For many Australians, thoughts of cycling trips conjure up only foreign images – French vineyards, Tuscan hills, Cuban beaches – but there are roads and trails in Australia that are just as enticing.
Though the vast distances of the open Australian highway may not appeal, there are numerous bike-friendly options that beckon right across the country. Here’s our pick of the best cycling trips
High Country Brewery Trail
Three ingredients for a great cycling trip: a mountain bike, the trails of Victoria’s High Country and a handful of craft breweries.
In a line from Glenrowan to Mt Beauty, four local brewers have combined to produce a booklet detailing each of their favourite mountain bike rides, ranging from a scenic roll through the Warby Range, to a whirl around the Beechworth Mountain Bike Park, to a gentle spin along the river in Bright. A beer awaits at the end of every ride, of course.
Great Ocean Road
If it’s great in a car, it’s brilliant on a bike. Australia’s most famously scenic road is a winding ribbon of cycling delight (ok, the Otway Range climb hurts a bit), with all of its trademark scenes – the cliffs, beaches, ocean stacks and rainforest – rolling by at a more personal and intimate pace.
Begin in Torquay and ride west so that the only thing between you and the coast is the guard rail.
It’s about a 250-kilometre ride from Torquay to Warrnambool, so allow four or five days to really enjoy the journey, and avoid riding during peak holiday times when the road can be a snarl of vehicles.
When the snow melts from Mt Buller’s slopes, the mountain transforms into one of Australia’s finest mountain-biking locations. And it’s about to get even better. Buller’s newest trail, the Australian Alpine Epic, which officially opens in December, has already been named by the International Mountain Biking Association as one of the world’s ‘epic’ mountain bike rides – the only one on the list outside of North America.
The Alpine Epic is a 40-kilometre cross-country ride – quite long by mountain bike standards – and heads through the Mt Buller and Mt Stirling resorts.
If you could custom design a cycling destination, it would look like Rottnest Island. Perth’s holiday island is primarily flat, it can be cycled around in a few hours, and every bend seems to herald a new beach – more than 60 in total.
Fortunately, somebody realised this a long time ago and Rotto’s roads are closed to vehicles (except the island’s buses), turning them into a private kingdom for cyclists.
Bikes can be hired on the island or from ferry operators – some bikes are even fitted with surfboard racks – and there are bike racks behind many beaches. If one beach looks crowded, simply pedal on to the next.
Murray to Mountains Rail Trail
Australia’s premier rail trail is as much an excuse to eat as it is to ride. Once just a direct cycle trip from Wangaratta to Bright in north-eastern Victoria, it’s now stitched with trails branching away to the likes of Beechworth and the Milawa Gourmet Region.
Whichever way you turn there’s an abundance of gourmet produce and wine to fuel the cycling.
The direct ride from Wangaratta to Bright is around 90 kilometres in length, but you can turn it into a holiday, not just a bike ride, with overnight stops in the likes of Beechworth and Myrtleford. Calories will never have meant so little.
If you think the occasional bus on Rottnest is still too much traffic, head to Tasmania’s Maria Island, where traffic pretty much consists of wandering wombats, Cape Barren geese and kangaroos.
The island is entirely national park and its wide tracks are open to walkers and cyclists. You can cruise around the convict and industrial relics at Darlington, take a short ride to the patterned sandstone of the Painted Cliffs, or spend a day pedalling to the isthmus that binds the island together.
The island ferry from Triabunna transports bikes, but bring all food with you as there are no stores on the island.
A mountain bike is best – the cycling is easy but all tracks are unsealed.
It’s no accident that a third island should make this list. Manageable in size and sparse of traffic, islands call to cyclists, and Queensland’s Magnetic Island is the sun seeker’s choice of velodrome.
Ferries dock at Picnic Bay and it’s just a 10-kilometre pedal across the island to lovely Horseshoe Bay. Set up base here and you can radiate out by bike to the national park beaches at Balding Bay and Florence Bay.
Roads across the island’s interior are hilly and narrow, so caution and a bit of fitness are needed.
Munda Biddi Trail
Take a 1000-kilometre ride from just outside of Perth to Albany while barely touching a road. The newly completed Munda Biddi Trail parallels the course of the bushwalkers’ Bibbulmun Track, and is less a technical challenge than an enticing off-road cycle tour.
Campsites, which feature bike storage and sleeping shelters, are no more than 50 kilometres apart, and the trail takes in the giant forests around Pemberton and Walpole as well as the wild coastline from Denmark to Albany.
Ride the whole lot in about three weeks, or simply cycle a section – the trail regularly passes through towns.
Like the Munda Biddi Trail, South Australia’s Mawson Trail follows a similar course to one of Australia’s longest bushwalks, the Heysen Trail.
Beginning in Adelaide, the Mawson Trail winds north for 800 kilometres into the spectacular Flinders Ranges. Along the way it takes in the Adelaide Hills, the Barossa Valley and the Mid North country around Melrose and Quorn.
It’s a committing ride – the most difficult in this list – and most of the trail is off-road, so a mountain bike is a necessity.
Timing is also crucial – in summer, heat and availability of water are issues, while in winter the clay soils in the southern section can become a cycling mire. Aim for a spring ride.
Tasmanian East Coast
Arguably the country’s finest multi-day cycle tour. Begin in Launceston and turn east, pedalling through the hills to the coast at St Helens.
Heading south from here, the ride alternates between beautiful beaches and still-more-beautiful beaches, before turning inland to Hobart over the encouragingly named Bust-Me-Gall Hill and Break-Me-Neck Hill.
Along the way, detour into Freycinet Peninsula, or up to Elephant Pass if you need another climb and the reward of a pancake. If you really like hills, you can always continue around Tasmania’s wild west coast to complete the full island circuit.
Allow about a week to cycle the east coast, and another 10 days if you tack on the west coast.