The far east of Victoria seems forgotten. Which is a good thing. Very quickly as you head due east from Melbourne, the traffic thins. And you find yourself on roads almost alone. You and the passing trees.
A 5 hour drive away from Melbourne, in this wilderness, lies Buchan. Buchan is a small town that materialises out of the bush, like a mother standing at the door after a long absence, welcoming you home. The town may be small in size, but big in achievement, known for its Snowy heritage, Australian wildlife, less known its black marble mined locally and its megafauna. We were visiting, however, its famed Cave system.
Needing a getaway, and with the unseasonal bitterly cold weather, we decided that a trip to the caves would be a good idea, as no matter how cold it was outside, the caves would be a haven with more temperate conditions inside.
The journey from Melbourne being a few hours, Traralgon beckoned as a good choice for a lunchtime stop, the bakery with the best orange cake ever and fabulous meat pies (look out for the old train parked nearby, in days long ago when we were kids we used to be able to climb it, sadly it is now fenced off.)
Appetites sated, we embarked on the last part of our journey travelling the last leg in the early evening. The setting we drove through being the same landscape as the Silver Brumby books series that I devoured as a child. The traffic was particularly light so driving was unimpeded and enjoyable, constantly gaining altitude on a narrow stretch of road winding through towering mountain ash. Fortunately I wasnt driving too fast, for ín the fading light as we came round a bend stood 2 deer. One just stood in front of the car, as surprised by us as we him, and the second han panicked zig zagging across the road. We stopped and checked the rear vision for other cars, while we waited for the deer to pass. Having often dodged kangaroos on the road, this was our first encounter with wild deer.
Driving into the township of Buchan was an absolute delight. We had booked a lovely little cottage in Buchan on Homeaway, (Cottage on Main), and it was ideally located across from the Buchan Pub, and a phone booth (something our kids had never really seen!). We checked in by finding the owners running a lovely cafe. After depositing our belongings, we walked across the road to the pub, for a fabulous ánd well priced meal. The older sons parma and chips the thickest I had ever seen! The pub was razed by fire a few years back, and brought back to life with a successful crowd funding campaign, so be sure to support it.
The cottage had a rear porch, in traditional australian style, with a dart board, that proved to be a hit with the more junior teenager.
Our hosts provided us with a plate of home baked muffins, much to our delight, and delicious! The weather was cold, and at night, we heard the clatter of hoofs of deer as they walked down the street. I felt as if I was in Northern Exposure, and with the cold, literally!
A more than generous meal at the pub meant that a brief but brisk walk, hands shoved in pockets for warmth, gave us opportunity to refresh. The winding paths along the main road were truly magical. Evening entertainment back at the cottage consisted of a movie from the inhouse small but fulfilling dvd collection including that much loved Sandra Bullock classic Speed!
Sunny but cold the next morning, with threatening dark clouds beyond the mountains, we chose to drive directly to the caves just 5 minutes away, although going across the road to the cafe and having an easy morning of coffee and cake would have been inviting too!
Resident wallabys famously grace the grounds of the cave entrance. While there are many caves in this area, there are two available for guided tours, the Royal Cave or the Fairy Cave. We chose the latter, a tour of delicate sparkling stalagtite and stalagmites, the staircase and some 200 steps winding through some narrow crevices and multiple chambers. The walk through lasted about an hour, and the guide was well able to professionally handle the participants who kept trying to talk through his commentary.
The Fairy Cave name is most deserving! Most interestingly, the guide pointed out the location of the skeletal remains of a prehistoric giant marsupial, about the size of a horse, which had probably fallen through a gap in the earth into the caves, never to be able to escape. The discussion was had on the uncatalogued history of our animal ancestors.
The Royal Cave also offers a tour. To do both, ensure you stay in the area for ease, as the tours are a few hours apart. If you dont manage local accommodation, you might best look at either Bairnsdale or Lakes Entrance, both are a bit of a drive away and dont have the remote town atmosphere that we were able to enjoy.
As our tour ended, we walked out, to be blasted by bitterly cold mountain air, hail and snow flurries. So sadly, instead of being able to take the time to experience the wallabys hovering around our feet, we ran for cover. The wet weather had well and truly set in, so we decided to just head back for Melbourne.
A tip for the travellers, on a Sunday there really are not a lot of options for dining on the road back. It is a quiet part of Victoria. So if you see somewhere and are hungry, don't drive past (as we did, looking for better alternatives), for there may be fewer options later! In the end, out of desperation, we pulled off the freeway at Warragul, to then find few food vendors open. But then again we didnt have the benefit of local knowledge.
The road though from Buchan to Melbourne is packed with places worth detouring for though, such as Wallhalla (the other remote mountains town that I love). And in the areas surrounding that, there is great dining in Noojee. If you are travelling Gippsland, I highly recommend one or two overnighters if you can manage it.