Here’s the question you are surely asking – where on earth is Walhalla?
I was determined to go off the usual tourist routes like Philip Island and the Great Ocean Road in this jaunt to Melbourne, and when an email came in from the Walhalla’s Star Hotel, our first stop on our epic Gippsland Roadtrip, telling us that by no account were we to trust the GPS to get to Walhalla, I was inordinately pleased that we were getting a true off-the-beaten-path experience here.
By no means is Walhalla some sort of hidden secret valley – the highway and town signs were generally quite easy to spot on the highways, and it took about 3 hours for us to drive there from Melbourne City without getting lost. The advice about the GPS started to make more sense as we climbed into the hills, first losing our phone signal, and then the satellite feed – we watched the car symbol spin around in the middle of nowhere on the GPS screen even as we slowly but surely wound our way to our destination.
Walhalla turned out to be a tiny, tiny town in the Stringers Creek Valley of Victoria’s Great Dividing Range, near the awesomely named Baw Baw National Park. This little town is made up of one long main road and you could probably count the number of buildings in this town if you wanted to.
Fun fact: this town has just 16 (yes, not a typo, just 16) permanent residents and was the last to be connected to the electrical grid not so long ago in 1998. Walhalla was a mining town that had its boom in the late 1800s and these days is mostly a day trip option for those traipsing around Gippsland. It’s one place to truly get off the grid as there’s limited Telstra signal and no wi-fi out here (not even from the trusty portable wifi device)
We spent just one night here before having to continue on our road trip down south to Wilson’s Promontory – I would have loved to have spent another day here at least and perhaps take the time to really luxuriate in the quiet of this place. Or come back in Spring / Autumn where the trees are all ablaze in colour.
I’m a little torn telling people about this place, because I kinda want to keep a pretty little secret like this for myself and not lose it to commercialism, but it’s a place that deserves some kudos, and I console myself with the fact that most people are lazy and might not want to make that 3 hour drive from Melbourne up here no matter how much I swoon about it :p
But for anyone looking for a real quiet town with beautiful valley views to escape from the world for a bit, here is a list of what to see in Walhalla. Big thanks to Michael, proprietor of the Star Hotel and one of Walhalla’s 16 residents who took real good care of us!
Walhalla Goldfields Railway
We were lucky to be in Walhalla on a Wednesday, which is the only weekday that this historic railway is running. Michael rushed us down so we could get on the 1pm train – as it turns out that, he is also the President of the Walhalla Railway and very awesomely managed to get us a ride up front with the driver in the engine!
This 20-min train ride is extremely scenic and a great way to enjoy the view of Stringers Gorge without having to hike it. It traces the road that you use to drive in to Walhalla from the south, but the tracks are lower down the cliffside, offering you a closer view of the valley below that is hard to admire when you are navigating hairpin bends on the road!
Here’s a mini video I took with the GoPro to give you a sense of the experience on the train.
It feels almost too quick when you reach cross the Thomson River and reach Thomson Station. The original train connected Walhalla to the nearby town of Moe which they hope to reinstate in future, but for now your journey ends at Thomson Station, where you can either wait for the next train back in 20 mins or take a slow trek back to Walhalla.
The train usually runs only on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 11am / 1pm / 3pm* from Walhalla Station and 1140am / 140pm / 340pm* from Thomson Station (which you will pass if you drive into Walhalla). They run night trains during the Vinter Ljusfest (more below) and daily train rides during peak periods.
It costs A$20 for a return fare and A$15 for a single trip fare (if you plan to do a little bit of walking back to your car). I suggest parking at Walhalla station, take the train to Thomson Station, walk around a little bit and then head back into Walhalla to pick up your car.
Long Tunnel Extended Gold Mine
Walhalla was once known as a gold mining town, and the main source was the Long Tunnel Extended Gold Mine. While you are unlikely to find any gold here these days, Walhalla does offer guided tours so you can learn a bit of history of the mines as you strap on your hard hat and walk these dark tunnels for yourself.
It takes some imagination to picture men slowly boring their way through through 8.5km worth of solid rock, backbreaking work over decades and over 900m deep into the earth, when you can only shift barely a metre’s worth of rock in a day – it seemed almost in vain at first as they kept hitting empty, but finally they managed to strike the payload and this mine ended up producing 13,695kg of gold, the second most productive mine in the area.
The tour takes about 45 minutes, as you walk through the tunnels and visit the various ‘caves’. The guide is very knowledgable and gives quite a lot of historical detail, so definitely a good primer into understanding Walhalla better. It might be a little slow if you are the sort who likes a lot of action, but educational and insightful overall.
Check out the Walhalla Long Tunnel Extended Gold Mine website for info on dates and timings. Tours take place daily (except Christmas) at 130pm, though there are extra tours at 1230pm and 3pm on weekends and school holidays. The tour take 45mins.
It costs A$19.50 for an adult ticket. If you are on a day trip, I suggest taking the Goldfields Train at 11am, catching the 1140am back to Walhalla Station, grab a quick lunch and then head over to do the 130pm tour.
After emerging from the mine, Michael took us on a walk along the Tramline Walkway, which is a footpath that cuts along the side of the mountains and offers you the best view of this single lane town. No real hiking involved here save for a bit of a stair climb up to the walkway.
Walhalla is actually the beginning of quite an intense trekking trail where you can literally hike your way to Canberra, 680km away! That… just isn’t my idea of a holiday but well intrepid mountain trekkers, now you know!
Also up here – remnants of mining history – you can see the inclined shaft that they used to drill at an angle into the gold reef.
The tramline walkway is less than 1km long, a very easy walk as the ground is gravel and it is relatively flat, though it takes a bit of a climb. I recommend starting from the entrance of the mine, though there is also an entrance further south.
It might be a bit odd to want to visit a cemetery which doesn’t have any particularly famous people in it, but the Walhalla one does command a great view of the surroundings. Michael points out some unusual graves, like those with wooden grave markers or an apparently ‘cursed’ one which has spoilt cameras and cast strange shadows on photos…
There really isn’t anything creepy about this graveyard, especially in broad daylight, though there are ghost-tours conducted at night which must be hella scary. I’ll pass, thank you!
Walhalla Vinter Ljusfest
While Winter is typically the most dreary season with the chill and early nightfall, Walhalla celebrates this with a fun festival in August that they call the Vinter Ljusfest (say ‘Vin-ter Loosh-fest’) where the little town is decked out in lights and the nights are filled with fun programmes. This year’s theme was the Sound of Music.
Weekends are typically when most of the action happens – there are night ghost tours and the trains make evening runs – we got to eat stroganoff and strudel for dinner, and were then invited to catch ‘Hill on a Hill’, a fun little puppet show put up by the local Walhalla children and are really just a fun way for you to bop and sing along to that yodellaying tune from the movie.
Michael even made me show of my (extremely limited) singing prowess by singing along with a Walhalla Goat in hand:
Getting around Walhalla
Getting around Walhalla is quite easy – lots of signage put up around the area and brochures are easily available, so you don’t even need a guide to show you around the place. Here’s a google map for you:
WHERE TO STAY IN WALHALLA
We stayed at the historic Walhalla’s Star Hotel – Michael put us up in the Wealth of Nations room (each room is named after mines from around the area) which was a pretty comfortable room. It can get a bit drafty in the winter as it’s an old building and you can feel the cold when close to the windows, so make sure you make full use of the heaters (2 of them!) as well as the heated mattress!
Standard rates go from A$189 – $249 for twin/double rooms, and A$269 for triples, though look out for packages on their website when you book.
Check out other accommodation in Walhalla and its surroundings here.
Getting to Walhalla
If you’re coming from Melbourne like we were, take the M1 eastwards towards Moe. Look for signage that points you towards Erica/Rawson/Walhalla – you’ll move from the C103 to the C466. Look for the C461 (Walhalla Road) which is a really windy road with lots of switchbacks up the mountains, and tadah, you’re in Walhalla.