Halfway between Melbourne and Bendigo lies Woodend, a town that boasts a quirky and interesting culture despite basically being situated on one street. While this scenic spot only has a population of 5,400 people, you’ll find it bustling on the weekends, and it is a good start to your exploration of places outside of Melbourne.
The first thing I recommend you do in Woodend is go to Bourkies Bakehouse. Why, you may ask? Only because they have a literally award-winning vanilla slice. No joke, they’ve won Australia-wide awards for these pastry perfections. Sure, they probably have other things there too, but don’t pay attention to them.
After your vanilla slice, you’ll probably want to wash it down with a fine beverage but, in terms of choice, you’ve come to Woodend about 150 years too late. As Woodend was a popular stopover for gold diggers making the trip north, there were no fewer than 23 pubs on one street to choose from. Alas, now there are only two. Still, Holgate brews its own beers and ciders, and they are second to none. If you prefer to have a meal with your drinks, Victoria Hotel, just down the street, has a wide choice of food to boot. There are also a few wine bars and restaurants to choose from, if that’s more your thing.
But what if you have to drive home that day? You could always participate in the cultural phenomenon of coming all the way to Woodend to consume coffee. Beware the danger zone of after school on weekdays, though, because that’s when you’ll find screaming children demanding babyccinos. At any other time of the week, however, you’ll find that the cafes are cute and enjoyable. A must-visit is Maloa House, which is situated in the middle of town and boasts a deli selection and boutique, as well as its range of coffees and food. A quick walk will also demonstrate just how many places you can get coffee, making it easy to perform a coffee crawl in 200 metres.
If you want some souvenirs to remember your visit to Woodend, Color Me Cooper is the quirkiest place to go. Extremely colourful and boasting a diverse range of relatively useless items, it also runs the Cambodian Kids Foundation, raising funds for people to visit poorer parts of Cambodia to help construct buildings and send over much-needed supplies. Woodend is almost entirely comprised of select boutiques and cafes anyway, so you’re sure to find something that interests you. Or you can head over to the Woodend Market, which runs on the third Sunday of every month from September through May.
As for scenic spots, Woodend has plenty. Take a drive up Mount Macedon for a great view over the countryside at the Memorial Cross or head to Hanging Rock. The latter is the subject of many a myth, the most famous of which was written by Joan Lindsay and made into a movie by Peter Weir in 1975. Picnic at Hanging Rock is bound to unnerve you, as it follows the story of four schoolgirls in 1901 who, during a school picnic, head up the dormant volcano. Three of them never return. You too can go up to the top of Hanging Rock, by the way. If you dare.
There’s a lot more that can be said about this town on one street, such as the fact that Nicholas Cage has filmed here twice and a horror movie was shot in the primary school, but I’ll leave you to discover that all for yourself. Drive up the Calder Freeway or get a Bendigo line train to start your adventure.