It seemed appropriate to get a lead on microbreweries in Victoria in a town with a rich gold mining past. Amidst the brochures for microlight rides, gold panning, ski hire and other alpine activities was an innocuous postcard sized book with a beer bottle on it. “Craft beer” said the label. Within the slim volume is a list, a list of microbreweries. The Beer Lover’s Guide to Victoria’s Microbreweries it’s called. Pleased at my fossicking skills, it was time to work out how to visit as many breweries as possible.
Fortunately a stop-over was called for on the way back to Melbourne after an alpine adventure with my parents. Only slightly out of our way was the Buffalo Brewery, within sight of the Mount Buffalo national park. Boorhaman, where the brewery is based, is a half horse town. Apart from sheds at the golf course and some derelict buildings there wasn’t much else to the settlement. Dry, featureless grazing country stetched in every direction. The nearest sizeable town, Wangaratta, was 15 minutes drive away.
The brewery is at the back of a capacious pub. Its walls are proudly lined with press clippings and Buffalo brewery wares, including the obligatory stubbie holder. At the end of a large garden bar was a stage where hill-billy bands play at weekends. Apparently it is not unknown for 200-300 people to be packed into the place. When we visited, patrons could be counted in single figures.
Lager, wheat beer, ginger ale, dark ale and stout are all brewed on the premises. Rather unusually, they grind their own barely for the brews. The stout is one of the finest I’ve tried in Australia – bitter, thick and rich. The other ales were crisp and fresh, though not without a hint of yeastiness. Buffalo beer is best drunk on the premises – take aways cost a whopping $20 for a six pack. Liquid gold indeed.
As we sat back enjoying the beer and the isolation, I pondered how to visit other rural breweries in the remaining five weeks I’ll be based in Melbourne.
It was pretty desolate on the Razorback Ridge, an undulating route up to the summit of Feathertop, Victoria’s second highest peak. The dominant vegetation is short, contorted and barren snow gums. In winter the trees are ravaged by frost and snow, while dry summers make the woodlands vulnerable to fire. There were signs of recent fire all around: blackened trunks and half burnt limbs.
Fire is of course vital to the regeneration of eucalyptus forest. You could see new growth exploding from the routes. According to the WildGuide: Plants and animals of the Australian Alps a feature of the “fire-sensitive, thin barked gum shoots from the roots, resulting in a multi-branched ‘mallee’ growth habit.”
Because of the sparse vegetation and fine weather, the views were stunning. In the distance we could see Mt Buffalo, and ranges radiating out in every direction. We were never far from the cellphone towers and ski lifts at Mt Hotham. The ski resort at Mt Hotham was quiet when we visited, but it was easy imagine the bustle of hundreds of skiers in winter.
Travelling with my parents, we had a fun tour of the Victorian alpine high country. It is not as remote and wild as NZ alpine areas, more like Queenstown. As well as walking, we followed parts of the Ned Kelly trail, sampled local wine and beer, and lazed about at our accommodation. Ruby and Mo, at the Pioneer Cottages in touristy Bright, had thought of everything, including fresh biscuits on arrival and little flower arrangements in the rooms. The Cottages were the best equipped rental accommodation I’ve ever stayed in.
We only experienced a fraction of the high country – I would like to return sometime. To share photos of our travels and snapshots from other places, I’m starting a new photo album called “Australian Travels”. As they say, same channel, same place, next week.
I’ve made a few bookings for my month of being on the road. Still room to move, but my trip will look something like this:
- cycle touring in rural Victoria up until Sunday 9 May
- fly to Darwin on Monday 10 May
- visit Kakadu National Park and other parks
- travel by road 1500km to Alice Springs on a three day Down the track tour
- spend a few days in Alice springs
- return to Melbourne on the Ghan, arriving Sunday 30 May
- depart for NZ Thursday 3 June.
Let me know if you want to join me along the way.
It was an early start to catch the 9.20am Albury train to Avenel, about 120km north of Melbourne. On a Sunday too. Every weekend the Melbourne Bicycle Touring Club organise rides in and around Melbourne, and today’s trip was a 65km ride along Hughes Creek in the Goulburn River catchment.
There were nineteen riders, of whom I was probably the youngest. The oldest, Paul, celebrated his 81st birthday a few months ago. Even though autumn is approaching and the mornings a lot cooler, it was hot today, and at times we struggled with the hills. Under tread the terrain was variable – intermittently heavily corrugated, rutted and sand traps, along with smooth tarmac.
The countryside was mostly dry, dusty and yellow or brown, as pictured. Contrasting strikingly were acres of vines in the half-dozen vineyards we passed. Muddy dams were the only sign of water in the area – most creeks were bone dry. The vines were heavily laden with fruit, so the scarcity of water hasn’t seemed to have hindered their growth.
There was hardly any water in Hughes Creek, but it looked idyllic surrounded by gum trees and ancient looking boulders. Hard to believe it was a torrent one stormy day in the 1860s when a young Ned Kelly committed an act of bravey. According to the Iron Outlaw website Ned was rewarded with a cummerbund for saving the boy Richard Shelton from drowning in the flooded waters of the creek. This cummerbund, now on display at the Pioneer Musuem in Benalla, was apparently worn under the iron armour of the older, then fugitive Kelly.
It was definitely not a medium ride as advertised, about which there were a few good natured grumbles. Those with slick tyres definitely struggled at times. The ride along Hughes Creek was rushed as we had to make up time to catch the train from Seymour. The last riders arrived with 10 minutes to spare. Bikes were loaded onto a cargo wagon V-Line especially hooked on for the Club. After an hours journey we were dumped back amidst the busy chaos of Spencer Street Station.
Revived by a cuppa cha, sunburnt and pleasantly tired, I say I’ll be back.
The demise of rail has its spin-offs: some of the tracks and service roads are being converted into tracks for cyclists. The Bellerine Rail Trail runs 32km from South Geelong to Queenscliff. Part of the route is along a disused section of the track, and from Drysdale, it follows beside a track serviced by a heritage steam train on Sundays and public holidays.
The distance seemed to flash by – after a couple of hours cycling the trail ended suddenly at the Queenscliff ferry terminal. It had been a pretty quiet ride through the countryside so the commotion at the terminal came as a bit of a surprise. Queenscliff is no stranger to crowds: its has been a tourist town for more than a century. Grand Edwardian hotels proudly bear down over the streets, and the number of cafes and bars far surpassed what I imagine the locals could frequent.
I didn’t stick around as I wanted to bike a bit further. The route to Bawron Heads took me along a busy road and through Ocean Grove’s suburb like seaside township. A few people were swimming in the river, but I was happy to watch from the bank, finally reading the 2kg worth of Saturday’s Age that I had been carting around.