The top 30 HC climbs in Australia: 20 to 11

Australia has no shortage of impressive cycling climbs, from the Victorian Alps to the rugged hills of Tasmania to the Gold Coast hinterland and beyond. In this three-part series, David Blom counts down the top 30 “hors categorie” climbs in Australia, continuing today with climbs #20 down to #11. If you missed part one, on climbs #30 to #21, head here.

A hors categorie (or “above category”) climb is the highest ranking a climb can be given in races like the Tour de France. On Strava, a HC climb is defined as one for which multiplying the length of the climb (in metres) by its average gradient yields a product of 80,000 or more.

For example, a 20km climb at an average of 4% gives us 80,000 (20,000 x 4) so that would be a HC climb. If that 20km climb instead had an average gradient of 3% it wouldn’t be a HC climb (20,000 x 3.5 = 70,000).

Here then are climbs #20 to #11 in the top 30 HC climbs in Australia. The climbs are ordered in terms of difficulty but, of course, the difficulty of a climb is largely subjective.

20. Gwydir Hwy (Gibraltar Range) (NSW)

18.3km @ 5.3%

This stunning climb was made famous by the Grafton to Inverell one-day race. It features two sharp hairpin bends, lush rainforest and occasional glimpses down towards the sea near Grafton, all of which make this climb very memorable.

The other side of this climb is rolling tableland which makes the one-day race here so tough.

19. Omeo Hwy (Mitta Mitta side) (Victoria)

21.8km @ 4.3%

Newly sealed, this climb is on the oldest gazetted highway in Australia and can be tied in with the Back of Falls or Mt Hotham (Dinner Plain) climbs from Omeo. Alternatively, you can keep going straight along the Omeo Hwy all the way to Bairnsdale.

This climb is tough going once you hit Lightning Creek and work your way up towards the ski camp at Mt Wills.

The other side from Omeo is not as long or tough a climb and barely scrapes a Cat 1 rating.

18. Highland Lakes Rd (Tasmania)

26.1km @ 3.7%

This road has been used as a summit finish in the Tour of Tasmania in the past. The road can be climbed from two approaches and is the second highest sealed road in Tasmania. The other side of this climb is generally undulating and unsealed for a very long stretch. The views from the top of the great lakes are something to behold.

17. Lake Mountain (Marysville side) (Victoria)

21.3km @ 4.3%

Anyone that’s climbed the opening 4km section of this climb isn’t likely to forget it — it’s a steep bit of road. But the rest of the climb to the Lake Mountain resort is quite gentle with a few short descents thrown in. A beautiful climb not far from Melbourne.

16. Mt. Donna Buang (Victoria)

16.9km @ 6.4%

The third-most ascended HC climb in Australia on Strava and a real favourite of Melbournian cyclists. A stunningly beautiful climb through temperate rainforest. The ascent to the top of Mt. Donna Buang can be done from Warburton on a sealed road (the main route, as documented here) or via a number of alternate routes.

It is also possible to ride roughly 10 kilometres of gravel and ascend from Healesville or the Don Valley. Or if you like the really quiet way up, the approach along the Acheron Way (13km unsealed) is a good way to go with towering trees surround the narrow roadway. Stunning.

15. Mt. Buller (Victoria)

16.8km @ 5.9%

This climb to one of Victoria’s favourite ski fields is very consistent until the last 1.5km when the road starts tipping up at a much steeper angle. The upper reaches of this climb have a slightly European feel as you traverse a number of switchbacks with ski chalets visible up the road ahead of you.

14. Mt Buffalo (Victoria)

20.9km @ 4.8%

The most popular HC climb in Australia according to Strava. Rock walls, consistent gradients and great length make this climb a favourite for everyone who does it. The flowing descent that is offered as a reward for getting to the top make this climb well worth the effort.

13. Goat Ridge Rd to Cabramurra Radio Tower (NSW)

17.8km @ 5.8%

The climb to the Snowy Hydro Township of Cabramurra can have an extra sting in the tail added by going up to the nearby radio tower (see link above). An alternative finish location is the Mt. Selwyn Snowfields. Variable gradients, road surface and weather make this tough climb all the more challenging.

12. Thunderbolts Way (Nowendoc) (NSW)

43.3km @ 2.8%

This climb up the Great Dividing Range to Walcha is very tough due to its length. With a long, flat section to contend with it’s hard to find a rhythm for this entire ascent. With more than 1,200m of elevation gain only a few climbs in Australia see you gain more altitude.

11. Mt. Hotham (Omeo side) (Victoria)

56.5km @ 2.1%

The longest climb on the list, and more challenging that the average gradient would suggest. While it’s not uphill all the way — there are several long descents and flat sections throughout — there is enough tough climbing to make this a very challenging ride.

This climb is normally done from Omeo to the small snow town of Dinner Plain but adding the extra 15km or so to the summit of Mt. Hotham makes this climb an absolute monster.

Stay posted for the final part of this three-part series in which we look at the top 10.

6 Replies to “The top 30 HC climbs in Australia: 20 to 11”

  1. Just did Thunderbolts on the weekend. Stunning scenery. It’s a killer, with a section of over 6km @ 10.4% with loads of pothole repairs. The massive length and undulation also made it difficult. It’s not 43.3km, the link has a huge GPS error. It’s much longer. Here is the segment showing 58km which starts a bit after Barnard River Bridge. It would be 61km from Bernard and only adding 20m of elevation. If you want to do the full climb without turning off at Nowendoc, you may need support, a water drop or carry extra water. One of the hardest on the list. Harder than some of the top 10 for sure.

  2. I’m curious as to why Strava goes with such a complicated formula to determine an HC climb when they could just state it as ‘any climb with more than 800 vertical metres’.

    1. That’d make a mockery of “HC” – Buffalo would be classified HC while Baw Baw from The Gantry wouldn’t.

      1. No but that’s exactly what the formula is – if you multiply some version of the length of the climb by average gradient you will get some version of total climb. They’re making the formula overly complicated.

        Eg a climb 8km long with an average grade of 10% would be 8000 x 10 = 80000 in the formula, or simply 800m climbing

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