Small town at the foot of Mount Alexander.
Harcourt is a small town located in a valley at
the foot of Mt Alexander (741 m) in the Central
Highlands of Victoria, 120 km north-west of
Melbourne on the Calder Highway and 30 km south
The first European in the area was Major
Mitchell on his journey into 'Australia Felix'
in 1836-37. Reflecting an era steeped in
classical history and literature, he named Mt
Alexander after Alexander the Great due to its
proximity to Mt Macedon, for Alexander was the
son of Phillip of Macedonia. The Aborigines knew
it as 'Lianganook'.
The first white settler in the region was a
Dr Barker whose Ravenswood No.1 Run encompassed
the present townsite. His homestead was located
at what is now the northern end of town (the
site is indicated by a roadside plaque on the
eastern side of Eagles Rd, near Barkers Creek).
It was on this property that a shepherd named
John Worley found gold in 1851. Subsequently,
thousands of prospectors from around the globe
descended on the Mt Alexander area. So prominent
a destination was it that the road out of
Melbourne was known as Mount Alexander Rd.
One arrival was notorious bushranger 'Mad
Dog' Morgan who was arrested for the first time
at Barker's Creek (just to the south-west of
town) where he ran a slaughterhouse.
When the railway arrived in 1862 the line of
road between Castlemaine and Bendigo shifted to
meet it and the township of Harcourt emerged on
Although the Harcourt Valley did not turn up
the quantity of gold found in adjacent fields
the climate and soils proved ideal for the
cultivation of fruit and vegetables and it was
in the Harcourt Valley that fresh food was first
grown for the miners. Harcourt soon became known
as one of the state's major apple centres. It
also became known as a producer of high quality
granite which has been used all over Australia.
Granite from Harcourt was used for Parliament
House in Canberra, the John Flynn Memorial at
Alice Springs and the pedestal of the Burke and
Wills statue in Melbourne.
Bladen Neill made an attempt to establish a
Victorian silk industry on the slopes of Mt
Alexander between 1873 and 1877. The venture,
called the Ladies' Sericultural Company, was
intended, in part, to offer employment to women.
The town's famous apple orchards are still
the mainstay of the local economy and they have
been joined, more recently, by several wineries.
The Harcourt Applefest is held annually in
autumn (on the March Labour Day long weekend)
when the valley is at its best. There are street
stalls, art shows, music, a parade, apple
education tours, sporting events and a jazz
concert in the Oak Forest on the western slope
of Mt Alexander.
Things to see:
Castlemaine Visitor Centre, tel: (03) 5470 6200.
On the Calder Highway, opposite Market St, is
Eden Cottage Tearooms and Antiques. Situated in
pleasant surroundings it serves light lunches
and Devonshire teas and is open Thursday to
Sunday from 10.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m., tel: (03)
On the other side of the road, where the Midland
and Calder Highways cross, is the Heritage
Centre which has a display relating to the
history of the apple industry, particularly as
it relates to Harcourt. There is a strong
photographic collection. The centre also runs
occasional tours of the area's heritage
buildings and conducts family research. It is
open on Sundays from 1.00 p.m. to 5.00 p.m. but
will be readily opened at other times if you
call (03) 5474 2463 or (03) 5474 2127.
Skydancers Orchid and Butterfly Gardens
Skydancers Orchid and Butterfly Gardens is
Australia's only temperate butterfly house.
There is also an extensive orchid display, a
native plant garden, a nursery and a licensed
BYO restaurant which serves home-style lunches.
It is located at the corner of the Midland
Highway and Blackjack Rd at the south-western
edge of town and is open from 10.00 a.m. to 5.00
p.m. every day but Tuesday. It is closed
throughout July , tel: (03) 5474 2468.
Old Barkers Creek School
The Barkers Creek School was established in
1858. This old granite building is not the
original schoolhouse but it is well over 100
years old. It is now a special school and is
located at the end of School Rd which heads west
off the Midland Highway, just south of Norris
Old England Hotel
Continue south. Just past Specimen Gully Rd
(which heads off to the right), and on the
western side of the highway, is the splendid
building known as the Old England Hotel which
dates back to the early 1850s with additions
made in 1864. Now a private residence it can
clearly be seen from the roadside. Group tours
can be organised by arrangement with the owners
who have turned it into an award-winning tourism
destination. They have also made a museum out of
an old general store, tel: (03) 5474 2188.
Site of First Gold Discovery
Turn into Specimen Gully Rd (unsealed). About 2
km from the highway, on the left-hand side of
the road, are the remnants of an old stone
cottage which was occupied by a shepherd working
on the original sheep station which was owned by
a Dr Barker. A plaque indicates that the
shepherd in question discovered gold nearby,
which resulted in the local goldrush. Specimen
Gully Rd continues on to the Calder Highway and
can be entered from that end.
At the south-eastern end of town, on the Calder
Highway, is Blackjack Wines, established in
1988. It is a small operation producing shiraz
cabernet and pinot noir with cellar door sales
on weekends and public holidays while stocks are
available, tel: (03) 5474 2355.
Harcourt Valley Vineyard
Virtually next door is Harcourt Valley Estate,
situated in a fine building made of local
granite. Established in 1976 it produces shiraz,
cabernet sauvignon, riesling and chardonnay. The
cellar door is open daily from 11:00 a.m. to
6:00 p.m., tel: (03) 5474 2223. There are picnic
and barbecue facilities. The winery hosts the
Bendigo Easter Wine Taster on Easter Sunday and
the National Chilli Cookoff on the last weekend
Mt Alexander Vineyard
3 km north of town on the highway is Mount
Alexander Vineyard and Harcourt Cidery which
sells red and white table wines, apple
champagnes, liqueurs, mead, pear ciders and
apple ciders. It is open from 10.00 a.m. to 5.00
p.m. every day with extended hours in summer.,
tel: (03) 5474 2262.
Oak Forest is a popular picnicking area in the
foothills of Mt Alexander, on its western side.
It is also used as a venue for jazz concerts.
Access is quite simple. Turn off the highway at
the Shell Service Station into Market St.
Continue on straight through the intersection as
the road becomes Picnic Gully Rd (unsealed)
which leads into Mt Alexander Regional Park. The
site is signposted from this point.
Barkers Creek Reservoir
Barkers Creek Reservoir, built in 1870, is a
good spot for those who like some peaceful
country fishing. To get there follow Market St
to its end but, instead of continuing east along
Picnic Gully Rd, turn left into Reservoir Rd
which ends at a T-intersection opposite the
southern edge of the reservoir where there is a
Mount Alexander was the destination for
thousands of prospectors during the goldrush
era. Today it is the centrepiece of Mt Alexander
To get there, head out to the reservoir as
already described. At the T-intersection turn
right onto the Harcourt-Sutton Grange Rd. You
will soon come to an intersection. Turn left,
keeping to the bitumen. After 1 km turn right
onto the bitumen road which ascends the mountain
(it is signposted with a koala picture).
Near the top of the slope, just before you
reach the communications towers, there is a side
road on the left to Lang's Lookout from whence
there are excellent views.
If you wish to do some bushwalking the West
Ridge Track starts (or ends) at this point. It
takes in Shepherds Flat Lookout and Dog Rocks,
and concludes near the Koala Park. The track is
If you wish to drive, a signpost further
along the road will direct you off to the right
to Dogs Rocks: an agglomeration of granite
boulders surrounded by an unusual tree growth
which also offers outstanding views.
A short distance further along the main road
is the so-called 'Koala Park' (well-signposted)
which was established with animals from Phillip
Island. There are picnic facilities, toilets and
a fenced-in path. If you wander around and look
at the tree forks you will see one or two of the
elusive and adored marsupials. However, be
warned - they are, in actuality, not in much
higher concentration here than on other part of
Not far past the Koala Park the road bends
quite sharply to the left as it drops off to the
east. Set back in the bush, amidst a pine
plantation, is a little Hansel-and-Gretel-style
cottage built of granite blocks which is largely
intact though lacking a roof. Once surrounded by
mulberry trees, this is a remnant of Bladen
Neill's failed attempt to establish a Victorian
silk industry on the slopes of the mountain
which would offer employment to women. The
venture was abandoned in 1877. The relics are
not visible from the road and there is,
remarkably, no signage whatever associated with
The road eventually reaches a T-intersection
with the Faraday-Sutton Grange Rd. Turn right.
After 3 km you will come to Faraday, situated on
the Calder Highway. Turn right again to return
to Harcourt. Of course this route can be taken
Jindarra Springs Vineyard
Located at 191 Fenton Drive, shiraz and
cabernet sauvignon grapes are the focus of this
winery in the hills. Food is available. The
vineyard is open daily from 11.00 a.m. to 5.00
p.m., tel: (03) 5439 6026.
Ravenswood is a very stately historic mansion
which was built in 1857. It is set amidst five
acres of English gardens and offers a
bed-and-breakfast service for guests who can
stay in the refurbished servants' quarters. It
is located on the Calder Highway via Harcourt,
tel: (03) 5435 3284.