Bicycle Network: Where to Ride
- Jon Miller
Take in the Great Southern Rail Trail from Leongatha to Foster, stay there overnight then returning to Leongatha via the small towns of Dollar and Dumbalk
View Tour - Leongatha to Foster in a larger map
The Great Southern Rail Trail is probably the most picturesque of all rail trails in the state with several quirky little towns along its length. Its surface is hard-packed gravel and of very good quality so is suitable for most types of bikes. There is a short section of almost 3km past Koonwarra on the main South Gippsland Highway which can be busy although it does have a sealed shoulder for most of its length. The return journey to Leongatha is mainly on quiet back roads apart from 6km along the South Gippsland Highway. A little over 10km of the return journey is on unsealed roads, some of which are quite rough so a touring bike, good-quality hybrid or mountain bike is recommended. Over the two days, this ride is about 95km in length.
VLine runs coaches to Melbourne but the first service arrives late in the morning. This doesn’t give you much time to get to Foster if you want to stop and look around along the way. Therefore, most people will probably drive to Leongatha. There is parking available in Greenwood Parade near the start of the rail trail.
The Rail Trail
The rail trail starts with a descent of about 5km through farmland before flattening out for another 3km to Koonwarra. It’s worth doing this ride on the first Saturday of the month for the Koonwarra Farmers’ Market which is held in Memorial Park.
From Koonwarra, you will need to ride on the main highway for about 3km to Minns Road. There are now signposts for cyclist directing them where to get off and on the trail. The road is due to be upgraded by 2011 and the rail trail is expected to be completed at the same time removing this on-road section.
A new steel trestle bridge was opened in June 2008 just before Meeniyan. This has eliminated another on-road section of the trail. There is a pleasant park in Meeniyan right next to the rail trail which makes an ideal place to stop for lunch.
After Meeniyan, the trail passes through native forest. Many native birds and animals make the trees, grasses and ferns along here their home. Unfortunately, there are also more hills along here but, as with all rail trails, nothing too steep.
Fish Creek is an unusual little town with fish mosaics on the public benches and another fish gracing the Welcome sign. It has a few interesting cafes which are worth stopping at if you need a break.
From Fish Creek, the hills get bigger as the trail climbs over the Hoddle Range and the forest gets denser. If you are quiet, you are likely to see some native wildlife. Riding over the top of the range, the bushland opens out and there are stunning views of Corner Inlet and Wilson's Promontory. The Strzelecki Range can also be seen to the north. Then there is a seven kilometre down hill run into Foster.
Foster has a caravan park and youth hostel which are both good places to stay. There is more upmarket accommodation available for those that want it.
Return to Leongatha
On the second day, you will probably want to carry lunch with you as there is nowhere to buy it between Foster and Dumbalk 27km away. Although this may not seem far, there is a long climb and some gravel roads to negotiate first.
Leaving Foster, there is a 6km long uphill section along the South Gippsland Highway. There is a good shoulder for the whole way though and you will probably be leaving before the traffic has had a chance to build up. There is a signposted lookout with a picnic table and plenty of shade at the top which allows you to recuperate Enjoy the excellent views of Wilsons Prom while waiting for your riding companions.
A few hundred metres past the lookout, there is a right hand turn towards Dollar. Take care not to miss this turn as it’s on a steep descent. People have been known to barrel past the corner necessitating a long and unnecessary climb back up.
This is a very scenic road which gently climbs through a series of undulations towards Dollar. There are two or three intersections but these are all sign-posted so it’s difficult to go wrong. This road is mostly unsealed. Dollar has no facilities apart from some interesting views of the surrounding farmland.
From Dollar, follow the signs to Dumbalk. You will be rewarded along this road for all of your climbing with a long fast downhill section. The road becomes sealed again along here.
Dumbalk has a shady park and a general store which is a great place to buy an ice-cream on a hot day. From Dumbalk, there’s a short climb then it’s an easy run through Nerrena back to Leongatha.