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Cycling from the gas fields to the islands in the sky

Simon Parker's picture
Cyclcing the GDR Route near the Darling Downs. Cycle Traveller

We've tried incredibly hard to have the GDR Route avoid intense mining and resource extraction areas due to the extra traffic these sites generate on what are often roads that, in our view, aren't properly equipped to handle it. Trucks, road trains, buses, mining employee vehicles – it's never gridlock, but it's in stark contrast to the blissful quiet roads we've been on since leaving Cape York.

Yet part of the leg between Injune and Roma will see the GDR Route traverse areas where gas extraction dominates. Unfortunately, it can't be avoided – we have scouted all options through this area and the dirt roads have been pretty nasty, so sealed roads it is. The Great Dividing Range is resources rich and these resources are a key revenue earner for this part of Queensland – $180 billion according to one estimate, employing 12,500 people.

Queensland Bottle Tree. Cycle TravellerWhile the first 45-kilometre section of the 91km Injune to Roma leg is OK traffic wise, we unfortunately hit the last 20km into Roma just as all the mining infrastructure workers were coming home for the day. Sadly, while this part of the Carnarvon Highway has recently been resurfaced, the highway's shoulder has either been reduced in width, or made to slope away at a steep angle – or both. As one local quipped, “they've been building levies”. I'm told quite a few caravans have tipped over in an attempt to avoid road trains since the road was 'fixed'. I'm not sure why authorities would let this happen on such an important road, where having a shoulder helps all vehicles, not just cyclists – but there you go.

Our strong suggestion for this leg therefore is to time your run into Roma to arrive before 3pm in order to beat the trucks coming home for the day; or travel on a Sunday when the road is dead quiet. Either of these options will make the day more pleasant, and Roma is a nice enough town worth visiting. Just seeing the massive girth of 100s of bottle trees throughout town is a great sight, and if you're interested you can watch live cattle auctions twice a week at what is the Southern Hemisphere's largest cattle sale yards.

On coming into Roma we entered the vast agriculturally rich Western Downs region – which is part of the larger Darling Downs. The word Downs is, according to a few websites I've visited, said to mean an area of low ridges and undulating plains, derived from an area in south and south west England. If this is correct, it's certainly an accurate description of the landscape.

From Roma through to Chinchilla – and a little beyond – we pedal along on fairly flat terrain the entire way. We're on the southern slope of the Great Dividing Range (it dog legs east along here) giving us the benefit of uninterrupted views of the distant Bunya Mountains, another of the GDR's highlights.

The Darling Downs, cycling the GDR Route. Cycle Traveller

Before reaching Bunya, we ride directly alongside part of the 435km Roma (Wallumbilla) to Brisbane natural gas pipeline that's been in operation since 1969. This pipeline, which has been further developed and expanded in the years since, made Brisbane the first mainland capital city to have gas piped in.

This road isn't as busy as the Carnarvon Highway, but it does see a bit of gas industry-related traffic.

Again, like Roma, we liked Chinchilla – it had all the relevant services and a bit character about it as well. It's also where 25 per cent of the country's watermelons are grown, so if you love this fruit, which is extremely refreshing on a hot day, you'll have a happy belly here.

From Chinchilla, we're back gliding along on delightfully quiet and scenic roads. What's nice about this leg – apart from the stunning Bunya Mountains – is the regularity of quaint small towns we pass through.

Steep climb up the Bunya Mountains, bicycle touring. Cycle Traveller

Hospitality remains paramount in these parts, to the extreme of a couple offering us their leafy front yard as a place to pitch our tent for the night. What's more, Vince and Dawn from the small town of Kumbia, offer us a hot shower and fresh rainwater. Travellers themselves, they were only too happy to share their home with two strangers on bicycles. Travelling on bicycles seems to make people much more comfortable in approaching us, giving us a much deeper and richer experience as a result.

Kumbia also boasted the most generous breakfast serving we've encountered on our entire trip. Five sausages, four rashers of bacon, two eggs, two pieces of toast, one tomato, a bottle of orange juice and unlimited coffee for $14... OK, I know I've just lost our vegetarian readers (they did have a vegetarian option though) but this massive meal from the local service station was one that would make Southpark's Cartman – who famously stated, 'We eat hors d'oeuvres to make us more hungry' – blush with pride.

The Bunya Mountains is home to the towering Bunya Pines, which grow up to 45 metres and can be laden with massive 10kg cones (don't camp under them at certain times of the year!)

Wallabies on the GDR Route. Cycle Traveller

The mountains are a true oasis amongst the Downs, like little rainforest islands in the sky. You're back on the main range here, not that you'll need to be told this as you grind your way up staggeringly steep, yet thankfully short, sections of quiet roads to get you up to 1,100 metres elevation. It's the perfect place to relax and we are overcome by a sense of tranquillity as we sit, surrounded by wallabies, and watch the sun go down over the forest canopy.

We're now in Toowoomba, which is the biggest city we've been in since leaving Cairns. It's also the first time since Charters Towers that we've encountered bike shops, so we drop our bikes off to get a wash and regrease.

We're only a matter of days from NSW now, through mountainous country that we already know is picturesque beyond words. Thanks again for reading this blog, and we'll have another update when we're in NSW.


Great to read your travels, and the development of the route. One day I'll follow at least some of the route. one day I promise...

Minor proof reading note; I would have thought you would know the difference between pedal and peddle!

Alia Parker's picture

Thanks for spotting that typo! All fixed :)

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