Batlow, not far from of the Snowy Mountains, and somewhat succeptible to snow itself, was the decided destination for a cycling holiday with a difference. Normally I look for rail trails to ride, and often in the state of Victoria – a veritable mecca for rail trails! But on Wednesday 5th April, right after I finished work, the car being packed the night before, I left home and drove 2 and a bit hours to Batlow Caravan Park, my base camp for some days of cycling adventure. The plan was to stay a week and ride as many roads and see as much as possible. As I had never ridden any of the roads or tracks in the region except south of Tumbarumba. So it was really virgin cycling territory for me. I was somewhat aware of the terrain, though, because I had driven through the area on a number of occasions.
The first bike ride which took 11 hours from start to fnish was quite an adventure. I left the Caravan Park on Thursday morning at arounf 7am, and didn’t get back until around 6pm. It was one of those bike rides that was not necessarily fun at times, but even now a few days later I look back on it with pleasant memories. Here is how the ride went.
I rode from Batlow along Bago Forest Way, and stopped first of all at the Pilot Hill Arboretum. I had been there before, but never ridden there. The ride was uneventful, and quite enjoyable along logging roads and mostly through pine forests with the occasional breathtaking view across to the Snowy Mountains.
From Pilot Hill, the plan was to ride along roads and tracks I had never been along before (driving or riding) through to Talbingo via Snubba Road, and Browns and De Beauzevilles Tracks. Buddong Falls is about 30kms from Batlow, and has a small (very small) camp ground and it quite isolated no matter how you plan to get there. Browns and De Beauzevilles Tracks would be quite slippery and muddy after rain as would the approach from Talbingo. Thankfully there had not been any rain for a while and they were nice and hard to ride on. One thing that I did notice was the large amount of piles of manure – evidence of wild horses. Brumbies marking their territory I was informed. Buddong Falls themselves were quite beautiful, but I suspect there was more falls even more spectacular further along the walking track but as the walk was quite precipitous in places (increasingly more so the further I walked along it) and as I was by myself I decided it would be best to not go too far from where I had left the bike at the Buddong Falls camping area.
From Buddong Falls I headed towards Talbingo, a small ex-Snowy Mountain Scheme town nestled at the foot of the Snowy Mountains, a ride of about 20kms. From the Falls there was a 2 or 3km climb to the Powerline Track which as can be imagined followed the high voltage power lines over the mountains. The Powerline Track itself was mostly downhill, of varying steepness. The disk brakes on the bike really had a workout on this section and I had to stay very focussed on the road surface and my speed to ensure the bike was under control. As I am not a reckless downhill rider this presented no real problem! Although it did take me quite a while to descend to Talbingo. The views on this section were amazing with views right down into Talbingo, and across the mountains, especially where the track was on exposed ridges.
Not long before Talbingo is the Tumut 3 Hydro-Electric Power Station. probably not very big by world standards, but quite impressive with the very large pipes snaking over the mountains from above it to feed water into it.
At Talbingo I stopped for some lunch, although I knew I couldn’t stop for too long – by then it was about midday, and I still had (I thought) about 30 kms to get back to Batlow and I knew there was going to be some major climbing to get back with the possibility of that section avergaing about 10kph. At Talbingo the battery on my Polar sports watch went flat as using the GPS and heart rate monitor on it will do that after about 5 hours of riding. So I switched over to the phone for the rest of the ride, and when I did so I found that the phone only had 30% charge on it. Oh well, I still wanted to track the ride as far as I could so I turned on the Strava app. Then after riding along the Snowy Mountains Highway for a few kilometres I go to the turnoff to Batlow along Yellowin Access Road. At this point the climbing started. And it wasn’t just a few percent climbing grade, this was sometimes as much as 16-20% incline (thats 1:5) according to Strava! I certainly felt those climbs.
About 17km from Talbingo there was a nice big yellow sign saying “Detour to Batlow”. So I turned right onto the road indicated. I thought, and hoped, it was the Snubba Road. But as it turned out it was an un-named track that went down to the Lake Blowering foreshore to detour around some areas closed for logging purposes. It was along this road that a kind of panic set in for a while when I realised what the time was, and how muich further I had remaining to get bacl to Batlow. What added to that was the realisation that the looming mountain range on my left had to be climbed before I could get back to Batlow, and I was starting to experience some pretty painful leg cramped and a general lack of energy. I was also not entirely trusting of there being any further detour signs or that I would reach a “dead end” on the road, as when I drove this route in the opposite directions some time ago when trying to get to Talbingo from Batlow we were confronted by a closed road sign which meant we couldn’t get to where we wanted to, and I was a bit concerned the same thing might happen this time.
It was about that time in the day that I checked my phone, which had been happily tracking my ride by GPS, but was now down to 4% battery charge. I decided to stop tracking the ride on the phone to conserve the battery, as I realised that it may have been after dark that I got to Snubba Road and that I might have to “camp” in the bush over night if I ran out of light. And I wanted to inform Rebecca (my wife) of this possibility once I got onto Snubba Road where I was fairly sure there would be mobile phone signal. There certainly wasn’t much signal for at least an hour before I would reach that road.
Along this section by the Lake Blowering foreshore I encountered some kangaraoos on the road, and while I was concentrating on those in front of me I saw out of the corner of my eye another one crouched on the bank, and as soon as I saw it, it jumped OVER the back of my bike! That was scary! A few kilometres further on I heard a single screach / growl / snort kind of sound. Where on earth had I come? And what on earth produced such a sound?I decided the best thing to do was to keep going. Thankfully no other scary sounds or anything like it happened, and it wasn’t long before the climb up to Snubba Road started in earnest. By this time I was walking the bike rather than riding it as the climb was just to steep for my cramping and unenergetic legs. And about every 30 minutes I was taking a 5 minute rest and eating some trail mix to try and build my energy. After about an hour or so of climbing I finally reached Snubba Road. And after one last hill to walk the bike up on Snubba Road, and then I finally was able to hop on the bike and pedal along as the road levelled out. Man, was I thanklful to be on Snubba Road. Not long after I arrived at the turnoff along Yellowin Access Road, which led me down into Batlow. By the time I saw the apple orchards on the outskirts of Batlow and the townhip itself nestled against the opposite hill it was just before sunset. I don’t think I have ever been so happy to see a town before as what I did that evening. By the time I got back to Batlow I had travelled an estimated 100+ kilometres, 80km (and 1800 metres of climbing) of which was tracked by GPS on Strava. The rides on Strava are:
- Batlow to Pilot Hill Arboretum (14.8km).
- Pilot Hill Arboretum to Buddong Falls (15.5km).
- Buddong Falls to Talbingo (19.1).
- Talbingo to “middle of nowhere” (30.6km).
The next day I decided I would drive to Tumut and ride some of the trails there. I found out that Tumut has Mountain Bike (MTB) trails in the state forest on the edge of town and I wanted to experience them. I started with the Mundowie Loop, and then part way along turned onto the Womboyne Loop. This brought me back onto the Mundowie Loop again which completed by riding back to the car park. Then I noticed a loop that wasn’t on the map – the Creek Loop. So I rode that as well. While the previous day’s very long ride was very suited to a mountain bike (mostly dirt roads and vehilcle tracks), most of the trails at Tumut State Forest park are single track – that is, about the width of a walking track. I haven’t done much MTB single track rides, but thoroughly enjoyed the hour or so I enjoyed riding those trails. Then after I had done all the intermediate level trails there, I proceeded down into town and rode the town trails along the riverside, and the wetlands areas next to the Tumut River. After the very long and arduous ride I did the day before, the 20 or so kilometres ridden while exploring Tumut’s state forest and riverside was a welcome change.
The next day was Sabbath. Normally I don’t ride my bike on Sabbath (although occasionaly I do). I decided to explore some of the walking tracks in the state forest around Batlow on foot and contemplate the universe (yes, men can do more than one thing at once). I am still not sure whether I walked all the ones on the signage I saw, as I only saw the two signs – one at the start and one a short way along – so I don’t know whether I got to the destinations mentioned on the first sign. But I did see some good views of orchards (of which there are many around Batlow), and views over to the distant hills. I also explored the Reedy Creek park a short distance from the Caravan Park. It was the site of the first Olymp[ic-sized swimming pool to be built in the entire district. The swiming pool was suggested by Mr Sam Ross, the president of the Batlow Progress Association. This is recognised as the beginning of the “Learn to Swim” campaign. The original pool had wooden board sides, and the concrete construction was completed in 1934. Because the pool was the only Olympic-sized pool in the district many other towns travelled to Batlow by car, bus and train to hold their swimming carnivals at the pool, even from as far away as Wagga Wagga (115km away), Cootamundra (120km away) and Junee (105km away). Today all that remains of the pool is what looks like a section of concrete that might have been part of the sides of the pool and a green expanse of grass.
Saturday night or maybe before dawn Sunday morning the rain started. And the thunder and lightning. I thought maybe it would stop by sunrise. But that only revealed looming dark grey clouds moving quite quickly over the town, and with each new batch of clouds another heavy shower. No riding today! So I spent most of the day driving around the district exploring roads that I might have otherwise ridden the bike along. I tried, in vain, to find the site of the Kunama railway terminus. I think I was in the correct general location (I travelled along Back Kunama Road to try and find it), but if the remains are on provate property, which the nswRail.net states is the case, then that explains why I didn’t actually find it. The nswrail.net site did have some photos of the Kunama station, including this one of the station platform and building.
I also found saw interesting local points of interest, including the “White Gate” at the corner of Tumbarumba – Batlow Road and old Tumbaraumba Road and a poem about a “Fallen Tree Hotel” at the same location.
"On the lonesome line of traffic Where the Tumbarumba track Forks for Bago and for Taradale as well Where the wallabies and wombats And the kangaroos have combats I once beheld the Fallen Tree Hotel" (Will Carter)
I explored the now very disused and somewhat derelict railway infrastructure at Batlow. It’s a pity such railways aren’t still in use and I always find it a bit sad seeing railways that were once an important part of a community being neglected and disused. There is talk of the Batlow railway being converted to a rail trail for use by walkers and cyclists. That would be much much better than letting it rot and rust away, and at least the general community and visitors could enjoy the scenery of what must have been a very scenic railway to travel on in it’s day. But alas some landholders think that turning the old railway into a rail trail on still government-owned land is somehow disrepecting the landholders that border the proposed trail. It’s a pity those landholders don’t have the same progressive spirit that drove Sam Ross to suggest doing something new in the district which led to the building of that Olympic sized swimming pool in Batlow all those years ago! He encouraged the building of the pool, and people came from miles around to use it, and I dare say some of the visitors money got spent in the town, and there was a general community benefit from having such an asset. A rail trail to Batlow is likely to generate the same sort of economic and community benefit. Narrow self-interest too often gets in the way of real community progress.
As the rain was not slowing down, and the forecast was for more the next day, and as my sleeping bags were wet, and the forecast was for near-freezing temperatures overnight I decided to cut my Batlow adventure short and head for home. So after a very fast packing up of gear, I settled in for the drove home and arrived home at about 9pm to cuddle up to my wonderfully warm wife for a good nights sleep.