THE OXLEY Highway is one of those roads that experienced motorbike riders talk of with something approaching awe. If you’re an Oxley virgin then it’s a trip that, once finished, you’d like to go back and do again. Better this time, smoother, a tad faster perhaps?
Starting out from Husqvarna Motorcycles in Port Macquarie, a posse of riders of all levels and ages on a series of BMW bikes which we chopped and changed as the ride went on. Husqvarna, of course, is the ancient German god of BMW riders … ha, ha, ha … it’s not but it certainly felt like we had divine intervention on our side with almost perfect weather over our five-day round trip.
The occasion was the launch just the previous day at Parliament House in Sydney of New England High Country’s Motorcycle Touring map, which showcases eight of the best rides in this part of the world. These include Waterfall Way, Old Glen Innes Way, Gwydir Highway, Bruxner Highway, the prosaically named Tourist Drive 19, Thunderbolts Way, Tourist Drive 9 (to Mt Mackenzie lookout) and the Oxley.
They’ve been working on the Oxley Highway since 1838, when convicts were first put to work on a route inland from Port Macquarie to the Northern Tablelands. If the section around Wauchope is any indication, they’re still at it 180 years later and need to get a wriggle on.
Minor roadwork jokes aside, this is a road which throws up pretty much everything you could want in a motorbike trip. There are long straight stretches built to let her rip a little and gentle bends which sweep languorously past fields of incurious cattle. As we headed up and over the Great Dividing Range, there were enough gullies, twists and turns to keep Chubby Checker busy for years.
Riding the Oxley Highway
It’s here that experience counts. The more skilled riders head into the corners with panache, moving through the bends with a nonchalance to envy, also driving me to ride better myself.
We stop for a short drink break at Long Flat before heading off again. Onwards through the twists and turns of the Mount Seaview wilderness. Lunch at Ginger’s Creek, who welcome riders and serve up burgers and sandwiches as big as your head.
The tangle of tarmac after Ginger’s eases out into broad beautiful vistas and straight roads all the way to Walcha. Be sure to stop on the way for a quick-squiz at Apsley Falls, about 20 kilometres from town.
Thunderbolts Way roars through Walcha from Gloucester in the south and heads up through Uralla and on to Inverell. This route cuts a wide tarmac swathe through rolling farmland reminiscent of the English countryside. It’s a smooth ride on beautifully maintained roads which dip and bend and almost sway with the landscape, like being on a motorboat in a big swell. Heaven.
It’s not just the roads, riding and the beauty of the landscape which make the New England High Country experience so fulfilling. It’s the discovery of places along the way and the generously hospitable people we meet on the journey.
In Walcha, for instance, we stop overnight (with lock-ups for the bikes) at the wonderfully quirky Walcha Royal Café and Accommodation. Check out the impressive Open-Air-Gallery of sculptures in town. Drop in to the Antipodean Tynker, a weird and wonderful bespoke motorbike shop in the main drag. It’s more like stepping through the looking glass into a world of hand-made motorbikes, moving sculptures and Steampunk artefacts made from found objects. A must-see for everybody, not just bikers.
In Uralla, we stop for lunch at Michael’s Garden Café. Take a quick detour out on Tourist Drive 19 and take a tour around the fascinating McCrossin’s Mill Museum.
Inverell – National Transport Museum
Which brings us to Inverell. Where Thunderbolts Way crosses the Gwydir Highway. Home to the National Transport Museum, a bit of an eye-opener. With a section of Sydney’s now defunct monorail system plonked out front. What looks like an airplane hangar – turns out to be filled with hundreds of beautifully preserved vintage cars and motorbikes.
It’s a collection which includes; A 1906 Dayton. A bright red Buick Eight from 1939. An E-type Jag (my favourite). A 1912 Renault. A range of Chevvys, Packards and more Holdens, Valiants and Fords (even a 1916 Model T) than you can poke a stick at. There are old Harleys with sidecars. A bright yellow Messerschmitt KR200. A three-wheeled bubble car built by the German aircraft manufacturer from 1955 to 1964. Even an old Ford Coca-Cola delivery truck complete with crates of that ubiquitous beverage.
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