Climbing Berowra Waters West is like escaping on a mini-getaway. It’s an adventure through three ecosystems: the road starts from the damp forest floor, ascends through dry bushland, and sweeps through picturesque farms. With minimal traffic, the stillness of your surroundings feels a world away from the hustle and bustle of Sydney.
Average gradient: 6%
Elevation gain: 197m
Strava: Berowra Waters West
Most riders approach this climb after descending Berowra Waters East and crossing the river by ferry. Gently roll along the waterfront while the ferryload of cars disappears up the road . You’re unlikely to be passed by another vehicle until the ferry completes its round trip, giving you a ten-minute window of undisturbed, car-free climbing bliss.
The Strava segment begins just after the restaurant as the road curves to the left, near the sign warning you that the “NEXT 2 km” will consist of winding roads.
A damp, forested start
Riding the first kilometre feels like climbing through a forest. The sunlight struggles to reach valley floor. As a result, the cool, moist conditions give rise to rich green foliage and ferns that would not look out of place in Jurassic Park. In the morning, it’s not uncommon for this road to be blanketed in fog. Riders are advised to bring arm warmers to guard against the cold start after sitting on the ferry.
Steep road, dry grass
The gradient in the first kilometre hovers around a reasonable 6%, but prepare yourself for some pain, because the road kicks up over the second kilometre. Just where the damp forest gives way to dry grass, the slope rises to over 8% and stays there for about 700 metres. This is the toughest part of the climb, and you may find yourself standing out of the saddle just to keep the pedals churning. As you grind up through a natural tunnel of bushes – surrounded on both sides by uncut grass and small woody trees – grit your teeth and keep pushing, because there’s a flat section to recover up ahead.
If you’re not in a hurry up this climb, it’s worth taking a moment to stop and listen. At the right time of day, the most distinctive noise you’ll hear is the complete lack of noise. You’re only 30 kilometres from the Sydney CBD as the crow flies, yet it’s as peaceful as any rural lane.
That rural feeling will continue when you enter the final third of the climb. But first, take note of the house numbers on the left hand side of the road. When you reach No. 104, kick up over the crest for a brief respite as the road flattens out for 200 metres. The steepest stuff is behind you now.
Horsing around at the finish
In the final kilometre, the environment changes again. Here, the pavement is rough and heavy like a rural road. However, the density of houses reminds you that you’re not in the country; this is still outer suburban Sydney. That is, until you see the horses. The road snakes its way up between a neighbourhood of horse studs. With open paddocks, rustic homesteads and glimpses of livestock to your left and right, this truly does feel like the farm has come to northwest Sydney.
You, however, must channel all your horsepower into the crankarms. After curving past the paddocks, raise your pace from a canter to a gallop as you muscle your steed up a straight tree-lined avenue. There’s one final curve to the left before the very last kick to the top of the hill. The Strava segment finishes just after the intersection with Chilcott Road.
The current Strava record is 8:13, but 11 minutes is a good target for a B grade cyclist looking to challenge themselves up this steep and unique climb.
The descent of Berowra Waters West is rapid and exhilarating. With no significant corners to speak of, you can theoretically coast all the way from top to bottom without once touching the brakes. Enjoy the change in scenery as you descend from sunny, open farmland to damp, cool forest. Expect a significant change in temperature, especially in the morning before the sun’s rays have had a chance to creep down into the valley. Arm warmers and flashing lights are recommended, especially if you encounter mist towards the bottom.
As mentioned above, the beautiful thing about climbing Berowra Waters West is the lack of motor vehicle traffic. Once a ferryload of cars has passed, you can enjoy car-free roads for around 10 minutes. There is some local traffic (think horse trailers, utes and family cars) and the occasional motorcyclist, but by and large this is a wonderfully quiet road for cyclists to enjoy.
Berowra Waters West is typically ridden as part of a Three Gorges ride. After climbing the hill, continue for about 10 kilometres along Bay Road and Arcadia Road to reach Galston Gorge. These roads through Arcadia are heavy country-like roads; harsh asphalt, mostly flat terrain with a few gentle rollers. The Galston town centre is a good place to stop for coffee before descending into the Gorge.
If you’re riding the Three Gorges clockwise, enjoy the fast descent down Berowra Waters West. After crossing on the ferry (it’s free of charge and operates seven days a week, except the second Tuesday of each month between 12 noon and 2.30pm), get ready for an assault up the eastern side of Berowra Waters – which is another type of climb altogether.