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SOME TINY VICTORIAN TOWNS HAVE LEFT
MERRYN JOHNS ENCHANTED. AND BETTER
YET, THEY ARE PROMISINGLY PINK.
T hat regional Victoria boats some excellent destinations
for the gay and lesbian traveller is becoming well-known.
Spa town Daylesford was recently voted second in a list of the
world's top 10 secret getaways for gays and lesbians.
But here's the best kept secret of all: there are others!
And because Victoria is a small state, it's possible to find
yourself buried deep in a natural bush environment only a
cooee from sophisticated Melbourne.
Nestled in a secluded valley in the Victorian Alps is a tiny
town with a grand past. Walhalla was one of Victoria's richest
19th century gold rush settlements, blossoming into a
bustling little town with ten hotels, three breweries, and seven
churches to ser vice its 3000 prospectors and mining families.
This picturesque mining town has a dramatic history of boom
and bust that draws in the traveller. Stroll along its quaint tree-
lined streets and gaze at the original miners' cottages which
hug the valley slopes. Take a tour of the Long Tunnel
Extended Gold Mine and soak up the atmosphere of an era
when men, and even some women, risked their lives for good
wages earned underground.
Named after the "valley of the gods" from Norse legends,
Walhalla's valley is shrouded in a gentle mist at dawn and dusk.
The mountainous cleft to which it clings is so steep that the
local cemetery digs into the side of a hill at a 45 degree angle.
And the gravestones make very interesting reading!
Walhalla is hauntingly beautiful and even though its current
population stands at only 23, don't expect a ghost town.
The Star Hotel, opposite a beautifully restored band
rotunda, is the heart of the town, and openly gay proprietor
Michael Leaney has created a stylish establishment that
welcomes all. The Star is a faithful reconstruction of the town's
original watering hole but under Michael's auspices offers
spacious and stylish modern accommodation, lovely cottage
gardens and quality meals. You might be in a frontier-style
village but you can still complete your day with refined dining
and a luxurious slumber in a king-size bed.
While in Walhalla there's plenty to do. Visit the mines at night
and scare yourself silly with a ghost story or two offered by local
guides. Walking, horseriding and mountain bike trails abound, and
because many follow old timber tramlines the walks are suitable for
all fitness levels. The Walhalla Goldfields Railway is an excellent way
to take in the breathtaking scenery of the narrow Stringers Creek
gorge. 4WD tours and gold panning are also on offer.
As Walhalla might suggest, the diversity of Melbourne is
fast spreading to regional Victoria where gay and lesbian
couples seeking sea changes are opening cafes and guesthouses,
bringing welcome innovations to sleepy towns. Also a former
goldrush town, Warburton is a gorgeous little Victorian village
currently thriving under the emerging presence of a growing gay
community. Just an hour's drive from Melbourne, Warburton is
surrounded by lush forests of mountain ash and has a peaceful
atmosphere which makes it the perfect place to unwind before
heading off to one of the nearby Yarra Valley's superb wineries.
There are also plenty of craft and antique stores for browsing
and you can pick up great coffee and hearty food at the gay
owned and operated Three Sugars café. There is gay owned
accommodation as well. St Lawrence Bed & Breakfast is a
charming and homey cottage in an elevated position with
lovingly-tended gardens and rooms decorated with old world
knick-knacks that transport you into a bygone era.
This classic country town surrounded by fern gullies and
forests is the home of the famous Healesville Sanctuary, the
only place to have successfully bred the platypus in captivity. It's
no surprise: there is a sense of tranquility about this increasingly
popular getaway spot that seems to convince humans and
animals to relax and get on with enjoying life. The Sanctuary is
a must, especially if you like to peruse some of Australia's more
elusive fauna in walk-through habitats. The female volunteer
guides are on first name terms with the resident critters and
enthusiastically relate animal tales without much prompting.
The platypi put on a vigorous show and if you are a dog lover
you'll fall in love with the dingoes and convince yourself that they
would make perfectly adorable additions to your inner city home.
... WARBURTON IS A GORGEOUS LITTLE VICTORIAN
VILLAGE CURRENTLY THRIVING UNDER THE EMERGING
PRESENCE OF A GROWING GAY COMMUNITY.
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