Bendigo once laid claim to being the richest city in the world and though its gold rush days are long behind it, the city continues to sparkle. Its ongoing allure is in the award-winning wineries, paddock-to-plate dining and an art gallery that holds up against international attractions. With Qantas flying direct to Bendigo as of 31 March, the time for discovering this city’s riches is now.
If you want... a wine weekend
Image credit: The new glamping facilities at Balgownie Estate
Arguably the best way to experience Bendigo – a city surrounded by rolling, vine-covered hills – is by visiting at least one of the many local wineries. The oldest winery in Bendigo, Balgownie Estate, is a constant drawcard for its award-winning cabernet sauvignon best sipped on the sprawling lawn; Sutton Grange Winery is known for stunning view of the surrounding region; and round out the day by discovering the extensive local and international wine list at Wine Bank On View. Less than 30 minutes drive east is the internationally renowned Heathcote wine region. Cosy up in Heathcote Winery’s moody cellar door for a signature shiraz; visit winery-slash-craft brewery The Shiraz Republic; then head to boutique winery Sanguine Estate to sip a different take on the red grape.
If you want... to brush up on culture
Bendigo has long held its ground as a worthy player in Victoria’s art scene, boasting an impressive list of local artists, architecture, galleries and street art. Highlights include the Bendigo Art Gallery, which showcases a sizeable archive of acclaimed Australian art from the 1850s to now – including works from artists such as Patricia Piccinini, Kit Webster, Ben Quilty and Thomas Wright – and a regular run of crowd-pleasing international exhibitions. Until 14 July, for example, you can trace the history of the British monarchy when the acclaimed Tudors to Windsors exhibit comes to town. For something more intimate, take a tour through award-winning artist Gail Tavener’s home studio to discover bold, colourful realism at its finest. And no culture crawl would be complete without something left-of-centre – for that, take a trip to The Great Stupa of Universal Compassion: a towering Buddhist shrine on the outskirts of town, set to replicate a famous shrine in Tibet and full of intriguing artworks and totems – including the world’s largest Buddha carved from jade. While you can visit, the stupa is still under construction and is set to be another 25 metres taller, the tallest outside Asia. Unexpected? Yes. Unforgettable? Absolutely.
If you want... a gourmet getaway
The food scene in Bendigo is fresh, fun and thriving thanks to a range of contemporary spaces that have popped up over the last five years. Harvest is a rotisserie, patisserie, deli and bar. It's ideal for pastry fiends seeking tasty lunch options – like a roll stuffed with something fresh from the rotisserie (ask your server what's cooking) – and a sip of its signature rosé (in fact, clear your afternoon – they sport a very appealing cellar door, too). Chancery Lane is home to a handful of bars and eateries worth their weight in gold – look for The Dispensary to sip a spritz and fill up on bao. And don’t discount the town stalwarts. Masons of Bendigo is renowned (and hatted) for delicious, honest, farm-to-table fare; Woodhouse restaurant flames locally sourced steaks on a grill fired with red gum; while The Old Boundary Hotel is the port of call for travellers seeking the town’s historic meeting place.
If you want... to immerse yourself in history
Bendigo is a region steeped in Indigenous heritage – the city stands on Dja Dja Wurrung and Taungurung Country and you can learn more about the traditions and history of the land by travelling on the Dja Dja Wurrung tram. It’s adorned with Indigenous artworks and features commentary written and spoken by Dja Dja Wurrung people. The gold rush of mid-19th century brought revelers to Bendigo from far and wide, each seeking to lay claim to their own rags-to-riches tale. During this period of rapid growth, new buildings sprang up all over the town to better represent its newfound wealth and exuberance. While the gold rush came to an end, the impressive architecture remains – make visits to Bendigo Town Hall (built in the height of the gold rush, dripping in gold leaf and palatial opulence) and Ulumbarra Theatre (a playhouse within a restored prison dating back more than 150 years) top of your to-do list. The best way to take it all in is via the vintage trams that criss-cross the town or take a guided walking tours to get a little lost in the town’s rich heritage.
If you want... an outdoor adventure
The best way to take a breather from the city is to get into nature and Bendigo has no shortage of beautiful green spaces, walking and cycling trails and nearby national parks to satisfy the adventure-curious. Rosalind Park, Lake Weeroona and Kennington Reservoir comprise the town’s trifecta of pleasant parkland and feature scenic paths. Further afield, the truly intrepid can dirty their boots on the Goldfields Track, O’Keefe Rail Trail and Bendigo Creek Trail, or wind their way throughout the network of trails in Greater Bendigo National Park. Unsurprisingly, gold fields are a recurring theme and a few are open to tourists keen to delve deep in to the labyrinthine chambers of the mines. At the Central Deborah Gold Mine, you can journey 85 metres underground (claustrophobics need not apply).
SEE ALSO: Your Guide to the Heathcote Wine Region