WANDER THROUGH WANDI

WORDS AND PHOTOS MIRIAM BLAKER

THE 1854, weekend. offers tap, once Wandiligong and had is a the great itís more Itís place the rustic, selection than hub Pub, to be welcoming of 2000 standing a on of village residents. local a cool since beer and that on Less than 300 people now live here and, as we discovered, a lot of them can be found sitting outside in the pubís beer garden on a Sunday afternoon. With its award-winning country tucker and cosy vibe, itís no surprise.

Sleepy and intimate, this tiny sub-alpine township in northeast Victoria lies under the radar for most of the year, but it bursts into life during the annual Wandi Nut Festival held in autumn. Once the colours subside things quieten again, but thereís much more to this place than picturesque trees and nuts. Beyond the orchards and streets lined with walnut trees, chestnuts and poplars is an exciting network of scenic 4x4 tracks waiting to be explored.

Walking into the pub mid-Sunday to check it out and book a table for dinner that night, we got more than we expected with cruisy live music and a warm country welcome. Lured out the back towards the fire pit in the massive beer garden, we suddenly felt as though we were amongst camping buddies.

The Wandi Pub, as itís known by the locals, is the last remaining pub in a town that once boasted 12 hotels. Established in the 1850s during the Victorian Gold Rush, it was a prosperous time. The first school was opened in 1860, two churches sprang up, and in 1864 the Manchester Unity Hall was built by the Manchester Unity Independent Order of Oddfellows Ö try saying that after a few beers. Reef and deep-lead mining were prominent until the 1900s, and within the valley, hops, orchards, tobacco and nut groves sprang up.

Exotic trees were planted, which became the colourful avenues of poplars that line the streets today, while Growlers Creek became a site for gold dredging. When dredging ended around 1930, Wandiligongís population declined. The churches held their last services during the 1960s and the town was left with a few decaying buildings, which were rarely used.

When the grand brick Oddfellows Hall looked in danger of demolition in 1972, the Wandiligong Preservation Society was established and helped save the buildings. Today, the Wandi Hall is still a popular venue and, over the years, it has been used for functions ranging from concerts, dances, balls, weddings, funerals, markets and even roller skating. Today, the entire town is classified by the National Trust.

Scattered among its leafy streets are a few bed and breakfasts, a hedge maze and cafť, and a small, vibrant school of 37 students. Built in 1877, this state school is the last remaining of four schools that once served here. The current principal, Jonathon Serpell, told us that student numbers have swelled from six to 60 in the past 30 years. Another building of interest is the Old General Store which operated from the 1860s until 1974. Itís now a private residence, albeit a very photogenic one.

TRAVEL PLANNER

WHERE

Wandiligong is 320km north of Melbourne. Take the Hume Freeway/National Highway M31 to Snow Road/C522 in Wangaratta South. Take the exit for C522 from Hume Fwy and follow Snow Road C522 and Great Alpine Road to Wandiligong, approximately 6km south of Bright.

CAMPING

Wandiligong Camping and Caravan Reserve, phone: (03) 5750 1162. Thereís free camping in the Buckland Valley including at Ah Youngs, Leinster Flat and Camp Flat. Many have fireplaces and are right on the river, and some have pit toilets. In Selwyn, Beveridges Campground has many spacious and grassy sites. The best time to travel is spring to autumn.

CONTACTS

Wandiligong: www.visitbright.com.au/ wandiligong Wandiligong Pub: www.thewandipub.com; (03) 5750 1050; 580 Morses Creek Road, Wandiligong. The pub is open six days, 12pm-late (closed Mondays). Must call ahead to book an indoor table. Alpine Paragliding: 0428 352 048 Active Flight: 0428 854 455

Grab a coffee at Wandiful Produce, a small farm on the corner of Morses Creek Road and Austin Lane. The farm shed is a cafť and store which offers a fresh produce menu. Up the road at Nightingale Orchard you can stock up on camping goodies at their farm gate. Thereís alpine cider and sparkling apple juice, and you can pick your own chestnuts, apples or seasonal berries that you can take away and turn into a fruit pie in the camp oven.

Across from the General Store is the Diggings Walk which follows the trail of mining history and leads to the Chinese Bridge, erected to commemorate the contribution of the Chinese goldminers. You can walk into Bright from Wandi, a picturesque 6km walk along Morses Creek, or an even better option is to go the other way and finish the walk with lunch at the Wandi Pub.

This valley is surrounded by the steep slopes of Mount Buffalo and Alpine national parks, so it offers some great off-road adventures for four wheels or two. Mountain bikers can explore a network of trails that weave through native and pine forest, in both sedate and challenging terrain. In the sky itís not unusual to see paragliders circling the air currents, as tandem flights take off from the Mystic Launch area above Bright. For off-roaders, this area has four-wheel drive tracks that climb to some fantastic lookouts and brilliant camping destinations.

Wandiligong sits on the junction of Growler and Morses creeks, tributaries of the Ovens River, and provides plenty of options to set up camp by the water. The Wandiligong camping and caravan reserve, close to town, provides an easy base for scenic local drives. If you prefer more remote camping head out to the Buckland Valley, where thereís free camping at many spots including Ah Youngs Campsite. Once a fossicking hotspot in the gold rush era it now offers a tranquil spot and good access to the Buckland River. Nearby is a memorial to the Chinese goldminers at the historic Buckland Valley Cemetery.

The Wandiligong Demon Ridge circuit, which starts from either Bakers Gully Road in Bright or the backblocks of Wandiligong, takes you to Clear Spot Lookout, a great loop drive of approximately 36km. The main track follows Clear Spot Road, an easy 4x4 track with loads of challenging sidetracks. Sweeping views of Bright, Porepunkah, Mount Buffalo and Harrietville can be had from atop the track, and thereís a directional trig point to help identify the ranges.

Travelling the other way towards Bright leads to Tower Lookout, which is signposted from the Great Alpine Road. Itís a short but steep and rocky track to the top, but we didnít stop there. Beyond the tower is a network of tracks that lead across the ridge. As we reached the top we saw the familiar and majestic rock face of Mount Buffalo. While thereís no direct access to Mount Buffalo from this track, youíll be treated to 360-degree views of the forested hills and granite peaks, as well as a network of fun tracks that will ultimately take you back down into the township of Myrtleford and surrounds.

The publican of the Wandi Pub, Tim Heuchan, clearly relishes where he lives. He told me about his commute to and from work, saying that a trip to his home in Harrietville along the main Alpine Road can often be busy, particularly in summer. He said there are three 4x4 tracks that lead from Wandiligong to Harrietville. It can take an extra 20

Reliance Track is another track in the Wandiligong area that joins towards the back of the Buckland Valley. From Freeburgh the track scoots across the ridge and is relatively easy, though it splits in half at times so itís good to come with a map or a GPS. There are a few river crossings and a 500-metre steep climb, but otherwise the track is relatively easy. As with many of the tracks up here there are a couple of additional side trails which offer some intense climbs and descents.

At 1634 metres above sea level, Mount Murray can be reached in non-winter periods and overlooks the remote Selwyn Creek and the Blue Rag Range, arguably the most spectacular track in the High Country. The lookout to Mount Murray can be reached by driving down the Buckland Valley from Porepunkah and following the Buckland River past Beveridges Station, named after the first pioneers here, the Beveridge brothers. The track follows the Mount Murray North Track until it hits the Twin Jeeps Track. From there, take the next left until you come to Mount Murray Track South, which takes you to the lookout. Drive back along the Twins Road to Mt St Bernard. This off-road loop encompasses some of Victoriaís most scenic country and a map is highly recommended.

A few nights in this beautiful part of Victoria will whet your appetite for more. In this pristine landscape the tracks and trails of the Alpine parks and state forests offer both action and tranquillity, whether youíre chasing adventurous off-roading or a weekend around a warm campfire. Head for the area in late October and you might catch the Wandi Pubís mini music festival; once youíve pitched camp and explored some tracks prepare to settle in for three days of live music in the beer garden, complete with top-notch eats, award-winning parmas and outdoor fires. A perfect excuse to wander through Wandi.