The Christmas period in Australia is the traditional road trip time. Straight after fat Christmas dinner, millions of Australians pack up there car, campervan, boat, and 400-litre Eskys and herd-off to a beach or river or forest somewhere to empty the Eskys and fill their bellies. This is a predictable Australian pilgrimage, worshipping the mercurial god of hedonism; thus, it is not hard to guess where they are going and go somewhere else.
Pub 1: Narrandera, Star Hotel
The first stop of my journey was Narrandera, a place that no one visits. This was a five-hour ride from Melbourne, which always ends up being eight or nine hours as I tend to stop all the time looking at nothing in particular. The ride was straightforward, not too long in distance and the A39 through Nagambie and Shepparton was free of Eskys. But the challenge of the day was the heat; the temperature climbed to 40 degrees, which was new territory for me. I stopped and took the lining out of my jacket, opened all the vents, and drank a litre of water. But the water didn’t seem to help as an hour later I needed another litre. This was the theme of the day, stop to drink some water.
I arrived at the Narrandera, Star Hotel early evening. The building was spectacular, as large and more critical than Old Parliament House. It had 22 rooms, but only 4 were habitable as it was in the timeless process of being converted into a lodge (I was saddened to hear that it hadn’t been licenced since 1972). I settled into my regal room connected to the colossal balcony and watched the latest episode of The Crown on Netflix
Pub 2: Coonabarabran, Imperial Hotel
I woke early the next day, well-rested in the stately room and continued my journey down the A39, Newell Highway. The day was again hot; I was almost drinking as much water per hour as my bike was petrol. I arrived at the Coonabarabran, Imperial Hotel early in the stinking-hot evening and had a couple of frenzied beers in the bar before checking in.
The hotel room was small, the tap in the pissy-sink leaked, and the huge creaked fan didn’t do what it was supposed to do. The pub had seen better days, but at a similar price to what I was paying for pub accommodation many years ago, who is complaining. I went to the local supermarket, bought some dinner, and sat under a tree.
It was here that I felt very alone and existential, realising it was just me and my little lunch-pack and the road-narrative of the next pub. Still, it could be worse; it could be the narrative of the same pub and the same lunch pack day after day. I was glad to have an exit strategy.
Pub 3: Bingara Imperial Hotel
Today I rode through the magnificent Pilliga Forest and the town of Narrabri on the way to the Imperial Hotel Bingara. Bilgara is an extraordinary place, protected by B and C roads; it is a town where only curious travellers go (as opposed to the industrial-hedonists pasted to the coast).
I went straight to the bar and ordered a pint of Guinness from a young German backpacker, obviously in the know. The town is home to the Roxy Theatre and café, one of the most magnificent examples of art deco architecture that I have seen.
In Lismore, I camped and partied at a festival called Tropical Fruits, an LGBTIQ festival for Suzuki V-Strom 1000 riders. It was a lot of fun, I stated for five days, but I prefer the freedom of the open road.
Pub 4: Dubbo, Castlereagh Hotel
I left Lismore at 7AM, and I didn’t arrive at Dubbo until 7 PM. This was the toughest ride of the whole trip, and I am not sure why I planned such a long ride on my itinerary (and even booked the hotels in advance). I went on the B91 (Armadale Road), that traversed a number of national parks, including one called ‘Guy Falks National Park’. This perhaps wasn’t the wisest idea given the temperature reached 40 degrees by 1130AM and this was during a state fire emergency.
Still, I checked the apps and asked other bikers on forums, and the road was okay (but I checked today as I write this, and it is closed). I went along many isolated roads today where the traffic was light and the towns few. The Black Stump Way, the Premer Hotel and Barmedan were the places that I recall. These are places that I am unlikely to visit again.
The Castlereagh Hotel was a tough, working man’s hotel and the lady at the bar told-me-off for booking my room online. I ordered beer and the roast of the day (beef) and checked into my room. The room was small, but pleasant enough, complete with pissy-sink and fan.
In the evening, I heard a ruckus downstairs and went out on the balcony and saw the local cops put some of the drinkers into the back of a paddy wagon. A local ritual I presume.
Pub 5: Beechworth: Tanswell Commercial Hotel
Today’s ride from Dubbo started out very hot, about 40 degrees by 10 AM. I regretted not leaving earlier, but then just after Parkes, the temperature dropped significantly, which was welcome. But what was not welcome, was the bushfire smoke, so thick that visibility dropped to 150 meters. This was a spooky, reflective day of riding, I could hardly see a thing, and I was on some serious B and C roads. At a town called The Rock, visibility was down to about 100 meters, which made the journey slow and torturous.
I arrived at the last pub of my journey, the magnificent Tanswell Commercial Hotel in Beechworth late afternoon and settled into the front bar. Beechworth was thick with smoke and no one was about, the only activity was at the Tanswell Hotel. There was a hillbilly band playing and the crowd was friendly, in an almost desperate, apocalyptic way. I drank too many beers this evening, thinking they would be the last.
I woke well-rested and rode home on the instrumentalist Hume Freeway for three hours in the rain.