The Victorian High Country Rail Trail and the Great Victorian Rail Trail (GVRT) have been on my to-do list since I rode the famous Otago Rail Trail in New Zealand. The High Country Trail can be done in one day, but the GVRT is much longer and needs preparation. Hopefully, the following information will be helpful for those interested. It’s a long post with many photos, but it was also a long ride.
General planning issues:
The GVRT extends 120kms from Mansfield to Tallerook, with the option of a 30km return spur line to Alexandra. There is no train service, so if you want to ride the entire trail, you must organise your own transfers. Otherwise you need to ride the 150kms plus the return leg of 120kms. For many riders, 270kms is a lot of peddling but fortunately it is relatively flat and very scenic. I enjoyed every minute of it over four days.
Unlike the Otago Rail Trail, the GVRT gets little promotional support and relies on volunteers. The signage is limited and there are very few businesses focussed on the Trail. Accommodation and food outlets at convenient intervals are spread thinly. The weather can change rapidly so you need to be well packed and supplied, and have fall-back plans if things go awry. All I took is what could be carried on my bike.
It may be helpful to know that every kilometre there is a GVRT signpost with an emergency phone number and a location code; a great idea given the Trail’s isolation. On the four days of riding, I passed only two couples and a group of six riders, plus many curious cows, wandering sheep, and hoppity rabbits and kangaroos.
If you have time to watch my GoPro three and a half minute video comprising 14 short clips you will get a good idea of the overall visual landscape of the Trail:
Day 1: Mansfield to Alexandra
Mansfield is a lovely town where I booked an Airbnb at a private residence called Iwik House. It had excellent facilities and a great host.
For me, the highlights of this section are the Bonnie Doon Bridge, the Eildon Lake Reserve, rustic homesteads, and the rolling hills as you approach the township of Alexandra.
Day 2: Alexandra to Tallerook
I stayed at the old style but friendly Alexandra Motor Inn which is a couple of minutes from the township. The Alexandra Hotel makes really great hamburger and chips.
The highlights of this section are the Railway Museum, a nearby timber mill, and varying scenery. Along the Trail, there are several shelters like the one below which are great for lunch or a break from riding.
Day 3: Tallerook to Yarck
The township of Tallerook has one hotel (without accommodation) and one general store; I had to settle for a microwaved pie for dinner after four hours of riding, so be prepared for self-catering.
Given the scarce accommodation, I was lucky to find an interesting stay on a large homestead called Our Friends Farm. Its three kilometres out of town and is now also a music, concert and function venue. It was rustic, comfortable, and friendly; well worth checking out.
Day 4: Yarck to Mansfield
I stayed at a property called Birchwood Cottage, with very friendly hosts and the GVRT conveniently crosses its front driveway. It’s only a couple of minutes from Yarck and a handful of eateries, one cosy hotel, and little else.
The highlights are similar to day 1, but in the opposite direction. As this was the shortest day of riding for me, I could spend more time at the historic Cheviot Tunnel, the Lake Eildon Reserve, and the Mansfield Railway Museum.
The GVRT is an epic ride but also one that is suitable for riders of all standard: kids, families, and seniors. It is safe and scenic the whole way, the gradient is easy, the riding surface excellent, and the views constantly changing. Until recently, it was the longest rail trail in Australia at 134kms (if you ride each section in only one direction). The title of longest now goes to the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail at 163kms, so in springtime that’s where I’m going.
More detailed map information can be found on my Strava account.