O’Connell to Katoomba – A great finish – Berghofers Pass (84k/1,784m)

(October 15, 2020 – written by Dave)

For those of you who think we might have been a little overly dramatic about our hotel room yesterday, I’ve included a few photos to give you a better idea. I’m pretty sure that we were the only guests in the hotel overnight, and to be honest, perhaps the only guests in quite some time. From what we saw, the O’Connell Hotel is more focused on meals and drinks for folks moving down the highway. Seeing how much a few patrons drank, I’m glad we don’t ride in the late afternoon or evening. For the record, to be fair, our bed was comfortable and the sheets clean – we both slept well. And there was a toilet seat.

The full room, bikes just fit. Sheets are grey, not dirty, honest
The outside door, door to right is room next door – very small

We knew we had a big day of climbing ahead of us today so we were up early. We ate in our room and exited the hotel without seeing another soul. The put doesn’t open until 11AM so this made sense. And we were also comforted to know that first drinks would be well and truly after we’d moved down the road.

Spotted in the pub – funny
Sunset at the pub last night

It was a bit foggy starting out but not so bad as to make riding dangerous. We wore our high-vis gear and kept an ear out for cars. I’m sure that the hillsides were just as splendidly green as they’ve been over the past few days but we didn’t see much of then before our 9AM morning tea stop in Tarana. Well, technically, it was only 8:45 and the cafe was supposed open at 9AM but what looked like the father of the gal running the place was moving his car out front when we pulled up and he said, “just go in and get ‘her’ to make whatever you want” – can’t argue with the boss. We had coffee and blueberry muffins.

Nancy ghosting
Not much to see looking sideways
One more of Nancy because they make such a nice image

After tea the sun came out and finally won its battle with the fog. We had some stiff climbs (reaching 15% on the steepest pitch) and had to stop to remove a couple layers of clothing. We passed another touring cyclist but he was much slower (he was on a folding bike which is generally slower than our bikes) and his English was limited. All we got was that he was riding from Oberon to Lithgow. We saw a couple other road cyclists heading the other way as well – nice to see some like minded folks out and about.

Tarana Church
Not sure why but my camera really makes these llama (or alpaca) photos bright
15% up on the other side

We rode over a couple really big hills before descending to Lake Lyell and then climbing back up to the Great Western Highway. Lake Lyell is a reservoir and has funny algae warning signs. Last time we rode past it (I think about 2009), it was way below the spillway and basically an ugly mud puddle. Today, even with a green algae warning, it was shiny blue and flowing pretty good over the spillway – more evidence of the spring rains we’ve had.

Lake Lyell

We took lunch at a servo at the junction of the Great Western Highway. It was not overly clean and the order was slow in coming up. They had lots of Covid warnings and a person in the Covid marshal vest but I think that it was all just for show. Based on my senior editor’s instruction, I didn’t touch anything. Lingering wasn’t really an option anyway as we remembered that we had some stiff climbs still left in the day.

Old sandstone Hartley church

After lunch we had a ripper downhill to the low point of the day crossing the River Lett. We knew that it was mostly uphill from that point to the highest point of the day in Mt Victoria. Looking up at the Victoria Pass, it didn’t seem all that high above us. If anything, after the morning with all constant lumpy up and down, a straight forward spin up the side of a mountain seemed like it would be breeze.

What me worry, nope, we like the long climbs

And it turned out great. At the bottom of the main highway, we pulled off onto Berghofers Pass. Berghofers is billed as an easier alternative to Victoria Pass but we had no idea how rough the surface would be, and if it would be rideable. It is a cycling/hiking only path so we couldn’t find too much current information when searching the internet.

Lots of things to worry about on Berghofers Pass, but no Covid warning, how refreshing

Berghofers Pass has historical significance at the State level as one of the longest intact lengths of handmade road in NSW. It was constructed just prior to WWI using mainly manual labour, horse drawn transport and stone masonry techniques from the convict era.  This makes Berghofers Pass one of the last roads to be built prior to the introduction of mechanised techniques and modern materials. Designed to cater for early low-powered cars that couldn’t make it up the original Victoria Pass, Berghofers Pass is narrow and as it was only actively used from 1912 to 1920, it was never sealed.

Original from 1912 – damage rumored to have been caused during WWI due to the German sounding name

We thoroughly enjoyed the ride up. It was nearly 100% rideable and mostly quiet and scenic. Every now and then, the sounds of nature were interrupted by the sound of a big truck labouring up or down nearby Victoria Pass. We heard a couple honks as well. Victoria Pass is steeper and slow trucks make for upset and tense drivers going both directions. We were so happy to be out of the agro and on a track that took us back in time. We both feared rounding a bend and finding an unrideable section but one never came. In fact, we were both a little sad to reach the end of our own private road when we finally rounded the last corner.

All rideable eh Nanc?
Berghofers Pass hugging the cliffside
Looking out over the Cox River Valley – half way up Berghofers Pass

At the top we had to ride a few quiet neighbourhood streets before joining back up at the Great Western Highway. Boy, what a shock the last 18km to Katoomba turned out to be. The now you see it, now you don’t, “matador” shoulder made for a stressful ride. And all those angry trucks and car drivers seemed determined to make our last spell difficult. We spent a little time on the Blue Mountains bike route but even that petered out into an uphill, unrideable track and we had to re-join the highway.

This path needs work, the good bits are great, the bad bits are shocking

We were very happy to finally reach Katoomba. We pulled up at the Black Cockatoo Bakery for a nerve-settling coffee and croissant. We toyed with simply hopping the train home to St Leonard but decided that we’d done enough work for the day and went to the YHA to take a room for the night.

Coffee to finish the ride – we are in a reflective mood
One of our favorite hostels – we’ve taken many international visitors here and they are always impressed

While we “only” climbed 1,784 meters today (we thought we’d hit 2,000,), we are still calling the day a success. Save for the last bit on the highway, we had a nice day riding and both of us are quite chuffed to have discovered Berghofers Pass – what a magical bit of history and fabulous way to finish up this trip.

Tomorrow we are taking the train back to St Leonards – back to normal life – whatever that is. We’ve really enjoyed this trip out to the bush. Tonight, being in Katoomba, it feels like Covid is closer. People seem more cautious and several restaurants are only doing take-away. The folks in the bush haven’t had any cases and while still following the state guidelines, they are much happier talking about the recent rains than they are the virus. Who knows what we’ll find in Sydney. Perhaps we’ll just turnaround and come back. There has to be many more CWCT or Berghofers Passes that we’ve yet to ride up on our bikes.

Any bike trip that ends with a beer from the brewer named “BentSpokes” and flavor “Crankshaft IPA”, well, you can’t beat that – thanks for reading

20 thoughts on “O’Connell to Katoomba – A great finish – Berghofers Pass (84k/1,784m)

  1. I have been enjoying reading about your bike tour. Your ride up Berghofers pass today looked spectacular. Looking forward to reading about your next trip.

  2. Great journey and final day. I love the photo of Nancy in the fog with just a bit of green and brown to offset he fog. Worth copying and framing. The section riding through Berghofers Pass was one of many highlights to your splendid adventure. Thank you!!

  3. I love that you didn’t skip the Blue Mountains YHA in Katoomba! That’s a wonderful place to end your trip! Thanks for writing!

  4. Your trip sounded great & the Berghofers Pass was a beautiful end! The pictures of Nancy riding in the fog should be in a frame! Good on ya!! Your birds will be waiting for you!

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