Murwillumbah Rail Trail – The Tweed’s Newest Attraction

WORDS: Steve Hunt PHOTOGRAPHY kiff & Culture and Tweed Tourism Co

As an avid cyclist – road, mountain bike, gravel bike, e-bike, fixie and grocery go-getter, basically anything with two wheels – it gives me great pleasure seeing the opening of the first stage of the Northern Rivers Rail Trail which opened in early March.

It’s the completion of a long-term vision by various Tweed stakeholders to showcase one of the world’s most pristine regions – the Tweed Caldera.

The opening is a multi-million dollar ‘carbon neutral’ boon for the region and follows a global trend of rail tracks being converted to cycling and walking tracks for all to enjoy.

The United States and New Zealand spring to mind – with the US currently finalising a rail trail that will extend from Coast to Coast through the spectacular northern US covering nearly 6000 kilometres and which is more than half complete.

Then there’s the Otago Rail Trail in New Zealand which encourages all ages and abilities to enjoy the pristine wilderness of NZ’s South Island that has made the region world-renowned.

And finally, the BVRT – or the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail -which weaves from Ipswich to Yarramin west of Wivenhoe and Somerset dams and which has revitalised the region with day visitors and those with the time to immerse themselves in the area.

As a former member of the Murwillumbah Cycling Club, I have trained and raced for many years in what I believe is one of the most undiscovered cycling regions Australia has to offer.

This is the area where triple Tour de France green jersey winner Robbie McEwen and many others quietly honed their skills before most people in Australia knew what the Tour de France was – the suffering of riding hundreds of kilometres a week in training compensated by the simply stunning scenery offered by the Tweed Caldera.

Usually, we want a secret to remain a secret. But the fact that the ‘secret’ of the NRRT has now been discovered by the mainstream – children, recreational cyclists, walkers, mums and dads, day-tripping couples – gives me such a feeling of pleasure that people will be able to experience what we as cycling tragics have always felt about the region.

Riders of all abilities can now experience the secret by riding the 24-kilometre first stage of the Rail Trail which opened on March 1. The trail weaves along the former rail line from Murwillumbah to Wooyung. Heaven forbid. Most people wouldn’t even know where Wooyung is. But you’re about to find out.

The NRRT initial stage is the first step in a vision that will see a world-class rail trail of 132 kilometres through northern NSW all the way to Casino, weaving its way through Burringbar, Bangalow west of Byron Bay and to Lismore and Casino.

In the words of the project manager for the first stage of the rail trail, Iain Lonsdale, the trail is set to become one of the greatest boons for the Northern Rivers region.

Jeff Harris

“We are on track to transform the former scenic rail corridor into the region’s newest must-do experience for visitors and locals,” Mr Lonsdale said.

“We hope the trail will help our local economy to thrive and generate sustainable economic opportunities to support the Tweed’s long-term future.

“Residents and businesses in villages along the trail route are already getting involved and preparing to make the most of the opportunity to build a vibrant, active community.

“This is a wonderful asset, and it is important to us that the Tweed community has the opportunity to contribute to creating a rail trail we can all be proud of.”

Peter Gwynne, a multiple Australian Masters cycling champion, says the opening of the first stage of the NRRT will put the region on a par with Bright in Victoria and Derby in Tasmania as Australia’s cycling meccas.

“I’ve been riding and racing throughout this area for 15 years and it really is one of the best cycling regions anywhere in the world,” says Gwynne, who has ridden in Europe and the US.

“But it’s also going to be a great extension for the local economy that will support businesses, cafes, restaurants and bike shops along the route.”

Steve & Estelle Hunt

Darren Wood, a Gold Coast-based former world-class triathlete originally from California, says the NRRT will ultimately become a major tourism attraction for an already cherished region.

“A trail that keeps cyclists off the roads in relative safety while helping people to stay physically and mentally healthy – I can think of no other place in the world that can match those criteria,” says Wood.

Long-time local Murwillumbah cyclist Jeff Harris is one of the many businesses who are likely to benefit from the increased cycling trade in the region.

As owner of the Murwillumbah Cycling shop, which is operating from thew transformed historic train station, Mr Harris says the town has come to life with the opening of the Rail Trail.

“It’s been amazing – people of all ages on all types of bikes are discovering the amazing scenery that is on offer in the area,” he says. In another boon for the region, work has recently commenced on the Tweed’s first mountain bike park at Uki.

Tweed Shire Council in partnership with Tweed Valley Mountain Bike Riders is building 8.5 kilometres of tracks on council-owned land near the Uki Wastewater Treatment Plant with completion due in mid-2023.