Parkes bike mechanic Arron of Bicky’s Cycle Shed makes regular trips out to The Dish - make sure you look up Bicky’s if you’re heading to Parkes!
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Destination Central West: Gravel Of The Grenfell, Parkes & Orange Regions

Packing the van with a hand-made Racemax from 3T, we leave the big smoke for a week in gravel heaven – the New South Wales Central West.

“The world is a book and those who don’t travel only know one page.”

So apparently said Saint Augustine, and so I was reminded each time I looked down at the bars of the stunning new metallic green 3T Racemax Italia.

Handmade in Italia, the bike was designed and built for pure, unadulterated gravel. With tractor-like 45mm Pirelli Cinturato tyres, the bike rolled effortlessly. It certainly was a dream bike and tyre combo, one completely worthy of not only seeking out the world’s best gravel roads, but standing resolute to Sant’Agostino’s wise and timeless words.

I was riding countless gravel roads of New South Wales Central West, just a few pages from home in Sydney, but a complete world away.

Trip planning included working out a roughly 900km loop that took in Bathurst, Cowra, Grenfell, Parkes, Orange, Mudgee, Lithgow then home. Guests of the friendly and welcoming folks of the Weddin, Parkes and Orange tourism bodies, the gravel roads of these three central western regions were the core focus of the trip. And what a region it was to ride!

Golden Grenfell

Starting out in the quaint village of Grenfell, some 370km from Sydney, arriving in town is seriously like taking a step back in time. Steeped in history, the town was one of the nation’s standout gold mining hubs back in the 1860s (not that the nation was a nation at that point, but we’ll get to that in the Parkes paragraphs below).

Way back in 1866 a shepherd named Cornelius O’Brien was farming a district known as Emu Creek and stopped to take a short break from tending to his sheep. Glancing around, a glistening outcrop of quartz with a strong vein of gold caught his eye. A short time later he staked a claim on the land, and that original slither of gold turned out to be part of a huge reef valued at around 400,000 pounds in the day.

If you ride the Grenfell region around September there’s a good chance you’ll be treated by the sight of golden canola fields.

Within months the town was proclaimed Grenfell after NSW Gold Commissioner John Granville Grenfell, and over the next two years more than two tons – close to 100,000 ounces which at today’s value would be well over $300,000,000 – was mined in the region.

Just four months after O’Brien’s find the town had a population of more than 25,000 people. And at its peak there were 33 pubs in Grenfell!

These days the town is a lot quieter and the perfect panacea for a break from the big smoke. While those 30-plus pubs have whittled down to just three or four, the sleepy town of Grenfell is sheer bliss to visit. Set before the imposing backdrop of the fascinating and alluring Weddin Mountains, the region offers it all for the travelling cyclist.

The first night there I stayed in the camper van and was thrilled to see the ‘RV Friendly’ town offers free camping in a dedicated area near the old Grenfell Railway Station. With clean toilets, hot $2 showers, and some interesting outdoor historical displays, it’s a great place to stay and just a few minutes walk from the town centre.

A quick stop while riding Scenic Rd near Wirrimah east of Grenfell.

Breakfast was at the outstanding ‘Unwind Cafe’ and their coffee is seriously impressive. After a quick second flat white, the GPS beeped into action and the day’s route set – a ride from town to the base of the Weddin Mountains.

Heading out of town along West Street and then Holy Camp Road, the first thing that strikes you about this ride is just how quiet the roads are. Seriously, in 40km I saw just two cars, and one of them was parked. Holy Camp Rd gently winds its way through farming country before morphing from tar to gravel. After reading some of the region’s fascinating history via the numerous signs in town, you can’t help but recognise many of the names on the farm gates while riding to the alluring mountain range.

Holy Camp Rd near Grenfell is a mix of quiet country bitumen and gravel – here we see another rider while out there on a busy Monday morning.

The gravel comes to an end at a remote picnic area which is also the starting point for several of the region’s most highly-recommended walks.

There’s no escaping the region’s rich history, not even here! National Parks signage details the mountain range’s fascinating Indigenous past, the cave and elevated vantage point used by bushranger Ben Hall, and details of the birds and wildlife that call the Weddin home.

A trip to Grenfell isn’t complete without a ride out to Holy Camp Rd.

With a slight tailwind and gentle one to two per cent descent, the trip back to town was a highlight. Again the roads were super quiet, in great condition, and the cycling was a breeze. Back in town, I couldn’t help but chow down at the Vietnamese-run Kim Chi Bakery and Cafe. Tip: Do yourself a favour and fill up here! The food and coffee are phenomenal.

The afternoon ride may not sound the most incredible, but it actually was a highlight of the trip. Grenfell’s town loop offers an interesting insight into the past while also showcasing the present and future. A mix of road and gravel, this is just 20 or so kilometres in length but a lot of fun to ride. Highly recommended!

The next morning it was another quick Grenfell ride before packing the van and heading north to Parkes.

Scenic Rd near Iandra Castle in the Grenfell region.

The ride started at Iandra Castle – yes, an incredibly impressive historical castle-like building out in the middle of nowhere. Built between 1908 and 1910 by successful wheat farmer George Henry Greene, this massive 57-room homestead is a sight to be seen.

A castle in the middle of nowhere? Yes! This is Iandra castle near Grenfell and well worth a visit by bike.

The imposing castle is the perfect start and finish point for one of the region’s best rides, a 60km gravel loop that takes in the aptly named Scenic Rd. Absolute champagne gravel, there are long climbs, fast and smooth descents, creek crossings, small villages, long paddocks and amazing wildlife. This is a must-ride loop and the Ride with GPS details are in the fact box below.

“Highlights include the ‘Orange and Villages Bike Trail’, a phenomenal 360km six-day cycling journey.”

The Parkes Region

No, it’s not a joke, but what do Sir Henry Parkes, Sam Neill, the original Yellow Wiggle and Elvis Presley have in common? Yes … they all have close links to the town once known as Currajong, then Bushman’s, and better known these days as Parkes.

The drive from Grenfell to Parkes took just over an hour but easily could’ve taken days. All along the way there were incredible gravel roads off to the left and the right of the Henry Lawson Way then the Newell Highway … this wider region is gravel cycling heaven!

Parkes bike mechanic Arron of Bicky’s Cycle Shed makes regular trips out to The Dish – make sure you look up Bicky’s if you’re heading to Parkes!

Arriving in Parkes and first stop in this vibrant and buzzing regional centre was the Visitor Information Centre.

Originally settled in 1853 as Currajong, it was renamed Parkes in 1873 after Sir Henry Parkes, a key figure in Australia’s federation. The town grew rapidly during the 1870s gold rush and maintains ties with Coventry, UK, Sir Henry Parkes’ birthplace.

The Parkes Region is rich in culture, iconic landmarks, stunning landscapes and vibrant country communities. The CSIRO Parkes Observatory is famous for its involvement in the first moon landing and was the 300 tonne star of the movie ‘The Dish’. It’s an iconic and must-see attraction, located just north of Parkes on the Newell Highway. It is open daily with a deep space ‘Discovery Centre’ and movie experience on-site.

Local bike mechanic Aaron ‘Bicky’ Arnott and I met up at the museum for an afternoon gravel loop. Around an hour and some dreamy gravel roads later we were looking up in awe at the star of the show, the famous Dish.

The wide open spaces of the Weddin, Parkes and Orange regions offer some of the most impressive gravel cycling we’ve seen.

It truly was a memorable gravel loop and seeing the Dish for the first time was akin to a first glimpse of Uluru, the Harbour Bridge or the Kimberley. And much like the roads around Grenfell the day before, the country roads were ridiculously quiet. Thanks to Aaron’s strong turn of pace and great local guiding I worked up a massive appetite. Pizza and pasta at the Parkes iconic Café Aglio e Olio (appropriately on Welcome St), was absolutely delissimo that night.

Keen on some off-bike activities? Watching the short Sir Henry Parkes film at the Visitor Centre is highly recommended, the life story of this great man is completely inspiring and absolutely mesmerising.

Attracting visitors from all around the world, the Elvis Presley Museum is well worth seeing. Even if you’re not a huge fan, the displays, mementos and backstory about Parkes becoming a major global Elvis hub are fascinating. And yes, that original Yellow Wiggle played a key role in Parkes becoming Little Graceland.

Around Parkes

The Parkes CBD is well worth meandering around, and the local art trail’s many installations will certainly get the grey matter moving. But after a quick walk around town we know what you’d much rather be doing, and the wider district is perfect for cycling.

The Parkes region offers gravel routes in just about all directions. Here local bike mechanic Aaron Arnott rides a road north of the town close to The Dish.

The Parkes Region has recently launched new gravel routes ranging from 20 to 120km loops, with the VisitParkes.com.au website detailing the best local rides.

Orange and Surrounds

Leaving Parkes, the country drive to Orange was punctuated with two stops – the first at Bumberry Dam (see breakout below) then morning tea and a short ride around the quaint riverside town of Molong.

A picture-perfect village, Molong has a boutique feel and was the perfect place for mid-morning coffee then the second ride of the day. It’s often said that a bike is the best way to properly see and get the real feel of a place, and this was spot on … riding ‘round Molong was absolutely idyllic.

Gravel abounds around Orange, with sensational road and gravel options surrounding the bustling town.

Pushing on some 30km through the most stunning rolling countryside, we then drove the backroads from Molong to Orange and marked the region for a future riding trip.

Arriving in Orange, and while this is well and truly a country town it certainly exudes that small city feel. The bustling CBD has everything you’d ever need. Then, within minutes of leaving the centre, you’re out in the the country and, depending upon which route you take, riding quiet rural roads without a care in the world.

An example? That first afternoon I started out at Jack Brabham Park to ride the popular Lucknow loop and Gosling Creek Reserve paths. Both feature on the ‘Cycling’ page of the www.orange360.com.au website are highly recommended!

Food, Wine & Gravel

A renowned food and wine destination, the Orange region is also a country produce and boutique shopping paradise. Then, just a few short kilometres away are some of the state’s most impressive and diverse road & gravel cycling routes. These include the iconic multi-day ‘Orange 360’ gravel lap of Mount Canobolas, more about this is at www.orange360.com.au. 

Orange is well known for numerous impressive gravel rides including a huge 360km multi day loop.

Grenfell

1: Grenfell Town Loop

Just 17 or so kilometres, and a mix of road and gravel this scenic loop showcases the town and immediate surrounds of Grenfell.

2: Iandra Castle Route

57km with 623m of ascent. Riders can start wherever they please on this loop but we suggest beginning at Iandra Castle.

ridewithgps.com/routes/37918586

3: The Stock Route

Length: 100km with 834m of ascent. A mixture of gravel and paved roads, enjoy the scenery and appreciate the view off in the distance of the Weddin Mountains National Park.

ridewithgps.com/routes/37911232

Information on many other cycling routes can be found at visitweddin.com.au/things-to-do/cycling/

The Grenfell Visitor Information Centre is in the Main Street of town. Our tip is to pop in and say hi to the friendly staff and find out more about this fascinating town. And visit www.visitweddin.com.au

Parkes

Parkes offers an almost endless number of rides with our picks including:

The Dish

This is a must-ride 55km loop with around 30 per cent road and 70 per cent gravel.

ridewithgps.com/routes/40475727

Parkes to Trundle

Stunning gravel roads, this can be an out & back or the start of an epic three-day loop. The towns of Trundle and Peak Hill are perfect places to stay if you’re overnighting.

ridewithgps.com/routes/41247579

The Bogan Gate Loop

For this 38km gravel ride, pop the bikes into the car and head out to the tiny town of Bogan Gate. The ride takes in leafy country lanes, stunning rural vistas, and riding through the wide open plains.

ridewithgps.com/routes/41255274

The Bumberry Dam loop

A fun and picturesque short ride, we enjoyed this one on the final morning while heading to Orange.

ridewithgps.com/routes/41242410

Finally, a huge array of Parkes’ cycling routes can be found at visitparkes.com.au/attractions/cycling-in-the-parkes-region

Orange

First up, a stop at the Orange Visitor Information Centre is highly recommended!

It’s located at 151 Byng Street and is open daily from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. You can also find out a lot about the region online via www.orange360.com.au

Top rides wise, the 51km Orange, Millthorpe and Carcoar loop can be done in a day with stunning scenery, village atmospheres, boutique shops and wineries.

http://www.strava.com/activities/80220079

The aptly named Ophir 95 is a memorable country road/gravel trip to the historic gold mining area of Ophir. A 95km ride with 1662m of climbing, there are numerous 10 per cent climbs and even a 700m section that just touches 30 per cent.

ridewithgps.com/routes/43988136

Another must-ride local loop is the Barry Roobaix gravel classic. Glorious open gravel roads in this 106km loop with 1485m of climbing!

ridewithgps.com/routes/42218292

The country around Orange is studded with great cycling – our tip is to visit www.rideorange.com.au prior to your trip.

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