Rutherglen Roaming

30 June 2010

Ghosts, wineries and emu pies – enjoy a tour of Victoria’s High Country.

Sniff, swirl and taste your way through the Rutherglen wine region. The area is renowned for producing muscat, durif and tokay and rests only three hours north of Melbourne. Vines were planted here in the early 1850s, making this one of Australia’s oldest wine-growing areas.

As I entered the town, I was greeted with a cheeky sign proclaiming, ‘Sydney may have a nice harbour but Rutherglen has a great port’. I was on a mission to test the truth of this bold statement.

I visited Stanton & Killeen Wines who produce full-bodied reds, vintage ports, white table wines, muscats and tokay dessert wines. Chris Killeen is their sixth-generation winemaker. The winery utilises the traditional open-vat fermentation process as well as modern technology. The friendly folk offer group winery tours (by appointment).

Morris Wines was established in 1859. Within their atrium-style cellar door you can gaze at their old storage casks resting above dirt floors as you sample their fine drops. David Morris, a fifth-generation winemaker has won many awards.


With 19 vineyards in Rutherglen to explore, why not combine tastings with exercise in a bike ride that pedals via eight wineries? It’s a pretty cycle with vineyards and bright-yellow canola fi elds stretching as far as the eye can see.


There’s more to Rutherglen than just fine wine. The gold-mining town is steeped in history. Back in 1860, a collection of men were drinking in the Star Hotel when the publican was handed down a challenge – shout everyone a round and score naming rights to the town. The publican came through with the goods and Rutherglen was named after his town of birth in Scotland. The Star Hotel is still standing as a grand reminder.


Drive around and you will encounter some opulent buildings, such as Fairfield House. This Victorian mansion was built in 1889, and restored in 1975. The impressive Olive Hills manor was built 1886 and Mount Ophir Estate was a winery built between 1891 and 1903. Classified by the National Trust, Mount Ophir is no longer operational. During its hey-day it is estimated over half a million gallons of wine were produced.


Rutherglen’s quaint, historical main street draws visitors far and wide with Parker Pies Bakehouse. They offer many strange and wonderful fillings. If you like your Australian Coat of Arms animals you can feast on kangaroo and emu pie. Or if you’re daring, try the tiger king prawn or crocodile pie. Parker Pies have won over 100 awards.


Walk off the pastry and take a 4km stroll around Lake Moodemere or enjoy the 1.2km loop around Lake King. This walking trail begins near the Rutherglen Caravan Park entrance. Embark on the heritage self-guided walk and view the courthouse built circa 1860. Prior to this, legal proceedings were held in a tent.

As you leave Rutherglen, you can hardly ignore the giant iconic water tower. Mesh was erected in 1969 to give the tower the appearance of a wine bottle. The giant structure beckons you back to the town for another taste!


From here, saunter south down to Beechworth, about 45 minutes away. Beechworth is one of Australia’s best preserved gold rush towns, with the National Trust presiding over 30 of its honey-coloured granite buildings. Gold was discovered here in 1852 and in 14 years the area collected over four million ounces of gold.


The Gold Rush Walking Tour visits famous sites and relays stories of Beechworth’s golden history. Learn about the $7,500,000 worth of gold that was stored here before it was taken to Melbourne by the Gold Escort. Or get your licence from the information centre and try your hand and fossicking and gold panning.


Beechworth is associated with our most famous bushranger, Ned Kelly. Records show a 16-year-old Ned Kelly served six months at Beechworth Gaol for minor crimes.
Then, in 1880 Kelly returned to Beechworth for his preliminary trial for the murder of Constable Lonigan. A one-hour Ned Kelly Walking Tour will take you to the house of the presiding judge in Kelly’s committal hearing and the site where Ned Kelly won a bare-knuckle boxing match.


Buy a ticket from the information centre to discover Beechworth’s Historical Precinct, where you will fi nd the courthouse and Ned Kelly’s cell. There’s also the telegraph station, the sub treasury and the Chinese Cultural Centre. Beechworth had a permanent Chinese temple, camp, shops and burial ground as the Chinese population in Beechworth rose to 7000. You can see their burning towers at the Beechworth Cemetery. Some 2000 Chinese are buried here.


At the Burke Museum, experience a reproduction of Beechworth’s streetscape last century, see Aboriginal artefacts, Ned Kelly items, and 19th-century Chinese banners amongst many other interesting exhibitions.


Visit the Beechworth Lunatic Asylum, established in 1867 and active until 1995. It was one of the three biggest asylums in Victoria and at one stage accommodated 1000 patients. Beechworth Ghost Tours can guide you through the halls and rooms of the former Mayday Hills Asylum, now the site of La Trobe University. Tours start from 6:30pm (weekends) or you can join a midnight tour. Hear of the tragic tales of patient mistreatment.

To have someone committed only took two signatures, but to be released from the asylum required eight. As well as learning about life during the 1860s and hearing some ghostly tales, you may just see something extraordinary in the halls.

Don’t miss the beauty of the Beechworth region. Take the 5km Gorge Scenic Drive along mountain terrain to experience the peaceful surrounds, waterfalls and sweeping views over the valley. Visit manmade Lake Sambell and the old dredge at Eldorado. At the time this dredge was the largest constructed in Australia.

If you’re after a drop, pop into Amulet Vineyard, Pennyweight Winery, Smiths Vineyard or Tinkers Hill Wines. If you’re a beer drinker, you may prefer to wander into Bridge Road Brewers, set in a 150-year-old coach house and stables. Stop by Murray Breweries for their cellar museum containing brewing memorabilia. Sorry, no beer here; the company ceased brewing long ago and moved into cordial mixes and spring water instead.

The famous Beechworth Bakery is not to be missed for pie lovers, with Beechworth Bakeries popping up in other Victorian country towns.

After soaking up the history in Beechworth discover the picturesque town of Yackandandah, 23km away. Yackandandah’s tree-lined main street is awash with charming Victorian architecture. Have a stroll and admire the National Trust buildings, eat to your heart’s content at Sticky Tarts, chow down pies at the bakery, or down a few pints at the pub. Sort through the jumble of antique and knick-knack stores, browse the boutique stores and just immerse yourself in the little community of 700. Some landmarks of the street include the Bank of Victoria, now a museum, and the historic Athenaeum building, built in 1878 and now the visitor’s centre.

It’s a quiet and pretty town with a creek, historic stone bridge, and walking tracks. Indulge in the Schmidts Strawberry Winery or travel underground in the Karrs Reef Goldmine tours, past many pieces of original mining machinery. This mine descends down to 66m and dates back to 1867. With so much to explore, point your van in the north-east pocket of Victoria and step back in time.



Rutherglen Wines Experience & Information Centre
57 Main St, Rutherglen
Tel: 1800 622 871

Beechworth Information Centre
Town Hall, Ford Street, Beechworth
Tel: 1300 366 321

Yackandandah Visitor Information Centre
Athenaeum Building, 27 High Street,
Tel: (02) 6027 1988


72 Murray St, Rutherglen
Tel: (02) 6032 8577

Peach Drive, Beechworth
Tel: (03) 5728 1421

151 Stanley Road, Beechworth
Tel: (03) 5728 1597

Taymac Drive, Yackandandah
Tel: (02) 6027 1380



Jacks Rd, Rutherglen
Tel: (02) 6032 9457

Mia Mia Rd, Rutherglen
Tel: (02) 6026 7303

29 Last Street, Beechworth
10am to 4pm daily


0447 432 816
Wear suitable footwear

Tickets sold from the Beechworth Visitor Information Centre

Departs 10.30am every day from the Beechworth Visitor Information Centre

Departs 1pm every day from the Beechworth Visitor Information Centre

Karr’s Reef Goldmine near Yackandandah
Tickets are available for purchase at the Yackandandah Visitor Information Centre


From Melbourne: Follow the Hume Hwy north, exit left onto Developmental Road, right at Rutherglen Springhurst Road (which turns into Fortune Street) then slight left onto Main Road, Rutherglen.

By Kylie Dapiran