Lots of places have historic buildings and a select few locations have a collection of structures that date back to times long passed, however to find a whole town that has been saved and rebuilt as it was over a hundred years ago is rare indeed. Walhalla is hidden deep in a valley about 2.5-3 hours’ drive from Melbourne in the Baw Baw Shire and it’s a true step back in time.
For nearly fifty years from 1863 until 1914 the small village was one of Australia’s richest gold areas with a population at its peak of some 4,000 souls all looking to strike it rich either from the gold or their fellow mine. The gold was first discovered in 1862 by a group of prospectors led by a bloke by the name of Ned Stringer, today the creek running through town bears his name and the town took its name from an early mine named Walhalla which comes from Norse mythology and means ‘The Valley of the Gods’.
For many years the town was an exciting and vibrant place with some ten hotels (mining is of course thirsty work), seven churches, several dance halls and over 30 shops of all types. The local school had more than 500 students and there were also numerous sporting clubs. In 1910 the railway arrived but by then the town and the mines where fast failing and some four years later in 1914 all the mines had closed. The valley produced well over 70 tonnes of gold but the yields could not be sustained and closure was the inevitable outcome. The town’s decline was rapid with most of the houses and buildings pulled down and shipped to other locations via the newly opened railway, the remaining buildings were just abandoned and the once bustling gold town in ‘The Valley of the Gods’ was largely a ghost town and the bush was slowly reclaiming what was left.
For many years very little took place in the valley, the railway finally ceased to run in 1944 and the town’s population was tiny. It was not until the early 1990s that things began to change, with a renewed interest and passion in Australia’s early heritage there began a building program to restore the gold boom town to showcase its former glory days. This building program took many years and the number of the projects that were completed were impressive to say the least, in particular the Walhalla Star Hotel which re-opened in 1999 over a hundred years since its birth back in 1873.
There are many buildings throughout the town that showcase times long passed and the effort that’s has been invested is quite simply stunning. The railway line was also part of this rebuild and the first train since the 1940s arrived in town on the 15 March 2002. To give you some idea of the town’s remote location it was not connected to the electricity grid in Victoria until December 1998, the last town in the state to be connected.
The drive into the valley and onto the township is very attractive and there are plenty of parking options throughout the town even if towing a van. Although the road is sealed, the tight bends require you to travel at slower speeds and watch the corners. The town can be explored from end to end on foot and there is plenty to see and do apart from the historic structures and buildings. A few must-do suggestions would be to take a Long Tunnel Gold Mine tour, ride the Walhalla Goldfields Railway, or maybe try the Walhalla Ghost Tours. Also it’s well worth checking out the local Walhalla Cemetery which is perched on a steep hillside and gives you a look back in time to the tough and unforgiving life faced by the folk of the gold era. There are stores and a number of cafes/food options and plenty of accommodation choices if a longer stay is planned. Camping is also on offer both within the town at the Chinese Gardens and at North Gardens, they have toilets and fire pits. Nearby in some great natural bush settings camping can be had at Aberfeldy River, Bruntons Bridge and Coopers Creek, all on the banks of beautiful rivers.
Aside from the historic features the old gold town of Walhalla is located close to one of Victoria’s most beautiful National Parks in Baw Baw NP and here you can enjoy a raft of activities year round. A selection of some great 4WD tracks is on offer rated form easy to challenging, one of the best trips is the track from Walhalla to Jamieson which at 133kms makes for a top two day journey, not suitable for caravans but ok in the right conditions for off-road campers, but best enjoyed as a vehicle only trip with a night tent based camping along the route.
There are plenty of easy tracks and you will find a rich selection of historic sites from those old gold mining days along many of the tracks. The Baw Baw NP also has some first class bush walking on offer if stretching your legs appeals, Walhalla is also the starting point (or finishing) for the Australian Alps Walking Track. This 650km trek is a mighty endeavour and takes a hiker between 6-8 weeks plus plenty of planning and fitness, you can check out the starting point in the Walhalla township just near the old band stand.
Throw in fishing, mountain bike trails, winter skiing and you start to have some idea of what a year round destination this region is, Walhalla is without doubt well worth a visit even if it’s just a day sightseeing around the old town but there is so much more on offer nearby in the Baw Baw Shire it’s well worth the effort to explore. ‘The Valley of the Gods’ won’t disappoint you I am sure. Who knows you may find GOLD and the rush can start all over again.
Walhalla is located 180km east of Melbourne, via Princes Fwy (M1) best to exit at Moe, if coming from the east from Bairnsdale then via Princes Fwy and exit at Traralgon. No fuel in Walhalla.