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Linking central Victoria via the old railway line
Not being familiar with any trail can sometimes have some users becoming confused or at worst believe that they are lost! A review of the O’Keefe Rail Trail, by Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail members, found certain sections may introduce ‘choices’ or uncertainty for those first time users.
The review’s outcome was then highlighted to the trail’s manager, the City of Greater Bendigo council, who’s staff agreed to assist improve the trail’s wayfinding signage. Members of the Friends group then worked with council staff to create a new wayfinding sign design, specific to the O’Keefe Rail Trail.
With the required new signs manufactured and installed at identified locations near Axedale and Heathcote towns, it is expected that visitors and locals will continue to rate this as one of the best rail trails in Victoria …..if not Australia!
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!
A glimpse back into how railway transport helped develop communities and businesses, aided rural farmers plus gold exploration, can now be seen via new interpretive signs along the O’Keefe Rail Trail. Working closely with the City of Greater Bendigo, the Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail group have sought to bring elements of history back for the benefits of the rail trail users.
As a result of much research, the outcome has seen 11 interpretive information signs being placed at specific locations along the O’Keefe trail. Such reveals the current trail’s connection to the past, for the Heathcote to Bendigo (Sandhurst) section of the former ‘Wandong, Heathcote, Sandhurst Railway’. The history highlighted covers the period from 1887, for the railway’s construction, to more recent times of rail trail development. Trail users can imagine going back in history, living in a different period, without even leaving the trail!
At the official launch of the new information signs, the City of Greater Bendigo council’s City Engineering Manager Brett Martini said “The O’Keefe Rail Trail is a wonderful asset for the Greater Bendigo that provides unique opportunities for residents and visitors to walk and cycle the total 49kms between Bendigo and Heathcote.”
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.
What to do on cool yet sunny autumn Sunday in central Victoria? Well ten riders from the Mitchell Bicycle Users Group (MBUG) and ten riders from the Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail headed out to ride all or part of a route between Heathcote and Rushworth.
The riders were able to experience the Heathcote-Graytown National Park, pass by Mt Ida, Mt Camel, and the Gobarup Nature Conservation Reserve, as well as through the Whroo Nature Conservation Reserve. As the planned morning tea location, the major attraction of the Whroo Historical Area is the significant Balaclava Mine, which is an open-cut mine in the now Australian ‘ghost town’ of Whroo. Mining in this open cut ceased in the 1920’s, yet the site remains a visual reminder of the former gold rush era.
Due to a timing issue (was it a head wind, or distractions on route?), unfortunately the two groups did not meet as planned to share a cuppa and Anzac biscuits at the Whroo Historical Area, yet Rushworth businesses definitely benefited as the group members enjoyed lunch at either the MotoFinish Cafe or the Rushworth Bakery in Rushworth.
A good coffee and some home-cooked food was a great way to finish exploring this part of a proposed Heathcote to Murchison Trail, for which the Campaspe Shire Council is currently seeking funding for completing the current open section of the Waranga Rail Trail.
The ‘Light the Trail’ event is promising to be something special in 2019. Riders will be using the Axedale to Heathcote section of the O’Keefe Rail Trail for event in The O’Keefe Challenge’s weekend of activities, which also includes the iconic Mandalay Resources O’Keefe Marathon and other events.
The Light the Trail ride destination will be Heathcote, with the end of the ride seeing riders roll into Palling Bros. Brewery on High St in Heathcote. This will be a unique experience, with riders cycling from Axedale to Heathcote guided by their bike’s own light, and possibly by the moon also! Riders will be encouraged to also ‘light up’ their bike, as well as themselves!
At the event’s finish location, Palling Bros. Brewery, prizes will be awarded for ‘Best Illuminated Outfit’, ‘Best Lit Bike’ plus an ‘Encouragement Award’ for those who have demonstrated the spirit of The O’Keefe Challenge.
Date: Friday, 26 April 2019.
Location: Axedale to Heathcote (26km)
Time: 6:00pm for a 6:30pm start
Connecting the Melbourne trail network directly into regional central Victoria, via safe off-road trails proposal has the full support of Bicycle Network. The key missing link is the Wallan to Heathcote Rail Trail proposal.
Seeing first hand the enthusiastic work by community groups, like Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail, Mitchell Bicycle User Group and Bike Bendigo, who are involved with this proposal had Bicycle Network’s CEO Craig Richards amazed. “What this would do for bike riding in Victoria is extraordinary” said Craig, from his recent visit to Bendigo and the O’Keefe Rail Trail. The network linking of the O’Keefe trail, the Goldfields Track, and a proposed Heathcote to Murchison Trail would open up many opportunities to explore wine regions and country hospitality for cyclists and walkers.
Bicycle Network’s newsroom article Friends of the rail trail show the way tells how passionate community groups support improving the health and wellbeing of their communities, as well as small businesses involved with the active tourism market. With the City of Greater Bendigo council and Mitchell Shire council supporting the rail trail proposal, a staged development of this linking trail will depend upon support and funding by the Victorian State government.
Melbourne based Bicycle Network’s CEO Craig Richards recently ‘escaped’ the capital city, to see what it was like to cycle in the regional Victorian city of Bendigo. Accepting an invitation by Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail to visit Bendigo, Craig was surprised when experiencing some of the urban off-road trails, such as the Back Creek Trail with its creative artistic displays and Bendigo Creek Trail, and to see how these were providing a continuous safe route for cycling commuters.
Riding a section the O’Keefe Rail Trail from Bendigo to Axedale with the Friends members, Craig was not able to spot a platypus in the Campaspe River yet lunch at the Axedale Tavern was certainly another highlight. Time did not permit exploring the trail’s latest 30km extension to Heathcote, perhaps a reason for another visit in the future!
The ‘country escape’ for the CEO certainly provided an awareness of how Bendigo is striving to become Victoria’s regional ‘City of Greater Cycling’, to improve both its community’s health and wellbeing as well as attract more of the active tourist market.
The Campaspe Shire council is in the planning stages for extending the Greater Shepparton City Council’s current ‘Murchison Rail Trail’ on to Rushworth and Heathcote.
This extended trail section, when formally constructed, could link the O’Keefe Rail Trail (Heathcote to Bendigo) to the Murchison East railway station. A Heathcote to Murchison Trail proposal brochure has been produced by the Campaspe Shire.
Support by community, businesses and trail users for this trail is to be encouraged, so have your say, contact the Campaspe Shire council, the Greater Shepparton City council and your local State Government representative.
Axedale’s major event, the Axedale Quick Shear and Family Fun Day will have a connection with the O’Keefe Rail Trail in 2019. While attending this popular event, there will also be the opportunity to find out the latest updates on the O’Keefe Rail Trail and Wallan to Heathcote Rail Trail’s developments, as well as more information about the Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail group.
By adding the Axedale Quick Shear & Family Fun Day to your calendar for 23rd February, the market area will have a Rail Trail Information Stand display with members of the group available. By becoming a member of this active community group, such encourages involvement in social activities linked to trail cycling and walking, plus much more.
Wondering how you will get to this Axedale event? Of course cycling or walking along the O’Keefe Rail Trail is definitely a great way to enjoy the local natural environment, while being away from busy road traffic. The bonus is that the trail also gets you directly to the event site!