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Canberra to Melbourne via Snowy River touring route

Graham Smith's picture
Cycle touring Buchan to Orbost, Victoria, Australia on the Canberra to Melbourne route. Cycle Traveller

This scenic backroad route runs between Lake Burley Griffin, Canberra and Alfred Lake, Melbourne via the entire length of the Snowy River while also making the best use of the available rail trails in Victoria. The Lake-to-Lake ride will be a similar distance to rides from London to Zurich; from Portland to Sacramento; from Bangkok to Saigon; from Manhattan to Quebec City or from Edinburgh to Plymouth. This ride crosses two state borders: the ACT-NSW border and the NSW-Victoria border, and passes through two large, distinctive geographic regions of south east Australia known as The Snowy-Monaro and Gippsland. There are several roads from the Snowy-Monaro to Gippsland. The Barry Way is probably the least travelled route by anything with wheels, and it is the Barry Way which this cycle tour will follow from the Snowy-Monaro to Gippsland. I'll be riding my Thorn Sherpa touring bike on the route, which will use both sealed and unsealed roads.

Route: Canberra to Melbourne via Snowy River
Distance: 1,058 km
Days: 15
Difficulty: Easy-Medium, with some Hard sections
Seasonal: Snow and road closures in Winter, early Spring
Map: View full-page map here

Day 1: Easy day. Canberra to Captains Flat

Distance: 65km | Difficulty: Easy

Our ride starts with perfect weather for a fairly easy roll to Captains Flat. A gentle start to the tour to get used to our bikes and a touring pace. The early spring countryside looking great. We arrive at Captains Flat early in the afternoon for a generous afternoon tea at a one of a kind cafe before checking into the pub for an early dinner.

Accommodation: Stayed at Captains Flat Hotel

Day 2: Peak Views: Captains Flat to Numeralla

Distance: 82km | Difficulty: Hard

A second day of superb, spring weather with very little traffic. Most of the day is on unsealed road surfaces varying from good, smooth clay to teeth-rattling rough dirt with protruding rocks. The climbing begins immediately on leaving Captains Flat toward Jerangle. Any route with a 'Peak View Road' gives the hint it will be hilly and it is. Great views to the Tinderry Range and in all directions including across to Tallaganda National Park. There is good stream-side rest spots along the way which could be used as camping spots. Compared with the first, easy day this second day is hard cycling due to the rolling hills including some very steep climbs. Will's GPS tracker records a total vertical climb of about 2,100 metres. With fully loaded bikes and on only day two of the ride, this is a tough day.

The day finishes with a fast descent on sealed road to the hamlet of Numeralla, where we camp at a free, designated reserve on the Badja River. It's very quiet with a fast running stream, a fireplace, tables and toilets. It also turns out to be a spot to test our cold weather gear as the overnight temperature drops to -6 degrees C, freezing out water bottles. For anybody thinking of this route, note there are no shops or services at Numeralla, which is about 20km from the large town of Cooma.

Accommodation: Lovely unofficial camp spot on the Badja River. Bit chilly.

Day 3: The Big Chill: Numeralla to Dalgety

Distance: 80km | Difficulty: Medium

We awake to a very frosty, beautiful clear morning. Subzero temperatures make it hard to get fingers and stiff limbs moving and our water has frozen. But it doesn't take long to warm up as we head toward Cooma. Within two hours of more undulating riding, this time on good sealed road, we reach the sizeable town of Cooma. Here we rest for about 90mins, eat at a cafe, stock up on food and check with the Visitor Centre about the Barry Way route ahead. They say it has re-opened four days ago to all traffic. They also show me a 3D topographical relief model of the Snowy-Monaro region, revealing some serious hills. 

Numeralla. Cycle Touring Canberra to Melbourne via Barry Way. Cycle TravellerWe depart Cooma on a backroad, (the Maffra Road) toward Dalgety. Although not as hard a ride as yesterday, it is still fairly demanding due to hills. The road surface is excellent all the way to Dalgety and there are some grand views throughout the ride, especially of the Monaro high plains and of the snow covered main range. There's very little traffic for most of the day. The ride ends with a long, downhill roll to the small township of Dalgety on the Snowy River. We book into the one pub in town the warmth, shower, and evening meal are welcome after two hard days of cycling.

Accommodation:  Dalgety Buckleys Crossing Pub

Day 4: The Big Roll: Dalgety to Jacobs River Campground

Distance: 81km | Difficulty: Hard

A very interesting day's riding ranging from elevations of 1,297m to 259m with lots of undulations in between. There are a lot of climbs including a memorable one not far from Dalgety over the Beloka Range. A rise of 300m in 3km had us all walking. Grand views of the snow covered main range and Monaro high plains earlier in the day, and later from high stops such as Wallace Craigie lookout. Once again, very few vehicles pass, although there is some local traffic in the vicinity of Jindabyne that quickly disappears as we head further along the remote Barry Way. Day's end sees us roll carefully from the heights near Ingebyra locale on the loose surfaced Barry Way down to Jacobs River, where we find a superb camping area. Fantastic views at every turn throughout the day.

Accommodation: Camp spot by Jacobs River

Day 5: Glorious touring: Jacobs River to Suggan Buggan

View of the Snowy River on the Barry Way bicycle touring route from Canberra to Melbourne. Cycle TravellerDistance: 41km | Difficulty: Hard

It's our fifth day running of perfect spring weather. We're so lucky to have such clear days, especially for today which sees us riding through some very special country. The Snowy River valley is 'landscape' on a grand scale and the ride today follows the river which is flowing strongly. The views are wonderful all the way and the clear, clean air gives perfect line of sight to the far horizons in this remote, unpopulated region. We set out to make it an easy day and by distance measure, a relatively short one. A mid-morning departure gives time to dry dew sodden tents and do some bike checks and maintenance. The first half of the day is relatively easy cycling – superb cycling really. The second part though is mostly uphill with a climb back up to over 600m, including a few hard undulations. We cross the state border mid-morning and are well into Victoria by day's end, well ready for a rest.

Suggan Buggan camping area is beautifully located on a river crossing and near a few dwellings, including an 1800's timber school house. Wildlife spottings on today's ride include a metre long, glossy, very healthy looking Eastern Brown snake which slithered across the road a few metres ahead of my bike. Will and John surprised feral deer crossing the road. There were a lot of birds including a wedge-tail eagle, a heron, gang-gang cockatoos, crimson rosellas, superb blue wrens and tree creepers.

Accommodation: Suggan Buggan campsite

Day 6: Out of the Wilderness: Suggan Buggan to Buchan

Distance:  82km | Difficulty: Hard

Our luck stretches to a sixth day of clear weather, though a change seems to be on the way with high cloud and warm air blowing down the valley. Our tents are surprisingly dew-free and we are able to pack up camp from the very pleasant Suggan Buggan site early. We're anticipating a hard climbing start to the day, but are pleasantly surprised the climb is rideable in low gear even though it is most definitely up and up for a long way. The road surface is newly graded and the gradient, though steep, is manageable. After about 15km we reach about 960m from a start of 390m at the Suggan Buggan camp. The views across forested mountains and deep valleys are, again, brilliant at every turn. There's almost no traffic for most of the day, with the first two passer-bys even stopping to have a chat. Later in the day, near Buchan, there is some minor local traffic.

Seldom Seen, bicycle touring Barry Way and the Snowy River. Cycle TravellerHamilton Gap is the road's high point and marks a noticeable change in geography from rugged, mountainous bush to a some rural holdings. From there we head to a roadhouse called Seldom Seen hopeful of getting some supplies. It's closed and appears derelict. We later learn its long-time and highly respected owner Dave Woodburn, who had helped our many touring cyclists and hikers, had sadly passed away earlier in the year. About 16km on there is a small service centre with a tiny store where we take a short rest before pushing on to Buchan. Though the overall elevation fall from Hamilton Gap to Buchan is some 600m, it is an undulating and physically testing ride. Buchan's a welcome sight. We stay at a well appointed back-packers called the Buchan Lodge – a great place at a very reasonable price. Buchan is a very pleasant small town.

Accommodation:  Buchan Lodge Backpackers

Day 7: Wild Winds and Falling Trees: Buchan to Orbost

Distance:  60km | Distance: Hard

We awake to wild weather but it's not wet enough to call a rest day and we set off from the Buchan Lodge toward Orbost with a very strong, almost gale-force tail wind. As we climb, the wind becomes even stronger and is scarily powerful on the ridges. In the distance we see a farm shed blow apart in a shower of dust and corrugated iron sheets. At times the buffeting makes it necessary to lean the bike sideways into the wind to prevent being blown over. This is a 120kg-plus load of rider and bike being pushed around easily by blasts of wind. We are careful to move clear of tree stands. My helmet prevents a hard blow by a flying branch causing any damage. Tree damage in the roadside forests is significant and the road has numerous branches and several big trees blown across it. Crews are out clearing the road but it is closed to cars most of the day.

Despite the wind, it's a wonderful ride. The views are, again, grand; distant mountain ranges, brilliant green pastures, massive eucalyptus trees, wild flowers, fern gullies and quaint farms. There is a lot of variety on this short piece of road. Here we meet up again with the Snowy River – much wider, much browner and only a few kilometres from meeting the sea. It's hard to believe this is our seventh straight day of riding. The hardest sections of the ride are behind us with less need to be careful about carrying enough food and water. We are also now back into an area with mobile phone reception. We roll into Orbost and book into one of the pubs. It's a bit run down, but suffices. It has only taken two days to cycle down the state of Victoria on the Snowy River Road. Tomorrow we will try out the rail trail which runs from Orbost to Bairnsdale – The East Gippsland Rail Trail.

Accommodation:  Orbost Commonwealth Hotel

Day 8: Rail Trail Trials: Orbost to Bruthen

Distance: 70km | Difficulty: Easy

Bicycle touring the East Gippsland Rail Trail. Canberra to Melboure. Cycle TravellerOur first experience of the East Gippsland Rail Trail has been a mixed one. The variety of views has been great, the gradient exceedingly easy compared with where we'd just been and the complete lack of traffic has been superb. The wind protection has also been very welcome. However, the track surface has been varying from rough, loose, stony, slippery gravel to soft, boggy clay aggregate. Fallen trees and branches are abundant. We've had to dismount twenty or so times to handle the bikes around major obstacles. For a dedicated trail, it has been slow, slow going. We stop at Nowa Nowa's Mingling Waters cafe is great, which has excellent food and is very welcoming to cyclists. The day's ride ends at Bruthen, a lovely small town. It has a fairly new microbrewery where we have an evening meal. The Bruthen Hotel has great accommodation.

Accommodation:  Bruthen Pub

...Click here to continue reading Days 9-15

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Images from top: 1. Cycling between Buchan and Orbost. 2. Map. 3. Numeralla. 4. View of the Snowy River from the trail. 5. Graham at Seldom Seen. 6. Riding on a rough patch of the East Gippsland Rail Trail.

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