Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail

Linking central Victoria via the old railway line

Hidden Gem Exposed for Trail

A hidden natural gem near Hidden Valley and Wallan, gave up its secret to thirty-two community volunteers recently. Locked away for more than 50 years, a 1.2km section of the former Heathcote Junction to Bendigo railway line where it crossed the Great Dividing Range was revealed when a community working bee cleared a trail pathway.

Volunteers clearing the former railway for the new trail. Photo: Lindsay Clay

The working bee’s aim was to uncover a section of this former railway line, as a start to creating an off-road trail between Wallan and Kilmore. Members from the Mitchell Bicycle Users Group, the Wallan Environment Group, the Merri Creek Management Committee, the Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail, cycling associates of Wheelhouse Bikes, and a Melbourne based Rail Trails Australia representative all came together ready for action. The Mitchell Shire CEO and a South Ward Councillor also paid a visit to the site.

Volunteers take time out to enjoy a section of the cleared trail. Photo: Gavin Gardiner

Work involved clearing fallen timber from the old railway alignment, as well as cleaning up weed and plant growth, to create a continuous yet basic trail pathway. The involvement of so many local community members showed their enthusiasm in seeking a much needed safe off-road trail to link local communities.

The Knowsley Forest Invites Visitors

Users of the O’Keefe Rail Trail will now have another opportunity to further enjoy the rail trail as well as the linked native forests and facilities. The Knowsley Forest’s Smart Track Day Visitor Area has recently had its facilities upgraded by the forest’s manager, the Dept of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) under a State Government funded Victorian Great Outdoors Project.

With the rail trail traversing through the Knowsley Forest, one of four State forests that the trail connects with, the trail’s users have only a short distance from the trail to travel along the forest track to reach this upgraded Day Visitor Area.

Knowsley Forest’s Smart Track Day Visitor Area. Photo: Dale Hill

The forest’s Day Visitor Area upgraded facilities include new toilets, a new shelter with tables and seats, outdoor tables and seats, an information board, a water dam feature, as well as a car parking area. Installation of a new BBQ facility is also being planned. The rail trail directly crosses Smart Track, within the forest, where signage indicates direction to the Day Visitor Area.

Day Visitor Area’s sheltered picnic area and toilets. Photo: Dale Hill

With the Day Visitor Area being located immediately off Smart Track right within the forest environment, this gives forest visitors a chance to explore the forest and beyond by walking or riding the rail trail and/or forest tracks.

These new toilets are a much needed facility for visitors to the forest, especially for users of the popular O’Keefe Rail Trail with its extended distances between such public facilities along the 50km long rail trail. The Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail have made a submission to the City of Greater Bendigo, for funding the provision of new toilets and car-park adjacent to the trail at Peppercorn Park Longlea, so it is hoped that this proposed project will be given priority in the council’s 2022-23 budget.

Trail’s Native Plants Bloom

Rail Trails like the O’Keefe Rail Trail are usually located within land corridors that have not previously been fully cleared of trees and/or were not grazed by introduced farmed animals. Such trails provide protection for native animals, plus allow native plants to grow and flower during the annual Spring season.

A recent sighting by O’Keefe Rail Trail user Lisa Hall has highlighted an Australian native plant, named Templetonia stenophylla.

Templetonia stenophylla growing in the Knowsley area. Photo: Lisa Hall

The commonly named Leafy Templetonia was observed growing in the Knowsley area of the rail trail, with Lisa sharing her excitement by posting the following comment “Beautiful and rare Templetonia flowering near Knowsley……”

Templetonia flowering, as seen in the Knowsley area. Photo: Lisa Hall

For those with specific interests, the Templetonia plant is a genus of flowering plants in the family Fabaceae. They are native to Australia and is named in honour of John Templeton, an Irish naturalist and botanist.

With this Leafy Templetonia being one of a number of flowering plants growing along the O’Keefe Rail Trail reserve, and possibly within the four State forests that this trail transverses, observing such plants flowering is another reason to enjoy being out along this popular trail during the August – November period.   

An Eye on Trail Safety

Seeking to improve facilities along the O’Keefe Rail Trail has the community group Friends of the Bendigo-Kilmore Rail Trail keeping an eye on this 49km trail’s condition.  

As trail users, the group’s members provide first hand feedback to the trail manager, the City of Greater Bendigo council, on improvements or maintenance required to keep this as being one of the iconic rail trails in Victoria.

One such feedback request to council was to reduce a hazard and so improve the safety of using the trail’s Bobs St ‘tunnel’, where the trail route goes through part of a 19th century brick constructed railway culvert. This request suggested installing a convex mirror at each access point to the underpass, to alert trail users of other approaching cyclists, runners and walkers.

New mirror at the entrance to the trail’s ‘tunnel’. Photo: Paul Ferguson

After an on-site inspection, council staff responded positively to the request by having two such mirrors installed.

Improved vision for the safety of trail users. Photo: Paul Ferguson

Caution is still required by trail users when traveling through the ‘tunnel’, while being amazed by this heritage structure at the same time, with these mirrors now providing a safer environment for this popular public rail trail.

Exploring the O’Keefe Rail Trail

Highlights of the O’Keefe Rail Trail were being explored when Jess and Garry rode the trail between Bendigo and Heathcote, during filming for ‘Over the Handlebars’. While this ride happened well prior to COVID19 impacting upon world communities, the trail has since become increasingly popular for tourists, outdoor recreation and personal exercise.

With the delightful Spring weather now just around the corner, and when the current COVID19 lock-downs for Victoria and NSW are able to be eased, its now time for planning a ‘country trail escape’ to perhaps enjoy seeing native wildflowers in bloom while out along this rail trail.

The water level in Lake Eppalock has been increasing from winter rains, so this scenic area is easily observed directly from your bike as are other points of interest along the trail. While either doing a day tour or staying overnight, plan to allow time for sampling some award winning local wines made from Shiraz and Italian grape varieties.

Of course visiting a bakery, having a snack from a cafe, doing lunch at a restaurant, tasting a beer or two from a local boutique brewery, or enjoying a picnic next to the Campaspe River, these and many other trail related choices need to plan for!

Back Roads and Trails for Touring

Here is an opportunity for cycle touring in regional Victoria, using country roads and trails. You could choose to share this exciting experience with friends, or just go do it on your own.

As an exploring adventure, this route takes you right into small country towns, for coffee and muffins at a bakery/cafe, enjoying a pub lunch, perhaps doing a tasting at a winery or boutique brewery, or explore history relating to the gold rush era. Pitching your tent in a caravan park, renting a cabin overnight, arriving at a pre-booked local B&B or other accommodation options, one of these could be your choice.

While the proposed Wallan to Heathcote Rail Trail is in the planning stages by the Mitchell Shire Council, this will become a trail providing a continuous off-road trail from Wallan to Bendigo via the O’Keefe Rail Trail when fully constructed in the future. There are other touring options right now, to connect ‘Melbourne with the Bush’, and this country road/trail route is definitely one of those options!

Passing through regional Victoria, this route includes both gravel and sealed country roads, the O’Keefe Rail Trail, plus options of exploring via shorter trails like the Kilmore Creek Trail, McIvor Creek Trail and Bendigo Creek Trail. The route’s southern start/finish point is the Wallan Railway Station, to utilise the V/Line train service or road transport via the Hume Freeway. The northern point is right in Bendigo’s city centre at its Charing Cross area, a short distance from the Bendigo Railway Station or road transport options via the Calder Freeway/Hwy

Being able to break the journey in Wallan, Kilmore, Pyalong, Tooborac, Heathcote, Axedale and Bendigo, these are all individual highlights that make this regional route very attractive. This choice is definitely “a must do”, when you and your friends are able to!

Also within the Greater Melbourne’s northern area, there are options such as the Galada Tamboore Pathway, the Metropolitan Ring Rd Path, the Merri Creek Trial and other ‘metro’ connected off-road trails.

This link to Ride With GPS provides a map and gradient details for the 144kms route (as per above, yet with more details), as well as a download facility (FIT and GPX files) for your smart device to assist with route navigation.

Gravel Roads, Trails, Burgers n Beers!

With the Heathcote and Tooborac areas in regional Victoria having many interesting points of interest and attractions, why not visit and utilise the O’Keefe Rail Trail and its connected gravel roads that are ‘open all hours for business’!

Here is an interesting rail trail connected ‘Heathcote – Tooborac Gravel Loop’ route, just waiting to be experienced by walkers and gravel bike/MTB riders.

Route map and gradient chart (RideWithGPS). Supplied by John Pyle

Starting at the O’Keefe Rail Trail’s Herriot St car-park in Heathcote, this gravel route takes in the existing rail trail to Pink Cliffs Rd and then left-right into Valli St to continue along a section of the former railway alignment (part of the proposed Wallan to Heathcote Rail Trail), before turning right into Dairy Flat Road.

Heading out of the urban area, the road’s gravel surfaces are in good condition with usually very little motor vehicle traffic. The surrounding forested areas and farmland are quite scenic, with just a couple of challenging hills before reaching Tooborac. If looking for a break upon reaching Tooborac, there is the country style Tooborac Hotel and Brewery as well as the Tooborac Café and Post for coffee and the well-known ‘Tooby Burger’, with both places being options for food and refreshments while resting your legs.

Cycling along forest gravel roads, Heathcote. Photo: Garry Long

Leaving from Tooborac, the first of a number of quite gravel roads is Majors Line Road that was once an actual railway line for the McIvor Timber and Firewood Co. (1906-1927). Continuing along connected gravel roads through the extensive forested area, the Heathcote-Nagambie Rd is then reached. A left turn sees a stretch of sealed bitumen being experienced before turning right into Forest Drive’s gravel road.

Noting the remains of the old Heathcote Powder Magazine, there comes signs of the urban area of Heathcote appearing from within the forested area. Forest Dr passes by the McIvor Creek’s pedestrian suspension bridge, the ‘Valley of Liquidambers’ and the Queen Meadow Caravan Park before reaching Barrack St. Crossing over Barrack St has the McIvor Creek Trail providing the best way to experience this creek’s natural environment.

For returning to the starting point of this ‘Gravel Road Loop’ experience, there are a number of possible options within the Heathcote urban area via streets and trails, with Chauncey St being a good choice from the McIvor Creek Trail to connect back onto the O’Keefe Rail Trail to the trail head’s car park.

Apart from other local short loop trails based upon Heathcote, this 47km gravel route is a delightful experience, especially on the quite gravel country roads. Having the option of breaking the journey at the half way point in Tooborac, and then enjoying all that’s on offer for which Heathcote is well known for, this attractive riding/walking route is definitely a must do!

This link to Ride With GPS provides map and gradient details, as well as download facilities for FIT and GPX files (‘More’>’Export file’) to enable your smart device to help with navigation.

A Sunday Ride with Friends

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.

Riders gather at the O’Keefe Rail Trail, Heathcote. Photo: John Pyle

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.

Tooborac Hotel, Tooborac. Photo: TH&B supplied

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.

Map of the ride route

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!”

Trail Towns hit the Goldfields and Macedon Ranges

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!

Here is a ‘taster’ to get you ready for some couch time:

Alternatively, go to one of your favourite social media site links below –

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Youtube link:

New Signs For Popular Trail

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.

Sign assembly and installation by Friends’ members. Photo: Greg Ralton

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.

Drilling holes for the new signs. Photo: Greg Ralton

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.

Installing a sign (Colin Scott, Greg Ralton, Lindsay Clay) Photo: Les Lewis

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.   

Installation crew (Lindsay Clay, Colin Scott, Ken Hanson, Greg Ralton, Steve Boswell, Athol Fredrick) Photo: Les Lewis

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.