Frog n’ Toad
The beauty of Barrington Tops (for those of us living in Sydney anyway) is the relatively short drive to get there – only 3.5 hours north of the CBD. Thoughtfully, the guys coming up from Melbourne knocked off the 9-plus hour drive to Sydney the day before, joining us early Friday morning for the convoy to Gloucester.
Kosciuszko of the North
Barrington Tops seems to be (from our vantage point at least) an under-appreciated area of NSW for cycling. It’s beautiful, featuring a high plateau between two of the larger peaks along the Mount Royal Range (a spur of the Great Dividing Range), and accessible only by gravel roads.
Surprising to most is the elevation of the main road crossing through the National Park – an alpine-length climb eventually topping out at 1528m. It snows in winter, and was even considered during the 1930’s as a potential ‘Kosciuszko of the North’ – fully equipped with skiing & tourism facilities.
Later than intended & in the sweltering 36º heat, we departed Gloucester headed for Moonan Flat. We took the scenic route, heading around the Bucketts Mountains and out via Mud Hut Road searching for some extra gravel before climbing for the 'Tops.
Bottles empty, and with all the river beds dry, we decided in desperation to raid a water tank attached to a modest house along Scone Road. With no way to know if this was our last water opportunity before the climb, we had little choice. We hopped the fence hoping no-one was home...
Meet Rob – owner of the water tank, and all-around top bloke. He also once raced road bikes for Hunter Districts, on a custom, Aussie-built Demonda (running full Super Record & Nissi Rims he recalled). Perhaps that is why we was so forgiving, nay, welcoming of 6 strangers caught red-handed stealing his water.
As luck would have it, only a few hundred meters past Rob’s place, The Dilgry River was flowing. This would have made for a perfect water stop, as at the foot of the climb you’re crossing the river before its had a chance to get any cow crap in it – fresh straight off the hills (the water, that is).
Not needing a drink, we instead opted for a dip before tackling the gravel climb up Barrington Tops Forest Road.
Frederick Wordsworth Ward (aka Captain Thunderbolt) was a bushranger renowned for escaping from the Cockatoo Island penal establishment and for his lengthy bush-ranging career - the longest roaming bushranger in Australian history. Over six-and-a-half years, Ward robbed everybody and everything across much of northern New South Wales - from the Hunter Region north to Queensland and from Tamworth nearly as far west as Bourke.
Thunderbolts Lookout is just one of many areas of geological interest that bears this rather successful outlaw's name.
With the light fading, and a red sun poking through the trees up on the plateau, we knew something special was about to happen. Concerned we may exit the trees too late to see it, we hustled for glory - getting there just in time. A bushfire in the surrounding area had coloured the sky and the low cloud cover left just enough of a gap on the horizon for the sun to come blasting through. An amazing sunset (and tidy little descent) to round out the first day.
Death by dinner
In an effort to put back in what had already been expended on a big first day (plus add a layer on top for the next day's efforts) Lachlan ate three dinners to himself, plus a few beers in rapid succession. Cue hot sweats followed by a complete full body shutdown. RIP Lachlan.
Simply put – the perfect ride. A bit of scenic country bitumen to get things going, some simple gravel sections, then straight up the main gravel climb to over 1500m. The eventual descent opens up, giving you expansive views west of the Park as you continue down, eventually finishing in Moonan Flat. We recommend the pub.
We rode Giant TCX cyclocross bikes. We kept things pretty close to factory spec, with the exception of some more ‘adventure-friendly’ gearing for those 20%-plus dirt gradients. Most of us ran 1X drivetrains with a 40t chainring up front and 11x40t cassette at the rear. There is no harm in having some decent 40mm rubber too - WTB Nano or Maxxis Ramblers will rarely let you down.
We weren‘t camping on this trip, but still needed to carry a fair bit of kit. Saddle & frame bags by Revelate Designs allowed us to carry plenty of food & water, clothes, spares & camera gear.
We stayed at the Victoria Hotel Moonan Flat. They have food, beer & beds – all you need, really. A great pub with a sizeable beer garden to end the day.
Food & Water:
Stock up on both in Gloucester and carry as much as you can. Over the warmer months you might find quite a few of the rivers dry up - leaving you few options for water. It’s worth noting there is also no store in Moonan Flat - and no shops along the way - so you will need to carry a minimum of two days worth of food with you.
The Dilgry River will likely be flowing. Located just before you start the ascent up Barrington Tops Forest Rd, it’s a perfect water (or swim) stop. Running right off the mountain, it hasn’t been tainted by any of the many cattle farms in the area, remaining crystal clear.
Our route would likely be possible on a road bike, so long as you have plenty of spares and appropriate tires – at least 30mm. The condition of the gravel near the top of the climb is quite rough, with lots of exposed sharp rocks.
As always, ride safely, responsibly and within your limits.
More from Barrington Tops
Choose from any of the three days we spent riding around the Barrington Tops National Park, or the Road Book, for all the maps & information you need to get out and explore the area yourself.
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