DR Adventures: Exploring Australia

Lyndon Heffernan was touring Australia with off-road legend Shane Watts when an interesting idea came to mind: Could they ride from Sydney to Melbourne by combining their knowledge of the 650-mile stretch of bush? The next few hours they plotted out a route. Heffo then decided this type of trip would appeal to other riders, so he launched Detour, an all-inclusive adventure company designed for serious riders only. Their ride was timed to coincide with the International Six-Days Enduro, the most-prestigious off-road race in the world, which came to Australia in 1998. The pair planned to begin this ultimate experience just two days after the race was completed. Many thought they were nuts, but these aren't your normal thrill seekers."Now I do three different regular tours. They range from two to five days in each area, and we try to limit them to eight riders. All are on the Great Dividing Range, which separates the east coast from the Great Outback. We do Coffs Harbour on the north coast of New South Wales. This is in a rain forest, and we ride in a lot of red clay. We also do something we call the Australian Alpine. This is mostly two-track, and it covers greater distances than the other two tours. It's more scenic and not as technically demanding as the two coastal rides. We really don't do the Sydney to Melbourne that much because it poses such a huge logistical challenge, and it tends to be too expensive for most people."Then there is Batemans Bay, the one we rode. This is about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from downtown Sydney and takes adventure seekers from the edge of the coastline into the middle of the rain forest. The climate is temperate, and most of the deadly things we see on American television, such as snakes and jellyfish, are rare in this area.Since Heffernan has ties to the Yamaha factory, we all rode WR450Fs, except for our beloved host of Dirt Rider Adventures Molly Culver, who rode a WR250F. Heffo's experience with prototype testing and familiarity with the terrain makes him the perfect guide. Make no mistake; there isn't a better tour operation on the entire continent. All of the Detour guides are top-notch riders (some ISDE competitors and state champs) and mechanics, and Heffo himself is one of those been-there, done-that type of guys. He's written for Australasian Dirt Bike magazine for 20 years, won two national championships aboard four-strokes and runs Stephen Gall's Yamaha Academy of Off-road Riding, which trains 2000 people a year in the fine art of off-road riding technique. But enough about Heffo, let's talk about the ride.The tours are all-inclusive, meaning all you have to do is show up at the airport with your riding gear and a good attitude, and Detour will take care of the rest. It has the entire route plotted out, a support truck on hand and arrangements made for all meals and accommodations. The only additional charges, essentially, are souvenirs and alcohol.Traveling with the television crew didn't allow us to participate in a regular tour, but we did manage to rack up almost 375 miles in four days. The idea is to ride about 125 to 150 miles a day, and that translates into about seven to nine hours in riding gear when you factor in meals and the occasional flat tire (we had only one the entire time). Some of that riding is on city streets, and the first thing Americans will discover is Australians drive on the left side of the road. Traffic lights can be a bit confusing, and when making right-hand turns down a normal two-lane highway, we instinctively looked over our right shoulder to see if other cars were coming. Some habits are hard to break, but it's important to remember the left-side driving applies at all times, even on off-road trails.Once we got out of the city, we rode a fair amount of fire roads in the rain forest. This is really scenic, considering we were surrounded by 100-foot-tall trees most of the time. Since Australia has a population of only 20 million in a space comparable to that of the United States, we didn't run across much traffic once we got out of town. For the most part, we were free to race around the two-track and let the back end drift out in turns. This was an absolute blast; the two days we rode without the television crew, we had 11 riders all about the same speed, and that made for some fun battles. We were a little concerned about the size of the group and the mileage we had to cover, but Detour has a well-devised arrangement for all tours.The single-track was the type of riding we anticipated the most, and we weren't disappointed. We traversed a lot of challenging uphills and downhills and crossed several dozen streams, and my friend Jason Williams even managed to drown his bike in two feet of water. Tragically, the engine hydrolocked and he bent a rod. Fortunately, Heffo usually carries a spare bike in the support truck in case there is some type of catastrophic failure.Realistically, the technical parts of this ride are not for newer riders. Although Detour does have shortcuts to help slower riders navigate safely, this does screw up the dynamics of the adventure. However, most people with a couple years riding experience should do well.The riding is not that tiring, and the scenery is beautiful. As we suggest when booking with any tour group, be very honest about your riding experience and fitness level. This will give the tour operator an idea of how to maximize your experience, and you have to trust their recommendation. Remember: They know the terrain and territory better than you do, and they want you to have a good time so you'll come back and bring some friends.Overall, this is a rider's ride. There isn't a lot of exotic nightlife, and there aren't many tourist-type activities organized. This is a tour we would highly recommend if you want to get out and see the world and ride some challenging trails. If you want to do the normal tourist stuff, just stick around for a few extra days. Detour can recommend all sorts of activities to do in all parts of the country, and we're sure you won't be disappointed.Eight Must-Have Experiences in and around Sydney, Australia:1. Jet boat around Sydney Harbour: Australians spell it a little differently than we do, but that doesn't change the scenery. This high-speed thrill ride is the best way to see the unique opera house, the Harbour Bridge and the multimillion-dollar beachfront homes in the surrounding area. Price is approximately $65 for the 45-minute trip, and you can get more info at www.ozjetboating.com.
2. Visit Pebbly Beach: About an hour before dusk, wild kangaroos come to eat grass at this state park. You can walk up and pet them without any worries.
3. Catch the surf: Australia has some of the world's most-famous waters for surfing, and they are not bad for body boarding, either. Bondi Beach and Manly Beach are within driving distance from Sydney.
4. Visit the zoo: We stopped by Mogo Zoo for an hour to see a wide range of exotic animals. It costs only about $11 for adults and $6 for children, and it was really relaxing.
5. Cruise downtown Sydney: The town is extremely scenic, and it's full of really cool shops and eateries with great cultural opportunities and an exciting nightlife.
6. Tour the Sydney Opera House: This is Sydney's most-famous landmark, and it's a lot bigger than you think. If you have time, go for the full experience and see a concert here.
7. Walk the Harbour Bridge: One of the most-popular activities for tourists. This requires reservations, which usually need to be made a year in advance. The price is about $125, and you can book reservations at www.bridgeclimb.com. Remember the fireworks from the 2000 Sydney Olympics? Then you saw this bridge.
8. Grab your pole: There are plenty of excellent places to sport fish in Australia, and there are lots of private and group charters.

- Ken Faught