The Brisbane Valley Rail Trail is the longest railway trail in Aus, and it’s just a few hours drive from Brissy! Most Explorers take on this 161km trail on the back of a horse or bike. Explorer Simon did it on his own two feet aka Shanks’ pony.
‘Ah, so you’re on Shanks’ pony,’ observed the Toogoolawah information office volunteer when I mentioned I’d walked there from Esk that morning.
I was halfway along the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail, which follows the alignment of a branch railway line north west from Ipswich, through the Lockyer Valley, to Esk and over the ranges to Yarraman.
Abandoned in the ‘90s, the rails were scrapped, leaving 160km of cuttings, curves and embankments that are now a path for walkers, bikers and horse riders.
Ipswich to Lowood
Time taken: 6 hrs walking
I shared a carriage on the first train from Ipswich with half a dozen kids who’d been out all night in Brisbane.
From the Wulkuraka Station, I followed the Brassall Bikeway in the early grey light for a few kilometres to the start of the BVRT and continued through scrubby backblocks and past highways, until the country opened near Wanora.
It was a sudden jump into agricultural country, with views of the ranges to the north, occasional remains of bridges and white signs marking the sites of stations.
Fernvale came and went, and the Brisbane River led me to the remnant rails and restored station building of Lowood by mid afternoon.
Lowood to Esk
Time taken: 7 hrs
I left the Lowood pub early and continued northwest in the rising light. My walking speed on easy ground is around five km per hour. At this pace, the country moves past fast enough to always see something new, but slow enough to feel the shape, moods and echoes of the land.
Just out of town, three kitchen chairs had been thoughtfully placed beneath a tree – simple gestures are always appreciated by walkers.
By sunrise, I reached the recently restored crossing at the Lockyer Creek, one of the oldest lattice truss bridges in Queensland. The first bike of the day whizzed past and I whizzed on too, across the flat grassy land.
Beyond Coominya, the trail’s lined with scrubby new growth, making walking tedious, until you get to the hills south of Esk. There I encountered a man with his two young grandchildren, all on horseback. How lucky he was to be out on such a fine day showing the kids how to ride.
Esk to Harlin
Time taken: 6.5 hrs
I needed my sleeping bag in my cold hotel room at Esk. After a chatty breakfast with the women of the bakery, I headed north on frosty ground.
Walking along old railways means low gradients, with cuttings and embankments smoothing out hills and valleys, but also long distances on hard gravelly surfaces. This can be tough on the feet.
At Toogoolawah, the volunteer at the information office had a face weathered and creased like the country. He shared a wealth of local detail and knowledge and told me of accommodation up the trail.
After finding a tangy tangelo and a packet of corn chips, I pushed on across the last of the plains, up into the hills, and through the heritage Yimbun tunnel to Harlin.
I was the sole guest at the hotel that night, and the publican told me tales of the district, of the holiday visits of his grandchildren and their chores around the pub.
Harlin to Benarkin
Time taken: 7.5 hrs
On day four, I passed the hundredth trail marker, which are placed every kilometre and display a specific QR location code.
I walked along the Brisbane River, past Moore, and on to Linville, where rolling stock rot in the park opposite the wide verandahed pub. The railway was extended here in the years before World War I and now it turns west and ascends the Balfour Range. Many riders on horse and bike travel this section downhill.
It’s a quiet part of the trail, and I climbed and wound through cuttings and over embankments, slowly rising above the valley of the Blackbutt Creek, passing signs telling of people who worked and perished here.
I passed the curious Fettler’s Rest installation, made of zombie railway parts, until the tinkling and piping of the forest birds announced the top of the hill. I pressed on to Benarkin and camped with other travellers.
Benarkin to Yarraman
Time taken: 4.5hrs
My best night’s sleep of the walk was under a tarp beneath the trees.
The last morning took me past the neat showgrounds of Blackbutt and I was accompanied by scores of lively bush birds. Out of town, the trail continues down a long and curving path, to the ghostly bridge remains at Cooyar Creek, then up the last hill to the town of Yarraman.
The proprietor of the motel there asked me where my bike was and, again, I replied I didn’t have one. ‘Well, you’re a rarity’, he exclaimed. And perhaps I am; because I discovered the intriguing country and people along this trail on Shanks’ pony.
What To Bring
- Well cushioned shoes
- Plenty of water – there’s little between towns
- A mobile phone with a QR code scanner
- There are several accommodation options, but bring camping gear just in case!
- A map!
How To Get There
The trail can be accessed from towns and road crossings. The southern towns are about an hour’s drive from Brisbane and the northern towns about two hours.
- Mountain biking (unsuitable for road cycles)
- Horse riding
- Trail running
Much of the walk is easy, but the distance adds difficulty, depending on how far you choose to walk.
Distance Covered / Time Taken
162km / 5 days