Northern Rivers Rail Trail

When it was being built in the late 1800s the railway through the Tweed River valley was often referred to as a ‘line from nowhere, to nowhere’. Its completion saw some of those nowheres become little somewheres as places like Murwillumbah turned into viable farming centres. A bit over a century later the last train ran and, more recently, the railway is being converted into a rail trail.

I got to Murwillumbah via the more modern means of a flight to Coolangata and then a thirty-minute drive. Murwillumbah seems like a friendly place, but there’s an unusual mix of cool, hippy and poor all slapped up beside each other. Its probably largely an indication that the town is changing and becoming richer and hipper. I had an excellent meal in a nice restaurant and an early night in line with my plan for a crack of dawn start to beat the forecast afternoon rain.

The first open section of the Northern Rivers Rail Trail runs from Murwillumbah to Crabbes Creek. It’s 24km of smooth path which gently winds through farmlands and gum forest. The walk is pretty easy thanks to the nice new path and the lack of hills. There are a couple of tunnels, one of which is long enough to be interesting, and there are no scary bridges to cross. Some stretches through the trees are very lovely and there are some great views through to the surrounding hills.

I was on the trail by 7am after an excellent coffee to start the day right. The trail is blindingly easy to follow as once you’re on it there are no alternatives and clear way markers every kilometer. It being Monday and with forecast rain there weren’t a huge number of other people about – mostly locals walking their dogs or going for a short ride.

Not all the locals love the Rail Trail in spite of the business it’s clearly attracting already. While there are some excellent cafes and people selling produce along the trail, there are also some very unwelcoming signs and fencing making clear how the owners feel about people intruding into their solitary existence. I stopped for a couple of coffees and cake and was really pleasantly surprised at how good they were.

It took me a bit over five hours to walk the 24km to Crabbes Creek, which is currently as far as you can go. Crabbes Creek station proved a grave disappointment, and thoroughly reinforced the ‘line from nowhere to nowhere’ description. Not only did the heavens open just as I arrived, but there was no telephone reception, no cute cafe, and a persistent background noise from the nearby motorway. My shuttle back wasn’t due for 3 hours and spending that time sitting in the middle of nowhere seemed like a crap idea.

So I walked back to Moobar in the rain and phoned to rearrange the pickup, and then walked even further back to Burringbar to have a coffee and wait. Even in my wet-weather gear that was the less fun part of the day.

All in all it was a good walk. It’ll be even better when more of the trail is completed and this could be the start of a multi-day walk. Rail Trails do make a for a great walk and are such a good use of the abandoned infrastructure. Although given all the farm produce is now being moved by road, perhaps a train and a trail would be an even better idea.

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