About an hour’s drive west of Melbourne lies Spa country. It is an area which in the 1850’s saw the gold rush, but as that ended the people trickled away, and it was revitalised with visitors seeking the health benefits of the natural spring water and beautiful surrounds. With over 100 springs and the heritage of gold rush era buildings, the popularity of the area never wanes.
If you are wanting to enjoy the spring water, and we certainly always do, grab a map of the location of the hand pumps from visitor information in Daylesford. Be sure to bring loads of empty bottles from home. With each location having differing mineral compositions, you can access a range of mineral waters with different tastes and degrees of effervescence. We make a point of marking our bottles as to where we have filled them up, whether it is Vaughan Springs or Sailors Falls, because the taste is so different.
Daylesford is the centre town, full of cafes and Melbournians escaping for the weekend and day trips and a fabulous weekend market. We were wanting to stay in the area for a few days, but to avoid the higher accommodation costs associated with the town, we found ourselves in Yandoit, a 15 minute drive away.
With a sense of adventure, we booked Yuinup, a truly unique solar powered and hand built home surrounded by bushland, wildlife, sculpture from the owner artist, and wildflowers.
The house had a massive loft, a staircase led to an upstairs attic room with a number of beds and boxes of old lego and other toys and books. The boys loved it. Every day we needed to crank the solar powered apparatus (I don’t know if the technology has changed since our stay), otherwise it was cold water. And there was just a tiny tv, the kids thought it such a novelty compared to the big screen tvs of city life!.
The district is an old gold district, so it is a quick drive (15-20 mins) to Castlemaine to the Castlemaine diggings park to take a walk amongst old relics of the 1850’s period. Pictured below is the remains of an old water wheel. On one visit to this location, we managed to run into the grandson of the manager who once supervised an entire gold mining operation that existed on this site. He spoke of visiting as a young boy, and walking through the buildings that once existed here. There is no doubt that still there will still be gold nuggets here, so particularly if you happen to visit after heavy rains, keep your eyes peeled. But make sure you have a prospecting licence, bought on line, and not expensive. And abide by the requirements of where you can legally prospect.
We had to laugh at the generous speed limits allowed on the road, but the locals are probably fine with it.
The Yandoit and surrounding towns once were fortunate to have Swiss Italians settle, their legacy being distinctive stone buildings, some pristine and restored, others in ruins but still spectacular. Not knowing of this history prior to our trip, constantly coming across the remains of the buildings was an entirely unexpected and highlight of our stay here.
One of my favorite places in the area is Vaughan Springs. Like the rest of the area, it experienced a population explosion during the 1850’s due to gold. A picnic reserve was created there in the early 1900’s, and at some point, a miniature railway was installed. You can still see the tracks and shed for the carriage. There is also a Chinese cemetery within walking distance, but I haven’t been there and it will be a top priority on my next visit.
There is also a hand pump to access the spring water, and even better, a slide. The slide was shortened, at some point, due to broken bones, as the sheer length and gradient led to too much momentum and too many accidents! To get to the slide you need to climb up a steep section of hill using old car tyres for traction. Undoubtedly, you will be exhausted before you even begin! As parents our role is stomping on the bull ants in the summer that track over the slide, to enable a safe downward passage for the kids (and any adults that don’t mind the big bump at the bottom). Be sure to use a towel, although sometimes there is a hessian sack or similar left there by the slide community, for general use
In the general area, further south of Daylesford, there is a restored train you can ride. The Daylesford Spa Country Railway has a train that departs Daylesford and runs to Bullarto. It is an hour return drive, and provides for a fun and different aspect of the area.
The surrounding countryside is very beautiful with striking shopfronts and streetscapes. It is worth just driving the roads, camera at the ready. There is the added benefit of local markets, chocolate, wine and coffee that can be found, but as a family with active kids, we found that exploring the trails to be the best option for ourselves.
Driving through the area at dusk lends a special quality, with the sounds of the nightbirds, and marsupial eyes gleaming out of the darkness at us. Be sure to take it slow and carefully though. I don’t think I have ever seen so many wallabys and kangaroos in my life, and it was quite unpredictable as to when they would chose to cross the road in front of us.
In daylight hours, there is also a goat!