Castlemaine to Bendigo – Great Dividing Trail

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Written by Lucie.

The northernmost section of the Great Dividing Trail was completed over the last weekend in September, 2019 (AFL Grand Final weekend).

This section is accessible using public transport from Melbourne – it starts at Castlemaine train station and ends at Bendigo train station.

Section summary:

  1. Day one: easy-moderate difficulty, interesting
  2. Day two: easy, interesting morning, reasonable afternoon
  3. Day three: easy, not particularly interesting.

Day one

Castlemaine train station to Leanganook Picnic Site, 20km
Mark and Lucie caught an almost empty train from Melbourne up to Castlemaine. It was a relaxing start to the day and we enjoyed watching the countryside roll by.

Starting out at the train station.

From the train station we walked a couple of blocks across the tiny town and were enticed into a small cafe that was clearly the place to be. We decided to sample the local brew (it was very good) and watch all the locals come in for their usual and a chat.

After we felt sufficiently caffeinated, we got back to the business of hiking the Great Dividing Trail – it was about 9:30am and we hadn’t actually covered any kilometres yet. On the edge of town, we stopped to look at a memorial to Burke and Wills and then we joined a path that took us through the fields and woods.

Castlemaine is pretty in the spring.

Next we came to the site of Garfield Mine Water Wheel, which was important in the days of gold mining. We walked through Castlemaine Diggings National Heritage Park, which had a lot of pine trees, and got a great view (and a chuckle) when we reached Dead Bullocky Track. We also met two other hikers – Satya and Liam – who we would continue to leapfrog over the course of the day.

Mark at the base of the water wheel supports.

We stopped for lunch on a carpet of clover and then crested a hill that was overlooking the freeway. A short distance further we reached a tunnel that took us under the road and turned away from the noise of traffic.

At this point we were excited to see a small mob of kangaroos bounding through the fields, in addition to all the beautiful birds, wattle and wildflowers. We zigzagged up a hill side, surrounded by white cockatoos and reached Ed’s Seat at about 2pm. This is an amazing viewpoint and given that it was the start of spring we were treated to a view of lush green fields. We looked at the distant mountains, the clouds and a big mob of kangaroos below us.

Mark enjoying Ed’s Seat.

After a while, the wind started to pick up and the temperature began to drop. Awkwardly, Ed’s Seat was our last point on the trail for the day, and Caroline and Jens weren’t due to arrive until 5:30pm. We put on our extra layers and walked a short distance cross-country to reach the Leanganook picnic site and camping area. There were several caravans set up when we arrived and we found a spot to huddle out of the wind. After a while, even out of the worst of the wind, we started to get pretty cold and we wandered back through the campsite. A few groups of people now had campfires going and we went to make friends and warm up.

Trying to stay warm!

When Jens and Caroline arrived we piled on more warm clothes and got our own fire going. Then we pitched our tents (including one for Jon and Vanessa who were coming later) and had dinner. Then we looked and the stars and had a chat until it was time for bed.

Day two

Leanganook Picnic Site to (almost) Goom Gooruduron-Yeran Campground, 21km
We woke up to kangaroos hopping through camp. Jon and Vanessa had arrived the night before, a little while after we went to bed and so we all had breakfast together.

Early morning at our campsite.

The first part of the hike was to get back to Ed’s Seat, which was just as lovely as the day before. We spent the next two hours meandering along, climbing on boulders, playing on Dog Rocks and exploring little tunnels and caves in the rocks. A best and worst for the day was when Vanessa was attempting to cross a gap between boulders. Jens, trying to be supportive and helpful, told Vanessa to step on to the ‘stick’, which caused the rest of the group to collapse with laughter and search for ever more unhelpful synonyms.

Having fun at Dog Rocks.

After a couple of kilometres Jens and Caroline peeled off and went back to the car, while Jon, Lucie, Mark and Vanessa continued hiking. Shortly after crossed the summit of Mount Alexander we came to a beautiful meadow full of wildflowers and decided that we had to stop for lunch to make the most of the view. We had climbed on many boulders by this point, but had only covered a pathetic 6.5km!

After lunch we decided to step it up a notch. Fortunately, the trail was relatively simple and we had seen the most interesting section so it was easy to pick up the pace. We joined the Colliban Main Channel aqueduct and took bets on when we would next see someone on the trail that day. It turns out we all lost (although Jon got closest) because we didn’t see anyone until we reached camp, clearly everyone was watching the AFL instead of enjoying the gorgeous weather!

Highlights of this part of the trail include good looking trees, sheep, two wallabies, chocolate and expresso covered almonds, eating oranges at the top of a hill with a great view and an echidna snuffling around. Note that a farm property on this route really doesn’t like dogs and threatens to ‘destroy’ them immediately, so if you are with a four-legged friend be careful!

We planned to camp at Goom Gooruduron-Yeran Campground, but received word from Caroline that her and Jens had set up camp at a spot a kilometre or two closer to us. We reached our camp at just gone 5pm to discover Jens and Caroline, plus Satya and Liam, around a campfire. We had a nice evening, a good meal under the stars and went to bed.

Day three

(Almost) Goom Gooruduron-Yeran Campground to Bendigo train station, 20km
On our third and final day, the six of us set off together and walked along the aqueduct, past the actual Goom Gooruduron-Yeran Campground. We saw a couple of cyclists, two people on horses and a group on motorbikes. Jon found a little tunnel to sneak through and took a short cut to play a joke and come out in front of the rest of the group, then Caroline and Jens turned back to the campsite.

Finding Raphael in a tree was one of the more interesting things for the day.

This day was not as interesting as our first two days on the trail. We covered a lot of kilometres along the aqueduct and many more along mountain biking paths through the Greater Bendigo National Park, going past some old mine shafts. As we neared Bendigo the park land became more like a suburban park. The last 500m we along a quiet road to the train station. We treated ourselves to hot chocolate and cake before heading back to Melbourne.