March 3, 2023
Image credit: State of Queensland
The Brisbane Valley Rail Trail is a dream come true for cyclists, hikers and horse riders alike. Here’s why.
In the hills above the tiny Queensland town of Linville, century-old railway cuttings run like grooves through the land. Among the dry bush, there are sudden patches of rainforest, and deep gullies furrow the slopes, creating a roller-coaster-like journey for the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail (BVRT).
This downhill run into Linville is the longest descent on the longest rail trail in Australia, and whether you’re on a bike, or foot, or on horseback, the going is almost effortless. And perhaps best of all, one of Queensland’s finest historic pubs, the Linville Hotel, awaits at the base of the descent.
Stretching between Yarraman and Wulkuraka, at Ipswich’s edge, the 161-kilometre BVRT is as much about trail rewards as it is about cycling, hiking or horse riding. Welcoming country towns are sprinkled along its route, offering a range of stops and experiences. There are country museums such as the Yarraman Heritage Museum, set in a former convent, and the Roy Emerson Museum, honouring the local tennis great inside the primary school he attended in Blackbutt. An art gallery sits inside Australia’s first condensed milk factory in Toogoolwah, and there’s a string of historic train stations that date back to the BVRT’s origins as a railway line through the Brisbane Valley from around 1884–1989.
Between towns, there are equally enticing ways to draw out the cycling or walking days. Stop in at llama farms to meet llamas, alpacas, camels and donkeys, head to the farm gate for olive and lime tastings, and perhaps plunge into another adventure, skydiving from 14,000 feet (or at night!) with Toogoolwah-based Skydive Ramblers?
For a longer diversion, and a way to get really intimate with the trail’s guiding line – the Brisbane River – paddle a part or all of the Brisbane River Canoe Trail, which winds for 56km through the valley between Wivenhoe and Kholo. Or turn farmgate into hotplate with a twilight BBQ on a farm at Brisbane Valley Farm Direct, just outside of Coominya.
Most trail users will choose to start the BVRT at the Yarraman end, since this means an overall descent of 450m into Wulkuraka. Start fresh after a night in this likeable country town, staying in a unique Queenslander homestay, visiting its pubs and fuelling the journey ahead in its bakery.
The bulk of the downhill is packed into a single 17km stretch between Benarkin and Linville, as the BVRT pushes through the hills to enter the Brisbane Valley.
The railway’s ghostly presence is palpable along the length of the trail, even though it ceased operation more than 30 years ago. In towns such as Linville, rolling stock lingers beside the station, while just outside of Harlin, the trail climbs through low hills to enter the 100-metre-long, heritage-listed Yimbun Tunnel, the only tunnel along the BVRT.
Most evocatively, the trail is still furnished with a succession of timber trestle railway bridges. Some, such as the heritage-listed Lockyer Creek Railway Bridge, have been converted into trail bridges, while many others stand tall as nostalgic, backdrops to the journey.
The BVRT is most popular with cyclists, for whom the 161km journey is comfortably broken into three or four days of riding. By its nature, and the fact that it’s unsealed for all but the final five kilometres, it’s also an enticing hike.
Though Brisbane looms unseen just over the horizon (from Wulkuraka, it’s little more than 30km as the crow flies to Brisbane’s city centre), the trail is pure country magnificence, switching between rural landscapes and bush-covered hills and plains. The greatest distance between towns is just 24km, making it possible to walk the entire trail in seven or eight days, staying in towns each night.
An equally enjoyable alternative is to walk the BVRT in sections, using the shuttle service operated by Out There Cycling to dip in and out of the trail. The shuttle stops at towns along the length of the BVRT, making it simple to piece together an end-to-end hike or cycle over a few weeks, months or years.
Each town along the trail is as memorable as the countryside in between, bringing classic touches of rural life to the ride, along with historic treasures such as the Lowood airfield, which hosted the Australian Grand Prix in 1960, and Alexandra Hall in Toogoolwah, built in 1906 and continuing to screen movies to audiences in original style: ticket booth out front, sling-back canvas chairs inside.
Most of the towns are still anchored by pubs, with around nine hotels strung along the BVRT’s length – that’s about a pub every 18 kilometres, with most providing meals, accommodation and splashes of history in their classic Queenslander design. Look for the horse hitching rings embedded in Blackbutt’s Radnor Hotel (which takes its name from an early publican’s dog), while the beautifully restored Linville Hotel has been pouring beer since 1904. As you look at the now-closed Club Hotel in Esk’s main street, ponder the fact that it originally stood in nearby Sandy Creek, but was towed to this new site by a team of bullocks in 1906.
Whichever direction, pace or mode of travel you’ve chosen for this great Queensland country adventure, a world of distinctive sights and experiences await. And if you’re just getting warmed up by trail’s end, consider extending your journey to take in the Kilkivan to Kingaroy Rail Trail just to the north. A marked route along backroads connects the pair, which together create a ride or walk of around 300km.
It doesn’t matter whether you have one day or a whole week. The Brisbane Valley Rail Trail has something to suit everyone. Start planning your adventure today! Visit www.tmr.qld.gov.au/bvrt
This article is brought to you by the Queensland Government through the Department of Transport and Main Roads.