Now some might think that I’m a glutton for punishment, having only recently done an Oxley Jaunt, but, when my planned Victorian tour failed to materialise, and the opportunity of accompanying some good friends on an Oxley run came up, I just couldn’t resist it.
We started out a little behind time (no names, no pack drill) and headed up the mountain to Picton. There were two ZX-6R’s, a 600 Honda Hornet, a BMW R1200RT, a Harley and my VFR. A leisurely run up the back road through the Oaks and Silverdale brought us by the scenic route to Penrith and on to Windsor. Unwilling to pay the exorbitant prices for fuel that are being charged at the Halfway House, we filled up at Wilberforce and headed up the Putty. It was a very hot day, a precursor of what was to come, it turned out. A cold drink at Howes Valley and a spirited dash through the Ten Mile saw the next stop at Milbrodale, the Broke turnoff. Here Paul decided to turn back, unfortunately. The pain from his recently bruised ribs was becoming a problem and affecting his concentration. I’ll give him 10 points for having lasted that long, to be honest.
Singleton, then lunch at the delightful CrossRoads Diner at Gresford. Beautiful food in air-conditioned comfort; just what 6 weary travellers needed. Dungog and onto the Stroud Road for a refuel and a repair to Taina’s twistgrip which had come loose. I’m guessing the heat of the day had melted the glue that is supposed to hold it in place. Joel to the rescue with some cable-ties and normality was resumed.
Up the rest of Buckett’s Way and on to Gloucester. Incidentally, it always amuses me that Buckett’s Way is littered with signs proclaiming an upgrade to the road but nothing about it ever seems to change. It’s still rough and bumpy. I am somewhat unsure as to why it has the “rider’s road” reputation that it does. From Gloucester we hit Thunderbolt’s Way with an obligatory stop at the lookout at the top of the range and an opportunity for Ralf to do a Good Samaritan with his mobile phone and further enhance the reputation of touring motorcyclists into the bargain. You’re a good man, Ralf!
The day was wearing on and the heat was starting to take its toll. Fortunately we were on the last leg and Walcha, our overnight stopover, beckoned. A few showers of light rain tried to spoil our progress but we toughed it out and pulled into town well before dark. Touring Tip for the Oxley, #1. The Apsley Arms Hotel. Great bistro, excellent sleeping accommodation and a publican who goes out of his way (and I mean RIGHT out of his way) to make his guests comfortable. Thank you sir for rescuing a ridiculous situation with care and good humour.
The morning’s first order of business was the twisties known as “The Oxley” It’s around 80kms of 110km/h cruising to reach the top of the mountain. The countryside is wide and handsome and the road twists away from you as you crest each rise. Then, suddenly, you’re amongst forests and you know the entertaining bit has begun. There is only one disadvantage to this glorious piece of bitumen; every time you ride it, it seems shorter! A stop at the Ginger’s Creek cafe (supposedly shut on Tuesdays, but it was open anyway, how lucky is that? The owner said that he just opened for a little while “on spec”. I’m so glad he did.) We were stopping and drinking regularly to keep the hydration levels up, but I can’t think of a much nicer spot to stop. The walls of the cafe are covered with picture depicting the cedar-getting days, now long gone, and the place just reeks of history.
Back on the bikes and attacking the twisties again. It’s just addictive. Fuel at Wauchope and on to a boring 110km transport stage up the Pacific Highway. I know I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. If there was an award for one of the most tedious and uninteresting pieces of road in NSW, the PH would get it. Just out of Kempsey, Ralf had a warning light come on on his dash so he headed straight on to Coffs to talk to the Harley dealer about it and we arranged to meet later that afternoon in Grafton. The rest of us turned off at Raleigh and headed up, through Bellingen (lunch and a chance to check out the hippies) and on to the glorious Dorrigo bends. Yes, they’re still there and they’re still great. Must say a big thank you to the local council too, who had prominently displayed some signs warning of a serious diesel spill. Our good friends who “maintain” our Wollongong roads could well take a leaf out of their book.
Fuel at Dorrigo and onto a little backroad through Bostobrick and picking up the bottom end of the Waterfall Way north of Ebor. Again, this is another “must ride” road and it was just sensational, despite the heat and the onset of the afternoon. Ride the Nymboida: you owe it to yourself. At Grafton we had phone reception and got a message to say that Ralf had left for Glen Innes about 5 minutes before we had arrived at the meet point. Damn. Will sent a message saying we were there, but, no answer. So, despite being tired and hot, after fuelling up we decided that we’d better try for Glen Innes. Otherwise, we’d have preferred to stay in Grafton, having done all the riding we really wanted to do that day.
Imagine our delight when, at the roundabout at the intersection of the main street and the Gwydir Highway, Ralf came cruising by heading back into town. Yay! He’d stopped a little way out of town for a breather and seen Will’s message and turned back. So, it was an overnight stopover in Grafton after all. And here I must confess to a major blunder in choosing the Australian Hotel for our overnight stay. Old, seedy, and rooms that belonged in the 50’s (and the temperature inside them was about the same). Nevertheless, it did have its compensation, since the publican recommended the Bowling Club bistro for tea, a short walk down the street. And what a compensation it was. You walk through the main club building and out onto a verandah that runs the whole length of the building. It is perched above the Clarence River with extensive views for 270 degrees. So we sat and had a delicious Thai dinner while watching the sun set. Just on sunset thousands of fruit bats took off from the islands in the middle of the river and flew over, on their way to raid the local fruit trees.
Joel cut out here to go and visit rellies in Coffs and it was down to 4 bikes to complete the tour.
A restless and sweaty night required an early start and some fresh air circulating around the body. This was more than amply provided for by the glorious Gwydir Highway, running parallel for much of the first 80km with the Mann River and some of the best river flats scenery you are ever likely to see. Then the countryside changes as you start to climb the Gibraltar Range and suddenly you’re on a twisty mountain pass called Mulligan’s Gap, surrounded by rain forest. I really gave the VFR the berries here and it was a huge buzz carving up the road, the sound of the Staintune booming off the cliffs. We stopped at Heffron’s Lookout near the top, admired the scenery, did some wildlife photography, and generally did the tourist thing (although we didn’t autograph the armco fence like thousands of others have done.)
Out onto the plains again at the top of the range and we fuelled up at Glen Innes, a town steeped in Celtic traditions. Then it was a long run down the New England Highway. Cooler on the tops of the range, but coming down the Moombi Hill, it was like riding into an OVEN. The heat was punishing. Lunch at Tamworth on the footpath (narrowly avoiding being run over by a moron in a Volvo station wagon complete with pushbike rack) and then on to Singleton.
When we pulled in to Singleton the temperature readout on the board outside of the motel across the road was 39 degrees. The rooms were old, but so much better then those at Grafton and the bistro at the Imperial is absolutely excellent. At 2130 we went to adjourn to bed, but, climbing the stairs out of the air conditioned bistro, the heat hit us like a brick. And the sign across the road STILL said 39 degrees. So we went back downstairs and drank some more. When the young lady finally kicked us out at 2330 it was STILL 39 degrees.
A restless night (temperature at 0300 was still 23 degrees) and a cool shower in the morning saw us hitting the road in search of cool breezes as soon as we could. A southerly change HAD blown through during the night but the rooms were so superheated that it didn’t make any difference upstairs at all. But, out in the fresh air it was cool and SO pleasant. Petrol, then the Broke/Wollombi Road and on to Central Mangrove, pausing at Kulnura for coffee. LOVE that stretch. On to the Old Road for a look at the newly re-opened section and on to PITS for a pie (what else) and a de-brief before duelling with the traffic through Sydney (and wasn’t THAT fun?).
The tops along Madden’s was shrouded in fog, but, try as it might, it couldn’t rain and I got home safe and dry at around 1500. 2000 kms covered and every km was fun in its own way.
Finally, a big thank you to Taina for organising the tour and inviting me along. BIG props to Mark for pillioning on the back of the ZX-6 for 2000kms and never complaining once.
To Will, who took heaps of photos that I am going to publish here as soon as I get them, thanks for the good humour and the raft of funny stories. Also for your keen eye in observing the wonders of the Australian bush while still concentrating on the riding, a skill that I must try to develop.
To Ralf, a big thanks for being the best riding companion. If I had to choose just one person with whom to tour and I could only choose one, Ralf would be on the short list.
Joel is a crack-up and always has a laconic point of view on the constantly passing parade. Another great touring companion.
Despite the heat and oppression, it was a FABULOUS tour. And, given the opportunity, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.