December 04, 2010

Villages of Victoria: a guide to Walhalla

Villages of Victoria: a guide to Walhalla

One of Victoria’s top five "Must Do" destinations, the Walhalla Historic Township is one of Victoria’s most intriguing places. Located in Gippsland alpine wilderness, just over two hours drive from Melbourne, it has less than 20 permanent residents, making it one of the smallest villages in Victoria, yet 100,000 visitors make the trip here every year. Why? Perhaps because visiting Walhalla is like stepping back in time.

Once one of Australia's richest towns and home to over 4000 gold seekers, the township is a perfectly preserved example of a 1800s gold rush village. Each of the stores and hotels in Walhalla’s main street – and even some of the houses – have been restored or built as a replica of the gold-era style of the 1800s. The band rotunda was rebuilt, as were the Walhalla Chronicle offices, the old corner store, the Mechanics Institute, the post office and many other buildings.

Considered one of the most spectacular rail journeys in Australia, the restored narrow-gauge Walhalla Goldfields Railway, which runs most Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays, is another key attraction.

Walhalla’s Long Tunnel Extended Gold Mine, once Victoria’s fifth largest mine, offers regular tours. Visitors go to the underground machine chamber, a vast space in the rock where steam engines operated the machinery that crushed granite, yielding gold. The mineshaft dives to 931 metres and photographs in the museum show workers descending in tiny metal boxes and pit ponies being lowered into the depths. During the life of the mine it yielded 72 tonnes of gold which would be worth a staggering $5.8 billion today.

The Star Hotel, replica of the original by the same name, is one of a number of accommodation options in Walhalla and also has a restaurant open for dinner. Windsor House a bed and breakfast, was built in the 1890s from 90,000 handmade bricks. The town is easy to explore by foot. A self-guided walk following the interpretive signs takes about two hours. Another walking option is the steep hillside to the Walhalla Cemetery, where there are more than 1100 graves of the miners and settlers, as well as stunning views.
*online poll conducted by the RACV in partnership with Tourism Victoria

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