150 years ago, Victoria caught gold fever. Today visitors who explore the region at the centre of the frenzy will find towns as rich in diversity as they are in history.
HOW TO GET THERE
Follow the Calder Highway past Kyneton to Castlemaine, then further north to Bendigo. You can also get to Bendigo from Melbourne by driving north on the Hume Freeway via Kilmore, then veering onto the Northern Highway via Heathcote and then onto the McIvor Highway.
V/Line offers train services from Southern Cross Station direct to Bendigo. It takes around a couple of hours traveling from Melbourne to Bendigo. Connecting coach services operate from Bendigo and Ballarat to other towns within the Goldfields.
We spoke to Bendigo local, Kathie Bolitho of Tough Cookie Marketing about the city she says punches above its weight when it comes to delivering great food experiences.
Kathie describes herself as food, wine and event obsessed. After spending 20 years in all areas of hospitality management, and now working with a variety of food and wine businesses from across the region within her marketing business. What does Kathie love about Bendigo? The diversity; from French provincial to specialised steak, all day shared feasting, a thriving café culture and artisan bakery options, there’s something for everyone.
- Harvest Rotisserie and Patisserie - the new kid on the Bendigo Block may be young in operation but is wise in experience and talent. Wine maker and sommelier Lincoln Riley and his exceptional pastry chef partner Marsha Busse have somehow managed to blend together a hand-crafted patisserie, regional rotisserie meats and a real love of all things wine. One of the best times to head in is mid-afternoon when Marsha is making her two-day process, pure butter croissants and sit up at the bar and devour one while she talks you through her craft.
- El Gordo – located in the bustling Chancery Lane precinct, this tiny ‘window in the wall’ cafe with laneway table seating is open most day from breakfast til late afternoon, and on Fridays and Saturday evenings for tapas too. Their signature dish is their Cubano Burrito, which after a late night can honestly be life giving for those who require recovery food. The coffee is great too.
- Masons of Bendigo - popularity can make planning in advance vital for a weekend booking, but I like to sneak in for Saturday lunch when the pace is a little slower. Masons provide a shared dish experience created almost entirely from regional produce. I think about their spit roasted Camboer goat kataifi cigars with fromage frais, pickled raddish and Turkish pepper on a regular basis. I also like to order it when sharing with less adventurous companions for reasons I’m sure are apparent.
- Public INN - Castlemaine’s must-do dining experience, now located in the Old Castlemaine Firestation, and for those of us who still enjoy the process and devotion that goes into a classic dining experience you’re in for a treat. The menu ingredients are so fresh - they have often been foraged, traded from local gardens or harvested that morning.
- Heathcote Harvest - Heathcote’s ‘paddock to plate’ produce store and café is quickly gathering momentum as a must-do foodie experience when heading into the Heathcote region. The classic tasting plates of homemade small goods, with cheeses, breads and their own pickles is always delicious, particularly when consumed with the wine, beer and cider produced in the region.
- Rocks on Rosalind - owner Finn Vedelsby's obsession with crafted beverages is inclusive of both the new and creative and the reliable classics. Rocks is the perfect venue for a Sunday afternoon session in the sunshine, better still, book your seat at the hands-on Rocks on Rosalind Cocktail Masterclass held each month.
- Clogs - for 42 years the van Haandel family have been shaping Bendigo's night life. This local institution is still the latest restaurant operating each evening and the quality cocktails, espresso and a solid list of beverages are a perfect accompaniment to one of their legendary pizzas. Make your way there for, or after dinner for a night cap as they are always the last man standing.
- The Dispensary – the recent new ownership of this laneway bar and diner has resulted in a few changes, notably the addition of weekend breakfast from 11am on Saturday’s and Sundays. The vast drinks list is still impressive on every level, and so the new team’s dedication to an exceptional bar experience; feel like an old friend even on your very first visit. Prime time starts at 5pm for after work drinks where you will find new friends also looking to shake off the day.
- True Brew – For anyone looking for a good laugh on a Friday night, this DIY brewery located in amongst Bendigo’s industrial sheds has developed into hot pre-weekend drinking spot. There is 20 of their own True Brew beers of offer, pop up food vendors, karaoke and a bus back into town.
- Sangria Tapas Bar – The intimate roof top bar overlooks Victoria Lane, hidden between the fairy lights and best experienced with a jug of sangria or glass of Spanish wine from the extensive list. Best time of day is later in the evening because then you can justify ordering their incredible churros and Spanish dessert selection.
- Visit The Mill in Castlemaineto see the transformation of the former Castlemaine Woollen Mills site. Now a community of artisan producers and craftsmen including a brewery, coffee roaster and café, winemakers, artisan ice-cream, bakery, cakes, furniture makers, a vintage bazaar, handmade and second hand goods. Only 25 minutes from Bendigo via V-Line.
- Bendigo water sports - If you head to the river each Summer, detour this year to Bendigo as the abundance of September rain fills Lake Eppalock, making it ready for boating, fishing and water sports. Stay lakeside with camping, caravan sites and cabins, or base yourself in Bendigo with a short drive. Lake Eppalock is also near Heathcote so easy wine region day trips are great for a rest day.
- Unexpected wines - Whilst the Bendigo and Heathcote regions are well known for shiraz, they are also producing some excellent Italian and Spanish varietals including Vermentino, Verdecchio, Tempranillo, Nebbiolo and Sangiovese. Rosé lovers will find some awesome buys too.
- Day trip into the countryside at Saluté Oliva - Located in Boort, just over an hour from Bendigo, Swiss couple Peter and Marlies Eicher are self-confessed "geeky" engineers-come-superstar olive growers have some fascinating and hilarious stories to share. Make sure you ask them about their mechanical inventions to make olive production easier – the quality of their storytelling is of the same calibre as their award winning, organic olive oil.
- The Schaller Studio – Bendigo’s Art Series Hotel instalment has taken the city by storm offering their quirky-artsy hotel with café and lounge. I love their ‘can-do’ and inventive attitude plus the range of special guest add-ons such as bike hire, smart cars and curated tours. Look for their live-music chill weekends with craft-beer tastings in the courtyard.
- Allawah Apartments - located right in the heart of the Bendigo CBD and housed in a range of carefully restored heritage buildings converted into inner-city apartments. Located in and close to View Street and right in the middle of the Bendigo Arts Precinct, you are connected to the city’s beautiful Rosalind Park and only a 2 minute walk from a range of restaurants, bars and cafés. The property is managed by wine-bar and all day eatery ‘Wine Bank on View’ which provides a street side breakfast in the sunshine through to a late-night wine bar only meters from where you will rest your head.
- Bendigo Holiday Rentals – these spacious homes that have been restored into holiday stays are great for bigger groups or travellers who like more space. Immerse yourself into the local lifestyle in the modern and comfortable two, three and four bedroom apartments at various locations. Each property is family friendly and pet friendly with free WiFi and close to the Bendigo CBD.