This walking, cycling and horse-riding trail leads through glorious Gippsland countryside within easy distance of Melbourne. It also makes a great add-on experience if you’re visiting nearby Phillip Island or Wilsons Promontory.
In all, the Great Southern Rail Trail runs 108 kilometres between Nyora and Port Welshpool, passing through Loch, Bena, Korumburra, Leongatha, Koonwarra, Meeniyan, Fish Creek, Foster, Toora and Welshpool. Along the way, it provides a variety of lovely landscapes; from valleys and farmland to patches of forest backed by distant mountains.
The trail follows what was once the Great Southern Railway, which was opened in 1892 but had its last sections phased out in 1993. If you’ve done the trail in years past, now is a good time to revisit; old railway stops have been revitalised and towns along the way are buzzing.
Pick your favourite way to explore.
A new 36-kilometre extension from Korumburra to Nyora has also just been completed, bringing the start of the trail closer to Melbourne. Stay tuned, since an additional 21 kilometres onwards from Welshpool to Alberton is now in the works.
How to do the Great Southern Rail Trail
Because the Great Southern Rail Trail follows a disused railway line – which means gentle gradients – everyone can give it a go no matter their fitness level. Packed gravel makes for a smooth surface and some sections are wheelchair accessible, making it a great experience for everyone, including families with children.
There are numerous access points with parking. If you’re short on time or aren’t up for the physical challenge, then you can do short sections of the trail. There’s a wide variety of accommodation nearby, including camping and caravan sites, self-contained studios and cottages, B&Bs and motels and hotels.
Take a break for coffee and baked goods, then stay to wander the gorgeous shop at Olive at Loch.
This trail isn’t just about exercise: budget time to relax, shop and dine in towns along the way. You’ll be spoilt for choice. Tranquil Koonwarra is surrounded by wineries and is very well-being-oriented, and progressive Meeniyan has interesting boutiques for browsing. Fish Creek is full of craft shops and art galleries.
Great Southern Rail Trail bike hire, hiking gear and packing list
Hiking boots are ideal, but comfortable shoes will be fine. Sunhat, sunscreen and water bottle are a must. You can refill your water bottle at the toilet blocks you’ll find at regular intervals along the path.
Gippsland’s lush green scenery is fed by rain, so if you’re overnighting to tackle the whole trail, come prepared with wet-weather gear.
Stop for a picnic in the shade.
If you don’t have your own bike you can hire e-bikes with Great Southern Ride in Leongatha. Its pick-up service allows you to do a one-way ride. Some local accommodations also provide bicycles.
Consider bringing a picnic, especially if walking or cycling the 15 kilometres between Korumburra and Leongatha, where there are no intermediate towns. There are particularly nice picnic areas with tables at Nyora, Korumburra and Fish Creek.
That said, many towns along the Great Southern Rail Trail provide opportunities to buy food at bakeries and stores, or eat in restaurants.
Picturesque Koonwarra is particularly known for its local, sustainable produce and slow-food ethos. It also has a monthly farmers’ market on the first Saturday of every month. Meeniyan and Fish Creek have a wide variety of cafes and restaurants.
Top tips for making the most of it
Gippsland is koala country, so make sure to sweep your eyes across the tops of tall gum trees as you walk, since you might spot sleeping koalas wedged into forks in the branches. On occasion, you might encounter a koala trundling across the trail in front of you as it makes a quick tree change.
Although gradients are negligible, cyclists are still better off heading in the direction of the rise to ensure an easier ride back at day’s end with tired legs. You’ll find gradient charts on the Great Southern Rail Trail website. A great 36-kilometre day ride is the section between Meeniyan and Fish Creek return, which brings you gently downhill most of the way back.
Keep an eye out for koalas in the surrounding trees. (Image: Josie Withers)
If you’re an avid walker, you can add another 17 kilometres to your journey by detouring at Fish Creek onto Hoddle Mountain Trail, which features rolling farmland and fern gullies and gets you elevated enough for sweeping panoramas without bursting your lungs – Mt Nicoll Lookout is 304 metres above sea level.
Great Southern Rail Trail itineraries
Families with children should consider doing the gentlest middle sections of the Great Southern Rail Trail between Korumburra and Meeniyan, which runs through pleasant dairy countryside and lowland forest and crosses numerous wooden bridges. Occasional swampland provides the chance to spot herons, ducks and black-tailed cockatoos.
The relatively short Koonwarra to Meeniyan section is 8.2 kilometres and has some great trestle bridges the kids will love.
Walk or bike across trestle bridges from Koonwarra to Meeniyan.
Also undemanding for families and those who prefer gentle strolling are the Foster-Toora and Toora-Welshpool sections, each around ten kilometres long. Rolling countryside provides pretty views, cows nod from fields and wind turbines whoosh from hilltops. Hoof onwards an extra five kilometres to Port Welshpool and you’ll have arrived at the Trail’s end on the foreshore.
If you want a good workout, walk the 18.3 kilometres between Meeniyan and Fish Creek, where you’ll pass through attractive landscapes gushing with creeks and dotted with giant gum trees. Wallabies and grey kangaroos are common here. The small communities of Stony Creek and Buffalo are happy spots to take a rest along the way – Buffalo has well-placed picnic tables at the old railway platform.
Break up the Great Southern Rail Trail into smaller itineraries, or stay overnight to tackle the whole thing.