Dayna's Blog

Holidays, walks and who knows what

O’Shannassy Aqueduct Trail – April 2013

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There was a 1 page write-up about the O’Shannassy Aqueduct Trail in the Yarra Valley Tourist News magazine we picked up at our (regular, but not exactly local) fruit barn. The whole trail is 30km long, but there are several joining points so you can do as much or as little as you like. Stephen suggested that ANZAC day would be a good opportunity to take a walk, so we headed off at about lunch time towards a small town called Warburton, about an hour east of Melbourne.

(Click on a photo to view as a gallery)

It’s a pretty cruisy walk because it’s so flat. We chose to walk the section between Dee Road and Youngs Road Carparks which is 14km return. It’s quite a popular section! We passed numerous other walkers (many with dogs, some with prams), cyclists and saw evidence that a horse had also been along here – a trail for everyone, you might say.

My only disappointment during the walk was that my camera battery went flat after the first couple of kilometres! Yes, I forgot to recharge the battery the previous night. Still, Stephen had his camera. I resorted to taking photos with my iphone – not as good, but better than nothing.

A pleasant way to spend an afternoon.

Here’s our map and stats – the timing graph clearly shows the reduction in the number of stops I made to take photos in the return trip back to the car. Consequently, it was a faster average pace, too.

: )

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This gallery contains 30 photos


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Organ Pipes NP – April 2013

We’ve been talking about checking out the Organ Pipes National Park ever since I started visiting Melbourne somewhat regularly back in 2009.

I can’t tell you the number of times we’ve driven by it, but in our defence, there’s not much to see from the road because it’s mostly below the level of the surrounding Keilor plains. I have probably taken off over it from Melbourne airport just as many times for that matter, and looking down, marvelled at how the land just seems to fall away into these gullies and chasms.

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Organ Pipes NP from the Calder Freeway – easy to overlook

The catalyst for this (our first) expedition to the Organ Pipes NP was a post on Parks Victoria’s Facebook page saying “Ranger Joe” had – at considerable personal effort – made two new tracks with hand-held tools. Due to various factors using machinery wasn’t possible.

It’s a small National Park of just over 120 hectares (~300 acres) although the walking tracks that we found seemed to be concentrated to an even smaller section of this area. The geological feature, the basalt ‘organ pipes’, that gives that park its name was formed by very slowly cooling lava a few years back (about a million years, give or take) that spilt into vertical columns as it cooled. The other park features have also formed in the same way. Parks Victoria have put together a very interesting history of the park here.

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Organ Pipes Nation Park (I didn’t get a photo on the way in)

We found we weren’t the only ones taking advantage of the lovely autumn day. There were quite a few cars in the car park. And it wasn’t long before we realised just how close the park is to Melbourne’s Tullamarine airport!

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At the car park, watching a plane taking off

It’s when you’re heading towards the city that you really appreciate how close the two places are…

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The end of Tullamarine’s east west runway is only a couple of kilometres from the NP

So if peace and tranquility is what you’re after while communing with nature, you’d be best to chose another spot.

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Park information display & visitor centre

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Heading down the management track

Not sure if this is the proper way to go down, but it’s the way everyone else was going down & coming up, so…

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I guess this is volcanic rock and soil. Looks tough to grow on.

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A wedge-tailed eagle

We were quite pleased to see three Wedge-tailed eagles today. That’s always something special for us city-folk.

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Walking track

We’d reached the bottom of the hill. This is what the track is like – pretty cruisey. There are a lot of dead trees in some parts – I’m not sure if that’s Parks Victoria killing off non-native species or something else. The eucalypts looked healthy enough.

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Stephen in front of Rosette Stone

First landmark ticked off within about 1min of getting to the bottom of the hill – the Rosette Stone.

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Close up of Rosette Stone

Instead of forming vertical columns, here the basalt has somehow formed a structure that looks like the spokes on a wheel.

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Is it a bird box? A possum box?

We saw lots of these boxes. I don’t know what RG stands for. River Red Gum? Sugar Gliders have been reintroduced to the area, so maybe some of the boxes are for them. Not all the boxes are the same size – nor have the same sized holes, nor are all the holes located at the front of the box.

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RG12 – obviously for a different species than for RG10

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This one had a logo of a wedge-tailed eagle with words that I couldn’t make out on the front.

There are (or at least used to be) bat roosting boxes in the park. We didn’t spot any today, but I hope there is still good populations of bats in the area. There were 7 species of micro bats recorded by R Irvine & R Bender in 1995 – see ‘Initial results from bat roosting boxes at Organ Pipes National Park‘.

Next attraction on the bill (about 100m or so away) was the Tesselated Pavement. (Pavement – how exciting does that sound?)

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Stephen carefully approaching the Tesselated Pavement

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Pavement conquered!

These stones were formed in the same way that the formation known as the Organ Pipes were (that we’ll get to next), but have been worn down from the top by the action of the creek flowing over them.

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More of these basalt rocks up around the bend that are exposed but aren’t so eroded

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It’s quite nice along the creek

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There are 6 amphibian species reported in the park’s management report (from 1998)

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Stephen’s found the Organ Pipes!

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Each ‘pipe’ would probably be up to about 50cm across

We’d now ticked off each of the ‘must see’ features of the park. Still no sign of the new tracks. There is another path that follows the creek around further, but it appears to be a dead-end, so we headed back up to the car park.

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Heading back uphill

It’s not too steep walking back up, and not too far. Our whole walk had taken almost right on 45min. Here’s a map of our route.

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View to the left exiting the park

Although it was only a short outing, we left feeling like we’ve now ticked that park off the list, and slightly disappointed that there weren’t any signs indicating “new tracks this way”.


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Castlemaine, VIC – Easter 2013

Castlemaine. You might never have been there, or even know where it is, but I bet you’ve heard of it.

Castlemaine Perkins who make XXXX beer, Castlemaine Rock (a local confectionary), KR Castlemaine ham… it’s the same Castlemaine they all refer to.

There are other Castlemaine references around, but most people (on the east cost of Australia at least) will probably be familiar with at least one of the three examples above, if not the with delightful township itself.

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Castlemaine

A short 1.5hr (120km) drive from home (Melbourne), Castlemaine is located in the goldfields region to the west/northwest of Victoria’s capital city, and has a population of almost 10,000 people. Unlike the larger towns of Bendigo (~40km drive N) and Ballarat (~80km drive SSW), Castlemaine was founded on the richest alluvial goldfield in the world; most of the gold was found within 4m of the surface.

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The town’s sign celebrates its gold mining heritage. The wheel behind the top figure is turned by water – more about a famous local water wheel later.

The legacy of these times are the lovely buildings many of which are Heritage listed. There is a very good listing of heritage buildings & sites here. On our first to Castlemaine we stayed in one of these buildings, but this trip we decided to stay at Fitzgeralds on Lyttleton, a delightful B&B a short walk from the town centre.

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Fitzgerald’s on Lyttleton

The main purpose of this trip, however, was to do some more bushwalking!

For Christmas Stephen received a copy of Victoria’s Goldfield’s Walks by Glenn Tempest, from his Aunt Mary. A number of walks start in or near Castlemaine so it was a good excuse to return.

We started our short holiday /extra long weekend on the Thursday before Easter. The weather forecast over the long weekend was for possible morning showers and cool days; typical autumn weather, and better than heat for walking around the bush especially given the number of bush fires across the state this summer.

It’s quite a nice drive from Melbourne; the highlight of the drive was possibly the other MINI driver we saw near Castlemaine who waved at us – of course we waved too! And by ‘wave’ I mean more than just a finger lifted from the steering wheel. We haven’t had that pleasure since we passed the Tasmanian MINI Club out for a drive last year!

We found our accommodation, met our host Teeshia, dropped bags, boots and backpacks and went shopping for a few supplies (Hot Cross Buns, local newspaper, etc) and got comfortably settled in.

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A very nice apartment. Although as fantastic as they look, spiral stairs in the early hours of the morning do require some concentration – even while hanging on to the post and handrail!

Good Friday

There wouldn’t be anything open in town on a public holiday – therefore a perfect day to take a walk.

It was with some surprise that we heard a siren go off in town fairly early in the morning. “Gee, the police are keen today!” we were thinking. The siren kept going off in short bursts… are the locals really that wild or is it blow-in’s from the city? Over-zealous police? An RBT stop with only two officers who also forgot the traffic cones? Stephen (being, on average, the more sensible of the two of us) suggested maybe it was fundraising for the Children’s Hospital Good Friday Appeal – make a donation and get to press the siren or something. Well, if that was the case I’ll sacrifice peace and quiet for a good cause.

Today we chose to follow Walk 12 “Sailors Gully & the Welsh Village” in the Goldfield Walks book, that follows the Great Dividing Trail into the Castlemaine Diggings National Heritage Park to the Garfield Waterwheel, then up to the Welsh Village (ruin), then completes a circuit back to the starting point. Glenn Tempest’s estimated time and distance for the walk was 3hr and 10.4 km.

We’d pick up Tempest’s walk a couple of kilometres from our accommodation at Zeal Bridge. He’s drawn a red line on the map in the book indicating the path of the Goldfields Walking Track through town (details not included in the track notes) from the train station along Lyttleton Street past Fitzgerald’s and over the hill to a conservation area down by the creek. Since the path literally went right past our driveway, it would have been silly not to follow it!

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Stephen ready to head off

Our first stop was not far along. We hadn’t realised before then that about 100m (give or take) as the crow flies, at the top of the hill is a monument to Burke and Wills. Hard to miss when you look for it, but I guess we’d never looked to the top of the hill before…

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A momument to the first explorers to cross the continent

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The view of town from the monument

After we’d taken a few photos and were wondering which street we were actually supposed to be following next, we heard the ringing of an old bell approaching. Stephen had guess correctly earlier – the sirens were signalling to one and all to come and donate to the Good Friday Royal Children’s Hospital Appeal. Coming up the street was an old fire truck with a few young volunteers on the back. They turned around at the top of the street and started back down, collecting donations from residents. It reminded me of being called out by a Mr Whippy van, but instead of icecream you get a small inner glow of helping wee sick kiddies.

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Volunteers collecting donations for the Good Friday Appeal supporting the Royal Children’s Hospital

Back to the planned walk after that. As mentioned above, to get to the start of Tempest’s circuit walk we followed the Goldfields Track through a catchment area along a creek. We were most pleased to find that the Goldfields Track – clearly well used although it is along this section – is also very clearly sign-posted.

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I can’t over emphasise the importance of adequate trail markers

We spotted a large kangaroo (I’m guessing an eastern grey) bounding on the other side of the creek. It appeared to be solitary. We spotted prints from hind and fore-paws in a puddle on the path shortly after. They may have been from the same roo.

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Front paw prints, with a 10c coin for size comparison

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Hind leg print, with a 10c coin for size comparison; it possibly stopped at the puddle on the path for a drink.

The low water level in the creek is evidence of how dry it’s been around here recently.

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Not much water flowing in the creek

Further on Stephen spotted a small mob of kangaroos in a paddock. They were pretty wary of us even though we weren’t that close and the creek was between us. I guess they don’t think of the creek as being quite the same obstacle as we do!

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There were possibly up to 2 dozen kangaroos in this mob; I’d guess mainly females and juveniles.

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Crimson Rosellas (left) are very common in Victoria. It was nice to also see the colourful Eastern Rosella (right) that most people will remember from the Rosella Fine Foods logo

Shortly we came to Zeal Bridge, where we now joined the circuit walk described by Glenn Tempest. We didn’t cross the bridge though, but continued along the Goldfields Track that continues to the right.

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Zeal Bridge – where we pick up Tempest’s walk. We’d complete the circuit by crossing this later.

The track follows the creek for a few more kilometres…

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Near houses and in parks there are a lot of oak trees in Castlemaine

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Not exactly bush walking yet. That’s a pine plantation on the left.

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See? Good signage!

…then crosses the creek the track cuts uphill following both walking tracks and old vehicle tracks that are quite numerous in the area…

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Finally – some proper bush to walk in!

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Didn’t see any trolls… or billy goats for that matter, thankfully

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An iPhoto-shopped shot

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Leaving the road to go bush again

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The ‘Reef’ in many place names refer to reefs of quartz and gold that miners would follow in their mines. It’s in an abandoned mine like this one that someone fell 35m down a shaft and had to be rescued (6th April 2013). He had broken bones and head injuries but was lucky not to die. Don’t enter abandoned mines!!

…until arriving at the site of the Garfield Waterwheel.

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Only the stone supports are left now

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The water wheel was more than twice the height of these supports

Only the stonework that supported the huge wheel remains, but they’re very impressive. The information stand at the carpark (yes, there is an easy way to get there) shows a photo of what it was like. According to the information board the wheel was the largest diameter wheel ever constructed in Victoria. Water sourced from the nearby Expedition Pass Reservoir was used to power the wheel and crush ore from the Garfield Mine to extract gold. The noise from the operations could be clearly heard back in Castlemaine. The Garfield Water Wheel was used between 1887 and 1903 after which it was replaced by a modern steam battery engine.

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The track then heads up behind the waterwheel remains to the water race that fed the waterwheel. It’s not very deep but still would have taken a bit of effort to put in. Given the current dry – I’m not sure if the area is officially in drought or not – it’s amazing to think they had enough water to make it work! We didn’t see Expedition Pass Reservoir which is not much further than the Welsh Village, so I’m not sure how much water there is there at the moment, but it’s apparently popular for canoeing and fishing so I guess it must hold a bit of water. It’s not used as a source of drinking water these days.

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The water race is somewhat overgrown these days. Some short sections are still lined.

The track here is the narrowest of the whole of the days walk. I kept expecting to walk into cobwebs across the path, as so often happens. But today – nothing. I guess it’s seasonal.

While following the water race we passed a couple of old mine shafts right next to the track. No idea how deep they are – but falling in wouldn’t be smart – probably terminal.

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The shaft is just large enough to fit a person on a ladder…but you won’t catch me volunteering to go down!

Just before we reached Sailors Gully we spotted a flock of 20-30 White-Winged Choughs. They’re a large, black bird that has a large white patch under each wing that’s only visible when they fly. They also have red eyes, but we weren’t close enough to see – or knew to look. They have two types of alarm call – a rattling one and a descending one. Not as harsh as a crow. We didn’t realise they were there until they all took off! I didn’t try to take a photo because I knew it wouldn’t work. “Trees, and… where are the birds?” you’d be thinking.

So I’ve cheated. This is a photo from my well-thumbed bird book “The Claremont Field Guide to the Birds of Australia” by Simpson & Day, 5th Edition, published 1996:

White-Winged Chough

Picture a flock of these up in the tree tops and that’s the photo I didn’t get.

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One of the few wild flowers to be found around at the moment. Paper dry to touch.

At the top of Sailors Gully it’s back to following vehicle tracks to the Welsh village. As mentioned before, there are may vehicle tracks in the forest and although we were paying close attention to Tempest’s instructions, it wasn’t long before we found there were more path options than his descriptions indicated. So we took a guess and walked on. We could always backtrack.

A bit of scrambling around a wee ditch and some more indecision about exactly where we were or were supposed to be, and then in which direction we should head, before Stephen made a call (the right one as it turned out) and we were walking uphill once more.

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The wee ditch across the path

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So many piles of rubble, slowly being reclaimed by forest

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The cuttings are quite something.

Shortly after we came to the Welsh Village. We weren’t sure at first because of the lack of signage, which is unusual for the area. To tell the truth, there wasn’t that much to see there and because there were people following us – not us per se, they were just walking up from the nearby carpark (yes, there’s a shortcut to this place as well) with the same destination in mind – we pushed on, hoping we were still roughly following the right path per Tempest’s directions.

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What’s left of the Welsh Village (and one of the guys who were following us). Underwhelmed? So were we.

It turned out we were on the right past and soon found our way back to where we left the path earlier. The walk back to the starting point from there is pretty straight forward as it follows unsealed roads back to Zeal Bridge. From there we retraced our earlier steps back along the creek and over the hill to Fitzgerald’s.

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Easy walking back along Toby’s Track

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I think this is a female Scarlet Robin. If I zoom in any further it gets too pixellated.

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More kangaroo tracks, crossing the road this time

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Exiting the park

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Finally on Colles Road, nearly back to Zeal Bridge. Can’t mistake this for anywhere but Australia.

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Finally the bridge is in sight. (By the way that ‘cow’ in the paddock was actually a bull with rather sharp-looking horns.)

I had hoped to see an echidna, possibly a wombat. There were wombat droppings around, but we might have had more luck at night-time. I didn’t think our chances were too likely to see mammals other than macropods, but seeing the Choughs – a new species for both of us – and a robin, was a treat.

If you want to see some great echidna photos, and this area looking a lot greener, check out Hiking Fiasco’s blog from his walk around here in October 2011. (While you’re there, why not take a moment to vote for him in the Best Australian Blog Competition. Only takes a minute. Closes 30 April 2013.)

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Re-tracing our steps by the creek. Fitzgerald’s is just over that hill.

All up, we walked 14.7km in around 4:15hrs – check out this walk’s map & stats. We felt we were definitely allowed a couple of small easter eggs after that!

Easter Saturday

The plan today was to head over to Maldon, a small town 15-20min drive away. We’ve caught the Victorian Goldfield’s Railway between Castlemaine and Maldon before, but we needed more time on this trip, so we drove.

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Main Street, Maldon

Maldon had plenty of events happening over the Easter weekend – today they had their Market, the Brass Band were playing (although we were a little late and missed this), the Fire Brigade were running the sausage sizzle, and there seemed to be even more than the usual number of weekend visitors in the main street. We stopped at the bakery and bought a pie each for lunch. There are many cafes along the main strip, and they all seem to be popular, but this is just a bakery – and it’s a good one.

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I like the way the old red truck is parked right in front of the No Trucks sign

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Teach ’em young to look for the glint of gold!

Sight-seeing done, it was time to strap on the boots. While we were doing so, we saw two disappearances.

We’d parked next to a drain – larger than usual for the area, which is saying something. In both Castlemaine and Maldon the gutters are deep and made of stone (generally granite, sometimes bluestone or slate). They had a lot of stone lying around, and maybe it rained more back then, or maybe they just made things bigger and better back then. Anyway… where we’d parked, the drain goes below street level and the opening is about head-height. There’s a gate across the drain to discourage rational people from entering, but…

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Would you go in?

The first disappearing act was by three people; two men and a woman, in their 20’s or 30’s. They were carrying torches (at least two were) and looked like they had a pretty good idea about what they might be getting themselves into. Fair enough. Hopefully they also had a plan if something went wrong.

The second disappearing act had us really shaking our heads. Two teenage girl not-quite-goths with no idea, I’m sure. They asked us to take a photo of them at the gate to prove they were there for a friend. Then sat around waiting for us to go. Sure enough, as soon as we’d started to walk off, they’d also jumped down over the other side of the fence and disappeared into the tunnel, armed with nothing more than their phones for light, by the look of it.

Maybe there’s a secret underground Easter Festival only locals know about? Maybe there’s a Stargate or other kind of portal down there – who knows?

Our destination was quite the opposite of these odd folk. We were taking a scenic route up to the lookout on top of Mt Tarrengower behind Maldon, following walk 14 in the Goldfield Walks book.

I have to say, when I know the point of a walk is to climb a hill and you start by going downhill, it’s always just slightly disheartening. By the end of the walk I came to realise that the consolation was that it made the climb to the top marginally less steep.

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We started by following this road for a couple of kilometres

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Sheep country these days

We were going to have a look around the remains of the North British Mine, 2.2km from the start of the walk, but when we realised there isn’t much to see near the carpark (which is why Tempest says to spend an hour wandering around the place) we ditched that idea pretty quickly, and pressed on. We passed by Carmans Tunnel mine as well (you can pay for a tour of this one – maybe another day), and came to our first conundrum – there were two unsealed roads leading off to the right from the bend in the main road – but which one was Ridge Track that we were to follow? There was no sign!!

So we did the sensible thing. Disagree and chose a different track each, of course. Fortunately, neither of us had to go far before we realised one road (*cough* – mine) was actually just a driveway to a house, whereas the other (ie Stephen’s) while also a driveway to a house then – most importantly – continued on and eventually had a sign saying ‘Ridge Track’.

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On the right track now

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Very dry, hilly country

The track remains an unsealed road between rural properties. There’s much more grass cover here compared to yesterday’s walk, but still extremely dry despite the light overnight showers, and lightly to moderately wooded with rough-barked eucalypts. There were a few cactus around too, even up near the top of the hill.

About half way up (I was hoping at that stage we were much closer, but…) we saw some more White-Winged Choughs. Once again, we wouldn’t have known they were there until they were alarmed by Stephen’s watch beep. As the track didn’t get any closer to the trees they were in, we didn’t scare them further and so although I was ready to try this time I didn’t get a photo of them in flight. I waited a few minutes, hoping, but eventually gave up.

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The best I could do with these White-winged Choughs.

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Up and up and up… then up some more

If you keep putting one foot in front of the other, you eventually arrive at your destination; and so it was that we made it to the top. It wasn’t the steepest climb we’ve ever done by a long shot, or the longest. Once again though we were very glad it was cool and overcast. Not a walk I’d like to contemplate doing on a hot summers day.

There are a couple of towers at the top; mostly communication towers, but the one you can climb is also used as a fire lookout tower. The first two levels are open to the public and provide a fantastic view of central western Victoria. We weren’t the only ones up there – would it surprise you know that you can drive right up to the top? No? Thought not.

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Made it! They turn on the party lights of a night time – you can see it from quite a distance, apparently.

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Maldon spread out below Mt Tarrengower. You don’t appreciate until you’re up here how large the town actually is.

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Yes, you could also drive up to appreciate the view.

We weren’t the only ones who had made the journey by foot. There was another, older couple who looked like they’d done so, and although we gave them a head start down Fountain Track (they were possibly also following Tempest’s directions) it wasn’t long before we caught up. We weren’t stopping to bash rocks like he was, so I guess that’s a timesaver. Maybe he’s a geologist? Or just hopeful of finding gold and doesn’t know what to look for? Or does but just hasn’t been lucky yet?

It was a steeper track down than up. Following instructions we turned onto ANZAC Hill Road from Fountain Track. They have Turkish field gun “obtained from official sources…[and] recently restored”. The track down from the flagpole was steeper again than Fountain Track, but definitely not as hazardous as the Telecom Track in Walahalla!

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The Turkish field gun

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View of Maldon from ANZAC Hill

To my mild disappointment there weren’t flashing lights and sirens near the drain entrance when we got back to the car. There wasn’t a crowd of worried looking people, or even more young people hanging around suspiciously, plucking up their courage and waiting for the right time to be the next ones swallowed by the earth – or transported away by an intergalactic portal. I hope all 5 people we saw go in made it out safely. We haven’t heard any reports on the news of dramatic drain rescues or missing persons around Maldon… hopefully no news is good news.

Our walk today was 8.69km which we did in around 2hrs 20min – have a look at our map & walk stats.

We had a dinner reservation that night at the Public Inn, a 10min walk from Fitzgerald’s. It was a lovely evening – not cold, not wet. We soon discovered it was a very good thing that we had a reservation; don’t think there were any empty tables when we arrived at 7pm. The people who walked in before us were offered a spot at the bar to wait for a table.

When you step in the door of the Public Inn, the first thing you notice is the wood features – they’re great! I love wood anyway, but they use it well here as panelling and funky light fittings. They also have a fantastic stone feature wall (my other favourite). Into the wall are six wine barrel sized holes which are filled with – you guessed it – wine barrels! They are arranged in an inverted triangle, which matches their logo.

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After the people at the neighbouring table left I could get a decent shot of the barrels. The ladder is to reach the taps of the top barrels.

They have a pretty decent wine list, but the wine barrels can be ordered in 250mL, 500mL or 1000mL containers. And here’s the best bit: the price of the 500mL container is twice that of the 250mL, and half that of the 1000mL container. There’s no pricing pressure to buy more or less. I thought that was wonderful!

Now, I say ‘container’ because if you chose wine from a barrel – and this isn’t just a cheap house wine; they’re well recognised brands – they measure out your preferred amount into an old (but obviously clean) brown glass medicine bottle. I’m sure Melburnian city dwellers think they have sole claim to funky, but it’s not true.

As for the food – beautifully presented and delicious. It’s been a while since we’ve eaten out and I have to say I really enjoyed this treat.

We had planned to leave just enough space to get an icecream from the Theatre Royal (the oldest continually operating theatre on the Australian mainland) on the way home – in lieu of desert – but we were too full. I was glad we were walking back to Fitzgerald’s!

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Castlemaine’s Theatre Royal

Easter Sunday

The plan was to throw the gear in the MINI and head over to Spring Gully to follow Walk 11 “Spring Gully & Break Neck Hill”. There are some interestingly named places in the area, such as Murderers Flat, Nuggety Creek, Emu Reef – almost every geological feature has it’s own name because about 160 years ago the hills were swarming with gold miners and panniers hoping to strike it lucky.

Although the last two days had been overcast, today the clouds were looking a lot heavier. Still, we headed off to Chewton (a small town which is so close to Castlemaine you might well mistake it as an outer suburb – but I’m sure the locals would disagree!) then turned right and headed towards Fryerstown. This is when the first drops of rain started hitting the windscreen.

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Just a few drops on the windscreen… there would soon be a whole lot more

We pressed on and found the turn to the Old Coach Road carpark, mildly surprised at the number of houses hidden in the bush out this way. There were four 4wd’s already in the carpark. Just as we pulled up, the rain started coming down a bit harder, and then a bit harder still. I optimistically suggested that maybe with that it was done – Stephen wasn’t buying it. After some discussion we agreed that it would be much more pleasant to walk the track on a nice sunny day and today we’d keep warm and dry by visiting the Castlemaine Art Gallery and Museum, which we hadn’t visited yet.

Our drive back to Castlemaine showed that the clouds hadn’t rained themselves out quite yet, but when we got back to Fitzgerald’s we heard that they hadn’t had more than a light shower in town. In fact, that was all that fell (in town, at least) for the rest of the day – hopefully more fell elsewhere as it was certainly needed.

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Looking towards Fryerstown where we had planned to walk

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Turn 90 degrees and the day doesn’t look so bad after all!

Wandering back down Lyttleton Street Stephen spotted a plaque we hadn’t noticed before.

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Anticlinal Fold & plaque.

How amazing is that? What a tight fold! Imagine the forces to make the earth – rocks – bend so much… how incredible. I’ve read recently that there is a link between seismology and formation of gold deposits. This area of Australia used to be under the sea and geologically active – I guess that explains why there was so much gold in the region. There still is a bit, but it’s getting harder to extract.

Continuing on down the street, we also passed:

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Castlemaine Court House

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Castlemaine Town Hall, not the police station despite the cars out front

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Castlemaine Police Station. The yellow building just off to the left is the library.

 

Crossing to the other side of Barker Street (Midland Hwy) we reached our designation.

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Castlemaine Art Gallery & Museum

The Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum, founded in 1913, is one of few (possibly the only?) public buildings in town built in an art deco style.

The upper level that you walk in at is the light and lovely art gallery. The paintings were nice but I loved some of the ceramics (pottery) on display (and for sale) by Barry Singleton. The style that combines blue/purple/pink/brown colours – gorgeous! But they were out of my price range or I’d have brought some home.

Downstairs is the historical museum displaying artefacts from the gold digging days and educational displays about towns, businesses and people of note from the goldfields around Castlemaine.

We spent a pleasant couple of hours there before emerging to a bright autumn afternoon. Whereupon we decided to stroll down Barker Street to the botanical gardens and have a look at the local winemakers festival.

We weren’t exactly sure where we were going – there was a sign near the town centre saying 1km up the road – but we were sure there would be more signs as we got closer. We’re not too bad at estimating 1km along a footpath, and we were just starting to wonder when the next sign would be when we saw people walking in the opposite direction carrying suspiciously branded carry bags, so knew we were getting close!

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We found the botanical gardens!

The Castlemaine botanical gardens are quite nice. Next time we visit I hope we have more time to have a proper look around.

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The pond could benefit from some rain, too

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Autumn just starting to colour the leaves

The party at the winemakers festival was in full swing, with a (presumably local) cover band playing, people picnicking in the middle of a large ring of merchants tents. We paid our entry fee of $30 each, for which we received our ‘drinkers’ wrist band and wine glass (quite a nice one, too), and set out to see who was here.

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Castlemaine winemakers festival 2013

Out of 21 winemakers stalls, Black Jack and Mt Alexander wines are the only ones we remember we’ve had previously. Black Jack shiraz and cab-merlot we purchase reasonably regularly though winter months – they are very full bodied wines. The rest of the stalls (17) were mainly food sellers, and there was quite a good variety of foods to chose from, to help you drink responsibly (and for longer).

Interestingly, there were no cider or beer stalls, despite a number of makers in the area. When they say winemakers festival, they really mean wine only.

Our strategy was to start tasting white wines (clockwise) then taste red wines (anticlockwise). There aren’t too many whites grown in the region – shiraz is definitely the most popular grape grown – but we still found a few to try. Enough that by the end of the first sweep of the stalls I needed something to settle my stomach. Our saviour was Michel’s Fine Biscuit Co Castlemaine stall who had a savoury selection as well as sweet. Armed with a packet of Rosemary Crackers we were able to face the reds.

As we found when we did a wine tasting tour in Tassie last year, the more you drink in a short time, the harder it is to appreciate the next wine you taste. I might have liked more of the wines we tasted had they been further up the queue. The find of the day for us was Harcourt Valley. We tried their Riesling earlier, which was nice, then came back and tried their shiraz and GSM (grenache, shiraz & mourvedre). Their stall was near the end of the line, we were getting pretty over wine and the biscuits were the only things cutting through the alcohol and keeping us going (we weren’t hugely intoxicated – we’d probably had about the equivalent of two glasses of wine each – just very full of wine). So for these two wines to make the taste buds pay attention, I figured it was worth noting!

Glasses from Castlemaine Winemakers Festival

The glasses we got on entry are actually quite nice

The other savour of the day were the casks and jugs of water at most tables – some people were simply washing out their glasses but since I couldn’t see anywhere to buy water, I was drinking it! By the end of the festival (it closed up at 4.30pm) water was getting harder to find.

It was a lovely walk back to Fitzgerald’s – and we finally stopped for that icecream at the Theatre Royal.

Easter Monday

Time to pack up and mosey on home. Our only plan today was to stop in Harcourt – the Apple Capital of Victoria – to see if any roadside apple barns were still open.

Harcourt is only a 5-10min drive from Castlemaine. There wasn’t so much gold there but fortunately someone realised the soil was great for growing things, so the miners in Castlemaine definitely got a better deal than those in other mining locations.

Until relatively recently the highway ran through town, and the town did quite well for itself. Now, it’s almost a ghost town. Once there were many roadside fruit barns; now the only one we could find was on the road between Castlemaine and the highway between Bendigo and Melbourne – Harcourt is a stone’s throw away, but on the other side of the highway, and therefore misses most of the traffic.

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The Little Red Apple – on the road out of Castlemaine

The other crop doing well in Harcourt is grapes. There are a number of wine producers in the area, some of whom we saw at the winemakers festival the previous day – Black Jack, Harcourt Valley Wines and Mt Alexander Wines are all within a 20min drive of each other. Henry of Harcourt (cider maker) is right in there, too.

At least we managed to buy a 2kg bag of Jonathan apples and a locally baked apple pie to enjoy when we got home.

: )