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Encounter Rail Trail (Encounter Bikeway) - Trail Description



Encounter Rail Trail (Encounter Bikeway)

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Type: Rail-side trail
Location: 82 km south of Adelaide
Start/end: Goolwa Railway Station to Victor Harbour
Status: Open
Length open: 31.5km
Surface: Sealed
Terrain: Mainly flat with some slight undulation
Best seasons: Good all year round
Public transport: Bus
Features: tourist
Contact Region: South Australia
The Cockle Train near port Elliott
The Cockle Train near port Elliott
Suitable for walking Suitable for cycling mountain bikes Suitable for cycling touring hybrid bikes Suitable for wheelchairs Suitable for prams Suitable for scooters in line skates



  • The 31.5km trail is sealed for its entire length and is a mixture of relatively quiet ‘on road ‘sections and shared use paths.
  • The trail section between Goolwa and Victor Harbor follows the alignment of the railway line and occasionally it takes the scenic route along the coast or through wetlands.
  • The railway is still used today by an historic tourist train called the Cockle train.
  • Bikes can be carried by the train.
  • There are additional trail sections east of Goolwa and west of Victor Harbour that are well worth riding.


 Access Points

There are numerous access points along the rail trail however the main access points are the following townships

Goolwa – carparking available at the Goolwa Wharf at the end of Cutting Road or along Liverpool Road to the north of Goolwa Wharf and adjacent to the River Murray.

Middleton – carparking is available along Surfers Parade and the Esplanade.

Port Elliot – there are carparks on the foreshore off The Cutting however the area is often very busy so the best options can usually be found along Scrymgour Road, Basham Parade or Strangways Terrace.

Victor Harbor – Parking is often busy near the town centre however on street parks can usually be found on Bridge Terrace, Flinders Parade and The Esplanade.

Please note that references to streets called Cutting Road and The Cutting indicate that these carriageways were once excavated to become cuttings for the old rail line.

Laffin Point to Goolwa Wharf (3.5km)

(Laffin point is the start of the Encounter Bikeway)

  • A pleasant shared use path along the River Murray within the reserve adjacent to Liverpool Road.
  • The path crosses the existing train line, built in 1914, that runs from Goolwa to Strathalbyn.
  • The trail also passes under the bridge to Hindmarsh Island before arriving at Goolwa Wharf.

Goolwa Wharf to Port Elliot (15km)

(Goolwa Wharf is the start of the Encounter Rail Trail)

  • The train line originally approached the Wharf by reversing in along Cutting Road to be at right angles to the Wharf. This was later changed to the current arrangement so that the train was parallel to the Wharf and the train did not have to run though the centre of Goolwa. The train heads inland then due west to Middleton however the bike trail takes the scenic route along the coast to reconnect with the train line just east of Middleton.
  • The wharf area was once a hive of activity moving produce from river barge to train now it is just as busy in holiday season with tourists moving through the many activities in the wharf area, which includes the Cockle Train, working steam boat, Coorong cruise boats, art gallery, brewery and distillery, coffee shops, cafes, markets and of course cyclists. If you enter the wharf area from underneath the Hindmarsh Bridge, turn right into Cutting Road, over the rail lines and then left into Dunbar Road. As Dunbar Road passes the railway station and turns to move away from the river there is an entrance to the next section of off-road trail. This short rubble section of the trial follows the train line and then crosses the line and continues along the quiet roads of Admiral Terrace and Riverside Drive which are on the edge of the River Murray. From Barrage Road the trail is a shared use path that passes a café, playground and bird hide.
  • Starting from Bristow-Smith Avenue, the trail utilises the back streets of Goolwa and a section of shared use path through a wetland until you reach an off-road section, at the end of Redclift Street, which leads you along a timber deck over the usually dry wetland within Tokuremoar Reserve. This reserve contains some of the last and least disturbed indigenous cultural heritage sites and remaining foreshore dune habitat of its type on the Fleurieu Peninsula.
  • Once through the Tokuremoar Reserve the trail climbs to Surfers Parade which offers great views of the Goolwa and Middleton surf beaches.
  • The trail deviates inland toward the Middleton Township to cross the Middleton Creek via a foot bridge and then the trail moves back to the coast at Middleton Point. When the surf is up this area is always busy and it’s a convenient stop to watch the surfers dodge the rocks as they surf in.
  • The trail runs through a seaside reserve known as the Rantalang Basham Beach Conservation Park as it heads to Port Elliot. It’s worth taking the time to have a look at the restored farm buildings and artwork within this reserve. The Cockle Train line edges closer to the trail as you move through the reserve. As you climb toward Port Elliot you will see Port Elliot Road on the right. In 1936 the Australian Grand Prix was run on this road between Victor Harbor and Port Elliot. 70,000 people watched Les Murphy win the race in an MG Sports car at a top speed of 68.5 miles per hour.

Port Elliott to Victor Harbor (7.5km)

  • As you approach Port Elliot the scenery gradually changes from sprawling sandy surf beaches to smaller surf beaches broken up by large areas of ancient granite. The trail enters Port Elliot along Scrymgour Road and then Basham Parade. Pause for a moment at the junction of Basham Parade and The Cutting to take in the scenery and history of Horseshoe Bay. The Cutting is the alignment of the original rail line which ran down to the small jetty on the west side of the bay. Horseshoe Bay is very scenic with its rolling surf, cafes, islands and walking trails however it proved to be extremely dangerous for shipping due to its shallow depth, rocky outcrops and exposure to high winds and waves. After the loss of many ships the Government saw the wisdom in extending the rail line to the safer harbour a few kilometres away in Victor Harbor. Take some time out for a coffee and enjoy the Harbour Masters Walk around Freeman’s Knob, the shops in The Strand and the Port Elliot Railway Station. More details are available here
  • The trail climbs up Strangways Terrace, along Murray Place and then into Barbara Street where it crosses the railway line. The railway line is now between the coast and the trail and in numerous places the railway line and trail are next to each other providing excellent opportunities for photographs of the train with the coast in the background.
  • Further down the coast, the trail is diverted around Urimbirra Creek at Watson’s Gap. The train however crosses the creek using a reinforced concrete arch bridge built in 1907 which replaced the original 1863 timber and steel bridge.
  • The trail (shared use and on local roads) follows the railway line to the Hindmarsh River Bridge and then crosses the railway line and uses Bridge Terrace and a foreshore shared use path to access Victor Harbor.
  • As you continue along Bridge Terrace you will see the Victor Harbor Yacht Club car park on the left. You can enter the car park and there is a shared use path on the foreshore which can be safely followed to Warland Reserve. Take the opportunity to take a small side trip to the Victor Harbor Railway Station. When you see the Anchorage Hotel on the corner of Coral Street and Flinders Parade (on your right at the end of the bowling greens) travel a short distance along Coral Street and you will see a railway road crossing that is controlled by wooden gates. The Victor Harbor Railway Station is immediately south of the gates and on the western side of the railway.
  • Return to the path along the foreshore and travel to Warland Reserve where you will see the 630m long causeway, built progressively from 1864 to 1875, that leads to Granite Island in the distance. The Goolwa to Victor Harbor train ran along this causeway to the screw pile jetty on the eastern side of Granite Island where freight was loaded onto ships. Horse drawn trams now ferry tourists back and forth to the island. Unfortunately, the causeway is in poor condition and is about to be rebuilt with only small sections of the start and finish of the original timber causeway to be retained. For more information on the attractions in Victor Harbor, click here

Victor Harbor to Rosetta Head (the Bluff) (5.5km)

(the end of the Encounter Bikeway)

  • The rail trail officially ends in Victor Harbor however the Encounter Bikeway continues on to Rosetta Head (The Bluff). This is a pleasant trail to hugs the coast line and offers a very scenic ride to The Bluff car park where you can leave you bike and walk to the summit.

Side Trails

Goolwa Barrage (4km return)

  • Barrage Road can be followed south from the trail (continue following Barrage Road past the Bristow Smith Avenue Corner) and continue following the River Murray for 2km. The barrage was constructed in 1935 to prevent salt water from the Murray Mouth extending up into the River Murray and polluting the water supply. You are able to walk along the concrete barrage out into the Murray and watch boats moving through the lock while seals and pelicans hunt the plentiful supply of fish.

Watson’s Gap path (7km return)

  • The trail winds around the Watson’s Gap Bridge and across the Urimbirra Creek. There is a shared use path on the land side of the trail which follows the creek into the land subdivision.

Background Information

We acknowledge the Aboriginal people as the First Peoples and Nations of the Land and waters of the Fleurieu Peninsula. For thousands of years The Ramindjeri and Ngarrindjeri peoples hunted and gathered in this area which they called ‘Wirramulla’.

First Europeans to sight Victor Harbor more than 200 years ago were Captain Matthew Flinders of the British sloop Investigator and Captain Nicholas Baudin of the French ship Le Geographé. Their meeting took place at sea in 1802, a few miles from the Murray Mouth. Although their countries were at war, each captain was given documents by the other nation's government, stating that the ships were on scientific missions, and were therefore not to be regarded as ships of war. Together, the ships returned to the bay and sheltered, while the captains compared notes. Flinders named the bay Encounter Bay after the meeting. The region’s place names are a mixture of Aboringinal, English and French.

The railway line was constructed in 1853 and is South Australia’s first railway and Australia’s first full scale public railway. Produce was shipped by paddle steamer and barge down the River Murray and its tributaries from as far north as Queensland and was moved by horse drawn train to the ports of Port Elliot and Victor Harbor for shipping around the world.

Initial attempts to ship produce from Goolwa to the open sea via the Murray Mouth were generally unsuccessful so the Government of the day decided that a train line would be built to the safe port of Port Elliot. Unfortunately, there were numerous ship wrecks near the Port Elliot harbour so the line was extended to Victor Harbor in 1864. The horse drain train was replaced with a steam train in 1884.

By the 1890’s rail lines had been constructed to regional rural areas in South Australia and Victoria reducing the need to use the River Murray to transport produce and the Goolwa to Victor Harbor line became a passenger and tourist train.

Spelling of Victor Harbor: Despite harbour normally being spelt with a "u" in Australian English, the name of the city is spelt Victor Harbor. This spelling is found in several geographical names in South Australia, including Outer Harbor. The township of Victor Harbor was proclaimed in 1914 with the spelling "Harbor". The harbour was proclaimed on 27 May 1915 under the Harbors Act 1913, and its name established on 15 June 1921 as "Victor Harbor". According to the State Library of South Australia, the lack of the "u" is not influenced by American spelling, but archaic English spelling. The name is not consistently applied.


Click on link for the official brochure: Encounter Bikeway Brochure

The bikeway/rail trail map can be obtained by clicking here

More information is on this link: Encounter Bikeway

To report problems and issues, please contact Cities of Victor Harbor and Alexandrina

For more information regarding local attractions:

More information regarding regional attractions;

For information and timetables on the Cockle Train:

April 2021

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