Bendigo is a city to watch. New hotels, a dynamic dining scene and a stunning reimagining of historic spaces have joined an already formidable array of attractions that range from gold-rush-era architecture and a fine art gallery to the Chinese dragons that awaken for the Easter Festival.
Grampians National Park (Gariwerd)
It's one thing to appreciate the Grampians' spectacular backdrop from afar – ie from Halls Gap with glass of wine in hand – but don’t leave the region without getting out into the national park itself. With more than 150km of well-marked walking tracks, ranging from half-hour strolls to overnight treks through difficult terrain, there’s something here to suit all levels.
Like a pop-up folk museum, the whole of tiny Maldon is a well-preserved relic of the gold-rush era, with many fine buildings constructed from local stone. The population is significantly lower than the 20,000 who used to work the local goldfields, but this is still a living, working town – packed with tourists on weekends but reverting to its sleepy self during the week.
Northwest of the Grampians
Heading northwards from the Grampians, the terrain peters out as you enter Victoria's Wimmera region. It's an area characterised by flat and dry farm land, with the exception of Mt Arapiles, which rises dramatically like a mini Uluru and is a detour popular with rock climbers from around the world.
Little Desert National Park & Around
Heading into Mallee country in the heart of the Wimmera, this northwest corner of Victoria is noticeably drier and dustier with a more laid-back Aussie outback feel. The Little Desert National Park is the main attraction, with its unique expanse of wilderness ideal for camping.
Mt Arapiles State Park
Mt Arapiles is Australia’s premier rock-climbing destination. Topping out at 369m it’s not the world's biggest mountain, but with more than 2000 routes to scale, it attracts salivating climbers from around the world. Popular climbs include the Bard Buttress, Tiger Wall and the Pharos.
The major town to the northwest of the Grampians and the capital of the Wimmera region, Horsham makes a convenient base for exploring the surrounding national parks and Mt Arapiles. The main shopping strip has postal and banking facilities, supermarkets and plenty of other shops and eateries.
About 10km northwest of Castlemaine, the Harcourt region (bypassed by the new Calder Fwy) is known as Victoria’s ‘apple centre'. In recent years it has also developed as an excellent mini-wine centre, an extension of the Bendigo wine region for which the Castlemaine visitor centre can provide a map and a list of cellar doors.
It was in Clunes, roughly halfway between Maryborough and Ballarat, that a find in June 1851 sparked the gold rush that would transform Victoria's fortunes. These days, the small town (population 1656) is a quintessential gold-mining relic, with gorgeous 19th-century porticoed buildings whose grandeur seems way out of proportion to the town's current size.