On a typical afternoon at The Bunyip Hotel, you'll find renowned chef James Campbell greeting farmers as they carry boxes brimming with produce into his kitchen. As a local boy, born and raised in Cavendish, he knows each of them by name, as well as the hundreds of regulars who frequent his restaurant.
Having collected a swag of accolades during his career, including two Good Food Guide hats as head chef of MoVida Sydney, James says he came back to his roots in 2018 to reimagine the food he grew up with.
Today, James uses his fine-dining techniques to breathe new life into well-worn classics, like black pudding and corned beef, drawing crowds of foodies into his lovingly restored country pub.
James shares some of his favourite places and things to do in the Grampians.
1. Bochara Wines
Found just south of Cavendish and set among redgum trees is Bochara Wines, a vineyard and cellar door known for its sauvignon blanc, pinot noir and gewurztraminer. James' pick? "The pinot and rose are spectacular, and owner Martin Slocombe is the friendliest winemaker around. He’s always willing to pass on his knowledge and welcome guests to his vineyard."
2. Rocklands Reservoir
North of Hamilton is Rocklands Reservoir, the second largest lake in Victoria, where visitors can camp on the beach, water ski, canoe and generally soak in the serenity. James says it’s an ideal spot for fishing, with lots of hidden nooks where many people don't go.
'Rocklands Reservoir is nostalgic for me. It's where my grandfather, my father and my friends go fishing. A lot of the locals out here know it, but they don't talk about it.'
3. Mt Dundas/Dundas Range Scenic Reserve
Mount Dundas may be one of the lesser-known mountains in the Grampians, but James says its quiet reputation means it's a great place to hike in peace. Located between Cavendish and Balmoral, 'it's a wonderful place for a view out over the west of Victoria' according to James. Keep an eye out for wallabies and kangaroos as the walking trail winds its way to the mountain's summit.
4. Mooralla Golf Club
For those looking for a more leisurely pace, James recommends teeing off at Mooralla Golf Club. Nestled at the foot of the Grampians National Park and overlooking Victoria Lagoon, the bush course is a little different to what golfing regulars might be used to.
'Don't expect manicured greens and fairways. It’s much more pared back and relaxed, and you’re encouraged to spend a few hours in the clubhouse with a beer or a glass of wine. There's always an afternoon tea on,' says James.
5. Grampians Food Co.
Locally grown and sustainable produce is the motto at Grampians Food Co., who provide the Southern Grampians Shire with organic, chemical-free produce year-round. James says the local market garden in Dunkeld supplies Bunyip Hotel with the fresh ingredients he needs to create his stellar dishes.
6. Foraging for pine mushrooms
When the days start to shorten in late February, James sets out into the pine forests around Digby in search of wild, orange-hatted pine mushrooms. Years of training as a chef have taught James what to look for, but if you’re interested in foraging, he recommends joining an experienced forager or a tour guide. You also can let James and his team do the work for you, and simply drop in at the Bunyip and enjoy the mushrooms on his autumnal menu.