Destination: Nagambie, Victoria

By: ANGELO SAN GIORGIO, Photography by: ELLEN DEWAR


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In a quest to find an ideal location to host three towsport thoroughbreds, our editor stumbled across a little town with a big reputation for breeding champions.

Destination: Nagambie, Victoria
NAGAMBIE, VICTORIA

Until recently, all I’d seen of the Victorian town of Nagambie was the fleeting glimpse of a sign post as we hurtled past on our way to the Murray or to Sydney. That is, except for the time my youngest suffered an allergic reaction to those tired old Wiggles’ anthems, Wake up Jeff and Hot Potato. I recall ambling into town at 10pm hoping to score some caffeine to revive the senses, only to find Nagambie had pulled down the shutters and gone home for the night.

Three years later, while scouting locations for Australia’s Greatest Boats 2012, I again stumbled across Nagambie after a chance encounter with the folk from a new lakeside residential estate. They directed me to Libby Webster, events co-ordinator for the Shire of Strathbogie and the go-to guy / girl / person in the region.

I remember shedding a little tear when she answered my call because I was desperate to find a sympathetic ear and avoid another nervous breakdown while attempting to appease every petty bureaucracy that ever drew breath. She had me at "Hello"…

 

ON LOCATION

About 90 minutes’ drive due north of Melbourne, Nagambie (Aboriginal for lagoon) is not merely a bathroom stop on the way to Sydney, but a vibrant family destination with a rich and varied history.

The first non-indigenous exploration of the region occurred almost two centuries ago and the town of Nagambie was officially proclaimed in 1872. Nestled on the Goulburn River, the lush pastures and red sandy loam soil quickly drew farmers and viticulturists (wine boffins), and their efforts are still evident today.

The temperate, almost Mediterranean climate lends itself to wine production and Nagambie boasts some of the oldest vines in the country. In fact, Tahbilk Estate (established around 1850) claims to be the oldest family-owned winery in the state.

Lake Nagambie was created in 1891 as a result of the Goulburn Weir project, the first undertaking of its kind in Australia, and it still services the irrigation needs of 500,000ha of local farmland today.

Lake Nagambie itself covers an area of 1130ha and has a capacity of 25,000ML (megalitres). The Strathbogie Shire Council is the managing waterway authority for the Goulburn River between Hughes Creek and the Goulburn Weir, including Lake Nagambie, and I must say it’s done a fine job of building on its assets and creating a spectacular hub for all manner of water-focussed distractions.

The shallow but protected lake offers a multitude of activities for the adventurous, from skiing and wakeboarding, to rowing, kayaking and sailing, not to mention a thriving native fishery. Nagambie also offers direct access to the Goulburn River via water or a snaking network of paths and boardwalks that border much of the shoreline, particularly close to town.

For those that prefer dry land, the spectacular local landscape offers sightseeing and mountain bike riding across the river flats or up into the Strathbogie ranges. Thrill seekers could jump out of a plane or hit the 4WD tracks on dirt bikes or mudslingers.

 

LAUNCH CONTROL

There are several options for boaties who bring their own craft in order to take advantage of the water. Kayaks, canoes, porta-boats and small sailing skiffs can be man-handled across the grassy fringes or the beach at Elloura, while larger power boats can be launched from the Regatta Centre. Guests of the Lake Nagambie Leisure Park can even make use of their own private ramp.

Boats can be beached where it’s safe to do so, but be wary of submerged stumps and rocks. They can also be docked along the water’s edge at Jacobson’s Outlook in the southern section of the High Street boardwalk.

A word of caution: since Lake Nagambie is relatively shallow — less than a mete in parts — it’s best to utilise a depth sounder (if your boat is equipped with one) to ensure you stay in the cleanest patches. We managed to find a stump even though we’d completed a "dry" run of the zone a couple of weeks prior. Once underway, observe the "no go" and "no powerboat" signs or head for the river and find the marked ski zones.

Once you access the Goulburn, heading south leads you towards the aging but picturesque Chinaman’s Bridge along riverside horse studs toward the Tahbilk and Mitchelton wineries.

Heading north takes you toward Kirwans Bridge and the Goulburn Weir.

Whether you’re into fishing or not, it pays to drop a couple of marked cray pots if you’re on the water in season — May 1 to August 31. These cranky crustaceans are great on the tooth and well worth the effort.

 

WHAT A STUD

I’m not a horse person, but the picturesque riverside is home to some of the most prolific and productive horse studs in the country. Swettenham Stud and Gilgai Farm, home of record breaking Black Caviar’s mother Helsinge and birthplace of the champion mare, are two that spring to mind.

Perhaps I’m being overly romantic, but could it be the spectacular country scenery that stimulates their mood, or is it something in the water? I can say a sunset stroll along the boardwalk with the missus certainly got our blood pumping. You won’t see any of my offspring running in a weight-for-age anytime soon, though.

 

PICTURE PERFECT

If shooting stuff (with a camera, of course) is more your thing, Nagambie has a photo op waiting around every corner. There are gorgeous turn-of-the-century buildings populated by off-beat turn-of-the-century people. There are bridges and towers and arbours and all that other stuff that looks pretty boring until the sun hits it just right.

There are birds of a feather flocking together and others who couldn’t give a flying flock about anything. There are possums and ’roos and other vermin… sorry, national treasures... keen to pose, and wetlands galore to aggregate them.


WINE NOT?

When you’ve had your fill of capturing the natives on "film", or not catching any of the cod and yellowbelly the region is apparently famous for, you might feel the need to sample the fermented grapes this region really is renowned for.

Being something of a cheapskate, at the first winery I immediately made a beeline for the large sample buckets filled with frothy purple liquid and started guzzling… that was until a lovely young lady with an impeccably ironed shirt sauntered over and whispered something in my ear.

I thought she fancied me, but instead she mentioned that I was partaking of the spittoon, where gargled wine was ejected rather than swallowed. "Yuk!" I said, and kept right on drinking.

When I asked if she could bottle the leftovers she motioned towards the door and asked me to leave. I complied — bucket in hand.

In all seriousness, the wines were spectacular, in particular the shiraz and marsanne varieties from Tahbilk Estate. Other notable wineries include Mitchelton and Fowles, to name a few.

I’m as much a wine connoisseur as I am a brain surgeon, but it never ceases to amaze me how much variation can be eked out of a grape. God bless ’em.

 

FISH TALES

Lake Nagambie and the adjacent Goulburn River hold a staggering array of fish species, from foreign invaders such as brown and rainbow trout, redfin, tench, and carp, to native blackfish, murray cod, golden perch and murray crayfish.

Techniques to target these finned foe can be as simple as a light-running sinker rig with a scrubworm or several earthworms impaled on the shaft. Or, for a more sporting or mobile option, a light, single-handed 2-4kg spin stick coupled to a 2000-3000 reel and 4-6lb braid with a 6lb leader would be the ideal delivery vehicle.

Small bladed lures, spinners, soft plastics and diving minnow in natural baitfish or trout shades are perfect snack-size treats to imitate their natural dietary preferences.

A heavier 6-8kg spin stick or baitcaster outfit with 12-15lb braid would be the weapon of choice to target murray cod among the numerous snags that litter the river fringes.

Larger versions of the aforementioned lures, along with larger spinnerbaits and buzz baits, would see you in the running to tango with southern Australia’s premier freshwater sportfish.

For even more of a challenge, dry flies or nymphs fished on a 5-6 weight flyrod and larger streamers fished on an 8-weight for cod could be ideal.

During our last visit, all I managed to jag was a cold, and a trophy-sized one at that. Not surprising considering the bottomed-out barometer and unseasonably low water temperatures. But judging by the amount of crays I saw on the day, I’m salivating just thinking about it.

 

ELLOURA

Once you visit Nagambie and take the time to immerse yourself in what the town has to offer, there’s every chance you might not want to leave. If the bug bites you, then Elloura could well be your new address.

It’s hard not to get excited by the thought of setting down roots here. We’re in the market for a new home at the moment and I had to constantly remind myself that my wife would probably not be happy with a two-hour commute to work each day.

However, if you worked in the city or one of Melbourne’s northern suburbs, it’s worth considering. I mean, it sometimes takes me an hour or more to drive to the office and that’s only a trifling 30km from home.

Elloura is a residential venture by the Lockland Group that offers a waterfront lifestyle at a fraction of the cost of a similar property in suburban Melbourne. It’s also the only inland lakeside development I’m aware of that allows,
let alone encourages, powerboat usage on its waters.

There are parkside lots from $99,500 and waterfront lots from $190,000. Just choose your builder and design your ideal shack; it could well be the best value purchase a boating family could ever hope for.

Just imagine, all this and the serene beauties of nearby Nagambie thrown in for free.


ACCOMODATION IN NAGAMBIE

We dined at the Kalasin Thai Restaurant and though we ordered far too much food, it was so good we still polished it off. On the final night, Il Lago supplied the pizzas and they lived up to their menu descriptions, and then some. Lunch and brekkie were supplied by Chinaman’s Bridge Café (within Nagambie Lakes Leisure Park) and it was worth the walk in the rain. The Tahbilk Tavern’s no slouch either.

 

Kalasin Thai Restaurant

284 High Street

Nagambie, Victoria 3608

Tel: (03) 5794 2200

 

Il Lago Pizza Restaurant

319 High Street,

Nagambie, Vic 3608

Tel: (03) 5794 1842

Chinaman’s Bridge Café

69 Loddings Lane

Nagambie, Vic 3608

Tel (03) 5794 2100

 

TaHbilk Tavern

324 High Street

Nagambie, Vic 3608

Tel: (03) 5794 2300

 

WHERE TO STAY IN NAGAMBIE

We stayed at Nagambie Lake Leisure Park during Australia’s Greatest Boats 2012 and the luxury cabins are just that — luxurious. Fully self-contained and situated on the banks of the Goulburn River, you can moor your boat metres away from your covered timber deck. Go on, spoil yourself. We’ve listed a couple of other solid options, should you not get your booking in fast enough. Powered and unpowered caravan and camping sites are also available if you want to rough it in style.

 

 

Originally published in TrailerBoat #289, December 2012.

 


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