Most Canberra gravel adventurers would be aware of (and may have ridden) the route from Canberra to the Coast via Araluen. This is a scenic, relatively short, and popular route. But are there other ways, particularly if you are heading further south of Moruya, or when the Araluen Road is closed?
In short, the answer is yes but they are definitely not for the casual cyclist. You can go via Nerriga Road to Nowra (all sealed). This route, however, heads to Nerrigundah which is the gateway to Bodalla and Narooma. It requires more southward travel as well as some difficult back roads. This is a tough route but, for the prepared, is an amazing route that would be a great 2-day bikepacking adventure. Or, in my case, a long hard day.
Canberra to Cooma Road
To start, this route requires a ride to Hoskinstown – for most this will be via Queanbeyan and Captains Flat Road. From here, it is not far until the gravel starts with the climb up Rossi Road to the hills. This well maintained road also rewards with good views.
At the top of the hill there is a choice as to how to proceed – you can take the Gumms Road / Vernelly Road route: see more on this in Braidwood Gravel. A longer but “simpler” route is to head down via Coxes Creek Road. The only reason to avoid this is if there is forestry traffic complicating things.
Once down through the forest, farmland returns on Harolds Cross Road and there are amazing views across the Shoalhaven River valley as you continue in Parlour Creek Road and then connect to the last part of Captains Flat Road.
Cooma Road to Badja Fire Trail
Cooma Road starts sealed, running for around 29km before becoming a gravel road (if you head north, it is sealed all the way to Braidwood – see Braidwood Gravel). It is a really scenic rolling route, running alongside rivers through a valley of farmland. There is very little traffic on this route – whilst you can head to Cooma, it really seems that most of the vehicles are associated with the farms along the way and the occasional 4WD enthusiast.
Once the road becomes unsealed, the quality of the road remains high and is quite fast – pretty much as good as is possible off tarmac. At the small locality of Krawarree the road changes name to Krawarree Road, and this is the point where the trip starts to head up into the ranges.
Evidence of the 2019/2020 bushfires is seen inside Gourock National Park (and earlier in the ride on the hills of Deua National Park to the east), although you travel in and out of patches of untouched forest. There is a solid 500m climb over 10km that ascends to over 1200m, and as you can see in winter into potential snow and fog. It is near the top of the climb that you arrive at Badja Fire Trail, which is where the hardest part of the ride starts.
Badja Fire Trail & Falcon Road
Badja Fire Trail is very much that – a trail. Overall, however, the trail is in good condition and allows for modest but decently paced progress where the trail is flat or modestly sloped. It does, however, have three or four areas of extremely sharp descent and ascent – only between 300m and 400m each time, but when muddy it is hard to descend and in almost all conditions would be impossible to ascend without walking. This makes for quite slow progress – the 14.5km took me 1 hour and 40 minutes. I suspect in the dry 1.5 hours would be possible, but it is a slow run.
Falcon Road, however, starts the transition back to road-like conditions. This has to be one of the most spectacular gravel roads I have ever ridden. Starting through forest, it soon becomes clear that the road is running along the spine of a ridge, heading down towards the Tuross River valley – a descent of over 950m. After the ridge run, a tight a twisty route runs along the side of the mountain, offering views like those in the photo at the top of this article. Amazing.
Belowra Road to the coast
At the end of the descent on Falcon Road, the Woila Creek crossing is concrete and perfectly rideable – I’m sure the worst case is that it would fordable on foot. After this, Belowra valley farmland ensues. The road is great – if it is dry. In the wet, however, there are many patches of deep or slippery mud as the road goes through paddocks and suffers from cattle traffic. This again makes for slow going that would be much better in the dry.
After Belowra, there is a killer climb back into Wadbilliga National Park and Dampier State Forest. Averaging 6% over 8km at the end of a ride like this, you really feel it. Given this, and knowing that there was still more climbing and distance to Bodalla, I had a plan in place. I had been worried that the day could prove too wet and dark at the end, and was able to initiate a pick-up at Nerrigundah. This is what I chose as the heavens opened and night set in.
If, however, you take this ride and are ready to make it the coast there are some gravel connections towards the end of this route:
- To get to Bodalla, you can take Cadgee Road, Cadgee Mountain Road, then Nerrigundah Mountain Road to connect to Eurobodalla Road. My preference would be to take the Eurobodalla Road from the end of Cadgee Road (longer, but flatter!), but Murphy Bridge was destroyed in the 2019 bushfires. In June 2021 the river was being crossed by 4WDs and horses, and it is wadable if the river is at normal levels.
- To get to Narooma or Dalmeny, start with Cadgee Road to Eurobodalla Road, then connect to Cobra Road. From here, next step is on to Box Cutting and Kianga Forest Roads.
- To get to Tilba and Bermagui, connect from Cobra Road to Wagonga Scenic Drive, then Punkalla-Tilba Road. I have ridden this route and it is stunning.
Details of this route
As comparison: Canberra to Moruya
- This route involves areas with no mobile coverage and no traffic. Even when you are outside the national park you will find that traffic is sparse – in the late afternoon on Belowra Road I passed a fencer who said I was the first person he’d seen all day. Make sure someone knows where you are going and that you have a plan in place in case something goes wrong.
- For a winter trip, this route can be very muddy (as well as snowy!), making it quite a lot slower than you might expect. I’ve done my best to explain the impact, and you just don’t know what the route will actually be like on your trip. Plan accordingly!
- For a summer trip, you will need to carry a massive amount of water or be prepared to filter some from the rivers passed on-route.