Ore-inspired adventure

Sandy Guy discovers nuggets of history as she covers just a small portion of the 210-kilometre Goldfields Track.

A narrow dirt road just outside the sleepy hamlet of Fryerstown, near Castlemaine, tapers into a walking track. It's a beautiful day as we wander along the trail; the sun shines across verdant countryside speckled with jonquils and blooming wattles.

We happen upon a charming little stone house beside the remains of a hotel. Bluestone cellars are all that remain of the old inn, which served thirsty prospectors who tramped this once-busy track in the 1850s, when it was a pandemonium of people seeking their fortune.

Around Fryerstown, the countryside is pockmarked with pits and mounds made by diggers who stripped the landscape bare of trees in their ravenous quest for gold. They were rowdy days. Areas around the town, said to be home to about 15,000 people during the gold rush, were called Murdering Flat, Grogshop Gully and Chokeum Flat.

Today it's Arcadian: chirruping birds swoop across gnarled gums and poplars, while fruit trees blossom alongside ruined house sites.

The same track takes you to the once-busy mining town of Spring Gully, entry to several historic quartz mines. The Spring Gully mines area features the remains of an ore-stamping battery, an abandoned mine shaft and a huge mullock heap overlooking a deep gully, where a little stream gurgles amid the silent bush.

The trail is part of the Dry Diggings Track, which runs 61 kilometres from Daylesford to Castlemaine, passing many gold-rush sites unchanged for decades: creeks scarred from sluicing; alluvial diggings; the ruins of quartz-roasting kilns; old mines; lonely cemeteries and many a quaint cottage along the way.

The Dry Diggings Track is one of three trails that combine to make up the Goldfields Track, a 210-kilometre trail that winds its way between the gold-rush cities of Ballarat and Bendigo. Others are the 90-kilometre Wallaby Track, running from Mount Buninyong to Daylesford, and the Leanganook Track, a 58-kilometre trail linking Castlemaine and Bendigo.

Using tracks made by the army of gold seekers who descended on central Victoria in the 1850s, the trail was established by the Great Dividing Trail Association in 1992.

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Rebranded as the Goldfields Track and launched in May this year, the revamped and updated route features new gold-topped posts and signage and makes for a fascinating journey into the past for hikers and mountain-bike riders.

The Goldfields Track passes through historic towns such as Creswick, Daylesford, Hepburn Springs and Castlemaine — all with plenty of pit stops, cafes, restaurants, wineries and accommodation options.

Car shuttling or catching trains and buses between entry points is generally a necessity as most people undertake different sections of the trail in 12 to 20-kilometre hikes and rides. However, there are those so smitten with central Victoria, they traverse the track's entire length in one go, which can take about two weeks on foot.

Over its 210-kilometre length, the Goldfields Track crosses dramatically changing landscapes, from box-iron forests to open farmland, rugged bushland and gullies peppered with railway culverts, old tramways and water races, which once carried water from upstream dams to feed the gold mines that yielded fortunes.

Around Castlemaine, the track passes through the Castlemaine Diggings National Heritage Park, which covers an area north of Chewton to Fryerstown and Vaughan Springs, all rich with historic artefacts.

Near Chewton are the stone foundations of the Garfield Water Wheel, a 22-metre-high wheel built in 1887 to drive a quartz-crushing battery. At Eureka Reef, south of Castlemaine, are the foundations of more batteries and the evocative remains of a village. Vaughan Mineral Springs nearby was declared a reserve in 1878. On the Loddon River, this tranquil, shady haven of silver poplars surrounded by eucalypt-scented bush is a pleasant place to picnic or camp.

On the top of a hill just outside the reserve, the track passes a small burial ground known as the Chinese Cemetery because of the many Chinese miners, who flocked to the area in the 1850s and were buried there.

Dozens of burial grounds across the goldfields reveal the harsh lives of miners and their families, including Pennyweight Flat Cemetery just outside Castlemaine. Situated on a rise overlooking one of the region's richest alluvial goldfields, it is the final resting place of more than 200 people — many of them children — buried there between 1852 and 1857.

FAST FACTS

The Goldfields Track is well serviced by public transport with regular V/Line train services to Ballarat, Castlemaine and Bendigo and by buses to key villages on the track. For details, see vline.com.au.

Maps for the three trails that make up the Goldfields Track — the Dry Diggings, Wallaby and Leanganook tracks, and entry points along the trail — are available at local visitor information centres, or order online ( $7.50 ) at gdt.org.au.

More information on the Goldfields Track see goldfieldstrack.com.au.

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