Sunday 16 May 2021. A walk around Lake Daylesford is one of life’s great pleasures, even in the rain. With this objective in mind we arrived in Daylesford, an attractive town in the former goldmining country northwest of Melbourne, at lunch time and made straight for our favourite picnic spot at Central Springs, which runs alongside a creek and is reached via Fulcher Street. The picnic ground features three working mineral-water pumps, each expressing a variant of the metallic-tasting mineral water for which Daylesford is famous, and one closed-off pump. We chose a picnic table under a magnificent large oak tree. Although no one else was picnicking today – understandable given the drizzle – a number of people walked passed through along the Dry Diggings Track, which, for those fancying a long walk, winds through the bush from Lake Daylesford to Castlemaine.
Lake Daylesford is rather small; it takes an hour or so to stroll around its two-and-a-half-kilometre perimeter. It was first proposed in the 1890s that the goldmining site known as Wombat Flat be flooded and turned into a lake, and in the 1920s, when gold-mining was no longer economical, the idea was realised. Through the damming of a feeder creek a scarred landscape was transformed into Lake Dayleford, at once ornamental and recreational. The lake is shaped something like the top half of a seahorse, an effect achieved by the presence of a peninsula that protrudes into its southern end.
Our picnic complete, we set off counter-clockwise around the lake. From the picnic ground we walked up the western side of the little peninsula, crossing the dam wall and passing an impressive stone toilet block and unappealing beach en route.
At the top of the peninsula we arrived at the popular Boathouse restaurant. Here a gaggle of tourists, a somewhat unusual sight in these Covid times, were busy photographing one another. No doubt the party’s various shades of red contrasted nicely with the abiding palette of green and grey. From the Boathouse we headed south along the western side of the peninsula, before heading north again up the eastern side of the lake, and soon arrived at Wombat Flat Mineral Spring. The name may evoke former gold diggings but today the area is one of ponds, lawns, picturesque bridges, a mineral spring, a jetty painted in colonial colours, and, until 2019, geese. Following a council resolution the geese, which had reportedly been threatening both native wildlife and visitors, were relocated to a private sanctuary on the Mornington Peninsula. We paused to pose for photographs on the jetty, while across the lake the party of tourists we encountered earlier were posing under a tree in full autumnal glory.
Close to the jetty we found a nice specimen of everyone’s favourite fairy-tale toadstool, the fly agaric (or Amanita muscaria if you like). Although there were a few around here, they grow in much greater numbers among the pines found further around the lake, as we shall shortly see.
After the gentility of Wombat Flat we entered a somewhat wilder stretch of lakeshore, and soon the ground to our right began to rise. Part of the appeal of Lake Daylesford is its different habitats, each quite distinct. While Central Springs is like a bush clearing (albeit one with deciduous exotics), and Wombat Flat is like a park, the hilly northeastern sector of the lake, which we had now reached, is characterised by coniferous slopes and, in autumn, fly agarics, which pop up through the beds of pine needles, where they live in a state of perfect symbiosis. It’s quite enchanting.
We took a brief jaunt up a conifer-clad hill, searching for the colourful mushrooms, and then resumed our walk around the lake. All the while the rain was drizzling down and we had encountered few other people. It was not particularly cold, and there was no wind to speak of. Under the grey sky the lake was sombre. The path carried us once again into semi-parkland. We crossed a bridge decked out in colonial livery, then paused at a suitable vantage point to photograph an eye-catching jetty.
We saw opposite us the Boathouse restaurant, a beacon in the midst of obscurity.
We were now approaching the end of the walk. We headed south along the western side of the lake as though along a bush track, markedly different from the semi-parkland we had just passed through. Soon we were back at Central Springs, and our ramble was over. Tea and cake at the car was followed by a quick trip into Daylesford, then home to Footscray. It had been a wonderful day out.