Monday, May 7

Sorry to let you down, but I was having too much fun on the old Yamaha

Sorry folks. I feel I've let you down. I'd set off with notebooks and reference material stuffed into the Gearsack, vowing to bring back yarns about Kylie Tennant's wartime years at Laurieton and about John Oxley's expedition down the wild ranges to Port Macquarie and then down the coast to white settlement.

On top of that, I was going to check out two very different but rewarding motorcycle museums, and look in to see how Timbertown is faring these days.

Instead, I spent the three days punting the beast – actually, it's a 1978 Yamaha XS1100 – around some of the best motorcycle roads in New South Wales, and a couple of evenings drinking rather more beer than I should. The perfect short break.

The plan was to hare up the Pacific Highway past Taree to Moorland (blink and you'll miss it), then turn right and out over the dirt road across the national park to Diamond Head, and take another look at the hut an eccentric old farmer built for Tennant as a writing retreat.

Instead, by Bulahdelah the old beast and I were bored with the upgraded Pacific Highway, so we headed out over the twisties on the Lakes Way and through Forster and Tuncurry, where we didn't stop – just riding through all those villas and apartments was depressing enough.

When we got back to the Pacific Highway, we'd overshot Nabiac, home to one of the nation's most interesting motorcycle museums. If you've ever shared your life with a motorcycle, you'll probably find its sister among the 500 models on display. Time was short, and we pushed north.

We also changed our minds about turning off at Moorland. Those dirt roads across to Diamond Head might be hard going, and we didn't want to be caught out there at night in country which still reminds us it once was mined for rutile.

A pity, though. Kylie's hut is a tangible sign of a happy time in the prolific author's life. While husband Roddy – a man subject to depression – enjoyed being the schoolteacher in what then was a picturesque village, she wrote two of her better works, the novel Lost Haven, and The Man on the Headland, an affectionate account of the eccentric Ernie Metcalfe, who built the hut.

Next time perhaps . . . Kylie's writing hut
(I took this photo a few years ago)

We press on past Kew and the pub on the crossroads. There's another excellent, but regrettably short, motorcycle road I enjoy. Halfway to the Oxley Highway interchange, we turn left on to the Bago road, which takes us through about 15km of sweeping curves before we emerge in the heart of Wauchope – right at the Hastings Hotel, when I get a bed for $30.

Next morning, think of checking out Timbertown, a recreation of a sawmilling town of a century ago, but the Oxley Highway – the sine qua non, the essential purpose, of our journey – beckons, and we cannot resist.

It's 176km from Wauchope to Walcha, and for about half that distance it winds in one tight curve after another as it climbs up and around Mt Seaview. It's the sort of road motorcyclists dream about.

But I also take time to think of John Oxley and his party, struggling down these ranges in 1818. They had gone down the Macquarie River from Bathurst to the Marshes, backtracked a bit, then struck out east for the coast, passing through the location of present-day Tamworth.

One marvels at Oxley's journey through these rugged ranges covered in high timber. Even when his party reached the site of present-day Port Macquarie, they faced an arduous journey down the coast to Port Stephens.

About halfway between Wauchope and Walcha, Gingers Creek comes up, a cafe on a small farm in a clearing in the timber. It's a good place to spend an hour or so on a sunny deck reading the morning papers and ordering more coffee.

About 20km before Walcha are the Apsley Falls, named by Oxley, where the river drops into a spectacular gorge.

Walcha is a little depressing. Probably the drought has hit the town with pastoralists cutting their spending, although the country nearby is now looking good.

Big decision – should we turn south on to Thunderbolt's Way to Gloucester. That means more than 100km of boring road across the plains, before the wonderful scenery of the Manning valley.

Instead, stay with the Oxley Highway, and pull in at Walcha Road. Tradesmen are rebuilding the old pub after a fire, and the bar operates in an old railway carriage. Out of sight up the hill is a restored, classic railway station.

A nervous time as I get to Bendemeer and find nowhere to buy petrol, but the bike coasts down the long, steep Moonbi hills and into a service station.

It's getting late, so I pass the Tamworth motorcycle museum and ride straight through Tamworth – it's that sort of place – and south over the Liverpool Ranges. From then on it should be straightforward, but Murrurundi is booked out for the King of the Ranges riding events, while the next town is almost the same with the Scone Horse Festival.

Bikers don't need luxury rooms, but I need a bed and take one of the last motel rooms for $75. Next time I'll check NSW Tourism's events calendar to avoid clashing with festivals or shows.

Next day, the bike eats up the kays to get me home with all the cobwebs blown away. It's a great feeling, and I won't leave it as long next time.

Meanwhile, I'll get back to some research and bring you articles about Kylie Tennant and John Oxley. Promise.

The Tamworth and the Nabiac motorcycle museums have interesting websites. On the trip I took Kylie Tennant's autobiography, The Missing Heir, and her The Man on the Headland. On Oxley, I took Richard Johnson's excellent biography, The Search for the Inland Sea.

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