Cycling the Amy Gillett Pathway
No hills, no traffic, no worries: from Oakbank to Mount Torrens in the Adelaide Hills, the Amy Gillett Pathway is the sweetest 17 kilometres you'll ever cycle!
OK, I’ve dusted off my old treadly. Where am I heading?
The Amy Gillett Pathway is a cycling, walking and horse riding trail that runs 17km through the Adelaide Hills. Specifically, it runs north-south through the fertile valleys and vales from Oakbank to Mount Torrens (see map) with bucolic country vistas, small townships and a few wineries along the way. You can also expect to enjoy a safe and easy ride: not only is this bike trail separate from the road, most of it is flat.
Wait – how can a bike ride through the Adelaide Hills have no hills?!
The Pathway is on a sealed bitumen track that follows the course of an old railway line. And since trains don’t perform very well on inclines over 5%, the trail is completely flat in parts or, at worst, subjected to a super-gentle incline over several kilometres. The old rail corridor is also wide enough to allow for two lanes of cyclists, walkers and the occasional horse rider. Even the slowest of riders will be right at home.
Why is it called the Amy Gillett Pathway?
Amy Gillett was a member of the Australian women’s cycling team before she was tragically killed while training in Germany in 2005. The pathway was built as part of a nation-wide program initiated by family and friends to encourage people to enjoy cycling and, importantly, to do so in perfect safety.
Who uses the Pathway?
Though loved by locals as a pleasant, traffic-free way to get between townships, the Pathway is increasingly being discovered by visitors as a way to immerse in rural landscapes, indulge in cool climate wineries and sample the laid-back lifestyle of farming communities in the Adelaide Hills.
During the week, you’ll be amazed how many retirees use the Pathway, many of them cycling in small groups to get some exercise and drink enough caffeine to light up Melbourne. At the weekends, the track is big with families, with little tackers in particular enjoying the mix of two-wheeled locomotion, four-legged livestock and a promised visit to Melba’s chocolate factory. And it’s finding favour with the Instagram generation who like nothing more than an afternoon of wine and wheels – though how much of the actual track they end up cycling is a moot point.
Finally, yes, you’ll probably see a few hardcore cycling enthusiasts but they’re usually on Onkaparinga Valley Road (not far from the track), seeking out more punishing gradients.
Seventeen kilometres sounds like a lot – will it tax me?
Organisers say the 17km ride can be done in 2hr 20 on two wheels (or 3hrs 40 if you’re on foot). But this is taking it very sedately indeed. Our researcher – who is a moderately fit 55-year-old with a half-decent bike – completed the distance in an hour, not including stops.
The bottom line is no-one is feeling the need for speed. The Amy Gillett Bikeway is really about enjoying the journey.
One-way or return?
Unless you’re looking for peak fitness, you’ll probably want to do the trail one-way, with time to stop and enjoy a few things. Doing a one-way ride will require a party of at least two riders and necessitate two cars – one car serving as drop-off, one positioned for collection. If this isn’t practical, you could do half the trail as a return trip, which will still see you clocking up a healthy 16km (we suggest Oakbank to Charleston and back or vice versa).
Still with practical matters, you should take water and sunscreen and a couple of tools for any seat adjustments etc. Alternatively, however, you could let someone else take care of the bike-y business.
Bike Hire, Supplies and Repairs
Bike About in Woodside offers standard and electric bikes for $35 and $65 per day. Collect them (and a map of local wineries) from the Woodside Providore. If you’re on an electric bike the trail will be a breeze, in fact a full 34km return trip shouldn’t be out of the question.
Bicycle Fix in the main street of Woodside is the place to buy a bike and accessories or arrange repairs. There is also a bike repair station at Woody Trails in Woodside.
Check the wind on an app like windy.com! If there’s anything over 10 knots, you want it at your back.
Be aware, many operators in the Hills serve on weekends and shut on Mondays and sometimes Tuesdays. If you’re not sure, check online.
Easy. There’s dedicated parking on Gillman Road at the Oakbank end and parking near the oval at Mount Torrens. Parking is also available at the halfway point next to the Pony homeware shop in Charleston.
Break it down for me -- what’s on the trail?
It’s easiest to think of the trail in three sections.
Section 1: Oakbank to Woodside (5km)
This flat section kicks off close to Gillman Road, passing through glades of pines and gum trees. Your first glimpse of vines is at Wicks Estate on the corner of Riverview Road – which appropriately heralds an optional 7.5km detour loop (via Riverview and Pfeiffer Roads) through wine country that’s home to Bird in Hand (restaurant and cellar door currently closed due to redevelopment) as well as Petaluma and Artwine cellar doors.
The trail passes behind the Main Street of Woodside, where you’ll see gardens filled with chopped wood, chook houses and veggie patches. If you’ve got kids – or you’ve got an inner kid busting to get out -- be sure to stop at the terrific Woody Trails BMX track adjacent to the Bikeway on your left. Feel free to test out the earthy jumps, bowls and ‘pump bumps’.
If you’ve cycled from Mount Torrens, detour to Woodside’s Main Street for the cyclist’s staple of coffee and cake. The town is home to the excellent Woodside Providore, two bakeries and two hotels. If you’re holding out until the very end, the Oakbank Hotel is open from 11am, with a family-friendly beer garden and a primo steak menu featuring Australian-grown Wagyu and Angus to boost those flagging protein levels.
Section 2: Woodside to Charleston (3.5km)
On the north side of Woodside – and right on the track – is Barristers Block winery. A warning: this winery is very easy to arrive at and VERY difficult to leave. It’s quite literally on the track, a spread of shady lawns, tasting room and a rustic tin shed supported by coarse gum boughs. It offers coffee and brunch to two-wheeled traffic Thursday to Sunday, while lunch is served daily ($35 for two people, two courses). If you think your experience of cycling 17km will be enhanced by sparkling Pinot Noir, tastings start at 11am.
Five hundred metres north of town, detour off the track into Charles Street. Now, this is definitely a hill, but it’s worth the short climb to the 1919 Woodside Farmers Union Factory. The historic brick complex is now home to Woodside Cheese Wrights (they do hampers if you fancy a picnic along the bikeway), Chesterfield Whisky (open on weekends for tastings) and Melba’s chocolate factory.
Melba's is a sweet-toothed time warp, with its lovely old signage and time-honoured confectionary such as cola bottles, UFOs and liquorice bullets. Confectionary production is always underway and workers are happy to stop and explain the arts of enrobing, depositing and panning. Thanks to your cycling endeavour, sampling fresh fudge and chocolate is relatively guilt-free.
The Pathway heads into broader paddocks of mixed farming, with some beautiful colonial-era farmhouses evident on the upper slopes of the valley. You’ll also see some vestiges of the huge dairy farms that dominated this region before wine became more profitable than milk.
Section 3: Charleston to Mount Torrens (8km)
The trail detours behind Charleston, into open grazing country and quieter surrounds removed from the road. After 4km the trail reaches Springhead Road. From here it’s a small wiggle to Charleston Cherries, where you can boost your natural sugars by picking your own (cherries available December, apples in March).
At Springhead Road, the trail begins a very gentle ascent. This 4km climb is almost imperceptible, but it is climbing, which is important to note if you’re with young children. It crosses the main road outside Mount Torrens, where you’ll encounter the award-winning wine producer Lobethal Road; the cute cellar door is open most days and serves lunch platters, with a more substantial seasonal menu on weekends.
All that remains is a kilometre-long ride (the only unsealed part of the trail) into Mount Torrens. This small agricultural town is home to the family-friendly Mount Torrens Hotel which serves the like of chicken snitty burgers ($15) from noon.
Note, Charleston is a popular starting point to do an Oakbank-return ride. The 1855 Charleston Hotel in the main street serves coffees and lunches. Locally-made bangers (and mash - $16), taken under the mulberry trees in the brick-paved garden, are especially restorative.
If I’m going one way, should I do the trail northwards or southwards?
Good question, because the direction you travel certainly alters the experience…
Heading north (Oakbank to Mount Torrens), your party will encounter the distractions around Woodside when you’re at your most energetic – which means you’re more inclined to do them! Charleston is the half-way point, and from here you’ll begin to encounter those very modest up-slopes into Mount Torrens. Trail-side refreshments (and distractions) reduce once you leave Charleston, though there is a warm welcome waiting at the family-friendly Mount Torrens Hotel.
Heading south (Mount Torrens to Oakbank), you may get a surprise from the slight incline out of Mount Torrens, running from the oval to the road crossing. The gradient is extremely gentle, but it runs for a kilometre and it might make small kids grumpy. On the plus side, it’s easy street from here! Also, you’ll end your ride in the towns of Woodside and Oakbank, with plenty of pub and coffee options, as well as Barristers Block winery which makes for a very attractive post-ride proposition.
Birdwood – the shape of things to come
2021 sees a fourth section being added to the Amy Gillett Pathway, extending 5.6km from Mount Torrens to Birdwood. This logical extension of the trail will enjoy another super-flat section through pastoral country and will also see the Pathway ending in a lively town with plenty of attractions including the National Motor Museum as well as refreshment options. At the time of writing, there’s no date for construction but updates will be posted on the Amy Gillett Foundation website.