The joy of hitting a new trail

Bendigo Weekly | Bendigo Weekly | 11-May-2012

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Long-distance bliss: The Goulburn River High Country Rail Trail. Photo: HELEN CRONIN
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By Helen Cronin
Nothing gets a rail trail fan as excited as a new trail to explore, and the longest trail in Victoria is now complete.
The Goulburn River High Country Rail Trail (www.victorianrailtrails.com.au) runs an enticing 134km from Tallarook to Alexandra and Mansfield.
It was only finished in March, but when the Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail travelled over to spend a weekend exploring it, they found plenty of other groups doing the same.
We based ourselves at the Yea caravan park and set off on Saturday morning in fog so thick it was dripping off the trees.
Our group split into three for the day. Two, convinced things always look different going the other way clocked up 80km for the day on an out and back between Yea and Tallarook.
Three drove down to Tallarook to ride the 40km back to Yea and three rode the other way and drove the cars back.
If you can’t do car shuffles, an enterprising local has already set up Rail Trail Bike Tours – www.railtrailbiketours.com.au –  and will shift you and your bike or your luggage along the trail.
The fog burned off quickly and revealed some beautiful countryside – mountains, the Goulburn River snaking its way through the valley, forests, cattle showing a puzzling tendency to stand around in cold water and some fantastic high level crossings of other waterways.
It took a long time to ride each way with frequent stops to take photos and explore bridges with original pylons and new decks.
While there’s not much in Tallarook (yet) there are two trail-side cafes along the way at which we tested scones, muffins, tea and fruitcake.
At one cafe our bikes joined a line-up of six fully loaded touring bikes. The proprietor told us they had already had to make paddock space available for equine visitors and bike racks weren’t far away to cater for all the two-wheeled visitors.
As well as our cafe company, we passed a touring family group, another touring group of five whose captain we knew, and any number of day trippers like ourselves.
Sunday was a gloomy day following rain overnight, but undaunted by rainclouds we headed off to Alexandra.
From Yea it’s a steady climb up to the famous Cheviot Tunnel. While you can see the light at the other end, it’s well worth taking lights to check out the inside of the tunnel.
From the tunnel the downhill run to the river flats is as welcome as it must have been for the stoker in the days the steam trains ran.
Another fabulous bridge takes you over the Goulburn River near Molesworth. Then the next long climb takes you to the hills overlooking Alexandra and a picnic shelter with the most spectacular view you’ll find anywhere.
Here the trail parts company with the highway and curves gradually down to arrive in the valley at the Alexandra tramway museum.
A short ride into town presents you with a choice of cafes. The one we stopped at was quite happy to produce a delicious toasted ham, cheese and tomato sandwich that wasn’t on the menu.
The biggest disappointment of the weekend was that we didn’t have another day to explore the branch to Mansfield. We’ll have to go back.

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