Rolf’s “Northern Rivers” 11 Day Tour – April 2017

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General summary – Rolf

I hatched the idea of an MMT tour of the NSW northern rivers and south-east Queensland a year ago, as I battled southwards from the Gold Coast on the VFR in the wake of the 2016 “east coast low” which left a trail of damp devastation all the way down to Tasmania. Surely, I reasoned, deluges in autumn 2016 should mean a drier, sunnier autumn 2017? Coupled with my usual experiences of the NSW/Qld border area being a gorgeous, green sunny semi-tropical wonderland of great motorcycling, and my burgeoning knowledge of NSW back roads en-route Melbourne-Gold Coast, the whole idea seemed a no-brainer.

I’d planned the run north to stay off major highways to go via some of the most scenic parts of NSW on the best bike roads I knew. Unfortunately, a taste of winter arrived just before we left Melbourne and stayed with us pretty much all the way to Byron Bay. If we’d left even a day or two earlier we’d have been dry and warmish the whole way, but flipside, the day after we left Victoria had snow down to 700 metres, so as always, it could have been worse! The wet and challenging conditions peaked on Day 2 while passing through the normally stunning Bylong Valley, with an apocalyptic combination of hail, road-side lightening strikes, 100 km/h winds, torrential rain, flying debris, and eventually entire trees falling across the road. Appreciation of the scenery was clearly low on the to-do list that day, even so, it was after dark by the time we arrived in Tamworth. Patchy sun the following days got our hopes up, but ultimately, it was drizzling again as we wound down the last hills into Byron Bay late on the Friday afternoon.

Happily, conditions improved for our 5 night/4 day stay in Byron Council’s perfectly-located First Sun Holiday Park. Day-tripping was popular and everybody seemed busy (especially Pete and Tim over-familiarising themselves with the Pacific Roadworkway between Byron and Coffs Harbour, but that’s another story). Surprising how many MMT members have family (usually mothers) somewhere in SE Queensland. Our base in Byron also hosted a number of visitors including Kelly from Coffs Harbour for the duration, Kelly’s partner for a night, multi repeat visitor ex-MMT Tim (Tum) from Uki/Doon Doon, even Dean and Doug turned up for a surprise night’s stay. Plus the odd Mullum stray dropped in as well.

I’d wondered if a 5 night stay in one spot might be a bit long, but everybody was fully entertained for the duration, in fact most of us would happily have stayed another week (or more). Heading home, the route looped west up into Queensland along some memorable back-roads before heading south through western NSW. After 4,800 very varied km, we duly arrived home with no major dramas. No dramas at all really apart from a certain CBRR929 left behind in a Coffs bike shop, a certain be-tassled pannier leaping unnoticed to freedom south of Orange somewhere, and Gracie’s Costa Concordia moment at the boom gate in Byron. A “Costa Concordia” moment being when any passenger liner-sized vessel takes on a list to one side and the captain hastily abandons ship.

Highlights of the trip for me included re-finding and swimming in the secluded but spectacular No-name Falls near Lismore, meeting up with some northern “friends of MMT”, hearing riders saying “that was just incredible” or “I want to come back here” at the end of a day or ride section, having four, yes four bikes at one time run well beyond dead empty according to their trip computers but nobody actually running out of fuel, hearing Doug W’s pleasure at re-discovering his ability to put away a 700km day, and following ride leader Gary on the green and yellow scooter down back roads into Moto Bean in Malmsbury at the end of the ride. Watching the flow of visitors joining and leaving the group along the way was also interesting – a new touring model perhaps, picking up other members or ex-members from around the country as you go? Depart Melbourne, pickups in Benalla, Dorrigo, Doon Doon, Coolamon and Gulgong anyone?

Day 1 Melbourne to Young – Rolf

When the idea of a northern rivers trip was floated there seemed widespread enthusiasm. In the end though, it came down to a core group of 11 club members, plus Gracie, a last-minute inclusion, as well as Dean S and Doug W who had headed north the week before. Wisely it seemed, as myself, Tim L, Pete H, H and Tim, David W, and Christian R splashed our way north from the Lilydale start point on the morning of Anzac Day. At Yarck we picked up Gracie on her enormous, be-tassled 2017 Indian Roadmaster as well as Michael vD on his now-beloved UGM (Universal German Motorcycle) and David P on his equally beloved 906 Paso.

By the time we navigated the Anzac Day street closures around Benalla for a between-cloudbursts coffee, the group was complete with the addition of Gary VvD and car-bound Michael. A short shakedown blast up to fuel and lunch in the clearly affluent riverside resort town of Yarrawonga followed, before we started dog-legging through open rural countryside of the NSW Riverina wheatbelt northwards through Oaklands, Urana, and the “verandah town” of Lockhart. Appearing as a classic and very picturesque Australian country town, I made a mental note to check out Lockhart in more detail soon, little knowing Dean S would lead us to do exactly that on the return trip 11 days later. A bit more great open country riding after Lockhart saw us pop out on the Sturt Highway just west of Wagga Wagga.

Somehow missing the mythical Shell servo outside Wagga (what town WAS that, anyway??) and reluctant to engage with suburbs containing 65,000 people, I continued along the bypass in blind faith we’d find something soon, knowing a few riders would be short of juice. And we continued. And continued, 44km in fact, to the beautiful old gold and railway heritage Riverina town of Junee on the Olympic Highway. Somehow everybody made it, even Gary who had the presence of mind to top up in Urana. We re-grouped, snacked, chatted and admired the very tidy town laid out in front of us. Street names betrayed the gold rush origins of Junee, like Young, Cowra, Orange, Bathurst and many others laid down during the NSW gold rushes 20-30 years after the main excitements in Victoria.

The final stint north to Young took us along one of my favourite stretches of the Olympic Highway, an undulating ribbon of great bitumen winding along rivers and over hills turning golden with autumn colours, past cute 19th century stone cottages whisping smoke from their chimneys as the temperature started to seriously drop. A “reminder” heavy cloudburst left me regretting my optimistic wet weather gear shedding earlier, but we soon rolled into Young township and the centrally-located Cherry Blossom Motel. An early evening stroll revealed an extremely quiet Anzac Day evening, the RSLs and pubs had clearly peaked much earlier. Not even a dog stirred on the main street. We all finished up having a mostly forgettable dinner in the one pub which was open, but never mind, we’d all had a good Day 1, we were well into NSW, and armed with my hand-drawn mud-map David P had volunteered to lead the next day to Tamworth via some of my favourite bits of NSW. What could possibly go wrong?

Day 2 Young to Tamworth – David P

Day two of Rolf’s Northern Rivers Tour and I was leading the ride from Young (NSW) to the country music capital of Australia, Tamworth.

We departed Young in cool frosty conditions with the sun shining. Morning tea or late breakfast for some would be at Bathurst 175km away. It was a beautiful ride apart from being a little chilly along the Mid Western Highway through Cowra. As we approached Bathurst dark clouds started to form with light drizzle. It was decided that McDonalds on the highway would be easier than trying to find a café in town as time was of the essence.

From Bathurst we headed toward the historic town of Sofala and completed lap of the town just off the highway. From there we continued to Ilford and turned off onto the picturesque Bylong Valley Way. So far we’d been fairly lucky with the weather, missing most of the forecasted heavy rain. The sun was shining as we pulled into Rylstone, our lunch destination. The group spilt up on foot and headed off in search of food along the various cafes lining the main street. During lunch the weather turned rather quickly and went from sunny conditions to torrential rain in about 40 minutes. This then created the dilemma, do we wait for the rain to ease and risk arriving in Tamworth in the dark or head off in potentially dangerous conditions. After waiting for as long as possible and no sign of the rain easing, we decided to continue on. The next 130km to Denman was horrendous, strong winds, heavy rain and lightning strikes all around us. As the Paso skated over the shinny patches of bitumen, my concern was for the rest of the group following behind. There was really nowhere safe to pull over with no shelter and small tree debris falling from the sky, I felt the sooner we get out of here the better.

We arrived at Denman and regrouped on the side of the road in the rain anxiously waiting for everyone to arrive hoping that no one came to grief in the treacherous conditions. After about a ten minute wait the tail end of the group arrived. Apparently not one, but two trees had fallen across the road and luckily not hit anyone and had left just enough room on the edge of the road for a motorcycle to squeeze past.

The rain stopped as we approached Muswellbrook, we were on the home stretch now, but even though we only had another 150km to go we were about to encounter our next challenge. NSW ROAD WORKS! Kilometre after kilometre of 40km work zones and constant traffic controllers with stop/go signs we arrived at Tamworth just on dark (6pm).

The Golden Guitar Motel was a most welcome site. After a hot shower we met for dinner at the pub next door to our accommodation. Fortunately our harrowing experience earlier made for great tales around the dinner table and for some worn like a badge of honour. Day two of the trip would have been one of the best days of the tour had the weather been a bit kinder. None the less it was still one of the most memorable, maybe not for the reasons Rolf intended.      

David P

Day 3 Tamworth to Dorrigo – Christian R

Motorcycle museum, Gracie and Gary’s u-turn, Aspley Falls, Walcha (Wal-ka!), Guyra, Tim’s battery, Dorrigo and a great old pub, rendezvous with Kelly. Christian leads.

Day 4 Dorrigo to Byron – H

Tim, Pete and Christian head to Coffs, we go to Grafton, Glen Innes, Tenterfield, Drake, Tabulam and the glorious Bruxner Hwy, Lismore, Bangalow, Byron, H leads

Day trip Byron, Numinbah, GC, Byron – Rolf

A loop day-ride up into Queensland had always been in the plan, so it was, after an idle day prior sampling the delights of Byron Bay, nine of us assembled for a leisurely 10:30 departure. I gave a short briefing noting that as it WAS Sunday, anticipate lots of oncoming bikes, rubber-necking Brisbane daytrippers, and unpredictable, lost or confused Dutch tourists – all on narrow hinterland mountain roads with spectacularly distracting views. Dean S and Doug W had joined us, Kelly, Gary, Mchael VdD, David P, Gracie and Tim (on Pete’s BMW) all had varying fuel levels so a pit stop 50km up the road in Murwillumbah was planned.

We turned off the freeway near Mooball (yes, really) and headed up the Old Pacific Highway through gorgeous, sun-drenched lush green scenery to the river town of Murwillumbah, in some ways for me the heart of the Northern Rivers region, and a town which had suffered badly in recent Cyclone Debbie-induced floods. Just one dodgy looking servo manifested itself, after glancing at the flood-water high tide mark halfway up the pumps, I continued in search of something better. Before I knew it, we were in the canefields north of town enroute to the hill village of Chillingham, the Captain Cook-named Mount Warning volcanic plug rearing up impressively into the clouds beside us. Ok I thought, fuel in Chillingham, no problem. But, there was no fuel in Chillingham. Onwards…

The road wound higher through dripping rainforest, more spectacular by the moment until the lookout on the NSW/Qld border. It was here it became apparent that several bikes were already well into, or beyond, reserve fuel with trip computers saying they had nothing left. Hmm. 40km in either direction to nearest fuel, what to do? Continue, of course! It was mostly downhill after all…sweeping bends…all around a great road down past Hinze Dam into Nerang. I was pretty chuffed to see everybody roll into the first servo, four surprised riders finding out their tanks were bigger than they thought.

We negotiated the busy Gold Coast highways down to Burleigh Heads and a very pleasant cafe lunch, with plenty of passing eye candy for those so inclined. Eventually moving off we headed south-west up the luscious Currumbin Valley, up over the border ranges and Scenic Rim again before plunging down to Murwillumbah. It was here I had a slight entanglement with a very erratically-driven Falcon wagon, eventually giving the car a love-tap on the rear bumper after it’s third failed attempt to move on from a give way sign. The female driver pulled over in the main street and climbed out, my flash of irritation dissolving into stifled giggles when I realised, yes, she was Dutch! Kelly let rip and said everything I was thinking, but anyway, no damage done and we all moved on to a brief scenic stop leaving town, Mount Warning having emerged from the clouds for us.

We headed onwards along gorgeous roads through Uki then up to Nimbin for a wander and coffee, before taking some classic back-roads through The Channon to Clunes, Friday Hut Road and eventually the Coolamon Scenic Drive lookout. Some stunning late afternoon views over the coast around Byron capped off a great day!

Day trip Byron, Waterfall, Mullumbimby, Byron – Rolf

Another late start, but I tempted David P, Kelly, Gracie, Christian, H and Tim into coming along as I attempted to find a no-name, unsigned waterfall on private property outside Lismore I’d visited a few months before. No promises though! For something different and to avoid main highways, we ran south to Lennox Head before winding our way to Alstonville, the unofficial macadamia nut capital of Australia. Our destination was just across the Bruxner highway somewhere, so we zig-zagged our way through gorgeous (and clearly wealthy) nut farms along a series of undulating country roads which suddenly all looked very similar. I started to doubt myself. Sure enough, we popped out on a main road after completing a big circle, with no sign of any waterfall. I could sense some scepticism in the group that said falls existed anywhere outside my Tropical Fruits-addled imagination!

Christian read the writing on the wall and zoomed off north, while the rest decided to follow me as I back-tracked for a last attempt. Surprise! Less than a kilometre back the way we’d come, there was the innocuous bush parking spot I was looking for. A 15 minute scramble and we were there, falls and pool clearly more impressive than most had expected. David P and I jumped in for a swim while the rest dabbled their toes (at most). The large pool and 12 metre falls all looked so perfect you’d think it was built by a landscape architect. What a gem of a place!

Post swim and scramble back up to the bikes (bike boots on steep, root and rock strewn cliffs, hmm), we decided to head to Mullumbimby for a late lunch, so off we went, following my GPS northwards along zig-zagging obscure back roads I didn’t even know existed, including some one-lane gravel stretches under dense interlocking rainforest trees. Gracie got her first taste of motocrossing on the Indian. Then there was more dirt road on a detour. Never mind, lunch at the Rock & Roll Coffee Company on Mullum’s main street made up for all of that and more. Some of the best food experienced, well, anywhere! It was here that David P came up with a very profound insight into our group that day – 5 bikes, one from each of the 5 countries represented! (Italy, UK, USA, Germany, Japan).

The 15 minute freeway blast back to Byron and our sunny beachside base finished off an incredibly varied and adventurous day.

Day 9 Byron to Goondiwindi – Rolf

Failure of the electrical system on Tims CBRR929 had some unexpected flow-on effects, not the least we were short two ride leaders for the first two days after leaving Byron. The route to Goondiwindi was a bit tricky, so I volunteered to lead this one with Michael vD taking the biggest day of the ride tomorrow.

The entire group of 15, riding together just this once for just two hours, headed to Kyogle for fuel and coffee. Kelly, Pete and Tim (on Pete’s bike) peeled off for Coff’s Harbour while the rest of us bugged out for Woodenbong along some delightful, but intermittently rainy, roads and country scenery. Gracie stopped for some kind of wardrobe malfunction leaving a confused and frustrated Christian marking a corner for half an hour while the rest of hammered the interesting Mount Lindsay back-road to Legume. The worst bits of that road have actually been fixed in the past 6 months, but the group clearly didn’t believe me. We befriended a couple of local Legume dogs until Christian and Gracie joined us and we were free to blast up the Killarney road into Queensland and the gorgeous plateau town of Warwick, southern end of the Darling Downs.

Down the highway to Stanthorpe we took the road to Texas despite dire ‘roo warnings from all and sundry. I was on edge about that as the day was cool and it was mid afternoon already, but saw a total of one roo, hesitating on the side of the road. It may have been the same one that caused a bit of a scare behind me.

Re-group in Texas, then across the border again into NSW for the run to Boggabilla and Goondiwindi and another border crossing back into Qld. I was less worried about ‘roos along this section, if only because of the amount of “fell off the back of a truck” cotton in the table drains…. soft landing at least!

We rolled into Goondiwindi half an hour before sunset after a fun-filled 600+ kms, checked into the Macintyre Motel via grumpy bum at the front counter, and commenced scoping the joint out for dinner. Goondiwindi seems to be flourishing and the main street looks great, complete with restored art deco council chambers, farm boys in utes, and of course being on the main Newell Highway Brisbane-Melbourne truck route adds a sense of contact with the outside world.

Day 10 Goondiwindi to Orange – Michael vD

Michael led a ride down from Goondiwindi to Orange.

Day 11 Orange to Echuca – Doug S

Doug led the ride on Day 11 of our tour which took us from Orange to Echuca

Day 12 Echuca to Malmsbury – Gary vd D

Gary led the ride which took us from Echuca down to Malmsbury where the group split in all directions to head home after yet another wonderful tour. Of course, Tim& Pete were still back in Coffs Harbour at this time waiting for the Honda to be fixed. They took a leisurely ride back through Parkes , Tamworth and back down the highway beyond the black stump and arrived back in Melbourne a few days later.


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25 April 2017

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