Herberton is, apparently, one of the first (maybe the first?) town on the Atherton Tableland and the surrounding area is cross-hatched with old mining claims. At 900 metres, with a narrow main street, old mine tunnels, adits, slag heaps, and general mining refuse laying about, Herberton is very reminiscent of Rossland in the West Kootenay. Rossland, of course, is buried under a metre of settled snow each winter, a sight which Herberton won't see until the next ice age.
Morning light on the Stewart Head trail
Using our metabolic flexibility to full advantage we set off to walk the 12 km circuit to Stewart Head west of Herberton in, you guessed it, the Herberton Range before breakfast. The town has done a pretty good job marking all the interlocking old mining roads around the local area and designing scenic hikes. Stewart Head is the longest and heads west, climbing gently, until it rounds Saint Patrick Hill on the south side. This is pleasant walking, lightly shaded, on an open ridge line for most of the way with views into the valley on either side. Passing Saint Patrick Hill, you can now see Stewart Head, a mere forested bump to the west. The trail heads down along a ridge, then climbs to another ridge line where a prominent sign directs you to either Stewart Head or back to Herberton. The final 500 metres to Stewart Head is overgrown with long grass and climbs steadily. Near the end, the trail is moderately ankle twisting as it runs over slippery rocks and you cannot see your footing through the long grass. Purists will be dismayed, but I was quite happy to find that someone had chopped a few trees down to open the view up to Herberton, Specimen Hill and Mount Empress to the east.
Herberton from Stewart Head
Back at the big sign pointing to Herberton, an old mine road leads downhill past several more mine workings to a couple of quarries, one flooded. Beyond the quarries, the trail follows a main gravel forestry road for about 10 minutes until another large sign pointing right to Herberton leads onto older quieter trails. A steepish climb up one hill, then a second more gradual climb and the trail merges into a morass of other mining trails. There is still some sporadic signage, but this section is not as well marked as the early sections. Still, if you follow your instincts (hopefully you have some sense of direction) you'll soon find yourself heading north back toward Herberton and, if all goes well, you'll come out on the upper end of Denbigh Street and a short stroll down residential streets back to the parking area. The circuit took us three hours at a comfortable pace and makes a pleasant walk if you are in the area. There are many other shorter walks on both the west and east side of Herberton and the Information Centre/Mining Museum has good pamphlets detailing the walks.