On the Victorian road, from city to sea to mountains to river »

From Melbourne to Mildura with wine, beer and apostles included

By Kerry Scambler
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Sherry from yesteryear at Best's Wines, The Grampians, Vic

Sherry from yesteryear at Best's Wines, The Grampians, Vic [©Kerry Scambler]

Family notes from yesteryear at Best's Wines, The Grampians, Vic
Relaxing riverbank views, Murray River, Mildura
Zumsteins Picnic Area, The Grampians, Vic
Silo Art Trail at Sheep Hills, Vic

 

Victoria has an amazing array of food and drink offerings with fascinating places to visit and varied landscapes. The sheer amount to choose from can make planning from afar quite stressful especially if you’re preparing for a conference with pre-holiday to-do list as well.

So, apart from booking two nights' accommodation in three quite different locations, our post-conference adventure was based on taking things as they came and simply enjoying the journey with great friends – the best option for less stress all round.

But of course, after all these years with VisitVineyards I did have one particular vineyard on the 'I’d really like to visit' list ('must-sees' were banned!) and after a houseboat trip years ago, there was another winery on the 'we’re staying next door, why don’t we drop in?' list.

Sharing some of the highlights from a Victorian road trip that took us from the city to the sea to the mountains to the river:

 

Preston/Melbourne (conference location)

Food: enjoyed a great hosted dinner at Stray Neighbour in Preston where the range of craft beers (and wines) impressed along with the food and service. Very handy being a short tram ride from the hotel too.

Do: Melbourne Museum is always a busy place full of things discover but our target exhibitions were Fashion Redux (an intriguing blend of old and new) and First Peoples where we were fascinated by Bunjil's Wing Kinetic Sculpture. We also loved the bower bird in the Forest Gallery and his penchant for blue!

 

Great Ocean Road

After 5 days in the big smoke at the no-laundry-wash hotel (long story) we were keen for some sea air so it was straight to the Great Ocean Road.

Food: lunch was at the Lorne Hotel where the feel of this grand old place remained fondly familiar from a previous life, and lunch on the deck was enjoyed on very pleasant afternoon. We were impressed with the trained white cockatoos who certainly knew when a water spray was about to come their way and kept their distance!

 

Apollo Bay

Stay | do | food: our apartment was in a perfect township location with a view across the golf course to the harbour with rolling hills beyond. A BBQ on the deck is always on our accommodation checklist and was vital after a visit to the Apollo Bay Market (Saturdays) when it became the beholder of some delicious new breed lamb from Woodlands Wild. As standard lamb chops and sausages, made that morning, we were treated to some of the most flavoursome and least fatty meat tasted in a long time. Feedback direct to the farmer said just that!

The Bay Market also offered small artisan stalls – food, preserves, organic skin care, native plants etc. (Oh and some hand-made dichroic glass jewellery might have been obtained!)

Day trip: the Cape Otway lighthouse was a great mix of history, spectacular views and – surprisingly – delicious ice cream.  Of note was the news that a break in the Bass Strait cable wasn’t just a thing of 2018 but first happened in 1859!

A tasty lunch at the Grassroots Café in Port Campbell preceded joining the throngs at the majestic Twelve Apostles. Despite their numbers now slightly depleted, these natural lords of the coast remain on guard and remind us of nature's power.

 

Apollo Bay to Halls Gap – of beer and wine

We headed away from the sea to the Grampians via the Otways, through rainforests and into hiking and mountain-bike country to a small town where craft beer feels right at home.

Drink: Arriving at Forrest Brewing too early for a tasting (doesn't happen often), coffee was the brew of the choice. Special beers for imbibing on our deck at Halls Gap were selected for no other reason than their names: the Popplebonk seasonal beer (I love these frogs) and Cherry Whit (travelling companions' surname) were tucked into the esky for later.

Drink: Then it was Best’s Wines at Great Western, a major highlight of our trip. After many years of supporting Best's on VisitVineyards, reading their history in their 150th Celebration book and publishing tasting notes, it was finally time to meet the people and drink the wine. We were not disappointed. 

It started with a self-guided tour. Exploring the cellars, getting amongst the barrels with their precious drops and wine tools of yesteryear, heads low to miss the hand-hewn beams and breathing in the cool air from the rammed earthen walls certainly brought more meaning to the wine tasting ahead.

Three of four in our party were red wine lovers whilst the fourth has a sweeter white taste which the cellar door staff were particularly helpful with. My  scribbles on the tasting notes include words such as 'soft and delicate', full-flavoured and smooth', 'slightly peppery'; plus of course the more helpful words when deciding the purchases – 'delish', 'simply yum', 'easy-drinking' and 'perfect for tonight's dinner'.

Favourites: Petit Meunier, Rosé, Gentle Blend, Cabernet Sauvignon and the Best's Sparkling Shiraz, one of the very best in Australia.

 

Halls Gap

Stay: accommodation again was in the township within easy walking distance of food, beverages and information. 

Stay | drink | food: after a day spent travelling, the (obligatory) deck provided views across paddocks of wallabies and up to the mountains –the perfect spot to relax and enjoy those beers from Forrest Brewing! A short walk away was the Black Panther Cafe Bar where some delicious takeaway pizzas were the easy option. 

On our second night it was a wander across to the Halls Gap Tavern for some hearty pub grub after a cold day outside. Being quiet when we arrived, we wondered how the food would be but it soon became apparent that it was a popular local choice and for good reason!

Day trip: winter arriving for the day added to the feel of being in the mountains and it was off to lookouts and waterfalls, dams and lakes with puffers pulled tight. A highlight was Zumsteins picnic area, where on a fine day a picnic and paddling in the creek would have been planned. 

 

Halls Gap to Mildura – art and agriculture

This part of Victoria has long, straight roads surrounded by flat fields and punctuated by the usual regular sighting of silos. On this particular route those plain cement silos have turned into exclamation marks on the journey.

Spectacularly painted (the 'how' being a mystery to us), these works of art make up a 200km Silo Art Trail. Depicting and representing local characters they make breaking the journey to marvel at the skill and find out more about the faces and artists a must.

 

Mildura

Stay: where else would you stay but on the banks of the magnificent Murray River? Next door to a winery? Watching the river lazily roll past with some boating activity to keep things lively and birdlife to spot, this was probably my favourite location. After a few Murray houseboat trips, the river never ceases to mesmerise and relax me to the core.

Food: a local butcher provided some gourmet goodies for the requisite BBQ on the verandah on both nights, after some late afternoon drinks with local cheese selections. A scrumptious breakfast was also enjoyed at Café 1909 (below the rowing club) before we took a relaxing paddlesteamer cruise.

Drink: on a previous houseboat adventure we had tied up at Trentham Estate and enjoyed the experience so were keen to revisit. The wine selection was as wide as we recalled however things had changed in the responsibility stakes so we were limited to 8 (very strictly measured) tastings for a non-driver and 5 for the desi-driver. Now 8 might sound a lot but when the range is this big and you want to taste the regular wines plus be a little adventurous ... well, some serious choices had to be made! Purchases were subsequently made for onforwarding home given our sadly imminent departure.

 

SUMMARY

Holidays don't need to be planned down the hour. Get some basics in place with an "if we feel like it" list and leave the rest to the universe to provide, especially in Victoria where there is so much on offer. Being with good friends, enjoying the journey and sharing varied experiences and a good laugh is what makes life complete.

Along with fine wine and food of course.

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June 15th, 2019
 
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