Strike gold away from Aus­tralia’s tourist trail

Heads Down Un­der to dis­cover an un­sung land of fine wine and beauty

Daily Express - - TRAVEL -

MEGHAN and Harry – the Duke and Duchess of Sus­sex – are about to head Down Un­der. One stop on their hec­tic tour of the South Pa­cific will be cos­mopoli­tan Mel­bourne.

It’s a place where they will surely wish they could linger, soak­ing up the pave­ment cafes and bou­tiques fea­tur­ing the more in­de­pen­dent de­sign­ers Meghan loves.

If they were to find a glim­mer of free time they could per­haps whizz down to Vic­to­ria’s East Gipp­s­land re­gion. Sadly, it’s left off coastal itin­er­ar­ies – and what a mis­take that is. It is home to a hand­ful of peo­ple and fea­tures some of the pret­ti­est wild bush­land, rolling hill vis­tas cov­ered in vines and a net­work of pris­tine lakes and wa­ter­ways.

On ar­rival at the tiny town of Wal­halla, which holds ma­jor sig­nif­i­cance in the his­tory of the Gold Rush, the creamy, golden light casts a cin­e­matic hue over rugged and pretty Stringers Creek.

It in­stantly trans­ports you back to the 1862 Gold Rush.

Along a wind­ing dirt road are a hand­ful of min­ers’ cot­tages with pretty gar­dens, in­hab­ited by some of the 19 full-time res­i­dents of the town which housed 3,500 dur­ing the Rush.

The hand­ful of re­con­structed shops are in keep­ing with the her­itage, with the post of­fice show­ing old pho­tos of fam­i­lies wait­ing for the mail be­ing trans­ported by bul­lock.

Old equip­ment such as Bake­lite wall phones and even a piano in the post­man’s quar­ters are orig­i­nal.

These hills weren’t al­ways as lush dur­ing the Gold Rush as they were stripped bare for use in mine con­struc­tion.

Get a taste of how it was for min­ers, though in con­sid­er­ably more com­fort, at Wal­halla’s Star Ho­tel.

Run by the af­fa­ble Michael Leaney and part­ner Rus­sell, their en­thu­si­asm for this unique prop­erty is quite re­mark­able.

Michael re­built the ho­tel from scratch in 1998, repli­cat­ing the orig­i­nal Gold Rush era de­sign com­plete with wrought-iron bal­conies. The 12 large, neat rooms are named af­ter old mines (Kitty Dar­ling, Fear Not) and have modern bath­rooms and cosy beds – but no TVs.

A snug lounge beck­ons with a roar­ing wood-burn­ing fire and leather so­fas. You can try to imag­ine the tough life of a miner first-hand dur­ing a walk­ing tour of the old Long Tun­nel Ex­tended Gold Mine. Low ceil­ings, no light and claus­tro­pho­bic con­di­tions must have been ex­cru­ci­at­ing.

Af­ter emerg­ing you fol­low the Tram­line Walk­way, weav­ing its way around the hills, with pho­to­graphs show­ing just how basic the town once was.

The charm­ing old Wal­halla Gold­fields Rail­way – staffed en­tirely by vol­un­teers in orig­i­nal uni­form – of­fers a close-up of the un­for­giv­ing ter­rain the work­ers had to con­tend with, as it chugs over wooden tres­tle bridges, all en­tirely cut by hand, which criss-cross the nar­row gorge.

Next on the whis­tle-stop tour are the lakes of East Gipp­s­land. Stretching over 600km, most head to the so­phis­ti­cated lit­tle town of Me­tung, which re­minds me of Corn­wall’s Rock, with its well-heeled clien­tele.

Like most Aus­tralian coastal towns the hub of Me­tung is the pub, where wooden steps lead to a lawn which com­mands the hottest view in town. Here you can watch the traf­fic in and out of the busy marina.

If the Roy­als did have time for an overnight stay, they could check into secluded modern apart­ments The Moor­ings at Me­tung.

En­tirely self-suf­fi­cient, there are pools, wash­ing ma­chines and wide ve­ran­dahs to sip gin and ton­ics while watch­ing the com­ings and go­ings.

Come dusk, yachties pile in for pro­vi­sions from the store and a beer and a spot of great grub at the pub. By morn­ing the bak­ery in the main street has a queue out of the door.

Meghan, I’m sure, would love the stylish shops, par­tic­u­larly Rapt & Tied, where she can pick up a floaty kaf­tan.

They also rent lit­tle drive-your­self boats and I poo­tled around the tiny bays, sneak­ing up on larger cruis­ers and nav­i­gat­ing the wa­ter­ways, watch­ing pel­i­cans sit­ting on the moor­ings.

Harry and Meghan couldn’t miss koala-spot­ting dur­ing their trip and Pay­nesville is home to Ray­mond Is­land.

It is Koala-sa­fari ter­ri­tory, with dozens of these dozy mar­su­pi­als lounging on the eu­ca­lyp­tus trees which line the walk­ing trails.

East Gipp­s­land pro­duces some su­perb food and wine, too. Ken Eck­er­s­ley has been mak­ing French-style wines since 1978 at the Ni­chol­son River Win­ery, which over­looks the Ni­chol­son River val­ley.

You can eas­ily spend all day drink­ing in the view and sam­pling some of Ken’s su­perb cre­ations, from Chardon­nays to Syrahs.

An­other no­table drop can be found at the modern, bou­tique Tambo Win­ery, where Bill Wil­liams has ta­bles that over­look the vines he has been cul­ti­vat­ing for 22 years. Go for the Sauvingnon Blancs and un­wooded Chardon­nays.

And on the way back to Me­tung you can al­ways stop for a fi­nal taste of this spe­cial re­gion with a beer at Bruthen’s Bul­lant Brew­ery.

You won’t want to try to say that af­ter more than one.

THE KNOWL­EDGE

WELL-HEELED: Me­tung is great for watch­ing yachties while en­joy­ing a G&T

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