You'll hear from many travellers that there are so many places to go to, they never go back to the same place twice. Well you won't hear that from me, although there are so many places I want to go. However I don't have a list to get through or tick off. It may be the same place but it's always a different experience - perhaps a different time of year, different company, different adventures and usually so many alternative local options to try. And of course familiarity with the location, environment and the way things are done means much more efficient and enjoyable use of the time available.
That's my reasoning anyway and the opportunity to take a group of my friends to Northeast Victoria's Murray to Mountains rail trail was too good to miss - I knew they'd love it too. We booked a self-guided trip with Tour de Vines, Tour de Murray to Mountains Rail Trail who looked after everything for us - meals, accommodation, recommended stops and even bike hire for a couple of people who flew down rather then undertake the six hour car journey from Sydney.
We started from Beechworth, a beautiful and popular town in northeast Victoria. This was the start because it’s the highest point around, so our first ride is almost all downhill! Beechworth was an important gold mining centre in the nineteenth century and has preserved much of the heritage from that time. There are other attractions such as the (rightly) famous Beechworth Bakery - which now has satellites across Victoria and into New South Wales.
It is well worth allowing some extra time in Beechworth before the tour - which is exactly what Rob and I did. As we brought our our bikes we had lots of options (I had my trusty Salsa Vaya touring nike) The lady at the Visitors Centre was very helpful and even pointed out on the maps known locations of the most vicious magpies in town and along the trail – accurately as we were to find out.
We rode the loop ride through the Gorge from town - an easy and very picturesque 10km ride. There are other longer rides around for which there is a handy brochure available.
The tour welcome dinner was that evening at Bridge Road Brewers, who do an awesome tasting tray of their excellent craft beers - my favourite was the India Black session ale. It wasn't just a liquid dinner though - they do a mean range of gourmet pizzas.
Our first riding day started slowly - not due to the beer but because our first stop was less than 15 minutes from the start of the trail, and didn't open until 10am. Pennyweight Winery specialises in delicious organic wines so after sampling several we were ready to ride some of it off. Some purchases were made but rather than try to carry them on the bikes I just had to let Damian know to go pick them up for us in the support van - what a service!
It was about 15km to Everton Station, a former rail stop. All of this was a gentle downhill - no gradients on this tour were steep which is the advantage of old railway corridors. From there it was onto quiet and flat rural roads, and yet another magpie assault, to a lunch stop at the wonderful Milawa Cheese Factory. No hurry to move on because our hotel for the night was only a couple of kilometres away, and across the road from the famous Brown Brothers Winery.
This is a very relaxed cycle tour and we had covered just over 30km today. However a few of us used the afternoon to add a loop ride to Wangaratta - a great ride but as it was the day of the AFL grand final there was very little going on, or even open, in town. Fortunately dinner that night reinforced the justified claim of Milawa as a 'Gourmet region'.
After breakfast on Saturday we were off to Myrtleford and re-joined the rail trail for the tour's only uphill section to Taylor's Gap. It wasn't too challenging and also provided the best wildlife experience of the trip - a mob of at least a dozen kangaroos bounding through the trees along a valley just below the path.
A magnificent lunch awaited us at Gapstead Winery, a few kilometres further on. A wine tasting at our table accompanied this. Tasting the wine with excellent food is probably the best way to do it - certainly the most enjoyable. The service was excellent and the location stunning with views over the vineyard and the whole valley.
Another 40 minutes in the saddle brought us to Myrtleford where we tracked down the excellent Heiner's bakery. Then onto the motel where some checked in to chill out while some of us checked out Michelini Winery, just down the road, to sample and buy some more gorgeous wines.
We set off quite early the next day, partly to avoid riding in the hottest part of the day but also as most of us were going back to Sydney late afternoon and wanted to fit in as much as we could before then.
20 minutes along the rail trail brought us to the Pumpkin Seed Factory for a tasting of a different and highly nutritious kind – even the delicious dark chocolate coated seeds! After that was the Bright Berry Farm for mouth-watering sundaes and ice creams, and stunning views of Mount Buffalo as we approached the 'Mountains' end of the rail trail. Lunch was at Feathertop Winery, another wonderful location. As most of us were driving later, our wine consumption was more muted today.
Our destination, the town of Bright, is very pretty and features a chocolate factory, a brewery and a river swimming hole amongst other attractions. Damian was as punctual as requested and efficiently loads the bikes onto the trailer to return to Beechworth. Fortunately we're bussed back as there is a fair bit of climbing involved.
The tour had only three days riding (although you can add more) and was a truly gourmet experience with just enough cycling to assuage any guilt over the wonderful food and wine.
Many happy memories all round - despite the best efforts of the magpies!