When you mention the Southern Tablelands to most people, they usually respond with a yawn and tell you with some authority that "It consists of Goulburn and Canberra. There is nothing to see or do there. That is why they built a bypass around both places so you can get to Melbourne quicker." As they continue talking, you realise they had either slept all the way from Sydney, were in some other comatose state while there, or they simply haven't been there.
It does appear people hop in their car, turn on the Navman and take at the most direct route. This is invariably the most mind numbing path, following expressways, bypassing towns and directing you to twin servos where you are guided to Macca's and poor coffee. It has its place but is a dead boring route. If you are able to obtain a map, an alternate route can be planned out.
A comfortable days ride during the warmer months is a trip to Captains Flat located to the east of the ACT. Heading south from Sydney, you can race down the M5 until Campbelltown where you veer off and travel through Camden, over Razorback and into Picton. The Old Hume Highway follows though to Mittagong and joins the express way just south of Berrima. This way you can support the local economy by stopping for a coffee and pie in anyone of the bakeries. As you near Goulburn, you bypass the bypass and head into town.
Goulburn still has the wide streets and architecture of a once major trading centre. After the bypass was completed about ten years ago, the town did suffer a slight decline in trade. A few of the smaller service stations and takeaway joints disappeared. But on the whole, it has survived and has grown. It still services smaller communities such as Crookwell, Taralga and Braidwood. Wakefield Park is still a big drawcard and keeps the motels occupied. Taking the Braidwood turnoff, passing the railway station and rail yards, the traffic begins to thin out and houses give way to open fields of grazing sheep. Further along, a line of cars are banked on the side of the road waiting to get into Wakefield Park for a race day.
The road is well kept and comfortable to cruise along for the next forty kilometres where you come to an intersection with a cricket pitch on one corner, a disused petrol bowser on another and statue of a dog in front of a pub on the third corner. For the Henry Lawson fans, this pub was named after "The Loaded Dog". Great story if you know it, great story to read if you don't know it. For crime buffs, it was also the meeting place of Ben Hall, Frank Gardener and the Clark Brothers where they made plans to rob he gold shipment from the Majors Creek Mine in the late 1800's . For anyone else, the beer is cold and the chips are hot and the atmosphere good.
Heading toward the coast, somewhere past the headwaters of the Shoalhaven River, you ride through a time warp and arrive in Braidwood. The whole town is listed under the National Trust, Georgian buildings line the wide street and if it wasn't for cars, you would swear you had stepped into the 1890's. It is worth taking some time to stretch the legs and have a look around. The town has good galleries and the coffee is hot and there is a bakery down the road that makes good pies. This is a main stopping point for people from Canberra heading to Batemans Bay so traffic increases through town during the holiday periods so keep an eye out for drivers that don't look out for bikes.
At the end of town, turn right at the service station and head towards Cooma. The road is in reasonable condition and the traffic is relatively light. At Ballalaba, a gravel road on the right rises into the hills to take you to Captains Flat. The gravel runs only for about 40km and traverses through open country and into forested areas where road kill needs to be dodged. As per normal in these areas, road signs are peppered with gunshots so it's best not to ride too late in the day just in case you get hit by a suicidal wallaby or anything else.
Closer to town the bitumen starts and winds down the hill into Captains Flat. Named after a straying bullock called Captain that could always be found in this valley the town was known for the Lake George Mine located on the outskirts producing gold, silver, lead, zinc, copper and iron pyrites. Closing in 1962 the mine site now has scattered ruins and a lookout and built on the baron hilltop. A thoughtful artist has painted a mural on the mines entrance. Depicting miners at the mouth of the shaft it is a fitting tribute to the people that worked in this remote area.
Leaving town towards Queanbeyan, the road runs alongside an abandoned railway line that once carried the ore to be processed. A nondescript road sign points to a graded road leading to Hoskinstown and Bungendore. In the distance, the rail line crosses the Molongo River on a rusting steel bridge on concrete pylons while the road crosses an aging single lane wooden bridge.
Paint peeling and timbers fading, the bridge sits as a reminder of busier times for the region. Part of the lane has been cordoned off where the bearers have been repaired and barriers have been placed to prevent heavy vehicles causing further damage. Wooden bridges have a certain character, they look like giant Meccano sets. You can see where all the bits and pieces are bolted together to make trusses and the planks for the road are bolted down leaving their boltheads sticking out. It's a good place to pull over, brew a cup of tea while looking around and taking a few photos.
Heading north takes you through Hoskinstown, Bungendore back to Tarago and into Goulburn meeting the express way that guides you back to Sydney. All up, this is a great days' ride and can easily be done with a group of friends or solo, taking in great scenery, great little towns and a variety of road conditions.
It is surprising what you can see if you stop to look. We live such a fast pace now that we have programmed ourselves to make snap decisions regarding everything from replies to emails to making a purchase on "today only" sales. We have a need to get from "A to B" in the quickest time and often hear people brag about how quick they rode. Ask them what they saw, and the answer is either "Ummm" or "I ride for speed, not to see." We need to relearn how to unwind breath, see and enjoy what is around us.
An alternate route for the return journey from Goulburn if you have the time is to pass through Penrose Forest, into Exeter, Bundanoon, spending a night in Moss Vale, Bowral or Mittagong before tackling the traffic back to Sydney.
I rode through Penrose Forest a while ago and came across a large hairy lady collecting mushrooms between the pine trees. She made grunting noises while climbing over fallen logs. I put this down to her being a Latvian mushroom picker and gave no more thought to it until recently when I came across an article on the net about Yowies being spotted in the forest. This got me thinking about the Latvian mushroom picker in the middle of the forest. Yowies are obviously good at disguises, otherwise, they would have been found by now. Maybe there was more to the grunting hairy lady than meets the eye. I may need to do a follow up trip through the forest soon to confirm my theory.