Two-wheeled touring

The South Burnett is a quilted patchwork of red soil, green fields, wineries and silver ribbon bands of asphalt that make it perfect bike country.

Declared the first Motorcycle Friendly Shire in Australia by local council, in recognition of the hundreds of bikers who ride through it each weekend, the South Burnett is just 140km of superb riding from Brisbane or the Sunshine Coast.

While there are no formal guidelines for what constitutes a motorcycle-friendly town, shire or region, the South Burnett Regional Council has established a committee to decide how they can make riders feel welcome.

In the meantime, I decided to take another trip to the region I’ve visited on many occasions to ride the challenging, scenic byways of the Bunya Mountains, Cooyar Range, Tansey-Kilkivan Road, Blackbutt Range and the many ‘adventure’ dirt tracks.

Motorbikes at Tansey

My mount was a big Harley-Davidson Street Glide tourer, so I stuck to the asphalt along the New England Highway from Crows Nest, another recently-declared Motorcycle Friendly Town.

The South Burnett is bounded on the south by Cooyar, Blackbutt and the spectacular Bunya Mountains and extends along the Great Dividing Range towards Gayndah and Biggenden in the north.

I know I’m in motorcycle country the moment I stop for one of the best burgers in South-East Queensland at the GMC store in Cooyar, owned by former MotoGP and World Superbike rider Garry McCoy.

Gary’s gradually building a motorcycle museum next door to the store, which has a service station attached selling premium fuel for modern machinery.

Just outside town, the tarmac squirrels up the Cooyar Range enticing riders to venture deeper into Bike Country.

At the top of the range, you can continue toward Nanango or turn left toward Maidenwell to the Maidenwell Hotel – a popular spot for riders to quench their thirst and grab a meal before heading into the Bunya Ranges.

The eastern approach to the Bunyas still has 3.5km of dirt road with concrete floodways, but the council is considering filling in the tar gap to encourage more riders.

A dirt road to the Bunya Mountains

Despite being uncertain of the condition of the gravel section after the recent heavy rains, I took my chances. The only alternative was way over on the south-west side from Jondaryan.

Thankfully the dirt section was fine, even on a big Harley. It’s was a little corrugated, so I took my time, absorbing the view of the looming, verdant mountains.

After just a couple of minutes I was back on the tar and climbing the steep gradient, the torquey Milwaukee Eight V-twin devouring the task with ease.

On the ascent, the panorama opened on all sides to reveal a patchwork design that is now 50 shades of lush green in the aftermath of Cyclone Debbie.

Motorbikes in the Bunya Mountains

At the T intersection at the top of the climb, I swung right into darkened tunnels of forestry, my eyes struggling to adjust to the lack of light even on a bright, sunny, autumn day.

Over the crest of the summit, my jaw dropped at the view from Fishers Lookout over the stunning scenery stretching beyond Dalby towards the Western Downs.

Many riders gather here for group photo shoots and to breathe in the cool, fresh air. It’s also a good spot to take stock and prepare for the gentle ride over the mountains and through the forest tunnels, where the wallabies are plentiful.

Here it’s important to keep the speed down and watch for hikers, and wallabies, moving out of the forest on to the road.

It’s like riding through a postcard scene.

Time seems to stand still as you flash in and out of the shade and sunlight, past walls of lush vegetation, grabbing glimpses of the South Burnett farming landscape beyond.

Down the north side, you ride the spine of a ridge past changing vegetation to arrive right into the rolling pastures around Kumbia. Here you get your first taste of the vineyards that seem to be taking over the region.

Further north along the Bunya Highway, at bustling Kingaroy, is a motorcycle shop where you can pick up any spares or consumables you need. Just around the corner I stopped in for a coffee at the biker-friendly Glendon St Café, before heading up to Mount Wooroolin to take in 360-degree views of the region.

Continuing north along the highway, I pulled in to the Wooroolin Wetlands to contemplate the natural wonder of the area and watch the hundreds of species of birds.

Wooroolin Wetlands

Another 30km north at Murgon, I flicked down the kickstand for an overnight stay at the 99-year-old Royal Hotel, currently under renovation with plans to better accommodate riders. Licensee Mark McDonald even locks up riders’ bikes securely in his bottle shop overnight.

Now in the heart of cattle country, it’s only a fitting a thick, juicy steak be on my dinner agenda, washed down with a couple of beers over a chat with Mark and the locals.

Next day I set out to explore the narrow back roads up through Boat Mountain, the Barambah Wine Trail with famous wineries such as Dusty Hill and Clovely Estate, and the Bjelke-Petersen Dam.

Boat Mountain Road

Local retiree, Bob Godchild, guided me through the lesser-known roads to Boombara Homestead, which he owns and hopes to restore as a tourist attraction. Built by David Jones in 1862, it’s one of the oldest of many historic homesteads in the region.

Homeward-bound across Corndale and Booie, I stopped in at the fabulous hilltop Cassis at Booie, a top-class restaurant and winery with jaw-dropping views west toward Broadwater.

The South Burnett is now a rider’s paradise with its many historic, natural and man-made attractions, varied mix of roads, stunning scenery and a variety of accommodation. This region is clearly great Bike Country.

Story and Images by Mark Hinchliffe.