Once upon a time, the small town of Walhalla was one of the richest gold regions in Australia. In 1862, when gold was discovered in this mountainous part of Victoria, people flocked to the area. They arrived dreaming of riches and many began working for the local mines. But because the area was so difficult to reach, a small settlement was created to support the gold mining industry. That’s how Walhalla was born.
From 1863 to 1914, Walhalla was a thriving town with a population of over 3,000. It was all happening back then. There were over 30 shops selling supplies, 10 hotels and a school that catered for more than 500 students. At weekends, people let their hair down at the town’s dance halls or one of the three breweries. They attended service at one of 7 churches. But unfortunately, the town’s heyday didn’t last long.
What happened to Walhalla?
Gold mining eventually became unprofitable and the golden era ended. In 1914, the last of Walhalla’s major mines closed, leading many people to leave the town for greener pastures.
The population declined rapidly, the town was almost deserted and the bush reclaimed any parts of the town that weren’t destroyed by bushfires. Walhalla became a ghost town. But, thanks to its picturesque location and its interesting heritage and history, Walhalla is coming back to life.
In the early 1990s, many of the homes and shops in Walhalla were rebuilt to attract tourism to the township. Eventually, one of the old mines was re-opened to the public for guided tours.
Today, the population of Walhalla is 19, a long way from what it was in its heyday. But tourism now plays a big part in the rebirth of Walhalla. Each year, 130,000 people visit the town.
Once forgotten, Walhalla is now a popular tourist destination in the Gippsland. So, if you haven’t visited it yet, read on and you might decide to pack your bag for a weekend away to this beautiful town.
What to see in Walhalla?
The Walhalla Goldfield Railway
Back in the old days, before trains, imagine just how hard it would have been to bring supplies and mining materials to this remote town. It was so difficult that people decided to build a train line there.
But the train line itself was very tough to build. It required cutting through mountains and building bridges over gorges. It took so long to complete that it was ready only a few years before the gold rush ended. As people began leaving the town, the train line was eventually abandoned. But in 1994, renovations began and the train station in Walhalla was re-opened for tourism in 2002.
The train ride is now Walhalla’s most popular attraction. It follows the path of Stringers Creek with the creek to the right of the track and the mountainside to the left. It descends into the deep, narrow gorge, crossing eight trestle bridges along the way.
Sit back and relax, enjoying the spectacular scenery and the beautiful bush setting. Breathe the fresh air through the open-air cabins as you ride to the Thompson River. After twenty minutes, the train will stop at Thompson, where passengers must alight for a few minutes while the train is turned around. Once back on board, you return to Walhalla the same way. The entire ride lasts about an hour.
The Long Tunnel Extended Gold Mine
A tour of the Long Tunnel Extended Gold Mine is a must if you want to understand more about Walhalla’s history. It’s a guided tour that lasts around forty-five minutes.
Your guide will take you down the dark, dimly lit tunnel and tell you all about the day to day life of the workers who spent their days in the mine, eventually extracting a total of 13.7 tonnes of gold from the mountain.
We learnt about the miners’ horrible working conditions, their very low life expectancy and poor salaries. Our guide showed us how they extracted the gold and how some would smuggle out a few specks for themselves to supplement their salary. We learnt about the accidents, the deaths and of course some more uplifting stories, such as what they would do on their days off!
It’s a very interesting tour and it certainly makes you realise how hard people used to work back in those days. I have to admit to being relieved when we finally exited the tunnel. I can’t even imagine spending hours on end, day after day down there.
The tour costs $20 per adult, $15 per children (5 to 16 year old). Kids under 5 years old pay nothing. The tour runs at 1.30 pm from Monday to Friday and 12 noon, 1.30 pm and 3.00 pm on weekends, public holidays and school holidays.
Take a self-guided tour of the old town
At the visitor centre, pick up a free copy of the visitor map. Marked on there is a trail that will take you to over 30 historical sites. All sites have interpretation signs with photos and stories from the past. You’ll learn a lot about each building and enjoy a nice walk around town at the same time.
Visit the Old Post Office
Take a peek at the historic post office, which has been turned into a museum. This post office opened in 1886 and is very much intact. The front of the house, the main office, is as it was left when it closed in 1963. The back of the house was the quarters of Doreen Hannan who was in charge of the post office from 1928 until she retired in 1963. The post office was then relocated to the general store, a few steps down the road.
Doreen Hannan continued to live in the building after buying it from the Commonwealth Government in 1948 and made no major changes to it. She stayed there until she passed away in 1988. It was then acquired by the Victorian Government. In the living quarters, you will find her furniture, just as she left it. The different layers of old wallpaper are particularly interesting.
Opening hours: Saturday and Sunday 10 am – 4.00 pm and Public Holidays.
Entrance by donations
Walk the tramline walkway
For some great views of Walhalla, ascend the steps just across from the Mechanics Institute building and follow the small trail to the right. At the top, there is an observation deck where you can see the extent of the town, surrounded by the forested hills. You can then carry on along the trail, all the way to the Long Tunnel Gold Mine or even the North Gardens if you fancy a longer walk.
Up the steps, you will also find the start of the Australian Alps Walking Track. This hike goes on for 655 kilometres, all the way to Tharwa near Canberra! If you decide to take this route, you’ll need a minimum of 8 to 10 weeks. Needless to say, it’s for highly experienced bushwalkers only and a little bit too long for us!
Visit the old cemetery
The old cemetery is perched on a steep hill and is the final resting place for more than 1200 people. Their graves tell the story of the harsh living conditions back then.
Hike to the old cricket ground
When Walhalla was at its peak, people wanted to play cricket. But when there is no flat land around, how do you create a cricket field? Well, you slice off the top of a mountain of course!
Hike up a zig-zag track for a kilometre and you’ll reach the grounds. It’s so peaceful up there! Bear in mind that it can be a little slippery on a wet day and the mosquitoes will love pecking you; so, make sure to apply insect repellent!
Hang out with the kookaburras at the Wally pub
The Wally Pub is the only pub in town. It’s a great place for a cold beer or a glass of local wine at the end of the day. They also serve food and their chicken parmigiana are massive! Just make sure you turn up hungry.
If you decide to sit outside on the deck, you’ll be amused by the kookaburras. They like to hang around, in the hope that you’ll walk away from your meat and they can swoop down and steal it from you. We were told that in the past, they’d stolen whole parmigiana from customers! Kookaburras are pretty small birds but seeing these cheeky guys in action, I can believe it.
Take a Walhalla Ghost Tour…. if you dare!
If you like being spooked, take a night ghost tour. This guided tour of Walhalla in the dark with old fashioned lanterns is sure to leave you with goosebumps. You’ll need to book for this one, which you can do at the Walhalla Museum.
How to get there?
Walhalla is so remote that the only way to get there is by car. There are no trains or buses serving it. Walhalla is two and a half hours drive from central Melbourne.
How long should you stay?
Although you can see most of what Walhalla has to offer in a day, I recommend staying at least overnight to truly enjoy the town once the day-trippers have gone. It’s so peaceful in the evening, you have the town almost to yourself. Plus, if you want to take the ghost tour, you won’t have to drive home afterwards on those windy roads in the dark.
Head to the Wally pub for dinner, the only place open in the evening!
Where to stay in Walhalla?
There are only a few places to stay in Walhalla, Bed and Breakfast, one hotel and some cottages and cabins for rent. During peak periods, such as Easter, make sure you book accommodation early; it goes quickly.
The Windsor House
We stayed at the Windsor House Bed and Breakfast. Built in 1878, this old building has been restored without losing any of its original charms. It offers a unique experience where you feel like you are sleeping amongst history. This bed and breakfast is the perfect addition to a weekend in Walhalla.
The Star Hotel
If you prefer to stay in one of the original hotels from Walhalla’s heyday, book a room at the Star Hotel (book early as it fills up quickly). This hotel opened in 1873 but was destroyed by fire in 1951. It was rebuilt in 1998 and reopened in early 1999. The facade is a replica of the original but the interior has been designed to suit modern needs. The Star Hotel features 12 suites, all with ensuite bathrooms and king size beds.
If none of those take your fancy, you can use HotelsCombined to search across all of the major accommodation websites. We use it all the time.