The centre of Canberra is a hole.
That is, it’s an artificial lake, dug at an elevation of about 560m, on the Eastern slopes of the Great Dividing Range. Another nationally significant body of water that lies to the East of the Range? The Pacific Ocean.
Each summer, those lucky enough to reside in the Nations Capital make the pilgrimage to soak up the sun, salt and sand on the South Coast of New South Wales.
This summer, I thought I’d make that pilgrimage by bicycle.
Culburra Beach is located near Nowra, about 210km North- East of Canberra. It’s your typical small coastal town – empty homes, retirees, a Fish and Chip shop, a surf store and a Bowls Club that runs a rippah meat raffle.
The plan was to ride from Canberra to Culburra in three days, averaging an easy 70km a day in order to soak up the countryside.
The route would generally follow what has historically been known as The Wool Road, and now Main Road 92, through Morton National Park. The Wool Road was built in the 19th century to transport wool from Goulburn to the ports of the South Coast, and is now a fully sealed, direct route to Nowra and Shoalhaven. To save a bit of time, I’d mostly be keeping to the bitumen, with some detours along fire trails and gravel roads thrown in for funsies.
Leaving Canberra on day one, I headed out through Queanbeyan towards Bungendore My destination for the day was the town of Tarago, a touch over 70kms up the road. The weather was sublime – a gentle breeze, not too warm, and being a weekday traffic was light. Add in flat country roads and the kilometres just rolled by without much effort – through Carwoola, up Hoskinstown road, and into Bungendore.
Bungendore isn’t short of options for cafe stops, and after a leisurely mid-morning coffee and croissant (and after unsuccessfully trying to convince a couple of hairless roadies to sell their carbon machines and buy a bag-laden steel-framed steed) I was back on the road and on my way.
As I rolled along the exposed gravel roads towards Tarago, the scenery more than made up for the gusting wind that had now begun to kick up the dust around me.
A little after lunch I cruised into Tarago and pulled up at the Loaded Dog Hotel. The Loaded Dog sees it’s fair share of cyclists and is certainly worth a stay if you ever get the chance. It’s a classic country pub – no bells and whistles – but it does have cold beer, good food, and comfortable accommodation at 40 bucks a night. I stashed my bike in the beer garden/secure bicycle storage area and had a couple of recovery smoothies at the bar while watching the cricket.
After further carb-loading on pizza and chips for dinner, it was time to rack out and re-energise for the next day, which was forecast for climbs and heat.
There was something a little odd about waking up early in an empty pub, but after helping myself to the included breakfast, and also building a couple of extra Peanut Butter (crunchy, of course) sambo’s for the road, I began the first leg of day two, towards Nerriga. Final destination…a camping spot somewhere in Morton National Park.
After leaving Tarago, the terrain gradually became more and more undulating as I approached the escarpment which constitutes most of Morton National Park and The Budawangs. A few of these undulations included short sharp climbs – good warm-ups for the one that I knew lay ahead.
I arrived at the Nerriga pub right on lunch, and parked my bike beside the dozen or so Harley Davidson’s that sat outside. The midday sun was punishing, and thankfully the publican was on hand to refill my water bottles again after I downed the first refill of cool water in a few seconds. After chewing on my PB sandwiches in the shade and topping up my sugar levels, I set off to climb up Bulee Gap and onto the plateau, hoping those Harley’s were heading the opposite direction. The climb wasn’t long, but in parts the incline was pretty steep (the double digits% incline kinda steep) and the harsh sun just added to my discomfort. While I appreciated the passing drivers who were kind enough to cheer me on by applauding out their windows, it didn’t remove any of the lactic acid from my legs. A tow would’ve been nice.
Once atop the plateau, it was pretty easy going, and I could peel off the bitumen and explore some of the gravel trails that wander throughout the National Park. Later in the afternoon I pulled up near Tianjara Falls lookout, wandered into the bush, rolled out my bivvy bag and prepped for the night, slightly concerned about how much water I had left.
Luckily, the final day was certain to be an easy one as I headed towards the coast, and I made good time from Tianjara down into Nowra. As I pedaled along beside the highway in South Nowra, my highly tuned senses spotted brewery signage. This was clearly a gift from the Gods of the Velocipede, so I pulled into HopDog Beerworks to rehydrate with a quick mineral water. This one came in the form of a super refreshing Gose. Not wanting to dawdle – the sky was by now growing darker and threatening rain – I set off to complete the last 20km to Culburra, my saddlebag a little heavier thanks to some select takeaways from the brewery.
While Canberra itself is already a well-known cycling destination, with quality cycling infrastructure and designated MTB parks (you can check them out in earlier blog posts), it’s also surrounded by a tonne of cycling routes through which you can explore the region. Head East, you’ll reach the coast and its white-sand beaches. Head West, and you’ll be crossing the Brindabella Mountain Range amongst some of the Australian Capital Territory’s highest peaks. Pedal yourself South and you’re into the Alps and the high country, or go North to Sydney and beyond.
In fact, you can head any direction from Canberra and complete the summer pilgrimage to the coast, only the distance will vary.