“Where does that road go?”
I often ask that question while driving past interesting looking dirt tracks in the car. Today we indulged our curiosity, and followed a creek up a mountain range.
We parked beside the D’Aguilar highway at Wallaby Creek just before it began the steep climb up to Benarkin. As we prepared, Pete worried because his front brakes didn’t work. We eventually discovered he had left his brake pads at home (how do you even do that?) Brakes are sometimes useful when you’re riding in mountainous terrain, so we decided we should fix the problem rather than ignore it. Thankfully, I always carry a spare set of brake pads, so Pete was able to install the pads while the rest of us looked on and offered advice.
Having triumphed over the first challenge of the day we followed Possum Bush Road westwards into the bush.
This quiet gravel road meandered alongside Wallaby Creek through pleasant farmland for several kilometres, providing a leisurely warm-up before the big climbs.
I sounded a note of warning as we started climbing the first hill of the day. We were off-course. We’d missed a turn that I had intended us to take when planning the route.
Rather than backtrack, Eric suggested we continue. The road we were on looked interesting, we’d never ridden it before, and he had a paper map.
So we embraced the adventure, and continued into the unknown.
The thick eucalyptus forest abruptly transformed into a hoop pine plantation as we slowly climbed the range.
The Benarkin area is famous for its vast plantations which cover the hillsides for hundreds of square kilometres.
The word “Benarkin” is a Wakka Wakka word which means “Blackbutt”. Blackbutt is a species of rugged eucalyptus which grew profusely in this area before European settlement. New settlers cleared and burned much of these ancient forests for pastureland. Shortly after that, Australia faced a huge demand for timber. Hardly any of the Blackbutt forests remained, and so the area was re-planted with Hoop Pines to meet the burgeoning demand.
Numerous old signs with strange names stood sentinel beside the track pointing to unusual places.
With no course on our GPS telling us where to go, we decided to head south as far as we could. Our paper map hinted there may be a lookout on the edge of the range, and we thought it might be interesting to have a look.
“Opossum Creek Road” ended in a cul-de-sac, but a faint track led through the trees. We followed it along a dry creek bed, and out the other side.
“Is this a track or a creek?” someone asked.
“Jason rode it that way. It must be a track.”
With that iron-clad logic settled, we followed the creek through the dense trees and out the other side.
The plantation in this area had been recently felled, leaving a bleak landscape. A faint orange track led up the hill. We followed it as best we could.
It was rough and steep. Some of us pushed our bikes, some rode heroically.
At the top of the hill we followed the track along a ridge to avoid more steep hills.
Although the de-forested hills looked stark, the cleared land gave us magnificent views in all directions.
In the distance, the peak of Mount Beerwah jutted above the horizon, barely visible through smoke.
Happy that we’d found the lookout on the map, we took a short break in the shade of the pines and discussed where we should go next. Not following a GPS course was fun, but it meant we needed to continually think about where we were going.
Several hundred metres below us, Emu Creek snaked around the edge of the range. We decided to follow a narrow bumpy track down to the creek.
Lantana branches scourged us as we bumped downhill. Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew we were making large withdrawals from our gravitational bank account, which we would eventually have to repay. But for now I enjoyed rolling down the steep descent.
The track spat us out on the banks of Emu Creek. As we jolted over large boulders I heard a loud “hiss” from Jason’s tyre in front of me.
A sharp rock had slashed the tread of his tyre. We enjoyed the entertainment as Jason showed us how to repair the hole in the tyre casing, then fit a spare tube. We offered helpful advice and a running commentary as Jason patiently fixed it.
There are a couple of camp sites on the creek bank. We briefly stopped at the Emu Creek Day Use Area to top up our drinking water and work out where to go next.
We followed the gravel road along the dry creek bed then back up the hill.
Back on the top of the range, we ran into some rally drivers preparing for the next stage of their event.
Rally cars are very fast, so we made sure we avoided them as we passed through the forest.
Emma Sticklen is a motor mechanic. When she first acquired this car it had been written-off after rolling over in an accident. She lovingly rebuilt it while she was an apprentice, transforming it into a high-performance racing vehicle.
She and her co-driver Emma Laubscher are “The Two Em’s”. After the event I asked how they went.
“We finished! That’s an achievement in itself. The roads sure were challenging”
We ate dust as some of the drivers sped by…
…but we couldn’t resist taking a few photos.
Eric mentioned to me a few days earlier that he would like to have a look at “Hill 60” – a joint memorial to soldiers who fought in the “Battle of Hill 60” at Gallipoli, and to pioneering forestry workers.
Eleven hundred Australian soldiers died in unsuccessful attacks on Hill 60 in August 1915. It was the last battle of the Gallipoli campaign before troops withdrew a few months later in December of the same year.
I thought wistfully that many of those courageous soldiers would be similar ages to some of my sons. A couple of generations ago I might have been a grieving father rather than a carefree mountain biker.
The small tower was built in the 1990’s when the surrounding trees were smaller. Perhaps it had a good view then, but over twenty years later it is dwarfed by the towering Hoop Pines.
Eager to finish our Epic trek, we followed forestry trails back down the mountain.
Back through newly cleared plantations…
…up more steep “hike-a-bike” tracks.
They say mishaps occur in sets of three, so I was not surprised when Pete had to stop and fix a flat tyre.
He’d keenly watched and learned from Jason’s demonstration earlier in the day, and had a new tube fitted very quickly.
Soon we were rolling quickly again down red clay fire trails again as tree-clad hills blurred behind us.
Eventually we emerged back on Possum Bush Road on the trail I had originally intended us to ride up earlier in the day.
This was a tougher ride than we had anticipated.
Although we had intended this to be an easy 40km ride, our impromptu adventure ended up taking us about 55km in about six and a half hours. During that time we climbed over 1,500 metres in elevation, and I burned almost 3,100 kcal.
I’ll rate this one 8.5 out of 10 on the tough-o-meter. Add an extra point in summer.
Emu Creek looks like a pleasant camping spot. I think parts of this route might come in handy in future for a multi-day ride.
Total climbing: 2082 m
Average temperature: 25.5
Total time: 06:35:13
Thanks Eric, Jason, Adam, Peter and Russel for a fun day out. And thanks, Eric, for pointing us in the right direction!