Tucked away between New South Wales’ Princes and Hume highways, just two hours’ drive south of Sydney’s Mascot airport, is a cycling getaway gem that will leave you weak in the knees…though stronger in the quads. We recently dropped into the picturesque Kangaroo Valley to experience what the town has to offer–not least of which is great cycling.
Kangaroo Valley is a lush dairy farming region on the road from Bowral in the southern highlands to Nowra, bounded by majestic red sandstone cliffs, rainforest and thick bush. Early settlers carved trails over the hills from the coast and up to the towns of Bowral and Moss Vale. The local bush provided a good supply of cedar trees, though the loggers had cleared most of the prized timber by the 1830s. Those early trails have since been replaced by smooth, sweeping bitumen and now provide challenging climbs which logically lead to eye-watering descents. Early morning views from the mountain tops often see the valley blanketed in white before the sun burns the mist off. You’ll likely see lyrebirds darting into the bush and possibly also wombats on the quieter side-roads; though strangely, not too many kangaroos.
With four star accommodation set in such a peaceful location, within easy reach of attractive dining options, scenic walking trails, plentiful coffee spots, swimming holes, brilliant bass fishing, still or white-water canoeing, exciting mountain biking and last but by no means least, some great road cycling, all bodes well for a fun and relaxing stay—whether you ride or not!
Kangaroo Valley Getaways arranged our trip and booked us into one of the three Barrengarry Cottages; the charming Settlers’ Cottage. Just driving onto the property is a step back in time. The tin-roofed, slab-walled cottage is surrounded by beautiful gardens, and has a veranda overlooking green paddocks. Owners Gai and Barry Faulks have created a delightful retreat that has charmed the likes of Debra Hutton and enticed a national women’s magazine for a nine page photo shoot in the grounds. My wife, who grew up on a dairy farm, was absolutely smitten with the old world charm and serenity of the place—equally happy to either sit on the veranda enjoying the view across the valley or get out on the bike with me.
Beyond the weathered, lichen-covered post and rail fence, almost too cute purebred Belted Galloway cattle graze in the lush surrounding paddocks. Built in the classic style of the 1920s Australian farmhouse using reclaimed timber and period features the cottage is filled with countless historic artefacts, from the chip burning water heater for the claw footed bath, leather strop and cutthroat razor and, to the 78 gramophone, rocking chair and reproductions of the early Kangaroo Valley newspaper.
There’s also a small museum on the property to preserve the rural heritage of the area and especially the property’s past owners part in the town, from old farmhouse grinding wheels for sharpening axes and mattocks, to bullock team harnesses, rabbit traps old timber-getter saws, and photos of the town from back in the day.
Just a few hundred metres down the road spanning the Kangaroo River is the imposing Hampden Bridge. For many it’s the iconic, lingering image of the valley. Striking sandstone towers at either end support the massive steel cables and the solid timber road of this, the oldest suspension bridge in Australia above the weir and locals’ favourite swimming spot.
Great places to eat in the Valley are plentiful; Jing Jo’s is a standout with a refreshing Thai and modern Australian menu, while the Friendly Inn (AKA the Kangaroo Valley pub) is a top spot for a beer or family lunch after putting in some miles on the bike. For morning or afternoon tea say hi to the exuberant Paula at the Kangaroo Valley Fudge Shop. This place is an appealing stop for cool drinks after a hot ride; or an afternoon Devonshire tea if the rain rolls in and the riding is called off. They have a wide range of cottage industry local produce on sale…the usual tasty stuff; jams, relishes—and their own classic fudges in case you’re in need of a tasty sugar hit. The woodwork gallery next door is well worth a look too, displaying pieces of exceptional craftsmanship; most impressive are the exquisitely realistic, handcrafted rocking horses—with prices to suit! But if you’d rather roll than rock, it’s time to ride.
Berry Mountain Cambewarra Lookout Loop — Distance: 30.6km, Elevation Gain: 1069m
Extension Loop — Distance: 26.5km, Elevation Gain: 986m, Elevation Loss
The first ride is the ‘easier’ of the two big climbs; up the western side of Berry Mountain. Starting from the main street, head towards Nowra on the Moss Vale Road and about three kilometres out of town turn left onto Kangaroo Valley Road.
Follow this to the top of the mountain and turn right onto the Tourist Road towards Cambewarra Mountain Lookout. Average grades of around 10% and topping out with a few 14% pinches will keep you honest and may mark the start of an economic slide for the pie shop in town. The Tourist Road follows a saddle between the two mountains and affords stunning views over the Shoalhaven River and Jervis Bay down to St Georges Basin to the south, while a spectacular view of Kangaroo Valley opens up before you to the north. The view at the end of the steep, one-kilometre pinch to the lookout is worth the effort, and if you feel inclined you can refuel at the coffee shop at the lookout.
An extension to this ride for the keen climber or those who won’t get out of bed for under 50 kilometres, is to take Wattamolla Road shortly after turning onto Kangaroo Valley Road and following this road around the northern slopes of the picturesque Woodhill Mountain. The rocky cliffs here and along the eastern edge of the valley are a spectacular sight turning bright orange and red at sunset. You’ll then descend into the town of Berry, another village usually full of weekend visitors, where you can grab coffee and a bite to eat, or see the guys at Berry Mountain Cycles for a chat and then head back up the eastern slopes of Berry Mountain (Kangaroo Valley Road) and re-join the ride at the Tourist Road turnoff towards Cambewarra Mountain.
Awesome, swooping, smooth descents down Cambewarra Mountain to the north will take you back through the valley, while the southern slopes will see you arrive in Nowra after an equally exhilarating descent. (Of course you’ll have the return climb and northern descent of Cambewarra Mountain to look forward to if you do take the Nowra option.) Traffic on the mountains is speed limited to 60kph, though the corners tend to keep cars down to 50 or below and maintaining a place in any traffic flow on the descent is quite easy and great fun.
What traffic there is on the main road is light and while traffic poses no real problem heading down Cambewarra Mountain the road is reasonably narrow with little or no shoulder in places, and given the much slower pace heading up you might prefer to take the alternate back road route described above when you are heading to the top.
Barrengarry Climb and Reservoir Loop — Distance: 47.6km, Elevation Gain: 1,131m
The second decent climb out of the Valley starts around six kilometres out of town and heads up Barrengarry Mountain towards Fitzroy Falls—a favourite of the locals. This road is has plenty of turn out lanes for slow traffic and is also quite wide for the most part, so you’ll be relatively unhurried (unless you can’t keep yourself from logging a Strava segment). The initial slope of the climb is a long, straight drag of around 10% that goes on for around 800m. This is followed by several switchbacks and all up around eight kilometres of ascent. Again the road is nicely paved and has stunning views back across the valley. Magnificent towering eucalypts with smooth white trunks line the ascent surrounded by pockets of rainforest and sandstone cliffs. You can stop at the Fitzroy Falls Tourist Centre for a coffee and take in the view from the falls, and then carry on for a loop around the Fitzroy Falls Reservoir before plunging back down into the valley. It was long and steep going up, so it’s long and steep going down—check your brakes before you head to the valley because there are bound to be some long, fast descents in store for you to test them out.
McPhail’s Trail — Distance: 15.2km, Elevation Loss: -738m
Meryla Pass — Distance: 36.4km, Elevation Loss: -1163m
I know some of you harbour dark dirty secrets; you know who you are. And, if you must ride a mountain bike, Meryla Pass or McPhail’s Trail provide an outlet for you lovers of dirty fat tyre action with screaming descents, cliff bounded hairpins, creek crossings and fire trail into the back end of Bendeela down in the valley. Meryla is the longer of the two rides and has more fire trail than singletrack while McPhail’s is steeper and more technical.
Upper Kangaroo River — Distance: 31.2km return, Elevation Gain: 546m
From the Kangaroo Valley town centre there are easier and almost traffic free rides including heading out to Bendeela Pondage, where there are camping grounds and picnic areas next to the river, or along the Upper Kangaroo River Road through evergreen farm paddocks alongside the river. This road is gently undulating and a good ride for the family if they’re not up to tackling the slopes that head out of the valley. There are some great swimming spots along the river and at the very end of the road you can walk (or clamber) up the creek past small waterfalls from hole to hole; great fun with the kids in the summertime. The river up here offers superb Australian bass fishing; flicking lures into the dark corners of the river during summer’s days of high barometric pressure can be great fun. Never let it be said I’m just a one trick pony!
Tallowa Dam — Distance: 45.7km return, Elevation Gain: 893m
Another slightly longer and marginally more difficult ride (due to some long though not terribly steep hills) heads out Mt Scanzi Road and then follows Tallowa Dam Road, culminating with a long descent to the dam, making the return trip a tough prospect in hotter weather. There’s a neat piece of heavy-duty environmental engineering at the dam—a Trap and Transport system to assist the natural fish breeding cycle. They have constructed an elevator that lifts a huge hopper full of water, and hopefully fish, over the dam wall so they can continue their route upstream.
I enjoyed my stay and the riding in the Valley immensely and am looking forward to going back soon for another tilt at Barrengarry Mountain.
If you find yourself in need of a short break that will tick several boxes, including serene weekend escape, perhaps romantic getaway and stunning cycling location, Kangaroo Valley may be just what you’re looking for.