This was a hike I hadn't even intended doing. I had be planning an extended backpacking expedition through a couple of hundred miles of some really remote back country over the New Year. Part of my safety planning was a satellite emergency beacon, and I had bought one over the internet in December, but it hadn't arrived by my planned departure date. After a couple of postponements, I gave up waiting for it to arrive, and started to think about alternatives.
I was aware of the Goldfields Track in Victoria, and after checking the website of my cell carrier, I realized that nearly all of it was through areas with cell phone coverage, which took care of the safety aspect. A quick purchase of a map set, and I was heading to a new destination.
The Victorian Goldfields were the site of an enormous gold rush in the 1850's (bigger than California), and by the 1890's, a third of the gold in history had come out of these goldfields. In 1854 and 1855, more people were buying a sailing ticket to Melbourne, than to any other port in the world (and on many ships, the crew promptly 'jumped ship' on arrival to join the hordes heading to the goldfields to make their fortune). In just 10 years, the population of Victoria grew sevenfold from 76,000 to 540,000. So even if this 200 km 120 mile walking track through the goldfield was not through the backcountry as planned, it was certainly going to be in interest.
I caught the first train of the day up to the small city of Bendigo, and was on my way by 8.30 in the morning. The track was signposted directly from the railway station, and after just half a mile through the suburban streets, the path was directed along an urban park, and then after that, through the small Salomon Gully Flora Reserve. While I could still hear traffic noise, it was hard to believe I was still in an urban area.
However, I soon left the settled areas of Bendigo, and then moved through areas where the evidence of gold mining was all too obvious. This included not just past mining, but two mines that are still active (especially at current gold prices).
After about 11 km/7 miles, I reached the Sandhurst Reservoir. From here the path followed the Coliban Water Channel, an aqueduct bringing water over 100 km/60 miles to Bendigo. The near level route of the aqueduct made for pretty easy walking, although it was a little tedious, as the aqueduct followed each gully in and out to maintain the same height.
However, the aqueduct did have a couple of tunnels, while I had to climb up and over the ridgeline the tunnels passed through.
There was also a couple of places where the channel dropped a lot of vertical height in a short distance, via a complex set of falls, water races and dissipators. The dissipators in particular were designed to bleed off a lot of the energy of the falling water without creating a lot of spray (and hence evaporation).
The channel was built entirely by hand in the 1860's, and is still supplying the bulk of Bendigo's water needs more than 140 years later. I was extremely impressed with the engineering - from the careful surveying that lead to precise gradients necessary for the water to flow entirely by gravity without pumping, to the complex dissipation systems.
The ins and outs of the gullys did lead to the trail being considerably longer than had appeared on the map, and I was not making as much progress as I had hoped. I eventually camped beside the channel in a pleasant spot just before one of the aqueduct channels.
It had been a pretty warm day, and my shirt was soaked through from the sweat. I suspect I am going to be pretty strong on the nose by the end of this trip.
Total distance covered 28 km/17.4 miles