The long and winding mountain road to Wood’s Point seems never ending, but the air is cool and heavily scented with eucalyptus, and almost any time of the year you’ll share it with lumbering wombats, shy lyrebirds and flashy crimson rosellas.
The descent into the tiny hamlet is almost a surprise - Wood’s Point appears to be simply a few houses in a picturesque valley. There’s one pub. Opposite the general store is a ramshackle timber hut with a weatherbeaten red tin roof. It’s probably Australia’s smallest petrol station.
While many Victorian towns prospered on the great wealth generated by the discovery of gold in the 1850s, Wood’s Point would make no claim to giant nuggets or grandiose public buildings.
Wood’s Point was first settled ten years after the official Gold Rush, when thousands flocked to this rugged mountain region on the edge of the High Country in search of newly-discovered gold-bearing quartz veins and river gravels. One miner of the time reported “nuggets as common as currents in a pudding.”
Drives and shafts followed rich seams of gold into the mountainsides, and of these the Morning Star mine was one of the richest. By 1865 the town boasted four breweries, including a cordial brewery, over thirty pubs, numerous accommodation houses, private houses and mining company offices.
By Century’s end the town struggled to survive a downturn in gold production. If the Great Depression wasn’t bad enough, Wood’s Point had its timber buildings virtually wiped out in the bushfires of 1939. A timber bridge over a deep gully provided scant shelter for women and children from the devastation - some were burned as fierce heat liquefied the bitumen surface and it dripped through the wooden planks
From the ashes of the ’39 fires a new, smaller settlement arose. The last mine, the Morning Star, closed for a time in 1963 and the town was almost abandoned. But with a rumoured 700,000 ounces of gold left, the mine survives. And today, a new generation explores the mountains hereabouts. They come for magnificent scenery, impressive tall forests and cool verdant valleys. For fossickers and gold panners, the gullies and streams still produce gleaming traces of former riches - if you're patient.
Wood’s Point lacks the expected colonial architecture, cafés, bakeries and accommodation of Victoria’s other historic gold mining towns. The pub is good for a cold beer and the food is now a better than it was; the accommodation is still fairly basic so don't look for a luxury pitstop.
For some visitors though, a picnic or impromptu pie-and-sauce by the town’s river is one of the simple pleasures to be found here. The cool, clean waters murmur their meandering way beyond the back doors of austere timber dwellings.
If you bring a mountain bike or enjoy bushwalking, explore the town’s back streets and nearby tracks because the surrounding mountains are full of forest cameos, and studded with history in the form of deep mine shafts and abandoned equipment.
Wood’s Point is 180km east of Melbourne, via Warburton or Marysville, about three hours drive. A longer aternative is via Eildon Road - long and winding but now fully sealed. You can stay at Mansfield, about 30 mins away.