Freelance writer exploring Melbourne and beyond. If you enjoy the following article click on the Like button, Facebook it to your friends or subscribe. I'll update you with yummy and often free events. Like my photos? I instagram @redbagwilltravel
Once the huge clubs on the NSW/Vic border were the supreme places to go. You could feed poker machines to your heart's content and your wallet's malcontent. These days, when poker machines are everywhere in Victoria things are a little tougher and the big clubs on the Murray need to draw people up there so they often offer great incentives.
I was lured by one such incentive: a three day package at Club Mulwala which offered four and a half star accommodation, a facial at Essence spa, daily cooked breakfasts, a dinner in their fine dining restaurant and a bottle of champagne all for a couple of hundred dollars.
There was only one problem. I don't bet. No bingo, no one-armed bandits, not even raffle tickets. My vices instead, and where my money goes, are on good food, cocktails and experiences.
The town's best cake is served at the cafe at the tourist bureau overlooking the lake
So for me a stay at Club Mulwala was all about finding other things to do and watching other people lose their money.
I went by train, the beauty of course is having all those hours to oneself. Paying $8 extra on a ticket also gets you into the first class which means there is a pull down desk so you have somewhere to work on your laptop. The journey was sublime and like clockwork. About two hours on the train to Benalla and then an awaiting, and very plush, bus whisks you off for the final 40 minute leg of the journey.
Club Mulwala also has a courtesy bus to pick you up from the bus stop at the other end, although only if you arrive after 5pm. I managed to kill an hour having cool drinks in the local pub which wasn't a bad introduction to Mulwala.
The rooms at Club Mulwala are definitely at least four and a half stars. They are large, with king-sized comfortable beds and all the little extras such as plush bathrobes and spa baths (although the switch for this is near the front door rather than in the bathroom for some unknown reason.) There is a small pool and perhaps if you ask nicely you might even get an elevated view over Lake Mulwala.
Staying at a club like this means that you have wonderful access to cheap meals and grog. I availed myself a few times of their $7.50 special cocktails. At present the cocktail is an expresso martini but when I asked the girl behind the bar what other ones had been on special she said it had been expresso martinis ever since she could remember. So there is a good chance you'll get the gorgeous cocktail below and then you can take it out on the deck and enjoy the views. And yes, that is a view over the lake that you can see in the background.
Meals were incredibly cheap, subsidised by all those poker machines. On American night I had the $10 ribs and the sauce was definitely finger-licking quality. For lunch you can get a plain roll and then point to all the things you want in it and there are about 20 offerings including cold meats, salads, relishes and cheeses. All for the cost of $5.
Perhaps the hardest thing for me was finding a place away from betting. It was ubiquitous. The restaurant is lovely but you do have to walk through the gaming rooms to get there and it feels like you are running the gauntlet. There were times when I felt tempted to whip out a few dollars and give it a go but the lure of those $7.50 cocktails was enough to keep me on the straight and narrow.
Sure, I could have gone in by way of a different route but that would have meant navigating through the bingo hall or line dancing. So navigating through poker machines won time and again.
Essenza Spa is attached to the club. The facial, thrown in with my package, was pleasant and they have a nice lounge where you can read mags and put your feet up and have a lovely cup of herbal tea. Or there is a hot pool and sauna you can dip into. I ended up getting some personalised make-up tips from the young woman on reception on how to hide under-eye dark circles. The thing about those coffee espresso martinis is that you can throw a good night's sleep out the window. She showed me how to apply a concealer. The tip is don't rub it horizontally under your eyes as it shows all the creases (a polite way of saying wrinkles), but go downwards in small strokes and then apply your foundation.
The concealer was so good I ended up buying it and I thought the prices generally on the beauty products were quite good. If I ever get to go again I'd book a one-on-on make-up class, which is about $75 but if you buy $75 worth you pay nothing for the class.
A woman was brought in by her daughter in law. She was terrified as she had never been to a spa before and wondered what was in store for her. She was celebrating her 60th wedding anniversary and this was her present from her family. It was her first ever pedicure and she wasn't even sure what that entailed.
Perhaps I shouldn't say she was exactly celebrating her wedding anniversary. When someone congratulated her she said, "I've been married to a selfish drunk for sixty years. And I'm not happy." That seemed a long time not to be happy.
Perhaps there was another word she needed to add to her vocabulary besides pedicure and it's the D word.
D_ _ _ _ _ E.
You are a bit stuck at Mulwala without a car. I had the great plan of doing a tour of all the foodie places in the region through an organised tour with the local tourist association. But they didn't get the numbers so it was cancelled. I could have borrowed one of the free push bikes at Club Mulwala but it was summer and too damned hot.
Instead I did a cruise on the MV Paradise Queen. Not only was the cruise relaxing but the captain Travis was a hoot. He had that laid back Aussie humour you can still sometimes find in country towns.
The lunch cruises include a simple but tasty barbecue with salads and are only $25 with drinks at club prices.
There is a special upmarket restaurant at Club Mulwala called the
Stonegrill. A hot stone is put on your table and the meal cooks in front of you. It means that all the juices and nutrients in meat and seafood are seared in, creating some exceptionally tender eating moments.
There is a Friday Night special worth noting where you get a
set 3 Course Menu for 2 for $80 normally $112
As well as two glasses of De Bortoli Lorimer's Wine
As soon as you arrive at Club Mulwala join the club. It costs $20 for a financial year membership. But it gives you discounts on nearly everything including food, drink, accommodation and even at the spa where they sell some great beauty products and services. If you are in the loop they even offer 20% to 50% off accommodation at designated times of year. You join their email news group and get special offers.
In the photo below you can see one of the local characters who decided to bomb my photo. I was trying to take a shot of the fans that spray water over patrons on a hot day. Given it is almost impossible to capture fine spray mist on camera it is just as well he added himself as a point of interest