I guess many riders know Melrose, in South Australia’s Mid North, as an MTB hub. It offers great trails, good community support, a nice bike shop and general MTB goodness.
An extensive tail network has ben carved into the side of Mt Remarkable, and during most daylight hours, cries of “Yahoo!” can be heard as guys and gals get airborne down Monument before regrouping over a coffee to discuss their recent rotor burns and surgery.
The community has a gentle, bike-sympathetic feel to it. Things happen at country-town pace, and at the end of the school day, instead of kicking the footy, kids can be seen down the creek practising tricks on their bikes on purpose-built trails near the caravan park.
The Mawson Trail passes through Melrose, and it’s a great place to break the trip.
When I came up in 2015 I spent a lot of time to the north pushing through mud and cursing, so I was keen to see what that part of the Trail had to offer in better conditions.
Let’s be frank – from Melrose to Wilmington the Trail is not Mawson Gold. It’s Mawson Bronze at best. And if it’s muddy it becomes half a day or more of your life that you’ll wish had never happened. (Note to riders going south: it’s more interesting going south because you have Mt Remarkable on the horizon as you ride. That lifts it from Bronze to Silver)
So – cutting to the chase, there’s now a RAIL TRAIL from Melrose to Wilmington. To be clear it’s not like the Riesling or Rattler. A lot of it is (currently) just service road for the old line, but it’s navigable. My intel reports that work on the track is being funded from the Wilmington end, and it will slowly work its way back towards Melrose.
Here’s my assessment: The rail trail is more interesting, and more likely to be ridable in mud than the dirt roads of the Mawson.
The first few kilometres north from Melrose are just service road. The track runs next to the mound of the old railway, which sits off to the side like a long, unmarked grave.
From then on there’s a mixture, sometimes riding along the old railway, sometimes riding off to the side, slowly getting easier until, finally, at the end, you’re on good, bona fide rail trail with bridges, good compacted surface and the rest of it. Great.
All things being equal I’d take the rail trail in preference to the Mawson from Melrose to Wilmington.
Another thing worth mentioning is that the old railway line follows the highway for much of the route. This means if you’ve taken the rail trail and find yourself wading through mud it’s an easy carry over to the highway to keep riding on bitumen. Out on the dirt of the Mawson proper, there is not that option.
If you’re staying for a couple of nights in Melrose and looking for a day ride, going out to Wilmington on the rail trail and back along the Mawson makes a good, sub 50km morning. Then in the arvo, you can try what’s called the “Silo Loop” which is a bit over 30 km, leaving town next to the old railway going south and returning along some very nice dirt. A lovely ride.
All images: David Hume