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So you think Australia is flat? We'll show you 'flat'

Simon Parker's picture
Cycling the climbs of the Great Dividing Range on the GDR. Cycle Traveller

The Great in Great Dividing Range has come to mean many things to us over the course of this wonderful adventure.

Initially, Great meant many of the things you'll find in books and websites written about this mountain range. Yes, it's certainly long – the third longest mountain range in the world. It's definitely old, too, having already been eroding for million years. It's definitely wide – up to 300km in some sections. And it's certainly scenic – well, downright stunning in many places, as I hope this blog has reaffirmed.

However, over our past three months of cycling the GDR, its greatness to us has become more than just these facts, impressive as they are.

And one part of its greatness, particularly now that we've traversed much of NSW, is its extreme contours and dizzying heights. Why? For the simple fact that this quashes a common misconception about this continent, one that many Australians still posses – that it's entirely flat: real mountains are to be had in Europe, in the Americas, or New Zealand... not here.

Namadgi National Park on the GDR. Cycle TravellerSure, Australia is the flattest continent on earth: head well inland to the Outback and you won't be disappointed – I've seen pancakes with more undulations. But, ride the GDR route and you'll soon appreciate just how grand – or Great – the numerous mountain ranges in this part of the country are. They may not be the Alps or the Rockies, but they are beautiful, and they will take your breath away in more ways than one.

This isn't meant to be a boast, an arrogant claim to fame. No, it's simply designed to state a fact that we believe is often overlooked by many locals and foreigners alike. It's part of the reason we wanted to construct this route, to smash any misconceptions about this country's topography.

Great mountains of course mean steep roads and climbs, and in this department you won't be disappointed.

Great, I hear you lament.

Don't despair though, as the climbs tend to be short and sharp. It's rare you'll be climbing continuously for more than few hours at a time. Not much consolation perhaps when you're pushing your bike up a 15 per cent grade section of road in 30 degree heat. Yet you can generally pacify your aching legs with the thought that you'll be at the top shortly, and that's always a great feeling.

The Bylong Valley, cycling the GDR Route Australia. Cycle TravellerSure, at this point of the GDR you would have enjoyed some serious climbs already, such as the 20% grade up the Bunya Mountains. Yet, the difference now is the how common the climbs become through NSW and Victoria, particularly after cycling through the relatively flat terrain of Outback and Central Queensland.

This change is noticeable from Toowoomba onwards. Thankfully, if you travel from the north as we did, your first taste of the mountains is a stunning descent from the top of the range into the rich agricultural region of the Lochyer Valley. This is the start of the Scenic Rim, the remnants of an extinct volcano caldera which literally surrounds and envelopes you until you make your way into NSW a few days later.

Your first gut-busting taste of just how steep roads can get in this part of the country will be in Main Range National Park, which forms part of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area.

It's the first climb through Main Range National Park – which surpasses 15 per cent grade in parts – that'll get your legs' attention quick smart. Certainly, the word 'great' may not be the first to come to mind if you're struggling up this slope – I uttered many a word up this climb, none of which bear repeating. Yet be assured that, at the top of this four kilometre climb, you'll not only enjoy distant views back to the north but you'll also be greeted by lush farmland bordered by seemingly impenetrable rainforest, a mass of foliage so thick you can barely see beyond the first few rows of trees into its dark depths. It's just stunning.

Cycling /main Range National Park Australia on the GDR Route. Cycle TravellerFrom this point on the climbs are more common; from the New England Tableland, where you'll traverse an undulating plateau that sits above 1,000 metres, and up to 1,400 metres along the GDR route, through to the sandstone escarpment of the Bylong Valley and eventually into the alpine regions of southern NSW and northern Victoria, where we are now.

For many, the appeal of the GDR will be in the challenge of cycling through this type of terrain. Rest assured though the route is not designed to be a perverse test of endurance; yes, the climbs are challenging, and more frequent in NSW and Victoria, yet there are also plenty of flatter sections that wind through lovely valleys. And the route is just as much about the many quaint towns you'll cycle through along the way where you'll only be too happy to rest up for a day or two.

However tough the cycling may get, your horizon will always be interesting, dominated by the Great slopes, contours and escarpments of what is truly a Great Dividing Range.

Images from top: 1. The Great Dividing Range in Southern Queensland. 2. On the GDR at Namadgi National Park, ACT. 3. Cycling the Bylong Valley Way, NSW. 4. The GDR near Main Range National Park, QLD. (Copyright Cycle Traveller)



I've just discovered your project and can't wait to get hold of the maps. I hope that you have received assistance from the local councils and businesses that will benefit from the trickle of extra income and exposure that this will eventually generate.

I'm a keen cycle tourer who is just starting out in Australia and had hoped to cycle from Brisbane to Melbourne, via the Dubbo back route, in a few years and the GDR Cycle Route will take a lot of the leg work out.

Have you had any thoughts to an accompanying guide book to the route? I have some experience writing travel guides and would love to get involved. I also know the Carnarvon, Warrego and New England Highway in Queensland relatively well (being involved in the cursed gas fields out near Roma) and I can't imagine cycling along those routes with the stock trucks rumbling buy at 100kmph!

Alia Parker's picture

Hi Jeremy,

Thanks for your interest. You work out in Roma?! That area has been the biggest challenge of the entire route! We found it very hard to find a combination of back roads suitable for touring coming down from Carnarvon. Let us know if anything changes.

We have been writing a guide book as we cycle, including everything from all the practical info a cyclist needs, but also info on the history and the environment the route passes. This will be released at the same time as the maps for anyone who wants more detailed info about the areas they are riding through.


Hi Alia

I have staff who work out on the rigs near Roma, and I visit the periodically so know some of the back tracks reasonably well. Unfortunately most of the land out there is closed off from public access due to the farmers and CSG operators. There are a couple of alternatives to the Carnarvon but they only take you away from it for short loops. There is the Arcadia Valley Road/Mulcahey's Road loop just north of the east-west trending range. It is largely a very nice ride with a couple of stunning view points and a couple of places to camp. There might be a couple of creeks back there that aren't always dry. There is also the Injune-Taroom to DuckCreek Road, which leads out of Injune for 35 to 40k and then takes you SSW back to the Carnarvon. Not much out there apart form CSG operator utes - landscape is soft and rolling (like the Downs) but pretty bare and you'd be met with a certain amount of caution because of the proximity of the gas fields.

I'd also recommend taking the Leichardt south from Miles to Condamine (30km), and then take the back road (Kogan-Condamine and Kogan-Dalby roads) to Dalby. It misses out a huge section of the Warrego that is commonly full of stock and cotton trucks thundering along. I drive pick-ups out there and I don't find it fun.

If your GDR route takes you south from Toowoomba along the New England, have you included the cycle path from Stanthorpe to Ballandean?

Shame you aren't dropping down onto the east side of the Range because the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail would form a good link from the west to the east, and the Scenic Rim area south of Brisbane.

Good luck with the route. I've signed up for the press releases so I can keep up with any announcements. I'm particularly looking forward to the guide - I know how tough they can be to write. I self-published a Lonely Planet-esque guide to the Star Wars filming locations in Tunisia. Totally self researched and funded. That labour of love took me 9 months to get the first copy out. The print run sold out within a week and I was so worn out from the experience I couldn't face going back to it.

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