Finding the Best and Worst in Daylesford

Daylesford is a charming little community about an hour and a half north of Melbourne. Set around a lake and ringed by forests, it’s an oasis in the countryside where miles of grassland and gum trees all start to look the same and the country roads seem to go on forever. The town sprung up in the 1860s after gold and timber prospectors flocked to the area, and then it had a second act as a “spa town” when visitors discovered the many mineral springs around it and the neighboring community of Hepburn Springs. Ornately detailed 19th-century storefronts house stylish cafes and day spas. Think of a cross between a Colorado mining town and Calistoga, and you get Daylesford.

Now Daylesford is making a concerted effort to broaden its economic base by marketing itself as “an outdoor adventure destination” for mountain bikers, campers and trekkers — which is what lured our family to spend four nights there.  We took part in a trail run/mountain bike/triathlon “dirt fest” in Wombat State Forest, on the edge of town, and you can read the details and see pics from it on my running blog.

It’s remarkable that Daylesford is still standing, given the deadly bushfires that swept the state of Victoria in February 2009. The fire came dangerously close to town and burned the forest where the dirt fest was held. Morgan and I expected to find a wasteland of blackened tree stumps and ash, but it was amazing — and beautiful — to see how much the forest had regenerated in just a year. The burned bark of the eucalyptus trees is peeling off like a layer of skin, revealing strips of new, light-colored bark sprouting little branches with tufts of leaves.

We had a couple of great meals in Daylesford at La Finca tapas bar and Frangos & Frangos wood-fired pizza café, both on Vincent Street, but we spent almost all our time at the Jubilee Lake Holiday Park (where the dirt fest was held) and consequently don’t have photos to show from town — except for a couple below, which show the worst, not the best, that Daylesford has to offer.

Aussies must love mini golf because every town we visit has a course, but Daylesford’s tourist guide boasts “the only Australian-themed mini golf course” with each hole designed around an Australian icon (e.g. the outback, the Opera House, sharks, the Great Barrier Reef). We decided to treat the kids to a round, thinking it would be a silly and fun way to get an overview of the country. What a mistake! We found ourselves in the most decrepit and depressing excuse for a tourist attraction we have encountered yet. We were the only ones there, and the place felt haunted by a Waltzing Matilda soundtrack and the numerous faded dime-store mannequins propped up to illustrate the Down Under displays. Worst of all, the warped mini golf tracks had us hopelessly frustrated by the third hole.

Bottom line: Daylesford is delightful — just skip the mini golf!

Morgan on the fourth mini-golf hole: "Get me out of here!"

Morgan on the fourth mini-golf hole: "Get me out of here!"

The Australian-themed mini golf even featured a family flying on Qantas. We fit right in!

The Australian-themed mini golf even featured a family flying on Qantas. We fit right in!

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  1. David W. Lavender, February 26, 2010:


    That golf course is hysterical (even at a great distance, I find I’ve now got Waltzing Matilda stuck in my head–thanks!). Is that an Aboriginal mannequin in the background behind the kangaroo??? I love the poses that Colly and Kyle have struck in the other photo. Sometimes, the absurd turns out to be as memorable as the sublime. What fun!

  2. Martha Howard, February 26, 2010:

    ha ha ha!!! I’m not a fan of mini golf in general and this course would have done me in! Like a crazy, old wax museum that you play golf in the middle of!! We’re missing you and thinking about you guys – stay safe!

    Love you, Martha

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