Day 14 – Port Fairy to Dunkeld
After a fine breakfast in Port Fairy it was back on the road again heading ever westwards – but not too far. Our plan today was to follow the Princes Highway to where it kinks north near the town of Portland. We picked up a cache or two on the way meeting up with some fellow hunters near Portland itself.
We spotted them approaching the likely position for the hide. When they spotted us coming near them they quickly hid the cache from view until I said, ‘Have you found it for us?’ We got talking after each signing the log from the cache. It turns out that they were from Sydney and a Navy family – what are the odds?
This area is, as you might imagine, very rural. It looks like they’d had a good season too as the the hay sheds were packed to the rafters. We made a quick stop in very small village called Stalkers Bend. We parked the scoots on the grass next to what was once the town’s pool. It was a part of the creek in which they’d installed a small dam. The edges and base of the ‘pool’ had been concreted and even a small area had been fenced off. It had all fallend into disrepair after decades of neglect but we were struck by how simple and charming the whole set up was. Three very large pines had once stood near the bank to shade the pool but they had been cut down. One remained on the opposite bank so we got am idea of what it must have been like.
On the road again, we tracked north to Hamilton for a lunch stop. After gassing up the scoots, we found a shady spot to park them while we fuelled ourselves up. Hamilton is a nice looking town which I’m guessing is about the size of Queanbeyan. We tried to get a couple more caches while there but failed on both attempts. In any case, the journey today was not our primary focus – it was the dinner we were looking forward to.
Dunkeld was our destination and it was but a short hop away.
We had properly turned the corner to head east now. To our left, Mount Sturgeon marked thhe sourthern tip of the Grampian Ranges. It’s an oddly shaped mountain – one end pushed from the ground while its western foot remained firmly in place as if the whole thing was on a hinge. Dunkeld itself was like the other small Victorian hamlets we had come across. Neat little gardens, turn-of-the-century cottages, closed businesses and the ubiquitous memorial swimming pool. We pulled into the car park of the Royal Mail Hotel leaving the scoots on the footpath outside the reception desk. We waited for what seemed an age for a chatty American couple to stop chewing the ear off the receptionist before getting our room key. Our accommodation – it turned out – was actually across the road from the hotel. The back yard of one the town’s larger houses had been built out with hotel rooms all constructed in a similar vein to the parent house. Now – we had reserved a ‘cheap’ room, but it was the nicest cheap room I had ever clapped eyes on! We had paid the same money for a much lesser appointed room in Port Fairy that wasn’t a shadow on this place! We unloaded the bikes and emptied ourselves into the room, spreading out like we had just unpacked a Land Rover rather than two little scooters.
The Royal Mail Hotel is a bit of an oddity. The pub itself has been around since the 1800s but some years ago, an aspiring chef returning to Australia decided to build his restaurant on the spot and converted the plot to construct a large hotel, native gardens, the public bar, a bistro and the restaurant dining room. This is all topped off by an amazing menu and what Gourmet Traveller magazine has judged to be the best wine cellar in Australia.
We had long planned to come here and it felt as this if this was the whole reason for our trip. We opted for the full tasting menu plus the matched wines. What followed was ten courses of rich and sumptious food each matched with either a French or Australian wine to compliment the dish. I won’t reproduce the menu here as I will dribble on for another thousand words. We heartily recommend that you come here yourself. Make it your holiday – you won’t regret it.
And so it was with full bellies that we departed the restaurant for our comfy bed. I don’t think either of us will ever forget the meal we had in this place. The chefs (all on full display as they worked) prepared each plate with the same full attentiveness. The head chef inspected each and every plate that left the servery – often making small changes to the presentation. It was this attention to detail, plus the unique blending of seemingly mismatched flavours that made this meal so special.
Tomorrow – the Murray River port town of Echuca. Ciao!
Clicke HERE to see today’s pics.