The long haul
In the Yarra Valley there is a rail trail where bikers meet bakers.
Passengers, fruit and vegetables fresh from Wandin’s rich farmlands and 1.75 million tonnes of timber rode the Warburton Railway during its six decades of operation. Indeed, the volume of timber trained out of Yarra Junction, one of nine stations along the broad gauge Lilydale branch was supposedly second only to Seattle in the US.
A steam locomotive hauled the first Warburton train in November 1901 and diesel powered the last in August 1965, and part-time cyclists pedalling the 40km of the Lilydale to Warburton Rail Trail might ache – literally – for non-human assistance along the way. Fortunately, parking areas along the Warby Trail enable shorter one-way and return rides.
We, however, are up for the long haul. So, having left one car at Warburton, we offload our bikes from another at Lilydale Station and wheel sedately between wooden uprights into Melba Park (Dame Nellie is buried in Lilydale cemetery).
Skirting Mt Lilydale Mercy College and crossing Maroondah Hwy on a rusty overpass, we ride into backyard-abutting forest. Down to the right, a few metres beyond a corrugated iron tunnel under Hereford Rd, is First Aid Competition Reserve, where Victorian Railways held state and national first aid competitions from 1911 to 1992. Competitors, officials and spectators rode a special train from Spencer St and teams demonstrated their knowledge at simulated accident sites.
From here we have a long, steady climb through pine trees and rail cuttings revealing the layered and buckled nature of the ground beneath our wheels. In Mount Evelyn, the highest point on the trail, and a popular holiday destination between the world wars, we pass Station Hotel, which has yummy pies, the restored Station House (local library), and the old railway platform with bollard figures, replica signage and picnic tables.
Relaxing but not steep enough for a fun free-wheel, the descent from Mount Evelyn begins with two road crossings within 600m. The trail then goes bush again beside Penny Olive Sourdough Cafe (open Friday-Sunday), a popular place for a pick-me-up coffee and muffin or to buy a loaf of organic bread for a picnic lunch further on.
In 1956 thousands of people in Sunday glad-rags gathered to wave the Queen and the Duke through on their rail journey to Warburton in the royal carriage. There’s no such fanfare for us as we roll on between fruit poly tunnels. A sign for fresh cherries at Wellington Rd almost tempts us off the trail. Instead we have scrumptious cherry pie at Wandin Valley Provedore, 250m up from the trail. And we top up again at the Carriage Cafe Seville, built around an old red rattler, which caters for all trail users with horse yards, bike racks and a dog tie-up area.
Having rolled gently downhill through bush, grazing country and grape vines, we spill onto the Yarra’s lush floodplain and continue between paddocks dotted with horses and cows and lined with old-man gum trees. The Great Dividing Range is taller and wider and greener ahead as we cross Woori Yallock Creek on a restored but still wonderfully rustic timber bridge.
Old Woori Yallock station platform is a popular starting point for people travelling part of the rail trail on foot, bike and horse, and Yarra Junction station is home to the Upper Yarra Museum (Wednesdays, Sundays and third Saturday of each month, 11am-4pm). Star exhibit of this treasure trove is the gorgeous weatherboard building itself, the original Lilydale station, complete with almost jaunty chimney pots, built in 1888 and relocated here around 1915.
Marker posts count down the last 8km into Warburton, over Yarra River bridges and through lush floodplain with the mountains as backdrop and buttercup drifts either side. Tree-framed snapshots from the elevated trail of the Yarra, burbling over rocks between verdant ferns and mountain ash below, power us along the last kilometre to our welcome final dismount at the Cog Bike Cafe.
Get more on this ride at www.railtrails.org.au.
For a gentle post-ride warm down, stroll up-river from Warburton, checking out the duck families and the Californian redwoods planted in 1922. Warburton is also the perfect rendezvous point for walks in Yarra Ranges National Park, starting from the lookout tower on Mt Donna Buang.
Relive tall-timber stories on unsealed minor Brahams and Ada River roads, working your way south-east from Warburton to the Ada Tree, a majestic centuries-old mountain ash in myrtle beech rainforest, and on to visit Noojee’s splendid trestle bridge. It’s an easy sealed run back from there through Powelltown to the Warburton Hwy.