This two day ride allowed us to explore country west of Sydney and the western side of the Hunter Valley. Day one took us over the Blue Mountains to Lithgow, out to Ilford, Sofala, Hill End and Bathurst. Day two took us back to Sofala and Ilford then through the Goulburn River National Park into the Hunter Valley, returning home via the Putty Road, a real favourite of mine.
We were back in Australia and 11 days riding around California had not sated my appetite for exploring the countryside by motorbike. Almost as soon as I had landed, I was planning how we could make the most of the following weekend.
A mental review of places we had previously visited overnight, and a quick review of accommodation availability forced us to come up with somewhere slightly less popular: Batemans Bay was full, Mudgee was full, Gloucester was full, Canberra was heaving. Somehow Gary came up with Bathurst as a destination, not completely obscure but available and ticking the boxes of somewhere to sleep and somewhere decent to eat.
Climbing onto Rita after 6 weeks and having ridden almost 2,000 miles (just over 3,000 km) on another motorbike was a little odd. My immediate impressions were just how big she was to get on but how light the bike felt, how nimble she was and how smooth the ride was. No excessive vibration from the engine. It was reassuring to get back on my own motorbike and remember how much I loved it.
We took the Lane Cove Tunnel, the M2 and M7, all the tolls but all the speed. We stopped at The Ugly Mug in Richmond for a great breakfast, full of pancakes (Gary) and poached eggs piled on aubergine and asparagus (me), and we were on our way and heading for the hills.
The road from Richmond to Lithgow has the unusual name of The Bells Line of Road, it winds magnificently up into the Blue Mountains, straightens out for a while into a gorgeous, recently widened, stretch of road and then continues onto to sweeping bends and 100km limits.
It was a little busy that day, well, there were more cars than usual, but it didn’t spoil our fun. The rain did try to but denial is a powerful thing and so is my water resistant riding gear. By this time the temperature had dropped to around 12 degrees Celsius but our balaclavas and many layers helped manage that issue.
The descent into Lithgow is one of Gary’s favourites, wide bends and a beautiful camber making the riding experience exceptional. I’m quite a fan of it too.
At Lithgow, we took the Castlereagh Highway towards Mudgee. On the way, we passed a sign for the Capertee Valley, claiming to be the world’s largest canyon, we’ve stopped previously, it’s quite impressive with its escarpments peeking out over the low tree-covered valley.
Our mid morning break was at the Driver Reviver in Ilford, we enjoyed nice cup of tea and a chat with the volunteers there. If you have no idea what a Driver Reviver is, see the link here. Much local information was agreed which I’ll get to a little later, these places have always proven very useful to help improve our enjoyment of an area.
We backtracked a little and took the turn off to Sofala, and old goldmining town which was once mighty but now a mere whimper in the heart of central New South Wales. We heard (from a volunteer at the Driver Reviver) that bikies had been a problem there a few years ago and messed things up but that could have just been a rumour. The road down to Sofala is great though, winding and lovely views into the valley and over the slightly dilapidated town.
At Sofala, we turned right and took the 43km road to Hill End. We were not disappointed by our chosen route, the road hugged the undulating hills, swooping down into small valleys and up onto crests. The only challenge was the quality of the surface, starting off with small potholes, often filled-in but bumpy, increasing to larger potholes. Someone had helpfully filled these with gravel but this doesn’t always help the ride comfort on a sports bike. Much attention was required to avoid last minutes swerving.
We ate some snacks for lunch on the grounds of the Hill End Visitors Centre which housed a museum (didn’t visit this time) and some old farm equipment and carriages including a Royal Mail carriage and a light carriage.
The Hill End Historic Site is also an old gold mining settlement, now long past its prime but home to 100 people and an interesting collection of old houses and empty plots, called ghost plots (if I recall correctly), deliberately left empty as a reminder of the past that was. We rode around the settlement for a quick look and made a mental note to spend more time here, on another day when we had the time.
We left Hill End, backtracked around 24 km and turned onto the Turondale Road towards Bathurst. The quality of the road improved significantly on this stretch and we were treated to some lovely views of meadows and farmland. This was our final gift of the day just before we arrived in Bathurst at 4.15pm and 361 km up.
The next day we woke to clear skies and 6 degrees Celsius but the forecast promised a high of 27 degrees for our plannned journey for the day, my perfect riding temperature.
Our first sight of the day was Mount Panorama, a motor racing circuit located in Bathurst, which usually is accessible to the public, as it comprises public roads but was closed this week due to preparation for the annual Bathurst 1000km motor race the following weekend. Bad timing on our part, we’ll be back: apparently the tourist centre gives people certificates for riding the circuit, got to get me one of those!
Another tip we had received yesterday from a Driver Reviver volunteer was about a route often take the area, he recommended passing Ilford, taking the road to Sandy Hollow then making our way back to Sydney via the Putty Road or crossing over to the motorway. We planned the route on Google Maps, it looked like a 500km trip, which seemed huge but we decided to go for it.
We filled up with fuel and headed back to Sofala. The road between Bathurst and Sofala is magnificent, smooth surface and long sweeping bends with beautiful cambers helping make the rise through beautiful countryside even better.
We descended towards Sofala and back up out of the valley. The road back up out of Sofala was even better than on the way down. I find climbing much more fun than descending as I am able to control my speed better. I stopped to take some photos back towards Sofala and I then rode a little further to take a picture of some old buses left in a field. The same volunteer from yesterday that had told us about the route told us about a collection of old buses in a field near Sofala which were left over props from a film called The Cars That Ate Paris, a 1974 Australian comedy horror. I’d never heard of it but my movie nerd had, I took some photos and added the film it to our movie ‘must watch’ list.
Update: we watched this about a week after the trip, coincidentally SBS had recently showed it and still had it on its ‘On Demand’ website, it was odd but fun, there were no buses featured but they may have been crew buses, this story remains a mystery.
We continued toward Ilford, turned towards Mudgee and then took the Byong Valley Way towards Muswellbrook. This road took us through the Goulburn River National Park, dramatic sandstone cliffs glowing burnt orange greeted us here.
This route started our slow striptease of all our layers, temperatures were climbing and what works at 12 degrees can become very uncomfortable at 21 and full sun.
The road took us off the plains, through forests and down into a valley with tight hairpin bends, good road quality, with the occasional small pothole, and green meadows below.
I have observed, over the past 18 months or so of exploring country New South Wales that small patched potholes are a feature of many of them – I believe heavy rains have this effect on them and the frequency of the rains, length of the roads and relative remoteness mean that patching is the only viable option for maintenance. More resistant road surfaces might be another option but perhaps the costs are prohibitive?
Before Muswellbrook we checked the map and took a turn off to Jerry Plains, which would lead us to the Putty Road and home. Here we stopped for fuel and lunch at the pub – $10 each provided a very decent ‘Works Burger’ and chips.
It also gave us a chance to clean our helmets of bugs for a second time that day – the arrival of warmer weather after a cold day seemed to have brought out all the insects. Just as we turned off towards Jerry Plains, I rode through a swarm of loud black flies, my excla
mation of surprise lead Gary to respond with ‘what happened?’ Followed quickly by ‘oh’ as he also met the swarm. Let me say that a swarm of flies hits surprisingly hard and it makes me very particularly grateful for my protective gear and puzzled how people with open-faced helmets and barely covered bodies cope when they meet the bugs while ride, let alone stone chips and swarms.
After lunch, we continued towards the Putty Road, meeting it just before Bulga. Our ride home was a along a route that we had ridden several times before but it was still excellent. The temperature was just perfect at around 25 degrees and the roads were beautifully dry.
This time we decided to visit Putty, about half way along the road, we’d never visited before so decided that it was about time. Putty is a tiny settlement of scattered farm houses in a lovely valley, the sun was out so it was just idyllic. We arrived just as they were packing up the village fair, a collection of pagodas and a bouncy castle (jumping castle) was all that was left. We turned around, paused for a moment, then headed back to the main road to continue our journey home.
We arrived home around 6 with 500km on the clock, I felt very happy with myself indeed, I am pretty sure it’s the biggest ride I have done in a single day and I didn’t feel too bad at all!