The feeling is exhilarating, powering out of the zig-zag and through the sweeping bends down the Clyde Mountain and on to the Princes Highway, barrelling south on two wheels to one of the great undiscovered strips of Australia.
For those of us old enough (alas) to remember, Steppenwolf said it best for the cult movie Easy Rider: get your motor running/head out on the highway/looking for adventure/and whatever comes our way . . .
Okay, so who are we kidding? At our age, Steppenwolf's classic translates to "born to be mild", for born-again baby boomer bikies — though Suzy on her BMW R1150R is a serious motorcyclist, and on my Triumph 865cc Speedmaster there is at least a tinge of street cred for those who remember way back when.
But who cares? For four days, two stoked people are roaring down the far south coast of New South Wales and the northern coastal fringe of Victoria's East Gippsland region on two superb tourers, taking in one of Australia's 100 top rides and a good chunk of a second. Between lies some of Australia's most stunning coastal scenery, and towns with an easy, natural charm almost lost in the more populous north.
Parts of this are familiar territory. The south coast is a siren to Canberrans — by bike or car. Suzy and I have spent as much time as possible in both exploring its endless nooks and crannies. Further south, into Victoria, the territory is more a mystery but equally rewarding.
It is a region almost in limbo — too far for the great masses of Sydney, who prefer to go north anyway, and much of it equally distant for Melburnians. Coastal creep, the baby boomer seachange and the gradual revelation of its wonders is changing this, but so far at a comfortingly slow pace.
For motorcyclists, it is as close to heaven as Australia can provide: good, relatively empty roads, blends of sweeping curves and gnarly, twisty hillwork, a climate that is kind for most of the year, and some biker-friendly motels and hotels.
This is not to say that the south coast, bending as it does into Bass Strait and the most southernmost points of continental Australia, does not have its moments. In winter, full cold-weather gear is a must. Our trip was in early spring, requiring a mix of padded leggings, thermals and layered tops, and warm jackets; and lightweight kevlar-lined jeans and jackets with the linings removed. In full summer, lightweight and flow-through kit is the only way to ride.
Nor do you have to stick to sealed roads. On the basic rule of thumb that where a family saloon can go, so can a road bike, there are some good and easily accessible unsealed roads through spectacular bush country. If you are riding an enduro or a trailbike, the choice is even greater.
Suzy and I started our tour from Canberra. Regardless of the flak the national capital cops from the rest of the nation, it is a great place to visit, a perfect start for a south coast adventure, and a splendid place to own a bike.
From Sydney, you can either fang it directly down the Hume and Federal Highways — a three-hour (if somewhat dull) trip with a speed limit of 110km/h, and an evil stretch near the city of Goulburn, where the NSW Police Academy provides a constant stream of overeager plods delighted to catch speeders.
A more rewarding ride is to veer off the highway to visit old and charming towns like Berrima, Bowral and Goulburn, a city of remarkable colonial architecture. From Goulburn you can turn off to Bungendore via the hamlet of Tarago, and either swing left on the Kings Highway towards Bateman's Bay (giving Canberra the flick) or right and a pleasant, winding, half-hour ride to Queanbeyan and the national capital.
Alternatively, you could head south on the coastal Princes Highway, through the twisty Bulli Gorge and down an attractive stretch of coastline via Wollongong, Kiama, Berri and Ulladulla to Bateman's Bay.
But I have to recommend Canberra. There is far more than politics here — even subterranean Parliament House is an amazing place to visit — with great national institutions such as the National Art Gallery, National Museum, the War Museum and the High Court. And there are endless cafes and restaurants of high standard, with a thriving local cold climate wine industry on the fringes.
Riding around Canberra is a breeze. The road network is superb and rarely crowded, passing through beautiful strips of native bush and cultured parks and gardens. You don't even have to mix it with cars on major thoroughfares: motorbikes are welcome in bus lanes.
Around Canberra there is a plethora of good rides within easy distance and perfect for an end-of-day blat, the hour-long, wonderfully curved road through Uriara Crossing and Tharwa on the city's southern side; rural jaunts to places such as Collector — where the pub featured in bushranger dramas during the 19th-century gold rush — and Gundaroo, where diners sit next to the forbidding old jail; or the hour-long trip to Cooma, start of the alpine country and the ride over Brown Mountain to the south coast, another of Australia's top 100 rides.
But most of all, the road to the coast from Canberra runs through gentle rolling hills to the wonderful town of Braidwood, now entirely National Trust and so unchanged from its 19th-century, gold rush heyday that it has been used often by moviemakers.
Mick Jagger made the appalling film Ned Kelly there and, while the real Ned never made it anywhere near Braidwood, other notorious bushrangers did. The local museum will happily tell you about them.
More significantly for bikers, Braidwood is the last stop before the Clyde Mountain, named in motorcycling guru Peter "The Bear" Thoeming's list of Australia's top 100 rides. (His book Australia Motorcycle Atlas is essential kit).
Out of Braidwood the road arrows into a straight to get the blood pumping, swings into a long series of gentle curves, and then hooks into a fork-bending, wonderfully cambered zig-zag that takes your breath away before easing into more sweeping, fast bends. Enclosed by rainforest on both sides and offering tantalising, glimpses of the ocean, the Clyde is bike magic, even for the locals.
So now you are at Bateman's Bay, a thriving and rapidly growing gem squatting at the mouth of the Clyde River and flanked north and south by national and state forests, white sands and sapphire seas.
The growth of The Bay in the past 10 years has brought with it a steadily increasing range off services. Where not too many years back there were only a couple of motel restaurants and takeaways, there is now a range of good dining, good coffee, shops, internet access and the like. If you want to stay, there are motels, holiday homes, serviced apartments, cabins and camping grounds.
It is not hard to stay. A few kilometres to the north is Murramarang National Park, a forested haven with dozens of sheltered and private bays and coves, bushwalks, trails and superb fishing, diving and surfing. To the south, on the coastal road to the nearby town of Moruya, more of the same.
The wildlife is breathtaking — king parrots, rainbow lorikeets, rosellas, sulphur-crested and (less common) black cockatoos, sea eagles, kangaroos that eat from your hand — or leap in front of you at dusk, which is a good reason to ride during daylight hours — dolphins and, during north and south transits, whales. At dusk one evening my daughter Grace and I floated near a mother and calf for an hour on our surfboards, and others have broached just beyond surfers waiting for the next wave.
This is as true for the rest of the south coast as it is for The Bay.
This trip, Suzy and I sped straight through Bateman's Bay and Moruya, down Princes Highway to Narooma, turning off just north of the town at Dalmeny for a cruise along spectacular beaches and reefs, before crossing the bridge and pulling into the marina, where the western edge of the town ends in a tidal lagoon. Eating here is a delight — try the Quarterdeck.
From Narooma the road swings into perfect rhythm for bikes, bending through smooth, fast corners and, if you have the time, leading on to any number of side-roads and secluded bays.
We passed by the next town, Central Tilba, but you probably shouldn't. This hamlet of 25 weatherboard buildings has barely changed since it was built between 1889 and 1902, on the lower slopes of Mt Dromedary, a volcanic mound named because of its shape by Captain James Cook in 1770.
Tilba has something of the eccentricity of old Wellington, on a tiny scale. It is a good place to take a break, grab a snack and a drink and sit on a veranda watching the world pass by.
But we had places to go and people to see, and a limited time on the road. We took the side road to Wallaga Lakes just past Tilba on the left, and relished the twisty, wooded route to Bermagui, where big game fishing is king and where you can see, as we did on a previous visit, a massive bull shark hanging on the scales. Not great for confidence in the water, but awesome anyway (and no, there have not been any shark attacks on the south coast for decades).
In many ways Bermagui is the point at which the south coast slips back a couple of decades. Even with a solid tourism industry the 21st century is still in the future, with the kind of laid-back, open friendliness that small towns used to have. Even the facially ornamented punk with a helmet topped by a lime-green Mohawk, riding a truly fierce road-racer, wanted to chinwag. From here down — with some exceptions — there is a casual grace and informality that many other regions have lost, even if a good coffee becomes harder to find.
And it leads to one of the great coastal rides, revealed by locals to Suzy on a earlier visit.
The road from Bermagui to Tathra runs through low hills, between coastal forest and dairy paddocks, over lakes and one-lane bridges, and beside the sapphire ocean. For a motorcyclist it is a dream ride, from gentle curves to demanding corners and a few nasty twisties that keep you awake.
The alternative route, back to the highway and through Cobargo — another 19th-century gem — and the cheese capital of Bega — is also worthwhile. We went that way on our return to Canberra.
Tathra is a tiny jewel, built around a wharf that used to be Bega's main link to the outside world. During World War II locals watched a Japanese submarine sink an American warship, but today the restored wharf has a far more genteel life as a magnet for fishers — the deep water is of astounding clarity — and diners, whose tables face directly out to the ocean. One warning: parking is limited and the gradient outside the wharf's restaurant can be fairly curly for sidestands.
And on to Merimbula, famous for oysters since an ancient Aboriginal tribe formed middens there thousands of years ago and now a booming tourist town for Victorians. The coast around Merimbula is as you would expect — ideal swimming, diving, fishing, surfing.
The bustling town has a full range of shops, cafes and restaurants, plus a bowling club that does magnificent seafood at budget prices. It was recommended by the good people at the Pelican Motor Inn, owned by fellow members of the Ulysses Club, the organisation for bikers over 50 that operates throughout Australia and New Zealand. It is worth joining for the discounts if nothing else, and for the biker-friendly accommodation owned by members. At the Pelican we were given a room often set aside for bikers because it shelters their vehicles from view from the road and allows parking outside the window.
Day two dawned as Suzy and I headed for a bacon and egg roll on the cafe strip at Eden, the magnificent old whaling town close to the Victorian border. Still a major fishing port, Eden is best known for its whaling links and the vantage points that give panoramic views over the ocean.
The killer whale museum is worth visiting. The place is quirky, and among others tells the story of Old Tom, the leader of a pack of killer whales that quickly worked out that man and leviathan could work together for mutual benefit. Old Tom's school rounded up other whales and kept them penned while Old Tom raced back to Eden to alert whalers. Their reward was the tongues and lips of the victims.
Old Tom was so enthusiastic he used to grab ropes on the boats to tow whalers out to see. His skeleton is in the museum, and you can see the grooves in his teeth caused by the towing.
And there is the amazing tale of Eden's real-life Jonah, a whaler who was swallowed by a whale and later sliced from its stomach after the whale was captured and killed. He survived, apparently bleached, heavily traumatised and now immortalised.
And so to Victoria and Cann River, famous for a pub that attracts bikers like a magnet and appears regularly in motorcycle magazines. How can you pass by without taking a snap for the road album? Nearby is Port Hicks, which was Captain Cook's first sighting of Australia, and a welter of wilderness.
Two brief warnings: first, on this stretch of road down to Lakes Entrance, make sure you fill your tank when you can. Gas stations are spaced agonisingly distant from each other. Second, watch your speed — Victoria has a 3km/h tolerance for its speed limits, which is heavy duty for motorcycles. Also, as well as random alcohol breath-testing, Victoria randomly tests for drugs.
Lakes Entrance was built at the man-made opening between the sea and a vast complex of lakes, giving immediate access to both. From the Banjo Patterson motel we watched pelicans and black swans glide by in the dusk, and the fishing boats heading to sea at dawn.
A good early-morning walk takes you along the inlet between sand dunes and town, past the fishing fleet with a reflection that is a perfect inversion of reality, across a long walkway, and on to the beach. Hard to beat.
But Bairnsdale and the lower stretches of the Great Alpine Road, another of Australia's 100 great rides, beckoned.
Bairnsdale, a gentle ride from Lakes Entrance, is just down from the quaintly Australian juxtaposition of main road built to allow a team of oxen to turn in a single sweep, concrete water tower, and the astonishing St Mary's Catholic Church, Australia's answer to Rome and St Peters. The inside is covered in murals depicting in intricate detail the Nativity, crucifixion, apostles, heaven and hell. Painted during the Great Depression by an Italian expatriate who studied in Turin, it includes 400 or so angelic forms.
On that elevated note we roared out of Bairnsdale and up the sweeping Great Alpine Rd to Bruthen, stopping only to shed cold-weather gear as temperatures climbed to the high 20s. Not hard to take at all, riding from Bruthen to the coast through the towns of Nowa Nowa to Marlo, where the Snowy River meets the ocean, north on the Princes Highway to Orbost and Cabbage Tree Creek, and out to the sea again at Bemm River, famous for its fishing — especially bream and prawns — and what is probably the world's longest drop toilet.
Bemm River is a perfect place to picnic: park the bikes on the grass next to the river and watch pelicans, cormorants and black swans.
Had we wished, we could have continued on the Great Alpine Rd through Omeo to the Hume Highway, turning left for Melbourne or right to Canberra. It's an option any keen bikers should consider.
But time was running short. Beemer and Trumpy were pointed north to the hamlet of Genoa, and out on the side road to Mallacoota, just south of the NSW border (see box). The next day, it was back to Bateman's Bay, and on home to Canberra. But what a trip.
Qantas flies daily from Auckland to Canberra, via Melbourne or Sydney.
You don't have to ride a road bike — or even a motorcycle — to revel in New South Wales' south coast and Victoria's East Gippsland. Nor do you have to stay on the road.
If you want to load up with fishing or diving gear, a surfboard or canoe, or just cruise in comfort, the journey south will still be sensational. If you want more adventure, ride an enduro or trail bike, or travel in a four-wheel-drive.
There are easy drives that even road bikes and suburban saloons can manage with care, such as the 98km Pigeon House Mountain route from Nelligen, built at the main crossing of the Clyde River near Bateman's Bay, to Milton, near Ulladulla, further north on the Princes Highway.
Or you could ride or drive the more demanding day trip from Moruya, south of Bateman's Bay, through the Deua
National Park to Bodalla, following the Serpent Trail.
Dozens of similar trails, some easy, some hard, link the main routes on the way south, allowing a blend of highway and off-road adventure.
An essential guide, available from most camping and 4WD stores for about A$25, is 4WD Touring: South East New South Wales and East Gippsland by Craig Lewis and Cathy Savage.
Contact your nearest Aussie Specialist Premier Agent on 0800 151 085 or your local travel agent.
You have to love Mallacoota. It had a hard road to survive, eking a precarious existence for much of the past century and a half from whaling, gold and wattle bark trading (used to tan leather).
Tourism and its perfect positioning at the entrance to Mallacoota Inlet have been its lifeline.
The inlet is fed by 14 rivers and streams, home to platypuses and other Australian creatures, and is surrounded by a swathe of native bush. Fishing, boating and other water sports draw people like a magnet. Salmon and tuna abound. Game fishing is big for the hardy.
And for bikers, there is the Mallacoota pub at the end of one of the nicest little stretches of winding road on Australia's southern coast. It is only a short ride in from the Princes Highway at Genoa, just south of the NSW border. But it is a hoot and to hell with Victoria's 3km/h speed limit tolerance.
The pub sits in a tiny main street filled with an eclectic collection of shops. Outside are parking bays reserved for motorcycles.
The pub, not surprisingly, is another in the Ulysses network, offering special hospitality and deals to the over-50s whose hips still allow them to swing a leg over two wheels.
What especially warms an older biker's heart is the parking. Bikers love their machines with an almost indecent passion. They fret about them, too, vulnerable as they are to theft or damage.
At the Mallacoota pub you take your bike to bed with you — almost. The accommodation is in parallel motel-style rooms behind the pub, accessed by a covered footpath running the length of the two blocks.
You ride your bike around the back, through a narrow gateway, up the walkway to your room, where you leave the machines outside the window. On big rides, we were told, both walkways are filled nose to tail by motorcycles. It is nice to be liked.
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