The Long Unwinding Road 

Story and Photos: Roderick Eime

Not the shortest road to Brisbane, but a big stress bypass. 

Life as a motoring photojournalist, by its very nature, means highway time comparable only to that of a long-haul truckie. Schedules, timetables, deadlines. We’re on first name terms with every twist and turn of the national highway, and a few byways to boot. 

Normally the prospect of another Sydney-Brisbane return does little to spark the enthusiasm. That is unless you’re given the chance to make the journey in a sparkling new BMW 528i T. 

Now, the Pacific Highway up the New South Wales north coast is not renown as a gentle and placid thoroughfare, and is currently undergoing long overdue and comprehensive upgrading. Traffic jams, long waits, messy roadworks - yuck! The time is ripe for a major detour, and the challenge becomes making the journey on as little of the major routes as possible. 

Friday dawns as we glide up the Newcastle Freeway, golden rays tinting the mists lining the picturesque Hawkesbury River. The 528i T barely notices the modest burden of camera gear and luggage as we make the numerous ascents, the silky five-speed auto occasionally opting for fourth to maintain speed on the steeper passages. 

After a short break at Raymond Terrace, we would soon be bidding farewell to the uninviting stretches towards Taree with a veer left up Buckett’s Way towards Stroud and Gloucester. Apart from the occasional unhurried local and the ever-punctual school bus, this relaxing avenue is almost devoid of traffic leading to some debate over just who should be driving at this point. Our 528i T doesn’t care. It hugs the gentle curves and undulations with consummate ease, the confident Michelins never uttering even the mildest protest. 

At Gloucester, Buckett’s Way heads east towards the coast, with the almost deserted Thunderbolt’s Way assuming the route’s northern duties through sleepy Nowendoc to the historic rural township of Walcha. Many 4WD-borne holidaymakers use Gloucester as their staging point to the popular Barrington Tops National Park. We continue north through Rookhurst and on past Woko National Park with the imposing Vinegar Mountain as its centrepiece. 

Mostly, this former stomping ground of the infamous bushranger presents few challenges to our modern steed, the ABS and traction-control affording us wide margins of safety at these gentle and enjoyable highway speeds. However, as one approaches the higher reaches after crossing the Barnard and Manning Rivers, the trail narrows and tightens and begins to carry heavy logging trucks that often require generous allowances. 

Past Nowendoc and the road returns to a superb wide open pavement all the way to Walcha. Now is a good time to engage Cruise Control, as the 528i T installs a certain highway confidence that is not always appreciated by others. 

Loping through the lush pastures into Walcha, we stop to visit the impressive Langford House, once a stately rural mansion and now home to Hilary Oates from where she maintains her small herd of famous miniature horses. 

Our upward diversion complete, we rejoin the New England Highway at Uralla, home to numerous dedications and monuments to the nefarious Captain. Time against us, from here we must travel the much trodden route to the Queensland capital. 

Our racetrack assignments complete, Brisbane is still asleep as we head out through outer Logan towards the spectacular Mount Tamborine region. Shrouded in a delicate pre-dawn mist, the valleys, paddocks and hills around the Albert River take on a fairy tale mystique, finally penetrated by the persistent ochre hue of daybreak. 

When through the dainty villages of North Tamborine and Curtis Falls, one is treated to a breathtaking and expansive view of the Gold Coast hinterlands to the west. The entire mountain top is rich in bric ’a’ brac, antiques, craft, leafy cafes and even a winery.  

Binna Burra Lodge"Back to nature" holiday opportunities abound with Guest Houses, B’n’Bs, forest walks, guided tours and more. Two of the better known spots, Binna Burra Lodge and O’Reilly’s Mountain Resort are nestled neatly within the Lamington National Park, home to the largest preserved stand of sub-tropical rainforest in Australia. We would have to explore the 160 kms of graded walking tracks another time, but we did have time to pop in and visit the superb Binna Burra Lodge. 

With preserved wilderness literally at your doorstep, guests at the Lodge can partake in any number of activities ranging from guided rainforest walks to abseiling. We had just enough time to join some confirmed Binnaburrans for coffee and scones overlooking the majestic Coomera River valley. It was already approaching midday, and we still had to make Sydney that night, so we bid a reluctant farewell, vowing to accept our hosts’ invitation to return. 

Backtracking slightly along the precarious terraces of Beechmont where colourful parasailors glide on the obliging thermals, down to the relocated Advancetown, past the Hinze Dam, through the Numinbah Valley and Chillingham, we stopped to water the horses at Murwillumbah. Reminded of all the hustle and highway mayhem we were missing, we gladly turned tail and set a course up along the placid Tweed River. Mount Warning, on our right, signaled the arrival of the National Park bearing its name. We sailed past it and the Clarrie Hall Dam opposite, through the wide valley between the Border Ranges and the Nightcap National Parks, veering south to the hippie backwater of Nimbin.  

I imagine the many prospering dairy businesses in the area would take exception to that last description, but on arrival at this famous "rainbow" town, one can’t help but be swept by the "alternative" culture literally in your face. A visit to the quaint museum reminds one that people have a lot of time on their hands around here. The elaborate and ornate, if somewhat dusty, displays of hippie history illustrate a rather uneasy relationship with nature and technology. Derelict Combi vans, synonymous with the "Age Of Aquarious" dominate several of the haphazard exhibits amid sundry paraphernalia of the time. 

I’d advise against doing business with any of the colourful street hawkers that float, quite literally, along the psychedelic sidewalks, but the place is definately worth a visit. Out of Nimbin, the southerly trail follows the pretty Rose Hill Creek towards Lismore. Detour to Tuncester, then Casino and you have an uninterupted passage to Grafton along the lightly traversed Summerland Way. Unless you have your heart set on visiting the temple at Woolgoolga, the bypass through Glenreagh and Nana Glen makes for a considerably more relaxed leg to Coffs Harbour. 

We’d been making full use of our bonus hour thanks to NSW’s daylight savings time, but still we’d have to make haste to get to Bellingen and the fabled Old Butter Factory. Here Bruce Erskine at Awl Leather was making moves to go home to his family, but kindly lingered on to quickly show us a few methods behind his gorgeous handmade footwear, saddles and handbags. The Old Butter Factory houses several such cottage industries producing, amongst other things, glass, pottery, woodcraft paintings, soaps and candles. 
Bellingen’s town centre shows a tasteful respect for the things of yore, having preserved numerous period shopfronts and, in particular, the Hammond and Wheatley Commercial Emporium. The store’s ornate, yet understated facade and subtle signage demonstrates a restraint in enterprise that is often lost on our more modern, vulgar places of business. 

After a bowl of thick pumpkin soup and crusty bread at the Cool Creek Cafe we’re ready for the last deviation via Bowraville to Macksville, through the luxuriant green dairy pastures and forests west of Nambucca Heads. Our last event of note on this memorable meandering was the rescue of a wounded Night Jar, left for dead on the dark roads just outside of Macksville. Fortunately the extensive W.I.R.E.S. network provided us a contact in town and we were able to continue our final, if somewhat mundane leg, down the lovingly avoided Pacific Highway into Sydney. 

Produced on behalf of BMW Australia for BMW Magazine 

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