Ah Kow Mine, Lerderderg State Park, Victoria

Here we go with the second part of my Lerderderg Gorge special edition. In the last post I detailed a double tilt on the scenic rim. It was mildly painful, but I didn’t give myself much downtime, as I headed out a day later to check out an old Chinese mine deep within the gorge.

You know what though? I’ve dithered with this entry, as I needed some time to reflect on the walk. Not to mention recover. I’m not sure what happened, but as I write this a week later, I’ve still got a dull ache in my legs. It really worked over my knees and I guess the cumulative effect of two Lerderderg walks in three days has fried my limbs. In fact, I think you’ll find I’ve been thoroughly ‘derged’.

Back to the start? Okay, if you insist. I consulted the usual ‘Melbourne’s Western Gorges’ book and made a selection. A rugged walk to the ruins of Ah Kow Mine, Lerderderg State Park. At 13.5 km, it’s rated ‘difficult’ and six hours are needed to get it done. Right. It’s winter, so I had to start early. You know what I’m about to say though, don’t you? Yes, I slept in and by the time I hit the track it was midday, so I couldn’t really afford to be a sloth if I wanted to finish in daylight.

Mind you, once moving I was racing along. The opening hour descending Razorback Spur was casual fare and other than a mild ache in the legs from the previous walk, it wasn’t too bad. I don’t have many photos of the spur though. Rows of trees never seem to come out how I’d like them, but I did have a car to look at for something different. A car?


Being demolished just isn’t enough for some people. It needed to be ventilated as well. I’m sure this was done by responsible gun owners.


The one thing I noted during the casual descent was the wind. It was howling and at times a little disturbing, as the trees groaned around me. I was certainly hoping none would come toppling down and squash your humble narrator (that’s me).

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised by the gale, as Melbourne’s had a fortnight of it. Do you realise how bad it’s been? How’s this for an example. I came home the other day after a brutally, toupée shredding day of invisible force to find a TV antenna in my backyard. The only trouble is it’s not mine.


Has anyone suddenly got no TV reception? I may have the answer.

Surely there’s someone in a house around me wondering why their TV reception has turned to crap? I’ve left it there, whilst waiting for a knock on the door, but none have been forthcoming. Then again, if I see a punter coming up my driveway, I tend to reduce all noise and pretend I’m not home. Answer the door? Are you nuts? I’m way too busy sitting on the couch.

I think I got that mentality from my dad, but unlike him, at least I’m tactical with it. Do you believe he wouldn’t let me in one day when I forgot the key? What made it worse was he blatantly stuck his noggin out the blinds, saw me and I saw him, but after knocking he wouldn’t open the door. I’m sure he only opened it after I was in the process of demolishing the front door. When he relented, his reply was the age-old one, “Sorry, I didn’t see you out there!”

Oh yeah, back to the walk. Finally I descended down to the Lerderderg River, which is where the fun and games started. As per my previous post, the same thing applied. The river is quite dry in summer, so you can stroll up it. Right now though, I had no option, but to get wet. There was roughly 2.5 km to travel downstream to the ruins of the Ah Kow ruins. I did consider whether to rock-hop and attempt to stay dry, but once I saw what was going on, I gave up on the idea in about 0.2 seconds. At this time of the year, it’s impossible, plus there’s another reason.

I thought I might be able to stay on one side of the river for most of the stroll, but that theory also went out the window. You can’t, as every bend has a cliff, blocking the way, forcing me to cross continually. In no time at all, I was in the middle of the water…


…but at least it was only knee high.


Well, knee-high,  because I was picking the best spots to cross rather than leaving it to the last moment when I approached a cliff. Near those blockages the water was often deep and if I couldn’t see the bottom, then I wasn’t going to cross. Talk about stressful though, as the rocks are slippery and I was concentrating in not sending the camera to a watery grave.

I continued…


…along the rocky surface. The ankles were getting a workout and most of the time I was eyeing off the next approaching cliff and contemplating the right moment to cross. What do these cliffs look like? Here’s one, with the deep water beneath…


It was quite hard work, but I did enjoy the ‘adventure’ aspect of the walk. The gorge walls can create an entertaining feeling of isolation, besides some nice views. I’m not sure about some of the crossings though. This particular one next to a fallen tree was a beauty. Deeper water surrounded this timber, so I had to precariously wade whilst stepping on slippery rocks and wood under the water. A certified nerve-frazzler.


Don’t forget, I’m 189 cm, so the depth of water in the next photo may be a problem if you’re built a little closer to the ground.


The river was icy cold, but it wasn’t too bad on the legs until one crossing where the water lapped at the package. Freezing water applied to the cracker jacks is never desirable, so I became extra cautious in order to find the appropriate depth. As it was, after my accidental upper dunking, I was sounding like a squirrel on helium.

The river crossings continued…


…followed by struggling across rocks, boulders and the odd scrub bash.


I tell you what though. On my visits the river is perfectly doable if you don’t mind being damp. In higher water after heavy rain? Bring your scuba gear. There are spots where I could see how high the water had risen at times, by the amount of debris deposited in trees. A mild example was this tree with the bark wrapped around it from a higher river flow. There were others a lot higher, but I didn’t bother taking photos.


Not wanting to be stuck at river level late in the day, I set a target of checking out the old mine and then beginning the ascent out of the gorge, no later than 3 pm. Mm… I wonder how I went?

Guess what? I stayed wet. How many photos like this do you want to see? Can this be the last one?


I powered on, pushing through scrub and about the only thing stopping me was movement in the trees ahead, which scared the crap out of me. I hadn’t seen anyone all day (standard) when suddenly thumping and crashing stopped me in my tracks. A closer examination revealed a goat. I’d seen quite a few, who I documented in my last post, so they might be more common in the gorge than I’d initially thought. On this occasion, I got the camera ready for a photo, but when I looked in the area of the sighting he was gone. I’ve no idea where, other than straight up. I guess those tricky goat feet worked really well in zipping up a steep hillside?

Actually, all of these slippery river crossings were a disaster waiting to happen for someone who’s clumsy like me. I did fall over eventually, although not where you’d reckon. I was bashing my way along until I saw another cliff ahead of me. Instead of automatically crossing the river, I could see a gap in the rocks, so I thought it was worth a punt. I headed up, stepping over fallen trees…


…until reaching some angled rocks. This was where I hit the deck. It was an unusual one as well, as my feet slipped beneath me on a mossy, angled boulder. In an instant I was lying on my chest against the rocks. Unfortunately, I didn’t select any soft ones to chest-plant. It was rather painful, but the main thing is the camera was alright. I’d take a couple of broken ribs instead of camera damage any day. I did tweak my ankle as well, which took a while to shake off.

Feeling a little sore, I hobbled on and only a short distance away, surprisingly found myself at the base of the Ah Kow Spur. This was the point where I’d head to leave the river behind. What about the Ah Kow Mine ruins though? I didn’t know which side of the river they’d be on, so I took a guess and went for the right side heading downstream. Wrong. It was on the other, which meant crossing the river once again. It’d been a struggle, but at least I’d get to see the ruins in all their glory. Okay. What did I find?


Ruins of Ah Kow Mine

Yeah, I know you’re thinking it’s slightly underwhelming for all the pain involved, but remember, this is Australia. When something is ‘ye olde’ here, it tends to look like this. Oh well, I didn’t expect to find anything massive, so I dropped the backpack and got stuck into some refuelling sustenance for the climb to get out of the place. Cheese.

There’s also an information sign nearby and I had a read in order to educate myself in relation to how this mine came about. I did learn some things, but they were outweighed by the grammar. Is there a chance we can sack the bloke who wrote this?


Ah Kow Mine history. In crazy talk.

After some mind-boggling reading it was time to head for the Ah Kow Spur, which has a reputation for being steep. One last river crossing and I was at the base checking my watch. Remember how I planned to be climbing by 3 pm? Believe it or not, but I was ahead of schedule.


So, I began climbing and quickly noted I wasn’t getting anywhere, as the initial tilt is steep and slippery. In the end I aimed for particular trees, where I could get on the other side and suck in some oxygen, whilst not worrying about sliding back down the hill. If you’re climbing the spur you’ll know which trees I mean. Judging by the worn bark, it appears every person has done the same thing. Here’s one of them…


…and guess what? Here’s the next one, with the previous tree in the photo above, now visible down the hillside.


This leaning caper is understandable when you consider how steep the initial climb is.


In the end I just kept chipping away…


…and just when I thought I may vomit, the ground levelled out. Phew. Lucky. A shake of the legs and I was moving without grimacing.

Once on a flatter surface, I began to motor along. I was surprised to come across a memorial to a person from the Melton Bushwalkers in what seemed like a lonely part of the bush.


An undulating track amongst the bush continued until I popped out near some paddocks and an entirely different world. I’d gone from hiking in what seemed a remote landscape to some sort of bizarro Australiana world.

There was cleared land around the long dormant volcanic Mount Blackwood…


…pranged farming implements…


…a fluttering flag…


and to top it off, a wombat.


This bloke looked a little battered though and if I had a brush handy I would have given him a bit of a spruce up.


The end of the walk was only a few kilometres away, but the weather was changing rapidly. On the open ground the wind was freezing. It’s not often I get cold when walking, but it was so icy, I kitted up with a fleece and raincoat before strolling on.

Although the open paddock walking was a bit weird after the previous hours shenanigans, there were nice views to be had.


Clouds were building, but there was still enough sun for a self-portrait.


I was strolling on the Great Dividing Trail route, when it abruptly turned to head up and over Mount Blackwood. It wasn’t much of a climb, but I’d suddenly hit the wall when I looked at the hill ahead.


As I began trudging up, the wind was blowing a gale from the right. I’m not sure what happened, but it seemed to take a decade to reach the line of trees in the photo above…


…and I needed plenty of breaks to catch my breath. I reckon this last section took more out of me than the Ah Kow Spur, as it’s quite steep.


It was worth stopping though to take in the view, as I looked past the trees towards Lerderderg Gorge…


…and the approaching clouds…


…that were getting darker by the minute.


Wow, talk about stuffed. I shuffled up towards this row of trees…


…and finally hit level ground. The telecommunication towers on Mount Blackwood summit were next to me, but I wanted to stand right on the trig point to confirm I’d made it.  Unfortunately for me, at the highest and most exposed point in the area, the wind picked up bringing the first drops of rain. It was quite dark when I made it to the trig point…


…and no sooner had I stopped to admire the view than the rain began to pelt down. It was also freezing. I took a weather reading on my Kestrel, indicating 4.5 °C and wind speed of 40 kph. It was rapidly turning into a farce and the good times were well and truly over. I made a beeline for my car, which was a thankful sight whilst the rain came down.

Well, another walk done and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It had the right blend of adventure, without being too over the top. What did the GPS reading tell me…?

It did show quite a bit of climbing over the 14.79 km, but looking at the time I somehow knocked it off in 5 hours 30 minutes, rather than the suggested six. That’s one for the books, as it doesn’t happen too often.

Would I do it again? Mm… Not sure, but I am interested in another stroll into Lerderderg Gorge. This time the Bears Head Range is on my radar and apparently its spur has some more painful steepness. What more do you want in a walk?

Okay, next!