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Cycling the iconic Sydney to Wollongong route

Alia Parker's picture
The spectacular view at Otford Lookout. Cycle Touring. Cycle Traveller

It's morning on the first day of the Easter long weekend and what a spectacular morning it is in Sydney; one of those days where the bright blue sky and the refreshing cool air cry out “on yer bike!” Even so, Simon and I take our time getting in the saddle. We're notoriously late starters and rarely ever rush our mornings, particularly on long weekends. So we recline into the couch with a coffee and a newspaper, turn on the radio and just chill. By 10am we're feeling caffeinated enough to get a move on and we hit the pedals, destination Wollongong.

Sydney to Wollongong isn't an 'official' bike path as such, but the 90km ride is one of the most popular among east-coast cyclists and cycle tourers. It's a route that even non-cyclists know due to the annual Sydney to the Gong Bike Ride. We'll be taking a similar route to the Sydney to the Gong, although with some modifications.

The ride: Sydney to Wollongong
Distance: 93km
Days: 1
Difficulty: Moderate

 

Coasting along

We start our ride by taking the back streets down to the bike path that runs along the north side of Sydney Airport. We make it past the runways without Simon stopping to stare at A380s (this time), although a group of people with cameras and picnics have settled down to make a day of planespotting. We cross the Marsh Street bridge along the narrow concrete path allocated to cyclists. Not the safest bike path around as the pavement between the road and the fence is narrow and broken, but the traffic flying past us keeps us off the road. It only takes a few minutes to cross the bridge and then we're back on a rather nice separated shared path. The path kicks around to Brighton-Le-Sands and runs along the beaches. This is quite a pretty ride, but heavy pedestrian traffic can make it slow going and impossible to ride in parts. We choose to ride a few blocks back on this particular morning, a slightly more direct route, but if you haven't ridden along the more scenic route, or you're up and on your feet a little earlier than us in the mornings, you may want to stick to the beaches.

The road south

We make our way south and soon join the Princes Highway. Being the first day of a long weekend, the traffic is at an absolute standstill. In contrast, we fly along the wide shoulder on our bikes. We're generally not ones to stick to highways, so we take the first turn left onto Farnell Avenue to ride through the National Park. It's a slightly longer route than the Sydney to the Gong route, which sticks to the highway and enters the Royal National Park at Waterfall, but we're hoping it will be a bit more scenic. We soon regret our decision.

Cycling in Royal National Park south of Waterfall. Cycle TravellerThis alternate route would likely be fine any other day of the week, but on Good Friday, the National Park has turned into a highway of its own, attracting cars (and even removalist vans) trying to avoid the gridlock. Unfortunately, this time we don't have a nice wide shoulder to ride in. We're close to bailing, something we never ever do, but we push on. Thankfully, the traffic improves remarkably once we pass the turnoff to Bundeena and the remaining ride through the National Park (pictured right) is very enjoyable, including a quick picnic lunch with some packed sandwiches. We liked this longer route, but I wouldn't necessarily say it's any better than the route that runs along the highway and enters via Waterfall, which is quite pretty. So it's your call on that one.

Just south of the park we're greeted with the best view of the ride: the Otford Lookout (pictured above). We sit down, take a break, watch the paragliders and soak it all in. Down a little dip and up again to Stanwell Tops and we coast along the sea from here. We're excited to cross the fantastic Sea Cliff Bridge, but cyclists over the age of 12 (so, pretty much anyone who's reading this) are no longer allowed on the pedestrian path and must rather stick to the narrow shoulder on the road. This unfortunately means you don't get the best view. You'll likely enjoy the bridge more by hopping off your bike and walking along the pedestrian way. This way you can stop, hang over the side and take a good look at this amazing bridge.

A beer with a view

A little further south and we reach the Scarborough Hotel, which has one of the best pub views in all Australia. We stop and wheel our bikes down to the beer garden through the rear access and sit at a table at the edge of a cliff with nothing but ocean before us. The view adds a premium to the beer prices, which also have strangely shrunk in size to “schmiddies”, but the view is that good no one seems to mind. We waste way too much time here, but hey, that's what long weekends are for.

Back on the bikes and it's now late in the day. Just a little further along the path and we pass the Coledale RSL. Nothing fancy, but the smell coming from the kitchen stops us in our tracks. We've ridden about 80km and are a little short of our destination Wollongong, which lies a little further south along the bike route, but all we can think of right now are our stomachs, so we pull in and eat. Not a bad little feed.

The evening is now upon us and realistically there's no point heading into Wollongong to find the train station when there's one right here in Coledale, so we board the train and head back to Sydney. A slightly different day to the one we had initially planned – the end result was one that had much more eating and drinking than we had envisaged – but one that was made all the better for it.

A great day's ride for the disciplined and undisciplined alike.

Images from top: 1. The view from Otford Lookout. 2. The road south of Waterfall in the Royal National Park. (Copyright Cycle Traveller)

Comments

Hi there,
Love the blog, and well written too. In a few weeks some friends and I are embarking on a trip to from Sydney to Melbourne. We are relatively inexperienced cyclists, I was wondering if you would be available to get a coffee some time and maybe share some pointers for my friends and I?

Alia Parker's picture

Hi Chris,

Sure, shoot me an email at alia@cycletraveller.com.au and I'd be more than happy to talk to you and your friends about the routes down south.

Cheers,
Alia

Hey Alia,

Great blog, much appreciated insightI I am also embarking on the same Sydney to Melbourne cycle trip and would be useful to have some info and pointers as I am inexperienced :)

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