Finding Walhalla… Nina Derham goes on a journey to Victoria’s gold mining town

I had heard that visiting Victoria’s famous gold mining town was like “stepping back in time” and my mind’s eye

Walhalla, Victoria, Australia

First glimpse of Walhalla

had conjured up an old fashioned film set.

However, on arriving in Walhalla it became immediately apparent that I couldn’t have been more wrong. There was something different, more earthy about this place.

It took three hours to get from Melbourne to Walhalla and the descent into the town, which clings to the steep sides of Stringers Creek valley, is incredibly dramatic. As we drove along the one road through the town, past little clusters of beautifully painted wooden houses, it felt like we had stumbled across something very special indeed.

In 1863 gold was discovered here and people flocked to cash in on the discovery, quickly making it one of the richest places in Victoria. At the height of its fame, there were 2,500 residents in Walhalla. Today there are 12.

Train to the Goldfields, Victoria

Walhalla Goldfields Railway

We arrived at the Walhalla Star Hotel and the owner, Michael Leaney, came out to meet us. He immediately apologised for wearing sunglasses and explained that living at the bottom of valley means they don’t get a huge amount of light so on a sunny day the brightness can be blinding. This sentiment was shared among the other 11 residents of modern day Walhalla.

But these 12 residents really don’t mind being unaccustomed to bright sunlight. Their love and passion for this tiny yet fascinating town is their priority as they have put their all into carefully preserving the few remaining original structures or lovingly rebuilding a small selection of the town’s main buildings, such as the Walhalla Star Hotel itself. These residents play multiple roles throughout the town and you may well find it’s the same person who serves you coffee in the morning and takes you on a tour of the town in the afternoon.

Things to do

The long tunnel extended mine tour truly paints a picture of how difficult life was for the miners. We travelled just a few feet underground and already felt claustrophobic as we learnt about how men and horses were lowered hundreds of feet down into the mine for days at a time when the chances of finding gold were high. The mine hummed with activity day and night and the town above it reaped the benefits.

Another tourism initiative is the Walhalla Goldfields Railway. This beautiful old fashioned method of transport used to be the only way to access the precariously placed town. The railway was completed in 1910 and four years later the largest mining company in the town closed down. By 1960 the railway had been completed removed and was only rebuilt and reopened in a joint venture from the Victoria State Government and the residents of Walhalla in 2007. Visitors should not miss the chance to chug along the track from Walhalla to Thompson across rickety bridges amidst a forest of green trees and sparkling rivers. Once again the show is being run by volunteers with a real passion for Walhalla. When I caught the train the driver was a volunteer from Melbourne – he drives trains on the national railway for a living and on his days off comes to Walhalla to drive the steam train!

Goldfields cemetery

Walhalla’s cemetery

Walhalla’s cemetery is another place well worth exploring. Undoubtedly one of the strangest places to bury the dead, you need to trek half way up the eastern side of the valley to access it. Gravestones look like they have grown out of the ground, sticking out precariously from the steeply sloping ground as though they could be knocked over at any moment. It’s eerie but strangely beautiful at the same time. A word of warning – if you’re easily spooked make sure you don’t go here alone – the cemetery is tainted with stories of haunted graves and many visitors have told tales of their cameras breaking after taking photos.

Go on a journey from Melbourne through Victoria

Follow in Nina’s footsteps  and plan your trip to Walhalla now.

Tell us about your favourite journey from Melbourne below…

 

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