“I turned and travelled with a sigh
The lonely road to Gundagai.”
Banjo Patterson 1902
In Aussie literature, there’s a couple of “Road to Gundagai”s. There’s Banjo Patterson’s poem of 1902 and the far more well known song by Jack O’Hagan which sold an amazing 100,000 copies within a year of its release in 1922 and then became the theme for the Dad and Dave radio show.
But if you enjoy riding deserted sweeping country roads through majestic rolling farms and forests, and if you are prepared to put up with a bit of dirt and dust, then listen up and you’ll see there’s way more than a mere brace of real roads to (and around) Gundagai! Oh, and, Banjo, they are more ‘lovely’ than ‘lonely’!
I’d arrived in Gundagai latish. It’s a longterm billabong town since the new bridge brought the bypass in 1977. Most of the old pubs have closed down and with the owners of the Family Hotel deciding that the afternoon sun drenched verandah was too good to share, I booked into the Art Noveau Criterion, changed my riding boots for thongs and ordered a drink.
A good feed at the pub’s bistro pouring over my paper maps, google maps and GPS resulted in me having 5 different choices for the following day depending on the weather and what grabbed me in the morning. The barman was cool with parking the bike on the footpath under his awning though there is also secure parking around the back of the pub.
The double bed was great value at 6o bucks including cereal, coffee and toast breakfast. With a good bit of high cloud cover to obscure the early sun I decided on the longest loop which would take me to Jugiong on the Hume then north east to Boorowa followed by a sweep down to Gunning, a bit more connecting on the Hume to Yass then to Tumut via Wee Jasper and home.
All up around 400km of what looked like good riding on very varied roads. I figured on around 10 hours.
Like all the options this gave me the choice to edit the journey at a few stages and A2B it if I had bike problems or rider fatigue .
The Caltex in central Gundagai is now closed (it seems permanently) so I stopped at the Dog, 5 un-metricated miles north and squeezed all I could into the Tenere’s 23 litre tank, reckoning it would do for the day.
First up was the fast and boring connection to Jugiong and coffee at the Long Track Café. This is one the very best stops on the highway. Fresh home made cakes and bread, good eggs and great staff make this one place I never go past. Then into Gino next door for some fresh fruit and time to get moving. Gino was to prove his worth again later in the week.
The Jugiong Police station is just north of the town on the Boorowa Rd. If the (currently) white highway patrol car of the town’s only officer is in the driveway it means there are no radar equipped highway patrol cars anywhere in the area. You may make of that piece of information what you will. On this day the car was safely parked.
I headed east to the end of town and then turned north onto McMahons Reef Rd and pinned my ears back. This is a 4 metre wide strip of tar with no markings. It’s pretty straight for the first 5km when it turns to gravel for an easy 5km and then things become more interesting.
The drought ending rains that have blessed the country have had a few effects: high roadside weeds impede corner vision and flocks of sheep have been sent out to graze the long paddock and do the councils’ work of trimming the roadside. I came across a large flock without any warning and from later chats with locals, it’ll be a rare ride that doesn’t encounter any mobs on the road. A lot of the road is ridge top, giving great views to the valleys on each side (reminded me of the Gresford-Dungog ridge road) and I could really let the Yammy have its legs.
A right at Bouyeo Rd heralds more of the same but be wary of the crossing at Burley Griffin Way where you’ll be unexpected by the highway traffic.
Then it’s into Galong, a town I’d never heard of but whose pub is a true jewel of the road. It’s been bought and sold three times in the last few years but now the local owners, armed with a community license aim to turn it back into a true destination pub. The bar walls are filled with fascinating stuff and the indoor beer garden is simply amazing, Mad Max meets Henry Lawson.
The 5 rooms at the Galong Royal Hotel can take up to 15 people in an assortment of single beds, doubles and bunks and if they cant fit you in, there’s ample room to chuck your swag out the back.
(Or there’s always the monastry just up the road.)
From here it’s a race track to Boorowa, a hub town with all facilities including including fuel and an inviting swimming pool. I needed neither so I headed through the well kept streets and bore south east to Gunning. Another deserted well maintained tar top with some good curves and twists but around 35km out of town, after Rye Park, without a single warning sign, the tar abruptly ends as you come out of a right hand sweep. You’ll have around 2 seconds before you get to the dirt so look out!
The 20km of dirt is white top and easy riding with lizards and snakes pretty much every kilometre and it yells out ‘roos at dusk ‘ though I didn’t encounter any. At the end of the dirt is Dalton, a tiny hamlet with a recently taken over pub. I arrived before its 3.00pm weekday opening time so I couldn’t check whether the new owners had yet installed a kitchen. In any event this is another great country pub which would welcome riders to its five very comfortable rooms.
There’s business hours fuel at the garage across the way for the small tank set.
Then it was off to Gunning on Dalton Rd. Gunning is another of my favourite billabong towns with two good cafes, the Merino being my favourite and the Shell servo next to the pub is the friendliest one around. I topped up so I could chat to the owner who’s never too busy for a chat and can always help with directions.
We decided the best way home would begin with a zip down the Hume to Yass so I rode the Old Grey Mare to the edge of town and its Tourist Info Office . The knowledgeable and helpful young lady there suggested heading down through Wee Jasper and when I heard the other side was not suitable for caravans or trucks I perked up. ‘Enjoy the ride down to the township,’ she told me, ‘ coz there’s 60 kay of dirt on the other side.’
Ah! Just a few Kays out of town it’s easy to understand why the ride down to Wee Jasper is a favourite there and back day ride for my friends in Canberra. The tar is not degraded by truck scars, no potholes or rutting in the corners caused by HGV tyres so the corners are easy to plan. A 1km stretch of unsealed roadworks in the middle is the only blemish and with consistent advisories, predictable corners and good centre markings. It’s a brilliant ride.
It’s primarily a cliff road with a drop-off to the right giving great views down into the Burrinjuck Valley and there’s a couple of pull-off points where you can stop and admire the beauty of the country.
Wee Jasper itself is a quaint little place with a General Store open only from 11.30-3.30 during the week and what must be one of the State’s smallest schools at the far edge of town.
The tar gives out some 3km west of the township as the strip rises up from the valley. The first 16km reminds very much of the goat track to Wombeyan Caves and would be a challenge for a road bike but after this it flattens and smooths out and is good high speed dirt. The scenery is distractingly good and the native life abundant. Within ten km I’d negotiatied roos, slowed for echidnas, long neck tortoises and blue tongues and swerved to avoid a rearing 2 metre black snake.
After the dirt you hit a T with Tumut in both directions. Dirt to the right and tar to the left. A racing fully loaded log truck coming out of the dirt on the wrong side made up my mind and I took the smooth route to the left.
“It came by chance one day that I
From Tumut rode to Gundagai”
Banjo Patterson 1902
Tumut has a great range of eateries, with both the Oriental Hotel and the Woolpack directly opposite offering good counter meals and many reasonable cafes along Wynard St. I grabbed a meal and a chardy at the Woolpack and pulled out my map.
Again you are spoiled for choice and from the three great options for the final stretch back to Gundagai I chose the eastern-most method which included a dirt stretch beside the Tumut River.
I retraced my steps for 2.5km before heading north to Brungle where I crossed the Tumut for the first time and then soon after stopped to check the map at the turn into the dirt Tarranbandra Rd. The sign warned that it is a Dry Weather Road Only and a sparkie was coming in his ute from the other direction and told me I was crazy and should stick to the tar but I thanked him and headed east.
The following 17km of dirt, regularly punctuated by cattle grids and now dry rivulet course at times very close to the wonderful Tumut River is a placid friendly surface and an awesomely beautiful ride. Just when you are getting fully into the groove, the track swings south and turns to bitumen and now the river on your right is the mighty Murrumbidge. Beautiful turns to awesome. Smooth surface, sweeping turns, great scenery for 8kms to Jackalass where I rejoined the Gundagai Brungle rd and headed into Gundagai.
The dirt had been very much a clay surface, yellow and red and in wet times it sure would be a slippery challenge. I wouldn’t try it on a road bike, but in the dry, the Tenere just lapped it up.
If the rest of the roads I was hoping to ride were like this, I was in for a good couple of days. Since leaving Yass , OUTSIDE TOWN LIMITS, I’d seen 5 moving cars, three trucks and no moving motorbikes.
THIS IS THE FIRST POSSIBLE END OF ARTICLE WITH THE FOLLOWING FINAL PARS.
The next day had me beginning with a southern loop to Adelong via the central route to Tumut then north to Tumblong followed by a sprint north to Junee via Wantabadbery before back to base via Nangus.
Then on the third day it was an amazingly good north east loop to Jugiong via Wallendbeen and Harden followed by a classic river hugging get home via Hopewood and Brungle.
For the rest of this article log onto cycletorque.com.au/features. There’re also links to fully detailed and illustrated google maps and .gpx files of routes and POI’s which can be downloaded to your GPS unit.
The RSL at the western end of town is standard club fare, friendly and cheap with two free internet terminals. I checked my email and then bom.gov and weatherzone.com for the forecasts. It was all good news so I decided to head south first thing in the morning to avoid the morning sun and make for Tumut via the middle road then loop back north to Tumblong via Adelong.
“The mountain road goes up and down
From Gundagai to Tumut Town”
Banjo Patterson 1902
This is sealed all the way and fast rural A riding with predicable surface, good advisories and centre and edge lining for most of the roads. The flats are balanced with some good inclines and declines, a most enjoyable ride. The info office at Tumut is staffed by totally informed staff and the Caltex just up the road is friendly, helpful and with visor wash full with good detergent suds. There’s no fuel at either Adelong or Tumblong so it’s wise to fill up here.
Adelong was flash flooded in late October and if you stop for a break at the Capitol Café, walk up a bit to the newsagent and ask Cheri the owner for a squiz at her shots of the waters raging a metre high outside her door.
As you leave and head north take the turnoff about 1km from town for the Adelong Gold Diggings. One of the more interesting breaks in the journey and a decent place if you are into feral camping.
Once at Tumblong, you again have the choice of zipping back to Gundagai on the Hume or exploring a bit more. The sun was still high in a mainly clear sky so I headed north west for Wantabadgery. This is rural B road with no centre lining or advisories and for the first 16km is flat fast and not hugely interesting. Then you turn right and cross the ‘bidgee
Now I love general stores but the Wantabadgery General Store, open whilst the owner is awake, is special. Steve the owner was away shearing so his mum was running this gem when I dropped in. It’s licensed and its ice-creams are rock hard cold. Don’t pass it unvisited. Not far away are a couple of great camping areas if you are carrying a swag and sleeping out. Both Moonlight Reserve and Sandy Beach are on the banks of the Murrumbidgee and will host me one night soon.
“Where the blue gums are growing
And the Murrumbidgee’s flowing”
Jack O’Hagan 1922
From Wanta, I headed now headed north once again on wonderfully deserted roads for Gundagai Rd where I could’ve turned left for a break in Junee but I flicked right for home. Nangas, halfway there has a Golden Fleece restricted servo if you didn’t fill back at Tumut. The rest of the road is rural A with little traffic and an attitude of begging to be ridden.
I was back at Gundy after another great day’s riding and as I sat at the café with a quality strawb milkshake served properly in the metal and with extra ice-cream and checked my map, I knew that my third day was going to be at least as good.