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Walking the Great Southern Rail Trail (Day 3)

This post describes the third and final day of my walk on the Great Southern Rail Trail.

Feb 25, 2019: Meeniyan to Leongatha via Koonwarra (16km)

I woke up even earlier than the day before and checked out at 7am, the cafés weren’t even opened. The idea of spending the day wandering in cafés and shops was tempting but the seduce of nature and solitude is too strong to resist and I wanted an early start to make the best use of the cool morning temperature.

Tanderra Park, Meeniyan

 

The trail from Meeniyan to Leongatha passes through Koonwarra, which is 8.2km from Meeniyan.

This 8.2km section of the trail winds its way through Black Spur, named after the creek that flows beneath. Experience the history of the railway as you cross restored and rebuilt trestle bridges, originally constructed in the 1880s. Pass through lush fern gullies under a canopy of trees before taking in expansive views of the flats surrounding Tarwin River.

As I stopped to take a picture of the morning sun-lit pasture, I thought I saw what was a kangaroo moving behind the grass but it turned out to be a fox, making it my first fox sighting in the wild. Later on, I did see kangaroos (and rabbits) on the trail but they were too fast for my camera.

Not sure what this is

Crossing one of the four rail bridges between Meeniyan to Koonwarra. This bridge was rebuilt alongside the old trestle bridge which has been barricaded off for safety reasons.

Back to the old days… (late 1980s)

Eastern Rosella 

The cool morning breeze was rejuvenating and there was a sense of excitement in the air. I felt like a new kid in town, closely observing my surroundings, watching the locals going about with their daily routines and hoping to meet some friendly new friends. There was a bunch of pretty pink flowers in bloom, unfortunately, I didn’t catch their name.

As I looked up at the trees, I saw a gray ball of fluff hidden behind the branches. Can you see what it is?

Spot the koala!

I shouldn’t be surprised to see a koala but I wasn’t expecting to see one. I usually saw them in zoos, conservation parks or places where there is known to be a high koala population. This is not one of those places. Even if it is, I don’t recall a time I saw a koala and wasn’t excited. I tried to keep cool but on the inside, I was jumping up and down excitedly, screaming “KOALAAAA!!!”

As I continued my walk, I thought how lucky I was to see a koala and how lucky I’ve been to come across so many interesting wildlife that I’ve not seen before. Before I realised, my thoughts were interrupted by a group of loud birds that reminded me of the sulphur-crested cockatoos. I caught a glimpse of one in a tree ahead of me, it looked like a cockatoo but it was gray in colour, which I’ve not seen before. I tried to take a picture of it but it flew off before I could take one. They were everywhere yet we were like playing hide and seek. I also heard a soft cracking and thumping sound, like something light was dropped onto the ground. I turned my head and there it was, a Gang-gang cockatoo munching on a buffet of fresh red berries.

Had this cockatoo been here all this time while I was trying to find his mates that were flying from tree to tree? The males are easily distinguished by their wispy red crest. Suddenly, the place was buzzing with activity as the gang of Gang-gang took over. Even their name sounds delightful.

Not long after, the male was joined by Lady Gang-gang. As you can see, they looked very much in love…with their food! It was such a joy to watch the two blissful and contented cockatoos enjoying their breakfast feast!

Another bridge crossing

A mature Crimson Rosella (the young ones are green)


I reached Koonwarra around 9:45am. With 7.8km left to go and seeing it was already getting warmer, I continued on. Passing through an avenue of trees, I noticed these tiny doors under the trees. Are they some kind of art installation or is there a further story behind these doors, I’m not sure. Perhaps they open up a portal to another dimension?

I think this was the same plant I came across in Day 1. It probably is a kangaroo apple.

On the road to Leongatha…

Old railway tracks

Finally arrived Leongatha around 11:45am, marking the end of my 3-day walk on the Great Southern Rail Trail, from Toora to Leongatha.

Start/end point of the Great Southern Rail Trail

Leongatha was originally known as Koorooman and renamed Leongatha in 1891 when a township was established on the arrival of the railway. Today, it is the commercial and civic centre of South Gippsland and hosts an annual Daffodil Festival. The town has a long agricultural heritage with a major dairy processing facility just north of the town centre, producing milk-based products for Australian and overseas markets.

Historic images of the last passenger train leaving Leongatha in 1993 (Image source https://www.facebook.com/pg/swgt.org.au/photos/?tab=album&album_id=1101611416579770)

Present day at the old train station

Leongatha station 2019

As I sat down to enjoy my first proper meal in three days, I looked back at the pictures I’ve taken. I have been blessed with fine weather and envy blue sky. I came across many different and interesting personalities on the trail. The shy echidnas, the vivacious gang-gang, the glossy yellow-tailed black cockatoos, the laid-back koala, the colourful rosellas, the watchful magpies, the handsome blue wrens, the hard-working cows and many others I couldn’t name. It gave me a breathing space to walk and the solitude I needed but couldn’t enjoy back home. The road to Leongatha is long and when the sun is shining bright and the legs are aching sore, it can feel like eternity. Times like these, all I have to do is to keep walking, listen and attend to my body’s needs. In fact, all I have to do is to walk and let nature work its magic. There is no doubt in my mind that I’d do it all over again if I have to, from start to end. Obviously not there and then but given some time and rest, I will do it again. I say this not because I’ve forgotten how tough and tiring it could be. I say this because I love doing it and you don’t stop doing what you love just because it’s tough. Although doing the things you love will make you happy, love is not all about happiness, it’s also about doing the things that scares you, sometimes putting up with the things you hate and hanging in there through tough times. Have you ever found yourself returning back to the very thing that hurts you? Some call it stubborn or maybe they just don’t understand the depth of your love. And just like that, a light bulb moment, the answer was revealed right in front of me. I have failed so I’ll try again. I’ll try again because it is what I love and want to do. If you thought the answer was too simple and that anyone could have told me the same thing. No, it isn’t. I need to walk it myself to experience it. Each individual’s healing process is personal, for me, it’s nature and solitude and I need to see it and feel it for myself in order to remind myself what I’m doing it for.

👣👣👣👣👣


It’s only a month since my walk but it felt like a long time ago. I’m not sure that is a good thing. City life has the ability to demoralise and dampen motivation. I just have to keep reminding myself of that feeling I felt and to hold on to it for as long as I can.

The end. Thanks for reading. 

Related posts:
Walking the Great Southern Rail Trail (Day 1)
Walking the Great Southern Rail Trail (Day 2)

References:
https://www.victorianplaces.com.au
https://www.visitpromcountry.com.au/towns
https://www.gsrt.com.au/

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Walking the Great Southern Rail Trail (Day 2)

This post describes the second day of my walk on the Great Southern Rail Trail. For Day 1, please click here.

Feb 24, 2019: Foster to Meeniyan via Fish Creek (30.7km)

I checked out of the motel at 8am and was happy to be greeted by the moon and a clear blue sky.

The cool morning breeze made the walk so much pleasant. With triple the distance to cover, I had a big day ahead and my plan was to reach Fish Creek before noon. I passed by a few cyclists and walkers along the way but it was fair to say, I saw more farm animals and wildlife than humans on the trail.

Remnants of the old railway track

More farmlands

Grey butcherbird (I think)


Superb fairy-wren or blue wren

Here is an interesting fact about blue wrens. The males change their colour from brown to blue during breeding seasons. Whenever they appeared on the trail, there will be a group of similar looking brown birds nearby. These are the females, non-breeding males and young wrens. But with more than one fairy-wren species, it can be a challenge to identify which fairy-wren it is.


A young crimson rosella


Australian Magpie


These look like crimson berries but I’m not sure.


No idea what flower this is

I arrived Fish Creek slightly before 11am and stopped by to explore the town. The town took its name for the abundant black fish and mountain trout found locally. Today Fish Creek boasts a strong arts community and is home to boutique cafes, shops and galleries.

There is a gallery/bookshop dedicated to the works of Alison Lester who is an award-winning author of children’s books such as Noni the Pony. She was born not far away from Fish Creek, some of the locations in the region became the inspiration for her books.

A card designed by local artist, Janie Frith and a matching colour feather I found on the trail.

I resumed my walk on the trail around noon, by which time it was warm like the day before. The flying insects seemed particularly active this time of day. From Fish Creek, I had another 18.3km to go before I reached Meeniyan. I didn’t take many photos for the rest of this section as I kept my head low to keep cool. It was a hot day and the trail was mostly exposed, my legs were also getting tired. I kept a look out for signs that would indicate how far I’ve walked and how much further there was to go but they were sparse (this stretch being the longest section of the rail trail). This would have been a great opportunity for self-reflection, think about what I’m going to do and how do I pull myself out of the state of cognitive dissonance. What insight can I draw from this place that I love and does it have an answer for me. But there were bigger questions in my mind. All I could think of was the selection of cold drinks that awaits me in the supermarket’s fridge – should I go for the soda or juice, lemonade or cola? How much further was there to go? Can I reach there in an hour? So much for reflective thinking! As I lifted my foot, something caught my attention.

A cylindrical body with scaly skin, a pair of eyes, the head of a reptile, and my foot was about to land on it, I instinctively leapt forward to avoid it. Whoa, what is it… a snake?!! It happened all too quickly, I didn’t get a closer look. I turned back and saw that it was short, more like a lizard – how long does a snake have to be in order to be called a snake? Is there a Guinness World Record for the shortest snake?

Upon closer look, I saw the short legs, confirming it was a lizard. Later, when I showed the picture to a local, I was told that it’s a blue tongue lizard. I heard they will stick out their blue tongues when threatened. The one I saw was motionless so I guessed it didn’t see me as a threat. Apparently, they are not very agile and slow moving creatures. But what if it was a snake? Probably not a wise thing to leap. I read there are snakes on the trail especially in the summer months. I kept off the grass after the incident and for a while, my thoughts were of snakes that might be lurking in the grass but it didn’t take long for my thoughts to wander back to the ice cold drinks in the store.

Eventually, I reached Meeniyan around 3:30pm, after more than 7 hours of continuous walking. There used to be an oak tree behind the signage but it split apart recently and was removed. Here is a before and after image.

Meeniyan is aboriginal for moon behind the trees over the water. According to a local brochure printed in 1988, this likely stems from the flood plains of the nearby Tarwin river to the town’s west where the aboriginals probably camped and fished. Meeniyan was a thriving township with general stores, butchers, baker, blacksmiths and saddlers.

Historic images of Meeniyan (from http://www.meeniyan.org.au/)

Whitelaw St, Meeniyan 2019

Today, Meeniyan is a buzzing country town bursting with community pride and family-friendly spaces. Take your time exploring the main street with its range of unique shops, homely cafes and restaurants, and wander through the gallery; boasting the talents of artists near and far.

It seemed every town is home to unique cafes, shops and galleries. I thought it was a shame that I didn’t spend enough time to soak in the local atmosphere and dine in their cafes. That sounded like a great plan for the next day, especially after a long day of walk. As I sat down at a bench outside the local grocer, gulping down a cold bottle of cream soda, I tried to convince myself that I should take it easy the next day, take time to explore the unique shops and homely cafes and wander through the gallery. Today’s experience has already proven that I can’t think well under the sun but if I sat down in a corner of a country café, sipped a cup of freshly brewed coffee or tea, I might actually be able to get my thinking straight. I saw a neat homely looking café but it was already closed, it looked like a great place for reflective thinking and I thought that’s probably what I should do the next day. Maybe. We’ll see.

At the motel, I met one of the guests staying there. He is a retiree travelling with his wife. The akubra hat he was wearing, and his belt and pants were all made by Australian brand, R.M. Williams, which he was very proud of, he would have made a great ambassador to the company. As we were chatting, he suddenly apologised for forgetting to take off his sunglasses because a gentleman will always take his sunglasses off when talking to a lady so that she can see where his eyes were looking, and a gentleman should always walk on the outside of the pavement to protect the lady from splashing water. A very kind and friendly gentleman! I also said hi to the motel’s adorable rescued cats.

End of Day 2. Thanks for reading.
Please click here for Day 3.

References:
http://www.meeniyan.org.au/
https://www.victorianplaces.com.au
https://www.visitpromcountry.com.au/towns
https://www.gsrt.com.au/

Walking the Great Southern Rail Trail (Day 1)

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).

Brief history

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.

Itinerary

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.

Can you help identify this tree?

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.

Dairy farms

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.

 

Street art

The local museum
This was the site of the town’s largest gold mine. The sign reads, “Site of Victory Mine. Commenced 1887. Closed 1908. Produced 28,000 ozs gold”.

End of Day 1. Thanks for reading.

Please click here for Day 2.

References:
South Gippsland Shire Council, Leongatha Railway Site Transformation: Master Plan Report (December 2017)
https://www.gsrt.com.au/
https://www.visitvictoria.com/regions/gippsland/destinations/foster https://www.visitpromcountry.com.au/towns/foster
https://www.victorianplaces.com.au/foster

Three wise birds

Three flew over the cuckoo’s nest

said they had something feather important to say

baby it doesn’t egg sense

only the wise owl wood understand

so listen cawfully they said

wren

don’t mistake what is normal for what is right

tu-whit

don’t mistake what is common for what is ideal

tweet

don’t mistake love for happiness

Card illustrated and designed by Stephanie Gray at https://erlenmeyer.com.au/

 

On the road to Leongatha

I took a short break recently to spend a few days in the Australian countryside and will be sharing more pictures here. The trip was booked a while ago so it wasn’t the earlier event of February that prompted it although I did come back feeling a little more hopeful (emphasising ‘a little more‘ because I’m cautiously positive 😂). I want to thank my friends at WP, thank you for reading my posts even if I’m not the most proficient writer, thank you for sparing me those positive pep talk, thank you for staying with me on what is perhaps the most uneventful journey ever. I’m also terribly sorry that I can’t follow/comment/read every post that is blogged, but I know people who still visit my blog despite that, thank you for your generosity.

I know a magical place 

where broken hearts are gently mended

where peace is found in solitude

where tired souls can finally breathe

with each step forward

the legs scream louder

the heart beats stronger

what was once dead

now teeming with life

as the birds sing

the wildflowers bloom

the trees whisper

between you and me

the wonders of nature

holds the answer to my question

it’s in here somewhere

on the road to Leongatha