Friday, June 03, 2016

Exploring Attractions And Foods of Bendigo From The BIG4 Bendigo Marong Holiday Park

I've driven past Bendigo a few times and had a quick look at the town, but haven't ever got a chance to really explore it. My friend used to live in Bendigo and was always saying to come visit but I just never found the chance. Well, I finally visited Bendigo with Angie, Ron and Brandon on a road trip. Having now experienced all the wonderful things that the town and area has to offer, I will definitely be back again to see even more of it. At the time of my visit, the Bendigo Art Gallery had a Marilyn Monroe exhibition one, which explains the huge Marilyn statue that you see in the photo below.

This post will look at the activities, eats, drinks and stay we had. Parts of it will be written by myself and other parts have been written by my co-contributor Angie, who has written the part for the food fossicking tour, tramcar ride, Marilyn exhibition and the BIG4 Bendigo Marong Holiday Park. The post is written in chronological order (except for the wineries at the end which are grouped from across the two days) so you could follow this itinerary exactly if you were planning a weekend trip.

Bendigo Tourism
51-67 Pall Mall
Bendigo VIC 3550

For everything you need to know about Bendigo, you can go to the Bendigo Tourism website, or if you're already in the area, visit the building.

Bendigo is a fairly large regional town, but at the same time has that small town feel where everything is relaxed and welcoming. The hustle and bustle of city life doesn't seem to be apparent. The cars drive slower and there's no honking too. The city is a mix of old and new. There are beautiful classical buildings that can house a restaurant or a post office, and then there are the newer building such as the Bendigo Bank Head Offices (the multi-coloured building in the photos below) and funky laneways with an eclectic mix of shops and eateries.

The temporary Marilyn statue dominates the area near Alexandra Fountain, Rosalind Park, Bendigo Art Gallery and the first Myer ever. A large statue is definitely a magnet for people and everyone just walked over to take a look and take photos. The surrounding Rosalind Park is so lush and beautiful and there was picturesque views all around. The little green house in the park was also an oasis of calm and beauty.

There were lots of shops and eateries all around and we took a wander around various places. There was lots of interesting things to see and try and we saw a lot of it during the Food Fossicking Tour so I'd highly recommend doing that (more details below). Climbing the oil tower behind the art gallery also gave a great 360 degree vantage of the whole town, along with some great photo opportunities.

BIG4 Bendigo Marong Holiday Park
1449 Calder Hwy
Marong VIC 3515

The BIG4 Bendigo Marong Holiday Park is located in Marong, a small town that is a convenient 15 minute drive from Bendigo city centre. It's location means you get to experience the sounds of the bush and appreciate the native flora and fauna. When I entered the cabin, the first thing I thought was how different it was to the accommodation I used to experience at caravan parks as a child. The cabin was spacious with a small kitchen and dining table as well as a master bedroom and a second bedroom with bunk beds. The interior was clean, modern and comfortable with all the basic amenities provided. After a long day exploring Bendigo, it was a great place to return to and get a quiet night's rest. In the morning, a walk around the park showed how family friendly it was with a giant chess set, jumping pillow and peddle go karts which would easily entertain children (and adults!)

We had a chance to speak to the owner, Brett, who informed us that they had bought the park in 2013 and had set about updating the cabins and upgrading the holiday park facilities. They are obviously very involved in how the caravan park runs and I always appreciate a family owned business, where the owners are obviously proud of what they've achieved. The caravan park is easy to find, just on the Calder Highway and would be a great home base when exploring Bendigo and the surrounding regions.


Food Fossicking Tours Bendigo
51-67 Pall Mall
Bendigo VIC 3550

The stops on the Food Fossicking Tour are:
Bendigo Wholefoods
The Epicurean Deli
The Good Loaf Sourdough Bakery and Cafe
Indulge Fine Belgian Chocolates
Mason's of Bendigo

The Food Fossickers tour runs every Saturday morning, departing from the Bendigo Visitor Centre promptly at 10am. In an intimate group of 8, you're taken around the city centre for approximately 2.5 hours to get a taste of the food culture in Bendigo. Our tour guide that morning was Sharyn, who as a local was very passionate about the quality of produce and food in the region. Sharyn was great at sharing facts about the history of food in Bendigo as well pointing out significant buildings in the city centre.

Our first stop was at Bendigo Wholefoods where we were treated to a great sample of breads, pickles, relishes and cheeses - the store has a cafe on one side and a nursery on the other. The second stop was for a hot drink at The Epicurean Delicatessen where we nibbled on freshly made zeppoles, which are an Italian styled doughnut. We next made our way to The Good Loaf where we were taken behind the counter into the actual bakery and given a short talk about the basics of sour dough and were able to try a variety of the breads. Our fourth stop was at Indulge Fine Belgian Chocolates where Hayley walked us through the retail shop to get a whiff of the chocolates before making our way to the workshop where the chocolates are handmade. In the workshop we were able to satisfy our sweet tooths and admire the constant running streams of chocolate. The final stop was at Masons of Bendigo, a restaurant run by a husband and wife team, who focus on highlighting the ingredients which are sourced from the local area. We were treated to a drink and a light lunch which featured two items from the menu.

The tour was a great introduction to the Bendigo city centre and you're provided with goodies to take away from each stop. You'll come away with a new appreciation for the quality of food in Bendigo and an enthusiasm for eating local - I really enjoyed listening to each of the owners speak about their businesses and the connections they have with the community and the region.

Masons of Bendigo
25 Queen St
Bendigo VIC 3550

Masons of Bendigo is probably the most popular restaurant in Bendigo as from everyone we asked, they all named this as their go to place. I can see why as the food was absolutely sensation. Husband and wife team Sonia and Nick Anthony definitely know what they are doing in terms of food and service. Having both worked overseas at Michelin restaurants and Nick having worked a long time at the super amazing Ezard, their food and service exudes class whilst still keeping it casual. That's a hard mix to carry off, but they succeed in doing it.

The restaurant has a nice fitout with touches of industrial elements. There is a good vibe in the restaurant without it getting so loud that you can't hear your dining companions, which is a pet peeve of mine. The service was excellent and all the waiters, and especially the sommelier, were really knowledgeable, friendly and efficient.

The food was simply sensational, one of the best meals I've eaten this year. There were so many highlights, from a carpaccio that was so flavoursome, to two pork dishes where there was fatty pork belly grilled on a skewer and pork knuckle shredded and reshaped and given the most addictive sweet/sour sauce. A stuffed zucchini flower was so smooth and fragrant. Mains dishes of pheasant terrine, an assortment of lamb, and an assortment of pork creatively cooked and paired with different items is some of the best food you can hope to try in Melbourne, let alone a regional town. Every dish was also beautifully presented and like works of art. The dessert plate was also really beautiful and while still being very tasty, did not reach the heights that the savoury dishes had, which elicited so many sounds from all of us of pure joy. If you stop by Bendigo, you must visit Masons of Bendigo or risk missing out in some of the most delicious food in Melbourne.

The Great Stupa of Universal Compassion
25 Sandhurst Town Rd
Myers Flat VIC 3556

The Great Stupa of Universal Compassion is a sacred Buddhist monument being constructed right near Bendigo. It will be the largest Buddhist monument in the Western world, sitting at 50 metres high and wide. The external view of the Stupa is already really impressive, as it sits on land owned by Ian and Judy Green. Once you stop inside, it is a vast space, with teaching rooms, temple, library and soon to be many shrine rooms. The walls are still being built on those shrine rooms.

It's a nice place to visit and when completed will allow for meditation and other activities. For now, it's a great look at something really big, and who doesn't like looking at big objects right? Australia is full of giant somethings, from bananas to pineapples. Now we also have a big Stupa for purifying the mind.

Bendigo Tramways
Alexander Fountain, View St Exit
Bendigo VIC 3550

When we arrived at the Charing Cross tram stop for the Sentimental Journey tram ride we were greeted by a fully uniformed driver at the door. The interior of the tram was designed with a quirky vintage feel and the atmosphere was set by the many guests on the tram ride who were dressed up for the occasion. Once we were seated, a waitress came up to take our orders for a welcome drink and it wasn't long before the tram ride started. A brief introduction to Ella Fitzgerald and her friendship with Marilyn Monroe was played before the tram was filled with the smooth sounds of Ella Fitzgerald's music. In the centre of the tram, there was a table filled with platters of finger food, cheese and antipasto, which everybody could help themselves too. The ride lasted for one hour as we rode along the streets of Bendigo and experienced the city at night. It's a great way to start a night out with friends or your partner as once you return to the the tram stop there are many restaurants within walking distance.

Marong Family Hotel
26 High St
Marong VIC 3515

Dinner was eaten at the Marong Family Hotel, a pub and restaurant. At the hotel, they serve simple homely meals, but don't let that fool you. Food can be simple but still delicious. They farm their own lambs so specialise in lamb dishes. And the lamb dishes did not disappoint. A lamb shank with mash and lamb salad were so delicious. The seared lamb was perfect, with so much flavour. A chicken parma was beautifully crumbed and a round of simple desserts rounded out the meal. The butterscotch lattice basket with ice cream was really good.

The ambiance in the hotel is really jovial and relaxed. Great for a drink or a more substantial sit down meal. The owner told us that prior to them buying the place, it was really run down. But now it looks very nice and very welcoming.

Bendigo Corner Store Cafe
305 View St
Bendigo VIC 3550

Breakfast on the second day was at the Bendigo Corner Store Cafe. We got there at 9:30am and it was still pretty quiet. But within 30 minutes, all the tables were filled. I can see why as the fitout is really nice and the food was excellent. A big breakfast and smoked trout dish both delivered on flavour and were good. But the crumpets dish with ice cream and the tomato and quinoa fritters were the highlight. The crumpets had peaches, Persian fairy floss, a delicious ice cream and really soft fluffy crumpets. The tomato and quinoa fritters with the pickled onions and haloumi was such a wonderful dish. The fritters were super crispy on the outside and the pickled onions really offset the flavours well. The coffee was also really good and it felt so relaxing sitting outside in the sun on a Sunday.

Bendigo Art Gallery
42 View St
Bendigo VIC 3550

Before visiting the Marilyn Monroe exhibition, we were already introduced to her in the form of the large "Forever Marilyn" statue in prime position at Charing Cross. I don't think anybody can visit Bendigo and walk away without a photo of the super sized Marilyn. The exhibition itself is held at the Bendigo Art Gallery and is curated in a way that whether you're a fan or a novice when it comes to Marilyn, you'll leave with a little more insight into her life. On display is a wide range of film costumes, personal clothing and artefacts as well many photographs that highlighted her star quality as well as gave a glimpse into her private identity. A variety of her films are played throughout the exhibition and it's quite easy to become engrossed in them - we saw many people seated in the darkened rooms, oblivious to the buzz from the rest of the exhibit. I enjoyed looking at cover pages of the gossip magazines which showed that regardless of what Marilyn did, she made a good headline. You leave the exhibit with a general knowledge of Marilyn's life but like all celebrities who die at a young age, there's a certain mystery that prevails. The Marilyn Monroe exhibition runs till 10th July 2016.

Heathcote Harvest
32 Tuscan Court
Heathcote VIC 3523

Last food stop of the weekend was at Heathcote Harvest, run by Lyndal and Steve. They wanted a "sea change", away from the sea where they used to live to in-land regional countryside. Going from their previous professional jobs, they started a self sustaining farm for themselves, but were finding friends were enjoying their produce so much that they thought they could turn it into their work as well. And they've done just that, selling lots of delicious items such as eggs, jams, chutneys etc from the restaurant/store, as well as serving some simple foods from items made from their produce.

We tried the terrine board, the charcuterie board, a schnitzel and sausages. The cured meats were so good, made from their animals by a local producer. The sausages again were so full of flavour with a real chilli kick. The schnitzel was a massive hit, with a crumb so crunchy you could hear it crunching away in someone else mouth. Turns out Steve has some German heritage and hence the amazing schnitzel. It was a great lunch in a very relaxed environment, as you look out onto the farm and can even go look at the piggies and chickens.


There are actually a lot of wineries in the Bendigo/Marong/Heathcote area. We visited the four below, each with it's signature wine. There are a lot of Italian varieties, as well as some unique blends only made in the region. My favourite was Sandhurst Winery, where Paul (pictured below) explained to us all about the wine types, how they're made and took us on a tour of the winery. I would highly recommend visiting some wineries when you're in the area as they produce really good wines.

Flynn Wines
29 Lewis Road
Heathcote VIC 3523, Australia

Downing Estate
19 Drummonds Ln
Heathcote VIC 3523

Sandhurst Ridge Winery
Forest Dr
Marong VIC 3515

Balgownie Estate
46 Hermitage Rd
Maiden Gully VIC 3551

And that, sums up the jam packed weekend in Bendigo and staying at the BIG4 Bendigo Marong Holiday Park. It was so much fun and I can highly recommend staying at the holiday park as the launch pad for visiting Bendigo and the surrounding areas. There's so much to see, do and most importantly for me, eat and drink. Thanks to my traveling companions, Angie, Ron and Brandon for making it such a fun trip and to all the staff/suppliers/producers/restaurateurs and owners we met along the way for being so generous with their time. So what are you waiting for, get researching and book a trip to Bendigo.

Disclaimer: I attended this trip courtesy of Bendigo Tourism and BIG4 Bendigo Marong Holiday Park.