Cycling Australia: Brisbane to Melbourne

Jan 9, 2012 by     10 Comments     Posted under: Australia

I was really surprised to find that no current route guides exist for this ride which must be one of the more popular tours in the country. Lonely Planet do have a version of the route in the first edition of “Cycling Australia” but it has been removed from the most recent edition.  I hope these notes of our route and the small pieces of advice I can give may prove useful for others planning on visiting this area.

Brisbane Airport to Coomera – 77km

Getting out of Brisbane airport is tricky as their new main road doesn’t allow bikes. Look up the airport access map for details of the bike route out. Basically, take Quantas road towards the city. Bikes  aren’t allowed on the M1 road over the Gateway bridge (though it does have a pedestrian path which can be ridden on). Easier still is to take the Story Bridge out of the city and follow the access roads which run alongside the main motorway south towards the Goldcoast. Sprawling suburbs may not be ideal scenery, but after arriving from New Zealand, such metropolis makes a welcome change.

Coomera to Coolangatta – 61km

Cut coastward to make your way to Surfer’s Paradise – apparently the attraction Australians would most like to see demolished. However, as long as you don’t arrive during “schoolies week”, this is an exciting coastal town where the high rises spring up out of miles of golden beaches. Pick your way past the surfers, skaters and sunbathers on the esplanades and promenades which run all the way down most of the beaches. The Darren Smith Memorial Cycleway runs from Surfers all the way to Point Danger at Coolangatta. It’s not particularly well signposted but keep an eye out for cycle paths and shared pavements which pick their way all the way along this beautiful coastline.

Coolangatta to Byron Bay – 77km

A lovely secluded cycle path runs down the coast South of Coolangatta in between some aspirational beach houses and some coastal bush land. The route continues though some quaint seaside towns. Eventually though it’s impossible to avoid joining the highway for a short section before turning off into Byron Bay. The beautiful beaches and spectacular surf at Byron doesn’t go unnoticed and the town is very popular amongst backpackers and families alike. Campsites can be tough to find at busy holiday times. It’s worth stopping here at least long enough to take the hike around the headland to the lighthouse and the most easterly point in Australia. Look out for dolphins, whales, turtles and goodness knows what other marine spectacles which apparently frequent the area.

Byron Bay to Iluka – 126km

Some good small roads out of Byron through Lennox Head and Ballina followed by another stretch on the highway for some tough riding for the rest of the afternoon. Turn off the highway to Iluka for a much quieter ride through some spectacular rainforest lined roads towards Woody Head National Park Campground in the Bundjalung National Park. Look out for the most southerly coffee plantation in the world at Woodburn. The ferry between Iluka and Yamba seems to cover no distance at all, but still takes around half an hour. It’s worth the $6 fee if you spot dolphins frolicking in the surf at the bows of the ship.

Iluka to Coffs Harbour – 163km

This is a long day and saner riders may have decided to break this into two days at Grafton, but some pre-booked accommodation and the chance of New Year’s Eve fireworks in Coffs Harbour forced us to soldier on. Tourist Route 22 helps you to avoid the highway for the majority of the ride. Leaving via the Yama ferry may be a smarter plan, but it only sails a few times a day so an early start is difficult. The small cable ferry at Lawrence is free and runs 24/7 to take people, cars and the occasional bike across the mighty Clarence river. The little used scenic tourist drive makes for quiet riding for most of the day through sugar cane farms and arable land. Grafton is an historic town with a great ugly shopping mall drawing people away from what may have once been a nice town centre.  The route out of Grafton rolls pleasantly over hill upon hill before a satisfying downhill run past the banana plantations and into Coffs Harbour. People say you mustn’t leave Coffs Harbour without seeing the Big Banana – Australia’s original “Big Thing”. However after 163km I’ll forgive you if you just want to have a beer and a dip in the sea.

Coffs Harbour to Macksville – 72km

Tourist Route 18 will take you the majority of the way to Macksville, near Nambucca Heads. It joins the highway for a short section but, by that time, the highway has slimmed down to a single lane road with a  reasonable shoulder.  Signs along the side warn of koalas on the road, and you may even spot the koala rope bridge crossing the highway but unless you’re riding at night you’re unlikely to see one unless it’s an unfortunate victim of the previous night’s adventures on the roadside.

Macksville to Racecourse Beach – 85km

Took the Highway for about 50km before finally turning off towards Smithtown and Gladstone. Nice flat, quiet ride from then on following the Belmore River towards to the coast and the busy tourist town of Crescent Head. Camped out of town at Racecourse Beach.

Racecourse Beach to Bonny Hills – 56km

Our route took a 6km 4WD track just south of Point Plomer to avoid a 20+km detour to Port Maquarie. The 4WD track is full of soft sand, mud and ditches – it is not recommended for touring bikes. We pushed the bikes for at least a third of the way – wouldn’t do it again. Do, however, visit the free Koala Sanctuary in Port Maquarie.

From Port Maquarie, we took Scenic Route 10 past Lake Cathie to camp at Bonny Hills.

Bonny Hills to Failford Lakes – 86km

Took a rough, unsealed road through Crowdy Bay National Park and then cut west to the Highway at Moorland. Followed the highway to Cundletown and then joined Scenic Route 6 towards Failford.

Failford Lakes to Bombah Point Campground – 99km

Following Scenic Route 6 through the twin towns of Forster and Tuncurry. From Bulahdelah, we took a unsealed road and the river ferry to Bombah Point Campground in Myrall Lakes National Park. The camp was quiet and scenic but we shared the site with an army of Bull Ants.

Bombah Point to Newcastle – 80km

After 25km ride south out of the park, we took the Tea Gardens to Nelson Bay ferry. The ferry ride took about an hour as captain took a scenic route so that we could see the dolphins – the captain even let the kids on board steer the ferry! From Nelson Bay, we took Route 121 towards Newcastle. We camped north of the river at Stockton. It is fairly industrial and unremarkable around Stockton but the Shipwreck Walk is worthwhile.

Newcastle to The Entrance – 73km

Took the early morning river ferry from Stockton to Newcastle and rode along the Old Pacific Highway out of the city. Turned off at Elizabeth Bay for some quieter riding towards “The Entrance” – a seaside town with a weird name, its a even weirder place.

The Entrance to Narabeen – 59.6km

A dash towards Ettalong to catch the 11am Palm Beach ferry – which we missed by minutes and had to wait 90mins for the next one. The ferry to Palm Beach is very fast and very scenic! (As an aside, if you take a bus or train on a cycle tour, it would feel like cheating – why doesn’t the ferry seem like cheating?!?)

Anyway, from Palm Beach, we headed south to camp at Narabeen Big4.

Narabeen to Miranda – 76.4km

From Narabeen, we rode to Manly and took the ferry direct to Sydney Harbour. This ferry ride is highly recommended as it places you right in the city centre and avoids a ton of traffic (and, as its a ferry, it is DEFINITELY not cheating). From Sydney Harbour, we rode along the coast to Bondi for lunch. From Bondi, we headed towards the airport and to Botany Bay. We got very lost around the airport – I would recommend not simply relying on google maps like us as the mapping does not seem to actually reflect the reality of the area and roads around the airport. We ended up right in Terminal 2 Departures at one point! We then stayed in a motel in Miranda.

Miranda to Coledale – 45.7km

Followed the Princes Highway out of Sydney until turning off into Royal National Park. On the quiet roads in the Park and took the highly recommended Lady Carrington Drive cycle path, which starts at the Visitors Center.  Joined the Grand Pacific Drive for the stunning views up and down the coast and the ride over the Sea Cliff Bridge. Camped at the excellent and friendly Coledale Surf Club beach campsite.

Coledale to Killalea State Park – 65km

Rode south and picked up the bike path at Thirroul Beach. From Wollongong, we rode to Shellharbour and stayed a little out of town at the brilliant Killalea State Park campsite.

Killalea to Huskisson – 90km

Followed the cycle path to Kiama. Some steep but short climbs around Kiama but the blowhole more than makes up for it. Crossed the river at Nowrai and joined the Highway for 12km before turning off towards Huskisson.

Huskisson to Ulladulla – 68km

Short detour to Sanctuary Point to replace a broken rear gear cable (thanks to ‘Bikes in the Basin’ for the repair). Steep rolling hills today paired with plagues of flies as we road towards Ulladulla. The worst thing about riding in Australia has to be the flies – it is fine when you riding at speed as they cannot keep up – but as soon as you hit a steep climb and slow down, gangs of large flies start to land all over your panniers, arms, face and back. I seriously considered attaching corks on strings to my bicycle helmet.

Ulladulla to Dolphin Beach – 99km

A couple of deviations from the Highway today. Took the unsealed Old Pacific Highway at Termeil which offered superb views and zero traffic. After Bateman’s Bay, we took Scenic Route 7 as it picks it’s way around the coast. The campground at Dolphin Beach was a little off the route but did have lots of kangaroos and a lovely beach (but, oddly, no dolphins).

Dolphin Beach to Wallaga Lake – 75km

Back on the Highway all morning. Recommending stopping at the Bodalla Cheese Factory – we fed the calves and enjoyed fresh yogurt. Took a short but worthwhile detour from the Highway to visit Tilba Tilba. Then we followed Scenic Route 9 to Wallaga Lake.

Wallaga Lake to Bega – 81km

Continued on Scenic Route 9 to Tathra and then headed inland to Bega – famous for its large cheese factory and not much else.

Bega to Nimmitabal – 89km

Quiet roads and rolling hills from Bega to Bemboka. From Bemboka, a 10km climb up Brown Mountain to around 1,200m. Piper’s Lookout on Brown Mountain has views back out to the ocean. From Piper’s Lookout, it was another 25km to Nimmitabal – not much going on in Nimmitabal, not many services and the small Council-run campsite is basic but cheap.

Nimmitabal to Jindabyne – 89km

Amazing ride from Nimmitabal to Dalgerty across the treeless plains and grassland. It’s beautifully bleak. Big climb from Dalgerty to Jindabyne but Jindabyne is fun town with lots of services.

Jindabyne to Jacob’s River Camp – 50km

Followed the Barry Way from Jinabyne into Kosciusko National Park. Warning: The next three days’ riding from Jindabyne have no services whatsoever – make sure you bring plenty of food, supplies and water treatment equipment. The riding must be, however, some of the best in the world.

The views and scenery from Wallace Craigie Lookout are world-class and it is amazing to see the regrowth considering the whole place was destroyed by fire in only 2003.  Gravel, unsealed but ridable road to the quaint Jacob’s River campground. We saw only about three cars all day.

Jacob’s River to Suggan Buggan – 41km

We continued on the Barry Way following the Snowy River. The views are incredible and you will soon pass the NSW / Victoria state line. The road is rough with occasional short steep climbs – it will be slow-going but so worthwhile – we recommend only going as far as Suggan Buggan today so you can enjoy the park. Long descent into the valley at Suggan Buggan (no services, only one house and an abandoned historic schoolhouse) but with a nice camp area over the other side of the river by the bridge.

Suggan Buggan to Buchan – 83km

Big, long climb out of Suggan Buggan, up to 4000ft. From the summit, it is an amazing incredible long descent on unsealed roads which cling to the side of the hills with steep cliffs down to the valley below. Awesome.

Some small climbs but mainly descents into Buchan. We camped at Buchan Caves State Campground and took a tour of the limestone caves.

Buchan to Bairnsdale – 89km

Pleasant, forested, rolling ride out of Buchan to Bruthen. Here, we picked up the East Gippsland Rail Trail all the way to Bairnsdale. Not the most spectacular cycle path in the world but allows you to cover distance while avoiding the busy roads.

Bairnsdale to Stratford – 97km

We took a detour to see and ride the 7km silt spit at Eagle Point and then took the back roads via Meerliew to Stratford.

Stratford to Traralgon – 80km

From Stratford, we followed the Gippsland Plains Rail Trail. We hoped to follow it all the way to Traralgon but the (currently uncompleted) trail fizzled out after Maffra.

Traralgon to Leongatha – 78km

We planned to get to Foster today but we got a bit lost near Mirboro and took a wrong turning for some distance. So, instead of turning back on ourselves, we decided to head to Leongatha instead.

Leongatha to Cape Patterson – 44km

One long straight, fairly busy road from Leongatha to the busy coastal town of Inverloch. It was good to see the sea again. Followed the coast road from Inverloch, past sea stacks and nature reserves, to the camping at Cape Patterson.

Cape Patterson to Phillip Island – 54km

A rainy ride to Wonthaggi for lunch and then followed the road right to Phillip Island – famous for its penguins!

After a rest day and a trip to see the penguin parade, we took the ferry  from Phillip Island to Stony Point and rode to a friend’s house in the Melbourne suburbs.

 

10 Comments + Add Comment

  • Planning cycle from Melbourne to Brisbane – Winter 2013-2014 (couple of months)
    just wondering about the wind direction. Did you travel from North to South because wind direction was favorable or do you know if travelling from South to North will be fine as well in sense of wind?
    Your experience will be very helpfull for our plan, please!
    Wishes from Italy !

  • Did you travel from North to South because of the wind or just for your convenience?
    Planning same route from Melbourne to Brisbane, Dec-Jan but wonder which direction is better. Starting in Melbourne and finish the tour in Brisbane should be ok? Or are we facing the winds against?
    Thank you for your support in this.
    Best from Italy
    Laura & Richi

    • Hello,

      Thanks for getting in touch.
      I remember we did some research when we were planning our trip and we couldn’t find any good advice on the prevailing winds, so we went South just because it fitted in best with our plans. We didn’t experience any difficulty with winds (compared to cycling in the States) so I think maybe there isn’t any strong prevailing wind in that part of the world. We met some people heading North too, so I think it’s not unheard of to do it in either direction. Mind you, we did the ride in Jan/Feb so it may be different in June.

      You might find this wind rose data helpful:
      http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/averages/wind/selection_map.shtml

      Hope this is helpful, good luck with your trip!

      Peter

      • Thank you so much Pete for your advise! It is exaclty what we like to know about, prevailing
        winds are not like the USA winds, as we spent 4 years cycling there and some parts are very
        hard for cycling, like the Pacific Coast!! Always need travelling from North to South there!
        Best from Italy and hope you can came here for cycling one day! We are plenty of good bike paths!
        Ciao Laura e Richi

  • hey i am doing a similar ride and was wondering if/ how you were able to ride through bundjalong national park/ if it is possible at all?

    Cheers

    Matt

    • Hello, thanks for getting in touch.
      I think, from what I remember, it wasn’t possible to ride right through the park. So instead we went down the Pacific Highway, then turned off toward Iluka at the bottom of the park. There is a nice camp site in Iluka and you can explore some of the beaches and bush from there. I think there may be a track right by the coast that goes through the park, but this is going to be for 4WD only, which usually means it is a beach or just a bush track which I wouldn’t even attempt on a mountain bike!
      Hope this is helpful.

      Peter

  • Hi im planning a similar trip for the childrens charity, Variety. I was just wondering if u had any issues with the ride in terms of riding on the road (councils/police) and what roads had to be avoided.. any assistance here would be appreciated

    Regards
    peter

    • Hello Peter,
      We didn’t really have any troubles with councils or police and the roads were mostly quite good.
      Some of the smaller roads can be a bit bumpy with washboard tracks, and stay clear of anything marked as 4WD only – they aren’t kidding – you will need a tank to get through!
      Unfortunately the only hassle we had on the road was from drivers, especially near cities, who don’t have a lot of respect for cyclists and often enjoy shouting abuse out of their windows at you. It’s sad because in other circumstances Australians are usually very friendly.
      Often, because of the lack of other options you may find yourself on the main highways. The Princes Highway is the main road down the coast, you can often find ways to avoid riding on this busy road but sometimes there is no other sensible way. As always, just ride safely, give the cars plenty of space and be visible.
      Best of luck with your trip, and please let me know how it goes.

      Pete

  • I intend to do Melbourne to Brisbane with my 13 yr old son starting mid March. Can we get camping sites at all places all along. Can’t afford hotel stay. Is home stay also a possibility. Please also suggest if veg food is freely available. I am from India.

    • Hello Bunti,

      Yes, there is camping available for almost all of the way. A lot of the campsites are big family holiday parks though, so unfortunately they aren’t that cheap. One of the main camping providers is Big4 here is a map of their locations: http://www.big4.com.au/caravan-parks.

      We didn’t make use of any home stays, but you could try https://www.warmshowers.org for cycle-friendly home stays.

      The Aussies do love their meat, but there’s also plenty of vegetarian options and Australian’s are very aware of vegetarians so you shouldn’t have any problems with food.

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