Only got a couple of days to get to know a new city? Our Big Five City Guides can help. We break each destination down into culture, history, dining, shopping and relaxation must-sees and dos. Adam Ford checks in from historic Wangaratta in regional Victoria - the gateway to the King Valley and Ned Kelly country...
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 along the super-fast M31 (the main drag between the Victorian capital and Sydney), Wangaratta offers a diversity of experience that will keep everyone thoroughly entertained. History buffs will love following in the footsteps of Australia’s favourite 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 available options.
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.
Enjoy this Wangaratta travel guide.
Base yourself: City centre
Average hotel price per room/per night: $155AUD
Great breakfasts: Cafe the PreVue, Scribblers, Bertsy & Co
Awesome coffee: Where is my Coffee, Cafe the PreVue, Intermezzo, Cafe Derailleur
Top spots for a beverage: Pinsent Hotel, Malt Shed Brewery, Vine Hotel, Sam Miranda King Valley, King River Brewing
Must-do tours and activities: Self-drive tour of the King Valley, Bullawah Cultural Trail walk
Wangaratta’s weather is characterised by hot, largely dry summers and cool, crisp winters.
Summer temperatures hover in the low 30s, with overnight lows in the mid-teens.
For those in search of outdoor adventure, autumn is probably the best time to visit. The season traditionally sees the lowest rainfall for the year and daily maximums in the mid to high twenties.
The mercury plummets to the low teens in winter, but hey, it’s the perfect time to cozy up with a sangiovese by the fire in the King Valley.
The entire region comes to life in spring. With daily maximum temperatures around 20 degrees, this is the perfect time of year to take on the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail – 100 kilometres of sealed off-road biking trails that will take you from Wangaratta all the way to historic Beechworth or beautiful Bright. The trail is suitable for riders of all ages and skill levels.
Wangaratta is home to a population of around 30,000 people.
The bustling city centre has a prosperous feel and is dotted with well-maintained period buildings. Make your first stop the Wangaratta Visitor Information Centre, which is housed in the magnificently restored old Public Library. There’s a wealth of information on offer here, along with a gallery space that hosts changing exhibitions.
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.
Wangaratta also boasts an extensive calendar of events and festivals. Accommodation will be at a premium at peak times, so it’s worth checking in advance to see what’s on. The famous Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues takes over the town the long weekend prior to the Melbourne Cup. Performances take place at the Performing Arts Centre, outdoor stages, and nearby wineries.
For a taste of local Indigenous culture, set aside some time to 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 walk along the trail, which is signposted with informative interpretive boards. This experience will appeal to all ages. The Bush Tucker Garden is a highlight.
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. While you’re online obtaining your Bullawah Cultural Trail map, also download the Wangaratta Heritage Walk Map. It’s a handy guide to the city’s historic buildings, including the aforementioned library, the old Post Office, St Patrick’s Church, the Royal Victoria Hotel and the Pinsent Hotel. They’re all within easy walking distance of each other.
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.
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.
Listen to a podcast of our tips for NeedaBreak.com for top things to do in Wangaratta:
Wangaratta is a town that likes to eat well.
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 with an emphasis on locally sourced produce and a relaxed informal setting. The handmade gelato is another tasty reason to drop by.
You can join the dots on Wangaratta’s Italian heritage during a visit to the magnificent King Valley, where Italian tobacco growers established themselves along the King River after WWII. When the writing on the wall indicated the impending demise of the industry in the 1980s and 90s, many growers converted their fields to vineyards, and 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.
Back in town, The Atrium restaurant at the Quality Hotel Wangaratta Gateway 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!
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 – il più rapidamente possibile!
Wangaratta offers lots of opportunities to pick up a unique souvenir of your visit to the region.
The Wangaratta Community Market is held every Sunday at Avian Park Raceway and is a one stop shop for fresh produce, along with gourmet food products, handmade wares and preloved treasures. Who knows what you might uncover.
As you cruise through the King Valley you’ll come across The Whitty Café at Whitfield. Next door is The Bower, which as the name might suggest, offers a diverse collective of wares – all of which have been made by local artisans. Browse the pottery, jewellery, knitwear, and gourmet foodstuffs. Everything comes from within a 100km radius of the shop, so you’re guaranteed to pick up something that’s been made locally with love.
There are plenty of ways to relax and rejuvenate in the region, but this has to one of the finest options.
As you head back up the road from Whitfield towards Wangaratta, 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.
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 WiFi and free parking. Enjoy!
Adam travelled as a guest of NeedaBreak.com and Quality Hotel Wangaratta Gateway.
For more information, please visit www.visitwangaratta.com.au.
Do you have any tips to add to our Wangaratta travel guide? We would love to hear from you. Please send us a message.
Adam Ford is a Queensland-based travel presenter, producer, writer, blogger and photographer, and has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa and the Middle East. Adam lived in London for six years and worked as a travel consultant for three years before taking up the opportunity to travel the world as host of the Tour the World television series on Network Ten. Adam loves to uncover 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. He regards himself as a flash-packer – a little bit of extra comfort goes along way!