For uphill exercise, local history and scenic views
When locals and visitors drive south from the city along the Monaro Highway to Tuggeranong, most people are side-tracked by the sweeping views over to the Brindabella mountain ranges in the distance. High up on the hill on the left however, little known to many locals, there is an old railway line that used to run between Queanbeyan and Cooma, which transported people and livestock in Canberra's early years. The railway line was built in 1889 and was used for exactly 100 years - it was last used by the express train to Queanbeyan in January 1989. The track and railway sidings are still there today and make for an interesting feature when exploring its surrounding bushwalking trails. They are also part of the Canberra Tracks self-driving route, Tuggeranong Heritage Track.
Uphill walking and historic sites (on a cold, grey morning in winter)
To get to the start of the walk, turn left off the Monaro Highway at Old Tuggeranong Road and park your car in the Delta Force Paintball car park. The rest of Old Tuggeranong Road is blocked off to vehicles and this is where the walking trail begins - just look for the small post with "Border Walk, 5km Return" at the entrance gate (which refers to the border between ACT and NSW on the railway line). After climbing through the fence, it is then an uphill walk past the shady Tuggeranong Pine forest next to the walking path.
Entrance to the walk, from the Delta Force Paintball car park
As the walking path used to be a road, there are sections of asphalt as well as unsealed paths, which twist and turn straight up to the ranges. Almost at the top, there is a sign for the protected Canberra Nature Park - Melrose Travelling Stock Reserve. As livestock was transported by trains along the railway track, the ACT originally had 15 livestock reserves near the tracks so that local properties could hold their animals until the train arrived - or unload them into if they were arriving. Today, 9 of these remain and have been heritage-listed - including the Melrose Travelling Stock Reserve at the top of the hill. Although there is nothing to see, the road continues past it, so you know you must be getting close to the top...
Road going up, Melrose Travelling Stock Reserve and views over the Melrose Valley,
As this area doesn't look like it has been looked after for awhile, you soon come to a dilapidated fence - however on the other side you can see the official signage for the historical site. Other walkers have created a small path around the fence, or you can climb through holes in the centre. You then reach the sign and the railway track running horizontally across the path. A short distance up the railway track to the right, there is the lever to change the tracks over, which is an interesting historical piece to look at - long rusted over but still a remnant of history.
To get to this point it took me 25 minutes from the car park, uphill most of the way.
Signage explaining the history of the NSW/ ACT border at the railway line...
According to the sign and the National Trust brochure (walk number 6), the railway was completed in 1889 and sections of it took more than 400 workers to build it, camping along the route as they progressed. Years later, after the Federation in 1901, three teams of surveyors, including Charles Scrivener (whom Canberra's Scrivener Dam is now named after), took 5 years to survey this area of land between ACT and NSW - with the railway falling into NSW territory.
It is here that the walk finishes and you then return back the way you came - or you could do a little exploring and see where different paths take you. I decided to follow the railway track north (left at the T-junction) and see where it went. This idea isn't for people who may be unsteady on their feet however, as stepping between the old railway sleepers and large gravel created a few wobbly moments.
To be honest, it was a little eerie walking along the abandoned railway lines in complete silence (and on such a grey morning!), but I continued on as I was intrigued to see around the next corner. After 5 minutes of walking, I spotted a jogger running beside the track further ahead, so it was a good sign that I could soon leave the track and find another path to walk on. One soon appeared on the left and followed the railway line along the side of the hill (see map here, which shows the main walking trails in white).
I soon came across a large concrete water tank on the left - and from what I could see peeking around it, it had the best views of the whole walk, so I left the path and walked around to the front to get a better view. It was here that I discovered an asphalt road leading up to the front of the tank, that started from the Monaro Highway below.
Walk past the water tank, then around to the front of it...
With some excitement (and relieved I didn't have to go back the way I came), I followed the road down and then on the left, I saw a couple walking their dog along a narrow track in the bushland, which looked like it lead behind the Paintball and back to the car park. Thankfully it did, leading back to the start of Old Tuggeranong Road - and creating a fascinating loop walk that I look forward to doing again!
Take the shortcut on the left, behind the Paintball and back to the start
This loop walk took me 50 minutes (including stopping to take photos and explore), however I felt that I had a good exercise, discovered fascinating local history and also had a little adventure along the way. I found out after I returned, that if I had kept going on the path (and not turned off at the water tank), eventually that path would lead to a turn off and a tunnel under the Monaro Highway - and link up to Melville Crescent in Gilmore.
Why don't you explore this interesting and historical region, this weekend?
Turn back the clock to the late 1800's and imagine this railway being built
Just like any bushwalk in Canberra, it is advisable to take your mobile phone, tell someone where you are going, take plenty of water, pack a snake bite kit in summer and watch the weather report before you leave.