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Route: Cycling Sydney to Melbourne via Jindabyne

Chris Hurst's picture
Cycling up to Jambaroo, NSW. Cycle Traveller touring route

This rewarding 15-day, 1,200km bicycle touring route is a great option for travelling between Sydney and Melbourne. It combines the glorious coastline of the Illawarra, the National capital, golden countryside and the spectacular alpine views of the Snowy Mountains and the Victorian Highlands. The route is predominantly on paved road, with a rough section on dirt south of Canberra. Heading up over the mountains, this route includes a number of challenging climbs.

Day 1 - Sydney to Wollongong via Cronulla (96km)

The Sydney to "the Gong" ride will be familiar to just about every regular cyclist in Sydney. Whether as part of the annual charity event or as a weekend day trip. It's a beautiful ride past Sydney's southern foreshore, the Royal National Park and northern coastal suburbs of Wollongong – a blue collar steel and mining town. Natalie and I have both ridden it countless times and it was a nice familiar start to our tour.

Rather than take the most common route via the Princess Highway, we rode from Redfern to Cronulla and crammed our loaded bikes on to a packed holiday-season ferry to Bundeena and road the full length of the Royal National Park.

We had near perfect conditions with fine sunny weather in the mid-20's and a nice tail breeze the whole way.

Tomorrow we head inland and climb up over the coastal ranges to the Southern Highlands.

Day 2: Wollongong to Bundanoon (100km)

A tough second day – the climb up to the Southern Highlands via Jambaroo Pass surprised us both.

The steep road winds up through a dense humid rainforest and sweat literally poured off us as we ground our way to the top in our granny gears. The grades were brutal at times and we both felt our lack of recent training. I was reminded of the old saying, “you either train for the tour or the tour trains you”. Well, today the tour gave us a lesson.

Complaints aside, this is a beautiful part of the world. So far the scenery, riding terrain and experience generally has exceeded our expectations.

There's a stereotypical image of Australia as a largely arid and flat continent. While this is the case for much of the Red Centre, this trip is a reminder that there are vast sections of this country which are lush, green and hilly.

Day 3: Bundanoon to Goulburn (84km)

As we made our way further inland towards Goulburn, the terrain flattened out and the lush green of the last two days was replaced by dryer sheep and cattle grazing land. We rode almost exclusively through quiet back country roads, with only a short 2km stint on the generously shouldered Hume Highway.

Despite the predictions of dire gale force headwinds, we had a nice tail wind for most of the route. Contrary to popular belief, the trip between Sydney and Melbourne is more east-to-west than north-to-south and we've been lucky to have strong easterlies thus far.

It seems the further you get away from large towns and cities the friendlier people get. The owners of the small slightly quirky general stores in Wingello and Tallong were both very chatty and keen to hear about our travels.

Tomorrow we roll into Canberra.

Day 4: Goulburn to Canberra (105km)

Cycling towards Canberra. Cycle Traveller routeToday was a ride in two halves.

The first through a picturesque golden rural landscape, aided by a pleasant tail wind and generous shoulders. Lunch in a newly opened cafe in a tiny town where the proud owner was keen to show off her scones – claimed by some to be the best in Australia.

The second half was a punishing slog into a very strong head wind through dry scrubby bushland, heat, flies and rough road surfaces.

The final hours on the road took their toll on Natalie – she's feeling pretty exhausted and sore, so we've decided to take a rest day tomorrow. We'll sleep in and take in some of Canberra's famous galleries and museums.

Day 5: Rest day

Day 6: Canberra to Adaminaby (109km)

On Monday we passed an English and American touring couple in Bungendore, heading from Melbourne to Sydney following a similar route to us. They said the Monaro Highway between Canberra and Cooma was a death trap with heavy traffic and no shoulders in parts. They had been so spooked they'd hitched a ride in a van after 10-20kms.

After doing some more research and getting some mixed messages from Canberra bike shop owners and blogs, we decided to err on the safe side and took a parallel back road route through the mountains and the Namadgi National Park, via the Naas and Baboyan Roads.

While the route was quiet with only the odd passing fly fisherman, the hills were numerous and very steep. Old back roads like these tend to just go up and over hills rather than around them.

There was also a jarring 40kms section of unsealed dirt road – much of it in quite poor condition. A big test for both of us and our road touring bikes.

On the positive side, the scenery was great in parts and we saw loads of wild life – kangaroos, wallabies, galahs, rosellas and an absolutely massive wedge tailed eagle (an eagle species second in size only to the Russian Stellar Sea Eagle). It was so big, at one point, as it circled above us, I thought it might be sizing up whether it could scoop up Natalie!

Cycling near Kosciuszko. Cycle Traveller

Day 7: Adaminaby to Jindabyne (89km)

From the fly fishing hub of Adaminaby there are only two ways over the Snowy Mountains into Victoria:

  1. Northwest via the isolated Goat Ridge Road and past the small government owned and run hydroelectric town of Cabramurra – Australia's highest town, or
  2. Southwest via the ski resort towns of Jindabyne and Thredbo.

We'd initially been set on taking the more adventurous northwest route, but only made it 2kms out of town before we decided to turn back and take the more civilised southwest route due to powerful 40-60km/hour headwinds.

It turned out to be a great option though – one of the nicer rides of the trip so far – through beautiful Australian sub-alpine rural scenery. With the high wind, the air was crystal clear with stunning cloud formations.

Day 8: Jindabyne to Kosciuszko NP (50km)

A great ride up past Thredbo, Dead Horse Gap (pass) and into the heart of the Kosciusko National Park. We'd planned to make it to the small town of Khancoban, a further 60km, but decided instead to stop at a beautiful camp site next to a river in densely forested valley.

Alpine region of Australia. Cycle Traveller bicycle touringThe downhill from Dead Horse Gap was a trip highlight. Views over vast forested mountain valleys, towering trees and lush green rainforest ferns. There was also loads of birdlife; on many corners on the descent, five to 10 rosellas would be startled by our passing and fly up into the forest canopy. These bursts of bright colour almost looked liked fireworks going off.

Our pace has been pretty leisurely over the last couple of days, late breakfasts, long lunches and stopping every 5km to take photos and soak up the scenery. We are starting to get a little behind schedule and will need to pick our average mileage up over the next few days. Got to be back at work in a few days.

Day 9: Kosciuszko NP to Corryong (87km)

Today we climbed up and out of the Great Dividing Range, crossed the Murray River and arrived in Victoria. While the total elevation gains on the climbs don't sound impressive against the European Alps or Rockies (we ascended about 1,200m today), the grades are pretty tough and make for a challenging day out on a loaded touring bike. We were both quite relieved to put the Snowy Mountains behind us.

We passed three tourers today: a young guy from Hong Kong who was on his way to Sydney from Adelaide, and a German father and his teenage daughter riding the reverse of our route from Melbourne to Sydney.

Its surprised me how few tourers we've passed on this trip. In the US I'd pass at least a handful a day and sometimes many more on the more popular sections of the Adventure Cycling Association's routes.

Day 10: Corryong to Granya (107km)

Winds of up to 70kph near Granya on the Murray River. Cycle Traveller touring routeA really tough day grinding our way down the Murray River Valley into punishing 40-60km westerly headwinds.

We slept in again and didn't get started until nearly 10am after a full breakfast at a nice cafe in town – a big mistake. By the time we hit the road the winds were already in full flight. It was a heavy and energy sapping experience, kind of like riding with a tracker tyre or two tied to the back of the bike. I did the honourable thing and was the "domestique" for the day, taking the wind up front while Natalie road huddled just behind me.

The scenery was generally quite nice, with rolling hills, farms and the Murray River slowly winding its way through the valley, but we didn't really savour it much. We had some respite when we stopped at the lovely small town of Walwa for lunch. I tossed up the idea of calling it a day there and then, and finishing the afternoon at the local pub, but we pressed on until Granya about 40kms out of Albury, which was our original intended destination.

Unfortunately it's a similar forecast for tomorrow.

Day 11: Granya to Beechworth (89km)

Another day of body and mind sapping headwinds of 30 to 50kms with 60km gusts. We got up early and were on the road by 6.30am, however the wind was in full flight again by 7am.

I've spoken to tourers who are philosophical about strong head winds. With a Buddhist's temperament, they just accept it as part of the experience, taking the good days with the bad and remaining good humoured regardless. Unfortunately, I'm not one of those riders. My head game starts to falter. Days of strong headwinds wear me down, slowly taking the joy out of riding. It becomes more like a forced death march than a summer holiday.

We pulled up stumps at the lovely historic town of Beechworth around 2pm and slowly put the pieces back together with multiple chocolate milkshakes and a few hours watching TV in our motel.

Day 12: Beechworth to Benalla (93km)

We started the day with an early morning breakfast at the Beechworth Bakery, a local landmark and claimant to the title of best bakery in Australia. The place was buzzing at 6.30am with local tradies and farm workers.

The ride between Beechworth and Wangarratta was on the great Murray to the Mountains Rail Trail for about 45km and was almost totally downhill. We were both surprised at how cold the morning was – we both had to wear multiple layers and a windcheater to stay warm – not what you'd expect from Australia in the middle of summer.

As the southerly headwind started to build again mid-morning, we made a call to take the Hume Hwy from Wangarratta to Benalla to make up the final kilometres for the day as quickly as possible.

Good news for tomorrow: looks like the wind might finally be starting to turn in our favour.

Day 13: Benalla to Alexandra (113km)

View from near Alexandra, Victoria. Cycle TravellerA cracking day out on the bike; the wind finally turned in our favour and we coasted along with a steady tail breeze from morning until we finished about 4.30pm in the small town of Alexandra.

We road the first 47kms of the day on the Hume Hwy again, which, with a tailwind, wasn't that unpleasant and we were done in under two hours and back to quieter country roads. The rest of the day was friendly small towns, quirky record stores, rural scenery, more rail trails and friendly horses.

Alexandra has been one the nicer towns we've stayed in so far. It's nestled in a pretty golden valley with the Snowy Mountains as a back drop. It has a vibrant little main street with bookshops, family run hardware stores, restaurants and three old historic pubs.

Tomorrow we climb up over the Great Dividing Range one more time and down into the outskirts of Melbourne. The ride through the mountains is through a very picturesque area called the 'Black Spur'.

Day 14: Alexandra to Lilydale (90km)

We've reached the wine growing region of the Yarra Valley and the outskirts of Melbourne. Our summer road trip is almost at an end. I've only ever arrived in Melbourne from the airport or the Hume Hwy and didn't realise how close the Dividing Range reaches to the city's east and how picturesque this part of the state is. There must be loads of opportunities for hiking in the mountains, canoeing down rivers like the Goulburn and generally exploring this great region from the city.

Cycling through Black Spur Forest. Cycle TravellerThe ride through the Black Spur lived up to expectations. The ascent was surprisingly gentle and before we knew it we were at the pass and descending one of the best downhills I've ever experienced. The forest has massive prehistoric ferns and huge Mountain Ash trees that reminded me a little of the Redwood forests in California.

Tomorrow we ride Melbourne's fantastic cycle network into the heart of the city.

Day 15: Lilydale to Melbourne (47km)

With a gentle tail breeze and perfect weather, we reached downtown Melbourne and completed our journey today.

After a few difficult moments negotiating peak hour traffic in the outer eastern suburbs, we linked up with a 40km bike path which took us all the way into the centre of town. The city is criss-crossed with a fantastic web of interlocking dedicated bike paths.

Voted the world's most liveable city since 2011, a hub for progressive urban planning/thinking and boasting one of the world's best cafe, bar and restaurant scenes, you couldn't really pick a better place to finish a bicycle tour. We both feel really at home in Melbourne; Natalie lived here last year for an extended period for work and we've both visited the place numerous times together. We'll be enjoying the city for a couple of days and catching up with friends before flying back to Sydney.

Conclusion

While tough at times, the ride was a great experience, we are both really inspired to plan and think up new Australasian adventures - this journey has only scratched the surface of the opportunities at our doorstep......New Zealand?

This article was first published on Chris Hurst's blog.

Images from top: 1. Climbing up to Jambaroo on the NSW South Coast. 2. Route map. 3. On the way to Canberra. 4. Chris cycling near Kosciuszko. 5. Kosciuszko National Park. 6. High winds through the Murray River Valley. 7. View over the ranges near Alexandra. 8. Natalie cycling through the ferns of the Black Spur. (Photos copyright Chris Hurst)

 

Comments

petergly's picture

Love it - a great trip!

I've been considering the opposite direction solo, and have been struggling with the way to go. I've driven it lots, but I wouldn't ride that way... This route sounds great.

Pete in Melbourne

Hello! I am intrigued at the prospect of riding Melbourne / Sydney! Your blog/article is great.

1. What are the differences in going Melbourne > Sydney vs Sydney > Melbourne?
2. Would you recommend this for a solo rider?
3. Where did you sleep?

Thanks!
Emily

Alia Parker's picture

You're going to have some tough climbs in both directions. However, if you ride Melbourne to Sydney, you will have the biggest climb of the route ...it's about 1000m metres from the Murray River up the mountains with very little relief on the climb. Coming in the other direction, your climbs are more broken up, and then you get a nice descent down to the river. It will fly by!

There are plenty of places to camp along this route. You can find spots using apps like Campee and WikiCamps, or on a 4x4 Hema map.

RE travelling solo, it comes down to your comfort levels. These are mostly quiet roads, but they're not remote, so you will get some vehicle traffic coming by if you're concerned you may need help.

I'm currently completing the same cycle as this and am unsure about my decisions cycling through the national park. I'd really like to climb Mt Kosciuszko along the way but have a large load, about 20-30kg, and would like some advice on whether it is unrealistic with such a load or whether it is okay to go through? Thanks for your time!

Thanks,

Stu

Alia Parker's picture

There are definitely some challenging climbs through these parts. If you're hitting these climbs after a good few weeks of loaded touring behind you, you will find your legs are well conditioned to handle the climbs loaded (assuming you've got a good range of gears on your bike). It will still be tough, but nowhere near as hard than if you're hitting them straight up without the strength in your legs. But it is still doable.

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