Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Four short bike tours in Victoria, Australia using VLine trains for transport.

I've posted about how I plan short trips in my home region. I'm fortunate that Vline  allows bikes on trains, so I can get to the start easily and return the same way. Unfortunately this is not the case in any other states in Australia. Having said that you have to be careful in picking which services to take. You can't book ahead. One very important page you should check is the "service changes" page: when they work on the tracks (mostly in winter, but not always) they substitute buses for trains, and the buses won't take your bicycle.

Most of these rides are based around rail trails - Victoria has lots of them.

I have mapped each of these tours, so you can see how it plays out in detail, right down to the lunch stop and the camping location. Some of you may be able to travel up to double the pace, but you get the idea.

Great Victorian Rail Trail

Track My Tour track The Google Map display allows you to see the path I took, at least roughly. I tend to put points only at lunch stop and at the end of each day, so it is a bit disjointed. 

This is "the longest continuous rail trail in Australia". It also is quite accessible by train at the Western end, finishing close to Seymour. Trains to Seymour run quite frequently, so this is very convenient. I wanted to ride almost all of the trail from one end to the other. So I chose to start riding from Benalla. 
The B330 is quite busy, and as you get further south it does not have a shoulder. It's not a comfortable ride. In retrospect, if I was going to do this ride again I would start and finish in Seymour.

At the end of the first day, I just camped at the side of the rail trail. The "rules" on free camping in Victoria are a bit vague, but I work on the principle of camping somewhere where I'm not visible, so I don't need to ask permission. I can't see the harm if you work on not leaving any disturbance or rubbish.

Tunnel just before Yea. 

The trail itself is almost new, and the surface is pretty good most of the way with only the occasional sandy patch. All of the rail trails are rideable with 32mm or so tires, but I wouldn't try them with skinny tyres. Most riders are on mountain bikes. It seems that this trail was a result of a government grant, rather than from a community push. A lot of the trail is isolated, and it was missing the usual advertisements for local businesses. Maybe as it was almost new, this will develop over time. It is a great ride, and with a bit of promotion it could become a real tourist attraction. 

On the final day I rode all the way to Seymour. This was a mistake. I should have just camped at Yea: it's a beautiful town. 

Bendigo to Ballarat

Bendigo and Ballarat are quite large towns, so you might think that a bike ride in their vicinity would be a matter of riding beside lots of traffic, and not so pleasant. But this is a case where picking the right route makes all the difference. The Vline trains to both cities run almost one an hour most days, so getting to and from the start is not a problem. The new intercity trains have an area where you can rest a bike. Generally if you pick a not very busy time, with one or two bikes you will be ok. It's not possible to do ten or twenty though. You will have to discuss with them to make sure you get a train with a goods van. 

On the first day I camped at the Kooyora State Park. In Victoria State Parks are quite good to camp at. I camped at the official area, even though it was at the top of a large hill. It has a basic toilet, and I like the idea of using facilities when they are provided. There is no charge to camp here, although this may change in the near future. 

Amazingly enough, on the second day I rode almost the whole morning without being passed by a car. This is one of those locations where you are riding not far from two major highways: the M8 and the A79. Almost all traffic is concentrated there. On the second day I camped at the Kara Kara State Park. There is a small camping area there, but I had a lot of trouble finding it. In the end I set up my tent, looked across the lake only to see it no more than a few hundred metres from where I was. I couldn't be bothered to move, and it worked out ok. This is right next to a reservoir of water for the nearby town, and I used my water treatment thing to top up my own supplies. 

The next day came with a massive tailwind, so I made about 90km and stopped at a caravan park not far from Ballarat. 

South West and Port Fairy to Warrnambool rail trail

This ride starts and finishes with the new Port Fairy to Warnambool rail trail. I arrived on the morning train from Southern Cross and set out only a few hundred metres from the station. The trail meanders in the tidal zone, with lots of bird life, and town joggers out enjoying the facility. In this case you can really see that the local community is really into the rail trail, in lots of small ways. Just the care in maintaining the trail, and the signage. It really is a great place to ride. 

The first day was rain, with a headwind and I struggled to make headway. In the end I stopped in a roadside plantation hoping that it would ease up. The weather here mostly comes from the west, so it wasn't a surprise that the next day was another push into the headwind. Roads here were not so busy, but the surface was quite broken up. I was lying in my tent listening to the news, when they announced an upgrade for a road. "What a waste of money" I thought, then realised that it was the very road I was lying beside.

I wanted to make it to the camping place on the great south west walk. I've got ambitions of one day walking the full length of it. I had timed my trip to avoid the long weekend, having visions of the walk being crowded with walkers taking advantage of the break. I finally found the campsite, after a bit of navigation, and imagine my surprise when looking at the log book to see that not one walker had gone through in the holiday weekend! The only recent entry was from a fellow bicycle tourer the week before. 

Great Southwest Walk campsite

You can see here that I put the bike under cover, and the tent out in the rain. Not so smart. The following day was a wonderful ride along the dirt roads of the national park. No traffic, a cover of trees. Some of the best riding anywhere.

National Park riding

I made my way to Portland along the Portland-Nelson road. This is a road that I have wanted to ride for some time, but as is the nature of these things, it is a logging road and while the trucks were extra careful it was not so easy. Only a gentle pedal along to camp at the caravan park at Narrawong. I'd ridden past this park, and it didn't disappoint. A really calm, wonderful spot.

Around the Princes Highway, with a good shoulder, I continued on to Port Fairy and the beginning of the rail trail again. This time I camped beside the trail at one of the old stations, a nice flat spot that was quiet and restful. Then, on my last day, I encountered the locals who support the rail trail on their morning ride. They have every reason to be proud of their trail. 

I got the midday train back from Warrnambool.

Gippsland Plains Rail Trail


Another rail trail! This one recently completed also. This one has the jackpot though: you can get the train both to the start and the finish. The ultimate. 

In my case I went to Sale, and rode around to Stratford, but the best way would be to get the train to Stratford and start from there, or vice versa. This trail has the occasional navigational challenge when you are going through towns, it might need a bit more signage. In every case though I found the trail eventually.

Rail Trail near Stratford

It's a bit challenging coming into Traralgon, in that the trail ends well before the town. Hopefully in the future they will improve that stretch so that even the most car-shy rider can get to and from the trail. The surface in the new stretch is brilliant, it was only in the older stretches that it was a bit patchy. But the serenity is well worth the occasional sandy patch.


Amazingly enough, this is only a small sample of Victoria's tours that are accessible using Vline. It's also only a small sample of Victoria's rail trails. There are many more. 

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