’s red wine leant a slow start to the day, but somehow we dragged ourselves out of bed, through the breakfast process, and off to the markets to replenish supplies. Then all that remained was to pack the necessary items into the car, and head off into the great unknown…

First stop on the Gippsland Gourmet trail was a berry farm for an expensive, but very tasty, ploughmans lunch, and some time to sit and examine the map of the region — to best plot our assault.

It seemed like a good idea to head straight up to Jindivick, scout out the area for possible accommodation, and then decide whether to visit the “Hot Sauce & Fiery Foods Festival” in the remains of the afternoon today, or to try something else and go there tomorrow. Jindivick turned out to be tiny, with signs directing us on past the town towards the Redback Chilli Company — I’d known that they were a sponsor, I hadn’t realised that the whole festival was on their property!

I’m not sure what I’d been expecting, but it turned out to be a great afternoon out — with far more the atmosphere of a country show than of a city food festival. It was all very laid back, some stalls selling products with very blokey names like “Arse-Burner” and “Devil’s Sauce,” but a wide range of other flavours, products and recipes. One of my favourites was the Grand Ridge Brewery, with their selection of award-winning beers. I’d only tasted their Pilsener previously, the full range is overwhelming and it was hard to pick a favourite. I think the Moonshine won on flavours, but the Wheat Beer and Pilsener seemed better suited to the afternoon in the sun…

…and a very pleasant afternoon in the sun it was. The chilli festival seems to be a bit of a cult thing, there’s a fair bit of he-man heroics in who can eat the strongest chillis, but there’s also a fine selection of tasty salsas and sauces arrayed across the lower half of the 0-10 chilli scale. Curiosity got the better of me, after a spicy but edible seven, I tasted one of the “Devil’s Sauces rated at seven-and-a-half to eight… This necessitated a long rest in the shade, sipping more cold beer and listening to the blues band playing in the back of the truck.

We left as they closed for the day, sated, and with an interesting selection of chilli jams and sauces to sample over the coming months.

So what else is there to do in the region once the festival has closed? The signs to Tarago reservoir beckoned, so carefully avoiding the metre-wide potholes we drove up to the park and explored. Noticeably similar to , which isn’t really surprising since they’re both part of Melbourne’s water supply, and both were built around the same time. There are only so many ways that you can build a dam with a grassy park too…

Unfortunately there’s a three-metre high fence blocking off access to most of the dam, which is probably the place that visitors would most likely to walk to. Something to do with protecting the water quality, which is odd, since there are signs proclaiming that the dam no longer feeds into Melbourne’s water supply, due to blue-green algae caused by all the upstream cattle and farming! Downstream of the dam we followed one of the scenic paths through the forest, eating the blackberries off the bushes, and enjoying the silence and cool of the forest. One particular tree stump caught my eye, a bright white fungus growing out of it was the size of a dinner plate.

Now to find somewhere to spend the night… We had our new tent, together with some boundless optimism, we were sure that there would be somewhere in the area that we could stay. Signs in Neerim South proudly pointed us in the direction of the caravan park, it turns out to be a good four kilometres out of town, in a strange piece of no-mans land half-way between Neerim South and Neerim East. Only a tiny place, the owners were away for the weekend leaving the park in the hands of friends; “just take the key and fix us up in the morning.” An old tram has been converted into a cabin, with beds for six, and a very narrow central living area. The only drawback seemed to be the cheap caravan doors that had been added, one of them wouldn’t open at all, the other one opened when it wanted to, regardless of the state of the locking mechanism!

After unpacking, we decided on a quick exploration of the park, which didn’t take long! Around half a dozen caravans, about the same number of cabins, and a couple of tent sites. I’m glad we weren’t pitching the tent — the ground looked like concrete! Then what else is there to do on a Saturday night in the country than to head to the nearest pub for a pub dinner? That’s what we did, and judging by the t-shirts and faces in the Neerim South hotel, that’s what the rest of the Chilli festival was doing too. A couple of beers, the roast of the day, a good value bottle of wine, followed by the surprise of the night — a well-made espresso. It was a well-contented pair as we headed back to the tram to wrestle with the door, then climb sleepily into bed…

Where?

Jindivick Neerim