, where I checked into a lakeside cabin for the evening and enjoyed the inspiring views. Proprietor Charlie Sharpe was incredibly helpful, and I thoroughly recommend a stop by the lake. Although "lake" is perhaps not an apt descriptor: Argyle is so immense, it’s actually categorized as an "inland sea."

By Trevor Hedge
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