Is there an enjoyable off-road cycling route between Kilkivan and Gympie? Our mission today was to find such a route, so we could use it on a future multi-day ride.
We started beside the disused railway line in Kilkivan. Westwards, this route is open for recreational use as far as Kingaroy. But we wondered what it would be like if we followed it towards Gympie.
It has been only seven years since a train rolled down these tracks.
We pointed our bikes at the rails and pretended to be locomotives for a few hours…
The fantasy quickly evaporated. The track was overgrown, and we had to scramble through a steep gully not far from town.
Signs regularly poked up from the long grass to remind us of the former railway.
In a couple of months we plan to ride our bikes along the old railway lines between Ipswich and Gympie. The final day of that four-day trip might be along this section of railway line. On that day we would need to arrive in Gympie (75km away) by about 1pm.
So as we rode today, we tried to determine if this part of the railway line was suitable for a multi-day ride.
We had to stop several times to negotiate barbed-wire gates. As an engineer, Darb seems to have a special ability to not get these contraptions tangled up when he opens and closes them.
We passed the remains of several old bridges, standing in creek beds like the ruins of a small Aussie Parthenon.
On our left, Wide Bay Creek followed the trail. It’s surprisingly deep and wide for a creek that’s so far inland. I wondered if we’d have to cross it later.
At Oakview, the railway line crosses the Bicentennial National Trail (BNT).
If we turned left here, we’d end up in Cooktown a couple of thousand kilometres away. Calum looked up the trail briefly and decided that was a bit far to go before lunch time.
East of Oakview the railway line crossed Wide Bay Creek – that deep creek I’d been worried about earlier.
It was a steep scramble down to the water, but the crossing was reasonably shallow and we were able to pedal across and up the other side.
We had to cross it a second time. This time we just followed some vehicle tracks to the right for a hundred metres to another shallow crossing.
I felt pleased with myself. We’d crossed this deep creek twice already and my feet were still dry 🙂
The third crossing of Wide Bay Creek was a bit trickier.
The creek looked really deep, so Calum and I clambered onto the bridge and slowly walked across.
In hindsight, I think this was the wrong decision. Don’t cross the creek this way – the bridge is high and old. There are large gaps. It would be easy to fall through.
Darb did the sensible thing, rode upstream for a couple of hundred metres and found a shallow crossing.
He arrived on the other side just as Calum and I gingerly tip-toed over the last few railway sleepers.
(NOTE for future reference: there is a shallow creek crossing two hundred metres north of this bridge. There’s no need to use the bridge)
After a few more scrambles over deep gullies and old bridges, we emerged at the small village of Woolooga.
With a pub, snack bar and public loo, this was a great place for a quick break.
But it had taken us almost three hours to get here. This would not work on our multi-day ride if we hoped to get into Gympie by lunch time.
We will return here in the next few weeks to find a quicker way to Woolooga.
We wanted to ride south from Woolooga to Brooyar State Forest. This would have meant riding on the busy Wide Bay Highway for five or six kilometres. To avoid this, we followed Sellen Road – an old road reserve which ran parallel to the highway for a few kilometres.
The old road pavement ended, but the track was perfect for riding on.
We emerged on the highway a few hundred metres from our turn-off to Widgee and Brooyar Forest.
We followed dirt roads south towards the state forest…
…eventually emerging on the edge of an orchard.
We followed pleasant rolling gravel roads south towards Widgee…
…eventually emerging on Upper Widgee Road.
On our multi-day trip I had planned to turn left here and complete the ride into Gympie on quiet back roads.
Today we wanted to follow the road up into the hills behind Kilkivan. On another day, if we followed this track in reverse, it would give us a second route between Kilkivan and Gympie.
Although mountain bikers try to avoid paved roads, this one was quiet. We happily followed it into Widgee.
We stopped for a quick break at the show grounds and spoke to one of the locals.
He told us another rider had camped here overnight and had left that morning for Kilkivan following the route we were following.
The campground at Widgee looks great. Hot showers, powered sites, even a bar that opens later in the day. As we rode out, I made a mental note. This might be a pleasant spot to spend the night in future.
As we continued up the valley, the paved road ended and the track grew rougher and more remote.
At the end of the valley we encountered “The Hill”.
Upper Thornside Road is incredibly steep: It climbs from the valley up to Widgee Mountain, where it meets the BNT.
It goes upwards for over three kilometres, with gradients exceeding twenty percent.
I put on a brave face as we started mashing the pedals up the hill.
Eventually we had to get off and push. It was impossible to pedal up this hill.
In some parts it was almost impossible to push the bike on foot. My shoes kept slipping.
I’d walk a dozen steps, stop to take a breath, then repeat.
Darb and Calum reached the top first, and waited for me to catch up.
I had spoken with a farmer a few days prior about the best way down the mountain and into Kilkivan.
He advised me to avoid Range Road because it was too treacherous, and instead to follow the BNT down Threlkeld Road, where the slopes were gentler.
It might have been gentler than Range Road, but this track was still technically challenging.
Darb’s fat tyres tightly gripped the loose surface.
Calum and I skidded down after him on our narrower tyres.
At one spot we decided to play it safe and walk the bikes down over the rocks.
“Well THAT was a lot of fun” I gasped, as we reached the bottom.
It was late in the afternoon as we rode down the valley towards Kilkivan.
It had taken us a lot longer than we had anticipated.
We passed some horse riders slowly clomping along the road.
One rider suggested I sing a song as we passed, so as not to startle the horses.
I thought of singing “I can feel a fourex coming on”, but elected instead to just speak softly to the horses.
“Hello horsey. How’s it going? Don’t worry about me.”
I felt silly, but the horses remained calm.
My toes burned in my shoes. My backside was sore. I was tired.
This had been a big ride.
Total climbing: 2212 m
Average temperature: 23.5
Total time: 08:26:38
We rode 88km in about eight and a half hours.
During that time we climbed over 1,600 metres in vertical ascent, and I burned about 4,000 kcal.
I’ll rate this ride 9 out of 10 on the tough-o-meter.
Upper Thornside Road is a really difficult climb. The matching descent on Threlkeld Road is an equally challenging descent – not for beginners or the faint-hearted.
Thanks Darb and Calum for a fun day out!