Whether you’re a bikepacking newbie or know your way around the chains, this ride along the Old Great North Road in the Hawkesbury will dowse you in gorgeous greenery.
- Easily accessed from Sydney
- Choose your own adventure – multiple route and duration options
- The area is often overlooked
- Significant Indigenous area due to its proximity to Mt Yango
- Riding through history – hand-built by convicts in the 1830s and contains remnants some of the oldest bridges in Australia
What’s The Old Great North Road?
Built in the 1820s and ‘30s the Old Great North Road was built to link the early colonial settlements of Sydney and Parramatta with the fertile Hunter Valley.
By the time of its completion in 1836 the arrival of steamships saw the road immediately fall into disuse and disrepair as people favoured the more comfortable trip to Newcastle by sea.
Today the bush has reclaimed much of the original road and what remains is a gem of a bikepacking route littered with epic views and clues of the area’s history.
For beginners, the road can be tackled as an easy overnight amble or an out and back blast done in a day. For those who like their bikepacking with lumps and bumps, that test nerve and technique, the more challenging loop starts and finishes in Wisemans Ferry.
For Beginners: The Out and Back
Those who are keen to give bikepacking a go but aren’t a regular cyclist outside of the commute to the office (or the pub) on their fixie, an out and back overnighter to Ten Mile Hollow Campground is a good option.
This secluded little oasis has enough space for the whole crew and is equipped with a fireplace, drop toilet with a water tank and creek nearby (not to be relied on). The trip to Ten Mile Hollow is 16km (10 miles…) each way and has enough varying terrain to keep anyone interested.
The initial climb may seem a bit rude but once you get up on the ridgeline the views of the surrounding bush are top notch and the trail itself is a lot of fun, especially the downhill bits! If water becomes an issue there’s a Buddhist Wat close to camp who are super welcoming and happy to let thirsty peddlers fill their water bottle from their rainwater tanks.
For the Experienced: Loopy and Lumpy
With an early start, the whole 43km section from Wisemans to Bucketty can be covered in a single day starting from the same point as above.
From Ten Mile Hollow things get interesting. The track narrows and becomes overgrown with the occasional fallen tree to clamber over, due to the bushfires in late 2019. It’s a beautiful stretch with the shadier spots lush and green with ferns and new growth on the gums. This section also contains three out of four of the oldest bridges in the country, all built from hand-cut sandstone.
As the trail continues the lumps begin in the form of shoe size boulders seemingly covering the majority of the trail. It’s the kind of stuff keen mountain bikers love, especially those who love their cycling ‘technical’.
The trip can descend into a bit of a hike and bike for us mere mortals but it doesn’t take anything away from the experience. After all, don’t we do this kind of thing for the challenge? Without a ‘why did I sign up for this?’ moment or two is it really an adventure?
Luckily the tricky bits come and go and for the most part every challenging uphill slog is paired with a grin-inducing, stoke-producing and equally challenging downhill section that’ll have you whooping and high fiving your way into the next grind.
The payoff at the end is being greeted by the friendly goannas at Mogo Campground. It’s spacious and well equipped; with drop dunny, water tank, fireplaces at each camp and a communal central woodfired barbie and picnic shelter. It’s a primo spot to warm a weary body by the fire at the end of the day. Keep and eye out for Gang Gang cockatoos.
Before closing the loop the following day there are plenty of bits of the original road to be seen in the area between Mogo Campground and Bucketty (if you’re that way inclined). Otherwise it’s a super simple and much less lumpy 50km trip back to Wisemans Ferry along the Wollombi Road. You’ll be tucking into a hearty pub lunch in Wisemans in no time. If you’re a masochist you can always go back the way you came…
Sacred Indigenous Site
While the area is known for its convict history it’s also of major significance to the First Nations people of the Sydney, Hunter and Central Coast areas. Leaving camp, keep an eye out to the north-west for Mt Yengo. The flat-topped lump that rises 300m above the surrounding plateau.
It’s the place from which Baiame, an ancestral creation hero, returned to the spirit world after he’d created all of the mountains, lakes, rivers and caves in the area, flattening the top of Mt Yengo when he jumped skyward. Mt Yengo is of spiritual and ceremonial importance to the Wonnarua, Awabakal, Worimi and Darkinjung Aboriginal groups leading some to call it ‘the Uluru of the East’.
- A sturdy bikepacking rig – suspension not essential but handy. I kitted my 4 year old hardtail MTB with a few bikepacking bags and hey presto! Be sure to include a spare tube, puncture repair kit and some basic tools.
- Camping and sleeping gear, preferably lightweight
- Good adventure fuel, there are some decent hills
How To Get There
Wisemans Ferry is about an hour’s drive from the Sydney CBD along the Northern Rd. This is where you will leave the car while on the trail. From there it’s time to kit up and head to the ferry to cross the river, the head of the ‘The Convict Trail’ is about 500m to the left from the ferry.
- Mountain Biking
- Hiking – The Old Great North Road can be walked
Beginner or Intermediate
The out and back to Ten Mile Hollow can be managed by just about anyone confident on a bike and with decent fitness. The loop will require some mountain biking ability, especially on loose and rocky surfaces.
Distance Covered / Elevation Gained / Time Taken
Out and Back: 32km / 828m / 1 – 2 days (allow 3-4 leisurely, hours each way to be safe)
Loopy and Lumpy: 93km / 1,690m / 2 days