cyclists, Australia can be a daunting prospect. Ringed by the 14,000km-long Highway
One and smothered in desert, it does not immediately seem to be a particularly
the High Country towns of Bright and Beechworth in mountainous northeast
Victoria, cycling has been embraced in recent years, with a rail trail,
mountain-bike tracks and several road routes making this one of the most
welcoming cycling regions in the country.
Rolling on rails
centrepiece of the region's cycling network is the Murray to the Mountains Rail Trail offering 100km of road-free riding along
abandoned railway tracks through the wide Ovens Valley. The main 84km arm of
the trail connects the river towns of Wangaratta and Bright, always in sight of
the mountains yet climbing just 150m in elevation along the way.
This is an
ideal introduction for those new to cycle touring, offering easy riding with
towns and services spaced at short intervals – a rarity in Australia. It is
also family friendly, with few climbs, no vehicle traffic and trailside
vineyards with play areas.
trail can be ridden by fit cyclists in a day, but it is also perfectly laid out
for a more leisurely two-day ride, stopping
night in Myrtleford (53km from Wangaratta) and passing cellar doors,
cafes and trailside produce along the way.
an easy side trail from Wangaratta heads into the cheese, wine and olive
producers of the Milawa Gourmet Region,
while a beautiful 16km side trail from Myrtleford diverts to the former gold
rush town of Beechworth, cutting through a corridor of native bush on an
elevated rail bank.
At the rail
trail's end, Bright is northeast Victoria's cycling nucleus. From here, roads
radiate into the High Country’s mountains, providing cyclists with Australia's
nearest equivalent to the famed pass climbing of the French Alps and Pyrenees.
emergence as one of Australia's premier cycling hubs is evident even before you
leave town. Beside the trailhead for the Murray to the Mountains Rail Trail is Bright Velo, Australia's first dedicated
bike hotel. Run by former Australian road cycling champion Wayne Hibberd, it is
modelled on Italy's cycling-specific Hotel
Dory in the Emilia-Romagna region , and
features the likes of bike storage, racks and tyre pumps. Attached is Café Velo,
a retro-style bike cafe strung with cycling jerseys and memorabilia, including
Hibberd's championship medals. Since opening in September 2011, it has become
the hangout of choice for local and visiting cyclists.
climbs surround Bright – Mount Buffalo, Mount Hotham and Falls Creek – with the
ascents ranging from 750m (Falls Creek) to 1,280m (Mount Hotham). Cyclists can
loop over Hotham and Falls Creek on the Queen Victoria Ride, completing
a 240km circuit with around 4,000m of climb in three or four days. More
ambitious riders grind over the same route (which also includes a 500m climb
over Tawonga Gap) in a single day during what is regarded as Australia's
toughest cycling event, the annual 3 Peaks
Challenge held in March.
the popular, but non-competitive Audax
Alpine Classic, held each Australia Day (26 January) weekend in the same
area. Distances in the event vary from 60km to 250km, ranging across a mix of
the mountain climbs.
manageable road quest is the 7 Peaks Alpine
Ascent Challenge, in which participating riders
pedal to the top of seven mountains – Mount Hotham (1,862m), Mount Buffalo (1,723m),
Mount Baw Baw (1,567m), Mount Buller (1,805m), Lake Mountain (1,433m), Falls
Creek (1,600m) and Dinner Plain (1,520m) – collecting stamps in a 7 Peaks
passport at each summit. The timeframe, be it over seven days or seven months,
is up to each individual cyclist, and satisfaction is the only prize.
Hops and drops
the roads and rails, the mountains of northeast Victoria are laced with
mountain bike tracks. During summer, the cross-country trails at the ski
resorts of Falls Creek, Mount Hotham and Mount Buller morph into cycling
tracks (the chairlifts at Falls Creek and Mount Buller also operate in the summer
months, easing the uphill workload for cyclists), while the Big
Hill Mountain Bike Park in the town of Mount Beauty is regarded as
one of the finest downhill venues in Australia.
four local craft breweries collaborated to create the High
Country Brewery Trail, publishing
a booklet in which each brewer selected his favourite mountain bike trail. They
range from the dizzying bends of the Beechworth
Mountain Bike Park to a cross-country trail, the Roger Packham Track, beside
the Ovens River in Bright, to the Survey Track, a descent through the
eucalypt-covered slopes below Victoria's highest mountain, Mount Bogong (1,986m).
And all with a beer to quench a cycling thirst at the end.