We really are lucky to have so many more or less contiguous off-road paths in Melbourne. Many other cities don’t posses these types of important transport and recreational corridors through green open space.
As part of my quest to ride along all of them in Victoria, yesterday I travelled to Diamond Creek via the Diamond Creek Trail on the north-eastern suburbs. This is is not an area that I visit very frequently so I was particularly keen to see the sights.
North Balwyn to Templestowe
I have talked about the Koonung Creek and Main Yarra Trails around Kew and Lower Plenty in previous posts so I will not go into too much detail in these areas. Suffice to say that serious work is still needed on the path from its intersection with the Koonung Creek Trail through to Heidelburg Park. The surface is dangerous and the route badly signed.
One thing to note is that there was a works crew doing geotechnical drilling for the North East Link at the northern boundary of the Banyule Swamp.
After Heidelburg Park, the path improves significantly for a while. The surface is excellent and the sightlines are clear in most places. All credit to Banyule City Council for their work here.
The wildlife in this area is also very diverse and lively. There were several groups of kangaroos in the fields and paddocks adjacent to the trail, particularly near Viewbank and the intersection with the Plenty River Trail. If you ever need to show a visitor to Melbourne some Australian animals and plants close to the city, the Yarra Valley Parklands would seem like a good place to start.
Past the Plenty River Trail was unknown bike territory for me. For those who have not ventured out this far, it is definitely well worth the trip. The landscape in this part of Lower Plenty and Templestowe feels very natural and lush. Especially compared to the relatively dry grass and scrublands further west towards Kew.
Here, the path turns north and heads through Westerfolds Park, another natural area worth visiting. However, be very aware of the almost complete lack of wayfinding signage. I took a wrong turn and ended up cycling an unnecessary 50 metre climb before realising my mistake. On the bright side, there were some amazing views from the top.
After rejoining the Main Yarra Trail at Fitzimmons Lane, I came across some interesting graffiti and counter-graffiti underneath the bridge. It seems that some protesters are unhappy with the local canoeing club hanging wires for their slalom training over the Yarra River. According to their scrawls on the bridge pylons, these contraptions kill wildlife. Interestingly, the canoeing club has put up a sign with phone numbers for the protesters to contact with their concerns. It seems that the local paper also ran a story on this a few months ago.
The final stretch of the Main Yarra Trail before the Diamond Creek Trail snakes through Candlebark Park. Unfortunately, the path surface here is very poor and causes serious safety issues. As with many similar unsealed paths around Melbourne, gravel washes up very easily and creates areas where bike tyres have no grip. Worse, runoff from rains creates trenches hidden under bark and other natural material, which will easily dislodge a cyclist. Add to all of this the complete lack of useful wayfinding signage and you get a stretch of a major off-road trail in need of some serious improvement and upkeep.
Templestowe to Diamond Creek
A word of warning for anyone looking to cycle the Diamond Creek Trail. Be aware that there is no signage from the Main Yarra Trail indicating its route. I very nearly cycled right past the turnoff and ended up Warrandyte.
The first section of the Trail itself is very well signposted. The surface is also paved, which makee a nice change from the treacherous gravel of the Main Yarra Trail.
A short way up the path brings you to the awkwardly-named Eltham Lower Reserve. The Diamond Valley Railway, a very nice miniature railway area, is located in the northern part of this park. Lots of childhood memories cycling past! There was also this level crossing which I can only assume the Level Crossing Removal Authority will turn their attention to soon.
Once again, the main issue with this trail is the lack of directional signage. More than once I took wrong turns at places that did not even look like the path deviated. It was quite tiresome to have to stop and check my map every time an intersection presented itself. I won’t post the photos of every intersection, but there are plenty of examples in my ‘Which Way?’ album on Flickr, viewable here.
At Eltham, Melbourne’s only remaining wooden trestle bridge crosses over the Diamond Creek and path. It is an impressive structure that has managed to stand the test of time and is listed as a heritage place of state significance by the National Trust.
The suburb itself is very pretty with a visually-pleasing mix of development, open space and bushland. It is easy to see why people choose to live out here despite the significant distance from the CBD.
Unfortunately, there are some patterns of older subdivisions without any pedestrian facilities. Anecdotally, this seems to be particularly prevalent in the outer north and north-eastern suburbs. I suspect that this is a product of the lack of footpath requirements for developments in the 1980s and 1990s.
After a badly-designed new underpass, the Trail follows the railway line for quite a distance before returning to the Creek. The path darts back and forth between the two features, seemingly at random. It creates some extra distance but does vary the scenery a little.
It seems that the Trail ends in two different places. One is Diamond Creek Railway Station, which can be found after some well-maintained and lively wetlands just to the north of the main township.
But the ‘real’ end is actually a little further north. Around one last corner, the path rather abruptly ends into gravel next to some houses. Nillumbik Shire Council have recently taken steps to extend the trail all the way to Hurstbridge. All credit to them and the groups lobbying for this project for getting the planning scheme amendment passed. Hopefully the path will be continued and I can return to have a look at the new extension in the near future!
Having read mostly negative experiences of other cyclists along this trail beforehand, I had low expectations. However, the Diamond Creek Trail is quite a good one and, in some ways, better than the more popular Main Yarra Trail. The path surface is mostly sealed and the signage is good in some places. It does feel like the Trail has been built and maintained in several different sections to varying degrees of quality. For example, the path width in some places is barely 1.5 metres where as in some new sections it can be as wide as 4 metres. All up, a worthwhile ride and a particularly interesting one for rail gunzels.