Quite a lot! Beechworth and Bright turn on their amazing Victorian charm for our adventure in a Crusader Prince.
By Andrew Kennedy
You’re supposed to make the last paragraph the one where you say, ‘this area is fantastic and I highly recommend you visiting’. Sorry I can’t wait, plus I’d like to add that not only are the towns of Beechworth and Bright in Victoria fantastic, the areas around them, the roads that lead to them and the people that live in them are all fantastic. We’ll definitely be returning for a longer visit … and so should you.
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We had the opportunity to take the Prince of the Excalibur Range from Crusader Caravans on a road trip and head for the hills. We’ve always had around 17 footers; this 22-foot van was amazing, the Prince, was it going to be a challenge? Getting to our destination could have been an easy trip down the Hume Freeway, roughly three or four hours with the van in tow, however, we decided to use an old school device called a map. For you younger readers this device was used before the GPS, and we ended up taking all day to get to Beechworth. We stopped at a variety of towns for the obligatory coffee, snacks, supplies and of course taking in the sights in places like Yarra Glen, Kinglake and then Yea.
I’ve always been a bit of an A to B type driver, driving past top spots with nothing but the destination in mind. Well that is coming to an end. To my wife’s delight, the plan is to get out and smell the roses, as they say – take time, enjoy what Australia has to offer. One of those drive-by moments was stopped when we saw the sign to the Murchison Gap Lookout. Towing the 22-foot Prince had me worried, would I be able to turn around? Naturally, I went past the lookout, but managed to back in quite easily with my wife’s guidance. The view was unbelievable. It’s known as the valley of 1000 hills, after reading the signs, you can’t help but ponder the hardships of the pioneers as they crossed the countryside in nothing like the caravans and powerful tugs that we travel in today.
Just over 100km from Melbourne, this beautiful valley where the Yea and Goulburn Rivers meet, was originally a gold-mining area with some historical buildings still around from the late 1800s. It’s pastoral and dairy industries seem to be well suited to this district. Try visiting the The Y Water Discovery Centre, which offers a range of services including visitors information, maps, brochures, accommodation and travel guides, there’s a picnic area with barbecue facilities, public toilets and an RV dump point.
In the great Australian movie, The Castle, one of the classic lines was when Darryl Kerrigan said “how’s the serenity?” So finding out Bonnie Doon was up the road, we just had to visit. Considered by many as the gateway to the Victorian High Country, this small township was originally named ‘Doon’ by an early settler, Thomas Nixon, apparently after Loch Doon in Scotland. Lake Eildon is the lake nearby and the area offers fishing, water skiing, bushwalking, horse riding, trail bike riding and four-wheel driving as activities … oh and the serenity. Our rig even attracted some attention from the local birdlife. There’s a caravan park, a pub and some cafes in the township, with plenty of great spots nearby to visit. About 190km from Melbourne, depending on your route.
At this point the van was going well, towing nicely behind my Lexus LX470. I thought it’d be more of a challenge on the higher, steeper countryside, but other than a few really steep hills, we towed well. Speed and the unknown roads ahead sometimes made us slow down a bit more than usual, I am happy to do this, although a few folks that don’t tow, might disagree. I certainly would have welcomed a few passing lanes on this trip.
After a quick stop off at Glenrowan to visit Big Ned it was onto Beechworth. Our first impressions of The Lake Sambell Caravan Park was impressive. The location by the lake was beautiful, but we walked smack dab into the happiest hour at a park I think I have ever experienced. Sure it was a special occasion for Dometic Follow The Sun – Breast Cancer Awareness, but the obvious extra effort by all staff at the park was commendable. Everyone was enjoying themselves with games a plenty and it didn’t take long for us to join in. This park just had a great feeling, family friendly, facilities were fantastic, a credit to our hosts Roger and Sue Humphris.
It was perfect for our few nights.
Beechworth itself had a relaxed vibe, with plenty of eateries and shopping in town. It’s steeped in history and similar to many of the places we have visited this trip, has a background of gold mining. A quick trip into the local visitors information centre gave us the heads up on local attractions, and we were on our way. Historic and cultural precinct, tours, even an asylum ghost tour. Yeah, might give that a miss.
We decided to head about 5km out of town to the Woolshed Falls, parking was close by and you can easily get up close and personal or head up a short path to the lookout. Word is, that in it’s gold prospecting prime, some intuitive prospectors used to block the flow of the falls and collect gold that had been washed down stream.
Bright by name and bright by nature is only about 60km from Beechworth, but we stopped again for good coffee and cake at Myrtleford and to take in the scenery. Even saw some snow on a distant mountain – in October. Bright is a bit more commercial and touristy than Beechworth, but guess we are tourists so that should be fine. We met Jenny Chalwell from Bright Escapes in Bright and were quickly ushered off to the local market. Running every third Saturday of every month, only locally produced goods and produce are sold amid a great community feel and atmosphere. Back in the office, we were handed so many brochures I reckon we could easily spend a few weeks here.
Bright does things well and seems to be very pro-active in promoting tourism. By the way there are so many cafés and restaurants, plus a pub or two, with every taste catered for and most restaurants offer a selection of regionally produced award-winning wines from the many local wineries at Porepunkah, Gapsted, Myrtleford and Mt. Beauty areas just to name a few! Then there’s the brewery, where we had a great lunch. Tours are available including a sample of the goodies produced there.
So much to see, so little time! There are many options available, but I would strongly suggest ringing ahead for accommodation spots. On this trip, we decided to head out of town, only about 7 minutes down the road to the Bright Freeburgh Caravan Park, a picturesque setting right on the Ovens River. Nicolle and John own and operate this park and are doing a great job with good, clean facilities and large spaces. I had a chat to John and found out they like doing nothing better than to go, wait for it … caravanning when they holiday. Work it, live it and love it.
As our time came to an end in the area, it is safe to say we will be back! The Crusader Prince performed very well and was extremely comfortable – touring perfection as Crusader call it and it was. Many great features, but my favourite was the spacious club lounge providing plenty of room to sit back and relax. Speaking of sitting back and relaxing, if you pass through Everton, take a look at the Bus stop.
Back to my opening sentence … this area is fantastic and I highly recommend you visiting.
WHERE: Beechworth and Bright are around three to four hours north east of Melbourne, depending on your route. Canberrans would have a longer drive but the trip is doable for a long weekend. Albury Wodonga is much closer for those looking for a weekend escape.
WHEN: Obviously peak season is summer, but spring and autumn bring cooler temps and colour in the landscape for different reasons; winter adds another seasonal dimension