• Kay Gibbons-Buckwell

To Yack & Back



Bright in the Autumn had always been on my bucket list, especially the idea of photographing colourful trees against backdrops of blue-tinged mountains.

Although we knew the weather was going to be crisp, we booked the last weekend in May for an extended weekend getaway. It proved to be an exquisite trip.


Click on Rick's Rides for his review of cycling in the area (or scroll to the bottom).


Rick found a gravel-grind race in Yackandandah to test his legs for the Sunday morning. So, Myrtleford, being central to Bright, Beechworth and Yack, seemed the best location to base ourselves. That my cousin happened to be also living in Myrtleford was, indeed, the icing on the cake.


Winton Wetlands


To break the four-hour trip from Geelong we stayed in Benalla for the first night. After one of the best motel showers I’ve ever experienced (Top of the Town Motel), we drove along the back blocks of Benalla to Glenrowan, past the surprising mystical Winton Wetlands.




Incorporating 5,000 hectares of grasslands, swampy billabongs, Lake Mokoan, an abundance of wildlife, and superb sculptures and paintings by Yorta Yorta artists, Winton Wetlands are a must see. The newly created Hub and Education Centre offers excellent food and coffee, and even better hospitality. The gravel roads traversing through the wetlands make for great cycling, hiking and camping. A true photographer’s paradise. We will be back for a longer stay. You could literally feel the stress fall from your shoulders in this magical place.


Glenrowan


On the way through to Beechworth, we popped in to Glenrowan to read up on the history of Ned Kelly and his gang. While the town is touristy and cashes in on the bushrangers’ infamous history, it’s well done and worth a look. I can recommend the Devonshire tea at the Billy Tea Rooms. Oh yeah, my great, great grandparents, Martha Lee and Sam Trigg, lived next door or close to Ned Kelly, near Winton. The story goes that the Kelly family used to steal poddy calves from Martha and Sam. Another story explains how Sam was a blacksmith and put the horseshoes back-to-front on the horses for Ned, so that the police trackers would go in the opposite direction. We even came across a Lees Road.


Beechworth


Beechworth, at 560mts above sea level, is nestled among rolling hills and winding roads. It was a goldrush town so the buildings are heritage listed and of architectural significance. It’s like stepping back in time. The rural town is also home to Tom O’Toole’s famed two-storey Beechworth Bakery. We first saw Tom speak at a business dinner in Geelong fifteen years earlier ­– one of the most inspiring motivators you’ll ever hear speak – so of course we had to call into his beloved busy bakery for lunch. Once our bellies were filled the rain tumbled down. That didn’t stop Rick pulling on his Lycra to ride the 50kms from Beechworth to Myrtleford along the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail (see “Rick’s Rides” below) or me taking hundreds of photos while perched under verandas. Ten kms out of town the roads dropped a few hundred metres, dried up, and the view was heaven sent.



Myrtleford


Myrtleford is an unpretentious pretty country hub with strong Italian heritage. In the 1920s, a group of Italian settlers grew tobacco in the area, then in 1942, it became the home for Italians interned into a POW camp during WWII. According to the historical society, many of the camp’s occupants worked on the surrounding farms “endearing themselves to the community”. The region became known for not only growing tobacco, but also hops, wine and timber. The Italian festival “La Fiera” is held annually in mid-May. We’ll save that for next year.




Our accommodation was a warm, compact-but-classy studio apartment upstairs over a shop, called Studio Venti Sette that I’d booked through Airbnb. Downstairs, a lockable shed safely housed Rick’s bike.


Friday night we gathered with the locals around a roaring open fire and sipped on quality homegrown wines at Billy Button. Later we dined at Café Fez and appeased our appetites with delicious Lebanese fare. There are numerous eateries and bars to sip or sup on the area’s rich produce. And if you feel like cooking up a storm yourself, gorging on homemade Italian donuts, sipping on coffee served up from the cute caravan of Coffee Chakra, or feasting on the Anglican church’s divine egg-bacon-and-relish rolls, then the Myrtleford Farmers’ Market, held on the fourth Saturday of each month, is your place to stock up. Time your stay wisely. Trust me. Your belly will thank you.



Ovens Valley - Porepunkah & Happy Valley/Ovens

The road from Myrtleford to Bright meanders along the floor of the Ovens Valley, via Ovens and Porepunkah. The rail trail largely follows the road, and is lined with vineyards, colourful deciduous trees, and views of Mount Buffalo.




Bright

Bright is, well, beautifully bright. The trees are colourfully autumnal and the smiles on the faces seated at cute cafes are wide and happy. The town largely relies on tourism and is touted as the gateway to the snowfields during winter. If you’re looking for a social, trendy town then Bright is your place. Think Noosa or Lorne, but set in the hills, and you’ll get my drift. There are lots of walks and tracks to explore and I have it on good authority that the swimming holes behind the caravan parks are a “must do” during the hot summer. Beautiful sparkling Bright filled my camera’s SD card up along with a long-held dream to visit.



Yackandandah

Yackandandah, however, was my personal pick of the towns. While Rick rode to the top of Mt Stanley and back as part of “The Dirty Yack” gravel-grind race (see below), I swayed to the rhythms of tubas and saxophones in the super-quaint main street. The busking High Street Shufflers entertained a crowd of rugged-up revellers and dogs in the welcomed morning sun. (Yack holds an annual folk music festival so book your stay for March 24-26, 2023.)



The main street is packed with curios, cafes, galleries, and colourful umbrellas. Its goldmining past provides a postcard-perfect backdrop to relax and munch on gluten-free meringue and sip on hot choccies. I only just made it back to the finish line of the bike race, just in time to see Rick cross first for his age group.




Happy Travels
My words seem largely inadequate to describe this wonderful corner of Victoria.

Suffice to say, our short stay was just a taste of what’s possible. With a plethora of kid, bike and dog-friendly rides, trails, tracks, paths and roads to keep the active adventurous, and enough arts precincts and cafes of exceptional quality to excite foodies and art lovers alike, there is really something for everyone to fill you with goodness.



We both came away from this trip with a sense of peace and a lot of love in our hearts. And isn’t that what a getaway should be for? Highly recommend.


Rick’s Rides



The Murray to Mountain Rail Trail: Beechworth to Myrtleford Section

Length: 50km

Time: Approx. 120 to 180 mins, depending on stops and fitness levels

All-Weather Terrain: Yes

Ability Level: Confident but moderate bike-handling skills required for inclines and descents

Fitness Levels: Moderate for the downhill (gradual 200 metres descent)

Scenery: Historical markers, views of the valley, farmland, wineries, heritage bridges and stations

Gradients: Small incline leaving Beechworth and then slow gradual descent into the valley

Surface: Paved

Obstacles: Road crossings, wildlife, other riders, pick your weather

Services: Well signposted, not too many amenities between towns, however.

Equipment: Any type of bike has been known to ride the trail.

Comments: We know of a family who rode the trail with her 5-yr-old child and camped in each town. It’s a pleasant ride with historical interest. The trail is in good nick. Mileage marker points let you know how far you’ve ridden. Thumbs up and good value. Much harder to ride Myrt to Beech as it’s a good climb back up.


Images courtesy of Rick, taken on his ride.



The Murray to Mountain Rail Trail: Bright to Myrtleford Section

Length: 30km

Time: Approx. 90 mins, depending on stops and fitness levels

All-Weather Terrain: Yes

Ability Level: Low to moderate bike-handling skills required for slow gradual descent from Bright

Fitness Levels: Easy, mostly flat land or gradual descent to ride, so lower fitness levels ok.

Scenery: Views of Mt Buffalo and nearby mountains, farmland, wineries, hops, rural towns, autumn trees, an old station

Gradients: Slow gradual descent of about 150mts back to Myrt.

Surface: Paved

Obstacles: Road crossings, wildlife, other riders, pick your weather, the occasional loose farm dog, fallen leaves on the trail can be a bit slippery after rain

Services: Well signposted, amenities at Porepunkah and Ovens.

Equipment: Any type of bike has been known to ride the trail.

Comments: The trail is in good nick. The scenery is pretty. Lots of photo ops. Places to call in for a beer or wine, food, and a pitstop. Thumbs up and good value. Maybe a little more fitness required to ride from Myrt to Bright as it would be a slow gradual rise. Myrtleford has a cycling shop for more information. Pick your times weatherwise to ride. Can be a tiny bit slippery under foot due to tree debris and leaves on the trail.


Images courtesy of Rick, taken on his ride.


The Dirty Yack: Yackandandah to Mt Stanley Return (Organised sports race)

Length: 60km

Time: Approx. 160 to 190 mins (though it can be done flatstick in just over 120mins)

All-Weather Terrain: Yes, but …

Ability Level: Expert - high bike-handling skills required for steep pinches and white-knuckle descents

Degree of Difficulty: 8 out 10

Fitness Levels: High

Scenery: Mount Stanley State Reserve, bush canopy, mountainous, occasional snippets of the valley, pine plantations

Gradients: Steep, 1,195 metres of climbing, 12% grad. up and down, 5 climbs, 4 descents

Surface: Gravel, 4WD tracks, loose bluestone metal, rutted tracks

Obstacles: Greasy sections due to wet debris, leaf and bark litter, rutted roots, stones, riding fast in and out of shade, watery eyes, other riders.

Services: Well signposted and organised, feed stations before, during, (bananas, cake, water) and after (burgers, coffee etc)

Equipment: Doable on a gravel/cyclocross bike, however 40mm tyres recommended, mountain bike

Entry Fee: $80-$100

Comments: Windchill factor, definitely needed gloves and long sleeves. Not for novices. Good challenge. Well organised. Great people.



Images courtesy of Rick, taken on the Dirty Yack ride.


Images by Kay, taken of Rick and competitors during his gravel ride.



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