Back in the 1890s there was much excitement about the Great Southern Railway. This new railway line from Melbourne to Port Albert broke the isolation of south Gippsland. No longer the rough sea voyages or extended land travel along tracks of deep mud – this opened a daily passenger service to and from Melbourne.
And importantly, a daily goods train unleashed a wave of economic activity. Large scale pastoralists had always been able to walk big numbers of cattle to markets, but smaller farmers had great difficulties accessing buyers. Now they could transport butter, cheese, milk, fish, cattle and timber quickly to Melbourne. Land speculators also got onboard. Blocks of land closest to the line increased in value above those further away, and subdivisions were planned around potential railway station sites. And of course there were conspiracy theories that at least one landholder used his influence in Melbourne to get the train routed through his property.
Fast forward to present day, and there is still excitement about this line in the form of the Great Southern Rail Trail. The old line has been pulled up and gravelled to create a walking and riding path from Leongatha to Toora that is an absolute gem. Gippsland Food Adventures highly recommend visitors complete at least one stage of this scenic trail.
The total length is over 60km, (but can easily be broken into much smaller stages) and the trail winds through beautiful native bush which suddenly opens to expanses of some wonderful farming landscapes. The animals, fences, farm dams and sweet smell of spring made silage gives a sense of authenticity – the trail immerses you in the real countryside – a very different experience from just motoring through it.
And my favourite section from Hoddle to Foster, as well as providing stunning views of Wilsons Promontory and Corner Inlet, goes through dense forest with large tree ferns and gums. And I imagine this is what the great forests of Gippsland might have looked like, which leaves me with mixed emotions. I’m in awe of the ability of the early settlers to turn this forest into productive farming land, but not without a tinge of sadness about what we have lost in the process.
And the really exciting news is the abundance of opportunities to mix rail trail activities with food and good coffee at regular intervals. As well as the bigger centres of Leongatha and Foster there is the Koonwarra Store, Moos at Meeniyan or 9 Acres Café at Fish Creek to rest over one’s favourite coffee brew. A small confession -
The rail trail is well serviced with picnic tables along the way, and picnic goodies can be purchased at either end of the trail. Ahern’s food store in Foster and the Paddle Wheel farmers store at Koonwarra both have a wonderful range of Gippsland cheeses, some cold meats, bread and fruit -
More details of the Great Southern Rail Trail can be found at www.railtrails.org.au , or contact Gippsland Food Adventures. We can tailor a food adventure along the rail trail including farm and winery visits to suit visitors’ needs.