Main Yarra Trail
Jon Miller takes a riverside cruise along Melbourne’s most iconic trail.
The Main Yarra Trail starts in Melbourne’s Docklands precinct and winds its way north east to the leafy suburb of Templestowe. From here it connects with the Diamond Creek Trail to Eltham and the Mullum Mullum Creek Trail to Ringwood.
This off-road cycling and walking trail follows Melbourne’s famous Yarra River fairly closely as it winds its way for 40km through the suburbs. It also passes by or comes close to some of Melbourne’s best tourist attractions. There are the well-known ones such as Polly Woodside, Southbank, the MCG and the Royal Botanic Gardens. Some of them are lesser known but well worth a visit: places such as Herring Island Sculpture Park, Abbotsford Convent arts precinct, The Collingwood Children’s Farm, Fairfield Boathouse, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Mia Mia Gallery and more.
This is a very busy trail with the section from the end of Gardiners Creek trail in Richmond into the city very popular with those commuting to work by bike. If riding the trail for recreational purposes, it is best to avoid the peak periods – before 9am and between 4 and 6pm on weekdays. Further out, while still well patronised, the numbers of riders drop off quite a bit.
Surface A mixture of concrete, bitumen, gravel and boardwalk.
Scenery River views, open grassland, native bush.
The trail has no clearly defined start point. I chose to start my ride in the Docklands at Webb Bridge, the cycling and pedestrian bridge built to resemble a Koori eel trap. The trail heads east from here on both sides of the river. I prefer riding along the southern bank because it’s a lot wider than the path on the northern side and less congested. Also, if you need a coffee before you start, there is no shortage of places on Southbank.
After passing in front of the boat sheds and underneath Swan Street Bridge, cross back over to the northern side of the river via Morrell bridge at the end of Anderson Street and the edge of the Botanic Gardens, Still heading East, the path is on floating pontoons next to the Monash Freeway. Look out for the coffee van and mobile bicycle repair stand set up here on week days. There’s also the artificial rock climbing wall built on to the freeway supports. Not only this, but there are excellent views back towards the city and the Botanical Gardens.
At Walmer Street, the path zig-zags up on some wooden scaffolding before crossing over the Yarra at the Walmer Street Bridge. This bridge is quite narrow so
you may have to walk your bike if pedestrians or other riders are about. There’s a very steep but mercifully short climb just over the bridge but then the trail turns left and enters Yarra Bend Park.
This park is the largest area of native bush in the inner city. It is home to many native plant and animal species and it’s hard to believe that you’re so close to the heart of Melbourne.
Soon you will cross over another bridge at Gipps Street. Here there is a break in the path and you must walk your bike down three or four flights of steps to rejoin the path at river level. Money has been allocated by the state government to redesign this section of the trail to eliminate the steps. Design work has begun and construction should start later in the year, finishing in 2014.
You then pass by the former Abbotsford Convent, which is now a renowned arts and cultural precinct. Many people stop off for a drink and snack at the Convent Bakery but it is worth spending some more time exploring the heritage listed buildings and gardens. Often there are events on at the convent, so check their web site before your visit to check what’s on.
A little further along is The Collingwood Children’s Farm. This is a working farm only five kilometres from the city, established in 1979 to provide a taste of rural life to city folk. There is a well-regarded café on site and once a month there is a farmers’ market.
Dight’s Falls is the site of a weir and Melbourne’s first water mill built in the 1840s. The remnants of the mill are still there but the weir was completely replaced in 2012; a new fish ladder was also constructed allowing fish to migrate up stream. Cross the narrow bridge over Merri Creek at Dight’s Falls, turn left immediately afterwards and ride up the hill towards Fairfield Boathouse. This is another good place for a break as there are picnic tables, toilets and the restaurant and tea rooms at the boathouse.
Continue on the trail by crossing over the pipeline bridge and rising up the steep hill to Yarra Boulevard. This is quite a steep climb and you will probably want to stop for a breather at the top to admire the views back over towards the city skyline.
Follow the path adjacent to Yarra Boulevard down to the junction with Chandler Highway. There are more steps to negotiate here but many people choose to ride on the road for a short distance, crossing the highway at the pedestrian lights and rejoining the path by the Guide Dogs Centre.
There is another longish climb as the trail runs parallel to the Eastern Freeway. The trail surface is rough and uneven here, sections are gradually being replaced. Bicycle Network Victoria keeps riders informed of major trail works.
Heidelberg School Artists Trail
For part of its length the Main Yarra Trail coincides with the Heidelberg School Artists Trail.
The Heidelberg School was Australia’s first significant artistic movement, dating back to the late 19th century. Artists such as Fred McCubbin and Tom Roberts studied the French Impressionists in Europe and brought their ideas back with them. The first works of the Heidelberg School were landscapes painted around Heidelberg, which was then a rural area. The style soon encompassed landscapes painted in other areas of Melbourne.
The Heidelberg School Artists Trail consists of a series of explanatory signs depicting reproductions and descriptions of the most famous works.
Leaving the freeway, ride through some native forest then make a left turn over a footbridge just before the Burke Road underpass. The path soon turns to gravel as you enter Yarra Flats Park. This area was cleared for farming at the time of white settlement. It is now being revegetated with native flora and is one of the most attractive sections of the trail.
There is a short but very steep winding climb at the Banksia Road underpass. It is very difficult to negotiate and many people have to walk. The surface of the trail is quite rough here as it passes in front of The Greenery nursery and heads into Banksia Park. Turn right immediately after crossing a small footbridge, there is a small Main Yarra Trail sign here but it is very easy to miss. Just stay as close to the river as you can.
Banyule Flats Reserve is an important wetland very popular with bird-watchers. There are good views of the birdlife from High Hill which is a small rise in the trail.
You will soon enter Westerfolds Park near the end of the trail. Navigation can be confusing but if you stay as close to the river as you can, you can’t go wrong. Alternatively, you may wish to visit Mia Mia Gallery and Café at the high point in the park – just head uphill and you will find it.
The Main Yarra Trail finishes a couple of kilometres after Westerfolds Park where it meets up with the Mullum Mullum Creek Trail which will, one day, connect with the Eastlink Trail. Many people cross over the Yarra again just after the Fitzsimmons Road underpass and head north on to the Diamond Creek Trail. This takes you to the suburb of Eltham 3 or 4 kilometres away, where you can catch a train on the metropolitan network.
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