Winter Wonderland Cycling and Railway Holiday


What follows is the diary of a mid-winter train and bike adventure, each day’s entry written on that day…

Tuesday 4th August

The start of this winter wonderland adventure started in character – the overnight temperature was about -2C. After a reasonable sleep in a warm bed I arrived at Albury (New South Wales) station around 6:10am, put my bike into the luggage van and then found my seat. The train ride was good (could a train ride be otherwise?) and it was good to see that the train was often travelling faster than the road traffic travelling on the Hume Freeway that is next to the railway. The plan for this adventure is to travel by train to Bendigo, then spend a day and a half there exploring by bicycle, then (weather permitting) ride along the O’Keefe rail trail to Heathcote, the day after that continue on to Seymour where I will to catch a train to Wangaratta where I will rendezvous with Rebecca and have a romantic weekend away to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. If the weather forecast for Thursday or Friday is nasty then I will head back towards home early and meet Rebecca at a different place.

The train journey from Southern Cross to Kangaroo Flats could not have been more different than the train journey from Albury. Where the journey from Albury was at a somewhat sedate 100 – 110kph (or thereabouts) with as much as 20 minutes or so between stops and the train itself was a 5 car deisel-electric locomotive hauled train the Southern Cross to Kangaroo Flats journey was in a deisel multiple unit (DMU) train called a VLocity travelling at up to 160kph with stops about every 10 minutes. The first part of the journey in the VLocity train was somewhat boring, being on suburban-standard track. But after we left Sunbury the VLocity was able to stretch it’s legs and there were a number of times it must have got close to it’s 160kph maximum speed. I had been in VLocity trains before, but I don’t think I have ever been on a train trip that was so un-nerving as the Kangaroo Flats journey. Exactly why, I don’t know. But the journey was finished safely.

Kangaroo Flats Goods Shed

Kangaroo Flats Goods Shed (disused)

Kangaroo Flats Railway Station

Kangaroo Flats Railway Station

After buying some lunch and booking into the motel, I went exploring on the tredlie. The Bendigo Creek Trail, and 2 loops around the Crusoe and No 7 dams were the subject of my exploration. The 2 loops around the dams were interesting with lots of historical vistas. The Bendigo Creek Trail is like many other urban bike trails with many different vignettes and experiences – suburban backyards, bridge underpasses, losing the trail, bike lanes on roads. Overall, though, it was an interesting trail.

Central Deborah Mine

Central Deborah Mine

Bendigo Creek Trail Brick Bridge

Bendigo Creek Trail Brick Bridge

Crusoe and No7 Dams Water Works

Crusoe and No7 Dams Water Works

Crusoe Dam Water Works

Crusoe Dam Water Works

No7 Dam - Old Pipes

No7 Dam – Old Pipes

Crusoe and No7 Dams Water Race

Crusoe and No7 Dams Water Race

No7 Dam Basin

No7 Dam Basin

No7 Dam Cistern

No7 Dam Cistern

Wednesday 5th

I awoke to the sound of rain. And the sound of water cascading off the roof. Hmmm! But I needn’t have worried. By the time I had finished breakfast it had abated somewhat. And by the time I had attempted to book my train ticket online and successfully booked accommodation for Thursday the sky had cleared up and there was even a fair bit of blue sky. I needed to somehow check that my attempt at booking the train ticket was successful and felt the best way to do that would be to visit the Bendigo train station. As it turned out I had not successfully booked the train ticket, so booked it while at the station. While I was doing that it was raining quite heavily. But a few minutes after I had booked the ticket it had almost stopped. So I continued on my ride.

One Tree Hill Tower

One Tree Hill Tower

Railway Workshops

Railway Workshops

Railway Workshops

Railway Workshops

Through the suburbs of Bendigo I peddled, and then turned south towards One Tree Hill, one of the highest points in the area. The ascent up One Tree Hill was somewhat difficult, but I figured there would have to be some downhilll upon reaching the top and so tried to ignore the aching muscles, rapid breathing, and thumping chest. From the top of One Tree Hill there was indeed some downhill. Yay! From there I rode to the Geographical Centre of Victoria, the location of Mandurang. It even has a snazzy plaque and a big X (which, incidently, ‘marks the spot’). From there I went back to the Kangaroo Flats Rd via a dirt road whose name I don’t recall.

Mandurang - Centre Of Victoria

Mandurang – Centre Of Victoria Plaque

Mandurang - Centre Of Victoria

Mandurang – Centre Of Victoria – X marks the spot

I arrived back at the motel a bit after noon, and then proceeded to dry out my riding attire. And then I availed myself of some lunch time sustenance which amounted to a cheese and tomato roll, some nuts and some fruit. The afternoon was spent doing some shopping and relaxing at the motel.

Thursday 6th August

The original plan has changed. Instead of cycling to Heathcote today and then on to Seymour tomorrow I have decided to travel from Kangaroo Flats to Southern Cross (Melbourne, Victoria) then to Wangaratta today and spend the night there. Then explore around there by bike. The major reason why I made the change was that I didn’t want to ride along the McIvor highway for about 20km east of Heathcote and the alternative routes suggested by Google Maps may be through a restricted military area. The last thing I need is to have to turn back about 10 or km into the ride, or worse. So the safest option was to not include the Bendigo – Heathcote – Seymour ride in the itinerary.

I installed a GPS Speedometer app on my phone last night with the express purpose of seeing how fast the train travelled on the journey into Melbourne. The train reached it’s maximum speed of 160kph on a number of occassions according to the app, even on the suburban trackage south of Sunbury although the track in the section was noticably rougher. Once at Southern Cross in Melbourne I had a 2.5 hour wait, so sat at the platform the train to Wangaratta was going to depart from and watched the trains come and go – a pleasant way for a rail fan to spend a few hours in spite of the drizzle and cool temperature. The journey to Wangaratta was uneventful, until a car collected a train going the opposite way to the train I was on. So the train I was on stopped at Benalla and we were all herded onto buses. I really wonder at the level of intelligence people must have every time I hear or read about a car collecting a train. When will people learn that those red flashing things on poles near railway lines means STOP before the silver parralel things so that the big heavy fast articulated metal thing on wheels doesn’t hit your car! It must be said that through the whole saga the Vline railway staff were great at keeping us informed and getting us to our destinations. They had buses available within about 30 minutes of us stopping at Benalla – no mean feat in the country where a bus may have to come from up to an hour away. Multiple kudos to them for the awesome job they did, and for the bus drivers that got us to our destinations.

So by the time I got to Wangaratta I was about an hour late. After riding to the motel via a wrong turn, and making some dinner, I proceeded to do some serious relaxing.

Friday 7th August

After collaborating with Rebecca, I decided that I would attempt to ride from Wangaratta North to Whitfield or further in the King Valley. So about 10am I left the motel and headed south. The first 20km was on a separate trail near the Whitfield road. I always prefer to ride on a separate trail rather than a road when cycling if one is available. After the Oxley turnoff I had to use the road. And it was a lot busier than I had expected.

Moyhu Church

Moyhu Church

Moyhu Church

Moyhu Church

Hume and Hovell Marker

Hume and Hovell Marker south of Moyhu

Lunch at Moyhu at the iNeeta Cafe

Lunch at Moyhu at the iNeeta Cafe

After a stop for lunch about 1/2 way at Moyhu I continued on towards our accommodation at Cheshunt South. When I started at Wangaratta North I had ‘some energy’, but the further along the road to Whitfield I got the more ‘tired’ I felt, especially after I had stopped for lunch and started riding again. At a place called Edi Cutting, so named because the narrow gauge railway that once travelled through the area travelled through a cuttung there, I decided rather than going up along the road to go down and along the flats. This went well until I encountered this…

Edi Cutting Creek Crossing

Edi Cutting Creek Crossing

I tried to ride through, but the rocks in the water were too big and so I got off the bike in mid stream, getting my feet all wet, and proceeded to trudge through the crossing on foot.

At Whitfield I considered stopping and waiting for Rebecca to pick me up on the way through, but when I found out she was still about an hour and a half away I decided to keep going. I passed through Cheshunt, and turned towards Cheshunt South, and by that stage was stopping every few kilometres for a rest and by the time I got to Glenmore Springs, our accommodation for the weekend, I was puffing and panting with legs that wanted to give up, struggling along on a flat road in first gear! But I made it – almost 70km with full touring kit which must be some sort of distance and endurance record for me.

Whitfield Railway Engine Shed

Old Whitfield Railway Engine Shed, I think

Whitfield Railway Engine Shed, I think

Inside the old Whitfield Railway Engine Shed, I think

Whitfield Railway Engine Shed, I think

Inside the old Whitfield Railway Engine Shed, I think

Rebecca arrived about 45 minutes after I did, which gave me a chance to have a shower and freshen up, and stock up the fire, before she arrived. A very interesting week of railways and cycling! And now the romantic 20th anniversary weekend getaway begins…

Glenmore Springs

Glenmore Springs – entrance

Glenmore Springs

Glenmore Springs – tobacco kiln converted to a two storey 1 bedroom apartment.

Inside

Inside – ‘lounge’ room

Inside

Inside – the roaring fire and the edge of the dining table.

View from the balcony

View from the balcony acessible from the bedroom on the upper floor.

Koscioscko National Park Get-away


Friday before Christmas 2014

For weeks now I have really felt like I needed to “get away”! Today I realised the start of “getting away” for a few days. Having packed the car the night before, I left home a bit after 8am. And then I decided I wasn’t going to check the clock until Monday. I would also be “off-the-grid” till then as well – no mobile phone reception and no internet. Just me, God, nature and the bike. I arrived at Geehi Flats camping area and it didn’t take long to set up camp. Then I embarked on an activity I hadn’t done for about a month – I went on a bike ride. After a quick look at a map, I decided the Swampy Plain Loop would be the go. The ride being rated as “easy”, I was fairly confident that I could do it. The first 2 kms was uphill and fairly steep at that, and then the rest was either downhill (sometimes steep) or almost flat. On the ride I saw many kangaroos, some 4x4ers (a common species in them thar hills), 3 different huts all made out of river stones, and some awesome scenery. And just to complete the experience, there were 2 river crossings – the first time I have ever attempted that on a bike. After a bit of recovery time I decided to try and find the old Geehi township site, which was set up as a work town for the Snowy Mountains Scheme. It showed it on the map, but the track that led down to it had a nice sign warning that site rehabilitation work was in progress, so not to go there. Being a law abiding citizen I decided to heed the sign, and turned back towards camp. On the way back to the campsite I found the Bicentenial National Trail, so walked along that instead of along the Alpine Way. I did manage to find the Dr Forbes Hut, albeit from the other side of the river! There were already quite a number of campers at Geehi Flats camping area, but it is still very serene. The stresses of life seem so far away. I spotted a number of Wrens, Crimson Rosellas, the laughter of the Kookaburra, some bird calls I don’t think I have ever heard before. And there was also the sounds of the river nearby to camp. One bird I saw looked like a cross between a crow and a magpie and sounded like a galah! The white moths fluttered from bush to bush without a care. The mountain peaks of the western fall of the Kosciosko Main Range in the distance standing watch over the valleys. I think it would be very easy to lose one’s self, and find closeness to the One who made these beautiful places like this, in the process. As Sabbath approached I got in the car and headed towards Scammells Spur Lookout. Along the way I encountered a family whose car had overheated on the hiil climb. I stopped and helped them get going again and then offered to follow them to the top of the hill, which they were grateful for. Then I drove to the lookout. To open Sabbath I read Psalm 92, “A Psalm for the Sabbath”, and blew the Shofar. It’s sound produced a pretty cool echo. And the view of the Main Range was amazing.

“LORD, … I take joy in what your hands haave made; How great are your deeds” (Ps 92:4,5 CJB).

Old Geehi Hut

Old Geehi Hut

River crossing on Swampy Plains Loop

River crossing on Swampy Plains Loop

Behrs Flat looking to Main Range

Behrs Flat looking to Main Range

Keeble Hut

Keeble Hut

Geehi Hut

Geehi Hut

Original Geehi Hut

Original (?) Geehi Hut

Campsite at Geehi Flats

Campsite at Geehi Flats

Swampy Plains River

Swampy Plains River at Geehi Flats

Dr Forbes Hut

Dr Forbes Hut

Bicentenial National Trail

Bicentenial National Trail

Geehi airstrip

Geehi airstrip, probably unused!

Kosciosko Main Range

Kosciosko Main Range from Scammells Spur Lookout

Kosciosko Main Range

Kosciosko Main Range from Scammells Spur Lookout

Kosciosko Main Range

Kosciosko Main Range from Scammells Spur Lookout

To see GPS data for the Swampy Plain Loop, go here: http://www.strava.com/activities/231707713 .

Sabbath

I awoke to the sounds and songs of birds today. I recogised the sound of a lyrebird nearby. Varied was the bird-songs I heard. All of them singing songs of praise to their Creator.

“What variety there is in your works, LORD. How many of them there are! In wisdom you made them all; The earth is full of your creations” (Ps 104:24 CJB).

After breakfast I had a quick look at the map and decided to try and hike from Dead Horse Gap towards Mt Kosciosko and see how far I got. Before that could happen I had to drive to Dead Horse Gap, a distance of 40km from camp. Last night while settling down to go to sleep I listened to Dr Richard Davidson’s “Blazing Grace”, a talk about Moses and the Israelites encountering God at Mt Sinai. In that talk he says that the difference in altitude between Mt Kosciosko (Australia’s highest mountain) and Mt Sinai was about 50 metres. As I hiked towards Australia’s highest mountain I remembered that talk and concluded that Moses must have been a very fit man at age 80 (read the Biblical story and you’ll see what I mean)! I contemplated the power of such a God that could create the foundations for these mountains as I walked amongst the rugged beauty. By the time I got to the Kosciosko Lookout (about 4 kms from the mountain) I realised I wasn’t going to make it to the top, so after a short look at the view I turned around towards Dead Horse Gap. I’m glad I did as I devloped blisters. The scenery on the walk was awe-inspiring – beautiful alpine meadows and wildflowers, majestic rock tors, an abundance of bird life, and pristine mountain creeks. And I got to SEE Australia’s highest mountain even though I didn’t get to climb it – that will have to wait for another day. When I got back to the car it was starting to warm up and so I drove back to a camping / rest area called Leather Barrel Creek to have lunch. Lunch was non-descript so I won’t bore you with the details. On the way back to the camp after lunch I saw a turnoff for Geehi Horse Camp, and turned off to take a look, I reckon I found the old Geehi Township site not far from the horse camp area, so what I thought was the track to the Geehi township site yesterday probably wasn’t. By the time I got back to camp it had heated up even more and so inside the tent was WAY too hot to stay in. So I found some shade under a nearby tree and relaxed for a while. Putting the feet in the river, watching a family of ducks fighting the river current to stay in one place and splashing water on my mildly sunburnt arms and hands was also a pleasant way to relax – for a while. I noticed around this time that clouds were starting to build up – big white fluffy clouds, not the wispy-of-no-consequence kind. I began to wonder whether the weather forecasters might have got it wrong (again) and that the rain forecast for Monday might arrive early. At least the clouds will break the sunshine for a bit. Around the same time the wind strength increased too. Between the time I left this morning for the hike and the time I got back most of the campers had left, and then from the time I got back to camp a fairly steady stream of new campers arrived. It has been an interesting Sabbath. Experiencing the mountains at their sunny best, and enjoying the serenity of the camp area with it’s wildlife. Topped off by a Potato and Cashew soup (3 helpings) for Dinner and Pear Halves for dessert.

Gang Gang

Gang Gang, female I think. Male Gang Gangs have a bright red head. Near Dead Horse Gap.

Cascade Trail Head view

Cascade Trail Head view, near Dead Horse Gap

Dead Horse Gap Track

Dead Horse Gap Track

Mountains viewable on Dead Horse Gap Track

Mountains viewable on Dead Horse Gap Track

Mountains viewable on Dead Horse Gap Track

Mountains viewable on Dead Horse Gap Track

Native orchid?

Native orchid?

Flower

Flower

Alpine flower

Alpine flower

Rock Tor

Rock Tor

Mountains

Mountains as far as the eye can see. No sign of human habitation!

Mountains

Mountains as far as the eye can see. No sign of human habitation!

Mountains

Mountains as far as the eye can see. No sign of human habitation!

Mountains viewable on Dead Horse Gap Track

Mountains viewable on Dead Horse Gap Track

Mountains viewable on Dead Horse Gap Track

Mountains viewable on Dead Horse Gap Track

Alpine meadow

Alpine meadow

Creek

Creek on Kosciosko Trail above Thredbo

Snow

Remnants of snow on Mt Koscioscko

Rams head range

Rams Head Range. A metal and paved “pathway” extends from the top of Kosciosko Express chairlist to within a few kms of the summit of Mt Kosciosko.

Rock Tor

Rock Tor

Alpine Meadow

Alpine Meadow

Ferns

Ferns in the cleft of the rock

Creek

Creek at Leather Barrel Creek Rest Area

Emu at Tom Groggin Rest / Camp Area

Emu at Tom Groggin Rest / Camp Area

Site of Geehi Township

Site of Geehi Township, I think.

For GPS data on the Dead Horse Gap – Kosciosko Lookout walk, go here: http://www.strava.com/activities/231707720 .

Sunday

Awoke to fog this morning, and what looked like an “ovecast” sky. It was a bit hard to tell whether the “overcast” sky was just the fog lifting or was actual overcast sky. And it was cool as well. I think I got out of bed earlier than I did yesterday but it’s a bit hard to tell as I haven’t been living on clock time since Friday. The plan for today was to do the Major Clews Hut bike ride, a 35km circuit described as “challenging” in one document I read. Hmmm! According to the information I have, the return journey from the hut is a “constant climb” to Scammells Spur, and mostly along an “easy 4×4” track. I started the ride as planned – along Alpine Way for 2km, then left into Geehi Walls Track. Everything went well until I got to the bridge across a creek about 4km down the track. It was then I heard a canine howl, then another from a different direction. I had read on one of the infomation boards near my camp site that there were Dingos in the area, and those howls didn’t sound like domestic dogs. I envisioned being harrassed by a pack of dingos. So rather than ride towards where the howls seemed to come from, further along Geehi Walls Track towards Major Clews Hut, I turned around and back tracked up the Geehi Walls track to where it starts on the Alpine Way. From there I turned left, the revised plan then being to try and ride to Scammells Spur Lookout along the Alpine Way. So off I trundled on the treadlie! The ride to the lookout is about 11km from Geehi Flats camping area, and most of it is uphill. And not just a slight uphill. I did eventually make to the lookout after many many stops to catch my breath. Then I took in the view for a while, rested, and rehydrated (a fancy term meaning I had lots to drink), and checked and adjusted the brakes. It was while doing this that I noticed that the back brake cable was badly frayed in the assembly at the back wheel. Not good! So I made some hasty repairs and decided that the descents on the way back to camp would have to be at a lower speed, and only using the back brake when absolutely necessary and then only gently. This meant the front brake would be the main brake on the way back to camp. A prayer for protection was said, and then the descent began. The brakes worked fine for limiting my speed on the descents. And the ride was totally uneventful – definitely a GOOD THING. On the way back I saw a group of cyclists heading the other way. I am guessing they were heading to Khancoban as there was no other town until then. I also guessed that they originated in Jindabyne or Thredbo, although they could have camped overnight somewhere along the way if they had a support vehicle to carry luggage, etc. By the time I got back to the camp the sun was high in the sky, and I was feeling somewhat hungry, and it was rather warm. I decided to put the food in the car and go to Olsens Lookout and have some lunch there. I arrived at Olsens Lookout and had a “gourmet” (not) meal of Baked Beans, tinned Fruit and Shapes while looking up at the mountain range. The food might have been a bit ordinary, but the mountain views made up for it! By this time it was getting a bit too hot to do anything strenuous so I returned to camp and found the shadiest spot I could – under the roof of the information booth next to my camp spot – and read some chapters of a book called “The Colour of Courage”, the story of a two year pack-horse journey along the Bicentenial National Trail (BNT) from northern Queensland to the outskirts of Melbourne. The BNT runs through the Kosciosko National Park and the Geehi Flats camping area where I am. As I relaxed, I noticed that whenever I had to get up to do anything that my leg muscles ached quite badly. Must be a reaction to the bike ride in the morning. For the second day in a row bit fluggy clouds started overshadowing the camping area. The clouds yesterday produced no rain so it seem unlikely that the clouds today would either. Also for the second day in a row most of the campers left and were replaced by new campers. After a dinner of all sorts of weird and wonderful combinations I set about organising things that I could pack away in the car so that I wouldn’t need to do it in the morning. This will minimise the amount of time it will take to “break camp” in the morning . It’s a sure sign that my time here is drawing to a close! I came here to recharge, to get in touch with nature, and to appreciate more the Creator of the real world beyond the bricks and mortar, concrete, timetables, money, etc. I think it’s been a success on all counts. And along the way I rediscovered the benefits and joy in doing something physically demanding and challenging, and yes maybe even a little dangerous!

For GSP data for the two rides done on this day, go to:

Monday

Well, today is the day I leave the real world and go back to that “other” world. It is with mixed feelings that I leave this place. On the one hand I love the serenity and natural beauty of this National Park. But on the other hand I have mised Rebecca and the kids and look forward to seeing them again. It’s been great to live “off-the-grid” and off the clock for a few days without emails to check, and no clock to dictate what I should be doing. But the reality is that the busines world runs by the clock and, alas, I must join that world again. When God makes the earth new, and we have eternity to enjoy perfect natural beauty, then the clock will be no more, the world of wires and wireless will disappear, money will not be needed. O bliss!