Free In The World That You’re Given

Ewen Maddock Dam Sunshine Coast Queensland

I’ve said before that bikes and trains go together like gin and tonic. They compliment each other beautifully as modes of transport and as vessels of recreation. The way they move you has a certain sense of romance and a Zen quality that, unlike driving, goes at least some way to being in touch with the natural order of things.

The relationship between bikes and trains extends through the annals of time and to the way land is used and shared between the two modes and there’s no better example of that in recent times than the rise (resurgence?) of the rail trail. There are many rail trails in Australia including the one running through the Dularcha National Park on the Sunshine Coast which is where I’ll be riding today and also taking in the Ewen Maddock Dam circuit. Dularcha also pays special homage to the bike plus train relationship because it features a disused railway tunnel which adds a piece of extra special interest to the ride.

The ride starts in the town of Mooloolah Valley in the Sunshine Coast hinterland which, complete with it’s own train station, makes for the perfect bike plus train destination with no car required. And that’s what I’m planning for my next visit here but, unfortunately, (and somewhat hypocritically) circumstances on this occasion have dictated, albeit rare, car usage for me so you’ll have to stay tuned for a report on the full bike sans car experience……hey, I said I’d always fully declare when I had to chicken out and use a car so quit pulling faces already.

Dularcha National Park and railway tunnel entrance
Dularcha National Park and railway tunnel entrance

Mooloolah Valley is a picture perfect country town with all the expected features like a historical town hall, bakery, pub and mechanical garage all of which echo a bygone era and an enviably relaxed pace of living. And as I rolled through town on the way in past the sign indicating their eager involvement in the Tidy Towns program that sense was certainly noticeable. I bumped over the railway line then ducked left past the school and a few minutes later arrived at the trail head where I eagerly scoffed some morning tea before attaching my front wheel, slipping into my cleats, fastening my bum bag and heading up the trail.

The wide fire trail was a mixture of well compacted sand, rock and a few muddy sections and made for a pleasant warmup for the first part of my ride. I quickly discovered, however, that my little bike computer had run out of batteries so I wouldn’t be keeping an eye on how far I’d gotten – oh well, it’s not the worst thing that could have happened.

Dularcha National Park railway tunnel

The railway tunnel appeared before my eyes quite a short way down the trail – I estimate about one kilometre or so. After a few photos, I made my way into the complete darkness which thankfully only lasted a few seconds before the opposite end of the tunnel appeared around a slight bend. The tunnel itself is in excellent condition with just a few rocks and sticks laying on the floor. There have also been reports of bats living in there but I saw none on the day.

Inside the Dularcha railway tunnel
Inside the Dularcha railway tunnel

Once I popped out the other end, a gentle slope led me along more fire trail adjacent to the current railway line for a few kilometres to a gate that opened up to the neighboring town of Landsborough. A short roll through Landsborough’s back streets joined up to a long off road bikeway along Old Gympie St North which, after a road crossing, joined up to the next offroad section signposted as the Ewen Maddock Circuit. Due to recent and still threatening rain, the trail here was a little muddy though far from unrideable as I meandered through a thickly vegetated part that looked somewhat like the entrance to Alice’s Wonderland. I would later discover that the mud on the ground would rob me of ride footage on my Fly6 as it flicked off my back tyre over the lens.

Ewen Maddock Circuit Sunshine Coast

A few more kilometers and past several people with very large camera lenses doing birdwatching led me to the first glimpses of the Ewen Maddock Dam.

Aquatic vegetation on the Ewen Maddock Dam

The well signposted trail hugged the shore of the dam with several side trails looping off the main trail and providing good opportunities for photos, exploration and just immersing oneself in the surroundings.

Foreshore of the Ewen Maddock Dam

Once I’d gotten my fill of rambling and exploration, I headed up the main trail again which eventually began to incline sharply and maybe half a kilometre later I found myself on Ford Rd where I would start to complete the loop I had started. Once I’d exited the gate to the National Park, Ford Rd climbed even higher and finally butted up to Tunnel Ridge Rd where I turned left and climbed a much gentler gradient for a few hundred metres before turning right into Rose Rd.

Giant ferns Dularcha National Park

Now the dirt road pointed downward before shooting me through another gate and down further along a fairly steep, loose mountain bike trail. A short way down, I peered over the dropoff to my right and saw the railway line below so I knew the tunnel trail at Dularcha wasn’t far away. Sure enough, soon there was a sign pointing me down a steep, craggy little goat track that emptied out at the entrance to the abandoned tunnel. From there, it was a short roll back to where I started at Mooloolah Valley.

Mountain biking at Dularcha National Park

Bottlebrush flower at Ewen Maddock Dam

As mentioned, my bike bike computer packed it in early in the ride so I can’t be certain exactly how far the ride was but I’m estimating about 25km all up which makes it a nice little ramble to kill a few hours at a slow to moderate pace. Of course, my next visit to this part of the world will definitely be sans motor vehicle as the train stops right in the middle of Mooloolah Valley only a kilometre or two from the trail head. I brought along my Scott Scale 940 hardtail which I think was about the best choice of bike from my quiver but it could definitely be done on a cyclocross bike or similar if you’re confident with descending on it down those few steep, loose sections.

Termite mound at Ewen Maddock Dam
Termite mound at Ewen Maddock Dam

Because this circuit isn’t really enough for a full day’s ride, it could work well to be incorporated into a longer Sunshine Coast trip which could take in the Sugar Bag trails at Caloundra or one of many other destinations on the Sunny Coast perhaps with an overnight stay. I’m gonna put my planning cap on very soon…

Until next time, ride safe and see you out there some time.

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