As winter melts into spring, the idyllic towns of regional Victoria blossom, along with their wildflowers and wattles. Enjoy flourishing local culture and gold rush relics against a backdrop of lush lawns, native flora, lakes, wetlands and wildlife.
Half an hour north of Maldon, Bendigo is as rich in charm as it is in fascinating gold rush history, but make no mistake: this is a town firmly planted in the now. A vibrant and cosmopolitan regional centre, ever-changing Bendigo has blossomed into a gourmet and cultural mecca thanks to its warren of Melbourne-style laneways, which conceal all manner of gourmet goodies, and its artisanal markets, which make for a superb shopping expedition against a vintage backdrop.
Bendigo’s Central Deborah Gold Mine brings history to life with tours as deep as 228 metres into the bowels of the mine, from which nearly one tonne of gold was extracted between 1939 and 1954. Keep in mind that this is a hands-on experience that isn’t for the faint of heart – or those afraid of the dark!
Like neighbouring towns, Bendigo’s grand architecture tells a story of gold rush riches, but it takes visitors by surprise with its Chinese influence. When Chinese families flocked to Bendigo in the mid 1800s to try their luck at finding gold, they left an indelible mark. Chinese culture is celebrated as an important part of Bendigo’s history, which lives on in the form of monuments like Joss House – a temple painted bright red to symbolise luck and vitality – and a calendar chock- full of Chinese festivals and cultural events every year.
Roughly half an hour south-east of Bendigo, Heathcote is a surprising culinary diamond in the rough. The town sprang up to cater for the goldfields’ population boom, but its streets are modest compared to the opulence of nearby Bendigo or Ballarat further afield.
Today, the soils of Heathcote possess a different, nonmetallic kind of treasure; home to more than 70 vineyards, unassuming Heathcote is synonymous with extraordinary, nationally renowned shiraz. Red Cambrian soils make for incomparable deep hues, fruity tastes, well-balanced acidity and smooth textures, which mean that a bottle of Heathcote red is the perfect drop to stash away for a special occasion – or better yet, no occasion at all! Duck into any of the small cellar doors to secure your own bottle of homegrown deliciousness, but be sure to call first.
Nestled in the foothills of Mount Ida, Heathcote boasts an abundance of natural beauty right on its doorstep. Head to any of the region’s many trails for a day of hiking or cycling through the wilderness. Devil’s Cave, Valley of Liquid Ambers, Stranger’s Rock and the Pink Cliffs are notable highlights, but watch out for open mines on the way! Nearby Lake Eppalock is also a great spot for aquatic sports, from fishing to sailing, waterskiing and more.
Perched on the slopes of the Great Dividing Range, picturesque Maryborough packs a punch for a small town. Grand architecture testifies to Maryborough’s gold rush past, and reflects a bygone era of prosperity and opportunity. The Maryborough Magistrates’ Court, town hall, post office, and the old re station showcase exquisite workmanship and the hallmarks of the elaborate Victorian style, but the town’s architectural pièce de résistance is its sprawling railway station, which has been converted into a cultural precinct.
Maryborough is blissfully secluded in the heart of Victoria’s wild bushland. South of Maryborough, you will find the Wells Track, which winds between ancient rock water wells that were constructed by the Indigenous custodians of this land. Roam through surrounding box–ironbark forests to explore the profoundly beautiful nature that characterises this region.