Saturday, 19 October 2019

The Best Rail Trails and Bike Paths in Australia

Sandy Creek Rail Bridge
Have you ever imagined yourself on a cycling holiday, but not sure you can keep up the pace day after day, and absolutely certain you don't want to dodge trucks and other traffic while rediscovering your childhood bicycle skills.  Have I got the solution for you!

Lots of old and disused railways which once ran through the countryside are steadily being re-purposed as 'rail trails'. With tracks removed, bridges repaired, or diverted around, and tunnels made safe they make perfect corridors for walkers, cyclists and horse riders. Since trains never handled anything other than gentle gradients they are generally flat and easy to cycle. Their routes are dotted with small towns whose populations are welcoming and, as rail trailers arrive so do small businesses like trail side cafes, boutique accommodation, and bicycle support services giving country Australia a tourism boost.

David and I are in our early 60's. About the time we hit 50 we dusted off a couple of old bikes quietly turning to rust in the back of the garage and started to do something about our ageing levels of fitness. We began with one of the world's easiest cycle paths - Ryde Bridge to Parramatta Park in Sydney.  Actually the Parramatta Park bit came later.  I look back now and can't believe how glad I was to get back to the car after half an hour's flat cycling on a smooth, sealed path - but soon enough we made it all the way to Parramatta. One of the best things about cycling is how quickly you become cycle-fit.

Over the ensuing years we have cycled rail trails and bike paths all over the world. The old rusting relics have been replaced a couple of times with shiny newer versions. We have had a few catastrophic equipment failures - mostly to do with brain fades and simple stupidity on our part. A word of advice here - flying your bikes is NEVER a good idea (see my posts on Queenstown and the flying bicycles and How to turn a bicycle into a pretzel!). And another word of advice - always check your wheel nuts are secure before driving long distances with your bikes on the car (see my post on How to wreck a bike!). I could go on like this forever so I will just leave it with The Six Essential Rules of Holiday Cycling.

Disasters notwithstanding we have become familiar with many of Australia's best rail trails and cycle paths, often returning to the same ones year after year. Whether you are right at the beginning of your cycling journey or a seasoned old hand here's my take on the best bike paths and rail trails Australia has to offer. Feel free to let me know in the comments if I have left out your favourite ride.


Great Victorian Rail Trail
The Great Victorian Rail Trail at Tallarook

The Best Rail Trails and Bike Paths in Australia


Victoria


The Murray to Mountains Rail Trail 


Location - North-east Victoria from Bright to Wangaratta with a spur line from Everton Station to Beechworth.
Distance - 116 km
Surface - Sealed and separate from the road for the whole distance.
Best bit - Bright to Porepunkah
Difficulty - Easy
Website - here

Cycle the Bright to Porepunkah section of the trail in spring and you'll never want to cycle anywhere else. If you are just starting out as a rail trail cyclist this trail will have you addicted in no time. Time your visit for the Bright Spring Festival and leave plenty of time to 'stop and smell the flowers' - literally.  The sealed surface and level topography makes for easy cycling. The only significant uphill section is the spur line from Everton to Beechworth which is a steady climb the whole way. The town of Beechworth with its Ned Kelly connections, and its pubs, cafes and shops more than repays the effort.

In recent years two extensions have been added to the trail. The 5.5 km path from Bright to Wandiligong along the Bennetts Trail is especially worth doing. Wandiligong seethes with early Australian gold mining history. For more information read Cycling the Bennetts Trail: Bright to Wandiligong. The other extensions run for 5 km each from Bright to Germantown and Harrietville to Stony Creek.

For photos, information and a section by section break down of the trail read - The Murray to Mountains Rail Trail - Australia's Premier Rail Trail

Murray to Mountains Rail Trail
The Murray to Mountains Rail Trail at Eurobin Station


The Great Victorian Rail Trail


Location - North-east Victoria from Tallarook to Mansfield with a spur line to Alexandra.
Distance - 134 km
Surface -  Compacted sand and fine gravel.
Best bit - Tallarook to Kerrisdale
Difficulty - Easy to moderate with a few steady climbs.
Website - here

The Great Victorian Rail Trail was once Australia's longest trail. It has now been overtaken by the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail but at 134 km it is still a respectable length for anyone wanting a multi-day ride. Not quite as pretty as the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail the Great Victorian Rail Trail is an another great trail for someone starting out on long distance cycling.

The 20 km section from Tallarook to Kerrisdale follows the Goulburn River through scenery classified by the National Trust. If you only cycle one bit of the trail make it this bit.

Like most other rail trails in Australia there are plenty of access points with parking allowing you to break the trail into shorter day rides.

For photos, information and a section by section break down of the trail read - The Great Victorian Rail Trail.

Great Victorian Rail Trail
Great Victorian Rail Trail


The High Country Rail Trail


Location - Wodonga to Old Tallangatta and Darbyshire to Shelley
Distance - 64 kms
Surface - Mostly compacted fine gravel.
Difficulty - Easy to moderate. The Darbyshire to Shelley section is not contiguous with the rest of the trail and I am told is more challenging.We have never cycled that bit.
Website - here

The High Country Rail Trail is a favourite of ours. We have returned to it again and again. The words 'high country' in its title make the trail sound like it specialises in steep hills and precipitous drops, but while it does undulate a bit, the gradient is never much more than gentle to moderate. The trail follows the shore of Lake Hume, a man-made lake created as part of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme. The relocated town of Tallangatta and what is left of Old Tallangatta are trail highlights. 

For photos, information and a section by section break down of the trail read  - Cycling in Victoria: The High Country Rail Trail

High Country Rail Trail
Sandy Creek Bridge

The Historic Huts Trails


Location - The Victorian Alps near Falls Creek
Distance - About 40 kms return - you can make it shorter or longer.
Surface - Dirt and grass. This is a mountain bike trail unsuited to road bikes.
Best Bit - Finding any of the historic cattlemen's huts.
Difficulty - Moderately difficult.
Website - here

The Historic Huts Trails are a collection of alpine trails in the high country above Falls Creek. They give cyclists and walkers a chance to see many of the old cattlemen's huts scattered throughout the region. The cycling equivalent of back-country bushwalks, they are not for the faint-hearted. Some are well-signposted, others are not. It is worth investing in a detailed topographical map.

Although neither rail trails nor strictly bike paths, I have included the trails because the scenery is stunning, and coupled with the excitement of coming across each hut, they represent some of the best cycling Australia has to offer.

For more information and photos see  - Falls Creek Cycling - The Historic Huts Trails

Fitzgerald Hut
Fitzgerald's Hut


Queensland


The Brisbane Valley Rail Trail 


Location - Wulkaraka (Ipswich) to Yarraman, south-east Queensland
Distance - 161 kms
Surface - Dirt, grass and compacted gravel with some sealed sections.
Best Bit - Coming upon all the time-forgotten towns along the way, especially Linville.
Difficulty - The level of difficulty varies from easy to challenging.
Website - here

With the completion of the Toogoolawah to Moore section the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail became Australia's longest rail trail. It is also, in parts at least, one of the most challenging. Unlike other rail trails there are some tough gradients and even tougher gullies, but if you are looking for that sense of achievement (and utter exhaustion) which comes with completing a multi-day cycle then the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail is for you.

Not all sections are equally demanding. Some are perfect for leisurely day cycles - just arm yourself with a bit of trail information before you set out and be prepared to get off your bike and walk the more advanced gullies.

For photos, information and a section by section break down of the trail read  - The Brisbane Valley Rail Trail - How adventurous are you!

Nukku Station


South Australia


The Riesling and Rattler Trail


Location - Clare to Riverton in The Clare Valley
Distance - 54 km
Surface - Fine gravel
Best Bit - Dropping in at one of the many wonderful vineyards for lunch.
Difficulty - Easy
Website - here

It has been a few years since we cycled this trail. Back then it was two separate trails, The Riesling Trail and The Rattler Trail. The Rattler Trail was no doubt named because of its origins as a railway however the word 'rattler' perfectly described the rough and ready state of the track. You could almost believe the rails hadn't been removed, just made invisible somehow but still there adding to every bump. Things have changed. The 'Rattler' part of the trail has been upgraded and incorporated into the 'Riesling' part making one seamless, enjoyable and picturesque ride.

For a few more photos, information and a chance to laugh at one of my earliest blog posts read - Cycling The Riesling Trail in The Clare Valley

Riesling Trail
The Riesling Trail


The Barossa Trail


Location - Angaston to Nurioopta in The Barossa Valley
Distance - 10 km
Surface - Sealed
Best Bit - The avenue of stunning red roses beside the trail at Nurioopta in the direction of Tanunda.
Difficulty - Easy
Website - here

The Barossa trail may only be 10 kms long but at the right time of year it is worth cycling just to see the roses. Go in spring and when you reach the Barossa Valley Highway head toward Tanunda and  you will find yourself riding next to hundreds of metres of vibrant red roses.


For a few more photos, information and another chance to laugh at one of my earliest blog posts read - Cycling The Barossa Trail

Barossa Trail
The Barossa Trail


The Australian Capital Territory


Lake Burley Griffin Circuit


Location - The shore of Lake Burley Griffin, Canberra
Distance - 32km or three separate rides of 5km, 11km and 16km
Surface - Sealed
Best Bit - The Bridge to Bridge loop from Kings Avenue Bridge to Commonwealth Avenue Bridge.
Difficulty - Easy
Website - here


Without any history of train travel it might be tricky for the Australian Capital Territory to build rail trails. It remains to be seen whether the new light rail tracks between Gungahlin and the city centre will one day become a rail trail! However the ACT government has done the next best thing and built a network of urban cycle paths without rival in any other Australian city and the jewel in the ACT cycle path crown is undoubtedly the circuit around Lake Burley Griffin. The route is sealed, flat and easy to cycle with scenery varying from some of Canberra's best known monuments to the wild kangaroos of Weston Park and the chance to spot a platypus in the Jerrabomberra Wetlands. Do the whole trail if you have time or pick one of the three loops which together make up the whole.

For photos, information and a section by section break down of the path read  - Cycling in Canberra: Lake Burley Griffin Circuit

Lake Burley Griffin ACT
The National Library Canberra



New South Wales


The Fernleigh Track


Location - Adamstown to Belmont, near Newcastle
Distance - 16 km
Surface - Sealed
Best bit - Hearing the bell-birds.
Difficulty - Easy. The track climbs steadily from both ends to Whitebridge about a third of the way along from Adamstown.
Website - here

New South Wales has a long way to go to catch up to the other states when it comes to rail trails. There are a number of proposed rail trails such as the Northern Rivers Rail Trail from Casino to Murwillumbah in northern NSW and the Riverina Highlands Rail Trail from Tumbarumba to Rosewood but so far the only trail of any significant length is the Fernleigh Track near Newcastle.

The Fernleigh Track is sealed for its entire distance, well-maintained, well-signposted and beautifully picturesque - in short it has everything you might want in a cycle path.

For photos and information see my blog post on - The Fernleigh Track Rail Trail

Fernleigh Track
Fernleigh Track


Have I left out your favourite cycle path? If I have let me know in the comments and I will add it to the list.


Useful websites:


Rail Trails Australia has a comprehensive guide to rail trails, broken down on a state by state basis, at railtrails.org.au

For first hand accounts of cycling many of Australia's best rail trails and cycle paths follow the links from my Bike Paths & Rail Trails tabular heading or visit the Uncool Cycling Club 



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Best Rail Trails & Bike Paths in Australia


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8 comments:

  1. These trails look absolutely amazing! I wish I'd known about them when visiting Autralia. As a Dutchie, I like nothing better than to explore places by bike!
    #WeekendWanderlust

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    1. Now you will just have to make a return visit to Australia - lol! Our first long cycle was in Holland. I can still remember how exhausted I was at the end of each day - even in a country without hills.

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  2. These trails look so well maintained with really nice signage...definitely a great way to explore a new destination by hitting the trails. Looks like a lot of fun to me.

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  3. Biking in Australia sounds like the perfect way to see the country and wildlife. If I hadn't broken my arm just before my trip a few years ago, I definitely would have done this! My huband loves to bike so I'll be sharing this with him.

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    1. I hope you husband enjoys the post - and gets the chance to cycle some of the trails.

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  4. Quite inspiring. I would have loved to do this trail as a cyclist!

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