We have a couple of days before the start of our Murray to Mountains bike tour. And what better place to be based at than Albury, a wonderful regional city in New South Wales, just across the Victorian border and only a 45 minute drive from the start of the tour at the delightful town of Beechworth.
To start the first day we hop on our bikes and take a short trip across the city to the Visitor Information Centre, which is next to the railway station and an impressively large bike shop - always a good sign! A simple question produced exactly the information needed - booklets (cycle jersey pocket sized) specifically about bike routes in Albury and its twin city of Wodonga, as well as a map for the High Country Rail Trail just south of town - which we ride tomorrow.
There are several trails in and around town, of varying levels of difficulty, length, terrain and scenery - urban and rural. Doing them all in one day would be a worthy challenge - more due to the variety of surfaces than the combined length – but is very achievable.
Cycling in the city isn't too bad - there are even marked on-road bike lanes on some streets. Also the streets are fairly wide and traffic quite light - at least compared to larger cities like Sydney or Melbourne. However the bikes paths radiate from the city to more interesting suburban and rural areas to ride in.
We start with the Wagirra Trail, which hugs the Murray River going west to Horseshoe Lagoon and on to the Wonga Wetlands. The first section winds though leafy parks, playgrounds and an aquatic centre all the time getting more interesting away from town. However it is around Horseshoe Lagoon that thing really pick up. Ghostly gum trees emerge from the water making excellent roosts for the abundant birdlife; low branches and sunken logs are great spots for turtles to catch some rays - and from where they can quickly disappear into the water at any disturbance to their tranquillity. After the lagoon the path follows the highway for the short section to the Wonga Wetlands. You can't cycle around here but there are several walking tracks from the small visitors centre. This is a compact but beautiful site that apparently is home to 150 species of birds.
We ride back the same path to town turning left at the swim centre to join the Bungambrawatha Creek Trail from its south end. There are a number of roads to cross on the trail, but traffic is light, with some nice parks through the suburbs. It's a flat easy pleasant ride following the creek, which is really just a stormwater channel with little if any water flowing through.
From the end we ride across the northern suburbs to join the Albury - Thurgoona Trail back into the city from the northeast. This is an excellent long sealed path with plenty of open space, through more suburbs and past the racecourse and airport. It finishes back at the railway station on the edge of town - although there is another 5km section turning east alongside the Riverina Highway.
One trail we don't get to is Nail Can Hill Trail which looks interesting - although the 'Albury Trails' booklet advises that it is all unsealed and quite steep in parts. Probably good preparation for the High Country and Mountains to Murray rails trails we'll be riding over the next few days.
However it can wait till next time, we've just found a great little ice-cream shop!