Dream Destination: Cycling Victoria's North East And Alpine Climbs
Bicycling Australia Editor Nat Bromhead and ultra-endurance cyclist Davin Harding recently spent the best part of a week discovering Victoria’s high country by bike. Experiencing many locations and a wide range of conditions, here is their story.
Long, challenging, consistent climbing ... there’s no better way to not only check your form but improve overall ability.
But the problem is this ... those long, consistent climbs tend to be a long, long way from Australia. The good news is that within a comfortable driving distance of Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and Adelaide, there lays some truly epic cycling, a region literally full to the brim of on- and off-bike options for keen and adventurous travellers.
A Beeline For Bright
Leaving Adelaide early Tuesday morning, ultra-endurance cyclist and two-wheel tragic Davin Harding made a beeline for Bright, that quaint little Euro-feeling tourist town nestled near the Australian Alps in North Eastern Victoria.
As Davin was driving the 900km from Adelaide, I was scooting south – heading the 650km down the Hume from Sydney – to meet my good mate in the region that could only be described as Australia’s cycling heartland.
Enjoying an afternoon cuppa as we assembled our bikes in the purpose-built workshop at Bright’s recently completed Colonial Motel, we marvelled at the cycling infrastructure installed this and other accommodation providers across the greater North East region.
The cycling tourism market is strong, it shouldn’t be underestimated, and those in the Bright region are attuned to this valuable and viable tourism sector.
Bikes hung on the wall-mounted rows of Steadyracks in the storeroom, and the door electronically locked, it was time to head into town for a bite to eat and to start planning the five days of cycling ahead of us.
“...Not super taxing, it’s MORE OF A CONSTANT CLIMB, one you can find, set and lock in your rhythm...”
Not in the North East to rest, Davin and I were soon heading out on a late afternoon sortie to one of the nation’s most accessible climbs, the mighty Mount Buffalo. Leaving Bright, heading towards Myrtleford, we turned left at the Porepunkah roundabout and within moments were hitting the hills the locals call ‘little Buffalo’.
A few short kilometres along the quiet road and the only way is up – the climbing begins and on it goes for a total of 20km averaging five percent for just over 1000m of elevation.
Not super taxing, it’s more of a constant climb, one you can find, set and lock in your rhythm. The perfect training climb? Well that’s subjective and there are a hell of a lot of variables ... but it truly is a standout ride.
Cresting the summit then covering the final few kilometres through open heathland and then through a stunning forest, we arrived at the iconic Buffalo Chalet to take in the sensational dusk views.
“What a way to start the trip,” Davin and I mused – to be enjoying the expansive view, taking in the sights and seeing the distant locations we’d be experiencing over coming days.
Heading out of town and toward Harrietville, the destination for day two was Mount Hotham. But certainly not before an extended brekky break at the legendary Harrietville Bakery – it was chilly, the coffee was warm, and there were plenty of daylight hours ahead of us.
Before leaving we heard a fellow diner say, “Mate ... I’ve been a baker for over 30 years and that was one of the best pies I’ve ever eaten...” Yes, they were damn good pies!
Clipping in and turning left, the climb begins less than one kilometre from the quaint village of Harrietville. Before long we were tackling the legendary MEG, one of the most challenging sections of the Hotham climb and an absolute joy (albeit a slightly thigh-burning joy) to climb as the bright sun shone and day started to warm.
The day’s ride included around 25km of gradual climbing and started with roughly 10km of serious ascent. Then there’s around 10km of semi-false flat, followed by a final brutal uphill 10km to the highest through road on the continent.
Stunning views abound and the temptation for regular photo stops is real ... as much a journey as challenge to reach the destination we took in the stunning vista and revelled in the fact that the road up to and back from Hotham is indeed comparable to some of the world’s better known and more respected climbs & descents.
The trip home consisted of close to 30km of snaking, relatively smooth and completely traffic-free descending.
With a finger hovering above each brake lever, in the big ring and pushing hard into the seemingly endless corners, our bikes literally owned the road. And for some strange reason they both seemed to find their way directly back to the Bright Brewery where fresh schooners, generously piled plates, and hours of cycling-related banter awaited.
Exploring Mitta Mitta
One of the hidden gems of Victoria’s North East, the Mitta Mitta region consists of a large valley just north of better-known Bright. The drive from Bright to Mitta Mitta is one of the region’s highlights – quiet rolling country roads, wide open paddocks, distant mountains and stunning rural vistas. While many automatically make a beeline for Bright when embarking on a cycling trip, the Mitta area offers some surprisingly good options.
During our stay – and despite a snap temperature drop to the low single digits – we enjoyed a memorable day exploring local out and backs and training loops. Seeing barely any traffic during a five-hour Sunday ride, this part of the North East is highly recommended as a cycling destination.
One of the highlights was a ride out to Dartmouth and the steep final climb to the dam wall and viewing platform above Lake
Riding to Dartmouth? Our top tip is to time the trip around lunch time and order the prawn & spaghetti dish at the club – it was cooked to perfection; the prawns were succulent, and the pasta hit was the perfect fuel for the ride back to Mitta Mitta.
Another of the major highlights of Mitta Mitta – truth be told the major reason to visit for keen cyclists, is to experience the Omeo Highway (C543) between Mitta Mitta and Omeo. Keen on one of the nation’s most dreamy descents? Our the final 40km back to Mitta Mitta is utterly spectacular.
Where To Eat
Tucked away in a side street in Bright, this gem of a café / restaurant is very popular and serves a unique modern Native American style of food. The burgers are brilliant, share plates abound and the beer menu is extensive.
Don’t leave town without trying the ‘fully loaded’ beer with salt, tabasco and a wedge of lime on top! It’s an absolute treat after a big day on the bike.
One of the region’s must-visit destinations. How many country pubs have cycling magazines, books and even a paperback copy of the Velominati’s Rules on hand?
A local institution, the Bright Brewery offer a wide range of their own locally brewed beers along with some of the tastiest food in town.
A small boutique brewery just outside the tiny town of Mitta Mitta, the beer, food and hospitality here is absolutely second to none. Although in operation for under a year, and still only producing a relatively small amount of beer each week, this is a brand sure to make a mark on the burgeoning boutique beer industry very soon.
Pizzas are an absolute standout, as is the tasting tray of the four most popular drops.
Mitta Mitta Pub
A local institution, the Mitta Mitta pub has recently been extensively renovated and refurbished. For such a seemingly small town, the pub comes alive each afternoon and evening – particularly on weekends. The food is hearty, there’s a stack of outdoor & indoor dining options, a large open fire and the classic leather armchairs are charming and inviting.
Extra Reasons To Ride
As if anyone needed an extra excuse to ride the nation’s best climbs, Victoria’s Ride High Country 7 Peaks is a cycling challenge running from October – April each year. The challenge encourages riders to tackle one, some, or even all of the seven challenging Victorian Alpine Resorts road climbs with the added bonus of winning major prizes.
Keen Melbourne cyclist Melissa Ireland was recently announced as the 7 Peaks winner for the 2019 season. For her efforts she scored the grand prize of a trip for two to Europe and the Tour de France.
To enter the competition and be eligible for the major prizes riders simply register online, complete the peaks of their choice and log them via the 7 Peaks app or a stamped paper passport.
Melissa won by climbing iconic Mt Hotham – her ascent being among more than 6,500 officially rides documented over summer 2018/19.
For more about the 2019/20 7 Peaks Challenge visit the website www.7peaks.com.au
Local Bunch Rides
Local bunch rides leave Bright’s well-known road cycling outlet CyclePath at 0600 several days per week depending upon time of year.
One of the highlights is the out and back to Tawonga.
Leaving the CyclePath Bike Shop at 0600 on Friday, the bunch tend to stick together for the trip out. Close to the start of the Tawonga climb the action starts as the fitter and faster locals & visitors give the hill a nudge.
Lead riders tend to arrive at the top around 0650 and wait at the lookout until 7am before the descent and ride back into Bright. A word of warning for visitors – don’t try to set any records on the downhill run back towards Bright – some of the sweepers have claimed scalps. Ride within your ability and enjoy this dream descent.
Check the Cyclepath website or Facebook page for the latest on local bunch rides.
Bicycling Australia visited Victoria’s North East as guests of Ride High Country.