The rural city of Wangaratta is located at the foot of the Australian Alps, at the confluence of the Kings and Owens rivers.
Along the Valley of the Kings all the way to the Alps, you’ll find vineyards planted with Italian grape varieties such as Pinot Gris and Sangiovese.
Meanwhile, Oven Valley, an ancient route of a 19th-century railroad, is now a railroad trail that offers unparalleled mountain views, along with gourmet farms, wineries, wine cellars and craft breweries.
A few minutes from Wangaratta is Glenrowan, where Ned Kelly donned his armour for his final stop in 1880. Back in town, there’s a high-caliber arts and cultural district, restaurants serving the region’s high-quality produce, and tranquil parks shaded by mature trees.
1. Murray to Mountains Rail Trail
Wangaratta is at the start of a 95km cycle and walking trail that takes you to the town of Bright in the Australian Alps.
This is the route of the Bright Railway Line, completed in 1890, and most of the route follows the Oven Valley.
Now, the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail is an amazing outdoor experience that combines beautiful mountain views with a picture-perfect valley, and the possibilities for detours around vineyards and gourmet producers are endless.
As a rail trail, despite the surrounding mountain views, the slopes are mostly light, and almost the entire route is closed, so you rarely have to compete with traffic.
At Everton Station, you can also explore the branch line that takes you to the historic town of Beechworth, which is full of traditional buildings.
2. Meriva Park
What Wangaratta is really proud of is this city park next to the CBD, on the pristine course of the Kings River.
In the 1950s, the river was diverted to use a levee, creating a lagoon within the park that attracts ducks and other water birds.
Merriwa Park is also home to towering mangrove gums, some of which were planted when the park first opened in 1905, others that have grown for centuries and support a variety of wildlife including gliders, possums and owls.
Amenities include an expansive lawn tennis centre, children’s playground, ferns, picnic areas and BBQ areas.
The Kings River now flows through adjacent Caluna Park, an important riparian reserve replenished by natural flooding that attracts spectacular birdlife.
3. Warby-Ovens National Park
The steep granite peaks west of Wangaratta are at the transition of the northern Victorian landscape, and the highlands give way to the Rivina River Plain.
Warby-Ovens National Park was created in 2010 to protect the mountains of the same name and its important Red River gum forest.
You can get here in minutes, climb over boulders, and hike to Salisbury Falls, the best place to go after a heavy winter rain.
A prominent hill in the range is Glen Rowan Hill, which Ned Kelly and his gang use as a vantage point.
4. Valley of the Kings Wine Region
In north-east Victoria, you’ll find yourself in a wine region that begins at the outskirts of Wangaratta and winds eastward along the picturesque Kings Valley to Alpine National Park.
Vines have been grown in the area since the 19th century, but the wine industry really took hold with Italian immigration after the war, when growers realized how well European grape varieties performed in these soils.
Italian grapes like Sangiovese, Barbera, Pinot Gris and Nebbiolo are well known in the Valley of the Kings.
Dal Zotto Wines and Pizzini Wines are two well-known brands around Whitfield, and on your wine tasting tour you should make time to visit Milawa, famous for its gourmet products, especially olives, mustard and cheese.
5. Ned Kelly Museum and Homestead
Outlaw and gang leader Ned Kelly (1854-1880) is an indelible part of Australian history and continues to intrigue more than 140 years after he was hanged at the Old Melbourne Gaol.
He had a brutal last-minute shootout with police, wearing makeshift armour with his gang, 15 minutes from Wangaratta in Glen Rowan.
The Ned Kelly Museum is an appropriately tacky but informative attraction that depicts the dark side of 1870s European colonial life and the Gold Rush.
An interpretive trail takes you through a replica of Kelly’s homestead, while the museum displays a replica of his armor (the original is on display at the State Library of Victoria), along with artifacts such as his death mask.
6. Glenrowan Heritage Siege
You can take a walk around Glen Rowan, stopping at a series of places related to the events of June 1880 and the Kelly Gang and the siege of Melbourne soldiers.
Kelly’s plan centers on the railroad in an attempt to derail a police car, and you can check out the original station master’s house, the railroad platform, and where Kelly was eventually captured.
Interestingly, many of the mature trees that grew around Glenrowan were here in Kelly’s time, especially “Kelly Copse”, who is known to have tied his horse there.
Another striking thing about the siege location is that numerous bullets were fired during the operation, with bullets appearing in the soil from time to time.
7. Greater Ned Kelly Statue
In a country full of “big things,” giant novelty statues with site-specific themes, it’s only right that Glenrowan should have a big Ned.
This is actually the third largest Ned in town, which may have something to do with Kelly’s controversial status as a folk hero.
The first large Ned Kelly statue was toppled and dumped in the river.
The statue here today shows Kelly’s gun-wielding armour, made by a Sydney artist in 1992 and transported by road in one piece.
Made of fiberglass, the piece is 6 meters high and weighs 1.5 tons.
8. Northern Beaches
There is a reserve of more than 10 hectares on the quiet Owens River on the northern outskirts of Wangaratta.
This is a place where you can bathe in the cool waters of the river at the two sandy beaches on the west coast, Kingfisher Beach and Platypus Beach.
As you might know from their name, there is plenty of wildlife around the northern beaches, in addition to the animals mentioned, you may also encounter giraffes, possums, echidnas and birds such as grey Shrike thrush and eastern yellow robin.
There are dense native vegetation along the river, consisting of river red gum, river tea tree, river bottle brush, silver wattle and so on.
9. Wangaratta Art Gallery
On the fringes of the CBD is a small but strong arts and cultural precinct, anchored by the modern Wangaratta Performing Arts Centre and Regional Gallery, which opened in this striking heritage building in 1987. This is a former Presbyterian church that was completed in 1899 and eventually sold in the 1980s.
Since the 2000s, the gallery has brought together a prestigious collection focusing on textile art, wood works, small sculptures, works related to North East Victoria and works by important state and national artists.
The collection will not be on permanent display, but will regularly feature selected works as well as traveling exhibitions.
The gallery also hosts the Wangaratta Contemporary Textile Awards, the only awards of its kind in Australia.
10. Wangaratta Performing Arts Centre
A bold architectural statement, the modern Wangaratta Performing Arts Centre was opened by the gallery in 2009. The auditorium is also impactful, with 520 seats, with reclining seats that can be pulled back for private events and meetings.
It is a platform that offers a diverse menu of live entertainment, from plays to musicals, classical concerts, dance, children’s entertainment, live comedy and more.
The building offers free Wi-Fi and the on-site café, Intermezzo, is open 7 days a week for lunch and breakfast, as well as shows in the evening.
11. Wangaratta Visitor Information Centre
The easiest way to learn about the Wangaratta and Valley of the Kings area is to visit the Visitor Information Centre on Murphy Street.
The building, Wangaratta’s historic former library, stands in its own right, with a pair of pediments supported by ionic pilasters, flanking the first-floor gallery.
In addition to a place to get flyers and brochures, the center offers interesting interpretive displays and regularly hosts short-term exhibitions relevant to the area.
From handcrafted couture to artisanal olive oils, there are plenty of gift ideas here, and the helpful staff are happy to offer any suggestions to help you get more out of your trip.
12. King George V Gardens
In the middle of the CBD is a peaceful little park where you can find shade and relax among the greenery.
The space dates back to the mid-1850s when it was a stable for the local police.
The garden’s fine old plane trees were planted in the 1860s to provide shade for the then market and stockyard base.
It wasn’t until 1938 that the space was officially declared a park, and you can take advantage of the picnic tables and children’s playground.
In 2019, the gardens have an upgraded community stage, new shelter, extra seating and improved landscaping.
13. Hurdle Creek Still
This small-batch gin distillery was established in nearby Mirava in 2016. All Hurdle Creek Still products are made and bottled on-site, with triple distilled base liquors produced using local grains and traditional mashing techniques.
Juniper and a mix of natives, from hops to pink pepper, fennel and citrus, are steam-infused to ensure a subtle yet light taste.
You can call in for a tasting at Still Life ($7 for $6), and it’s free if you buy it.
Some of the picks in the collection include the classic Yardarm gin, anise gin, cherry gin, grain gin and other spirits such as Yuzu, Pastis and Dark Cacao (chocolate liqueur).
14. Eldorado Digging
Reed Creek, not far east of Wangaratta, is a huge relic of the gold mining era.
Most of El Dorado’s mining takes place in open pits, but alluvial gold on the creek is hauled out using huge 2,140-tonne floating bucket dredgers and transported from Melbourne and Victoria after Geelong The state grid gets the third-largest amount of electricity.
The dredger operated from 1936 to 1954, during which time it helped produce more than 70,000 tons of gold and less than 1,400 tons of tin concentrate.
Today, the giant machine is parked at the water’s edge, just off the Eldorado-Byawatha road.
15. Wangaratta Jazz and Blues Festival
Each spring, Wangaratta hosts one of Victoria’s most important events, now in its fourth decade.
The Wangaratta Jazz & Blues Festival is a three-day event that takes place in venues around the city around late October or early November.
Over 90 shows and events over the long weekend, including performances by international musicians, master classes and youth jazz studios.
Some of the past performers include Freddy Cole, Christian Scott, Jen Shyu, Dutch Tilders and many more.
The festival also includes the National Jazz Awards, a multidisciplinary award for artists under the age of 35.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Wangaratta, Australia
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