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Great Northern Road
At a Glance
Rough firetrail along old convict road between Sydney and Newcastle. You'd be mad to drive there now, but parts (not all) are great for cycling.
Wisemans Ferry - by the East ferry crossing (turn right bottom of the hill). There is a good parking area by the kiosk here.
Just North of Wisemans Ferry (which is so close in fact, that it makes an ideal starting point) there is a large area of wilderness through which part of the old convict route between Sydney and Newcastle runs. Convict Trail has a rather thorough site about this if history is your thing. Luckily for us this fell into disuse or it would be a ride along the freeway
The name of this ride is rather contentious - Great Northern Road (what we call it), Old North Road, Great North Road, etc, etc. This isn't helped by the inconsistent signs dotted around the place. Who really cares though - dodgy name, great ride!
The Dirtworks Classic events make a lot of use of the Great Northern Road and other trails in the area - in 2006 they formed a loop (shown in green above) although I'm guessing most people will ride this as an out and back - mostly from Wisemans Ferry to the junction with Simpsons Track (known as Ten Mile Hollow).
The pick of the ride must be from top of Shepherd's Gully to the junction with Western Commission Track. There are sections of tough rock steps, sections of loose rocks, sections with sand and those with gullies through water erosion. Basically, a lot of everything and hardly surprising given the distance the road covers. This part is widely regarded as some of the best technical XC riding around Sydney - make it part of your first route through the area.
Part of is marked as fire trail, but riding down here from the junction with GNR you'd never know where the marked part ends and the rest begins. Either way, when heading in that direction you'll be tackling very tough technical descents before you know it and loving them all. The drops out into a paddock from where you can access the road and head South back to Wisemans Ferry or for a climb up Shepherd's Gully or Western Commission.
This is marked as a walking trail on the topo map, but it has vehicle ruts all the way along so it's clear people drive here regularly. Wide enough to drive - wide enough to ride is what we say. It's a fun, fast downhill trail but a little too wide to give you a genuine rush. Enjoy the descent, because there's nothing much happening on the climb but grinding away.
Shepherd's Gully Road
The climb up Shepherd's Gully Road (West end from Settlers Road) is steep and has a few rocks to contend with - but contrary to what I'd thought having descended their twice it is very much do-able - it's a 'nice' 20-25min grind up to the top. Hammering down there on race day one does see a line between the large rocks and gullies - down has got to be the best way to take this one.
Western Commission Track
The Western Commission Track is a none too exciting firetrail that's used by traffic to access the Buddhist Hermitage. Maybe because of this it's smooth in comparison to the rest of the stuff here, and at the Southern end rather steep. Dull as the rest of it may seem, one cannot underestimate the fun of a flat out blast down the last few Ks at the South end of this trail.
Of course this can be used to make a loop to/from Wisemans Ferry (I'm guessing that would be about 30Km). In fact, Convict Trail tell us it's 10Km from where that breaks North from Wisemans Ferry Road to the Great Northern Road.
Contrary to popular belief, riding on parts of Finches line is legal. However, there is a sign quiet close (distance wise) to the bottom below which you should walk your bike. When making a loop to/from Wisemans Ferry it's probably best to come up this way giving the option of descent down Shepherd's Gully or Western Commission.
Devines Hill is another (legally) confusing option. This is a well restored section of the road - riding up, although steep, is easy due to the smooth surface and is the quickest way from Wisemans Ferry to the good stuff above. There's a huge gate at the bottom of here and signage that clearly shows bikers are accepted. The other direction is a different matter though - please respect the "Bikes must be walked" notice top of here - accidents have happened on the descent so don't ride down. Anyhow, Shepherds Gully is a much more interesting and challenging route down even if it does mean a 9Km road ride back to Wisemans Ferry it's well worth it.
Halfway between the end of the first section of the GNR and the Buddhist retreat at Ten Mile Hollow is Blues Track, a rough firetrail that goes off to the left. The track itself is around 10km with the last 2 quite steep descent down to Wrights Creek. It's a useful link up to get to and from St Albans. More details can be seen here.
There's toilets and a kiosk for food at Wisemans Ferry, but aside from that not much. Out in the wilderness is a long drop toilet at Ten Mile Hollow but without water. Luckily to the West of there is the Buddhist Hermitage which usually has water out front - very nice.
The Best of Great Northern Road from Wisemans Ferry
From the ferry up Devines Hill, to Clares Bridge and return via Shepherds Gully and the road.
GNR From Mangrove Mountain
From Mangrove Mountain pumping station to bottom of Shepherds Gully and return.
Womerah Range, Great Northern Road & Western Commission
Long training route involving some road, some steep climbs and the best technical part of Great Northern Road. Great training ride for the Dirtworks events based in St Albans.