Written by Jon
This is the southernmost section of the Great Dividing Trail (GDT), stretching from O’Brien’s Crossing in Lerderderg State Park in a southerly direction to Bacchus Marsh train station. A total distance of 36km, which we completed over 2 cold but bright days in early July.
The intrepid challengers consisted, Vanessa, Jon, Lucie, plus Adventure Gang inductees Darby and Mina (technically Darby and Mina had inadvertently already taken part in the final leg of the 2016 Coastline Challenge, which was delayed 3 years… but that is another story).
- Day one: moderate difficulty with a few steep sections, mostly interesting although the afternoon was all along a fire track
- Day two: easy-moderate, interesting morning followed by several uninteresting kilometres through the town.
20km, a couple of steep climbs and descents
The five of us rolled into Bacchus Marsh train station carpark at 8.30am on a beautifully crisp Saturday morning (luckily this section was close enough to Melbourne that we didn’t need to travel up on Friday night). Leaving the Camry at the station and transferring our gear into the X-Trail, we all drove to the start point on O’Brien’s Road, approx. 25 minutes away, stopping briefly to deposit some water bottles at a spot where the Great Dividing Trail briefly met Mount Blackwood Road, about 10km into our day’s hike.
Before setting off hiking, Lucie observantly pointed out that our starting point on Whisky Track off O’Brien’s Road was unfortunately (4km) short of the point on O’Brien’s Road (O’Brien’s Crossing), where the previous leg of the challenge had finished. Jon thanked Lucie for her attention to detail and made a mental note to consider walking the 4km along O’Brien’s Road when we returned to collect the X-Trail the following day (weather and fatigue dependant).
We all ‘rugged up’ for the first part of our walk as the temperature was struggling in single figures but within half an hour of setting off, the layers were being pulled off as we warmed up due to the regular inclines and the winter sun on our backs. Our morning consisted numerous rises and falls along the winding Whisky Track as it meandered its way through the heavily wooded Lerderderg State Park on a combination of single and 4WD tracks. After an hour and a half, we moved off the Whisky Track onto the Vodka Track (I’m not making this up) and shortly after this suddenly dropped very sharply for a few hundred metres, towards a shallow creek, which needed some careful descending due to loose scree; only to ascend the same distance immediately after crossing the creek.
By this time we had stripped down to t-shirts.
At around midday we met with the road and filled up our water bottles, before walking a short distance south along the relatively quiet Mount Blackwood Road and then heading east back into Lederderg State Park via Tower Track, which skirted around Mount Blackwood (and its telephone tower) and gave us some great views over Lerderderg State Park ahead.
The views were so majestical (yes that is a word) that we contemplated stopping for lunch on the hillside overlooking the Park but decided it was a little too steep and perhaps breezy, so opted for a flatter meadowy section about 10 minutes or so later, which turned out to be an excellent decision, as we lazed on our backs and soaked up the winter rays.
With appetites sated, we set off again. The GDT Trail took us between 2 private farmlands overlooking the park. One of which contained a menagerie of four-legged beasts. Mina in particular was very excited to get acquainted with them. Particularly when Jon discovered a small door in a ‘Faraway Tree’, behind which was a bucket of carrots and a ‘please feed the animals sign’.
As we fed our new four-legged friends, we were joined briefly by 2 neighbouring landowners and their feisty dog (who they had to carry). We chatted a while and were given the names of the animals, all of which your author has forgotten, other than Al the alpaca.
We decided not to mention that we would be stealth camping in the park (there are no recognised camping spots between O’Brien’s Crossing and the Southern end of the park.
We set off through the forest of Eucolyptaea again. Slowly the sun dropped in the sky and we commenced a series of rises and falls on a rather rocky 4WD track, as our legs got heavier and our thoughts turned towards looking for promising spots to stop and pitch our tents. After around an hour of the same track and little luck in finding any flat ground, we decided that we would head for a GDT information board marked on Maps.me approx. 400m ahead of us. We reasoned that the info board was likely to be located at a trailhead and there may be a flat piece of land there. Five minutes later we reached the Info board… It didn’t quite live up to expectations!
However, there was a relatively flat (if a little exposed) spot for us to pitch our tents and, as none of us wanted to walk any further, we downed bags and set up camp.
We’d covered 20km, which left only 12km for the following day. This was all part of the plan, as the forecast for Sunday was for afternoon rain. Darby rustled up a small fire, whilst we cooked dinner. We sat overlooking the Park as the sun set and was replaced by a stunningly clear (except for the smoke) moonlit sky. The temperature also dropped quite quickly and we struggled to keep awake much after 8pm. Party animals! Our peaceful night’s sleep turned into a restless one at around midnight, when the wind picked up. Our location on the top of the ridge meant that we heard the approaching gusts long before they hit our tent. It also kept the temperature inside the tents pretty low.
12 km, mostly downhill
Setting off in the morning we were impressed by a wedge tailed eagle soaring high above us on the strong breeze. After about 15 minutes, we happened upon the actual GDT information board (nowhere near where it was marked on Maps.me) and made a mental note to update Maps.me when we finished hiking. At that point the GDT branched off along the Blackwood Ranges Track, which descends pretty steeply towards Swan Road. The walk along Swan Road, takes you outside Lerdederg State Park but remains very scenic, with views over countryside toward Melbourne in the distance.
Descending through one field we stumbled across a mob of ‘roos. Unfortunately, they weren’t as keen to see us as we were them. They bounded off across the field to higher ground.
The remaining 5km of the GDT to Bacchus Marsh station can best be described as a Sunday stroll through suburbia, which doesn’t sound too bad unless you are lugging backpacks.
To everyone’s credit, no-one took the easy option of simply waiting with the bags whilst someone went and got the car. True Adventure Gang style!
After a stop for a picnic lunch in a local park, we reunited with the Camry at the train station. It was a little after 12.30pm and that’s where this blog should finish… but it doesn’t! You see, we had to re-unite with the X-Trail at the start of the walk, so all piled into the Camry and set off. What should have been an uneventful trip turned out to be anything but. First, we missed the turn-off and ended up taking a 4WD track which tested the Camry’s amphibious qualities. Then we almost got wiped out completely by an oncoming and very fast-moving pickup, which careered off the road whilst swerving to avoid us.
Undeterred, we reached the X-Trail and said goodbye to Darby and Mina who headed back to Melbourne. That only left the thorny subject of the remaining 4km along O’Brien’s Road to O’Brien’s Crossing. Jon’s stubborn streak meant that he insisted on walking the remaining distance (without backpack) despite a dodgy knee, rather than leave the challenge incomplete, and Lucie politely offered to keep him company whilst Vanessa drove off to await them. Forty minutes later, and five minutes before it started raining, this section of the GDT had been ticked off.