Melbourne has so many stunning surrounding towns that have spectacular scenery and epic riding roads. The Bear gives us a tour of some of his favourite Victorian riding locations...

No, I do not subscribe to the idea that the best thing about Melbourne is the Hume Highway leading north to Sydney. In fact, the eight years I spent living down there were among the happiest and most fulfilling of my life. Get out of the city and explore what’s around!

Hiding under the supports of one of the Murray River bridges. Convenient when it rains.

Hiding under the supports of one of the Murray River bridges. Convenient when it rains.

One reason I was so happy is that there are so many outstanding destinations for rides out of our southern metropolis. None of which, I might add, need to use the Hume Highway! Here then are three of my favourite Melbourne excursions, each about 350km one way which makes them either good, long day rides or relaxed overnighters. The choice, as always, is yours. In each case there are shorter and more obvious routes, but it’s nice to see a different bit of country every now and then!

Follow the Bear tracks here…

Rollin’ to the river
The Murray is always a terrific destination for a ride. When it’s hot, you can have a swim when you get there and when it’s cold you can… well, er, you can instead not have a swim and have a drink in one of the many pubs that line the river, instead. Win-win, really.

The town we’re heading for this time is in fact little more than a pub – although there is a servo there, too – called Barmah. Ah yes, Bear, I can hear you muttering into your beers, we’re going to read about the bloody (literally) leeches they used to catch up here for export, aren’t we? Well, more fool you because I wasn’t even going to mention them. Instead I was going to wax lyrical about the pleasures of camping up on the Murray River in Barmah State Park, and I shall proceed to do so. It is most pleasant to camp up on the Big River; there are waterside camp sites, no shortage of firewood and the opportunity to swim (should the weather be conducive) in the cool waters. 

The Barmah pub has the distinction of being the only hostelry in Victoria that’s north of the Murray River. Other than that, it is small and cosy and has cold beer; what more do you want? We once arrived there after the kitchen had closed, but managed to order pizzas from Nathalia just down the road. Mind you, they did charge extra for delivery.

Signposting in  the national park is excellent.

Signposting in  the national park is excellent. You’ll have no issues finding your way around without a SatNav.

Now, to get there by an other- than-immediately-obvious and probably boring road. Let’s start by heading to Whittlesea. Why am I kicking off on the “wrong” side of the Hume Freeway? Because I want to make a stop along the way, and this is the best way to get there. We’re off up to Kinglake West, Flowerdale and Yea, then along the Goulburn Valley Highway to Seymour, where we roll through town and then take the turnoff to the Tank Museum at Puckapunyal Army Camp. Marvellous place, has some of the rarest tanks in the world due to judicious swaps with other tank museums including at least one in Russia. Actually this place probably makes a full day ride destination on its own. 

From Puckapunyal it’s a short punt across to the Northern Highway where we turn right and then eventually right again onto the C347, a nice back road which rejoins the highway near Rochester. From here it’s a short run north to Echuca and across the river to Moama before tackling the Cobb Highway in NSW for 14km. Here we turn right and in another 14km find ourselves looking at the bridge back to Victoria and to the pub, just on the left. The State Park is on the left as well. 

he Grampians are not only beautiful, they are also remarkably varied.

The Grampians are not only beautiful, they are also remarkably varied.

Major Mitchell’s mountains
Are the Grampians really mountains, or are they just a double range of hills? Major Mitchell, who named them after one of the three major mountain ranges in his native Scotland, clearly thought of them as mountains. Let’s go with the original, then. And let’s get there by our very own way.

Since I hardly need to tell you much about the Grampians, I’m going to get into more detail about the route. Indeed, I’m going to cobble together a route that includes some of my favourite little stretches of road and painfully tries to avoid major ones.

Make your way to Melton and then head for Gisborne. Here, cut across the Calder Freeway to Mount Macedon, and continue north. Turn left to Woodend and continue to Tylden. Left here, then right and left again to Glenlyon. Right to Franklinford, on to Yandoit where we turn left to Campbelltown and on to Craigie, Amherst and finally Bung Bong. I chose this as a way point entirely for the name. We could have gone south to Talbot from Craigie and then to Lexton and Amphitheatre. But we’re Bung Bongers now, so we ride on to Avoca and then we take the Pyrenees Highway to Ararat and to Halls Gap.

It doesn’t matter in the slightest if you get lost somewhere along the way; most roads in this part of Victoria are fun, and as long as you end up in Ararat it doesn’t make any difference. And just for maximum contrast, why don’t you ride home along the Western Highway and Freeway?

The roads around Chiltern are good, like this one down from Beechworth.

The roads around Chiltern are good, like this one down from Beechworth.

The Southern Hemisphere’s largest grapevine
Seriously. I mean, I don’t know how they determine this kind of thing; I have not been able to find any kind of internationally accredited authority, for example, a kind of UNGVA. What does seem clear is that there is one in Hampton Court in England that’s more than twice the size of this one. Perhaps it’s only English-speaking countries that care about the size of their grapevines. This particular record holder, planted in 1867, is in the grounds of the Grape Vine Hotel on the corner of Main and Conness Streets in Chiltern and apparently measures 186cm at the base. The food and coffee get a pretty good wrap, although I prefer the Mulberry Tree Tearooms with its green outside sitting area. Martin Park is shady and good for a picnic.

Don’t be surprised if you encounter movie cameras in Chiltern’s main street, conveniently called Main Street, or more likely Conness Street. The Victorian streetscape is really pretty, if a bit twee, and there are several historic buildings worth a look. A little Motor Museum behind the servo has lots of junk as well as some vintage bikes and cars, and the Star Hotel also has a museum. The Chiltern Athenaeum is a pretty typical local history museum but is quite well set up and houses an interesting charcoal burner used during WW2. There’s also some material about Henry Handel Richardson, referred to on their website as Henry Handel Richardson.

Everything is a bit old-timey in Chiltern as this sign indicates. It's all very "Mad Max 1".

Everything is a bit old-timey in Chiltern as this sign indicates. It’s all very “Mad Max 1”.

“Black Jack” McEwen, leader of the Country Party when they still had leaders you’d recognise in the street, was born here. Okay, that’s all very well, but what about getting there?

There are many options. The most obvious one is of course to trundle up the Hume Freeway and turn off for the one kilometre ride to Chiltern. But my favourite way would be out to Warburton and up the Reefton Spur, dodging pieces of Ducati fairings. Then I’d turn right and head for Jamieson and eventually Mansfield by way of Woods Point. Gravel road warning here – if you prefer to stay on tar, turn left instead and take the road through Marysville and Alexandra to the road north of Mansfield instead. Not quite so interesting, and somewhat carefully policed.

Lots of rocks up there, and lots of wildlife living in them.

Lots of rocks up there, and lots of wildlife living in them. Stop and hang out to admire the scenery for a little.

From Mansfield you can head up a pleasant, paddock-lined country road towards Wangaratta. If you’re prepared to smudge your principles you can continue along the Freeway to Chiltern, or you can follow me to Beechworth and then up to Chiltern. The stretch between Reids Creek and Chiltern is especially good. If you’re going to stay the night, check out the Mulberry Tree or the caravan park in Chiltern, or the Royal Hotel just up the road in Rutherglen.

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