STORY AND PHOTOS BY DAMIEN ASHENHURST
The BMW Safari guys are prolific tourers and teachers. On any week of the year, it seems, they’re either showing folks how to ride or taking them on a ride.
From GS to TS, offroad and on, they are spreading the love of riding Munich’s motos and they welcome all with the Motorrad badge.
Safaris have been run in Australia since 1994 which means, astoundingly, that it’s creeping up on its 30th year. In fact, 2023 marks the 100th year of BMW Motorrad (the German word for motorcycle).
I’ve done about 15, including three Safari Enduros which is the more technical offroad event offered. The 2022 Safari Enduro ride from Dubbo to the Barossa Valley was one of the best routes I’ve ever ridden.
What makes the Enduro harder than a regular Safari, I hear you ask. Generally speaking, it’s a mix of the terrain and the daily distances covered. Couple that with remote settings and you get the Safari Enduro.
All those reasons came into play for the 2023 event run from Cairns (QLD) to Darwin (NT). This presented some very out-of-the-way places, genuinely long days and a few technical sections that included bulldust, totally munted road or trail surfaces as well as precarious water crossings. And of course, all the mentally deficient animals we have in Australia are out to shoulder-charge your bike with absolutely no provocation.
Honestly, what’s with our stupid animals? For the benefit of those from other countries, a kangaroo or wallaby will come out of nowhere and bounce past your bike, only to reverse its direction away from safety and straight into your front wheel.
They’ll be facing away from you as you approach with nothing in front of them for thousands of kilometres, but choose to pivot and head in the only direction that poses a threat.
Hitting a big roo is ugly. Bad things happen to bikes and riders.
Emus are arguably the scariest though because they carry their weight at our chest height. They don’t waste good bulk just wiping out hitting front wheels like a wallaby, they want to get that 50-kilogram body in your lap and they’re unpredictable as a shithouse fly.
WHAT AM I DOING HERE?
I joined the 2023 BMW Safari Enduro as the official photographer, which is the third time I’ve had the pleasure.
I had just three days between the 10-day Maschine Great Dividing Range Ride and the 7-day Safari Enduro, but you don’t gather stories to tell the grandkids by saying no to cool stuff, so I relished the chance to see so much of the Aussie top-end across the 20 days I was up there.
And so, about 130 riders left Darwin under threatening skies, outrunning the rain and heading into the dry, dusty and endlessly red Far North Queensland and finally into the Northern Territory.
The route from there looked like this:
- Cairns to Chillagoe
- Chillagoe to Kurumba Point
- Kurumba Point to Gregory Downs
- Gregory Downs to Hells Gate
- Hells Gate to Lorella Springs
- Lorella Springs to Mataranka
- Mataranka to Darwin
LAY OF THE LAND
Far North Queensland (FNQ) ain’t a pretty place on the surface. Scratch a little and you’ll find something that will absolutely blow your mind, but a lot of the travelling is done amongst unrelenting scrub often discoloured by the red dust of the beaten trails.
The heat is ever present, as are crocodiles, sharks and box jellyfish so don’t think you’re going for a swim anywhere you feel like it. The road trains are 175 tonnes of ‘don’t fuck with me,’ and emergency service response times are measured in hours if not more.
It’s a bucket list ride because it’s inhospitable and because it feels like a last frontier in a country ironically made up of mostly frontier.
The dirt road ahead can look relatively simple, but everyone has a concentration threshold and the long distances can bring on sketchy moments as your mind starts to wander and the trail disintegrates.
The distances also mean for many there are fewer stops to rest weary arms, to take the helmet off and to reset before going again. FNQ can bite in so many ways.
But it is rewarding to finish a ride up there. This Cairns to Darwin leg is the first stage of two with the second ending in Broome in 2024 and thus completing an east-to-west crossing. That’s a lot of saddle time for riders and a huge effort for the organisers.
You can check out all the info on the BMW Safari website.
Good thing they know their shit better than most.