North East Rail Trail – Belamie Flint
Tasmania is one of those places; one of those places that has a vast array of treasures that are hidden in plain sight. The North East Rail Trail is one such treasure, providing fantastic motivation for a family day trip. The Rail Trail is simply that, a trail that has been constructed on the reclaimed land where the railway line once ran. The infrastructure currently is a 26km trail, the head of which is easily accessible from the main street of Scottsdale. Future stages plan to extend the Rail Trail an additional 60 plus kilometers to connect all the way through to Launceston, which will make a challenging yet achievable cycle tourism option.
Scottsdale is an easy 65km drive North East of Launceston, travelling over the well-known Sideling; a picturesque fern filled rain forest-like landscape. The Sideling is revered by motor sport enthusiasts and cyclists alike. Each year, Targa Tasmania includes the challenging twists and turns of the Sideling as a racing stage, providing an adrenaline pumping experience for both drivers and fans. In the summer months, cyclists challenge themselves on the same route that Tasmania’s Ritchie Porte utilises to hone his fitness in readiness for the demands of the upcoming pro racing season. The magnitude of the vertical meters climbed can be appreciated from the lookout at the crest of the Sideling. The view stretches across a countryside of rolling hills dotted with farm houses and livestock, a reminder of just how beautiful Tasmania is.
As the drive continues drive down the Sideling, the hills give way to a flatter country side which is abundant with local produce. Keep an eye out for the small signs at farm gates, tempting travelers with selections of seasonal fruit and vegetables and lovingly home-made jams and relishes; you will not be disappointed!
Just as other states signify their local tourist attractions with ‘big’ icons, so does Scottsdale. The ‘Big Thumb’ signals your arrival at Scottsdale, a cycling friendly township that is the perfect place to fuel up before the adventure begins. There are a number of traditional bakeries located near the town centre which offer a selection of tasty savoury and sweet treats. For those who need, the Art Café has bikes to hire and is conveniently situated just a few hundred meters along from the trail head on the main street.
Initially the trail meanders alongside the industries which sustain the local economy; a patchwork of rich red dirt and lush green pastures where cows peacefully graze, flanked by uniform rows of towering plantation trees. Further along, after crossing the highway twice, the landscape of open fields transforms to reveal an old tailings dam before showcasing enormous granite boulders along the tree lined trails on the climb to the top of Billycock Hill. A well sign posted, secondary entry point and parking lot is situated near the dam, at Tonganah Station. Starting from this point reduces the return ride to Tullendeena (Billycock Hill) by approximately 15kms and provides a condensed experience for those who are pressed for time.
The Rail Trail is the type of ride that has something for everyone. You can choose to challenge yourself (and the other Strava hunters) to reach the top and take the KOM, or you can, as we did, take a more moderate approach. We rode, we looked in wonderment at how the cuttings had been created through the granite boulders for the original railway line, we stopped to read the information stations and we surprised ourselves by finding reminders of what once was. Rusted railway components peeking out from under moss and leaves; perfectly formed holes etched in the rock face from the original structure.
With the arrival of the warmer spring weather, pops of colour are emerging, with vivid yellow and blue blooms dotted along the trail verges. Tiny but stunning mosses, lichen and toadstools in an amazing array of colours can be found veiled, on the edge of the trail in the moist darkness of the overhanging canopy.
As there are limitations on the gradients that trains can climb, in yet another reminder of the original purpose of the trail, the gradient of the entire track averages just 2%. While this provides a challenge, reaching the end of the line is achievable for riders of all fitness and ability levels. Crossing the highway to the carpark at the end of the trail provides motivation; the opportunity to breathe in the crisp, clean Tasmanian air and take in another stunning view over the North East landscape.
The return ride is an effortless downhill journey which retraces the trail, allowing for a reverse perspective and the opportunity to notice those subtleties in the environment previously overlooked. Glimpses through the trees of the lush pastures of dairy farms below and on a fine day, Bass Strait shrouded hazily in the distance.
The beauty of the Rail Trail experience is its accessibility. With multiple car parks and entry points, choosing an option that matches your needs is straightforward. The trail and its associated infrastructure, is well signed and user-friendly meaning that you can complete as much of the 52km trail as you like.
Complete the days’ adventure by taking an alternate route on the return to Launceston. Travelling through Nabowla provides the perfect opportunity to visit Bridestowe Lavender Estate; the largest commercial Lavender farm in the world. Sample the famous creamy lavender ice cream and be immersed in a sea of their fragrant purple flowers, the magnitude of which can only be understood first-hand.
Continue through Karoola and towards Lilydale, where, during the summer months, organic blueberry farms such as Crestview, open their gates to the public. There is nothing more satisfying than becoming lost in the rows of dense bushes to fill your bucket with handfuls of these little blue gems filled with superfood goodness. Make sure to pick more than you think you need, they make a delicious snack to nibble on for the remainder of the drive or for your next adventure in our beautiful state!