AN ENTREPRENEURIAL New England town is tapping into the burgeoning two-wheel tourism market in a bid to rev up the economy.
Walcha, better known for its wool industry, is increasingly becoming a motorcyclist hub, with riders lured by the breathtaking bends and smooth road surface of the surrounding Oxley Highway.
Newcastle couple Brad Keable and Toni Heaney shifted to Walcha eight years ago and purchased the historic Royal Hotel.
The avid riders have transformed it into the Walcha Royal Cafe and Accommodation, a business catering almost exclusively to the two-wheeler market.
“We could see there was an industry emerging here and we thought there was an opportunity to put in a cafe and rooms to cater to it,” Ms Heaney said.
“A large portion of our customers are motorcyclists – we even have a lock-up garage for bikes and a special drying room where they can hang up their leathers.
“The motorcyclist industry is something the town embraces and really needs to hang onto.”
The business advertises extensively in motorcycle magazines and features a range of “garagenalia”, a term used to describe collections of historic road signs and other motoring memorabilia.
Mr Keable also advises customers about the best rides in the area.
The Oxley Highway between Newcastle and Port Macquarie is considered among the top rides in Australia, and draws some of the nation’s top motoring writers for car test drives.
Walcha Council general manager Jack O’Hara said the motorcycle tourism trade was an integral part of the town’s economy.
“It’s a huge market and we’re keen to do whatever we can to support it,” Mr O’Hara said.
“It’s a world-renowned route.”
Walcha Council was one of three New England councils that recently shared in a $5 million government grant to upgrade the Thunderbolts Way to make it even more appealing to riders.
Walcha’s grant application was accompanied by letters of support from a host of leading motorcycle magazines.