GREATEST DRIVING TOURS AND HERITAGE TOWNS
Belt a six at Walhalla’s cricket ground and you may end up fielding the ball yourself. Level ground was so scarce here that the playing surface was gouged out in 1882, some 200 metres above the town. The result was, and still is, a challenging 30-minute climb before play could begin.
Walhalla’s history dates back to 1862 when a party of prospectors followed the Thomson River downstream from the north. Edward Stringer found alluvial gold in the creek that now bears his name, and by January ‘83 the newly discovered gold-bearing reef was rushed. It became one of Australia’s richest.
Three large companies mined Cohen’s Reef over a period of fifty years and it produced in excess of 13 tonnes of gold before shutting down. Walhalla’s halcyon days saw the population swell to more than 4000, including nearby hamlets, with the settlement served by forty shops, banks, churches, a police station, a school for 500 children, breweries and numerous pubs.
In 1910 a narrow-gauge railway line from Moe came to town, but it was already too late.
The price of gold tumbled in the 1920s, forcing the big mining companies to close. At the railhead, Walhalla’s residents had hoped for renewed prosperity but the railway actually assisted in the town’s demise. A large number of the town’s wooden buildings were later transported by rail to other areas of Victoria.
Flood, fire and age took an unfortunate toll on the remaining structures, and today there’s only a hint of the town’s heyday - but it’s certainly enough to fire the imagination.
With a population of about twenty, the crooked little main street is often lonely. Walhalla’s ghost town appeal is evident in the original old shops (three), post office, and museum. Beyond restored facades these buildings conceal dim and mysterious interiors… electricity has only recently arrived in town, yet another indication of its relative isolation.
Opposite the intriguing little museum is a picnic area, and from here you can explore many of old Walhalla’s relics. For a modest sum, visitors can board a horse and cart to ride the length of town, taking in the mine sites, post office, shops and the recently rebuilt Star Hotel. Standing on a tiny patch of level ground opposite the pub, the Rotunda (circa1896) was the focal point for local residents a hundred years ago, when the Mountaineer Brass Band played on Saturday nights and special occasions.
The town’s cemetery is built on a steep hillside just south of town. About 1100 people are buried here, and while there’s a pathway up you’ll need energy more than eyesight to read the headstones.
Rumours abound that more gold is to be found here; today the Long Tunnel Extended mine echoes not with the steady hammer of pick and scraping shovel but the voices of visitors on regular guided tour.
A level walkway extends to a hillside above the Rotunda - it’s a steep climb to get there but the views over town are good. The long and challenging Alpine Walking Trail commences at Walhalla, but shorter walks extend to the Thomson River, Poverty Point Bridge and the Baw Baw Plateau.
The new Thomson River bridge, a few kilometres south of town, marks the furthermost station of the partly restored Walhalla Goldfields Railway. A narrow-gauge train, similar to Puffing Billy in Victoria’s Dandenong Ranges, winds through ruggedly picturesque Stringer’s Creek Gorge to a little station close to town. Take a picnic.
By the way - 2007 bushfires left the town itself unscathed, though the tourist railway bridge had to be rebuilt.
Walhalla is 180km east of Melbourne via Moe, off the Princes Highway. It’s two and a half hours drive from the city.
STAY THE WEEKEND AT:
Walhalla's Star Hotel, exc ensuite rooms in replica of original historic hotel.