Published: Nov 2012

Canberra to Hill End and back

View Canberra Hil-End cycle tour in a larger map

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.

Hill 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 <s>stuff ourselves with coffee and cake</s> explore. Here's the route we ended up cycling, with links to maps on

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.

Leaving Canberra
A less than auspicious start to the trip - rain most of the way to Gundaroo on the first day.
Wayne's World
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.

Breakfast at Crookwell
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.

Leaving Crookwell
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.
No through road
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.
Near Bathurst
Clouds on the horizon between Newbridge and Bathurst.
Near Bathurst
Clouds on the horizon between Newbridge and Bathurst.
Supply and demand
Market forces operating on the highway coming into Bathurst.
Sofala restoration

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.

Sofala property
Despite being a small, out-of-the-way gold rush town, there seems to be a bit of real-estate activity going on.
Bearded Dragon
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.
Australian Vernacular

And not a Glenn Murcutt in sight.

Climbing to Hill End
Here you can see our support vehicle parked at a lookout on the climb to Hill End.
Doug capturing the view.
Looking back down the hill
Hill End Hotel

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 The cricketers was painted here, and the hotel building is remarkably similar to the building in that painting.

Hill End erosion
Despite the lack of serious mining activity for many decades, there are still a few areas around town that remain barren and eroded.
Big rusty cube
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.
Wonky fences
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.
Hill End laneway
A view of a typical Hill End back yard.
Hill End shed
Just across the road from the pub is this shed, used by the Hill End bushfire brigade.
On the Bridle Track
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.
Elegant Tree
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.
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Good sign
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.
Patterns in the grass
Mown grass in the floodplain next to the Canowindra campground..
Lunch break
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.

On the road to Young
About two hours out of Grenfell as I recall.
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This image also appears in People
Uncommon cycle-touring hazard
An ostrich in a paddock on the way into Young.
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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.
Harden architecture
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.
Birds at Burrinjuck

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 (Callistemon).
Male Superb Fairywren (Malurus cyaneus).
Leaving Burrinjuck
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 trip.