If you love long-distance cycling in the vast open spaces of rural Australia, chances are you will enjoy riding on rail trails. Apart from a few shorter trails that can be ridden in one day, most are multi-day rides that require some forward planning.
In late March this year, just before the Covid-19 restrictions came into force, I rode the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail (M2M) in Victoria. It links the towns of Beechworth, Wangaratta, Milawa, in a north-west direction; then Myrtleford, Bright, and Wandiligong heading south-east.
The official M2M website declares the Trail to be 116 kilometres but that is only the main sections between the three bigger towns of Beechworth, Wangaratta, and Bright. Adding the smaller towns of Milawa and Wandiligong, and riding it all twice over (there and back) I rode a total of 264kms over four days (staying three nights), as calculated by my ebike odometer and confirmed by Strava.
A brief log of each day’s ride, with Strava maps and a few representative images, will give you a feel for what this ride is like. It’s a rather long blog report, but so was the ride.
Day 1: Beechworth to Wangaratta
I drove from Sydney and stayed overnight in Albury, followed by a 45km morning drive to the pretty town of Beechworth. It’s always exciting to start a long bike tour, and this was no exception; there is nothing more enticing that a rail trail that stretches into the distance.
Day 2: Wangaratta to Myrtleford
With a sunny day ahead, I decided to take the 25 km diversion to Oxley and Milawa before heading to Myrtleford, making this the longest riding day at 108kms through lovely scenery and peaceful countryside (packing the spare battery was essential). The Milawa Cheese Company was my ‘light on the hill’ and it did not disappoint: the coffee and croissant were magnificent.
Day 3: Myrtleford to Bright
Arguably, the most scenic section of the M2M is from Myrtleford to Bright. I added a round trip to nearby Wandiligong to check out the historic gold diggings and the Chinese Bridge. Bright is a village full of charming bakeries and cafes which are definitely worth exploring.
Day 4: Myrtleford to Beechworth
My last day’s ride was a hurried return from Myrtleford to Beechworth, then a drive back to Albury before the Covid inter-state border crossing restrictions came into force. My motel receptionist told me that inter-state travellers would be stopped at the border and ordered into quarantine, which turned out to be a rumour but believable enough for me to worry. I had the electric assist dialled all the way up for the final 30km leg, and barely stopped for photos.
Rail Trails are the Zen of cycling. Most are built where the views are great, with no traffic or crowds, just long stretches of meditative bike riding. The longer rides require more planning and can be isolated between towns, but worth the effort.
Click if you are interested in theVictorian Hight Country Trail and the Great Victorian Rail Trail. Other trails on my future to-do list: the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail (162km), the East Gippsland Rail Trail (94km), the Great Southern Rail Trail (74km), and the new Tumbarumba to Rosewood Trail (22kms). These distances are one-way. If you have any favourites, feel free to comment below.