Up for an adventure where you cross over 50 bridges (one the length of 385m!), ride through a 201m tunnel and visit picturesque historical towns? Then the Great Victorian Rail Trail is for you. Pack your gear, load your horse and let's go!
The Great Victorian Rail Trail (GVRT) is a multi purpose trail (walking, bikes and horses) that runs between Tallarook and Mansfield in Victoria. The trail follows the old railway line, that's steeped in history. There is also a leg that goes down to Alexandria (that we didn't take).
The trail is really well set up with great facilities along the way. It is easily accessible by car at multiple points where there are parking lots. This is great if you don't want to do the whole length of it (134km). The surface of the path is mostly compacted gravel. Along the way there are shelters, toilets, BBQ's and water and yards for the horses. The horse yards are located at Tallarook, Molesworth, Alexandria, Yarck, Kanumbra, Merton, Woodfield, Bonnie Doon, Maindample and Mansfield.
After mostly finding our own way for the last 4000km, the GVRT feels like luxury. No more riding along the side of the road or finding our own tracks and camps. For the next 134 km everything is planned. Or so we thought! It proved a little harder to find camping spots then we would have guessed. There are horse yards along the way, but you are officially not supposed to camp there! So again back to the drawing board.
We rode from Seymour, through some awesome studs country, and started our Rail Trail adventure in Tallarook. The horse yards where a little out of town, right along the trail with a big parking lot to put the truck, so we decided to stay here. We were very impressed with the facilities. There were 6 new steel yards and a concrete tank with water for the horses. The water was pretty dirty, so we drained it, cleaned it out and the boys had a good drink. We had to put Giles in the yard that was most downhill, otherwise he would duck under the rails they were so high!
Don't camp there!
Usually we plan our camps via Wikicamps. So I checked out the app and found a roadside camp along the trail called King Parrot Creek Wayside Stop. It was about 23km from Tallarook, along a creek with plenty of space to put the truck and the yards. Perfect. I set up camp and had a wonder around. The camp was underneath the highway bridge that went over the river, so I had a look at the Rail Trail bridge that Erwin was going to cross. It was very impressive, high up and really well fenced.... Looking at it, checking the map again and exploring the area a bit better, there was no way for Erwin to get from the trail to the camp!!! The only way was to go across the highway bridge, which would be super dangerous or go down the steep embankment and come through the river!
And that's what he did eventually. The boys did and awesome job, but I would not recommend it to anybody. Oooops my bad .... should have stayed at the luxury resort at Trawool.
The problem with coming through the river yesterday is that Erwin and the horses have to go back through it today! Lucky all went well and they were on their way again. This time towards Yea. It's a beautiful landscape to ride through, at the foot of the high country, you can feel and smell the mountains in the air. Spring is just beautiful here, green grass, all is plentiful. Plentiful water, which means plentiful bridges! About 50 to cross on this trail, so by the end your horse should be well and truly used to them.
We had lunch together at Homewood. It's great that there is easy access to the trail with parking lots all along the way. I got the experience some of the trail as well, reading the interesting notes at all the old railway stations and walking towards Erwin with Olly.
Camping in Yea was scheduled at the showgrounds. I called the caretaker, only to be told camping was not allowed at the grounds! After a long and good talk, we got permission to stay at the yards in the back. Which was awesome. It was very pretty there under the oak trees, felt like Europe. From the grounds it was a short walk into town, where we had a bite to eat and enjoyed our afternoon together. Coming back to the grounds, some caravans where parked up and stayed the night as well, even after we told them camping was officially not allowed. Seems to happen all the time.
"The Cheviot Tunnel was constructed to pass trains across the Black Range at McLoughlin’s Gap roughly half way between Yea and Molesworth. The tunnel was constructed from an estimated 675,000 handmade bricks using local clay. "
The craftmanship of this tunnel is truly beautiful. Hard to imagine how they made it. The tunnel is 201m long and quite dark in the middle. Going in you think you can see the end so it's ok, but being in it is a whole different experience. The sides taper in at the bottom and Tonto had a little trouble knowing where the walls where. He learned pretty quickly to stay in the middle. Good boys.
Camp tonight was at the Molesworth Caravan Park. The horses were welcome, we got a pretty site along the river. Lots of permanent vans around the old town oval. It's a very pretty recreation reserve and you can see why you would want to live here. We stayed 2 nights, did some washing and enjoyed the hot showers. Also, go get some hot donuts from across the road! They were delicious. Skip the coffee though ...
Onward again we went to Yarck. It was weekend, Melbourne just got out of lockdown, it was SUPER busy! Cars, caravans, walkers, cyclists everywhere. We are definitely not used to so many people anymore. Yarck had a really hip vibe with a couple of good roadside businesses. I checked out the Recreation Reserve, which was an oval with toilets, and couldn't really figure out if you where allowed to camp there. I asked some of the caravanners that where parked up along the road but they didn't seem to know either. I saw another horse rider and asked him. He sent me to the horse yards at the trail. It turned out to be a paddock, no yards. The paddock was well set up with hitching rails and a water trough (very dirty, so we cleaned it out again). Unfortunately is was very overgrown (I don't think we would find Giles in the high grass!) and it was adjacent to a paddock with a pony in it. We decided to set up our own yards at the edge of the parking lot where there was plenty of grass as well. The neighbor was really nice and said it was ok. All good until they had a party that night!
Anyway, we had the most amazing pie for dinner that night. Definitely check out Bucks Country Bakehouse.
Melbourne Cup Day
Isn't it funny that on Melbourne Cup day we happen to camp at a racecourse. From Yarck we rode to Merton Racecourse, about 20km, a donation camp with a shelter, toilets and BBQ just out of town. They boys felt right at home and enjoyed all the grass.
We had a look at staying at the Woodfield Shearers Quarters, which I was looking forward to, but unfortunately they were booked by another group. And because of Covid restrictions only one group at a time were allowed, which was a pity.
Say Bonnie Doon and I think 'Oh, the serenity of it all!' from the movie The Castle. We were really excited to see it in real life. And of course Erwin was looking forward to ride the 385m long bridge, crossing Lake Eildon, with pedestrians and bikes on the bridge and water skiers and boats underneath! Another challenge!
But like always the boys were champions, couldn't be happier with them.
The horse yards at Bonnie Doon are at the entrance of the caravan park. There is no room to put a vehicle at the yards and you can't see the yards from the park. We decided to give it a miss as it was too busy to leave the boys there by themselves and the caravan park didn't allow dogs anyway. Maindample yards it was.
The yards were very overgrown again but the boys didn't mind. After the Nullabor, all this grass looks like heaven. It did the job for the night with room for the truck and water for the horses.
End of the line is Mansfield. Definitely 'Man from Snowy River' country. I think the poster is displayed in about every shop! And of course Ned Kelly met justice. But it's not all history here, they are with the times as well..... Yellowstone is on!
Feels good to be in horse country, although mysteriously the last km or so of the trail has a sign that says 'No Horses'. Not sure how you are supposed to get to the horse yards behind the visitor centre. Erwin just rode along the road.
It also proved extremely difficult to find a place to stay in Mansfield. Even the showgrounds were off limits to horses outside of events. So again we stayed at the yards for a night and then rode on to Merrijig where we stayed a while to get ready for the High Country. We are planning to pick up the National Trail there, so stay tuned for lots more adventures!
The Great Victorian Rail Trail was a very enjoyable trip, we had a great time and definitely would recommend it.
For more information about the trail check out the Great Victorian Rail Trail website.
If you don't want to do the trail by yourself or want a little more luxury, have a look at Pack saddling Australia, they provide organized rides on the GVRT.