June 22, 2020
Victoria: West is best
Words: Len Rutledge Images: Phensri Rutledge
Travel restrictions still apply to several states but Victoria is generally open for visitors. Our trip was completed before COVID-19 appeared but it should be possible to visit everywhere we did by the end of June, although booking ahead for the wineries and Sovereign Hill may be required. Start planning now because it is a great experience.
A Victorian holiday is always interesting so my wife and I were keen to make the most of our time. Exploring the airline timetables, we discovered an effective way of gaining an extra day. There are evening flights into Melbourne so you can leave after work and begin the holiday that day.
Our flight arrived at Melbourne airport a little after 9pm and by using the Parkroyal Melbourne Airport hotel we could have been eating at the restaurant, drinking at the bar, swimming in the indoor heated pool or exercising in the gym by 9.30. Instead we went to bed!
The Parkroyal proved to be an excellent hotel. Staff were friendly, our room was luxurious, facilities were well maintained and the breakfast buffet was a feast. After checking out we took the elevator downstairs and rented a car for a week from a selection of six operators.
The drive to Ballarat was easy but unexciting. This grand old city was built on gold more than 150 years ago and many dignified buildings still exist from those times. After walking the main street and visiting the outstanding Art Gallery, we drove to Sovereign Hill.
This is probably Australia’s best historical park and it has grown even more impressive since our last visit. We watched the redcoats march and fire their muskets. We photographed the coach ride, the candle making and the metal spinning.
The Red Hill Mine Tour proved to be better than expected and the gold pour showed us what a $150,000 ingot looks like. A short visit to the theatre and a chance to bowl in a 140-year-old manually operated alley saw us looking for somewhere to relax. The Hope Bakery proved to be the perfect place.
|Gold panning at Sovereign Hill
No visit to Sovereign Hill would be complete without trying our luck gold panning. After 30 minutes my wife had collected gold worth about $5 from the creek.
Next day we reluctantly left Ballarat after spending the morning in the Botanical Gardens by Lake Wendouree. The gardens were established in 1858 and contain a remarkable collection of mature trees and statuaries.
Other highlights are the Prime Ministers Avenue, the Adam Lindsay Gordon Craft Cottage, the ex-POW memorial and the remarkable begonia conservatory. We should have allocated more time here.
Literally dozens of historic and boutique wineries are scattered across undulating western Victoria. Our desire was to visit some of them so we started in Avoca. Here the Blue Pyrenees Winery provided a chance to sample some spicy cabernet sauvignon and other classics before indulging in an excellent lunch.
Then it was on to the historic wine village of Great Western, known as the birthplace of Australian sparkling wine. The iconic Seppelt and Best’s wineries are here using grapes from vineyards that date back to the mid-1800s. Both offer tastings and we didn’t hold back. After selecting a few bottles to take with us, it was off to Stawell.
This historic gold mining town is world famous for its Easter Stawell Gift which was first run in 1878. We viewed the Hall of Fame and did a quick jog on the track which has created so many champions.
For thousands of years the dramatic Grampians mountain ranges have inspired wonder. Now largely covered by the Grampians National Park, the rugged peaks with their rich cultural heritage and breathtaking views are one of Victoria’s most popular destinations.
The area is suitable for everyone. There are hundreds of kilometres of bush walking tracks, excellent paved roads to waterfalls and spectacular lookouts, adventure tours offering kayaking, rock climbing and horse riding, farm gate providores and farmers’ markets, and comfortable accommodation.
We stayed in Halls Gap in a rental house. The cute tourist village is surrounded by remarkable mountain escarpments, forest and wildlife. Kangaroos graze on the football ground and birds are everywhere. There are numerous small cafes and restaurants and a general store and hotel.
We learned about the regions’ Aboriginal culture and history at Brambuk – the National Park and Cultural Centre just outside town. The extraordinary building has a bush food cafe and retail outlet as well as an information centre. A quick trip by car took us to one of five rock art sites that are open to the public.
Photographs: Phensri Rutledge
Parkroyal Melbourne Hotel — http://www.parkroyalhotels.com/en/hotels/australia/melbourne/parkroyal/
Sovereign Hill – www.sovereignhill.com.au
Halls Gap Visitor Centre – www.grampianstravel.com
Brambuk – www.brambuk.com.au