Australia is the only country hosting BMW Safaris. Now in its 27th year, we tagged along on the 2021 BMW GS Safari to see what all the fuss is about
If you have ever owned a BMW GS, you would have heard of the BMW GS Safari. I have not owned one. But I have heard about how much fun the Safari can be, so I was keen to get amongst it and joined in on the 2021 BMW GS Safari to see what it was all about.
The GS Safari is about getting out on the back roads with like-minded people who share a passion for their GS motorcycle. All GS models are welcome from the flagship R 1250 GS Adventure all the way down to the learner-legal G 310 GS. It is a fully supported event, so there is no stress of fitting all your tools and gear for a week-long adventure onto your bike. It’s about meeting new people, sharing epic experiences and having more than a few laughs along the way.
The Safari is run like a well-oiled machine. Before the event, participants are required to take their GSs to their local Motorrad dealer and have it inspected and tagged as ‘Safari Ready’. And this means you are eligible for the mechanical support while out on the trails.
BMW offers multiple ways to get involved in the action. The Adventurer package gets you single accommodation each night, whereas the Explorer package is a bit cheaper and you will be sharing a room each night. Groups are also welcome and about 60 percent of the riders are returning customers, who generally drag a mate along to get in on the action. In this case, you will share accommodation with another member of your group. Prior to the event you will be emailed updates, tips on what to bring and, as the date gets close you will get the GPS files emailed so you can load them onto your bike ready for action. Time to start packing!
The afternoon before the opening day of safari is the sign-on and welcome dinner. Anthea from GS Off road Training will greet you and remember your name even if she has never met you before, and load you up with a bag of merchandise, bike stickers and bag tags. Then you grab yourself a beer and chew the fat with some like-minded people before the welcome dinner kicks off.
Every night before dinner, there’s a rider’s briefing on what to expect the following day. Hosted by best mates Shane Booth and Chris Urquhart from GS Off Road Training, who now organise and run the event with their team of coaches, mechanics, admin, medics and sweep riders.
Hard-copy maps are distributed, instructions are given, like “keep left” and when to fuel up as you will run out before the next servo (luckily, I was on the Bumblebee 1250 GS Adventure with 30L tank). Some house keeping is taken care of, like emphasising that it’s not a race, but also make sure you don’t fluff around too much and not make it to the end point in time. As the week wears on, a lot of banter creeps in to the briefing as tales of the day’s events begin to filter through.
The bike parking is a sight to behold as you try to remember where you parked your steed among the 200-odd BMW GS motorcycles. I chose to wait for the swarm to leave and then ride out towards the end of the leave-time window. This kept traffic to a minimum and I could work my way through the day at my own pace.
The big 40th Anniversary R 1250 GSA is like an enduro lounge chair so I didn’t need too many rest stops. Passing other riders on the trail is okay, as long as you do it politely. You wouldn’t make an arse of yourself and shower someone with rocks, because by the third day, you know just about every rider you see.
Townsville to Cairns is only about a 350km drive. But the safari route is about that for each of the five days – we most definitely took the scenic route!
Discussions around drinks and dinner reveal that many return customers come back knowing that the routes will be amazing, the accommodation will be excellent and the locations many and varied. One gentleman even claimed he didn’t care where the ride went, he would still be back every year.
The route is chosen to offer challenges for the participants but, at the same time to not cause too much carnage. Obviously BMW can’t plan for weather, so conditions can change in an instant.
Each day the route takes in the road less travelled. The lead riders head out in the darkness each morning to mark out every single turnoff on the route with little orange arrows. The GPS is used as a backup. They also mark hazards to watch out for with yellow exclamation marks. I can assure you that they saved a lot of heartache for the riders. We snaked our way through the bush, across rivers, rock garden riverbeds, smooth twisty bitumen and everything in between.
The opening day started with perfect sunny Queensland weather, beautiful and warm as we rode out of town and into the countryside. The route saw us heading inland behind Harvey Range on the dirt. A great mix of surfaces and trails working our way across to Mount Fox. Hitting the bitumen again to Ingham. After Ingham it was mostly bitumen to Mission Beach with awesome beachside scenery.
There was plenty of dust and dry floodways. One of which caught out the first and worst faller of safari. The poor fella hit a washed out concrete culvert, which sent him into the air and into a difficult landing. We were only 150 kays or so into the 400+km day. He could not continue any further. It was a stiff reminder for us all to take care on the dirt roads. Over the course of the week, there were countless crashes, but all of them low-speed drops during water crossings or negotiating slippery surfaces – which the riders were able to pick up and carry on after.
We woke the next morning to some decidedly poor looking weather. There was much discussion around breakfast whether to put the waterproof liners in our gear or not. I did, luckily, because the first 180km was bitumen and it rained the whole time. We snaked our way along the coast and up to Mena Creek Falls for a quick stop. Then up the mountains to Millaa Millaa. Conditions were cool and as we were climbing up into the mountains, foggy. As soon as we got to the dirt roads out near Millstream, the rain mysteriously disappeared and the sun came out. Maybe BMW can plan the weather after all?
We rode through the bush to Irvinebank – what a strange place – but well worth a visit. The morning’s rain had put paid to the optional difficult detour. It had been closed off as it was too treacherous. From Thornton it was some bitumen to get us close to Port Douglas then some nice dirty backroads and twisty bitumen into town. What a day! The Sheraton Mirage was a welcome sight to have a nice hot shower and a couple of drinks.
The third day was a shorter ride to allow participants to regroup and have the option of a technical riding section. We headed out to a very soggy Julatten, then along the Bump track as known by many locals. There was some epic mud to be ridden through and a few small tumbles were the result. In situations like this, though, the camaraderie of this event really comes out. Mates helping mates wade their bikes through the mud. After that mess, continuing down to Barron Falls before taking on the bitumen along the scenic twisty coastline back to Port Douglas. What a view!
The second-last day headed north along the coast across the Daintree ferry and up to Cape Tribulation and inland to the Cedar Bay National Park and Roseville. A lot of rainforest riding with a sizeable river crossing that would feature in many people’s memories of Safari, for both good and bad reasons.
GS Offroad Training staff would be on hand to help riders through the river crossing and help pick up any dropped bikes – it was a real test of man, woman and machine! I think many were glad to get back onto the Mulligan highway to begin the trek back to Port Douglas and down to Palm Cove for a well-earned wind-down beverage.
The final day was another Epic loop covering lots of rainforest riding. We headed out to Mareeba before greeting the dirt all the way out to Petford. Then it was back through our old friend Irvinebank from the second day and back into Atherton. I topped up with fuel and headed out and around Lake Tinaroo in the rainforest, stopping at the Cathedral Fig tree for some happy snaps before heading back towards the coast via the Gillies Range road. The final leg of the week then ran back into Cairns to soak up the atmosphere at the Shangri-la. A massive night of tall stories and great memories was had, before parting ways the next day.
Queensland threw everything at us over the week, with weather and road conditions and each rider will have may tales to tell.
The GS Offroad training guys were not resting either, they had arranged to do another tour from Cairns to Cape York with some super keen punters. Real bucket list kind of stuff.
If the GS Safari doesn’t get your motor running, there are two other options to sink your teeth into. The BMW Safari Enduro, which includes some camping and carrying your own gear, and the riding is more technical for the hardcore adventurer. On the other end of the scale is the BMW TS Safari. The TS Safari is a bitumen-only ride for road-going BMW motorcycles where you can even bring a pillion along.
The Safari is a massive undertaking, and really showcases what the GS series bikes can do. To keep the customers coming back for more each year is a real feather in the cap for BMW, because Australia is the only market where the GS Safari is hosted. Well done to the BMW crew. I’m off to find a cheap GS for next year. I heard it might be in Tassie.
Words David Watt Photography Dean Walters