The March Tour

The March Tour
by David Barry

As most of you will appreciate, most trips South should incorporate a stay at Dorrigo or Bellingen, so that a morning run up the Waterfall Way to Armidale can cleanse your soul. And so it was.

It’s a transit run for me to get to family in the Hunter Valley, so Mt Lindsay Highway, Summerland, Waterfall, and Thunderbolt’s all provide a satisfying commute to the starting point of this more southerly jaunt. The rough plan was to visit the mouth of the Snowy River, via the best bike roads possible, and with knobby tyres on as much dirt as could be found. There are a few roads here that the Stelvio riders should get onto, where Le Mans may well detour.

So two BMs left Singleton on Monday, past foggy river flats and gaping coal mines, for the first leg to Berry. The Putty road was empty and wonderful, and the Grey Gum café had acres of parking, with only two bikes visiting. The café itself is for sale, though would plainly fail any termite inspection. Then nearer to Colo, the Stelvio riders should look for the Upper Colo turnoff to the right, an old road with supposedly convict masonry and good scenery. Next, The Bells Line of Road took us towards Oberon and although once lauded as a great bike road, it is now hamstrung with low speed limits, speed cameras and policing. The views have been left unharmed.

We avoided the big towns and rode through Hartley Vale, Shooter’s Hill and into Taralga for the pub lunch. A brief backtrack north finds our Wombeyan Caves road turnoff, and a hundred-odd kms later, we were tired, dusty and grinning at the great road we’d just travelled, the near misses, and the marvellous scenery. Leave the Griso on the tar, this is a Quota or Stelvio road; tight, twisty, narrow gravel, in steep country with constantly changing views. There’s a nice campsite about 20kms in, at the bottom of the valley near the caves, with more wallaby inhabitants than campers. This road often drops off steeply at the edge, with even the robust safety fence of sturdy posts and chain wire fallen over the edge in many places.

Also, the road is best done mid-week, so the threat of oncoming vehicles is reduced. A Sydney 4wd club owns a property here, and 80 vehicles were expected to camp for the Easter weekend. There’s a tunnel carved through solid rock in the 1800s, that alone is worth the trip. Interestingly there is a working quarry on this road, and the trucks barely pause before lumbering through the orifice, where there would be no spare space for a motorbike, particularly one with the barrels out in the breeze.

The Berrima Pub is a welcome sight when the tar resumes, on a hot March day. Soon after refuelling in Moss Vale nearby, it was cloudy, and then descending the range into Kangaroo Valley on good road and magnificent hairpins, thick fog blanketed the view and reduced speeds to walking pace. Visibility remained poor until the Berry Pub appeared, and then things brightened, of course. Charlie and I both approved of the black beer.

The next day involved the Nowra to Cooma road, via Braidwood, and then Jindabyne. There was good tarred road from Nowra past HMAS Albatross and then through forests, mist, fog and light rain, with little traffic. We took a left turn, in clearer weather, to Wog Wog (why wouldn’t you?) and enjoyed forty kilometres of good quick dirt along Charleys Forest road and on to the nice old town of Braidwood. It was a good place for a stop and coffee, with wide streets, friendly people, and character aplenty. There was a queue at the Braidwood Bakery, with various pies and pastries being consumed with gusto at the tables on the footpath outside. The good run continued from Braidwood through Jinden and on to Cooma along open, quick road.

The Irish café in Cooma has changed hands and the humour of the place is lost. The Outdoor shop was very helpful, food and beverage were taken, and we were off to Jindabyne, a short but enjoyable jaunt towards the mountains and the lake that harnesses the Snowy River.

The Jindabyne Holiday Park provided a campsite with water views, and with clear weather and a very salubrious Bistro nearby, the day finished well.

You should Google the Snowy River, to see how far it meanders. The next day we followed a fair bit of it. I’d recommend the breakfast at Serge’s Café in the old Jindabyne shopping centre, open early with good coffee, eggs or muesli, depending on your alimentary requirements.

The Barry Way turns southward and begins with very good tar, then becomes good dirt that my Mk V would handle, with care. There are some great views from the road, and Wallace Craigie Lookout. The road drops down into the Snowy River valley, and follows the stream for quite a while, with plenty of wildlife to be seen and dodged.

On this trip though, the GS turned left 80kms south of Jindabyne onto the McKillop’s Bridge Road, a well-made gravel road, with a firm base and often loose surface. This is a Quota/Stelvio road, with a high fun factor. The bridge, 25kms along the road, is a marvel and worth the journey. This is another tight, curly road, best tackled midweek when the threat of sudden oncoming vehicles is reduced.

McKillop’s Bridge

This great road will take you through to the Bonang-Orbost road. We turned right for Orbost, onto a road signposted for “105kms of winding road “. It has a good surface, no straights, and no traffic. What more can be said?

We refuelled at the nondescript Orbost, and went further along the Snowy to Marlo, where it unceremoniously spilt into a calm sea. A short ride later we had accommodation at the Cann Valley Motel, at Cann River, a town in decline with closing timber mills. There is a non-stop stream of trucks through Cann River, and quite a few seem destined to careen through the front corner of the sparse pub, as it’s perched next to the kerb.

It’s a good run north from here to Bombala, then across the Monaro Plains to Cooma, a treeless expanse swept by strong hot westerlies during our passage. We left the main roads at Cooma, crossed the Murrumbidgee River and rode to Shannon’s Flat, then onto dirt road to Tharwa in the southern outskirts of Canberra. This road is rocky in places, hilly, but quick. We met a couple two-up on a scooter mid-way, oblivious to the dust and rocky surface, so I suppose a Griso or similar would manage. We skirted the city and major roads and went through Gunning, Crookwell, Tuena, and Trunkey Creek to find some welcome refreshment at the Black Stump Pub.

There are some great roads around this area, hilly and curly strips of good tar that bring a smile, particularly near Tuena.

We stayed at Blayney, then took the usual back way to the Hunter Valley through Sofala, Rylstone and Bylong, but with a dirt detour through the farmland of the Upper Bylong Valley, lovely countryside with Korean ownership and destined to be mined.

Upper bylong Valley

The next day was effectively a transit to Brisbane up the New England Highway, an unseasonally hot and uneventful trip with a few wide loads creating some interest. After some of the tight, dusty roads we’d recently travelled, and the magnificent stretch to Orbost, the New England Highway was a soulless affair.

A little under 4,000 kms was a nice jaunt to trace the Snowy River, travel the Barry Way, and to once again get into some hilly, twisty country.

We can’t wait for the next time

David Barry