Recently I found myself with three consecutive days off. This rare occurrence prompted me to go on a small road trip in order to get away, relax and take some photos. I chose Daylesford as my destination.
So I boarded a train (and then a bus) and began an adventure to the Spa Country of Victoria.
Daylesford in located in the heart of the Shire of Hepburn in Victoria, Australia. It sits amongst the Great Dividing Range to the northwest of Melbourne.
Prior to European settlement the Djadja Wurrung Aborigines inhabited the area. European settlement was prompted by Captain John Hepburn in 1838 and continued from there. The town’s major historical event, and the discovery that put them on the map, was gold. In 1851, John Egan found gold in the area now occupied by Lake Daylesford and began an economic boom for the small pastoral town. Naturally, immigrants from Italy, Switzerland and China as well as a number of Anglo-Saxon settlers swarmed to the area. The influence of the Swiss and Italian settlers is evident throughout Daylesford and can be explored through tourist attractions such as the Lavandula Lavender Farm as well as the Swiss Italian Festa.
The official town site was surveyed and founding in 1852. Initially called Wombat, it was later renamed Daylesford – probably a good choice.
The economic boom brought on by the gold rush saw a number of developments, with immigrants influencing the architecture of local buildings, giving them a truly European style. Following the early gold rush period, Daylesford and the neighbouring Hepburn Springs has slowly grounded itself as a top-notch spa resort area.
Daylesford is also home to ChillOut Festival, which occurs over Victoria’s Labour Day long-weekend in March each year. ChillOut is the largest Gay and Lesbian festival in rural and regional Australia.
Wombat Botanical Gardens
This was one of the first things that I saw when I arrived. I had been told that it was a fantastic botanical experience, home to a vast array of flora that proves the ability of various species to adapt and live outside of their intended climates.
I’m sure it was all these things, but honestly, I didn’t make my tail wag. In the 1860s, notable garden designers and planners built the gardens on top of an extinct volcano called Wombat Hill and used rare and beautiful plants to create a botanical experience for the people of Daylesford. The gardens were nice, but nothing special. The thing I was most looking forward to was a visit to Pioneer’s Memorial Tower which was built in 1939. It boasted to have amazing views of Daylesford. I climbed to the top. It was at that moment that I wished I was taller. I also didn’t find the ‘Monkey Puzzle Tree’, something that I was instructed to do upon entry.
In saying that, it was a lovely morning walk and would be a great place for a family picnic. If botany is really your thing then this is probably a great place to visit.
One of the first things I was told by anyone who knew Daylesford was that I must go to the Convent. Not really knowing what to expect I headed to the only grand 19th Century mansion overlooking Daylesford that I could find. Inside I was pleasantly surprised to find a modern fine art gallery over 3 levels with a dedication to its historical foundations.
The Convent was originally built in the 1860s as a private residence. During the 1880s the Catholic Church purchased the building and grounds in order to convert it into The Holy Cross Convent and Boarding School for girls. It was the only establishment of its kind in regional Victoria. The building was closed in 1973. It was Tina Banitska, a prize-winning artist and ceramicist, who converted the Convent into its current form in a visionary purchase in 1988. Keeping a true historical aspect, the nun’s infirmary and one of the nun’s ‘cells’ have been left unrestored.
Although I was mesmerized by this building and gallery in the heart of country Victoria, I would have loved to see more of the history of the building and its spirit come through. In saying that, it would be a great place for a wedding.
Hepburn Bathhouse and Spa
On my second day in town I decided to walk the 3km to Hepburn Springs to see what all the fuss was about. To give you some background, the Daylesford-Hepburn Springs area accounts for more than 80 percent of Australia’s mineral water springs. These areas were created some 5 million years ago by volcanic activity.
I walked through the main street and through the parklands into the heart of the Spa Country in order to find the Hepburn Bathhouse and Spa. The town was eerily quiet. Unperturbed, I soldiered on. When I arrived, after having been blown away by some of the parklands I entered the bathhouse to learn, from a lovely lady at the front desk, that this was the week of closure for annual maintenance. Lesson – always do your research. At least the walk was nice.
Lake Daylesford was built in 1929 and officially opened in 1930. A very calm, peaceful and relaxing area surrounded by wildlife. It’s quite honestly a great addition to Daylesford. If your budget is a bit above my own, is also home to some of the best accommodation available in Daylesford.
The Goldfields track is a 210km long track that takes you through some of central Victoria’s most historic towns. I accidentally walked part of this on each of my days in Daylesford. I hear it makes a good bike ride but for my purposes it gave birth to some great photo opportunities.
As my trip was a mid-week expedition I was lucky enough to be in the town at a relatively quite point. This allowed me to chat to the locals and experience their day-to-day life. It served my purposes perfectly as it was quiet and the people were lovely, relaxed and down-to-earth. It became very obvious to me that they enjoy getting their ‘small country town back’ during the mid-week tourist lull.
It was clearly a town in which the people embrace the history as much as the modern culture. They thrive off the natural and man-made phenomena that are at the heart of Daylesford. This has allowed the township to grow into a great example of a Victorian country region that exists because of the gold rush and managed to persist and expand beyond it.