The Central West Cycleway is a 400km biking circuit that takes in the beauty of Wiradjuri country. From golden canola fields to small town bakeries and pubs, this is the perfect way to check out NSW’s Central West.
- Experience small town hospitality every night
- Find a quiet spot to sit and have lunch (sometimes with the local cows)
- Roll through rich countryside underneath expansive blue skies
- Every single cake from the White Rose Cafe in Dunedoo
- Hear the sordid love affair of the grey nomad couple we met in Mendooran
Taking on The Central West Cycleway
When most people think of Mudgee and the Central West, they think of wineries and Dubbo Zoo. What they don’t think of is a 400km bike circuit that takes you through beautiful rural landscapes, native conservation areas, quaint country towns, and regional cities. But that is exactly what the Central West Cycling Trail offers.
After our original holiday plans were scuppered, some friends and I decided to support the local NSW economy and ride a new cycle trail that had just been established in the Central West and Orana Region, on the land of the Traditional Owners, the Wiradjuri people. We later found out that Orana is an Aboriginal word meaning ‘welcome’, and welcome we definitely felt.
The trail is the brainchild of local cyclists who use these small roads between the towns in the region. They dedicated many hours to mapping out the route and marking it with small yellow and black stickers to guide us on our way, and the care and thought they put into it really shines through on the ride itself, as well as their website, and Facebook group.
It can be completed in anywhere between two and nine days, but we decided to do it in six, with big days to start and end the adventure.
This was going to be my first cycle tour (and first time doing more than 30km in a day on a bike), but figured I’d be able to handle it – it’s all flat out there, right?
Read more: How to Plan Your First Overnight Bike Trip
Day 1 – Mudgee to Dunedoo via Gulgong
Distance cycled: 81km
Time: 8 hours
My assumption of it being an easy (and flat) few days of riding was torpedoed on the very first day, with a hill testing my fitness within hours of starting out.
At the top I needed to stop and catch my breath – as well as adjust my saddle (it was digging into places it really had no business digging in to) – before heading on to Gulgong.
Here you can stay overnight and ease your way into the trail, but we paused for refreshments before pushing on to Dunedoo. We were lucky enough to have my parents join us for the first few days of the trip, with one of them driving our car to Gulgong, allowing us to do the full cycle experience from Mudgee to Dunedoo.
After Gulgong, there are two different routes to Dunedoo. One is gravel and bitumen all the way, and the other is an unsealed nature trail no longer trafficable to cars but (seemingly) no issue for bikes.
We took the nature trail… and it was rough.
Slogging uphill, there were several hike-a-bike places where we had to heft our bikes over and around fallen trees before clambering back on and pushing further uphill.
It was a hard path, and I was completely drained by the time we stopped for a brief lunch break at the summit. But after some food, a small rest, and an incredible view, it was time to head down, and it was some of the most exhilarating riding of the entire trip.
Despite the exhaustion and pain, I highly recommend the nature trail detour.
We made it to Dunedoo as the sun was beginning to set, bathing the main street in a gorgeous golden glow, and after dropping our bikes off at the Swan Motel we bee-lined for the pub for some much needed fuel, and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t the greatest parmi I’ve ever had.
Day 2 – Dunedoo to Mendooran
Distance cycled: 52km
Time: 5 hours
A mainstay of this trip was the local bakery and cafes we made a point of visiting in every place we passed through or stayed. And the White Rose Cafe in Dunedoo set a very high bar.
It was here we stocked up on essentials for the day ahead – orange and poppyseed cake, carrot cake, apple cake, apple pie… you get the picture. It was also the scene of breakfast, where I smashed their brekky burger, laden with sausage, two eggs, bacon, and hash browns.
After stuffing my body, we hit the road to our next destination – Mendooran. And once again, we faced a hill that really pushed me to the limit. Though once we summitted, it was (mostly) downhill from there.
Most of the trip is done on smaller roads, but when we did have to take the highway, it was never fun. And on this day the last 15km or so into town were along the Castlereagh Highway with little to no shoulder. So we threw on the high vis, tucked in behind each other, and rode single file, very aware of the cars and trucks pounding past.
Riding into town, we passed a horse stud where a group of horses galloped alongside us as we cycled past. So we did what every good Aussie does… belted out our unofficial national anthem Horses by Daryl Braithwaite.
That night we stayed at the Royal Hotel where we left our bikes securely locked up in their beer garden and enjoyed the story of how a grey nomad couple met over the cold beverages (and parmi) we’d earned.
Day 3 – Mendooran to Ballimore
Distance cycled: 57km
Time: 5.5 hours
For breakfast we went to Crackerz Bakery, where we, once again, stocked up on some snacks for the ride – rum balls that tasted like they were pure rum and jam drops the size of our heads.
After leaving town, it was about a 16km ride to the turn-off that would take us into, and through, the Goonoo State Forest.
It was hot and hard work as, due to recent rain, there were parts of the track that were a complete quagmire.
Although it wasn’t the longest day in the saddle, it was definitely one of the most exhausting – pushing your loaded bike through thick mud is exceptionally hard!
For this part of the track I recommend packing more water than you’d expect – it’s surprisingly exposed to the sun, and with the amount of energy you’ll exert, you’ll need to keep hydrated and snacked up.
Making it out reasonably intact (this leg we experienced the only real mechanical issue of the trip, with a derailleur getting bent), we cruised past flocks of sheep with adorably fresh lambs, and into town.
I’ll tell you what, The Hair of the Dog Inn was a welcome sight as we entered Ballimore. But we’d arrived too early – the pub opens at 4pm Monday to Wednesday and we’d arrived at 3pm – beers would have to wait. Luckily for us we were able to get into the side yard to hose down our bikes (and ourselves), stretch out on the grass in the sun and relax.
No chicken parmi for dinner tonight. Instead it was the T-Bone, and that monster was demolished.
Day 4 – Ballimore to Dubbo
Distance cycled: 60km
Time: 4.5 hours
There’s really nothing in Ballimore apart from the pub and houses – not even a corner store – so there was no incredible bakery or cafe for breakfast this morning. Instead, the pub provided breakfast for us, which was a range of cereal (though it sounds as though they’ve upped their breakfast game since we were there).
Today was a reasonably straightforward day on the bike, with more classic unsealed roads and yet more beautiful weather. We made it to Wongarbon just after 11am and stopped to finish off the jam drops we’d bought in Mendooran.
It was here we also discovered we could have organised ahead of time for tea and scones to be provided at the Post Office, so please call ahead and make up for our terrible lack of planning!
After Wongarbon, it was another 25km or so to Dubbo, which we smashed out in time for a late lunch in town before heading to our motel where I had a relaxing spa bath and beer to ease my aching muscles.
For dinner we went to the Royal India Restobar, where I had some of the best Indian food I’ve ever eaten.
Day 5 – Dubbo to Wellington via Guerie
Distance cycled: 75km
Time: 8 hours
Today was a real mix of up and down for me – both literally and metaphorically.
Before I even got on the bike, I was feeling pretty low. Exhausted and sore, I knew today would be tough, especially with the mountain we had to conquer at the end of the day.
As a result, the first few hours out of Dubbo were spent in my own head dealing with inner demons (and gritting through the pain in my legs / perineum). But by the time we got to Geurie I was in a better space and could enjoy the next little leg – rolling past hills of green, fields of gold, and over old timber truss bridges.
Until the mountain.
With the rest of the team powering up this monster, I really struggled. I found myself stopping every 10 metres to suck in more oxygen and gain enough energy to push on another 10 metres, only to rinse and repeat until the top.
It was hard, exhausting work, and it was on this climb I really questioned why the hell I was putting myself through this.
But then the peak came into view, along with the promise of food and a long easy descent into Wellington, and my mood lifted. Lunch was a quick affair at the top, before hopping back on the bike and letting gravity do its work.
It was on the approach into Wellington we had our first and only magpie swoop of the season – so cyclists beware!
We’d been recommended The Lion of Waterloo Tavern as a place to park up for a drink, so we made our way there only to find we were an hour early, again! Luckily the publican was setting up and let us in. The pub was so good we went back there for dinner (yep, had the parmi!).
Day 6 – Wellington to Mudgee via Gulgong
Distance cycled: 110km
Time: 9.5 hours
We woke early so we could get out the door and on our bikes by 8am. The day was cool with heavy clouds bringing the threat of some rain. In other words, pretty much perfect conditions.
Getting out of Wellington was easier than getting in (thank goodness for no massive mountain to climb), and there was an air of anticipation among us as we set off for the final day.
We passed more fields of canola and a new solar farm being built, before eventually arriving at Goolma – a tiny settlement with a public toilet, a few houses, and a pub that was closed when we arrived. We stopped to fill up our water before pushing on another 30km to Gulgong.
It was at Gulgong over a celebratory schooner, after already cycling for 80km, that three of us decided to carry on to Mudgee and make it a century ride. The fourth person would take the car and meet us at our Airbnb with snacks and drinks.
That last 30km was surprisingly easy – though not having 10kg worth of gear on the back of my bike really helped! It did take me a few kilometres to get used to not having it weighing me down, and I almost skidded out on a turn as a result, but luckily I managed to gain control before sprawling in the gravel.
Even though we were retracing the route we’d taken on our very first day out of Mudgee, it was like seeing it with fresh eyes. And on the hill that caused me so much trouble on that first day, we whooped with joy as we flew down it.
And then soon enough the trip was over. We pulled into our accommodation damp, tired, sore, but incredibly satisfied and fulfilled.
- A bike with minimum 700c tyres to battle the sand and mud
- Cycling clothes – especially knix – for the day
- Casual clothes for the morning and nights
- Shoes you don’t mind getting dirty
- Rain jacket
- Tent, sleeping bag and mat (or if you’re staying in pubs and motels, your credit card)
- Stove, bowl / cup, cutlery
- Food and snacks to last each day – you can get food in each town, except Ballimore, so you’ll really only need a day’s worth of food on your bike
- Minimum 3 litres of water per day (stock up in towns along the route)
- First aid kit (including anti-inflammatories, bandages, antiseptic, etc)
- Mobile phone and / or PLB
Read more: Essential Gear for Bikepacking Adventures
How To Get There
The Central West Cycle Trail starts and ends in Mudgee in the Central West and Orana Region, approximately 3.5 hours west of Sydney. You can also start or finish in Gulgong, which is about a 30 minute drive from Mudgee.
If you’re driving, you can park your car on any of the side streets around town. We parked opposite the police station in Gulgong and had absolutely no issues.
You can also take public transport to Mudgee by getting the train from Central to Lithgow, then swapping to the bus. This will take anywhere from 4.5 – 5.5 hours depending on the time of day. You also might not be able to fit your bike on the train or bus, so driving’s the recommended route.
Finally, you can extend your tour by a few days by getting the train to Lithgow then cycling from Lithgow to Mudgee. This adds upwards of 130km to your trip, and can be spread over two days.
The bike trail isn’t crazy hard and there are areas you’re able to avoid to make it easier (such as the nature trail between Gulgong and Dunedoo), but going through the Goonoo State Forest will test your abilities and patience with all the mud and water.
I’d recommend going with someone who’s done a bit of bikepacking for support, but definitely achievable for someone who hasn’t cycled long distances before.
Total Distance / Duration
435km / 6 days