The Goldfields Track – Ballarat to Bendigo
The Goldfields Track or Great Dividing Trail extends from Mt Buninyong (hill above Ballarat) to Bendigo and stretches for about 210km. Along the way it traverses a diversity of terrain and goes through the heart of Gold Rush Country providing you a rich insight to how things were when gold fever struck in the mid 1800’s. You can walk or ride the track and it is well marked with some sections just for walking and arrows pointing were the bikes can go around. If you choose to ride it, make sure you’re fit enough for a long day in the saddle and have purchased the paper maps. We also had the “Open Maps” app on our phone which had the track marked on it. Only once did we not have phone signal with Telstra.
Day 1 Ballarat to Daylesford – “Wallaby Track”
We chose to leave our car in Ballarat at my cousins place and he kindly agreed to drive us to the outskirts of Ballarat and start of Creswick Forest. We decided not to ride from Mt Buninyong – the official start point of the track as 90km in one day just seemed a little too much. We had already had a restless night wondering if we could actually manage the 73km we had planned. Yesterday we drove through Harcourt and Daylesford dropping off our gear and gathering intel about the track. We were told, its tough, signs are down, you might get lost and wow….most people don’t ride that far the first day, they stay in Creswick first! Accommodation was booked and the schedule was tight, and I thought we could do it so here we were, dropped on the side of the Springs Road waving goodbye to Cousin Rob and wondering were the track was.
Firstly we rode up Springs Road a bit and passed a sign for Yarrowee River and then kept riding for about 5 mins. We seemed to be heading too far out so a quick check of the map and then actually read the back of the map as it mentioned following the Yarrowee Trail for a while. Back tracked and followed the river and pretty soon we saw our first Gold Fields track sign.
Before long we were heading in the right direction and had entered the Creswick State Forest which we soon named the waste lands of Ballarat and unofficial dump. Close to a town and good access for dirt bikes and 4WD’s and as a consequence signs had either been knocked over or were non-existent. This lead us to follow a track which went straight up hill a couple of times (hike a bike type hills) and we popped out on White Swan road nowhere near the track.
Luckily if we followed this road around for a couple of km’s it reconnected to the track again and after that we found the signage to be very good and after all the uphill we’d endured the next bit was downhill along an old water race.
The riding from White Swan Road to Slaty Creek had been all single track fun. How good was this track, we were having lots of fun. There is a picnic table/free camping spot at Slaty Creek and when John and I just seemed to appear from nowhere we attracted the attention of an old couple who’d camped the night here. They invited us to enjoy a brew.
Our Slaty Creek hosts gave us a top tip for food in Creswick – the Patisserie Le Peche Gourmand. Who knew Creswick could be so posh and sell such fantastic goodies. We ate a gourmet wrap each and bought goodies for later.
We backtracked to St Georges Lake and enjoyed some of the best single track riding all day before finally leaving Creswick State Forest and clicking over some quick km’s riding along some quite country roads over to Wombat State Forest.
Wombat forest was loads of fun, really well signed posted so it flowed really well and was mostly downhill. We stopped a few times to eat and read about the history of the area.
There is even an old town called Wombat which has nothing left in it but some scattered old relics. We didn’t see any wombats but we did see two Echidna’s!
After our initial geographically challenging moments, the day had gone along quite smoothly and we were slowly edging our way closer to Daylesford. That was until Sailors Falls! I’m not totally sure what we did wrong here and I certainly wasn’t going back to find out, as we ended up lugging our bikes down a hundred steps to the bottom of the falls (which weren’t even flowing) and then back up the other side on a condemned stair case that was even steeper. Stepping over all the orange tape and then a big sucker fence at the end. DID WE MISS A SIGN?
Having now lost the track, although there was a sign at the top saying we were on the track, we continued along the road to Daylesford until we finally found a track that led back onto the Goldfields Track. We should have stayed on the roads as the track was more of a walking track and had us again lugging our bikes up and down stairs although nothing like the ones at Sailors Falls. Daylesford also seemed to be up on a hill and it took all of our strength to do the final hill climbs on back streets into our accommodation at the 2 Dukes on Duke Street. The owners had rung us at 4:30 at Sailors Falls to see if we could arrive before 5:30 and we made it by 10 minutes. They were so excited and also amazed that we’d made it that they forgot to charge us for the room. (We paid eventually…like a week later). The bag of gear we had left in their garage yesterday was still there and we locked up our bikes and enjoyed a lovely hot shower and dinner at the Daylesford Hotel. Conveniently located was the Laundromat across the road and Coles next to that. Today’s ride was 73.4km and had 1,335 meters of elevation gain.
Day 2 Daylesford to Harcourt – Dry Diggings Track, Goldfields Track
Lucky I took a look around and poke in the shops in Daylesford when we did our bag drop as there was nothing opened except the bakery when we took off this morning at just after 8am. Speaking of the bakery in Daylesford it was excellent, we needed a packed lunch for the day so got them to make us a salad roll each and then we bought cherry pies and other goodies. All carefully placed in the zip lock bags I provided her with (so organized!) There was quite the queue when we left that I found myself apologizing for taking so long.
The track takes the walkers down and along Sailors Creek (which after yesterday I never wanted to see again) but the bike track is just straight along the road and downhill to Hepburn Springs. Initially along the road and then along a very wide bike track adjacent to the road. Hepburn Springs I think is where the rich people holiday and we were both wondering why we didn’t stay here and enjoy the healing powers of Mineral Springs last night?! We did a lap of the picnic area and posh looking baths before finding the track again leading up a big hill. That big hill lead us to the start of the forest and some single track riding that went up one big hill after another. Some we rode up and some we just got off and pushed the bikes up. The endless hills won that round!!! Thankfully it got a little better towards the highway and there was also a reward for all that hill climbing at the Chocolate Mill.
After enjoying a brew we crossed the highway and turned down the road with all the letterboxes towards Dry Diggings for more fun back roads and then single track riding
From Dry Diggings reserve we enjoyed getting a few quick km’s along Sawpit Gully Road over to Castlemaine Diggings National Park. This was a mixture of fire trails and single track along side land that had been desecrated by gold mining. Littered with holes and old chimney stacks and big gully’s that had been dug out by mining.
Vaughan springs had a picnic table and some springs which were down a hill and we decided not to visit them. Instead we enjoyed the bakery treats and tried to read the map with the wind howling around us. We had so far had terrific weather but half way through the day a change had come through and on one exposed road it had us being pushed sideways, the wind was so strong!
I was glad to get back into the forest and more gold mine ruins.
After Fryerstown and quite a lot of hill climbing up to the “The Monk” (where we had a little sit down and recoup) came the most enjoyable bit of the whole track….riding along Poverty Gully Race. Downhill riding along the top of an aqueduct/race with the wind howling and the single track narrow. There was a lot of concentration and handle bar gripping going on, faster the better.
The best bit was that it seemed to go on forever. Weaving around the contours of the hill, with each corner turned you’d swear that you had already ridden this bit already, so crazy and so awesome at the same time.
Eventually popped out on the back streets of Castlemaine and cruised downhill into town. Checked out the local bike shops, shopped and had dinner at Bella Fresca and waited for our ride to Harcourt from Paula at Tread Harcourt. Here is where Victoria’s trains stuffed up and left our ride sitting on a train for hours so we ended up riding along the roads to Harcourt after dinner on dusk. Turned out to be an excellent way to end the day and even better was that the garmin wanted an adventure too. I plugged in the address and garmin must have thought….I never see you on highways so I’ll take you the back roads instead. 9km straight up the highway to Harcourt or 11km the quiet country roads and parts of the Goldfields Track. Hardly saw a car and my only regret was I did the whole ride in my gortex jacket and it was like a sweat box by the time we arrived. Tread Harcourt has bike friendly accommodation with great people running the place and a free to use washing machine.(bikepackers dream) They also organize bike tours and are keen cyclist.
Day 3 Harcourt to Bendigo – Leanganook Track – Goldfields Track
We had the option of a lift back into Castlemaine this morning to ride the tracks in the Castlemaine Diggings National Heritage Park that we had missed last night, but we decided against adding an extra 1.5hours to the day and instead headed out towards Bendigo at about 9am. The cycling trail travels up hill from Harcourt along quiet country roads to the Coliban Main Channel.
Time for some Coliban Main Channel facts now because it is pretty impressive…Back in 1865 engineer Joseph Brady re routed the Coliban River 70km away to a gravity-fed channel to supply water to the bustling gold rush town of Bendigo. 20 reservoirs and over 500km of open channels and we got to ride along side it for about 20kms. Sometimes the channel went under a hill and we had to ride over the top of that hill, but mostly it was downhill to Bendigo….a bike riders dream.
The water all emptied into the Sandhurst Reservoir and we turned right and entered Bendigo Regional Park. We were going so fast we missed a sign post and thankfully realized without riding on too far. Open Maps helped us to find the track again. This lead to some fun single track riding till eventually coming to yet more gold rush relics and a picnic table at Diamond Hill. While resting here for a break we finally saw another bike rider on the track. He was out for a day ride and said a quick hello before continuing on.
After a snack it was just an easy pedal down into Bendigo along more single track and eventually ride along the Salomon Gully Flora Reserve, known for its wild flowers to the streets of Bendigo.
After the reserve there is just a couple of streets to negotiate before arriving at the end of the Goldfields Track – Bendigo Train Station. An historic building in its own right, built in 1858, in the midst of gold rush fever and the perfect place to end a great three days of riding through the gold fields of Victoria.
Some facts and ideas: You can access the track easily from Melbourne by train. There is however no direct train from Bendigo to Ballarat, you need to go via Melbourne. Although we chose to leave a car in Ballarat and book transport back, another way to enjoy the track would be to leave from Melbourne and ride the Mt Buninyong to Ballarat section the afternoon you arrive and then set off early the next day for Daylesford. Or split the big day into two, Mt Buninyong to Creswick on day 1 and head to Daylesford on day 2. The transport company we booked charged $120 to drop us back to Ballarat with a quick stop off at Harcourt for the gear we left there.