Tuesday, 12 January 2016

The Fernleigh Track Rail Trail

Fernleigh Track Rail Trail
Location - Newcastle, Australia
Ride - The Fernleigh Track Rail Trail.
Distance - 30 km (return).
Terrain - Sealed for the full distance.
Difficulty - Easy - a perfect family cycle. The track slopes gently uphill from both ends with the high point at Whitebridge.
Highlights - Hearing the bell-birds sing.
Website and map - Click here.



The Fernleigh Track is one of the few rail trails of any length in New South Wales. Sadly, the state David and I call home has lagged behind in the construction of cycling trails forcing us to spend too many of our tourist dollars interstate and abroad in the search for great, leisure bike rides. The Fernleigh Track however, is an exception. The trail is an easy 30 km return trip and close enough to Sydney to be able to drive to it, cycle it and return home in a day, especially if you live on the northside - or better yet indulge in a night or two at Newcastle and explore one of Australia's most underrated cities.

David and I recently spent a couple of nights at The Charlestown Executive Apartments, Newcastle  which is about five minutes drive from one of the trail access points at Whitebridge. Our stay was the perfect opportunity to re-acquaint ourselves with one of our favourite rides. 



The Fernleigh Track, Belmont
The start of the trail at Belmont.

The Trail


The trail runs from Belmont near Lake Macquarie to Adamstown, a southern suburb of Newcastle. It follows the route of an old railway line used initially to transport coal and later on - passengers. For most of its 15 kilometre length the trail runs through a bushland corridor, populated by small native animals and birds such as possums, bandicoots, echidnas and rosellas. Apart from the rosellas, you have to be lucky to spot any of these shy little creatures but you cannot miss the unmistakable musical chimes of the native bell birds. Their bell-like calls will follow you for much of the ride.

The bushland scenery, especially the blue gums, provide plenty of shade on a hot day and if you are into old railway relics there are enough former station platforms, signage and old railway tracks and sleepers to keep you interested.

A few kilometres from Adamstown  the trail crosses under the Pacific Highway through an old railway tunnel. The tunnel is lit well enough that you don't need a torch but dark and long enough, at 181 metres, to add a bit of adventure to the ride.

Old railway tunnel, Fernleigh Track
The old railway tunnel gives a route under the Pacific Hwy.

Which direction is best?


David and I have cycled the trail a few times in recent years and my preference is to start at the Belmont end, near Lake Macquarie. The trail slopes gently upwards from both ends with its high point roughly in the middle at Whitebridge. However for reasons I can't explain, the Adamstown to Belmont direction (going south) always feels like a slightly easier cycle than the Belmont to Adamstown direction (going north). Starting the trail from the Belmont end has the added benefit that Adamstown has a couple of cafes and a pub where you can take a lunch break before setting out on the return leg.

We have a personal rule which we very rarely break - 'cycle uphill on the way out and downhill on the way home'. There is no fun in sailing downhill for a couple of hours only to find when you turn around that it is a long, hard, uphill, slog home, but on our most recent ride we joined the trail in the middle at Whitebridge, cycled to Adamstown, had lunch then cycled back past Whitebridge to Belmont before returning to our starting point at Whitebridge. Since Whitebridge is the high point of the trail this meant that we cycled uphill for the last quarter of the ride. As it turned out the gradient is so gentle it wasn't an issue.


Much of the trail runs through a bushland corridor

Facilities on the Trail 


There are access points with parking at Belmont, Jewells, Redhead, Whitebridge, Kahibah
and Adamstown. Water is also available at each of these except Kahibah. There are a few other minor access points but because the trail follows a bushland corridor don't expect to be able to access it from all the nearby streets. Click here for a map of the trail showing the access points and facilities.

The Fernleigh Track story board
There are storyboards at several locations to keep the history buffs happy.

Cafes


Cafes are few and far between. Unless you want to leave the trail and go searching for nearby shops plan to take a packed lunch or eat at Adamstown.  The Gates Hotel on Glebe Road is just past the end of the trail and has a nice outdoor beer/bistro garden. There are also a couple of cafes in the surrounding streets.


45 comments:

  1. That tunnel is SO cool - love that shot particularly!
    Thanks for sharing at http://image-in-ing.blogspot.com/2016/01/shells-on-shells.html

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    1. I love tunnels when we are cycling but if they are long and don't have lighting you need a torch. I once lost D in a particularly dark one
      in NZ - lol!

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  2. What a great ride :-) That actually looks like something I could tackle!

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    1. Trust me it is. Try not to do it on a really hot day and it is one of the easiest, most pleasant rides around.

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  3. I may have said this before, but I find it easiest to go up at Jewell's, having cruised down from Adamstown, then take the Newcastle bypass, at Hillsborough, you can push up heartbreak hill, to the cycleway, leading to Westfield Kotara Mall. Or you can cycle to Cardiff station and get the train via the elevator, to Adamstown station, but as always, you haven't lived until you've cycled the beautifully flat Lake Tuggerah cycleway, sometimes sheer ecstasy.

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    1. I agree with you about the Tuggerah Lakes cycleway. In fact it is on my list of great cycle paths to blog about.

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  4. To begin with, I read facilities as fatalities and thought 'what?' Glad that's not a regular (or hopefully ever) occurance.

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    1. Haha - As far as I am aware there have never been any fatalities on the track although little kids having a great day out with their tricycles can be a bit of a fun-to-watch hazard.

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  5. That tunnel picture is fantastic. This looks like a nice ride, it is great to discover nearby places.

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    1. Rail trail tunnels are so much fun. I am very much an amateur photographer but when the subject is something so interesting it is not hard to get a good photo.

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  6. What a great trail! I love those kinds of biking trails - we've got quite a few around here...old railroad trails that have been converted to bike/walking trails. I haven't been on one in awhile, though...need to get reacquainted with my bike. It's been much too long!

    I host a Photo Friday link-up each week; I'd love it if you considered joining us!

    Stopping by from Image-in-ing!

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    1. You don't have to cycle to do these trails. Plenty of people, walk and run them. The U.S (I think that is where you are from) is fabulous for rail trails. David and I have been on more than one road and cycling holiday in Nth America and have a few more planned.

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    2. And yes I would love to join your link-up. I will see you there on Friday.

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  7. Incredible tunnel! I don't know if I could make that biking journey, but it's a lovely path and view. Always fun to see how others travel and be inspired by their experience!
    http://passportcouture.com

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    1. When I first did this cycle I had not been riding regularly for very long and I'll admit I found it a bit tough but it was a very hot day. On a cool day it is a pretty easy cycle and there is no law that says you have to get to the end before you turn around or that you have to start at the beginning - lol.

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  8. I do not think I have been on a bike trail with such a cool tunnel. Love that particular part of the trail. Riding along trees is cool too.

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    1. If you want to ride through trees the place to go is the Victorian Alps along the aquaducts. The ghost gums there are magical. http://www.thetravellinglindfields.com/2015/11/falls-creek-cycling-historic-huts-trail.html

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  9. It sounds like a great place to cycle. That tunnel is just awesome.

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    1. It is a great place and yes, the tunnel is awesome.

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  10. After reading some of your posts it sure looks like Australia really got a lot of places perfect for cycling. :)

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    1. It has, although my home state of New South Wales lags a bit behind in the construction of Rail Trails unfortunately.

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  11. I'm looking forward to including trail rides on our travels once my kids are a little older and steadier on bikes. I'll have to keep your blog in mind when plotting oversea ventures!

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    1. Please feel free to contact me any time. You can find my e-mail address on my contact page. I'm happy to give you advice. The big problem you will face unfortunately is cost. We would have loved to have done more cycling on our travels with our two boys when they were young but the cost of renting bikes for a family quickly adds up. We tend to fly our bikes with us but it is a huge hassle. I wouldn't recommend it if you are also flying with children.

      I just had a quick look at your Google+ profile and it looks like you are from the U.S. There is a brilliant trail finding site for America. You need to fiddle around a bit to figure out how it works but once you get the hang of it you can search for trails by things like length and state and so on. The link is - http://www.traillink.com/ We use this site almost exclusively to find trails in the US.

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  12. Lyn, you must be an an excellent physical shape to be able to bike for 30 km. I think my tongue would be down to the ground after only 2km. You have very beautiful scenery in Australia, though. I think it's worth spending time on the bike there.

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    1. Honestly - I am in pretty average shape but cycling is a great way to at least get some exercise. You would be surprised at how far you could cycle if you work up to it and don't push yourself too hard.

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  13. Anyone interested in viewing the gradients of the old Belmont line (AKA Fernleigh Track) can find them in the attached RailCorp Curves and Gradients Diagrams. Look in the diagram index for Belmont Line in the Northern Corridors. The Adamstown side is the steepest at 1:40 (2.5%)and the Redhead side is less steep at 1:50 (2%). I worked in the signal box at Fernleigh Loop for a short time in the late 70s, the remnant of which can still be seen on the southern side of the tunnel. http://www.transport.nsw.gov.au/sites/default/files/b2b/railcorp/Curve_and_Gradient_Diagrams_V2-0_b.pdf

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    1. Hi, and thank you for your all your information. David and I noticed that there was the remains of some of the old equipment and infrastructure next to the trail in places. Next time we cycle the trail I will look for what's left of the signal box you have mentioned and add a photograph to my blog post. David is a bit of a history buff and loves learning snippets of history from places we visit.

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  14. I love bike riding so this sounded so interesting. So glad you included a map because I had NO idea where it was! I checked out the apartment you stayed in too and it looked nice and reasonable. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. I know what you mean about having no idea where things are. It happens to me all the time. Sometimes I am not even sure what country the blogger/travel writer is referring to. It is so easy just to assume when you are writing that your reader will know exactly what and where you are talking about.

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  15. That looks like a fun biking adventure and just the right amount of distance to travel. I would love to try this when I visit someday, hopefully on my 2016 bucket list.

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    1. Just let me know if you are ever in Sydney. I love showing off my home city and giving people advice on all the things there are to do and see here.

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  16. Love rail trails and this looks like a beautiful one. Didn't know thwy had them in Australia.

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    1. You should plan a visit to Oz and David and I will show you some great ones.

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  17. Rail trails are such a good idea - ready made tracks through open countryside. And as you say, great for cyclists because trains don't like steep hills either!

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    1. I completely agree with you. In Australia and throughout the world there are so many disused and abandoned railways. It is great to see them converted to something which people can enjoy and which attracts tourists to local communities. Sadly, not everyone agrees with us. This post has sparked a critical debate on twitter with supporters and opponents of rail trails lining up to put their arguments to each other.

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  18. Lyn, All your bike trails sound like wonderful rides!

    Thanks for linking up with #wkendtravelinspiration!

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    1. We have ridden many places in Australia, New Zealand and the US. One day I would love to return to Europe and write up some of the wonderful trails there.

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  19. The Fernleigh Track looks great, and I've bookmarked it for our next visit to NSW. Thanks for the comprehensive outline ... Of course we have the most amazing network of bike trails in Perth ;)

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    1. One of my all-time favourite cycles is from Perth to Fremantle.

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  20. I love bicycling on trails that are converted from rail lines. How lovely that the tunnel has lights. Several tunnels I've been through in the US are not lighted so a good headlight on your bike, a headlamp or flashlight are essential.

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    1. The New Zealand tunnels don't have lights either. We once went through one so long and dark, I lost David - http://www.thetravellinglindfields.com/2015/02/the-hauraki-rail-trail-part-1-cycling.html

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  21. i've always wanted to do a cycling vacation - and preferably somewhere scenic but flat!

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    1. You don't have to cycle for days on end. Start small, hire a bike and cycle somewhere close to home to start with. I do agree with you about flat. That is why rail trails are so great.

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