The Dookie Rail Trail is a short trail that is perfect for families. Jason Watts is our guide.
Way back in 1994, a little known punk band called Green Day released an album titled ‘Dookie’. One of the songs on the album was called ‘Welcome to paradise’. Now I’m not sure if Green Day have ever been to Dookie in Northern Victoria, let alone even heard of the place, but there is no doubting that Dookie is a little slice of paradise in the Goulburn Valley.
Dookie is a vibrant small town which lies nestled in a valley between Mt Major and Mt Saddleback, 25 minutes’ drive east of Shepparton. The drive out to Dookie takes us past orchards beginning to brim with fruit and paddocks of golden wheat waiting for the harvesters to get busy and strip the grain in the lead up to Christmas. Mt Major looms out of the flat plains of the Goulburn Valley, although it can barely lay claim to mountain status at an elevation of just 350 metres above sea level.
As we pull into the carpark next to the CWA gardens in Dookie, the historic Chateau Clock built in 1889 overlooking the gardens shows 9.30am. A handful of cars with bike racks are already parked nearby – obviously slightly earlier risers than my clan. As we get out of the car, sunlight filters through the trees and a small number of utes, cars and tractors trickle through the main street.
We unpack the bikes, ready to tackle the family-friendly Dookie Rail Trail, which runs along what was once the Katamatite line after it finally closed in 1986. It’s only in recent years, with a resurgence in cycling and a push to open old railway lines to cyclists that this has become a short rail trail perfect for families.
It’s starting to get hot already, and in truth the kids are only here on the promise of an ice-cream at the end of the 9.4km return ride. For the better half and I, coffee and cake will be our reward at the retro-styled Dookie Emporium and Café which brims with antiques, collectibles, books, vintage clothing and militaria.
A quick safety check and we will shortly be on our way. Helmets – check. Water bottles – check. Sunscreen – check.
We pedal away from the car, heading east along the sealed path and slowly leaving the town and grain silos behind. The refurbished Gladstone Hotel – or Dookie Pub, as it is known to locals – sits silently to our left, no-one enjoying a cold beer or a pub meal at this time of the day.
The trail has been open for several years now and continues to grow in popularity. It is especially popular on weekends with families, with many making the trip out from Shepparton on a regular basis. As we ride along, lycra-clad road warriors whizz along the main street, keen to test themselves on the hills around the district, before relaxing with a beer at the pub or heading around the other side of Mt Major to the very popular Tallis Wines with its views across to the Strathbogie ranges.
The trail is surrounded by farmland, with crops of wheat, oats and canola popular. In late winter and early spring the farmland is a patchwork of green and gold, much different to the dry summer landscape we see today. Dookie is known for its rich red dirt from which a diverse range of agriculture and farming enterprises prosper. We pass a couple of families with small children who are on the return leg and exchange greetings.
A short distance later we stop to cross the road at McDonald Street and head in a more northerly direction. We have been told by locals that Willy the wombat lives along the track, and the thought of catching a glimpse is enough to keep the kids pedalling, eyes peeled wanting to be the first to see him. My eyes, however, are peeled for snakes that might be basking in the summer sun. The snakes and Willy stay well-hidden on this ride, and I think I am quite happy about that.
On we ride, with paddocks of wheat waiting to be harvested and rolls of hay as far as the eye can see. To our left is Mt Saddleback and nestled into its side, St Mary’s Church watches over us. Built in 1898, the red brick church features stained glass windows dating from 1911. The rail trail is gently undulating and we stop to catch our breath and have a quick drink in the shade of gumtrees out of the warm summer sun.
The warbling magpies and a singing kookaburra accompany us as we continue to meander on. Ahead on the path a blue tongue lizard suns himself before scurrying off the track to avoid becoming roadkill under the wheel of child number one. Child number two is thinking of ice-cream and, encouraged that we are almost at the turn-around point, she pushes on.
A gentle climb sees us pass over the range onto the flat country in the Yabba district. Behind us are wonderful views of Mt Major and Gentle Annie hill, ahead the flat country is home to olive and orange groves, a vineyard or two and more cropping land. Often wallabies are sighted near the olive groves but today they are hidden away out of the summer sun.
Reaching our turn-around point, we stop and rest in the shade. After five minutes break and a drink, the lure of ice-cream on a hot day is too strong for the kids and we begin our ride back to Dookie. We ride back the way we came, now heading south towards Mt Major, letting it be our guide and before long we are rolling back into town, a little warm and sweaty but having enjoyed a great, short family ride. Putting the bikes back in the car, we cross the road in search of refreshments and relief from the hot summer sun.
Notes: There are no toilets, bins or water fountains on trail. These are all located in the CWA gardens at the beginning of the trail. Plenty of car parking is available in the main street and opposite the pub.
Dookie is about a 2.5 hour drive from Melbourne via Shepparton.
If travelling the Hume Highway take the Violet Town exit and follow the signs.
Dookie is approximately a 25 minute drive from Shepparton and is easily accessed from Benalla, Wangaratta, Cobram or Echuca.
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