Scattered with enormous granite boulder formations around 460 million years old plus rivers, lakes, and wetlands, the Loddon Valley offers some surprising landscapes. Add in country towns full of character, pubs that have been around since the gold rush days and unique art, and it’s a place that deserves exploration. The light is special here and there is endless space. It’s a region that will have you slowing down, breathing deeply, and saying, “Wow, I never knew this was here.”
IT'S ALL ABOUT THE LODDON
After the Murray and the Goulburn Rivers, the Loddon is Victoria’s third-longest river at 392km. The lifeblood of the region, it provides a focal point for the tiny township of Bridgewater. Here, kilometres of foreshore trails provide the perfect introduction and dusk and dawn bring the most beautiful light shows and a chorus of thousands of corellas giggling in the trees.
Head north of the bridge and you’ll arrive at a swimming hole treasured by visitors and locals alike. A weir, built in 1884 to direct the flow to farmers and a mill, has dammed the water to create a natural swimming hole with an ‘infinity pool’ style edge to it facing out over woodland. A small deck and ladder make access easy and there’s a lovely grassy area for picnicking.
South of the bridge is reserved for water skiers and has a permanent ski ramp in place. Bridgewater plays host to many events over summer, including the Australian Masters Championships.
Though Bridgewater’s population is only around 350, its position on the Calder Highway warrants a gorgeous Art Deco-style pub, an award-winning bakehouse (Best Vanilla Slice 2018 and 2019, thank you) and a cluster of interesting shops. The cute red brick church housing the Helping Hands Mission Op Shop has some genuine finds in it. Arts of Olde gallery runs art classes and does beautiful commissioned paintings of pets, while Secret Platypus offers handmade clothing and First Nations art and food products sourced from the local region. All of Bridgewater is easily walkable and the caravan park has lush grassy sites within a stone’s throw of the river.
One of the most notable features of the Loddon Valley is its enormous granite outcrops, which seem to bubble up from basalt plains and make excellent places to walk and explore.
You can secure breathtaking 360-degree views over the Loddon Plains from the top of Mt Terrick Terrick. This mammoth lump of rock is somewhat reminiscent of a mini Uluru and the climb is short, at 10–15 minutes, but steep. Keep an eye out for the kangaroos hiding amid the boulders. White cypress pines, grasslands, and wildflowers spread out from the base, making the area popular with bird—watchers. Unpowered campsites allow for lingering and soaking up the serenity — toilets and picnic tables are provided.
Park near the top of Mt Kooyoora and you could spend a good few hours poking around the maze of huge boulders known as Melville Caves. Legend has it that notorious bushranger Captain Melville once hid here in the 1800s, and it’s great fun to climb through the squeeze of boulders and caves, aided by the odd ladder. A well-defined track also ensures leisurely views for less nimble visitors. Free bush camping and toilets are provided.
Pyramid Hill is another granite outcrop near a small town of the same name, rising 187 metres from the plains. Although it’s a very steep and slightly tricky scramble to the summit, there’s a much easier 2km trail around its base with a lookout. The orange granite here flakes and weathers, coloured by green and black lichen or the stains of years of rainwater. Nearby, the granite hills of Mount Hope Nature Conservation Reserve are also worth exploring.
SOLID and LIQUID GOLD
This region was built on the back of the goldrush. In 1869, what is widely considered the world’s largest gold nugget — the Welcome Stranger — was unearthed in nearby Moliagul. Weighing 72kg, it’s estimated it would be worth about $3.5 million in today's money.
Those heady days have passed but prospecting is still a big draw in these parts. In 2015, Michael Brown found an 87-ounce nugget that pocketed him around $133,000. There’s a framed photo of the beaming Mr Brown holding a nugget inside the Wedderburn Hotel, and the publican here reckons he gets someone coming in every few months after having made a significant find. Bear in mind, you only need a gram to make about $50. There are thousands of hectares of public land on which you can fossick — check parkweb.vic.gov.au for details.
When the gold rush ended, people looked for other ways to make a living and turned their attention to what was referred to as 'liquid gold'. At Hard Hill Tourist Reserve you can watch volunteers distil eucalyptus oil using traditional methods used for over 100 years. It’s a fascinating process, involving cutting leaves, stacking them in a huge iron stew pot, boiling water beneath the layers of leaves to create steam and then distilling the oil. It takes a 6x4 trailer load of leaves and two days of labour to produce five litres of Blue Mallee oil, but Wedderburn Visitor Centre can help you time your visit with a demonstration.
WHEN ART AND NATURE COLLIDE
You wouldn’t know it while driving through the flat, dry farming plains of Boort, but the area is home to a unique and impressive outdoor gallery set in two acres of lush gardens.
In 2003, a prolonged drought forced farmer John Piccoli (also known as ‘Spanner Man’) to give up growing things and start making things instead. His medium is rusty old spanners and he’s used about 80,000–90,000 of them so far across 134 sculptures, many of which are on display in his garden.
The detail and curves he manages to create are amazing. John bends the spanners in a vice and welds them together to make enormous structures, such as a frill-necked lizard, a horse and dray, a shearer with sheep and fleece, a mermaid, a kangaroo and even a seven-metre marlin. What makes it even more impressive is that John is in a wheelchair, with limited strength and mobility, and the works are created purely from his head (no drawings or models are used). Apart from the sculptures, he also keeps a menagerie of birds, including macaws, parrots and the rare Gouldian finch.
You can see a few more of John’s works on a sculpture trail that leads around Little Lake Boort, along with pieces from other artists. A 3.7km walking/cycling path leads around this little oasis and in one wetland section, a giant rusted dragonfly hovers above waterbound reeds.
The lake is home to birds such as black swans, fairy martins and dusky moorhens, as well as turtles and six different species of frog; plus there are First Nations scar trees. Watersports and fishing are popular here, but it’s also just as nice to relax on manicured lawns or laze under shady trees. Boort Lakes Holiday Park is right on the waterfront.
There are few activities better for travelling unobtrusively through a landscape than paddling. In a boat, you’re able to slide beneath birds without disturbing them and discover parts of a place that might otherwise be inaccessible. Three self-guided canoe trails in the region have numbered marker buoys dotted along them that correspond with interpretive maps so you know which features to look for.
There’s a trail up the Loddon River, another between Laanecoorie Reservoir and weir and a third on the beautiful Serpentine Creek, which flows into the Loddon. Paddling up the Serpentine is easy, and you'll pass through farmland and shores crowded with river red gums and strands of reeds. Floating markers point out Aboriginal scar trees, a historic inn built in 1848, a feeding platform for the rakali — a native water rat — plus plenty of birds.
You could spend a leisurely day cruising its peaceful waters, but even just a few hours is hugely worthwhile. Boats can be rented from Boort Lakes Holiday Park.
It probably goes without saying that such lakes and waterways make for great fishing and the Loddon gets regular top-ups of golden perch and Murray cod fingerlings to help boost stocks. Redfin, yellow belly, and silver perch are also common.
Whether on water, feet, or wheels, you can easily lose track of time in the Loddon Valley.
WHEN TO GO
It gets pretty hot at the height of summer, making spring and autumn the most popular seasons.
WHAT TO DO
Explore the granite playgrounds of Terrick Terrick National Park, Mt Kooyoora and Pyramid Hill
Check out wetlands and walk the sculpture trail around Little Lake Boort
Paddle Serpentine Creek Canoe Trail (boats can be rented from Boort Lakes Holiday Park)
Watch eucalyptus oil being extracted at Hard Hill Tourist Reserve (contact Wedderburn Visitor Centre for times)
Prospect for gold. Miners rights can be purchased from the Victorian government ($25.20 for 10 years).
Spanner Man sculpture gardens; advance bookings required
1314 Boort-Quambatook Road, Barraport
P: (03) 5455 4257
WHERE TO EAT
24 Karat Café: homemade lasagna, soups, pies and slices
76 High St, Wedderburn
Coffee Bank: cosy cafe with homemade food and nostaligic décor.
36 Kelly St, Pyramid Hill
Empire State Hotel; classic 1873 pub with excellent food. Goes off on a Saturday night with jukebox music.
94 Brooke St, Inglewood
Bridgewater Hotel; art deco masterpiece with excellent food.
2 Main St, Bridgewater on Loddon
WHERE TO STAY
Bush camping by donation at Hard Hill Tourist Reserve (a key for the toilet can be obtained at the Wedderburn Visitor Centre on Wilson St). Bush camping at Melville Caves at Mt Kooyoora, and Terrick Terrick National Park is free.
Bridgewater Public Caravan Park; grassy sites on the Loddon River.
P: (03) 5437 3086
Boort Lakes Holiday Park; waterfront at Little Lake Boort.
P: (03) 5455 2064