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Encounter Bikeway

South Aust. Regional

3.5 based on 2 reviews
Location: Between Goolwa and Victor Harbour on the Fleurieu Peninsula 90km south of Adelaide
Length: 28 km
Surface: Sealed
Start / End: Goolwa Railway Station to Rosetta Harbour near Victor Harbour
Public Transport: Coach
Suitable for:
  • Cycling – Mountain BikesCycling – Mountain Bikes
  • Cycling – Touring and Hybrid BikesCycling – Touring and Hybrid Bikes
  • PramsPrams
  • Scooters and Inline SkatesScooters and Inline Skates
  • WalkingWalking
  • WheelchairsWheelchairs

  • Rail Trail
  • On Road
  • Potential RT
  • Other Trail
  • Former Railway
View Map

The Encounter Bikeway is a rail-side trail that runs parallel to the original 1853 railway. This area is a prominent tourist destination, and the best way to see it all is by bike.

  •  The 31.5 km trail is sealed and is a mixture of relatively quiet ‘on road‘ sections and shared use paths
  • The trail begins in the River Murray Port of Goolwa and passes through seaside towns of Middleton and Port Elliot before arriving at Victor Harbour. All the towns date back to the mid-1800s
  • The section between Goolwa and Victor Harbor follows the alignment of the railway line and occasionally runs along the coast or through wetlands
  • The railway is used today by an tourist train called the Cockle Train, which uses restored steam trains or diesel trains depending on season and demand
  • The perfect family cycling outing, particularly when combined with a return trip home on the Cockle Train

Nearby Attractions

  • Goolwa’s wharf area has steamboats, a micro-brewery to a working railway station
  • You will see and hear the Cockle Train on many occasions as you cycle the trail
  • The Murray River mouth can be reached from Hindmarsh Island by bike or car. The barrage across the river Murray can be reached by bike
  • The Coorong region south of the Murray mouth and can be reached on organised boat tours
  • The trail follows beaches from wild surfing areas to sheltered sandy bays
  • It’s not unusual to spot whales just off the coast
  • The railway terminates at Victor Harbour, but a horse-drawn tram carries tourists to Granite Island for a 2 km walk around the island
  • Goolwa, Middleton, Port Elliot and Victor Harbor each claim to have the best bakery in South Australia!

Last updated: 28 April 2024

Overall description

The rail trail has two sections that link the four townships along the railway line. Two trails either end of the railside trail have been included because they provide great views of the Murray River and Rosetta Head.

Section Guides

Laffin Point to Goolwa Wharf (3.5 km)

(Laffin point is the start of the Encounter Bikeway)

  • A pleasant shared use path along the Murray River within the reserve next to Liverpool Rd
  • Crosses the 1914train line  that runs from Goolwa to Strathalbyn. This line is used by Steam Ranger tourist trains
  • Passes beneath the bridge to Hindmarsh Island before arriving at Goolwa Wharf

Goolwa Wharf to Port Elliot (15 km)

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

  • The train line originally approached the wharf by reversing along Cutting Rd to be at right angles to the wharf. This was later changed so the train was parallel to the wharf and did not have to run through the centre of Goolwa. The train heads inland then west to Middleton, but the bike trail takes a 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 visiting the area’s many activities, including the Cockle Train, a working steamboat, Coorong cruise boats, art gallery, brewery and distillery, coffee shops, cafes and markets and. Enter the wharf area from beneath the Hindmarsh Bridge, turn right into Cutting Rd, cross the rail line and then turn left into Dunbar Rd
  • As Dunbar Rd passes the railway station and moves away from the river, there is an entrance to the next section of off-road trail. This short rubble section of the trail follows the train line, then crosses the line and continues along the quiet roads of Admiral Tce and Riverside Drive on the Murray River. From Barrage Rd the trail is a shared use path that passes a café, playground and bird hide.
  • From Bristow-Smith Ave the trail uses the back streets of Goolwa and a section of shared use path through a wetland to an off-road section at the end of Redclift St. This  leads along a timber deck over the usually dry wetland within Tokuremoar Reserve, which contains some of the last and least disturbed indigenous cultural heritage sites and foreshore dune habitat of its type on the Fleurieu Peninsula
  • The trail then climbs to Surfers Pde, which offers great views of the Goolwa and Middleton surf beaches
  • The trail deviates inland toward Middleton township to cross Middleton Creek via a footbridge, then moves back to the coast at Middleton Point. When the surf is up this area is always busy
  • The trail runs through the seaside Rantalang Basham Beach Conservation Park as it heads to Port Elliot. It’s worth taking the time to look at the restored farm buildings and artwork in this reserve
  • The Cockle Train line edges closer to the trail as you move through the reserve. As you climb to Port Elliot you will see Port Elliot Rd on the right, where the 1936 Australian Grand Prix was run 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 110 km (68.5 miles) per hour.

Port Elliott to Victor Harbor (7.5 km)

  • Approaching Port Elliot the scenery changes from sprawling, sandy surf beaches to smaller surf beaches broken up by large areas of granite. The trail enters Port Elliot along Scrymgour Rd and then Basham Pde. Pause at the junction of Basham Pde 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, but it proved 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 SA Government extended the rail line to the safer harbour a few km away in Victor Harbor
  • Enjoy the Harbour Master’s Walk around Freeman’s Knob, the shops of the Strand and the Elliot Railway Station
  • The trail climbs up Strangways Tce along Murray Pl and then into Barbara St, where it crosses the railway line. In many places the railway line and trail are next to each other, providing opportunities for photographs of the train with the coast in the background
  • Further down the coast, the trail diverts around Urimbirra Creek at Watsons Gap, but the train crosses the creek on a reinforced concrete arch bridge built in 1907 to replace the 1863 timber and steel bridge.
  • The trail (shared use and on local roads) follows the railway line to the Hindmarsh River Bridge, and then continues on adjacent to Hindmarsh Road for 500m. before turning left, crossing the railway line and Bridge Road
  • The shared use path turns right then left, past the skate park, toilets and bike repair station before turning right and following the coast. Just past the Bowling greens, you will see the Anchorage Hotel on the corner of Coral St and Flinders Pde. Its worth a short diversion to travel along Coral St as you will see a railway crossing controlled by wooden gates. Victor Harbor Railway Station is immediately south of the gates.
  • Return to the foreshore path and travel along Warland Reserve to the 630 m long causeway, built from 1864 to 1875, that leads to Granite Island. Further information is available in the ‘side trails’ section below.

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

(the end of the Encounter Bikeway)

  • The trail officially ends in Victor Harbor, but the Encounter Bikeway continues to Rosetta Head (the Bluff). This pleasant trail hugs the coastline and offers a scenic ride to a car park from which you can walk to the summit

Car parking

As this is a tourist region, convenient parking for cyclists’ vehicles can be an issue.

Goolwa –at the Goolwa Wharf at the end of Cutting Rd, or along Liverpool Rd to the north of Goolwa Wharf and close to the Murray River

Middleton –along Surfers Pde and the Esplanade

Port Elliot –on the foreshore off The Cutting, but the area is often busy so the best options can usually be found along Scrymgour Rd, Basham Pde or Strangways Tce

Victor Harbor –often busy near the town centre, but on-street parks can usually be found on Bridge Tce, Flinders Pde 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.

Side trails

Goolwa Barrage ( 4km return)

  • Follow Barrage Rd south from the trail (continue following Barrage Road past the Bristow Smith Ave corner and along river for 2 km. The barrage was built in 1935 to stop salt water from the Murray mouth extending up into the river and fouling the water supply. You can walk along the concrete barrage out into the Murray and watch boats moving through the lock, seals and pelicans hunt the plentiful supply of fish.

Watson’s Gap path (7 km return)

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

Granite Island Rail Trail (7 km return)

  • The Goolwa to Victor Harbor train ran along the timber causeway to the screw pile jetty (constructed in 1881) on the eastern side of Granite Island where freight was loaded on to ships. Horse-drawn trams now ferry tourists to the island. The original causeway was in poor condition and deemed unrepairable, so it was reconstructed in 2022. The start and end of the old timber causeway has been retained. The causeway is technically a rail trail however cycling is not permitted.

Do you know of a bike hire or transportation service on this rail trail that should appear here? If so, let us know at admin@railtrails.org.au.

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2 reviews of “Encounter Bikeway”

What a great way to see this part of the coastline. This is a very scenic trail which is well signposted, but you do have to be alert for the simple bicycle logo directional signs on roadside posts. I would strongly recommend using the navigation tool on the RTA map for this trail ("show my location"). If you navigate with this tool on your mobile phone, you won't miss a turn. The route has plenty of 'ups and downs' and can be exposed to winds in places. So, it may be a challenging ride for some riders. Strong riders, and competent riders with ebikes, could manage the entire trail – out and back – in one ride.

Rode on windy day so was reasonably difficult but in normal conditions would be fine. The trail does need additional signage, especially at our starting point in Goolwa and also through Port Elliot and into Victor Harbour. Lots of on road sections but along the beach the views were amazing. Take a detour down to the beach at the Port Elliot bowling club, (Horseshoe Bay )- very nice little cafe there. Worth the ride if you are in the area.

Background Information

Traditional owners

We acknowledge the Ramindjeri and Ngarrindjeri people, the traditional custodians of the lands and waterways on which the rail trail is built.

Rail history

The first Europeans to sight Victor Harbor more than 200 years ago were Captain Matthew Flinders of the British sloop Investigator and Captain Nicolas Baudin of the French ship Le Geographe. They met 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 their captains compared notes. Flinders named the bay Encounter Bay after the meeting. The region’s place names are a mixture of Aboriginal, English and French.

The railway line was built 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 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 SA Government built a train line to the safe port of Port Elliot. Unfortunately, there were numerous shipwrecks near the Port Elliot harbour so the line was extended to Victor Harbor in 1864. The horse-drawn train was replaced with a steam train in 1884.

By the 1890s rail lines to regional rural areas in SA and Victoria had reduced the need to use the Murray to transport produce and the Goolwa to Victor Harbor line became a passenger and tourist train.

Development and future of the rail trail

The proposed Murray Coorong Trail will follow the path of the Murray 450 km from Cadell (near Morgan) to Salt Creek (the Coorong). The three Council areas involved have begun construction of sections of the trail and will undertake further works with the help of the State Government using council reserves, levee banks, State parks and reserves and Crown land. It would be appropriate to construct a path from the Murray Coorong Trail at Wellington on the Murray to the Encounter Trail and then to the Murray River Mouth via Hindmarsh Island.

Naming of Victor Harbor

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 was established on 15 June 1921 as Victor Harbor. According to the State Library of South Australia, the absence of the ‘u’ is not influenced by American spelling, but archaic English spelling. Of course, this spelling is not consistently applied.


Tour Down Under takes place soon in South Australia

Posted: 19/12/23

South Australia's iconic Tour Down Under international road cycling event is on again in January 2024 ...


Encounter Rail Trail – proposed realignment at Victor Harbor

Posted: 19/03/22

The section of the Encounter Rail Trail immediately east of Victor Harbor leads cyclists away ...

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