A journey through the Winton Wetlands.

On the traditional lands of the Yorta Yorta Indigenous community.

Sometimes, getting off grid means campfire and bike-packing adventures. Other times it's as simple as one night away and a good long gravel ride, which is what we did on an early autumn day in north-eastern Victoria, Australia. We packed light with just the bare essentials, loaded our bikes onto the car and drove two hours from Melbourne to the town of Benalla.

From there, off grid locations are in easy reach. The Winton Wetlands, on the traditional lands of the Yorta Yorta Indigenous community, are located just 20 kilometres from Benalla. On over 8,000 hectares of land, the area includes 32 separate wetland sites and hectares of Red Gum and Box Gum grassy woodlands, a haven for precious native flora and fauna.

Pale gravel paths and the remnants of trees across the flooded wetlands. A kaleidoscope of shades from earth, bush and scrub, trees, hills and sky. As soon as you start pedalling in this landscape, in that fresh air, you leave everything else behind. A day of exploring, a night at the local pub and motel, a sunrise spin and then the road home. Off grid looks however you want it to.

Words by James Mortimer

There’s something strangely ritualistic about driving up the Hume, the freeway that connects Melbourne to some of the best riding that Australia has to offer.

It’s the necessary yet uninspiring opening to adventures, weekends away and races that punctuate a cycling year.

For Pedla’s most recent Off Grid collection, we began our trip as normal but turned early, off the beaten track and headed for the Winton Wetlands, between Benalla and Wangaratta. Google tells you that this reserve is the ‘largest wetlands restoration project in the Southern Hemisphere’ which sounds good but doesn’t really paint the picture: it’s a striking landscape of barren gum trees and resurgent bushland, an expanse rich with Australian fauna and cultural significance.

Our ride started along the aptly named Dam Wall Road that gave us a vantage point from which to take in the terrain. The scenery here is a direct result of man’s impact on land, in this case the establishment and then decommissioning of an artificial lake, hence the dam wall. The area is one of serious contrast; skeletal trees tower over the abundant life below, a deep sense of peace interrupted by a flock of birds, thousands strong and taking flight at a moment’s notice.There was something that just felt right about riding here, where your connection to the terrain on which you ride is intrinsically tactile but the bumps, variations and natural forces of the land have power over the rider.

I feel there’s often a missed opportunity on gravel rides; moments when the world around you is so deeply worth taking in but the activity at hand, dodging ruts on a descent or keeping legs moving on the climb is all-consuming. The Wetlands however does not suffer this affliction, with flat wide roads we were able to embrace our surroundings.

Kit, rider and nature feel more integrated and deliberate in these moments, and I hope that this is captured and conveyed in the images. We keep things light – short sleeve jerseys with open gilets as we feel the sun on our backs and salty breeze on our faces. We talk later about what Part Two of this shoot will bring.

On the second morning of our Off Grid trip we rose early for sunrise and were promptly greeted by a mob of kangaroos, some groups stood firmly on the road whilst others came bounding alongside us as we rode. The threat of colliding with a kangaroo is a fear that lives large in the mind of many Australian cyclists so making our way beside them, whilst hugely enjoyable, prompted enough caution as to remind us that we were on their territory and not vice versa.

After a trip north to the Warby-Ovens National Park for a brief change of scenery we loaded the Jeep and headed home, back down the Hume. Bikes to clean, tired legs and our desire for Off Grid adventure satiated, at least for now.

With thanks to Tim Harris for the epic images.