Off-line NSW


Princes Highway deviation – Off-line

As is often the case, the road less travelled calls us

Nobody likes roadworks while they’re happening, except sadists who are riding behind beginners with no gravel experience. But we all love them when they’re done, and a (not-too-shiny, one hopes) new surface awaits our tyre prints.

Or … do we?

Unfortunately, sealing roads often also increases their traffic density. It’s not hard to find examples where most of the regular users would cheerfully strangle the local government official who decreed that that last bit of gravel should be tarred, turning the entire road into a major connecting route and bringing cars and even caravans to annoy motorcyclists who used to think of the road as “theirs”. Ours, in fact. And then lowering speed limits.

An example? The Wollombi road north of Sydney. Not only did the gravel section keep the tintops off it, it had the same effect on the marginally talented but testosterone–crazed sports bike riders who now crash there with chilling frequency. One of our regular contributors found the mortal shell of one of them recently, and it doesn’t make a pretty story.

There are, of course, also roads where nothing of the sort has happened after they were improved. Take the Imlay Road down in the south of NSW, near the Victorian border. Once upon a time the western access was almost a secret, with the last couple of hundred metres fairly poor sand and gravel before the 60km of good tar down to the Princes Highway. Fixing up the connection with the Monaro Highway in the west has not increased traffic noticeably at all; it’s still mainly thundering but relatively infrequent behemoths of log trucks.

Somewhere between these two extremes is the road that avoids the Princes Highway and follows the coast through Bermagui, Tathra and Merimbula. The Tathra to Merimbula section has been sealed for decades, but there always used to be a bit of gravel up around Bunga. This kept the road quiet, encouraging the main traffic flow to stay on the highway through Bega.

Then came the road plant, and now it’s sealed all the way. Coming south you can take a well-signposted left turn from the highway just past the lower Tilba turnoff. You can then follow the tar all the way down the coast to the middle of the Pambula CBD, where it turns off to rejoin the highway far to the south. Fortunately Mr and Mrs Jayco haven’t made this connection yet; going by a recent visit it is still reasonably free of through traffic — at least between Bermagui and Tathra.

This is also the best part of the road, as it happens.

The first stretch of the road, around Wallaga Lake and through a couple of suburbs of Bermagui, is not especially, err, special. The town itself is famous among those who remember Zane Grey (no, don’t worry about it) for the fact that he used to come here and kill big fish. That’s pretty much all you need to know, although it does have a good little pub and all the usual services. You can still kill big fish, they tell us, there seem to be a few left. Get them before the Japanese have them on their sandwiches.

The going gets good after Bermagui and stays good all the way down to the outskirts of Tathra. The road runs through a narrow belt of farming country between Mimosa Rocks National Park and a couple of state forests, so there isn’t a huge amount of local traffic and side roads are infrequent. This is good because the tar is mostly pretty narrow, and overtaking should be undertaken with care. There are lots of corners and a surprising number of little hills. I suspect they are actually just sandhills. Places like Bunga, Wapengo and Tanja are marked on the map, it’s true, but they’re pretty hard to find on the ground.

This is a tranquil little bit of the world, with what looks like quite small (possibly hobby?) farms dreaming in the sun among the green of their paddocks. What’s that? Yes, I am a country boy. No, I don’t want to move back there.

Tathra, with its unmistakable but ominous-looking wharf (a bloke and his two kids tragically drowned there not long ago), comes up all too quickly. It also offers all the usual services and has a pub, indeed quite a big one up on the headland. Take the Bega road from here and turn off to the left about five kilometres out of town. The road to Merimbula and on to the highway at Pambula is much busier than the stretch you’ve just ridden, but it’s also a lot wider and offers easy overtaking. It’s much more developed and not especially scenic.

We like the cheerful, busy and touristy Merimbula quite a lot — I’m actually not sure why — but the traffic over the causeway and past the airport is just as heavy as it is on the highway, so take it easy along there. When you get into Pambula, take the first major turn to the left. This takes you to a bit of a bypass and avoids the struggle with the heavy traffic in the CBD.

Just kidding. Take the bypass anyway, it’s easier. Either way will return you to the Princes Highway you left so far to the north.

Now the problem with this is that you miss the very pleasant towns of Cobargo and Bega, as well as the turnoff to Brown Mountain and the Snowy Mountains Highway. But that’s life. At least all the roadworks on this road are done for a while.


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