Your blooming weekend at the Begonia Festival: a recommended itinerary

Words Cara Sputore
Images supplied

Older than Moomba and steeped in history, it’s not hard to see why the Ballarat Begonia Festival is one of Victoria’s most loved events. What started as an ode to the flowers that grow so well in the region is now a three-day celebration of flowers, food, live events and community, in a knock-out setting among the botanical gardens.

To help you make the most of the three action-packed, floral-scented days, we’ve planned the perfect long-weekend in Ballarat.

Day 1

10am Start your day at the centrepiece of the festival: the spectacular Begonia Display, a colourful symbol of summer planned 12 months in advance. More than 600 begonias from the City of Ballarat’s famous collection are on show this year, so take your sweet time strolling around. If you want to know how to grow and care for these beauties, talks by local Begonia experts happen twice daily. A little bit of calm is 100 percent guaranteed.

1.30pm All this festival-ing is busy work, so you’re going to need some sustenance. Grab a wood-fired pizza from the local legends at The Forge Pizzeria in the Begonia Courtyard, then relax under the trees with beers from Red Duck Brewery and Cubby Haus Brewing, wines from Wightwick or gin from Kilderkin Distillery. Look around and remind yourself that life can be quite nice indeed.

3pm Time for some tunes. Move between the festival’s four music stages and be entertained by artists and performers from across the state. Highlights include Motown soul band Motor City Sounds, local singer songwriter Anna Oliphant Wright and 2018 Music in the Vines Emerging Talent winner Flynn Gurry.

8pm A great day out deserves a great evening meal, so head to Moon and Mountain for modern Hawkers-style cuisine in a super cool setting. They’re open late so throw the anchor down, order some plates to share and work your way through the list of cocktails and craft beers.

Need a bed for the weekend? Ballarat Premier Apartments, Craig’s Royal Hotel, Lake Wendouree Luxury Apartments, or The Provincial Ballarat are all excellent bets for a good night’s sleep.

Day 2

11.15am Former host of TV series A River Cottage Australia and sustainable farming advocate Paul West is a special guest this year and a very likeable guy. He teams up with Dirtgirl for a chat about compost and how to keep the good stuff in our soil; they return later this afternoon to discuss the secret life of bees.

12.30pm Need a gift for someone, or some plants for your garden? The festival’s got you. Head to the Creative Designers and Gardeners markets and chat to the stallholders, who’ll give you good advice and sell you good stuff. For a small donation you can leave your newly-acquired plant babies at a creche while you explore the festival. Handy!

3.30pm Catch a ride on Ballarat Tramway Museum’s floral tram, which returns to the festival after an 80-year hiatus. The heritage tram is decorated with thousands of flowers made from recycled plastic in an instagram-worthy homage to the trams of 1938 and 1939, which were decorated with crepe flowers.

7pm You’re really embedded now, so it makes sense to eat somewhere with a long history in the region. Mitchell Harris Wine Bar is that place. All the wines are made at the company’s winery, and the food is bloody good too.

Day 3

11am Did you know there’s a board game called Everyone Loves A Parade? This speaks volumes about how much people love parades. Ballarat’s version is major, with around 10,000 people taking to Wendouree Parade to watch local businesses, schools and community groups celebrate the town and the rainbow of people who call it home. The Begonia Parade is loud, colourful and joyful. It’s community spirit in action. Get there early to score a good spot.

12.35pm Gloriously hirsute garden guru Costa Georgiadis returns to the festival for one day only to share his passion for plants and people, teaming up with Dirtgirl and the Grubby TV gang for a workshop on sustainable living.

3pm If your kids have a bit of daredevil in them, head to the Circus Drop Zone and Comedy Cafe to try your hand at juggling, unicycling and hula-hooping. The not-so-daring can play it safe and watch amazing performers show a six-metre high trapeze rig who’s boss.

4pm Finish up with the perfect floral keepsake – a photo on the ‘green carpet’ at the gorgeous Stems Greenery Wall. Then head home and congratulate yourself on a long weekend very well done.

What: Ballarat Begonia Festival
Where: Ballarat Botanical Gardens
When: 9 – 11 March 2019, 10am – 5pm
More information here:

Toast to the Coast

Words Jessica Gadd
Images Ferne Millen

Just an hour from Melbourne is the Geelong Wine Region: home to three very different subregions, each of which produces its own distinct style.

From the glorious views and beaches of the Surf Coast, or the sheltered bays and abundant wildlife of the Bellarine Peninsula, to the golden plains of the Moorabool Valley: wherever you go, you’ll find a wide variety of plantings – riesling, gewurztraminer, merlot, primitivo, gamay, langrein and carmenere, to name a few.

But it’s shiraz and pinot noir that the region is really renowned for, knock-your-socks-off wines that score more than their fair share of accolades.

‘Our flagship wine is pinot noir, and we have always aimed to make “pinot noir for the people”,’ explains Scott Austin, managing director of Austins & Co. Winery, and president of Wine Geelong. ‘The cool-climate region of Geelong is perfect for growing the varieties of pinot noir, chardonnay, riesling and shiraz, and that is what we focus on at our winery.’

Austins & Co. is one of 22 wineries participating in this year’s Toast to the Coast Festival, across 17 venues. Now in its 17th year, this festival has long given locals and visitors alike the chance to slow down and spend some time discovering – or rediscovering – the wine region that’s right on Melbourne’s doorstep.

It’s a packed program across the two days with winery and vineyard tours, wine education, museum and new release wine tastings, masterclasses, a plethora of food offerings from local caterers, food trucks, and vineyard restaurants, and loads of live entertainment on offer – all in a family-friendly, festival atmosphere. Also look out for produce market stalls and helicopter rides (Clyde Park) and classic car displays (McGlashan’s Estate).

As part of Toast to the Coast, several of the venues are hosting other local wineries on site, such as Leura Park Estate, which is hosting Finesse Winery, Yes said the Seal, Jack Rabbit Vineyard, and the Flying Brick Cider Co.

Six of the participating wineries have been rated 5-stars by the Halliday Wine Companion 2019: Austins & Co., Clyde Park, Oakdene, Scotchman’s Hill, Spence Wines and Yes Said The Seal.

Venues with family-friendly spaces and activities ranging from giant chess to art spaces, farm animals and sandpits, include Barwon Ridge, Clyde Park, Moorabool Ridge, Basils Farm, Bellarine Estate, Oakdene, Wayawu Estate, and Mt Duneed Estate.

There are hop-on hop-off shuttle buses available, circulating between the venues, and morning and afternoon buses available to take guests to and from each region at the beginning and end of each day. (Just be sure to select the bus option you need when you purchase your Toast to the Coast ticket – and remember: there are no ticket sales on the day.)

‘Every year we have been fortunate with the weather and it’s such a good opportunity to bring together family and friends for the weekend,’ Scott Austin says. ‘All of the wineries want to provide a great experience to really showcase all that our region has to offer.’


What: Toast to the Coast 2018
Where: Geelong Wine Region
When: 3–4 November
More information:


Harvest Fest 2018

Words Jessica Gadd
Images supplied

If you’ve been contemplating keeping chickens, cultivating your own veggie patch, or trying to find ways to reduce your ecological footprint, you are not alone. There are thousands of others who feel the same way, and Susie Filleti has met more than a few of them in the process of organising Harvest Fest 2018 – the new boutique farming and lifestyle event that will take place on November 9-11 at Lardner Park, near Warragul.

She says the growing number of small-to-medium and backyard farms goes hand-in-hand with an increasing desire from many of us to know how far our food has travelled, and whether it has been sustainably and ethically produced. And the best way to know that is to learn how to grow or produce it yourself, or connect with growers and producers who are located close by.

‘You can do both of those things at Harvest Fest,’ Susie says.

‘At Harvest Fest there will be farmer’s markets, craft and handmade goods workshops, farming machinery and agricultural displays, cooking classes and demonstrations, and a learning series with speakers on topics like backyard beekeeping, getting started in sheep farming, and reducing waste and living more sustainably.’

The cooking classes and demonstrations highlight Gippsland’s new and emerging food entrepreneurs and talents, such as Trevor Perkins, head chef and owner of Hogget Kitchen. This restaurant, tucked between the vines of a local winery, has a focus on fresh, local foods and all of the butchering, pickling, bottling, smoking, and charcuterie is done on site (read about OHO’s visit to Hogget Kitchen here). At Harvest Fest Trevor Perkins talks about all that, and more, including the glory of Gippsland’s fresh produce.

‘Another one to look out for is Joel Young, a prize-winning local butcher who will be at the Harvest Fest Kitchen demonstrating butchering techniques and traditional sausage-making methods,’ Susie says. ‘There’s also Dave Cann from String and Salt, with meat curing demonstrations, and environmental scientist and ecologist Julie Weatherhead with tips and tricks on which native plants will grow best in your garden, and how to use them in everyday cooking.’

Julie Weatherhead has researched and developed the use of ecosystems to enhance organic vegetable gardening at Peppermint Ridge Farm, an occasional café and native plant nursery in Tynong. She’s just the person to ask for advice about establishing your own eco-garden – and one of the few sources in Australia for rare native food plants like the antioxidant-rich Illawarra Plum.

Harvest Fest is not just for adults, either – there are kids’ cooking classes, an animal farmyard, camel rides, working dog and sled dog demonstrations, and even jousting (OK, so maybe the adults will enjoy these, too). And everyone from kids to hobby- and small-scale farmers will likely appreciate the agricultural drone demonstrations. These robotic helpers are the new heavyweights in farming, now capable of doing everything from moving hay bales to aerial surveillance.

‘No doubt we may have some traditional farmers coming along to Harvest Fest, but we are expecting more smaller operators, new industry farmers, farm-gate producers, people interested in Ag Tech education, and people who appreciate a dynamic food experience,’ Susie says.

‘You will even be able to get behind the scenes and meet the cast from Channel 10’s Good Chef Bad Chef as they film live from Harvest Fest! And with the live music, entertainment and educational opportunities – not to mention access to the Gippsland’s abundant produce, this really is an event that everyone can enjoy.’


What: Harvest Fest 2018
Where: Lardner Park, Gippsland
When: 9-11 November – book tickets online to save 16%
More information:

Vinehop Festival 2018

Half-way through a winery walkabout tour one year, events organiser Lisa MacGregor felt like switching it up and having a beer. Her realisation that this was not an option was also the moment Vinehop was born, because an idea uncurled in her mind and planted a little seed: there’s a market for a multi-venue beer, wine, and cider festival!

‘I love my wine, but I really, really love my beer,’ Lisa says. ‘And I’m the kind of person that gets bored quickly: I like to have dinner here, post-dinner drinks there, and dessert somewhere else.’

The more Lisa thought about it, the more she realised how much a multi-venue festival had to offer. It solved the problem of designated drivers, it got people to a variety of venues without getting lost, travel times between venues help people to pace themselves between drinks, and it brought beer, wine and cider lovers all together in one place.

‘Combining beer, wine and cider results in a better cross-section of attendees,’ Lisa explains. ‘For example, you’ll notice that while women do attend beer festivals – and I’m one of them – there are usually more men than women. And while men do attend wine festivals, they are often more popular with women.’

Besides, the self-confessed beer-lover and home-brewer was well aware of an emerging craft beer scene on the Mornington Peninsula; one that she thought deserved more recognition.

‘Everyone knows the Mornington Peninsula as an area that produces award-winning wines, and that’s as it should be. But the Peninsula should also be known for its award-winning craft beers,’ Lisa says.

Vinehop showcases a beautiful part of the world that produces world-class craft beers, ciders and wines.

The first Vinehop Festival, held in 2017, was a great success, attended by more than 3000 people. This year Lisa says they are expecting the same again or more, and have increased bus and venue capacity to meet the demand.

‘Also, this year we have managed to include every brewery on the Mornington Peninsula,’ Lisa says.

Here’s how it rolls: for Vinehop Saturday you choose from a selection of ticket options that give you access to varying venues, complete with tastings and transport between venues. It’s like having a personal chauffeur, expect it’s a bus, and your mates and heaps of other happy chaps are on board. There’s even an app in the works, that will keep Vine-hoppers appraised of bus departure times.

Posthop Sunday is a five-course degustation picnic matched with a selection of beer, wine and cider at just one venue: Hickinbotham of Dromana, featuring entertainment from soul sensation Kylie Auldist from The Bamboos.

Organising a winery and brewery tour on a festival scale is quite an exercise in logistics, Lisa says.

‘We have 100 buses lined up, on different schedules and timeframes. While this makes it a bit more complex for us to organise, it makes for a better experience for Vine-hoppers.’

The buses will tour Vine-hoppers between the 11 different sites including Bayview Estate, Dromana Estate, Blue Range Estate, The Old Apple Estate and Stumpy Gully Vineyard, each of them hosting pop-up stalls from external brands and venues such as Red Hill Brewery, Ten Sixty One Cider and Hop Nation, as well as food trucks and DJs to build on the festival vibe.

‘Vinehop showcases a beautiful part of the world that produces world-class craft beers, ciders and wines,’ Lisa says.


What: Vinehop Festival
Where: Mornington Peninsula
When: 17–18 November
More information:

Queenscliff Low Light Festival

You might know Queenscliff as arts central for its long-running annual Music Festival, its Literary Festival, and its Lighthouse Film Festival (if you didn’t – now you do). Well, arts, film and music fans: your winter just got a little brighter!

The inaugural Low Light Festival in Queenscliff is the newest addition to this artistic community’s calendar, and it has a seriously substantial line-up.

Headline acts include the exclusive Australian premieres of three new Icelandic films, including Matthew Barney’s latest work: Union of the North, created with Erna Ómarsdóttir and Valdimar Jóhannsson, and Dies Irae, by visual artist by Gabríella Friðriksdóttir in collaboration with Erna Ómasdóttir and Valdimar Jóhannsson. Dies Irae will be experienced at Low Light as 14-minute individual, immersive experiences presented by the local Queenscliff Lighthouse Arts Collective.

And then there’s ÖRÆVI – Life in the Undergrowth, by Valdimar Jóhannsson, Pierre Alain Giraud and Erna Ómarsdóttir with the Icelandic Dance Company. It’s a spectacular light installation, featuring an original soundtrack by Sigur Rós, that will be projected onto the exterior walls of Fort Queenscliff every Friday and Saturday night during the festival.

Why all the Iceland references, you may well ask? Because it’s cold! And this is a winter festival, a celebration of cold and comfort, in equal measures. Well, maybe a little more towards the comfort side of things – local venues are on board with whiskey and gin tastings and talks, Blues Train events (no train this time but free Sunday Sessions from favourite musicians), art exhibitions and workshops, literary events, and musical talents including All Our Exes Live in Texas, Z-Star Trinity, Teeny Tiny Stevies, Fraser A Gorman and Justin Towns Earle.

Local gourmet food producers and restaurants are also in on the act, with events including a progressive, four-location dinner; a Bastille Dinner accompanied by a French musical act; a degustation dinner featuring a battle between the wines of Bellarine and Bordeaux; and High Tea on the Sea –­ a two-hour high tea aboard the ferry (keep your eyes peeled for dolphins).

On the gourmet front there’s also a Private Dining Room secret dinner with local star chefs Tobin Kent (La Bimba, Brae, Dunkeld’s Royal Mail Hotel, Gladioli) and Dane Robinson (The Hot Chicken Project, Gladioli). The location of this event might remain a mystery until the very last moment, but it’s no secret that the menu will focus on local produce – particularly seafood.

‘We really wanted opportunities for people to go inside and eat hearty food, and drink red wine and do all that – but we also wanted people to go outside, to get cold and feel winter,’ says Low Light Festival director Bonnie Dalton.

‘People can rug up to watch the light installation, ÖRÆVI, with its incredible music, and then they can go inside for a gorgeous meal and a glass of red, knowing they have really earned their place by the fire!’

It’s a packed program – one that’s still growing. Bonnie makes no excuses for that, because she says it’s a reflection of the Queenscliff community itself: vibrant, creative and spontaneous.

‘We did reach a point where we had to press ‘print’ on a program – but there are still ideas evolving and there will be more events added to the site in the lead-up to the festival,’ Bonnie says. ‘But that’s just part of it – there will be an element of surprise, for people to just come along and find out what’s happening when they get here.’

Bonnie says she can see why Queenscliff is so well loved. The seaside town is beautiful, with two lighthouses (the Low Light, and the High Light), boutique shopping, colonial architecture, and the impressive Fort Queenscliff, which was built in 1860 to defend Port Phillip Bay from attack. Then there’s the gentle bathing beach, the catch-of-the-day sold straight from the pier, the educational Maritime Museum, and the abundant wildlife.

‘The first time I came here I walked down the pier and found myself face-to-face with a young seal,’ she says. ‘That just blew me away. An hour-and-a-half earlier I had been sitting at my desk in the city, and now here I was hanging out with a seal.’

Locals say the winter is the best time to see the seals, and dolphin sightings from the ferries are not uncommon. There have been recent whale sightings at Queenscliff, too. You’ll need to be quick if you want to make a weekend of it, though – Bonnie reports that accommodation is booking out quickly.

‘I went on Airbnb to book a house for a friend and it said that bookings were up 90% on this time last year!’ she says. ‘Or there are beautiful old venues like the Vue Grand and Athelstane House that are absolutely gorgeous places to stay.’


What: Low Light Festival
Where: Various venues, Queenscliff
When: 22-–4 June | 29 June–1 July | 6–8 July | 13–15 July
More information here: