Start - Lake Daylesford
Finish - Hepburn Springs
Length - 17.6km (One Way)
Grade - Orange
Terrain - Single Track, 4x4 Track
Vertical Climb - 383m
Time - 4-6 hours
Signed - Yes, follow the wooden boards
Date Hiked - 27th December 2015
Best Time - All Year Round
Directions - Located just over an hour from Melbourne, from the centre of Daylesford head south along the main strip until you see the signs for Lake Daylesford. There are paths all around the lake but the start of the track is located on the south west edge of the lake just past the Boathouse.
The Hike - Christmas this year took on a different flavour as the in-laws were all gathering in country Victoria for the annual event. Joining my partner and her family for a few days in the picturesque town of Daylesford, just over an hour’s drive from Melbourne, seemed like a good excuse to explore what she describes as the Margaret River of Victoria. With my hiking gear packed we arrived just before midnight on my birthday to join the hundreds of others flying over to the sporting capital of the world.
A 7am AEDT arrival meant we were still weary eyed when my partners dad picked us up for the hour long drive out to Daylesford. Being summer there was no shortage of yellow grass all along the highway and when I wasn't half asleep my thoughts were guided to how much land we have managed to clear in over two centuries of occupying this island. On the outskirts of Daylesford my faith was restored and a smattering of forest appeared.
Before arriving I had done my research and chose the Tipperary Track for my sole day of hiking (we were only in Daylesford for about four days). This 17.6km one way trail takes you from Lake Daylesford through the bushland and along creeks until you reach Hepburn Springs (4km north of Daylesford town centre). The plan was to head out on Boxing Day, which was great as the summer heat was forecast to be interrupted by rain on Christmas night. Unfortunately it didn't stop on Boxing Day and as I hadn't brought any rain gear I postponed the hike until the following day. I started early on the 27th to get the hike in before a 12:45pm movie screening we were all attending and immediately ran into a problem, I hadn't asked if I could borrow some sunscreen.
Luckily the Coles Express just round the corner from the rented house we were staying at had a tube and I didn't have to worry about turning into a lobster. It was a chilly morning as I walked along the main street (stopping off for a coffee and snack at the bakery first) and on to the starting point at Lake Daylesford. I had about five hours to complete the 3km walk to Lake Daylesford, the 17.5km Tipperary Track plus the 4kms back to the house so it was going to be a balance of speed and spending enough time enjoying & photographing the landscape (I took a lot of photos). Unlike trails in WA, you won't find trail markers posted every now and then to guide your way. Instead the trail is broken up into sections that are no more than 3.5km and I found it very easy to follow (apart from one wrong turn after Breakneck Gorge).
Section One - Lake Daylesford to Twin Bridges (1.3km) - Starting from the concrete bridge over Wombat Creek I found a single track that led into the forest and began my hike. The first point of interest comes not far down the trail when you reach Sutton Springs. Crossing Wombat Creek again, you are presented with the remains of the old spring before finding the trail again on the western side of the spring. Being summer I expected any greenery to be long gone but the trail to Twin Bridges was still very lush and it was nice to be amongst it all after a few warm months in Perth.
The Twin Bridges is exactly as described, two bridges of the Midland Highway over Stony & Sailors Creeks. At this point there is another hike you can do called the Lost Children's Walk, a short hike near where three children got lost in 1867 after going on an adventure walk. Sadly the story didn't end well despite a big effort by the townspeople of Daylesford. I snapped a few photos of the bridges and then entered the Twin Bridges picnic area ready to cross the footbridge of Sailors Bridge.
Section Two - Twin Bridges to Tipperary Springs (2.3km) - Unbeknownst to me, at the Twin Bridges picnic area there are two trails you can take that lead to the same junction further up at Bryce's Flat. They both follow Sailors Creek but on different sides of the bank. I took the western path and after unsuccessfully trying to capture some nice shots of the dry creek bed I moved on and headed towards Tipperary Springs.
Following the steep banks of Sailors Creek on the narrow trail means you really have to pay attention as one stumble or trip and you could be in for a long fall down to the creek bed. The surrounding bushland doesn't help the situation as I constantly found myself looking around at the forest or trying to catch a glimpse of a section of creek that still had water. The trail heads in a generally westerly direction, snaking and weaving along the meandering creek bed until you reach Tipperary Springs. While it wasn't completely dry, there wasn't much there so I took a few photos and moved on as the expected arrival back at the house was playing on my mind.
Section Three - Tipperary Springs to Bryces Flat (3.3km) – Having driven out to Ballarat on Christmas Eve for a last minute shopping expedition, I knew roughly what the landscape looked like west of Daylesford. So with a name like Bryces Flat, I was expecting a climb up the western bank of Sailors Creek and to be greeted with sweeping vistas across the golden farming land between Daylesford and Creswick. I did not see any sunburnt country or lands of sweeping plains but I did get some great Australian bushland where I half expected a bushranger or two to cross my path on horseback. Those days are long gone but its fun to use the imagination to see images of akubra and driza-bone clad horsemen wandering around the eucalyptus trees. I didn’t have time to explore Bryces Flat so I admired the massive rock steps forming a path over Sailors Creek and moved on.
Section Four – Bryces Flat to The Blowhole (1.7km) – Having located the alternate route from Twin Bridges, I kept heading north on the trail and found my first glimpse of civilisation with a few private properties just past Bald Hill Rd. This didn't last long as the trail began its final descent down towards the fascinating landmark that is The Blowhole. Created by prospectors in the area during the gold rush, it's a man made hole in the side of the rock face designed to divert to flow of Sailors Creek so they could mine for gold in the creek bed.
As it was summer I couldn't see the result but I did have fun taking photos and peering through the hole at close range as I understand it is usually full of water during the wetter months. Around the location there is a network of stairs and viewing areas to help you access difficult parts along with information boards detailing the history of the location. At this point there is also a couple of other walks you can do if you have the stamina (Spur Loop Walk & Diggings Walk). Alternatively you can always start prospecting for gold to put towards new hiking gear although you will need to get yours Miners Right before you can start.
Section Five - The Blowhole to Breakneck Gorge (3.1km) - By this stage I thought the elevation was pretty level from where I started with a minor drop due to the flow of the creeks but as it turns out I had dropped over 140m vertically in the 9km so far. There had been several small climbs back up the creek banks to fool me but I was almost at the lowest point of the hike with a bit of climbing to come. This section is a little bit exposed and with the sun out I was glad to have my previously purchased sunscreen so my lobster status wasn't going to be an issue.
Once you reach level with the creek there is a bit of a climb where you get some nice views across the other side of the bank and above some great forest (see second last photo below). Not all the flora in the trail is native though as there is a random smattering of cactus lining the trail in one section so make sure you have sure footing while passing that bit. Rounding the corner where the trails ceases to head north and goes east means you are close to Breakneck Gorge. The final climb up to the bridge for Hepburn-Newstead Rd is made easy by the distraction of Breakneck Gorge. I didn't get to explore the area as much as I would like but can confirm you would break your neck if you fell into the gorge.
Section Six - Breakneck Gorge to Golden Spring (2.2km) - After exiting the trail and coming to the postcard perfect road bridge over Spring Creek I made a bit of a navigational error. I didn't look at the map correctly and assumed the trail was on the south side of the creek. I wandered down the road towards Hepburn Springs for a hundred metres or so looking for a trail but soon realised something wasn't right when I couldn't find an access point and checked the map again. Turns out I was wrong and the trail picks up again on the north side of the bridge so I headed back and crossed paths with another group heading the other way (the only other hikers I saw that day).
Having picked up the trail again I soldiered on, racing the clock knowing I had to pick the average pace up. Having admired the funky houses perched on the opposite side of the bank I really put the hammer down so I could enjoy a break at Golden Spring and my Apple and Blackberry Pie previously bought from the Daylesford Bakery. This section is quite green compared to the previous one and is quite pretty. Golden Spring is marked with a sign and a bridge so I sat there and allowed myself a few minutes to enjoy my pie. In short, it was nice, both the pie and the rest stop.
Section Seven - Golden Spring to Hepburn Mineral Springs Reserve (2.8km) - With my pie devoured I continued on and began climbing up towards Jacksons Lookout. It's not noticably steep but over 2kms the elevation rises over 100m to provide a challenging finish to the hike. An out of place pine plantation provides cool relief from the sun and it isn't long until you reach Jacksons Lookout. This rickety looking tower provides 360 degree views across the land although the forest canopy does get in the way in sections.
Having taken a few photos I backtracked a little and found the last section that takes you all the way to the finishing point at Hepburn Mineral Springs Reserve. Thankfully it's all downhill so I upped the pace again and only stopped to take the occasional photo and to view the information boards providing insight into the local wildlife. It wasn't long before I rounded the final corner and viewed the BBQ facilities marking the end of the 17.5km hike. While I was here I had a look at the various springs before deciding to head back to the house.
Viewed from Daylesford Town Centre, I thought the road between Hepburn Springs and Daylesford would be a slight hill followed by a downhill but I was very wrong. The 4km hike back to the house was a 180m vertical climb with only one tiny section of downhill. Not ideal after already covering 20kms but I managed to average a tick under 7kmph and made it back in time for a shower and a stretch before my second viewing of The Force Awakens.
Final Thoughts - Having flown all the way to Victoria and staying next to some great hiking trails I would have been mad not to spend half a day exploring them. Visiting in summer I wasn't sure what the landscape was going to look like but I was pleasantly surprised at how green it was given the drive out to Daylesford being so yellow.
At 17.5km, the Tipperary Track is a great length for the more experienced hiker but is easily divided up into smaller sections with multiple access points. All up I did just over 24km on the round trip in just under five hours and having not done a big hike in over three months the body was a little tender when I arrived at the house.
I would love to see this area in spring as I think it would be magical and hopefully I will return one day to do it all over again (taking more time to enjoy it) with the addition of a few other trails in the area.
Big thanks goes to Hal and Candy for being such gracious hosts for our stay and if you are planning a trip to Melbourne then hire a car and come out to Daylesford to have a look around. There is plenty to see, do and eat in the area and the countryside is spectacular.
Get out there and experience it!
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