Victorian foodie country — Southern Aurora 60th anniversary tour

On our last full day aboard Southern Aurora we woke somewhere in NSW, with another early start. We were just sitting down to breakfast as we reached Albury railway station on our way back into Victoria.

Breakfast — fruit compote, yogurt, toast, cereal.

Buses were waiting for us when we got to Benalla railway station. Once again we were kept in our Covid bubbles and had each been allocated to a specific bus depending on our train carriages and dining room seating plan.

The buses wound their way up into Victoria’s high country where our first stop was Chrismont Wines, a cool-climate vineyard in Cheshunt.

The views from the balcony at Chrismont were gorgeous. If I lived there I’m sure I’d never get any work done. We had a birds’ eye view across the vines, to the road and mountains beyond.

rom the balcony at Chrismont Wines, Cheshunt, Victoria.

After a sampling of their best wines we all had lunch together before leaving to drive to Milawa, a small village in the heart of foodie country.

Our first encounter with Milawa was back in 1999, when our family spent a week in Bright. During our stay we drove around the Victorian Alps area as well as the gourmet areas nearby. Our cheese-loving daughter was delighted when we stumbled on Milawa Cheese Company. We’d also stopped in to Milawa Mustards and sampled some delicious relishes and mustards. As we were travelling with a family and on a tight budget, we bought mustards, relish and cheese, then stopped at the bakery for some crusty warm bread rolls. Then we drove out of town to find a quiet spot to have a family picnic on this glorious fresh local produce.

Gateau du fromage — Milawa Cheese Company stack of their best cheese wheels.

We’d told our now-adult children of our expectation to visit Milawa Cheese Company and knew they’d want us to ‘stock up’. The family favourite is Milawa Gold, almost impossible to find outside Milawa. It’s a creamy, strong-flavoured cheese, bold and with bite. Once tasted, it’s unforgettable.

We made a bee-line for the cheese counter and selected our favourites. The staff on the train had offered to store our perishable packages for us, in the fridges on board.

From Milawa we wound our way back on the buses through Wangaratta, to re-board the train in Albury.

Historic Wangaratta. Photo taken from the bus as we sailed through. Next time…

Before we left Albury there were more speeches, and a surprise (for me). I don’t know why I hadn’t realised, but the staff on board this historic train were volunteers. They worked hard, their service and courtesy was gold standard, but they were there because they loved the train and the historic railway journeys.

Waiting for dinner — all this was served by volunteers!

The journey back to Sydney could have been sombre, as our adventure on Southern Aurora was drawing to a close. But we still had dinner, and breakfast next morning, to keep our mood relaxed and golden.

Dawn somewhere around Moss Vale.
Breakfast in Bundanoon? Bowral? Somewhere in the misty highlands…

The train was taking us through a damp and misty Southern Highlands as we enjoyed breakfast next morning. After packing, we moved to the lounge car to chat to our new friends and listen to their excited arrangements for their next trip with St James Rail (stjamesrail), and Owen Johnstone-Donnet.

There are tours which take you to wonderful places; there are tours where you get to knew some wonderful people. There are tours where they spoil you rotten.
We’d just had all three. Can’t wait for more!

Journey’s end on Southern Aurora. For sixty years, this sign shone through the night between Sydney and Melbourne from the back of the train. No longer in public service, she’s now a touring train for heritage rail enthusiasts.

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