The best of Victoria bicycle touring route
We host many international cycle tourists from the warmshowers.org network and wanted to come up with an itinerary to showcase our state, taking in as many rail trails and quiet country roads as was possible in around 1000km.
This trip was ridden in April 2015 over a period of two weeks, and was designed to take in the Alpine areas of Victoria and loop back through Gippsland, across Phillip Island and home via the Mornington Peninsula and along Beach Road to St Kilda. In addition, if you had more time, you could catch the ferry across the Port Phillip Heads from Sorrento to Queenscliff and venture along the Great Ocean Road.
The route taken is a hilly route, but it can be broken down into smaller sections if the hills are too daunting. The bike of choice was a 29er hard tail mountain bike with racks and full panniers, fitted with fast-rolling MTB tyres. Given some of the roads were dirt, trekking tyres are recommended, but you could vary the route to stay on bitumen if you desire. This is not a route you would take over the winter months, unless you are on a fat-bike and hankering for an adventure, as the high country is snow covered and could be very icy.
To avoid the busy roads of Melbourne, take the VLine train from Southern Cross Station to Tallarook where the Great Victorian Rail Trail begins near the swimming pool. The times quoted are actual ride times, which generally varied between 15 to 20km/h with fully loaded panniers and knobby tyres.
Planning tools used for this trip were the ‘bicycle’ routing option on Google Maps and Motion X GPS using the Open Cycle Map layer. Being a bit of a foodie, there are quite a few references to food options along the way, so the author makes no apologies for that.
Day 1: Tallarook to Yarck – 68km. Ride time: 3.5hrs
The journey begins on a quiet gravel rail trail with mostly solid surface, easy gradients and interesting stopoffs. It can be a bit dusty and slick skinny tyres may struggle with the loose surface. Towns along the way are not that well sign posted so when looking for them pay attention to the track.
There are good toilets stops along the route, however the water here is sign posted as not drinkable. This shouldn’t be seen as a problem as there are plenty of towns along the way. Yea is a major town with accommodation options if required, and Molesworth has a camp ground also. Camping is apparently allowed at the reserve at Yarck, and the town has a great café and pub. For information about the trail see the Great Victorian Rail Trail website and also read the route review by Alia in A cycling trip on the Great Victorian Rail Trail. Don’t feel too guilty about having a couple of easy days on rail trails as it gets hilly on day three, so enjoy it while you can!
Day 2: Yarck to Mansfield – 56km. Ride time: 3hrs
After a great breakie of Eggs Benedict at the local café, more of the day before awaited. Easy riding and no traffic, which is a blessing if riding during a holiday period as the highway can get very busy. Mansfield has numerous accommodation options for a visitor with many sights and side trips worthy of a rest day. The tourist information centre is at the end of the trail.
The rail trail has lots of signboards and information along the way explaining the history in the area and was well worth the ride, as not having to think about traffic makes things so much more pleasant. Mansfield also has a good bike shop.
Day 3: Mansfield to Whitfield – 58km. Ride time: 3.5 hrs
Get ready, as this is where the hills begin. The Mansfield to Whitfield road climbs up to Tolmie then down into Whitfield. Tolmie has a pub, but check for opening hours. The day I rode through I ended up with the Tolmie Ladies Lunch Group, which was great fun and had me entertained for nearly three hours. Then the fantastic quiet road, which leads down to Whitfield, is worth the slog up as it descends gradually into the town. The Gentle Annie camping ground is a beautiful, scenic spot on a river and there is a short ride back into town for amazing food at the ‘gastronomique’ pub of the Mountain View Hotel, not to mention the wineries and cafes in the King Valley. The café can arrange a roll or sandwich, as the stops along the next days ride are limited.
Day 4: Whitfield to Bright via the Rose River Road – 101km. Ride time 5.5hrs
This was a little adventure and if you’re happy riding on dirt roads then pedal on. To get to Bright from Mansfield, this route basically crosses two valleys, so this will get you into the Ovens Valley at Myrtleford where you join the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail for the run into Bright. From Whitfield, ride towards Cheshunt and keep following the road, which will turn into the Rose River Road. It’s a good dirt road, easily passable to two wheel drive cars and did not have many steep sections. The most climbing was when riding up onto Wobonga Plateau from Cheshunt, where the highest gradient was 9%, but only for about 100m, with the dirt section going for about 44km. For an idea of ascent, my Garmin told me it was 610m of climbing. The route takes you past Lake Buffalo on a lovely, quiet and very scenic road, which at one stage felt quite remote, but you always know civilisation is not far away.
For those who wish to avoid the dirt, you can ride from Whitfield to Bright via bitumen coming out around Everton, to then carry on along the rail trail. For details on the trail see the Murray to the Mountains website. If taking the dirt road, stock up with food and water at Whitfield as there is nothing until you reach Myrtleford. Bright is a tourist town with accommodation covering the full range from camping to luxury and many activities to occupy a few rest days.
There is the sensational Bright Brewery in town, and activities such as mountain bike riding, paragliding and walking. Also there is an excellent bike shop in the form of Cyclepath and a cyclist hotel at Café Velo.
Day 5: Bright to Mt Beauty – 31km. Ride time: 2 hrs
This day is a shorter one, and the last of the valley hops that gets you into the Kiewa Valley. It’s a good solid climb up to Tawonga Gap (with some decent pinches) with the views of Victoria’s highest 'hill' – Mount Bogong – at the top, followed by a worthy run down into Mount Beauty.
The road is a local favourite for road bike riders so you’re not often on your own. The climb will have you ascending around 540m. Mount Beauty also has a full range of accommodation options and activities like those at Bright, plus a great bakery, which is a hub in itself. There are options to join this leg with a half of the next day's section and stop at Falls Creek, however in summer accommodation options are harder to find up in the Alpine area (see next section).
Day 6: Mt Beauty to Anglers Rest – 78km. Ride time: 5.5hrs
This is a big day and you'll earn a beer at the Blue Duck Hotel by the end of it. The first 30km to Falls Creek is solid climbing, before you hit rolling undulations for next section across the Bogong High Plains. Once at the Cope Track turn off, it generally goes down hill, but there are still a few little rises that were getting painful by the end of the day.
If doing it all in one hit is too much, you could stay at Alpha Lodge at Falls Creek or camp at Langfords Gap. However, for the latter you need to be fully self sufficient. It’s a great ride though, very pretty and coming down to Anglers Rest along the river is one of the most beautiful roads.
Although the total ascent for the day is 1742m, you literally get to ride across the top of Victoria and the views are amazing. Accommodation options are camping at the Anglers Rest campground or staying at the Blue Duck Hotel, where the pub is excellent for dinner.
There are limited options for breakfast the next day until at Omeo (see next section), and no showers at the campground, but you are right near the river. Be warned, during spring, the river is cold; we are talking snow run-off.
Day 7: Anglers Rest to Dinner Plain – 71km Ride time: 5 hrs
This is another hard day but the last of them, as from here the route leaves the High Country and heads into the low lands. The first 30km to Omeo is beautiful, with its quiet winding road and amazing gradient that would be a pleasure to ride up or down. At Omeo, there is a bakery, and the suggestion is to stock up here before the last big push up to Dinner Plain as there is nothing in between.
The climb to Dinner Plain feels mostly uphill for 43km, but is not as steep as the approach to Mount Hotham from the Harrietville side. It’s another very scenic ride mixing open farmland, lower altitude bush and finally snow gums along the route. If you want to break up the day, Omeo could be a stop before heading up to Dinner Plain. The cumulative ascent for the day is 1643m if you go straight through.
Accommodation in Dinner Plain is mostly short-term holiday houses or some commercial venues, but there is a camp ground at JB Plain just out of Dinner. The pub is normally open all year round and does good meals, but be self-sufficient as supplies can be limited in summer (winter is Dinner’s busiest period). Dinner Plain is developing as a summer venue with activities such as MTB riding, walking and Frisbee golf. See this Dinner Plain Accommodation website for more info and ask for the latest details on what is open during summer.
Over the last three days the route has taken in 3927m of climbing, so if wishing to relax for a day then Dinner Plain is where you can do it. There is also the Onsen Retreat and Spa to take care of those sore legs if you feel so inclined. At this point you’ve hit the half way mark of your journey at 500km.
Day 8: Dinner Plain to Dargo – 91km. Ride time: 5.5hrs
From Dinner Plain, the main road undulates a further 12km before reaching the ski resort of Mt Hotham. Although generally a winter resort, keep your eyes peeled for some facilities like the Mt Hotham General Store (opposite the police station), which remains open all year round.
After about 1.5 hours of riding from Dinner Plain, look for the turn off to Dargo, which is well signposted and soon turns to dirt once leaving the Great Alpine Road. There are still some hills despite being a mainly downhill run, as the Garmin claimed 595m of climbing. However, once again you are cycling across the top of Victoria and the views are well worth it. The road can get muddy in wet weather, but the Dargo High Plains Road is a good dirt road and passable to two-wheel drive cars.
If you’re looking for a High Country cattleman’s experience, then this is where you’ll find it, as Dargo is that kind of town. A herd of cattle were being driven down from the High Country along the main drag on their pre-winter muster before the snow covers the hills. It came complete with cattlemen on horseback, whip cracks and cattle dogs rounding up the herd. You really do feel like you’ve just come out of the hills… have fun dodging the cowpats!
Accommodation options in Dargo are the motel, hotel cabins or camping at the rear of the pub, which has great food and atmosphere, ensuring an enjoyable night out. The pub can do breakfast in the morning as well and the General Store over the road can organise a salad roll for the road.
Day 9: Dargo to Briagalong – 73km. Ride time: 4.5hrs
This was another stand-out day on a mainly dirt road called Freestone Creek Road. There was some climbing on rolling bitumen from Dargo to the turn off which was about 32km south of town along Dargo Rd. Then once onto the dirt, there was a short climb then mostly downhill following the contours of a river. It was a fantastic road and well recommended by the Warm Showers host at Briagalong. There are many camping spots along the river but you would need to be self-sufficient.
The road was so good that I didn’t feel as though I had climbed the 939m Garmin claimed. There were so many magnificent views from along a road that had been cut into the side of the river valley, it was a hidden gem. Accommodation options are limited in Briagalong but there are cabins, a cottage rental and, as mentioned, camping not far away or join warmshowers.org. If all else fails the town of Stratford – where the next rail trail starts – is just 15km away.
Day 10: Briagalong to Traralgon – 78km. Ride time: 4hrs
After the big climbs of the last few days, today is a breeze with much of the route following the Gippsland Plains Rail Trail starting at Maffra, where lunch supplies can be picked up on the way through.
It’s a nice ride on a good gravel trail and great pies worth stopping for at Glengary. Accommodation options range from motel to camping with good supplies in town.
Day 11: Traralgon to Meeniyan – 81km. Ride time: 4.5hrs
From Traralgon head via Churchill to Boolarra, where the Grand Ridge Rail Trail begins. The road to Boolarra is on single lane, country road and if you avoid the ‘going to work’ traffic time it is generally quiet with some shoulder on offer.
Once on the rail trail it was again very scenic, and an easy grade, culminating with the Grand Ridge Road Brewery in Mirboo North (a good excuse for a beer). Note though; if you want to eat there, don't arrive until midweek as the restaurant is closed until then. There are bakery and café options in town, however.
On leaving Mirboo North and heading to Meeniyan, shortly after leaving town, I took a right-hander at Findlay Rd (Old Mardan Road), which contours down into the creek and up the other side. It was a punt and ended up being a really nice road, which avoided some pointless up and downs. I followed country lanes through farmland, to the hamlet of Mardan, before heading out on Dumbalk Rd, which again was a really nice detour off the main road. Then just before getting into Meeniyan, the Dumbalk Road crosses the Great Southern Rail Trail to town.
Accommodation options at Meeniyan range from motel to boutique accommodation, plus there is a public reserve but no formal camp ground. Meals are good at the pub (which astoundingly enough had a 1000g steak! – who can eat that much meat?); and if you’re toward the latter end of the week, a good restaurant at Moos. The next morning you can get breakfast at the café in town if in needed.
Day 12: Meeniyan to Cowes – 90km. Ride time: 4.5hrs
The route from Meeniyan to Koonwarra can be ridden on the Great Southern Rail Trail however check for the level of construction, as it appears to be a work in progress. Head towards the Bass Highway along the Koonwarra-Inverloch road; once at the T-junction, head north and then take Wares Road west and wind along the back roads to Wonthaggi. These were dirt roads, very quiet and all good riding. Once at Wonthaggi (good lunch options) jump on the Bass Coast Rail Trail to Anderson which is a really nice ride along rugged coastal beaches. It's a a dirt track but with a good surface.
Once at Anderson the road to Cowes on Phillip Island has a good shoulder along Phillip Is Rd. Alternatively, there is bike track if you don't like the look of the road.
There is the Rusty Water Brewery along way, 6km from Cowes, which has great beer for the end of a big day. Cowes has numerous accommodation options and there are a number of camping grounds on the island.
Day 13: Cowes to Mornington – 31km. Ride time: 1.5hrs
Taking the ferry from Cowes Jetty to Stony Point is easy, it leaves three times a day, takes 45 minutes and goes via French Island, which itself would be a good side trip if you had some more time as it is a national park and has no motor vehicles. The roads from Stony Point to Hastings are quiet to Hastings, from just south of Hastings there is the Western Port Bay Trail bike track to Tyabb. The roads from Tyabb to Mornington have no shoulder and can be higher speed and busy, therefore in hindsight a better route may be turning off at Graydens Road taking more minor roads to Mornington. Mornington can be a stopover with full accommodation options, or if carrying on toward the Great Ocean Road (see Adelaide Oval to the MCG route), Sorrento may be the end destination, or just keep punching on to St Kilda.
From Mornington, it is the classic Beach Road run back to St Kilda, basically heading north along the bay first on Nepean Highway, which has a good shoulder most of the way, then on Beach Road once at Mordialloc. Alternatively, you may prefer to get off the road and ride along the shared path which runs the same way. Beach Road is Melbourne's most iconic road bike route and at weekends you will be riding with thousands of other cyclists, although you'll likely be the only one carrying gear.
Have you cycled this route? Let us know what you think.