Bleak City and Tinsel Town are separated by 807 kilometres of Hume Highway and over 100 years of rivalry.
Melbourne and Sydney are now connected by an unbroken 110km per hour dual carriageway so boring that authorities in NSW recommend that you take a break every two hours to prevent falling asleep at the wheel.
In Victoria, the antidote to micro sleeps is apparently the ‘power nap‘, the two states can’t even agree on a common way of preventing fatigue.
While the train service is excellent but expensive and time consuming, and flights are cheap but fraught with anxiety and unpleasant harassment, the economics of taking your own car when staying for more than a few days can be hard to beat. Perhaps our cycling lobbying will one day allow us to ride from Sydney to Melbourne uninterrupted along the old Hume Highway.
My own antidote to excessive fatigue and boredom is to break the trip. Now with a number of rail trails in north eastern Victoria, and several mooted for southern NSW, it has become feasible to take your bike, add an extra day or two and get the feel for some of the towns that one has driven past so many times.
The Wodonga to Cudgewa High Country Rail Trail is one such trail.
The trail, as of today, early 2015, is not complete, but comprises two sections. One is Wodonga to Tallangatta (the first two a’s are apparently pronounced long, the second two short), the other section is around Shelley.
On a blistering hot Christmas eve, Nan and I rode to trail from Wodonga to Old Tallangatta and back.
Wodonga and Albury are separated by the Murray River and the Gateway Island Arts Precinct.
We stayed in Wodonga and found it very cycle friendly, apart from the main street. Wodonga sports a great tourist information centre and an arts centre clustered around the library and council building.
It is very easy to cycle to Albury on dedicated cycle paths through the Murray wetlands and the Gateway Island precinct. There are viewing points for bird watching, with opportunities for a swim.
Wodonga is in the process of developing the old broad gauge terminus into something useful, retaining the heritage building. The terminus is close to a shopping hub and large hotel.
NSW and Victoria couldn’t even agree on a standardised rail gauge, or rather, they did agree on the Irish broad gauge, but I believe NSW reneged and changed to standard gauge.
An enterprising soul has set up a coffee stand on a disused section of the development for passing joggers, cyclists and motorists.
The rail trail doesn’t start in Wodonga, but it is not difficult to cycle from town through quiet streets and dedicated cycle paths to the start. Some of the old line is visible, next the ubiquitous Victorian ‘service road’. The service road and the expectation of U-turns is a curious Victorian phenomenon.
The trail proper kicks off in Bandiana, an army facility which also houses the Bandiana Army Museum. The trail at this point is rolled small loose gravel, suitable for bikes such as hybrids, mountain bikes and tourers. Racing bikes probably shouldn’t be used for this trail.
Much of the trail has been developed in a grass roots manner. Council community officer Ant Parker has given an inspirational talk several times about how community members have chipped in to help build and repair sections of the trail. In fact, Ant believes that the trail is almost as important as a way of building communities as it is in bringing in money as a tourist attraction.
The figures we have seen for rail trails support the fact that a large number of local residents use rail trails as well.
Shortly at another army facility there is a diversion down a side road, and a cross country section across three bridges. They have the appearance of practice attempts by trainee army engineers. They must have passed their courses, they are still standing. Signs warn of snakes.
The station plaques have been restored on this trail, and the siding at Bonegilla is a real treat. The sign states:
“Notice: passengers desiring to join trains at this station are requested to exhibit the red flag in daylight and adjust the red glass and light lamp during darkness. Tickets may be obtained from the guard who will accept parcels and furnish any information.”
Bonegilla was also the site of a migrant reception centre. Block 19 is open today, the web site has full details.
Beyond Bonegilla, the rail runs along the shores of Lake Hume. Many of the station areas are now picnic spots and entry points for boats.
Although you can swim in any of the areas, our out and back distance of some ninety kilometres meant we pressed on to avoid the hottest parts of the Christmas eve. As it was, few people were on the trail this day, most probably in air conditioned malls, or girding themselves for the minefield of family Christmas time.
At Huon Reserve, someone has collected some of the rail memorabilia. Two bulk goods wagons, an old truck and the remnants of a rail motor car are present. This appears to be a private collection, perhaps an attempt at some kind of low scale theme park. The motor rail car in particular is exposed and not in good shape. The motor has been removed.
After Huon Reserve the part of the trail that appears to have been the best funded starts with the Sandy Creek rail bridge. Only the concrete supports were standing after the rails had been removed, new concrete spans had to be built.
The red girders are an artistic afterthought. The surface of this part of the trail is sealed.
Along the way are several wild fruit trees. It is easy to believe the peach, fig and apple trees are the result of passengers flinging their fruit remnants out the window.
Us humans don’t seem to tread lightly.
Tallangatta is a welcome break, with several cafes. We pressed on to Old Tallangatta.
It should be possible to go through back roads in NSW to Albury from Old Tallangatta, but we hadn’t planned this out, so we took the conservative approach of retracing our path.
It will be a red letter day when the whole trail is open. Indeed the whole area is fascinating, with possible side trips to Corryong, with its tales of the high country and the man who is supposed to have inspired Banjo Patterson’s “The Man From Snowy River” ballad.
The next day, Christmas day we set off early, and within four hours were out the other side of Melbourne, down on the Mornington Peninsula.