Bike Life: Oxley Highway

The weekend is here, but time is not on our side. All our essentials packed up, tyres warmed up, petrol filled up to the brim and our breakfast still digesting in our stomach. We’ve got only two days to roam across the best motorcycling road in New South Wales, in what we have nicknamed as the Oxley TT.

The ride event to Oxley Highway, organised by Devinder Khera and Richard Harrowell, was planned many months in advance. Motel rooms were booked, restaurants were notified with details of time and dates of expected arrival, emergency-use trailer organised and final routes and planned stops all drawn up to anticipate the ultimate weekend with a bunch of open-minded, friendly motorcyclists.

Mistakes of the first event last year were taken into account, such as those concerning the duration of breaks, expected rider behaviours, instructions in the event of a crash or breakdown and general preparation of suitable gear in the event of adverse weather conditions. This was so that absolutely everybody understood what sort of ride that they will be undertaking. This is much more than just a last-minute blat down to the Nashos.

Check out last year’s Oxley Highway trip on my Facebook page, links displayed below:

The meet point for the trip was arranged at Windsor McDonalds in Sydney’s north-west region, for a departure time of 7am, and everyone was expected to have a full tank of fuel so that we did not need to deal with stragglers. Funnily enough, our organiser Devinder was caught up with some issues on his Kawasaki, and had to go back home for a replacement bike. The rest of the group proceeded to the next stop, with Richard in the lead on his Triumph Tiger 800XCA.

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Scott Puehl on his Triumph Street Triple R on the Ten Mile section of Putty Road. Photo by Keogh’s Vision Photography

Putty Road was the first set of twisties of the trip. This road has always been a favourite among motorcyclists in Sydney, as outlined in a previous blog. The Colo Heights and Ten Mile section are undeniably the best parts, and Grey Gum Cafe sits in the centre of those sections. However, it has to be kept in mind that this is a highly patrolled area. There were one unmarked and three marked highway patrol vehicles going up and down the area at around 8am when we were there.

Singleton was our first official fuel stop. This was the longest distance between fuel stops for the whole journey, from Windsor of distance of around 175kms. Our view was that, if the bike can last the Windsor-Singleton leg without needing more fuel, then it will survive the rest of the whole 2-day trip. There is a servo at Colo for those whose bikes lack a sufficient fuel range, but our group avoided that stop as there wasn’t much incentive to refill after just 30kms. It’s difficult enough for the organisers of a group of 40 riders to try and reduce smoke breaks and have everybody to gear up on time to stick to the day’s schedule, so the key motive was to only allow for essential stops.

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The main intersection at Dungog.

After Singleton, we stopped off at Dungog for a lunch break. Dungog is a small country town in the Hunter Region, with a population of just around 2000 residents. I still remember last year when we visited, just a few weeks after the 2015 Hunter and Newcastle natural disaster caused by flooding and destructive winds, in which three people were killed in Dungog. The weather was grim, shop windows and noticeboards plastered with information for emergency disaster relief and assistance.

This time around, Dungog was a fine town to visit, with bakery items freshly out of the oven, and absolutely beautiful weather to boot. Many other motorcyclists were present to enjoy the atmosphere of a small town, and locals were happy to ignite a conversation amongst us. Overall, we felt very welcome to be in town. The horrendous potholes still exist to plague the main intersection but, hey, we all need a hammering massage through our stiff spines every now and then on a road trip, right? The surprising therapeutic benefits of a B-grade country road…

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The Kawasaki Z1000 came to a halt in the middle of Bucketts Way, a length of road between Dungog and Gloucester, due to possible fuelling issues. It might have been inflicted by rancid petrol at the previous servo not long ago, because the bike ran okay after the next fill up. But even if that were the case, nobody else had similar problems, so it’s probably down to sheer misfortune, because the bike performed flawlessly for the rest of the road trip.

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Thunderbolts Way was plated up on our metaphorical dinner table as our entrée before the main course that is the Oxley Highway. From Gloucester onwards, the road travels almost parallel along the foot of the Great Dividing Range, until it climbs up through Mares Run and Nowendoc where it scales across the mountain range. Thanks to this characteristic, riders follow a route that brings them some of the most brilliant hilly sceneries that NSW has to offer.

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Trails of Utopia, Meadows of Heaven. On Thunderbolts Way.

But don’t take your eyes off the road as you approach the more rugged sections of Thunderbolts Way. Some like to refer to the road as the ‘land of a million potholes’ due to the countless patchwork that is used as the primary method of road maintenance by the various councils for the sections that are under their geographical jurisdiction. The worst of it would be almost totally surfaced with patched-up potholes on a section of road, and that can last for many kilometres that includes straights, steep corners and winding hairpins. The surface characteristics, in this case, can best be described as akin to a crumbling chocolate cookie. Crumbs included.

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“I’ll be there, guys. I’m coming!” Devinder Khera at Thunderbolts Way. Photo by Keogh’s Vision Photography.

Lamentably, the road defects is one that has to be directly dealt with by the State Government, but the road has seen very little improvement over the decade and there doesn’t seem to be much effective campaigning by authorities and local communities to place constant pressure on those who are responsible. Despite this, the road is definitely not one to miss because the majority of the road is in good condition. A few bits of gravel and stones won’t write off your bike!

DSC01441Luckily, a good rest stop exists to safely gaze at the views. The stopover on Thunderbolts Way between Gloucester and Walcha, an extravagant lookout from which you can fully enjoy and appreciate the distinctive hills and mountains of the Great Dividing Range.

Carson’s Lookout is approximately 45kms north of Gloucester and offers the opportunity to take in a 180-degree panoramic view of the surrounding region. The majority of the mountains that can be seen from this lookout are part of what is known as Barrington Tops National Park, a world heritage listed nature reserve, where the peak rises to 1586 metres above sea level, the highest point in northern NSW.

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Carson’s Pioneer Lookout, on Thunderbolts Way, near Nowendoc.

It’s pretty clear that everybody was so glad to have made it to Walcha, calling it a day with a refreshing shower and a few cold ones. Bucketts and Thunderbolts Way are fantastic riding routes, but it does take a toll on the body. Everybody were eager to sit their butts on anything but a motorcycle pew by the end of it. Walcha was the approximate halfway point of our trip, and it is conveniently well equipped to cater for large groups of riders.

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If only our dinner was any good. Our official dinner venue for the whole group was at the Apsley Arms Hotel. It must have been the worst service that anyone of us had to put up with in recent memory. The host of the pub, who we assumed to be the owner, was ridiculously impolite, commanding everyone to have their cash ready, while being pushy and abrupt when asked about any further details. There’s an atmosphere of tension as we are treated as numbers and price tags like cattle lined up awaiting their slaughter. Fair enough if the place is busy, but is it that much of a chore to demonstrate, or even attempt to display, a little care and appreciation to their visitors? For the record, even a staff member commented that the guy is, quote, “a prick at times”. His words, not mine.

Judging by the negative customer reviews on their Facebook page, we’re not the only ones to have been presented a terrible experience at the Apsley Arms. Overcooked food, mixed-up and missing orders, and waiting up to over 2 hours for bangers ‘n mash. What kind of place runs out of chicken schnitty at 6pm on a Saturday evening?! It would be different if we were expecting an experimental concoction of the work of Heston Blumenthal, but this isn’t exactly rocket science. This is simple, rustic pub grub we’re talking here.

For some of us, the wait was far too much, and ended up getting a refund for our meals. This is despite our group organisers booking the place for approximately 40 people a month in advance! If they can’t handle the numbers, they have every right to turn us elsewhere and refuse service. Of course, though, they’re more than happy to take our money. Customer service is down the bottom of priorities here. I wouldn’t trust the pub to run a bath, let alone a restaurant.

If that’s the kind of business practice that is upheld by the pub in a small country town, then it doesn’t deserve the patronage that it had received from us. This is not hospitality; hostility it is. Better off saving our cash and avoiding this place next year and head to the other local pub around the corner, or walk a few streets down to the local Chinese, where a few of our members decided to go for takeaway meals. At least they’d provide what is expected with decency, but in a fraction of the time, even with a fully booked restaurant!

Anyway, the rest of the evening was spent at our accommodation in Walcha Motel, a biker-friendly motel. We had the whole venue to ourselves and purchased more than enough grog from the bottle-o, so we were free to treat the motel like our own home and keep up the banter until past midnight, after which when the local hordes of teenage drunks roam the neighbourhood, howling like wolves and shouting out random incomprehensible phrases, sheep bleating in the background in the dead of night.

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On the Oxley Highway, 20kms east of Walcha.

Waking up at 5:30am, the second day of our 2-day event arrived. Thanks to the end of daylight savings, we all had an extra hour of sleep, so there was no reason for us to not feel refreshed and ready for the main course of our journey: Oxley Highway!

The road that leads out of Walcha and on the Oxley Highway is one that entices you to hit it like a real-life Isle of Man TT event. Farmlands dominate the landscape of this side of the Oxley Highway, and you’re able to see out for miles ahead of you. Any oncoming vehicles are seen minutes before you approach them, and you’re able to adjust your riding in accordance to the road conditions. Whether or not you love straight roads, you will enjoy the freedom that comes with riding on an empty stretch of road. Please note that, although frequency and presence is not exactly known, highway patrol officers do their rounds out here during the weekends.

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Po Siv on the Oxley Highway nearby a lookout area, 20kms east of Gingers Creek. Photo by Keogh’s Vision Photography

If straight roads with some fast sweepers aren’t up to your discerning palate, don’t be dismayed. The Oxley Highway is renown for its smorgasbord of lip-smacking tarmac on offer. Before you know it, the flat and occasionally hilly farmland transform into a winding rainforest as you head deep into the wilderness of Cottan-Bimbang National Park.

Gasping for oxygen as we hustle through the jungle of tarmac that winds down towards Ginger Creek, the adrenalin intensifies, and the game is on. But the battle is not against one another, no; it is the battle of the mind, the fight in which we maintain grip and composure all the whilst exploring and pushing the limits that we perceive only in our minds. But that’s the beauty of self discovery. As we push ourselves a little further incrementally to explore the unknown, a sense of satisfaction and realisation is brought to fruition, and we continually yearn for more of it until it comes to the extent where you’re better off on a track.

By all means, I am not advocating the Oxley Highway, or any other public road, as a hoon’s paradise, but when you have the most beautiful riding road in the state to behold you, where the 25kmh suggested cornering speeds belie the rarity of legally going flat out, engraving the asphalt with the remnants of shredded tyre bits, whilst nodding affirmatively at a passing highway patrol vehicle thanks to a 100kmh limit, you better be making the most of it!

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Po Siv on the Oxley Highway at Gingers Creek. Photo by Keogh’s Vision Photography

It’s a damn fast road, but its also safe, and a hell of a lot of fun. The road surface would put the ice box section of the Old Pacific Highway to shame, and the signs are all very well positioned. Fair to say, you would have to be either careless or be incredibly unlucky from the weather to get into a single vehicle accident. There are a few sections of moss and cracked surfaces, but they’re visible well before you get to them. It’s beyond belief as to how the corners don’t seem to come to an end, but when a road that stretches 160kms between Walcha and Wauchope hosts over 300 corners, you’re bound to put that bike on its camber!

Unfortunately, not all the bikes made it to the mid-section stopover area at Gingers Creek. The BMW K1600 was inflicted with an electrical glitch that prevented the battery from being charged, most likely a rectifier issue, and hopefully covered by BMW through warranty as the bike is still just 4 months old. The Yamaha R3 was dropped on its side, partially damaging the clutch lever, so it was off the road until it got to the cafe where a good amount of gaffer tape alleviated the issue temporarily, enough for it to make it back home to Sydney.

I’ve always been a supporter of small local businesses, as mentioned in one of my previous blogs when I was out in outback Queensland, and this case is not an exception. I had the ‘Very Big Breakfast’ on the menu at the Gingers Creek Roadhouse that set me back a fat $17.00, and no regrets were had. A fabulous combination of the meaty essentials to go with the eggs, sweet pineapple pieces to balance the pungency of the charred white onions, the hash browns and bacon to bring in that taste that just the magical Maillard reaction can provide, calmed by the side of the pan-fried fleshy tomatoes.

As it is a small cafe-style setting that was serving over 40 people at once, the order did take over an hour to arrive. Just as I was beginning to feel restless, the food made its way to the table, and I could not fault the dish at all.  Don’t skimp on a fulfilling morning meal by settling for the comparatively measly sandwiches and wraps, which are also good (going by last year’s experience). The big brekkie meal is where it is at. It is simplicity at its finest: honest ingredients that are easily identifiable, cooked to perfection. Keep this in mind when waiting for food: If it goes over the hour mark, it’s either going to be very bad (like the night before) or, in this case, really great!

Take note that, if intending to do a few laps in between Walcha and Wauchope on the Oxley Highway, which spans a distance of 163kms to be exact, the Gingers Creek stop is the only place where you can fill up. The petrol service is not self-serve, so you’ll need to enquire within the roadhouse. It’s highly recommended that you do refuel here because the road surfaces to the east of Gingers Creek is a knee-dragger’s nirvana, as seen in the photo below, taken by Keogh’s Vision Photography.

The Oxley Highway is frequented by many motorcyclists every weekend, both local and from other cities. I’ve lost count in the number of other riders on the road apart from ours. My vivid memory would say that there would have been over at least 50 other riders, an incredible figure for a region whose population would probably be less than a suburb in Sydney.

Paul Slade is a notable individual that we came across this time last year, when I rode my Multistrada out here. We first met him in 2015, a manic rider at Gingers Creek on a Yamaha R125. The most memorable thing I have in mind was when I checked out his rear tyre: a triangled tyre! He looked like he was having the time of his life on a tiny bike. Nevertheless, it was great to see him again, this time out on his Suzuki GSX-R750. The guy definitely knows much more than a thing or two about riding, as demonstrated in the photo below.

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Professional hoon and track racer Paul Slade, on the Oxley Highway. Photo by Keogh’s Vision Photography

Midday hastily arrives and passes, so we make a run towards Wauchope, and resume our way back down south to Sydney via the Pacific Highway. Along the way, we went on a small detour via Wootton Way, an older part of what used to be part of the main highway route. This would form as the dessert of our full-course meal; the last ride of the day through delicious twisties before hitting the highway back home. The road passes through the heart of the Bulahdelah State Forest, and retains a 100kmh speed limit. The area is very much dead, so the road is basically available for your own enjoyment.

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Benjamin Cole on his Yamaha MT-09 Tracer, exploring some trails off Wootton Way.

But this place is a double-edged sword. It’s deserted, but there is an excess of moss build-up, and debris in the form of fallen leaves and branches are plentiful thanks to the lack of road maintenance. Certain parts also are scattered with gravel that act like rice on marbled floors. Still, the atmosphere of an empty, high-speed, double-laned, heavily-undulating, almost post-apocalyptic highway is somewhat mesmerising and soothing, and is a very welcome detour off the bland and dreary Pacific Highway.

The southern exit of Wootton Way, where the intersection meets the Pacific Highway, marked the end of the fun part of the whole trip. From this point, it was time to head back home. People were getting restless as they sensed that Monday was creeping closer. If only Sunday rides lasted forever, galloping across the country landscape like gods on their stallions.

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Short break on the F3 Motorway as we anticipate the home run back to Sydney.

And, so, that concludes the Oxley TT. According to my odometer, I had covered 1079kms, which is a very realistic figure for a good weekend ride accompanied by good breaks in between. Everyone in the group enjoyed the ride very much, but I was simply happy to be away from my usual weekend job. There really is nothing like a good long ride on a motorcycle.

Would I do the trip again if given the time? Absolutely! The Oxley Highway is a supreme example of the ideal motorcycle trip, where sceneries and winding roads seem straight out of a motorcycle magazine. Everything that you can wish for on an inland riding road is all there. It cannot be emphasised any further: You must pay a visit!

Oxley TT 2017, we will see you again 🙂

For the rest of the photos, click on the below Facebook link:

  • Full album (Edit: Will be released on Facebook on the 15/04/2016)

Map - 2016-04-03 - Oxley Highway

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