One of my favourite ways to catch up with friends is to walk & talk, talk & walk – preferably out in the bush. Having said that, it’s also great to hike solo from time to time. I find that I see more, smell more and hear more when I’m on my own and it becomes somewhat of a meditative and mindful experience.
Today I had offered to start a bushwalking club for my work as part of a wellbeing initiative. As no one was available to join me I had the choice of a nice Sunday sleep in, or “going bush”. The thing I always remind myself of in these instances is that I have never regretted getting out in nature and if I’d stayed home it would no doubt have ended up being a day of domestic chores – no brainer eh?
I’ve been visiting Antimony Mine for a number of years as it’s the closest proper “bush” walk to my home. It’s also not as well travelled as other hikes nearby such as Werribee Gorge Circuit and Falcon’s Lookout. In the times I’ve been there I’ve at most seen a couple of people at a time and it’s not unusual for me to be the only person on the track, even on a Sunday. It really is a little hidden gem, with plenty of native flora and fauna to admire, as well as being a glimpse into the past with mining relics a plenty and ruins to explore.
Before I move on to the hike – a quick word about some safety considerations around hiking solo.
- Let someone reliable know where you’re going, what route you’re taking and what time you expect to finish. Don’t deviate from your plan and don’t forget to touch base with them when you’re done 🙂
- Dress according to weather conditions – not only for cold, wet & rain but remember to cover up from the sun, even when its cloudy – UV can sneak up on you when hiking and leave you feeling pretty crappy at the end of a day
- Ensure you have enough food & water to sustain you
- Maintain a First Aid qualification and carry a basic kit including snake bite bandage
- Be honest with yourself about your own level of physical fitness – don’t take unnecessary risks when going solo
- Consider carrying a PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) so you can send for help in an emergency. I don’t have one yet but am looking at the KTI as they are Australian made and reasonably priced https://kti.com.au/safety-alert-plb/.
In this region especially:
- Stick to marked tracks – there are lots of mineshafts off track and some are well hidden
- Another reason to keep on track is not for personal safety but for the bush – there is some cinnamon fungus around which can aggressively harm the gorgeous grass trees and I did see a few that were affected. For this reason it’s also best to wash your boots between hikes to reduce the potential of spreading it to other areas.
On to the hike! The Antimony Mine Track is located around 60kms west of Melbourne and is in the Pyrete Range of Lerderderg State Park. The hike is described in Glenn Tempest’s book “Day Walks around Victoria”. There are several walks in the region including a walk up to 460m high Mount Sugarloaf (is it just me or are there a lot of Mount Sugarloaf’s in Victoria? I climbed one on the Berripmo Walk just last weekend). Glenn describes a 14km circuit in his book which is reported to be difficult, however to date I have only chosen to do it as a return trip to Drapers Lode Antimony Mine (approx 8.5kms including a walk around the ruins).
According to Glenn, “Drapers Lode was first worked in 1899 and operated intermittently by various owners until 1947 when the mine closed. Antimony is a chemical element with a multitude of uses – if you’re interested you can find more information here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antimony
The walk begins at the end of Antimony Mine Road off Diggers Rest-Coimadai Road. You follow the road right to the end, where there is a small car park and signage.
The first couple of kilometres are along vehicle maintenance tracks. As you head gradually up hill keep an eye out for small wildflowers and fungi alongside the road. You may also spot a mine shaft on the left. This had been marked off with caution tape until recently and is now harder to spot. Take care when approaching – these shafts can be very deep, with unstable edges.
You will need to pass a junction as well as climb over or under a gate – just remember to keep on the road to the left. Continue until you come to a three way junction and follow the track to the left clearly marked Antimony Mine. Don’t worry – there is an exit.
The track now winds its way through a lovely gully. Take the time to listen out for all the bird songs and look for wildflowers. You may even spot some Eastern Grey Kangaroos – I disturbed a small mob today and watched them bound away gracefully. Feel the breeze on your face, take in the scents of the bush…..
One of the coolest parts of this hike is the wire bridge you will soon come too. It goes across a deep gully and again, borrowing from Glenn Tempest’s book, he says the bridge was built by the army as they used the park for training purposes after World War 2. Every time I visit this area I feel the bridge is in worse and worse repair and I feel one day when I go there it will have succumbed to the effects of time.
Once you’ve crossed the bridge you are now not far from the mine site. You will begin to see evidence of track & buildings.
Just around the corner from these you will see the mine opening on the left. It’s nice to sit here a while, have a drink and snack and take in the scenery. Looking out from the direction of the mine you will begin to notice the remains of a larger construction across the other side of the gully. To my mind it reminds me of the ruins of an ancient temple – similar to the Mayan or Inca places of worship. Of course our modern history in Australia is much younger than that, and this was most likely a place of back breaking work. Find the track down the gully and up again and explore the remains of the stone crushers that serviced the mine.
It’s here that I like to pause for a while. Take a seat and imagine what life may have been like for the early miners, how they lived and what the landscape may have looked like. I imagine a lot of the trees and scrub were cleared for the operation and to provide firewood for the miner’s huts and power the crushers. Slowly but surely the bush has re claimed the area but may never completely eradicate the traces of mining.
Similarly, it’s at times like this that I like to imagine how the land was when our first nations people were the only inhabitants. I think this is the traditional land of the Wathuarong people but am happy to stand corrected. I imagine a place rich with wildlife, simple dwellings and cooking fires, the landscape very different to how we see it now. I wonder what their community was like, how they hunted and gathered their food, what their relationships were like with neighbouring tribes.
Once you’ve had time for reflection it’s time to re trace your steps back along the path. Before you reach the 3 way intersection you will see a path leading up to the right. This is a shorter and more adventurous way back to the car park – steep and eroded. I find this route makes the trip to the top more interesting and pleasurable, though it can be tougher in hot weather. Given that I was walking in November I was hyper vigilant about scanning the track ahead – making sure all the stick shaped objects were in fact sticks. The last thing I wanted to be stepping on while hiking solo was a snake!
On your way up, remember to turn around from time to time and take in the views. On the left is Mount Blackwood and the ranges of the Lerderderg and Wombat forests.
Once the track re joins the road, take your time walking back to the car. Savour the scenery while once again keeping an eye out for animals, birds and wildflowers. Some of the birds I saw along the way were currawongs, wattle birds, superb fairy wrens and kookaburras. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to capture any photos at all as I only had my phone camera with me. I did snap a couple of the dozens of butterflies though.
The last stretch down the hill holds views across the Wester Plains to extinct volcanoes Mount Kororoit and Mount Cottrell and before you know it your car will be in sight.
The return walk today was nearly 8.5kms including my exploration of the ruins. You can continue following the track past Antimony Mine until it meets Pyrites Creek then complete the loop if you’re game. This does come with a warning though and should only be attempted by confident hikers with strong navigation skills. I’ll leave that one for another day.