The Woopi Wander

An invitation arrived by phone. We’re heading south this weekend to go camping at Woolgoolga. Do you want to come with us? We’re bringing our bikes.

My mind imagines Northern New South Wales with clear autumn skies carrying cool starry nights and sun basked days, mixed with comfortable conversations with long-time friends, a good dose of fresh sea air and maybe a meal from the White Salt fish and chip shop that I’ve heard so much about – yep! that’s worth a road trip.

So we organised the car into camping mode, loaded the bikes on the bike rack (the one that brought an unexpected turn on Day 2 of my experiment) and pointed the car south. Being its beautiful self, Northern NSW delivered all that I’d imagined. What I hadn’t anticipated, however, were the bicycle trails that Woolgoolga and this region have to offer.

As we drove into the township of Woolgoolga, I noticed obviously new signposts with the familiar bicycle icon printed in blue and placed strategically at junctions to give cyclists directions. I asked the woman at the campground office about bicycle trails, thinking I might get a few vague directions about where to head. Instead, she looked under the counter, quickly scanned the office walls lined with brochures and said “there’s a bicycle trail book but I think we’re out of them,” while simultaneously picking up the phone. “Are you heading back toward town?” “Yes” I nod. Returning to her phone call, she then arranged for the other council campground to set aside a bicycle trail book that we could collect as we rode by.

You don’t have to be a large metropolitan city to be cultivating a cycling culture.

At the campground in town, I was handed a booklet, about A5 size, printed on semi-gloss paper, stapled and sturdy, for free. “Explore Our Living Coast” it read. “Popular cycling routes.” It had colour coded maps for five districts – Woolgoolga, Orara, Coffs Harbour, Sawtell, Bellingen and Nambucca – and relevant track notes. There were safe riding tips, a safety checklist, a list of local bike shops and just in case anyone was thinking of opting out, a list of compelling reasons to cycle.

We started with a short ride up to the Woolgoolga Headland for some fantastic ocean views. Then pedalled north to follow the “Woopi Wander” – a ride from Woolgoolga township, affectionately called Woopi by locals, to Arrawarra Headland. The ride is written as 17kms return but our meanderings, which included the short ride up to Woolgoolga Headland and a detour onto a rough bush trail coupled with moments of being lost because we couldn’t find the right street back to the main trail, saw us clock up 25kms for the afternoon.

The trail takes in three pedestrian/bicycle bridges which connect the small communities that perch on headlands between Woolgoolga and Arrawarra. It travels through bushland, over wetlands, along suburban streets, around the school oval, beside a golf course where kangaroos laze grazing in the afternoon sun and, where the local traffic is busiest, there is the comfort of a dedicated bicycle lane. There were some decent hills thrown into the mix but the trail notes gave good warning.

I’m impressed with this region’s commitment to getting people on bikes. The cycling route booklet is funded in part through the Our Living Coast initiative which directly promotes ways of living sustainably in this region. It represents a collaboration by three local government councils (Coffs Harbour, Belligen and Nambucca). In addition, Coffs Harbour hosts a festival of cycling each August with the premier event being the NAB Coffs Coast Cycle Challenge, one that caters for competitive and recreational riders.

You don’t have to be a large metropolitan city to be cultivating a cycling culture. It’s really about whether the community and its governments have the combined will to make it happen. I’m sure cyclists local to the area will have insights into what this region still needs to do better, but as a visitor and someone who likes to ride my bike around, I’m liking what I see.

A bike lane between from the campground and town. The bike lane was a bit bumpy - but it was there.

A bike lane between from the campground and town. The bike lane was a bit bumpy – but it was there.

Riding out to the Woolgoolga Headland for some superb views. It is a steep climb to approach but achievable even for a newbie bike rider.

After a steep climb, even achievable for a newbie bike rider, we head towards the Woolgoolga Headland for some superb views.

We roll over the headland's crest and around its front. I'm not sure if this is intended as a bike trail but with few people around, we  take the opportunity to enjoy the view!

We roll over the headland’s crest and around its front. I’m not sure if this is intended as a bike trail but with few people around, we take the opportunity to enjoy the view! It may look like a path to nowhere but it turns left just before the edge.

Heading north, a pedestrian bridge takes us across Woolgoolga Creek.

Heading north, a pedestrian bridge takes us across Woolgoolga Creek.

A detour from the main trail is a close bush track with plenty of tree roots and edges to negotiate. It was fun but better suited to the mountain bikes than our Vivente Touring bikes. I was glad to know it could weather such a rough track.

We detour from the main trail along a narrow bush track with plenty of tree roots and edges to negotiate. It was fun but better suited to the mountain bike than my Vivente touring bike. I was glad to know the Vivente could weather such a rough track.

Back to the ease of concrete and bitumen as the trail contrasts with the golf course to the left and paperbark swamp to the right.

Back to the ease of concrete and blue gravel as the trail runs along the golf course contrasting manicured fairways on the left with the wilds of a melaleuca forest to the right.

Acres of manicured grass is a dream come true for this mob of kangaroos.

Acres of manicured grass is a dream come true for this mob of kangaroos.

Photo-shy skippy bounds away to the next fairway.

Photo-shy skippy bounds away to the next fairway.

Bridge over inlet from Woolgoolga lake.

Bridge over inlet from Woolgoolga lake. We saw an Eastern Whipbird amongst the Banskia branches nearby.

Signposts to mark the cycling route.

Signposts to mark the cycling route are situated at key junctions.

Where the traffic was busiest, a bike lane for cyclists.

Where the local traffic is busiest, there is the ease of a bike lane for cyclists.

Arrawarra - our destination. Bikes resting while riders picnic (see lead photo)

Arrawarra – our destination. Bikes resting while riders picnic (see lead photo)

16 Comments on “The Woopi Wander

  1. I’m also very impressed by the area’s commitment to encouraging cycling. It’s great to read about councils with vision – who plan for a future. The health of the community is improved by a cleaner environment and greater physical activity. Good cycling trails attract tourism as well, which helps the economy of the area too.There are many benefits to improving cycling infrastructure and it’s relatively cheap to do. I hope more regions will make improvements such as this. Great information and pics, Gail. It has encouraged me to visit the area.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That struck me too Jane… the cost of creating these cycle routes would be relatively inexpensive plus they become an asset for the local taxpayers while also being an attraction for visitors.

      It was great to learn this initiative is happening via a collaboration between three councils in the region. It’s through communities creating liveable spaces that we’ll see important changes in our lifestyles and wellbeing. Wouldn’t that be wonderful…

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Hello Gail

    Thanks for alerting us to the cycling opportunities along this section of coast. We generally visit with the waterways in mind for our kayaks. Now we are about to purchase folding bikes so we can carry all our toys!

    Looks like it was a great weekend. And all the best for the trip to Canberra.

    Jen

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    • Travelling with folding bikes is a great idea Jen.

      I’ve never ridden one but I’m told they are really handy. A blog I read “Dayna’s Blog” (www.daynaa2000.wordpress.com) has a good story about deciding to buy a Brompton foldaway bike and has some links embedded in it that you might find useful. The post is called “Ticket to Ride” (posted mid-March).

      Shall look forward to hearing more… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • My sister is interested in getting a bike that’s easy to manage. (Although we don’t have the beautiful bike paths you travel on) I’ll check this out. Thanks, Gail

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      • I heard a story the other day Clare about a woman who travels by plane with her foldaway bike in her suitcase. So when she arrives in a city, she can bike around. They’re very versatile.

        Liked by 1 person

      • It is! The woman is a Russian American journalist who was visiting Australia and I saw an interview with her. It was just an aside in the interview but one that caught my attention 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • She must adore biking in Australia if the photos of your journeys are representative of the beautiful bike paths you seem to have all over.

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  3. Such a lovely part of the world Gail. I have walked some of those tracks but didn’t realise just how well cyclists are catered for. Thanks for the great pictures too.

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    • I was really impressed with the trails there and they could equally be used by walkers to explore individual headlands or trek from headland to headland.

      It was also wonderful weather to enjoy the area, Robyn. Couldn’t get much better! 🙂

      Like

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