Long before State of Origin footy clashes between NSW and Queensland erupted, there was a clash of governments at the border that has yielded one of the greatest drives in Australia.
In 1969, the NSW government rejected calls for a shortcut to link the communities of Kyogle in northern NSW and Rathdowney in southern Queensland.
That’s when the Kyogle and Beaudesert Lions clubs stepped in and decided to use the expertise of members and their community to build their own road up and over the craggy McPherson Range via Richmond Gap.
They’re still maintaining the road with help from governments and private business and there is a donation box at the border, which grateful motorists should patronise.
In the past decade, the final gravel sections have given way to a full tarmac surface, although it is patchy and often in need of repair.
It’s a road in two parts: the northern side is an extension of Running Creek Rd with roller-coaster skylines and popular camping spots, while the lusher southern side lined with magnificent hoop pines turns off Summerland Way on Gradys Creek Rd and plaits a course where road, rail and creek cross each other every few hundred metres over some one-lane wooden bridges and modern yet narrow concrete structures.
There is a host of picnic, camping and swimming areas on either side of the range, but only one cafe – Ripples on the Creek – where the seafood chowder is to die for.
Four-wheel drivers can turn off at Simes Rd and head up the gravel into the Border Ranges Park or take the little dirt detour at Cougal, where the trail crosses the creek several times and bathers delight in the cool running waters beneath Roman-style aqueducts.Moss and gravel create slippery surfaces, while frequent potholes and corrugations on the inside of corners test the best of suspensions.
Some of the farms are unfenced, so cattle can occasionally be encountered around blind corners in the valleys. Wallabies are more common higher up in the forest areas.
Car clubs and recreational bikers frequent the road at weekends and there are few opportunities to pass those who want to take in the sights.
Those sights include the heritage-listed Spiral Loop railway line, which can be viewed from the Lions Rd, especially the aptly named Spiral Loop Railway lookout. The serpentine rail line includes two tunnels – a 1.6km tunnel at the summit and a shorter one that passes under itself.
Lions Rd and national park maps, brochures and train times are available from the Kyogle Visitor Centre at the northern exit of town or tourist centres in Rathdowney or Beaudesert.