Sarah Maddock Sydney to Melbourne Commemorative Cycling Tour
Honouring the first woman to ride from Sydney to Melbourne on a bicycle
Each September we cycle from Sydney to Melbourne and celebrate the achievements of Sarah Maddock, a trailblazer in Australian cycling and who in 1894 became the first woman to cycle from Sydney to Melbourne.
- Day 1: Sydney Harbour Bridge to Sydney Olympic Park - 31km
- Day 2: Sydney Olympic Park to Narellan - 54km
- Day 3: Narellan to Bundanoon - 89km
- Day 4: Bundanoon to Goulburn - 83km
- Day 5: Rest Day - Goulburn
- Day 6: Goulburn to Yass - 94km
- Day 7: Yass to Cootamundra - 115km
- Day 8: Cootamundra to Wagga Wagga - 89km
- Day 9: Wagga Wagga to Albury - 131km
- Day 10: Albury to Beechworth - 67km
- Day 11: Rest Day - Beechworth
- Day 12: Beechworth to Whitfield - 78km
- Day 13: Whitfield to Mansfield - 61km
- Day 14: Mansfield to Yea - 83km
- Day 15: Yea to Coburg -100km
- Day 16: Coburg to Federation Square, Melbourne - 53km return
About This Tour
In 2003 an unrelated Sarah Maddock googled her name and came across her namesake.
In 2019 Sarah contacted us with a request to design and run a fully supported bicycle tour from Sydney to Melbourne to commemorate the 125th anniversary of Sarah’s ride. In August 2019 Sarah and 8 others left Narellan on the inaugural Sarah Maddock Sydney to Melbourne Commemorative Cycling Tour.
Sarah and Ernest Maddock’s bicycle ride from Sydney to Melbourne in 1894 took place at a time when Australia’s 6 self-governing colonies were reaching a consensus to federate to form the Commonwealth of Australia. It was a time of confidence and increasing wealth with the urban population beginning to have more disposable income and more time to engage in leisure activities such as cycling.
Sarah and Ernest left Sydney on the convict built Great Southern Road that, from a 1902 account, was a very poor track at its very best. Over the last 120 years the road has undergone numerous changes to its alignment eventually morphing into today’s Hume Highway - a 110kph four-lane divided carriageway. Much of the highway now covers Sarah and Ernest’s route so our bicycle ride to Melbourne is going to be a little different, as riding the Hume Highway would be more gruelling than enjoyable.
Instead, as much as possible, our cycling tour from Sydney to Melbourne uses separated off-road cycleways, shared paths and quiet back roads to visit some new villages and towns including Balmain, Bundanoon, Binalong, Cootamundra, Junee, Wagga Wagga, Yackandandah, Beechworth, Mansfield, Yea and Flowerdale.
In Victoria we will use three rail trails - the High Country Rail Trail, the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail and the Great Victorian Rail Trail. The last two will give a sense of what the scenery and ambience would have been like for Sarah and Ernest all those years ago.
Our virtual travelling companions on our journey south will be explorers Hamilton Hume and William Hovell who in 1824 explored the land between Gunning and Port Phillip (where Melbourne is today), with their expedition revealing the Murrumbidgee and Murray Rivers and an abundance of well watered land suitable for cropping and grazing. Their discoveries began the colonies’ transformation from convict settlement to the wealthy and liberal society in which Sarah and Ernest started their journey 70 years later.
Hume and Hovell’s route and ours will cross paths on many occasions. This is a bicycle tour through our colonial history, the gold rushes, immigration, bushrangers, the establishment of agriculture and the expansion and contraction of the railways.
While our cycling route may be slightly different to Sarah and Ernest’s the essence of celebrating the adventurous spirit of Sarah is at the heart of the ride by allowing you to take your own modern day adventure!
You’ll be struck by The Mulga Difference. All of our bike tours are achievable by the average cyclist with a focus on the journey, not on the clock.
A Lady Cyclist - Feat by Mrs. Maddock - A Ride of 600 Miles.
From Sydney to Melbourne - She Accompanied her Husband
Finished in Splendid Style - A Nine Days' Journey.
When the cycling enthusiasts of Melbourne assembled at Coburg on Saturday afternoon to see the finish of the 100 miles inter-club road race they were surprised to see well up among the hard-riding division, in front, an engaging little woman in ordinary walking-dress, who sailed into Coburg (Vic.) on a patent safety at a good 14 miles an hour, and pulled up as fresh as when she stopped out of her own drawing-room in Sydney nine days before (says the Argus). This was Mrs. E. A. Maddock, who, with her husband, has just completed the overland trip, having ridden triumphantly over the 600 miles of mountains, swamps, sandy plains, corduroy tracks, creeks, ploughed land, and macadamised roads that divide the capitals of Victoria and New South Wales, and successfully negotiated all obstacles, including the Customs officer at Wodonga, and an escaped bull near Kilmore. Mrs, Maddock is the first lady rider who has, ever performed the feat, and those who saw her come into Melbourne on Saturday evening require no further arguments to assure them that the age of feminine progress has arrived with bewildering velocity, and that in the important department of bicycling the ladies are quite able to leave the men behind. …
What Is Included
- 17 nights accommodation including pre-tour accommodation in Sydney (Saturday 3 September 2022)
- 16 breakfasts
- 7 lunches
- 14 Dinners including an end of tour dinner
- Hot/cold drinks and snacks from the support vehicle
- Daily photos to capture your memories
- Support vehicles provided Days 3 to 15 - ride as much or as little as you please
- Custom built support trailer for careful and safe carriage of your bike and luggage
- Luggage transfer between your accommodation
- UHF radio link between yourself and the support vehicle
- Mechanical assistance and support (limited spares)
- Tour guides - the owners of Mulga Bicycle Tours are with you every day
Link to detailed Tour Itinerary below.
Link to Important Information and small print about this tour at the bottom of this page
Payments can be made via Visa, MasterCard or electronic funds transfer.
Start: Sydney, New South Wales
Finish: Melbourne, Victoria
Grade 2 - 3
Ranges from 31km to 131km per day, with two rest days.
Use these links to gain an understanding of the weather at this time of the year.
- Day 1: Sydney
- Day 3: Bundanoon
- Day 4: Goulburn
- Day 7: Cootamundra
- Day 8: Wagga Wagga
- Day 9: Albury
- Day 10: Beechworth
- Day 13: Mansfield
- Day 14: Whittlesea
- Day 15: Melbourne
If you do not wish to bring your own bike, you can hire a standard pedal bike from us for $660 or an E-bike (limited numbers) for $990. Please select your desired "Bike Hire" option when completing the booking form. For more information on our hire bikes click here.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Answers to our most commonly asked questions can be found here - Multi day tours – FAQ
Accommodation for 17 nights, 16 continental breakfasts, 7 lunches, 14 dinners including end of tour dinner, drinks and snacks from the tour support vehicle, tour guides; use of support vehicles as required on days 3 – 15.
Any ferry and train fares; all drinks at dinner and alcoholic drinks at lunch; alcoholic drinks, food, beverages, and other personal items you purchase; room service and mini bar charges; telephone calls made from the telephone provided in your accommodation (see note on credit card pre-authorisation in Important Information); laundry costs; parts required to repair your personal bicycle and repairs to your personal bicycle undertaken by Mulga Bicycle Tours or in a third party’s bicycle shop.
Guests are responsible for transfers to and from the tour.
Due to limited space we are unable to carry bike boxes of any kind. If you are flying into Sydney and out of Melbourne with your own bike we recommend you use an airline cardboard bike box and bubble wrap to protect your bike.
Sarah Maddock in 1897
Sarah Maddock, New South Wales Cycling Gazette June 19, 1897
Sarah Maddock 122 years later in 2019
Sarah Maddock talking on The Bicycle Show, 21 September, 2019
The afternoon prior to the commencement of the tour we will meet at Quest at Sydney Olympic Park at 5.00pm for a tour briefing, bike and gear check. We will provide more details when we send you the tour information letter in the weeks prior to departure.
Land of the Gadigal peopleSydney Harbour is easily the most recognisable harbour in the world with the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House being amongst Australia’s and the world’s most famous tourist attractions. Search the internet for “best harbour cities in the world” or similar and you will always find Sydney at or near the top of the list.
However, despite its beauty it is not uncommon to be told incorrectly that Sydney is not a bicycle friendly city with a widely held view that cyclists are required to deal with busy roads and daily road rage whilst navigating a complicated network of tangled unconnected routes.
Until we cycled into Sydney in 2010 towards the end of our around Australia trip we held similar views but with a bit of planning and most importantly, local knowledge, we found the experience to be an absolute delight. In fact Sydney is now on our personal list of cycling getaways.
Today using a combination of separated off-road cycleways, shared paths and quiet streets we will share that experience with you and show off Sydney at its best. The day will start with a train ride from Sydney Olympic Park to the centre of Sydney. From there we will commence the tour with a ride across Sydney Harbour Bridge before crossing the harbour again by ferry for those all important water views of the Bridge and Opera House before we begin our ride through 19th century suburban Sydney to Melbourne.
This is not fast riding with lots of directional changes.
Our destination tonight is Sydney Olympic Park the site of the 2000 Olympic Games.
Our thanks go out to Garry at biketrail.blog for his generosity and assistance in helping us map today’s and tomorrow’s route.
Today is another day of riding through a relatively unknown part of Sydney in cycling terms - a mix of back streets and shared pathways that when viewed on a map curl and loop beside the water ways through the suburbs and past the new housing estates near Narellan. We will not be travelling very fast today.
There is a lot of diversity in the landscape and the buildings and homes we will pass today. Did you know there are two Sydney Harbour Bridges in the Sydney metropolitan area? The second was first built by Royal Australian Navy apprentices at the Sydney Cricket Ground during the half-time break at the 1987 Rugby League Grand Final between Manly and Canberra before being relocated to its current location.
Lunch will be at the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre which is beside the Georges River where you will have time to walk through the different exhibitions.
“… Mr. Maddock, who is a professional gentleman residing in Sydney, was unfortunate enough not to enjoy the best of health, although no one who looked at him would suspect it, and his medical adviser, with the profound insight of the true man of science, prescribed that most delightful of all remedies, "a complete change." Mr. Maddock, like a wise man, who recognises that, a doctor's advice should be followed to the letter, packed up his complete change, which consisted of a spare pair of trousers, a razor and a toothbrush, at once and strapped them on the back of his "safety." Mrs. Maddock thought that she would like to go too on her own neat little 34lb. machine, and before 7 o'clock on the first evening after leaving home they had climbed the Razorback Mountain and ridden 55 miles into Picton, where they camped for the night. …”
Our route today takes us into the beautiful Southern Highlands, a very popular cycling destination with its charming villages and towns, rolling hills, panoramic views, colonial history and the Bowral Cycling Classic.
The region has been popular with cycling since the 1880s with social cycling groups such as the Wanderers Bicycle Club leading cycling tours into the Highlands and further afield. In 1887 Joseph Pearson a keen member of the Wanderers rode his penny-farthing to Melbourne - he averaged 113km a day - which is more than what we plan for this trip!
In 1894 when Sarah and Ernest left Sydney bound for Picton on the Great Southern Road, the road would have been little different from when it was first built by convict labour in 1835.
A description of the road conditions experienced by the competitors in the 1902 Goulburn to Sydney Classic cycling race paints a challenging picture for Sarah and Ernest:
(The Old Razorback Road – Life on the Great South Road between Camden and Picton 1830-1930 by Elizabeth Villy, Page 221)
This was the era before cars and when the Government’s focus was on developing and expanding an efficient railway network rather than improving or developing new roads. With the emphasis on the railway there were also no maps of the existing roads so the cycling clubs began to make maps and write books with detailed touring notes. In 1896, two years after Sarah’s journey south, Joseph Pearson published the Cyclists' Touring Guide of New South Wales which became the foundations for the Cyclists' Handbook and Guide To The Roads Of New South Wales in 1898.
The bicycle was changing the way people began to think of roads and distance and the outcome was improved conditions for the emerging motor car.
In 1929 the Great Southern Road was renamed the Hume Highway and in 1980 the Hume Highway was again realigned following the completion of a four-lane divided road between Campbelltown and Mittagong that is still in use today.
We will be following the Old Hume Highway (Great Southern Road) today.
Our lunch stop will be at the Bradman Museum & International Cricket Hall of Fame in Bowral.
Our destination is Bundanoon a very endearing village on the edge of Morton National Park and the sandstone escarpment.
The Sydney to Melbourne railway line reached Bundanoon in 1868 turning the village into a very popular tourism destination. At its peak in the late 1880s there were 68 guest houses operating in the village.
The Bundanoon Sandstone Quarry started operating in 1850 and supplied sandstone for many of the Victorian buildings in Sydney. As you enter Bundanoon keep an eye out for the sandstone sculptures of native animals set amongst the daffodils planted along the roadside.
Every April Bundanoon holds Australia’s premier Highland Gathering – Brigadoon that attracts more than 12,000 visitors.
Bundanoon and the connecting Highland Way to Marulan has been one of our favourite cycling routes for many years. The gradient is kind with the road shadowing the Sydney to Melbourne railway line. In places the tree canopy covers the road and the character of the spreading branches can leave a feeling you are passing through a Harry Potter filmset with magical trees forming a ceremonial guard of honour.
At the end of the Highland Way is the Hume Highway and the town of Marulan. Today the Marulan that most travellers on the Hume Highway encounter is a busy cluster of service stations and fast food outlets on either side of the highway. We, however, will be stopping for a more relaxed morning tea in the quiet main street of Marulan itself.
In 1894 the Maddock’s had an entirely different experience.
“… Riding against a strong head wind all next day they reached Marulan in the evening, a charming little township chiefly remarkable for its magnificent display of galvanised iron roofs and empty whisky bottles. On this occasion Marulan was en fete, and all the small boys in the neighbourhood were trying to evade the payment of the necessary 2d by prostrating themselves on their stomachs in the old familiar way, and in that undignified but economical attitude endeavouring to secure admission to the travelling circus which had temporarily occupied one of the numerous pieces of waste ground in the township. A travelling circus has some disadvantages for tourists, and it was not without an argument, which would not have disgraced a church assembly that Mr. Maddock was able to persuade the licensee of the hotel that he was not the gentleman who did the ground and lofty tumbling, and that Mrs. Maddock was not the famous bareback equestrienne whose name was starred in big red letters on the bill. "Them sukkuss [circus] riders is such a blarmed noosance,"said the landlord at last apologetically, "and you carn't make 'em pay more'n a bob for a bed anyhow." …”
From Marulan we head to the small town of Bungonia for a picnic lunch and then on to Goulburn for a two-night stay. Tomorrow is a rest day.
There are no formal plans for today so you are free to do your own thing - put your feet up, or take a self-guided bike or walking tour of Goulburn.
There are no shortage of eateries, heritage estates and walking tours in Goulburn to suit every taste and interest.
Things to do in Goulburn:
- A self-guided heritage walk of Goulburn
- A self guided bicycle tour of Goulburn
- Visit The Big Merino, celebrating Goulburn’s role in Australia’s wool industry.
- Visit Riversdale Historic Homestead
- Visit Goulburn Regional Art Gallery
- Visit Goulburn Rail Heritage Centre
- Visit Goulburn War Memorial and Museum
- Visit St Saviour’s Cathedral and Sts Peter and Paul’s Old Cathedral
There are some excellent cycling routes around Goulburn and we will be following one of the most popular on our way to lunch in Gunning. It includes a long stretch of the Old Hume Highway over the Cullarin Range between Breadalbane and Gunning that at times is so quiet you must keep reminding yourself that cars may be also be using the road. This is some of the best cycling in the Southern Tablelands. Wind farms are very prominent in this region and are significant contributors to the electricity grid.
The naming of the Hume Highway commemorates the contribution Hamilton Hume, the first Australian born explorer, made to the development of New South Wales and Victoria. In 1824 Hume, together with William Hovell, explored the land between Gunning and Port Phillip (where Melbourne is today). Their expedition is considered one of the most important journeys of exploration undertaken in eastern Australia.
In 1822 Hume established a grazing property at Gunning and it was from this locality that Hume and Hovell began their expedition in 1824. On our way to Gunning we will pass a monument that commemorates this occasion. We will pass many of these monuments on our way to Melbourne marking where we cross the route taken by Hume and Hovell in 1824.
Hume was so taken with this country that he purchased and retired to Cooma Cottage just outside Yass. You will be able to see Cooma Cottage after we cross the Yass River. Hamilton Hume and his wife Elizabeth are buried side by side in the Yass cemetery. (William Hovell is buried in St Saviour’s cemetery at North Goulburn.)
Note: There is 6km of gravel road between Parkesbourne and Breadalbane.
Today’s route sees us transitioning through farmland used primarily for grazing sheep and cattle to the growing of cereal crops such as wheat, barley and canola. This is very pretty country and one thing is for sure it will be very green.
Our route to Binalong, our first stop of the day, will be along the Burley Griffin Way and quiet superseded side roads created by different upgrades to the main road.
Binalong began to form in the late 1840s and by the time alluvial gold was discovered in 1860 at Lambing Flat, near Young, Binalong was a busy Cobb & Co staging post on the road to the goldfields. For a number of years we lived in Binalong so we know the area very well.
The discovery of gold in New South Wales in 1851 set off a series of gold rushes that greatly expanded the population with gold seekers from around the world pouring into the colonies. The increased wealth from the gold changed the many villages and towns that serviced the gold fields, significantly boosting the economies of New South Wales and Victoria. By the beginning of the 20th century the rushes had helped create a country with a standard of living in urban Australia that was one of the best in the world. This richness can be seen in many of the old buildings, parks and monuments in the towns we visit and stay on this tour.
With the gold came the bushrangers (outlaws) with gangs led by the likes of Ben Hall, Frank Gardiner and Ned Kelly robbing the coach and mail services and small town banks. Just outside Binalong on the road to Harden is the grave of ‘Flash’ Johnny Gilbert who was shot by police during a gunfight in 1865. He was 25. We will stop briefly at the site to enable you to read his story.
Another famous Australian linked to Binalong is Andrew Barton “Banjo” Paterson (1864 – 1941). In 2013 The Australian newspaper listed Paterson at the top of its list of 50 Australians who “have helped define who we are as a people and how Australia is perceived as a country”. Paterson was a poet, solicitor, journalist and war correspondent and he wrote many ballads and poems with a focus on rural life and the outback. Paterson grew up at Illalong and went to school in Binalong riding his horse into school each day. We pass Illalong on our way into Binalong. As a young boy he would have passed and mixed with many of the characters (swagmen, bushman, drovers, shearers and bullockies) that would influence his writings later in life. In June 1892 The Bulletin published ‘How Gilbert Died’ a story he no doubt would have heard about whilst living in Binalong.
He was a prolific writer and wrote ‘Waltzing Matilda’, ‘The Man from Snowy River’ (originally published by The Bulletin, 26 April, 1890), ‘Clancy of the Overflow’ (originally published by The Bulletin, 21 December, 1889) and with a tongue-in-cheek connection to ourselves - 'Mulga Bill’s Bicycle’. (Read about the story behind our name.)
Our lunch stop today is in the twin towns of Harden Murrumburrah. The region is well known for its stone fruit orchards, cool climate wines, wool, cereal crops and in spring, the bright yellow canola fields.
This afternoon we leave the South West Slopes and enter the Riverina, a region dominated by the Murrumbidgee River and its tributaries. Our destination is Cootamundra, the birthplace of cricketer Sir Donald Bradman, (we visited the Bradman Museum & International Cricket Hall of Fame in Bowral on Day 3) and a region known for the high quality of its wheat crops.
With fingers crossed that the seasons have been kind to the farmers you will be riding in and out of the yellow fields of canola nearly all the way to Cootamundra and most likely Albury.
If you have a sweet tooth we have a treat in store for you today but first we have some riding to do and a couple of gentle climbs on what is predominantly a downhill day to Wagga Wagga.
As we leave Cootamundra on the Olympic Highway the Sydney to Melbourne railway line again becomes our companion for the day with our route to Wagga Wagga following the line most of today.
We will be stopping for morning tea in the village of Bethungra but before we do we will be stopping to take a look at a little known piece of railway engineering – the heritage listed Bethungra Rail Spiral.
The spiral was built to create a gentler gradient for trains travelling north between Bethungra and Cootamundra. The Sydney to Melbourne railway is a double track, one track for each direction of travel. The spiral is built on the northbound track and uses a combination of tunnels and deep cuttings to reduce the gradient, it crosses itself and then the southbound downhill track at two points. This is the largest example of a railway spiral in Australia. The good news is we are cycling south and downhill on the steeper of the two slopes.
We are having lunch today at the Junee Licorice and Chocolate Factory. Located in the restored Junee Flour Mill the factory produces a range of organic licorice and Belgium styled chocolate confectionaries. You will have plenty of time to eat lunch and shop in the factory store and if you wish there may even be time to make a GIANT chocolate freckle!
Junee is a true railway town being the only town on the Sydney Melbourne route to be founded because of the railway. Agriculture and gold contributed to the town’s early prosperity and the charming and elegant streets still reflect the character of this time. Today Junee is an important service centre supporting both the railway and agriculture.
Our destination this evening is the city of Wagga Wagga (pronounced Wogga Wogga) located on the banks of the Murrumbidgee River. The word “Wagga” is Wiradjuri for “crow” and the repetition of the word creates emphasis or means more than one, so Wagga Wagga means "crows" or "the place where crows assemble in large numbers". Locals simply call the city “Wagga”.
The Murrumbidgee River (Wiradjuri for "plenty water" or "big water") runs through the city and our accommodation for tonight is located on its banks with easy access to the river. It is well worth a walk to watch the birds in the late afternoon.
“… From Marulan to Goulburn and thence by Jugiong to the Adelong Crossing the cyclists made their tray to Mundarlo, where they found the paddocks better "going" than the roads, and after getting stuck a few times in the swamps, which form the chief features of interest in the landscape, they came at last to Hillas Creek, and so on against a heavy head gale to Germanton. [During World War I, the town name was deemed unpatriotic so was renamed Holbrook in honour of Lt. Norman Douglas Holbrook, a decorated wartime submarine captain and winner of the Victoria Cross.] From Germanton to Albury the road was good, and Mrs. Maddock, just to show that she was still full of running, set a lively pace and knocked off the 40 miles in three hours and a half. …”
Our route today is rather special as once we reach the edge of the suburbs we are travelling on quiet roads for nearly all our journey to Albury. There is a bit of up, nothing sharp, with some nice downhill runs. At one point, and if it is a clear day we should be able to see the snow covered Snowy Mountains to the east.
We will be stopping for morning tea at Mangoplah and a picnic lunch near Morven. Morven is a very small settlement that like many of the towns we have passed through has its origins linked to Cobb and Co. When we leave Morven we will be using the Old Coach Road to get to Gerogery of which 4 km is gravel.
Our destination today is Albury one of the twin cities of Albury-Wodonga that are located each side of the Murray River that forms the border between the states of New South Wales and Victoria. Albury is the bigger city of the two with both cities serving as important service centres for the agricultural, dairying and pastoral industries.
Hume and Hovell were the first Europeans to see the region crossing the river at a point upstream from where Albury is today. They were very impressed with the quality of the landscape and after their return to Sydney European settlement quickly followed. The locality became known as The Crossing Point as the river was generally fordable at this location.
In 1851 New South Wales and Victoria became separate colonies with each colony creating customs posts on the border. It was said that goods tended to be cheaper in NSW so Victorians would buy their clothes in NSW and then wear their new clothes on top of what they were wearing until they had passed the customs post.
Some things do not change with cross-border differences still occurring in 2019 with Victorians controversially buying bottled drinks cheaper in their home state and then returning the empty containers for a refund in NSW. - see Victorians cashing in on NSW Return and Earn scheme.
“… A great reception was accorded to the travellers by the good people of Albury who sought in the kindness of their hearts to soften the irritation which they suspected would be experienced when Mr. and Mrs, Maddock came under the notice of the Customs officer at Wodonga. It was doubtful for a moment whether they would come within the provisions of the stock tax legislation or be merely poll-taxed at the discretion of the officer, but fortunately Mr. Maddock discovered at the last moment that he had a written permit, signed by Dr. Wollaston, [Dr. Harry Newton Phillips Wollaston, Secretary of Victorian Department of Trade and Customs, 1891 to 1901] for the admission of himself, his wife, and two bicycles free of duty. Accordingly they crossed the Murray in bond and made their way towards Barnawartha, pondering over the prospects of intercolonial federation.”
Thankfully there are no longer any border controls at the New South Wales / Victorian border.
Albury-Wodonga has an extensive network of shared paths and rail trails and we will be using these to navigate our way through the two cities. Our route takes us right into the Albury CBD, through the parklands on the edge of the Murray River and into Victoria where we continue through parklands into Wodonga itself. Joining the High Country Rail Trail we pass the Bandiana Army Base where we turn off onto the road to Yackandandah. Once we leave Wodonga we begin a day of climbing with not much downhill until we reach Beechworth.
We will stop for lunch today at Yackandandah (or “Yak” as the locals call it.) At one point in the 1870s it was proposed that the Sydney to Melbourne road would be routed through Yackandandah and the stone bridge at the bottom end of the main street was constructed with this in mind, however, concerns about the climb into Beechworth saw the alignment of the road moved to where the Hume Highway runs today.
We are on the edge of the Ovens gold fields with gold being discovered in the district in 1852. First at Beechworth and later on Yackandandah Creek. Within a year of the discovery of gold at Yackandandah the population had grown from 150 to more than 3000.
Yackandandah is an old world village and a very popular tourist destination with its main street listed by the National Trust - “The existence of such an intact and well preserved example of a 19th century mining-based township is of great significance and should be protected.”
In 1891 the railway was extended from Beechworth to Yackandandah and operated for 64 years before closing in 1955. In 2018 work began to extend the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail to Yackandandah along parts of the rail corridor. Once the new rail trail is open this will be our preferred route to Beechworth. In the meantime we will be using the road.
In less than a year of gold being discovered at Beechworth 8,000 miners were working the alluvial deposits in the district. These were very rich gold fields and commercial mining continued until 1910, progressing from the panning of alluvial deposits by individuals to large scale operations funded by private companies involving, tunnelling, quartz reef mining, hydraulic sluicing and then dredging.
As the mining operations become more complex Beechworth began to diversify becoming a centre of administration, engineering and commerce, the success of which was largely due to the determined advocacy of George Briscoe Kerferd.
Kerferd came to Beechworth in 1854 establishing himself as a brewer, wine and spirit merchant. He served in the municipal council before being elected to the Victorian parliament in 1864 and Premier of Victoria on two occasions in 1874 and 1875.
Beechworth survived the decline of the goldfields due to Kerferd securing funding for important infrastructure such as the town’s water supply, the railway and the establishment of new institutions such as the gaol, the home for the aged, the district hospital and the Beechworth Lunatic Asylum.
In 1869 as Minister for Mines and Railways he succeeded in obtaining funding for the branch line from Everton to Beechworth. During a bitter debate he is reported to have remarked, "the advancement of Beechworth means more to me than my political career".
Beechworth is regarded as Victoria’s best preserved historic gold mining town with the present day town demonstrating the prosperity of its gold mining heydays. Many of the town's buildings are listed on the Victorian Heritage Register or with the National Trust.
We will be staying at the Linaker Motel in Mayday Hills for the next two nights.
Beechworth is one of the most popular overnight stops when we bring cycling tours to North East Victoria. In Autumn and Spring it is a very pretty and photogenic town and there is always a lot to see and do.
Today is the last ‘rest’ day of the tour. You can spend the day soaking up the natural beauty of Mayday Hills or try some of the suggestions below.
Things to do in Beechworth:
- Mayday Hills Tree Walk
- Relax and have a coffee or tea in one of the many cafés and eateries
- Take a self-guided walking tour of Beechworth
- Learn about bushranger Ned Kelly’s connection with Beechworth
- Visit The Honey Shop by Beechworth Honey
- Go on an Asylum Paranormal or Ghost tour
- Linger over an Australian craft beer at either Bilson’s Brewery or Bridge Road Brewery
- Visit the the bio-dynamic certified Pennyweight Winery
- Take a short ride out to Stanley and Hillsborough Quality Nuts for a coffee
- Visit the Chinese Burning Towers at the Beechworth Cemetery
“… From Wodonga to Barnawartha riding was a little inconvenient, as the inhabitants, possibly fearing a reduction of the municipal subsidy, had been ploughing up the roads with a double-furrow plough to improve them. Chiltern was reached at last, however, and the good landlady took quite a motherly interest in the two poor things who were spending their honeymoon as she was firmly convinced in an effort to reach Melbourne as economically as possible. In spite of all remonstrances she insisted on knocking eighteen pence off the bill, on the ground that they were a brave young couple and deserved assistance. …”
After a day out of the saddle, today is a kind day to get back into the rhythm of cycling as the gradient to Whitfield is trending downhill all the way.
We are leaving Beechworth on the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail which follows the old branch line championed by George Kerferd.
Due to the difficult terrain construction of the line required a gradient that was the steepest grade allowed for a branch line railway. The first train arrived in Beechworth in 1876 and the railway was immediately in demand to move the heavy steam engines, plant and freight required by the companies mining the more difficult gold deposits. Although the line facilitated the expansion of mining the line itself never made a profit. The last train left Beechworth in 1977.
This 16km of downhill rail trail through isolated bushland makes this section of the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail a tranquil and alluring experience.
At Everton we will swap the rail trail for the peaceful back roads linking Everton to the Milawa Gourmet Region.
Tobacco kilns (the compact tall sheds with flues coming from their roof) can be seen among the farm buildings on our way to Milawa. These are the remnants of a very strong tobacco growing industry that had its beginnings with Chinese and American gold miners bringing tobacco seed with them to the gold fields.
We will be pausing for morning tea at the Milawa Cheese Factory before continuing on our way to the King Valley. Milawa is also home to the large wine maker Brown Brothers Wines and vineyards dominate the fields as we leave Milawa.
On a clear day great views of Mt Buffalo and the snow capped Victorian Alps can usually be seen from Milawa.
For nearly three generations the King Valley has been home to Italian migrants originally drawn to the rich soils of the valley to grow tobacco. As the demand for Australian tobacco leaf began to dwindle the farmers began to replace tobacco with ‘cool climate’ wine grape varieties.
Today the King Valley’s wine makers champion a wide range of Italian style wine varieties. The most prominent of these is the success of Australia’s first-ever sparkling prosecco with sales of prosecco in Australia now exceeding prosecco grown in Italy.
We will pause for a quick lunch in Moyhu to ensure we have plenty of time to delve into prosecco wine after our arrival in Whitfield.
- Various accommodation in Whitfield
“… The Kelly Country was found to have excellent roads, and the remainder of the journey was uneventful, apart from the efforts of a wild bull near Kilmore to investigate the mechanism of a "safety." The bull had very little chance with Mrs. Maddock, however, on a good road, and abandoned his intentions with regard to scientific research after a fast five furlongs. …
When Sarah was cycling to Melbourne the region between Whitfield and Mansfield was a very isolated and inaccessible region of North East Victoria and it was even more so 16 years earlier when the Kelly Gang of bushrangers were still at large and why it became known as ‘Kelly Country’.
A feeling of isolation can still be felt today along the winding road between Whitfield and Mansfield. It is very picturesque with exceedingly breathtaking scenery and very popular with cyclists and motoring enthusiasts alike. This section of road is also part of the cycling route for the annual King Valley Challenge that involves running, kayaking and cycling with the event finishing at Power’s Lookout. This is a magical part of Australia.
On our way to the top of the range we pass through the locality of Whitlands and ride past vineyards of cool climate wines that are amongst the highest grown in Australia. More recently berries, including blueberries and raspberries, have become popular crops.
Before this became known as Kelly Country, bushranger Harry Power used the mountains to hide. It is reported that in one year Power carried out more than 600 robberies on the coach road to Mansfield. He was nicknamed the ‘Gentleman Bushranger,’ because of the way he charmed the ladies he robbed and most importantly, that he never killed anyone.
Harry Power was friends with Ned Kelly's extended family, the Quinns, and it is thought that a young Ned served his bushranging apprenticeship under Power. In 1870 ‘the gentleman’ was captured hiding not far from Whitfield and today Power’s Lookout is built on the site where his hideout overlooked the King Valley.
If time and the weather conditions are favourable we may take the side trip to Power’s Lookout where the views of the Upper King Valley, Mount Buffalo and the Victorian Alps are truly exceptional.
Our next stop is the small village of Tolmie. Prior to the establishment of the village this region was used as a remote bush hideaway by the Kelly Gang. About 12km from Tolmie is a site the Victorian Heritage Council describes as one of Australia’s most significant historic sites – the Stringybark Creek Historic Reserve.
This is where on 26th October 1878 the Kelly gang ambushed, shot and killed three policeman - Constable Lonigan, Constable Scanlan and Sergeant Kennedy. A fourth policeman Constable McIntrye escaped. (Unfortunately we will not have time to visit the reserve.) The shootings at Stringybark Creek precipitated the events of what became known as the Kelly Outbreak, which reached a climax when Ned Kelly was shot and captured at Glenrowan on 28 June, 1880. It was the surviving policeman’s testimony that convicted Kelly for the murder of Constable Lonigan for which he was hanged on 11 November, 1880.
Historians generally consider that with the death of Ned Kelly the era of Australian bushranging had come to an end. Even so bushrangers were still active in Australia until 1902 with the capture in Queensland of James and Patrick Kenniff.
In the 1880s the village of Tolmie was established by the government to encourage farmers, that it selected, to take up land in the ranges with the aim of preventing the re-establishment of bushrangers such as Power and the Kelly Gang.
Our destination this afternoon is Mansfield. Situated in the foothills, Mansfield is an all year round tourist town and serves as the gateway to the Mt Stirling and Mt Buller alpine resorts. The town was laid out in the 1850s around two wide intersecting streets designed to make it easy for the turning of bullock wagons and horse drawn coaches. Today the trees and gardens planted along their central strips create a very welcoming feeling.
The history of the mountain cattleman is central to Mansfield's identity, with local farming families still walking their cattle each summer to graze in the mountains near the head waters of the King River. This beautiful and dramatic local scenery attracted filmmakers who used the countryside and mountains as the backdrop for two blockbuster movies immortalising 'Banjo' Paterson’s “The Man from Snowy River.” Watch the The Man from Snowy River movie trailer here.
Today is mostly a car free cycling day as we will be riding on the Great Victorian Rail Trail all the way to Yea (pronounced ‘yay’).
The branch railway line from Tallarook to Mansfield was completed in 1891 and operated for 87 years before it closed in 1978. The rail trail opened in 2012 and at 134 km long the Great Victorian Rail Trail is currently the longest rail trail in Victoria.
Being gravel it is not a fast surface but there is always plenty to maintain your interest with the trail passing by small villages, farmland, wetlands, rivers, lakes and great views of the surrounding countryside. It is not uncommon to see plenty of wildlife with kangaroos, echidnas, koalas and wombats being among the usual suspects, and if you take the time to pause in the woodlands you will be rewarded with a rich diversity of bird songs.
22km from Mansfield we reach Bonnie Doon a small holiday village on the shores of Lake Eildon. The lake is man-made and is the major water storage for the Goulburn-Murray Irrigation District. The rail trail crosses the lake using a 385 metre long concrete railway bridge and there is always a good photo or two to be taken from the bridge.
We will be pausing for lunch in Yarck, one of the small villages beside the rail trail, dating from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
One of the most striking remnants of the old railway is Cheviot Tunnel, 19 km from Yarck. Completed in 1889 the brick lined horse-shoe shaped tunnel took two years to build and at 201m it is the longest rail trail tunnel in Victoria.
A short distance from the Cheviot Tunnel and after crossing the Yea River we arrive in the township of Yea, our destination for this evening.
Hume and Hovell crossed the Yea River, which they called Muddy Creek, near the current town site on 4 December 1824. Within 15 years most of the land in the area had been settled by ‘overlanders’ who retraced Hume and Hovell’s route into Victoria from New South Wales. The village of Muddy Creek was formally surveyed in 1855 and grew into a service centre for grazing, gold-mining and the timber industry. In 1878 Muddy Creek was renamed Yea.
Just a short walk from where we are staying is the Y Water Discovery Centre and Yea Wetlands. If you follow the walking tracks that wind their way through the wetlands it is possible to stumble across platypus and native water rats, as well as koalas in the surrounding trees. This is a perfect early morning walk before we leave tomorrow.
Sadly, this morning is our last day on country roads before we reach the busy outskirts of Melbourne.
The road up Junction Hill and to Flowerdale most likely follows the route taken by Hume and Hovell in December 1824. King Parrot Creek which flows beside the road to Hazeldene and Kinglake West was named by the pair as "It was here we first saw any king parrots since leaving home."
“… In every place where I had found the timber superior to any I had seen before, I have always made a note of it, and each place last noted I have thought it impossible there could be any better. … but the trees we have seen today surpass all, or any I have seen in the Colony; …”
(He was very likely describing Victoria’s tallest tree the Mountain Ash (Eucalyptus regnans) that dominated the landscape.)
This is a very picturesque and rugged part of Victoria, a mix of undulating open country and steep densely covered mountain slopes. Kinglake National Park covers a large chunk of the country we will be passing through.
Being so close to Melbourne the beauty and tranquillity of the area has made it a very popular place for many people to escape the city and build a home in the bush. In spring, which is when we will be passing through, it will be very green with yellow flowering wattle and colourful village gardens.
The ruggedness was such in 1824 that Hume and Hovell were unable to cross the ranges near Flowerdale, which they called Mt Disappointment, forcing them to turn west to find a route to where Kilmore is today. If Mt Disappointment was not enough they were then forced back again with Hovell writing:
Fire has been a part of the Australian landscape for tens of thousands of years with much of the bush evolving to survive fire, with many native plants requiring intense heat or even smoke to germinate their seeds. Aboriginal people have used fire as a land-management tool for thousands of years burning the bush to reduce the fuel of dead grass, leaves and branches. The burning promoted new growth attracting the animals to the green feed and making them easier to hunt. Burning also lessened the intensity of naturally occurring fires such as those caused by lightning strikes.
Since European settlers began occupying the land 230 years ago bushfires have been increasing in frequency and intensity. The reasons are complex and currently much debated with the debate being given extra impetus by the 2019/2020 Black Summer Bushfires. (Listen to this ABC Rear Vision podcast if you would like to learn more about The story of fire in the Australian landscape, originally broadcast on 2 February, 2020.)
In the late summer of 2009, the area we are travelling through was devastated by an out of control bushfire that became known as the Black Saturday Kilmore East Fire.
Look carefully beside the road and you can still see signs of the fire, some of the large trees still have black trunks and on the skyline you can see rows of dead mountain ash trees. But 12 years on, the landscape is well on its way to recovering.
This video “Kinglake - a forest recovery story” by Parks Victoria shows and explains the dramatic changes that have taken place since the fire.
Our arrival at Whittlesea for lunch signals the end of our time on country roads and marks our arrival at the edge of metropolitan Melbourne.
After lunch there remains only 10km of road riding to Mernda Railway Station before we switch to a route we have mapped through the suburbs using rail trails, shared paths and back streets.
The last part of today’s ride will be along the Merri Creek Trail that takes us to the edge of our destination of Coburg. Merri Creek is our last connection with our companions Hume and Hovell who camped beside Merri Creek at its headwaters (near present day Heathcote Junction railway station) on December 13, 1824. Three days later they reached their objective of Port Phillip Bay.
“…At Wallan Mr. and Mrs. Maddock met the contestants in the 100 mile road race and pedalled back with them to the city. Mrs. Maddock is a native of New South Wales. She reached her journey's end in as good form as when she started, and gained 2lb. in weight on her trip of 600 miles.
The captain of the Melbourne Bicycle Club (Mr. Fred Burston) met the visitors a dozen miles out and gave them welcome, subsequently introducing to them a number, of active cyclists and club officials. Prior to leaving Coburg for the city Mrs. Maddock was heartily cheered by the crowd assembled there.”
Today we'll cycle the last leg of our journey to Melbourne finishing as we started with a meandering scenic ride through the suburbs into the city on shared paths and suburban back streets, so be prepared for some slow and relaxed exploration.
Unfortunately, we do not know where Sarah and Ernest finished their ride in the city so we have selected Federation Square as our end point due to its national symbology and its picturesque city backdrop.
Commenced in 1998 and completed in 2001 to commemorate the Centenary of Federation, the square’s controversial design was based upon the idea of bringing disparate parts together to form a unified whole in the same way the 6 colonies federated to form the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901. The design brief was to create a space that would become the focal point in the centre of Melbourne for contemporary cultural and civic activities. Significantly the site was a known meeting place used by the Kulin Nation of Aboriginal people for tens of thousands of years. Whether they love or hate the architecture, today Melbournians embrace the square as a place to meet, celebrate, protest, watch major sporting events or simply hang out.
Federation Square is opposite two historically significant buildings - St Paul’s Cathedral and Flinders Street Station. If Sarah and Ernest returned to Sydney by train they may very well have passed by St Paul’s and through the railway station in 1894.
St Paul’s Cathedral was completed, without its spires, three years before Sarah and Ernest arrived in Melbourne (construction of the three spires did not begin until 1926).
In 1894 the magnificent Flinders Street Station building we see today was still 16 years in Sarah and Ernest’s future with a much smaller railway station known as the Melbourne Terminus on the site and in use since 1854.
It would be nice to think that Sarah and Ernest may have passed this way in 1894.
After some group photographs in Federation Square we will have lunch overlooking the Yarra River and the city. We will be returning to Coburg using the same route we used this morning but in the reverse direction.
Alternatively, you can spend the afternoon in Melbourne and catch the train from Flinders Street Station to Regent Station and ride back to the Melbourne Big 4 Holiday Park from there.
Tonight we'll celebrate with a special end of tour dinner.
Please note that there will be no support vehicles today.
The tour concludes at checkout