In this bikepacking adventure, Sarah and Jesse took a small group of our friends to the Victorian High County. The alpine area can be hard to condense over a weekend, so we extended this trip out to three days. You’ll probably need to call in sick on a Friday to make it work, ha! Like all our Flashpacking trips, the focus is the ‘gravel’ road less travelled, and of course climbing. This three day adventure will see you pushing a little over 6,000 metres elevation, and you’ll definitely earn them. These climbs are steep! However the scenery is just so beautiful that it should help you forget the burning sensation in your legs. If you're attempting this trip, research the local temperatures, and make sure you have 'all-weather' gear. It can even snow on parts of this route in summer.
No adventure is complete without a train ride.
Our group kicked off at the crack of dawn catching a train from Southern Cross Station, Melbourne, to Stratford, Gippsland.
The three hour train ride was helpful for anyone that needed some extra sleep before we got riding.
Once in Stratford, people had a chance to buy more snacks for the next day, and fuel up before the first leg.
The weather was once again perfection, sun out and light winds as the group began rolling towards Dargo. A shorter day due to train travel, the terrain is a 50/50 split of sealed and good quality gravel.
The highlight on day one is Freestone Creek Road from Briagolong to the main Dargo Road. It’s a lovely gravel road rolling along the river and also a gradual climb.
We arrived into Dargo around 4pm, and stayed at the well known historic Dargo Pub in some great log cabins out the back. Do make sure you stay at the main pub if you travel through this area, the accommodation is lovely, and the pub meals are enormous, many people struggled to finish their meal. The town of Dargo consists of pretty much the pub and a general store, so spending money locally is a big plus for them.
The group spent the evening sharing a meal and some beers on the porch. Some even throwing a few dollars into the pub raffle hoping to win a slab of beer (how one planned to ride with this I have no idea).
Day 1: Stratford to Dargo, 85 km / 1500 vm
Everyone was up early to grab breakfast and coffee at the Dargo General Store before we set off to commence one very long climb.
I had heard stories about how steep Dargo High Plains Road was, so I wasn’t too sure what to expect.
With about 7 kms warm up on flat roads leaving Dargo, the road pretty much spiked instantly. The first 17 kms are super steep, easily sitting around 10 - 15% for the majority of the main pinch.
The group spread out here quickly, but all agreed to regroup after the first haul. This first section is also sealed, which on a 29r MTB can be a crawl.
Once over the first pinch the road then becomes gravel for the next 60 kms. It’s a steady rolling climb from here to Hotham Main Road, with a few really rude pinches to keep you alert. You’ll also need to make sure you have plenty of snacks and water as there are no refuel points.
We all regrouped again at the Hotham intersection and commenced the fast 20 km sealed descent back down to Harrietville for a cold drink before the last 20 kms into Bright.
Once in Bright the group made their way to the Ovens River that runs through the town, a very popular tourist hang out. With beers in hand we all cooled off standing (some swimming) in the water while we waited till it was time for dinner at the Bright Brewery.
There are plenty of places to stay in Bright, we chose Pine Valley Caravan Park. There is also a major supermarket in town open late if you need to buy snacks for the road.
Day 2: Dargo to Bright, 114 kms / 2,500 vm
Up bright and early, the group rolled out for the third day, with the added time pressure that if we fell behind schedule we would miss the only train ride home that night. Luckily we had a very strong group of riders so we were feeling pretty confident in making the train.
The first climb for the day, and the main highlight of day three was Goldie Spur.
Goldie Spur is part of the popular Mount Buffalo National Park, which is about 20 kms out from Bright. The climb itself is all gravel and the alternative way up Buffalo, as many road cyclists would know the sealed version up to Dingo Dell or The Horn..
This climb is steep! At an average of 10% for 10 kms, it’s made harder again by the fact that the gravel gets very loose in areas, with some rocky parts thrown in for bonus fun.
It is a wonderfully scenic climb, and you’ll get a full view of the National Park and surrounds at the summit.
The 10 km descent is just as rough in areas as the climb, many of us gripping hard to our handlebars as we are battered back and forth for the first few kms down.
Once at the base we regrouped before tackling ‘baby’ Goldie Spur, another sharp, but shorter, gravel climb.
From here it was onto Whitfield for lunch. This stretch is lovely rolling gravel roads, passing through parts of the King Valley wine country. There is of course one last gradual gravel climb before descending into Whitfield in sealed roads. The general store in Whitfield makes great burgers and potato cakes if you are looking for something hearty for a refuel. There is also a Cafe and Pub in town if you’re looking for something else.
From Whitfield there is one last climb for the day, it’s sealed and not too difficult at all, you’ll descend the other side on gravel but then it’s back to bitumen for the final 45 kms. The group was flying as we rolled into Benalla two hours early, giving us time to enjoy some beers at a local pub across from the train station.
This three day Flashpacking trip is more an intermediate level ride, make sure you have plenty of experience riding long gravel climbs, as well as backing up multiple days in the saddle.