In October 2015 we went on our fourth two week long bike tour, the first in 12 months which seemed like a very long drag between tours…..
This time we decided to sample Victoria’s Gippsland Rail
Trails, which are old, disused railway lines that have been turned into gravel paths. Well, were we besotted by them by the time we finished our tour! The gradients of these trails is always very small as trains are not that good at travelling up steep hills. They are also generally straight, but the best bit? No traffic! As soon as we got onto a trail, the helmets came off and were strapped to a back pannier! A whole different, more relaxed riding experience that’s for sure!
Our first day of touring was a ripper. Up at 5.00 am and rode into town just after 6.00 am to catch the V-line train to Melbourne. A quick connection to the Frankston Metro line followed. Unfortunately we had to stand the whole way as there was no place for the bikes so we had to hang on to them, but we were so excited it didn’t matter. We then had a 48 km ride to Andrews’ second cousins place Claire and her husband Karl who run an accommodation business called Energy Rising Glamping Retreats Australia.
If you are ever in the area its well worth checking out. After our arrival Karl took us for a quick sight see to the coast. He also happens to be an amazing cook and the home grown lamb chops that Inge carted all the way from Timor West were soon dished up. We spent the night in the most AMAZING tent ever, a 5 mt Lotus Belle Delux. Wow! We felt like we were in an Arabian night movie or something. It was just lovely.
After being spoiled by Claire and Karl for the night and with a delicious cooked breakfast under our belts, we headed off and rode 32 kms to Stony Point to catch the Inter Island Ferry to Phillip Island. It was an extremely windy day with lots of traffic that made riding very difficult along the undulating peninsula. Of course the ‘time schedule’ didn’t help either, especially when Inge took a wrong turn once again and we had to race to the jetty.
Once we got to the ferry we were informed that due to the windy conditions it might be too rough to berth at Phillip Island and that we would then be returned to Stony Point…… However the call would be made at the French Island stop where lo and behold EVERYONE but us got off. The captain made the call in our favour and we were off on our very own private ferry to the next stop!
We got dropped off no worries and had a nice picnic lunch at Cowes before riding the last 17kms to Newhaven where we stayed in the Big Four caravan park. Dinner was fish and chips across the bridge with a few cleansing ales and red wines.
The next day was a rest day that started with Andrew cooking a yummy breakfast whilst the caravan park experienced a mass exodus after the long weekend. We then set off on our bikes to explore Phillip Island. Late afternoon we went on a minibus tour to see the famous Penguin Parade at dusk with 3000 other people (gasp). It felt like we were overseas, as we were about the only ones speaking English! The penguins were really cool and far above expectation. Every night hundreds of little penguins come ashore to return to their nests for a few days of R&R after being at sea to feed. It is one of the largest colony of little penguins in Australia and probably the biggest tourist attractions in the state along side the Great Ocean road.
It was back on the bikes the next day, which also coincided with our 24th wedding anniversary. The days’ riding was an easy 42 km ride to Inverloch along which included our first rail trail, the 20km long Bass Coast Rail Trail. The ride can best be described as breathtaking! It was stinking hot but we spent most of the day riding along the sea, where the coastal scenery would easily rival if not beat the Great Ocean Road….. The Rail Trail was brilliant with only two people on horseback sharing the trail. Lunch was at Wonthaggi where Inge wrote and posted a bunch of postcards to her friends and family.
We celebrated our wedding anniversary with a few quiet drinks, a walk along the beach and a delicious pub meal. We also ‘treated’ ourselves to a night in a cabin at the Big 4.
Our 65km ride to Yanakie the next day was also the fifth consecutive day of 30+ and with a gusty North wind we were getting a bit worse for wear. The days ride was pleasant enough with rolling dairy farms all around and so much green grass it almost hurt your eyes. Lunch was at Fish Creek, where unbeknownst to us we could have picked up a wee bit of the Great Southern Rail Trail, but we didn’t know it was there…..
A maintenance man approached us at Fish Creek whilst having lunch. He was most concerned about our well being and gave Inge his mobile number ”Just in case you get into trouble or breakdown.” Very sweet.
The wind and heat was just relentless after lunch and by the time we rolled into the Yanakie General store mid afternoon to get supplies, the morale was getting quite low.
The southerly change finally came when clouds rolled in and by the time we arrived at the Yanakie Caravan Park 7 kms down the road our moods matched the sombre weather.
But that is generally the way bike touring goes. We decided to stay in a cabin for the next two nights, which blew the budget out a bit, but so be it.
Our next day was another ‘rest day’ which involved riding 65kms into Wilsons Prom and back. The day was perfect with clear blue skies and a much more ambient temperature, perfect for exploring. We spent a magical two hours at Whisky Bay having a picnic lunch and sightseeing, we pretty much had the place to ourselves the whole time. The scenery was just breathtaking and it was well worth the bike ride.
After our rest day, the next day’s ride of 76 kms to Port Albert blew out to 91 kms by the time we ventured into a few towns for a look. The ride was scenic enough, but the easterly head wind made it harder than it should have been. Riding along the Great Southern Rail Trail was a real pleasure as the gradients were mild and we didn’t see another soul the whole way.
We arrived in Port Albert a respectable 6 1/2 hours after leaving Yanakie so that was good. We set up camp in a real ‘time warp’ 70’s caravan park and then headed into town for a look and to get supplies. We ventured to the most remarkable Fish and chips shop ever where there so happned to be a fully functioning pub in the building. needless to say we had to have a cleansing ale whilst we were waiting for our potato cakes! Once back we were still starving and almost demolished the bread that Andrew toasted on the hiking stove. It was so yummy.
The following day was our ‘Mountain Stage’, riding 76 kms north to Traralgon with a climb of almost 1000 meters. It was just brilliant. Yes the 1000mt climb was hard going, but there was hardly any wind and the ride through the Won Wron State Forest was just breathtaking. There were a lot of logging trucks, but they were very courteous to us cyclists. We also managed to pick up an unexpected rail trail after a local’s recommendation. The Tarra Rail Trail just north of Port Albert, has had only just been completed so it was a real bonus!
The massive Lou Yang power station just outside of Traralgon was a real bonus, as was the open cut coal mine right next door. We made it into town and had to go to a bike shop to get some lube for our chains that had become a bit squeaky with the salt air. We then decided to check into a motel for the night (breakfast included woohoo!) and went out for a cleansing ale and a counter meal dinner at a pub. Unfortunately Inge’s stand broke in Traralgon which is a bit of a pain as it now has to lay down everywhere. Mind you, it’s the first ‘breakdown’ that we’ve ever had so we are pretty happy about that!
After a nice continental buffet breakfast we set off to ride the whole length of the Gippsland Plains Rail Trail, 70 odd kms of pure bliss! The Rail Trail was everything we hoped for and more. The weather was divine so we stopped for a morning coffee at Glengarry where we spent almost an hour talking to a retired local school teacher cyclist.
Just before lunch, dark clouds rolled in and the heavens opened up big time. Luckily, a cycling Angel had plopped a bone dry hay shed right in our path so we took shelter there and had our lunch. Once back on the trail, the rainstorm had unfortunately turned the trail into wet sand and riding became impossible, so we had to go on the road for a bit around Heyfield.
We then rode on to Stradfield where we spent our first ever night as Warmshowers guests of Iain and Sue. They made us feel super welcome in their gorgeous straw bale house that they built them selves. We have only ever hosted cyclists, so it was a real nice change to be on the receiving end of the hospitality.
The next day after a wonderful breakfast we set off to Bairnsdale. Unfortunately it was almost double the distance it should have been and also the fourth consecutive day of riding 80+km, so we were pretty stuffed by the time we rolled into our destination. The start was a slow affair as we left our butter, cheese and ham behind in Iain and Sue’s fridge so Andrew had to ride back 7kms on a loose gravel road to collect it. We then took a wrong turn and didn’t realise ‘till the first road sign also 7kms down the road. So after two hours of solid riding we had only travelled about 10kms grrrrrrrr. The ride itself was pleasant enough with not too much traffic. Inge did get pecked by a swooping Magpie which scared the bejeesus out of her.
Once in Bairnsdale, we set up camp in the local Big Four Caravan Park and then continued our sampling of local potato cakes and beer wherever we’ve been so far!
Wet, wet and more wet is what the following day was all about! It had rained during the night so even though we’d rigged up the tarp over the tent all our gear was damp. Packing up a tent in a soaking drizzly rain is never fun, but we got through it without any yelling, go us! Luckily our ride was the shortest of the whole tour, only 39kms to Lakes Entrance, the furthest we are travelling east. We set off at 11.00am and rode to Lakes Entrance in rather trying conditions along the busy A1.
Once we arrived by lunchtime the weather had cleared a bit. We had lunch first up and were invited to use a backpackers’ common room for our lunch (we were nearly done so declined). We must have a ‘world traveller’ look about us because the first thing we were asked was “Do you speak English?” Huh?
We checked into a cabin at the Big Four and then went down the street to continue our sampling of local beer and potato cakes. We’ve decided, on a recommendation from the lovely bar girl, that we may need to implement a rating scale to ensure some non-bias consistency.
The next day was our third and final rest day. As usual it was spent exploring a little bit of Lakes Entrance. It was a lovely holiday town that seemed to have a caravan park or motel on every corner and in between. The weather was sunny but a cool wind meant the jumpers stayed on for most of the day. We indulged in a little bit of retail therapy, although when bike touring, the thought of the extra weight of any superfluous purchase is usually enough deterrent not to buy!
After our rest day it was time to head back to Bairnsdale for our final day’s ride, riding 62 kms along the most scenic of rail trails so far, The East Gippsland Rail Trail. It follows an old tramway along the Mississippi Creek for some of the way as well as cutting through forests, farmland and more timber bridges. We weren’t disappointed and it really seemed that the cycling fairies pulled out all stops for us. The weather was sunny but not too hot with just a slight breeze mostly in our favour. The gradients were easy and scenery spectacular, especially through the Colquhoun Forrest where we picked up the East Gippsland Rail Trail. We had lunch at Bruthen, a delightful little town on the way to the snowfields and then on to Bairnsdale where we arrived mid afternoon. We set up camp on the banks of the Mitchell River, so for the first time ever we had ‘water views’ from our tent door.
The next day, after the most relaxed pack up ever, we spent our last hours in Bairnsdale ‘sightseeing’ at the local bike shop where we met another touring couple, our first ones this trip. We then had a coffee and vanilla slice before heading to the train station to load our bikes into the luggage compartment for the 4 1/2 hour trip back to Melbourne that took us 2 weeks to ride!
Mr Conductor was pretty cool about it all and didn’t even make us de-pannier the bikes like previous train trips so that was a bonus.
It was a 35 degree day and of course our carriage’s air conditioning was broken so it was a very sweaty trip back to Melbourne. We passed the time by chatting to our fellow passengers and retracing our bike route in reverse for some of the way. Once in Melbourne we checked into our 4 star hotel which is how we like to conclude our tours – a bit of luxury!
A quick swim in the indoor pool to cool off and then we went to our favourite watering hole for a couple of pints and dinner. Walking back after dinner it was still really hot in the city so we had ice cream on Southbank. For the first time when Inge asked to, you know, “Pack it right down, and put as much on as you like!” the guy serving us ACTUALLY DID!
Our last day of the tour was a nice slow start with a continental buffet breakfast followed by a pack up. We then headed off to Brunswick as Andrews’ back tyre had started to de-laminate. The same thing happened to Inge’s bike a little while ago. We were a bit worried that we mightn’t be able to get home if one of the bubbles decided to pop, but the tyre held out. We then had a coffee and did a bit of shopping. Then a race back to the hotel to collect the panniers and catch the V-line. The train ride home was a slow one as we got stuck on red signals, but not to worry. We finally got back to Maryborough and rode the final 10kms home. Total Kms cycled was 780kms in two weeks!