Ride the O’Keefe Rail Trail
For two-wheeled adventurers, this will be right up your alley. In 1888 a railway linked Bendigo to Heathcote to its southeast, and remained a busy connection up until it’s closure in 1956. The old railway line remained largely untouched as a reminder of the region’s early days, until it was repurposed as part of the O’Keefe Rail Trail in 1993. 49 kilometres of level walking and cycling trails now run alongside the railroad, weaving through bushland and past waterways and reserves. This isn’t a marathon – there are plenty of spots worth stopping at along the way – the Axedale Tavern, Farmers Arms Hotel, Meehan Vineyard, Armstead Estate and Milvine Estate are all perfect spots to take a breather, and if you wan’t to break the trek up over a couple of days there is a Big 4 Holiday Park, The Zone family entrainment complex and two farm-stays along the route. The trail was completed in 2015, meaning that now is the perfect time to see the countryside from your bike seat. Bring your own or hire one in Bendigo before putting wheels to trail.
Immerse yourself in craft beer culture
Castlemaine has long had a rich history of brewing, yielding fine drops that go down a treat with locals and beer fanatics further abroad. Castlemaine Brewing Company is the gold standard of local brewing with a strong following thanks to its locally brewed offerings. Castlemaine’s Gold Sparkling Ale, Celtic Red Ale, original pilsner and dark coffee lager are distinct and flavoursome, and can be sampled at Castlemaine Brewing’s Taproom on Walker Street. The Tooborac Hotel has gone through many incarnations wince 1857 from blacksmith to general store to pub to brewery. The hotel brews ten beers from red IPAs to summer ales, porters, saisons and pale ales. Stop by the hotel when cruising through Castlemaine for a refreshing tipple or two.
Fine dining and quality shopping
With the drinks sorted, you now cannot leave Castlemaine without sampling some of its dining options and taking in the local art scene. If you need to perk up, we suggest heading to Das Kaffehaus – the cafe portion of local roasters Coffee Basics. Bringing a touch of central Europe to central Victoria, Das Kaffehaus offers a range of European delicacies, sausages, bier and some specialty goods. If it’s closer to dinnertime, one of the best dining destinations is the hatted restaurant, European-inspired Public Inn on Templeton Street. Once you’ve eaten to your hearts content, head to the Castlemaine Art Gallery to view the new exhibition on Bill Henson, wander around the heritage surrounds of the Buda Historic Home & Garden and browse the many eclectic vintage stores, bookshops, artist studios and fashion houses.
Train your brain with some locomotive trivia
Bendigo and its surrounding towns share a rich history of trains and iconic railroads. If you have even a passing interest in the transportation methods of the region, pay a visit to the Victorian Goldfields Railway and the Maryborough Railway Station. The Victorian Goldfields Laneway is the departing point for the an authentic, heritage steam train that linked the towns of Castlemaine and Maldon. Visitors can hop on the steam trains that run on Sundays and Wednesdays, with return trips between Castlemaine and Maldon available. If you are after even more historically rich experiences, the Maryborough Railway Station was a transportation hub for many in the pre-motor era. The red brick style of the façade and the Tuscan columns of the heritage building are also worth a closer look for any architecture buffs, and you can also stop for a snack at the new contemporary cafe on site.
Harcourt – home of the cider
A refreshing cider is the preferred drinking option for many over beer. If your taste sits on the sweeter end of the spectrum, pencil in a visit to some of Harcourt’s finest cider brewers. Bress can be found in north Harcourt, and is known as one of the finest wineries in the region – though it certainly is no slouch when it comes to brewing the odd cider! Bress’ Cellar Door is open on weekends for tastings and those interested in the cider-making process. Henry of Harcourt is a renowned orchardist and cidermaker, nestled at the bottom of Mt Alexander. Henry of Harcourt makes a range of boutique varietal ciders using apples grown and sourced from its own property. The expansive farm currently grows 43 of a possible 49 cider apples available in Australia – putting Henry of Harcourt at the forefront of local cider production. It would almost be a crime not to sample its range.
Sample the yield from Cambrian soil
Welcome to Shiraz country! The red soil of Heathcote is famous in many wine circles for its ability to produce some of the finest Shiraz grapes in the world and therefore the region is not short of fantastic wineries, many of which are in close proximity to each other. There is more than 30 cellar doors in the region, with many wineries experimenting with new wine varieties to offer. If you want to knock a few out in one go, we suggest booking a spot on the next Heathcote Grape Escape Tour, which offers full and half-day tours and takes in many of the best wineries in the area. If you want to curate your own trip, we recommend checking out the cellar door hours for McIvor Estate, Meehan Vineyard, Merindoc, Heathcote Estate, Downing Estate, Flynn’s Wines, Heathcote Winery and Sanguine Wines. The most difficult choice you’ll have to make is which bottles you can carry home and which ones you’ll have to leave behind.
Go bananas over the best produce from Heathcote
Aside from the ample wine supply, Heathcote offers a veritable smorgasbord of produce to sample. The preeminent event on the local foodie calendar is Heathcote on Show, which showcases the very best wine, food and entertainment that the area yields. Held on the Queen’s Birthday long weekend on June 11–13, the show features wine tastings, master classes, product launches, live entertainment, and stalls of food and produce to gorge on. Even if you aren’t in the region in June, Heathcote Harvest’s produce store and cafe is a must-visit location for sustainably grown produce. Enjoy lunch prepared with goods plucked from the seasonal garden, or sample tasting plates of pickles, meats and breads from the farm’s larder.
Uncover antiques in Inglewood to wine and baked goods in Bridgewater on Loddon
The townships dotted around Bendigo are treasure troves of quality shopping and small-town hospitality. If you love diving headfirst into some antique shopping, Inglewood has six (yes, six!) antique shops to trawl through. Once you have exhausted yourself looking for hidden treasures, swing past Meats on Brooke for some classic Inglewood dry-aged beef or stop by the Eucalyptus Distillery Museum and learn a bit about the eucalyptus oil industry that took hold in the early stages of the 20th century. A short drive down the Calder Highway will lead you to Bridgewater on Loddon, a cute township has harbours the picturesque Water Wheel Winery and the Bridgewater Bakehouse – both worth stopping simply to sample the local tastes. If you are a keen angler, set aside some time for some fishing on the Loddon River and see what nibbles you can snare.
Go green with Simply Tomatoes from Boort
Not many people would have heard of Boort, let alone considered it one of the most vital tomato centres in the region. This reputation has been built through the work of Simply Tomatoes – a dynamic tomato farming business that produces and distributes green tomatoes across Australia. In addition to farming between 40 to 60 tonnes green tomatoes per acre, Simply Tomatoes also creates a range of goods using its own produce. Tomato lovers can visit and purchase green tomato dressing and green tomato spread, while also taking advantage of the farm’s barbecue and undercover entertainment areas. The town of Boort also boasts lakes, olive groves, museums and the Spanner Man’s sculpture garden for those that are keen to see the sights of the local area.
Bendigo Community Farmers Market
If you prefer to stay in Bendigo but still get a taste of the above, on the second Saturday of each month, Sidney Myer Place in the heart of Bendigo welcomes providores from the entire region to come and showcase produce and wares. With a bustling market atmosphere and plenty of delicious and fresh produce on hand, the Bendigo Community Farmers Market is one of the most entertaining and convenient places to sample goods from the town’s surrounding region.
The Wanderlust Series is a collaboration between The Weekend Edition and Bendigo Tourism. Be sure to check out the first and third parts of the series as well! Head to Bendigo Tourism to help plan and make the most of your extended long weekend with special accommodation packages and experiences available.