GREATEST DRIVING TOURS AND HERITAGE TOWNS
WHY GO: to visit lesser-known Gold Rush townships and
travel a winding scenic road through hills and valleys where nature
has created a spectacular rocky landscape.
DISTANCE FROM MELBOURNE: 110km to Heathcote via Lancefield Road.
Alternative return routes will add approx 40km.
TIME: about 100 minutes to Heathcote from the city, but allow
a day for leisurely touring.
ROUTE: Take Tullamarine Freeway through Bulla, then Romsey/Lancefield
turnoff on the right before Sunbury. Leaving suburbia behind,
take some time to explore the quaint towns of Romsey and Lancefield.
After 30km, turn left at Tooborac along Northern Hwy for 17km
to Heathcote. Alternative return routes are
through Redesdale (pretty hamlet with a unique bridge) to Kyneton and to the city via Calder Fwy; another
choice is through forests and farmlands on the Costerfield Road and
onwards to Nagambie, returning to the city on Goulburn Valley Hwy/Hume Freeway.
ON THE WAY: perhaps the weekend market at Romsey (check newspaper
market guide), stroll historic main street of Lancefield; Cleveland
is one of many wineries located in the district.
WHAT TO DO: once you get to Romsey the landscape changes to undulating
grazing country dotted with sheep and the occasional winery. The
town hints at its connection with the Gold Rush by the shady avenue
of trees and many historic buildings worth a look. There’s
a little park by the river for the kids to play in. A few kilometres
up the road, Lancefield is marked by the magnificent old
pub-turned antiques centre. Turn left here for the main street’s
Ten kilometres up the Lancefield Road the route enters a dramatic
big-dipper landscape where enormous rounded boulders mushroom
out of the ground. Take your time along here for it is one of
the region’s prettiest drives but there are few places to
pull off the road safely. Local shire: please provide scenic parking
bays, you are keeping the best bits to yourselves!
Possums helped make Heathcote what it is today: Big Possum and
Little Possum were two of the many gullies that yielded a wealth
in gold during the 1850s. The town’s heyday was brief, but
it lured many to the glittering metal and allowed a town to take
the place of shepherd’s huts and isolated homesteads.
In 1853 the yield was 21,000 ounces, a fortune, and more than
enough to attract bushrangers. Six men robbed the gold escort
of 2000 ounces of gold and a large amount of money, firing shots
at the police troopers and escaping into the scrub. For five of
the six, freedom was short-lived. As for the sixth… his
fate is unknown, but most of the gold was recovered.
Gold discoveries in Heathcote were overshadowed by the enormous
mining wealth and long-term prosperity of Bendigo. However, a
new and successful wine industry has breathed new life into this pretty region.
Shiraz grapes are favoured and some of the new wineries are producing
modest quantities of premium reds. There are about thirty producers
and a handful of wineries, but only a few of these open regularly.
Heathcote’s many craft shops, antiques, collectibles, heritage
buildings are worth exploring. Of note are the Mechanics Institute,
Court House, Survey Office and old gaol. Sadly, some of the town’s
oldest buildings are dilapidated.
A number of walking tracks penetrate the McIvor Range and surrounding
box-ironbark forests, where a diverse animal and bird population
flourishes. Of note is the wildflower display in late winter and
spring, which includes many native orchids and lilies.
Also of interest: Mona Lisa Gallery in High Street, originally
an 1860s church; McIvor Range reserve and powder magazine, and Pinks
Cliffs, an abandoned sluice mine site.
EATING AND DRINKING: Heathcote’s Emeu Inn has local wines
available for tasting at weekends - this was one of Heathcote’s
original hotels and is currently operated as a B&B and licensed
restaurant, open for lunch and dinner (not all week, so book ahead). Excellent seasonal menu
using as much local produce as possible. In its guise as the Emeu
Hotel in 1857 the current dining room was once a concert hall
and the fireplace, timber ceilings and panelling are restored
features of the original hotel. Choose to dine alfresco at a shady
table as the world passes by.
The main street bakery (cnr Barrack Street) has some of the finest
cakes and pies in Victoria: decide for yourselves. A few cafés
and pubs could be worth trying.
WHERE TO STAY:
EMEU INN in the main street has excellent ensuite B&B rooms, some with spa and open fires. Good restaurant. (03)5433 2668
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For the past
25 years Peter Robinson has travelled far and wide but Australia,
being home, is his first love. As an experienced travel writer
and professional photographer, his wealth of knowledge is revealed
in travel and accommodation reviews that have freelance integrity
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of a select group of places to stay for the weekend. Each place
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