THE CONVICT TRAILS ROCK ! (and Roll...)

It is a privilege to experience the historic Convict Trail on a bicycle. The range of distances and terrain that a mountain bicycle can cover extremely efficiently, means that you get to see much more of this fascinating trail than you would on foot.

Wisemans Ferry is easily accessible from any suburb North West of Galston Gorge- either via Old Northern Road, or the slow, narrow and winding River Road from Sackville which hugs the course of the Hawkesbury River. Either route is a lovely drive.

On negotiating the very steep descent into the village, drive down to the river past the golf course and get ready to ride from the park next to the ferries. In 1826, Solomon Wiseman was granted the rights to operate a punt for travellers and goods travelling via Castle Hill to St. Albans, Hunter Valley and Newcastle. In 2018 it is no different- the need is the same, but the conveyances have morphed into to a weekend parade of shiny motorcars, fabulous motor bikes, and marvellous mountain bikes! So an integral part of walking or cycling this trail, is the journey to arrive the trail head, namely the foot of Devine’s Hill. You turn left along Settler’s Road, and it’s just 600m away, on the right.

DEVINES HILL: (1.8km) Cycling visitors have not been considered in the design of this gate, so you have to dismount, hoist the bike up above your head and wrangle your way through the pedestrian access point walls. Devine’s Hill is a 1.8km ‘warm up’ climb, on a wide, hardpack dirt road with exquisite views over the MacDonald River. You are now cycling on the actual road that the Convicts built from 1826-36. All along this road there are remnants of their endeavours, with modern sculptures and information plaques to take one’s attention away from burning legs and lungs. A temporary reprieve at the top of the hill (where Shepherd’s Gully merges with Devine’s Hill) comes with yet another cycle unfriendly National Parks Gate to hoist your bicycle over.

SHEPHERD’S GULLEY TO FERRY: (11km) If you are new to offroad cycling, or riding here with children of 12 and under, at the top of Devine’s Hill turn left down the 2km Shepherd’s Gully descent. Take time to admire the verdant, fern-lined gulley and some little-known Convict era-culverts and a small bridge. At Settlers’ Road, turn sharp left and ride the 9km dirt and tarred road, back to the ferry.

FINCHES LINE TRAIL TO FERRY (7km) You can get down to the ferry, and avoid descending Devines Hill if you ride home via Finches Line Trail. The first 3km of Finches Line is a scenic, fast ride along ridgeline firetrail to the magnificent lookout over the McDonald and Hawkesbury Rivers confluence. Thereafter, the trail narrows down to extremely steep and eroded singletrack where you will have to carry and scoot your bike down 2km of it, until you reach Wisemans Ferry Road where you turn right and its a quick 2km charge on the tarmac back to the ferry, with the river lapping the road shoulder to your left. 

DEVINES HILL TO W. COMMISSION TRACK: (10km) If you are an experienced mountain biker, you are in for 10km of rocky, very technical riding, when you turn right at the top of Devine’s Hill. Bear left past the Finch’s Line turn off. This section of the trail is notorious amongst all those who brave the annual Convict 100 Mtb Marathon, but riding it recreationally is an absolute pleasure! Expect to ride up and down a series of rock steps, with intermittent sections of ridgeline singletrack. 5% of this trail is so technical, that you will have to carry your bike up or down it. 95% is rideable- particularly if you have a dual suspension bike with 27.5” or 29” wheels attached and, of course, mtb skills and fitness that are on point! Just when you are starting to wonder how long this hammering will go on for, the trail mercifully levels out and intersects with Western Commission Trail.

WESTERN COMMISSION TRACK TO FERRY: (16km) The intersection is a good point to stop and recover. Commissioners’ may be a nice dirt road, but it packs a mean punch to tired legs with six pinch climbs that you must ride before the final downhill to Wiseman’s Ferry Road. It’s not uncommon to reach speeds of up to 70km/h, but please remember there is the occasional car coming up to the Buddhist Retreat near Ten Mile Hollow! Watch out for the third, and final bike-unfriendly gate. It is difficult to see, being at the end of a long, steep and shady section of downhill, making it a formidable hazard to the gung-ho. Rather take your time and savour the panoramic views of the Hawkesbury River Valley stretching out into blue horizons on either side of your handlebars.

 

FACT BOX

THUMBS DOWN:

Squadrons of mosquitoes at the parking area !

NP gates make cycle access difficult.

It is a shared trail, so after riding 20, 40, 70km- cyclists returning via the Convict Trail are mandated to walk their bikes 2km DOWN Devine’s Hill. There is no alternative descending bike trail back to the ferry, other than the circuitous 11km loop via Shepherd’s Gully, or the extreme Finches Line trail (see below) Route directions as described in the article are therefore recommended.

THUMBS UP:

Clean, well-maintained public Toilets at the East Bank Park.

Great little canteen next to the ferries that serves the best hot chips in town!

Fascinating indigenous plants and rock-formations along this trail. It is a Garden of Eden.

Excellent community support for the annual Convict 100 MTB Marathon, with its unique canoe bridge over the MacDonald River and friendly local volunteers manning the 44, 68 & 100km marathon routes.

HINTS & TIPS: 

Do not start your ride after 10am during summer. It gets extremely hot here, so you should actually be finishing your ride by 10am !

Carry at least 2-3 litres of water, plus food if you think your offroad ride here may be more than 2.5hours (30km)

Do not ride down to Ten Mile Hollow and beyond alone, without tools, pump, a GPS (or an unerring sense of direction). There is no mobile reception, no water and no residences. These are very remote bushland trails and if you get into difficulties you will be at serious risk.

Roads, ferries and trails in this area may be closed due to maintenance, flooding or bushfire activity, so research your trip to cycle from Wisemans Ferry accordingly.

Views: 82

Comment by Bill Parker on May 20, 2018 at 9:59pm

Looks like a great ride Susanna, I have to admit that mountain biking is not one of my skills and even a bit of gravel makes me uncomfortable, I started bicycling late and the slipping and sliding etc that comes naturally to younger dirt riders passed me bye, I will put up with a bit of gravel on a ride but won't good looking for it.

You might find Michael S' ride report also interesting, he might have wished for a mountain bike rather than his road/gravel bikepacking set-up. Looks like you even photographed the same rocks your 2nd photo, his 13th.

http://www.sydneycyclist.com/profiles/blogs/adventures-on-the-old-g...

thanks for sharing the report

Comment by Susanna Mills on May 21, 2018 at 8:26am

Thanks for your comment, & link, Bill. There is something for everyone at Wisemans. You would love the Devines Hill/Shepherd's Gully route- (13km) and the out and back to the Finches Line lookout.(6km) It's all hardpack gravel road, and a bit rougher terrain on the Finches line firetrail. The authorities have put a lot of effort in with improving the dirt roads and installing info. plaques and sculptures. The general key with any offroad cycling skills is eyes ahead, weight back (off your saddle, unweight your front wheel)...

Comment by Bob Moore on May 21, 2018 at 10:07am

To think I rode a Honda 250  on the track, more of a road back then, from up near the Wollombi Rd to 10 mile hollow and on to Wisemans Ferry back in about 1970 and there were very few rock ledges or  washaways. It was a long ride and a little scary because of the remoteness, but it's a great pity they have let it deteriorate so much since then.

Looks like I won't be taking the trek 520 down it for a more environmentally friendly repeat but I've always wanted to. Maybe over two days, with a fair bit of walking and lugging? And thinking of Cougars.

Comment by Susanna Mills on May 23, 2018 at 2:06pm

The tech section is only 10km. You should manage it- even if walking up or down every gnarly bit- in about 2.5 hours. Devines Hill will take you 30 minutes to ascend (if stopping to look at the installations) Commissioners is about 1 hour to descend if you are not into fast downhilling.(dont forget the 6x wicked pinch climbs) So all up the whole big trails loop of 28-30 km will take any novice rider about 4 hours maximum.

Comment by JoshS on May 24, 2018 at 10:19am

A fantastic series of tracks, one of my favourite places to ride. Agreed that the far reaches of the trail network are best ridden with someone else (or maybe with a PLB?). I fractured my radius out there on one occasion, somewhere on Wrights Creek Trail/ Sullivans Arm Trail. Well away from mobile reception. Have ridden the Convict 100 on one occasion (second entry cancelled due to said fractured arm). It is a great event. 

I love Devines Hill and occasionally go and walk that section to take it in a bit more. Have encountered the occasional mountain biker riding down hill, usually at a slow enough pace to rule out any awkward encounters on tight bends. 

Not sure if it is still available, but a big thumbs up to Wat Buddha Dhamma (near Ten Mile Hollow) for providing a water supply to walkers and bike riders. 

 

Comment by Scientia et Labore on May 24, 2018 at 12:18pm

Yes- a lovely area which I have enjoyed for donkey's years.

The water was much appreciated last time, as was the huge goanna there. Never knew about walking restriction, and I guess I won't ;-)

Had nice picnic on rock at the bottom with a docile red belly black for company

Comment by Scientia et Labore on May 24, 2018 at 12:21pm

Devines Hill is closed this week (Monday to Friday daytime)

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