(October 10, 2020 – written by Dave)
Today we rode from one old gold rush town to another. We started in Gulgong and finished up in Hill End. And when I say we finished up, I mean up. Most of the 1,500 plus metres of climbing that we did today came in the second half of the ride. We had some crazy steep pitches on one of the climbs and some just hard bits on all of the others. We handled it ok but both of us felt like it was uphill all day – we know it wasn’t as there was some downhill but that’s how it felt.
It was hard pulling ourselves away from the Ten Dollar Town Hotel this morning. I was keen for the day but Nancy gave out the standard post rest day plea, “let’s stay one more day”. She never really means it and was up within a few minutes of me but the plea is pretty much part a feature of all of our bikepacking adventures. I’m not sure what would happen if I jumped back in bed, though I had a nagging feeling that I hear something like “man up, you slacker”. Anyway, we managed to get off today – just like every other time. What a team.
We had to retrace the last 8km out of Gulgong that we rode in the other day but today we had much less wind and stunning blue skies. We saw one other Saturday morning rider but not too much traffic until we hit the Castlereagh Highway at 15k. We only had to ride about 2km on the highway and there was still not much Saturday AM traffic but we were happy to exit at Lesters Road. We’d mapped out a short-cut across Lesters and a few other back roads that also included some dirt. The short-cut saved 5km, lasted 7km and we were passed by only two cars. You’d have to call that a successful short-cut all the way around. It is so nice having gravel bikes with slightly wider tires – we don’t think twice about blasting off on unsealed roads. CWCT certainly gave us lots of practice and confidence too.
At the end of the short-cut we turned right on Hill End Road. We stayed on this for the rest of the day. Traffic was heavier at the bottom but thinned as we got further and further from Mudgee. The first part of Hill End Road was gentle to slightly uphill. After about 50km we started she serious climbing. There was one short steep climb, followed by an equally steep and super long pull up to the small burg of Hargraves. We didn’t expect to find any stores today but Hargraves had a small shop. They didn’t have a big selection but we got some drinks and ate our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The woman running the store was impressed we’d ridden up the hill but this had to be taken with a grain of salt as the shop was filled with smoke from her cigarettes. I’m surprised that the smoke alarm wasn’t set off.
From lunch we only had 35km to ride but most of it was uphill. The last big climb of the day was slightly less steep than the first two – for which we were happy. It took us 2.5 hours to ride 35km, rolling into Hill End at just after 2:00. For the record, Hill End is at the top, at the hill end. The name fits.
We rewarded ourselves with a quiche and coffee at one of the two cafes in town. The pub only served lunch until 2PM but we’ve had more than enough pub meals on the trip. The staff at the cafe was funny, not been super keen on helping customers. Peak service was noted when another customer asked the time (to sign the Covid sheet) and was told that there was a clock “over there”. Either she couldn’t tell time or she couldn’t be bothered. I just don’t get some people working in service jobs in tourist towns.
After our snack we made our way over to the Village Campground – a NSW state park site that has very nice facilities and is right in town. We stayed here last time and saw heaps of kangaroos. So far today, all we’ve seen is kangaroo poo. Perhaps that’s a good sign.
Hill End is much more “off the main road” when compared to Gulgong and as such it has had much less success staying viable as a town. Gold was discovered here in 1850. The population peaked in the 1870 with 8,000 people living here. By 1945 it was down to 700. In 2016 it was down to 102 and by 2017, it was down to 80. Who knows, maybe it will boom now with everyone wanting to move out of the city. I doubt it, as we found today, it is really remote and hard to reach.
Despite its location Hill End is still worth a visit. There are a large number of well preserved old buildings and you could spend several days here taking photographs. I feel like I kind of overdid the photos on the last visit but still managed a stroll this afternoon to get a few shots for today’s blog.
Tomorrow we have another day like today but it is 6km shorter and there is supposed to be 300 meters less climbing. We are heading to Bathurst, home of famous Bathurst 1000 car race. We’ll be there during race week but this year it is being run with very limited spectators so town won’t be the normal crazy. We are not sure where we are staying tomorrow but will probably be influenced by how cold it gets in the tent tonight. Remember, Hill End is up a hill and it is supposed be quite chilly tonight.