OK, in Gippsland spring is sprung and the grass is riz and, hopefully, the sun is shining. Unplug the kids from their X-Boxes and Play Stations, turn off the telly and oil that bike. Or if you have a horse or two, hitch up that float and let’s do some riding. We have an adventure ready and waiting for you in the form of the Gippsland Plains Rail Trail.
First, some background history.
In the 1830s NSW was beset by drought and graziers were in a panic. Rumours abounded of fertile plains far to the south beyond the Great Divide. Eventually an intrepid Scots station manager by the name of Angus McMillan trekked his way south across the Snowy Mountains and discovered what he called Caledonia Australis – a landscape of fertile, tree lined plains. Those plains became famous, and remain so today, as some of Australia’s most productive farmland. In the early days of rail, a train service went from Traralgon to Stratford, via Glenmaggie, Toongabbie, Cowwarr, Tinamba and Heyfield. Each of those towns became thriving centres of commerce and industry, particularly farming and timber, with food, produce and supplies coming and going by train. Of course, the main Gippsland rail line went from Traralgon to Bairnsdale via Sale and Stratford and the line through the smaller centres was relegated to that of a branch line. It remained in use up to the mid-1980s, when the deteriorating condition of the various bridges over the numerous rivers and creeks along the route made the service untenable. Rail servicing of the rural towns was replaced by road transport and the rail link consigned to the dustbin of history.
But history doesn’t really go into dustbins and is never truly lost. Today the former rail line is available as the Gippsland Plains Rail Trail and just waiting for the intrepid traveller to explore it for hidden gems, either on foot, by bicycle, or even on your horse. It’s only 67 kilometres long and can be done in a day, but, honestly, why rush it?
One of our favourite sights was that of all the tin cows roaming freely around the township of Cowwarr. We won’t tell you more; go see for yourself! Along the way, Tinamba Hotel can offer first class accommodation and food and we are assured there is room to tie up your horse. As a matter of fact, the Tinamba Hotel is known throughout Gippsland as an award-winning establishment. Again, go find out for yourself. If you are a car buff, Maffra has a wonderful car museum with some very special vehicles on display. And if you want to understand how the farming pioneers turned McMillan’s Caledonia Australis into world class farmland, then visit the Vintage Machinery Shed in Heyfield. If, somehow, you managed to park the kids somewhere else for the weekend and are traversing the trail with your significant other, you can park the bike, or the horse and take he or she directly into the cellar of the Avon Ridge Winery at Powerscourt. The winery also has a first-class restaurant, where you can wine and dine while enjoying the spectacular views over the rolling grasslands of the Avon River.
Your journey can begin by arriving with the kids at either the Traralgon or Stratford ends of the trail, as both towns are on the main Gippsland line and are well serviced. Traralgon is a major regional city that offers big city amenities. Stratford, at the other end of the trail, is small, but offers first class food and accommodation and much to see. Park your car in either town and after completing the trail, return by train to your vehicle, or if you initially arrived by train, use the Gippsland train to return to your railway station of choice along the line towards Melbourne. So far we haven’t come across any other trail experience anywhere in Australia which offers this service. Make sure you check V-Line timetables so you can plan and organise your journey. As you traverse the Gippsland Plains Trail by your preferred mode of transport, you will see for yourself the stunning farmland that attracted the region’s first explorers and which today serves the national economy so well as an agricultural area. Each small town along the route offers food and accommodation. You can park the bikes, or the horse, and enjoy good food, a coffee, good wine and friendly relations with the native Gippslanders who will do far greater justice to their communities than we can. We can only strongly suggest you give yourself the experience. It’s all quite magical. Your kids and/or significant other will thank you for the experience too.