Six reasons to visit Alexandra

TWO years of above-average rainfall has brought new life and vigour to the gardens of the Upper Goulburn Valley town of Alexandra. The gardeners are so pleased with their new-found floral fecundity that next weekend they are opening more than a dozen private gardens in and around town. One much-admired garden is Jean Shiel’s, planted by her late husband Jack more than 40 years ago with rhododendrons, azaleas, maples, climbing roses and weeping cherries. Running concurrently is the Festival of Flowers at St John’s Anglican Church. Have a sticky beak at their community garden before going into the church to see flowers that locals have arranged for their religious festivities such as weddings. Naturally, tea and scones will be served.

IT IS one of the best bike rides in the country with more than 120 kilometres of track stretching from Tallarook to Mansfi eld. The trail follows the Goulburn River through a tight and twisted valley where billabongs throng with thousands of frogs. It plunges 200 metres into the historic Cheviot tunnel before hugging the shores of Lake Eildon at Bonnie Doon and crossing 73 bridges. If you’re fit you can ride one way in one day. Many load their bikes on the train at Southern Cross and get off at Tallarook Station. Some call Mark Spencer on 0417 594 998, who, for $95, will take you and your gear all the way to Mansfield, from which point it’s mostly all downhill.

AN attractive Victorian-era home with wide verandahs in the main street is Vincent l’Hoest and Amanda Perry’s second incarnation of The Dairy Café. When they moved the business here a few years back they gutted the building and turned it into a comfortable open-plan dining room serving good coffee, freshly squeezed juice and tasty, honest food. At lunch consider an open smoked salmon sandwich using fish from Wilhelmina Trout farm at Eildon. l’Hoest is Dutch and, like many of his countrymen, has a love of satays, which he serves with his own zingy peanut sauce. 35 Grant Street, Wed-Sun 9am-4pm, 5725 4118

UNTIL the railway reached Alexandra in 1909 the timbers in the Rubicon Forest remained relatively untouched. A narrow gauge timber tramline was built up into the hills and the Rubicon was logged. The 1939 fires destroyed much of the line, which was hastily rebuilt to salvage timber. The little trams ran until 1947. Volunteers have restored the trams with diesel and steam locomotives pulling carriages and their passengers around a short loop. Station Street, 10am-4pm second
and fourth Sunday each month, 0427 509 988,

ALEXANDRA butcher Colin Gesler believes that the classic British breed Hereford
produces the best tasting beef. He has been quietly raising steers on his farm at nearby
Spring Creek for three decades, growing them out on grass for two years (most beef
these days comes from cattle just one year old) and dry ageing their carcasses for 21
days. The result is massive, great tasting steaks that people drive from Melbourne
to buy. Alexandra Quality Meats, 57 Grant Street, Mon-Fri 7am-6pm, Sat 7am-1pm,
5772 1151

THE old highway snakes through a cutting at the back of Alexandra. Planted with oaks in the 1800s, these old trees now form a closed canopy that has created its own little Beatrix Potter-like world with lichen-covered wild fruit trees and rabbits burrowing around their gnarled trunks. The walk starts at Grant Street by the footy oval. Next to the Visitor Information Centre is Rotary Park with a suspension bridge that children, and some childish adults, find irresistible to jump on. The bridge traverses UT Creek, local shorthand for Ultima Thule Creek. Another local secret is McKenzie Flora Reserve, a parcel of native bush with scores of different species of wildflowers that are presently in full bloom. Look out for Spider Orchids, Donkey Orchids, wattles and hardenbergias. Also active are sundews, insectivorous plants with leaves covered in goo that trap insects, and fronds that slowly fold down on their prey as they are digested. Free walking maps of Alexandra are available at the Visitor Information Centre, 36 Grant Street, d aily 9am-5pm