With the O’Keefe Rail Trail plus its connected gravel roads ‘open all hours for business’, there was anticipation amongst Mitchell Bicycle Users Group members and Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail members for a jointly planned social Sunday ride based at Heathcote.
The ride group first checked out the O’Keefe Rail Trail’s Heathcote trail head with its heritage railway gates, then the group rode along the existing rail trail to Pink Cliffs Rd. For the next part of the planned route, the riders continued along a section of the former original railway alignment that is being proposed for part of the Wallan to Heathcote Rail Trail, before turning into Dairy Flat Road.
With a light tail-wind, the ride along Dairy Flat Rd was very scenic with the gravel surfaces being in good condition. Having very little vehicle traffic, and only a couple of challenging hills, this half of the ride on country gravel roads to Tooborac was a delightful experience.
The next stop was for lunch, planned at the Tooborac Hotel and Brewery. This quaint country pub is a unique attraction for many reasons, with its 19th century gold rush era history, a boutique brewery in the old bluestone stables, and an outlet for a range of locally made pies, this all combined for a lunchtime experience to be remembered.
The afternoon saw the riders head out of Tooborac to enjoy some more quite gravel rural roads, such as Majors Line Road where one might imagine the steam loco ‘Major’ and railway wagons using this road’s exact alignment to once haul cut timber from this extensive forested area.
With the riders arriving back in Heathcote, it was time for a coffee and some reflections about the fantastic country experience all had enjoyed. As one cyclist said “Put simply, great weather, scenic countryside, a tasty pub lunch, and good quite rural roads shared with some terrific friends!”
Have you been watching series 1 of Trail Towns on SBS TV? If so, you may know that Episode 5 is highlighting Bendigo, Goldfields and Macedon Ranges and this can be seen on SBS TV Saturday 17 July 4pm. The popular O’Keefe Rail Trail will be right there in the mix, as is this trail’s connection with Heathcote, Axedale and Bendigo attractions. Its a week of highlighting the incredible riding opportunities in the greater Goldfields region and Macedon Ranges, plus also Trail Town’s Deets and Vandy bringing to the table the region’s food, wine and many other attractions!
A lack of identity and wayfinding signage for the O’Keefe Rail Trail, since the trail’s last 30km extension was completed in 2015, has seen this situation improved in July 2021. This change is due to actions of a community project, driven by the Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail group’s planning and their application to Fosterville Gold Mine’s 2020-21 Community Grant program.
This project grant application was successful in being awarded $5,000, enabling the manufacture and signwriting of 29 new ‘Whistle Post’ signs for installation along the rail trail between Axedale and Heathcote.
The design of these signs relates back to the original railway and steam locomotives, where similar ‘whistle posts’ were located along the railway to alert the locomotive driver of an approaching road crossing. This visual alert then required the train driver to sound the loco’s whistle, as a warning of an approaching train to road users.
Manufactured and finished with modern 21st century materials, these signs indicate the identity of the rail trail and also the formal name of the road crossed by the trail at that location. Such location information may assist trail users in knowing the name of a nearby road, should there be a requirement for emergency first responders to attend.
With the community Friends’ group contributing its own funds plus members’ volunteer time and resources towards the project, together with the Fosterville Gold Mine company’s grant, such has enabled the project’s completion without incurring any expenditure by the trail’s manager, the City of Greater Bendigo council.
It is these signs that will now further assist in promoting this trail as a quality popular tourist attraction, as well as an attractive local recreational facility. In addition, the exponential increase in this trail’s user traffic numbers since 2019 is a strong encouragement for business, community and councils to advance the progress for this trail’s further extension. Such an extension will directly link this trail with the proposed Wallan to Heathcote Rail Trail, creating an important identified network of connected trails within this region of Victoria.
The current Trail Towns TV program showcases the Victorian Goldfields on 17 July on SBS (4pm), highlighting a number of ‘Trail Towns’ from the quaint townships in the Macedon Ranges through to the regional city of Bendigo as well as Daylesford and Castlemaine. (Goldfields – https://bit.ly/3h5JMUG)
One of the features covered in this episode is the popular O’Keefe Rail Trail, exploring many of the trail’s features from country towns of Heathcote and Axedale to finishing in the City of Bendigo. From a history based upon gold, this region is now considered as a centre of gastronomy, as well as being a cultural hub with world class exhibitions regularly held at the Bendigo Art Gallery.
The Trail Towns team have produced a number of ‘Microadventure Vlogs’, day trips that check out trails and the towns for places to be featured in this program series. A ‘taster’ of what the Bendigo-Axedale-Heathcote and O’Keefe Rail Trail’s Goldfields episode might highlight can be seen here (https://bit.ly/3yCO5xJ)
Are you keen for the right weather to exercise, to do some walking or cycling since certain Victorian COVID19 restrictions have been eased? Keep an eye on the BOM’s weather predictions, and then immediately plan for an escape to experience what the O’Keefe Rail Trail has to offer.
While already a popular trail, there are recent upgraded trail sections to check out, a diversity of environments to be immersed in, the safety of being away from busy road traffic, plus of course the many opportunities to enjoy connecting with linked businesses. Be sure to experience the country charm of the Axedale Tavern or the Axedale General Store, and also in Heathcote there are many offerings from pubs, bakeries, cafes, wineries, and even a boutique brewery on High St. At the trail’s most western point, it’s the City of Bendigo for world class arts culture, restaurants, cosy lane cafes, a rich history based upon gold, off-road urban trails, and much more.
While some will enjoy a cruising ride or casual walk, other O’Keefe Rail Trail users are out there to better their previous PB, whether for bragging to mates or doing some serious training for that next event. Need a yard stick? Then check out those 2021 O’Keefe Challenge marathon and half marathon times, or match yourself with a few Strava segments to maybe achieve a QOM or KOM!!
Whatever your reason is to encourage friends or family to join you on the O’Keefe Rail Trail, it will be for the right reason as this trail will not disappoint, and most likely you’ll be back to do all or parts of it again.
Were you one of three Heathcote boys who rode to the station, after hearing the sound of a steam locomotive’s whistle on Wednesday 2 November 1966, as the loco prepared to leave the Heathcote Railway Station platform for the turntable? At the time, train enthusiast Ned Weiser was also at the railway yards capturing the moment, by taking a photo showing those three boys on bikes, loco K191 with its driver leaning out of the cab, and the weatherboard station building in the background.
K191 at Heathcote, 2 Nov 1966. Photo: Ned Weiser
It would be just 13 days later that USA’s astronauts Lovell and Aldrin would complete the last Gemini space mission!
Two years later, Nov 1968, the remaining section of the former cross country railway would be closed to traffic, followed later by all the Station and Goods buildings plus water tanks being demolished, rails lifted, turntable removed, and the elevated platform area ‘flatten’ to level ground. Nearly 47 years later, the O’Keefe Rail Trail would be extended past this very same area!
This rail trail’s installed 19th century replica station name board ‘Heathcote’ and interpretive board are all that identifies what once was an important transport hub for Heathcote’s community, yet the rail trail is now a popular attraction providing economic benefits for the town.
O’Keefe Rail Trail’s station name board and interpretive sign. Photo: Garry Long
The Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail would love to hear about stories or receive photos that relate to the former railway, perhaps recounting the passenger rail service’s Walker railmotor arriving or picking up at Heathcote, Argyle station, Tooborac station, and a number of other stations along the way to Heathcote Junction and Wallan. Or recalling stories heard being told by railway employees, who once lived in Heathcote. Information can be sent to email@example.com, FB, Messenger, or PO Box 578 Bendigo Vic 3552.
Some of the enjoyment of being a member of the Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail group is to experience various trails, with friends and family. Such was the case recently when members stayed in Warburton, a country town east of Melbourne, for some trail riding experiences.
With a number of trails to choose from, the first was the O’Shannessay Aquaduct Trail, a lesser known yet highly attractive trail. Unlike a rail trail that follows the route of a former railway, the O’Shannessay Aquaduct Trail follows a decommissioned aquaduct that once transported water for Melbourne’s population. Riding past tall Mountain Ash trees and large native Rough Tree Ferns, being on this trail is like escaping into a wilderness seemingly untouched by timber logging or intense agriculture. Cycling to the O’Shannessay Weir, the 49km return ride to Warburton included being dwarfed by the ‘giants’ while within the amazing Cement Creek Redwood Forest.
The next day’s trail ride was along the Lilydale to Warburton Rail Trail, a very popular trail easily accessible by train (Lilydale station) or car from the metropolitan Melbourne. With just a short ride from Warburton to a morning coffee stop at the Millgrove Bakery, the group then cycling through changing landscapes stopping at some former railway station’s points of interest, before arriving for lunch at the Carriage Café, Seville. This cafe didn’t disappoint, with meals being delivered by staff directly into the 1910 heritage carriage’s individual originally furnished compartments.
The last ride day saw the group ‘trail test’ the most recently opened rail trail in Victoria, the Yarra Valley Rail Trail’s ‘stage 1A’. Starting at the trail’s Yering carpark, riders enjoyed the trail’s smooth gravel surface and interpretive signs along its relatively short length, passing by Coldstream and then terminating in Lilydale. Following the important morning coffee break, it was a turnaround back to the Yering carpark to round off a 17km ride. Noting the trail’s next planned ‘stage1B’ extension to Yarra Glen expecting to be completed in early 2022, taking into account the many old timber pile and missing bridges, the riders already talked about returning to ride the ‘1A’ and ‘1B’ sections next year.
That’s often what rail trail experiences cause for the users…….positive experiences, and return visitations with friends that stimulate local economies!
A record 1,180 entries in central Victoria’s 2021 O’Keefe Challenge participated in the event’s Friday night ride, as well as the Sunday running and relay events. The event raised much needed funds for the Heathcote Dementia Alliance, as well as being a great physical test.
Runners set off on Sunday 2 May, in either the Mandalay Resources Marathon, the Fosterville Gold Mine Half Marathon, the Emu Downs Contracting 10km run or the Connallys Real Estate 5km Run / Walk against Dementia, all events held on sections of the picturesque O’Keefe Rail Trail between Bendigo and Heathcote.
Winner of the Men’s Marathon, Peter Reynolds, was running just his second ever marathon and finished in a time of 2 hours and 45 minutes. The Castlemaine resident won by over three minutes from Jarrod Mullavey. In the women’s marathon, Chelsea Warnes claimed victory by less than 2 minutes from Sally Prymer.
“Wow – what an event: we had awesome weather, a fantastic turn out, and after 2020 it was just so nice to have an ‘in-person’ event,” Kerstin Brauns, Chair, O’Keefe Rail Trail Marathon Inc. With the weather being picture perfect, athletes followed the spectacular O’Keefe Rail Trail from Bendigo to Heathcote, as the trail weaves its way through forests, natural bushlands, farms, and ‘through’ Lake Eppalock.
All proceeds from the event go back into the community, supporting the various community groups that man the aid stations along the route and the event’s charity partner, the Heathcote Dementia Alliance, supporting the fight against Dementia. This O’Keefe Challenge weekend could not have been planned and managed without the assistance of over 200 volunteers from 13 community organisations
With 54% of the record 1,180 entrants participating in all of the weekend’s events plus their support crews/families coming from outside of the local region, this provided an important economic boost for local accommodation, restaurants and cafe businesses from what is a truly community driven event based upon the popular O’Keefe Rail Trail.
Looking to experience what the O’Keefe Rail Trail has to offer this weekend, perhaps to escape the couch watching TV time? The good news is that this rail trail is open 24/7, so anytime is a great time…..especially if you have little time to plan ahead!
With planned upgrading works occurring for the oldest sections of the O’Keefe trail, the City of Greater Greater Bendigo’s contractor has been carrying out this reconstruction between Junortoun and Longlea. The most recent works being the section between Hodges Ln and the Axe Creek trail bridge.
Trail users are asked to take care while using this section, especially if there has been rain falling in this area previously, so you can enjoy the remainder of the trail. Perhaps you would like to know what is special on the Axedale Tavern’s menu, or perhaps thinking about a coffee and snack options in Heathcote like Gaffney’s Bakery and Pie Kitchen for that extra treat?
The O’Keefe Challenge came back in 2021 bigger than ever, with a record 1,180 entries across the night ride, running and relay events. Not only a great experience and a physical test for entrants, the events also raised much needed funds for the Heathcote Dementia Alliance.
On Friday 30 April, over 200 riders of all ages set off in the ‘Light the Trail’ event either from Bendigo, or from Axedale at sunset. These riders were focused on cycling the O’Keefe Rail Trail guided by their bike lights, with the challenge to fully enjoy the experience with friends plus finishing the event at Heathcote.
“The sight of the riders rolling out from Axedale with their decorated bikes and flashing costumes was fantastic and a lot of fun. Everyone had a wonderful time,” explained Ride Coordinator, David Little.
All riders received a finishers medal upon arrival at Palling Bros, and $100 gift vouchers for Giant Bendigo were awarded for ‘Best Illuminated Outfit’, ‘Best Lit Bike’ and an ‘Encouragement Award’ for those who have demonstrated the spirit of the O’Keefe Challenge. https://www.theokeefe.com.au