Trail Open

Powelltown Tramway

Victoria - Melbourne region

3.3 based on 9 reviews
Location: East of Melbourne in the Upper Yarra region, 80km from Melbourne
Length: 0 km
Surface: Compacted earth
Start / End: Powelltown to East Warburton
Public Transport: Bus
Suitable for:
  • WalkingWalking

Map Legend:

  • Rail Trail
  • On Road
  • Possible Rail Trail
  • Other Trail
  • former Railway


Why visit the Powelltown Tramway?

Note: Much of the trail is now overgrown and difficult to see on the ground let alone access. As a result we have listed it as zero km open but in actual fact It is 43.5 km in length.

The Powelltown Tramway follows the routes of tramways built in the early 1900s to open up the area for logging. There are a variety of tramway walks from a few hours to a couple of days. The Reids Mill Tramline offers a shorter walk of 6 km, return. The Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) developed the trails through state forest in the 1970s following the routes of the tramways. Along the tracks are tree ferns and dark green myrtle beech trees in moist gullies, majestic mountain ash forests on the slopes and brown and messmate stringybark and silvertop forests at lower levels.

Trail Guide

The remnant bridges of the Powelltown tramlines are unsafe. Leave them alone and follow the tracks through the gullies. Be prepared for leeches; wear long trousers or gaiters. Plenty of water is available.

Section Guides

Section 1. Powelltown to The Bump (6.3 km, 1.5–2 hours)

Start at the picnic ground opposite the DSE office in Powelltown. Follow the main road east for 1 km and turn into Blake Street. After 75 metres this street turns east into Surrey Road, built on the old tramline formation. The track then follows the tramline to the far eastern end of Powelltown where it crosses the main road and continues along Mackley Creek Road, mostly following the tramline formation, for 1 km.

The walk then leaves the road and begins to follow the Little Yarra River. The tramway builders took advantage of an unusual geological formation called a natural bridge. The river disappears underground for about 50 metres where the tramline leaves the road. By using this natural bridge to cross the river, the tramway builders saved the expense of a trestle bridge. The line then follows the river for 3.3 km and meets the Powelltown–Noojee road at The Bump.

The Bump was so named because for many years it barred easy passage from the Little Yarra Valley to the LaTrobe River Valley on the other side. Until 1925 access was via The Bump incline. The log bogies were winched up the final steep section and lowered down the other side by a stationary winch. In July 1925 this system was replaced by a 313-metre-long tunnel which took 13 months to dig and was about 2.8 m wide and 4.0 m high. It was timber-lined and had a vent shaft in the middle through which smoke escaped. The tunnel was closed as a safety measure after World War II. Both entrances are still visible.

Section 2. The Bump to the High Lead carpark (4.2 km; 1.5 hours)

The track winds down from The Bump to the tunnel exit in the LaTrobe Valley. From the exit to the river crossing, the track was built on an earth platform made with debris removed from the tunnel. The track then crosses the LaTrobe River for the first time. Immediately beyond the river is the site of the settlement of Nayook West, the only evidence of which is the mill sawdust heap. In the mid 1920s this settlement had a population of about 150; in 1926, 78 pupils were enrolled at the State School. The settlement had its own shopping centre, and a picture theatre which screened silent films to a packed house on Saturday nights.

The track continues east from Nayook West close to the LaTrobe River, crossing it six times before emerging at the High Lead carpark on the Powelltown–Noojee road.

Section 3. High Lead carpark to Dowey Spur Road (4.6 km; 1.5–2 hours)

From the carpark the track again crosses the LaTrobe River and follows it north for about 1 km then crosses and follows Big Creek north-westwards for 1.4 km to the start of the High Lead incline. There are many fine specimens of myrtle beech along Big Creek.

The High Lead marks the start of the most difficult section of the walk. The track rises 415 metres in 1600 metres, a grade of almost 1:4, to the site of the winch station on top of Dowey Spur. From here it is a short walk down to Dowey Spur Road.

The High Lead is flanked on both sides by regrowth mountain ash forest which resulted from the 1983 Ash Wednesday bushfires. An intensive salvage operation obtained the maximum volume of saw logs and pulpwood from the stands of fire-killed Mountain Ash.

Section 4. Dowey Spur Road to Starling Gap (8.5 km; 2.25–2.75 hours excluding the two branch walks)

From Dowey Spur Road the track drops straight down to the Ada River following the other side of the High Lead incline. The Ada River flows through a wide, flat area which is very wet for most of the year. Immediately across the river is the Ada No. 2 sawmill. Some relics of the mill remain, including the boiler. This mill was burnt out in the 1939 fires.

Just beyond the mill, the track crosses a small stream and climbs to where the Federal Timber and the Victorian Hardwood Company lines crossed. This is the start of two branch walks from the main track.

  • 2.8 km return to the site of the New Ada sawmill. The New Ada mill track leads north from the tramline junction. A few relics of the old mill can still be seen. Backtrack from the mill to the track junction.
  • 4.3 km return along the Federal line to the New Federal mill. The track winds around the hill on an even grade, crossing one small stream before meeting the Little Ada River. Here is an excellent example of a ‘make-up’ type of bridge, which differs from the trestle bridges encountered elsewhere on the walk. It was built of a series of horizontal layers of logs at right angles to each other which supported the road bed of the tramline, whereas the trestle bridge consisted of vertical piers to support the road bed.

Six hundred metres beyond the bridge is the New Federal mill. Its output was devoted to supplying staves and other barrel timbers for the company’s cask factory in Footscray. From the mill site, return to the tramline junction or continue south-east from the mill site along the Upper Yarra Track.

From the tramline junction, the main track goes north-west up the Ada River valley to Starlings Gap. Along the valley are the remains of what were once fine trestle bridges. The track emerges at the picnic and camp ground at the Gap, on the divide between the LaTrobe and Yarra valleys, 740 m above sea level.

Section 5. Starling Gap to East Warburton (12.5 km; 4–5 hours)

Just beyond Starling Gap is a sawdust heap, all that remains of an old sawmill which operated here until 1942. The line continues down on the northern side of Mortimore Creek valley for 7.3 km to Burns Road, crossing an old fire-line on the way. A short distance before the fire-line, about halfway between Starling Gap and Burns Road, another sawdust heap marks the site of Ezards sawmill.

Between Starlings Gap and Burns Road, the tramway descends evenly at a grade of 1:12, which was fairly steep for tramways, but not for walkers. Coming down from the Gap, the locomotives were coupled to the rear of the train for safety reasons. If the engine or brakes failed, the train of logs would bolt down the hill, and the engine driver had a chance to escape.

Shortly after crossing Burns Road the line meets Big Pats Creek and follows it down to the picnic ground at Big Pats crossing. The tramline section of the track finishes here. Walkers can continue along Big Pats Creek Road for 3.4 km to Riverside Drive; turn right and go on to the Warburton Highway. The walk finishes beside the highway at the picnic ground on the banks of the Yarra, opposite the Riverside Drive junction.

Section 6. Reids Mill Tramline Loop (6 km; 1.5–2.5 hr)

This easily graded trail follows an old timber tramway to the site of Reids Sawmill which was in use from 1920 to 1930. It starts on the Noojee Road, about 500 m east of Powelltown. The trail passes through magnificent tree ferns and tall mountain ash before entering dryer stringy bark forest. Care should be taken when crossing the bridges provided over several small streams. A few relics of the mill can still be seen at the end of the trail.

The return trip may be made via the steeper Big Bertha track. This is a shorter track, but much steeper. It finishes at the picnic area opposite the DSE offices just to the west of the town. A 1½ km walk along the main road completes the circuit.

Background Information

Traditional Owners

We acknowledge the Woiworung people, the traditional custodians of the land and waterways on which the rail trail is built.

Railway history

In the early 1900s, the area around Powelltown was opened up by a network of tramways which carried logs from the mountains of the Upper Yarra and LaTrobe Valleys to the Warburton railway. The largest mill in the area, from which Powelltown takes its name, was operated by the Victorian Powell Wood Process Company. The company was formed in 1912 to exploit the new, and ultimately unsuccessful “Powell” method of wood preservation, which involved treating the timber with a mixture of molasses, water and arsenic.

The tramways kept close to creeks so they could maintain an even grade and there were many bridges. Sawn wooden rails were used on the earlier lighter lines, and in one place a tunnel cut though a hill. The forest trees were cut with axes and cross cut saws then winched on to the tramway with big steam winches set up beside the tracks. The tramlines declined in the 1930s depression. The 1939 bushfires devastated this area and meant sawmills were required to relocate to the edge of the forest. This, combined with increased truck traffic, caused the tramways’ demise. The 1983 Ash Wednesday fires again devastated this area.


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9 reviews of “Powelltown Tramway”

Completed this rail trail yesterday (10/1/16) with my brother and his wife by walking the Starling Gap to East Warburton section. This is by far the easiest part of the trail, as you are walking down into the Yarra valley. The majority of it is very easy walking – just two major problems. At Starling Gap, the trail is overgrown with blackberry bushes – clearly not many hikers come through here; and just before Ezards sawmill site there were two very large fallen trees across the trail –a bit of an obstacle, that requires some effort to go over (or under). Non-experience hikers will have some difficulty getting through this. It was an excellent day out. With this section of the Powelltown to Warburton trail done, I’ve now completed all the rail trails in Victoria!

I hiked the section between High Lead carpark and Starling Gap yesterday (12th April 2015) with my brother and his wife. The walk to the start of the climb is great – with a log/bridge crossing the Latrobe river. The climb up to high lead is challenging – it is far too steep for riding or horses, and took us sometime to climb to the top. From there the trail is relatively flat all of the way to Starling Gap. Across the Ada river is a good quality board walk – so it saves you from getting muddy, and the Ada No 2 sawmill site is really interesting. All in all, these sections of the trail are much better quality than what we have done previously (see other post) – and it was a good day out.

I hiked the section between High Lead Carpark and Powelltown yesterday (15th March 2015) with my brother and his wife. We were expecting a lot of bush bashing – I am happy to say that it was completely the opposite. The trail is clearly marked with large wooden signs and while there is plenty of vegetation, the trail can easily be walked. There are a number of river/creek crossings – with good wooden bridges crossing all but one of them (recently built?). The one crossing exception can be crossed on stepping stones. There are a number of fallen trees over the trail, and the dense tree material underfoot at times makes the trail all but impossible for even the best mountain bike rider – but a hiker will have no problems. The only issue we had was every time we crossed the Yarra Junction – Noojee road heading south we couldn’t find the trail head. This is especially annoying on the east side of the Bump, and meant we had to walk on the road up to the Bump. The north side of the road – there was no issue in finding the trail head. Also, take a better map than what this website provides.

Today I tackled Section 3 with a friend who is a experienced bush walker. We started at Dowey Spur Rd. We decided to do a car shuffle. Initially we tried to get to Dowey Spur Rd via Big Creek Rd. Big creek rd is fine for cars for a couple of KM but then degenerates into a narrow bush track only suitable for trail bikes. Change of plan and we got to Dowey spur via the Ada River Rd. The start of the trail is 10k from the start of Ada River Rd. The trail is well defined and easy to walk. Most of the growth around the track is from 1983, but there are some magnificent trees adjoining the track. I suggest that if you intend to start from the High Lead car park you will need to be VERY FIT. The walk down hill was tiring, to go up hill would be gut busting. A couple 100 metres into the track fom Dowey spur there is a large piece of what i presume to be part of the winching gear. Pieces of Rail are common. A couple of the bridges are using the foundation from the Tram line. The other crossings were scramble over logs and one muddy foot. No Leaches, 3 Lyrebirds. another good walk and thanks for the company Sue

Today I walked from the Bump to wards the High Lead car park to cover the ground I missed on my last trip. When you enter the track on the opposite side of the road to the Ada tree turn off the track is not well defined but easy enough to follow. The description mentions a large sawdust pile but i did not see it. Must be covered by leaf litter etc. Also i was unable to find any thing denoting the location of the township in the description. About 25m from the road is a large hole int he ground, is the the air shaft that was 1/2 way thru the tunnel?.The first river crossing is via a well constructed foot bridge. the tram way is then well defined and an easy walk although there are couple of trees you have to scramble over. The fist part of the track leads to the Pioneer Fire line and there is about a 70M walk to the Noojee Rd where cross over and continue on the tramline. This part of the walk is again easy but with one large tree over the track. The second river crossing is via a fallen tree but easy done.

I could not help but note the comment at the start of the description. The tramway would not be visible from the air. The large trees and ferns provide a shady walk on the hottest days there are signs that some one has made some half hearted attempts to do some maintenance some time ago. I cannot wonder, if you you tell people the rail is unusable (which so far i believe to be untrue) does this give you the excuse to stop doing any maintenance because the track is not being used.

High lead car park to the Bump
Very easy walk except for some of the creek crossings. As mentioned before the lack of foot bridges is a concern when carrying cameras. I only went about half way and turned back. Found some loverly photographic opportunities along the river and it was quite relaxing with burble of the water nearby. Leaches were a big problem , no snakes. Would like some one to join me, Perhaps we could do a car shuttle. at the moment i am walking both ways. cheers Cootta

Walked from Mackley Rd to the Bump. Another very nice walk on a gentle uphill gradient. The track is badly maintained being nearly overgrown by Tree Ferns/ Bracken in a couple of places and the foot bridges over 2 creeks are broken and need replacing. You can cross the creeks easily if you are prepared to get your feet wet but it is a concern when you are carrying expensive cameras. There are some good photo ops and the country is very attractive. Saw 3 Lyrebirds one snake and leeches were not a problem

Hi all
I had a couple of trips to Powelltown and walked the following tracks
The directions you get tell you to start at the Yarra junction end of town. I found the walk thru town a bit of a waste of time, The actual start of the track is about 300m on the Warragul side of the Town, The walk it self is very easy (i’m in my 60’s and smoke) and i found it a very pleasant walk. It took about 60 minutes up and 40 back and that included several Photo stops

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