Locations: Toolangi, The Black Range, Murrundindi and a small wedge of the Rubicon.
This was a great week. I got lost in nature, regained some fitness and enjoyed some delicious meals. Everything you want in a break from suburban life. I CAN’T SAY THIS LOUD ENOUGH, TOOLANGI IS BRILLIANT! I rode out from Hurstbridge again, this time taking the main road up to Kinglake. I took off on a suspension bike this time so realistically I would have had a lot of fun on the Everard Track, but I left it too late in the day and was keen to make it to Toolangi in the daylight. You can see why…
I had never toured on a bike without panniers before this trip. I have been used to carrying a lot of stuff, on one tour a couple of years ago with four panniers I was carrying three hammocks, two stoves, a tent, tarp, and several changes of clothes. I’d never slept in a hammock before this trip either, at least not intentionally. This trip I had one set of clothes to wear all the time, a warm jacket, a rain jacket, a sleeping hammock setup, a stove and some food. I had tools for the bike and spare tubes. I disappeared for a week.
I hit Toolangi by late afternoon, entering the forest by Blowhard Road. Almost immediately a big grin appeared on my face. There was a cool breeze coming from the trees and the air got wet, I’d been on tarmac all day and suddenly I was in a living place. I felt the trees swallow me and it was another five days before the wheels hit a sealed surface. Glorious. I didn’t get far into the forest before I decided to pitch camp and by the time I was fed it was dark. I jumped into the hammock and had one of the most uncomfortable night’s sleep ever. I got back on the road at first light. A bit further down the road I stopped at a dam and had breakfast and was amazed to see a platypus playing around in the misty morning. I didn’t manage to get a picture before I scared him off, but I’ll try again next time. Not that it matters, we’ve all seen logs floating on ponds before.
I hit a lot of tracks over the next few days and had a ball. The only thing that wasn’t agreeable was all of the clear-fell logging, but I’ve written of that below and I won’t tire myself out reliving it. The weather was good, I enjoyed some down time and by chance I managed to avoid all of the active coupes and wasn’t hassled by trucks. Toolangi is primarily a mountain ash forest, similar to most of the central highlands and even forests out towards Gippsland. There are pockets of rainforest and above 800m the forest has a high proportion of alpine ash too. According to studies, Toolangi contains about 1% old growth, the rest has been historically logged either selectively or via clear-fell. Most of the forest was burnt down in 1939 and a significant portion was hit during the Black Saturday wildfires too. For that reason there’s not a huge number of really big really trees, but some still remain.
The terrain on the 4wd and trail bike tracks is a joy to ride. I had so much fun that I’m going to go back and do it again. I have to take some friends because I can’t keep it to myself. Funnily enough the worst road in the forest I experienced might have been Slyvia Creek road, covered in big thick gravel it could have ripped apart a loaded road bike. There are options up here for every level of mountain biker. For beginners like me, dry 4wd trails are wonderful. Wet they might be a little trickier but I’m up for a challenge. A more skilled mountain biker would probably find more exciting ways to ride the same trails, Toolangi is a winner for mountain bikes. A lot of tracks would be great for cyclocross too.
Murrundindi scenic reserve is exactly as it’s named. Very scenic. I met up with my brother here for a day hike and a friendly camper later cooked the most amazing dinner. The story is actually quite amusing…
I had spent the previous day riding around the forest from a base camp, not carrying more than I needed for the day. Even though I was traveling light, going even lighter was still nice. I had reception for all of about 20 minutes during the day and texted my brother to meet me at a specific location the next day. We had been chatting about him coming out for a visit and I thought it would be a good day because I had planned to go walking. I received no response and when I got to the location the next day he wasn’t there so I kept riding. I reasoned I would find some reception and give him a call, if need be climb a mountain to check on whether or not he was actually coming. I rode another couple of kilometres into the reserve and then saw a 4wd down a side road. I decided to see if I could use their phone to reach my brother and ended up striking up a wonderful chat. The fellow I happened upon had no reception either, and was amazed to see all of the forest tracks I had on my map, he’d been coming to the area for a while and seemed to have little idea what was going on. Being, as I am, on an awareness raising mission, I took it upon myself to educate the man and found him receptive and welcoming. He gave me some snacks and offered a feast if I was around at dinner time. I had just raised the question of whether or not he had perhaps seen my brother when who would you believe came driving up?
Yeah, no, it was my bro. He’d just decided to randomly come down this road too. We spoke on the roadside for a while and then old mate went to set up his camp and we went for a hike. We walked for a couple of hours up to Wilhelmina Falls. The walking track along the river would have been a wonderful thing to do on the bike, but it was just as good on foot and the section up to the waterfall would have been deadly. Someone with a lot more skill than me might be able to smash it down like single track but it was way beyond my skillset.
Spending time alone really makes you appreciate the good people in your life, and I’m very blessed to have such an excellent family. It was great to be out in the backyard together with my brother, I know now he’s keen to explore the Great Forest National Park too. Everyone should be. It’s easy to get to, even by public transport, and it’s splendid. On the family thing I should also thank mum for sending out some lasagna with my bro. Eating home cooked meals in front of the campfire is a welcome luxury. We met back up with old mate too, he cooked a chicken breast wrapped in bacon, stuffed with camembert, garlic and oregano. Cooked on the coals wrapped in foil for about an hour this was something else. Feast promised, feast delivered.
My brother went back to the city that night and I kept going. My map showed this area called The Black Range State Forest to the north of Murrundindi Scenic Reserve and Toolangi State Forest. I haven’t really heard anyone ever talk about the Black Range, I was nearby, just pedaling around, seemed like the thing to do…
Took the wrong track up. Wasn’t the worst thing in the world but it was a hot day and it was too steep to ride 90% of the time. Getting to the top wasn’t exactly pleasing either. The main road along the top of the south end of the range was lined with badly regenerated forest. In the last ten years it’s been clear-felled, and in the subsequent ‘regeneration’ process, far too many trees actually came up and the ‘forest’ is impenetrable. There are no big trees and no real variation in scenery for a while and I wasn’t too impressed. I had plenty of supplies still so I decided to take a few random turns, as you do.
Ended up in a lush rainforest gully. Not bad, it’s pictured at the top with the bike. Before that I’d found a sweet track and was rolling for a good hour or so before I ended up underneath some of our city’s powerlines. I was on a road passing near the juncture of two intersecting clearings for powerlines that are visible from Google Earth. Guess what’s at the apex of the triangle? A recently logged coupe with a sign saying it’s scheduled to be burnt sometime this autumn. If it interrupts someone’s power, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
It’s frightening how quickly the transition from forest to wasteland happens when you’re on a bike, traveling slower I tend I’m more aware of subtle changes in altitude and vegetation types but the black range state forest has undergone significant disturbance by humans. The Black Saturday wildfires did a lot of damage too, and the reclamation logging has been extensive. None the less, some more exploring is warranted as I expect there is more to be discovered!
I came down the Crystal Creek Break into Alexandra one morning and got myself a pie. I like pie. I chatted with some locals and learned a few things. I bought some supplies, made use of a flushing toilet and I charged my phone. Then I rode up to the ridge over Lake Eildon and had a long gander at the view.
With the night creeping on and not wishing to pay for a campsite in the national park I rode down to the Rubicon State Forest, only stopping in Eildon to enjoy the sunset by the pondage. The next day it rained and I busied myself with maps wondering what to do next. I realised I’d been wearing the same clothes for a week and I could be home in a day. The GoPro was flat and refusing to charge on the solar so I packed it in. I got back to Melbourne, friends, and a lot more pie.
Now I have plans for several more rides. The next one for me is a tarmac adventure. This time I’ll be riding a lightweight road setup. Similar gear list to the forest adventure but I’m expecting a lot faster travel with skinny tyres on sealed roads. I want everyone to know there’s a lot of ways to get out there and see how great Victoria is and the Great Forest National Park will be. Doesn’t matter what kind of bike you have, there’s an adventure that’s accessible to you. Go out and have fun!
I’m already looking forward to my next off-road forest adventure but in the meantime I’m psyched to do some more fast-paced cycling. I’ll be sure to keep you all updated on how it goes! Thanks for your ongoing support and if you haven’t done it already, pop on over to my chuffed page and donate some money towards quality bush regen.