The great escape

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The great escape daylesford

Daylesford and Hepburn Springs go above and beyond being mere spa towns. Secret forest walks, wombat spotting, healing waters, treasure hunts and Victoria’s Victoria’s highest single-drop falls… they’re the perfect places to unwind in body and mind

The area was formed by volcano activity some five million years ago.  These volcanic plains are the third largest in the world and hold 85% of Australia’s natural mineral water springs. The local people Dja Dja Wurrung, who occupied these places for thousands of years before white man believed the water had special healing properties and those beliefs are still held today

I headed out to a region known for its beauty, a place 115 kilometeres north west of Melbourne. Daylesford and Hepburn Springs are more than just spa towns. And when you wander further afield and explore the towns of Trentham, Shepherds Flat and the other numerous little towns in the area, you will soon come to realize you should have set more time aside and stayed longer.

As you cross the Great Dividing Range from the Melbourne side, the temperature seems to immediately drop, so make sure at this time of year you dress warm.

The roads are good, although a little windy, and you have to watch out for “black ice” at certain times of the year.  “Black ice” is a transparent layer of ice on the road and can be treacherous to the unwary driver.  You’ll see not only the usual kangaroo warning signs but also wombat warning signs dotted along the roads. And then there is the Wombat State Forest.

The forest is home to a variety of fauna, bird life and vegetation. It’s an amazing place with great walks of varying degrees of difficulty. If hiking is your thing, this is a great place to stretch your legs. I found a unique service offered by Secret Forest walks. Their walks are well mapped and after a consultation on what you want, they provide you with a GPS, map and other necessary bits and pieces, after which you independently explore the forest at your own pace.

Lagoon rides and wombats

Have you ever been wombat spotting? Scott from Wombat discovery tours http://www.wombatdiscoverytours.com.au is the man to see if you want to get up close and personal with these fascinating Australian mammals.   He’ll take you out – in fact pick you up from your accommodation, in his 4wd and together you venture into the forest at night in search of these amazing little critters. The forest becomes a different place at night, everything changes; noises, smells, it’s an experience you won’t forget and something the whole family can become involved in.

I love walking through the Australian bush, I love being in the outdoors, camping and just being at one with nature. Over the years I’ve been involved with horses and with so much natural beauty around to explore, I decided to call in and see Kieran from Hepburn Lagoon Rides (http://www.hepburnlagoonrides.com.au/index.html)

Kieran’s a horseman through and through. He understands the relationship between the rider and the horse and realizes not everyone is a “Michelle Payne”. He ensures the rider and the horse is matched accordingly, so each is comfortable with the other. Kieran takes the time and puts the effort into making sure you are all kitted up to enjoy yourself, you feel safe and you’ll go home and tell your friends about it (all in a good way of course). After the ride, he takes the experience up a notch, where you sit back, relax, have a drink, nibble and chat in front of the open fire.

I was fortunate to meet Sue from Townview in Daylesford (http://www.daylesfordtownview.com.au).  There I marveled at the painstakingly restored home; it’s like stepping back into a gone by era.    This is a true labour of love and the photographs Sue has on display show the journey. Each room is meticulously furnished down to the last detail. Everything is pure elegance. Sue has some amazing antiques, some of which she offers for sale. The accommodation is located right in the heart of Daylesford, a perfect spot to lay your head down.

Daylesford’s myriad minerals 

So really, why is this region so special? I think it’s because it offers a combination of natural beauty, peace and tranquility, charm, Australian history, great food and local produce, it caters for all budgets, accommodation is varied and of a high standard and then,  there are the spas and the natural mineral water springs.

The area was formed by volcano activity some five million years ago.  These volcanic plains are the third largest in the world and hold 85% of Australia’s natural mineral water springs. The local people Dja Dja Wurrung, who occupied these places for thousands of years before white man believed the water had special healing properties and those beliefs are still held today. With the discovery of gold in 1851 in the area, an influx of people headed there and new buildings and businesses thrived. The towns became prosperous for their times and you can still witness the influence of the Swiss-Italian heritage as you look around the buildings of the towns.

Some of the descendents still live in the area, several generations later.  One such family is the Tinetti family.  For five generations this family has resided around the Shepherds Flat area, just past Hepburn Springs.  They run Cricket Willow (http://cricketwillow.com.au/home.html). For all you cricket enthusiasts it’s worth the drive out there. It’s the only facility in the world where you can watch the manufacture of a cricket bat being made from beginning to end. The willow is grown in Shepherds Flat and then harvested and made into bats.

Just two minutes from Daylesford is Hepburn Springs and once again there’s so much evidence of the Swiss Italian heritage flowing through the veins of the town. Hepburn Springs will not only feed your mind and soul, but also your stomachs!

It’s home to the most amazing artists, crafts people, galleries, natural healers, and excels in dishing up fantastic paddock to plate experiences – in other words, working with locally grown produce. On top of that you will also find places like The Grande Hotel (http://www.thegrandehotel.com.au), a place that offers amazing food, cabarets – singers  (certain nights)  and of course accommodation.  Sitting out on the back balcony you’re looking straight into the forest canopy, a great place to take in the natural bird life, whilst soaking up the atmosphere over a hot chocolate.

If you get time, drop into Portal 108 and speak to the girls. There’s all types of treasures to sift through for that perfect little something. On the weekends, during Winter, Connie has the fire stoked and the place is a hive of activity (http://portal108.com.au/pages/our-location-contact).   This little shop is a place where time stands still, as I found out.  Glancing at the clock on the wall, which read 10.20, I found I ended up being late for my next appointment. I didn’t realize the clock had no batteries!

I’d heard of a place called Peppers Mineral Springs (http://mineralspringshotel.com.au). I’d been told, you have to check it out.  I did – and it didn’t disappoint.  Everything, including the furniture in the foyer areas has been tastefully procured.   This boutique hotel is a place you feel spoiled, just by entering the front door.  Accommodation, fine dining and of course the spa. What better way to soothe away all that stress, the aches and pains and just purely indulge!

The Mineral Spa is surrounded by the highest concentration of mineral springs in Australia. The healing benefits of mineral water have been well accepted by visitors who have come to Hepburn Springs and Daylesford for decades for the time honoured ritual of ‘taking the waters’.  Known as balneotherapy, the benefits of bathing in mineral water have been part of preventative health and wellness routines around the world for centuries.

It was getting late, I felt chilled yet exhilarated at the same time.  My stomach had started to rumble, so I headed to the motel.  What a delight – meeting Michael and Melissa.  They run Central Springs Inn (http://www.centralspringsinn.com.au). They had anticipated my arrival and welcomed me warmly, invited me in beside the fire to warm my toes and offered a cup of hot chocolate.

This family makes it work, as not only are they busy running the business, but they have also raised five children. The place oozes character and charm, but it is as much about the hosts as it is about the inn. I turned the key to my room and felt a blast of warmth rush past me. It was definitely cold outside, but the open fire place and central heating in the room provided both warmth and a reason to want and stay inside. It was only my stomach, which was now yelling at me that made me venture back outside and I was so glad I did.

Central Springs Inn is right in the central area of Daylesford, so within close proximity of everything. Michael and Melissa told me to try the Indian restaurant across the road. Yummy!  With a full stomach, I headed back to the comfort of my room, threw a couple of logs on the fire, ran a spa bath, and thought “what a life”.

Take a turn, take in a fall

There’s a little town not far from Daylesford, called Trentham, and if you stay on the highway and drive past the turn off to Trentham, on the left you’ll find Trentham Falls.  It’s well signed.

Trentham Falls is Victoria’s highest single-drop waterfall. It plunges 32m over basalt columns onto the quartz gravel below. Deep in the Wombat State Forest, this moss-covered wonderland is especially magical in winter when every sleek rock and fern frond drips with water.

There’s a picnic area, with picnic tables, barbecues and toilets nearby and a chance to get some exercise along one of the scenic hiking tracks.

My next stop was Trentham – RedBeard Historic Bakery.  Here I met owner John and his wife.  They bake certified organic, handmade authentic sourdough in a 19th century woodfired scotch oven.   Trentham is a little town, so I was really astounded when I saw more people in the bakery than I had at Flinders Street Station on a Saturday! Apparently, this well kept secret is already out.

Now if you are a wine buff, there’s a little place that goes by the name of Passing Clouds (http://www.passingclouds.com.au). Their goal  is to make wine for the people who drink it, superb wine that should be shared with excellent and thoughtful food in the company of family and friends.  Hugh, the Manager, definitely knows wine and is more than happy to share his knowledge, his food and his wines.

As the weather improves, there’s another spot I want to try – another experience I want to enjoy.  Cosy Tents offer a tenting adventure which is now known as “glamping” not “camping”.  Check it out at (http://www.cosytents.com.au)

I walked around the town, chatting to the locals and felt a real sense of community spirit. These towns are small, but like many of Victoria’s country towns it’s a place where all the locals work together, know each other and work to the advantage of each other. It seems us Melburnians appreciate Daylesford/Hepburn and beyond for not just their natural beauty, but also its pace of life. Going there gives us time to re-group, and recharge our body, mind and spirit.

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