<p>Looking for an escape to Victoria’s beautiful countryside? Samuel Dariol explores Latrobe Valley, only 90 minutes from Melbourne.</p>
Looking for an escape to Victoria’s beautiful countryside? Welcome to the Latrobe Valley, only 90 minutes from Melbourne. Nestled between two beautiful mountain ranges, it’s a place full of cute country cafés, wineries and an old gold town equipped with ye olde train rides. Having spent the past nine months doing research around the Latrobe Valley, I’ve come to see that ideas of the Valley as parochial, ‘dirty’ and ‘bogan’ fail to see the beauty and adventure that one can find there. There is much more to this region than coal plants and mine fires.
The Latrobe Valley sits between the Strezlecki Ranges and the Baw Baw Ranges, consisting of three major urban areas – Moe, Morwell and Traralgon – plus a large number of small country towns. Walhalla, an old gold mining town in the Baw Baw Ranges, is a highlight with quality cafés, a scenic tourist train and one of Victoria’s steepest cemeteries. Easily accessible by V/Line regional train services, the Latrobe Valley is a great day trip or weekend away for your spring and summer.
For those keen for an escape to the bush, the Valley offers a range of walks and cycle tracks to get away from the big smoke. The Strezlecki Trail runs along the ridge of the Strezlecki Ranges, offering stunning views over the Valley and passing through the Tarra Bulga National Park which is known for its fern gullies and temperate rainforest. If cycling is more your thing, try the Gippsland Plains Rail Trail which runs through prime dairy country and provides views of the Great Dividing Ranges all the way from Traralgon to Stratford. Both towns are serviced by V/Line services so you won’t get stuck having to trek back the 67km route. If you are up for a bigger adventure, you can begin the 650km Australian Alps walking track from Walhalla, along the ridges and plains of the Great Dividing Ranges, all the way to Canberra. You will need about ten weeks to do the whole trek one way, so many people just choose to do sections.
Back in the towns there are some great places to eat, drink and hang out. Three Little Birds café in the centre of Traralgon offers a nice vibe and quality fair-trade coffee, while Saltbush in Morwell offers some hearty lunches and happy hour drinks. If you are looking to splurge, the Little Prince Eating House & Bar in Traralgon has some great food with adequate vego offerings. Foodies should also get along to the 50 Mile Farmers Market held in Traralgon on the first Saturday of the month or Morwell on the second, with local farmers and producers offering delicious seasonal products. If you are seeking some culture, the Latrobe Regional Gallery in Morwell is a great place to check out local artists and touring exhibitions.
Perhaps the best thing to do in the Valley is meet some of the locals. They’re resilient, friendly, and welcoming folk. We also have a lot to thank them for. Victoria has relied on the Latrobe Valley for almost a century for our power generation from coal. This is clearly changing as we transition to a low carbon economy, yet we should remember that it has been the sacrifice to health and environment by those in the Valley that has allowed Victoria to thrive for many decades. We may not like brown coal or the fact that the nation’s four dirtiest power stations are Victorian. But beyond just hoping the industry will shut down to ease our feeling of powerlessness in the face of global climate change, we have the opportunity to reach out to the community and ask how we can help. In visiting the Valley, injecting some funds into the economy and getting to know the area, we can start to show some solidarity with the community down there.
Not only is the Latrobe Valley a beautiful place with lots to see^and do, but we have a chance to help out our neighbours by going for a visit and starting to see them as our equals, rather than a dirty problem.