In Victoria's Central Highlands, at the foot of Mount Alexander, Harcourt Valley is home to a small and spirited rural community.
80 minutes north of Melbourne, 9km north east of Castlemaine and a less than 30km south of Bendigo, the town of Harcourt blends a proud heritage with a contemporary and cultured character.
It's early history as Australia's apple centre is still evident in the orchards and industry—and it is the basis of a yearly community celebration called Applefest. Each March, when new season apples are ready for picking, thousands of visitors from near and far gather here for apple pie, quality cider and a whole lot of family fun.
In recent years, Harcourt has found new fame for its wines. You can find multiple acclaimed and award winning vineyards in and around the valley. An inviting cellar door and a brilliant tasty drop is always nearby.
Cycling,too, has found a home in our valley. All year round, mountain bikers take the tracks and trails around the bush and up Mount Alexander. Road-riders also use Harcourt as a centre of activity, with the mountain challenge always set, numerous competition weekends throughout the year, and the annual Tour de Bress.
The Harcourt valley has long been renowned for the quality and quantity of its apples.
Hundreds of hectares of apple trees cover the Valley. The view from surrounding hills is of a tapestry of orchards, particularly in summer and autumn.
About 40 percent of Victoria's apples are grown in Harcourt. Varieties grown in Harcourt include Pink Lady, Royal Gala, Fuji, Sundowner, Red Delicious and Granny Smith Apples.
Since 1857, our orchards have produced crisp and tasty apples. This is thanks to a mix of climate, irrigation and the valley's sandy granitic soils.
Blossoms of spring lead in to busy picking time. Picking is done by hand using ladder and picking bags. From there, they're collected into wooden containers. When filled, the containers are towed by tractor to a coolstore, where a controlled atmosphere keeps our apples fresh and crisp for great eating.
Where and when to buy Harcourt apples?
New season apples are available about the time of Harcourt Applefest, in March of each year. Around Harcourt, roadside shops get their apple supplies straight from the orchards. At the Melbourne Wholesale Market, our apples are available all year round.
Harcourt is home to some of the largest commercial plantings of cider apples in Australia.
There are more than 40 different varieties of traditional cider apples in vast, yet selectively grown orchards of Henry of Harcourt and Bress. They grow and mill cider apples from England and France, each chosen for their biting fresh flavours.
As a cheeky complement, there's more than a few especially cultivated pear trees around the valley too. In the mills of Harcourt artisans, these make for a tasty drop of pear cider, more traditionally known as perry.
Harcourt's cideries are a must-visit for every district tourist, with tastings, tours of the orchards and mills, cellar-door sales and picnic hamper lunches available.
In modern times, Harcourt has become famed for its boutique wines as much as its apples. There is good evidence of vineyards planted in the district in the early 1860s, but it was the establishment of Harcourt Valley Vineyard in the 1970s by Ray & Barbara Broughton that laid the foundation of the Harcourt wine industry.
Today there are six boutique wineries in the Harcourt valley and the immediate surrounding district. A number of these wineries regularly achieve 5 Star rating in the James Halliday Wine Companion. Substantial vineyard plantings also supply grapes to other wineries.
Most of the vineyards are planted on the very old granitic soils, perhaps not unlike the Rhone Valley wine region in France. The higher altitude and the cooling evening valley breezes usher in a longer ripening period and later vintage that the rest of the Bendigo/Heathcote wine region.
Not surprisingly, red wines, predominantly Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, are the mainstay of the Region. However, white varieties of Chardonnay and Rhine Riesling have also been making their mark. Many of the wines produced by these family-owned wineries have consistently won acclaim and awards both in Australia and internationally.
Surrounded by endless road and mountain bike riding options, the Harcourt Valley is a beautiful place to explore by bike.
Road cyclists enjoy a wonderful selection of quiet back roads. If you are after a climb, the north and south ascents of Mount Alexander are well worth tackling. For something gentler, the former Calder Highway runs by the west side of the mountain—it's well maintained and runs directly through the township of Harcourt. On the east side of the mountain, there are many beautiful roads through Sedgwick, Sutton Grange and Metcalfe.
For mountain bikers, the Leanganook Track presents a fantastic off-road adventure. As part of the Goldfields Track that links Bendigo to towns in the south, Leanganook and Harcourt Valley may be your first stops on an epic 210 km journey to Ballarat.
To start your Harcourt cycling adventure, the train stations at Castlemaine and Bendigo put you within reach.
The Dja Dja Wurrung lived in our region for 600 to 800 generations. The Liarga Balug and Gal Gal Gundidj clans both camped, hunted and gathered their food in the valley. Many ancient trees are scarred from when they removed bark for practical use.
At the time of European settlement the clan head of the Liarga Balug was Munangabum. He was a charismatic leader—a neyernneyneer—over most Dja Dja Wurrung people.
Like us, the Dja Dja Wurrung loved this valley. They knew every rock, stream and tree.They were displaced from the area in the years between 1835-1845.
We acknowledge the Dja Dja Wurrung as the traditional owners of the land we love.
You can read more about the Dja Dja Wurrung at the website www.djadjawurrung.com.au.