Starting off from Fairbank, it’s north up the hill along Ireland St, then turn right (east) for a block along Adair Street and left into Reef Street, north to the intersection of Allens Road just past the old Eaglehawk hotel. Follow Allan’s Road to the Bendigo turnoff past the 1980s Porcupine Village, turn left and north. On the left is what’s left of the Porcupine Creek Dredging Company, a relic of George Haywood’s gold dredging business in the 1950s to 1980s. The original site was to the north, now the site for quartz crushing and gold refining for the Union Hill and Alliance mine (Octagonal Mines) opposite Fairbank. On the other (east) side of the Bendigo road is the Maldon Showgrounds, used for fairs, campdraft events and other horsey endeavours.
About 600m further on, bear right (east) on to Fogarty’s Gap Road. Go through some very pleasant countryside, but watch the hill down from the Gap, because it goes straight into the Calder freeway, about 17k from Maldon. Cross the freeway (carefully) south onto the old Calder highway renamed Harmony Way to celebrate the life of Henry Harmony Nelson, born among the Dja Dja Wurrung people in 1855.
If this is a morning wander, the apple stalls that served the ‘original’ Calder highway may be open, as may be Bress’ Winery and Cidery https://bress.com.au/. Bress has regular dinners, lunches and grazing events and is renowned for its wines, ciders and produce. Don’t miss the Hendorf Hilton chook house with a sound system announcing the arrival of each egg.
Unsurprisingly, Harcourt is centre of Harcourt Valley and the Australian Native Association hall in High St to the east of Harmony Way is home to the local museum showcasing food and wine history of the area. Usually open during the weekend, swing by and see. Check up at http://harcourt.vic.au/. Then U turn to Market St, turn east and north again to Henry of Harcourt, 219 Reservoir Rd, for a spectacular array of ciders – they grow 43 of the 49 varieties of cider apple in Australia. Open every day for your selection.
U-turning south, Reservoir Rd obligingly turns into Danns Rd and runs right past Mount Alexander Fruit Gardens (http://www.mafg.com.au/fruit-sales). This is a certified organic farm, and they have fruit, fruit trees, a free newsletter on maintaining your fruit trees, and are well-known on the organic food scene in Melbourne. Pop in for a look and to purchase (also online). Then continue south and turn right (west) at Mills Rd, back onto Harmony Way.
Continuing south the choice is yours, with vineyards sharing many trophies and awards. First there’s Blackjack Wines, the home of the big red, with cellar door open during the season. Then Harcourt Valley Wines’ door is open every day, 11 to 6pm. They have both whites and reds, plus pale ale and ginger beer.
Mount Alexander Regional Park, or Lanjanuc for the Dja Dja Wurrung people, rises 746 m and in 1836 Major Mitchell used it for orientation, as did thousands of gold diggers when gold was discovered nearby in 1851. Now, it’s transversed by vehicle and by foot, so try it another day http://parkweb.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/315605/Park-note-Mt-Alexander-Regional-Park.pdf. Also west of here is the start of the Coliban Water Channel Walk, which follows the engineering masterpiece all the way to Bendigo. Turnoff for the Mount is from Sutton Grange Faraday road, just to the left before you go under the Calder freeway bridge, and to the right for the walk.
Bridge? Fifteen minutes south of Harcourt on the old Calder highway lies Taradale, placed nicely at the bottom of the valley and once the bane of motorists for its 60k limit. At the bottom of the hill, a member of the constabulary used to hide behind an enormous pine tree and jump out to book transgressors. Someone cut the poor old pine down.
Turn left (east) into de la Beche St with its delightful linear park along Back Creek and there’s the first of the Big Drop bridges. Made of wrought iron and stone and of box construction, the Taradale viaduct is 252m long and 33m high. Those statistics look spectacular from underneath. The design specifications were set by the Surveyor-General and the grandeur of the design is only enhanced by the knowledge that the one and only Isambard Kingdom Brunel supervised the bridge’s ironwork of the Rowland Brotherhood of Wiltshire, England. The reinforcing struts were added in the 1920s when larger and heavier trains became the norm. Coming down to earth, W. Urquhart laid the foundation stone in September, 1861 and it was completed in 1862.
After you’ve toasted all that with ginger beer, continue under the bridge to the renovated (car) park, where the marriage of Queen Victoria’s eldest son, King Edward to Queen Alexandra in 1863 was celebrated by the planting of two oaks. Edward’s lasted until 2013 and both were replaced that year. The two monuments look suspiciously like left-over cemetery headstones, and the king and queen reference is interesting, as it predates Queen Victoria’ demise by some 38 years. Brunel wouldn’t have liked that sloppiness.
For the second Big Drop bridge, continue down to Malmsbury, turning south around the Malmsbury Gardens at Ellsmere St. To get a better view, park at the back of the gardens as the road is not easily navigable down and under the bridge. It’s an opportunity lost, as with its Romanesque design, the bridge is the equal to Taradale’s in its impact. It’s a magnificent brick and stone arched bridge with the slowly moving Coliban River adding to the quintessential country scene. The bridge is over 100m long with five 18m spans standing about 25 metres above the river. This was the first bridge of the two, planned by the fading force of the Melbourne, Mount Alexander and Murray River Railway, a private consortium which was taken over by the colonial government. The new Victorian Railways finished the job in a year – the foundation stone laid on 25 October 1850 and the bridge completed on 24 October 1860. Old V/Line engineers didn’t waste time back then.
Winding under one of the arches is part of the Coliban–Bendigo water supply that supplies Maldon. It’s a system of open channels and tunnels and amazing features that feeds water from the Malmsbury Reservoir to Castlemaine and Bendigo. It was designed in 1858 - 1863 by our own Brunel – an Irish born engineer, Joseph Brady, as the Coliban Water Works (http://www.coliban.com.au/site/root/about/documents/CW_JBrady_collated-Web.pdf). It comprised the reservoir, 70 km of channel to cover 45 km, and unique water treatment plants of sand and cisterns and water flowed along its viaducts in 1877. Two more reservoirs were constructed south of Malmsbury, the Lauriston reservoir with its well-landscaped picnic area and the largest, the Upper Coliban reservoir (1903).
Back to Malmsbury Bridge, the race travels alongside the river just south of Taradale, where it comes into Drummond. Returning up the old Calder towards Taradale for about 3km, there’s a road to the left (west) that if not Conlan’s Rd (there’s two entries off the Calder), soon leads to it. This travels south-west on sometimes gravel roads into Drummond, a life style community, from ‘eclectic’ houses to mansions. There’s vineyards, orchards, cows grazing contentedly, and at least one country residence with a full French-style garden.
When crossing the race, have a look at how Brady avoided contaminating the race water – a little gutter viaduct over the channel. The road wanders into the Vaughan Springs Road, so turn right (west) and follow it to – Maldon’s own Loddon River.
(Warburton Bridge) Follow through Glenluce (a district), then north on the Drummond-Vaughan Forest Road to the Warburton’s Bridge camping ground on a bend in the Loddon. Warburton Bridge is very nice, but not exactly awe-inspiring. After all, it isn’t for trains.
At the turnoff, take the Vaughan Springs Road, partaking of the waters if you don’t mind the funny taste (check if there’s any ginger beer left instead). Vaughan Springs is a mini-Hepburn with some precipitous geology, and much regarded by 19th century Castlemainians for a Sunday picnic in the summer. There’s a turnoff south–west (left) about 2k out of town, Kemp’s Bridge Rd, which leads to Guilford. This town has three things going for it – a plate glass shop window in Fryers Street that Ron Barassi went through after losing control of his bike as a kid; the Big Tree which is a large river red gum at the end of Fryers St/Kemp’s Bridge Rd; and that it’s a really nice town. Great place to live if Maldon ever got too busy.
Turn south into the Midland highway from wherever you are in this pretty town, and just past the cricket ground is the Newstead-Guilford Rd. Turn right (west) and follow the sadly defunct railway to Maryborough. The Victorian Goldfields Railway has a long-held dream of steam trains circling from Castlemaine along here to Maryborough, then up to Inglewood, then back to Bendigo. Could even go up to Echuca.
Following the Loddon and the railroad, Newstead comes into view. Maldon’s just 14k further on. Major Mitchell waxed lyrical about the bounties of pre-Newstead in 1836, enticing Sydneysiders south. The Loddon Valley was part of the Tarrangower Run owned by William Hunter. Newstead has always had its large and beautiful houses through wool and dairying and alluvial gold mines, aligned then more Castlemaine than the present-day connections to Maldon up on the hill. Browse through the art shops, the cafes and come back for their frequent fairs and fetes. Travelling north, take the Maldon turnoff, another watery view at Welshman’s Reef and pass its namesake Vineyard on the way. http://welshmansreef.com/. Wines are available from Welshman’s Vineyard and Grange Hill (to the north near Eddington) in Maldon.
Moseying back into town as the sun sinks behind Tarrangower, your own mountain, go out on the front verandah at Fairbank with a Nice Drop and watch the dying rays of the sun on the food bowl that’s Mount Alexander. And ponder why Major Mitchell called it after Alexander, and why the Campaspe lies at its foot.