People enjoying coffee in a red vinyl booth in a rustic warehouse-style room with paintings and vintage green pendant lights
Photograph: Supplied/ Das Kaffeehaus

Things you can only do in the Bendigo region

Head to the historic goldfields to uncover an area jam-packed with assorted gems

By Time Out in association with Visit Victoria
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Head into the heart of Victoria and you'll find an abundance of unique experiences and sights. Bendigo has a storied history and is most known as the epicentre of the gold rush in the 19th century. Take a trip to the region today and you'll find epic eateries alongside the heritage architecture, cutting-edge galleries and museums, bushland peppered with gold nuggets (if you're lucky) and a vanilla slice to write home about.

Think you know everything there is to see and do in the Bendigo region? We've teamed up with Bendigo Regional Tourism and Visit Victoria for their 'Stay close, go further' campaign to bring you a fresh take on what makes this region so special. Here are the experiences that drive visitors to return year after year, and have cemented central Victoria as a must-visit destination.

Natural wonders

The traditionals lands of the Dja Dja Wurrung and the Taungurung people are filled with rolling eucalypt bushlands, babbling creeks and fertile gold-laden soils. Try your hand at some gold fossicking and search for valuable nuggets in the stunning landscapes of surrounding areas Talbot, Amherst, Maryborough, Dunolly, Waanyarra, Tarnagulla, Inglewood and Moliagul. For the full Gold Rush experience take your bike or your bushwalking shoes to the 210km Goldfields track and experience historic forests, villages and old mining relics. If experiencing the view from the water is more your vibe, Loddon Valley's canoe trails have what you need. Paddle through the quiet waters of Serpentine Creek, follow the interpretive signs and marvel at the local wildlife and an awe-inspiring scar tree (a significant First Nations marker). Kooyoora State Park is also waiting for your admiration, a natural wonder packed with flora, fauna, caves and stunning views.

Signature dishes

If, like us, you'll peruse an area's local menus before planning a trip you'll be delighted to know the Bendigo region is a designated UNESCO Creative City and Region of Gastronomy. Make a booking at Masons of Bendigo for a chef's selected roaming menu that includes a divine pork hock dish with blood plums roasted in pun chung, cucumber, snake beans, chilli peanuts, yellow bean dressing and fried rice. Carnivores should also make a beeline for meat-lovers The Woodhouse, where you can feast on 450 grams of local Sher Wagyu scotch fillet with wood-roasted kipfler potatoes. Bridgewater Hotel in Loddon is your go-to for local Murphy's Creek pork belly given a crispy, fried edge. In Castlemaine you can sip a top quality brew in a re-purposed wool mill at Das Kaffeehaus and try some of their Austrian strudels, bratwurst and kransky.

Museums and galleries

You can't mosey into an area as historical and culturally-rich as the Bendigo region and not visit any of the area's vibrat museums or galleries. Kick your cultural tour off at the art-deco splendour of Castlemaine Art Museum to see a joyful collision of past objects and contemporary works. Hop over to Bendigo Art Gallery to see gems from the heritage gallery's collection and travelling exhibitions, like the Australian-exclusive Elvis: Direct from Graceland (March 19- July 17). In nearby Wedderburn you can take trip into the past at the Coach House Museum that contains a preserved general store from the 1850s and exhibitions of local arts and crafts. You can also delve into the area's rich Chinese heritage at the Golden Dragon Museum and Dai Gum San precinct . Marvel at Loong, the oldest surviving complete processional dragon in Australia, take a walk through the Yi Yuan Chinese Classical Gardens and spot koi in the pond and absorb the incredible history of Chinese Australians.

One-of-a-kind experiences

Memories are made when you take in an area's unique experiences. Hit up the Bendigo region's quirky, arty and idiosyncratic underbelly and be rewarded with unbeatable tales when you get home. Start in Boort at the Star Spanner sculpture garden a two hectare expanse of land dotted with over fifty works made out of old farm spanners. See giant horse, fish, mermaids and more crafted by the late artist John Piccoli. If you're with a group of rail enthusiasts take in the romance of the Victorian Goldfields Railway where you can sip on brews with views at the Ales on Rails experience or get into the spirit with a Murder on the Orient screening on board (costumes are encouraged). For some offbeat relaxation Eddington offers a self-care workshop like no other. Inner Rhythm connects people with horses to get them in touch with their emotions and promote slowing down. The Great Stupa of Universal Compassion is your next stop for peaceful reflection. One of the largest Buddhist stupa's in the world, you'll get to experience a large Buddha carved out of jade, tranquil gardens and daily tours.

Country bakeries

All that Bendigo region adventuring is sure to require some snacks and treats for the road. Start with an award-winning (Australia's best 2018, 2019 and 2021, in fact) vanilla slice from Bridgewater Bakehouse, feel your dopamine levels rising as you bite through layers of biscuit-y pastry, fluffy custard and sweet fondant. For sourdough loaves as far as the eye can see Bendigo's Good Loaf is your next stop in. Pick up some sandwich-ready semi-sourdough ciabatta or try something funky like a vine fruit and rosemary loaf. Pop over to Dunolly Bakery for delicious toasted foccacias and pies in the heart of the gold fields. And fire up your Instagram for the aesthically pleasing baked treats coming out of Johnny Baker in Castlemaine CBD. The mini-bakery has a huge spectrum of pastries, cakes and killer coffee to scratch your snacking itch.

Historical gems

The Bendigo region has gone through many changes over the years. From the time of the Dja Dja Wurrung people to the gold rush to colonial expansions. Take in some the area's storied history at the Castlemaine Diggings heritage park and see traces of gold prospecting and mining in the Ironbark woodlands. See objects, art and 19th century architecture at the Maryborough Railway precinct. And book in a high tea at the palatial Fortuna Villa for a taste of the Bendigo high life of yore. The privately-owned mansion lets visitors take a peek around the grounds in a guided tour at the high tea experience, you'll get to graze on fancy snacks accompanied by a live harpist too. 

Memorable accomodation

Bendigo and surrounds have a variety of overnight options for all budgets, tastes and senses of adventure. For a spot of outdoor living with a side of luxury check out the Glamtainer at Big 4 Castlemaine, a peaceful and modern cabin surrounded by bush. Big 4 Bendigo also has glamping miner's tents for you to live out your romance under the canvas fantasies. Glamping is also king at Balgownie Bendigo but you'll get to set up your base in a vineyard with an onsite restaurant to boot. Get a taste of country life at the Lochniver Farm Homestead & Cottages in Carisbrook and wander along the river looking for platypi or amble through the beautiful gardens. For boutique hotel fans you'll faint with joy at the area's options. NAB&B in Loddon has luxe self-contained accomodation in an elegantly repurposed bank building. And Ernest Hotel has an achingly-cool selection of suites for you to rest your bones in. Each suite has opulent bedding, contemporary Australian art, pampering bath products and unbeatable style.

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