The former goldmining town of Walhalla is a perfect base from which to explore Gippsland’s alpine country.
WORDS Michael Browning
A few months after I first visited Walhalla as a child, the former Victorian goldfield town’s famous Star Hotel burnt down. Honestly, it wasn’t me! But I recall that the walls dividing the rooms were literally paper thin – lined with local newspapers – so it wasn’t much of a surprise.
Today, the Star is back to better than its original glory and Walhalla is again a major destination, this time with adventure-seeking tourists rather than fortune-seekers. Best of all, it’s caravan friendly – providing your caravan isn’t overly large and you’re not daunted by twisting, sealed, albeit often greasy, mountain roads.
It’s a stunning, remote Victorian country town best appreciated, as we did, on a sunny day when the trees were ablaze with autumn colours. However, on a grey, rainy day, its heritage shines through and the fascinating history, quaint buildings and the relics of the mine that in its peak delivered more than 70 tonnes of gold, still reward the visitor.
While gold made it one of Australia’s richest towns and home to more than 4000 in the 1850s, today the town is a quaint home to as few as 20 permanent residents. But Walhalla would have been an even more bustling 19th century town had it not missed the train. By 1910, when the first locomotive puffed into town, gold yields had fallen, the major mines were to close in a few years and most of the buildings and mining equipment were removed or consumed by the ever-encroaching bush.
By the early 1920s, only a skeleton of the ‘gold-era’ Walhalla remained and the decline continued until the 1980s, exacerbated by the fire that destroyed the original Star Hotel and the IOOF Hall in December 1951.
Walhalla lost its heart in that blaze, but it returned in 1999 when a reconstruction of the Star opened with 12 modern guest suites. The Walhalla Goldfields Railway followed in 2002, with the current sprinkling of coffee shops, casual eateries and the Wally Pub, which serves hearty meals in front of a warm fire. That brings us to today, when the town has never looked prettier or more inviting.
The great thing for caravanners is that it’s quite accessible. Located 185km from Melbourne, it’s a very straightforward run to Moe via the M1 freeway, before you take the road to Rawson. A few kilometres after Rawson, you turn left off the Tyers road and that’s where the fun begins as the smaller, yet still sealed, road winds 11km to the Walhalla Historic Village.
It’s not a road to hurry on, as it’s very slippery when wet and carries local traffic and trail bikes, but it’s worth the trouble for what awaits you.
There’s no commercial caravan park as such at Walhalla, but there are two camping areas that take caravans – both on the left of the road just north of the township. The first is the relatively small North Gardens free camp area that has no facilities, but can take full-sized caravans. The second is Chinese Gardens Camping Ground, which has new lockable bathrooms, each with coin-operated shower, toilet and hand basin, and a public laundrette with a coin-operated washer and dryer.
Sheltered seating and two free electric barbecues are also provided at Chinese Gardens, but the tight entry road precludes vans longer than around 4.9m (16ft) unless special care is taken, and the sites need to be pre-booked during peak periods such as long weekends and school holidays.
Alternatively, if you have a small offroad caravan or camper, nearby Coopers Creek, Aberfeldy River or Bruntons Bridge are more remote camping areas, but from the reports we heard of wild trail bikers’ gatherings at Coopers, I would be a little reluctant to recommend them.
If you can’t get into any of these, not all is lost, as both Rawson and Erica townships have caravan and cabin accommodation, with the pet-friendly Erica Caravan Park with its 26 powered and 80 unpowered sites and all other usual caravan park facilities being the pick here.
While both towns are attractive with good pubs and other eateries, Walhalla is the star attraction of this area and the day or overnight visitor will find plenty to do.
Just wandering up Walhalla’s main street is a good start, taking in the old fire station that still spans Stringers Creek where miners once panned for gold. You’ll need to be a good walker or allow enough time, as several of the town’s main attractions involve stiff uphill walks – to the fascinating and picturesque Walhalla Cemetery at the southern end and the famous elevated Walhalla Cricket Ground at the other.
On the way, you’ll pass many of the town’s old buildings such as the post office, general store and church. I’d recommend a stop at Dion Schembri’s Simply Walhalla lolly shop for a humbug on the way, or the Walhalla Coffee Shop for great coffee and nourishing, warm soup!
The easiest way to do all this is to slip on your hiking shoes and take the free Walhalla Heritage Walk, following the trail of more than 30 heritage information signs from one end of town to the other.
You should also allow time to take a ride on the Goldfields Railway – when it’s running – for a spectacular journey down Stringers Creek Gorge. Trains operate Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday and public holidays, and more frequently during the summer and Easter holiday periods.
Local mine tours can also be taken, giving you a glimpse of the halcyon days of this fascinating Gippsland alpine town.
If you have a 4WD, leave your caravan or camper trailer in Walhalla and explore the local area in your tow tug. Heading north of town on unsealed and progressively rougher roads will take you into various catchment areas of the Thomson River, remote townships and local pubs. The free Aberfeldy Track – Back Road Tours Guide map, available in Walhalla, will tell you all you need to know, with the tracks rated according to their severity.
But if you are less confident of your, or your 4WD’s ability, then Mountain-Top Experience run by knowledgeable locals Ron and Andrea Camier is a great way to get you to remote and scenic places in safe hands.
Walhalla is 185km east of Melbourne and 48km north-east of Moe by sealed roads.
For accommodation options in and around Walhalla, click here.