Blackwood is an ideal base for those wanting to explore this fascinating mineral springs region.
WORDS Michael Browning
Taking the waters’ has, for centuries, been a favourite pastime of eco-tourists – long before the advent of motor vehicles and caravans brought this healthy pleasure within reach of everyone.
Nearly all of the natural mineral water resources in Australia are found in Victoria, with the majority located in the Hepburn/Daylesford/Blackwood region, but there are also 141 recorded natural mineral springs in central Victoria – many of which are situated on public land within 1.5 hours’ drive from Melbourne.
Victoria’s mineral water resources are natural, pure products. Formed by hydro-geological processes, they contain unique concentrations of minerals that can’t be artificially replicated. Geothermal water and natural mineral water have long been associated with mental and physical health benefits, either through bathing or drinking.
With our focus on healthier living, spa visitation in Australia is growing at a rapid rate, with caravanners making up an increasing share due, in part, to the elevated cost of spa area accommodation. Another good reason to ‘caravan it’ to Victoria’s spa country is because of the many other attractions on offer, from its gold mining past to its profusion of local farmers and antique markets, cafes and restaurants that have sprung up in recent years.
Blackwood, located on the Lerderderg River, 89km north-west of Melbourne, is a great place to base yourself and your caravan to explore this fascinating area. It is less than 30 minutes’ drive from the foodie capital of Daylesford and the well-known commercial springs of Hepburn Springs.
This ‘blink-and-you’ll-miss-it’ inkspot on the map consists of a pub, a general store, a post office, a cafe (with limited opening hours) and a plant nursery. It is patronised by its population of less than 400 permanent residents and visitors, and was founded in 1855 during the Victorian gold rush. At one stage, it was ‘home’ to around 13,000 prospectors.
While it might be small on numbers, Blackwood is big on attractions. We stayed at the sprawling, dog- and family-friendly Blackwood Mineral Springs and Caravan Park, which overlooks the Lerderderg River and Blackwood Mineral Springs Reserve. It has a number of powered and unpowered camping sites on two levels, surrounding a communal barbecue, playground and camp kitchen.
From that base there is plenty to do on foot. Local activities include a number of regional walks, ranging from the short loop via Shaws Lake within the adjacent Blackwood Mineral Springs Reserve, to the 11km (each way) Byers Back Track to O’Briens Crossing in the heart of the Lerderderg State Park and the strenuous 37km Whipstick Loop Walk commencing at the Jack Cann Reserve. And, if you have a few days to spare, you could do all or part of the 89.8km Lerderderg Track Section of the Great Dividing Trail.
For the less energetic, local attractions include the town’s historic cemetery, where you’ll find fascinating references to the region’s bustling gold mining days. Then, for morning tea or lunch, the Garden of St Erth, famous for its spectacular displays of daffodils, lupins, rare shrubs and perennials, is an 1860s miners’ cottage, nursery and cafe that today is one of the best meeting spots in the area.
Of course, experiencing the region’s mineral springs is a key reason to visit Blackwood. The Blackwood Mineral Springs Reserve is located off Golden Point Road, next to the caravan park and 1km east of the town centre. A small entrance fee (payable at the park ranger’s office at the entrance) allows visitors access to a selection of picnic and barbecue shelters situated along the grassy banks of the Lerderderg River.
The Soda Spring is located on the car park side of the river, while another mineral spring is situated directly on the other side via a footbridge. The springs mark the beginning of the scenic loop that takes in Shaws Lake via Sweets Lookout.
Blackwood is also just a short 14-minute drive to equally historic Trentham, with its famous falls and, for those looking for a more social form of exercise, its well-known golf club within easy walk of the town centre that welcomes visitors. The historic Greendale Pub at Myrniong, about 15 minutes back on the road to Melbourne, is another great lunch spot.
But for a world-class dining experience, simply drive 30 minutes north to Daylesford, where you will find central Victoria’s ‘foodie’ capital, crowned by Alla and Allan Wolf-Taskar’s award-winning Lake House restaurant. The kitchen received two chef hats in The Age Good Food Guide 2016, was awarded Australia’s Wine List of the Year by Gourmet Traveller and was declared Best Regional Australian Property by Luxury Travel magazine for its dining, accommodation and famous Salus Spa treatment centre. Go on, indulge yourself with all that money you’ll save by staying in your caravan!
Other local attractions include Mount Blackwood, an extinct volcano offering panoramic views of the surrounding area. The remnants of Wheeler’s Tramway, a former Blackwood sawmill tramway in the Wombat State Forest, are listed on the Victorian Heritage Register for their archaeological significance.
Or you could drive through the Lerderderg State Park all the way to Gisborne and Mount Macedon, stopping perhaps at O‘Briens Crossing on the way for a morning tea stop.
However, when night falls, the place you should be in Blackwood is the Blackwood pub. Located in the heart of town on the Greendale-Trentham Road, the Blackwood Hotel built in 1868 trades under the oldest continuous licence issued to a weatherboard pub. It’s a cosy place with a reasonable wine cellar, a good kitchen and – important for off-season tourists – a roaring open fire. In summer, when the forest nights are much milder, you can relax outdoors under the shade of an ancient oak tree, with the hills of the surrounding forest as a backdrop. It’s also full of surprises for the visitor, with changing daily specials including delights like New Orleans jambalaya and fried cheesecake.
Situated amidst forests and in the hills, it’s important to be prepared when visiting Blackwood and the spa country. Even in peak summer, Blackwood’s daily maximum rarely exceeds around 23ºC while, at night in winter, it can drop to freezing and beyond with rain in August expected every second day on average.
Don’t be put off though, with a program of hot spa treatments, great food and wine, and extensive walking, you may find yourself agreeing with me that Blackwood is a great place for healthy tourism.
89km north-west of Melbourne via Western Highway (M8), Myrniong and Greendale.
For accommodation options in and around Blackwood, click here.