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.