When I read about the Great Southern Rail Trail, I was lured by the convenience of walking a rail trail. Covering a total distance of 72km, it’s long and more than enough to satisfy my walking needs. According to the website, “This gentle trail is suitable for cyclists, walkers and horse riders of all abilities and fitness levels. For most of the journey it is an even grade trail with the occasional gentle rise.” For someone who hasn’t been working out, this was reassuring to hear. Okay, so it wasn’t exactly wilderness and adventure, but it has all the other elements I was looking for – nature, wildlife, rural views, long distance, well sign-posted, solitude and opportunities for reflective thinking (it doesn’t actually promise solitude but in a country as vast as Australia, there is plenty of space for that).
The Great Southern Rail Trail is, at present, a 72km (45 miles) trail that stretches from Leongatha to Port Welshpool in South Gippsland, Victoria, Australia. It is “at present” because there are plans to extend the trail even further. The trail got its name from the Great Southern Rail Line, which opened in 1892. The opening of the railway meant that famers could transport and sell their produce such as milk, onions and livestock to markets in Melbourne. The railway could travel to Melbourne in 5 hours and 15 minutes, compared to a rail and horse journey that would take 12 to 13 hours. However, use of the railway declined over the years as road transport took over from rail transport and after a century of operation, passenger services ceased operation in 1993. The railway tracks have since been removed and replaced with a smooth gravel track. The trail links the towns of Koonwarra, Meeniyan, Fish Creek, Foster, Toora and Welshpool, offering rural and bush views as it passes through farmland and forests with views to the peaks of the surrounding national park.
The Great Southern Rail Trail and the towns along the trail are accessible by coach from Melbourne. As I wanted to give myself ample time to walk, I decided to skip the last two sections covering Welshpool and Port Welshpool. I also decided to do the trail in the reverse direction (ie. starting from Toora) so I could get a glimpse of the towns I’ll be passing through while on the coach. Finishing the walk at Leongatha would also give me some time to explore the region’s commercial centre before heading back to the city. The distance from Toora to Leongatha is 57km (35 miles), which I broke down into smaller sections and walked over 3 days. The first day, starting from Toora to Foster (10.2km); the second day, from Foster to Meeniyan (30.7km) and the third day, from Meeniyan to Leongatha (16km). I stayed overnight in motels at Foster and Meeniyan.
There will be three posts covering the first, second and third day respectively. This post covers the first day.
Feb 23, 2019: Toora to Foster (10.2km)
“This 10.2km section of the trail offers a leisurely journey with an ever changing view. From dairy farms and gumtree glades, to sparkling rivers and rolling hills, this is a gentle section of the trail.”
I took the earliest coach that departed from Melbourne at 08:50am. It was midday when the coach arrived at Toora. Just a short walk from the bus-stop, I came to the sign of the Great Southern Rail Trail. The surroundings put me at ease as I stopped to admire the backdrop of rolling hills and wind turbines.
I was all set and ready to go, so were the flies as they fluttered around me while I tried to swat them off. The afternoon sun was hot but thankfully, it was dry, not humid. Along the way, I came across interesting fauna and flora although I need some help to identify them. I don’t know what tree this is, they look somewhat like kangaroo apple but I’m really not sure, please leave me a comment if you know.
I spotted two yellow-tailed back cockatoos on top of a tree far ahead of me. I’ve not seen black cockatoos before and although they are called yellow-tailed, they are more easily identified by their yellow cheeks, which give them a sheer glow look.
The other highlight of the day was the echidnas. The short-beaked echidna is an egg-laying mammal and lays one egg at a time. Having read that these are very shy creatures, I felt lucky to be graced by their presence in the wild, not only once, but twice, albeit at separate locations.
After about 2.5 hours of walking, I arrived the town of Foster at 2:30pm, checked into my motel and spent the rest of the afternoon walking along the town’s main street. There is a local museum although it was closed, as well as most of the shops, but you could still admire the street art. Foster was once a bustling gold mining town known as Stockyard Creek. There is a park with information about the gold rush history, a path led down to a creek with a small bridge.
End of Day 1. Thanks for reading.
Please click here for Day 2.
South Gippsland Shire Council, Leongatha Railway Site Transformation: Master Plan Report (December 2017)