Bendigo is a Victorian regional city which owes its impressive historic streetscapes to the discovery of gold there more than 150 years ago. Today, it is a vibrant contemporary centre, featuring fascinating activities and destinations, innovative restaurants, cafes and shops and spectacular public gardens, which all combine to complement the richness of the city’s gold boom heritage.
Bendigo is less than two hours drive along the Calder Freeway from Melbourne, which makes it perfect for a short-stay or weekend away, which is exactly what we did during these school holidays. When you are looking for a great weekend away, get out of town to Bendigo!
Stay: The Schaller StudioCnr Lucan & Bayne Streets, Bendigo Ph: 1800 278 468 www.theschallerstudio.com.au
The Schaller Studio is one of the Art Series Hotel Group and is dedicated to the Australian artist, Mark Schaller. It has 128 rooms (they call them ‘Workspaces’) which are adorned with original works by Schaller. One thing I wasn’t aware of prior to staying there, is that the hotel is actually in the grounds of Bendigo Hospital, which is a little…odd. But hey, I love odd.
The rooms are tiny (a queen room is 22 square metres) but we weren’t there to hang about in the rooms. However, clever use of mirrors and the addition of a small balcony for every room, gives the illusion of more space. There’s lots of quirky details, from the slogans on the pillows to the irreverent Evo toiletries in the bathroom. We had two interconnecting rooms (one queen and one twin) which was perfect for a family of four. And at $121 per night per room (including breakfast), I thought that was pretty good value.
The lobby area was spacious and offered several communal spaces to relax with a coffee or a wine, or to peruse magazines, newspapers or books. And if we felt so inspired by the surrounding artworks, there was plenty of art materials available to create something of our own.
Breakfast was a self-serve affair in the on-site cafe, The Pantry. The usual range of cereals, breads, fruit, juices etc. Plus a platter of proscuitto, and facilities to boil eggs which was a lovely addition. Hot drinks made by the The Pantry were included, so while the ‘adults’ in our party had their essential caffeine fix, The Impossible Princess ordered a hot chocolate which came in a jar.
Eat: The Wood House101 Williamson Street, Bendigo. PH: 5443 8671 www.thewoodhouse.com.au
The Woodhouse is Bendigo’s only steakhouse. The word ‘steakhouse’ initially put me off, however I had to eat my words (along with the steak). The Woodhouse has a redgum grill and is dedicated to using unique ‘cooking with wood’ techniques. The menu had a very impressive range of premium beef cuts, other meats, fish and wood-fired pizzas. The charcuterie board ($27.90) that we shared to start was spectacular. And the steaks? Mouth-watering. I had the Inglewood Dry Aged Beef Porterhouse ($33.90).
For dessert we shared one of ‘The Woodhouse Tasting Plates for 2’ ($27.90) between the four of us, and it was the perfect amount.
I’m not sure what it was with 90 cent amounts all over the menu? Just round it up and be done with it, that 10 cents less isn’t fooling any of us.
Do: Bendigo Art Gallery42 View Street, Bendigo. Ph:(+61 3) 5434 6088 www.bendigoartgallery.com.au. Open 10am to 5pm everyday except Christmas Day
For a regional art gallery, Bendigo Art Gallery punches well above its weight. In recent times, it has attracted some amazing touring exhibitions (such as the Grace Kelly: Style Icon one which was there in 2012). These exhibitions have turned the Gallery into a bit of a destination for art-seeking daytrippers. The current ‘blockbuster’ exhibitions are The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greece and Undressed: 350 Years of Underwear in Fashion. We saw Undressed. It was a fascinating wander through the history of private and intimate clothing, curated by the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.
In addition, the permanent collection contains a significant range of European art and Australian masters, plus contemporary art pieces (such as the Patricia Piccinini work in the photo above) and the Gallery has recently been renovated and extended which offers a lot more space for permanent and visiting exhibitions.
Do: Chancery Lane
Chancery Lane is a tiny pedestrian laneway running between Pall Mall and Hargreaves Street. The lane is home to an eclectic collection of shops, cafes, restaurants/bars which are worth a wander through, but the real reason we sought it out was to see the street art which has appeared on the brick walls. I was particularly excited to find a great ‘Be Free’ example (girl with the paint bucket).
Do: See the city sights
The gold rush boomtime architecture of Bendigo is spectacular, but adding to that at the moment, is the Tulip Display in The Conservatory Gardens, which is at its best throughout September and early October. The display features more than 30,000 tulips in an assortment of colours, sizes and blooming times.
Nearby is the Book Now bookshop (1 Farmer Lane) which has a selection of over 50,000 good quality used books over two floors. It is the booklover’s browsing heaven.
Do: The Joss House TempleEmu Point, Finn Street, North Bendigo. Ph: 03 5442 1685, www.bendigojosshouse.com. Open everyday 10am to 4pm.
The Chinese community has played a significant role in Bendigo’s history since the discovery of gold in 1851. The Joss House (a Chinese temple) was constructed in the late 1860s and is one of the few remaining buildings of its type in Australia. It provides a fascinating glimpse into Chinese culture and tradition. While we were there, we took the opportunity to light a few incense sticks at the temple for wealth and business prosperity. We like to cover off all options.
Do: Central Deborah Gold Mine76 Violet Street Bendigo, Ph: (03) 5443 8255, www.central-deborah.com
Bendigo’s Central Deborah Gold Mine is an actual goldmine which operated from 1939-1954. During that time almost one ton of gold (worth about $46 million in today’s prices) was extracted from this mine. There is a block in the interpretative centre at the mine showing the actual size of a ton of gold and it is surprisingly small.
Nowadays, Central Deborah Gold Mine is a tourist destination which offers a selection of tours allowing the intrepid to explore the hidden underground tunnels of a real gold mine. The Poolboy, Queenie and The Impossible Princess took the 75 minute Mine Experience Tour (which goes 61 metres underground). Other options included the Underground Adventure Tour (85 metres underground) or Australia’s deepest underground mine tour, the Nine Levels of Darkness tour (228 metres underground).
‘No level’ of darkness is quite enough for me, so I remained above-ground taking photos of the mine infrastructure and browsing the interpretive centre in an unrushed fashion, while the rest of the Fairlie Entourage descended into the bowels of the earth. They highly recommended the experience. They said it was informative and interesting and they assured me I would not have felt at all claustrophobic if I had chosen to join them. To be fair, the tour leader had also assured me of that himself when he tried to convince me to join them…but it just ain’t my thing.
All up, I highly recommend Bendigo as a destination whether you’re looking to get out of town for a few days, or if you’re looking for a regional location to add onto a Melbourne trip. I’m sure we just scratched the surface too. I think we could definitely see more on a return visit.