Prepare to be wowed by Wangaratta in regional Victoria's north-east. The top drops and delicious delights of Milawa and the King Valley are within easy reach, but there's so much more to this historic rural city. Here's a checklist of ten great things to see and do, thanks to Choice Hotels.
Wangaratta is quite possibly the perfect regional Australian holiday package.
Located an entirely-doable-for-a-short-break 2.5-hours’ drive north of Melbourne in Victoria (along the super-fast M31 between the Victorian capital and Sydney), the city offers a diversity of experiences that will keep everyone thoroughly entertained. History buffs will love following in the footsteps of Australia’s most famous bushranger. Foodies can indulge in the delicious delights of the Milawa Gourmet Region and the King Valley — both of which are within easy striking distance of Wangaratta. Culture vultures can immerse themselves in the city’s festival calendar — including the renowned Jazz and Blues Festival, which attracts plenty of beret-sporting bohos.
Outdoor enthusiasts — you’ll be in your element too. Wangaratta is the gateway to hiking Victoria’s high country, and with two rivers (the Ovens and King) winding their way through the region, kayaking, rafting, fishing and boating are all on the table.
All in all, you’re in for a swell time in this neck of the Aussie woods. Allow at least three full days to do the region justice.
Here are ten of the best things to do in Wangaratta.
Watch our video of the top things to do in Wangaratta:
Welcome to The Big Bus tour and travel guide’s YouTube channel. Only got a couple of days to get to know the city of Wangaratta in north-eastern Victoria? Th…
1. Do a heritage and First Nations cultural walk
Wangaratta was established in 1848, although European settlement of the region can be traced back another ten years. The city’s prosperous early history as a grazing service centre (and gold rush hub following the discovery of gold at nearby Beechworth) is reflected in the facades of the period buildings around town. The Wangaratta Heritage Walk Map is a handy guide to the city’s historic buildings, including the magnificently restored old Public Library, the old Post Office, St Patrick’s Church, Royal Victoria Hotel and Pinsent Hotel. They’re all within easy walking distance of each other.
While you have your walking shoes on, head to the northern corner of the CBD and follow the Bullawah Cultural Trail. The trail was created to share the local stories of the Pangerang people. You can download a map and do a self-guided stroll along the trail, which is signposted with informative interpretive boards. This experience will appeal to all ages. The Bush Tucker Garden is a highlight.
2. Go to the Wangaratta Art Gallery
Wangaratta’s arts precinct is clustered around the intersection of Ovens and Ford Streets. Here you’ll find the excellent Wangaratta Art Gallery — housed in the former Presbyterian Church, which dates back to 1899. There are two well-curated halls that display the gallery’s collection of paintings, textile works, sculptures and Indigenous works. The emphasis on textiles reflects the city’s rich history as a centre for industrial fabric production. The gallery also hosts touring exhibitions.
After your visit, pop next door to stylish Intermezzo Café for a restorative latte. It’s housed in the Wangaratta Performing Arts Centre which offers a packed annual programme of live performances ranging from Shakespeare to stand-up comedy. Check the website to see what’s on during your visit.
3. Step back in time
On Ford Street (just behind the Performing Arts Centre) you’ll discover a true historic gem — the old Fire Station, which is now the home of the Wangaratta Historical Society Museum. It’s worth a visit just to see the building itself, but the collection housed inside offers another intriguing opportunity to step back in time. The trick is gaining access. The museum is officially open only on Sunday afternoons, but there are volunteers there at other times. If the door is open, stick your head in and say hi.
4. Get on the trail of the Kelly gang
One of the big historic attractions of this part of Australia is the chance to walk in the footsteps of Ned Kelly — the infamous Australian bushranger who roamed these parts in the late 1800s. Wangaratta makes a great base for exploring the Ned Kelly story. Stop by the Visitor Information Centre to pick up information on the Ned Kelly Touring Route. The siege at Glenrowan took place on the 27th of June 1880, and the site is the must-see. There’s a six-metre-high figure of Ned in his famous homemade armour (the siege was the one and only time the armour was worn). Kelly was captured and later hanged at the Old Melbourne Gaol. He was just 25. The armour itself is on display at the State Library of Victoria in Melbourne.
A lesser known name associated with Kelly was Harry Power — the so-called ‘gentleman bushranger’ — who mentored the young Ned (for want of a better word). While you’re exploring the King Valley, pay a visit to Powers Lookout for stunning views of the valley and the Victorian Alps. This is said to be the site of one of Harry’s hideouts. There are excellent interpretive boards that detail his story, along with picnic tables and facilities.
5. Dine on fine fare
Wangaratta is a town that likes to eat well, and given its proximity to the mouth-watering delights of the Milawa Gourmet Region and the King Valley, that makes complete sense. There are 40+ cafes and restaurants located in and around the city centre. Two highlights to check out are Rinaldo’s Casa Cucina and The Atrium.
Rinaldo’s is located in Wangaratta’s Ovens Riverside Precinct — which includes a boardwalk along the Ovens River and integrated access to the Bullawah Cultural Trail. The restaurant offers fine Italian cuisine — a nod to the region’s past, but more on that in a moment. There’s an emphasis on locally sourced produce and a relaxed informal setting. The handmade gelato is reason enough to drop by.
Atrium restaurant at the Quality Hotel Wangaratta Gateway is another must-try. It showcases local produce and suggests local wine pairings to go with your meal. Here’s a little taste of what you can expect:
Entrée: Riverlea sous vide pork fillet, white onion puree, snow pea tendril, pear, Milawa Blue waldorf salad with apple balsamic dressing. Match with Pizzini Lana Sangiovese
Main: Milawa Free Range Chicken breast served with polenta, autumn vegetables, chestnut mushrooms, finished with a thyme jus and Riverlea pancetta shard. Match with Wine by Sam Chardonnay
Dessert: Rose Turkish Delight semifreddo served with sweet pistachio dukkah, pomegranate pearls, Persian fairy floss. Match with Brown Brothers Patricia Noble Riesling
If that doesn’t get the mouth-watering, we don’t know what will!
6. Sample Mediterranean-style wines in the King Valley
You can join the dots on Wangaratta’s Italian heritage during a visit to the magnificent King Valley. Immigrant Italian tobacco growers established themselves along the King River after World War II, but the impending demise of the industry in the 1980s and 90s saw many convert their fields to vineyards. Today the region is renowned for its Mediterranean-style wines.
Top King Valley wineries to visit include Pizzini Wines — wellknown for its sangioveses, zesty pinot grigios and less common nebbiolos. Check out the distinctive tobacco drying sheds, which are slowly being repurposed as tasting rooms. Chrismont Wines at Cheshunt offers sweeping views from its hillside cellar door and a super-stylish Italian eatery. You’ll need a car and a full day to really give the King Valley a good go.
7. Taste test the best of the Milawa Gourmet Region
To sample a whole bunch of delicious local delights, the Milawa Gourmet Region makes for an easy afternoon of grape and gourmet grazing — and it’s less than 10 minutes’ drive from the centre of Wangaratta. There are eight wineries in the region — including the sublime Sam Miranda Wines, which features another architecturally stunning cellar door. Our recommendation: order a bottle of Sam Miranda Prosecco and a tasting platter of cured meats, cheeses, marinated vegetables and olives, and head for the lawn chairs.
Burn off all those extra calories on pedal power. The Murray to Mountains Rail Trail is a 100-kilometre sealed off-road biking trail that will take you from Wangaratta all the way to the historic towns of Beechworth or beautiful Bright. The trail is suitable for riders of all ages and skill levels.
9. Shop at the market
Pick up a unique souvenir of your visit to the region at the Wangaratta Community Market, which is held every Sunday at Avian Park Raceway. It’s a one-stop-shop for fresh produce, gourmet food products, handmade wares and preloved treasures. Who knows what you might uncover.
10. Try a beaut local brew
As you explore the King Valley, make a stop at King River Brewing and say g’day to proprietors Nathan and Brianna. The microbrewery’s taproom is located in the property’s old tobacco drying kiln (yes, these guys turned to hops rather than grapes), and everything is brewed on site. Order a tasting paddle and one of the four sensational wood-fired pizzas on offer, and retire to the garden to put the world to rights.
Where to stay in Wangaratta
Quality Hotel Wangaratta Gateway
Quality Hotel Wangaratta Gateway is a bit like a giant box of chocolates. While the exterior doesn’t give away too much, hidden inside you’ll discover a range of decadent treats — including some of the most stylish guest rooms we’ve seen anywhere in regional Australia (or its capital cities for that matter!).
The hotel offers guests a AAA rated deluxe 4.5-star hotel experience, and a superb location adjacent to the heart of town. There are 77 contemporary suites and apartments on offer. Request a newly refurbished studio spa apartment, luxury king suite or corporate deluxe suite. You won’t be sorry!
We mentioned the hotel’s in-house restaurant — The Atrium — earlier, which is not to be missed. The superb menu is matched with a level of service that again, wouldn’t be out of place in any of Australia’s top hotels.
Amenities at the Quality Hotel Wangaratta Gateway include a central outdoor heated pool and spa, fitness centre, free Wi-Fi and free parking. Enjoy!
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of the best things to do in Wangaratta? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Cover image courtesy of Visit Victoria
About the writer
Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. He has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa and the Middle East. Adam worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten. He loves to experience everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi.