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Posted on Thursday, February 17, 2011 - 06:45 am:   Edit Post Delete Post View Post/Check IP Print Post    Move Post (Custodian/Admin Only) Ban Poster IP (Custodian/Admin only)

Melbourne to Ulladulla via MacKillops Bridge

Red Rag to a Buell

Iíve had this fixation with MacKillops Road. I see the turnoff every time I go down the Bonang Highway and Iíve wanted to check it out. Iím really looking for a way to beat the boring stretch from Orbost to Nowa Nowa. If you arenít familiar with the place names you can look them up in Google Maps.

I read up on it and some reports say that itís one of the nastiest pieces of road in Australia, and other reports offer it as a scenic detour to see the famous MacKillops Bridge; one of the few bridges across the Snowy River.

I was going to Ulladulla last weekend so I decided to make a trip of it. I planned the route up through Buchan over MacKillops to the Bonang Highway, to Bombala, down to Wyndam, turn off through Myrtle Mountain to Bega and then up to Ulladulla.

This is the route I plotted in Google Maps:

http://maps.google.com.au/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&ms a=0&msid=200397136135631909892.00049c667edfd5c2527 03&t=h&z=7

This and the return were the best long weekend ride I can remember so I thought Iíd bore you with it. This write-up for the trip to Ulladulla and Iíll create another for the return.

On Google Maps and Google Earth the road through MacKillops bridge is all covered Ė you can zoom to any part. I looked at the pictures and it seemed doable. Better on the Firebolt perhaps than the 1125R, but I wanted the 1125R for the rest of the trip. I could see the distance road signs on the bridge in Google Maps. 85 km to Buchan / 55 km to Bonang. 135km between them Ė Iíd already been to the MacKillops turn off on another trip, so I knew 100km max of dirt. I budgeted 3hrs for Buchan to Bonang.

The plan was to get some local knowledge at Buchan. If it was too bad I could take Barry Way up to Jindabyne. Iíd been through their in the car a little while back. It was doable on the bike if I had to pull the pin on MacKillops. At the servo in Buchan I got the advice that the road through MacKillops is a maintained road, nice views. The dirt starts at Little River and goes to the Deddick Valley. Half the road was sealed now, so maybe 40km of dirt. Better than I figured.

Iíd been concerned about fuel when I though the dirt could be longer, but 220km to Bombala through Bonang would be no worries with so much of it sealed. I could have stopped for a splash at Seldom Seen (near Brumby) just before I turned off to Bonang but I didnít reckon Iíd need it. I should have stopped for a photo op though. The servo had wrecked cars laid out in some sort of disorganised artistic fashion. Have to see if thatís on Google.

On the road north out of Buchan (Google shows it as still the Bruthen Buchan Rd but I think it was signed as the Snowy River Highway) it started to bucket down. Go or no Go? Choices were Barry Way (50+ km of graded dirt), MacKillops (said to be 40 km or so of Gravel) or turn back and take a 3 hour detour through Cann River if I wanted a sealed road all the way. The rain lasted only 3 minutes, Iíd come 4 hours from Melbourne and Iíd continue the fixation if I didnít do it now. Decision was go. I turned off onto the Bonang-Gelantipy Rd.

As promised the gravel started at Little River. It had pressed stones, wide enough, with not too much gravel piled up. Easy dirt. Then the sign said narrow, winding road, step decent, single lane passing only at cut-outs. OK, still pretty easy; around a corner over a rise and into fog. A car was pulled over and I thought it was to let me pass, but he pulled out in front of me. I followed him down in the fog looking for a place to overtake when we rolled out of the fog and the car wasnít holding me up. I stopped for this photo op:

That went on for quite a way until the drizzle started. The tracks left by the car ahead became slipperier in places than the gravel. At the bridge I stopped for pictures. This is the view of the way Iíd just come.

Iíd done almost 20km on the dirt and averaged 80kph on the tar and dirt from Buchan including the photo stop. There should be a bit over 20km more dirt to do and it was looking pretty good. These are some shots of the bridge and the Snowy River. I took a heap more since this was the point of the detour, but these two should do you. Itís a long bridge and high above the river.

Across the bridge was a camping ground with a service truck and a couple of guys running around. The road was chewed up with tyre tracks everywhere. Pink slushy mud. I put my boots down below the pegs and fish-tailed my way through it. The pressed gravel surface came back, only now the drizzle had set in and there were more tracks and sections of pink mud in some of the wheel ruts. Riding through the low part in the wheel ruts was now impossible. Either the front wheel would hit a patch that would slow the front wheel and cause the rear to fish-tail or the front would want to slide edgeways with the slightest turn. Iíve experienced more difficult riding conditions, but what started now was the most patient ride Iíve ever done. It would have been easy to try to put on more speed to try to push through faster and make a mistake.

On the straight sections (which were only 20 or 30 metres long at best) I could get up to 30kph riding with my wheels on the sides of the centre gravel mound; around the corners I had my feet down below the pegs ready to try and hold the bike if it slipped. After the front wheel bit into a mound of gravel and the bike lurched heavily right on one of the straights, I started keeping my boots down on the straights as well. I manager to right the bike by pulling the front wheel straight, rolling on gently and easing my weight to the left. This was the only time I felt close to dropping the bike.

With my feet off the pegs I had no rear brake. The front was too risky to use so I didnít even cover it. I powered gently up hills and coasted on the clutch downhill. On steep descents I put on a bit of throttle and let out some clutch to get engine braking. A couple of times I used my boots as well. Iíd never thought of using the clutch as brake before, but it felt natural and worked well.

The road was full of twists and bends with steep up and downhill sections. I stopped every 20km or so to help keep up concentration. The pictures that follow are from one of the stops. The first shows the slippery surface and the second doesnít do full justice to how steeply the gorge slipped away over the edges of the road. Directly off the edge of the road was a near shear 200 metre drop to the bottom of Deddick Valley.

I got through to Deddick after my 50km of dirt, and from the advice at Buchan figured Iíd be seeing the tar soon. Nope, after another 15km of the same type of riding I came to Tubbut and a sealed road that lasted only through the village with a couple of sealed sections around some of the farm houses.

About 15km out of Tubbut there was a fork - one to Bonang, one to Delegate River. From there the road to Bonang was dry with no fresh wheel tracks. It was a pretty easy 50-60 kph to the seal road a few kms out of Bonang. It had taken 3 hours to cover an 80km stretch of gravel. Iím glad Iíve broken the fixation; pleased Iíve done it; and Iím definitely over MacKillops now. I may take the Firebolt on it from the other direction, but only if it is fine and dry.

When I was riding north of Buchan I thought this road is brilliant. Maybe as good as the Bonang highway. Nope. Nothing is as good as the Bonang. A series of 55 and 65 kph advisories with gentle undulations on a really well sealed road. The only thing you see coming out of a corner is the next one. If there is a better riding road in Australia, Iíve yet to find it. The only catch is that you have to cross gravel from any direction to get to it.

Bonang to Bombala which was the closest fuel. I took 16.1 litres so the reserve light was just about ready to come on. From Bombala direction Pambula down on the NSW coast through Mountain Road. Set myself up ahead of the traffic ahead of the descent. Another brilliant riding road with good corners including a few little series of turns where you flick the bike from one side straight to the other. Turned off at Wyndham to go through Myrtle Mountain and Candelo to Bega. Another fabulous road. A good mix of 40km-65km advisories on a road lined with iridescent green tree ferns. Shame I donít have a camera on the bike.

Bega through to Ulladulla with a fuel stop at Moruya. With 50km to go - just north of Batemanís Bay the rain set in. Traction was good so I was still making good time until the dark came. It was really dark, and the rain on the visor was spreading the light from the oncoming traffic. The reflectors on the road helped but I was losing sight of the road and had to slow to 95kph and occasionally 85kph to feel comfortable. Probably because it was the end of the ride I recall the last 20km as the most difficult of the journey; the part I felt least in control.

I arrived after 14 hours on the road and a total of 915 km. When the family said you must be buggered, I told them I probably felt like they did after a good surf. I could feel it in my body like after a good workout at the gym. No aches or stiffness; just the buzzing in the muscles when you make them work. I was on a high.
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Posted on Thursday, February 17, 2011 - 09:59 pm:   Edit Post Delete Post View Post/Check IP Print Post    Move Post (Custodian/Admin Only) Ban Poster IP (Custodian/Admin only)

Nice glimpse of a part of the world I'll never see in person! I've had some fun and some harrowing experiences just having to know where that road went! Sounds like that one was both.
Thanks for that Sir!

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Posted on Friday, February 18, 2011 - 03:14 am:   Edit Post Delete Post View Post/Check IP Print Post    Move Post (Custodian/Admin Only) Ban Poster IP (Custodian/Admin only)

Thanks Rotzaruck
The ride there and back was one of the best rides I've had.
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