Escape to the Country

The senses are heightened as we escape the confines of Brisbane and head south west towards Boonah. The colours seem brighter, yellows, greens and browns drift by, all offset against the deep blue sky and the intoxicating smell of wattle/mimosa.  We are escaping to the country for a few days. Queensland winter days are low 20’s Celsius and clear blue skies.  I cannot think of better motorcycle riding weather, even if the mornings are a little nippy.

After a false start two weeks ago, when we woke with colds on the day of departure and ended up swapping the bikes, “Bee” aka Honda CB500X and “the Bird” aka Triumph Thunderbird for a slot in the COVID testing queue, we are finally away.  A negative COVID test result a couple of days later was expected, but in these times one always has a small question-mark over the outcome.  The all clear came via text and we were able to reschedule once we had thrown off the last remnants of our colds.

Unlike Streak and Storm, the Bird and the Bee are not equipped to take everything bar the kitchen sink. Space is limited but with some judicious packing we are able to fit everything we need for three days in the Bird’s not so cavernous panniers and we are off for our first road trip with these two bikes.  “Streak and Storm” our usual mounts are a world away and who knows when we will get to ride them again.

Leaving the city traffic behind, we wend our way to Boonah, a small country town about one and a half hours from Brisbane. A regular stop for us for coffee but instead of returning to Brisbane as we usually do on a day’s ride, we are heading west, up over Cunningham’s gap where the sound of bell birds ring in our ears.  We can feel like we are really away with the dividing range to our backs as we travel towards Clifton in the Toowoomba region for lunch and the air decidedly cooler.

Anne has a connection to this area as some 25 years ago she was member of a team that competed in a national innovation competition. Her team won the State (Qld) competition and then travelled to Perth for the national finals. They did not win but secured best national ‘Marketing’ prize which was the area Anne led. The product you ask?  The processing of pig waste! We’re not sure what happened to that product but Anne found it a fascinating experience, apart from the smell.

On the road again, north of Clifton Qld

As we like to take our time, and be off the road by 4pm at the latest, to avoid meeting wildlife head on, our first night is at Oakey.  We have not made a booking, with all the uncertainty, but head to the same motel we had booked a couple of weeks back and were allowed to cancel on the day with full refund because of our COVID hick-up.

As the local school finishes for the day, we hear pop music coming from the school speakers. The motel manager tells us that each month the best class gets to choose the song to be used instead of the school bell.  What a good motivational tool. As we walk to the local shop in our motorcycle gear the younger children wave and say hello. Not sure that you get that in the city.

The motel manager offers to run us up to the local club for dinner, which as always in the country serves up a hearty meal before a constitutional walk back to our motel.

Wildlife is always a concern with country riding, but given that we avoid riding at the start and end of the the day as a rule, we see little wildlife close up which is a good thing. Very occasionally we are surprised and watching a pheasant rise up and fly within a wing’s length of my helmet was enough to increase my heart rate in spite of the medication I take. I was just envisioning what a pheasant emblem would look like embedded on my jacket when it veered away.  Minutes later a large eagle glided a couple of meters above our heads and then a really large goanna decided to cross in front of us, and immediately turn across the road again in the opposite direction, all in the space of 10 minutes.  They say things happen in threes so that’s enough excitement for one day.

We have not been to the Bunya Mountains for 20 years, so what will have changed – not much I hope. The mountains rise up to over 1000m / 3000 ft. from the surrounding plains providing great TV and mobile phone coverage for the locals. The Bunya Mountains National Park, which covers some 19,000 hectares, is the second oldest National Park in Queensland. It is named after the Bunya tree which is famous for nuts that saw Australian Aboriginal people travel from hundreds of kms to harvest the nuts every three years until European expansion into the region in the 1840’s and the subsequent farming and logging in the region curtailed this practice.

The road from Jondaryan to the Bunya’s still has a section of dirt that we remember from our previous visit. Some things do not change.  A twisty single lane road with hairpin bends takes us up from the open plains east of the Bunya mountains to in the cool and quiet of the magnificent Bunya and Hoop pine trees that surround us. We were lucky not to come across any vehicles making the decent. It really is a single lane road. We will be coming back a different way.

Looking south from Bunya Mountains
Heading towards the Bunya Mts from Jondaryan.
The Bird and Bee resting after a strenuous climb to the top of the Bunya Mts

One of the great pleasures we have riding is meeting other motorcyclists. This time we meet those from 2 years old to over 70. The two year old was not talkative but just loved motorcycles and was enthused just by seen our helmets. The parents were at a loss to explain his love of motorcycles as neither rode although his mother had ridden dirt bikes on the farm as a child, so maybe it’s in their DNA.

Bunya trees heading for the sky
Footholds in a Bunya tree trunk
Bunya and Hoop pines
A walk though tree, room for a motorbike?

The restaurant at the start of the national park allows us to leave all our motorcycling gear on a table between our coffee and lunch bookings while we meander between the impressive pines.  They also have the Shackleton scotch bar with over 100 Scotches on offer.  We will have to make a return trip and spend a night in front of the log fire sipping single malts.

Shackleton’s Whisky Bar, Australia’s highest in the Bunya Mts.

Onward to Kingaroy the peanut capital of Queensland and original home of our former state premier Sir Jo Bjelke-Peterson. Before our time I hasten to add. When he was premier, Queensland was sometimes known as “Jo’s Place” and he was famous amongst other things for deflecting questions from reporters with “don’t you worry about all that”. His wife Flo was famous for her pumpkin scones and also became a Queensland state senator. An interesting couple.

Warmer weather greets us on our third and last day on the road,  heading home on our wedding anniversary. We celebrate with coffee and cake at the Goomeri Bakery. We had learnt that the owner while spending time in France offered the local baker her time for free to learn the baking trade.  The result a wonderful french bakery in central Queensland. 

Street art in Murgon
Street Art in Goomeri
Now there is a water saving idea.

We always enjoy travelling down new roads and the Goomeri to Gympie will be worth riding again. We stick to the back roads up from Gympie via Kenilworth and Maleny to Woodford and finally a twisty ride up over Mt Mee.  Three days of good weather and riding over 830km and we are home. A wonderful experience, the riding, the people we met and the weather and one that we will repeat.

Happy Anne near the end of this trip
Old Windmill in Goomeri

The thirst for adventure has been rekindled and we are lucky to be in Queensland. Our state is seven times the size of the UK and two and a half times the size of Texas so there is much to explore, so next week we swap two wheels for four and our adventures continue.

– Anthony

It’s a wrap – the end of our fourth motorcycle journey

Streak and Storm are back in storage for a well earned rest after 2 months on the road.  They have both accumulated over 60,000 miles / 96,500 kms. Both will need a good clean and service before returning to the road in future.  Anne’s chain and sprockets have reached the end of their lives and will need replacing but this will wait until before we next take Streak and Storm on the road again.

As a final treat we thought that we should take Streak & Storm out to a couple of motorcycle themed places in London we had not been to before, namely ‘The Bike Shed Motorcycle Club’ in Shoreditch which opened in November 2015 and the famed ‘Ace Cafe London’ on the North Circular Rd which originally opened in 1938. With all our motorcycle travels we had never ridden motorcycles in Central London.  Anne decades ago had bravely ridden a bicycle around London until it was stolen but that is another story.

Crossing Tower Bridge on Streak

Tower Bridge from Streak

The weather is kind to us, but does not make up for the horrendously slow traffic we encounter, and this is a Saturday.  I could not imagine how people do city riding every day. We wend our way slowly through SE London trying to stay in the correct lane before we both realise that there is a small white motorcycle on a blue background for the bus lines, Eureka, we are off and making much faster progress.  Over Tower Bridge, a must do option and finally arrive outside The Bike Shed.  I am contemplating how to cross the oncoming traffic into the entrance when a group of a dozen or so street bikes swamp us, one pulls across the oncoming traffic and authoritatively stops the cars.  We all nip across and into ….. a small laneway between the tables and chairs of the patrons: it’s great except we have our wide panniers and the rest are slim street bikes.  Still, all survive and we park in the back under the railway arches.

Parking in the Bike Shed London

The parking under the arches is filled with a cacophony of motorcycle engines as we all park.  We are the only adventure bikes and dirty ones at that.  Streak and Storm with their panniers, sticker covered top boxes and loads strapped on the back stood out amongst all those smooth road bikes, but none of them have had the adventures Streak and Storm have experienced.   

The Bike Shed store

About to have brunch at the Bike Shed

Well worth a visit and great to have such a place in central London for motorcyclists to meet. Kudos to those who set the Bike Shed up.  Do go and support this establishment if you are in London, “use it or loose it as they say”.   After a delicious brunch at the Bike Shed, on to the Ace Cafe via Euston Rd – again the bus lanes were a saviour for the clutch hand allowing us to keep moving at a steady pace. The Ace Cafe was a transport cafe from 1938 to 1969 built to service traffic on the A406 North Circular.  In the 50s and 60s it became a magnet for young motorcyclists and became one of the birthplaces of the Care Racer:  it was one of the cafes motorcyclists would use for short races between popular cafes.  (for those interested, check out www.caferacertv.com/the-history-of-cafe-racers/ )

Anne outside the Ace Cafe London

Ace Cafe and time for a coffee

Finally for those who want to know, and so we will not forget, here are the trip facts and figures

– This was our fourth long distance trip on Streak and Storm since 2014

– We visited France, Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark, Faroes, Iceland and Germany

– Streak & Storm have now been to 50 countries

– Streak & Storm covered 4,500 miles / 6,700 kilometres this trip

– We replaced two parts on Storm, the rear ABS cable and LH Instrument control

– Both motorcycles have now travelled more than 60,000 miles / 96,500 kilometres

Heading back to storage, thanks Streak and Storm

This trip to Iceland and the Faroe Islands has been yet another great experience, we have seen and done so much, made new friends and renewed our bonds with existing friends.  We will however focus on warmer climes in future for our motorcycle travel.  We now seamlessly switch to four wheels for a two week road trip.  Yes a couple more blog entries to come.

– Anthony

Billund, Berlin, Belgium and back to Britain

 

Land at last, after three days clinging to the tattered rigging and being cruelly pounded by the North Atlantic’s icy waves, we stagger ashore in Denmark thankful to be on dry land again.  

What a load of rubbish! We had a generally smooth crossing and any thoughts of seasickness were caused by me, Anthony, having a small sinus blockage. We have found the M/S Norröna of the Smyril Line a comfortable and well equipped little ship, perfect for us especially with the forward facing cabin above the bridge.  We just had to open the window and shout our instructions down to the crew below.  Well I would have done if the window opened. We could watch the bridge camera showing the sea ahead on the TV screen in the cabin and then confirm it by looking out the window. One of only six forward facing cabins, luck of the Speeds I guess.

The arrival back in Denmark sees a small rise in temperature to 17 degrees celsius. It is surprising the difference a couple of degrees of extra warmth make while riding to us.  We have decided that we are not, and never were, the heroic all weather hard core riders that appear on the covers of the Adventure Motorcycle magazines; we are more the temperate domesticated variety, but we are happy so what else matters.

From the northern tip of Denmark, we head southwards ignoring the multiple ferries heading north to Norway, another time perhaps.  Our destination is the town of Billund in central Denmark and yes the home of Lego and the original Legoland.  I have not had an interest in Lego since my early teens, but the opportunity to visit the original home of Lego is too good to pass up.

The original home of Legoland

What we discover is an interesting mix of rides, working models and clever little items almost hidden from view at times.  As someone who grew up with the basic bricks and not the multiplicity of sets that exist today I am impressed by the large scale builds just using simple bricks such as Mt Rushmore showing four US Presidents heads and somewhere we have been in 2015. The wildlife park is just as realistic, in my view, and a lot safer than the real thing, no-one has ever been seriously mauled by a lego animal. I will let you enjoy the photos without more of my commentary.

Ready for takeoff at Legoland Airport.
This one nearly ate my icecream!
The locals are very friendly.
Never built anything like this at home.
Largest ever Lego model, full size Star Wars X wing fighter, 5.3 million bricks.
Bigger spiders than those back home in Queensland!

Onward towards Berlin leaving Denmark and getting onto the German autobahns with their fast flowing traffic. Unlike India where rear view mirrors are an optional extra, here one needs to have eyes in the back of the head literally.  With higher speeds, those small dots in the far distance grow large quickly, but we found German drivers have a disciplined helpful approach to fast driving which included lane discipline, something lacking back home in Australia.

Our friends in Berlin have moved further out and for the first time since 1994, we are staying out of the city, almost in the country near Potsdam.  This area was still in West Berlin as evidenced by the different shades of green paint on the bridge and the photos showing the progression of border controls from 1945 to 1989.

Glienicker Bridge once split by the Berlin Wall

We decide that we will spend our days in Potsdam as we are focusing on smaller cities and towns and we have been to Berlin a number of times before.  The weather gods smile on us as we wander through the streets and parks of Potsdam in sunshine. I have not been there before but Anne has researched it and takes me on a leisurely tour through the city.

St Nikolaikirche church and Potsdam Museum
Old East European apartments
Stadtschloss in Potsdam

Knowing Anne’s interest in art, our friend Antonia took us to see a Street Art display at Yaam (Young African Art Market) which has been operating for some 11 years at the same location. Located near Ostbahnhof station on the banks of the river Spree, it is an Afro Caribbean venue with bars, beaches shops and art spaces.  Here we meet Frank, one of the street artists running the Street Art display and we find out the artist responsible for the piece we all like the most. 

Antonia, us and Berlin street art.
Best Street Art by Frank at YAAM
More Street Art at YAAM, Berlin
Street Art YAAM, Berlin

Frank then introduces Anne to virtual graffiti using digital spray cans on an electronic screen showing the Berlin Wall.  Anne quickly got the hand of it and I think all clean walls should be worried if she passes with a bag full of aerosol paint cans.

Anne in graffiti mode
Anne and Frank Raschke of Ice37

With all the recent news around global warming and carbon reduction, it was interesting to hear from someone with whom we had ridden in SE Asia that he now travels long distance by train in Germany, not only to reduce their personal carbon footprint but also to demonstrate potential clients of their green credentials.  Something neither of us would have thought of in our careers.  As Bob Dylan said way back when “The Times They Are A Changing’ and in this context the words first verse is quite prophetic.

En route to Belgium and my cousin’s place, we stop half way at Gütesloh, a town of some 100,000 people.  A short walk through the town showed us a prosperous high street filled with a wide variety of shops with a more prosperous feel than those we have seen in the UK.  No empty shopfronts here, the high street in Gütersloh seems to be thriving, I wonder why the difference?

Old houses in Gütersloh
High street Gütersloh
Electric scooters for hire in Gütersloh

Leaving town, we pass the now deserted RAF Gütersloh / Princess Royal Barracks former bases for the British forces in Germany. For over 60 years British military forces were based here but all have withdrawn back to the UK.  The place has an unused air about it although a steady stream of vehicles through the main gate may mean some future use of the facilities.

The old RAF Gütersloh base

As we return to my cousin’s place in Belgium with Streak and Storm, I recall that this was our first stop when we set off on the first RTW journey over five years ago with shiny motorcycles, all new equipment and no idea of what we were going to experience. This was the first time we had caught up since then so it was great the see the family again.

Anthony’s cousin Lesley, Hans and Chayton

Onto the Eurotunnel and back to the UK, a quick visit to Anne’s mum.

On the Eurotunnel train
Anne’s mum finally meets Streak and Storm

Another week before we wrap up this motorcycle trip…

– Anthony

Iceland part II – the southern half

Back in Iceland after the ‘Family, friends and free trains’ break which Anthony realises are aligned almost perfectly with the Formula 1 mid season break.  No there is absolutely no connection between these events. I think the weather froze our blog juices hence the delay in reporting back since our return to Iceland.

Our flight to Reykjavik feels like the movie Night & Day

The weather greeting us back to Iceland…

As we leave the terminal at Keflavik airport, very quickly our memories of warmer climes faded as the reality of the local summer temperatures hit home. We have realised that we are fair weather people and that our exploring should be limited to suitable climes, for us anyway.  Perhaps we are like the dinosaurs and need a minimum temperature to function, I guess that is why we live in Brisbane. The first evening back, we were had dinner with our friends Kristjan and Asdis again, such generous hosts and sadly we must say good-bye again.

Streak and Storm are recovered from the storage graciously provided by friends in Iceland and with a little work, Anthony successfully replaces the left hand instrument cluster with the aid of the BMW assembly/ instructions. Before obtaining these, he had found various incorrect ways to remove the original part online, from those who had struggled to do it without the aid of the correct instructions. Perhaps they should be made available by BMW for those who are unable to get to an official dealer – there is not one in Iceland.

After a month of riding in the rain and cold in July, and with temperatures even lower now in September, we decide we’d cut our time in Iceland short and try and catch a ferry back to Denmark a week early.  We are in luck and we are now due to leave on 4th of September.  We watch the weather radar very carefully and plan our exit from Reykjavik so that we can avoid the brutal winds that usually lash the south coast around Vik.  I really wanted to return to Þingvellir National Park and despite the overcast weather, we returned, twice!  Anthony is very accommodating.  We had visited this park in March 2018 ( https://2slowspeeds.com/2018/03/03/iceland-the-last-chapter-for-now/) and it was my urge to revisit this area in particular that brought us back to Iceland.  Iceland is divided by the Mid-Atlantic Rift and Þingvellir is the only place on earth where the Mid-Atlantic rift is above sea level, with both edges clearly visible.  Western Iceland such as the Westfjords and Reyjavík, are on the North American tectonic plate, while areas to the east of here, such as Vatnajökull glacier and the East Fjords, are on the Eurasian plate. To think that the 2 rift walls are now 4cm further apart than when we were here last… Can you imagine?!   How awe inspiring to see nature at its rawest!  I had hoped to camp in the area but due to the massive increase in travellers to Iceland, the impact of too many thoughtless tourists leaving trash behind and walking over the delicate moss, camping in Iceland is now restricted to designated camp sites – not our preferred kind of camping – and seeing it was raining and we had a lovely warm apartment in town… Maybe another time!

Stopped for a walk on our way to Þingvellir Nat’l Parlk

Nesjavellir geothermal plant

At Þingevillir Nat’l Parl, with the fault line in the background

Þingevillir Nat’l Park

The North American wall of the fault line in the background

I just love those mossy rocks, in a forest in Reykjavik

This was in March 2018

And now in Sept 2019

The latest street art, in the middle of a construction area

Finally, on the last day we gave ourselves to leave Reykjavik to make it comfortably to the ferry, we have sunshine!  The decision to wait in Reykjavik for an extra day is finally vindicated, we awake to bright sunshine and clear skies.  We could not ask for anything better and we are off.

Heading out of Reykjavik

I quietly hope that all the information on the weather site (en.vedur.is which shows wind, rain and temperatures) is accurate as I have been told and have read horror stories about the wind around Vik, with motorhomes being blown off the road etc…  

Seljalands waterfall

Icelandic farmhouse dwarfed by an old volcano

Typical icelandic village church

Reynisfjara beach, geology reminiscent of Staffa in Scotland

Reynisfjara beach, Iceland

Freezing but happy on Reynisfjara beach

Reynisfjara beach, Iceland

Admiring Reynisfjara’s cave

Heading towards Skatafell, Iceland

We bypass the usual tourist Ring of Fire circuit, having done it last year and we make it to Skatafell by the end of the day, having stopped along the coast, around Vik and through the windy stretches under clear blue skies and manageable wind.  Three reasons to relax now:  the windy part is over, we have time to spend a whole day tomorrow to hike around Skatafell, and Katla volcano which is overdue for an eruption, stayed asleep for us.  I had read that Vik residents regularly go through evacuation practice:  Katla usually erupts every 20 to 90 years and has not erupted violently for 101 years.  Iceland’s last eruption occurred in 2010.  Prior to that Grimsfjoll in Vatnajokull glacier erupted in 2004 and Hekla volcano erupted in the year 2000. Hekla is one of Iceland’s most active volcanoes and erupted in 1947, 1970, 1980, 1990 and 2000. So again, it is likely Hekla will erupt soon.  

Luckily, the campsite at Skaftafell is huge and pretty empty.  There are no showers which is fine for but nowhere for me to leave my camera battery recharger.  We do use the cafetaria to recharge our electronic equipment for a shortwhile but that is not sufficient for my camera.  Sadly on this trip, I found out that my usb device on my bike was now faulty and I have not been able to recharge while riding.  And the 4 new batteries I bought at the start of the trip, while they have the same specifications as the original Panasonic ones, only last a third of the time…  that means that the one time on this trip that we’ve had blue skies and fabulous scenery, I have not been able to recharge my batteries so have had to use my phone camera while walking to save the Panasonic one for riding.  This I came to regret to next day when we hiked towards Vatnajökull glacier’s Skatafell outlet. Very much first world problem, but this trip has shown us how dependent on power we are.  Time to look into solar panels for our top boxes maybe.  

The view of Vatnajökull from our campsite at Skaftafell

The next day is spent hiking.  An absolutely glorious day. From Vatnajökull glacier, around 30 outlet glaciers flow from the ice cap of which Skaftafell is one.

My clotheshanger as I strip on our hike up

Skaftafell glacial valley

Skaftafell glacier

Loving our walk around Skaftafell

Hiking in Skaftafell Nat’l Park

What comes with clear blue skies?  Clear night skies. And yes, that can mean Northern Lights.  And it did!!  We saw them our first night at Skatafell, but only lightly.  They were more like light cloud, but the dancing around gave them away.  The second night, which went down to 3 degrees and was floody breezing, was great:  we saw clear the bright green dancing lights.  I was happy.  It was magical.  After a long hike our bodies needed the warmth if the the sleeping bags but I couldn’t help but keep checking.  That means partially crawling out the sleeping bag, opening the tent and re-cocooning myself up.  After doing that half a dozen times, I gave up, telling myself I was content with what I saw.  Time for sleep.  Then around midnight, some campers a distance away became rowdy, laughing and screaming.  They’ll calm down eventually I thought to myself.  As it continued, I suddenly wondered whether the shouting was about the lights.  I crawled out again and my oh my!!  It was now pink and green!  Thank you Iceland!  Thank you nature.  A dream come true.  Absolutely magical and truly mesmerising.  And no, I have no photo.  I didn’t even think of taking a picture, I just kept watching.  

We’ve now had 2 days of blue skies, hiked around Vatnajökull National Park, saw the northern lights, we are content and feel ready to leave Iceland.  We have a very leisurely ride back to Seyðisfjöður.

Leaving Vatnajökull Nat’l park

Jökulsárlón, Glacier lagoon

Höfn, Iceland

Our last bit of dirt road in Iceland

Waiting for the ferry at Seydisfjöður

We eventually board our ferry in for our 3 night, 2 full days crossing, via the Faroes.  Not sure how we scored this cabin!!  The view from our window and the tv, showing the view from the ship were identical!  Lucky the sea was calm as it could have been interesting being top and front of the ship.

A room with a view – our cabin

The window top left is our cabin’s

Arriving at the Ferroes

The highlight of this crossing though was catching up with our Feroese friends who drove an hour to Torshavn to see us.  Not only did Unn and Jørgin come but their kids Rannvá and Rani left their friends to be with us.  That is what keeps us travelling, the connections we make.   

Unn, Jørgin, Rannvá and Rani

Unn and Jørgin took us to Kirkjubøargarður which we hadn’t managed to see.  It dates back to the 11th century and was the episcopal residence and seminary of the diocese of the Feroes.  The legend says that the wood for the houses came as driftwood for Norway.  The farmhouse, now a museum, is still occupied by the 17th generation of the Patursson family!  Magnus cathedral nearby was started in 1300 but never completed.

Kirkjubøur, Faroe Islands

With Unn

With Unn

Still haven’t seen those skies in the Faroes!

Just before returning to our ferry, Unn gives me a bag of carefully and thoughtfully chosen Feroese souvenirs.  Any mention of Feroes will forever remind us our wonderful Feroese family.   Hopefully one day, we’ll be able to show them around Brisbane…

– Anne