The regional Victorian city of Wangaratta is chock-a-block full of surprises. Tucked away in the state’s northeast (just off the main route between Melbourne and Sydney), this may not be a destination that immediately springs to mind when you think Top Aussie Travel Destinations – but it should. Fine period architecture, zesty Italian cuisine, stories of bushrangers with a conscience, gourmet grazing within minutes of the city center, and luxury spa getaways are just some of the experiences you might not expect to find. Here are ten surprising things to do in and around Wangaratta.
Listen to all the fun ways to explore Wangaratta.
Wangaratta has a rich colonial heritage, which is reflected in the wealth of well-preserved period architecture around town. Download the Wangaratta Heritage Walk and head off on foot to inspect the Public Library, the old Post Office, St Patrick’s Church, the Royal Victoria Hotel and the Pinsent Hotel.
Italian heritage has shaped Wangaratta’s palate over the past six decades. Italian tobacco farmers set up shop in the King Valley south of Wangaratta following WWII, and brought their culinary traditions with them. When the industry went into terminal decline, most of the farms were converted to vineyards. More on that in a moment, but while you’re in Wangaratta itself, book a table at Rinaldo’s Casa Cucina for an authentic taste of Italy. There isn’t a corny, over-topped pizza in sight.
The Bush Tucker Garden is just one of the highlights along Wangaratta’s 2.4km Bullawah Cultural Trail, which shares the local stories of the Pangerang traditional owners. Download the trail map and follow the informative interpretive boards along the way. The Bush Tucker Garden features a variety of plants that can be used by Indigenous people in some way in daily life.
OK, you do have to leave town to access the Milawa Gourmet Region, but it’s literally a ten-minute drive. You could bike it in 30 (and the terrain, from memory, is completely flat). There are eight wineries to visit, along with a cornucopia of gourmet food producers and roadside food stalls.
As you head out to explore the renowned King Valley, you’ll start to notice large corrugated iron sheds with triangular roofs at many of the farms and vineyards you pass. They’re old tobacco drying kilns, and these distinctive architectural remnants are being repurposed in all manner of interesting ways. At Pizzini Wines they are gradually being converted to tasting rooms. Drop in for a taste of the Mediterranean, including lively proseccos, earthy sangioveses, pinot grigios and the little-known (here in Australia at least) nebbiolo.
The opening of a woolen mill in Wangaratta 1923 signalled the start of a tradition in textile production – a local theme that is weaved into the permanent collection at the excellent Wangaratta Art Gallery. The emphasis on textile works is complemented by touring exhibitions and specially curated events. Check the website for what’s on during your visit.
Just up the road from Pizzini Wines, King River Brewing have put their old kilns to a different use. They now house this uber-cool microbrewery’s tap house. Head inside for an informative rundown on the various craft brews on tap, then settle into the garden with your tasting paddle. A wood-fired pizza fresh from the oven is the perfect accompaniment.
While many visitors to the region are keen to follow the Ned Kelly Touring Route, it’s worth also getting to know another highwayman of the period – Harry Power – sometimes referred to as the ‘gentleman bushranger’ (Power was apparently always polite during a hold-up). It’s believed that Power ‘mentored’ the young Ned in his mid-teens. Take the scenic drive from the King Valley up to Powers Lookout – said to be where Power would watch for the approaching constabulary. The views are sensational.
Back down in Whitfield on the valley floor, a stop at The Whitty Café is a must for a muffin and latte, but also to visit The Bower next door (you can’t miss the giant metal bird perched out the front). Inside you’ll find an amazing collection of local products from artists, artisans and gourmet food producers. Pretty much everything is made within a 100km radius of the store.
The Quality Hotel Wangaratta Gateway is one of the region’s biggest surprises. This 4.5-star accommodation option offers a range of stylish and sophisticated room types, but the newly refurbished Studio Spa Apartments are the bee’s knees. Pick up a bottle of chilled prosecco from Sam Miranda Wines in the Milawa Gourmet Region and check in for a romantic weekend.
About the writer
Adam Ford is the editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger, and photographer. He has previously had the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten.