For the second time this year we have visited the quaint old mining town of Walhalla at the end of Baw Baw National Park, about 2.5 hrs drive east of Melbourne.
If you arrive, as we did, before the weekend rush, you get to see the town as the locals do. You can wander down the main street and see no one. You can stand in the middle of the street to photograph the birds without fear of being run over. You can sit in your hotel room and listen to the sound of the babbling creek and the bird calls come in through the window and reflect how purchased relaxation music could never match this.
Needless to say we really enjoyed being the only guests at the Star Hotel (and possibly the whole town!) for the first two days! However, if you like meeting people while on holiday, August is the best time for you to visit. That’s when Walhalla have their annual Winter Ljusfest – which does look lovely, and attracts quite a few visitors to the town.
As with all of our holidays and weekends away, we had a few walks in mind. There’s the tram line that forms the end of the Australian Alpine Walking Track that follows the road into town, but since we’d walked this numerous times before (see our summer holiday post), we were looking for something different.
Between Rawson and Thompson Station there’s a turn-off along the main road. The road isn’t sealed but it’s not too bad; just down the steep hill there’s space to park one or two cars where several tracks intersect. The Horse Shoe Bend Tunnel Track zigzags (Yes! Zigzags! If you’ve walked up/down the Mormon Track you’ll appreciate my exclamation) down to river level. Over the years the river has carved quite a deep valley through the hills, and the hillsides are quite steep.
The tunnel was created in 1911-1912 when mining was still in its hey-day, and allowed alluvial gold mining along the newly drained river bed.
There are plenty of frogs calling in the ponds near the tunnel’s outlet, and there is evidence that in times of flood the river rises enough to follow its old route.
We followed the river around the bend to the entrance of the tunnel. The pools left after the last flood were quiet enough to show great reflections on their surface. After a enjoying lunch on a convenient log we retraced our steps to the zig-zag path.
After climbing back up to road level, we decided to follow the Rail Trail and see how good the track was and how far we could get. Given we’d seen the bike riders as we turned onto the road into Walhalla the previous day, we were fairly sure we’d get through.
This section of the Rail Trail is easy (as the name implies, it’s pretty level) but not especially scenic. At the end of the walk I had a very small leech on the inside of each of my gaiters – how they got there I’m not sure… whether it was from one of the walks or when I was trying to flick mud off by slapping them against the side of the seat of the picnic table near where we parked…
The next day we decided to go back to the same carpark and walk along the Rail Trail again, but this time heading back to Thompson Station. In summer we tried to walk this track starting from the station, but were very quickly turned back by thick and thorny weeds that made the path almost impenetrable, and the track itself was crumbling and unstable.
Starting off, the rail track follows the Horseshoe Bend Track… just 50m or so above! We could also see both the tunnel inlet and outlet at one point.
The track winds its way around the hillsides and eventually you will come to the remains of a rail bridge. A photo of this bridge was the inspiration for this walk – I’m glad we finally got to see it!
Just over a rise in the path is Thompson station – not 5min from the old bridge! How close we were in summer without knowing it – and without being able to get there! We arrived in good time to see the train depart at 11am, so I went across the vehicle bridge to get the classic train crossing the bridge photo, while Stephen stayed at the station for close up shots.
Retracing our steps to the start of the Rail Trail it was clear that there had been a lot of work done to track since January. Our heartfelt thanks to all who contributed to reopening the track so we can enjoy it again.
Here is the link to our walk map & stats.
Back in town that afternoon we found ourselves at the old post office. Of course, 100 years ago it was more than just a shop; it was a home. I don’t think it would have been comfortable by our standards – not by a long shot. Too cold and damp for starters, not to mention the hard work they had to do just to take care of basic chores!
As well as taking care of the mail, the post office would have been the local telephone exchange. The current display has been donated by the Telstra Historic Telephone Museum.
We thought to head up to striking buildings that was the old hospital, but we’d heard is now another accommodation place, high on the hill above town, but were thwarted by signs saying Road Closed and Private Road – No Access etc. The bitumen had stopped and we weren’t sure which drive/road actually lead to the place, so we turned back and instead had a look at the local church on our way back to the Star Hotel.
Given we had some time in which to relax before dinner, we though we’d do something we haven’t done before… make use of the guest lounge area! We’d taken along a travel Scrabble set, but noticed that the Star had not just a regular Scrabble set, but a few games and numerous packs of cards for guests to use. Their library is pretty good to – especially so if you’re a train nut. While we were there, enjoying a glass of red to help the letters arrange themselves appropriately and watching the newly arrived guests being ushered through, I noticed the wrens at the window. I think they are attracted by their reflections; I heard tapping at the window. It’s quite an enjoyable way to pass an hour or so.
It would have been nice to re-visit Mt Erica and the gorgeous Mushroom Rocks Track, but time didn’t allow for it this trip.
A quick note on staying in Walhalla
The Star Hotel is lovely. We have stayed there before, and were very pleased to go back again, although the main reason for this trip was a complimentary one night stay for winning a photo competition run by the local (but now retiring) MP, Philip Davis, earlier in the year.
The only downside – from our perspective – is that we had to travel back to Rawson to buy a fresh sandwich to pack for lunch each day. The Greyhorse Cafe next to the Star doesn’t do sandwiches or other easily packable lunches for hikers, and unless it’s a weekend you can’t count on anything else being open. That’s why we chose a self-contained accommodation (Taylor’s Cottage) for our last summer holiday.
If you aren’t up for much hiking and don’t plan to go far from town, then there’s no problems at all!