Wednesday, September 21, 2011

In Search Of The Bat Cave

The plan was simple enough, we were to head out from my place, over into the Samford Valley, and go for a little bit of an explore on the local trails.  We knew of an abandoned railway tunnel a few kilometres north of the town of Samford, but had never actually been there.  The old tunnel was now home to some big colony of bats, so the legend goes.  Just to ride straight there seemed too easy, so I plotted out a slightly longer route that would take us across some dirt roads, access tracks and country lanes to our destination.  There was no need to pack much food, or water, or any of that kind of stuff –after all would only be gone a couple of hours.  At the very leisurely time of eight o'clock, Rudi and I set off from my house for a morning of easy adventure.

Rudi has his first mechanical failure of the day, about 10 metres from my front door

We rode west along Samford Road until we reached the Ferny Grove train station.  At this point, most cyclists head straight over the range to Samford on the popular Sunday morning coffee route.  We headed off the main road, to seek out a section of rail trail that supposedly offered an easier pass into the Samford Valley.  This section of railway line used to run all the way to Dayboro, about 35km north-west of Brisbane, and was decommissioned in 1955.  The line used to run where Lanita Street is now, just behind Ferny Grove station.  Although now a suburban street, the easy gradient, gentle curves and cuttings of an old steam train line are clearly visible.

A happy camper on Lanita Street, Ferny Grove - site of the old railway line to Dayboro

Given how excited I was by the fact I could distinguish this street was once a railway line, I think I've turned into a rail enthusiast

Slight confusion about where to go at the top of Lanita Street.  Just head up the rough track to the top of the bank and you'll end up on the old rail line

Here we are – smooth, flat, easy rail trail riding only 5 km from my front door

This section, known as the Lanita Rail Trail, was really surprising.  We were literally only a stones throw from the edge of Brisbane, yet we were in total seclusion, on a short section of rail trail rivalling that of the Brisbane Valley.  As we blasted up the smooth trail, we passed a few confused looking mountain bikers, who were clearly a bit unsure about our drop bar touring bikes.  We gave them an effortless wave and adopted a look of "this is so easy on this bike I am literally about to fall asleep", and were greeted in return by the usual staunch look of an overweight mountain biker trying to look all hardcore.

Only the sound of whip birds and tyres on gravel.  This area must surely be one of Brisbane's best kept secrets

There have been a lot of fires around Queensland lately, including out here in the forest.  As we rode everything was bathed in an orange, hazy glow from the smoke hanging in the air

I find railway cuttings very exciting these days.  Maybe because they are technically three-quarters of a tunnel, maybe because I've gone a bit peculiar in the head...

This rail trail is the easiest way over the Samford range, with a gentle gradient heading back down to the valley.  No traffic and no people is just a bonus

Our descent into rail nerdery
After crossing the gravel section of the rail trail through Brisbane Forest Park, we were soon out of the scrub and back onto the bitumen road.  Compared to the main road that we normally ride to Samford on, this route was a treat - completely deserted, entirely pleasant, and still following the easy gradient of the rail line.  Little way along the road we passed a cairn marking the spot of Queensland's worst rail accident.

Deserted country road riding

Here's where it all happened, apparently the train went too fast around this bend and derailed.  Not much chance of us going too fast around anything today though

Memorial to the sixteen people who lost their lives in 1947

There were heaps of these signs everywhere.  Apparently it's acceptable for crazy people to film you in the Samford Valley. I love Big Brother

Once in the Samford Valley we linked up with the Samford Pony Trails network.  These trails have something of a bad name with local cyclists – road bike riders think they're too rough, and mountain bike riders think they're too easy, and therefore not "cool".  The reality is they offer the perfect place to do some serious exploring and have some great adventures right on the edge of town.  The trails are a mix of dirt tracks, single trail, quiet country lanes, and bitumen roads, that can be easily negotiated on a touring bike, hybrid or mountain bike.  Very little information is available on the trails other than a couple of maps on the Internet, and this creates a little extra feeling of mystery when exploring the network.

One of the rocky sections of the trails.  Here's Rudi undertaking another mechanical repair

Typical pictogram along the trail network

There are no steep gradients on the Samford Pony Trails, mostly undulating country roads

Rudi negotiating one of the timber structures designed to keep vehicles out.  For the most part they seem to work - the trails are free from vandalism, litter and damage

Easy and smooth riding

Looking through the heat haze across the Samford Valley.  By this point the day was really starting to heat up

Some of the “single trail" sections, easily negotiated at speed on the touring bikes

Rudi attempting to cross a sandy, rocky creek bed along the trail.  I got my camera out in anticipation of a stack...

...It looks like he's going to go down!!!

Unfortunately it was not to be - Rudi makes it across the creek intact

Yet another bike repair.  For some reason the axle on the Fuji kept slipping under power.  This continued all day

Rudi punches down an expired gel after 15km in two hours - extreme average speeds

About as rough as the Samford Pony Trails get

By about 11 AM we ended up behind the Samford pony club.  I assume this is where the trials get their name from, and we rode along through show jumps and other equestrian paraphernalia.  From here we followed our map down more country roads and across more dirt easements until we eventually found ourselves on a grassy track on the northern side of Samford creek.  At this point the trail got slightly confusing, following a roughly mowed firebreak along the back of residential properties bordering the creek.  It was along here we also got to practice one of the more precarious touring bike riding skills – riding along the side of an extremely steep, wet, grass slope.

Bike versus grid

Rudi rides through the thick vegetation along Samford creek

By now it was around midday and starting to get really hot.  We parked the bikes and had a bite to eat in the shade by the flowing creek

Typical open grassy riding on the north bank of Samford creek.  Not the most exciting, but not entirely unpleasant either

We came across an old road, complete with road signs warning us of bridge ahead.  The bridge was clearly long gone, and we had to find another way around

Temporarily geographically challenged
At this point of our journey things started to take a turn for the “adventurous".  Our maps no longer bore any relevance to anything happening in the real world, the day was getting very hot, and we were running low on food and water.  After riding for a while down an increasingly overgrown trail, we decided we needed to get across the creek and head back into Samford if we had any hope of getting to this alleged bat-filled rail tunnel.

Slightly lost and confused following some single trial

I suggested to Rudi that the best way to cross this creek was to fly down the hill at full speed and hit the water at about 40 km/h.  I assured him it would all be fine, and I'd have my camera at the ready to capture his triumphant moment - just like last time

For some reason he didn't believe me, and chose to walk his bike across the water

From here things got interesting.  We were standing on a small trail adjacent to the creek trying to decide which way to go.  My instinct was telling me to head to the east, but the trail to the west look more well worn, so we decided head off that way.  Big mistake.  Before too long we were on a rough easement walking our bikes through mud, across fallen trees and up steep slopes.  It was apparent we were close to a road, as we were behind large residential lifestyle blocks and could see the driveways.  With confusion mounting, the only option was to take a legally "interesting" short cut back to the main road, and make a dash into Samford.  Looking at our GPS track later, I discovered that had we gone along the eastern track as first though, we would have been on the road into Samford within about 50 metres!  We arrived in town and sat in the shade at the legendary “Pancake Park", home of the now infamous “pancake incident".

The information kiosk at Samford.  It's a replica of a slab hut, and well worth a look

Rudi takes shelter from the hot sun at Pancake Park.  When we got home we saw it had been 33°C that day.  No wonder we went through a lot of bidons

Mission accomplished
After eating the last of our food, we headed off on our final push to find the rail tunnel.  We knew very little about the tunnel, other than the fact it had bats in it, and that it obviously occurred along an old rail line.  If we could find the rail line, we'd find the tunnel.  A short ride north of Samford we rejoined the old railway - now a bitumen road, but still with all the hallmarks of a rail line of yesteryear.  Now that we were massive railway nerds, we could spot such things with ease.  At the end of the road we rode up a small embankment, and onto the final stretch of well shaded rail trail.

Riding up the reclaimed railway line to our final destination

Another sublime stretch of smooth, well graded, well shaded rail line.  Hard to believe this is only 16 km from my house

And at last we were there.  The Yugar rail tunnel, last used by trains in 1955 and now a home to a colony of micro bats

 It was surprising how small the tunnel actually is.  I have it in my head that steam trains were colossal behemoths, however this tunnel was not much bigger than a large van

View from inside the tunnel.  The squeaking of micro bats could be heard all around us in the moist silence. The Yugar railway tunnel is awesome

We emerged from the cool dark tunnel, blinking in the bright light and now blazing heat. It was well after lunch time now, and we sped back over the Samford Range on the main road, back into Brisbane City.  I would usually have ridden a little more sedately in the midday sun over a mountain range, but the springtime treat of a nesting magpie smashing me in the head on the long climb out of Samford put a bit more urgency in my pace.  

All downhill back into Samford

Just for something different, Rudi had to fix his slipping axle again

The green algae all over my bike from slopping through stagnant mud added a nice visual touch

Any and all shade was welcomed.  Fortunately, much of the Samford Pony Trails are well shaded by riparian vegetation

One final stop to tighten the axle again, and away we went

So what's the go with the Samford Pony Trails?
As I mentioned earlier in the post, the Samford Pony Trails are misunderstood among Brisbane cyclists - which is probably why I've never seen another rider on them.  I think a lot of it has to do with the name - when you say "Samford Pony Trails" it conjures up images of little kids poking around a short, sedate loop on an asthmatic miniature pony, before having a lunch of cucumber sandwiches.  When I ask my friends if they want to go riding out there, they usually give me a blank kind of look and politely decline, as though I am some kind of crazy and boring person.  The reality is that the trails network offers a big taste of adventure, only a little way from the city.  Our adventure was a long and convoluted 50km route over five hours, but amazingly, we were never more than an hour's ride away from my home in suburban Brisbane.  We crossed creeks, rode single trail, visited a country town, explored old heritage sites, got lost - the whole gamut of "adventure" stuff.   It was all a bit like being a kid on a BMX again, recapturing the vibe of exploring the local area.  If you're in Brisbane and you're thinking of exploring the area, I thoroughly recommend downloading the maps and getting out there to discover it for yourself.  

And if the name puts you off, just think of it as the "Samford Multisport Adventure Network" - it's a far more accurate description.


  1. That tunnel really is awesome. I went there a few months back and had a poke around. I had my high powered torch with me and you can actually see where the tunnel is blocked up on the other side is a massive pile of garbage from the 80's which is a shame it would be nice to ride the whole trail to Dayboro.

  2. Thanks for the tip! Went back there today and grabbed a few new photos, including a better one of the interior and blocked exit, which I have included in the blog above. It surely does look different with a 30" exposure, the soot (I assume) on the roof is pretty cool too!

  3. Same person who posted the first comment.January 8, 2012 at 2:42 AM

    Nice! I need to get a better camera other than my phone to get some long exposure shots. There are some other great tunnels to check out too that you can actually go all the way though. One at Dularcha national park and one at Molendinar under Ashmore Rd. They are identical to these ones, the portals look the exact same. Though they are a bit longer, curved and not fenced off. :)

  4. Great tip again! I'm looking to go somewhere for a few days over Australia Day, I think train to Gympie then ride back through the bush and eventually to Dularcha sounds like an absolute winner. There is apparently a fairly good tunnel that can be ridden near Gin Gin / Mt Perry as well. I did the Otago Rail Trail in NZ in November, that was amazing, and interesting to see the different stonework and metalwork compared to Australia. Blog and photos will be forthcoming!

    1. It is called the Boolboonda tunnel and is halfway, or so, along the Gin Gin-Mt Perry Rd. There is a turn of to the left that I think is signed. It is the longest unsupported stone tunnel in the southern hemisphere I understand.

  5. Great posts on rail trails. I live in the inner city in Melbourne and love exploring the trails. I take one called the centenary trail to work every morning and another one the inner city trail leads me through North Fitzroy, Carlton and Brunswick. Both are easy rides and enjoyable ways to bypass peak hour commute. Just rode the Warburton Trail a few weeks ago. 40kms of rail trail going through the Dandenongs. Through forrest, wineries and small towns it's a beautiful journey. I'm staying in Ferny Grove at the in-laws at the moment. Although I didn't bring my bike up, I think I'll trek out to Samford and enjoy the some of the trail.

    1. Cheers, hope you made it out there and enjoyed the trails!

  6. Nice Post Thanks For sharing....... A bitumen rejuvenate that reverses the effects of oxidisation in asphalt.This is the most cost effective asphalt preservation system on the market.

  7. Loved your blog. If you're still posting, my friend Monique and I and her dog drove out tonight and parked about 400 metres from the tunnel. We walked about 4 km before we found it. We scaled a refuse tip wall, came down on our bums, and reversed. We are the female non-cycling nocturnal counterparts of you. Saw the bats, and 3 owls. Awesome! Thanks so much.