Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Point Lookout

I had the last 4 days of my months annual leave in front of me and looking at the weather forecast, which was for perrrffect clear winter weather, I decided that I needed to get out for an adv bike ride. I had seen a reference to Point Lookout, a viewing point in the Great Dividing Range to the southwest of Coffs Harbour and decided that I should have a look at the view. Making it all the more intriguing for me is the fact that Point Lookout was an enroute VOR station that we had used for decades before it was decommissioned in 2016 to cut costs (lets hope the satellites don't get jammed!) There is also an AERIS located at the same place, which thankfully, is still operating.

So, I had the beginnings of a shell of a rough outline of a plan..... I could make the rest up as I went along. I planned on being self sufficient so stopping ANYWHERE would be an option!

After the kids were sent off to school I had a few jobs to do around the place as I had been away for two weeks. I used this time to actually convince myself that it was ok to load up and piss off for another few days.....I did have ministerial approval of course but I was feeling a little guilty. I soon shook that off and began piling things into the stairwell - hopefully things I would need! Now, what will I have forgotten? Time will tell.....

Day 1

These reusable shopping bags are an absolutely perfect fit in my Andy Strapz panniers. I simply loaded the bags and slipped them down into the pannier. Cheap and cheerful and makes it easy to unload once at a hotel/motel/campground.

It took me about two hours to get loaded up, which made it about 2pm. Hmmm, how far can I get before the Skippys start to come out? I had decided on taking the M1 down past the Gold Coast, then cutting inland via Murwillumbah to save some time enroute to Kyogle.

The drone down the motorway wasn't too bad. Just the usual traffic crawl behind the Gold Coast, then full steam ahead as I crossed into NSW.

Border Turnstile

There was quite a bit of traffic into Murwillumbah but I didn't need to stop for fuel or food, so was through town quickly and onto the Uki road. It was a cracking, clear winter's day. The road was near deserted and I had an 'effing ball!

This is the same corner Steve and I stopped on during our four day ride in March.

And here it is from a slightly more elevated vantage point. Yes, it is winter in the sub tropics...!

From here I put my head down and pounded the pavement. I didn't stop again until Casino, which is a normal fuel stop when I am on the R1. Today, on the BMW I didn't need fuel but I did want a drink as it had been quite warm (28C) on the M1 from home and I was a bit dry and hungry now. I stopped into two cafe' but do you think I could get a cold choccy milk to quench my thirst? No! Two wasted stops and another nail in the "I hate Casino" coffin. Some background here - for some reason I have always had a bad vibe about Casino and this is the last time I will stop here. In future, when on the R1,  I will get fuel 30km up the road at Kyogle and not stop in Casino. :( (No, not rational but there ya go. I'm only human)

It was getting late now and the sun had dipped toward the horizon. I backed off the speed after seeing some small wallabies by the side of the road. I didn't want to meet one of their larger cousins. For those overseas readers who may not be au fait with the Kangaroous Horrabillus, they tend to lazily jump across the road with no regard for rapidly approaching "predators" and will absolutely wreck a car if hit at 100km/h (60mph) so would certainly leave a motorcycle rider wearing his arsehole for a collar, should said motorcycle rider's velocity vector happen to intersect with Skippy's path vector.
Not a pleasant thought!

I arrived into Grafton just on sunset and went straight to the Crown Hotel, which is on the Clarence River, for a quick photo. Then rolling the 20 metres back up to the hotel carpark, checked in. No camping or cooking for me tonight. ;)

It was Two For One Tuesday but reading the fine print, I was looked after.

The meal came out quickly but my medium-well done steak was still mooing. I haaattte sending anything back as I am certain the kitchen staff will do horrendous things to it so I ate around the edge of the meat and gorged on the salad (ha ha -gorged and salad in one sentence!)

I didn't want to kick up a fuss but the waitress insisted I have a free glass of wine to compensate. I didn't want to get into an argument with her so relented and took the wine.
The pub was very dead being a Tuesday so I sat by the fire editing photos and Googling adv bikes....

Day 2

I set the alarm for 7ish and when it went off thought about getting up for a while. This sure was nice not having to bust my hump to cover miles today with tonight's destination being less than ~150km away.

A lovely still winter's morning at The Crown Hotel, Grafton

I had a leisurely breakfast, took some photos of the pub then wandered down to a busy little coffee shop for a caffeine hit. The local paper had this article in it and it made me smile. 34 years ago this was me. I didn't have an ex US Navy pilot school teacher to inspire me but somehow the flame was fanned....

I trundled around a few of the streets by the river which I had never previously done. There were some big old fig trees and it looked like the Catholic Church had some most of the prime real estate along the river.

Squeezing between churches, schools and administration blocks I found a very nice place to take in the view over the Clarence.

Finally saddling up (after a fuel up) I set sail for the South. Normally I would head down the Armidale Road to take in some great bends along the way to Nymboida. Today, I turned left shortly after leaving town and tried the Orara Way down to Coramba. I hadn't been on this road since about 1993 or so. It looked like the road hadn't changed a bit but it was a pleasant little ride to the quiet hamlet of Coramba, just north west of Coffs Harbour. 

I stopped for a "church shot" (a photo collection of my bikes in front of little old churches) then at the local bakery for a pie and a coffee and to peruse the map. I wanted to get to Dorrigo, up on the range but I did not want to go anywhere near Coffs or Bellingen for that matter. Toooo much traffic and agro on those roads.

I decided on trying the East Dorrigo Rd. I knew there would be dirt but was pleasantly surprised that there was so much of a sealed section on the road. And it was hella fun! All 35-45km/h bends with quite a good smooth seal for most of it. How was I not aware of this road?!

(Actually, I reckon we stopped on this corner during a dirt bike adventure ride about 15 years ago. We popped out of the bush on the right of the above photo, then squirted up that steep fire track in the background. I just had no idea where we were at the time - simply following the tour guide!)

Detour Trail Ride c2005

I soon came to this huge carving. But what the heck was Tallow Wood?

Next up was the tiny hamlet of Ulong. Besides the new looking RSL Club it looked like everything else was at least 50 years old and hadn't been touched since it was built.

The Ulong church was as pretty as a picture on the hillside leaving town. I bagged another church photo for the collection.

Not much farther along the road reverted to dirt as expected. It was good dirt though with only a few slippery bits of clay, on corners in the shade, of course.

Rounding a bend I saw a sign proclaiming "Giant Tallowood". Looking to my left was in fact, a GIANT Tallowood tree!! 

On closer inspection I estimated it to be 56.5 metres(185ft) tall! 

(well, at some stage it was)

Remounting I continued on, taking a right turn off track to check out the area of Cascade.

At Cascade I found another intersection and not much else. Well, a school, a house, a derelict shed and would you believe it, a mountain bike track!

Love those place names!

MTB track entrance

Getting back onto the sealed road I crossed an old, deserted railway line through a sheep paddock. Back in the day the forests around here were criss-crossed by rail lines to bring the timber and the milk in from outlying areas. Those days are long gone.

Rolling into the outskirts of Dorrigo I stopped at the Dangar Falls lookout. In all of my years passing through here I have never bothered to stop. Today, I was playing tourist in the cool 15C temperatures and LOVING IT!

I chatted to a couple of ladies from Victoria at the falls lookout. So began a regular habit of solo-traveller-chatting-to-every-man-and-his-dog for the rest of the trip.

Rolling into Dorrigo I did a few laps of the main street to suss everything out. I filled up with fuel at the servo then went and parked at the bakery. I ordered a pie, a choccy milk and two bread rolls, then sat out the front chatting to three riders from Warwick in QLD. They were on KTM690 style bikes and well loaded up. 
When they left I wandered back into the bakery with my phone charger and GoPro. "Would you mind plugging these in for me please?" I asked the young girl behind the counter. "No problem at all" she answered! 
With that power issue taken care of (I really need to get a charging outlet setup on my bike) I sauntered around the corner to the IGA and bought 4 sausages, a bottle of BBQ sauce, some bananas and a squeezy yogurt. Oh, and one Caramello Koala. That was dinner tonight and breakfast tomorrow sorted. They would keep just fine with the low temperatures today and especially overnight.

Back at the bakery I started chatting to Bill Jupp. Never met him before but we got chatting and kept on chatting for the better part of an hour, as we sunned ourselves on the bench out the front. He is a semi retired cattle breeder/livestock evaluator/project manager (according to his card) from Tasmania that comes up to Dorrigo to help out an old cattle farmer who is in his 80's now. (or so he told me) Anyway, we had a great yarn about everything, gave cheek to everyone who entered and left the bakery and he would be one of the first people I have openly spoken about my work to in the last 10 years. I long ago got sick of the repetitive, silly questions and now never tell anyone what I do (well, apart from Bill Jupp who didn't ask repeetitive or stupid questions!) as a result.
It was almost therapeutic. Thanks for a great chat Bill.

After about an hour and a half I wandered back in to collect my electrical devices. After thanking her, I gave the girl behind the counter the Caramello Koala as a token of my appreciation. To coin a phrase, the pleasure was all mine, to see the smile on her face at being given a small thank you gift. We don't thank people enough any more in this country.

Saddling up I headed West toward the Armidale Road again. The road West of Dorrigo is an absolute cracker with an almost perfect chip seal surface and sweeping 65-95km/h corners laid over rolling hills. On a day like this it was very nearly heaven on earth. In a hollow between two rises I stopped to take in the views to the North and South. Mainly the South, as that was my destination tonight, somewhere in those hills.

Not content to see it from road level, I wanted to see it from 50ft.

A few kilometres down the road I came to the hamlet of Ebor Falls. I had never stopped here either but decided today to check out the falls. It is handy having a go-anywhere bike as it liberates you to try new paths. Even if the road into the falls is sealed....

It was pleasing to see the falls roaring away. There are also some amazing old gum trees in this region.

The sun was beginning to dip toward the horizon again so it was time to point the BM toward Point Lookout. I have buzzed past the turnoff plenty of times but hadn't really taken notice of it. There is a fish hatchery just a kilometre or so along the road and that was all I ever saw on the sign.

A few kilometres of dirt then saw me at this sign. That is the now decommissioned Point Lookout VOR in the background. It was huge and I was tempted to walk over to it but thought I had better stay away.

Then I found my home for the night at Thungutti Campground. I had pre paid online and now had the whole place to myself! I quickly set up my tent in the daylight, then jumped on the bike for the few kilometres up to the lookout.

I passed a couple of cabins on the way to the lookout that I could have rented. $85 a night for a well looked after cabin that sleeps eight? Bargain!....if I had seven others. I would be snug in my little tent tonight.

Arriving at the lookout car park there was a good indication of what the weather is like up here. This enclosed stone shelter is very uncommon in Australia - lets be honest - as are any facilities in any of our national parks. After visiting the US many times and seeing their level of park infrastructure, well, ours is usually laughable. But not here. (although, the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service DO seem to be making a big effort to upgrade their facilities around the state)

A short walk along a path bounded by a moss shrouded wooden railing and I was at the lookout.
Holy moly!!
I could see the whole East coast from about Coffs Harbour to down South of Port Macquarie laid out before me.

I felt pretty insignificant sitting there. A couple of backpackers came along and started chatting. They were interested in my camera gear and the guy had a pretty serious camera himself. They were from Argentina and had just "officially" started their Aussie holiday today! They had been slaving away for the previous three months to allow them to extend their visa to stay a little longer and were now looking forward to a great holiday.

After chatting for a while I wished them well and headed back to camp to cook up my sausages and enjoy a bourbon nightcap.
What a great day to be alive.......

Day 3

I had set the alarm for first light and I did procrastinate a little before getting up. Well, it was bloody cold! The bike showed 1C in the campground and 3.5C by the time I arrived at the lookout.

Wandering down the path to a lightening Eastern sky I rounded the corner to the lookout to see.............

Cloud filled valleys.
Or fog if you want to be a little more mundane. It was still very beautiful as I sat here on top of the clouds.

Looking West I saw......

To the North the fog was rolling onto the lower lookout in a light Easterly breeze.

I heard some footsteps and it was the Argentinian couple again, camera in hand, coming to see the view. Unfortunately for them, the fog had just rolled in proper and this was the last glimpse of a disappearing sun.

We chatted for a while then wandered back to the carpark. They asked me to join them for a coffee, which I gladly did. Chatting for about 30 minutes was very interesting and I learned that they love their photography. They had an Instagram page filled with amazing animal photography...but do you think I can recall that address now!!??? Damn!

Backpacking bus. Very "under the radar"

We parted company a little reluctantly, all of us enjoying each other's company. But I needed to get going. By the time I had breakfast, had packed up camp and doused my fire it was almost 10am. Another leisurely start!

It was back to the highway, then turn left toward Armidale. The Kempsey Road was only 40ish kilometres down the road. I didn't know what sort of a road Kempsey Rd would be. It might be silky smooth or it might be a goat track but I had all day to traverse it.
Initial signs were good when I turned into the road. Sealed but with the obligatory nanny state warnings.

It did turn to dirt almost immediately. Then I passed road crews rebuilding the road for a few kilometres. Then the road alternated between dirt and sealed depending on the grade. I guess where it was steep it was sealed to avoid erosion. Parts of the road felt like the Taralga road between Goulburn and Bathurst actually.

There would obviously be some awesome dirt biking in these forests. This sign also hinted at the fact.

Winding down a steep mountain side, cliff face on the right and huge drop off to the left I was torn between watching where I went on the single lane track and trying to see the view between the trees. There was no time for photography!

Once it did level out a bit I saw a sign indicating that the BNT crossed here. Wow! To think I have done bits of the BNT in QLD and here it was, still winding it's way toward Victoria! The trail emerged from behind some rustic wooden gates. Behind that were miles and miles of wilderness....

The road went on and on. There was about 100km of dirt in this section and my calves were starting to get sore from standing on the pegs. I decided to stop more and take photos. Almost always a good answer to any question when touring or sore.

The road closely followed the Macleay River for some time and reminded me of the Old Grafton Road in places as I looked out across it's vast width. When it rains heavily there must be a massive volume of water that pours out of these hills.

The road was beginning to alternate between dirt and seal again with it finally being all sealed near Bellbrook. I couldn't see a church to photograph so the school of arts hall would have to do.

Arriving in Kempsey I was on the lookout for a bakery but I didn't see one before I turned right onto the Pacific Highway. I was hungry but didn't want to turn around and decided to stop at the last fuel station on the road out of town. Luckily they had a great little convenience store inside and the girls happily charged my electronics for me again. (Yeah, I MUST get a charging setup on the bike)
I tucked into a sambo while things charged and just generally watched the world go by. I like this touring caper....

Collecting the electronics I headed off to Wauchope where I filled up the bike for the run up the Oxley Highway. I also needed to decide where to stay tonight. Would I camp (it WOULD be cold up on the range) or do I press on to a hotel in Walcha. A planning meeting ensued in my office....

That decided, I crossed the street to buy some supplies for dinner. More bread rolls, sausages, yogurt and chocolate would do the trick.

There is no surprise what industry supports these towns along the base of the range. Forestry is what it is all about. Back it the day it was back-breaking hard yakka and thus done at a more sustainable pace. With modern hydraulics it is frightening how quickly a machine can cut and strip a huge tree. One day I will stop in here and check out the heritage.

But not today. The Oxley's 300 corners were calling!
This video is the best presentation I have ever seen on what the Oxley is. I highly recommend a watch.

I stopped just after Long Flat, on the lower, more open slopes to get an aerial perspective on this piece of tarmac heaven.

Then, it was time to get stuck in! With the low sun and the more open sections I was doing a bit of squinting, then some shadow chasing....

And lots of leaning....

Knowing how far to push a heavily loaded adv bike on adv tyres can be a little hard to judge. I pushed as far as I was comfortable with, Maybe I had some safety margin....maybe I didn't but with a 21" front wheel, I was having FUN!

Pulling into the cafe' at Gingers Creek I had the place to myself. I had passed quite a few bikes heading East and it was now 4pm on a midweek day. I guess most riders would be headed for a hotel or motel somewhere. The beauty of being self sufficient was that I now had the Oxley all to myself! I celebrated with a slice of carrot cake and a coffee.

As I exited the Western end of the twisties I was headed straight into that low sun. The drop down sunnies and the visor were no match for the retina searing ball of fire in the sky so I had to back off and use one hand to block the sun for quite a ways. I was having an internal debate about whether to camp at Apsley Falls tonight or push on the 20km or so further and get a nice warm pub room, with all the trimmings that go with staying in a pub......mmmmm....beeeeer.

I gave myself an upper cut and turned into Apsley Falls though, giving myself the "out" that if the campground looked crap, then it was off to the pub for me!

Well, the falls were crap, with no falling happening at all. The drought really is biting hard out here.

The gorge really was quite spectacular though. This is the very start of it and it just opens out the further it goes East, until it drops toward the ocean. The campground is situated right on the edge of the gorge. was a cracker! While it was a bit bereft of grass (that pesky drought again) it had picnic tables right next to a fire pit and nice flat areas to pitch a tent. It also boasted nice, new gas bbqs that I could use to get my snags cooking and a pile of firewood that I couldn't jump over.
Yeah, this will do nicely!

Dinner and breakfast had cost me less than $10. In the cold up here on the range, this tasted sooo good.

I decided to burn a small truck load of wood. You know, in case somebody needed to jump over that pile of firewood....

Day 4

I woke to the sound of drops on the tent. What? It wasn't meant to rain at all this week!? Looking outside I soon saw the cause. There was a reasonably thick fog enveloping everything and drops were falling from the saturated trees overhead.

It wasn't too cold this morning but I was camping so a warming fire was compulsory. I ate and packed up relatively quickly today. I needed to get home and I was hoping to beat peak hour on a Friday afternoon in Brisbane, some 650km away.

Hitting the road at 8am was the best by far on this trip but the fog slowed things somewhat.

Some pinhead, in his rush to get going from home, had neglected to install the Pinlock visor into his new helmet. So naturally, his visor was fogged up almost instantly and he had to ride along with it 4C fog.

The fog finally cleared at Walcha and while I had toyed with the idea of getting a real coffee, I decided to just get some miles under my wheels. I buzzed the 40km to Uralla as quickly as I could. My hands were getting cold despite my heated grips, so I stopped at the Captain Thunderbolt statue in Uralla to fish my winter gloves out. These proved to be much more useful than summer gloves at the now 5C temps!

As I buzzed along the New England highway I started doing some range calculations. I didn't really want to stop in Armidale for fuel. I calculated that I could make Glenn Innes easily and made that my goal. I would stop for fuel and duck into the McDs next door for a warming coffee.
That done, next stop was Tenterfield. Here I would branch off the highway and take the Mt Lindesay Rd through to Killarney. I stopped at the F-111 crash site memorial just outside of Tentefield to pay my respects.

From here the road alternates between seal and dirt, with almost no traffic. I find it to be a terrific piece of road and the dirt sections were in absolutely perfect condition. I reckon they looked ready to be sealed but there was no evidence of impending work.

I reached home territory just outside of Killarney.

Now, should I visit the Killarney Hotel for lunch or press on a bit? I decided to press on and get closer to home before stopping but I was getting a tad hungry by now. Perhaps The Head Road as an appetiser?

This is a challenging but beautiful piece of road and well worth doing if you happen to be anywhere near the area. I have written about it before in several post but here is an older one.

I decided to take a 9km diversion at the bottom of  The Head and duck into Mt Alford. There isn't much at Mt Alford but what is there makes it well worth it.

The Scenic Rim Brewery is based out of an old store and does nice craft beers and food. Plonking myself down at an outdoor table I relaxed over a Diggers Ale and yet another German sausage, this time the Brattwurst Dog.

While still 2 hours from home, this felt like a fitting place to shut this ride off. Once I left Mt Alford I was going to be back in the real world with real world Friday peak hour traffic and the last four days of riding would be but a (very) pleasant memory.
It had been a highly enjoyable ride, one of the most enjoyable in the last decade or so I think. With no time pressures each day, a comfortable and capable bike and fantastic weather I had simply had a ball. 

I also think I came to like my little Bavarian flatulance machine. It isn't powerful, but it has great range because of that. It isn't powerful, but it doesn't chew the rear tyre to pieces because of that. It isn't powerful, but it scoots along and IS very comfortable and easy to ride. It doesn't have good suspension but by taking it easy on the bumpier roads, it rides nicely.
Where am I going with this? Well, I have been thinking about what bike to replace this GS, my intro Adv bike, with. Visions of Africa Twins, KTM 790s and 1090s have filled my head for months but one thing has stuck in my head about all of them. They don't have great fuel range and because of the power, they all tend to eat rear tyres.
Today, somewhere between Glenn Innes and Tenterfield it hit me between the eyes! Why hadn't I seen it before? I have been so anti BMW that I had not even considered the new F850GSA!! Now, much research needs to be done and the 850 might fail on the above grounds but I will actually actively look at the BMW as a viable alternative now.

Anyway, here is the route that I took. Some of the best roads on the East Coast in my opinion.

If you have made it this far down dear reader, I am impressed. I have dribbled on quite a bit in this post but it WAS one of those rides that was just a little bit special.

Cheers and thanks for reading.


  1. Fantastic! A few days away on an Adv bike - and you even rode it on some dirt ;)

    Only one thing left to say: Tenere!

    1. Some dirt?! Heaps of dirt!
      Not sure about a 700. Might be a bit small and buzzy for AU distances....but I will wait and see when it comes out. No rush.....

  2. Dave, that was magnificent mate - a real tonic for me. As well as loving other people's adventures, it's a timely reminder that I need to do another tour rather than day runs on official business. Your comment about Casino intrigued me. I've always had similar vibes about an NZ small town called Murapara!

    1. Glad you enjoyed if Geoff! I find it easier to blast off on spur of the moment rides rather than long planned ones - mainly because I only ever know what I am doing 5 weeks in advance at best, 1 week at worst.
      As for the town thing, yeah, some places give off bad vibes. ;(

  3. Excellent ride!

    Really feel home sick looking at these photos. I love the way the land looks on fine winters day.

    What drone are you using Dave?

    I was surprised you had not visited the falls before. In same area the Dangar falls, Wollomombi falls are worth a look after rain.

    I have a four day ride planned for next time I am back mostly on unsealed roads. But that will be some time off yet, perhaps next year, unless my numbers come up or something haha.

  4. Hi Warren. Yes, this time of the year is simply superb and I lucked out with 4 perfect days.
    I have a DJI Spark which I am still learning to use. If I had my time again I would pay more and get the Mavic Air. It has a much better camera and actually folds down smaller than the Spark if it is a bit heavier. I went for lightest weight, knowing the camera wasn’t as good but didn’t realise the Mavic folds down smaller. I wanted it to fit in a cycling jersey pocket but the Spark is awkward in that respect. Also, don’t underestimate how much effort it takes to use a drone well. They take a fair bit of time and effort but do give a great perspective that a terrestrial camera can’t.
    I so stopped at Dangar but didn’t go as far as Wollomombi - next time.
    Let me know when you get back next. I’d like to catch up for a cuppa or ride out of/into town with you, if your keen.


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