Saturday in Bendigo is just the start of a fine weekend
There’s plenty to do in central Victoria, writes Luke Dennehy
DOWNTOWN Bendigo on a Saturday night for a typical city slicker could be considered sleepy. But as a break from the hustle and bustle of Melbourne, the sleepiness is appealing.
Bendigo is only a couple of hours from Melbourne, yet many of those city slickers wouldn’t consider it for a weekend away, heading instead to coastal spots such as the Mornington Peninsula or Lorne.
A trip to Bendigo is a great opportunity to explore the rest of central and northern Victoria — Echuca, Cobram, Yarrawonga — before a trip home to Melbourne, through Shepparton or Benalla.
With a population of about 100,000, Bendigo has a lot going for it.
Founded in the goldrush of the 1800s, the rural city is now a vibrant hub.
This particular Saturday night I get a mini-tour around the centre of Bendigo thanks to the moving tram car res- taurant, which runs on an old tram line around the outskirts of the CBD that was used in the goldrush.
The tram car restaurant is catered for by Bendigo restaurant Ninesevensix, and at four courses the dinner is filling.
The menu is restaurant quality — mains include a roasted fillet of beef with chorizo and eggplant ragout, roasted tomato mash and red wine sauce, or a grilled chicken breast on roasted crispy garlic potatoes and prosciutto-wrapped grilled
zucchini with roasted red pepper sauce.
The trip leaves at 7.15pm and returns around 10pm and does get a little repetitive if you keep looking out the windows.
You’re constantly doing laps as the tram line only goes so far — and that’s when you turn around and do the whole thing again.
But you have to admire how old school it is, and how people love it.
With only 10 guests this particular night, the service was swift.
‘‘We try and come at least once a month, it’s a great meal and it’s good to support the kids,’’ one passenger told us.
Those ‘‘ kids’’ are the waiters, mainly university students.
We stayed the night at the Balgownie Estate bed and breakfast— 10 minutes out of Bendigo.
In the morning we headed to the centre of town after waking up to fog and grape vines. Perfect.
A tour of a disused gold mine is not something most of us would consider doing — but after putting on the overalls and mining light for two hours, and going deep underground, it’s something now I’m glad to have ticked off.
The Central Deborah Gold Mine in Bendigo was one of many that mined during the Bendigo goldrush.
Today it is maintained by the Bendigo Trust and is one of the city’s most popular tourist destinations.
The underground adventure tour of the mine took us 85m underground.
The mine is well restored. There is a function room deep underground which used to be the miners’ lunch room— a number of people have married there and some new Australians have even been naturalised there.
Part of the appeal is that it also doubles as a history lesson — our guide Joel is so well informed, he knows the ins and outs of the mine, its history, its workplace practices, its successes and its failures.
The mine tour ends by having an old-fashioned pastie for lunch in the function room deep underground, just as the miners did many years ago.
If it’s history you’re into, the Golden Dragon Museum in the middle of Bendigo is also worth a look.
After that, our next step is to head to Yarrawonga for the night.
There’s nothing like a drive on a Sunday afternoon, and driving up to Echuca on the way fits the bill.
Like Bendigo, Echuca is full of history.
The tourist part of town is full of old gift shops and cafes, and the paddle steamers are j u s t around the corner.
We had lunch at one of the little cafes in the main street, before heading east to Yarrawonga, setting up base at the Murray Grange Villas, which are a hop, skip and a jump away from Lake Mulwala.
Yarrawonga comes alive many times during the year, but during the winter the stillness and calmness is also just as attractive a proposition.
The town’s Easter tennis tournament sees the population of about 5000 at least double, and there are numerous events on Lake Mulwala, which send the Murray River town into overdrive.
The sports clubs across the lake in Mulwala are also constantly full during the year.
But another unexpected tourist attraction that is giving the town a buzz this winter — the fact the famous and hugely popular Lake Mulwala has been emptied.
It has happened every few years since the 1930s, but this year the draining has been more drastic to try to rid it of a South American water weed.
If you need any education or anything, pop in and see Barb Macdermid at the Yarrawonga-Mulwala Tourism information centre, right near the bridge to Mulwala.
She will set anyone on their way to exploring this sleepy Murray River town.
Finally, head back to Melbourne through Benalla or Euroa, before taking the Hume Highway to the city.
Deep in thought: A tourist down Central Deborah mine.
Eating on the run:
The tram car restaurant.