The Oxley Highway is one of those roads that returns the reputation of the word “highway” to the rider’s lexicon. It’s a ride of many facets, two climates, changing conditions and varying moods.
If you attack it from the east, it starts at Port Macquarie which is down by the sea and therefore quite mild during winter and cool in summer. Head west on the Oxley Highway, grab breakfast at the Village Green Coffee House at Wauchope and tackle the fast sweepers that range past rolling farmland. There are some tight sections here as the road deeps and weaves in and out of gullies. It’s narrow in places and the centre line is unbroken for most of the way, so you take your chances getting past slow-moving trucks and caravans. Thanfkully they are scarce.
After Long Flat, the complexion of the Oxley changes as it ascends into the Great Dividing Range and you begin 45km of winding road. Here you climb and climb and twist and turn for a dizzying hour through the tall-timber forests. While most of the climb is on the northern side of the mountain, watch out for black ice, moss and leaf litter in winter, especially on shady southern sides. Last time I rode this highway in January there were a couple of roadworks sections with short-duration unmanned automated traffic lights. They afford you the opportunity to catch your breath after the tight and technical climb.
Take a break at Gingers Creek for a “Holy Goat” coffee and bite, a fuel top-up, a chat with other riders and a look at the impressive view. They cater for riders and there is always a varied mix of bikes in the gravel park to admire. From here the ride changes complexion again. It’s not as steep a climb and the hairpins turn into more open corners as you race past the ferns. The temperature can drop by up to 10 degrees as you crest the range which is nice in summer, but can be quite bracing in winter.
After cresting the range, the highway once again changes complexion, opening up into into fast sweepers. Faster speeds also means extra wind chill factor in winter so it can be very cold, indeed, even in the middle of the day. In summer, the western side of the range can be a tepid pool of stagnant air. Mixed with the more mundane stretch of road, it can lead to drowsiness.
At Walcha, you can fuel up and do a u-turn it’s that much fun. But it’s a good idea to stop and grab a bite at the Royal Cafe owned by motorcycle fans Brad and Toni Keable. The Cafe used to be a pub, but it’s now a well-known motorcycle haunt that serves good coffee, meals and has accommodation from $55 a head on group bookings to $130 for a deluxe room. Toni says 90% of their business is motorcycle riders enjoying the Oxley Highway, Thunderbolts Way and the many tar and dirt roads in the region.
One option is to head north to Armidale and down to Dorrigo, Waterfall Way, through Bellingen to the Pacific Highway at Urunga. It’s worth the loop through Dorrigo for Ebor and Dangar Falls and the spectacular views either side of town. Grab a delicious lunch at Juan’s Cafe Del Fuego in Hickory St, billed as the World’s Smallest Motorcycle Museum. Heading south you can get off the boring Pacific Highway at Macksville and do the rough-and-ready Taylors Arm Rd which includes a must-stop drink at the Taylors Arm pub, aka the Commercial Hotel or more infamously the Pub With No Beer that inspired the Slim Dusty ditty.
If heading south, take the famous biking road, Thunderbolts Way, to Gloucester, then the similarly fun Bucketts Way toward Troy Bayliss’s home town of Taree. Turn right on the Pathetic Highway and look for Wootton Way, part of the old Pacific Highway when it had banked turns and concrete underpinnings. It reminds me of the Nurburgring with its forest aspect and wide, banked corners.