Back Roads in the Riverina
can be a straightforward highway run between the cities of Canberra and Wagga Wagga,
there are lots of options that can mostly avoid the Hume Highway.
particular ride, I decided to try some back roads, including some gravel for a
Getting Over the
conservative routes from Canberra to Wagga Wagga skirt round the northern boundaries
of the Brindabella Range west of Canberra (Canberra’s version of Sydney’s Blue Mountains)
adding several kilometres to the journey. My trip headed into the Brindabellas through
I’d been on
the Wee Jasper road only once before. An unhappy experience. Coming from Tumut
on that occasion – preceded by some local showers – I discovered that the
mostly good gravel road sharply deteriorates over the last 10km into Wee Jasper
into a rough, narrow, muddy, steep and slippery forest track. It didn’t quite
work with standard road tyres. That cost me my Honda Crossrunner.
With the recent
memory of coming to grief on the road, I approached it this time with some
trepidation. It’s a good quality bitumen (and a good motorcycling) road from
Canberra to Wee Jasper. The gravel starts at Wee Jasper. And does so with a
vengeance. Mercifully it was dry this day; and more manageable to climb in the
dry than descend in the wet!
a narrow and rough road that climbs steeply and turns tightly over those
fateful 10km before opening into a wider and better graded gravel road to
Gems from the
I took the road through Adelong and Tumblong. I hadn’t been to either before so
every discovery was novel. Adelong was an
old gold rush town. Its main street is heritage listed, with several buildings
dating back to the gold rush days. Gold was discovered in several places round
Adelong in the 1850s. Remarkably, much of the gold mining equipment from the
old Adelong Falls Gold Mill is
still intact and a popular tourist treat.
much to Tumblong, although history suggests it once had its day in the sun. The
old road between Sydney and Melbourne used to go through it but no longer.
was to cross the Hume Highway at Tumblong and proceed on a dirt road marked on
the GPS as the “Old Hume Highway”, cross the Murrumbidgee River at Mundarlo and
come into Wagga Wagga through Wantabadgery. However, I missed a vital turn-off
across the Murrumbidgee and ended up on a lesser dirt road that had my Zumo 590
GPS totally confused and frustrated (and becoming gratuitously abusive).
persuaded the Zumo to ‘get over it’ and just take me to the RAAF Base (a
necessary port of call to collect keys), it finally desisted from wanting me to
make a U-turn and agreed that I could continue straight ahead.
In the process
of doing so, I ‘discovered’ the delightful 1868 stone “Junction Hotel” situated
on a three-way junction of the Old Hume Highway Road and Deltroit Road - both
subsequently found out that the Junction Hotel was built by John Griffiths, a
free settler. It was a Cobb & Co staging inn but closed in 1906. It's been
modernised into a 4-bedroom cottage to accommodate staff working on Deltroit
Station of which it is now part.
station is a 2,545-hectare property, with a 1903 Federation brick homestead. It
last changed ownership in 2013 for $15.5 million.
I was a bit
miffed that the Old Hume Highway was a dirt road – and such a long way from the
current highway. Invariably, roads designated “Old Hume Highway” are discarded
bitumen sections replaced by the new dual carriageway. I later discovered that the original highway in
this area went well to the west of Tumblong via Mundarlo. This is illustrated
in the accompanying diagram by the yellow road called “The Old Hume Highway
Road.” It’s now listed as an “historic route” as opposed to the more
conventional sections called “Old Hume Highway”. Some current maps still
describe the east/west section as the “Old Hume Highway”; but call the
north/south section “Mundarlo Road.” Others refer to the whole loop as
with the building the Hillas Creek concrete bridge in 1938 and the excavation
of a large cutting at Sylvia’s Gap, the Hume Highway was relocated to a shorter
route through Tumblong, saving 14km.
the current dual carriageway deviation was built that by-passed the settlement
indulged my historical fascination with the Junction Hotel, I found the road
continuing onto the Sturt Highway and into Wagga Wagga still had some surprises
with a thickly wooded ridge to enjoy before reaching the bitumen. While my
original plan had avoided the Sturt Highway until I was well into Wagga Wagga,
the additional highway riding was a small price to pay for the discovery of the
Junction Hotel; and learning some previously unknown history about the (very)
Old Hume Highway.
A Longer Way Back
I planned a
longer way back from Wagga Wagga to Canberra to explore more new dirt roads. Planning
this was a lot harder than one might expect. There’s a myriad of country lanes
that are not exactly interlinked, but double back and weave about. But the
effort planning the route was well rewarded by some great dirt road riding and
wonderful Riverina countryside.
notable sight was a small memorial at Eurongilly not far from Wagga Wagga.
There’s no town there. It’s just a ‘location’ but with a bush fire brigade
shed; and a war memorial which seems to have started life as a tribute to a local
22-year-old, R J Cooper, who, as a 20-year-old, had joined the RAF and,
according to the plaque, was killed over Derna in North Africa on 26
November 1941. It was a grim reminder of sacrifices made; and some initial
searches didn’t reveal any more than what was on the plaque.
effort a little later, however, revealed an even more tragic aspect. Derna is a
town west of Tobruk in today’s Libya. The setting for this local lad’s death
was the Siege of Tobruk – that 7-8 month episode that so frustrated Rommel’s
attempts to win a strategic port and gave birth to the famous Rats of Tobruk.
Cooper would have been flying support missions from RAF bases in Egypt
attacking the Axis armies and destroying their shipping. Most sources give as
the date the siege was beaten – when Allied armies final broke through to the
garrison in Tobruk – as 27 November 1941. Cooper had been killed the day
before. You can read his story here: R J Cooper
attraction of the trip back was the variety of landscapes that make up part of
the Riverina. At the crest of a small ridge suddenly before you is the vast
vista of plains bounded in the distance by the Bethungra escarpment. You
meander through sheep and cattle country as well as agricultural land between
crops of one sort or another. Meanwhile the colour and texture of the county
roads and lanes are constantly changing.
dreamtime ride was interrupted as the dirt lanes delivered me to Binalong on
the Burley Griffin Way and thence onto the Hume Highway for the short run to
there’s another pleasant, mostly dirt road that follows the small Yass River as
it winds through the Yass Valley to Gundaroo and beyond. The road crosses the
river a few times and moves away from it to cross a couple of wooded ridges.
this road – a bit tentatively – once before; so I was feeling far more
confident. That was until I hit an unseen pothole at a fair pace. Not a
pleasant experience but the bike and rider kept going. Well, for a couple of
kilometres, until the steering made it clear that the front tyre was airless.
It got worse. The rim was well dented and, as I was to find out much later, the
wheel was also cracked. Wow! Maybe I should have stuck with the spoked F800GS
that I discarded a few years back. (As I write this six weeks later, I’m still
waiting on a wheel from BMW.)
think I was only 2.7km from the end of the Yass River Road: the intersection
where it meets the bitumen Gundaroo Road.
news was that the tow truck could at least take me to the Gundaroo Colonial Inn
(aka Crowe’s Restaurant/ Gundaroo Smoke House) where I decided to call an end
to the day and enjoy a hearty meal with a glass or two of red!