By Tony Hiew
Our three-day tour took place in mid Autumn on Melbourne metropolitan bike trails; i.e. the Bayside Cycling, the Capital City and the Main Yarra trails. The Melbourne weather varied but the days were mainly sunny with mild temperatures.
The tour was originally designed as a catch up activity with a few Canberra cycling friends and their families in Melbourne. While not wanting to make the cycling group too big, we were hoping that family members, especially the younger ones, would join us for a ride or two. We ended up with a group of four on the first day and three on the second. This included Annette, a cycling friend from Canberra, my daughter Jess and myself plus my nephew Justin who joined us on the first day. Our accommodation at Cheltenham was close to family members, shops and restaurants, where the Bayside ride started and the Cheltenham railway station which allowed convenient access to rides along the Yarra River.
At 9.30 am, we assembled at Cheltenham and went down Charman Road to meet the Beach Road and the Bayside Cycling Trail. It was a picture perfect morning for riding, no wind and cool. We rode on a good quality bitumen cycling path along Beach Road in a NNW direction towards the city. The path was busy with pedestrians and other bike riders. We passed Beaumaris, Black Rock, Sandringham and Hampton.
Our first photo stop, one of many, was at Brighton Beach where we saw those unique and colourful beach houses and after admiring the huge houses along the bike path with spectacular views of the sea, we stopped for coffee at North Point Cafe in Brighton. I understand this is an exclusive part of Brighton, well known for celebrity spotting but we didn’t see any that day.
Our way continued along beside the beach and between Elwood, Brighton and Port Melbourne, the shared path separated into two, one for the pedestrians and one for cyclists and became less crowded and safer. Occasionally some pedestrians stray onto the cycling paths so we needed to be aware all the time.
We stopped many times along the way to admire the magnificent Bay foreshore views and take photos. We went through St Kilda and Port Melbourne and reached Westgate Park where we caught the punt to cross the Yarra, under the Westgate Bridge.
We were all very peckish by this time, especially after smelling fish and chips frequently along the ride, and looked forward to some lunch about six kilometres away at Williamstown.
This seaside town was bustling with visitors from all over. We decided to stop at the Custom House, one of many local pubs with nice food, and good vegetarian options.
After lunch the weather turned cloudy and cold, and it was starting to shower. Luckily the rain eased off and the good break gave us time to regain energy for our return trip on the same route.
The total distance of our ride was 72 km and included two coffee stops, two punt rides, one lunch, many photo stops and the beautiful scenery of the Bay foreshore. We ended the day by having a fun family dinner at Miss Viet, an excellent Vietnamese restaurant at the Cheltenham shops.
Our second ride was the that encircles the centre of Melbourne. It is about 30 km long and comprises sections of other trails, such as the Main Yarra Trail, Merri Creek Trail and the Moonee Ponds Creek Trail. The trail at its farthest is no more than 5 km from the city centre.
Capital city trail
We enjoyed the beautiful scenery and old architecture along both sides of the Yarra, especially the section on the eastern side of Princes Bridge. The Merri Creek Trail took us along the well-shaded low banks of Merri Creek with its low bridges, some with no guard rails.
There are many high traffic bridges that cross the Yarra, but the Morell Bridge, one and a half kilometres east of Flinders Street Station, is dedicated only to people walking and riding.
On the morning of this ride, we made our way to Cheltenham railway station and purchased our cards (Melbourne transport card). We were shown how to use the card and get our bikes down to the platform by using the lift. We boarded the train and travelled to Flinders Street Station without incident. We chained our bikes outside the doorways in the Disability Section (although we did pass some trains that showed signage for bike carriages). We did need to wear masks for the journey.
Once there we rode along the northern bank of the Yarra and were stunned by the sheer scale of high rise building development amongst the old world housing beauty. The pathway was safe and well kept with some sections hovering on sturdily engineered supports over the river.
We had arranged to meet Jess at Collingwood Children’s Farm at Abbotsford where she could start riding with us. About a kilometre before we reached the Farm, we crossed a shared bridge and at Gipps Street we came across three flights of steep stairs that were the only way to access the continuing Yarra path. I had to wheel our bikes down the little ramp on the left side of the stairs, pretty difficult for a man of my advanced years. If you are younger and stronger, you can just pick up your bike and carry it down the stairs.
We met Jess and had coffee at the Farm Cafe before we continued on our way. We rode to Dights Falls where we left the Yarra Trail and joined the Merri Creek Trail. We kept riding but were not sure where we were until we rode past Melbourne Zoo and knew we were on the western side of the trail, working our way back to the centre of Melbourne.
Near the Zoo there was maintenance work on the bike path which meant detours, adding more confusion to our already fragile navigation skills. Earlier, we had come across an elderly couple, Alan and Jean, who were riding in the same direction and as they were going at a reasonable pace we decided to follow them but somehow at the detours near the Zoo we lost them. We rode on and by luck we ran into them again in a quiet street. They guided us to Southbank at the front of Crown Casino. We thanked them for their kindness and said goodbye.
By then, it was way past lunchtime and Jess, being a Melbourne local, recommended lunch at Hopscotch on Southbank. It was a big, funky kind of eatery with a great selection of beers on tap. We had ridden 33 km before we rode back to Flinders Street Station and Jess rode home from there. Annette and I took the train back to Cheltenham Station.
Our third and last ride was on the Main Yarra Trail. We had already done part of this trail on the previous day on the Capital City Trail.
Annette and I started at Flinders Street Station and for a change we rode on the southern bank of the Yarra. At the 1.5 km mark, we crossed the Morell Bridge to continue on the northern bank. We rode on and before long, we arrived again at those dreaded flights of Gipps Street stairs near Collingwood Children’s Farm. On this day however we got lucky and a strong young man effortlessly carried Annette’s bike and her heavy pannier down the stairs. It was a kindness much appreciated.
The scenery beside the river was lush and green and dotted with lovely big old houses and the occasional modern mansion along the way. The bike path was mostly good quality asphalt and concrete, plus a few kilometres of hard packed gravel.
We met Jess at Fairfield Boathouse where we had scones and morning coffee. and from the verandah had a good view of the river and the Pipe bridge that we needed to cross.
The bridge was narrow, bumpy and had fairly low railings. Jess warned us about a steep climb at the other end of the bridge but we managed the bridge and climb without stopping.
The climb took us to Yarra Boulevard where we enjoyed a beautiful vista of the city skyline. From here, the trail travelled beside the Eastern Freeway which made the riding quite noisy. We passed a couple of golf courses, sports ovals, paddocks, a few suburbs, crossed some bridges and rode a few kilometres of hard packed gravel. The signage was almost non existent and Jess and I consulted Google Maps on many occasions.
We came to the Yarra Trail that ended at a park and didn’t go all the way to Eltham. To get there, we needed to join the Diamond Creek Trail for six kilometres. We had ridden 42 km, on a trail was that is classed easy to moderate. One would think that a trail along the Yarra River would be mostly flat but it was not so. There were quite a few hills to climb but they were manageable for us.
We made it a mission to visit a cafe in Eltham called the Third Chapter, recommended by our Canberra cycling friend, Cathie. We stopped and had a late lunch there and the food and coffee (Cathie would approve) were good. After lunch, we took the train back.
Jess got off at Dennis, a station near her home while we continued on to Flinders Street Station and changed lines to Cheltenham.
The dinner at a vegetarian restaurant in Richmond, Sisters of Soul, was a celebration of the end of our tour and of the good times we had cycling with Jess and Justin.
Annette and I had a great time riding the metro cycle paths in Melbourne. We wanted to catch up with family and this we achieved by sharing dinners and visits with some. It was a great opportunity to ride with Jess and Justin even if at times, they did exert a bit of soft pressure to get us, senior riders, to up our pace a bit.
On a scale of beauty, points of interest and ease of cycling, I liked the Bayside Cycling Trail, the Main Yarra Trail, the Capital City Trail, in that order. Would I be happy to ride those trails with friends and family again? Absolutely.