With a population of 30,000 this outback Victorian town may sound like a disappointment, but ATs Cameron Blair has discovered a little more than dust and dirt.

Let’s face it. Mildura isn’t going to blow your mind with bright lights or loud nightclubs. The main claim that the tourism people make is that 95 percent of Australia’s dried fruit is produced here.

Excited? Yeah I bet you are. It’s in the middle of nowhere and while everyone has heard of it – not enough have actually visited. And that’s not your fault. You see it’s these tourism people. Marketing a town for it’s dried fruits is not a recipe for excitement. It’s like Goodyear promoting its tyres for how well they inflate.

The bit that the tourism people at Mildura don’t focus on – is actually what makes it great. Hardworking Italians have enriched the town culturally and gastronomically. So much so that Mildura is an internationally sought after town with a world-renowned restaurant.

 Sure, it may have been saved by a bunch of boring irrigation immigrants from Canada, but who cares?

Where to eat and drink

The town loves food and that’s no secret. Despite the out of place McDonald’s on Deakin Street, there is a lot of cool little cafés and restaurants to choose from. We have mentioned some popular choices, but with a little legwork you are bound to find other hidden goodies.

Stefanos Restaurant // This award winning restaurant is bound to send those taste buds flying high. Located in the cellar of the Grand Hotel, this highly publicised restaurant has been cooking up tasty Italian dishes from local and imported produce for about 20 years. The softly lit dining room, decorated with local art, sets the mood for all you love-stark romantics out there. (03) 5021 3627

Trentham Estate Winery & Restaurant // Offering a wide range of wines produced on bank of the famous Murray River. This fantastic winery/restaurant will nourish your body and set your mind at ease. Relax on the patio or inside, either way your guaranteed to have a great experience. Trentham Estate also offer wine tasting daily from 9.30am – 4.45pm

Mildura Brewery Pub // Step into this brew house and sample some of the finest beer Victoria has to offer. Producing five beers, and various seasonal beers this exquisite pub/brewery will “malt” your mind and send you “hopping” for more. Originally a theatre in the 1920s, it was remodeled and turned into a brewery in the ‘30s.

Things to do and see

Rio Vista Historic House // Over looking the Murray River on the edge town is one of Mildura’s oldest historic houses. Built in 1889 by W.B. Chaffey, the house is made from Murray pine, red gum and imported timbers. This two-story heritage home still has its original furniture and fittings. Part of the Mildura arts centre, it was transformed into an art gallery in the 50s and opened to the public by 1964 courtesy of Sir Henry Bolte.

Orange World // Take a tour through a 50-acre orchard with over 30 different citrus and avocado trees. An educational orientated orchard hosts tours though its avocado and citrus trees. As you travel on a 70 seat tractor train, you will receive an informative guide on citrus. During harvesting season, visitors can see the pickers at work. (03) 5023 5197

Ballooning // If you really want to see the rich-red soils of Mildura, then a balloon ride is just the thing. A one hour trip will send you floating over a wide range of countryside as well as the Murray River. Afterwards, enjoy a champaign breakfast at one of Mildura’s top restaurants. Call Andrew on (03) 5024 6848. Weather permitting.

River Activities  // The worlds 7th largest river acts as a natural border between Victoria and New South Wales and runs rich with history. Swim, fish, dive or float – either way – the activities on the Murray River are almost endless. Board a traditional paddleboat and cruise down the river in style while you enjoy an on-boat dining experience. Take it to the next level and rent a houseboat that can be done simply by flashing your driver’s licence.

Go-Carts // Explore that inner child within you and rev up at the Formula K Go Kart Centre. These semi-high speed machines will send your heart pumping as you wiz around the track at top speeds, forget about the cars, hammer the pedal and inject some life back into your blood. But for the faint hearted there is a fully enclosed air-conditioned and heated viewing room. Definitely a great place to kill some time and flog the kids. (So to speak) 51-53 The Crescent Mildura Vic. 3500. (03) 50211191

Where to shop

Let’s get down to brass tax here, this isn’t Oxford Street in Sydney and you won’t find any Harrods. It’s small simple and there isn’t much to blow your cash on. But on the flip side, there are a few small attractions that might catch your eye.

ADFA Shop // When The Royal Navy suffered from scurvy in the 1700s they would have probably done unspeakable things to get their hands on this place. One of Victoria’s largest health food shops, this quaint little shop specializes in dried fruit. Feel free to select from a wide range of local dried fruit platters, freshly squeezed fruit and vegetable juices. (03) 5023 1760 33 Deakin Ave Mildura Vic.

Woodsies Gem Shop // Ever wondered how jewelery is made? Well, here you can experience the wondrous world of the gem craft. This is a family own enterprise and is one of Australia’s largest gem and giftware complexes. But if you don’t have that sparkle in your eye you can relax at the Cave-inn cafeteria and enjoy light snacks and refreshments. (03) 50245797 Cnr Morpung & Cureton Nichols Point Ave Vic 3501

Sweet Lily // Made up of three different shops, ranging from beads and materials for jewelery makers, this splendid little haven has it all. Spend some time browsing through a wide selection of china, books, vintage linen and jewelery. 37 Pine Avenue Mildura Vic 3500 (03) 50232781

The Art Vault // Committed to supporting local artists, the Art Vault is comprised of printmaking facilities in etching and lithography. There are numerous artists’ studios, which are rented to local artists. Who knows perhaps you will find something that will go great above the fireplace! 43 Deakin Avenue, Mildura VIC 3500 (03) 5022 0013

Mildura International Patisserie // This fancy little shop hosts all the sinful treats your sweat tooth could desire, from Belgium chocolates to the classic Aussie meat pie. Baked fresh daily, this aromatic bakery will send your taste buds flying. Haven’t you ever wondered how those fancy little chocolates with the swirl on top are made? Shop 3, Deakin Central, 138-164 Deakin Avenue, Mildura VIC 3500  (03) 50229999

GJ’s Souvenirs Gifts and Things // Designed by locals and sold by locals. Browse the shop and choose from soaps, jams, honey, oils, crafts, handmade cards and Aboriginal art and a lot more. 65 Langtree Mall, Mildura Vic 3500 (03) 5021 3977

Where to sleep

Whether it’s luxury or simple, whatever your after, Mildura has a wide range of options to suite everyone. There are many hotels, motels, holiday parks and backpacker style accommodation available all year round. Try something new and float down the river on a houseboat or camp along the Murray River on one of its picturesque beaches.

Mungo Lodge // Located on the edge of Mungo National Park this historic venue is comprised of a complex (yet simple) system of lakes formed over the last two million years. Double/Twin ensuite cabin from $250 per night and self contained cabin from $390 per night. Bookings call (03) 5029 7297

Eden and Brooke on Ninth // Offering long or short term stay The Eden and Brooke offers fully equipped apartments. Only 3 blocks from the centre of town located on the corner of Ninth and Olive Street. From $120 – 200 per night (04) 18171154 eden.brookeon9th@bigpond.com

All Seasons Motor Inn // Simple and very clean, and reasonably priced. 3.5 star quality that comes with queen beds. Located in the centre of town. From $85.00 To $96.00 per night. (03) 5023 3266 433 Deakin Avenue, Mildura, Victoria 3500

Bushman’s Rest Caravan Park // Located 45 minutes west of Mildura nestled quietly on the tranquil foreshore of Lake Cullulleraine. With its large lawn area Bushman’s rest is suitable for families and groups. There is a communal kitchen hall with all amenities including hot water. Campsites are $22 per night. Cabins are available from $55 per night per couple. http://www.bushmansrest.com.au (03) 5028 2252  

Where to go nearby

If all the wining and dining, boating and floating have done you in, take a day to check out some of the nearby attractions this melodic region has to offer. Australian Inland Botanic Gardens // Come see the flora and fauna from all the continents (except Antarctica) in this fantastic arena consisting of over
1600 colour-coordinated plants. Located on River Road, Buronga, 2 kilometres from Mildura.

Perry Sand Hills // Just outside the nearby town of Wentworth (about 30 minutes drive) are these amazing, enormous red sand hills that have quite a bit of history to them. During WW II the military used them to practice their bombing strategies. Archeologists dug them up when they found remains of ancient kangaroos. And the movie buffs used them as backdrops before the digital era took over.  We have it on good authority that Paul Kelly will be playing a concert there next year, with the dunes acting as a natural ampitheatre. It will be an incredible evening!

Red Cliffs // South of town, near the Murray River, there is a giant tractor that is surrounded by a citrus and grape orchard. Welcome Big Lizzie, a 45 tonne team tractor which started clearing the surrounding land for farming in the ‘20s. If you’re keen on the history of this region, here is a good place to start. If you are lucky you can duck across the road to visit the mini military museum when it is open.

Events

Some of the best things about going to a new town are the events hosted there and this is a great way to experience the local flavors, sounds, sights and smells. Don’t be shy and join the local festivities.

Writers Festival // Feeling creative? Here’s your chance to find out if the pen is really mightier than the sword. Held in mid July this unpretentious not only celebrates poetry but gives the town a chance to interact and share their local specialties.

http://www.artsmildura.com.au/writers/  (03) 5021 5100 

Tri-State Masters // Wanting to smack a gold ball around? The Tri-State Masters is run across three states over three days and Mildura is lucky enough to be one of the host towns. Men and Women golfers both welcome. 17-22 May
www.sunraysiagolftours.com.au