The Goldfields Track – Victoria’s longest off-road cycling trail – winds through the heart of this green and gold corner of the world. It takes cyclists from wide boomtown boulevards, along the spine of the Great Dividing Range and through peaceful bushland past long-abandoned mines. Evenings offer diversions such as fine regional dining or a soak in a mineral spa after a day’s ride.
Running from Mount Buninyong near Ballarat through Creswick, Daylesford, Hepburn Springs, Castlemaine and Harcourt to Bendigo, the 210km route is divided into three sections – the Wallaby Track from Buninyong to Daylesford; the history-packed Dry Diggings Track on to Castlemaine; and the Leanganook Track into Bendigo. Ongoing upgrades and improved signage are making this bucket-list ride increasingly accessible. For a comprehensive insight, find the Goldfields Track: Walk or Ride Guide in local visitor centres and bookstores.
Building on the reputation of the Goldfields Track, local biking communities are working hand-in-hand with council and government to make the region a world-class mountain biking location.
The opening of La Larr Ba Gauwa Park in March has helped revive tiny Harcourt, outside Castlemaine. Skirting granite boulders and native scrub on a hilly rise bordering Mount Alexander Regional Park, it has 35km of runs ranked in difficulty from green to black.
A bike path links the park to the township, where the old pub has been turned into Tread Harcourt, a cycle-tour company and motel, with the welcoming Goldfields Track Cafe attached. Run by avid cyclists, Tread arranges luggage transfers and shuttles for visitors tackling the Goldfields Track.
Two more mountain-biking drawcards are planned, includingthe Spring Gully Mountain Bike Network near Bendigo, and a highly anticipated 100km network in and around Creswick, including a pump track – an off-road BMX-inspired circuit. When completed, it will compliment the 4.5km international-standard mountain bike track at RACV Goldfields Resort in Creswick.
Maldon Steam Train to Castlemaine. Image supplied by Visit Victoria.
Rail trails offer a more sedate option for off-road cyclists. The 18km Maldon to Castlemaine rail trail was unveiled last year, chasing the Victorian Goldfields Tourist Train as it puffs between the towns. For a pleasant daytrip, cycle out to quaint Maldon for a coffee before popping your bike on the heritage steam train for the return trip. Back in Castlemaine, unwind in the new cultural precinct The Mill.
The 49km O’Keefe Rail Trail runs between Lake Weeroona in Bendigo via pint-sized Axedale to Heathcote, navigating pretty eucalypt forests filled with native birds and wildlife. The 53km Ballarat-Skipton Rail Trail is open to all ability levels, leading from Ballarat’s Avenue of Honour past history-packed sites such as the Chinese gold-mining settlement at Nintingbool, and Nimmons trestle bridge.
Purple swamphen. Source: Getty Images.
Eastern grey kangaroo.Source: Getty Images.
Nankeen night herron.Source: Getty Images.
Town and country
The bitumen byways of the Goldfields region also have plenty to offer weekend warriors of all abilities. The prosperity that poured in at the height of 1850s gold fever can still be felt in the increasingly vibrant, cycle-mad cities of Bendigo and Ballarat. Swing past Welcome Nugget Bike Hire next to Ballarat Railway Station and potter around the popular 6km Lake Wendouree circuit nearby, or set out on the 9km Ballarat Heritage Ride to historical hubs such as the Eureka Stockade Memorial Gardens and Sovereign Hill.
Explore cultured little Bendigo on a compact 1970s foldable bike from Brompton Bendigo Bike Hire in Wine Bank on View. The Bendigo Art Gallery is an essential stop, flanked by other heritage buildings in View Street’s arts hub. If you’re keen to join locals for a more intense session, see bendigotourism.com for regular cycling meet-ups.
Gourmands will find ample reason to take the treadlie on the back roads of Harcourt. Wind your way around the base of Mount Alexander to Sutton Grange Winery for live music on Sundays, pick up a souvenir bottle of BlackJack Wines’ acclaimed red and visit the Bress cellar door on Harmony Way for paddock-to-plate dining – with an easy pedal back downhill to Harcourt afterwards.