Road to Mongarlowe
After a big serving of eggs at The Albion café, we headed back out of Braidwood on the same road we’d come into town on the previous evening; the false-flat, sealed downhill that we'd so enjoyed the day before now providing the perfect warm-up for a tough sophomore day.
Reaching Mongarlowe, we took a right onto Northangera Rd, and struck first gravel. Far more scenic (and less risky) than taking the Kings Highway out of Braidwood, this route also offered us a quick stop-off at the ‘fish-friendly’ Mongarlowe River crossing for a spot of rock skipping.
Soon we reached the Kings Highway again, turning back towards Braidwood for a thankfully short section of white-knuckle shoulder-hugging - as logging trucks and caravans hurtled by.
From there, we swung left onto Tudor Valley Rd and pedaled through a long, enjoyable section of rolling hills and fertile pasture land known as the Tudor Valley, or, more affectionately, ‘Irish Corner’, so-named for the Irish that flocked here in search of gold.
Our route would also take us close to, but not into Reidsdale, an area where many of these early gold-seekers eventually settled. Turning to an agrarian lifestyle modeled on their European heritage, “Man to the plough, wife to the cow” (in the words of one local historian) became a way of life in these parts for decades.
Another kilometre, another amazing tiny horse. Then, a very dead snake that had evidently met its maker under the wheel of a car. But ‘snek’ hadn’t died in vain, providing Toby with a photo-op and a chance to channel his inner Steve Irwin.
Regular signage for Sully’s Cider House had us thinking that we might be in for an earlier-than-expected lunchtime sampling, but unfortunately we turned right onto Monga Lane only a few hundred metres short. Maybe next time.
Shortly afterwards we stumbled upon a rather famous local landmark. The Araluen fairy tree is firmly entrenched in local folklore, with its exact location a closely guarded secret. The tree is itself a giant - more than 3 metres wide - with an enormous hollow at its base, likely caused by a fire long ago.
Legend has it that in the 1800s, children in the area were told of small, hairy ‘Red Men’ who lived in the forest and rode on rabbits. In the 1960s this particular tree became popular among local kids, after a concealed Redman’s hideaway was allegedly found in its large hollow, complete with carved furniture.
Ever since, generations of local children have been leaving decorations, toys and furniture at the spot - before sneaking in to see if they can catch a glimpse of a Redman. We did not.
Our stop for lunch was Majors Creek, a sleepy little hamlet that hugs the edge of the escarpment. We timed our arrival to perfection, stumbling upon a local country music festival already in full swing, complete with an all-you-can-eat barbeque and salad bar put on by the local pub.
Named after the first European settler in the area, Major William Sandys Elrington, who was granted 2650 acres upon his retirement from the British military, Majors Creek (named in his honour) only sprang up after gold was discovered in 1851.
Surprisingly noticeable on our approach into town was the impact of over half a century of gold mining activities in the area, with the banks of the creek still clearly showing signs of historic wear and tear.
Rolling out of town rejuvenated by a great feed and mid-ride schooner, we soon hit the most significant and gnarly gravel descent of the trip, which would see us drop more than 500m into Araluen.
The beginning of the descent is marked by Clarke’s Lookout which overlooks the valley - so named after the notorious Clarke Brothers who we had learnt all about the day before.
Our descent vacillated between thrilling and reckless. Given the lack of any natural guardrail and the near-certain death drop-off awaiting us on the other side, the difference was only ever one botched line away.
The name Araluen means ‘place of the water lilies’ in the local Aboriginal language, and was described at the time of European settlement as a broad alluvial valley – with many natural billabongs covered with water lilies. Unfortunately, no such billabongs are left today, with the natural landscape of the area destroyed by rampant gold mining during the gold rush.
The town of Araluen experienced a decline after a destructive flash flood virtually swept it away in 1860, killing 24 people in the process. A second flash flood came in March 2012, killing one person.
Aside from some pretty amazing views – seemingly hemmed in on all sides by mountains – the main highlight here was a particularly amusing piece of road signage. We’ll leave it up to you to decide if it is actually funny, or whether we’re just immature.
Reaching the end of the valley, we hit dirt again – but not the smooth gravel we’d enjoyed earlier in the day. The next 60 kilometres would be characterised by a rough, poorly graded surface, with plenty of corrugation and loose gravel in the corners just waiting to catch out any overly eager cyclist.
The winding Deua River valley felt remote; many of houses and farmsteads that we rode past had their own garden patches, solar panels and satellite dishes, kitted out for a life off the grid. Stopping at the fence of one property to say hello to a truly gigantic pig, angry shouting could be heard coming from inside the nearby weatherboard house. As the shouting intensified, we were unsure if it was aimed at us - or was of a more domestic nature. Still, as said fury reached fever pitch, and with only our MIPS helmets to protect us from any high velocity projectiles that we strongly suspected might start whizzing around at any given moment, we swiftly got moving again with our curly tails between our legs.
Halfway along Araluen Rd, we stopped to refill our bottles and freshen up in the river, a welcome reprieve from the bone-jarring road surface.
Although seemingly flat, or even slightly downhill according to the profile, the final slog into Moruya was a slow and painful one, our spirits frequently lifted by the road turning to tarmac… only to return to rough gravel a couple of hundred metres later.
Scraps and Chips
The riverside town of Moruya would be our home for the night. For the last hour or so of the trip, we’d harboured hopes of a classic south coast fish and chips dinner. However, having rolled into town at the relatively ‘late’ hour of 7pm, we had to settle for the once-was-frozen-now-is-fried option at the local pub. At least the beer was cold.
Expected to be the easiest of the 3 days within The Budawangs Part II. The day had the least climbing and was marked by a substantial drop in elevation into the Araluen Valley. What proved tougher than expected was the poor quality gravel in the valley. Bone jarring and slow.
We rode Giant ToughRoad SLR GX and 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, Topeak & Ortlieb allowed us to carry plenty of food & water, clothes, spares & camera gear.
We stayed at the The Monarch Hotel Motel in Moruya. Good for accom and drinks, no good for food. For that you’ll need to visit somewhere else in Moruya.
Food & Water:
Plenty of places to refill the supplies along this route. Majors Creek for a food & water stock up. Then fill the bottles again from the Deua River in the Araluen Valley. Fast flowing and fresh. Could also be a nice spot for a cool-off dip.
The descent down Majors Creek Mountain Road is a sketchy one. A bit too much enthusiasm would see you off the edge of the road, and off some rather steep edges. No guardrail, and plenty of water-rutted surfaces, so don’t risk it for the KOM.
More from The Budawangs Part II
Choose from any of the three days we spent riding, or the Road Book, for all the maps & information you need to get out and explore the area yourself.
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