Wil and the crew take us on a Goldfields adventure
Located in Central Victoria, the Goldfields Track is a 210km point-to-point route that runs from Ballarat to Bendigo. This off-road journey has historically been a walking track, but it’s become increasingly popular with mountain bikers. Splitting neatly into a three-day ride, it’s a fantastic adventure that I’ve had the pleasure of undertaking several times since I began riding 25 years ago.
While it is arguably one of the best point-to-point rides in Australia, the Goldfields Track isn’t the only reason you’d visit this part of the world. Following the mountain biking boom, there are bunch of riding spots that have sprouted up along its length, all of which are worthy of further exploration on their own. On top of that, there are some exciting plans for trail development in the near future, highlighting this region’s embrace of all things two-wheeled.
And so with the Goldfields Track as our guide, I decided to team up with some pals to embark on a road trip. The plan was to visit some of the towns and riding destinations along the way, sampling as much of the local produce and the diversity of riding this region has to offer.
Check out the video on our Goldfields adventure!
Ballarat – Black Hill MTB Park
To kick off our Goldfields adventure, I met up with the Flow J-team of Jono, Big Jack, Little Jack and Justin, in Ballarat. A 90-minute drive west of Melbourne (or just over an hour on a V-Line train), Ballarat is a big regional town that typically forms the starting point for mountain bikers who are heading off on their 3-day Goldfields Track journey.
For many cyclists, Ballarat will of course be famous for the Road National Championships that takes place in January each year. Along with road and gravel riding, there’s also some good mountain biking to be had around Ballarat. In terms of sanctioned trails you can get some great XC and trail riding around Woowookarung (formerly known as Canadian Forest), while more gravity-inclined folks will naturally, err, gravitate towards the Black Hill MTB Park.
Managed by Club Mud, the Black Hill MTB Park is situated in the Black Hill Preserve just 3km from the centre of town. It’s a small parcel of land, but the trailbuilders have done well to maximise the area and elevation. There are four DH tracks that start from the top, a couple of blue and green loops that run around the perimeter, a skills area and two pump tracks.
With a bitumen access road all the way to the top, it’s a popular spot for gravity riders. Club Mud puts on Wednesday night shuttles during the summer months, and it also hosts the King Of Ballarat downhill race series.
During our visit, the club had put the word out that Flow would be shooting at Black Hill MTB Park, and it seemed that every grom in Ballarat decided to join in on the action. We spent some time sessioning sections of Claim Jumper, Alluvial and Open Cut, watching kids riding bikes way too big for them send it to the moon. It was brilliant fun, and had us all wishing that we’d had a bike park on the edge of town when we were growing up. If you’re keen on practicing jump lines and working on your downhill flow, this is a spot to put on your list.
Creswick – New trails incoming
The following day we took a 20 minute drive up the road to the small ex-gold mining town of Creswick. You’ll likely know this name from the news of its forthcoming trail development, which will see 60km of singletrack incorporated into a brand new network.
It was recently announced that Dirt Art had won the contract to build the new trails, with the first phase due to be completed in 2023. The Victorian Government has also revealed that Creswick will play host for the mountain biking event during the 2026 Commonwealth Games, which is a huge win for the area.
In the meantime, there’s plenty of riding to sink your teeth into. Along with the Goldfields Track, which weaves its way right through town, there’s loads of scenic unsealed roads for those looking to do some gravel exploration of the wider region. Creswick is also home to a surprisingly vibrant cyclocross scene, with a popular race series held during the colder months of the year.
There’s a 7km XC loop at the RACV Goldfields Resort, which runs around the outside of the golf course and is free for anyone to ride. It’s not overly technical, and it makes the resort an appealing option for families who are looking to stay for a long weekend.
Back in town you’ll find the Hammon Park Recreation Reserve, which will serve as the trailhead for the new Creswick trail network. There’s already a sealed pump track and dirt jump set here, with a skills area and more facilities due to be added soon.
While there’s plenty of fresh singletrack planned, the new network will make use of some of Creswick’s existing trails that will be updated and signposted as part of the development. To get a feel for what’s to come, we joined some local riders for a tour of the more popular options. We were guided by Paul Williams, the owner of Le Péché Gourmand; a French-inspired bakery in town that makes remarkably tasty almond croissants, amongst many other delightful baked goods.
There’s a definite backcountry feel to the riding around Creswick, with the rolling terrain providing plenty of texture and gradient for its sprawling XC trails that make it feel like you’re actually riding somewhere, and not just in a series of squiggly loops. Even if it does require some local knowledge, these trails (and the bakery), already make Creswick a great place to visit. And thanks to the impending arrival of the new network, we expect this is going to be a very popular riding destination in years to come.
Daylesford to Castlemaine on the Goldfields Track
While most of our Goldfields adventure was focussed on visiting the towns and riding destinations along the way, there was no way that we were going to miss out on this part of the journey. That’s because out of the three days that it takes most people to ride the Goldfields Track, it’s the middle day that offers the best mountain biking experience.
Starting in Daylesford and ending in Castlemaine, this 61km route is known as the ‘Dry Diggings Track’. Depending on your fitness and how much you stop along the way, it’ll take you 3-5 hours to finish.
The Dry Diggings Track is made up of a combination of singletrack, double track and dirt roads, which is ideally tackled on a proper mountain bike. I’ve seen people attempt it on gravel and touring bikes, and they’ve not had the most enjoyable experience. You’ll definitely want to bring some food, spares and a hydration pack with plenty of water.
What I love about the Dry Diggings Track is the diverse range of scenery and environments that it takes you through. You start amongst the lush and green temperate forests on top of the Dividing Range around Daylesford and Hepburn Springs, where you’ll spot natural mineral springs along the way. These two tourist towns are also home to some fantastic eateries, distilleries and breweries, and the Hepburn Bathhouse & Spa is well worth a visit for resting your weary bones after a hard day’s mountain biking.
Further along the Goldfields Track you’ll come across the Chocolate Mill, which presents a perfectly-timed opportunity to replenish calorie stores with almost every form of chocolate you can dream of. From there the terrain mellows out into open plains, with the only disruption being the prominent Mt Franklin; a 470,000 year-old extinct volcano that sticks out of the landscape like a dark green pimple thanks to its densely-packed conifer trees.
The scenery becomes decidedly drier and rockier the further north you head towards Castlemaine. This sets the scene for some of the best singletrack of the entire Goldfields Track, almost as if those miner’s from 150 years ago had mountain bikers in mind when they forged their route. Seriously, the natural flow you can find along here rivals many of the modern trails out there.
It’s not long before you then come across Vaughan Springs. An idyllic spot for a picnic, there’s also a great swimming hole and a campground if you’re doing the multi-day thing. We use it as a rest stop before tackling the final leg of our journey.
As you climb out of Vaughan Springs, the landscape changes again, and it’s not long before you can spot more evidence of mining activity. The lumpy terrain is dotted with Box Eucalypts, and you’ll see the remnants of old sleuthing sites, villages and the enormous foundations of the Garfield water wheel. Finally, you descend steadily down into Castlemaine along the old Poverty Gully water race, which makes for a welcome finish to a long day’s ride.
Castlemaine – Rocky Riders on tour
After riding from Daylesford along the Goldfields Track the day before, we decided to catch up with some locals in Castlemaine to explore some riding closer to town. And gosh, is there plenty of it!
If you’ve not familiar with it, Castlemaine was one of the hotbeds during the 1800s gold rush, and it’s evolved to become a must-visit town in the Goldfields region. Located 90 minutes drive north of Melbourne, this town is full of historic buildings, beautiful old pubs, art galleries and second hand stores brimming with gold of a different kind.
There’s also a rich mountain biking scene here, with the local Rocky Riders club playing host to a smorgasbord of events throughout the year. In addition to racing and youth development, the club also has one of the largest women’s social rides we’ve come across.
Following some delectable pastries at Johnny Bakers, we met up with the Rocky Riders to join them on their monthly Sunday social ride. Starting outside the art deco-era Theatre Royal, we set off with a 30-strong group of riders. Our guides took us on a tour of the local trails that incorporated sections of the Goldfields Track, some fast and flowy singletrack through the Walmer State Forest (aka, the ‘Baco Trails’), before finishing on the steep and technical terrain of ‘The Pineys’.
Like a lot of these regional towns, there’s plenty of sanctioned and unsanctioned trails around Castlemaine. The Rocky Riders are continuing to advocate for the local mountain biking community to help formalise some of the current trail network, while hopefully building new trail in the future too. Given the growth of the club and the opportunities to attract mountain bike tourists to the region, this will be another area to watch for the future.
Harcourt – La Larr Ba Gauwa MTB Park
Barely a 10-minute drive up the road from Castlemaine is the La Larr Ba Gauwa Park, also known as the Harcourt MTB Park. Easily the most popular riding destination within the Goldfields region, La Larr Ba Gauwa is built into the foothills of Mt Alexander amongst the sprawling apple orchards of North Harcourt.
Here you’ll find a network of 34km of purpose-built singletrack that is comprised of green, blue and black diamond trails that are all signed. The trails weave their way around the mountainside before meeting up at the scenic Oak Forest at the bottom, which is a popular camping spot for families and riders.
While there is plenty of smooth flow trail to be found, granite boulders and huge rock slabs features heavily across the park. It makes the riding pretty technical, and it also means that this is one of the few trail networks where you get properly challenging singletrack climbs. As such, it plays host to some of the toughest XC events in Victoria.
Enduro-style races are also held here, with the more advanced trails featuring numerous A-line options. Riders who like to get airborne, like Jono and Big Jack, will have a field day on trails like Girra (Track 2) and Mir (Track 8). If you’re looking to maximise your elevation our recommendation is to ride Milakuk (Track 11) into Gart-Gart (Track 7) and then Barramul (Track 6) for a fast-paced descent that’ll bring you back to the main trailhead.
You’ll have likely recognised this spot in some of Flow’s bike reviews, as it’s an area that we visit frequently for both testing and shooting. This is partly because La Larr Ba Gauwa is a great year-round riding destination, with the granitic soil generally holding up well to wet weather. Unfortunately the area was battered by flooding not long after we shot this feature though, which caused damage to some of the access roads and certain sections of the trail network. As such, it’ll be a good idea to check in with the La Larr Ba Gauwa website for updates on trail conditions.
Bendigo – The end of the Goldfields
Lying at the most northern end of the Goldfields Track is the regional centre of Bendigo. The setting for the final day of our Goldfields road trip, Bendigo is located two hours drive north of Melbourne.
Like Castlemaine, Bendigo is chock-full of historic and ostentatious buildings that proudly display the incredible wealth that would have existed 150 years ago.
You’ll also find a huge community of cyclists in Bendigo, which is well known for its high calibre of road and track racers, as well as national-level XC mountain bikers. As such, there’s a diverse range of riding on offer. You can explore town via its off-road bike path network, and there’s the excellent O’Keefe rail trail that stretches 50km to the nearby wine region of Heathcote.
With Bendigo being surrounded by forests, there are trails literally all around town. There’s also a plethora of dirt roads and campgrounds in the bush, making it a great spot for gravel riding and bikepackers.
As is common within the region, the majority of singletrack trails are unsanctioned. However, as mountain biking continues to explode in popularity following the Covid-19 pandemic, there’s been a growing recognition of the need for properly signed and professionally-built singletrack. The local Bendigo MTB Club engaged World Trail to develop the Spring Gully Mountain Bike Trail Network, which would encompass 14 different trails totalling over 50km in length.
The new trails would build off of the existing network, with the Spring Gully trailhead forming the starting point. A 15-minute bike ride from town, the Spring Gully trailhead is already home to a family-friendly walking and riding loop, a skills area, a pump track and a small jumps line. It’s also where you’ll head off along the Green Loop; a 4.5km trail that has been built and maintained by the Bendigo MTB Club. The club uses this loop to host its Tuesday night summer dirt crits, which regularly attract over 200 riders. There are weekend social rides, women’s rides, and a youth development squad for coaching the next generation of hitters.
While we were in Bendigo, I met up with Jo Wall of Trailhead Coaching, who teaches both new and experienced riders on the trails around Spring Gully. Her business has grown dramatically over the last year, with young kids and women being her most common students, highlighting just how popular mountain biking has gotten in this region.
Following a rip around the Green Loop with some of the local riding crew, we zipped along the creek trail back into town to finish up with a beer at Handle Bar – a terrific little beer garden in town that has a generous range of craft ales and plenty of great live music. A fitting end to our six-day journey through the Goldfields.
Planning your own Goldfields adventure
With the variety of riding destinations on offer, there’s an endless number of ways to plan a trip to this region. You could stick to the Goldfields Track, or you could visit any of the single destinations for a long weekend away. Alternatively, spend a whole week exploring all the different flavours, both literally and metaphorically, that this region has to offer.
For fitter and more adventurous riders, doing the entire Goldfields Track is an experience you need to tick off. We’d recommend doing it on a proper mountain bike, preferably with suspension. And unless you’re a masochist, three days will give you enough time to complete the journey while still allowing for plenty of time to stop and enjoy the sights along the way.
Both Ballarat and Bendigo are accessible to Melbourne via the V-Line, making it possible to embark on a round trip without having to touch the car. There are free campsites along the way if you’re bikepacking it, but there’s also tonnes of accommodation options for more of a flash-packing experience. Head to the Goldfields Track website for all the info.
Just over an hour’s train ride from Melbourne, there’s a good amount of riding to be had in Ballarat. For XC riding hit up the Woowookarung Regional Park, and for gravity riding check out the Black Hill MTB Park.
- Club Mud – This crew manages the Black Hill MTB Park, and they host events and shuttle days throughout the year too
- Ballarat MTB Club – For more of an XC flavour, the Ballarat MTB Club hosts events at the Woowookarung Regional Park trail network
- Sovereign Hill – Take your family and step back in time to see what life was like during the 1800s gold rush. The AURA night show over the summer season is also a must-see event!
- Racer’s Bar & Cafe – A popular spot with local road riders, right on the edge of Lake Wendouree
- Meigas – Authentic tapas & killer cocktails right in the middle of town
Creswick is an idyllic tourist destination just 20 minutes up the road from Ballarat. Surrounded by dense bush, Creswick is a great spot for scenic gravel riding, bushwalking and backcountry trail riding. It’s also soon to be the home to a brand new, purpose-built trail network.
- Le Péché Gourmand – A French bakery & patisserie that is popular for a reason. Just make sure you go earlier in the day to avoid missing out!
- Creswick Trail Network – Construction begins on the new network in early 2023, which will repurpose and upgrade some of the existing trails, while adding new singletrack and a proper trailhead
- Voga Cycling Club – This crew advocates for all forms of off-road cycling in the region, while hosting both mountain bike and gravel events including the Brackenbury MTB Challenge and the Dirty Pig & Whistle
- Sailors Falls – After the wet winter and spring in Victoria, all the local waterfalls are absolutely humming. Sailors Falls is a beautiful spot for a stroll after a day’s riding
Daylesford & Hepburn Springs
If you like a bit of relaxation and recuperation in your holiday, then Daylesford and Hepburn Springs need to be on your list. These towns are packed with great eateries and day spas, with loads of quaint cottages and B&B accommodation.
- Cliffy’s Emporium – Previously an old general store, Cliffy’s is now a brilliant cafe selling top-notch coffee, delicious food and quirky kitchenwares
- Daylesford Brewing Co – A taphouse and restaurant based on the main street in town
- Lake House – Luxury accommodation and fine dining set on the shores of Lake Daylesford
- Hepburn Bathhouse & Spa – Dating back to 1895, this original bathhouse combines a modern spa experience with the natural mineral waters of the region – the perfect indulgence after a long day of mountain biking!
- The Chocolate Mill – Located along the Goldfields Track, this place is an oasis for hungry riders with its fine Belgian chocolates
The ex-gold mining town of Castlemaine is a haven for artists, musicians and small businesses that are focussed on producing local wares. The riding here is diverse, making it a great spot to base yourself while exploring the wider region.
- Rocky Riders MTB Club – As well as advocating for local riders, the Rocky Riders host races and social rides all throughout the year
- Johnny Bakers – Another fantastic bakery that produces some extraordinarily good savoury and sweet treats. Get in early for the croissants
- Love Shack Brewing – A young craft brewery doing top-notch beer, with a bar and taphouse due to open in 2023
- The Mill – Based in an old 1800s woollen mill, this site is now home to numerous artisanal producers that includes a coffee roastery, winemakers, a sourdough bakery, butcher, cheese and dairy producer, and a vintage bazaar
- Shedshaker Brewery – Located inside The Mill, Shedshaker serves up a variety of craft beers and tasty woodfired pizza
Harcourt is famous for its apple orchards and cideries, though more recently it’s become a mountain biking hotspot thanks to the La Larr Ba Gauwa MTB Park. As well as riding the purpose-built singletrack, you can camp in the picturesque Oak Forest too.
- La Larr Ba Gauwa MTB Park – Home to 11 different trails with plenty of signage and lots of granite rock gardens
- Harcourt Produce Store – This cafe is open every day of the week and offers great food and coffee, along with plenty of local produce to take home with you
- Henry of Harcourt – A small cidery that produces some beautiful small-batch apple cider out of a quaint country farmhouse
The large regional town of Bendigo forms the end of the Goldfields, and is well known for its famous art gallery and gold rush era architecture. There’s lots to see and do for families visiting for a weekend away, with plenty of off-road cycling on the outskirts of town.
- Bendigo MTB Club – The local club hosts numerous races, events and social rides, while advocating for mountain bikers in the region
- Bendigo Art Gallery – The Australian home for the Elvis: Direct from Graceland exhibition, amongst many others over the years
- The Good Loaf – A local sourdough bakery and cafe in the most bizarre building. If you’re visiting Bendigo around Easter, do not miss out on the sourdough hot cross buns!
- Ghosty’s Diner – Formerly Ghosty Toasty, this old-school diner features booth seating, coffee, toasties, cocktails and smash burgers
- Hustler – If it’s a burger and fries you’re after, and you want to see the best craft beer tap lineup in town, Hustler is a must-visit
- Handle Bar – A hidden backyard beer garden that features great live music with a tidy selection of beers, wines and spirits