We took three Beemers on a tour of New England High Country, just as the region had its coldest week in 20 years.
Staring out the window at 2am, it is hard to believe what I am seeing. That’s got to be sleet swirling around the streetlight, though it looks a little light to be sleet…
I get up, trip over my gear laid out in readiness for the morning’s ride, and move closer to the window. With my nose pressed right up against the pane, it’s clear now — that’s not sleet. That’s snow. This ride just got interesting.
I’m in Uralla, a small town in New England High Country, NSW, with two other riders from the AMCN team, all of us ready to point our BMWs out of town in the morning on our way to exploring the area, one which promises great roads and numerous surprises. We’ve picked a time of year known to produce snow so I’m not entirely surprised to be seeing some on our first night, but a good ride is a good ride, as long as you’re ready for the conditions.
When I meet my riding companions outside our Top Pub accommodation in the morning, I see they are taking it well. AMCN road test editor Paul Young used to spend his winters test riding bikes for Triumph in the UK, so anything less than a blizzard is speedo weather to him. AMCN snapper Josh Evans has done plenty of kilometres in snow on a bike and is so excited at the prospect of doing it again he is geared up and ready to ride.
We decide to wait for the ice to melt a bit before we head out, so after stripping off a couple of layers of bike gear, we trudge to the closest Uralla eatery to fuel up.
We don’t need to go far. I recently read an American tourist’s reasons as to why Australia is such an awesome country and part of it is the ability to buy amazing coffee no matter where you are. Uralla is proving this observation insightful.
We spend two hours in Michael’s Café on the Uralla main drag, receiving road condition updates from Michael himself, as well as unspeakable gallons of his seriously good coffee. Josh even orders a piccolo, just to be annoying, but it gets his thumbs-up at first sip. By the time I polish off my breakfast, a Michael’s Mess Special (the mushroom, bacon and egg explosion is messy alright, but soooo good), the snow is more flurry-like, rather than looking like Christmas in Europe. We decide to make a break for it. We wipe the snow off the bikes, then Youngy fires them all up and we let them run for 10 minutes or so.
Paul noses us out of town, followed by myself and Josh. We keep an eye on our ambient temperature gauges, which read between two and three degrees, so black ice shouldn’t be an issue. It’s the dips in the road we worry about, as the black ice likes to hide down where it remains cool.
Within an hour the snow has disappeared, we’re warm in our gear and have Tenterfield in our sights. It was a fresh beginning, but the adventure just makes it better! We pass through Armidale, a beautiful place that thrives on its university-town status, and keep riding, heading towards Glen Innes Highlands.
The Glen Innes locals are passionate about celebrating their connection with Celtic country. Their nod to the mainly Scottish settlers who first set up white tenancy in the area includes the Australian Standing Stones, an array of monster granite rocks arranged in such a way as to bring back memories for anyone who has been to Stonehenge.
Each granite masterpiece needed to be around 5.5m high, allowing for 3.5m or so to be above ground once ‘planted’, so a Polish former Snowy Mountains Scheme worker, George Rozynski, spent months in the surrounding bush, finding and splitting the rocks. It was another six months before they were eventually transported to their new home — a massive effort, but worth it, as the display is the only one of its kind in the southern hemisphere and hosts numerous traditional Celtic ceremonies and on the first weekend of May, The Australian Celtic Festival.
We have two appointments in Tenterfield — the Tenterfield Saddler, made famous by the song of a previous owner’s grandson, Peter Allen, and the Commercial Boutique Hotel. As it’s nearing dark by the time we arrive, we make straight for the Commercial. There is an elderly group sitting by the large open fire, so we stare at them silently until they move on, then slide into the massive leather couches and, with the bike keys away, order our first craft beer.
We swear we are in a trendy Melbourne or Sydney pub — the Commercial’s bar and dining areas are magnificent and the place is a real oasis. We have even parked the bikes under cover, so no snow on them tonight! We book a dinner table, then head up to our rooms and are blown away again — the digs are quirky, super comfortable and everything is high end.
The next morning we are in the Tenterfield Saddler. From out the front, the tiny shopfront looks like any other old-style store. But walking in, we are greeted with the smell of fresh leather and numerous items made from the stuff. As well as the usual bush whips, wallets and, of course, saddles, there are music boxes, magnificent diaries and leather patches. I find Josh reading a clipping on the wall — something to do with Peter Allen — and half an hour later we are still reading the walls and looking for one of the volunteers who run the place so we can buy something. Well worth the visit.
We walk back out the front of the shop, where our Beemers tick like restless metal horses, as if knowing what they have in store, then head south again. We have a date with the Oxley. We stop at Armidale for a coffee served out of a hole in the wall and a fresh mushroom roll, then head for Bendemeer and The Oxley Highway signs.
The Oxley Highway
The Oxley drops us off the New England highlands, leading us first through Walcha, at around 1100m, then gradually descends in a series of epic twists and turns that take us out of the area. At first the three of us travel in synchronised low-level flying formation. We wind our way through kilometres of smoothly paved twisties, remembering why this road is the object of so many riders’ infatuations, and why this is an epic way to end, or even begin, a road trip to New England High Country.
New England High Country is a great destination, even when it is snowing. The diversity it offers, as well as the many great roads leading to it, make it a perfect rider’s retreat.