Riding on Gravel Rails: The Brisbane Valley Rail Trail
The Brisbane Valley Rail Trail in Queensland can be one of the hardest things you’ve ever done, or it can be a pleasant day out, depending on your skills, fitness and how you choose to link the various sections. Once the trail is completed it will connect Wulkuruka, in Ipswich, with Yarraman to the north. Right now there are two main sections open to the public: a 70km stretch from Wanora to Toogoolawah and a 40km section from Moore to Yarraman. News posted on 23 May 2015 indicated that the Queensland government had allocated funds to the construction of the trail from Brassal, also in Ipswich, to Wanora. There is no news yet on the section from Toogoolawah to Moore, which would complete the trail end-to-end. You can find the information pages for each section of the trail on the official website.
We opted for a day trip, which without the help of anyone else essentially limited us to an out-and-back ride. The 71km ride from Lowood to Esk and back (30.5km one way) fell in the "challenging day out" category for us. Drive up to Lowood and make your way to the parking area at the old Lowood train station. It’s a small town and the location of the train station is pretty obvious. There are a few shops on the main road where you can find a few supplies if needed. The rail trail is well indicated and runs right past the old train station and parking area. The trail is mostly a wide road resembling a fire trail with a gravel surface. Initially the gravel is pleasant enough to ride on, but after several kilometers the bumpiness starts to effect the hands and other sensitive areas connected to the bike. At the end of the day you know very well that you’ve been riding on gravel.
“Esk is a great half-way point. It has plenty of restaurants and shops to explore while recovering for the second half of the ride”
The section from Lowood to Coominya takes you through some lovely countryside and farmland with cattle and crops. From Coominya to Esk the trail starts with a mildly uphill stretch through rather mundane bush-land with little views to speak of. After this though the trail gets a little more exciting, crossing a few creeks and taking you past several old railway bridges. Take care on the short downhill sections into the creeks. The road surface is rough and covered with loose gravel, which can be a little slippery on the turns. A short distance from Esk we came across several large cattle blocking the road. With some gentle persuasion they eventually cleared the way and let us pass. I used to spent lots of time around cattle in my youth, but clearly I have become used to city living where dealing with large mammals isn't particularly common. Time for that block of land in the country...
Esk is a great half-way point. It has plenty of restaurants and shops to explore while recovering for the second half of the ride. The coffee shop at the antiques shop seems like a favourite. They have a very pleasant leafy garden area where you can park the bike and sit in the shade. In the colder months you might want to look for a table on the covered patio. We opted for the Eskcape Cafe, simply because the wait time at the antiques coffee shop was about 30minutes and we didn’t have that much time available.
On any out-and-back ride the way back is always somewhat less exciting, but at least you do have the opportunity to experience the views from a slightly different perspective. Interestingly, some horse riders told us that even though the rail trail is a good development, it’s not the best for the horses. Apparently the hard gravel surface tends to bruise their feet; therefore these particular individuals generally don’t make much use of it. This is a bit of a shame. I wonder how much work and how expensive it would be to re-surface it with something more horse-friendly.
By the end of the day the sun was getting low and our spirits slowly followed suit. It had been a long day, but nothing could dampen our appreciation for the golden sunset rewarding our toil. Overall it was a good day and we would definitely do it again, but like all experiences pushing you to the end of the line it was good to have it over with - that mixed sense of accomplishment and relief.