Although Rob and I come to Victoria to ride the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail with a group we had allowed some time beforehand to do some cycling on our own.
Based in Albury for a few days, a surprising sizable and likable regional city just across the border in New South Wales, there were a few good options; the trails and cycle paths in and around the city and the High Country Rail Trail that started from Wodonga, Albury’s twin city across the Murray and state border.
Today we decided on the latter and made an early start to allow for the 100 odd kilometre ride out to Old Tallangatta and back. The ride out of Albury was pleasant enough but from Wodonga we must have missed the link path as we rode along the shoulder of a fairly busy highway. The worst part of this was an attack by a fairly vicious magpie who swooped me repeatedly while I tried to focus on not swerving into the 80kph traffic just a couple of metres away. However we soon got away to some quieter roads and then to the start of the rail trail at Bandiana.
It was 35km to Old Tallangatta, after which the trail ends only to resume again as single track from Darbyshire to Shelly. I understand the plans are to expend the trail to over 100km in length. A mountain bike would definitely be needed to go beyond the existing 35km - my touring bike is great but has its limits.
About half the trail is packed gravel or dirt and the rest sealed - though still not as smooth as you might expect. This makes 35km much more of a challenge than an on-road route.
Facilities along the way are few and far between but with parking and picnic areas at Ludlows Reserve and Huon there are enough toilet and water refill stops. The trail was deliciously quiet and peaceful and we crossed paths with few other cyclists or hikers. Being a weekday had a lot to do with that but the rustic feel of the route lends a lot of charm.
Most of the trail is along the shore of Lake Hume, a reservoir formed by a dam on the once mighty Murray River - in fact you can do a short side trip from Bonegilla to see the Hume Dam itself. We didn't see much of the wildlife but it was undoubtedly there - watch out for snakes sunbathing. The eerie sunken trees in the lake help create the wilderness experience - although you're never too far from civilization.
There are some shady areas but mostly the trail is quite open and exposed - and on a hot day I imagine it would be very unpleasant. However today was a nice comfortable temperature and it stayed dry.
A highlight was the bridge over the Sandy Creek Inlet with its distinctive 'red sticks' - a 2012 upgrade from the original rail bridge. This is a popular photo stop with great views of the lake and valley.
Old Tallangatta was the original settlement but was abandoned in the 1950's and is sometimes flooded - though not today as the lake was down to 50% of capacity. The new town of Tallangatta was built 8km east - you have to ride past it to get to the old settlement. This is a nice town and makes a great lunch location having a reasonable selection of cafes and pubs. There is also a visitor information centre (unstaffed).
The High Country Rail Trail isn't a loop ride so we retraced our tyre tracks to Wodonga. This time taking the bicycle paths around the city - and avoiding our friend the magpie. It's a bit longer but a much nicer ride plus more opportunity to stop at a café or ice cream shop.
All in all a perfect one-day bike tour.