The Ultimate in Liveability


Hailed as “the ultimate in liveability,” the Rural City of Wangaratta enjoys a lovely Mediterranean climate, magnificent scenery, a thrilling cultural heritage, and abundant recreational opportunities. From snow-capped mountains to bucolic pastureland and winding rivers, the region is a feast of natural beauty. Vineyards and world class wineries stretch across the surrounding valleys, and the community’s strategic location along the Hume corridor makes it an easy getaway for residents of both the Sydney and Melbourne metro areas.

Quietly tucked away in the northeast corner of Victoria, the area is an ideal balance of city and country life. 18,500 people reside in urban Wangaratta and 10,000 more live scattered across the quaint townships and welcoming villages that make up the rest of the rural city and include Boorhaman, Cheshunt, Eldorado, Everton, Glenrowan, Oxley, Milawa, Moyhu, Peechelba, Springhurst, Tarrawingee, Whitfield and Whorouly. “It’s a growing regional city, but it also hasn’t lost that rural community feel,” explains Graham Nickless, Wangaratta’s Executive Manager of Economic Development. “And, it’s a very safe place… kids can walk or ride their bikes to school.”

Wangaratta is strengthened by an exceptionally diverse economy, which provides countless opportunities for manufacturers, the transport and distribution industries, and the healthcare and education sectors. Not surprisingly, the area is rapidly attracting business owners and professionals who crave both career opportunities and an enviable lifestyle. “It’s not just a great place to work,” explains Mr Nickless. “It’s a great place to live and raise a family.”

Council has made it a priority to increase the rural city’s liveability even further. “We’ve always worked on the premise that people won’t come and live in Wangaratta because we’ve got the best roads and drains,” Mr Nickless explains. He says that having a solid infrastructure in place is important, but he also believes that creating an enjoyable lifestyle for residents is the key to attracting new people to a community. In keeping with this idea, Council has several projects underway that are sure to please residents and tourists alike. “They are going to be game changers for the community,” Mr Nickless reports.

One major new development is the Ovens Riverside project, which will transform the central CBD into a rural version of Melbourne’s South Bank. Funded by the Regional Development Australia Fund, the urban renewal project will revitalise the retail area by adding a promenade, boardwalk, and civic square to a shopping district that, until now, turned its back to a scenic river. A new Target Country store is also in the works, along with an adjacent multi deck car park. Council has also recently acquired a 7.6 hectare site, formally home to Ovens College, which will be transformed into a civic precinct and student village.

The plan to develop an area specifically for students is in keeping with the community’s commitment to education. Wangaratta has traditionally been a centre for vocational training, and will soon be home to a new Charles Sturt University campus. The recent announcement by the national, multi-campus institution has been met with great excitement and will add to the region’s educational offerings as well as stimulating an already robust economy. The rural city’s progressive health sector provides another economic advantage for the community. “That’s a major strength of Wangaratta,” Mr Nickless reports. The region’s major hospital is located here and many specialists serving the area have placed their practices within the community. Not surprisingly, people from all over the region travel here to access medical care, boosting not only the health sector, but the city’s restaurant, retail, and accommodation sectors as well. Furthermore, because of the community’s commitment to health care, a portion of the upcoming student village development project will be set aside to house physicians undergoing training at local facilities.

Wangaratta’s booming economy supports outstanding cultural events, numerous sporting events, and an array of recreational and leisure activities. The community is renowned for its annual Wangaratta Festival of Jazz, which features well-known international acts and attracts thousands every year. Launched in 1990, the jazz and blues event is lauded throughout Australia and around the world. The festival includes 90 events, over 350 musicians, and the National Jazz Awards, the country’s most revered jazz competition. Residents and tourists can also enjoy “a full gamut of cultural performances,” at the Wangaratta Performing Arts Centre. This state of the art, tiered auditorium was completed just two years ago, and can accommodate 540 theatre goers.

For more rugged entertainment, the Wangaratta Showgrounds hosts sporting events as well as a variety of community events, functions, and commercial events. The Showgrounds have just undergone a major redevelopment, including lighting for night games, and now include a fully endorsed AFL standard football field. In fact, the league has recently committed to playing several preseason games at the facility.

The fertile farmland encompassing Wangaratta provides a rich harvest of gourmet produce and celebrated wines, creating a haven for food and wine connoisseurs. The Milawa region is particularly renowned for its lovely vineyards and rustic wineries, creating a picturesque and decadent tourist destination. Local vineyards grow grapes for a host of internationally renowned wines, including those produced by the acclaimed Brown Brothers company. After strolling through lovely countryside, visitors to the Brown Brothers’ family owned winery can sample world class wine at the Cellar Door and enjoy fine dining at the Epicurean Centre. A variety of charming restaurants and wine tasting venues are nestled throughout the sun kissed hills, waiting to be discovered by both the casual diner and serious gourmand.

For cycling enthusiasts, Wangaratta’s scenic beauty, diverse topography, and mild climate make it ideal for recreational and competitive cycling. The community has always enjoyed a strong cycling culture and boasts the oldest cycling club in Victoria. The development of the celebrated Murray to Mountains Rail Trail has made cycle tourism a natural next step for a region already enthusiastic about the sport. The paved trail meanders across 94 kilometres of stunning valleys and sweeping vistas and creates a perfect destination for cyclists and hikers. “The Rail Trail has really been the catalyst for promoting this recreational riding,” Mr Nickless explains. “And,” he adds, “it is a natural fit with the food and wine offer that we have.” Cyclers, he explains, are treated not only to splendid views of rugged mountains and lush vineyards, but to a rich culinary experience as they visit the many wineries and gourmet eateries scattered along the trail. “You ride to the winery doors, you sample the wine, and they will organise delivery back to your home base.” And all this comes with a “fantastic climate, wonderful terrain, and safe riding.” Council is working hard to promote the area to cyclists and has even appointed a Cycle Tourism Development Officer, the first municipality in Australia to do so. Council has also set up a train carriage to accommodate bicycles, “so people can actually leave Melbourne, bring their bikes with them on the train, and then step off and enjoy their time here on the rail front.”

Wangaratta has a strong agricultural history beyond its celebrated vineyards, and Council is determined to take advantage of the area’s fertile farmland. For example, the Alpine Valley Agro Food Initiative is dedicated to finding replacement horticultural opportunities for the tobacco industry that once flourished throughout the King and Ovens Valleys. The community has also recently discovered a massive underground water source, dubbed the Lower Ovens Aquifer, which will create even more agricultural and horticultural opportunities for the region. Water from the aquifer is clean, annually replenished, and protected by law, making it ideal for new farming ventures.

As the birthplace and stomping ground of iconic folk hero Ned Kelly, Wangaratta is also an important heritage site. One of the councillors is actually a direct descendant of Kelly, and the entire council is eager to promote the town’s history by developing a “nationally significant” interpretive centre at Glenrowan honouring the bushranger. The group has hired consultants to develop a business model for the initiative, and hopes to enact a strategy very soon. “The interest in the brave strength of Ned Kelly continues to have a place in the Australian psyche,” Mr Nickless explains. “We are trying to develop something at Glenrowan that can truly be called the keeping place of the Kelly legend.”

From gourmet foods and world class wines to rugged bushland and a nationally celebrated outlaw, Wangaratta has something for everybody. Council plans to continue bringing in tourists, as well as new businesses and residents, by touting the rural city’s diverse attractions. With so much to offer, it is an easy sell. “The liveability attributes of this region are pretty spectacular,” Mr Nickless reiterates. “It’s a great place to live.”

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December 16, 2018, 6:44 AM AEDT