Satur­day in Bendigo is just the start of a fine week­end

There’s plenty to do in cen­tral Vic­to­ria, writes Luke Den­nehy

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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.

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