Philip Mallis

Walk through Healesville to Maroondah Reservoir

Healesville and its surroundings are some of the most pleasant places to visit in the entire state. It has an abundance of walking tracks through beautiful landscapes ranging from open scrubland to temperate rainforest. It is not hard to see why it is one of the favourite spots for tourists to visit when travelling to Melbourne.

Melbourne – Healesville

Getting to Healesville by public transport is relatively easy. The route 685 bus takes passengers from Lilydale Station (synchronised with train arrival and departure times) to the centre of Healesville in about 35 minutes. I was the only passenger on board and it is a very nice way to see the countryside; much less stressful than driving for sure.

I arrived just before one of the hourly services run by the Yarra Valley Tourist Railway was scheduled to depart from Healesville Railway Station. Regular passenger and freight services ceased in 1980 but it has been restored by volunteers and contains many interesting relics of old engines, rolling stock and other railway-related points of interest around the sidings and goods yard.

Track at Healesville Railway Station

Services run by the tourist railway were shortened following the significant damage caused by the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires. It destroyed several bridges and damaged track along much of the railway. As a result, a Walker railmotor currently operates between Tarrawarra and Healesville while repairs are effected on the remaining parts of the line through to Yarra Glen.

Walker RM22 Railmotor approaching level crossing at Healesville

With some time to kill before lunch, I had a leisurely walk from the railway station along the Watts River to central Healesville. The parkland and bushland adjacent to the river is very peaceful and pleasant with lots of birdlife. Unfortunately, there were spots where inconsiderate people had dumped rubbish in or next to the river. Items included, bizarrely, a brand new safe.

Watts River, Healesville

The bridge over Grace Burn Creek, a little further down the Watts River, was built as a footbridge but now carries the Maroondah Highway. There is a small park adjacent to the bridge called ‘The Nook’ with a board outlining the area’s history. It turns out that the bridge dates from the 1920s, which is quite impressive given the weight and volume of traffic that it now carries. The park was a popular picnic spot in the early 20th century during Healesville’s heyday as a sophisticated daytripping destination. The original fountain is still there and has been recently restored.

Another interesting feature of The Nook is that it served as the site of one of the major pylons supporting an aerial ropeway used to transport materials from Healesville Railway Station to the site of the Maroondah Dam’s construction in the 1920s. The foundations of the pylon are still visible in the north-eastern edge of the park.

Bridge over Grace Burn Creek

Maroondah Reservoir

My plan after lunch was to walk the five kilometres from Healesville to Maroondah Dam via the northern fringe of Healesville. I had no trouble in the first portion of this trip until I came about two-thirds of the way down St Leonard’s Road and the footpath suddenly disappeared.

Bye bye footpath

I was not to see another footpath for several hours.

This meant walking along an asphalt-surfaced road with a 60km/h speed limit, no shoulder and deep ditches on either side of the street. I took a detour down Camerons Road which, thankfully, had a small grass nature strip, less traffic and a 40km/h speed limit for most of its length. I suspect that this absence of non-car-based infrastructure is, unfortunately, typical of many similar towns in Australia.

There are some interesting diversions in this area including a public pool, some farm paddocks and Healesville High School. I also passed by a strawberry farm where pickers were harvesting the fruit. The gorgeous smell of strawberries is something that I won’t forget in a hurry.

A few more turns and the roads began to turn into unsealed gravel roads. The entrance to the Yarra Ranges National Park and the fire tracks leading to Maroondah Reservoir are located a bit further past the meandering Watts River and is well worth a visit. As always, the Victorian bush is a stunningly beautiful place.

Looking through the gum trees, Healesville

A little further into the bush and I came across something that I was not expecting – the water channel that carries water from Maroondah into Sugerloaf Reservoir and the complex system of infrastructure of Melbourne’s water supply. It is an open and narrow but deep channel with fast-flowing water that runs silently through the trees.

Maroondah Aqueduct, Healesville

The point where I came across the aqueduct is particularly interesting for two reasons. The first is that it is one end of the Echo Tunnel. This is an underground water channel carrying water through its first stages of leaving the Maroondah Reservoir. It has mesh and a series of flaps at the entrance to catch rubbish and prevent animals from accessing the tunnel.

Echo Tunnel entrance, Yarra Ranges National Park

The second reason is that the aqueduct here crosses over Sawpit Creek. It is the site of a weir that is still largely intact. Since the weir’s decommissioning, the creek now flows underneath the aqueduct in a way that made me think of railway grade separations (river under river?) It was hard to take a decent photo on account of the fence and steep gully but you can see part of the water bridge in the image below.

Water over water bridge

Pressing on through some bushfire-affected areas took me to Maroondah Reservoir Park and the lookout over the Dam itself. No matter how many times I visit this spot, the view never ceases to impress.

Maroondah Reservoir from lookout, Healesville

The dam wall itself is a very impressive structure that has been modified and maintained over its long lifetime. It was completed in 1927 and has remained a popular tourist attraction ever since.

Back to Melbourne

My walk back to Healesville took me a long a different route to the way that I had arrived. Unfortunately, there is no safe or easy way to access the park on foot or by public transport. The street leading up to the Maroondah Highway has no footpaths or useable road shoulder and the nearest bus stop is 1.2 kilometres away. Nevertheless, I decided to persist walking down the Highway towards Healesville.

This experience reminded me of my attempts to negotiate the surrounding hills of Florence. The high speed and volume of traffic combined with the very narrow width of the road shoulder made this walk a thoroughly unpleasant and dangerous experience.

No footpath on Maroondah Highway, Healesville

About two-thirds of the way along, a footpath made a brief appearance outside the local hospital before disappearing again. It was not until I was well within the town’s centre that a safe walking path emerged on both sides of the road.

I had allowed enough padding in my schedule to have another quick walk around the central shopping area. As country towns go, the pedestrian facilities are not too bad. However, there is still a lot of work to be done.

Disappearing footpath, Healesville

On my way back through Lilydale I had a little poke around the abandoned railway to Healesville and Warburton. Most of the infrastructure here is more or less intact and is quite interesting to see.

Disused track to Yarra Glen near Lilydale Railway Station

All up, a very worthwhile trip. Taking public transport to reach Healesville makes getting there more interesting than driving as you can relax and enjoy the scenery without having to worry about steering a car. Furthermore, it is a lot cheaper. Healesville is still located within zone 2, meaning that the total transport costs of my journey was $5.88. Not bad at all for a round trip of 100 kilometres!

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