September 14, 2023

Flash Lithgow, Wallerawang and Portland


An easy day drive or ride from Sydney and a historical centrepiece of the NSW Central Tablelands, Lithgow is easily overlooked as riders head west out to Bathurst and beyond

So I stopped in for an extended stay and exploration of the former industrial town and its neighbouring villages of Wallerwang and Portland. 

My ride for the occasion was the MY23 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Special 114ci (FLTRXS) in eye-catching (excuse understatement) Baja Orange. With much-improved road surfaces and plenty of byway options to explore, the burly Orange-Utan was the perfect choice for the chilly late winter weather. 

Arrival


As the Blue Mountains continue to be subsumed into the Greater Sydney Region, the Bells Line of Roads (B59) now presents the most pleasing passage to Lithgow. Historically, the road formed part of the indigenous peoples’ pathways and was surveyed by Mr Bell in 1823.

A minor road for much of its early history, it was substantially upgraded during WWII as both an alternate access road to the Lithgow, Bathurst and Orange armaments factories, as well as an escape route, should evacuation of Sydney become necessary. 

Riders need to be aware of constant police monitoring, changing speed limits and cameras. If you haven’t ridden it for a while, take note that the maximum speed limit along the entire route from Windsor to Lithgow is now 80kmh.

Lithgow in a Flash

You’ll be ready for a hot coffee at the very least or a substantial snack after the 90-minute ride from Windsor and I have uncovered a couple of very worthwhile spots in town.

In the traditional of Australia’s great Greek roadside cafes, Tim and Alex at  El Latte in the main street serve excellent bikers’ fare with burgers, schnitzels and salads alongside traditional Greek delicacies like moussaka, yiros and souvlaki.

Aimee and her team at Cafe Bar 128

I’m a demon for a good pie and across the road at Café.bar128, vivacious Aimee and her team always have brilliant pies on menu rotation. I jagged a beef bourguignon and it was outstanding. But the menu goes way beyond simple pies to amazing soups and meats and a huge array of hot and cold drinks.  

Feeling a bit fancy? Evening meals at Frankies at the Zig Zag Motel are next level. If you’re a steak lover like me, Chef Frank will delight in turning out the best medium-rare rib eye you’ve had in a long time. Run by the Inzitari family from southern Italy, you can count on brilliant pizza and pasta too.

At time of writing, the Lithgow Workers Club (aka Workies) were revamping their restaurant kitchen, so meals only in the bistro at present. Watch this space.

All Metal Lithgow

Before Port Kembla, there was Lithgow, the blast furnace that once stood on what is now a park, closed in 1928 when industry moved to Port Kembla. Coal was mined in and around Lithgow beginning in the mid-19th century and continues, albeit on a much smaller scale today. 

The birthplace of the Australian iron and steel industry, Lithgow contains numerous heritage sites including Lithgow Blast Furnace, Australia’s first modern blast furnace. Thirty sculptures along Inch Street mark milestones in the life of the town. Old Lithgow Pottery in  Silcock St. claims to be Australia’s oldest commercial pottery venture and is now used as an artists' collective. Gang Gang Gallery at 206 Main St is located in the Old Refreshments building of the Theatre Royal.


BP 218A in its new green paint scheme

Great news from Lithgow is the resumption of the historic Zig Zag Railway. Against seeming insurmountable odds, the historic Zig Zag Railway is back on track after an 11-year hiatus and obstacles including bushfire, flood and vandalism. You’ll need to book way ahead if you are hoping to ride the rails.

3.7in AA Guns

Military history buffs (my hand is up) will be fascinated with the WWII Anti-Aircraft gun emplacements where period-accurate Vickers 3.7in guns have been reinstalled. The guns were brought to Lithgow to defend the armaments factory against possible attack and that factory is also a heritage site with a portion of it set aside as a museum.

Guide, Lesley, in the new Machine Shop display 

The Lithgow Small Arms Factory Museum contains a very impressive display of WWI and WWII arms as well as the Ron Hayes handgun collection bequeathed to the museum in 2006. The factory, portions of which are still in use today, constructed predominantly the Small Magazine Lee Enfield Mk.1 No.3 (SMLE) rifle for Australian forces beginning in 1912. In between wars, it made everything from golf clubs to sewing machines. If you haven’t visited in a while, you may not have seen the cavernous machine shop display now open and chock-a-block full of all conceivable metalworking devices.  

Wend into ‘Wang

I have honestly lost count of the number of times I’ve driven past Wallerawang and its monolithic cooling tower and never stopped in for a look. So, for this exploration, I decided to base myself at the family-owned  Black Gold Motel for two nights - and was I impressed! This place is a gem and is the perfect choice for riding groups of any number, or even your whole chapter or club. The staff “get it” in so much as they exhibit genuine pride in their work and service levels are off the chart. 

Shining Bright: Black Gold Motel Wallerawang (supplied)

Sitting and chatting with the patriarch and former miner, Rob Cluff, I learned a bunch about the local coal mining history and how the old school buildings were converted into boutique accommodations, much of it by Rob’s own hand. The Crib Room onsite restaurant gets rave reviews, especially if you're a curry fan. 

For more conventional fare, the Commercial Hotel in ‘Wang’s main street has schnitzels about the size of a manhole cover. Rooms and cabins too. 

Lake Wallace, Wallerawang

As a base for exploration, it is a practical choice, allowing easy access to many of the immediate sites as well as Lithgow, Capertee and Portland. It was only now that I wished for an adventure bike to explore some of the unsealed trails although - as I have now learned - recent work has seen the Glen Alice and Glen Davis Road completely sealed from Capertee to Glen Davis and Rylstone. Note to self: must come back on an enduro.

Potter to Portland

For many years, Portland was the cement-making centre of the entire region and with the closure of the massive industrial site, a new era is upon this modest town. 

I was met at The Foundations, the new name for the old factory, by Rich Evans who oversees the day-to-day of the site which has become a community event hub, artists’ retreat, weekend marketplace and proposed residential development in the extensive land surrounding the site and its flooded dams now full of ducks and trout.

For those who have never ventured here, Portland has a couple of decent pubs, the Glen Museum of local memorabilia, some funky recreated street sign advertising and the state-of-the-art Mt Piper Power Station where you can have a tour at the onsite Energy Expo.

Great Western Remnants

Surviving sections of the former Great Western Highway

I bet many of you reading this will recall the diabolical state of the Great Western Highway that existed through these parts up until the early ‘90s. Heavy haulers and holidaymakers alike had to contend with the WWII-era concrete slab roadway that made up the highway almost the entire stretch from Lithgow to Bathurst. A couple of horrific accidents accelerated the improvement of the A32, bypassing many of the gnarly contortions that claimed so many vehicles over the years. But you can still relive the experience on some of the remaining local sections that now serve as neighbourhood streets. 

So, if you’re scratching your head for somewhere to ride, step away from the well-trodden highway and venture to the high country around Lithgow.

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Lithgow Visitor Information Centre, in The Lamp, opposite the historic Bowenfels Railway Station Ph: 1300 76 02 76



The writer was a guest of the Lithgow District Chamber of Commerce

Motorcycle supplied by Harley-Davidson A/NZ

All images by Roderick Eime unless credited otherwise


All material (c) Copyright Traveloscopy.com unless noted otherwise.

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