STAND in El Dorado’s main street and it’s hard to imagine that back in the 1870s, there were more than 2000 people living close by searching for gold.
The population is now about 200 but visitors are still well rewarded with beautiful scenery, interesting attractions and a glimpse of life in those pioneering days.
Even the name El Dorado conjures up images of finding gold at the end of the rainbow — and debate about should it be one word or two.
But however you spell it, it’s a great day trip with plenty on offer for all age groups.
From Albury-Wodonga head about 60 kilometres on the Hume Freeway to and turn off to the signposted Carraragamungee Road and El Dorado then travel 14 kilometres to the historic village.
Founded on mining, gold was discovered in 1855 and many flocked there, seeking their fortune — early maps show more than 50 buildings lined the streets.
A great place to discover what life was like in those times is the El Dorado museum, housed in the old state school.
Visitors can take a step back in time with lots of interesting displays and photographs from the 1850s to 1950s covering mining, farming and social history.
The Baker’s Cottage — an original bakery dating from the 1800s, still has the original oven that takes three days to fire up. It is now a cosy bed and breakfast.
A series of Interpretive boards near the town centre explores the colourful history of El Dorado and Woolshed Valley where Joe Byrne, of the Kelly gang, and Aaron Sherritt — a friend of the gang members who later double crossed them — grew up.
The Woolshed Interpretive Trail that starts near the El Dorado general store, takes day-trippers on a 55 kilometre round trip that takes about 50 minutes. There are several chances along it to linger.
You start at the museum and follow a well-sed, dirt road through the Woolshed Valley to Beechworth with 10 story boards highlighting the history and attractions along the way.
Highlights include Wombat Mine that provided income for El Dorado in the early days.
INTERACTIVE MAP: Daily top five activity recommendations
Further along on Woolshed Road, there are remnants of the Chinese Gardens where, during the gold era, the Chinese supplied vegetables to miners and hotels in the area.
The trail then heads to Napoleon Flat that was once a major mining town and Kangaroo Crossing, the site of a timber bridge that burned down in the early 1900s.
There are also remnants of miner’s slab huts, Chinese diggings and Buttrey’s Rock where bushranger Buttrey hid behind the rock on his horse and sprang out as a coach came around. He robbed travellers of a large amount of gold.
Unfortunately for Buttrey, he was captured and the gold he hid in a hollow log has never been recovered — so check those logs.
Close by is the site of the old Reidford Hotel that burned down in 1899 and you can see some of the remnants of the public swimming baths.
Sebastopol Flat was another once-boom town and the nearby Aaron Sherritt’s hut was where Joe Byrne, along with Dan Kelly shot Sherritt in 1880.
Woolshed Falls is just a short drive and is well worth a stop. It is great for a swim in cool, shallow rock pools but be careful of slippery surfaces.
There’s an observation deck with views of Reedy Creek and the cascading water.
More than 8000 miners and diggers once worked along the river bank.
The town of Beechworth with its eclectic shops, historic attractions and great cafes and restaurants is a 10-minute drive from here but if you are doing the touring guide, continue on the Beechworth-Wangaratta Road that passes the Amulet Vineyard and Indigo Vineyard cellar doors, Golden Ball Wines (by appointment only) and Davidsongrove Olives.
On the way back, check out Cock’s El Dorado Dredge, a rusting hulk from the past that sits on the spot where it last dug for gold.
The floating monster is the largest dredge in the southern hemisphere and weighs a massive 1943.19 tonnes.
It was used to dredge for alluvial gold and tin until 1954. In a short walk around the area, you can see the dredge from all angles.
Back in El Dorado, leave some time for a quick drink at McEvoy’s Tavern — the smallest pub in Victoria.
New-age prospectors may also like to try their luck in the many streams and creeks in the area where you may just happen to find that elusive pot of gold.
Details: See www.eldorado.org.au
SIDE TRIP: CHILTERN
A SIDE trip to Chiltern, about 30 kilometres from Albury-Wodonga, is worth the effort.
The historic town reflects the charm of yesteryear with well preserved streetscapes, historic brick buildings and wooden verandahs.
There’s lots to discover in the town that’s linked with great Australian author Henry Handel Richardson (Ethel Florence). Her childhood home, Lake View, is now owned by the National Trust.
The self-guided Chiltern Walk takes about 90 minutes and features many of the town’s 22 historic buildings, starting at the Bank of New South Wales, built in 1935 at a cost of 3000 pounds.
Dow’s Pharmacy, opened in 1859, is also owned by the National Trust. It has its original shop frontage and fittings.
For a step back in time, head to the Athenaeum Museum that traces the town’s history and features the work of pioneer and artist Alfred William Eustace.
The Star Hotel and theatre, dating from 1866, is also home to the southern hemisphere’s largest grapevine.
The town has been centre stage in movies including the Disney movie, Ride A Wild Pony and The True Story of Spit McPhee.
A 25 kilometre historic drive features Donchi Hill lookout with great views over Chiltern plains.
For more details visit chilternvic.com or phone the Information centre on (03) 5726 1611
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