Dry Diggings Track
Australia’s first National Heritage Park, the Castlemaine Diggings National Heritage Park was created in 2002 in recognition of the region’s intimate association with the Victorian gold rush era. From the wet temperate forests on top of the Divide to the dry northern plains, it’s a roller coaster journey for most of the way and not recommended for the inexperienced walker or novice rider. At its outset, the walking track contours on steep slopes above Sailors Creek, hidden away in forest from the mineral spa towns of Daylesford and Hepburn Springs. The bike route goes through town before rejoining the shared use track at Golden Springs. Soon after, your arrival at the spectacular erosion columns of Beehive Gully acts as a fitting introduction to the typical narrow, high-walled gullies pockmarked with mine shafts and riddled with stone ruins, encountered throughout this track. What you are traversing in places like Browns, Sebastopol and Sailors gullies is an open air museum consisting of a century and a half of old mining artefacts – a ghostly, abandoned landscape fading back into bush.
Walk the Dry Diggings Track
- Tipperary Walk : Lake Daylesford – Womans Gully track junction (14km)
Follow Tipperary Springs Walking Track, a pleasant walkers-only track hugging the contours of creek valleys, through changing foothill forest, hidden away from housing upslope.
- Mt Franklin View Walk : Hepburn Springs Reserve – Porcupine Ridge Rd (15km)
Meander up and down taking in Beehive Gully, stopping for an OTT choc break at the Chocolate Mill, and enjoy views of the steep walled Mt Franklin crater. In the last third, you climb through box euc dry forest. An off-track side trip to the streamside flats of Tarilta Gorge [Map 19, due W from point 15] is recommended for campers, but water is not reliable.
- Golden Mountain Walk : Porcupine Ridge Rd – Vaughan Springs (11km)
The rollercoaster begins in earnest here. Down then up following sluiced gullies and accompanying water races. Lots of stone ruins of huts, mine walls, puddler circles and Cornish hillside chimneys. You twist up and over four gullies before reaching the Loddon River.
- ‘Cry Joe’ Walk : Vaughan Springs – Castlemaine (20km)
More gold rush artefacts add interest from the deep pit at Irishtown to the remarkably intact heritage buildings at Fryerstown, impressive stone-faced loading ramp of Spring Gully Mines to the winding Poverty Gully water race and its reservoir. The walk is punctuated by a climb up the Monk, with wonderful wildflowers in spring; and is climaxed by enormous erosion pillars before the final stroll to Castlemaine Railway Station.
If you want, you can bypass Castlemaine, linking directly with the Leanganook Track. The link route commences to the north of The Monk and goes via Chewton.
Ride the Dry Diggings Track
For mountain bikers the Dry Diggings Track is logically broken into three sections. All have excellent car access, and the full ride is a great day out for fit riders.
- Daylesford to Chocolate Mill (8km)
Again it’s easy to be fooled by the long descent from Daylesford to Hepburn Springs, these first few kilometers belie the truth that is to come. The steep climbing through the northern end of the Hepburn Regional Park will make you feel as though Daylesford is trying to draw you back, but once past the Chocolate Mill and the letterboxes at Sawpit Gully Rd you will be set free into the sweet singletrack of the Castlemaine Diggings National Heritage Park.
- Chocolate Mill to Vaughan Springs (21km)
Now on the northern side of the Dividing Range you’ll find drier, rockier terrain and stands of box eucalypts jostling for position in unforgiving soils. Soon you’ll cross Porcupine Ridge Rd and start what is widely acknowledged as the best mountain biking section along the entire length of the Goldfields Track. A gradual descent, the track winds through fascinating old mine sites, long vanished villages and awesome geological features before dropping into the beautiful Vaughan Springs picnic area.
- Vaughan Springs to Castlemaine (19km)
From this point there is a brief section of tarmac before the track reenters the forest and winds toward Fryerstown. Dense bushland is occasionally broken by moonscape like clearings revealing vast expanses of reef rock, look closely and you may spot a remnant streak of gold passing under your tyres. More flowy singletrack takes you past the Spring Gully mine site and following a steep pinch up the Monk you arrive at the Poverty Gully water race – this engineering marvel still carries water to paying customers 140 years after its construction. Nowadays it doubles as a shared walking and cycling trail providing an unforgettable finish to a great day’s riding.
* All times are based on walkers and riders with a reasonable level of fitness and experience.
Walking times are based on approximately 4km/hr.
The Dry Diggings Track will test your fitness with some challenging climbs and descents.