Exploring the Victorian Goldfields - 13-17 October, 2020

With coronavirus restrictions having confined us to our locale for several months, the chance for a short trip away before Melbourne's tight restrictions were lifted seemed like an excellent idea. We weren't too fussy about where we went, really just looking for a change of scenery for a few days. While scanning our "go to" site HappyCow, self-contained accommodation between Daylesford and Kyneton run by a vegan couple presented itself - and we were sold! So we planned a four-night trip to the Goldfields region, basing ourselves at Stephanie's Country Cottages (booked via Airbnb).

We headed off on Tuesday 13th October for the easy two-hour drive to Daylesford. While we encountered inclement weather on the journey up there, it cleared shortly before we arrived into Daylesford at about 11.30. It was good to revisit this pretty town, a place we've visited regularly over the years for its relaxing vibe. With the sun shining, we decided to walk a lap of Lake Daylesford before lunch and it was fairly quiet for a change (the lack of Melbourne visitors was obvious). Heading back into town, the main street was a little busier but still very quiet compared to normal for this popular town. We were fortunate to find that the Harvest Café had reopened for the first time since eased restrictions and so we enjoyed a nice vegan lunch there and also stocked up on some supplies from its excellent organic store. We also paid a visit to the famous Himalaya Bakery to source some of their delicious vegan breads for our time away. The fine and warm afternoon saw us driving out the short distance to the Blowhole, just out of Hepburn Springs. While we initially parked in the wrong place and ended up wandering semi-lost in the bush, we soon found the right place and enjoyed seeing the waterfall and had a nice creekside walk. Heading back into Hepburn Springs itself, we walked around some of the mineral springs near the spa centre and it was here that the impact of the travel restrictions on Melbourne visitors was most stark. These springs are normally very busy with people filling up their large containers, but there was hardly a soul around - good for us to experience the place in peace, but devastating for local businesses. Our final stop on the way to our accommodation was at Loddon Falls, an impressive waterfall off the beaten track (but with a couple of other tourists there). A twenty-minute drive then saw us pulling into the large property on which our cottage for the next four nights was situated. We were greeted by our host, Stephanie, on arrival and she was incredibly friendly and welcoming. The cottage was lovely, recently renovated in a contemporary style, spotlessly clean and very private. We ended up having a very long chat with Stephanie, talking veganism and many other topics! As we settled into the cottage, we enjoyed sitting on the front veranda and watching the kangaroos bouncing around the property - a perfect end to our first day.

Wednesday promised to be warm and sunny so, after a leisurely start, we decided to head up to the large city of Bendigo. A short distance from the cottage on the way there was the small historic bluestone village of Malmsbury so we stopped off for a look around. The botanic gardens were lovely to wander through and beautifully maintained, leading us to the village's claim to fame, its Victorian bluestone viaduct. This solid piece of engineering remains in use today and we saw a Bendigo-bound train heading over it. The remainder of the drive up to Bendigo was easy and, arriving well before we were ready for lunch, we parked in the city centre and wandered over to the vegan coffee shop, Adam & Eve Jnr. It's great to see a place like this in a country city and we enjoyed a quality coffee in this groovy little cafe. A walk around Rosalind Park and the Art Gallery precinct worked up our appetite for lunch and we drove out of the city centre the short distance to Adam & Eve, the big brother of the city cafe. This fully-vegan place in the middle of an industrial estate had an amazing menu and is also home to the Vegan Milk Bar, a deli offering lots of plant-based meats and cheeses! Lee opted for the their version of a full English breakfast, the "full Brexit" which was an enormous meal featuring lots of Suzy Spoon's Vegetarian Butcher goodies (including black pudding!). It was good to see this type of cafe doing great business and we really enjoyed our lunch there. We then drove out to somewhere completely new to us, in the shape of the Great Stupa of Universal Compassion. This work-in-progress Buddhist pagoda will be enormous when finished, measuring 50 metres square at its base and 50 metres high. The gardens were beautiful and very relaxing to explore before we settled in for a coffee from their vegetarian (curiously not vegan) cafe. This was a delightful and peaceful place to visit, a lucky find thanks to some brief pre-trip planning. Heading back into the city, we rounded out our day in Bendigo with a walk around Lake Weerona before driving back to the cottage by about 5pm. We walked around the perimeter of the property and saw plenty of wildlife along the way, before bumping into Stephanie as she was feeding her various rescue animals (including ducks and very vocal geese!). Our chance meeting ended up being a two-hour chat, watching yet more kangaroos close up as we talked. It was almost 7.30pm by the time we all decided dinner was well overdue and we opted for the easy option of cooking up the potato & pea vegan pizza that Stephanie had kindly made for us, delicious!

It was time to explore a different area on Thursday, starting off with Kyneton. It was a cloudy but mild start to the day as we cruised into Kyneton by 10.30. We enjoyed a good stroll thanks to the excellent Campaspe River walk and we even tried out the various machines at the new outdoor gym area along the way! We'd certainly worked up an appetite by the time we walked back into town to try out a relatively new all-vegan cafe, Olivia's Pantry. We'd read great things about this cafe offering vegan Italian fare (from reviews and also Stephanie) and were lucky that it had recently reopened following closure around COVID restrictions. We were not disappointed - the owners were super-friendly, the outdoor area was lovely and the food was delicious. We decided to buy some food to takeaway for later in the week back at the cottage too! From bustling Kyneton, it was a short drive down to Woodend where we walked along Five Mile Creek before exploring the main street, which was noticably quieter than Kyneton. Moving on again, we stopped off at Trentham Falls on our way to Trentham itself. Some decent showers had moved in by the time we arrived, but we still wandered along the deserted main street before walking a lap around the lake (by which time the showers had dried up). It was then an easy drive back to our cottage by about 5.30pm. The second of Stephanie's vegan pizzas - an olive, tomato, onion and cheese creation - served us very well for dinner!

Friday dawned sunny and warm as we headed out to one of our favourite towns in the area, Castlemaine. It was a short drive from the cottage so we had plenty of time before lunch and opted to start off with a nice walk around the large botanic gardens in the warm morning sunshine. Right next to the gardens, we found The Mill, an old steel mill recently repurposed into an area of interesting small businesses. We headed first to Harvest Fruit and Veg, an excellent local source of mainly organic fruit and veg. We stocked up both for the rest of our week away and also for when we got back home thanks to their great range of fresh produce. Exploring the Castlemaine Vintage Bazaar and Platform No. 5 warehouses took a while and an excellent quality coffee from the Vienna-inspired Das Kaffehaus went down well! We really enjoyed exploring The Mill and it was good to see a new place so popular, especially with it being a little out of the town. Heading into Castlemaine itself, we looked around for a lunch option and opted for familiar territory in the shape of Saff's and their perennial vegan brekkie! Showers were setting in by the time we'd had lunch and we stocked up on supplies at the excellent organic shop, Green Goes The Grocer, before one last wander around the town centre. With showers turning to rain, we left Castlemaine to check out nearby Maldon. This small town was deserted and the many closed shops indicated that unfortunately this historic town is struggling, especially as a result of COVID and the lack of tourists in the area. We weren't seeing the town at its best in the rain, but it was still worth a look before we headed back to the cottage by about 4.30pm. Dinner came courtesy of our trip to Olivia's Pantry and her jackfruit pies were splendid (especially when washed down with a local Harcourt cider!).

We didn't rush to leave on Saturday morning. "Checking out" was a lengthy process as we again ended up in an hour-long chat with Stephanie, a wonderful host of a great property. We finally left at about 10.30am, destination Kyneton again for one more chance to dine at Olivia's Pantry. It was a nice sunny and mild morning so we first made a booking to make sure we didn't miss out (given the limited capacity due to COVID restrictions), then went for another long walk along the Campaspe River before returning to town for our 12.30pm booking. We had another excellent lunch, deliberately choosing different dishes from our first visit. We again decided to take some food away with us, in the shape of more of those jackfruit pies and an irresistable looking cake. From Kyneton, we started our trip back towards home, stopping off first at Daylesford Cider to pick up a few bottles of their excellent quality organic & vegan cider. Lee had tried some of their ciders from a shop in Daylesford at the start of the trip and really enjoyed them, so it was a good chance to stock up (and also to see their beautiful venue just out of Daylesford). Heading into Daylesford itself, the town was a little busier being the weekend but still nowhere near what it would normally be like on a sunny Saturday. We took the opportunity to stock up on yummy bread from Himalaya bakery again and also managed a lap around the lake (assisted by a fueling stop consisting of our cake from Olivia’s Pantry and a protein bar from Himalaya bakery!). After that, it was a cruisey drive home by about 5pm.

While only a short trip, we really enjoyed our few days exploring a different area. Our accommodation choice couldn't have been better and checking out the various towns around the Goldfields area was both interesting and relaxing. Our vegan-hosted cottage really was a home away from home and feels very much like the kind of place we could escape to again and again!