Written by Lucie
For the first of Mark and Lucie’s rail trail adventures we woke up early and cycled to Southern Cross to catch the train to Colac. The day’s agenda was to cycle from Colac to Ferguson on the Old Beechy Rail Trail. It was also Mark’s birthday weekend.
We were feeling a bit groggy after a late night packing session, however we quickly felt better when we realised how hungover the guy sitting opposite us was. He spent the entire trip wearing sunglasses and drank a Red Bull, then a bottle of Coca Cola and then had a coffee and a packet of snakes.
Upon arriving at Colac we went to get changed in the station toilets, but found out that they didn’t open until the afternoon! This meant that we had a bit of a struggle to find somewhere appropriate and ended up doing a quick change in a vacant lot next to a burnt house. Classy. Once dressed it was about 11:30am and so we hit the trail and found ourselves cycling along a road out of town. The trail turned onto a dirt road that promptly started up the first of many long, steep inclines; by the 3 km mark our legs were pretty warm, by the 4 km mark they were on fire. There was no option to ease into the trail!
We experienced a brief interlude from the steep roads by way of a short section of track through the woods, before rejoining a road again. We soon turned onto another slippery, woodland track, which moved steeply uphill to reach the old station of Coram. Coram was the first point of ‘real’ rail trail: fairly flat and straight. It was also a really pretty section through the trees, with steep drop offs on both sides. The terrain was slightly muddy, covered with leaves and would have been a definite no-go if we had slightly thinner tyres. A little further along we found the ‘103 mile post’, which told us that we were 103 miles from Melbourne. Excellent! The Old Beechy Rail Trail had little signs every kilometre, which was pretty exciting for the first little section (the signs became sporadic further on). At the top of a hill the trees thinned out and we found a nice spot to sit down and have lunch. Whilst munching away a couple came past on a tandem bicycle and gave us a wave.
Conscious that we had started out late and had a decent ride ahead of us we didn’t take too long over lunch and once back on the bikes we started on a steep downhill, snaking section of trail. As we would quickly learn, what goes down must go back up on this cycle and we entered a section of trail that had some crazy up- and downhill sections. The uphills were particularly exciting because of the wet ground. In a few places we couldn’t get any traction and the tyres were slipping downhill as fast as we were pedalling to turn them uphill. However, we made it through and then came to a slightly more reasonable section of track along the ‘Beechy Wooden Wildlife Trail’. This is a walk with wooden animals to look at, and there was an angry (real) dog to avoid and escape. That wasn’t so nice, but escape we did and then the trail turned onto the road through to Gellibrand.
After Gellibrand, the trail reappeared and travelled along next to the road for a while. We met the tandem bike people again (they’d turned around and were going back the way we’d come) and then crossed a wooden bridge over a pretty little stream.
Fairly soon we were back on a wet, leafy dirt track through the woods and, unfortunately, that soon became an intense uphill section followed by thick squelchy mud. We had a bit of fun trying to navigate through that without getting completely stuck. Fortunately the mud subsided to reasonable levels and then we made a long, steady, meandering climb through the Wimba and McDevitt stations. This was followed by a section of hilly, gravel track on the side of the road that had such terrible traction we just cycled on the road and pretty soon the trail merged with the road anyway, still going uphill. It was at this point that we wished the kilometre signs would return to being more regular for a bit of extra motivation. The few signs we did see showed the same distance on both sides. How much further did we have to travel? What if you were cycling the trail in reverse? Was it seriously still going uphill?
The uphill climb continued through to Beech Forest, where we stopped to put on lights, high vis and a few extra layers because the sun was dropping and the wind was rising. We also had a snack and Lucie was very happy to have half a wrap left over from lunch. Second wind here she comes! Then we continued to gain elevation until we reached Ferguson, at which point it started to get quite dusky and our rail trail challenge for the day was complete. However, our cycling wasn’t over as we needed to reach Laver’s Hill and our beds for the night.
As we continued along the road to Laver’s Hill it got really dark and it was impossible to see the turnoffs. The odd car that we passed was blinding and we still had to keep cycling up and down hills! It started to get a bit worrying: would we ever find our beds? What if we got lost? After another half an hour or so of cycling we found a building, which was right on the edge of the road, had no drive and had a couple of cars parked outside. We thought this seemed a bit suspicious for a house and when we pulled up in front of it we realised it was actually where we were planning to stay: Fauna Australia!
A nice guest went to fetch the owner so that we wouldn’t have to rely on a dodgy doorbell and wait for ages. On getting inside we found some complimentary preserves and snacked on straight peanut butter and jam. Then we stretched, drank hot tea and had hot showers. There was a short freak out that there wasn’t enough hot water but it turned out to be A-okay. After more tea, stretching and dinner we went investigating.
Fauna Australia, as well as providing accommodation is home to a bunch of native Australia animals. We were given a bag of carrots to feed the animals and on walking out into the grounds we quickly made friends with two wallabies, one of them was pretty shy but the other was not. Next, we found four wombats. Have you ever heard wombats make noises?! For that matter, have you ever heard quokkas making noise? There were a bunch of quokkas and one of them was making weird keening and grunting noises. Wombats have pretty killer front teeth, perfect for chomping off bit of carrot, and two wombats ‘shared’ a carrot by head butting each other out of the way. Also on the friend list were sugar gliders, flying foxes, potoroos, a couple of tiny ponies that lived in an adjacent field, ring-tailed and bushy-tailed possums, koalas, a spotted quoll and some other things I don’t remember the names of. There were birds too, including one really noisy bird and a group of birds that were all hanging onto each other in a big huddle. After exploring further we found more wombats and a small deer. While Lucie was getting acquainted with the deer she felt little hands stroke the back of her thighs. Freaked out, she spun around to find a wallaby looking expectantly at her. The wallaby continued to try to climb on her and reach out when it thought she wasn’t looking. Sneaky. Once the carrots were gone we went back inside for a second stretch and an early night.
The following day we woke up early to leave by 8am; our plan was to cycle from Laver’s Hill to Timboon and then cycle the Timboon to Camperdown rail trail. It was a foggy morning and after some initial confusion regarding Mount McKenzie Road that had been signposted as Mount Mackenzie Track we were on our way down a very wet, very muddy, very steep downhill track. It was also scattered with rocks and there was so little grip we had to walk downhill in some places. The wallabies seemed to have no trouble though. Then we reached the bottom and had to fight our way back up a very wet, very muddy, very steep incline. Repeat ad nauseam. More road signs were not in accordance with our map but we managed to work out what was going on and join Gellibrand River Road, mostly thanks to Mark getting one bar of signal to check a different map. The ‘Blvd’ that we were planning to take didn’t happen because it was a mud path into a field. Hence, we cycled along the C156 to Simpson, battling against gale force headwinds that made even the downhill sections a struggle. We stopped for lunch and it was so cold and wet and windy that Lucie’s fingers and toes ended up numb and white. A long time later we finally reached Simpson and decided to abandon our plan of going to Timboon – cycling was so slow in the winds and sections of the Timboon to Camperdown rail trail are closed in high winds anyway. So, we cycled on to Cobden and many miles later we finally saw Camperdown. Oh, what a sweet sight it was!
East Gippsland Rail Trail official trail
Total Ascending: 745m
Total Descending: 352m
Total Distance: 50km
Total Non-Rail Trail Distance: 99km