When we have a three-day weekend we want to get out of town. Most recently, with little thought or preparation, we came up with the idea of heading to Gippsland. We had explored a lot of Victoria, but were yet to venture out east further than the Yarra Valley. At this point I want to do a massive shout out to @evaleucien who came to our help when the penny dropped to just how big an area Gippsland really is. Without their help we would have been out of our depth.
A last-minute search for accommodation found us wanting as everyplace was booked up. Luckily, Wotif.com.au came to the rescue and we found a cheap and available room at the Mercure in Bairnsdale – a commercial hub, not the area’s main drawcard but provides good access to the surrounding towns. We probably wouldn’t normally stay at a chain hotel, preferring something a bit more intimate and unique, but we were actually super-impressed. Bairnsdale is about 3.5 hours from Melbourne – and if we had our time again, we would have gone for more than two nights – there is a lot to see.
On the way out we detoured off the highway to visit a few little wineries around Neerim. These boutique producers are full of passion for their product and are a refreshing change from the larger, commercial producers nearer the city. They make wines from their grapes onsite in small tin sheds and have none of the impersonal $5 for a tasting you find in the Yarra Valley. Two wineries literally next door to each other, Meriz and Piedmont, are both owned by Croatians and they love to have a chat – they regaled us with the horror stories of the bush fires a few years ago and their insistence to stay put and save their livelihood. One even had a pet emu. Among their range, we picked up bottles of unlabelled resiling for $5 – bargain!
Pushing on, a must-stop location is the Noojee Trestle Bridge. This is the location for the annual Melbourne Food and Wine Festival regional long lunch. It certainly is a sight to behold – walk along the former timber railway bridge and can look down on the fern canopy – it takes your breath away. It was one of our highlights of the trip.
Heading for lunch we called in at the Toolshed Bar which is about as authentic a country pub as you can get. Literally a log shed littered with agricultural paraphernalia the menu takes pride of place, written on a large wall and highlighting that chicken parmas are the food of choice in the area. As we were not starving we shared an Outback Parma, which had strips of bacon and an unctuous bush herb sauce.
Ph. (03) 5628 9669
The day was getting away so we gave Toorongo Falls and Mount Baw Baw a miss but would be keen to check out next time due to the funny looks locals gave us when we said we were in the area but did not get to visit them. After a quick check-in, where we realised the rest of the hotel was booked with traffic cops looking to get as many drivers over the long weekend as possible, we set off for the Tinamba Hotel for dinner.
Ph. (03) 5145 1484
The hotel is a lovely place and, as it is located in dairy country, people aren’t afraid to spend a pretty penny to get good local food. The layout of the interior is very different to what it might have been in the past as there is no longer a long bar where bushmen would sink a cold beer after a day on horseback –it now looks like it has been gutted and all available space is taken up with tables to feed the hungry locals and visitors. This is no bad thing. The menu covered all areas of the food spectrum with a greatest hits list of meat, seafood and vegetable options.
To begin we dipped into each having the individual entrée taste place for one, which consisted of curried potato and cauliflower soup, lamb arancini with cumin and lemon aioli, parmesan crumbed shepherd’s pie, black sesame crumbed scallop with salsa verde and capra goat’s mousse on a parmesan and sesame chorizo disc, all for $18. A great start to the night and good to see the skills of the kitchen utilising the local product.
I wanted to keep myself for dessert so I opted for another entrée. The confit duck leg and prune rillette, smoked chicken mousse éclair, pickled shimeji mushroom, vino cotto, toasted homemade brioche and tomato jam was on the small side, but then again I was warned that I may still be hungry. The full flavour of poultry was on show and the mousse éclair had a smooth texture nicely complementing the flaky pastry.
WordMonkey opted for the potato and herb gnocchi, field mushrooms, slow cooked lamb shoulder, roasted pistachio, fennel and pepita seeds, marinated goat’s cheese and confit garlic butter. Certainly a lot going on in the dish. I have been going overboard this mushroom season so I didn’t think I would be keen but the perfectly cooked lamb, which threaded its way through the gnocchi, convinced me otherwise. Almost at the end of the dish we both agreed that it may have been a touch too rich for only one person to finish – but pushed on regardless.
I finished off with the dessert quartet for one. It was difficult to find a one particular highlight when I had options like flourless chocolate, coffee and almond cake; lemon pot with toasted Italian meringue; mini pavalova, whipped cream and toffee banana; and passionfruit sorbet in a brandy snap basket. This final dessert was a perfect balance of tart and sweet that not many restaurants have been able to achieve. This is a real treasure.
Rising early and heading to the water we came across Metung – a cute town sitting on a narrow peninsula of land separating Bancroft Bay and Lake Kingon. Time for brunch at Bancroft Bites – we opted for eggs Benedict and a sausage and bacon sarnie. Solid tasty food. After filling our stomachs, but knowing it was only a short time between this and our next meal, we grabbed a couple of coffees and walked the length of the lake and back.
Ph. (no phone)
On our return we stopped for a beverage at the Metung Hotel and realised that it would be a great place for dinner that night (which was fantastic by the way – great hearty meals). But continuing the ‘Australian wildlife that WordMonkey has yet to encounter tour’ the waitress invited us down to watch the feeding of three friendly pelicans. For the record- she stayed way back from these large beasts and I was made to take the photographs.
Debating where our next stop should be I said we should head to Buchan as a few days before we had left I had forced WordMonkey to watch a favourite movie from my childhood – The Man From Snowy River. (And can I tell you now that the movie doesn’t stand up on the cold light of day.) Buchan is a town in the Snowy Mountains so why not pay a visit and link up with a tour of the local caves?
We have done caves in both the UK and SE Asia so we weren’t so keen to do the tour – but we were proven wrong upon entering the cavernous space. Due to the flooding a number of caves were closed but luckily the Royal Cave put on a great show. The space under the feet of campers above ground was astounding with cathedral-like spaces and prehistoric spires linking the ground and ceiling.
Heading back through the small towns, the GPS gave way and we ended up in Bruthen where this letter was stuck on the window of the local butcher shop:
Dear God. What did he do to the dog?
But to take the edge of what might have been Phsychoville we happened upon the ‘shutting up for the night’ Bullant Brewery. The team kindly let us come in for a drink before closing but we will be back for a proper visit when next in the area.
In a past life WordMonkey and her parents must have been mountain goats and any chance she gets to wedge a bushwalk into an itinerary she will happily take. We had heard of the fabled Den of Nargun but knew nothing else about it other than its name and that you had to ramble into a gully in order to find it. It is a relatively easy walk on the way down (as it always is) and it is great for people who just want to get off the track and explore. And then we found the Den:
Rather than clamber all the way back up we decided to follow the track around to when the water meets the river and then climb back up to the car park – well worth the effort, about one hour all up and you don’t encounter anyone else on the walk. Except for a potential big cat, but the sighting remains unconfirmed.
Continuing out drive around small towns we headed for a bite at Wa- De-Lock Cellar Door – and by far the worst food, drink and service of the trip. It may have been a public holiday weekend but there were only four tables of people, many staff and a grumpy proprietor behind the counter barking that it was a limited menu, and informing us that the ham and cheese sandwich could not be made without the ham. Poor form sir poor form. We ate and left, never to return.
On our way home we didn’t want to feel like it was all ending so we ended up taking the back roads which was lovely as dusk set in and if you don’t just want to hit the highway consider the following trail: Stratford > Heyfield > Glenmaggie > Seaton > Cowwarr > Toongabbie > Glengarry >Moe.
With the sun setting we made our way back to the city but for those of you who need a good feed there is a town just off the highway called Yarragon (you can’t miss it as it has the only traffic lights on the Princess Highway. It is in this town you will happen upon Discover India – a café that transforms itself into a curry house in the evening. 65 Degrees Cafe in Exhibition St put us onto this via a tweet – they said anyone heading back from Gippsland should stop in – and so we did. And I will pass on the message: please, please go here, it is awesome.
115b Princess Highway Yarragon Ph. (03) 5634 2999
WordMonkey, being a Brit, had been looking forward to this meal for the whole trip and it didn’t disappoint. The curries had the requisite amount of heat to put a smile on our faces and beads of sweat on our brows. The couple that run the café have recently moved from their previous restaurant found on the corner of St Kilda Road and Inkerman Street in St Kilda in order to give their kids a slower pace of life. So, up until recently, one of the best curries in Melbourne was literally around the corner from us was and we didn’t know about it. Bad bloggers. They are a lovely couple who understand the important of roasting spices, not skimming on flavour or variety, and great guests with a smile. Before departing it is worth getting a chai for the road.
If you are planning a trip to Gippsland for the first time you have to understand just how big an area it is. Reach out to those that have been in order to get an itinerary together. We will be back as we realise we only scratched the surface.