Looking for a different ride? Looking for adventure? Looking for roads where you’ll be lucky to see a car or another cyclist….
Then it’s time to head east to Gippsland and experience some of the best riding that Victoria has to offer.
Words - Mike Boudrie Images - Andrew Clifforth
We travelled to Gippsland in Victoria’s east for two days of stunning riding with Damian Hancock and Nancy De Losa, the pair behind a’qto cycling. Their cycling trips are a recent extension to a’qto, and are built around their personal love of food, entertaining, travel and, of course, cycling.
The plan is for two days of riding, covering about 200km, tackling the simply awesome Strzelecki Ranges and surrounds. The menu looks just as spectacular. A Tuscan inspired masterpiece awaits, including locally sourced Bistecca alla Fiorentina, garden produce, wine and cheeses.
DAY ONE - 119km. 2,033m VERT.
With fresh coffee in our systems and having met the eight other riders in the group we’re on our bikes and ready to roll.
It’s a cool start and a light mist hangs in the air. I’m full of the excitement and anticipation that comes with taking new roads, not knowing the challenge ahead. Damian points in the direction we’re heading. All I can see is a ridge pushing up into the low cloud. This is going to be good.
We’re off. Within minutes of starting we’ve left it all behind and find the peace of the country roads. And then it’s on, the road pitches up, my heart rate lifts, things warm up and I’m quickly stowing my wind jacket.
Over the next 4km we climb around 400m, with my Garmin reading a mighty 16% toward the top. The morning air freshens with the elevation and as we regroup just under 10km from the start it’s smiles all round.
We make our way east covering back roads, amazing gravel sections, short climbs and rolling hills under stunning forest canopies.
We pass the famed Gippsland power stations. They look spectacular in their own dark way, rising out of the wilderness. Part of me wonders how long we can continue to treat these otherwise beautiful areas in this way….
As 80km ticks over we hit what we’ve all been waiting for, Mount Tassie. 15.6km at an average of 4%, the road takes us to the highest point in the Strzelecki Ranges and offers unparalleled views from its 740 metre peak. The climb is harder than the 4% suggests, with a couple of downhill sections and sections pushing toward 15%.
As we work our way up the climb we are treated to changes in the surrounds. Farmland gives way to temperate rainforest, amazing ferns and huge Mountain Ash tress. It’s an experience. One of those places where you look around and try your very best to take it all in and never forget.
We stop for lunch at a small picnic ground surrounded by impossibly high trees. Fresh bread, cheese, cured meats, beautiful home-grown fruit. Hot and cold drinks and more.
Fuelled up we are set for the descent through damp undergrowth along quiet narrow roads. We take our time on the wet road. There’s also fair bit of debris on the road from a storm a couple of days ago, which all adds to the experience.
The forest quickly turns into open farmland, from here it’s all down hill to our destination, Port Albert. Just when we think it’s all road from here on in, Damian takes us onto a rail trail for the last 10k’s, hard packed dirt, farm gates and a few sandy sections keep things interesting. Soon we’re rolling into our accommodation – Rodondo.
This is where Damian and Nancy come into their own. By the time I’ve stored my bike, had a shower and changed I return to the main house to find a spread of food that would not look out of place in a Tuscan village. Outside a wood fire is being prepared for the steaks. To say dinner was a remarkable experience is an understatement, while the food was great, the atmosphere, laughter and stories from the day were even better.
DAY TWO - 95km. 1,300m VERT.
After the climbing and k’s of Saturday, Sunday looks more straight forward. We’re in for a few surprises though.
Out of Port Albert we are flying. The fresh sea breeze pushes us along under a clear blue sky. We turn off the ‘main’ road (I don’t remember seeing more than three cars) and make our way towards some tree-lined hills.
Soon the road narrows… then narrows again, then turns to dirt…. then narrows even more. This is where things get really interesting; the road pretty much vanishes and pitches up dramatically.
I have to pinch myself as I work my way up the narrow winding goat track, with the sea in the distance and cool shade of plantations above. It’s different, and it’s amazing and fits in with a’qto’s ‘embrace the long road’ mantra. It’s also tough going, but there’s no complaining when we reach the top.
I take a look at my Garmin… one of the pinches reads as 24%. Awesome.
At the top of the climb we meet Grand Ridge Road. If you do one thing this year make sure you ride Grand Ridge Road. At 132km long with a mixture of sealed and unsealed roads it’s an epic adventure. It’s remote, there are minimal places to fill up and the road conditions can vary significantly. There’s also a mix of flat sections and a few climbs on dirt that will test you.
We spend the remainder of the ride working our way along Grand Ridge Road. There’s stunning sections of forest, views stretching to Melbourne, and that joy that comes with riding on dirt where concentration is key. The mind clears, and time flies.
A few hours later we are back on the asphalt. It feels smoother than ever after Grand Ridge Road and we’re flying along to our final destination at Mirboo North.
We arrive to a tasting menu at Jacican. Again the food is exceptional with all the produce home grown. The stories of Grand Ridge Road have already taken a life of their own… in the way only cyclists tell them.
A huge thank you to Nancy and Damian for inviting us along to their Gippsland ‘Bici e Gusti’….