Australia is rather a large island with a spectacular array of places to turn your pedals. Whether home for you is Adelaide or Canberra, Sydney or Perth, Hobart or Brisbane, virtually all of our major cities sit within easy reach of some truly magnificent riding, not to mention the bulk of our regional centres. Then, of course, there’s the Victorian high country. The perfect place to truly test yourself as a rider.
Long renowned for its world-class mountain biking, road cyclists are discovering the bitumenised gems of the Victorian Highlands north-east of Melbourne in greater and greater numbers every year. After a recent visit to the region myself, there’s no need for a UCI investigation to understand why; it’s as close as Australians can get to European alpine riding conditions without hopping on an international flight.
The roads are generally good. The traffic is generally quiet. The accommodation is generally excellent, as is the coffee. The weather? Well, it’s generally all over the place. But that’s all part of the highlands riding experience. Not dissimilar to a snow holiday, you need to be prepared for quickly changing weather conditions. I ended up jamming pretty much everything I owned into my borrowed bike bag, and when it started snowing one day I was rather glad I did. On other days however the mercury soared, providing for very different challenges.
There are many charming towns and regions in which to base your stay, largely dependent on where you intend to ride. Yarra Valley. Mansfield. Bright. Mt Beauty. You can also choose to stay closer to the heavens in one of the many mountain resorts like Mt Buller, Hotham or Falls Creek, far quieter and snowless than ski season of course, but no less beautiful. Just be prepared to end every day with a gut busting climb to get home. (On the flip-side, every day begins with a pulse-racing decent too.)
In most of the places we rode the Victorian locals seemed genuinely welcoming of cyclists and more than happy to see us. They also gave us a wide berth in their cars and utes which was greatly appreciated. That said, the lack of a hard road shoulder in some places did provide for the odd hairy moment. But no more so than anywhere else I’ve ridden. Just watch out for the (sadly, dead) wombats. They were everywhere and sure to make a rather big mess of you and your bike should you be unlucky enough to clip one on the way past.
Unless you’re staying long enough to do them all, one of the hardest decisions you’ll no doubt have to make is which of the tempting rides and alpine peaks to tackle. At one end of the scale there’s the relatively short but significantly painful ascent of Mt Baw Baw which hits 20%+ at times. At the other, there’s the long (42km) but generally steady (2.2% average) Dinner Plain. Plus countless other ascents and undulating rides sitting somewhere in the middle for distance, gradient and metres climbed.
Riding isn’t all the region has going for it, of course. Should you want – or need – a recovery day, you certainly won’t struggle for things to do. To both the north (Rutherglen) and south (Yarra Valley) there’s wine country. There are festivals aplenty throughout the year depending on what floats your boat. Horse riding. Fishing. Bushwalking. The Targa rally series visits the region. You’re never further than about four hours in the car from Melbourne either. And if you’re really keen, you can always swing by the Kerrigan family’s favourite holiday spot, Bonnie Doon, of The Castle fame.
I loved every moment of my all-too-short time in this superb riding region of Australia. If you’re up for a different type of riding to your usual fare, with some real Euro-style mountains to climb and test yourself against, I dare say you will too.
In case you’re wondering, I visited the Victorian Highlands courtesy of Tourism North East, Mt Buller Resort Management, Peloton Tours, Overflow Cottages in Mansfield, the Arlberg Hotel atop Mt Buller, and Bicycling Australia magazine (where you can read a lot more about my visit in an upcoming issue). Rest assured I would still be raving about it if I’d paid for it out of my own pocket. In fact, I’m already planning my next trip with several mates…