We sent intrepid bikepacker Mattie Gould out to be the first to ride the new 360km multi-day cycling route in Orange. Due to a busy schedule, he pumped it out in 3 days (instead of 6) with two mates in tow, but somehow still managed to hit every brewery and pub along the way.

We acknowledge that this adventure is located on Wiradjuri Nation, the traditional Country of the Wiradjuri people and the largest Indigenous nation in NSW. They have occupied and cared for this land and water for thousands of years. We pay our respects to them as the Traditional Custodians and recognise that sovereignty was never ceded.

The Orange Villages Bike Trail

When I first heard about a new cycling route in Orange I was immediately intrigued. Firstly, because I’m a sucker for multi-day bikepacking adventures, and secondly, because I’d never been to Orange before. To be honest, I wasn’t even too sure where it was. 

A little bit of Googling later, I learned that Orange was only three hours down the road from Canberra and about the same distance from Sydney. Perfect! The route itself is so new that, at the time of writing, it still doesn’t even have an official name. We were the first group being sent out to ride the whole thing in one go.

 

 

Starting and finishing in Orange, the 360km route is the brainchild of a local cycling group called the Treadlies. They’ve dubbed it the Orange Villages Bike Trail as the route passes through many of the smaller towns and villages of the area. This means it’s the ideal route for bikepacking and bike touring as there are plenty of opportunities for food, accomodation and camping along the way – not to mention plenty of historic sites and museums.

Split into six sections, The 360 has been designed to be ridden over six days, each day riding around 50-70km. As all the riders in our group are used to riding long distances, we decided to tackle the whole route over three long days.

Day 1 (Section 1)

Orange – Molong

Distance: 54.4km 500vm

Highlights:

  • The Pinnacle Lookout
  • Our first taste of gravel
  • Cafes & The Molong Store

Our first day began at the start of the trail, at Cook Park, near the centre of Orange. For the first 5km we were joined by a few members of the Treadlies, who were keen to tell us about the route and see us safely on our way. 

It wasn’t long before we’d left the edge of town (and the Treadlies) and were winding our way along quiet country roads towards The Pinnacle lookout (about 10km from Orange). Hiding our bikes in the bushes near the start of the walking trail, we climbed the stairs to the lookout for uninterrupted views across Orange and beyond.

 

 

From the lookout there was another 20 odd kilometres of gentle countryside roads before we reached our first gravel section of the day. To be honest, this is what we’d been waiting for and as our tyres turned off the bitumen onto the dirt our smiles widened and the fun began. We cruised past inquisitive cows, crossed quiet train lines and enjoyed the peace of the rolling hills as the gravel unfurled in front of us for the next ten kilometres.

Just before reaching our first country village, we pulled off the route to visit the gravesite of Yuranigh, Sir Thomas Mitchell’s Aboriginal assistant. This is the only known site in Australia where Aboriginal and European burial practices coexist.

By now the sun was up, the temperature was hot and we were thankful to roll past the silos and into Molong, searching for a cafe for lunch. For such a small town, there’s no shortage of places to stop and eat. So we visited a couple! We had our first lunch at Wildflower Cafe, then popped in for a look around the Molong Store, before second lunch and iced coffees at Sweetness Cafe. The great thing about riding bikes a long way is that you can eat as much as you please – or at least that’s what we told ourselves. 

 

Day 1 (Section 2)

Molong – Manildra – Cargo

Distance: 69.1km / 745vm

Highlights:

  • AMUSU Theatre
  • Pioneer Brewing Brewery
  • Dinner at the Cargo Inn

The second section of The 360 gives riders two choices. You can either ride entirely on sealed roads, or you can take the gravel detours. Being dirt riders at heart, it was an easy choice. Leaving the comfort of Molong, however, wasn’t so easy. If you’re doing the six day version, there’s plenty of camping and accomodation options here.

Choosing to keep riding, we left town on the sealed roads, before a short gravel detour and a bit of a climb. 10km in, the elevation began trending downwards again and there was a fairly fast, 20km bitumen section that took us all the way to the village of Manildra. Temperatures were hitting the mid thirties and following a cool spring we were feeling the heat. Ice creams, cold drinks and more food at the Manildra cafe were very welcome!

Before leaving Manildra, we had a short tour around the AMUSU Theatre, rumoured to be the longest continually running picture theatre in Australia. Either way it was a very cute old Art Deco theatre, with a small museum next door and one of the highlights of the trip.

 

 

Leaving Manildra, we were joined by a couple more locals, Gavin and Trudy. Gavin has been a key part in mapping The 360 and, knowing the route so well, I think he deliberately joined us for the aptly named Scenic Drive. Climbing out of town, we were afforded near 360 degree views as we cycled along the crest of a hill on some of the best gravel of the day. 

 

We Had an Exclusive First Ride of a New 360km Cycling Trail in Orange, mattie gould - cycling, orange, NSW,

 

With the sun still high in the sky, we called in briefly at the next village, Cudal, where the owner of the Platypus hotel & cafe had stayed open for us so we could grab cold drinks (these guys also have accommodation if you choose to stop here. Having ridden 100km already, we were sorely tempted).

From Cudal we had a bit more bitumen and gravel before reaching Pioneer Brewing. Here we were met by Peter for a short brewery tour and a few tasters. With less than 10km from the brewery to our final destination, we all felt like our day was complete and we stayed for a couple of hours quizzing Peter on all sorts of topics, from sustainable brewing to shark diving in South Africa. 

All too soon we realised the sun was setting, so we hopped on our bikes for the final gravel section to Cargo, and our accommodation at the Cargo Inn. Still hungry from a big day of riding, we tucked into our pub dinner before heading to our very recently built accommodation out the back.

Day 2 (Section 3)

Cargo – Canowindra – Cowra

Distance: 67.7km / 530vm

Highlights:

  • Canowindra cafes & museums
  • Antonio’s Wines

Day two began with a gentle 20km touring section between Cargo and Canowindra. With cooler temperatures and rolling farmland either side of the road, it didn’t take us long to pedal into town. It felt like we were arriving in an English country village, rather than a small town in central NSW. To continue the country village theme, we stopped in at Perennialle Plant Nursery, which also had a surprising and beautiful cafe. 

 

 

Despite a slow start to the day, coffee (and several pastries) went down very easily. We then took a quick look around Eddys – originally a nunnery for the adjacent church, the beautiful old building is now guest accommodation with rooms for cycling groups most welcome. After brief stops in a couple of small museums, we were back on the road out of Canowindra and on to Antonio’s Vineyard, where we indulged in a short tour, a tasting, and a picnic among the vines. 

It was here that we learned about Mount Canobolas, the highest mountain in the area. In fact, if you draw a straight line, it’s the highest mountain between the Blue Mountains and the west coast of Australia! According to Antonio, it’s thanks to Mount Canobolas that the Orange region is such a great spot for cool climate wineries. 

On to Cowra the route continues through the farmland, sticking mostly to the bitumen but with a short gravel detour for about 7km.

 

Day 2 (Section 4)

Cowra – Mandurama – Neville

Distance: 77.9km / 1319vm (we stopped at Mandurama 61.3km)

Highlights:

  • The best gravel on the route
  • Woodstock Pub
  • Manildra Royal Pub
  • The Story Bank Accommodation

People generally think that the region of Orange is flat. And admittedly it had been feeling that way so far. But with 60km between us and our destination, the generally upward trend of this section of the route certainly had us yearning for the pub at the end of the trail.

 

 

About 5km out of Cowra, we turned onto what was possibly the best gravel section of the route and the following 10km was quite simply glorious. Smooth, fast gravel saw us speeding through the countryside past more rolling hills and farmland. It was another day in the mid thirties and we were glad to have a couple of bottles of water on the bikes. We were also glad to roll into the tiny village of Woodstock after 28km – ice cold lemonade at the bar was an excellent idea.

Bottles filled (with ice and water, thank you Woodstock Pub) we continued along a mix of more champagne gravel and bitumen before the final 20km stretch of road to Mandurama. Despite being fairly quiet, this was quite a long section of road with a few pinchy climbs along the way. You definitely need a bit of road cycling sense for these sections as some cars fly past pretty fast.

Rolling into Mandurama, the Royal Pub is a welcome sight and felt like a real beacon at the end of our day’s riding. The pub’s accommodation was fully booked but they kindly arranged for us to stay across the road in the Story Bank. Renovations weren’t quite complete at the time of our stay (it should be fully open now) but each room was beautifully bedecked with a grand bed, vintage styling, and had a different, subtle, horse-related theme.

 

Day 3 (Section 5)

Neville – Barry – Carcoar

Distance: 34.7km 384vm (Plus an extra 17km from Mandurama to Neville)

Highlights: 

  • Gravel descent towards Carcoar Dam
  • Carcoar Village
  • Tomolly Homewares

Waking early in Mandurama, we enjoyed a picnic breakfast, kindly provided by Jackie at the Royal Pub, before riding the 17km to Neville. Starting off flat, this section soon had us pedalling up hills in the cool early morning. Neville is scheduled as the finishing point for day four on the six day route, and there’s unique accommodation in old train carriages in the centre of this small village. 

 

We Had an Exclusive First Ride of a New 360km Cycling Trail in Orange, mattie gould - cycling, orange, NSW,

 

We passed through Neville and hit our first section of glorious gravel before pausing at the tiny village of Barry for a quick banana break. It was then on to more gravel and possibly the most enjoyable descent of the whole ride. Long flowing gravel corners afforded killer views across to Carcoar dam and the surrounding landscapes. There’s a great looking campsite on the banks of the dam and if the weather on our final day was warmer, we’d definitely have stopped for a dip. 

Instead we continued past the dam and along the road, descending into the beautiful hidden village of Carcoar. Much like all the villages The 360 incorporates, Carcoar had cutesy shops, cafes and pubs to choose from, alongside smaller museums. We stopped for a look around Tomolly Homewares and had coffee and cake from the cafe next door, before reluctantly mounting our bikes for the climb out of Carcoar and the start of the final leg. 

Day 3 (Section 6)

Carcoar – Millthorpe – Orange

Distance: 55.3km / 674vm

Highlights: 

  • Final gravel section after Carcoar
  • Cheese board at Millthorpe Providore
  • Arriving in Orange, tired and satisfied 

As our ride continued, we found ourselves wishing for more time in each village – we were already planning our second ride on The 360. The gravel sections of each route were fantastic, but it had become apparent that the people and villages were the real highlights of the route. Arriving in each small village by bicycle gives you a different perspective than arriving by car, you notice smaller details and soak up the feeling of a place as you arrive. 

Climbing out of Carcoar we enjoyed a dusty and undulating landscape, traversed by a brilliant white gravel road. The undulations continued and a rather fierce headwind had us working hard to reach the final small village of Millthorpe. Millthorpe is on the train line from Sydney to Bathurst so would actually make a great starting point if travelling by train. 

Throughout the weekend much of our riding conversations revolved around what we’d be eating, or drinking, in the next village. Arriving in Neville we were particularly excited by the prospect of a cheese board at Millthorpe Providore (yeah we’d been looking at the menu in advance). The cheese board certainly didn’t disappoint, nor did the roll around town to check out the town’s three cellar doors (known as The Millthorpe Collective) and clothing store Millthorpe Blue

 

The final section of a multi-day ride often holds mixed feelings. Thoughts turn to home and tired legs are often sluggish for those final kilometres. It was with satisfaction, a tinge of sadness, and a feeling of accomplishment, that we rolled into Orange at the end of our three days cycling The 360. However I’m sure it won’t be long before we’re back here with friends and family for another holiday among the beautiful hidden villages and gravel roads of the Orange region.

For more information on the route and the area, visit the excellent Orange 360 website.

 

We Had an Exclusive First Ride of a New 360km Cycling Trail in Orange, mattie gould - cycling, orange, NSW,

How To Get There

From Canberra it took around three hours, driving to Orange through Cowra.

From Sydney it’s a bit closer to four hours via Lithgow and Bathurst. There are also options for trains and coaches but you’ll need to inquire about each service’s rules around bikes.

To make navigation easy, there’s now a GPS file of the route which you can download in sections.

Essential Gear

  • Bike – nearly any bike will do. There’s also the option to ride a 100% road route if you don’t want to get your tires dirty. We were all on gravel bikes with around 48mm width tyres.
  • Helmet, spares & repairs, the usual bike tools. I got lucky and had zero flat tires, my two riding buddies had two each.
  • Rear Light or Hi-vis – be safe, be seen!
  • Water – it was hot while we were riding and I was thankful for my two water bottles. There’s plenty of water supply points in each village (and ice from the pub if you ask nicely).
  • Camping gear, if you’re camping, spare clothes, if you’re flashpacking.

Read More: Essential gear for bikepacking and a guide to bikepacking bags

 

Difficulty

Intermediate

The terrain is generally smooth and undulating, but you’ll need some road sense about you as you’re sharing the roads with cars. Tackling the route over three days upped the difficulty, six days would be much more pleasant and give you longer to explore each village.