Whether you’re sweeping round the bends or soaking up the vibes, the Barrington Tops is a special place
There are some special places in Australia and one of our absolute favourites is the Barrington Tops in the Upper Hunter region of NSW. It is not just the spectacular scenery and great motorcycling roads that keep drawing us back there, the area also has that unique ‘feel’ you find in only a few places around the country. That and the fact that it’s easily accessible for riders make it an excellent option for a few days away. The route we are covering here runs from the town of Gloucester north across the edge of the Tops, then down into a series of beautiful valleys that lead back to the southwest and eventually into the quaint village of Nundle, all on decent bitumen roads that make it a suitable ride for all genres of bike.
From Gloucester this ride heads northwest towards the little township of Barrington before you make a right turn onto the Thunderbolts Way, which is signposted to Nowendoc/Walcha. This is a good road for bikes and is often used as part of a loop for riders accessing or returning from the famous Oxley Highway further north. The road climbs the range through various state forests and areas of national park in a series of corners and sweeping bends that often open up to glorious views across to the impressive formations of the Barrington Tops across the valley. There is a worthwhile lookout past Baxters Ridge which offers 180º views across to the southwest. A bit further up the road you will find a sign indicating Nowendoc township 1km off the main road. There is fuel available at Nowendoc as well as a general store.
Back on the Thunderbolts Way the route continues north for around 20km before taking a left turn onto Topdale Road, signposted to Nundle/Tamworth. This is a fairly lightly trafficked strip of tarmac that we found to be great fun and offers a mostly predicable road surface. A little way in you will find the Port Stephens Cutting which is a nice little series of tight bends on a narrow road through a rock cutting that takes you through to the community of Ogunbil, before following a valley through some great New England countryside, eventually reaching the small town of Dungowan. A left turn here onto the Nundle Road gets you riding due south, this time on the opposite side of the Barrington Tops with the magnificent views now to your left. The road takes you past the Woolomin General Store, and the impressive Chaffey Dam project, before a right turn at Bowling Alley Point leads you across the Peel River and a final stretch of open sweeping bends to the town of Nundle.
This ride is an excellent option for spending a few days out of town and enjoying some of the best scenery in NSW. There has previously been patches of unsealed road along the route that limited its suitability for some types of bike, but now that has all been tarred we thoroughly recommend that you get out there and enjoy it. You won’t be disappointed.
The only reliable fuel we found actually on this route was at Nowendoc, where PULP is available. The general store has food and drinks as well as a beer fridge. There is plenty of fuel at Gloucester though, as well as Tamworth and Wallabadah on the New England Highway just west of Nundle. Total distance of this route is around 250km so some riders will have to manage their fuel range carefully.
Things to do
The Hanging Rock Lookout is a short ride out of Nundle via a terrific set of corners that take you up the hill from town, then a short ride on an easy dirt access road to get to the platform which has great views across to Nundle and the surrounding countryside. It’s best visited in the early morning or late arvo.
The Peel Inn Hotel has a bit of history itself and is known for being used as part of the set for an old spaghetti western movie, Lone Texan, made in the area many years ago. It still has the swing doors that were installed to give the hotel an authentic cowboy feel suitable to the likely cheesy script.
While there is no fuel at Nundle there are several options for the run out of town. Heading due south on the Crawney Road involves dirt and gravel as well as a reasonable distance to find fuel, but it is a good ride on an adventure-style bike. We headed back out of town on the Nundle-Tamworth Road before turning left onto Lindsay’s Gap Road which is a good bitumen surface that threads its way across the rolling pastures until it meets the New England Highway just north of Wallabadah, where we found a good fuel stop as well as a café for breakfast.
This area is lucky to be serviced by Jed’s Motorcycle Mobile Repairs. Jed not only has a well equipped van to take care of most mechanical problems, but also has a trailer with a tyre changing machine mounted so he can replace tyres on the side of the road for anything from an Ag bike to a Harley. Great service we reckon! Call Jed on 0431 413 818 – he is based in Tamworth but will travel to all the roads on this route, as well as other parts of the Hunter.
The Peel Inn Hotel at Nundle is an excellent option for overnight accommodation and we have stayed there many times. It is motorcycle friendly with a carport in the back for your bike and has several covered verandahs where you can kick back with a drink and enjoy the country air. Room rates are very reasonable with shared facilities for cleaning yourself up – Jenkins St, Nundle (02) 6769 3377
Part way along the Thunderbolts Way from Gloucester you will see Bretti Reserve, on the banks of the Manning River. This is a great spot to throw down a swag and spend a night camping under the stars.
Nowendoc General Store – Nowendoc (02) 6777 0955
Gloucester Fuel Stop – Park St, Gloucester (02) 6558 1880
Roadies Café is a very motorcycle friendly eatery on the main street of Gloucester. In fact the interior has a motorcycle and custom car theme, with a couple of old bikes on display. The food and coffee is also great – www.roadiescafe.com.au.
The Peel Inn Hotel has a good bistro downstairs where you can get a decent evening meal either inside or outside in the beer garden – Jenkins St, Nundle (02) 6769 3377.
STORY & PHOTOGRAPHY TIM MUNRO