Road trip: Walcha, NSW

Covid-19 has meant that many of us are on reduced working hours. While this is bad for our bank balances, it is a good time for a road trip. This four-day motorcycle ride links three exceptional roads in NSW; the Putty, Thunderbolts and Oxley Highway. This trip represents motorcycle riding at its best—winding roads, limited traffic and the time to enjoy the open road. 

After an excellent breakfast at SingleO in Surry Hills, I packed my warmest riding gear—sheepskin vest and insulated waterproof pants—and headed north towards the historic town of Richmond. Then it was onto the Bells Line of Road and onto the Putty. The Putty Road is well known to bikers for its 168 kilometres of winding country roads and practically no traffic. The first section on the mountain cements a feeling that the riding has really begun. Rising and falling, the road winds through the forest, now vibrant with life after the devastating fires earlier in the year. 

Along the way, I stopped at the Wo-Man sculpture by Dave Thurston before lunching at the Bugla Tavern near Singleton. Across the road, the Bulga Bridge is always a treat ride across with its sturdy design and fine black and white paintwork. The afternoons’ riding was superb all the way to Gloucester.

Waking to a chilly five degrees, I donned my sheepskin vest and insulated pants for the ride to Nabiac and the National Motorcycle Museum. The 45 minutes of riding from Gloucester is superb with undulating hills, excellent views and forested sections. The cold temperatures and light rain did not impact the brilliance of this road and at 8 am, it was practically deserted making it even more enjoyable.

The National Motorcycle Museum is impressive for the sheer scale of the collection. Practically every make and model, from the well-known to the ultra-obscure is represented; often in significant numbers. While it looks a little too much like someone’s overextended collection for my liking–the bikes are jammed in making them a little hard to see—, if you’re interested in motorcycles, it is well worth the trip. 

Heading back along the same road to Gloucester, I wound my way up the Thunderbolts Way to my next stop at Walcha; pronounced ‘Walka’. This road has several steep climbs and numerous bends as you ride through the forest. Needless to say, this is a brilliant road and one I remember fondly from a previous trip. The winter temperatures on this stretch of road hovered between 2.5 and 6 degrees with the warning light on my BMW F700GS continuously flashing its warning for ice on the road. 

My hands have literally never been so cold in spite of the F700GS’s heated grips. I began to wonder about the potential of frostbite in my thumb when Walcha came appreciably into view. It was a chilly four degrees at lunchtime as I arrived at the Walcha Royal Cafe. I love this place for its food, atmosphere, and the passion owner Toni has for motorcycles. After a meal of pumpkin soup, hot tea and an hour in front of the fire, I was warm again and ready for the Oxley Highway to Port Macquarie.

The next 181 kilometres on the Oxley Highway is one of the best roads for motorcycle riding in NSW. While arguably better in the opposite direction, it is a joy to ride and should be on everyone’s list. I love the feeling you get on this road as you settle into a rhythm, traversing the sweeping bends, and being at one with the motorcycle. There is a nice side trip available to Tia Falls comprising seven kilometres of dirt road to the waterfall. However, it is the views over the gorge another couple of minutes past the lookout that impresses most. The light was perfect as the sun created shadows and textures along the face of the gorge.

Staying the night at the Macquarie Barracks Motor Inn, the proprietress recommended the Whalebone Wharf Restaurant for its seafood. This is a posh riverfront restaurant that was, fortunately, able to squeeze me in for an early dinner. Locally caught Jewfish with sweet ginger sauce, oysters and two vegetable sides including their delicious fried Brussel sprouts with bacon rounded out a great days travel. 

In the morning, a visit to Port Macquarie’s Town Beach beckoned where I ate a healthy breakfast in the sunshine at Salty Crew. The weather on this side of the mountain is so much milder; 13 degrees versus -1.5 in Walcha. Riding motorcycles means you meet all kinds of people. That morning I met Luke, the Lifeline ambassador for Port Macquarie. He is an amazingly positive person, having survived a head-on car crash on his motorcycle. 

That morning’s ride back 181 kilometres along the Oxley Highway was picturesque and warmer than the day before. I stopped at the Aspley Falls, before eating once again at the Royal Cafe Walcha. Lunch was followed by another great run down the Thunderbolts Way to Gloucester. 

Overnight in Gloucester, I awoke to a chilly morning where everything was covered in frost. A freezing dawn walk by the river was followed by breakfast at the Thunderbolts Cafe. At 8 am, I rode off in the 3-degree sunshine in some trepidation as my motorcycle chain had become loose. Thirty minutes into the ride and the chain came off.  This happened on a side road about 300 kilometres from home. Fortunately, the chain was not broken and simply had to be fitted back onto the rear sprocket. Clearly, I would not be able to ride the planned 300 kilometres of rough side roads back to Sydney and nursed the bike to the next town. Here in the village of Dungog, I was rescued by the kind mechanics at the NRMA workshop. 

With the chain fixed, it seemed prudent to take the shorter three-hour route home via Newcastle. Checking the chain a couple of times along the route, I hit the freeway home. Arriving safely home from any ride always feels good. A quick clean of the bike a call to book it in for repairs and I was already thinking about the next road trip.