Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail

Linking central Victoria via the old railway line

Trail Towns comes to The Goldfields

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)

Goldfields Episode filming at the Axedale Tavern. Photo: Trail Towns supplied

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)

Lets Go Hit the O’Keefe!

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.

Memories of Heathcote’s Railway

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 bendigokilmorerailtrail@gmail.com, FB, Messenger, or PO Box 578 Bendigo Vic 3552.

Friends Enjoy Trails

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.

Cycling the O’Shannessay Aquaduct Trail. Photo: G.Long

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.

Lilydale to Warburton Rail Trail’s Woori Yallock station display. Photo: G.Long

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.

Yarra Valley Rail Trail’s connection into Lilydale. Photo: G.Long

That’s often what rail trail experiences cause for the users…….positive experiences, and return visitations with friends that stimulate local economies!

Marathon Values Rail Trail

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.

Finisher medal 2021 Photo: A J Taylor Photography / Bendigo Photos

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

An Ekiden Relay Team, ‘Crosbie Crew’ (Melbourne). Photo: A J Taylor Photography / Bendigo Photos

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.  

Trail Upgrades to Enjoy

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.

Upgrade works near the Axe Creek, O’Keefe Rail Trail. Photo: Adrian Cummings

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?

Light the Trail

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.

Cyclist under lights on the O’Keefe Rail Trail, Axedale. Photo: A J Taylor Photography / Bendigo Photos

“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.

Riders crossing the O’Keefe Rail Trail Bridge, Knowsley. Photo: A J Taylor Photography / Bendigo Photos

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

L-R, Riders Jennifer Schatzle, and Cheryl Martin (awarded Best Illuminated Outfit), Axedale. Photo: Ev Keetelaar

Ride to Support Local Communities

The ‘Cycle Dindi’ event returned to the scenic Great Victorian Rail Trail  on Saturday, 17 April 2021, this being its fifth year organised jointly by the Rotary Clubs of Yea and Alexandra. With the attractions of a Devonshire Tea in a shearing shed, a sheep dog demonstration, a BBQ lunch beside the picturesque Goulburn River, these were certainly reasons why some members of the Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail decided to register for this event.

Deciding upon accommodation in Yea and riding the Yea to Alexandra event option, this saw a quite cool morning start for an 8.30am event registration next to the historic Yea Railway Station. Once completing the ride across the four Yea River curved aligned trail bridges, it was the gradual climb towards the iconic Cheviot Tunnel, the only tunnel on a Victorian rail trail, where riding through this impressive tunnel did not disappoint.

Cheviot Tunnel. Photo: G.Long

The option of being taken from the rail trail to the ‘Nutfield’ farm’s shearing shed for morning tea by tractor and trailer was an opportunity taken up by some riders, while others decided to cycle the farm’s short yet steep driveway!

A ride to morning tea! Photo: G.Long

After a group photo stop at the Eglington Gap, with a spectacular background view of the Cathedral Ranges, it was a downhill ride into Alexandra for a coffee and a snack at a local café.

Eglington Gap, Great Victorian Rail Trail

Not wanting to miss lunch, the group set off for the return ride back along the trail to arrive at ‘Cremona’ farm between Cathkin and Molesworth. The farm’s river setting against the Goulburn River was a real delight for lunch, which also providing a view of the historically significant Cremona concrete bridge in ruins, being built by the Reinforced Concrete & Monier Pipe Construction Co. (John Monash) in 1913.

Cremona Estate bridge in ruins. Photo: G.Long

After the second ride through the amazing Cheviot Tunnel, the final downhill section back towards Yea passed quickly for the riders. Arriving in Yea, this ended the group’s 77kms enjoyable day out riding that also helped in a small way to support the joint fundraiser for Rotary youth programs in the area.

Sunrise for School Students

With parents delivering bikes in cars or trailers, and children gathering together, the rural setting of Longlea’s Peppercorn Park was not the normal place for the Axedale Primary School’s Principle watching over her pupils. It was Thursday April 1st too, the last day before the school holiday break, so what was about to happen for these children, parents, teachers and members of the Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail? Was it to be an April Fool’s joke, or something much more interesting?

With the time nearing 7.30am (daylight savings time) and the sun yet to rise, there was definitely a degree of excitement in the air for these children who were about to participate in this small rural school’s Ride2School activity using a section of the O’Keefe Rail Trail.

Students gather at Peppercorn Park, Longlea. Photo: G.Long

After a final briefing that set out the ride rules, a line of riders headed off along the rail trail in the pre-dawn light. With differing ride abilities, these grades 3-6 children spread out in an orderly fashion as the sunrise created some magical images to be experienced.

Sunrise with Ride2School students on the O’Keefe Rail Trail. Photo: G.Long

Some of the more confident riding children appeared very keen, perhaps to pass the two Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail members who were ride leaders yet knowing that this was not permitted! While other riders filtered slowly towards the back of the group, to be encouraged and supported by parent and teacher riders. A short stop off at the trail’s ‘Axedale Station’ platform had the students exploring the inside area of the trail’s restored heritage railway wagon.

Students exploring the restored railway wagon. Photo: G. Ralton

As the Ride2School group neared the outskirts of the small town of Axedale, additional younger student riders from the lower grades then joined the ride to the finish this activity at the school. Hot toasted cheese sandwiches greeted the whole ride group, with many of the children very happy that they had finished this 8km ride. Listening to the students chatting, it was likely that bikes may have been a preferred choice of many during their school holiday break.

Heathcote Students Ride2School

As the early sunrise produced shafts of light through the trees within the One Eye Forest, highlighting cyclists waiting on the O’Keefe Rail Trail, what were these riders waiting for? It was an exciting time for those Heathcote Primary Schools students as they arrived before the early 7.45am time, preparing to participate in the school’s official Ride2School activity for 2021.

With parents and friends watching on, Principle Kate Ballantyne introduced the Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail volunteers who were assisting with the ride, and also mentioned reminders to ensure that students were aware of their responsibilities for a safe enjoyable ride.

Heathcote Primary School students enjoying the O’Keefe Rail Trail. Photo: Garry Long

Smiles were all around as the students chatted while riding along the rail trail, with some challenged only by the very slight gradients of the trail through the forest. With no wallabies or kangaroos sighted, the ride group was then joined by the younger aged student riders as all the riders then cycled through the urban area of the Heathcote township.

Arriving at the school after riding 5.2kms for the grades 3-6 students, it was time for an official group photo, then off to the school’s Breakfast Club for some before classes began.

The Ride2School participants, both students, teachers and supporters. Photo: Heathcote PS

It was a successful participation activity for this small country school, which is sure to encourage more of the students to regularly ride to school.