Canberra to Hill End and back
This tour winds its way around the central tablelands area of rural New
South Wales, a region mainly used for grazing and cropping. The route is
punctuated by a few medium-sized towns and cities, which are generally
prospering, and smaller communities that seem to have seen busier days - none
more so than Hill End, the ostensible destination of the trip.
End was a thriving mining town during the gold rush that started in the
1850s. Today it's basically a tourist attraction.
The route was designed to avoid busy roads as much as possible. By far the
least busy road was the Bridle Track, an alternative route down from Hill End
that is currently (October 2012) closed to four-wheel vehicles due to a
landslip that has removed a chunk of road, accompanied by a car-sized boulder
across the remaining lane for good measure. Fortunately, the road is still
passable to bicycles - for the time being.
Richard Bush, Silke Smaglinski and Doug Thompson planned the trip for
PedalPower members in 2012 for that
year's "Spring Scenic tour". We refined the original plan about halfway through
the trip to be less ambitious, as we all felt like we'd prefer to have more
time in the afternoon at each destination to
stuff ourselves with coffee
and cake explore. Here's the route we ended up cycling, with links to
maps on mapmyride.com:
Thanks to Richard for organising the trip, Silke, Doug and Richard for route
planning and mapping, and Arunas Pilka for the support vehicle and trailer.
A less than auspicious start to the trip - rain most of the way to Gundaroo on
the first day.
Wayne is a well known bicycle frame maker, artist and metalworker. He works out
of his workshop in Gundaroo, and we dropped in on him to have a look around and
chew the fat on our free afternoon in Gundaroo. He specialises in unusual
pedal-powered contraptions. One of the frames scattered around his backyard is
from a pedal-powered helium-filled airship he built for the opening ceremony of
the Sydney Paralympic games in 2000. Wayne built an excellent custom touring
bike frame for me in 1991, which I used daily until the end of 2011. The frame
is still in good shape, but all the other parts need replacing.
We set up camp at the Gundaroo showground (which has an astonishing sign
that reads "campers welcome" and hot showers if you make arrangements
beforehand), and dropped by the Cork St café for lunch and dinner.
The view from my campsite on the morning of day three in Crookwell. This scene
is fairly typical of our camping arrangements - find a caravan park, seek out
the most grassy and level part, prop your bike against something relatively
stable and pitch your tent.
Most of our gear was carried in large plastic boxes like the two blue ones
you can see in the centre of the frame. These were carted between destinations
in the trailer of our support vehicle, which made for a much easier tour than
the self-supported trips I've done in the past.
The road out of Crookwell, heading for Abercrombie Caves.
Abercrombie River bridge
Crookwell to Abercrombie Caves is a bit of a slog - lots of little ups and
downs, which is much more annoying than one big hill if you ask me.
The Abercrombie Caves campground is nothing special and situated in a
valley, so you don't even get the sun early in the morning. If you're doing
this trip, you might want to consider camping a bit earlier at Tuena instead.
It looks like there's a nice campground there by the river.
Trunkey Creek general store
The old general store on a corner in Trunkey Creek.
On the road between Trunkey Creek and Newbridge. I'm tempted to say that the
sign is superfluous, but maybe it's a stock route that stops at a dead end.
Alpacas in a paddock near Newbridge. There's obviously something more
interesting than me just up the road.
Clouds on the horizon between Newbridge and Bathurst.
Clouds on the horizon between Newbridge and Bathurst.
Market forces operating on the highway coming into Bathurst.
Believe it or not, this building in Sofala is being restored - you can see a
new concrete pad on the right in this picture.
Sofala, like Hill End, is a gold rush era town. Its other claim to fame is
that Peter Weir's first feature film The Cars That Ate
Paris was shot here in 1974.
Despite being a small, out-of-the-way gold rush town, there seems to be a bit
of real-estate activity going on.
I think this is an Eastern Bearded Dragon (Pogona barbata). It was
sunning itslef on the road to Hill End. Well camouflaged against the bitumen -
maybe a bit too well.
And not a Glenn
Here you can see our support vehicle parked at a lookout on the climb to Hill
Doug capturing the view.
Looking back down the hill
Some of us stayed here for a couple of nights, and the rest of the group camped
at the campground just down the hill. The hotel provides traditional country
pub accommodation and meals. I'd rate it as very satisfactory, especially when
you consider that we had some lousy weather during our stay.
Hill End has attracted a surprising
number of artists in its post gold rush existence. Russell Drysdale's
was painted here, and the hotel building is remarkably similar to the building
in that painting.
Despite the lack of serious mining activity for many decades, there are still a
few areas around town that remain barren and eroded.
This is the corner of a one-metre cubic box I found beside some diggings near
the campground. My best guess is that it's a tank of some kind. The walls are
thick steel, and there's a hole in the top about the size of a dinner plate.
Hill End is the wonky fence capital of Australia. Pretty much every fence in
town looks like this. It's the land that Colorbond forgot.
A view of a typical Hill End back yard.
Just across the road from the pub is this shed, used by the Hill End bushfire
We began our descent along the Bridle Track in miserable weather - wet, cold
and even a few snow flurries to start with. The weather gradually improved
during the day.
Views from the Bridle Track
John capturing the view across the Macquarie River.
Changed traffic conditions
This is the boulder and landslip that currently makes the Bridle Track
impassable to cars.
Having descended the Bridle Track, we followed the initially undulating route
back to Bathurst. By the time I'd reached this spot, maybe an hour's ride from
Bathurst, the weather had improved considerably.
Between Orange and Canowindra. These are the kind of road signs you like to see
on a cycle tour.
Farmland on the way to Canowindra.
Mown grass in the floodplain next to the Canowindra campground..
A shady spot for lunch just off the main road between Canowindra and Grenfell.
We took it in turns to drive the support vehicle between destinations,
leaving after the cyclists in the morning and often meeting up on the road
somewhere around lunchtime.
About two hours out of Grenfell as I recall.
Uncommon cycle-touring hazard
An ostrich in a paddock on the way into Young.
Inside the Millard Centre, Young
In the middle of Young there's a building with a surprisingly grand interior
known as the Millard Centre. According to the Young Rotary Club it was built in
1917, and according to the Young tourist information centre, the Millard family
owned a number of businesses around town. One of these was a sawmill, which
might explain the unrestrained use of timber in the stairs and balustrades. At
one time the building was used as an emporium, a kind of predecessor to the
modern department store. Today it houses a few small businesses.
Flowering Canola on the road to Harden.
This is the kind of building I'd expect to see in Jaipur or New Delhi. It's
actually in the main street of Harden NSW.
A male King Parrot on my tent at Burrinjuck campground.
The campground is on the shore of Lake Burrinjuck, an artificial lake
created by damming the Murrumbidgee, Goodradigbee and Yass rivers. The road
into Burrinjuck looks a bit disconcerting on the map, with lots of hairpin
bends, which is often indicative of a steep climb out. In this case the grade
is actually very gentle, the road is good and the scenery is picturesque as it
winds its way through forest and farmland.
I suspect the reason for the gentle grade of the road is that it looks like
it follows the route of a narrow gauge railway built for the initial
construction of the dam in 1907.
And its mate, presumably.
Female Superb Fairywren (Malurus cyaneus) in a Bottlebrush
Male Superb Fairywren (Malurus cyaneus).
After a gentle climb up from Burrinjuck, there's a fork in the road. The right
hand branch provides a pleasant, quiet route to Yass.
From Yass it's another half day's ride back to Canberra and the end of the