Bike chains have replaced trains on this ride out of Bendigo.
A weathered railway sleeper embedded in sand is one of the few in-situ relics of the railway laid between Heathcote and Bendigo in the 1880s. Everything else was ripped up after the line closed in 1958 to construct Lake Eppalock, yet history rides the trail that now follows its route.
Cyclists and walkers have pedalled and trodden the O’Keefe Rail Trail between Bendigo and Axedale since the early 1990s. Years of campaigning and work by Friends of the Bendigo- Kilmore Rail Trail have seen the trail recently extended to Heathcote.
We’re riding about 30km from Bendigo to the old railway sleeper, but first we put together a picnic of regional treats from Bendigo Wholefoods (314 Lyttleton Tce): Holy Goat cheese, chicken terrine, rustic rolls and Harcourt apple juice.
From Lake Weeroona’s north shore, we wheel 400m along Bendigo Creek Trail to an O’Keefe Rail Trail sign. Over Midland Hwy, under the rail line and through an industrial area, we’re away. Swinging right about 5km along at Rangelea siding junction, we cross McIvor Hwy and ride for 15km through farms and typical gold-country woodland of box-ironbark and yellow gum, looking for native orchids along the trail. The unsealed track is flat but soft patches make it challenging on a road bike.
A replica sign indicates the Axedale Railway Station site where we stop to admire colourful sugar gums. We pass Axedale General Cemetery, with its unusual stone-walled ‘private’ Roman Catholic section. As yet there is no access from the rail trail, only from Axedale, but a local history trail is planned.
At the next junction we wheel straight onto the reconstructed Axedale Racecourse siding. The original station was built for people training from Bendigo and Melbourne to Axedale for Campaspe River picnics and horse race carnivals.
Next we ride into town, forced off the railway alignment by a golf course and a mineral quarry. We could lunch at old Axedale Tavern or the General Store, the only rail trail food between Bendigo and Heathcote, but instead we wheel through back streets, passing a deconsecrated bluestone church and the old police station, the second last house before the river reserve. The reserve sports Yvonne George’s Platypus Compass, a contemporary metal sculpture depicting swimming platypus.
Refuelled, it’s under the McIvor Hwy and across a new trail bridge spanning sedgy plants which ripple like streamers in clear water.
Now for our one notable climb (we might walk the bikes): up a quiet back road lined with pepper trees and dry stone walling to the ruins of the 1874 Quarry Hotel. After 700m of road we’re back on rail trail-only path.
A wary crossing of the 100km/h McIvor Hwy puts us in Knowsley State Forest. We ride through box forest and between Axedale Quarry and a disused stone-walled well of a former settlement. Back on the original rail alignment again, we then cut through the forest, our whirring wheels spooking wallabies from the shady culverts beneath the trail.
Replica railway mile marker posts have been counting down our progress from 100, the original distance by train from Melbourne to Bendigo, and just after the 84 post (detours have taken us further than those 16 miles) we ride over the old railway sleeper to the car we had previously left.
Treat your tastebuds to a driving tour of Bendigo and Heathcote wineries, picking from a bunch of cellar doors. Keep your energy up with regional delicacies from town produce stores, cafes, markets and roadside stalls.
Check out birdlife, an old road exposed at low water and the stumps of a railway bridge as you stroll the purpose-built rail trail causeway at Lake Eppalock. Or expend more energy on the Goldfields Track, the 210km trail from Ballarat to Bendigo.
RACV can help
RACV has a number of savings to help members make the most of their time in Bendigo and regional Victoria, including discounts on dining, leisure, cycling and living. For these savings and more, go to racv.com.au.