Which is exactly what we did. The End.
Another rail trail! This time, a there and back walk along the Great Southern Rail Trail between Koonwarra and Meeniyan.
Dan and I spent a few relaxing days in South Gippsland in early February, which gave us a chance to check out a section of the Great Southern Rail Trail. While most material will tell you this trail starts at Leongatha in the west and goes to Welshpool in the east, it is being extended on the other side of Leongatha and if you don’t mind a bit of a road cycle you can also hop on the Tarra Trail from Alberton to Port Albert or Yarram at the eastern end. As we were walking, we chose the 8km section between Koonwarra and Meeniyan, planning to walk one way, grab lunch, and then walk back.
Which is exactly what we did. The End.
Just kidding! At the Koonwarra end, there are currently major roadworks to realign the South Gippsland Highway. The rail trail passes under the new alignment at a couple of points, but we didn’t have any disruptions. While we didn’t have to wait, we did stop and take photos (along with most of the work team) of a crane lifting a digger down into the valley. We also had a quick convo with one of the workers who recommended we get our mid-way coffee at the bakery in Meeniyan.
Most of the rail line itself was built in the 1890s, and was a key mode of transport of wood and dairy produce to Melbourne (or to ports and then on to Melbourne). The train had mixed goods and passenger service throughout much of its life. In later years it was kept open mainly by the need for commercial transport - superphosphate (fertiliser), the branch to Barry Beach that serviced the Bass Strait oil rigs, the sand mine (for glass production) and so on. Parts of the service, the line and its branches were discontinued or closed starting in the 1940s. Services to Leongatha itself stopped in the 1990s.
The line apparently had a reputation as being a particularly scenic route, especially in the western parts - and it’s still a really nice trail. The path between Koonwarra and Meeniyan weaves around grassy hills, crosses the Tarwin River a number of times (sometimes on the old wooden trestles, sometimes on new bridges beside them), and snakes along beside the flats a bit above the floodplain.
It was interesting to compare this to the Maffra-Stratford section of the Gippsland Plains Rail Trail from the week before. Although I’d like to show some kind of home-team loyalty, this is honestly a much nicer path! As well as having corners and therefore several changes of views, there’s a little more ascent and descent (even a couple of walkers’ uphills, as opposed to only cyclists’ uphills) and variety in surface. There’s also more shade under the mature trees on some sections.
In Meeniyan, we checked out a few options for lunch (we’d come on Thursday when we knew most places were open) and ended up going with our road worker friend’s suggestion of Pandesal Bakery. We had some very fresh cheese and salad rolls (the freshness made up for them only having cheese, tomato, lettuce, onion and aioli - this wasn’t your massive milk bar salad sandwich!) and I had an excellent coffee. Meeniyan is a really interesting little town, as are most of the villages on this section of trail. We didn’t spend time mooching this time as we knew we had another two hours of walking to get back to the car, but it’s definitely worth a visit!
Most of our walks this year have ended with a meal, and I’d kind of forgotten that it’s always hard to get going again after lunch. I tried to convince Dan to carry me, but no luck. We stopped a few times on the way back for mini breaks, but it took us a while to find a bench that was actually in the shade for a proper rest - I took my right shoe off and we ate muesli bars. Allegedly, it was only meant to be 21 degrees, but with 95% humidity and the afternoon sun starting to beat down it felt a lot warmer.
There were lots of little birds out on the return walk. We saw heaps of wrens, a few red browed finches, an eastern (yellow breasted) robin, a rufous whistler (pleased I could identify this after our walk at Holey Plains), fantails and even something that may have been a goldfinch - as well as the usual bigger birds, such as magpies, wattle birds, a shrike thrush, wood ducks (aka maned ducks), a heron and crimson rosellas. There were a few I couldn’t identify and I didn’t get a good enough look at them to check later, but that just means more birds to find out about another time.
We hobbled back to the carpark and I was very thankful for a sink with a good tap so I could wash my face and drink water until I could feel my cells starting to unwrinkle and rehydrate!
In terms of speed and distance, we were just edging over 2 hours for the eight-point-something kilometres each way, spot on for my 4km per hour standard. We didn’t have big packs, and it was easy walking. At one point I thought it might have been useful to bring my sticks, just to give my feet a bit of a break. I’ll need to remember to take them on more walks!
My feet hurt. That second toe on my right foot has never really recovered from bashing it on a brick a few months ago and I should probably get it checked out as Dr Google seems to think the options are either a fracture or arthritis. I also didn’t tape my toe, but I didn’t get a blister. Dan kindly rubbed my feet that night and the next day I was fine. (I always get surprised when a foot massage makes that much difference, even though it consistently does! I need to build a foot rub into my post-walk schedule… Dan???)
There was slightly (and I do mean slightly) more variation in this trail, and I did a few minimal stretches for my legs and back. This seemed to keep me pretty pain free. My lack of energy in the second half of the walk was probably mostly because I slept really poorly the night before. Not even the coffee at lunch really helped when all I wanted to do was lie down in the shade and have a sleep. (And I probably would have, if we’d found a good bench earlier on!)
This walk is at least in part on the unceded Country of the Bunurong People. The rail trail also traverses the unceded Country of the Brataualung (Gunaikurnai) People. This always was and always will be Aboriginal land.
A walk along the Gippsland Plains Rail Trail from Maffra to Stratford.
Mural at the Stratford end depicting the story of Borun the pelican and Tuk the musk duck among other things.
The calendar flipped to February, and that could only mean one thing: 15km walks! The plan is to gradually increase my walking distances for the first few months of the year, before adding packweight and overnighters to the schedule as the weather cools down. And since our car had to go to the car doctor in Maffra, it seemed like a good opportunity to stretch my legs. It's taken a couple of weeks to get this up on the blog.
Dan dropped me off near the Maffra (Macalister) Wetlands just after 8am, and I started with a quick stroll up to the loop in the northern section of the reserve, then back around the boardwalk. There were loads of birds out and about early in the morning, including some extremely cute juvenile fantails that would have been darting in and out of the reeds and rushes if they could fly well enough to dart. A person went past on a fat wheeled bike and responded to my standard greeting and how are you with a big smile and, “Don’t make no difference if I complain, it really doesn’t.” OK, then.
I headed back down the river and met Dan in Island Reserve, the park out the back of the main street. (Why is it called Island Reserve? Old aerial photos seem to show it might have had an oxbow lake there, possibly…). Dan had bought some tasty buns and a coffee for me, so we sat and had our breakfast in the slowly emerging sun. The weather was almost perfect for a walk - a bit overcast, a bit cool, a slight breeze. Quite different from most of January’s outings, and (other than the humidity) a relief after the heat of the last week.
It wasn’t the first time we’d walked this section of trail. Since we’ve been back we’ve walked once from Stratford to Maffra and once from half way along back into Stratford. Probably because of this, we didn’t stop that often to read the information boards and signs. However, we did make note as we passed various landmarks - the spot where the old Briagolong line (1889-1952) used to branch off, the entrance to Powerscourt (homestead built circa 1859), Powerscourt Siding (built 1914 to help bring sugar beet to the factory in Maffra and the weighbridge later used to weigh flax for the flax factory), Beet Road (also related to the sugar beet industry).
Another reason we didn’t stop that much was because of the bloody flies! We haven’t had much trouble with flies since we’ve been back - unlike on some other trips - but they were out in force on this walk. We tried to talk them into transferring to some local cows, and even a passing jogger. We wished for a stiff breeze to blow them away over the paddocks. I put on sunnies and tucked a hanky in my hat to try to keep them off my skin. And we spent many kilometres hitting ourselves in the face with leafy twigs. In the end, what sent them packing was a short, sharp shower of rain.
Arriving back in Stratford, we noted the progress on the rail trail path that curves under the bridge (getting ready for the concrete to be laid). Stratford is the eastern terminus of the trail - it runs all the way from Traralgon, so one day I hope to walk and/or ride the whole thing! We had a little rest stop at Apex Park, then followed the path under the new and old rail bridges and up onto the street. It would be great if they could use the old bridge for the rail trail - it’s had trains on it up to a year or so ago, so surely it could be made into a bike/walking bridge? A short street walk and a hop across the tracks took us to the station.To be sure I walked the full 15km, we took the long way home.
In the afternoon, my dad gave Dan a lift back to Maffra to pick up our freshly repaired, fully serviced and thoroughly cleaned (!) car.
I walked just under 16km in a little under 4 hours - we arrived home at about 12pm, right in time for lunch (Mum made garlic bread - yum!). That’s pretty much spot on for speed, no doubt helped along by the cool weather, familiar route and irritating flies.
The day before, we’d headed back to Mount Hedrick with my folks for a short (4km) but much steeper walk. I’d carried my backpack with a couple of thermoses, food and raincoat and I really noticed how much impact that had - from balance on the boulders to the strain of extra weight on steep climbs. In comparison, this was an easy walk.
I taped my toe for this walk (and the previous day's walk), but I'm not sure it helped. My blister remained though it didn't seem any worse. I still had a sore toe the next day. But the main issue was, once again, the lack of variety. I stretched my legs a couple of times along the walk, but my knees noticed the repetitive work and my calves were very tight afterwards. My feet and lower legs were achy for a couple of days. Overall, though, the switch up to a slightly longer walk went well. I’m feeling a bit fitter than a month ago, which is a good sign!
This walk is on the Country of the Brayakaulung (Gunaikurnai) people. Sovereignty was never ceded and this always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.
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