For Duncan and Dylan, the 2020 Osprey Adventure Grant was the perfect opportunity to tick off their first bikepacking trip and help support bushfire-affected South Coast communities. While COVID-19 delayed their plans by nearly a year, what they found was an adventure paradise, and resilient locals ready to welcome back much-needed tourism.
In early 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic was in its infancy and the summer bushfires were still Australia’s top news story, we dreamed up the idea of a week-long bike ride along the bushfire-affected towns of the South Coast of NSW, inspired by grassroots tourism initiatives like the Empty Esky movement.
With the backing of We Are Explorers and support from Osprey in a form of a swag of fresh gear, we set about planning our adventure. Little did we know it would be 12 months before we actually hopped on our bikes.
A year on, leafy epicormic regrowth covers blackened tree trunks, and school holiday crowds fill caravan parks, cafes, and petrol stations. In many ways, the South Coast is recovering from the fires that burned nearly 80% of the Eurobodalla region.
But the scars aren’t far below the surface – as we were told in Mogo, ‘it still feels like yesterday’. After a year of fires, floods, and the pandemic, we knew our adventure was as relevant as ever.
Over six days we rode 160km from Mystery Bay to Batemans Bay, almost the entire stretch of the Eurobodalla coastline, on Yuin Country. We camped each night at national park or local campgrounds, and took a meandering route of bike tracks, backroads, and fire trails, preferring to avoid the highway where possible.
Somehow between all the pedalling, and in between stops at local businesses, we managed to fit in scuba diving at Montague Island, skydiving over Moruya Heads, and an incredible trail ride along the Bingi Dreaming Track.
We’re Duncan and Dylan. We met at university seven years ago, and became best mates after a few post-lecture beers ended with a plan to go to India together for two months. Since then we’ve spent plenty of time travelling, hiking and climbing together, as well as some more substantial challenges like the Shitbox Rally.
We each took hardtail trail bikes to tackle any off-road opportunities. However, while most bikepackers would opt for panniers or saddle bags, we decided to use metal trailers we bought online. In hindsight, we think they’re designed for people to tow their pets – a far cry from Tom Connell’s ultimate bikepacking setup.
In our defence, the plan was initially to tow an esky – a genuine ‘Empty Esky tour’. However, the logistics of lugging full eskies, in addition to all our gear, quickly got the better of us. In the end, we took an empty esky in spirit, still making sure we spent locally for everything we needed.
The shortfalls of our setup might have become apparent if we’d ridden our loaded bikes before the first day of the trip. Some vague form of cycle-training might have helped too…
As for gear, we each rode with the Osprey Archeon 25 backpack, which was super handy for snacks and other things we needed easy access to. In our trailers Duncan had the Osprey Transporter Duffel 130 and Dylan took the Osprey Atmos AG 65. And with that, we hit the road.
The First Leg: Scuba diving, and a lesson in packing efficiency
Our trip started with an incredible early morning scuba dive at Montague Island with Narooma locals Underwater Safaris. Known as Barunguba by the Yuin people, the island nature reserve is home to an abundance of wildlife and we were lucky enough to score 22° water and tropical 20+ metre visibility.
During our 40 minute dive we came face to face with Grey Nurse sharks, Banjo rays, Eastern Blue gropers, a Moray eel, and Bull ray, and spent 15 minutes with a colony of Australian fur seals who barrelled around us, inspecting our bubble columns and putting on a show.
Back at Mystery Bay we started the bike ride proper, taking dirt roads to Tilba Tilba and then the Old Highway to Narooma… an absolute slog because we quickly realised we were carrying far too much weight. Some choice swearing and grit propelled us along the long uphill stretches of the Old Highway.
After a night in Narooma and feverish dreams of heavy trailers, we left as much unnecessary weight as possible with some mates (who needs spare undies anyway?) and had a beautiful (much lighter) second day that included riding along the Narooma to Dalmeny coastal trail.
A few muddy fire trails later we arrived at Brou Lake, where we set up camp under a canopy of angophoras just in time to watch the sunset across the lake.
The Second Leg: Now we’re rolling
By day three, we were sore but had found our rhythm. It was a long day of mostly highway riding, with no reasonable alternative to get to our destination at Congo campground. The silver lining was Bodalla, where we treated ourselves to a milkshake at the famous Bodalla Dairy.
Was a large strawberry milkshake a good idea with a long, hot afternoon of riding ahead? No. Did we regret it? Not one bit.
Day four was another massive highlight – the Bingi Dreaming Track. This 13.5km track stretches from Congo to Tuross Heads, and we knew from the start that we wanted to check out this incredible section of the Dreaming track used by the Brinja-Yuin people.
Normally done as a hike, we couldn’t pass up the chance to do it as a trail ride. The trail followed pockets of bushland, over headlands and along pristine beaches, which involved a few touch-and-go escapes from the massive waves pounding the coastline.
The massive surf had also opened the Coila Bar at the entrance to Coila Lake, turning the final 100m of the trail into a shallow sandbar which became a roiling torrent of deep water when a set rolled through, bouncing off walls of gouged sand and crashing up against rocks.
Luckily we both made the dash in one piece and relatively dry, and after a well-earned lunch at the Tuross Boatshed & Café we rode the 21km back to Congo via the highway before falling asleep to the sound of massive waves exploding on offshore reefs.
The Final Leg: A lot more vertical, and the finish from hell
After a shorter recovery day on day five, riding from Congo to Moruya Heads North Campground (including another fun river crossing at Congo and more beach riding), it was somehow already the sixth and final day of our ride.
We’d seen so much of this beautiful coastline from the ground, but decided we needed a different perspective. So at 8am, with the sun shining and barely a cloud in the sky or breath of wind, we stuffed ourselves into jumpsuits for a tandem skydive with Skydive Oz Moruya Heads.
Taking off from the airport right next to the ocean, we climbed to over 4,200 metres before tumbling out into the sky strapped to our instructors.
As we plummeted to earth during the 60-second freefall, we could see our entire week’s journey below us, all the way to Montague Island and beyond, and up to our final destination at Batemans Bay.
Back on solid ground, pumped with adrenaline, we set off on the final 30km of our journey. Turning inland at Tomakin, we rode up to Mogo, where the bushfires destroyed 17 businesses along the historic main street and many homes in the surrounding area.
At Mogo Pies we got chatting to staff Lee, Margeaux and Sam, who told us that New Year’s Eve 2019, the day the bushfires hit, still feels like yesterday, and that many people who lost their homes are still homeless, and many feel forgotten. ‘But we’re resilient’, Lee told us.
After a final stop at the Eurobodalla Botanic Gardens, where the same fire that razed Mogo gutted over 80% of the garden, we decided to take a fire trail the final few kilometres through to Batehaven that Google Maps told us had a mere 80m of elevation and would take 12 minutes …
Over two hours later, we were battling the fourth of a series of impossibly steep hills along a power line trail, with no end in sight. We had to walk our bikes and trailers up each hill and ride the brakes down the other side.
Spirits were broken, but fortunately no bones… and eventually, blissfully, we were rolling down pavement into Batemans Bay and the end of our journey.
And That’s a Wrap
It’s rare that adventures go as well as you could hope, but this ride exceeded expectations.
A huge thanks to all the excellent South Coast businesses, the old friends that helped us along the way, and the new friends we made at campsites and pit stops who shared the stoke for what we were doing. And of course massive shout out to Osprey for kitting us out for the ride!
With no international travel in sight in 2021, we can’t speak more highly of the South Coast and what it has to offer. Whether you’re on a bike or not, experienced or otherwise, there’s so much to do down there – and Australia’s bushfire affected communities still need our support.