A slang term for an Aussie tea break is a smoko. The term has persisted even with the reduction in smoking rates and is used by people who’ve never touched a cigarette. Coincidentally, our first camp in regional Victoria was at a free camp at a place called Smoko, just outside the popular tourist town of Bright. Hence the title of this post.
Far From the Madding Crowds
Bright is a popular destination for visitors to regional Victoria. There’s plenty of shops showcasing the produce of the region and it’s a centre for activities such as mountain biking. On the day we got there we certainly experienced that popularity, it was packed. We’d chosen to visit on a market day and when the schools had a pupil free day. We had a stroll around the markets but there a few too many people for our liking so we sought out the Tourist Information Centre for alternative suggestions. We discovered that there were several walks along the river so decided on taking one of these.
It turned out to be a good move as five minutes outside of the town centre calm descended. We wouldn’t have known we were a short distance from the thousands of people exercising their wallets in town. It was a really nice 5km walk that took us up one bank of the river and across a cute suspension bridges before returning on the other bank. Along the way we saw the channels in the rock that had been hand dug by gold miners looking to find their fortune.
It is definitely worth visiting Bright. We’d recommend taking one of the river walks and if you’re camping, the Smoko campground is very good. However, it’s probably worth checking to see if it is a public holiday as we found out it can get very busy.
North Eastern Victoria is Ned Kelly country so after Bright we continued on to Glenrowan, the centre of all things Kelly. In case you’re not aware, Ned Kelly was a notorious bushranger. His legend divides people as to whether he was a hero of the people or just a murderous thug. A good starting place to find out about both sides of the argument is the Time Team Episode set in Glenrowan which excavated the site of his last stand before his capture and eventual execution. You can watch it here.
We’d thought we might have another night at our free camp in Smoko and just visit Glenrowan for a few hours en route south. However, the rain came in on the morning after our first night. We therefore decided to book in to the Kelly Country motel in the centre of Glenrowan.
In the morning you’ll probably not be surprised to find we headed straight for the Big Ned Kelly. We then had a look around the Ned Kelly Museum and Homestead. It gave a good overview of the story and the history surrounding the Kelly gang. We came away thinking he was more of a thug with delusions of grandeur than a hero. However, he certainly lived in tough times. We were tempted to visit the Ned Kelly Story, an animatronic recreation, but at $30 each, we thought it was a bit steep. Instead, before leaving Glenrowan we drove around to the site of his last stand.
One of the enduring images of Kelly is him wearing his homemade armour. At the last stand site we found out that, ironically, had he not been wearing it, there may have been a different outcome. The armour made it difficult for the gang to see and load their weapons. It was therefore easier for the few policemen to keep them under siege until reinforcements arrived.
Bread, Honey & Beer
Continuing the Ned Kelly theme, the watch house where Ned Kelly was taken first after his capture is in the town of Beechworth. Its free to look inside or you can pay to explore the old gaol next door. A couple of doors along is the fascinating telegraph museum. We’d seen previously in Queensland, how important the development of the telegraph line was to the establishment of pioneer communities. The story was the same in Victoria and the museum gives a great background to that history. We also got to send a telegram via Morse Code to our daughter in Melbourne.
Beechworth is famous for a couple of exports. Firstly, Beechworth Bakery, which is now a chain with branches across Victoria. People swear that their Bee Sting buns are to die for. Probably even more famous is Beechworth honey which can be bought across Australia. At their headquarters shop at the top of the main street you can taste their full range which is over 30 varieties. Honey is our go-to spread so we left with some to keep us going for a little while.
Just opposite the honey shop is Bridge Road Brewery. As you might expect if you’ve read some of our other posts, Bridges on the Road couldn’t go past Bridge Road. As we were driving on we sadly couldn’t sample the brews there and then. However, we took a 6 pack of their pale ale with us for later consumption.
We really enjoyed our wander through Beechworth. Perhaps it was because it was less busy but we preferred the town to Bright. The two towns are less than an hour apart so why not visit them both and decide for yourself.
Koalas and Echidnas
Around 300km south of Beechworth, on the coast of East Gippsland is Paynesville. We had no real reason to visit here other than we hadn’t been to Gippsland before and there was a choice of campgrounds. It was getting a bit windy so we decided we wanted the luxury of a camp kitchen rather than cooking outside.
We pitched up at Resthaven Tourist Park and went for an explore. Paynesville fronts onto the Gippsland lakes and a there’s a pleasant walk along the lakeside. A serendipitous find was that there’s a ferry across to Raymond Island which is free for pedestrians. We had our next day’s activity sorted.
The following morning, we walked a bit more of the lakeside then took the five minute ferry ride across to Raymond Island. There’s no shops on the island so we’d come prepared with our packed lunch. As we unwrapped it, we had our first wildlife encounter of the day. An echidna, making it’s way lazily across the path. It wasn’t at all bothered by us so we were able to get up close to get some pictures.
Raymond island has a well established koala population. After living in Australia for eight years, we’d never seen a koala in the wild until we visited Magnetic Island a few months previously. We therefore took the koala trail after lunch, hoping to see a few more and we weren’t disappointed. We saw well over 10 in the trees as we walked around the island.
They were all pretty sleepy which isn’t surprising as they can sleep for more than 20 hours a day. You may think that’s lazy but they’re really busily digesting their dinner. Their main source of food is eucalyptus leaves which contain oils that are toxic to most animals. While the koalas rest, their digestion system break down these toxins and the fibres in the leaves.
As an added bonus, during our walk we saw another two echidnas. Both of them were just as unbothered by us as the first one we saw. For somewhere we hadn’t planned to visit, Paynesville and Raymond Island turned out to be great finds.
There’s more to Victoria than we expected
Victoria has a few well known draw cards for tourists including: the capital, Melbourne; The Great Ocean Road and The Grampians. However, the areas we visited in this part of our travels aren’t as well known. We were really taken by these places and enjoyed regional Victoria immensely. It is also a fairly small state so its easy to get out and about to explore it, and we would definitely recommend doing so.