Our region is blessed with many family-friendly bike tracks and with warm, clear days, autumn is the best time of year to explore them.
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1. Dalmeny Dazzler
The Narooma end of the Dalmeny Track leads you onto an over-water board walk. Photo: Tourism Eurobodalla
Following a track well-trodden by Aboriginal people over thousands of years, with the bush on one side and shimmering sea on the other, the Dalmeny-Narooma bike track is arguably our region's most scenic.
Every few hundred metres, this coastal odyssey throws up another surprise – a wondrous wetland, a lofty lookout, a mysterious midden or a deserted beach. And that's just on the land. Out to sea, watch captivated as dolphins and whales (later in autumn) frolic in the waves.
Length: About seven kilometres one way, but you can extend it by a further four kilometres by riding along a multi-use track to Bar Rock Lookout or four kilometres to the busy marinas on Forsters Bay.
Terrain: Paved multi-use track or wooden boardwalk with some short on-road sections near Dalmeny. The track is undulating, so you may have to hop out of your saddle and push up a couple of hills, especially if you are pulling a bike trailer with toddler in tow.
Tim's Tip: Go early before the sea breeze picks up. Sure you will have a tailwind while riding in one direction, but it can be testing riding back into it. If cycling north, on a clear day you can even see the Toll Gate Islands off Batemans Bay, about 45 kilometres away.
Look out for: Stingrays and other fish swimming in crystalline water beside you on the 700-metre Mill Bay boardwalk. Also watch out for a pelicans feasting on fish scraps near the boat ramps. Oh, and there's often a seal basking on rocks at the eastern end of the boardwalk. True!
Autumn colour: Narooma isn't renowned for its exotic trees, but the sun setting over the turquoise waters of Forsters Bay creates its own memorable kaleidoscope of colour.
Diversions: Follow the shared path from the Narooma end of Mill Bay across the Narooma Bridge (there is a lane for cyclists and foot traffic), past the fishing charter wharf and knock-out adventure playground to the entrance of Wagonga Inlet, where there is a hole in a rock that resembles the shape of Australia. Really!
Pit stops: Antons (65 Dalmeny Dr, Ph: 02 4476 1802) at Kianga is perfectly positioned about halfway along the ride. This former drab takeaway shop has been transformed into a modern cafe with laid-back charm and offering the best coffee and milkshakes within cooee.
Can I hire? If you don't want to haul your own bikes down the Clyde, call Narooma Bike Hire on 0403 157 290.
Make a weekend of it: With cabins located less than five metres (yes, that close!) from the bike track, you can't go past East Holiday Park at 41 Princes Hwy, Narooma, 02 4476 2046 or see eastsnarooma.com.au.
2. River Ride
Riding along the Thredbo Valley Track. Photo: Tim the Yowie Man
Breathe in gulps of fresh alpine air as you hurtle along the Thredbo Valley Track, which crosses the Thredbo River via a series of impressive purpose-built suspension bridges. Pedal through dramatic gorges flanked by a mix of mountain ash forest, snow gum woodland, and delicate subalpine grassland. The track officially opened last year and, not surprisingly, has already exceeded visitor expectations, enticing cyclists into previously inaccessible mountain country.
Length: It is an 18 kilometre multi-use track from Thredbo (starts near Friday Flat) to Lake Crackenback Resort (1650 Alpine Way, Crackenback). Depending on your ability, allow about two to four hours to ride one way. If you don't want to ride the entire track, there are a number of places along the way where you can leave a car or arrange to be picked up.
Terrain: The track is largely a mix of compacted earth and gravel, but also features an elevated metal track over areas too rugged or environmentally sensitive to ride on, and five grandiose bridges (complete with mesh deck to handle big snow dumps) that allow you to venture into a diverse range of ecosystems. Although it is possible to ride on a hybrid, this is the only ride out of my top five where a mountain bike is recommended. The track is a mix of beginner and intermediate standard and if you haven't ridden a mountain bike before (or for a while), stick to the beginner stretches.
Tim's Tip: Stop on each of the bridges. Not only doesn't it give you a welcome breather, but it'll allow you to soak up the river and mountains views. Also, the ride downstream (from Thredbo to Lake Crackenback) is much easier than tackling the track in the reverse (uphill) direction.
Look out for: Remember the track is two-way, so while traversing the switchbacks, beware of oncoming cyclists (or walkers, especially at the northern and southern ends of the track). Also beware of emus and snakes, which sometimes wander (and slither!) onto the track.
Autumn colour: The track is in Kosciuszko National Park, so the flora is predominantly native. However, there is a splash of exotic colour around the ruins of Bullocks Hut, built in 1934 as a holiday and fishing lodge on the banks of the Thredbo River near the Skitube Terminal at Bullocks Flat.
Diversions: There are a number of routes you can take for the section between Thredbo Diggings and Bullocks Flat. The first is the meandering walking track which hugs the river (beware of snakes soaking up the sun on the middle of the track), and the second is a standard track which winds through the forest. The final – and more challenging – route follows the power lines, but also takes you past a hidden gem, the Muzzlewood Wetlands. This is the only ephemeral wetland in the Thredbo Valley and provides important habitat for amphibians and reptiles. "Muzzlewood" was the term used by pioneering stockworkers for the wood of Black sallee trees (Eucalyptus stellulata), which grow in abundance here, and from which they carved the muzzles they used to wean calves from cows.
Pit stops: One of the best aspects of this ride are the coffee options at both ends of the track. At Thredbo there are several cafes to choose from (you can't beat Central Road in the Village Square), while Lake Crackenback Resort & Spa boasts the chalet-style Alpine Larder, which serves barista coffee and yummy wood-fired pizzas.
Can I hire? Both Thredbo Resort and Lake Crackenback Resort & Spa offer bike hire as well as shuttles for one-way riders. Thredbo Resort also offer guided tours along the TVT. See thredbo.com.au or lakecrackenback.com.au.
Make a weekend of it: The Lantern Apartments, Thredbo. These are 4-star bike-friendly apartments offering extensive mountain views, Open all year,1800 020598 or see lanternapartments.com.au. Lake Crackenback Resort & Spa offers a range of accommodation options from apartments to lavishly appointed chalets and is also hosting a Women's Mountain Bike Workshop & Wellness Weekend from April 1 to 3. See1800 020524 or lakecrackenback.com.au.
More: Thredbo is a 2½ to three hours' drive south of Canberra.
3. Bowral Beauty
The Best of Bowral Track takes you past rolling green hills of the Southern Highlands. Photo: Destination Southern Highlands
Although best known for its annual spring Tulip Festival, with many century-old exotic trees lining the town's laneways and parks, Bowral is a delight to explore in autumn.
A well-kept multi-use track around Bowral winds past stately manors, babbling brooks, prized gardens and rolling countryside. Take a peek over the fences and see how the other half live, along millionaires' row in Burradoo.
Length: The Bong Bong Bike Path, which starts at the end of Station Rd, Burradoo, is six kilometres each way and is linked via a short section of road to the longer 22-kilometre track through old and new Bowral.
Terrain: Mostly flat on shared pathways, with only some short sections of road, though very little motorised traffic. The only non-paved section is the about 300-metre hard slog up the hill from the Wingecarribee River to the Briars Historic Inn, which can be boggy after rain. If you hear a buzzing overhead, don't be alarmed, this part of the track skirts a model aircraft field.
Tim's Tip: At the southern end of the Bong Bong path is the Cecil Hoskins Nature Reserve. On approach, don't ring your bell or you may upset serious twitchers, who flock to spy on up to 80 species of water fowl which have been recorded here.
Look out for: Platypus in the river, especially at dawn and dusk. Look for bubbles and their tell-tale V-shaped ripple.
Autumn colour: There are spectacular swathes of autumnal hues along old Bowral and Burradoo sections of the track. If you have kids in tow, stop to play in the piles of crunchy autumn leaves near Bradman Oval.
Diversions: If you really feel fit, you can extend the ride from East Bowral towards Milton Park – a grand country house nestled amongst manicured gardens. It's an extra five kilometres each way, so if you do ride, you probably deserve to indulge in its scrumptious high tea, which is served on the terrace with lashings of cream. Divine.
Pit stops: You are absolutely spoilt for choice on this ride. Tucked away in Bowral's country laneways are more than 20 quaint cafes. My pick is the bike-friendly (complete with bike racks) Mezza Bar in Corbett Plaza,just off the main street, where you can sip your chosen coffee alfresco under colourful claret ash trees.
Can I hire? Yes, from McGee's Cycling Store at 68 Station St, Bowral. Hybrids from $30 for half a day, 02 4861 5005 or see mcgeescycling.com.
Make a weekend of it: Although the Southern Highlands boast many farm stays, B&Bs and eclectic guesthouses, at the southern end of the track, nestled amongst rolling green hills are my preferred digs – the Historic Briars Inn, a Georgian-style pub dating back to 1845.
The Briars' bistro and intimate bars are often frequented by folk clad in jodhpurs, or tweed jackets and Country Road shirts, but cyclists are also welcome. The adjoining lodge contains 31 suites, but they are popular, so book ahead, 02 48683566 or see briars.com.au.
Take me there: Bowral is about a two-hour drive to the north-east of Canberra via the Federal, Hume and Illawarra Highways, 1300 657 559 or southern-highlands.com.au.
4. Wollongong Wonder
The Wollongong Track - fun for all the family. Photo: Dee Kramer
There's no better way to enjoy Wollongong's beautiful beach and striking escarpment vistas than by bike. Feel the refreshing sea breeze blow through your hair as you pedal past lighthouses and around historic forts. Scan the ocean for the perfect break and refuel at a beachside kiosk for fish and chips, or your favourite espresso shot.
Length: There are 42 kilometres of multi-use pathways but the most scenic takes you 17 kilometres from City Beach, north to the seaside village of Austinmer, past golden sand beaches, shimmering estuaries and endless parkland.
Terrain: Predominantly flat on paved multi-use track. Be prepared for some steeper stretches and on-road sections at the Austinmer end of the track.
Tim's Tip: Early autumn is arguably the best time of year for indulging in some salt-water therapy along the Illawarra coast, so take a small backpack with your togs and towel. Don't forget a lock to secure your bike while you are catching waves.
Look out for: Surfboard-lugging locals crossing the track on foot, especially on blind corners. This is the beach, after all.
Autumn colour: Not a lot on terra firma, but in the briny you might spot all manner of brightly coloured fish.
Diversions: If you want to cool off, but prefer the relative safety of a pool, you are in luck, for the track passes several historic ocean baths. Turn your ride into an ocean pool crawl.
Pit stops: Enjoy the coffee at Levendi, which is perched on the edge of Wollongong Harbour, or for something more substantial, book a table at the refurbished North Beach Bathers Pavillon.
Can I hire? South Coast Bike Hire (southcoastbikehire.com.au) will deliver bikes direct to your hotel. Spinway bike hire also operates at the Novotel Northbeach. Prices range from $11 for an hour. There are a range of bicycles, including one with a child seat and a tandem. See spinway.com.au.
Make a weekend of it: If you want to stay right on the track, you can't beat the Novotel Northbeach with its panoramic ocean and or mountain views. Rest your weary bones after your ride in their knock-out spa and sauna. Just what the doctor ordered, (02) 4224 3111 or novotelnorthbeach.com.au.
More: Wollongong is 2½ to three hours' drive from Canberra via Mt Ousley. Bike track maps are available at wollongong.nsw.gov.au.
5. Capital Circuit
Autumn is the best season for cycling around the lake. Photo: Visit Canberra
Almost everyone in Canberra who owns a bike has pedalled the five kilometre "bridge to bridge" loop around the Central Basin of Lake Burley Griffin. However, to genuinely claim you have ridden around the lake, you also need to ride around the longer Eastern and Western Loops. Although not as busy as the central basin, they lead you to some of the lake's hidden treasures.
Length: The nine kilometre Eastern Loop winds past the Kingston foreshore and through the Jerrabomberra wetlands, while the 16-kilometre Western Loop takes you past the Canberra Yacht Club and Scrivener Dam.
Terrain: Paved multi-use track the whole way. Gentle slopes apart from "Heartbreak Hill" between Scrivener Dam and rhe Governor-General's residence, and also a steep section between Scrivener Dam and the Lindsay Pryor Arboretum.
Tim's Tip: Duck into a bird hide at Jerrabomberra Wetlands, where you might even glimpse a rare bird.
Look out for: The lycra-clad brigade, some of whom treat the track as a raceway.
Autumn colour: There are splashes of colour all around the lake, in particular in the aptly-named English Gardens in Yarralumla.
Diversions: There are many worthy side-tracks, including a relatively new loop around the extremity of Weston Park, where you are guaranteed to see kangaroos (great for the interstate or overseas visitor). However, for that little secret, divert off the track near the Hyatt Hotel and check out Scrivener's Hut (just off State Circle with the intersection of Flynn Drive). Many people mistake this nondescript building for an amenity block, however it was actually built under the direction of Charles Scrivener, the Commonwealth surveyor responsible for the first surveys associated with the national capital. The hut is the oldest Commonwealth building in the ACT and its weather and fireproof design exemplifies Scrivener's concern for the security of the survey plans.
Pit stops: Sure, you can dine alfresco at cafes, nosheries and even a chocolatier at Kingston foreshore, but my preferred pit stop is the Yarralumla Gallery & Oaks Brasserie in Weston Park, where you can relax in the shade Canberra's best autumn finery and hear the birds chat. They've got a decent menu to boot.
Can I hire? Unfortunately the iconic Mr Spokes at Acton closed its doors last month, however, you can hire from various bike stations around Canberra including hotels: Novotel The Crowne Plaza, Novotel, Hotel Mercure and Little National Hotel. See spinwaycanberra.com.au.
Make a weekend of it: If all three loops is too much for you (or your kids) to tackle in one day, break the ride up over a weekend.