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About the Author

Katy June-Friesen (katyjunefriesen.com) is a freelance writer and editor in Washington, D.C. When she's not writing about arts, culture, history and the natural world, she likes to head west to the Blue Ridge Mountains or east to the Chesapeake Bay.

 

A View From Down Under
By Katy June-Friesen

orking on this feature convinced me: I need to go to Australia. The more photos I saw of the country's rail-trails and the more stories I heard, the more torturous it was to sit at my desk up to 13 time zones away and not take it in firsthand. I'd rather have been traveling on a resurrected railbed through South Australia's wine country or watching wildlife in one of more than 500 national parks.

Locals use the trails for bike commuting, dog walking and horse riding. But as cycling becomes more popular in Australia, tourist traffic on these routes is on the rise. "You're no longer regarded as a freak if you go off on a cycling holiday," says Damian McCrohan, president of the nonprofit RailTrails Australia.

The backstory on these trails? In the 1850s, Australian colonists—tired of long treks by horse between the continent's sparsely populated settlements—began a flurry of track-laying. By the time Australia became a nation in 1901, most towns and state capitals were connected by government-financed rail service that crisscrossed the continent's rainforests, arid bushland, alpine ranges and sandy coastland. Private lines carted livestock, timber, sugarcane and the spoils of mining to the seaports.

Fast-forward to the early 1990s, when efforts to reclaim some of these long-abandoned lines picked up steam. RailTrails Australia was founded in 1994 in Victoria, which continues to lead other states in rail-trail development. To date, the growing rail-trail movement has helped create 100 rail-trails throughout the country.

Aussie rail-trailers are a friendly bunch, especially along the rural routes. "People are quite happy to stop and have a chat," McCrohan says, and towns along the trails are catering more and more to these crowds with cafés and bed-and-breakfasts.

Here are a few snapshots from some of Australia's most popular rail-trails. If you decide to explore them in person, check out RailTrails Australia's new website for maps and trail descriptions.

Read the complete article by Katy June-Friesen online:

A View From Down Under (PDF/595KB)

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