A sentimental road trip to the spiritual home of motor racing in Australia.
Anyone who has seen the movie Top Gun will instantly recognise the Tom Cruise line “I feel the need…the need for speed!” Indeed, it has gone down in the vernacular as the call-to-action for all of us wanting to spice up our lives just a little. And nowhere in Australia is this sentiment more applicable than in the city of Bathurst on the New South Wales Central Tablelands. A little over 200 kilometres due west of Sydney and over the Blue Mountains is this regional city of around 42,000 people, a city that is internationally recognised as one of the foremost motor racing venues in the world and the spiritual home of motor racing in Australia. Definitely the place to fuel that ‘Need for speed!’
For over 16 years, Bathurst was our home, a place where we raised our family at ‘Micklegate’, a magnificent heritage-listed rural property just outside the city.
Recently, Dinah and I embarked on a road trip to our family home in Bathurst. Eleven years ago, we moved to the Sunshine Coast but we return to Bathurst often as one of our three sons, Christopher stills lived there with his family. It’s always great to visit them and catch up with friends.
Dinah and I are avid caravanners. Caravanning is a great way to see this country – freedom with all the creature comforts of home. My love of the RV lifestyle has led to my appointment as the National Marketing Director for the Australian Caravan Club (ACC), the largest RV-owner representative organisation in Australia. Our road trip to Bathurst, this time minus the caravan, was via the Blue Mountains, conveniently allowing me to attend an ACC board meeting at Mount Victoria.
Down the New England
There are any number of ways one can travel to Bathurst. We opted to drive down the New England Highway through the tableland towns of Tenterfield and Uralla. We have written about these towns previously (see “Bailed up in Bushranger Country” January 2021). They are both beautiful and historic, with a romantic past that features notorious bushrangers and Australian balladeers. We stayed overnight in Uralla before heading south to Tamworth then west to Gunnedah. Our overnight stay in Uralla at the Altona Motel was extremely comfortable, friendly, and very well priced. Check it out at: www.altonamotel.com.au
From Gunnedah, south to Mudgee where we again stayed overnight. Mudgee is an excellent regional town best known for its rolling pastoral landscapes and excellent wines. Lots to see and do here, with a vibrant restaurant and café culture and more wineries to visit than you could possibly cram into any one visit. A great place to stay is Mudgee’s legendary Winning Post Motor Inn at the top of the town and a great place for dinner, the Oriental Hotel. Go to: www.winningpostmotorinn.com.au
The Blue Mountains
Leaving Mudgee, we continued east on the Great Western Highway through the coal mining city of Lithgow then up the dauntingly steep Victoria Pass and on to Katoomba. Having lived in Bathurst and worked in Sydney for many years, I’d driven through the outskirts of Katoomba on the highway many times but had never really visited this Blue Mountains village. We had planned to spend one afternoon and evening in Katoomba before arriving at our final Blue Mountain’s destination of Mount Victoria. Katoomba is an amazing place. Perched atop the mountains, it takes much of its atmosphere and architecture from the art deco period of the 1920s. This is not surprising as the Blue Mountains was a favourite getaway destination of Sydney-siders throughout the first half of the 20th Century, the cool, clear mountain air being recognised as beneficial for one’s health. If you have never visited the Blue Mountains, Katoomba is an absolute must. Around 2 hours from Sydney west along the M4 and then the Great Western Highway.
The centre-piece of Katoomba is the majestic Carrington Hotel. Opening its doors in 1883, the hotel is straight out of Agatha Christie and very reminiscent of Raffles Hotel in Singapore. Set in magnificently landscaped grounds, the Carrington is a great place to base yourself for an indulgent Blue Mountains weekend, or longer. And adjacent to the hotel, a friendly Irish bar. Visit the Carrington Hotel at: www.thecarrington.com.au
Our final mountain’s destination was Mount Victoria and the Victoria & Albert Guest House. The guesthouse was the venue for my business meeting so Dinah and I were able to enjoy the magnificence of this late 1800s establishment and the hospitality of local couple Tania Wiseman and Wayne Thompson. The goal is to fully restore the building to its former glory as a bar, café and a la carte restaurant, as well as for accommodation. More information and bookings at: www.vaguesthouse.com
Australia’s oldest inland city
Final stop, Bathurst some 60 kilometres west of the Blue Mountains, to stay with Christopher, Nikki, Finlay, and Felix for a week. Driving into Bathurst was like coming home. Lots of familiar places. Lots of familiar faces.
Being Australia’s first inland city, Bathurst is the location of many of Australia’s finest examples of early colonial architecture, a legacy of Australia’s gold rush era. Gold was first discovered in Australia in 1823 between Rydal and Bathurst and by the 1850s, the settlement had expanded to become a prosperous town and a showcase of much of the finest architecture of the day. Bathurst Courthouse is one of Australia’s best examples of Victorian public architecture while Abercrombie House on the outskirts of town must surely be one of the finest examples of grand Victorian architecture anywhere in Australia.
Today, Bathurst is a thriving business centre, education centre, pastoral centre and a centre for some of the finest food and wines available anywhere in Australia. A visit to the Bathurst Farmers’ Markets on a Saturday morning will confirm this.
“I feel the need…”
To watch in awe as a V8 Supercar hurtles down Conrod Straight on Mount Panorama at speeds approaching 300 kilometres an hour is one reason to visit Bathurst. The other is to experience the places, the faces, the history and more of this amazing city. For some, visiting Bathurst is somewhat akin to a religious pilgrimage. For decades, fans of motor racing have made the trek to the Mountain every October to witness what many believe to be the greatest road race in the world. It all started on 16 April 1938 when over 20,000 spectators gathered at what is now the Mount Panorama racing circuit to see the first ever car race at the Mountain. Today, over 60,000 spectators crowd the mountain every October to witness what has become known as ‘the great race’. Then they are back again in February for the Bathurst 12 Hour Race, with Ford and Holden replaced by the European marquis of motor racing; Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Ferrari, and Porsche.
Take a hot lap around the mountain but remember that on all days other than race days it is a normal road and the speed limit is 60kms an hour. While you are at Mount Panorama, make sure to visit the National Motor Racing Museum. Located at the start of Pit Straight and celebrating the rich history of Australian Motor Sport, you’ll find the most extensive collection of motor racing vehicles and memorabilia anywhere in the country. So, if you feel the need for speed, go to: www.museumsbathurst.com.au
Up the Pacific Highway and home
We had a great time in Bathurst with our family. We always do. But now it was time to head home, back over the Blue Mountains and the M4 and M1 bypassing Sydney, then north up the Pacific Highway to Queensland and the Sunshine Coast. The Pacific Highway is a two lane motorway the entire way from Sydney to the Queensland boarder, so it is an easy two day drive home. To break the journey and to have one final night on the road, we stayed in one of our favourite locations, Port Macquarie. ‘Port’ breaks the journey nicely and is a beautiful coastal city to visit. A final sunset seafood dinner and glass of wine at the Beach House overlooking Port Macquarie Harbour is the best way we know to celebrate another memorable road trip.
Main picture: National Motor Racing Museum, Mount Panorama, Bathurst
- The Altona Motel. A great place to stay in Uralla. Comfortable and great value.
- Thunderbolt’s Rocks on the New England Highway south of Uralla
- The Oriental Hotel in Mudgee. Fabulous dining
- Welcome to the Blue Mountains
- The majestic Carrington Hotel in Katoomba
- Pho Moi Vietnamese Restaurant in Katoomba. Great Asian food
- Huge verandas. Huge views from the Victoria & Albert Guest House
- Bathurst’s famous Court House architecture
- The changing face of Bathurst. Funky cafe
- The legend at the National Motor Racing Museum at Mount Panorama
- One hell of a motor racing circuit
- The immortal Bob Jane
- Evening at Port Macquarie. Beautiful