Top 6 reasons to visit Bendigo

Bendigo is a unique Australian place to visit - from exploring the history of the gold rush to enjoying cool blues music.

On his latest adventure travel editor David McGonigal discovers a multitude of reasons to explore historic Bendigo.

Standing on the corner of Victoria Lane and Pall Mall looking towards the fountain in Charing Cross I’m taken by thoughts global contrapuntal points. This is the process where opposite points on a sphere are identified. Bendigo is almost on the direct opposite side of the globe to London and the nomenclature certainly reveals a 19th Century longing for home.

A cutaway underground profile quickly reveals why so many came, stayed and prospered ... gold. Bendigo’s working mining industry only finished in 2011 but the city of 100,000 virtually right in the middle of the state of Victoria retains its grand heritage. There is a new quirky side to the city, too. When it was announced that the Bendigo Art Gallery was to house the Grace Kelly exhibition, previously of the V&A in London, people had to take notice. Now the gallery is known for its special exhibitions, most recently an excellent one on Ned Kelly where various iconic Kelly artworks came together.

Bendigo Art Gallery DSC_4726

1. Enjoy local cuisine
Remember when haute cuisine in rural Australia was a burger or fish and chips at a milk-bar or perhaps bland chow mein at the local Chinese restaurant? Now it seems as if every town can boast restaurants that make the most of nearby local produce in truly inspired dishes.

That’s certainly true in Bendigo. Rocks on Rosalind at 12 View St is a restaurant and bar in the grand old National Bank building and makes the most of the high arched windows, high ceilings and even the sandstone vault. The brainchild of Ben Massey and Finn Vedelsby, Rocks on Rosalind offers a fresh, sophisticated, ever-changing range of dishes.

2. Sing along on the blues tram
Bendigo has trams that seem in keeping with its quaint heritage atmosphere. Relaxing and rattling along on a tram is the ideal way to see the streetscape of the city. It’s worth planning a visit to be there for the roughly-monthly Blues Tram that next takes to the streets on Saturday 22 August and Friday evening 25 September for 2.5 hours rattling and rocking with live music on an historic tram (book in advance).

If you can’t be there for the Blues Tram then it’s still worthwhile experiencing Bendigo’s vintage ‘talking’ tram or tour the tramways depot and workshop.

Bendigo Blue Tram

3. Make pottery (or shop for it)
If you did a word association starting with the word Bendigo I suspect a lot of people would immediately think of the word 'pottery'. Bendigo Pottery is Australia’s oldest – it started operating in 1858 and has the world’s largest collection of ceramic wood-fired kilns (10 in all). It’s located about 6km from town in the direction of Echuca. Of course there’s a shop but you’ll also find antique stalls and artists studios, a café and the chance to try your hand at pottery including wheel throwing.

4. Explore the historical mines
Many of us have a claustrophobia or an understandable fear of being trapped underground. So a tour of the Central Deborah Mine is not for the faint hearted. There’s a wide range of options to consider.

There are several underground mine tours in Australia (in nearby Ballarat and at Broken Hill for starters) but if you’re just going to do one you may as well head for the deepest option in the nation. Central Deborah’s ‘Nine Levels of Darkness’ tour runs for about four hours and take you 228 metres underground. While the other tours to 61 metres and 85 metres utilise a modern lift, this one has you clambering up and down ladders and taking the original old rattly miners cage. Even so, you are still a long way above the mine’s deepest shaft that went down 412 metres.

No matter which tour you do, there’s much more than the thrill of being underground. The tours are led by ex-miners who do a great job of capturing what it was like to spend all day underground. The Central Deborah Mine was regarded as one of the best employers as it had hot water showers!

Mine Tour Going Underground DSC_4709

5. See amazing art
Bendigo Art Gallery was founded in 1887 so is one of the oldest and largest regional galleries in Australia. The opening of a new contemporary wing in 2014 added another 600 square metres of gallery space. The permanent collection is impressive but it is the visiting exhibitions under the guidance of the gallery director, Karen Quinlan, that are garnering national praise. Check Bendigo Art Gallery to see what’s coming next. The gallery is closed on Mondays.

Bendigo Art Gallery DSC_4727

6. Take a beautiful two hour drive from Melbourne
It takes less than two hours to travel to Bendigo from Melbourne and it’s a pretty country drive. When you arrive in Bendigo you’ll find a bustling modern town, exemplified by the strikingly modern Bendigo Bank building, in a grand colonial city.

For more information on Bendigo click here.

Have you ever been to Bendigo or is it on your bucket list? Join the conversation below…