Soon after starting out, the track began to climb. While the water channel went through a tunnel, the track had to climb up and over the ridgeline. While the sharp climb soon had my heart rate up, the cool of the early morning meant I din't get too hot and sweaty.
After descending down the other side, the track picked up the aqueduct again, and I was making good time. After about 5 miles, the track left the aqueduct for the final time, and began to climb the slopes of Mt Alexander. This climb was quite steep, and at this stage, in the full glare of the late morning sun (especially on the lower slopes without tree cover) - this time it certainly got me hot and sweaty.
While Mt Alexander is only 750 m 2400 feet high, its prominence above the surrounding landscape is quite striking. There are two huge broadcast transmission aerials (and their associated ground buildings) on the summit, and my guess would be that there would be clear line-of-sight to these aerials for 100-150 miles in all directions (except perhaps south). Certainly it is the major TV broadcast facility for the region.
The view from a lookout near the summit shows just how far you can see.
After chatting with some bikers who had ridden up the mountain road, I continued on heading south. Mt Alexander had been stripped bare of trees during the gold rush (whether for firewood, pit props, etc), and had carefully been replanted. There had also been 2 attempts to reintroduce koala bears to the mountain (they were known to have been plentiful originally, but for some reason, on both occasions the koalas soon left after being transplanted there. There was supposed to be a pleasant picnic ground in the old koala park where I intended to have lunch, but I had difficulty in finding it (the map was pretty vague as to its exact location). This left me a problem, as I was depending on collecting more water there.
I continued heading south, down off Mt Alexander, and past a granite quarry. I was now into open farmland. There were a couple of small dams with water, but these were covered in algae, and really looked rather unappetizing (drinking tainted water can ruin your whole hike). The map showed a creek that I would cross that looked promising, but when I got there, it was bone dry. I was now in fairly desperate straits, and rather dehydrated.
I eventually passed by a farm house, and knocked on the door. I think the old lady there was rather afraid of me (strange hiker dude suddenly on her doorstep) so I didn't stay long, but she was good enough to refill one of my water bottles. I think I downed half of it on the spot, and it made me feel much better.
Ironically, about 1 mile beyond the farmhouse I crossed an aqueduct supplying the nearby town of Castlemaine.This wasn't shown on the map, and if I had known, I could have avoided terrifiying an old lady. But it did mean I could thoroughly rehydrate myself and refill all my water bottles. Very welcome indeed.
I then crossed the Calder Freeway (running between Melbourne and Bendigo) via an underpass, and climbed up to the Specimen Gully Lookout. Descending down the other side, I soon found myself a nice little campsite, even if totally unofficial.
While I was cooking dinner, it soon showed signs of raining. As the weather forecast for my trip had been totally fine, I had only brought a sleeping bag cover (known as a bivy bag) with me, rather than a full tent (to save weight). Down sleeping bags need to be dry to stay warm, and are the devil to get dry once wet (especially if they are rolled up in your pack while you are hiking all day). Bivy bags are good against dew and light drizzle, but in heavier rain, water pools beneath you and gets in from the bottom. Fortunately, it was actually a pretty warm and balmy evening, so I chose to sleep in just my clothes and the bivy bag itself, while my good down sleeping bag stayed dry in my pack. I did get somewhat wet, but I stayed warm, so all was good.
Total distance covered 25 km 15.5 miles