Sometimes at the end of a ride you need to pause for a while to reflect on the experience. The road that unravels along the southern boundary of the Lake Eildon National Park delivers one such ride. Sealed several years ago now, it is entrenched among Victoria’s “must rides” as the Eildon-Jamieson Rd.
It needs to be a great ride, however, because it is not one you come across easily, and it is a solid two hours and then some from central Melbourne to reach the closest starting point outside Eildon.
Still, the point of riding, or motoring in any form for its own sake is that the journey is the destination, and for anyone thinking of approaching the Eildon-Jamieson ride from Melbourne there is a bonus: to reach Eildon the Maroondah Hwy offers plenty of variety: from the vineyards and rolling hills of the Yarra Valley, to the soaring roadside eucalyptus forest of the Black Spur, to the panoramas of the Acheron River valley beyond Narbethong where the Cathedral Ranges tower over your shoulder.
So even before the main course, there is an entree with a blend of hairpin turns followed by sweeping corners in open country.
The Eildon-Jamieson Rd begins and ends outside each town with about 60 kilometres of constant cornering, extraordinary scenery, dense forest, and sometimes granite cliff face up to the road shoulders.
Nothing is constant. For almost the entire length the bike is in a left-right-left motion as the road uncoils over the mountains. One of the first things you notice is the almost complete absence of advisory speed signs. Riders and drivers alike are left to their own judgment for most of the journey.
The surface is about as good as engineering can make it, but nature makes its mark. Depending on the season, even with full sunshine some sections in the deep gullies seem never to dry out, so as well as the constant left-right-left motion, there is dry-wet-dry to consider.
The soaring roadside eucalypts make for a dappled and constantly changing light: charming, but it can make reading the road more difficult. Leaves, small branches and bark litter the surface, spilling on to the roadway in the tightest corners. With a national park on one side and state forest on the other this is hardly surprising, but it does make for occasional obstacles.
And since most corners are blind, and the vegetation dense, it is not unusual to be confronted suddenly with entire branches, even small trees, blocking the way.
On a recent ride only the waved “slow down” sign from a motorcyclist heading in the opposite direction warned of a 50m section of road that was covered with fallen trees. Rounding the next corner revealed the Eildon-bound lane as impassable.
That is not to say there are no straight sections of road. There are, but except for one five-kilometre stretch about halfway along, they are brief and soon forgotten, and they present their own challenges. Encountering the road for the first time on a clear day in late autumn with the sun low in the sky, the straights seemed invariably to end in tight corners dark with shadow and again, a challenge to “read”.
In some conditions entering these corners quickly is like switching off a light in a darkened room: instant blackness.
It is not a problem though when the light is more even, such as comes with an overcast sky, or in spring and summer when the sun is higher and able to penetrate the tree canopy.
Then there are the repairs. The original surface is a light grey but the patches are black rectangles. Entering or exiting a corner you cannot always know if the dark denotes another wet section of road or a repair.
None of these are reasons to avoid the road, but they are reasons to respect it. Sixty kilometres an hour will never seem as fast as it does on sections of this ride. It is a significantly more challenging ride than that great favourite, the Great Ocean Rd.
Six kilometres from the Jamieson end there is a scenic lookout. It offers sweeping views over Lake Eildon and the surrounding ranges that are dressed in shades of blue and green. The lookout should not be missed since there are few other chances to soak up the scenery. A micro-brewery at Jamieson offers lunch daily and the chance for those few moments reflection on the experience.
Alternatively whichever direction you take, once at the end it is only two kilometres into town.
Eildon-Jamieson is a memorable road, worth the effort to reach it, and it is no accident that two-wheel traffic seems to outnumber the four-wheel variety by a factor of four to one.