1/2 November 2014
Last weekend I rode from Mittagong down to Wollondilly River Station to camp out for the night. It’s a well ridden path by cycle tourers since it’s only a few hours away from Sydney on the train and because it’s relatively low trafficked since the unsealed road riding down through the valley isn’t the most pleasurable drive (note, it’s not too much better on the hands when you’re riding a bike).
The first 30km or so out of Mittagong is sealed and takes a rolling route through the southern highlands rolling hills. I’d missed a bit of sleep so was taking it pretty easy, I wasn’t sure that we’d make the time we thought we would but it wasn’t all that important. I made a mental note that it felt like there were more long uphills than downhills, which gave me some comfort for the ride home the next day.
I was riding with a friend who was making a better pace than me but would wait every 10km or so on the side of the road to regroup. The final 20km down into the valley turns to a poorly graded unsealed road which takes a real toll on your wrists, and the beginning of the decent is roughly marked out by a hand cut rock tunnel which was opened in 1900.
The descent is a spectacular ride, switching back on itself and slowly making its way down into the valley at a pace not quite slowly enough to make you forget that heading the opposite direction will be a big task. When we finally reached the river we had to head up the hill a little bit to find the camp office, we were greeted by a surly chap who gave me a brief lecture about how he would be within his right as owner to tell us to keep riding since we didn’t make a booking – I feel like I had to actively convince him to take money off of us which was different, next time I’ll just hop the fence and sleep by the river. No doubt we both believe the other was the rude one.
Once we’d convinced the chap to let us stay the campsite was pretty spectacular. We cut into the salami and cheese while we set up camp and were swimming shortly after that. The ride only took us 4 hours or so but it really felt like a well earned swim. Looking back up the hill we had to ride the next day I was happy I’d taken it easy and I knew there was about a 2 hour climb to complete the next morning.
We set up camp and Gijs discovered the perils of not properly caring for your tent, mould had set in a visibly made a few small holes through his fly. We were both so beat that after a brief swim and a bit of cheese we both retired to the tent to nap for a little while. That 2 hour sleep was completely necessary and I crawled out of bed before it got dark and set to cooking up some pasta for dinner.
We didn’t last long after dinner before we hit the hay again, and I can honestly attest to that sleep being one of the best I’ve had in a long time.
The ride out the next morning took as long as I’d expected, with a solid 2 and a half hours of climbing up the unsealed track. I did fine with it but Gijs was a little more eager and pushed relatively hard to the top of the hill. It meant that the back end of the ride had me averaging 25km/hr while Gijs had to push through to the end of it. I was happy to find that I was correct about the long sweeping downhills which made it easy to hold a good pace.
When we finally arrived back in town we had a few hours to kill before the train arrived so we holed up in the nearest pub to get the last of lunch and have a few well earned beers. I think we managed to have another nap on the train as we hurtled our way back to Sydney for the week.
All in all, the ride is really rewarding one and not too strenuous with a really beautiful payoff at the end which is a fantastic camping spot on the river where you can swim off any aches from the days ride. I’ll be coming back later in the summer to camp out again as I enjoyed it so much and it’s so close and convenient. I think it would also be a great place to bring a few friends and a bottle of whiskey to get out of the city and relax.