This morning started out fairly drizzly, and the rain picked up as I went along. As the trail went through a pine forest, it finally got heavy enough that I had to stop to put on a waterproof jacket and a rain cover over my pack.
At one point there was a steep climb through the forest up to the ridgeline - it wasn't very long, but the combination of the slope, the rain and the clay base of the road made for a very slippery and treacherous surface, and I definitely appreciated the use of my trekking poles for extra traction.
After passing by the Expedition Pass reservoir, the trail descended down through a number of houses. This was obviously a fairly new housing developement on the site of on old gold mining development- it actually looked like a rather pleasant place to live, with around 5 acre blocks nestled amongst the trees (although I would wonder about the wildfire risk in a dry summer).
The trail then headed into the Castlemaine Diggings National Heritage Park, and despite the passage of 140 years, the evidence of the water races constructed by the miners was still pretty obvious. The aqueducts ran around the contours of the hill, and would obviously collect a fair bit of water when it rained.
Many of the aqueducts led to my next target - the Garfield Water Wheel. This enormous water wheel was built in 1887 as part of a rock crushing plant for gold mining operations. You can get an idea of the size of the wheel from the people standing next to it in the historical photo below.
While the wheel and the mill is long gone, the buttresses that the wheel rested on is still there.
After a quick lunch at the picnic grounds at the wheel, I then headed down through the small town of Chewton, bypassing the much larger town of Castlemaine. I missed a turn going through the town, but had only gone about half a mile before things I realized my error, but a quick diversion down the maintenance track alongside the railway soon had me back on track.
From Chewton, the climbed up The Monk to a height of 690 m, via a complex and even more extensive of aqueducts (known as the Poverty Gully Water Race). From The Monk, the trail led down through the Spring Gully diggings. These had been worked up until the 1930's and there was still a number of stone walls and the like still visible.
From Spring Gully, the track then proceeded through the town of Fryerstown. Once 15,000 people lived here, although only a few hundred remain now. One interesting building was the Mechanics Institute, named after Burke and Wills (early Australian explorers who sought the cross the continent from south to north, famous for dying in the desert after missing their relief expedition by a few hours) who had camped briefly during their journey.
From Fryerstown, the track headed on towards the Loddon River, and the campsite there of Vaughan Springs. I was running low on water on this stage, and was rather frustrated when the track dropped down into the Loddon Gorge, only to climb back up out after crossing a side creek, before dropping back to the river again.
Although there was a weir on the river with plenty of water backed up, the weir (and the Loddon itself) wasn't flowing. I was rather surprised at this, as 2011 had been the wettest year in Victoria for 30 years. Fortunately, Vaughan Springs is actually the site of several natural mineral springs, so I was easily able to collect fresh water.
Vaughan Springs was actually a rather pleasant site, and over the years has been a popular picnic site. The area has been developed over the years with electric barbecues, picnic table, a water slide, various mineral springs and even a small minature railway for the kids.
At 6 pm, I had expected to find myself alone, but just after I spread my gear around a picnic table to dry after last night's rain, a group of people arrived in a couple of SUV's wanting to use the BBQ's (and mine was the closest picnic table). Shortly afterwards, a family arrived to have a swim in the weir.
Even at nightfall, after I had ostentatiously set up my camping gear, the BBQ crowd continued chatting on at the tops of their voices, and the problem was compounded when a particularly foul-mouthed couple turned up to wander through the campside, complaining "Is this effing it?" Eventually they all left, and I was finally able to get to sleep at 10 pm.
Total distance covered 23 km 14.3 miles