Lycra, scones and schooners: cycling trail a boon for Central West pubs

Cyclists Alison Wheeler, from Katoomba, and Rod Wiltshire-Butler, from Surry Hills, at The Hair Of The Dog Inn, ...
Cyclists Alison Wheeler, from Katoomba, and Rod Wiltshire-Butler, from Surry Hills, at The Hair Of The Dog Inn, Ballimore NSW. Photo: Amber Hooper

Regional pubs are rarely known for healthy food, however a growing number of Central West bistros are providing plant-based options due to increasing bike tourism.

"We used to get the odd cyclist pop in on a Sunday ride but since the region's new cycling trail was announced they're visiting daily," says Brad O'Leary, owner of The Hair of the Dog Inn in Ballimore, 30 kilometres east of Dubbo.

"Our lamb cutlets and parma have always been the most popular menu items, but with more health-conscious cyclists coming through, the vegetarian burger has become a big seller. We're now creating other plant-based dishes. It's not a big stretch to offer food which appeals to a hell of a lot more patrons."

Brad O'Leary, owner of The Hair Of The Dog Inn.
Brad O'Leary, owner of The Hair Of The Dog Inn. Photo: Amber Hooper

The Central West Cycling Trail was launched in July by volunteers at the Mudgee Bushwalkers and Bike Riders group.

It takes cyclists through a 400-kilometre tour of small towns and wild flowers in the Wiradjuri nation, with many opportunities for country cooking along the way. Baked treats are provided by friendly farmers.

"The food angle of the trail is great," says David Allworth, who mapped the majority of the trail to avoid busy roads. 

Riders using the Central West Cycle Trail near Dubbo.
Riders using the Central West Cycle Trail near Dubbo. Photo: Amber Hooper

"I've been amazed that if you put a scone in front of cyclists, it becomes the talk of the trail. People start altering their stopping points."

Information about pit-stops is posted on the Central West Cycling Trail website and Facebook page. One of the most popular places for a spell is "Mayfield", homestead of cattle farmers Sue and Geoff Rains in Birriwa. 

Cyclists call ahead for morning tea and the Rains provide a $15 spread which includes fresh fruit, homemade pikelets, rock cakes, Anzac biscuits, coffee and fresh water.

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"I'll make sandwiches and chicken wings with salad for anyone who wants lunch too," says Rains. 

"We've been offering food for the past month and had 20 groups come through. Most of them like to stay for a while and walk around the garden or help collect chook eggs. We've met a lot of lovely people in the process."

For many years, principal trail organiser Barbara Hickson has tried to create a Central West cycling track repurposing abandoned rail corridors. However, landholder concerns and state government restrictions mean rail trail development has been difficult.

The Royal Hotel, Mendooran.
The Royal Hotel, Mendooran. Photo: Ty Domin

"Just before COVID, I said to Dave [Allworth] 'Let's give up on the rail trail for now and just try to offer people the safest cycling experience we can," she says. 

"Dave jumped at the chance to map it. Five or six days is a comfortable time to do it in, but some of the serious guys will smash it in three. 

"It's certainly been more popular than we were anticipating through the pandemic. With travel restricted, people from Sydney are looking for somewhere new to cycle in NSW. They're enjoying the landscape, eating good food and telling their mates."

The trail heading into Wellington.
The trail heading into Wellington.  Photo: Ty Domin

O'Leary says most cyclists visit his pub in packs of 10, keeping with COVID-19 social distancing rules. 

"But there are also couples, families and small groups of friends. It's been great for business. Our beers on tap are usually traditional pub standards, but now we're stocking Coopers and a craft pale ale. Locals aren't fond of the ale, but cyclists love it."

Other pubs catering to cyclists with increased craft beer and healthy meals include the Lion of Waterloo in Wellington and Mendooran's Royal Hotel.

Wongarbon General Store.
Wongarbon General Store.  Photo: Ty Domin

Photographer Patrick Tangye cycled the trail over five days a fortnight ago, staying at motel and pub accommodation on the route.

"There's nothing sweeter than a cold schooner at the end of a day's cycling," he says. "Its great pubs are ordering more boutique beers, but at that point you're just as happy to drink Great Northern."

Tangye says vegetarians in his group were happy to be provided with plant-based options, but for most cyclists, pub steaks and chicken parmas were the real hits of the trip. 

"When you're wrecked and starving after riding 80 kilometres, a big country parma is as good as it gets."

Top food and drink stops on the trail

1. Zin House, 327 Tinja Lane Mudgee

Hatted dining in a modern farmhouse at Lowe Wines cellar door. Visit for dinner the night before hitting the trail.

2. Mayfield, 591 Bus Route South Birriwa

With a little advance notice, cattle farmers Sue and Geoff Rains will provide cyclists with morning or afternoon tea, a proper country lunch, or just fresh water and a farm tour.

3. White Rose Cafe, 48 Bolaro Street Dunedoo

A shiny new coffee machine now pumps espresso for cyclists and locals. The place to carb-load on slices, fresh-squeezed juice and a giant-sized breakfast burger.

4. Hotel Dunedoo, 26 Bolaro Street Dunedoo

By many reports, home to the biggest and best schnitzel on the trail. Cold beer heaven after a long day cycling.

5. Black Gate Distillery, 72 Forrest Road Mendooran

Award-winning rum and whisky from the first hot climate distillery in NSW. Tasting sessions by appointment.

6. Crackerz Bakery, 66 Bandulla Street Mendooran

A place to stock up on sandwiches for the day or sit down with a house-made soup such as cauliflower and bacon, or potato and leek.

7. Hair of the Dog Inn, 26 Federation Street Ballimore

The favourite pub of many trail cyclists for its vegetarian options, camping facilities and beer choices beyond Tooheys and VB.

8. Press, 33 Bultje Street Dubbo

A 1930s house has been restored into a beautiful, leafy cafe. Begin your day with semolina porridge and the best coffee in the Central West.

9. Wongarbon Post Office, 35 Boberah Street Wongarbon

Contact the small town post office on approach to have morning tea prepared featuring textbook perfect scones.

10. Lion of Waterloo Tavern, 93 Montefiores Street Wellington

Built in 1841, the Lion is the oldest continuously licensed hotel in NSW west of the Blue Mountains. Recently refreshed with a new chef, Guinness on tap, and range of local spirits.