Saturday, 1 February 2020

The Great Southern Rail Trail

GSRT
Gippsland, running from the New South Wales border to Phillip Island in Victoria, is one of those rare regions, in Australia, where the grass is green, the rivers full and the countryside bucolic. All this verdant beauty comes at a price though, and that price is rain - lots and lots of rain. David and I are fair weather cyclists. We came to South Gippsland for four nights to cycle the Great Southern Rail Trail and what we got was one perfect day, one okay day and two days of wet, windy weather. Instead of the whole trail, we cycled from Koonwarra to Meeniyan and from Meeniyan to Fish Creek, a total of 26.5 kms (53 kms if you count the return journeys), a little more than a third of the trail, but it was a magical third. We both agree The Great Southern Rail Trail is the best rail trail we have cycled in Australia, and we have cycled a lot them (go to my Bike Paths & Rail Trails tab and chose a destination to read about the others). The scenery is lovely, the towns are idyllic and the wildlife, especially the koala we saw right next to the trail, is magical. GSRT - we are coming back!


The Great Southern Rail Trail


Location - South Gippsland, Victoria between Leongatha and Port Welshpool
Distance - 72 km
Surface - Unsealed
Difficulty - Easy to moderate
Suitable for - Mountain bikes, touring bikes, e-bikes
Website - Great Southern Rail Trail
FacebookGreat Southern Rail Trail

Meeniyan to Fish Creek 


At 18.3 kms (36.6 kms return) Meeniyan to Fish Creek is perfect for an out and back day cycle. We began the day at Meeniyan, following Rule 5 of our Six Essential Rules of Holiday Cycling which mandates riding uphill on the way out and downhill on the way home. If you never follow any of our other rules at least follow this one. Cycling uphill on the way home when you are tired and have gone too far because you cycled downhill on the way out can utterly destroy an otherwise enjoyable ride.

The uphill gradient is so negligible for the first 12 kms we hardly knew we were gaining height, but on the way home we noticed how easy the ride was. Then from just past Buffalo we had an easy climb for 3 kms up to Boys Road followed by another 3 kms of downhill into the town of Fish Creek.

Great Southern Rail Trail
Bucolic views from The Great Southern Rail Trail near Fish Creek

Meeniyan


Meeniyan began life in the 1890s as a station on the South Gippsland railway line. Despite starting both our rides at Meeniyan and staying less than half an hour's drive away, we never got to explore the craft shops, art galleries and cafes in the main street. On the afternoon we set aside to go wandering the heavens opened - not only are we fair-weather cyclists but we are fair-weather window shoppers as well. Suffice it to say Meeniyan looked like it would happily repay an hour or so spent exploring its treasures. This is on our list for a return visit.


Meeniyan GSRT
The community gardens at Meeniyan and Koonwarra were a highlight.


Buffalo


11 kms from Meeniyan we arrived at Buffalo. Our plan was to grab a coffee and cake for morning tea. Sadly the rather grandly named Buffalo Emporium looked like it had recently, and permanently, closed down. We sat outside the emporium, enjoying the silence and our pre-packed lunch instead. Rule 6 of our Six Essential Rules of Holiday Cycling is always take your own lunch - anything else courts disaster on a long cycle

After lunch we stopped at some picnic tables to photograph what is left of the old railway station platform and got talking to a couple of cyclists who had started from Fish Creek. They were riding e-bikes, something we have seen more and more of in recent years. Australia is brimming with them now and Europe has been positively overtaken by them. I once wrote a post Have Electric Bikes Ruined Cycling in Europe complaining bitterly about the perils of riding a manual (analog/ordinary/whatever?) bicycle on paths swarming with septuagenarians determined to relive their distant youth by riding way aside their (and my) comfort zones.

Even as short a time ago as 2019 I regarded e-bikes as cheating. In our early 60s we have so far avoided their lure in the interests of getting as much exercise as we can whenever we pull on our bike gear. Not now though - in 2020 David and I are the proud owners of two brand new Giant Explorer e-bikes, and I can tell you they are loads of fun. I could lie and say that a mild heart condition and injuries from a recent serious car accident have made an e-bike a necessity for me but the truth is I just want to be able to go a lot further on rail trails for the same amount of effort. David's excuse is that once we bought an e-bike for me he couldn't keep up - which I have to admit was kind of fun!


Buffalo Victoria
The grandly named 'Buffalo Emporium'.


Fish Creek


A couple of kilometres out of Fish Creek the trail begins to rise - nothing dramatic but I felt the extra effort. The scenery is gorgeous - green rolling hills dotted with cows and old farm buildings. Then with two kilometres to go we reached the top and coasted down into Fish Creek. An idyllic little town with a welcoming community garden and 'fish' theme throughout, Fish Creek also began life in the 1890s as a railway station on the South Gippsland railway line. Today there are a myriad  of art and craft shops, perfect for wandering around while we gathered our strength for the return cycle. We finally got our morning tea, now afternoon tea, at the Fish Creek general store.


Fish Creek Community Garden
Fish Creek Community Garden

Koalas


The Great Southern Rail Trail goes through koala country. Since koalas sleep 20 hours a day, often in branches at the top of very tall gum trees they are notoriously difficult to spot, especially if you are on a bicycle and really should be watching the trail ahead not lost in scanning the tree tops.  Maybe we got lucky, who knows, but on our ride back to Meeniyan there was a koala on the trail directly in front of us. He scampered up the nearest tree, right next to the trail, and stopped in the fork of some branches just above the height of our heads - and he stayed there looking down at us as though we were as fascinating to him as he was to us. It was magical.

Koala on Great Southern Rail Trail
The koala we met along the trail.

Parking


There are places to park your car at Meeniyan, Stony Creek (3kms from Meeniyan), Buffalo (10 kms from Meeniyan) and Fish Creek.

Facilities


Meeniyan and Fish Creek are both cute little country towns. . Meeniyan and Fish Creek have cafes and other shops. Buffalo once had a cafe but it looked like it was permanently closed. All three places have toilets.


Meeniyan to Koonwarra


At only 8.2 km (16.4 km return) this was a short ride even for us. The weather was threatening from the outset and despite valiant efforts by the sun to break through, any ideas we had of continuing on for the extra 7.8 kms to Leongatha were destroyed by the threatening skies as we arrived at Koonwarra. A quick lunch and coffee and we headed back to Meeniyan just ahead of a storm. We made it back to the car minutes before the heavens opened.

This section of the trail is beautifully scenic with the chance to look for birds in the overhead tree canopy at the Koonwarra end. We spotted several yellow-tailed black cockatoos. They seemed to be watching us as much as we were watching them. There are four trestle bridges crossing the Tarwin River and Black Spur Creek. I always enjoy coming across rail trail bridges and these were no exception.

GSRT trestle bridge
David at one of the trestle bridge crossings.

Meeniyan


See the section on Meeniyan to Fish Creek for a description of Meeniyan.

Koonwarra


Another town which grew up in the 1890s as a railway station on the South Gippsland line, Koonwarra is an idyllic village untroubled by traffic from the nearby South Gippsland Highway.  Although the weather limited our time there it is well worth setting aside half an hour or so to explore.


Koonwarra cafe
The Koonwarra cafe where we had coffee before the return cycle to Meeniyan.

Parking


There is car parking at Koonwarra and Meeniyan as well as the Tarwin River crossing closest to Meeniyan.


Facilities


Both Koonwarra and Meeniyan have cafes and toilets.


The rest of the Great Southern Rail Trail


Have you cycled other bits of the trail? If you have I would love to hear from you. David and I are already planning a return trip and when we do I hope to fill in the blanks and write about the rest of the trail. In the meantime here is a quick overview of what to expect.

Leongatha to Koonwarra - An easy 7.8 kms.

Koonwarra to Meeniyan - 8.2 kms. See my description above.

Meeniyan to Fish Creek - 18.3 kms. See my description above.

Fish Creek to Foster - 12.4 kms. This section is more challenging with a 125 m climb over 5 kms. The high point is halfway between Fish Creek and Foster.

Foster to Toora - 10.2 kms. Start from Toora for a steading slight climb from about the 5 km mark into Foster and then an easy downhill gradient on the way back.

Toora to Welshpool - 10.2 kms of mostly flat cycling.

Welshpool to Port Welshpool - 5 km of very easy cycling through Welshpool to the coast.


Accommodation 


Visit Prom Country has an extensive list of accommodation in a variety of styles. We rented a cottage at Citrus Grove. I can highly recommend it. It was clean and modern with lovely views. Its only drawback is that it is not directly on the trail. 10 minutes by car north-west of Leongatha, it worked well for us but wouldn't be suitable if you don't have a car.

Bushfires


At the time of writing this on 1 February 2020, according to the Visit Prom Country website South Gippsland is not affected by the bushfires in the east of Victoria.


Read my other posts on Victoria here.

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14 comments:

  1. I'm happy to see you back on your cycling adventures. E-bikes sound like a great idea, especially to extend your range. The trail sounds lovely and I too would not enjoy the rain.

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    1. The e-bikes are terrific fun. I can't wait to try them on a long ride.

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  2. We have a rails and trails system in our community, so I enjoy hearing about other offerings around the world. It looks like there is so much to do along this lengthy system!

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    1. Old railway lines are being developed into rail trails all around the world. We have cycled them in New Zealand, Canada and the USA as well as Australia.

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  3. I’ve became a ebike rider in the last year have not look back to one for a test ride In Queenstown back in 2018 and I was convinced.
    But I do have a dicky heart and lung problems well that my excuse.
    Thanks for the helpful information.

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    1. E-bikes are tremendous fun. I can't wait to do some longer trails with mine. I love the idea of going further for the same amount of effort.

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  4. Wow. That looks fun. I've not heard of this either (the old railway lines) but I know they're doing that in Singapore too.

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    1. It is happening all over the world. David and I have cycled on countless rail trails in New Zealand and the USA as well as Australia. In Europe they have old canal towpaths which serve much the same purpose. We have plans to cycle a towpath in France later this year.

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  5. Sadly, we don't ride our bikes as often as we used to. Reading this sure gives us some added inspiration though! Would love to have some trails as nice and enticing near our home. While we are getting more trails in residential areas, road riding is required to get most anywhere still. :( Thanks again for sharing!

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    1. We avoid riding on roads whenever we can. Often that means loading the bikes onto the car first and driving to a trail.

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  6. I’ve ridden the trail from Meeniyan to Port Welshpool and love it all. For the very much more adventurous do the Hoddle Mountain trail out of Fish creek, the views are simply breath taking but it’s not for the light hearted.
    I ride a Giant Roam hybrid predominantly on these trails but for the Hoddle Mountain trail I’d use my mountain bike if I did it again.
    As for the ebikes I ride a Giant Explorer ebike to commute 50kms a day through the week. I can’t recommend this bike any more for this purpose.

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    1. David and I just bought two Giant Explorer ebikes. I loved mine on a short ride. I bought the Explorer rather than the ladies version because it is easier to carry on the car. We can't wait to test them out on a long rail trail. Sadly we were in a bad car accident in mid-December so it might be a while. I was hurt quite badly but I am on the mend.

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  7. Thank you for this wonderful summary of this section of the Great Southern Rail Trail. We live in South Gippsland and recently stayed over night in Toora and rode the trail to Foster, Fish Creek and return. We felt this was the best part of our Rail Trail but that goes to show you that every section is interesting and has fabulous views and is well worth the ride.
    The trail is being extended from Leongatha to Korumburra and hopefully back to our Shire boarder near Nyora and beyond over the next couple of years. This will make it even more worthwhile for a weeks cycling holiday or day visits for different sections.

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    1. It is great to hear from a fellow cyclist. Yours are the sorts of comments which keep me writing. I couldn't agree more about what a great trail it is. David and I have plans to go back there later this year. We have bought ebikes so I'm hoping we can get all the bits of the trail we missed the first time under our belts.

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