Cycle touring: Berowra to Dharug National Park to Wondabyne Station (via hell)

Berowra to Wondabyne ride-15

Singletrack on the Old Great North Road

Essentials:

  • Total distance ~123km / 2 days
  • GPX tracks for Day One and Day Two [downloads forthcoming]
  • 68.6km to Ten Mile Hollow Campground (Dharug NP) (~4:21 moving time, 5:24 total time)
  • 54.7km day two Ten Mile Hollow Campground to Wombeyan Station (via hell) (~4 hours riding time, 6:21 total time — ~3km / 2.5 hours of hard hike-a-bike)
  • Total vertical ascent over two days ~2800m (~1497m day one, 1356m day two)
  • Train, Sydney Central to Berowra, regular departures.  Total transit time ~ 50 minutes.
  • Train, Wombeyan Station to Sydney Central, departures roughly every hour on the half-hour on weekends.Total travel time ~50 minutes
  • Check train timings at http://www.transportnsw.info/
  • Total trip time: ~48 hours (Leave Sydney 6.00pm Friday, Arrive Sydney 6.00pm Sunday)
  • Total cost: ~$27 (Accommodation = $0, Transportation = $8.90 (Opal card), Food = $18)
  • Route: Berowra to Berowra Waters Ferry to Great North Road to Wisemans Ferry to Old Great Northern Road to Simpson Track to Dubbo Gully Road to Wisemans Ferry Road to Peats Ridge Rd to Woy Woy Rd to Tommo’s Loop Track to Great North Walk to Wombeyan Station (last bit to Wombeyan Station not recommended).
  • Navigation: Samsung Galaxy Note 3 / Gaia GPS & Google Maps
  • Photography: Fuji X-T1, 10-24mm F4 lens, edited in Lightroom
Berowra to Wondabyne ride-18

Sunrise over the hills from Berowra Valley Regional Park.

The map is not the territory.

After my last thoroughly enjoyable (if also thoroughly cold) weekend out along the dirt track of Wombeyan Caves Road, I was determined to find a route that was mostly offroad for my next cycling microadventure. To do this, I broadened my range of map sources, consulting not only Google Maps and Google Earth and the Australian National Parks maps, but also WildWalks hiking maps and track reports, as well as my new favorite bit of software — Gaia GPS.

Gaia GPS is an Android or iOS app (pricey at around $20) that offers a huge array of potential maps overlays — satellite imagery, Open Street Maps, Open Cycling Maps, Open Hiking Maps and more. What makes the functionality of Gaia GPS truly fantastic, however, is the ability to download specific sections of any of these maps for offline use — meaning that when you’re out of coverage off on a mountaintop somewhere, you’ll still know where you are.

And though the Open Hiking Maps for my planned route were especially useful for determining if a track was cycleable vs. merely hikeable (there are different symbols for these two kinds of tracks, as well as campsite symbols that I wasn’t able to find on other map sources), the distinction between map and territory remained a very significant one. Whatever symbol the map uses, it’s all terra incognita until you actually show up to the place it marks. And no map, anywhere, can accurately describe the depths of human stubbornness or stupidity in people attempting to follow it places that they clearly should not go. More on this later.

Morning at the ridgetop campsite in Berowra Valley NP above Berowra Heights.

Morning at the ridgetop campsite in Berowra Valley NP above Berowra Heights.

Friday night after work, I took the train north to Berowra and camped along a firetrail that runs from the dead end of a suburban development up onto the ridge above the town. There were kangaroos rustling in the underbrush as I set up my bivy and went to sleep, and though I desperately wish to write that I hate a “‘rooed awakening” the next morning, it was only kookaburras that woke me, with no marsupials in sight.

Berowra to Wondabyne ride-16

Ferry ramp at Berowra Waters.

Berowra to Wondabyne ride-19

Morning sunlight breaks over the hills at the Berowra Waters ferry.

One of the reasons I’d planned this particular route is that it made use of two of Greater Sydney’s free river ferries — essentially open barges towed by fixed cables back and forth across arms and tributaries of the Hawkesbury River system. They’re free of charge and many operate 24 hours a day, and by the time I’d got down to the ferry at Berowra Waters in the early morning, a healthy group of cyclists were already parked at the little cafe beside the ramp, indulging in the Australian obsession with good coffee in all places.

Crossing the river, the road then wound uphill for a few kilometres before being joined by around 30km worth of motorised traffic on the tarmac north to Wisemans Ferry — a tiny, pretty riverfront settlement with its own ferry leading across the Hawkesbury, the forested rise of Dharug National Park greeting me across the water and a haze of smoke in the air as fire crews did a controlled burn in the surrounding hills.

Berowra to Wondabyne ride-14

Motorcycles parked at the Wisemans Ferry Inn.

Berowra to Wondabyne ride-1-2

Park on the water at Wisemans Ferry.

Berowra to Wondabyne ride-12

Convict Road Kiosk at Wisemans Ferry waterfront.

Berowra to Wondabyne ride-11

Across the Hawkesbury River at Wisemans Ferry.

Running thru the park is a section of the Old Great North Road, a famous bit of Australiana built almost entirely by convict labour back in the early-mid 1800s when Sydney was little more than Great Britain’s favourite penal colony. The wide graded dirt interpretive trail leading up Devines Hill from near the ferry launch on the opposite site of the river made an interesting place to take a breather, reading the various information plaques along the side of the road giving details and stories of its convict history. Within a couple of kilometers, however, the way had narrowed into singletrack, and shortly after became quite technical — steep and rocky, with significant sections that, with a fully loaded bicycle, had to be dismounted and hike-a-biked. Nobody else was about, only insects loud in the trees.

Berowra to Wondabyne ride-10

Smooth section of the Old Great North Road above Devines Hill.

After a couple hours of more or less technical riding (in which I tentatively decided to nickname my Surly Disc Trucker ‘The Ute’ for its ability to haul significant amounts of gear across gnarly terrain without a complaint), I joined back up with a motorable dirt track on the ridgeline and zipped down to the deserted Ten Mile Hollow campsite, discovering it to be right next to a Buddhist Thai Forest School meditation retreat named Wat Buddha Dhamma.

Berowra to Wondabyne ride-5

Meditation hall, Wat Buddha Dhamma, Dharug National Park.

A possum (or series of possums) came and nibbled my food overnight, leaving me with a rather gnawed-on baguette to have with my baked beans the next morning, but crossing the trail over to the retreat and having a quiet meditation in their lovely wooden sala, followed by a cup of tea while they charged my flagging phone, was more than compensation for the possum assault.

Berowra to Wondabyne ride-2-2

Lower portion of Simpson Track near Mangrove Creek.

Packing up and leaving the campground, I zipped down the Simpson Track from the ridgeline to the flats around Mangrove Creek — a trail with a wealth of beautiful potential camping spots, though none with the toilets and water tap of the campground at Ten Mile Hollow. Continuing onto the dirt track of Ten Mile Hollow Road I stopped at an early settler cemetery for some photographs, then crossed a rough plank bridge and gritted myself for the steep climb up Dubbo Gully Road to the tar at Waratah Road in Upper Mangrove.

Berowra to Wondabyne ride-2

Settler cemetery, Ten Mile Hollow Rd.

Berowra to Wondabyne ride-1

Early convict grave site, settler cemetery.

Berowra to Wondabyne ride-6

Morning sunburst along the Simpson Track.

Berowra to Wondabyne ride-21

Plank bridge on Ten Mile Hollow Road over Mangrove Creek.

Berowra to Wondabyne ride-22

Locked gate, Dubbo Gully Rd.

Back on the pavement, things were predictably less entertaining — being chased by the angry, territorial dogs of rural residents and avoiding traffic as best I could for a couple hours all the way east and then south to the beginning of the Thommo’s Loop fire trail in Brisbane Water National Park near Woy Woy.

Berowra to Wondabyne ride-4

Waterfall and pool at Kairong Brook along the Great North Walk near Wondabyne Station.

It is worth mentioning at this point that this whole trip had been spurred by a single discovery late on Wednesday afternoon that Sydney actually has a train station without a single road leading to it — riverside Wondabyne station north of the city, nestled at the bottom of a steep hill in the national park. I decided, studying my maps, that I would investigate if it was in fact possible to reach this station by bicycle, noting that the only problematic section was a roughly 3km stretch of bushtrack following the Great Northern Walk down from the fire trail, across a couple of creeks, and then ascending again to a brief stretch of cycleable track that led down to near the station.

scrapes

Aftermath of two and a half hours of hike-a-bike thru hard bushtrack with a loaded touring bicycle.

Within a hundred metres of beginning on the bushtrack section, of course, the trail became uncycleable, with the sort of steep, narrow, slippery stone-and-mud steps that occasionally required free hands. Nonetheless, in for a penny and in for a pound, I was committed to realise my ‘Wondabyne by bicycle’ ambitions.

I carried my fully laden bicycle on my shoulder as much as I pushed it, and I slipped and fell almost as much as I walked. I was pouring sweat and filthy, bleeding from cuts and scrapes on my arms and legs. People who passed me on the track greeting me with a worried, “You alright, mate?” or just laughed. And how could I blame them? The course of action that I was undertaking was clearly not rational, and aside from the motivation of my rather random quest, entirely unexplainable.

Berowra to Wondabyne ride-7

Wondabyne Station — platform only long enough for one car, and no roads leading to the station.

Two and a half hours later, and feeling like ten miles of bad road, I finally made my way down to Wondabyne Station — a single short platform only long enough for a single car — and flagged down the conductor like I was catching a bus as the train approached, thus realising my ambition of reaching Wondabyne Station entirely by bicycle (but having to carry the bicycle for two and a half hours as part of the bargain).

Berowra to Wondabyne ride-9

Back in civilisation — a ramp on the platform at Strathfield Station in Sydney.

Changing trains at Strathfield, two people very high on hard drugs (probably ice) were listening to 70s funk and having a loud impromptu dance party in the final carriage of the train where I’d parked my worn-out body and my bike, welcoming me back to the nourishing bosom of civilisation.

As a continued shakedown of my gear, everything on the bike had performed admirably (with the exception of the stock bottom bracket which from its creaking and clunking I believe I may have nuked), and the largely off-road route was as fun and pretty as I could have wished. Gaia GPS will, I sense, also become an increasingly indispensible tool.

I cannot, however, in good faith recommend cycling to Wondabyne. =)

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