Daylesford and the Macedon Ranges

 

Just 60km north of Melbourne is a place where you can see Camels Hump – no, not an orgy of dromedary delights, a rock formation. Six million years ago, a volcano erupted. Lava was squeezed out of the earth’s crust and hardened into a rocky protrusion said to resemble a camel’s hump. At 1,011 metres, it is the highest part of the Macedon Ranges.

 

The Swiss-Italians, who ventured to Daylesford over a century ago, were more like moles than camels. They mined tunnels in the hills surrounding this laid-back and artistic town. Nestled amidst the forests and lakes of the Central Highlands, mineral-rich water gushes beneath Daylesford, which is why the area is home to Australia’s largest concentration of mineral springs. Just to the north is Hepburn Springs, a centre for spa relaxation and a great place to take it easy. This is probably why the annual ChillOut festival (www.chilloutfestival.com.au) – Australia’s largest rural gay and lesbian event – is held around here.

 

Pete’s Primo Pastimes

 

As far as galleries go, The Convent (Corner of Hill and Daly Sts, Daylesford) is a great place to visit – even if you’re not really into art. This 19th century mansion presides over the carved wooden faces and bronze sculptures in the Wombat Hill Botanical Gardens. Wander through eight exhibition spaces framed by majestic archways, and creak up three levels of winding staircases to get fine views over Daylesford. As well as the many fine art collections adorning the walls, both from Indigenous and international artists, the restored chapel and the nuns’ museum are worth checking out. www.theconvent.com.au; 03 5348 3211.

 

This area is great for walking, whether it’s just a stroll around Lake Daylesford, a meander through the Wombat State Forest, or perhaps a three-day hike along part of the Great Dividing Trail which spans 280km. A multi-day option is the Dry Diggings Track, which passes through diverse mining landscapes. This track stretches 55km from Daylesford to Castlemaine, and takes about three days to hike. For more info about this and other tracks along the Great Dividing Trail, log on to gdt.org.au.

 

After all that walking you’ll have to momentarily forget your budget and check into the Hepburn Spa Resort (Mineral Springs Cr) for a good old soak. Plunge pools, floatation tanks, saunas, a swimming pool, a salt pool and an aero spa offer a variety of ways to loosen those aching muscles. From hot stone massages to clay body wraps, this spa has you covered. Check out www.hepburnspa.com.au; 03 5348 8888. Also, check out Salus Spa at the Lake House and treat yourself to a lime and ginger salt polish or a frangipani milk ritual. (Sounds like cooking classes, but they’re actually exfoliation and bath treatments.) www.lakehouse.com.au; 03 5348 3329.

 

If the pampering has made you feel a little peckish, drive out to Lavandula (350 Hepburn-Newstead Rd, Shepherd Flat), a rustic lavender farm built by Swiss-Italian immigrants in the 1860s. Poplar trees line the driveway to a cobblestone courtyard, and in summer effervescent shades of mauve and purple braid the gardens. It’s a great spot to have a wood-fired pizza or a lavender scone. www.lavandula.com.au; 03 5476 4393.

If scones aren’t your thing, then check out the Chocolate Mill, a Belgian chocolate factory just a few minutes drive along the highway from Daylesford, heading towards Castlemaine. Entry is free and at 11am and 2pm each day there’s a free demo. Closed on Tuesdays. www.chocmill.com.au; 03 5476 4208.

 

Macedon is a sleepy town under the shadow of Mt Macedon, on top of which stands a 21-metre golden memorial cross. Camels Hump is nearby, from where you can do several walks, including an 18km trail which encompasses the area’s three highest points. Also nearby is Hanging Rock, a rare volcanic formation of solvsbergite (a type of rock found mostly in Scandinavia). This area is famous for Picnic at Hanging Rock, a novel (and later a film) about a group of schoolgirls who mysteriously vanished while on a school excursion. If you’re around on Valentine’s Day (the date on which the story is set), special film screenings are held on the rock.

 

Where to crash

Wildwood YHA, 42 Main Road, Hepburn Springs .Ph 03 5348 4435

Set in an historic 1920s building amidst the bush, this place offers an in-house massage service. www.yha.com.au

 

Which way, cobber?

Public Transport

V/Line runs frequent train services from Southern Cross Station to Woodend, Castlemaine and Ballarat stations from which buses connect through to Daylesford. Check out vline.com.au for more information.

 

By car

From Melbourne, take the Calder Freeway (M79) and exit at the Macedon junction for the Macedon Ranges or at the Woodend junction for a pleasant drive to Daylesford. Alternatively, you can take the scenic route through the Wombat State Forest. For more info, check out www.visitdaylesford.com.au or call 1800 454 891.