See prior posting of 1st March for a full description of riding this trail.
The Hard Way
With Bendigo at 230m and Castemaine at 280m, this was uphill overall. Not that you would notice although the hills over the Coliban Channel tunnels did seem to have steeper slopes going this way. But they are short hills so no(t much) sweat.
On Easter Saturday at Bendigo Station we wheeled off the first train from Castlemaine to a perfect day. Sunny but under 20C at that stage and no wind. The hardest part of this trip was finding the beginning of the trail. A large GDT poster map on the wall of the station was great. A note was attached saying take the footbridge. Off we sauntered in the direction of the arrow, saw a bridge ahead outside the station precincts. Were heading towards it when I recalled that on previous rides in the other direction we had traversed a footbridge within the station precincts. Eventually we found the steps leading up to it within the station building – not at all obvious.
Bendigo Bush Section
I’m pleased to say that apart from that initial stumbling block, the signage in the Bendigo bush area between the station and the Coliban Channel has improved greatly since we first rode the trail. Just be aware that in this area, signs on tarmac roads are generally 2.5m up on posts and are white with a red GDT logo (see www.gdt.org.au) while signs in the bush are generally the green posts with white arrows that are so familiar in other parts of the GDT trail system.
In fact the improvement is such that for the first time in our 4 or 5 rides, we never missed a turn.Admittedly our previous knowledge of the trail did help in a couple of tricky places and these have been advised to GDTA and Parks. I really like this section because it is so varied in terms of trail surface and your riding environment. Quiet city streets, park paths and green(ish) swards, hard dirt and rock surfaced bush tracks with box ironbark (presumably), gold diggings, views, pylon track, water races and eventually the perimeter fence of Sandhurst Reservoir.
On the pylon track when you come up to the tarmac road, it is not evident that the GDT continues straight ahead down into a gully. Then swings left around the flapping green screens presumably a relic of the controversial water pipe to feed Sandhurst reservoir now that the Coliban Channel is dry.
We met just one couple walking, a group of horse riders but no mtb riders in this section. We did however see fresh mtb tracks most of the way but they seemed to divert before we got to the reservoir. 12.5k.
The Coliban Channel
Immediately we were up to 20k/h revelling in the fast going, swooping around corners. We came across a kangaroo and joey down in the dry channel. The mother hopped out up into the bush but the joey couldn’t make it and was hopping one way then the other in alarm. We got past it so it would calm down and then pondered whether it needed our help to get out. In the end we decided that the mother would most likely be able to get it out. Besides, trying to capture it even in the restrictive channel, would have been difficult.
Settling down to 18k/h we winged our way with a very slight tail wind that stayed with us. Through the aboriginal land bypass of a section of channel we noted the signage had improved greatly. It consists of white arrows about 3m up in trees so you do have to watch out for it. I understand that permission for the bypass requires adherence to this trail so please do go carefully.
Across Harcourt Rd we found the water people had accidentally chained the foot access gate to the vehicle access gate. Quite a high fence/gate to lift a bike over.
While there is no water, the dissipators and flume structures were still interesting. I spent some time trying to work out how a channel full of water could get through the slits of the dissipator without backing up.
Then Brennan’s Tunnel hove into view and we contemplated riding through it. But the possibility of snakes put us off. Steepish and scrabbly slope on this side but on a hairpin turn was a good spot for lunch and a view back to Bendigo. In this photo taken there, One Tree Hill with aerial tower, stands out. Left you get a glimpse of Spring Gully Reservoir and just left of that is where we rode the pylon track only an hour or so ago.
The far side of the hill we dropped into the channel to get to the entrance of the tunnel. A sign indicates it is a historical feature. Not sure if that is a reference to Rock Hudson but I tell you in terms of rough hewn, this is even more a perfect example of the term. It is striking. How much was blasted and how much picked? I would love to see it opened for viewing.
Onto Wirth’s Tunnel. A quick look at the southern side too and interested to see it appeared quite different. Block facings and perhaps the same inside for some distance at least.
We were surprised at the huge variance in the state of grassland on the farms below the channel. Perhaps a difference in grazing practices? Perhaps hill vs flat? While on the topic of vegetation, in this last section of channel track we found a number of weed patches growing vigorously across the track. Maybe a result of fewer channel inspection vehicles using the track?
Saw not one person on the channel track. 35k and 2h 35m ride time.
And so to Castlemaine
Soon after we got to the northern foot of Mt Alexander and headed back to Castlemaine but not on the GDT. A couple of hours of exploration saw us hit Chapel St near Expedition Pass, up Welsh St bypassing a grunt on the GDT and then back onto the GDT for Garfield Water Wheel (photo) remains. Again no track users seen although there were people checking out Garfield.
Finally a pleasant roll into the streets and onto the Railway Station for the car. 63.5k and 4h 32m ride time, average 14k/h, 6h 5m elapsed.
Very busy in Castlemaine so instead we picked up the obligatory cone ice cream at the Guildford store. Tried one of their delicious cakes too. I’m told the Guildford pub opposite also has good meals.
A very good day out with variety of speed, riding surfaces and outlooks. Pleasantly tired in the evening.