No longer just a vantage point from which to watch ye olde world steamers pass by on the Murray, Echuca Moama is rivalling Victorian country towns Kyneton and Daylesford as the state's lifestyle destination capital. Ear-marked by day-trippers, public holiday makers and tree changers alike, the region has taken off and shows no signs of turning back.
With an increase in young families and tree changers seeking a slower lifestyle in the country, Echuca Moama is enjoying a renaissance as a destination hot spot.
Like the Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula and Lorne, Echuca has always been well known for its dining options. But the variety of eclectic eateries appearing in the past five years is a genuine indication of cultural progress. Offering everything from exotic Asian menus at Monkee. Co to Italian ala carte at Ceres to Port-side gourmet pizzas at the Star Bar, tapas plates at The Mill, vegan delicacies at The Sweet Meadow and Yanky burgers at The American, foodies slot in all over the local food map to indulge. Weekenders continue to enjoy the tried and true Morrisons or Cape Horn winery experiences on the Murray while festival goers flock to hipster food vans for stroll-sip-and-nibble weekends on footpaths that run adjacent to the town.
With sprawling housing estates popping up on the outskirts of both towns, hobby farms are in bloom to accommodate for adventurous young local families and day trippers. The Strawberry Pick, Billabong Horse Ranch and the gloriously kitsch Aussie Beer Shed and Cactus Country are wildly popular spots off the beaten track that give children and adults the opportunity to interact with nature in the fresh country air. Pictured above, the Strawberry Pick off Scott Rd in Echuca Village sells freshly picked punnets, sorbets, jams and chocolate dips from a caravan on site and runs Jam Making workshops for berry enthusiasts.
A gallop on a horse through the sun-filtered bushlands is a tonic many busy Melbournians only dream about. At Billabong Ranch and hobby farm, hosts guide the newly initiated through the necessary training steps. Short and long trots can be arranged and children's activities on site allow families to fill in an afternoon roaming nature while befriending and feeding the animals.
A plant based, vegan cafe in the Port of Echuca, The Sweet Meadow (pictured below) has been written about in Melbourne's famed Broadsheet magazine and is hotly discussed, Victoria wide. Its not unusual for out of towners to take a day trip just to visit Aishe's gorgeous cafe with its seasonal menu and immaculately conceived interior. The success of The Sweet Meadow speaks of a growing sense of the contemporary in the area. The smashed avo, buckwheat pancakes, freshly brewed coffee with coconut, almond or soy milk and seasonal pressed green juices are lovingly put together and served amongst local wattles and passing horses and drays.
Annual favourites for thousands of Victorians with tickets selling out within weeks, Riverboats Music Festival and Winter Blues Fest have helped bolster Echuca Moama's rising popularity as a centre for laid back but avant garde music performance and art exhibitions. Riverboats Music Fest accommodates its audience comfortably by keeping tickets limited, not over-populating the natural ampitheatre to capacity, allowing music lovers to lounge around on picnic blankets and visit food vans in a non crowded atmosphere. Headline acts share the spotlight with family members and low key emerging folk starlets at both festivals, with the cobbled streets of Echuca's historic port and its many venues acting as make shift stages during Winter Blues.
Once known exclusively for its cheese and chocolate shops, saddleries and breweries, the brick end of High St is progressing into a retail precinct with the opening of designer homewares emporiums I Want I Need and Under The Gable. The strip has welcomed retro-tinged boutiques Vintage Vinyl, Mad Hatter Tea Shop, Millewa Spa, Echuca Food Store, The Barber Shop and All Vintages Bazaar alongside the many clothing stores and bakeries.
Kitschy cute cushions on display at I Want I Need in the Port of Echuca.
Pictured Above: St Anne's Vineyard wine tasting outlet in the Wharf area remains a popular drop in spot for visitors on the lookout for rare bottles of red, white and port.
Above: The newly refurbished American Hotel in the heart of town is adjacent to two of the most popular AirBnB properties on the map. Namely Heygarth House and The White House.
With the rise in popularity of cosy and affordable AirBnB properties, over sterile hotel venues, Heygarth House which is adjacent to The Dock restaurant and The American Hotel bar and night-club, is booked out each weekend. The proximity to local music festival activity and all the cafes, boutiques and bars in the Port of Echuca has made the historic Italianite residence a favourite with visitors who wish to discover the town on foot rather than spend time and money chasing taxis.
Above: Heygarth House features Italianite architecture, rustic fireplaces, a kitchenette, petite bathroom, a spacious living area, three televisions, Netflix and free wifi, 2 large bedrooms and a huge outdoor eating and living area on the balcony which over look the river gums and the historic Port. Guests comment on its olde world charm, hearty views and unbeatable location.
The newly landscaped Hopwood Gardens mix oriental botanics with towering gums. Adjacent to the Paddlesteamer dock, the Port Ice Creamery and the recently renovated Bridge Hotel, families enjoy shaded afternoons on the lawn before a stroll to the colourfully retro Holden Car Museum on Warren St.
The staggering beauty of sunsets over the Historic Wharf have failed to lose an inch of their charm even decades after the international success of the miniseries All The Rivers Run.
Its true. These days, there are more massage and beauty salons in Echuca than service stations which speaks of the town's commitment to wellness. Aromatic scents, green teas served in waiting rooms, cruelty free product ranges and exotic treatments have been introduced to the local beauty spa scene, allowing patrons to indulge in pampering previously only afforded in metropolitan areas.
Once the playground of high velocity speedboat skiiers, the Murray River in Echuca Moama has been reclaimed late by the slow living set. The not uncommon sight of young people slowly gliding over the waterways at sunrise and sundown has the Stand Up Paddleboard trend to thank for an increase in lovely and lazy water sports.
The Barmah Forest (above) a short drive from Moama's entrance remains one of Victoria's best kept secrets. The abundant wildlife, wetlands and the hum of Yorta Yorta culture holds spiritual resonance for visitors who cite the awe-inspiring tranquility and untouched beauty of the World Heritage listed forest. The mist over the waters near the Dharnya Centre has to be experienced in the early hours of the morning for full effect. Guided tours with Kingfisher Cruises are available for those seeking an informed yet slow paced meander through the wetlands.
The Mill Tapas Bar (below) on Nish St Echuca was previously a Flour Mill and is a stunning example of how the people of Echuca Moama have turned a rich history into a contemporary experience for locals and visitors alike.
Echuca Moama has evolved beyond measure in the past thirty years. With the new river crossing funded and the ambitious Bridge Art Project set to unravel in 2021, one can only imagine how exciting the next twenty years will be for the twin towns. Colonial founders, Henry Hopwood and James Maiden would be tipping their top hats with pride.
Top of the Day to ye, welcome travellers! Save a penny and see you soon. xo
All images supplied or sourced.