Flash bikepacking: Canberra – Crookwell – Harden

Having sorted out the long day trip and overnighter, this route was CyclingGravel’s first foray into flash bikepacking: exploring Southern Highlands backroads, country towns and a little bit of gravel too. Flashpacking seems to have a number of definitions: is it bikepacking but without the camping bit (because let’s face it, camping can be a bit ordinary)? Or is it flash backpacking – 50 year olds pretending to do their first trip overseas but skipping the hostels? Let’s stick with flash bikepacking – carrying all your stuff except the camping bit…

Day 1: Canberra – Crookwell

Heading first to Goulburn, an option is to head out via the highway. Of course, being CyclingGravel, that’s not the way to go. Much more fun is first heading to Collector via Gundaroo (see the first leg of Circumnavigating Lake George for a more detailed description). After the climbs, gravel and undulations of Marked Tree Road, the rapid descent into Collector is a fun treat before an excellent morning coffee at Some Cafe.

From here, the roads to Goulburn are brilliant backroads with virtually no traffic until the final 5km or so. After crossing the Federal Highway, Collector Road is sealed through to the Lucky Pass Road turnoff, after which the gravel soon starts.

The road was quite varied when I travelled – some rutting on the climb, good smooth bits, and then more rocky track-like surfaces. Given how regularly roads like these are graded I’m sure it changes from time-to-time. What won’t change is the great scenery and fun descent as you roll down to Currawang Road.

Currawang Road is a brilliant country road, and really is highly recommended. Gently undulating through farmland, you not only will be treated to great views, there seems to be very little traffic. It is the type of deserted open road that would also be worth a drive if travelling between Bungendore and Goulburn.

The only reason to not recommend it is if there has been significant recent rain. There is a warning sign early on that the road is subject to flooding just before the connection with Braidwood Road. There are actually a few low-lying places where some recent rain meant there was shallow crossing, and at Saltpetre creek it was easy to see how flooding could complicate things given the water a few days after a decent downpour.

From Goulburn, I perused the Strava heat maps and selected Range Road as the way to travel in the hope it would have lower traffic than Crookwell Road. Whilst I can’t be sure of the difference, the traffic on a Friday afternoon was occasional and courteous, and I would recommend it as a route. Overall the only downside is that there some climbing to do as you have to make an additional 200m+ elevation to Crookwell.

A few additional observations from the last part of the journey:

  • Wind farms are a thing out here.
  • If you need potatoes, Crookwell is the place.
  • The southern highlands really do have some idyllic-looking farmland.

Day 2: Crookwell – Harden

Heading out of Crookwell on Binda Road involves a climb. Nice start. This is, however, a prelude to a mostly downhill run of around 35km to the Lachlan River.

I was pleasantly surprised as to the very light traffic on the road to Boorowa, which changes name to Rugby Road along the way (surprisingly enough, at the village of Rugby). It is possible that this was because it was a Saturday, and limited traffic is good as there is no significant verge. Next time I reckon I’ll have a go at some back gravel roads, but more because of variety than anything particularly to not like about the route.

At Boorowa there there is a variety of places to stop for a lunch/coffee break, which is well worth making the most of depending on the prevailing wind for the rest of the journey to Harden. On the day I travelled, Boorowa to Harden was hard work with little protection from wind in a range of directions. The scenery did, however, remain extremely pleasant.

On approach to Harden I recommend the detour via Jellambi Road, rather than heading straight onto Burley Griffin Way – anything to avoid a genuinely main road. This is a great little route, with some gravel and awesome views. This route also deposits you into the right part of town to check out the silo art and Lighthorse memorial.

Day 3: Harden – Canberra

For those who have travelled out this way, Burley Griffin Way is a busy route with a reasonably high volume of truck traffic. The goal of the return trip was to avoid this and the Barton Highway as much as possible.

Starting out on Bouyeo Road, this sealed country lane offers spectacular country views as it rolls over hills. From here to Binalong it is then possible to move onto Coppabella and Garryowen Roads – well maintained gravel roads that continue in a similar vein. Combined, this leg avoided the main road between the two towns completely, and was one of my favourite parts of the trip: I think in total I was passed by two vehicles.

After a breakfast stop in Binalong, it is unfortunately the case that a stint on Burley Griffin Way is required. Reducing the amount of time on the main road a little by riding parallel to the railway on Grogans Road, the remaining 16km to Red Hill Road generally has a wide verge. It is, however, welcome relief to head off and down to Bowning for the pleasures of Rollonin Cafe.

From Bowning to Yass it is also possible to take back roads. Common Road was in excellent condition and lightly used, whilst the more heavily trafficked Black Range Road needed a grade. These did, though, make for a relatively quick journey through to Yass. From there, it is Dog Trap Road and Kaveneys Road to the Barton Highway. Unfortunately Dog Trap Road was in quite poor condition – probably the worst part of the trip – with significant corrugations. Nevertheless, the views never disappoint: see more on other routes using this road, and some of the detours from it, in Gundaroo Gravel via Murrumbateman and Murrumbidgee & Murrumbateman loop.

Tips, recommendations and things I’d change

Cafes, pubs and other things

There were three great cafes on this ride that I highly recommend.

  • Some Cafe, Collector. I have extolled the virtues of this excellent establishment before. The coffee is excellent, food great, and the variety of shaded and sunny seating, inside and out, make for an outstanding package.
  • Cafe on Queen, Binalong. I’m quite a fan of having a light brekky prior to a long ride, then having a decent one after a few hours. Cafe on Queen provided the essential Bacon and Egg roll and coffee, with a very pleasant garden to sit and eat it in.
  • Rollonin Cafe, Bookham. Frequent travellers on the Hume Highway may have seen signs for this cafe, which is well worth a visit. Excellent coffee, tempting sweet treats, and resident Clydesdale.

In addition, the Criterion Hotel in Crookwell seemed quite popular on Friday night. I squeezed in at the bar for dinner, but if you are travelling as a group it might be worth booking ahead.

Things I’d think about doing differently

  • I think I’d like to do some more gravel, and I’ve scouted the roads from Crookwell to Boorowa via Bevendale Road and Rye Park. This looks quite fun.
  • I decided after stopping at Bowning and a quick refuel at Yass just to power home. If I was really cruising, I would possibly skip a Yass stop and head on to a Murrumbateman winery for a lunch.
  • I learnt that my kit (previously used for overnight) was really good, but a few minor tweaks (including acquiring a battery charger for mid-day recharge where required) will hopefully make the next one even smoother.

Other recommendations and tips

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