Don’t waste your hard-earned money on a trip to the Mediterranean – Sun Country on the Murray has it all and more
The Moira Shire, also known as Sun Country on the Murray, has a Mediterranean climate and 101 sandy beaches to match. Want more? Well, read on and discover for yourself how the region from Echuca to Yarrawonga is the perfect place to enjoy the sun, food, wine and outdoor activities, all within striking distance of Australia’s best river.
The kicker is the Farm Gate Trail put together by a collection of primary producers offering their product directly to you from the farm. Each Farm Gate offers a unique experience and with food crops, grape growers, dairy and even hemp, this region has it all. Regular markets are also a drawcard with the long weekends pulling loads of stalls and people looking for a bargain.
As with any region, I always recommend the first stop to be at one of the four Visitor Information Centres. Here you can discover those special places, new activities and, of course, find out all about the Farm Gate Trail from the experienced people in the know. I dropped into the Barmah Forest Heritage and Education Centre in Nathalia and was fascinated by the displays, art, and of course, visitor information.
Blessed are the cheesemakers and especially Boosey Creek Cheese. Master Cheesemaker Ken Cameron decided to turn the milk from his environmentally sustained cows into cheese 10 years ago. Now the Artisan Farmhouse cheeses are winning awards, the stinky Washed Rind Warby Red and vintage cloth bound Grampy’s Cheddar are favourites, but there’s also a camembert, blue, gouda and fetta. I guarantee any of the Boosey Creek cheeses raise the bar on any cheeseboard.
Hemp, honey and almonds are what Aintree Almonds and Apiary are all about. Mariea and Trinity’s farm is located on Ferris Street, Bearii (near Strathmerton). The small farm gate is backed up by a high presence in local markets. These guys were the first people to be legally allowed to produce hemp seed oil in Victoria. The health qualities of hemp seed oil surpass that of fish oil, tastier too, so why isn’t the Heart Foundation promoting it as such?
Garlic lovers celebrate at Katamatite Garlic, where you can learn the art of cultivating garlic through workshops (pre-booking required) as well as taste the range of pickles, jellies and salts, all laced with organically grown garlic as well as seasonal jams and jellies. Before getting stuck into tasting, ask for a farm tour. With only three acres to work with, Lisa and Grahame have designed the gardens using permaculture principles, but the real workhorses on this farm are the chickens!
If fresh produce is what you are after, check out the self-serve Farm Gate at Manto Produce on Campbell Road, Cobram. Specialising in stone fruits and pome fruits including pears, apples, apricots, peaches and plums, you can also stock up on a variety of fresh local produce from the region. KNM Berries on Kangan Road, Koonoomoo is another self-serve shop to check out, especially if you’re partial to strawberries.
Speaking of strawberries, the Big Strawberry is the place to indulge. Also located in Koonoomoo, you can’t miss it on the Goulburn Valley Highway. Ice creams, milkshakes, jams, toppings, fruit wines – if it contains a berry it will be there. You can even get stuck into a Devonshire Tea … mmmm scones, jam and cream!
Let’s begin with Cape Horn Vineyard, situated on the banks of the Murray a hop, skip and a jump from Echuca. The vineyard sits on Stewarts Bridge Road and began operating during the 1800s, a popular stop for the river boat trade. Currently owned by long-time locals, the Gilmour and Buckley families, they’ve turned the winery into a popular weekend venue, with their well-renowned wood-fired pizzas the main fare, perfectly matched with a rosé, chardonnay or stunning sparkling shiraz.
Tony was happy to show me around and talk me through the range of wines under the current label, and the green lawn area and balcony is the perfect place to enjoy Sunday Sippers while listening to a live acoustic session. There are a few top free campsites just down the road on the banks of the Murray River. On Berrys Road in nearby Katunga, you’ll find Monichino Wines.
Planted by Carlo in 1962, the family-owned vineyard is now looked after by his children Terry and Anna. They’re extremely proud of the large varietals of wine produced from their property, mostly thanks to Carlo being easily bored. Enjoy a quaff as you cook a steak on the barbecue in the garden.
A couple of smaller wineries are Ulupna Wines and Fyffe Field Wines. Ulupna Wines can be found on Crawfords Road, Strathmerton and is a vineyard with tranquil surrounds. Open by appointment only, it’s best to give Kathy a call before you head her way. You’ll be surprised by the number of ceramic pigs that take pride of place at Fyffe Field Wines, located on the Murray Valley Highway opposite Byramine Homestead.
The final winery on the Farm Gate Trail is Warrabilla Wines, located 30km east of Yarrawonga, on the Murray Valley Highway. Winemaker Andrew Smith loves producing BIG reds and the range of Durifs will blow you away. Helped by Andrew’s “assistant winemaker, best mate and daughter” Amy, allow plenty of time to enjoy tasting the range of wines available at the cellar door. Although tempted to get stuck into it, I didn’t think camping in the carpark would have been appreciated.
The two biggest crowd pullers on the Farm Gate Trail are Byramine Homestead and Rich Glen Olives. Being so close to Yarrawonga and Mulwala as well as a load of free camping spots along the Murray, on the weekends these two places are teeming with people.
The historic Byramine Homestead was built in 1842 by Hamilton Hume for his widowed sister-in-law, Elizabeth Hume. Yep, when he wasn’t out exploring, he was helping out Elizabeth after bushrangers slaughtered Hamilton’s younger brother. Elizabeth lost two of nine children while at Byramine and she lived here until she died on 4 July 1864. She was 61 years of age.
Now, Byramine has an ‘A’ classification by the National Trust, meaning it must be preserved at all costs. Self-guided tours of the homestead are available for a nominal fee and you will learn why the house is such an odd shape. The Brewery and Cider House offers tasting boards and if you’re hungry tuck into a ploughman’s platter, Devonshire Tea or light lunches.
The family owned and operated Rich Glen Olives has taken over the homestead built in a time l long ago. Due to demand and the expansion of their café, the family home was renovated, and the farm gate transformed. All things relating to olive oil are available for free sampling including oils, olives, dressings and dukkah. There is also a skincare range and flavoured teas as well as a café offering a large range of lunch options. I always walk away with a bag full of tasty fare but prefer mid-week visits when it’s more relaxing and I get the opportunity to chat to Ros, the legend behind the farm gate.
If time is your enemy, DON’T miss the amazing Cactus Country. Twenty-five years ago, Jim and Julie Hall began planting cactus on their property near Strathmerton and now an amazing range of cacti covers eight acres. Over 4000 varieties of plants from North and South America, Mexico and Africa are displayed in their country of origin and walking trails are marked with colours and numbers that are easy for you to follow.
Even the kids are looked after with a fantastic ‘Spotto Trail’ designed especially for them. Cacti flower on a continual basis from June through to May, each flower only lasting a day or three depending on how hot it is. The cacti are specialised flowerers; the time of the day that they flower is to coordinate with different pollinators. When the cacti are flowering, the displays suddenly become a sweeping carpet of colour.
Another unique experience is a night tour of the cactus garden that offers such a different perspective. Enjoy a margarita and nachos and remember to buy a cactus or succulent from the farm shop.
DESTINATION DETAILS / FACT FILE
Sun Country on the Murray, Moira Shire, Victoria
DISTANCE FROM MELBOURNE TO COBRAM
265km via the Hume Highway (M31), Goulburn
Valley Highway (A39) and Murray Valley Highway (B400)
WHERE TO STAY
Boomerang Way Caravan Park, Tocumwal
Oasis Caravan Park, Cobram
Yarrawonga Holiday Park, Yarrawonga
PERFECT SPOT FOR LUNCH (OR SATISFY A SWEET TOOTH)
Café 3641, Strathmerton
The Big Strawberry
Byramine Homestead, Brewery and Cider House
Rich Glen Olive Estate
Cobba Paddleboat Cruise
Tocumwal Foreshore Market
Cobram Log Cabin Market