Imperial Hotel Wee Waa
104 Rose St, Wee Waa, NSW Phone: 02 6795 4125
If you come into Wee Waa on the Kamilaroi from the east and are heading farther west, you could fill up with fuel at the edge of the town and then take the detour to the north and never go down the main street.
And if you did, you’d lose!
Wee Waa’s a good town. And it has a great pub – one of the finest of the few remaining three storey pubs in rural Australia. It’s even got dedicated motorcycle parking right out the front!
In Wee Waa!
The first time I dropped in there, I was on the way out to the artesian spa at Burren Junction, about 50kms further west. I spotted the grand triple storey building from the eastern end of town and for anyone who loves this country’s traditional pubs, the Imperial at Wee Waa is a “can’t go past”
There she stood in the mid-morning sun: stately and elegant, redolent of a past grand era of tuxedo dinners and visiting string quartets. A bit of a distant sister to the Corones up at Charleville.
Inside there was none of the all too common condescension when I ordered a softie and a long glass of water, just a smile, and enquiry about where I’d come from and where I was headed.
In the middle of my interrogation of the barmaid regarding the history of the place, she pointed out the owner so I called him over and began the grilling. The embodiment of the dry, wry, laconic country publican, Barry gives a bit of the history, goes out back to grab some amazing photos of the original 1890 pub burning down in 1912. (It was replaced by the current one the same year.) Then I ask him how he came to be the owner.
The corners of his mouth curl and his eyes glint and he leans over the table and confides, “I’ve never minded a drink.” I can think of no time in my life when I’ve felt more assured that I’m being told the truth.
Eight years ago Barry and his wife who is a Narrabri native came out on visit from their home at Nelson Bay and as Barry tells it to me, he ‘got on the piss with the bloke who owned the place. It was a long session. When I got back to the missus I told her, ‘I think I bought the pub’, to which she replied, ‘you’re fucking mad.’
“Anyway, turned out I’d offered him a couple of million for it and that afternoon he accepted and we had ourselves a pub. Since then I’ve put another one point five into it and it probably needs another mill to really set it up.’
So it’s become a bit of a money pit for this bloke who made his loot concreting around Nelson Bay on the NSW coast. But it’s pretty clear that money’s not really the point of this exercise.
First thing Barry and his son, Luke, who runs the place day-to-day, did was get rid of the pokie machines and the TAB. “They bring in good money but they also bring in trouble, so I got rid of ‘em and ever since this has been a really friendly joint.”
Could’ve chatted all day but I had to get out for a hot soak at Burren Junction so I took my leave and headed west. Turns out that the artesian spa at Burren Junction is probably the worst in the area. Some genius designer as stuck a pug ugly circular platform in the middle and the 37º C water is full of algae. I had a quick dip anyway and considered my options. My next destination was the spa down at Pilliga and I could’ve taken the short cut south and arrived before dark. Or I could’ve camped beside the spa or there’s the Junction City Hotel just down the road and therein lies another story.
These are the black soil plains, wonderful for crops but unstable for buildings. In 1911 the Coronation Hotel, a great two storey version of Wee Waa’s Imperial dominated this town but due to subsidence in this black soil, it was tragically demolished in 1989 and replaced the same year by this ugly soul-less nondescript non-event.
Rant: Outback timber pubs like Coronation at Burren Junction are incredibly valuable jewels in the bush. They are unique to this land and each and every loss is to be mourned. Last year we lost the Mt Warning pub at Uki, a fabulous destination and rest spot for riders. When they go, they are not replaced. Enjoy them and savour them and never assume you are going to see them again.
I decided to head back to Wee Waa and spend the night with Barry. It wasn’t a hard decision.
I got back just in time to savour a country sunset back down Rose St as I parked Blue Bird in the bike zone right out the front of the pub.
Luke was behind the bar serving a room full of farm lads and contractors but there were rooms free and my knees were glad there was one on the first floor!
There’s a total of 23 rooms with a total of 54 beds available on the two levels and one with air-con will set you back just $35.00 whilst the au naturel ones are ten bucks cheaper! I just wanna say that again. You can get a room here for twenty five bucks. *
My room faced the front which was a blessing for the view but a curse the next morning when this corner revealed itself as the pickup point for seemingly every contact worker and council labourer for the entire north western NSW. Plus it was street cleaning morning (at 3.00am!)
If you need a good sleep, take a back room!
Back downstairs the bar was still full and on this Tuesday night the restaurant had a constant flow. You can get standard pub grub lunch and dinner Monday to Saturday
The bed was comfortable and the room clean but there was nowhere to hang my gear, no hooks or hangers in the wardrobe so all stuff was filed on the floor.
In the morning the showers ran hot with good pressure but I bypassed the common room, which has a jug and tea and coffee and a fridge with a freezer which easily took my 3 litre Camelbak bladder. How do I put this? I’m guessing this common room is high up on the list of areas where Barry’ll be spending his next refurb money.
(If you are headed out to the great artesian spa at Pilliga you might want to save the water until you soak in the 40º undercover pool just 60km to the west.)
I suggest you walk 50 metres west down Rose St to the Wee Waa Bakery where the Bellaroma coffee will get your brain ticking and the pies (I had a chicken) are top notch.
Heading back you can fill up with anything you need at the large IGA and the best place for fuel is at the BP depot at the west of town just after the bypass rejoins. It sells 91 and 98 and is open 6.30am-6.00pm Monday to Friday and til noon on Saturday but is closed on Sundays. The independent at the east of town is open Sundays but only sells 91.
You are not going to get better value for you buck than at the Imperial at Wee Waa. It’s an owner-run town hub pub with friendly staff good amenities and it offers per-head accommodation rates with no pre-debiting of your credit card when booking. The rest of the town is all you’d want at the end of a long day’s riding. When you are paying less for your night’s sleep than drug addicts pay for their packet of cigarettes you are going to overlook some blemishes and minor shortcomings.
The pub rated 60 on our scale giving it just three helmets but its value rating for a non-airconditioned room was a whopping 240 where 100 is considered good. If you and your buddies like riding the wide open spaces under the big skies with the Kamilaroi Hwy offers, a night at Wee Waa followed by a day soaking at Pilliga are key components of a ride you’ll never forget and soon repeat.
Our standards and criteria for judging the Motorcyclist Friendly level of pubs is slowly evolving and being refined. At the outset a point was gained for having a TAB but then I went to a succession of pubs which were effectively TAB with booze. No escaping the monitors and the screaming commentary and so I deleted this.
The night after staying at the Imperial at Wee Waa I had the misfortune to stay at the Dirranbandi Pub where, the only refuge from the screaming race commentary was the dull dining room. For 70 bucks I had no heating, no tea and coffee, no common room and I couldn’t leave my door open in the evening because the staff used the verandah adjacent as their smoko spot. Now that $70.00 would have been the same if there’d been two of us sharing and maybe $35.00 per head is acceptable. But I am not alone in riding mostly alone.
If pubs want to be considered truly MF they need to abolish rates based on rooms and offer rates based on bodies. One person uses less water, less linen, less everything than two people so why the hell should they pay the same?
Points for body-based accommodation have replaced the points for gambling.
The other thing pubs need to appreciate is that we are subject to many factors which don’t affect drivers and so are more prone to being forced to cancel bookings. If pubs refuse to allow riders to cancel their bookings without penalty up until noon of the day of reservation then they don’t understand how riders work and won’t be featured in this series.