30 March 2021 / Words and pictures by Rod Nicholas and Ken Keeling.
Saturday 27 march 2021
We had it all on this trip. Sunshine, near empty roads, sweeping corners, tight bends, beautiful views, quiet country pubs, great lunches, trains. And then there were grasshoppers, roadworks, dirt, water carts, mud, rain, torrential rain. Who woulda thunk it?
I’d left it a bit late to do my recce run, two days before the run itself. Oh yes, I’d planned what I was going to do, and where we were going. I’d mapped it all out with Google maps, got all the times, all the measures, prepared the run sheet and guide maps. All that stuff was down pat. Then, on the recce, I popped into the Tourist Information Centre in Cowra. ‘What have you got for us to do for an hour or so that’s vaguely cultural’ I asked. ‘Hmmm’ said they, ‘how about the Japanese Gardens?’ ‘Been there, done that’. ‘How about some trains? Have you ever been to Woodstock?’ ‘I've seen the film’ I said, but I guess that was somewhere else.
Long story short, we set off to Woodstock, eight MX-5s, 14 MX-5ers. Boorowa first for a caffeine recharge and then Wyangala Dam to check out the water levels. Seventy km of lonely Frogmore Road was a good deal of fun. There was plenty of water in Wyangala, a shade below 70% full. When we were here last, in February 2020, the dam was down to a miserable 12.8%. There’s more water to come, but it already looks great. We snapped the required photos and took the quaintly named Reg Hailstone Way, featuring some wonderful corners, and motored into Woodstock. It’s a lovely little town (population about 700) with a traditional country pub, and our group pretty much took over the dining room. Not far out of Cowra, the area around (what became) Woodstock was the site of a goldrush for about five minutes in 1868. Some twenty years later, Woodstock became an important stop on the cross-country NSW rail line, and a cute little railway station was built to service the area. The heritage listed Woodstock Railway station looks very well-maintained, notwithstanding that services ceased in 1987. Today, it's just a station building, but it looks great.
Keeping to the train theme, a short hop took us into Cowra to the Rail Heritage Centre. Wow, what a display. If you like trains, this is the place to be. We stayed there for a while entertained by the enthusiastic volunteers who showed us around. We lingered perhaps a little too long as the afternoon was getting quite late, and we still had a two-hour journey to home. As we left Cowra our group split in two – three cars took the direct (and shorter) route home down the Lachlan Valley Way. The rest followed my plan and took the Olympic Highway towards Young, ripped through Murringo to Boorowa and then along the back roads to Binalong and home. Our ‘long’ track added only about 30 km and 15 minutes.
The Olympic Highway is a good, typical country highway. Pretty well maintained and remarkably quiet. Some roadworks caused a bit of angst. The bitumen had been ripped up and there was a two km section of dirt. It was hard and a little dusty when I did the recce two days previous, but this time we had the dubious benefit of travelling just after the watercart had gone through. If that wasn’t enough, the watercart turned and drove straight back towards us, threatening to give us, tops down all, a good drenching. The result, of course, was mud everywhere (as I found later, in most unexpected places). Most unpleasant. Then, to make life more interesting, we were all but stopped by a road crew line marking the road. We were instructed to bush-bash off road to get around them, something MX-5s are not known for.
Back on decent road, we had lovely views to the Illunie Range to the left as we approached Koorawatha, and it became quite obvious where we were headed – the Murringo Gap was the only place we could reasonably cross the ranges. The roads – lanes, really – between the highway and Boorowa were virtually empty bar our group of five, and allowed some fun driving. Ditto the Hughstonia Road to Binalong, but after that it was mainly freeway to home. Rain drizzled much of the way from Binalong, which was only worrying the few of our group who had chosen to remain topless. It started to rain properly as we got back to Canberra, prompting Frances to pull over for a roof-raising, and it truly bucketed down for a short spell (just as I stopped and got out of the car). It was going to take far more than a quick wash to get our machines clean. As lead car, I also seemed to cop most of the grasshoppers who were stuck to my grill and plastered over the front bumper and bonnet edge. Mucky little beggars!
Ken led the smaller direct group home, and takes up the story:
We had an easy run back from Cowra and picked up another NB on the way, a Bermuda Blue one, who stayed on our tail until we pulled over for a brief rest stop at Boorowa.
We were rain free until we got to Hall, where Tony & Iris turned off – they already had their roof up. While we were stopped at the lights, Lili demonstrated just how easy it is to put up the roof of an ND while still sitting in the car. But, after passing through the lights, I had to pull over and stop to remove my tonneau cover and put up the NB’s roof – not possible to do without getting out. Fortunately, the heavy rain held off until we just got moving again, but as usual with such showers, it had stopped by the time we got to our place. At least the downpour washed off some of the bugs...
This was a very enjoyable run, even if it did involve over five hours of driving and 400 kms. I had broken it down to stages of around an hour’s drive, which kept the weariness away, but it was a long day regardless. I’d like to thank all who took part, particularly Frances and Lili, who hadn’t been on a long’n before. I had a great time, and judging by the chatter when we stopped, so did everyone.
More photos by Rod Nicholas can be found at https://photos.app.goo.gl/SKiFaYKqshCgMbsv9.