Once one of the wealthiest towns in Victoria, the heady gold rush days in Beechworth created riches that are still evident today with its wide roadways and opulent architecture. Take your time to explore this amazing town, there’s so much to see and do, my visit just scraped the surface.
The best way to explore Beechworth is on foot, and a couple of guided walks that operate from the Information Centre are great options if you want to learn more about the place. The tours run daily, and you can purchase tickets for either tour from here too, as well as find out what else there is to see and do. The Beechworth Town History Walk begins at 11am and the Ned Kelly Walk at 1.15pm.
Deciding on the Town History Walk, with Jamie as our guide, we learned all about Beechworth and how the discovery of gold built the town. The majestic buildings were constructed from local granite as wood was scarce. The land was stripped of trees by the alluvial mining techniques. Thankfully, the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne later donated seeds that were planted, helping to beautify the town again.
Gold was first discovered in 1852 before petering out around 1920. During the peak of the rush, the population grew to around 40,000 people. The Historic & Cultural Precinct is a collection of significant buildings that offer an insight into how Beechworth flourished. The Sub Treasury building was once the Gold Receivers Office but now houses the world’s largest collection of Ned Kelly memorabilia and the Telegraph Station is still sending telegrams today, although NBN may see the end of this revolutionary form of communication.
Another highly recommended tour is the Rogues, Ratbags and Mongrel Dogs Tour of the Old Beechworth Gaol. There are two tours daily at 11am and 1pm and tickets can be purchased onsite. Our tour guide was Rhiannon who raised the bar with her animated explanations.
The building of Beechworth Gaol began in 1856 and was completed in 1862. This area of Victoria was renowned as being lawless for a long time, with the Kelly family and the Greta Mob playing a big part. The prisoners were made to construct the town footpaths from the granite that they mined and crushed from the onsite quarry. Hard labour was considered a reward for the prisoners as it eased the boredom by keeping them busy. The last prisoner left the gaol in 2004 and it was closed.
Eat and drink…
The food and beverage scene in Beechworth is full of gastronomic riches that will sate your appetite and quench your thirst. When it comes to caffeine, there are several coffee houses that will provide you with your buzz; The Squid, Project 49, Old Beechworth Gaol and the Beechworth Provender just to name a few.
There are two breweries in town; The Bridge Road Brewers founded by Ben and Maria Kraus, which is a popular haunt for travellers and locals alike for great food matched with a great range of locally brewed craft beers. The brewery is open seven days a week from 11am to 10pm while the Pizzeria & Bar is open for lunch (12pm – 3pm) or dinner (5.30pm – 8.30pm) seven days a week. You can also join a Brewland Tour and discover how the beer is crafted, daily at 11am.
Billson’s is the second brewery that was conceived by George Billson in 1865, producing spring water and cordials as wells as ales, porters and stouts up until the 1950s. The brewery continued until the 1980s when beer production ceased but 12 months ago, the business was relaunched by new owners Felicity Cottrill and Nathan Cowan. The old brewhouse has been restored and is now open seven days a week (9am to 5pm) for tastings of craft beers and meals in the café (9am – 4pm). In the Whiskey Bar, you can also discover what the brewmaster has been distilling, including vodka, gin and whiskey (open 12pm to 5pm Fri – Sun).
For the sweet tooth, you have to check out the Beechworth Sweet Co. where “tasting is believing” and for something naturally sweet, see how the bees do it at Beechworth Honey. You can also taste an amazing array of 100% Australian honey, beauty products and non-alcoholic sparkling drinks and meads. Other foodie experiences include lunch at the famous Beechworth Bakery, The Squid or Amandhi’s and dinner at the Empire Hotel or at Ox & Hound Bistro.
Beechworth is blessed with waterfalls that flow all year round. Some days they’re flowing better than others but every day they’re great for long exposure photography. If you’re new to this form of capturing images, where the water looks smooth and milky, an ND filter, polarising filter and tripod will give you the best results. The ND filter allows you to open up the shutter for longer periods of time (15 to 30 seconds is optimum) and the polarising filter removes glare from the water. If you don’t have these filters or a camera that can handle them, a good pair of dark polarised sunglasses can be used instead.
The Woolshed Falls are popular on hot days as you can access the falls for a swim in the upper pools from the first car park. There’s a viewing platform, accessed from the second carpark, that offers great views and photo opportunities. The Cascades are accessed from Gorge Road, although care must be taken as the walk down on the rocks is steep and slippery. The third set of falls is located at the historic Newton Bridge over Beechworth Gorge.
A couple of notable figures…
Policeman and explorer Robert O’Hara Burke, whatever his misgivings, was revered in Beechworth. Burke was the Senior Inspector of Police in Beechworth from 1854 to 1857 during which time he bravely rode his horse into the midst of the Buckland riots, where American miners herded Chinese miners into the Buckland River, where they drowned. After his tragic death, the town created the Burke Museum, where you’ll find some Burke and Wills memorabilia, a huge range of taxidermied birds and animals, including a Thylacine, an old streetscape and other historical items relating to the Beechworth area.
Edward Kelly, otherwise known as Ned Kelly, is a polarising figure. To some, he’s a hero of the people while others see him for what he was, a murderer who was hanged for his crimes. Ned spent some time in the Old Beechworth Gaol once for violent assault and sending indecent letters to a female, once for receiving a stolen horse, and finally during the committal hearing into the murder of Constable Thomas Lonigan.
Where to stay…
Situated on the banks of Lake Sambell, Lake Sambell Caravan Park is one of the best caravan parks to watch a sunset that’s not on the west coast of Australia. No matter what your set up, there’s a site or cabin for you. Lake Sambell Caravan Park is also an easy walk into town and is 500m from the start of the Rail Trail.
With 70 unpowered sites, you have a couple of choices; up on the hill, overlooking the lake with the well-shaded sites popular with self-reliant camper trailers, caravans and big rigs while the sites more suited to tents and swags are situated along Spring Creek.
There are over 50 powered sites with the most in popular being one of the four Pondage sites that offer the best sunset views. The amenities are kept clean, with a well-equipped camp kitchen next door. The kids will love playing a round of mini-golf, hanging around the play equipment, hiring a canoe to explore Lake Sambell or whacking a shuttlecock on the badminton court.