Today was the second day of our (probably) four day return trip from Southeast Queensland back to Sydney. Potential rain meant a change of plan but it gave us the chance to explore the other end of a legendary road we had ridden many times.
We left bright and early to ensure we didn’t get caught out by the change of time zones from Queensland to New South Wales, NSW being an hour ahead. Needing fuel, we managed only 91 octane (you’d think we’d have learned about tiny country towns by now and their range of fuel) and headed towards Stanthorpe.
It was still reasonably early, around 8am Queensland time, and we were mindful that our little bouncing friends also become suicidal around dawn. Fortunately, we only saw one of the little critters bouncing in the right direction ie away from the road, although we did stick to the middle of the road while cruising along the country lanes with the idea that this would give us more time to avoid a collision.
We turned off the road from Texas to Stanthorpe, after having enjoyed some lovely views of the rolling hills and swathes of farmland, towards Tenterfield. This road was narrower and had all the hallmarks of a road that might turn to gravel at some point but, fortunately (and in accordance with our extensive research), it didn’t. The quality was pretty good with the occasional bump which looked like a huge truck had created a large ripple in the surface, on a hot day, when the Tarmac had become soft.
We rejoined the New England Highway just before Tenterfield, which we passed through with the briefest of stops to fill up with fuel and to have a drink of water. Somehow we had crossed over into NSW without seeing the usual helpful sign to explain this action, perhaps this kind of thing isn’t so important on back roads.
The highway between Tenterfield and Glen Innes is actually lovely; it’s a fast road varying between wide lanes and frequent overtaking areas, to narrower areas snaking up onto the Great Dividing Range.
Our plan was to take the Gwydir Highway to Grafton and then the Waterfall Way to Armidale, both incredible mountain roads with amazing views of the valleys below, and plenty of twisties for lots of fun times.
And then we checked the weather. A couple of things swayed us; neither of us had slept particularly well the night before, the room in Texas had been hot and the aircon loud, earplugs hadn’t really helped and we had woken early, and the weather apps were all forecasting thunderstorms. Mountain roads are no fun in rain at the best of times, thunderstorms are definately not desirable.
Instead, we decided to Go West again (life is peaceful there!) and took the road from Glen Innes to Inverell (where we would turn South onto the Thunderbolt Way towards Uralla). Although the road was pretty straight, it followed the hills, undulating through more farmland (fields of corn and sunflowers), over craggy river beds and down towards the very pretty town on Inverell, the Sapphire City, so called due to sapphires found throughout the region.
Around 16km south of Inverell, the road turns into the legendary motorbiking road called the Thunderbolts Way. This road stretches from Gloucester to Inverell, well 16km south of Inverell, why it couldn’t have been extended to Inverell is a bit of a mystery to us. More on the history of the name and the road can be found here, basically it follows the route that a bushranger took when escaping da law. Bad man, great road, through undulating country, high onto the range, glorious views across deep valleys and sweeping corners for motorbike fun times.
The Thunderbolts Way between Inverell and Uralla travels south-southeast through farmland littered with huge boulders and (probably) suicidal kangaroos, waiting to leap out in front of moving vehicle, and gradually climbs back up the range from about 400 metres of altitude at Inverell to 1,000 metres at Uralla.
We’ve ridden the stretch from Uralla to Gloucester many times, so, with today’s stretch, we had completed the entire route. The aforementioned section is probably a little more interesting due to its stunning views but today’s stretch was definitely worth it.
At Uralla, we turned back north to Armidale, determined to stay the night in this gorgeous town. We’re hoping that the weather may be kinder tomorrow so we can, at least, do a little bit of the Waterfall Way, we’ll make that decision in the morning.