In a bid to escape the cooler months, Cyclist succumbs to the allure of riding around the always-sunny Gold Coast.
Words: ALEX MALONE
Photography: JEFF CURTES
In a departure from our usual Big Ride routine, there would be no need for maps, pre-planned routes or other logistical challenges this time around: ‘Just bring your bike and two days worth of riding kit!,’ organiser Soigneur tells us. We’re more than happy to oblige…
We awaken to a frigid-cold and drizzly morning. It’s dire, and the motivation to head out, only to find even fewer mates on the road, is dismally low. On any other day we’d snooze the alarm, skip the bunch and head straight into the office. But today we’re confident things will pick up, because the Gold Coast – our destination just a short flight away – always has a sunny outlook. We get up, systematically throw our bike and kit into their respective bags and make our way to the airport for the sub-hour northbound flight from Sydney to the ‘Goldie’.
One road bike, two cycling kits and a few spare clothes are all we’ve really packed. Everything else, according to the team at Soigneur – the Melbourne-based duo of Daniel Strauss and Jason Blankfield – will be taken care of. We’d heard only amazing stories surrounding their hosted weekends and when the opportunity arrived to join the first of their Escape Winter (primarily average Melbourne and Sydney weather) trips held on the Gold Coast hinterland, it took little convincing.
Throw into the mix home-cooked meals, on- and off-bike nutritional support, a full-time mechanic, professional photography from Jeff Curtes and the arrival of masseurs at the end of each day – to keep your bike and body in top condition and also ensure you look splendid – and all the ingredients were in place for the perfect Big Ride weekend.
The big dipper
The next morning, still full from Dan and Jason’s cooking, a few beers and one or two bottles of red, we’re greeted with a picture-perfect day. A fine breakfast spread complete with flowing coffee and tea awaits the nine guests and four crew members. The view outside our accommodation couldn’t be much better either. We’re pitched high above the GC skyline, with just a silhouette of the unique coastal front starting to come to life as the sun rises in the distance.
With more than enough time to feed up, the group is soon ready to roll down a comically steep road called the Panorama. Daniel Strauss delivers a briefing on today’s route and says we should expect to spend the next five or six hours in the sun – “sun” being the operative word.
‘No need to pack anything in your pockets unless you really want to,’ he adds. With more vehicular support than a Team Sky training ride, anything we could possibly need for the day is inside the lead or follow car. The two vehicles are stocked with water, Skratch Labs hydration, Fergus Sully’s (Soigneur mechanic) famous rice cakes (the key is to use the sushi variety, he tells us), and a selection of gels and bars from Good Fuel Co.
‘We’ll be stopping for coffee and cake at about the halfway point too,’ adds Daniel. Just in case anyone was feeling anxious about veering into the wilderness without being adequately caffeinated, these guys have it covered.
Dan’s final words also provide a get-out clause for those who’d rather not start their ride at 94km/h – the top speed reached on our first time down the Panorama and the only way down from our accommodation. With two cars supporting the day’s ride, there’s plenty of space for a few to jump in and start at the bottom. We decide to take the plunge.
The first part of the ride down the Panorama is the trickiest. The average gradient really doesn’t do this road justice but scan along the Strava profile a little more slowly and you’ll see plenty of sections over 25%. It’s not for the faint-hearted – neither going down nor up.
After a quick regroup at the bottom and a competition of just how fast each of us went – ‘you could easily hit 100kmh!’ says fellow guest and Drapac Pro Cycling sports director Tom Southam – we begin our route along the rolling hills adjacent to Advancetown Lake.
Just like any well-drilled bunch ride, Jason (Dan’s poorly timed cold has him on driving duties) explains we’ll be sticking together as much as possible. On the major ascents anyone with climbing wings will be free to fly, but for the majority of the 120-odd-kilometre route it’ll be all for one, one for all.
Today’s menu includes an anticlockwise loop along the Nerang River and through the Numinbah River Valley, surrounded by the Binna Burra ranges to our right (west) and the Springbrook National Park on our left (east). We will also climb and cross into New South Wales for a flatter stretch before ascending back over Tomewin and again into Queensland.
It wouldn’t be a trip to the GC without seeing and smelling the fresh salt air, and so with our tourist caps on, we’d head to the sea to the famous Burleigh Heads for a final pit stop before turning inland to Tallai. I’m sure there’s a saying about “what’s goes down…” and we would find out just how tough the Panorama was to climb in the final two kilometres of the day.
With around three-quarters of the group new to riding on the Gold Coast, Jason ensures we get plenty of opportunities to take in the surrounds along the way. Our first little breather comes at the water’s edge of the man-made Hinz Dam and Advancetown Lake, after a meandering and saw-tooth-like profile of 15km alongside the Nerang River.
Proposed as a potential location for the 2018 Commonwealth Games mountain bike events, the surrounding land north of the dam wall has a number of off-road trails built and serviced by the Gold Coast Mountain Bike Club. With only 25mm of smooth rubber under our feet, we’ll have to give it a miss. The exact location for the MTB events is still to be decided.
With the sun already pushing high into the sky, most of us use the break to throw any additional items of clothing into the vehicles before making our way through the amazing valley squeezed between Lamington National Park and the Binna Burra Range (to our right) and the slightly less imposing section of Springbrook National Park.
It’s a little flatter along here, and with plenty of affectionately named landmarks like Egg Rock, Turtle Rock and Ship’s Stern within touching distance, it feels like we’re ticking off the tourist must-sees without having to venture far from the “bus”. With Jeff and Fergus bolting ahead to capture the moment, most of us can get to know our riding buddies without having to worry about reaching for our phones.
We continue to track the river’s flow – now more of a stream than the expansive reservoir back at the dam – and without much warning the road starts getting just that tad tougher. ‘This is the start of the climb,’ says Jason. There seems to be no real peak in sight, but with around 10km of steady up to go, we’re sure it’ll rear its head soon enough.
Numinbah is fairly sedate but has a little shocker just as you reach the summit. Rumble over the cattle grid and you’re greeted with amazing views of the valley below.
This is the start of our horseshoe loop into NSW, starting with a wicked and wooded descent into Chillingham. There are some serious high-speed sections where you’ll be averaging (if you so choose) well over 40kmh for about 15 minutes, with barely a pedal turned. With the sun now high in the sky, it’s a nice way to get out of the sun and cool down after attempting to race Tom and Nathan Lorkin – a man who loves cycling perhaps even more than us!
Nathan, a Melburnian who frequently rides to and from the airport from his home in the city, this time around did his regular Qantas box purchase before packing his bike and backpack shortly before departure. He’s got one or two cycling stories to tell, it would seem. ‘We have a little sailboat moored down in Hobart. A couple of times my wife and I have gone across to Devonport on the ship, then we take two days to ride down to Hobart. We normally swim out to get the boat’. Now that’s the spirit of Tasmania!
At the bottom of the descent, right on 50km in, Daniel awaits and signals us into Buck’s Barn for morning tea. An assortment of homemade goodies awaits on a huge outdoor picnic table while the freshly brewed coffee is slurped up by all those who “need” it. A local does her best to keep her pet baby goat from jumping onto the benches and table. ‘She thinks she’s a human,’ remarks the friendly stranger. ‘It’s probably our fault because we let her sleep inside on the kids’ beds…’
Back on the bikes, the road is nearly pan-flat and proves to be a popular location for sugar cane farms. While we’re technically in NSW, nothing feels more tropical than riding through the middle of these tall fields filled with delicious nectar. Unfortunately, a roadside munch doesn’t deliver the kind of sweetness we’d hoped for – that’s another variety, we’re told.
And just like that, at the 70km mark, the road tips upward. This is Tomewin, our second proper climb for the day, and the beginning is the toughest. There are only a few twists along the 5km ascent, which makes for a steady grind to the top and again across the border. Daniel awaits our arrival at the top and is ready to top up everyone with fruit, bars, gels, water, cokes and Skratch Labs mix. It’s a nice time to sit for a few minutes and regroup before the 15km downhill and pinpoint us towards the GC coastline.
Unlike Numinbah, the descent from Tomewin involves some effort with short upward sections that make your cold legs feel like jelly. The near 300m vertical drop has some great stretches but they don’t come without a little work. Once at the bottom we make a right turn for the ride towards the sea. It wouldn’t be a trip to the sunny Goldie without at least seeing the ocean, and so we cruise to Burleigh for our one last tourist activity before gearing up for the ride home.
Compared to our preceding 100km, the area around Burleigh is a hive of activity. For those who prefer to stay in the thick of the action, this area is the perfect place for accommodation, cafes, restaurants and, of course, a dip in the sea. For those of us who live in the Big Smoke, our nest atop the Panorama provides the ideal weekend getaway, located barely 15 minutes drive from Gold Coast airport.
A group shot to prove we’ve arrived at Burleigh and it’s back to Tallai to tackle one of the toughest distance/effort ratio climbs we’ve experienced. Just how hard is the Panorama? We’ll let you decide…
HOW WE GOT THERE
Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin operate daily flights between Sydney and Gold Coast (Coolangatta) airport. Flight time is about 1.5hrs depending on direction and, if booked at the right time, will cost between $200-250 return. On arrival on the Gold Coast it’s a short taxi ride to a multitude of accommodation options. For those a little closer, it’ll take a little over an hour to drive down from Brisbane. Rain fall and temperature vary significantly throughout the year with July-September offering the mildest conditions with lowest average rain fall and low-mid 20’s temperatures. Summertime is hot and is accompanied by the highest rainfall.
Focused on providing dawn-till-dusk service, the team at Soigneur housed all guests under one roof atop the Panorama, less than 20mins from the airport. The two-storey, six-bedroom, four-bathroom residence sat on a spacious eight-acre block with views to the Gold Coast coastline on one side and across to Hinze Dam on the other.
FOOD AND DRINK
Dan and Jason also have a passion for food with the duo whipping up all sorts of fantastic meals from breakfast through till dinner. On-tour mechanic Fergus Sully was in charge of preparing his special recipe ‘sushi rice’ rice cakes when he wasn’t meticulously cleaning and preparing each guest’s bike prior to and after each day’s ride.
Follow Cyclist‘s route around the Gold Coast hinterland
The route is straightforward and can be completed easily from the coast or inland. The Panorama, conveniently the only way to reach the bird-nest heights of our accommodation, is optional. From Tallai, follow Worongary Road until the T-intersection at Latimers Crossing where you’ll want to turn left. A few kilometres later turn left again onto Nerang-Murwillumbah Road (or right towards Beechmonth and the Binna Burra range. This would be our Sunday ride – strava.com/activities/340107547). Follow for 40km to the top of Numinbah, across the border’s cattle grid and plunge down into NSW. Stay on Numinbah Road for 25km until the road splits to the left – now onto Tomewin. Soon enough you’ll begin the 5km ascent that will take you back into QLD. The descent goes down in steps, but take care as it comes to an abrupt halt at the bottom. Turn right onto Currumbin Creek Road and pick your adventure to reach the coast. We took Galleon Way and stayed off the main drag most of the way to Burleigh Heads. Jump on the Gold Coast Highway for the final stretch, grab a coffee and some refreshments, and make your way back to your accommodation.
To Soigneur for hosting us for the two days of riding on the sunny Gold Coast, Shimano for providing neutral support (on all Soigneur trips) and to Cervelo Australia for use of an S3 fitted with Dura-Ace Di2.
Struggle for motivation during the cooler months of the year?
Soigneur have two amazing trips planned amongst the Gold Coast hinterland for 2016. You can read more about their trips here:
Escape Winter – Gold Coast Hinterland (two days)
Escape Winter HC – Gold Coast Hinterland (three days)