On our way down to Sydney, The Pillion and I decided to stop over night at Walcha. I’d heard about Walcha over 25 years ago, but never been there. It’s off the New England Highway, about 90 km (56 mi) east of Tamworth, so it’s not on one of the two north/ south routes that connects Brisbane and Sydney, and unless you planned on going there, you’d bypass it.
Walcha was an important stop because it lies at the intersection of The Oxley Highway and Thunderbolts Way. Both these roads are renowned as being two of Australia’s best motorcycling roads, both are on my bucket list for roads to ride.
Thunderbolts Way stretches from Inverell 120 km (75 mi) north-west of Uralla and continues south-east through Uralla, Walcha and Gloucester where it changes names and becomes Buckets Way. From there the road continues through Stroud and to the Pacific Highway to Twelve Mile Creek, which lies about 45 km (28 mi) north of Newcastle.
One thing I wanted to do on our trip down to Sydney, was to ride the southern 187 km (116 mi) section of Thunderbolts Way between Uralla, Walcha and Gloucester.
The road is named after Captain Thunderbolt, who was the longest roaming Bush-Ranger in Australian history.
During the 1800’s when Australia was a penal colony, runaway convicts were known as Bush-Rangers. Later the name evolved to apply to people (usually men), that had chosen to take up “robbery under arms” as a way of life, these men also used the bush as their base, were elusive and often difficult to catch due to the rugged terrain they called home.
In a way, they were similar to the British Highwaymen, or American Outlaws of the wild west.
There are some long, long straight sections along Thunderbolts Way, particularly between Uralla to Walch and Walcha to Nowendoc. It’s not till you start to pass between the Riamukka, Tuggolo and Giro State Forests that you appreciate the sheer beauty of this part of the world.
Plus the road starts to get interesting with some long wide sweepers, and when you crest a hill you just don’t know what surprises lie on the other side. It could be a morning vista overlooking The Great Dividing Range, or a valley followed by a sweeping bend that leads into a tree-lined stretch of road.
About 55 km north of Gloucester, half way between Nowendoc and Gloucester, is a place called Carson’s Lookout. The lookout offers parking and picnic facilities, and overlooks Giro and Barrington Tops World Heritage area. It’s a great place to stop and refresh.
The lookout itself is in honour of Eric Carson, a Gloucester saw-miller and road builder who carved the road connecting Gloucester and Nowendoc out of some of the steepest and most rugged terrain in the state. Although completed in 1961, parts of this road remained in poor condition until recent times.
Form Carson’s Lookout the road begins to wind its way down the range towards Gloucester. It’s quite steep in places with sharp turns and narrow bridges. The scenery just seems to get better and better as you descend the range into Gloucester, which is part of the Manning District and is in the heart of dairy and beef cattle country.
The town boasts several café’s in the main street where you can stop and have a meal. We chose Thunderbolts Café (what else?) to have breakfast, coffee and a stretch.
A couple of things you should be aware of if you choose to travel Thunderbolts Way:-
- There is no fuel for 187 km (116 mi) between Walcha and Gloucester.
- After hours, there is a card only, prepay facility available at the 24-7 petrol station at Walcha.
- When we left Walcha at 5:30am visibility was poor due to a heavy fog, apparently this is common.
- Beware of kangaroos and other wildlife at dawn and dusk, this is the time they are most active.
- The road can be bumpy at times.
- There is a 40 km/h (25 mp/h) stretch just before Carson’s Lookout (heading south). When we went through it was bumpy, tight and had gravel over the road.
- There are sections of road works where loose gravel is over the road.
- Restrooms are available at Nowendoc (about 1 km off Thunderbolts Way) and at Carson’s Lookout in case you get caught unawares.
Generally though the road is good, and well worth you time. I’m glad I rode it, in fact I did it twice, once in each direction. I’ve now ticked it off my bucket list of roads to ride.
The only downside is I lost our iPod Touch somewhere between Gloucester and Carson’s Lookout 😦 Luckily we had a backup iPod Shuffle with us, so all was not lost.