Taking a Ural Trip To The Mountains
The warmer months are a great time for a sidecar adventure tour in the mountains north of the Barrington Tops. In the week before Christmas 2009, we took a Ural sidecar tour from Walcha to Nundle then south east through the remote mountain trails to Gloucester before returning via the Wingham to Nowendoc Road.
It was a three day trip and involved three Ural outfits driven by two intrepid lady riders, Kath with Hamish as a passenger and Rita with “sandbag” in the sidecar (her luggage). I had Vicki as passenger in the third sidecar.
We took a coffee in Walcha before setting out to Niangla on a warm but slightly overcast day. The weather had been very dry, but recent showers laid the dust to make perfect riding conditions when we reached the gravel roads near Niangla. It is used to seeing the odd Ural down its main street as the nearby Weabonga village is the site for the annual Russian Motorcycle Owners Rally where proud owners air their Urals, Dneipers, Jupiters, etc. from yesteryear at a three day camp-over.
A short distance later, we were back on smooth bitumen to the start of the Forest Way, through State Forest and plantation pine to Hanging Rock and Nundle. The first road section was a little bony as it always is, but the stately forest gums provide a magnificent backdrop to a gently winding mountain top road.
After lunch in a forest clearing, we enjoyed the picnic area among the stately Ponderosa pines near Hanging Rock. Nearby, the early settlers cemetery has the grave of one of the founders of Ashton’s Circus and many other interesting members of the mining era at Hanging Rock. The cliff top lookout over Nundle completed our visit to this area and then we plunged down the winding descent to Nundle.
The spiffy purple teapot cosies served on our “tea and scones” at the Misery Mine rewarded our arrival and refreshed us for a walk around the sights of this interesting historical town. Schofield’s Pub, that supposedly once changed ownership on a poker hand, served our evening meal and we slept at the motel listening to gentle rain most of the night.
Next morning was the start of our big day on this trip and the overnight rain had settled the dust for most of the 180km of mostly winding, mountainous, dirt roads and tracks ahead of us. We fuelled up and filled a jerry-can before squirting the Urals back up the mountain to the village of Hanging Rock and its impressive cold country gardens. From here we turned south, past the pretty Sheeba dams and a steep descent to the Barnard River headwaters. Barry Station occupies the first of several remote and spectacular valleys we would pass through. The road twists and turns down the narrow valley as it follows the river and makes for great sidecar riding and a nice setting.
At Barry Station, we entered the first “4 wheel drive road” signed section and set off on a narrow track up into the hills again. Slightly greasy surfaces encouraged us to push along so as not to lose traction on the steeper sections. The narrow width 4 inch tyres on our Urals get a good byte because of there higher ground pressure and can propel the outfits through some quite difficult road conditions with relative ease. Over the top we went and then down the next steep valley and into Glen Rock Station. The hills through this area are incredibly steep and there is lots to look at with abundant wildlife and even unusual vegetation like Spinifex.
Schofields Creek which the road follows to Glen Rock has about 20 stream crossings with slippery stones and varying depths of water covering them . It took the girls a little practice through the crossings to find how much easier the sidecars are to manage through water crossings than a solo. The first couple of crossings were taken at speed with feet up before they started travelling steadily through, trusting the Ural stability and traction to get them across.
On every visit through here, the occasional farmer we met on the road warned us of the first creek crossing south of Glen Rock, where a cement crossing is very slimy from constant spring fed water flow. It downs many bikes, but not the Urals of course “with their extra leg” and so this time we could spin the wheel and enjoy the slide without fear of falling over!
After climbing the next mountain pass, we became aware of the large underground pipe that is diverting water from the Barnard River to the head of the Hunter Valley. The surge pipes, as I presume they must be, are spaced at intervals along the valley beside the road. I have seen the outflow for this diversion in flood and it is quite spectacular to see so much water suddenly appear up in the hills.
This valley opens out and is home to the “Packer Oasis” at Ellerston where green polo fields, massive stable complexes and high fences abound. This is a remarkable location to find on this trip, so much development in such a remote location! Shortly after Ellerston, we turned off to the east and climbed to the basalt plateau of the Barrington Tops along the Tomalia Road. The long straight climb is quite steep and this section has been sealed to prevent erosion. Once on top, the air was cool and we passed through some recently planted eucalyptus plantation looking very healthy and fresh.
At the Kangaroo Range about 25km in, the road deteriorates to a remote track “four wheel drives” and begins a steep descent into the Pigna Barney River valley. We took lunch on a hairpin bend as we admired the distant views to the east. The sidecars were easy to manoeuvre on these narrow winding tracks and you can risk a look away from the road surface occasionally at the view without losing your balance in a loose or slippery patch. The sidecar passengers were enjoying a smooth and comfortable ride despite the deteriorated track conditions.
A few remote farms appeared again and soon we were in the magnificent clear and rolling hills of the Curricabark area. The roads were good again in this area and we would crest a ridge and take in the panoramic views with the road several kilometres ahead seen meandering away through the hills. More photo stops were taken and a most welcome country cuppa with long time cattle graziers we know was a welcome refreshment.
The road becomes better used as we rode comfortably on down to the Thunderbolts Way. From there, it was a nice jaunt down the tar for 15km to Barrington and so on into Gloucester. Weary from our long day, it was great to be welcomed so warmly to Gloucester at our B and B by Betty and Keith. Their quaint cottage and enthusiasm for travel lifted our spirits again and we rested well.
Next day after our hosts had entertained us with whip cracking and a pianola rendition, we had another 150km back to Walcha and this was to be another back roads exploration. Refuelling in Gloucester we set off on a delightful sealed road north east to eventually reach Bundook and a quick swim in the Manning whose warm clear waters were irresistible.
A section of very bad corrugation necessitated the only maintenance for the Urals on the whole trip when one of the fuel tanks became loose on its mountings. Kath was riding along holding it in place with her knees. A quick tighten with the extensive toolkit the Urals are kitted with and we were off to Cooplacurripa on the Nowendoc Road. This valley is never disappointing with its huge U-shaped valley cleared and with heavy timber lining the mountain tops on either side. There are cattle all along this unfenced road and several flowing creeks to admire. It has a wonderful rural atmosphere.
Back up the mountain, we arrived in Nowendoc for a welcome lunch at the store before following the Riamucka and The Flags gravel road back to Walcha. This back road round trip was a fantastic way to get away from the daily grind and mobile phones, and we came back set for a pleasant Christmas break and plans for more sidecar holiday tours!