The Hedonistic Hiking company has put a couple of new feathers in the cap of its Victorian Alpine experiences. Sue Gough Henly goes into gourmet-Heidi mode.
The aptly named Hedonistic Hiking company combines several of life’s great pleasures – fabulous food, fine wines and great guided walks – in tours of the spectacular Victorian High Country. This year, company owners Mick and Jackie Parsons, whose knowledge of the area’s natural and cultural heritage is enlightening, have added two new hikes to an already indulgent programme.
Walk #1: The Highlights of Mount Buffalo National Park
This itinerary is your ticket to three fully guided walks; three terrific dinners with excellent local wines; gourmet picnic lunches featuring Mount Buffalo olive oil, Milawa Cheese Company cheeses, local cherries, hazelnuts and other High Country produce; and a wine tasting at a local family-owned winery.
This weekend program is based in the pretty alpine town of Bright; with short drives to the start of the hiking trails. Two Mount Buffalo walks each cover about 14 kilometres of well-graded trails, which are undulating, but with no serious climbs.
Starting at Lake Catani, the first of these hikes takes you to a lookout above the picturesque Buckland Valley before continuing past historic Mount Buffalo Chalet and the spectacular Mount Buffalo Gorge. Just as you’re thinking you’d like to stay here a while, a fabulous picnic appears on cue. Replenished, you descend through magnificent eucalypt forests to Rollasons Falls.
The second walk winds through some of Mount Buffalo’s gigantic rocky outcrops to a lookout over the Buffalo Valley. In the late afternoon, you’re served a sunset dinner at The Horn, the highest point on Mount Buffalo; try not to miss your mouth with your fork – the panorama over the surrounding peaks of the Victorian Alps is mesmerising.
Hike number three is more of a vineyard stroll: a private guided tasting at Mayford Wines is followed by a leisurely walk through the vineyards to Ringer Reef winery, with the added lure of a picnic set in yet another scenic spot surrounded by picture-perfect peaks and ridges.
Other foodie highlights include an Italian feast matched with local wines at renowned Italian restaurant Simone’s, and a specially created casual meal at Tani, which was recently named New Regional Restaurant of the Year in the 2014 The Age Good Food Guide.
Walk #2: Victorian Alps and Vineyards
The King Valley wine-growing region, east of Benalla and southeast of Beechworth, is the setting for Hedonistic Hiking’s new ‘Victorian Alps and Vineyards’ weekend. You’ll enjoy two full days of hiking – one covering 13.5 kilometres, the other 16 kilometres – on well-graded trails.
On the spectacular drive to Lake Cobbler, see the Dandongadale Falls – the highest in Victoria. The trail to the top of Mount Cobbler is one long steady climb of around 600 metres, crossing clear mountain streams and ascending through stands of peppermint gums, alpine ash and snow gums. On the summit you are rewarded with a sumptuous picnic of local produce and wines, along with uninterrupted views of Mount Buller, Mount Buffalo and the King Valley below.
The second day’s hike starts at Paradise Falls and continues along a trail through the remote bush of the Upper King Valley, an area which once provided boltholes for bushrangers. Your own not-so-guilty pleasure (after a morning of moderate effort) is a gourmet picnic of local specialities, on a ridge that looks across the King Valley to the former hideout of Harry Power, who mentored a young Ned Kelly.
Your guide recalls the spirit of the times with a reading of poetry about the bushranger days. After lunch, descend to one of King Valley’s trail-blazing vineyards to meet winemaker Michael Dal Zotto and sip a glass or two of his renowned prosecco among the vines (Dal Zotto pioneered the making of prosecco sparkling wine in Australia). Other gourmet highlights include a pizza-and-pasta evening at Dal Zotto’s Trattoria, with a lovely selection of the vineyard’s Italian varietal wines; and another Italian feast matched to local wines at Casa Luna.
Getting there: ‘Highlights of Mount Buffalo National Park’ starts in Bright, a 3.5-hour drive from Melbourne; ‘Victorian Alps and Vineyards’ starts in King Valley, a three-hour drive from Melbourne.
Costs: Hedonistic Hiking’s ‘Highlights of Mount Buffalo National Park’ runs one weekend in both February and March; $795 per person. ‘Victorian Alps and Vineyards’ runs one weekend in April 2014, and in February and April 2015; $675 per person. Not including accommodation.
Need to know: Both walks are moderately challenging (13–16 kilometres a day).