It was a miserable wet and cold mid-winter’s morning when Karen and I dragged ourselves out of the warmth of a Daylesford Cafe and started out along the Tipperary Track. For the first kilometre or so we debated as to whether this was such a good idea. Maybe we are getting soft but the thought of another round of tea and toast was almost too much to resist. Eventually the drizzle moved off elsewhere (probably to Trentham!) and small daubs of watery blue sky appeared between the low cloud. We had decided to brave the elements to GPS the Tipperary Track for our next Goldfields walking guidebook. I was also keen on updating some of the details, which have recently changed.
Since the floods in early 2011 some sections of the Tipperary Track have been closed. Almost all of the bridges had been damaged or washed away, which prevented walkers using the western side of Sailors Creek and therefore reducing any loop-walk opportunities. This has been a real shame as it’s one of the best and most popular walking areas within the Goldfields region. Recently Parks Victoria reopened The Blowhole area so that walkers can access the full length of the trail, which is also part of the now very popular Goldfields Track. Three foot-bridges are still to be either finished or built. The two foot-bridges spanning Wombat Creek and Sailors Creek at Twin Bridges have concrete foundations but still no steelwork. The third bridge is located at Tipperary Springs and although closed it looked very close to finished. Probably the most solid and flood-proof of all of the bridges is the massive new stepping stones across to Bryces Flat. To me this appears to be the best and cheapest way to build bridges, especially in country that regularly sees alternating periods of drought and flood.
According to Parks Victoria the foot-bridges will be ready by this spring. Let’s hope so. If you are intending to walk the Tipperary Track right now though, you should be aware that without the bridge over Wombat Creek you will need to continue walking down the water-race on its southern side to cross the Midland Highway before entering the picnic area at Twin Bridges. It’s not a real hassle but just watch out for the traffic when you cross the bridge.
We arrived at The Blowhole just as the day was warming up (it must have been all of 8 degrees) and were now enjoying ourselves. The Blowhole was gushing with water and made for a fairly impressive sight. We continued on through Breakneck Gorge, which for me is the best part of the walk. The creek tumbled over it’s stony bed and the gorge’s narrow walls glistened with green moss. Every now and then a ray of sunshine penetrated the cloud and slid over a tree or a rock.
Finally we left Sailors Creek behind and walked up along Spring Creek, again following a wide water-race overlooking the willow-infested creek. Somewhere down there was Liberty Spring, now no longer maintained. Not far along we reached Golden Spring, which is unfortunately still capped, although there are plans to repair it it some point. By the time we reached Jacksons Lookout it was getting late in the day. The steel and timber tower was very rundown and because of the surrounding trees there are no real views to enjoy. Jacksons Tower was something of a disappointing climax. Half an hour later and we were at Hepburn Springs Reserve. We had covered almost 17km in just over 4 hours. The cafe was shut and it was almost dark. A quick phone call and the taxi arrived a few minutes later. Soon we were back at the car at Daylesford Lake. We pulled out of the carpark just as it started to rain again.
Last December Glenn Tempest wrote a blog (Problems with Falcons Lookout and Ironbark Gorge Carpark) commenting on the awful state of the walkers/climbers trail into Falcons Lookout at Werribee Gorge State Park. This trail is one of the most heavily used in Victoria and can see anything up to 60 people use it a day. Since then Parks Victoria have gone some way to fixing the issue. The works were not quite finished when we were there on Sunday but there is already a welcome improvement. However, despite these works, using pine boards in this manner is only really a temporary measure. In a couple of years time the boards will have almost certainly collapsed and we will again be faced with the same issues of erosion and user safety. Glenn pointed out in his original blog that “it may be simpler, cheaper and quicker to realign this section of the trail down the spur 20m or so to the west, then cut it back to the point at where the original trail reaches the bottom of the gully.”. In the long term this is probably true, but Parks Victoria is cash-strapped (see Glenn Tempest’s Parks Victoria: Death by a Thousand Cuts) and probably can’t afford the cost of these works. Looks like we will have to put up with band-aid measures for a long time to come.
Update May 2013
Looks like Parks Victoria have recently added more timber to the steps. Once again an improvement.
A couple of weeks ago Glenn Tempest wrote a blog about the March 2012 DSE burn in Tarilta Creek Gorge. Friends of the Box-Ironbarks Forests (FOBIF) also posted a critical assessment of the DSE burning operations in the Upper Loddon State Forest here. We know that many of you who use our walking guides and who especially love the box-ironbark forests of the goldfields region will be appalled at what basically amounted to an act of environmental vandalism. The Tarilta Creek Gorge is a much loved walk and it is not expected to fully recover for many years.
FOBIF secretary Bernard Slattery wrote to DSE with a number of questions. Paul Bates, Forest Manager, Bendigo Forest Management Area responded to these questions and FOBIF posted his reply on the blog DSE Answers on Tarilta Fire. This makes for interesting reading, if only because it shows that DSE have no intention in providing genuine answers to these important questions.
Glenn Tempest, author of Daywalks Around Melbourne and the forthcoming Goldfields Walks visited Tarilta Creek Gorge only a week or so before the burn. There were perhaps half a dozen trees along Limestone Track that had been raked. According to Glenn none of the old yellow gums within the gorge had been raked.
Above are a couple of Glenn’s photos that were taken on that day as well as a selection of photos taken immediately after the burn (courtesy of Rob Simons, a local landholder of which a section of the Tarilta Creek runs through). These images clearly show just how much damage has been done and of the enormous amount of silt and topsoil now filling the creek.
Friends of the Box-Ironbarks Forests (FOBIF) have just posted a critical assessment of the recent DSE burning operations of Tarilta Creek Gorge in the Upper Loddon State Forest. You can read their blog and view some images at Tarilta Gorge: burned off, washed away. Essentially the DSE burn (CAS 0051, Limestone Track) was supposed to have created ‘a mosaic burn coverage appropriate to meet requirements of localised EVC’s [ecological vegetation classes] and to reduce the spread of fire.’ It’s in Zone 3 Ecological Management Zone (EMZ). According to FOBIF a DSE briefing last September indicated that in such a zone it would be expected that about one third of the area would be burned. This hasn’t been the case as it appears that a great deal of destruction has been inflicted upon this once beautiful location. There has also been a substantial loss of top-soils, which have washed into the creek and created large siltings (most of it ended up blocking Limestone Track Bridge).
Only a month ago my friends and I walked Tarilta Creek Gorge as we wanted to create a GPS of the route and take some new images. The walk is to be included in our forthcoming Goldfields Walks, which is due out in spring. You can read about our walk on my blog here. The short video (above) makes an interesting and disturbing comparison to the images shown at at Tarilta Gorge: burned off, washed away.
We walked the Golden Gullies Walk from Vaughan Mineral Springs (near Castlemaine) on Sunday to recheck our original notes used in our popular Daywalks Around Melbourneguide. We also completed a GPS track of the walk, which we will add to our downloads page when the new The Goldfieldsguide is released this spring.
The Golden Gullies Walk is one of my personal favourites and I’ve done it at least half a dozen times. Unfortunately, the section linking Vaughan Mineral Springs with Central and Glenluce Springs is always under attack by weeds, the most invasive of which are thistles and blackberries (other major nasties include the willow, which is badly chocking up the river). Depending upon the season the water race which follows the river can be so overrun with blackberries that it isn’t actually possible to walk along it. It’s a real shame to see what should be one of the regions most beautiful and historic locations reduced to little more than a blackberry patch.
So here’s my proposal.
A new walking trail to be constructed from Vaughan Mineral Springs along the south side of the river to opposite Glenluce Springs. A foot bridge could then be constructed across the Loddon River to provide access to Glenluce Springs. A walking trail would then run along the north side of the river past Central Springs to finish back at Vaughan Springs. The total distance of this proposed Loddon River Walk would be just 5km and would provide visitors to Vaughan Springs with potentially one of the most interesting and scenic walks in the entire Goldfields region. The walk would be graded easy andwould link three historically interesting mineral springs along the way. Much of the trail along the south side of the river is already in place with only minor relocations and repair work needed along the existing water race. On the north side of the river the trail between Central Springs and Vaughan Mineral Springs is also in place as it follows a 1km section of the Goldfields Track. The rest of the trail linking Glenluce Springs and Central Springs would need to be constructed along the river bank.
To keep costs down the new bridge spanning the river could be built as a concrete causeway, similar to the one in Vaughan Springs. The bulk of the cost in constructing this walk would be in enacting a vigorous weed elimination schedule. Future maintenance of the trail could in a large part be handed over to the community (in cooperation with Parks Victoria).The advantages of such a trail are numerous. Currently Vaughan Mineral Springs is fairly run-down and is unfortunately looking sadder and sadder each year. The marketing of the Loddon River Walk could re-energise this once very popular destination with an increase in visitor numbers. Vaughan Mineral Springs could also become an important staging point for the adjoining Goldfields Track. Last and not least, the construction of a Loddon River Walk would be beneficial to the river and could become a showcase for its environmental health.
Karen and I joined a few friends (Greg, Michelle and Marriot) on Saturday to walk the lovely Tarilta Creek Gorge just south of Mt Franklin in the Upper Loddon State Forest. I was keen to GPS the circuit for our forthcoming Goldfields guide and see what effect the recent bushfire (early January 2012) had on the park. The fire had started on nearby private property as a grassfire and had burned through some of the forest along Sawpit Gully Road. We left the car (parked on Porcupine Ridge Road) at about 2pm, which would normally be quite a late start, but on a daylight-saving mid-summers day it was going to be no problem at all. A southerly breeze kept the temperature down and there was barely a cloud in the sky.
Our first real issue was Michelle’s walking boots. Apparently she had not used them for some time and immediately after pulling them on the rubber soles decided to part company with the uppers. Greg’s skills with a roll of gaffa tape and five minutes later the problem was (at least temporarily) solved.
My original walk description in Daywalks Around Melbourne was still fairly accurate and it was apparent that the fire had only touched the edge of the state forest. Unfortunately some of the old 4WD tracks had been recently widened and ‘improved’ with the use of a bulldozer, which meant that some of the walking wasn’t quite as attractive as normal. There were also a few new dozer tracks constructed, which made was a bit confusing. I was definitely going to have to update the walk map. At one junction we even took a wrong turn, a mistake that cost us an extra 2.5km of walking. This just strengthened my view that all published walks need to be re-walked and checked on a regular basis.
Once we reached Tarilta Creek Gorge the nature of the walk changed completely. Suddenly we felt a million miles from anywhere. Understandably, for this time of year, the creek had stopped flowing and only a few small pools were left, providing a safe haven for the yabbies, frogs and common galaxias (native fish). The river flats that only a couple of months ago were lush green were now thigh-deep in dry golden grass. Swamp wallabies watched us from the rocky bluffs, eastern grey kangaroos eyed us suspiciously and colourful eastern rosellas darted between the trees.
About six years ago Greg and I ran through this tiny gorge (again checking the walk details) and there had been little sign of other visitations. This time around we were surprised to find that a fairly good walking trail had been established. Since the release of Daywalks Around Melbourne(the second edition was published in 2005) this walk had obviously become much more popular. The walking trail definitely makes negotiating the gorge a whole lot easier. Someone, perhaps a walking club or commercial group, have even inserted small posts along the way to indicate the various creek crossings.
We finished the walk by following the off-trail variation linking Limestone Track with Porcupine Ridge Road. This really is the best way to complete this walk but you need to be reasonably confident in your off-trail navigation skills. We got back to the car at about 6.30pm and half an hour later we were drinking pints at the Holgate Brewhouse in Woodend. If you haven’t already done this walk then definitely put it on your list. My recommendations would be to do it in winter or spring, plan on a picnic lunch and keep in mind that Tarilta Creek is prone to flooding, which would make the creek crossings much more difficult.
There are four official public entrances into Werribee Gorge State Park. The main entrance is via Myers Road on the eastern side of the park and is accessed via the Western Freeway from just past Bacchus Marsh. The other three entrances are located along Ironbark Road via Western Bluff, Ironbark Gorge and Ingliston Gorge Carparks. Western Bluff Carpark provides access to Western Bluff Lookout and is occasionally used by walkers descending the spectacular Needles Spur (through private property) into the gorge. Ingliston Gorge Carpark provides access to the Ingliston Block, the isolated western arm of the park, while Ironbark Gorge Carpark provides access to the Falcons Lookout Walk, the Ingliston Granites and Ironbark Gorge. Ironbark Gorge Carpark is also the nearest trail-head for Falcons Spur, an increasingly popular walk that descends into the gorge (again through private property). Falcons Lookout itself is one of the most popular rockclimbing destinations close to Melbourne.
Over the past year I’ve noticed that Ironbark Gorge Carpark has become increasingly busy. In fact it’s not uncommon to find 6 to 8 cars and perhaps a bus using the carpark on any midweek day. On the weekend I have seen up to 50 or more climbers at the cliff and perhaps a dozen or more walkers on the trails. This equates to at least a dozen or more vehicles crammed into the tiny carpark. I don’t know the actual park user numbers but I suspect that on many days there would be more visitors accessing the park through the ‘back-door’ of Ironbark Gorge Carpark then would be along the ‘official’ Myers Road entrance.
Interestingly, Myers Road is serviced by two large carparks (the Quarry Picnic Area and Meikles Point Picnic Area) and each have have picnic facilities, BBQs and toilets. In comparison, Ironbark Gorge Carpark is very small and rough to say the least. The geography of the area means that this carpark can’t be made much larger, but it could benefit from a redesign if it is to cater for the growing numbers of cars using it. The carpark also has no toilets. While this would be a minor issue for some, it is a major issue for many. Both walkers and climbers are forced to go bush and this is simply unacceptable at such a heavily used carpark as this. Perhaps having a toilet in the carpark would help to reduce the enormous number of poos and loo paper scattered around the vicinity of Falcons Lookout. In fact, the situation is becoming so bad at Falcons Lookout that perhaps the best thing to do would be to build a drop toilet on the adjoining saddle.
Which brings me to my final gripe. The initial section of trail (down past the old railway workers hut sites) into Ironbark Gorge is a complete disaster. The contractors that Parks Victoria used to ‘fix’ this section of the trail have done an awful job. If anything, the pine boards anchored across the trail has worsened the erosion and created a major eyesore. Simply put, this section of the trail is loose, ugly and dangerous. With the large numbers of people using the Falcons Lookout Walk you would have expected Parks Victoria to have properly fixed this trail a long time ago. Possibly the only way to save this trail now would be for Parks Victoria to contract a reputable construction company such as TTMS (Track and Trail Management Services) to rebuild it. Failing that (and knowing how little money Parks Victoria these days invest in high-quality long-term trail maintenance) it may be simpler, cheaper and quicker to realign this section of the trail down the spur 20m or so to the west, then cut it back to the point at where the original trail reaches the bottom of the initial gully. This would greatly reduce erosion problems and is where the trail should have gone in the first place.
Great news. Our newest title, Melbourne’s Western Gorges, arrived in our warehouse this morning and will be in the shops from tomorrow. Authored by Glenn Tempest, this is the first in a new A5 series of walking guides to regional areas around Victoria. Melbourne’s Western Gorges covers 20 walks in the Brisbane Ranges National Park, and Werribee Gorge and Lerderderg State Parks. Produced in full colour with 96 pages it retails for just 19.95. Like our last book, Daywalks Around Victoria, this guide also features free GPS downloads as well as regular updates. Melbourne’s Western Gorges is also available in our online bookshop.
Last week Greg and I walked up to the top of the North and South Jawbone Peaks in the Cathedral Range State Park. I was really keen to check out the new trail work on the Jawbone Track leading up to the Farmyard. The 2009 Black Saturday bushfires really hammered this part of the range and, while this trail has always suffered from erosion issues, the fires made things a whole lot worse.
The initial walk up from the Jawbone Carpark is nicely contoured and Parks Victoria have replaced the original bridge over MacLennans Gully with a new steel construction. Hopefully this bridge will withstand future low and medium intensity fires. Personally I can’t see the need for expensive bridges spanning minor water courses that for 98% of the year can be easily stepped over, although I’m sure most walkers will welcome the convenience.
The trail up to the first rocks was realigned quite a few years back and it is still in excellent condition. From the rocks the trail cuts across to Jawbone Creek, crosses it and then climbs steeply up to The Farmyard. This section and the trail has always suffered from bad erosion and the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires made things a whole lot worse. If you’ve hiked up to the Jawbone Peaks since the park was reopened after the fires you will know that work on this trail has been progressing for sometime. As it is Parks Victoria and their contractors have done an excellent job. The careful placement and seating of large blocks (and all without the use of cement) means that the trail will be far more resilient to heavy foot traffic and now blends in really well with the natural surroundings. Two thumbs up for a job well done.
From The Farmyard we continued up to the top of South Jawbone Peak. Essentially the trail to the summit is okay but is now so overgrown as to be difficult to follow. In fact I would say that the regrowth is far thicker now than it was before the 2009 fires. What a difference a couple of years makes! While the hazel pomaderris is especially thick, it is the kangaroo wattle (or prickly wattle, acacia paradoxa) that is making life difficult for walkers.
Most likely much of this regrowth will die off over the next few years as the forest re-establishes itself, but in the meantime it’s a real pain. Maybe Parks Victoria should send in a crew to re-cut the trail although I’m not sure exactly how long this would last. Luckily the trail up to North Jawbone Peak is much better, but there are still short sections of thick regrowth and the kangaroo wattle is growing strongly on the upper rocks near the summit.
I was up at Mt Alexander Regional Park on Sunday checking out the main walking trail loop for our forthcoming guidebook, The Goldfields. I’ve done the Mt Alexander walk at least four times, the last time in 2005 for our Daywalks Around Melbourne guide. What really struck me on Saturday was just how run-down the walking trail infrastructure has become. Following our map in Daywalks Around Melbourne, we walked the Goldfields Track from McQuillans Road to Ballantinia Track via Dog Rocks and Langs Lookout. This walk has been realigned up through the old Koala Park and now has the distinctive Goldfields Track ‘gold-tops’, walking trail marker posts painted yellow. The grass is currently very high and in places the trail is barely visible and the gold-tops really help.
Despite this the trail along this section of the walk is what I would classify as in average to poor condition. Signage could have been much better (no sign at the junction leading to Leanganook Picnic Area is especially confusing) and the trail is in need of urgent maintenance and erosion repair, particularly under Scorpion Rocks (the boulders midway between Dog Rocks and Langs Lookout). The trail leading up to Shepherds Flat Lookout is currently impossible to locate and the signage is either non existent or falling to bits. The walk up along Ballantinia Track was enjoyable and much better than I remembered it, most likely due to the fact that no vehicles have used it, probably since the January 2011 floods.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the day was the southern section of the West Ridge Walking Track which is links Dog Rocks carpark to a small carpark just west of Leanganook Picnic Area. This trail is marked by Parks Victoria on the Mt Alexander Regional Park Park Notes. Parks Victoria also have info boards in the park showing this walk in detail. Interestingly there is no signpost indicating the start of this walk in the Dog Rocks carpark and we could only find a single very old marker post 200m into the forest. After a long search in the undergrowth we finally gave up looking for this trail. It seems to have been reclaimed by the bush.
Mt Alexander Regional Park is a major recreational asset due to its close proximity to the growing regional centres of Bendigo and Castlemaine, and its now quick and easy access from Melbourne along the new Calder Freeway. Instead of developing and maintaining important walking trails to encourage people to use this beautiful reserve Parks Victoria it seems is just letting them slowly decay away. As I’ve said before, it’s all well and good to put in walking trails, but there must be a budget to make sure that these trails are regularly maintained. It’s such a shame that for one reason or another Parks Victoria don’t seem to be able to do this in Mt Alexander Regional Park.