I live in Woodford, so this has long been one of my regular rides, and a favourite. The Oaks is rightfully considered a classic Blue Mountains ride. There's also lots of tracks running off or just nearby that you can join with the Oaks for a full day out.
Severe fire went through the area over the Christmas 2001 holidays, and the track was only reopened by NPWS at the end of March, 2002. Things have changed... The old bush is nearly all gone, black sticks and ash left behind. The speed and power of regeneration is apparent, as new leaves rapidly burst from burnt trunks, and grasses and seedlings sprout.
Many grass trees boast huge flower spears already, green returning to the bush. The bush is still beautiful, it's just a different sort of beauty now - the surreal beauty of fresh and tender shoots swallowing the stark moonscape of the fire's aftermath.
The firetrail section of the track was bulldozed for fire vehicles during the crisis, and the heavy rains since the fire have caused bad erosion in spots. Despite all that, now the track's in use, distinct lines are bedding in, just not always the best cornering line!
This trip ranks as medium/hard ride for beginners - I still find the uphills hard... Some of the uphills are long and steep, particularly at the start and finish of the ride, but the long middle section is largely easy downhill. Although some of the hills are big, don't forget that all bikes come with a very low gear - it's called get off and push!
While the ride can be done from either end, it is much easier from the Woodford end. The big downhills become huge up hills on the way back - most of us can expect to walk!
If catching the train, you'll need to use an interurban service (timetable) (they start from the Country platforms at Central Station) - look for trains going to Mt Victoria or Katoomba (Blue Mountains Line). Some trains don't stop at Woodford, although most do, be certain or you'll face some road riding! When you get off the train, go to the Southern (high) side. Go down the stairs and turn left, admire the mural, then head up the stairs and ramp. Don't go down to the highway, unless you are going to the shop - a general store. Prices are as you'd expect in a one shop town, but at least you can now get some drinks and fresh munchies.
|The station ramp takes you to Railway Parade which you follow towards Sydney, until it ends in a "T" intersection (about 300 metres from the station). Turn right here into the Appian Way, then left into Parker Street, after about 100 metres and left into Taylor Road at the "T" intersection (after about 80 metres). After another 50 metres, you'll see a dirt road off to the right, with a locked gate. There are signs here to identify the National Park. Lift your bike over the low fence and you're away!|
If coming by road, head west towards Katoomba on the Great Western Highway. About 11 - 12 kms past Springwood, you'll need to take the Appian Way turnoff from the highway. This is well signposted as "Railway Station" on a large blue sign. Turn left over the railway line at the top of the hill (the first "T" intersection mentioned above) and then follow the directions for train travellers.
You could combine the two and drive to Glenbrook - turn left just after the information centre and before the lights, turn left again and immediately right (if you miss this turn, just take the next one). These roads run to the station - where there's a parking area and street parking available. Don't leave valuables in your car - thieves have worked out they have plenty of time before riders return.
Generally speaking, the track's condition is good - it's still open firetrail and singletrack, but not as smooth and clean as it was before the fires. Apart from a few shorter sections, it's not technically difficult at all. There's a few corners that can be nasty at speed - these can be badly rutted or just unexpectedly sharp. Whenever you see signs warning of "humps", you'll see a waterbar, but there's usually a nasty corner nearby - not all corners have a hump or a sign.
Although the track is closed to vehicles for the first 20 km or so, keep your ears open. Occasionally motorbikes go round the gates and I've seen 4WD tourist operators, NPWS, police, ambo's and firies out there over the years. People have been hit by motor vehicles on this track. Keep your eyes and ears wide open!! Motorised vehicles may be uncommon, but I often see fresh tyre tracks. You also need to watch for bushwalkers and other cyclists - especially in view of the speeds that can be reached in some sections!
The first three kilometres are easy, mainly flat or downhill, with a few small climbs. Watch out for some corners that can catch you unawares - the aptly named Crash Corner in particular... From three to 11 kilometres, the track climbs up and flies down several steep hills, cruising along ridgetops - great views over the bush and to the city - in between. In late spring, before the fires you could always see and smell lots of boronias along here. The views are still good, and in fact more of the terrain and city can be seen, but there won't be many boronias for a while.
At around the three kilometre mark, you'll climb a short steep hill to the "BMX track" - a small clearing with some dropoffs - before heading down the fastest hill on the ride. Most of this downhill is loose and rutted. Watch out for the loose corner halfway down the hill, and the sharp loose sandy left at the bottom. High speeds can be reached on this hill without trying - be careful, especially as it's not in as good condition as before the fires.
The very next climb takes you to "The Circles" - an Aboriginal engraving carved on a rock shelf to the right. You can also find some axe grinding grooves on this rockshelf. Since the fires, you can see Sydney from here on a clear day .
National Parks have pushed up a lot of boulders to discourage people from riding on this site. DON'T ride on it! Sheesh...
About a kilometre past The Circles you'll see a track to the left, this is the St Helena track, a great alternative for experienced riders, but not suitable for newbies unless they like a lot of walking. Sadly, still officially closed due to post fire dangers (May 2002).
A few kilometres later, at the top of the next major hill, you'll see some big rock shelves to the left, which offer great views to the city on a clear day. Shortly after this section is the steep and loose descent into Deadman's Corner and down Redwire Saddle. Deadman's Corner is a nasty rutted hairpin corner with a "hump" sign. If you miss this corner and run ahead over the lookout... well, it was nice knowing you... Seriously, this corner is the scene of many a crash.
The track to the left at the bottom of the saddle goes to Toby's Glen. I also know this spot as Panther Crossing, after a large black cat ran across the track in front of me. One of the infamous panthers supposedly roaming the mountains? Pfffft. I don't believe that rubbish, but I'm sure it was a cat, and big <cue Twilight Zone theme>. Finish the climb out of Redwire and the worst of the climbs are behind you, as the hills mellow and the ride gets ready to shift into downhill mode.
The downhill stretch actually starts at "The Wheel". First you'll come to a large clearing on the track (the helipad), and then a short downhill and climb where you'll see an old blue wheel stuck in the trunk of a tree - it's been there so long the tree has grown around it and it's marked on the topo maps. The Wheel was originally mounted by bushwalkers to mark the hub of the Blue Labyrinth's ridges, which radiate spoke-like from this point. As soon as you climb the hill past the wheel, you're off!! (watch out for the nasty right/right/hard loose left corner after the hump!)
The next five kilometres are all downhill!! (well, there are some short flats and uphills, but nothing much!). The downhill section isn't steep, but speeds of over 50 kmh can be hit and maintained easily, higher speeds with some work. After riding about 20 kms from the start, you reach the next locked gate, ending Stage One, or the firetrail section of the ride.
Since the fires, NPWS have been in and done a great bit of work for us. What was a short stretch of singletrack taking you round the gate and back onto the main track, has been extended to run all the way to the Oaks picnic ground, removing the need for riders to share the corrugations with cars. You can still ride the main firetrail rather than the singletrack, but I wouldn't - the singletrack's much more fun!
The new singletrack ends at the road to Red Hands Cave - cross over to the picnic ground (watch for cars), and a long, fast stretch of gently downhill singletrack begins. If you want a break, The Oaks picnic ground has rainwater and a shelter shed available - and a brand new long drop toilet.
The fast "Twitter trail" (which we sometimes call "Pinchflat", for reasons which may become obvious to you...), runs roughly parallel with the main firetrail until you rejoin the road. This isn't a very technical singletrack, but you still have a number of bail out points at cross tracks - turn right to get on the main road and turn left when you hit it. It's quite sandy in spots at present, and there are always loose and rocky sections.
To those of us familiar with the track it's strange how it now twists and turns around nonexistent obstacles - whatever it was that caused the original diversion now just a pile of ash. It's great to watch a rider ahead switching back and forth as the track winds through what's now open grassland. Don't shortcut the twists and turns though - they really up the enjoyment factor, and we don't need a mess of straight tracks.
This fun singletrack eventually ends on a narrow firetrail, which you follow until another new NPWS singletrack heads off to the right. The new track runs for half a kilometre or so, before becoming more technical as it joins up with the old singletrack from the grass helipad to the road.
But wait, there's more. NPWS have been at work again. Instead of running through to the tar, and later going into Little Moab, we now turn left just before the tar, and follow a twisting singletrack uphill and downhill, until we connect with Little Moab just below the big dropoff. That's right, sadly we've lost access to the dropoff and its lead in, which I always found a heart thumping challenge. However, we've gained a fun stretch of new singletrack. The section of Little Moab that remains still has some technical sections, particularly at the end, which is a rough, loose, rocky downhill.
There are only a couple of bail out points in Little Moab, but you can always get off and walk if it gets too difficult. Little Moab finishes in the carpark above the creek, which you reach by heading down the tar. With the changes made by NPWS, we can now ride all the way from the gate to the Little Moab carpark on vehicle free tracks, with all bar a few hundred metres of that being singletrack. Cool.
make new tracks if you can't ride what's there -
After you cross the creek, there's a final huge uphill to the top of the ridge, which sees you out of the National Park. Stay on this road to run straight to the station and carpark.
heavy rain the creek crossing may be impassable -
An excellent and really different option for this track is to ride it at night, great fun!
Night really adds an extra element of
The Oaks side trips now have their own page.
This event is on each winter, usually late June, early July, (Sunday 30th June 2002) and is held to raise funds for charity. The first time I entered, the event was for the Diabetes Foundation, more recently the Careflight helicopter service. The Oaks Classic is organised through Western Sydney Mountain Bike Club - more information can be found on their web pages. Careflight now has their own page promoting the event, and you can download entry forms. The race itself follows the main firetrail, turning right onto Bennett's Ridge Road not far after the gate (past Woody Pear Dam). You finish in Euroka, a nice camping/picnic area, where you should be able to see some grey kangaroos.
My best time for the race is 56 minutes 11 seconds - around eight and a half minutes behind the winner of my class (Novice Veteran Men - old farts). In 1997, some 230 other brave souls took part in the cycle and some 50 runners entered the foot race. 600 competitors ran and rode in 2002! A lot of fun - you don't have to take it seriously at all, us novices start last so we don't get in the way of the serious racers. Just as well, or their times would end up pretty poor!
You're in a National Park - no dogs or other domestic animals, ride responsibly and take your bloody rubbish OUT with you!! Don't ruin it for everybody!
This ride rates a solid four Fat Hippies (riding at night is at least 4.5)
All rides are now rated in Fat Hippies - one means grab a slice of pizza and stay on the couch, two means not bad, three means well worth a ride, four means a great ride and five means stop looking at your computer, go ride it!
|Distance||~28 km station to station|
|Difficulty||Medium/Hard - may need to walk some uphills, especially that last climb from the causeway. Surface may be loose and corners rutted. Causeway may be impassable after heavy rain.|
|Time||Varies - 1 hr 30 minutes upwards, riding straight through. Add time for any sidetrips, munchie and wee breaks. My son and I took about 4 hours, including stops, when he was 10.|
|See also...||Anderson's fire trail, Murphy's Glen, Ingar, St Helena, try it at night!|
|Interest||lookouts, Red Hands Cave, swimming holes, bushwalks, other tracks, picnic areas, Aboriginal Engravings, the Wheel, Euroka, the Oaks Classic Race, Nepean Lookout, other side trips|
|Ridden||Last week (almost guaranteed...)|
another fAt hIpPy production
Standard disclaimer:Like all outdoor activities, mountain bike riding can result in serious or fatal injury. Track conditions may have changed since this review. Don't ride beyond your ability. If you fall off it's your own fault. Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, thoughts, comments, opinions etc expressed herein are mine, and should not be taken to represent anyone else. If you don't like anything I've said, sorry, just change the channel.
Copyright © Tony Fathers, 1997 - 2003