There’s a gurgling sound as the water is drawn up from deep within the earth below.

The pump gives more resistance requiring more strength as the water nears the spout. A few drops give way to a vigorous gush of cool, clear, clean mineral water. It has a slightly earthy aroma but is refreshing to taste, with natural effervescence making the water tingle on the tongue. The water comes from Locarno Spring, a natural spring where rainwater has percolated through underground rock. It comes to the surface in a beautiful bush reserve in the heart of Hepburn Springs 6km north of Daylesford. The spring is named after a town on the shores of Lago Maggiore in Switzerland. It reflects the influence that the early Swiss Italian residents had in saving the mineral springs around Hepburn from destruction from gold mining. The Swiss Italians were dismayed that the springs, that were also important to the culture of the Dja Dja Wurrung indigenous people, were now running dry from the effects of mining. They had grown up in a European culture where the health-giving properties of natural spring water were appreciated. And in 1865 a small reserve was established to protect the springs that bubbled up naturally from the ground. 

Today those springs have been tapped with hand-cranked pumps so visitors can try the waters for themselves. That small reserve set aside by the Swiss Italians has been expanded to cover 30ha of dramatic bushland. Some parts have been tamed with rock walls and bridges made from Castlemaine slate, and the bush is dotted with exotic trees such as towering California Redwoods. A short walk down a well-made path from Locarno Spring is Soda Spring. The water from this spring has a slightly soft and slippery texture a result of dissolved alkaline minerals that give the spring its name. This is popular with people from Eastern Europe who collect it as the table water to drink with meals. The path loops a short 1.4 km, linking to Argyle Spring and Wyuna Spring. 

There are almost a dozen pumps in and around the Daylesford and Hepburn townships.  They are interlinked by a network of walking tracks, some short, some up to half a day. One of the most spectacular sites is found at Sailors Falls where Sailors Creek drops some 20m down a basalt cliff, surrounded by towering eucalypts. Downstream of this is Sailors Fall Mineral Spring pump. This is very popular with people collecting mineral water for its high magnesium content from the basalt. People believe the magnesium promotes general good mood and staves off muscle cramp, some collecting the water in bottles and drums to take home and drink at their leisure. Further out of town, on the outskirts of Glenlyon, is an isolated little pump under the shade of a massive candlebark gum. This is Woolnoughs Crossing Mineral Spring. Here the water is pleasant, bubbly, tastes slightly of rusty iron but, after rain, tastes like many popular European mineral waters. 

@foodcornish

For more information head to Parks Victoria for downloadable maps: parkweb.vic.gov.au