Victoria has some beautiful and varied rail trails to explore. With a couple of days free I decided an overnight adventure along The Great Southern Rail Trail (GSRT) was in order.
The GSRT begins in the town of Leongatha an easy 90 minute drive from Melbourne on the M1 and South Gippsland Highways.
Regrettably there is no reliable way to get yourself and bicycle to the trail head using public transport. You could try your luck taking the Bairnsdale train from Southern Cross Station, get off at Warragul and then ride the 56 kms to Leongatha on back country roads. You’d need to keep an eye out for farm machinery and logging trucks.
Hitching up my lightly packed rear panniers, I rolled off on a hard compacted gravel surface towards Port Welshpool some 75 kms away in warm murky, overcast, autumn conditions.
I was very quickly surrounded by lowland forest country of Messmate, Manna and Peppermint eucalyptus trees that gave off a delightful aroma. The understory of wattles, grasses and native scrub was alive with small birds; mostly honeyeaters, finches and fairy wrens. I watched a Grey Strike thrush hunting the edge of the trail take a skink lizard for lunch!
The trail is well signposted with information boards strategically placed along the way. There are covered shelters and pit toilets at regular intervals just off the trail. Passing through the inviting tourist towns of Meenyian, Fish Creek, and Foster. I stopped for a nice cup of tea and browsed the local shops. The country folks are friendly, engaging and used to seeing cyclists come off the trail.
While there are no major road crossings, the trail does intersect many local farm roads where I had to push through spring loaded gates. I was mindful of dairy cows as they ambled unaided off to the dairy.
I’ve cycled this trail before in summer and flies were a big problem, especially passing through the small township of Toora. I recommend you carry a fly net, although they weren’t too bad this time around.
Wildlife abounds: Kangaroos, Koalas Kookaburras, birds large and small and lizards. The gradient is as you might expect from an old rail line, gentle, gradual climbing and descending, making for easy cycling with bucolic country scenes and views across the inlet to Wilson’s Promontory National Park, known to generations of nature loving families simply as The Prom.
After the open farmland around Toora, I cycled into Welshpool exchanging pleasantries with locals who were out walking the trail. For the last 5 kilometres into Port Welshpool, I dropped down into a musty, swampy, marshland of tea tree, banksia, grass trees and wattles.
Port Welshpool is your typical sleepy fishing village. It’s so sleepy in fact it’s almost comatose, With only two shops the pub and a cafe.
I cycle the path through town past empty holiday homes along the foreshore past knots of fishermen waiting on the tide. I turned right at the long jetty to set up camp for the night in the Caravan Park.
After a good feed and pleasant banter in the pub, I slept comfortably in my tiny coffin-like MSR Hubba tent. The next morning I woke to a clear cold autumn day. After a boiling pot of tea and toast at the cafe, I cycled the trail back to Leongatha riding into an increasingly warm and sunny day. I photograph birds and chat to friendly trail users.
While I did the trail out and back in 2 days, there are great opportunities to extend this trail into a week or more.
Tidal River in Wilson’s Promontory National Park is a beautiful 72 kms ride from Meeniyan and well worth a detour. Visit parkweb.vic.gov.au especially if you’re an overseas visitor who wants to get up close and personal with Australia’s wildlife.
For those wanting to appreciate the extensive Aboriginal history of Gippsland you can contact www.gunaikurnai.org
Overall this is a fun trail to cycle and a good one to do with friends.