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Linking central Victoria via the old railway line
What was going to hold the interest of four girlfriends’ heading out for a planned two day country escape away on bikes? Would central Victoria’s O’Keefe Rail Trail provide the spark to keep the momentum happening, create a level of excitement to be remembered, plus along the way deliver surprises both on and off the trail?
Well one of those cyclists Allison Stephens visually captured such an ‘escape’ earlier this year, while out there cycling and enjoying an O’Keefe trail ride with three of her friends. They cycling from Bendigo via Axedale to Heathcote, and then returned later the next day to catch a V/Line train back to Melbourne.
It was all about a “100km of trail, 2 flat tires, a few beers, a mob of roo’s and a dog named Lexie“! (Allison Stephens)
This off-road trail and its connected towns just have to be one of Victoria’s best kept secrets……and its open 24/7 every month of the year in regional Australia!
While dressed for a cool Victorian winter’s day, clear blue skies saw members of the Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail (FBKRT) heading out to ride the Castlemaine to Maldon Trail. This 18km trail was opened in 2017, and shares the railway easement with the historic goldfields branch line still used by the Victorian Goldfields Railway (VGR).
While there is an annual event ‘Race The Train’ held, such was not the plan by FBKRT members enjoying the natural environment and observed historic timber railway bridges while riding at a slower pace. After arriving at the Muckleford station, the trail’s mid-point, the group were delighted to observe a family of Spotted Pardalotes near the station seemingly not concerned by a passing tourist steam train.
The planned destination of the historic Maldon was reached by the ride group for a well-earned coffee, with lunch had at the historic Kangaroo Hotel while observing the vistas of Victoria’s first notable town. It was then a short ride to the Maldon station to load the bikes onto the VGR steam loco hauled train, for the return trip to Castlemaine. It was agreed the trail was achievable for most riders on MTB or similar gravel bikes, the day really enjoyed and definitely a ride to be repeated.
Looking for a place to enjoy a picnic or a quick snack while cycling on the O’Keefe Rail Trail? Need to top up your water bottle, whilst out walking along the trail in the peaceful surroundings of its natural environment?
The Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail continue to work with the City of Greater Bendigo, to provide important trail user facilities along the O’Keefe Rail Trail. Council’s contractors have recently upgraded access to the trail’s Axe Creek bridge picnic area, providing a new gravel surface whilst also improving the storm-water drainage.
The trail’s new water station near Bennetts Rd Junortoun has also seen its access area upgraded with a new gravel surface, which has improved the adjoining picnic table and seats’ immediate area. Not only great facilities for the general public, this section of trail is often used by the likes of SCOPE Loddon Mallee for its Bendigo client’s outings.
A second water station has recently been installed next to the trail’s Bike Repair Station at Axedale Park, providing facilities for both trail users as well as those enjoying the Park.
Have you seen this man riding in Victoria very recently, or perhaps you will in the coming days? This is Lance from Auckland New Zealand, who has come specifically to ride some of this State’s major trails. Having rode many of NZ’s amazing trails, on both islands, it was time for Lance to do some of the Aussie trails.
Arriving at Melbourne Airport, it was Ballarat where Lance started his trail riding adventure, first tackling the Goldfields Track (Victoria) that took him through Creswick, Daylesford, Castlemaine to Bendigo. Not wasting any time, it was straight onto the O’Keefe Rail Trail, where he was later noticed at Axedale seeking breakfast. With his fully loaded mountain bike, Lance’s accommodation is a tent, so what better way to enjoy the natural environment where ever possible! “This O’Keefe Rail Trail is a fantastic experience!” said Lance after having breakfast at the Axedale Tavern, as he was then headed off towards the Campaspe River on the trail, “Perhaps I’ll see a platypus, if I’m lucky!”
Once reaching Heathcote, he would next be riding certain country roads to Tallarook, his starting point for the Great Victorian Rail Trail though to Mansfield. The plan for this outdoor adventurer would be to then cross the Yarra Ranges on roads to Warburton, there linking with the Lilydale-Warburton Rail Trail. Once at Lilydale, Lance planned to catch a Metro train, and then onto Melbourne Airport to fly back to NZ, so completing his Aussie (Victorian) trail adventure this time. There was a hint that he just might be back, perhaps after his plans to ride the Trans Canada Trail next!
From grandparents to grandchildren, community volunteer participation was the highlight for the 2018 National Tree Day event held at Axedale on Sunday 29 July. This site event was coordinated by Longlea and District Landcare, with support from the City of Greater Bendigo.
Approximately 70 volunteers planted out about 1600 native trees and grasses at the selected Campaspe River Reserve area. National Tree Day and Schools Tree Day combine to make Australia’s largest community tree planting event. aiming to inspire, educate and recruit Australians to actively care for this unique land.
With the O’Keefe Rail Trail passing close by the event site, the Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail members assisted other community groups, local school children and individuals for the planting activity. Of course the socially engaging event finished off with a tasty BBQ lunch to be remembered. This new planted area is expected to enhance this river environment, to be enjoyed by rail trail users, fishermen and local walkers in the future years. This may also have a positive impact on the local bird and platypus populations too!
It was just after sunrise that some volunteers began mulching around new plants along a section of the O’Keefe Rail Trail, so as to beat working in the heat of the day. These were members of the Longlea and District Landcare plus Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail, all helping to restore a section of the trail’s natural environment in Junortoun.
Just as this work was nearing completion, a cycling group of mainly female members from a Bridgewater and Newbridge ‘spin class’ were assembling on the O’Keefe Rail Trail. The group had travelled to Bendigo for this planned outing, ‘escaping’ their usual gym class room. Of course as well as enjoying the social company, there had to be a goal for those involved, and this may not have been just to complete the round trip of about 30kms. Apparently the attraction for some was the mid-point lunch booking, at the Axedale Tavern!
Restoring a natural environment, improved a community’s health and wellbeing, and adding benefits to the local economy were just some of the day’s outcomes on the O’Keefe Rail Trail.
One of the attractions of the O’Keefe Rail Trail is it provides an escape into a natural environment, a reserve that can be close to urban areas, be within forests, stretching across a lake, or adjoining farming properties. The landscape through which the trail passes is quite varied, which creates a special ‘formula’ that makes such trails popular and enjoyable.
Over a number of years, both the Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail and the Longlea Landcare group have assisted to re-vegetate sections of the former railway reserve that had lost most of the native trees and grasses. For the 2017 National Tree Day, a section of trail close to the McIvor Hwy in Junortoun was selected to be re-vegetated with tube stock plants. The City of Greater Bendigo’s Parks staff supported the project, by deep ripping the soil in preparation and also providing 1000 trees and grasses.
While storm clouds drifted past in the distance, volunteers armed with shovels turned up to ‘get their hands dirty’ on the day, as well as enjoying some socialising with others. Thankfully the rain storm held off, and after just a few hours of effort, viewing a sea of tree guards protecting the new plants was a very satisfying sight for all those present.
With occasional care, the area will become a new section of natural ‘bush’, to be enjoyed by the local community and trail users. This will also provide native birds and animals with an area to breed, feed, and shelter in, part of a continuous natural corridor. Through the willingness of these volunteers on one day, their efforts will create a ‘win win’ situation for all!
The O’Keefe Rail Trail is the focus of a project to install nest boxes along a section of the trail, for Brush-tailed Phascogales (Tuans) and Sugar Gliders. These new nest boxes, built by students at Catholic College Bendigo, should become homes to these small threatened animals in the trail reserve’s natural environment.
The location for these boxes is along the O’Keefe Rail Trail, between Knul-doorong Woodland (Somerset Park Rd) and the Junortoun Flora and Fauna Reserve (Trotting Tce) Junortoun. Funding for the project has been provided by a City of Greater Bendigo Council’s Community Grant, awarded to the Junortoun Community Action Group
The public can witness the boxes being installed, which is to occur on Monday 24th April at 2:15pm at the O’Keefe Rail Trail crossing on Wilkie Road Junortoun.
The love of travelling is one of the reasons why Queenslanders Phil and Sheryl Bennett have been exploring parts of Australia.
Following retirement, they found that cycling was another way to explore many areas. With their small motorhome able to carry their bikes, they now make annual journeys to various locations around Australia to also ride off-road trails.
On their current trip to Victoria, Phil and Sheryl explored central Victorian trails, which including the O’Keefe Rail Trail. Having based themselves at a Bendigo caravan park, they explored Bendigo via the Bendigo Creek Trail, then rode the rail trail from Bendigo to Heathcote for an overnight stay.
Of course the return ride to Bendigo incurred a small diversion to the Axedale Tavern, as Sheryl had heard that the Tavern’s Coffee House made a great coffee! Once their time in Bendigo was over, they planned to travel to Western Victoria exploring other off-road trails.
Since the O’Keefe Rail Trail has been extended and upgraded, it is now attracting the likes of Phil and Sheryl, as cycle tourists who usually stay longer in an area so benefiting the local economy.
Wanting another reason to visit central Victoria to cycle or walk the O’Keefe Rail Trail? As well as the peaceful off-road natural environment of the rail trail, Heathcote, Axedale and Bendigo have much more to offer.
Bendigo has a number of iconic buildings, many from the 19th century gold rush era. Take a stroll around the CBD by night, see the city’s attractions light up the past and present.
Axedale has now become the half way stop off point from the trail. If the Axedale Tavern’s quirky rooms with old photos on the walls could speak, many stories from the past would and can come to life while having a meal and a drink! Of course the Platypus Compass, located on the trail, is definitely worth a selfie!
Heathcote area is a wine makers delight, as it is ‘shiraz’ country plus many other varieties of wine locally produced. Boutique wineries and accommodation, cellar doors, restaurants, cafes and bakeries, there is even a locally milled natural timber rail trail shelter.