Raid 12 Kimberley Region Western Australia Offroad!
A chance encounter with a guy called Ed Pitman at an early morning mid-ride meal stop almost instantly turned my enthusiasm for the sport of Adventure Riding into an obsession. Stories of weekly urban adventure and yearly unsupported rides had me excited and intrigued!
Ed’s on the left
A new friendship, contact with an extensive circle of like minded riders and an introduction to Perth’s hidden riding playgrounds - what more could I ask for?
The ride home from the cafe that day with Ed’s group was more challenging (and fun!) than anything I’d done since getting back on an enduro bike a year earlier and instantly I knew I was destined to enjoy many years of comradeship and riding adventures with him!
Fast forward a couple of years to the present day after having spent many days riding with my adopted riding buddies whom I now call friends. Each year Ed plans a ‘RAID’ – an Adventure Ride to a new and interesting destination that he wants to visit and conquer.
There have been trips in the Southwest of WA, into the Victorian High Country, and to Cape York in the past few years. Ed always tries to ensure that his Adventure rides are a bit more challenging through a mix of route selection, remoteness and riding unsupported on our typically short range KTM enduro bikes!
This year was to be no exception – our mission was to ride to Cape Londonderry on the far Northern Coast of Western Australia’s Kimberley region. We would also be attempting to access the Walcott Inlet, a destination seldom visited by people because of its remoteness and the difficult and sometimes impassable track leading there.
Where we rode – the far North West of Western Australia
Ed would eventually assemble 27 riders to share the costs of transporting the bikes to Derby from where we would head off on this epic ride. This ensured as little road miles as possible as none of us was keen on riding for 5 days to reach Derby from our home town of Perth. A shipping container for the bikes and the 2.5 hour flight up to Derby for the riders allowed us to hit the dirt within 100km of departing.
The Main group of bikes before departure
A plan was made for the main group to meet in Derby on a Friday in late May, whilst myself (on a KTM 400) and two other riders, Jon (Husaberg 450) and John (KTM 640), had commitments in Perth over that weekend and hence had to leave a few days later. This meant we spent the trip following the main group, so that we could cover all the ground they did, but still met up with them at certain points to swap stories.
This suited us fine though, as in a smaller group of 3 we could cover the distance much more quickly, and there was a lot less dust to deal with. I’ve never been a big fan of riding in big groups for these reasons. Jon and John were excellent to ride with, as we had all ridden together previously and our abilities matched each other’s pretty well. They’re good blokes too, and we are all in a similar stage of our lives with wives and kids at home and have the same family ‘challenges’ shall we say (what married adventure rider doesn’t?) so got on well!
We arrived in Derby on a Tuesday, and had until the following Thursday (9 days) to be back in Derby before flying back to Perth early on the Friday morning. The guys that started a few days before were well into their ride by now, and we had been following their SPOT tracker so knew where they were heading to meet up with them.
At this stage we had loose plans to catch up and follow them for the rest of the ride, but this would have meant we would miss out on taking a look at the Mitchell Plateau. As the ride unfolded we decided we’d stick to our group of three and ensure we took a look at everything the main group did on the way up, as it’s not every day you get the opportunity to ride in this beautiful part of Australia!
We left Derby around lunch time after unpacking the bikes from the container and loading up our last minute supplies brought from home. A quick stop at the service station to refuel was required as we had 350km to knock out down the Gibb River Road as we travelled East across the top of WA.
Unpacking the containers
I was riding my trusty 09 400 EXC-R with a 22L tank and Giant Loop bag for luggage, Jon’s 450 was similarly equipped, and John was on his standard 640. This was the first time I’d ridden my KTM on an extended trip like this, but had absolutely no reservations in doing so. The only thing that you have to be wary of is the need for oil changes at more frequent intervals than on a less race-oriented Adventure Bike. The comfort factor didn’t seem to be an issue for me, as I’m well used to small seats on mountain bikes being a cyclist, although I reckon the small sheepskin pad that I use on this bike certainly helps.
The benefit of being on a smaller bike means that you can go to places the bigger bikes struggle to with ease and your fuel range is greater as they are generally more economical. We found we could easily get 400km to the tank on these bikes, even John’s 640 wasn’t far behind the 400’s on fuel economy. Given the distances between fuel stops out here in this remote area, we were going to need the range to get into and out of the more interesting destinations.
We pushed out a few hundred km that afternoon as we had a plan to meet the main group at Kalumburu by the next evening. We were all excited to be on the road after anticipating this trip for some months before hand.
Waylaid by a herd of cattle being driven across the road by the stockmen
Back on the road
Our first stop for refuel was Mt Barnett Station, and as it was getting late we cut a deal with the owner to allow us to camp at the picnic area opposite the shop rather than having to pay the camping fees to camp around the back in the campground. The people that run these stations are pretty relaxed and can’t do enough to assist and share the adventure of their patrons like us that don’t take the easy air-conditioned palace-on- wheels option!
Mt Barnett road house
No campfire this night, but we did have a bathroom with shower just across the driveway in the main building, however, we hardly felt like we’d earned a shower yet. We met a couple of fillies that were travelling the top end in a Hilux and Jon turned on the charm. Perhaps a bit of ladies man in his day I recall thinking, to be confirmed by some of the stories that come out later in the trip around the camp fire!
We were on the road early the next morning, as we had a reasonable distance to cover to make our destination Kalumburu. The famed Gibb River Road that we travelled from Derby and will ride again this day was like a super highway – freshly graded for the tourist season ahead. We were riding it just as the season opened, being late May, and the creeks crossing the road were still flowing and waist deep in many places, making for wet boots for much of the trip.
We made one unscheduled stop that morning when Jon discovered the counter shaft sprocket gasket leaking, and we had to remedy the situation before it got any worse. He’d replaced the o-ring seal before we left, but had re-used the old washer which had lost its tension. All we could do was re-tension the washer after removing it by hammering out the dish in it again. This worked and there wasn’t any further leaking for the rest of the trip. Disaster averted!
Drysdale station was our next stop - a great set up with a shop, fuel, camping facilities and even a restaurant. The ‘Kimberley Burgers’ we had here for lunch were awesome! Here we filled our bikes as well as ourselves and after a relaxing lunch and rest stop headed out to tackle the last leg of the day up the Kalumburu Road.
A week prior the Kalumburu Road was closed due to flooding and we were hoping that it would be open now for us to traverse. We came across friends of ours that were loosely travelling with the main group in their 4WD further up the road and heard all about the stories of the first few days. It was apparent that the road was still officially closed, but the guys had had a chat to the grader driver fixing up the road and he didn’t seem to have a problem letting them through (as it was now dry enough not to be damaged) so we were cleared to proceed.
The last part of the Kalumburu Road was pretty rough and unmaintained - only the most determined travellers would venture up this way. It’s impassable in the wet season, meaning the Aboriginal community on the northern coast was cut off via road for 8 or so months a year. Good fun to ride on a bike, but it’d be hours of bumpy going in a 4WD.
We came across one major obstacle about 30km out from the community - the fast flowing and over waist deep croc-infested Carson River. It was near on dusk when we arrived here, and we didn’t notice the alternate crossing a few metres up stream and dove in the deep end at the main one. Jon drowned the Berg attempting to ride across with me wading next to him assisting. We got the other bikes across without a drama by walking along side them using the motor to drive them. KTMs take like ducks to water it seems with neither bike stalling, nor taking in water even though their airboxes were well under water!
Doesn’t look much here, but it was flowing quite fast
John de-waters the Berg
After quickly pulling the plug on Jon’s bike and tipping the water out of the exhaust, the Berg fired up again and we were again on our way, to arrive in Kalumburu a half hour or so later. It was good to catch up with the main group and compare notes. Already there was one rider out with a bike that had burned to the ground! Apparently a loose jerry can lid allowed fuel to spill onto the exhaust and it was all over within seconds. Thankfully he was ok, with just a singed helmet as a reminder, and was with the Ranger at Mitchell Falls waiting for a plane ride out at the end of the week.
Note to self : ensure bladder opening is on the non-exhaust side of the bike in the case of loose lid. This would prove to be a wise move, as later on the ride I did indeed flick up the small opening on the MSR dromedary bladder I was using to carry extra fuel after moving from a sitting to standing position on the bike. First I knew about it was when I felt the cool evaporation of fuel off my arse in the breeze! That lid was tightly bound with electrical tape at the first opportunity after this experience and is now filled with epoxy since returning home.
Kalumburu had a good camp ground run by the Catholic mission there, but we had to be wary of personal effects going missing in the night given the talents of the local population. Considering the main group had been in all afternoon, most were tucking into huge t-bone steaks bought at the local community store but we were to be eating packet rice meals again that night.
The next day was the day that it was decided to attempt the ride out to Western Australia’s most Northerly point, Cape Londonderry. Ed had a core group of riders assembled to take on the challenge but Jon and I decided not to tag along with them. After seeing the terrain up here first hand (a lot more rugged than it appears on google maps!) and knowing that there was no actual track for the last 50km of the route after having plotted the track with Ed back in Perth, I doubted that they’d make it.
John on the 640 chose to ride with Ed’s group and Jon on the Berg and I decided to head out that same way ahead of the main group via the Carson River Station - as we were already fuelled up and were ready to go. We had plans on getting to Solea falls but discovered the track was overgrown and impassable when trying to get there. Ed’s group rode on past us as we were back tracking but were stopped a few km up the road by the Drysdale River at the designated crossing – the river was just flowing too fast and was too deep this early in the season for it to be passable. They wouldn’t make Cape Londonderry this trip.
Big wash-aways in the track, Jon bunny hopped this one in an emergency whilst riding along side me
The track to Solea falls was overgrown and invisible
The Carson River Cattle Station is owned by the local Aboriginal community and was last worked about a decade ago, but has now been left abandoned and to the ravages of the Drysdale river which, when in flood, would flow right through the buildings of the station going by the high water mark and debris on the fence lines nearby. It’s pretty hard country out there.
Carson River ruins
We cool off at the Carson River Crossing, keeping a watchful eye out for crocs!
Our decision not to go with Ed was vindicated and Jon and I headed back to Kalumburu and out to the beach to camp for the night. We whipped out our travel rods and went for a fish off the rocks and I netted a couple of small Barracuda and a Queenfish that got cooked up to supplement another night of camping food for dinner. We agreed that evening how great it was to be out here after witnessing a spectacular blood red sunset and hatched plans for future rides together.
Nice Queenie for dinner
Spectacular sunset this evening
Quick oil change at Sunset
Camp by the beach
The next morning we met up again with John and formulated our plan to leave the main group and head out to the Mitchell Plateau, where they had already been a few days before. From here on in we rode in our small group of 3. First stop was Mitchell Falls, where we took a helicopter flight over the falls which was magnificent! That afternoon we packed up and rode out to Port Warrender on the north coast, which is basically a landing with a couple of small areas cleared for camping. Heavily invested with Salt Water Crocodiles, we headed the warning signs and stayed back from the water’s edge!
River crossing just after the Mitchell Falls turnoff
We passed the burnt out bike on the way in
And said our prayers for the fallen KTM
Track into Mitchell Falls
Little Merten’s falls, not far from the Mitchell Falls camp ground
Aboriginal Art at Little Merten’s falls
Helicopter flight over Mitchell Falls
The Mitchell River flowing out to sea
Track into Port Warrender
The Beach at Port Warrender