The Atherton-Walkamin rail trail begins at Platypus Park, at the southern end of Atherton township. It skirts around the centre of Atherton, and includes the Atherton Mountain Bike Skills Park and mountain bike trailhead which now has two trails that connect the township with the Atherton Forest Mountain Bike Park. The rail trail heads north to Tolga, passing just east of the Tolga Scrub, a small remnant of Mabi forest which once covered most of the Atherton Tablelands. From Tolga the trail heads to Rocky Creek which housed the largest military hospital complex in the southern hemisphere during World War 2. Between 1942-5, approximately 60,000 Australian soldiers were treated here for war-related conditions. The rail trail passes beside the Rocky Creek igloo, one of the military complex’s remaining buildings which is now being restored by the local Rotary Club. Across the road from the igloo, is the Rocky Creek campground and war memorial park, on the site of what used to be the general hospitals’ laundry and medical stores. The memorial park has a number of military unit plaques representing units that had a connection with the Rocky Creek Australian Army hospital, or that trained or provided unit support on the Atherton Tablelands during World War 2. The park is regularly visited throughout the year and becomes the focus of Victory in the Pacific celebrations each year. The rail trail currently ends at the Rocky Creek bridge, however work is continuing a further six kilometres northward to Walkamin (Figure 1B).
FATRT would like to thank both Tablelands Regional Council and Rail Trails Australia for their continued support, and looks forward to working with AHHR on the shared trail from Atherton to Herberton. This linkage will open up numerous safe cycling opportunities in the savanna country to the west of the Tablelands, including the Lappa Trail and the Stannary Hills to Boonmoo tramline.
The Mareeba to Atherton section of the Cairns to Ravenshoe railway line opened in 1903. The railway line extending to Herberton to transport tin ore to the coast was officially opened in October 1910, and the line eventually reached south to Ravenshoe in 1916. As Queensland’s rail traffic decreased due to improved road networks and increased car ownership, Queensland Rail began closing branch railways that were no longer economical to operate. The rail service beyond Atherton ended in 1988 and the last train to Atherton ran in 2004. A tourist railway train operating between Atherton and Herberton ceased operations in 2003. The Friends of Atherton Tablelands Rail Trail Inc. (FATRT) was formed in 2007 and one of its early initiatives was to assess and develop the rail trail potential on the Tablelands. A feasibility study was commissioned in 2008, and with the support of the Tablelands Regional Council, the last six kilometres of the 20km rail trail between Atherton and Walkamin is now nearing completion. The 14km trail which is open between Atherton and Rocky Creek has proved to be extremely popular with walkers, joggers, bike riders and horse riders
Extending the rail trail northward from Walkamin to Mareeba requires support from the Mareeba Shire Council, which has not yet been forthcoming. Extending the trail to the south, from Atherton towards Herberton, is the next logical priority (Figure 1A). The Atherton to Herberton railway line has significant historic and cultural values. It traverses an environmentally diverse landscape with outstanding natural features, notably Carrington Falls and Hastie’s Swamp. However, there is no ready access for local residents or tourists, and many newcomers to the area do not know of its existence.
The Atherton-Herberton Historic Railway Inc. (AHHR) owns the lease of railway land between Atherton and Herberton and has agreed to a shared trail arrangement between the two locations. The plan is for the existing railway line to be retained and restored so that AHHR can operate tourist train rides, and a trail that would be open to bike riders, horse riders and walkers is to be constructed within the railway corridor, alongside or parallel to the existing line. A Memorandum of Understanding between AHHR and FATRT was signed earlier this year to facilitate this plan, and funding for Stage 1, Atherton to Hastie’s Road, is now being sought.