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Heaven and hell on two wheels: Australia's epic bike adventures
From desert sun to Tasmanian rain, crocodiles to penguins, these amazing bicycle rides will set the pulse racing
Australia: a wide, brown land. Like, really wide. The world’s sixth-largest country gives the adventurous cyclist endless ground to cover.
Whether you’re mountain-biking the dustbowls of the desert interior, or spiraling up alpine roads on your road bike, you’ll find that Australia’s rides are among the best on the planet.
Australia enjoys a population density of just three people per square kilometer: almost the lowest in the world.
There’s no such thing as a beaten track here -- just a sprawling network of fresh trails ready for the pedal.
Add the Aussies’ impassioned pride for their latest sporting hero, 2011’s Tour de France winner Cadel Evans, and you have an invigorating destination for your next riding adventure. So lace up your shoes, grab your Camelbak and get out there.
Cairns to Karumba Bike Ride
If the exhaustion associated with heat, humidity and traveling 780 kilometers in seven days elates you; if crocodiles, termites and water buffalo excite you; then make the annual Cairns to Karumba Bike Ride your next challenge.
Stretching across tropical Far North Queensland, this fundraiser for remote schools and community organizations traverses the kind of spectacular natural environments most Australians never see.
Become either a mountain-biking “Dirty Dude” or simply a “Road Cyclist,” depending on the route you want to take.
We suspect the mountain-biking route is harder, earning those guys the cooler “dude” moniker.
Meals are provided by the volunteer Road Kill Catering Crew but we hope this isn’t a bad omen or a reflection on the food, which we’re told is tasty.
If you reach the end, mark it with a well-deserved cold beer: you’ve earned it.
Distance: 780 kilometers
Duration: Seven days
3 Peaks Challenge
“Pain is temporary, memories are forever.” That’s what Australian Tour de France competitor, Stuart O’Grady said in 2007 and his words continue to inspire riders via the 3 Peaks promotional videos.
However, once you’ve hauled yourself over three of Australia’s highest peaks in unpredictable alpine weather, you might think a more accurate tagline is “pain is temporary; memories of pain are forever, too.”
That pain will be worth it when you’ve completed one of the toughest road riding challenges in the world, comparable to a Tour de France stage.
Victoria’s Mount Hotham presents the ride’s highest climb at 1,825 meters, followed by Falls Creek (1,721 meters) and Tawonga Gap (876 meters).
Riders must make it to the finish line within 13 hours and to bag all three peaks is a lifetime achievement.
Distance: 235 kilometers
Duration: One day
The next ride is March 10, 2013. View a course map and profile here.
Great Victorian Bike Ride
This year’s Great Victorian Bike Ride is set in scenic Gippsland, east of Melbourne, with the longest of its three ride options spanning 591 kilometers.
If you can handle riding 74 clicks on average each day, you’ll be rewarded with coastal fishing villages, open plains, alpine foothills, towering forests and waterfalls. You might even run over -- sorry, spot -- a koala or two.
After nine days on this well-loved ride you’ll roll up at the final destination, Phillip Island: a magical land of Australian Moto GP races and Fairy Penguins.
Distance: 591 kilometers
Duration: Nine days
The next ride is November 24-December 2, 2012. Click here for a comprehensive Google map.
More on CNN: Best bike paths in Sydney
The Mawson Trail
The Mawson snakes from Adelaide, South Australia, to the outback’s ancient Flinders Ranges.
Suitable for mountain bikes only, it traverses forest, farmland, historic towns and the renowned Barossa and Clare Valley wine regions.
The trail is self-directed, so once you’ve engaged in sufficient prep you can complete all or whichever part you like.
Best not to go in summer though: the desert sun will pierce right through your baggy shorts. And sunstroke and Shiraz just don’t mix.
Not to be missed is Wilpena Pound, a magnificent crater-shaped landform in Flinders Ranges National Park.
Desert wildflowers, Aboriginal rock engravings and legions of native wildlife adorn this arid environment.
Distance: 900 kilometers
Duration: As many days as you like
State: South Australia
If you’re keen to join a group, Bicycle SA runs its Outback Odyssey trip each year. The next trip is May 11-25, 2013 and is limited to 200 riders. See www.bikesa.asn.au for details.
Munda Biddi Trail
Meaning “path through the forest” in the Noongar Aboriginal language, the Munda Biddi lives up to its name by piercing a trail though a pristine nature corridor comprising virgin eucalyptus forest.
There are surely worse places to test your limits.
Stretching across the southwest corner of Western Australia, the trail is currently broken into two sections but they will soon be joined and extended, making it the longest continuous off-road cycle trail in the world at over 1,000 kilometers.
If, on some nights, you’d happily trade sleeping under the stars for a hot shower and a comfy bed, you might be lucky enough to spot a town every now and then.
But beware: they’re few and far between.
Distance: 1,000 kilometers
Duration: As long as you like
State: Western Australia
The only long-distance multi-use trail in Tasmania cuts a line right down the middle of Australia’s island state.
Organizers warn that extreme adventure seekers should stay away, instead attracting cyclists tempted by gentler recreation. Think relaxed riding, warm bed-and-breakfasts and tasty gourmet interludes.
That said, prepare to get your feet wet in the occasional creek, huff and puff up a few hills -- the steepest being an 800-meter ascent from Bracknell to Arthurs Lake -- and search for keys to gates on private sections.
Since Tasmanian winters are chilly, it’s wisest to go in summer. And, because it’s Tasmania, no matter what time of year you go, it will definitely rain.
Still, any hardship is a small price to pay for the reward of quiet countryside vistas, local produce, friendly folk and that pleasant rest at day’s end.
Distance: 477 kilometers
Duration: Approximately eight days
Bicentennial National Trail
Crossing three states, this 5,330-kilometer (you read that right) journey should not be attempted on a whim.
It runs almost the entire length of eastern Australia from Cooktown, Queensland, in the north to Healesville, Victoria, in the south through rainforest, valleys, gorges and snowfields.
Following historic coach and stock routes, the trail was designed as a “living history” of Australia.
With plenty of preparation, you can say you’ve traveled the longest marked, non-motorized, self-reliant, multi-use trekking route in the world. Not many can.
If you go right now, you might even catch up with 33-year-old British-born professional adventurer Richard Bowles, who is, at the time of writing, on the verge of completing the entire trail on foot.
We take back everything we said about bike trips being tough.
Distance: 5,330 kilometers
Duration: A really long time
States: Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria
More on CNN: 10 cycling routes that will take your breath away