In God’s Country: Cycling around Murwillumbah
I’ve decided now that 2016 is the year of taking my bike on adventures. Those fun and interesting rides into the unknown rather than the drudgery of the local Brisbane loops that usually fill my weekend. And thus, I present below my latest ride report from my weekend adventure cycling around Murwillumbah in Norther New South Wales.
2015 was ridden mostly to get through a half ironman triathlon, which usually meant my weekends were dedicated to long and grueling efforts. Those were undoubtedly awesome for my fitness, but were hardly fitness ideal settings for achieving the freedom high that bike riding often gifts those craving wanderlust.
Last year I did do a gran fondo ride with a few friends from my triathlon club around the border ranges in New South Wales. Starting off from Murwillumbah, the ride went east towards the coast before swinging back towards the foothills of Mount Warning — the iconic dead volcano that signals that you’re entering one of Australia’s most scenic hinterlands.
I had enjoyed that enough to consider going back and retracing those steps. And after some umm-ing and ahh-ing and some encouragement from my partners in crime — being my brother Dil and friend Warren — I did make it back yesterday.
I borrowed a ute and made the 1.5-hour drive to Murwillumbah from Brisbane with my brother, stopping in for some cheeky empty calories at the Meth City Maccas (i.e. Yatala BP petrol station which at 7am was packed with a lot of shady looking characters with dubious blood alcohol levels). There was a bit of rain about but not quite enough to call things off and it was actually a boon as it kept the temperatures down to acceptable levels.
We met up with Warren up the tourist information centre in the middle of town, got the bikes in order and then set off to the north, heading past the showgrounds.
Urliup Road to Bilambil
Warren had been talking up the ride up Urliup Road just north of the town for some time, and his assessment of its jaw-dropping beauty proved 100% correct.
It’s about a 14 kilometre road that takes you to the small town of Bilambil and, if you travel south to north, has a gentle climb right at the beginning which wasn’t too difficult. Once you hit the top, you begin a fairly easy descent through a rainforest, across creeks and past small farms and hideaways. For most of the road, it’s pretty narrow but seemingly car-less. About half way long you hit a ~3 km gravel section.
This section of the ride is totally doable on a road bike. It’s in similar condition to the Goat Track out near Mt Nebo in Brisbane but mostly you’re descending if you’re heading north. There is a small puncture risk, I packed extra tubes but had no problems.
I really wish I had taken some photos while I was out here because it’s just gorgeous — possibly the most picturesque loop I’ve ever done on the bike. “I wish I could live here”, I said to myself on many occasions. But to give you an idea, here are some Google map screenshots (the bitumen is in much better condition nowadays as it seems to have been resurfaced).
Return to Murwillumbah and towards Tyalgum
Once we hit Bilambil, we were back on more popular roads and headed back towards where we started via Hogan’s Road. Still, perhaps four or five cars passed us the entire time so it was pretty stress-free. There was a bit of an unexpected climb midway up which got the heart rate up before we descended down through a pretty amazing looking rainforest (which I later found out was Duroby Nature Reserve) before heading back towards Murwillumbah, with Mount Warning looming in front of us.
After some minor nav issues, we got on Kyogle Road heading south, with the intention of swinging on to Tyalgum Road and then looping back around to Murwillumbah via Chillingham. road south heading towards Tyalgum. In future, I will avoid this road. No shoulder, lots of traffic into a close pass by a b-double truck who nearly ran another car off the road instead of being patient and waiting for a safe opportunity to pass. My brother yelled out “This road is $%$#ing dangerous!” Lesson learned — that road was total bullshit.
Once we made it safely on to Tyalgum Road, it was far more chill. This is about an 18 kilometre section where you slowly climb up for about 14 clicks before descending into the township of Tyalgum. It’s OK but after the experience of Urliup Road it was slightly underwhelming.
Chillingham and home
We were debating having a bite to eat around Tyalgum but couldn’t really see anything that look opened and tolerant of the lycra-clad. I knew that there was a general store at Chillingham with a nice outdoor seating area and it, being 12 kilometres away, was the winning food bid.
The road between Tyalgum and Chillingham is also super impressive on the eyes. I had been here once before and on that day the two gradual climbs before Chillingham had shattered me. They’re not super steep but go for about two kilometres each. And then you get rewarded with two nice long descents so it’s worth it.
I had bad memories of running out of energy here, but this time I was really fresh and felt great and these hills were no problem at all. Also this time I wasn’t riding a rattly old aluminium frame and the smooth feeling of the titanium Lynskey R255 made this part way more comfortable than my previous experience. We took this section pretty chilled and I got a chance to snap a few photos along the way.
We reached the general store in Chillingham which also sold beer and we were mighty tempted to sink a few tinnies here, but instead went for the dodgy sausage roll/meatpie and flavoured milk combo. The texture of my sausage roll was interesting to say the least but Dil demolished his cheese and bacon pie without any second thought.
The return to Murwillumbah was uneventful though I suspect Dil was starting to get a tad tired. I managed to pick up a slow puncture right at the end but had enough air to roll into town without having to walk it.
Despite me trying my best to self-sabotage, I’m super glad I went out today and really excited about the prospect of heading back to look at some of the nearby unexplored roads in the future. Though next time I think I’ll out the busy roads south of Murwillumbah and Tyalgum road and look for alternate and quieter back roads.
- Distance: 87.8 km
- Time: 3:35:36
- Elevation: 1144 metres
- Speed: 24.5 kmh
- Calories: 2664
- Temperature: 22 degrees
- Sausage rolls: 0.5
- Bike: Lynskey R255.
- Strava route.