Directions - From the centre of Daylesford, take Raglan St east until you reach the turn for Midlands Hwy. Follow this until you see the signs for Mount Franklin. The start of the walk is inside the camping grounds on the western side.
The Hike - With a few walks already under the belt and a very short trip to Daylesford over the Christmas holidays, I was quite content to have a quiet final morning before our flight home that evening. Caris had other plans as she had yet to be taken out in Uncle Hal's Jag and suggested we visit the nearby Mount Franklin for a hike (yes, Caris suggested a hike). Her mother had previously done the walk up to the summit and said it was worthwhile so we decided to head there early and tackle it before breakfast. When Caris' Aunt Candy had heard we were going she gave us a rather sombre history lesson about the area and how it evolved over the years.
Essentially (and I am paraphrasing from a conversation from a month ago at the time of writing) when European settlers came to Australia and started kicking all the indigenous people off the land, they setup a reserve for them to live that was the site of Mount Franklin or Lalgambook as it was originally known (smoking ground). Then the gold rush came and they were "relocated" as miners took over (like most places in Australia) before it was converted to a recreational site in the mid 1800s (not without selling off nearby land for agriculture). Then in 1944 there was a devastating fire that wiped out the native forest in and around the volcanic caldera. Tragically it was decided by the powers that be at the time to replace the native forest with plantation timber and thus the current version of Mount Franklin was born. The surrounding land has also been converted to agricultural land over the years and what is left is a sad little oasis of unnatural vegetation that is now a recreational campground. As for our visit, I set my alarm for a semi-reasonable hour to avoid hiking in the harsh UV rays and we slid into the Jag and fired up the V8. On the short drive out of Daylesford to the start we enjoyed the luxurious sportiness of the XK before pulling into the entry road for Mount Franklin. I wanted a few photos from a distance so left Caris in the car while I did this. As we were about to drive off a Range Rover pulled in and went ahead of us.
Excellent news as we wouldn't feel too bad with another expensive car entering the campground before us. Hilariously on the road in to the gap in the caldera that serves as the entrance to the campground we saw a man holding a small dog as he walked along and at one point he just pointed into the distance as if to show his K9 companion that they should also look. We rounded the bend and soon entered the caldera of the volcano and was presented with a very un-Australian scene of giant pine trees. I didn't worry about being inconspicuous so parked up in the middle of the caldera as it was the first open spot I found. We found what we assumed was the start of the walk off to the western side, careful not to interrupt the late rising campers and started the climb up the edge of the crater. The first half of the track if you are doing it in a clockwise direction is a vehicle track so not thoroughly interesting but looking off to the sides fixes that right up. As you walk higher up the hill, the views down to the campground get better. I would say it is more glimpses than straight out views but it's a cool way of measuring your progress and seeing the pines all lined up has its own charm.
Doing a 180 turn on the 4x4 track, the climbing eases off and it starts to feel like you're on the crater rim. Having been told previously that the views are very limited from the summit, I wasn't too disappointed that I couldn't see anything. We continued on, admiring some rogue native eucalyptus trees that I assume had regenerated after the fires. As the track really flattened out, we could breathe easier and enjoy the biggest gap in the trees you'll experience on the walk. With cloudy conditions about the views were very moody as the golden grasses of the surrounding farmland stood out over the patches of forest. The gap in the trees is thanks to some power lines coming up the hill, which kind of spoils the view but the view wouldn't be there without them. We continued on and found the official summit a bit further on. A telecommunications building has a home on the top here, just like the Leanganook Loops and I'm starting to think every hill in Central Victoria has a structure on top of it. While I was checking out the flat metal plaque that pointed out the direction and distance to other hills in the area, Caris had wandered down another small track and found a cool fluorescent coloured beetle. She called me down and I luckily got a few photos before it scurried off into the leaf litter.
Wondering if the track was a there and back, we kept heading along the 4x4 track and it just came to an abrupt end with no obvious continuation. As we got closer we saw the green sign pointing us back down the hill to finish the loop. After a small section of natural looking forest we were heading down a single track into the pine forest and the best part of the entire walk. Spotting a sign pointing us to Daylesford, Caris wasn't too keen on walking back to town so we decided that finishing the loop was the best option. The final part down the hill was something out of a Nordic crime drama with the bleakness of the forest floor contrasted against the ominous feeling of walking through the straight pine trunks. With soft lighting thanks to the cloud cover, it was a beautiful part of the loop with a few details to enjoy among the sameness that comes with pine forests. Caris pointed out the moss on the bottom of a few trees and there were a few rogue trees trying to break up the monotony of the pines. After a very slow finish to the walk we were popped out into the campgrounds again and had to get our bearings to find the car. Figuring heading to the centre of the crater would be the right way, we eventually found the Jag. I may have given the throttle a bit of a blip as we exited to hear the bark of the V8 because I am a jerk like that.