The Great Southern Rail Trail traverses the verdant South Gippsland hills, with dairy farms, wetlands, spectacular views of Wilsons Promontory and Corner Inlet, a wildlife corridor of remnant vegetation providing habitat for insects, reptiles, birds and mammals, geological features, interesting towns and villages.
Its length – from Leongatha to Welshpool – is more tan 68 km and plans to extend it to Yarram are well underway, potentially bringing the trail length to 93 km. Possible links to Mt Nicoll, Wilsons Promontory and Nyora are also in the pipeline.
The surface is fine gravel pathway, mostly flat or gently undulating, with moderate gradients from Fish Creek to Foster. The trail is suitable for walking, cycling, horse riding and people in wheel chairs.
There are about 20 access points along its length – at all towns on the trail map and where country roads cross the trail.
To enhance the enjoyment and safety of trail users, comprehensive signage is being progessively installed along the trail.
Leongatha – Koonwarra 8km, 2-3 hours walk
Gentle descent to Koonwarra. Open farmland, trail parallels west branch of Tarwin River about 1 km to the east. The red soils were formed from basaltic volcanic rocks extruded as lava flows about 40 million years ago. Seasonal wetlands near Gwythers Siding and permanent wetlands at Koonwarra begin 1km past Hogans Road. Vegetation includes swamp scrub and wetland plants; heron and ducks may be seen. Trail continues past craft, organic produce and coffee shops to the underpass at the South Gippsland Highway and trail ends temporarily in ½km, near the local recreation reserve.
Koonwarra – Minns Road 3km
Section not open to public until approx 2011
Highlights of the section are a narrow river valley, wetlands, scientifically important fossil beds and three trestle bridges (not open to the public). Near Caithness Road there is a large geological fault and the course of the west branch of the Tarwin River is abruptly deflected – three bridges were required to cross the river and wetlands here (they can be seen from the highway near the right angle bend).
Minns Road – Meeniyan 6km, 2 hours walk
The railway crosses the Tarwin River on the new bridge that was opened in March 2008. Meeniyan is a pretty town with restaurants, craft, picnic and free barbecue facilities.
Meeniyan – Stony Creek 3.5km, 1.5 hours walk
Flat trail, very easy walk. Start in Meeniyan behind petrol station. Here the trail begins the long diversion south that the railway took to Fish Creek in order to avoid the Foster hills. The trail is mostly surrounded by swamp scrub and lowland forest. This is horse country, the Stony Creek racecourse is passed on left.
Stony Creek – Buffalo 8km, 3-4 hours walk
Flat trail, very easy walk. There is a functioning weighbridge at Buffalo railway station that will form the nucleus for a museum in the future.
Buffalo – Fish Creek 8km, 4 hours walk
A more hilly area as the trail enters the foothills of the Hoddle Range. The trail rises 40m in elevation between Buffalo and Boys and descends about 50m to Fish Creek. There are a number of cuttings and embankments providing changing views of dense vegetation including Blue Gums and Paperbarks and open farmland. During the railway construction there was a camp of Italians at Boys. Near Fish Creek the damp forest community includes tree ferns and Blue Gums with an understorey of regenerating Blue Gums. This vegetation community once covered large areas of South Gippsland. Today there is only 1 per cent left. There is a lovely rural vista on the approach to Fish Creek. Fish Creek is an interesting arty sort of place. Gallery artists in residence include Bianca Biesuz-Stefani, Kerry Spokes, Michael Lester and Celia Rosser. It is good to stop here for coffee and admire the decorative metal benches on the main street.
Fish Creek – Lowrys Road 5km, 2-3 hours walk
From Fish Creek the trail climbs a valley on the west side of the Hoddle Range and crosses the summit at an elevation of 140m just past Lowrys Road. The elevation of Mt Hoddle on the right is 304m.
Lowrys Road – Foster 7.5km, 3-4 hours walk
Part of this trail is moderately steep. At the road bridge (0.5km) the trail takes a sharp bend to the north and descends to Foster along the steep eastern side of the Hoddle Range via a series of cuttings and embankments. There is a lot of dense forest along the side of the trail composed of a great variety of plants including tree ferns and orchids, with plenty of resident bird and animal life. A kilometre or so past the bridge the trail is more open and there are spectacular views of Wilsons Promontory and Corner Inlet. Much of the descent is along the plane of a large fault – the rocks in the hills on the left are about 400 million years old whereas those to the right underneath the coastal plain are only about 100 million years. Visit the Museum in Foster to learn more about the local history of Corner Inlet and the gold rushes.
Foster – Charity Lane 1km, 1/2 hour walk
Flat easy walk past Manna Gums at the old Foster Railway Station platform. New revegetation to the right.
Foster – Toora (9km)
The trail from here here is flat and relatively straight
- The biggest feature of this section is the wind turbines on the hill behind Toora.
- The Toora station precinct is also a feature with a park and skate ramp.
- Toora has a supermarket, swimming pool, caravan park, motel, hotel, cafes and restaurants.
Toora – Agnes – Welshpool (10km)
The trail has been extended from Toora to Agnes (4.54 km, including 3 bridges) and Agnes to Welshpool (5.33km, including 5 bridges). This section was opened on February 7, 2015.
From Welshpool, there is a connecting trail to the coast, the Welshpool-Port Welshpool Pathway. It is initially an offroad bike path, then joins a quiet unsealed road which follows the alignment of the former Port Welshpool Tramway. It is just over 5 kilometres to Port Welshpool.
For more information on this trail see the book Rail Trails of Victoria and South Australia.
Alberton to Yarram: “The Tarra Trail” (7km)
Another short section of trail has been developed between Yarram and Alberton. The old railway line once went from Foster to Alberton and then split, reaching Yarram and Port Albert.
- The 7km from Yarram to Alberton follows the old railway alignment for 6.5km. This is signposted as the Tarra Trail.
- The trail starts as a bike path on the west side of the main road through Alberton, and ends just north of the Yarram Station building.
- It is also possible to ride via either of two roads to Port Albert, the original gateway to the Goldfields. Many historic buildings remain.
Works to complete a 3km ‘missing link’ near Koonwarra are currently under way and expected to be finished this year, with the new section to include three trestle bridges and remove the need for cyclists to temporarily divert to the highway.
Code of conduct
The rail trail can only be used by walkers, cyclists, equestrians and wheelchairs – motor bikes and vehicles are not permitted. Dogs on leads allowed. No camping, no fires. Please keep left.
Everyone: Stay on the trail, take your rubbish home, do not disturb stock and wildlife, keep dogs on leads.
Cyclists: Approach horses with care, alert others to your approach, overtake on the right at reduced speed.
Equestrians: Slow down approaching other users, dismount and lead horses over bridges. In some sections an equestrian trail is separate from the gravel pathway and is suitable only for horses.
The rail trail is a great community asset – let’s keep it clean and respect the other users and the farms and towns alongside of it. Take your rubbish home and please don’t use the trail or the bush as a toilet.
Presently, there are toilets in the towns at Leongatha, Meeniyan, Fish Creek and Foster and some toilets have been installed next to the trail at Koonwarra, Stony Creek, Buffalo and Foster.
Origin of The Great Southern Rail Trail
In response to community requests, state government had the abandoned railway lands converted to Crown Land and set aside for public ownership – the lands are now administered by the Department of Sustainability and Environment. A Committee of Management (COM), made up of community volunteers, has responsibility for protection, maintenance and improvement of the lands and with the assistance of the Shire of South Gippsland, designed and managed the trail construction and facilities. The COM is responsible for maintenance, preservation and enhancement of the trail and natural vegetation; valuable assistance also comes from volunteers including “The Friends of The Great Southern Rail Trail”, schools, clubs and other groups. Funding to build the rail trail came from a number of government department sources.
Committee of Management
Secretary – Kevin Robinson, c/o Post Office, Meeniyan, 3956.
Chairperson – Eric Cumming.
Mobile: 0428 949 404
Friends of The Great Southern Rail Trail
You can help The Great Southern Rail Trail!
The Friends of The Great Southern Rail Trail are a non profit community organisation that aims to promote, help and lobby for the growth of The Great Southern Rail Trail. Memberships are $30 per family per year or if you prefer you can give 2 hours volunteer work. This group helps with promotion, tree planting and surveys.
Friends of The Great Southern Rail Trail,
8 Scarlett Close, Leongatha, Victoria, 3953. Paul & Glenda Pitkethly
Phone/Fax: (03) 5662 2607
Mobile: 0418 540 533
History: Great Southern Railway
South Gippsland, Victoria, Australia
The Great Southern Railway was financed by government in response to pressure by the settlers in South Gippsland. Early settlement was extremely difficult: the area was very isolated and difficult to move around in due to the wet climate and the steep rugged hills covered in dense forest and scrub. The railway helped make settlement succeed in South Gippsland – for example it reduced the time taken to reach Melbourne overland from weeks to merely six hours.
The railway took five years to build and opened in 1892; it initially joined Dandenong to Port Albert and was later extended to Yarram and Woodside; there were also branch-lines to Outtrim and Wonthaggi. The railway ensured dairying would be the main industry of South Gippsland. It hastended the building of towns, roads and mines and reduced the social isolation of the settlers. Indirectly, it ensured the destruction of the great forests of Gippsland would be complete.
The government rail department designed the railway and a number of private contractors built in. Andrew O’Keefe built the section from Korumburra to Toora using 2000 men, 200 horses and 700 oxen at a cost of 322,693 pounds, 17 shillings and ten pence.
The trains carried mostly dairy products, pigs and sheep, newspapers and mail, fertilizer, fish, timber, machinery, beer, groceries and people. When the railway was closed in 1992, due in part to competition from road transport, it was only carrying supplies for the oil fields in Bass Strait.
The meandering path of the Great Southern Rail Trail from Leongatha to Foster illustrates the difficulties the surveyors had finding a passable route for a railway line through South Gippsland. Ideally, a railway line should be straight and level – it requires five times more energy to pull a train up a gradient of 1 in 100 than for a level course and an increase of 25 percent for each degree of curve. There was certainly no ideal route between Leongatha and Port Albert – the hils at Nerrena, Dollar and Foster were impassable for trains and it was necessary to make a circuitous detour of 50km via Fish Creek and Foster. From Leongatha the railway had to detour south to Koonwarra where it was possible to cross the hills there in a relatively deep and narrow valley cut by the west branch of the Tarwin River (the valey is formed where the river has cut its course along a fracture or fault in the rocks). Then, in otrder to avoid the Foster hills, the track detoured further south to Fish Creek from where about 6km east a route was found over the Hoddle Range via a relatively low pass. From there the railway turned north and descended along a very steep sided fault escarpment to the coastal plain at Foster.
Alongside the trail there is a diversity of plant communities, including wetlands, swamp scrub, lowland forest, damp forest and heath – there are important remnants of the vegetation that was here before agriculture changed the countryside. The main tree species include Messmate, Swamp, Strzelecki, Manna and Blue Gums and Narrow-leaf Peppermint.
Most of the rocks alongside the trail are about 100 to 50 million years old and include sandstone, coal and basalt lava. Some of the sandstone contains fossils of dinosaurs and primitive plants, fish, birds and early mammals. In the Hoddle Range thr rocks are about 400 million years old and the gold found at Stockyard Creek (Foster) came from them. About 100 million years ago Australia was attached to Antarctica and located near the South Pole; after the two continents separated, Australia slowly drifted north to its present position – the immense geological forces involved fractured (faulted) the earth’s crust – blocks of sandstone and other rocks pushed up along these faults form the Gippsland hills (and the traps for the oil in Bass Strait). The Foster area is the most seismically active area of Victoria and relatively minor earthquake temors occur occasionally, no doubt associated with movement along faults in the area.
Other attractions in the area
The rail trail journey can be combined with other regional attractions – Agnes Falls (highest in Victoria), Wilsons Promontory and Tarra Bulga National Parks, Coal Creek Heritage Village, Foster Historical Museum, historic Port Albert (great fish and chips!) the Grand Ridge Road for scenic driving, Toora wind farm, beaches at Inverloch, Walkerville, Waratah, Sandy Point and Venus Bay, and bird hides at Bald Hills and Toora Beach – and of course, wineries. Enjoy!
See also www.railtrails.org.au
Acknowledgements Trail notes: Research and interpretation by Barry Clarke and Mary Ellis 2004: Revised May 2008