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Mountain Madness: bicycle touring the high roads

Alia Parker's picture
Bicycle touring Elliot Way, Kosciuszko National Park. Cycle Traveller.

It's still morning but the summer sun already feels like it's burning as we put our bikes back together on a patch of grass at Albury airport. We've just flown in from Sydney and are about to start cycling back in that direction. We're heading to Goulburn NSW, about 485km northeast, cutting up through the mountains of Kosciuszko and Namadgi National Parks. It's going to be challenging; there'll be days without anywhere to pick up supplies or potable water and there'll be a lot of climbing – close to 7,000m of vertical gain. That sounds absurd given Australia's tallest mountain Mount Kosciuszko is only 2,228m high, but this route will take us up and down and up, up, up and down and up and down again before it's over. We're not planning to ride over Mount Kosciuszko itself, but we'll be in the vicinity. With the bikes now back in one piece, we ride into town along the main road to grab some supplies.

The ride: Albury to Goulburn NSW

Route: Albury to Goulburn NSW via Victoria and ACT
Distance: 485km
Difficulty: Very hard
Days: 8 + rest day
Cumulative elevation gain: 6,960m
Path: Mostly road, part dirt
 
 

Day 1: Albury to Lawson State Park. 68km

Stocked up and ready to roll, we head out of town on the Riverina Highway. We've picked up some butane for our cooker from the local fishing and camping store and enough food to last until we reach Jingellic at lunch tomorrow. There'll be no services in between. Cyclists regularly use this route and it's a nice ride, however, we've happened to hit it on Boxing Day and every man and his boat is on this road. Still, it's not too much of an issue. We stop for lunch at a park next to the bridge that crosses the Murray River. There's a water tap next the the BBQs, so will fill up. There'll be no more drinking water available until we reach a well-placed pub in Jingellic for lunch on Day 2. While we generally pull water from creeks, rivers and lakes, we'd prefer to avoid drinking from the Murray where possible, so we fill our water sacks to the brim. The ride along the Murray is hot and undulating, a little more undulating than we expected for a river ride, but it is enjoyable. We stay on the paved road to the south of the river on Talgarno Rd, but cyclists have the option to cross at a ferry opposite Mount Granya State Park and ride along River Rd instead. It's a quieter dirt road that will bring you to the same pub on Day 2. It's also a little shorter. However, there are no official campsites that we know of along River Rd. The heat and the undulations have worn us out by the time we hit our campsite at Lawson State Park. We realise this site is on the southern side of the road and not along the Murray, which is a shame because we could really do with a splash to cool off, but we have the place to ourselves, which is nice given the time of year. The next morning we pass a picnic area on the river a short ride up the road and all the holiday makers have camped here.

Day 2: Lawson State Park to Tumbarumba. 80km

Bicycle touring the Murray River Road, Victoria. Cycle TravellerI'm surprised by how high the Murray River is and a farmer we meet fixing his fence says this section is about 80% full. The last time I saw it during the drought it would have only been about 40%, so it is a lovely sight to see the river looking so swollen. The farmer also warns us about wild dogs and snakes, with both out and causing problems. Wild dogs are for the most part shy animals that shouldn't approach you, but best not to leave any food lying about at your campsite to attract them. As for snakes, there are deadly Red Belly Blacks and King Browns in the area. They shouldn't be a problem as long as you look ahead of you and be careful when walking in long grass. You'll likely need to walk into long grass at some point on this trip, so stomping about and searching the grass in front of you with a long stick will help you avoid stepping on a snake. Further up the road we bump into Gunner from Sweden who's been cycling through Australia for about a month, including Thunderbolts Way which we rode last year. He's devastated to learn the temperatures in Victoria won't necessarily be any cooler than in NSW, but he seems to be surviving quite alright and decides to take a quick dip in the Murray before riding on. At about 35km we reach Jingellic, which really just consists of a general store and a pub. We turn left on Jingellic Rd at the main intersection and head towards the general store, hooking right just before it to follow the sign to the "hotel". Around a few bends and we emerge at a little oasis of campers and motorcyclist watering themselves with beer on tap at the Bridge Hotel by the river. We stop for a long lunch. Can't say I was impressed with the processed chicken burger, but meals on other tables looked better. Nevertheless, the chance to rehydrate and fill our bellies was very pleasant and prepared us for the afternoon ride into Tumbarumba, so we farewell the Murray River and head north into the mountains. We're at about 250m and we need to climb to over 600m this afternoon, our first real climbing of the trip and a challenging one too, especially in the heat. We've done a good day's work by the time we reach Tumba, a pleasant country town and a good place for us to stock up before heading into Kosciuszko. We camp at the Tumbarumba Creek Caravan Park.

Day 3: Tumbarumba to Kosciuszko NP. 55km

There's nothing better than starting a long day's ride with a big breakfast and 4 Bear's Cafe on The Parade does the trick. It has just about everything on the menu. We'll be camping rough tonight and will once again need to take two-day's worth of food (minus tomorrow's dinner, which we'll grab when we reach Adaminaby). The next three days of riding are going to be the hardest of the trip and carrying a back-up meal isn't a bad idea in case you decide to stop and camp along the way. We stock up at IGA and, having discovered that our Steripen has died on us, we pop into the pharmacy to buy some Aquatabs. The water in the mountains is clear, but it has giardia and needs to be treated. Aquatabs will do the trick. Today's ride is a quiet one traffic wise, but we're really heading up into the mountains now and the climb will be longer than the introduction we had yesterday afternoon. We head out of town and turn left onto Elliot Way. Locals will stare at you in disbelief when you mention you're about to cycle this road, and with good reason. Today is a good preparation for what lies ahead. We grind our way higher from about 600m up to 1,250m before hitting a spectacular downhill shortly after entering Kosciuszko National Park, falling back to about 550m in the space of 8km. The downhill is glorious and overlooks the Talbingo Reservoir. However, take it easy because the road is narrow, riddled with blind corners and steep, with an average grade of close to 8%, reaching 15% in parts. A campground sits at the bottom of the hill on the edge of the river. We're eager to make up some ground ahead of tomorrow, so we camp about 7km further up the road at the fourth river crossing (you'll cross the river five times before you leave it). There are no facilities here, just a nice patch of grass. You'll see a dirt road lead-off to the left just after the fifth bridge and this will bring you into a nice private area. A rough trail leads from the end of the cul de sac down to the water where a small pool makes a nice place to freshen up. There is also some flat ground near the fifth river crossing could make a good place to pitch a tent. Be warned the entire area along the river is part of the Snowy River Hydro and water levels can rise rapidly without warning, so don't camp at water level. 

Day 4: Kosciuszko NP to Adaminaby. 64km

Cycle touring on the Link Road Kosciuszko National Park. Cycle TravellerThis is the killer day. Fit people will find the first few kilometres a torturous challenge, those whose fitness is a little sub par will find it masochistic. We begin to climb higher almost immediately. We're at 600m and need to get to 1,510m, with an extra 200m of climbing thrown in to make up for rare downhills. The road climbing up Elliot Way is steep, with an average slope of 8% (see the image at the top of this page). But the road gets as steep as 20% in small sections, and with our gear, we find we need to hop off and walk sections. It takes us three hours to go about 12km, a record slow for us, but mentally, we're feeling good. If you go into the climb with the expectation that it's going to be slow going, you'll be right. The main problem of the day are the horse flies. These horrible creatures are vampires. We slather on insect repellant, which lasts about 15 minutes until it's sweated off. These flies are only found at altitude and harass us for most of the day, even biting me through my shoe at one point! Take a strong insect repellant. It won't stop them flying around you, but it will stop them biting, at least temporarily. The climb is exhausting, but the view is marvelous. We reach the summit and pause for lunch. A little further up the road we pause again to fill up our water bottles at Three Mile Dam (water needs to be treated). The dam doubles as a sweet little campground and if you're completely exhausted from the morning's climb and have enough food, it would make a pleasant place to stay the night. We push on through some open alpine valleys, climbing out of each one. The scenery has changed once again and offers a nice reward for the hard slug of the morning. We roll into Adaminaby in the glow of the afternoon sun. We take a cabin at the local caravan park and make it home for the next two days as we take a well deserved break. Adaminaby is small. If you plan to eat dinner here, make sure you're in before 8pm, which is when the bistro at the local pub closes. The grocery store closes early afternoon.

Day 5: Rest day

There really isn't too much to do in Adaminaby – we can't even pick up a phone or data signal here, which is probably a good thing because then we end up working. We enjoy walking around the local streets, relaxing, chatting to the friendly locals and cooking up a feast in our cabin. There's the Big Trout, a small museum and a swimming pool. The opportunity to give our smelly clothes a good wash is a treat. Here we also meet Phil, who has cycled down from Uralla. It's great to be bumping into a few bicycle tourists on this route.

Day 6: Adaminaby to Orroral Campground. 65km

Bicycle touring on Boboyan Road, Namadgi National Park, ACT. Cycle TravellerWe're all stocked up for another night of camping without any amenities, with the next service stop not until we reach the tiny town of Tharwa tomorrow. We may have conquered the hardest part of this ride, but what lies ahead today is only slightly easier. I did call this route Mountain Madness after all. We glide out of Adaminaby and cross the Murrumbidgee River. So far, all's quite pleasant. Soon the road turns to dirt. The first section of dirt has me a little concerned; it's heavily corrugated and rocky. However, it soon improves. I won't pretend that it's the best dirt road about, but it's doable and we ride it with 1.75 inch slicks without incident. We have about 40km on dirt today as we follow the Boboyan Rd through Namadgi. This is quite an historic area and as we enter Namadgi National Park we pause for lunch under the shade of a tree by Brayshaw's Hut, an old settler's homestead. We have a lot of climbing to do this afternoon, with the road taking us back up to 1,400m. The scenery in Namadgi is much drier and scrubbier than the lush bush of Kosciuszko, but it's lovely all the same. Just about when we feel we can't climb any further, the road comes around a bend and then hits its peak. The next downhill run is steep and bumpy, so take it easy. Before we exit the dirt we pass a lookout with a glorious vista over the neighbouring mountains – a nice reward for the day's hard work. We return to paved road and soon cross a river, giving us a chance to fill up our water bottles. The ride to our campground is undulating. This road takes us out of Namadgi National Park and then back into it. Just before we exit the park, we pass a nice picnic area by a creek which could make a good place to pull up if you can't make it any further. We push on to the official campground which is about 3km off Boboyan Rd on the turnoff to Orroral. We're tired and the 3km seems like an eternity, but we get there. It's New Year's Eve and there's a jolly bunch gathered, but the campground is not crowded. There is untreated rainwater available here, or water from the river.

Day 7: Orroral to Bungendore. 75km

We start the day with a good chat to Paddy from Alice, who has been cycling through Namadgi. He came up the Old Boboyan Rd. You'll notice this on the Namadgi map. This road runs through the valley and avoids the climb over the pass. We had been tempted to take this road, however, the turnoff was very narrow and rocky and we decided not to ride it without knobby tires. Paddy, who wasn't sporting a pair of knobby tires either, says that rough stretch is short and the road soon improves, but you'll be riding in a tire track most of the way. It does look like quite a nice alternative, but you'll miss the lookout by taking the valley. You'll also need to ford some creeks which are too deep to ride through, so be prepared to get all the gear off your bike more than once. After heavy rains or snow melt, crossing these creeks may not be possible. Today's ride is relatively easy compared with what we've just been through. We take a pit stop at the Namadgi Visitor's Centre and then head to southern Canberra via Tharwa. A bike path starts up as we enter the suburbs. It's getting hot, close to 40 degrees, and we stop at a local mall for lunch and a cold drink. You could easily end your trip in Canberra, with a good bike trail taking you into town. We're heading to Goulburn because it is easier to take your bike on a CityRail train (you don't need to box them like on the CountryLink trains in Canberra). We run through Queenbeyan and climb over a small range – that's right, more climbing! There is a good shoulder on the Kings Highway going up over the range and the grade isn't too bad. For the most part, the shoulder along the Kings Highway is good, although small sections get narrow and gravelly and it has almost disappeared by the time we reach Bungendore. Take care because the traffic travels quickly on this road. We reach the small town of Bungendore where we have quite a few accommodation options. We choose to stay at the Royal Hotel on Gibraltar St because the publican there is a friendly cyclist who sets us up in the larger room that fits our bikes. It's basic at only $60, but it's clean and the locals at the bar are good value.

Day 8: Bungendore to Goulburn. 80km

Cycle touring on the road to Goulburn NSW. Cycle TravellerIt's our last day and we're in a good mood having eaten a lovely breakfast at a cafe midway down Ellendon St. We head towards Goulburn on Tarago Rd and make it to Tarago without incident, however sections of the road have no shoulder and blind corners with cars travelling along at 100km an hour, so it's perhaps safer to ride the slightly longer route that sticks to the Kings Highway and then turns left onto Braidwood Rd. We pause in Tarago for lunch in a local park and then finish up the ride to Goulburn, which takes you through open farmland. It's an 80km ride if you stay on the Kings Highway, but it's quick going with no mountains to slow you down. We get into Goulburn with a few hours to spare before our train leaves, so we enjoy dinner and dessert at the Paragon Cafe, a Goulburn institution that a hungry cyclist should definitely drop into if you have time. It's a nice way to end the trip.

Review

I caution anyone considering riding this route that it is physically demanding. This is not a ride for beginners. You'll need to be mentally prepared to take on the climbs and realistic about how long it will take you to get up over them. Luckily, most climbs are followed by some downhill, so once they're over and done with you can make up some quick kilometres. It's also important to note that much of this route is remote and away from services, food and tap water, so you'll need to ensure you're adequately prepared. You may also choose to tackle this route by riding shorter days and there are alternative campsites along the way. This will mean you're away from services for longer stretches, so be prepared to carry more food and source your water.

It was a hard slog, but overall, the changing landscapes were beautiful and we had a good sense of achievement at the end of each day, so the ride left us feeling fitter and satisfied. We also enjoyed the towns along the way. So, if you're experienced in bicycle touring, camping and hill climbing and you actually enjoy overcoming a little torture, then you'll take something away from this ride. If you're not used to long days cycling with a packed bike, then this isn't the ride to start on. We'll aim to put up a good route for beginners next time.

Ride this route in summer, late spring or early Autumn. While parts of the route at the lower elevations can get hot in summer, the route at the higher elevations will be snowed under in winter and the shoulder season. As much of this route passes through bush, check for bushfire alerts and abide by fire bans.

Images from top: Elliot Way, Kosciuszko National Park, NSW; Link Road, Kosciuszko National Park; Murray River Road, Victoria; Boboyan Road, Namadgi National Park, ACT; Braidwood Road on the way to Goulburn NSW. All images copyright of Cycle Traveller.

 

Comments

cyclenewbie's picture

Sounds like a fantastic trip but perhaps not for a cycling newbie like me. Definitely one to add to the bucket list for the future!

Yes those are some solid climbs, but if they look a bit scary it might be worth thinking about doing it reverse. Not only do you have 450m less climbing, but the biggest climb is only about two thirds of the length.

Thanks for an informative article. Am interested in doing the trip in reverse, starting from Canberra, end Albury. In the next few weeks. Are there maps you'd recommend?
Regards,

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