WARRNAMBOOL to PORT FAIRY TRAIL
It’s named the “Port Fairy to Warrnambool Trail”, and it’s now obvious to us that few folk would tackle it in the opposite direction if they knew what was ahead, particularly on a day with a strong north-westerly wind and gusts of up to 50 kms per hour. Trail notes on the internet, and even distance markers fixed on the gateways (chicanes) on the route, are all biased the other way!
To begin at Warrnambool Rail Station (2 hrs. 15 mins. from Geelong) you need to turn back along the road beside the track; just beyond the car park at the corner you turn right onto the rail trail. This is much flatter than the hills (on the sealed road, heading in the opposite direction towards Port Fairy) which we took! The distance to Koroit is close to 20 kms. which would seem easy enough, and usually takes us about 90 minutes; however, a quick look at the elevation plan shows it’s mostly uphill so we knew it would be a bit slower.
After following the Merri Creek some distance you reach the road, turn left over the creek and onto the track which is sandy (not surprisingly, as it runs alongside the sand dunes here.) We passed a snake slithering across our path, then a dead wallaby covered in flies, just before reaching the first of a number of farm gates which “must be kept closed at all times”. The trail crosses the wetlands on a new boardwalk, then a gravelly surface up a small rise reaches Millers Lane just past a riding school. So far, so good. Once out on Illowa Road, though, the hills are long, steady and hard against that head wind; fortunately there’s a wide bike-lane on the right-hand side of the road. Look out for the end of this section where it meets the Princes Highway, as the track off to the right and the underpass is easy to miss. Then it’s onwards and upwards for about 5kms further towards Koroit, where you could go right to the station, or cut the trail short by a small distance and head into the town. It’s a good lunch-stop, with 3 or 4 cafes and a bakery open on weekends, and the only toilet facilities on the route.
Continue along the main street (Mailors Flat-Koroit Road) beyond the Port Fairy Road, and downhill to locate the rail trail once again. From here on it is largely a steady and very slight downhill roll through beautiful dairying country, with very occasional and welcome wind-breaks from large trees. Even so, against the strong westerly this section (about 16 kms.) took us more than an hour, and our knees and seats were getting sore, our bodies tiring markedly as we reached the final, sealed section of the trail to our destination.
This being the Port Fairy Spring Festival weekend, we went straight to a choral concert in St. John’s Church, all hot and sweaty and toting our (brand-new) pannier bags. We stayed overnight in the converted train carriage at “Pelican Waters”, right on the edge of the trail, but had not enough time to check-in, shower and change as originally planned. That was managed after the concert and a rest, and a good dinner boosted the energies to stay awake through Ali McGregor’s Late Night Cabaret Show (which included a full strip-tease act to Marshall McGuire’s harp playing, amongst a wide variety of acts). Overnight, as forecast, the wind changed, and Sunday began threateningly with squally showers and patchy heavy rain. After attending another concert (The Song Company) and quickly changing back to wet-weather gear in full expectation of riding in rain, we found the going initially slightly easier, with the strong south-westerly pushing us along the steadily rising track. Often, though, it buffeted us sideways.
Koroit was reached in a little over an hour, only the final section being markedly uphill. After a half-hour lunch break we enjoyed the downhill run towards Tower Hill Rd. and, being familiar with the route, had no further confusion about gates and underpass as we’d experienced the previous day. The hills seemed to have steady rises even going in the opposite direction, yet we hadn’t noticed any downhill delights in the face of yesterday’s northerly! Welcome shelter was found for a break in front of a wind-proof fence near the riding school, and across the wetlands the wind was strongly in our faces, so it was a relief to reach the sand-dunes again. We were rather amused to find a sign just before the boardwalk announcing “If this sign is underwater Rail Trail is impassable.” A huge help that would be, if it can’t be read!
Following the rail-trail from the outskirts of Warrnambool across the Merri Creek you need to keep your wits about you, as the railway station is not obvious, and signage is poor at this end of the trail. Had we not still had a half-hour to spare, we could well have missed the train; you come down from a new housing estate onto the trail, and need to turn sharp left there to get back to the station; we wasted time heading right, which would only have got us to the foreshore, but there was no sign indicating either destination, and we were getting very tired.
It was quite a relief to arrive at the waiting train, change into warmer clothing, find our reserved seats and relax for the two-hour trip back to Geelong, although as it was fully-booked there was no opportunity to stretch our legs out. But, against all expectations, we hadn’t got wet! And we felt a huge sense of achievement, having ridden about 75 kms in such fierce, unfriendly conditions.
Many thanks to Marie Goldsworthy for this report.