4x4 Trip: Victoria’s Golden Triangle

There are golden spots, pubs and dam trails to explore in Victoria’s Golden Triangle, and you could jag a nugget along the way.

Victoria's Golden Triangle
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THE facade at the Bealiba Pub looks straight of an 1850’s gold rush movie. Wide verandahs and shady benches out the front hint of long-ago bustle, miners swilling beer and comparing yarns of lucrative finds. But when we visit the pub is deserted, the street empty and there’s no sign of life.

We’re in the middle of Victoria’s Goldfields countryside, a place rich with gold, where hundreds of hopeful miners once flocked with dreams of finding their fortune.

Today, this area is rich with open bushland to wander through with a gold detector and there are abundant gullies, creeks and dams to try your luck gold panning or sluicing. But there’s also much more here than the prospect of what’s under the ground. Located within this golden triangle of Victoria are some fantastic free camp spots, historic relics and a heap of tracks in this often undiscovered part of the Goldfields.

In the quiet town of Laanecorrie, on the edge of the Loddon River is the Laanecorrie River Recreation Reserve. There’s a great walking track which begins at the Janeville Bridge and goes for an easy 1.2km to the Laanecoorie Reservoir Weir. This is a popular spot and when we passed through, it was packed to capacity with tents and New Year revellers.

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Travel another 20 minutes to Baringhup West and you’ll find Hamilton’s Crossing, also on the Loddon, but with plenty of space so you’re almost guaranteed to find your own piece of seclusion.

For us, having found our campsite on a previous trip, it was Bealiba for the weekend and from Melbourne, straight up the Calder Highway, it’s an easy drive of 2.5 hours. As we set up our camp with prime water views for the next two days, I can’t help but feel as though we’ve struck gold. It’s peaceful and except for another group a couple of hundred metres away, we have the place to ourselves.

Back in town, all is quiet. It’s New Year’s Day and not a soul was about. Still, despite the lack of activity there’s a certain charm about the place. We pass curious street signs touting ‘Best Awarded Street of 2018 …’ and I smile as there are not many streets in town. There’s a street lined with churches, a well-kept playground for kids and historical facades of buildings such as the town hall and post office.

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The small railway station, which opened in 1878 as part of the Mildura line, is surrounded by immaculately kept gardens and would have to be one of the most picturesque stations I’ve seen. Though the station closed in 1981, it’s been beautifully preserved and is worth going inside to read about the history of the area.

Back in 1856 the population of Bealiba peaked at 18,000 and the town was booming. It had three pubs, a school, a post office, a petty session’s court and three quartz-crushing mills. When the gold ran out, the farming began.

Today the Evans Hotel, once the hub of the town, stands lonely in the main street. It was sold in 2016 and hasn’t seen the light of a beer since, much to the locals dismay. We spoke to a couple of them outside the post office, the only thing open when we passed through, and it’s obvious that the sale and closure of the pub four years ago left a gaping hole in the heart of this tiny community.

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BUSH PUB IN THE SCRUB

THE closest pub is at Dunolly which also has a fantastic award-winning bakery. Only slightly farther away, along the Wimmera Highway is the Logan Pub, halfway between Wedderburn and St Arnaud. ‘The bush pub in the scrub’ as it’s affectionately known, is a small joint with a big heart and a heap of character.

It’s highly likely if you drop in for a drink, you’ll end up chatting to a local farmer or a beekeeper. Locals rarely drive by without dropping in for a coldie, so I’m told. If you want to stay longer, they can whip you up a steak or a chicken Parma for lunch and you can also stay the night or pitch a tent in the back paddock.

A great detour off the quiet Wimmera Highway is the track that leads to Mt Moliagul. Despite the dark and threatening clouds, we turn off and head for the top of the mount. The track to the summit is steep and although a 2WD vehicle will make it in clear conditions, the D-MAX did it effortlessly and proved an effective barrier to the many kamikaze kangaroos along the way.

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From the top are expansive views over the surrounding countryside and with an imminent storm approaching, the skies were dark and dramatic. Lightning strikes on the ridge and thunder reverberating in the distance provided an epic scene on top of the mountain.

It’s an awe-inspiring spectacle of Mother Nature’s fury coming our way, and on the way down we see even more wildlife. Back on terra firma Moliagul, itself once a thriving gold mining district, is today a ghost town.

Located within what’s known as the Golden Triangle, this area produced more gold nuggets than any other area in Australia. It was here, in this slice of the Australian bush, the largest gold nugget, the famous Welcome Stranger, was discovered in 1869.

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TARNAGULLA

ONE of the other areas formed by this triangle is the beautifully preserved goldmining town of Tarnagulla. Though it’s not as well-known as Maldon and Clunes, scattered ruins, a pavilion and rotunda and grand old churches hint at a former glory. The streetscape is a wonderland of historic buildings such as the verandah-fronted shops, the Grand Theatre and the Victoria Hotel.

Take a photo in the Kangaroo Chair found within the manicured gardens and check out the interpretive boards with interesting tidbits on the area. The township is surrounded by mullock heaps where miners once furiously dug into the earth to try and find their fortune.

We check out the Tarnagulla Historic Reserve nearby and the camping reserve where campers are setup over the holiday weekend. It looks to be a popular spot in a bushy oval setting, with shower and toilet facilities and within walking distance to the main street. At $5 a night, it’s a good option for families.

For us it’s onwards, as we enjoy the quiet backroads of this region before stopping in for lunch at Wedderburn. There’s plenty to explore around here with native bushlands, ironbark forests and historic precincts such as the Old Eucalyptus Still, the Wedderburn Gold Battery and the Lonely Grave. Lunch was enjoyed at Skinners Flat Reservoir, nine kilometres north of the town.

Skinners Flat reservoir is found in the Wychitella State Forest and is a great spot for some quiet camping with loads of secluded spots scattered around the water’s edge. Like Bealiba it offers bush walks, swimming and yabbying, and a chance to explore some local 4WD tracks and camp with hardly anyone else around.

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MT BEALIBA

BACK at Bealiba with the temperature warming up, we enjoy a swim in the warm waters of the reservoir. The water is deep enough for a kayak as well. The next day, feeling up for a bit of adventure we take the track to Mt Bealiba, the small mountain that can be seen behind our campground.

It’s a great drive through the Bealiba ironbark forest, a stark and impressive looking landscape, before reaching our turnoff. There are two distinct types of ironbark in this area; one has blueish leaves and the other greenish leaves. Before long however, ironbark leaves are the last thing on our mind.

Mt Bealiba is steep. It’s not a particularly long climb but the four-wheel drive track is rocky and fit for a billy goat. If it were wet, the track would prove very hairy and challenging. As it was such a sheer climb, we needed a couple of attempts.

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On the first attempt, not having enough momentum, the car spun on the shaly rock and on the second attempt using more right foot the D-MAX clawed its way to the top. At 479 metres above sea level, it provides a spectacular view of the surrounding forest and farmland.

There are so many gems in this area to explore and discover. Head to Kooyoora State Park and get lost amongst the Melville Caves in bushranger country. Hire a metal detector at Maryborough and try your luck at finding the precious stuff. You can also pick up maps and get lots of valuable information. Follow the signs linking the Fossickers Drive and weave in and out of goldfields countryside.

Or you could do as we did and simply kick back and savour those big skies and amazing reflections over the water back at camp. Bealiba might not have a pub anymore, but I feel as though we struck gold with this off the beaten track campsite.

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Miriam Blaker
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