For those in the know, Porepunkah is High Country Victoria’s most central jumping-off point for a massive range of adventure activities from road cycling, mountain biking, fly fishing, hiking, aviation, and so much more. But all too often, this tiny hamlet is a temporary rest stop location before visitors settle into an alpine valleys holiday within the nearby tourist town of Bright; or somewhere that you drive through on the way to Hotham and Dinner Plain ski areas. But in recent years, Porepunkah’s community has grown to include Rail Trail cafes, majestic vineyards operated by multi-award-winning female winemakers, family parks and riverside walks; and now the hamlet’s crowning community hub jewel – the newly renovated Porepunkah Hotel – warmly known by locals as the Punka Pub.
The pub’s exterior has recently been given a much needed, modern facelift with sandblasted brickwork, floor to ceiling windows and rough-sawn mountain timber beams that place it harmoniously within its mountain surroundings. There’s an assortment of outdoor eating areas shaded by pergolas and sun umbrellas – just perfect on a sunny day in the High Country. The dining entry door is constructed from recycled wine barrels. Concertina windows extend the fireside lounge views, often stretched open to allow the afternoon sunlight to flood in. But on cooler days, expect the windows to be closed and an open fire roaring.
Upon our arrival, we were greeted with steaming hot glasses of gluhwein – mulled wine with orange, star anise, cinnamon, clove and cardamom – the aroma is intense, and the flavour and temperature just right. Our waiter paired the wine with a simple yet well-curated charcuterie board of chargrilled sourdough, salami, prosciutto, green mammoth and Kalamata olives plus two local Milawa cheeses: Milawa Camembert and Milawa Aged Blue, served fireside with a smile.
Unlike any other regional Victorian hotels we’ve visited, one of the defining features of the Punka Pub is the awe-inspiring views that directly face Mount Buffalo’s epic Gorge. On the day of our visit, cascading waterfalls were seen beneath clear blue skies.
The main bar/restaurant is an open plan design where Victorian ash dining tables are partnered with French provincial style timber and rattan chairs. Sections of distressed interior walls expose the original 1950s brickwork, and newly polished concrete floors reveal a beautiful aggregate stone. Extending the urban industrial theme, the main bar has been constructed from poured concrete and is panelled with more recycled wine barrel timber segments. The balance between industrial textures and warmer elements, incorporating carved antique teak pillars sourced from Jodhpur in Northern India, framed historical photographs and wrought iron and timber bar stools, combine to craft an intriguing, entertaining space.
The food is pub grub done right, with a menu that provides a family-friendly offering ranging from delicate bites to pub classics and more hearty gastro-pub meals. On the lighter side, the Medditerainin style flatbread with pesto, marinated capsicum, olives, and fetta is an excellent choice. Equally, the hand-rolled prawn dumplings with soy, crispy shallots and coriander leaf are totally moorish. The ultra-crispy crackling topping the slow-cooked pork belly makes this little piggy a quality main. It’s garnished with fresh garden snow pea tendrils that provide a light and fresh-fragrant palate cleanser finish. A rich aromatic tomato and red wine sauce is a well-balanced base to a very tender lamb shank, perfectly cooked with the meat falling off the bone.
Need to pair your meal with a craft ale or cocktail? The Punka Pub has the most extensive choice of on-tap drinks we’ve seen, including beers: Richmond Brewery Mountain Goat’s ‘Goat’ – a lager made with Australian Galaxy and Ella hops, 4 Pines American Pale Ale, Bright Brewery’s Blowhard Pale Ale and Alpine Lager, Wolf of the Willows (Mordialloc, Vic) IPA, Brick Lane Brewing’s (Dandenong South, Vic) Lane One Love IPA and Balter Brewing’s (Currumbin, Qld) full-flavoured low alcohol beer Captain Sensible. Then, of course, there are the usual suspects (plus more), including Asahi, Peroni, Estrella Damm, Great Northern, Carlton Draught, Furphy and Brookvale Union Ginger Beer.
Our group enjoyed sampling the Lexington Hill on tap cocktails: Espresso Martini, Margarita and Sangria. Each hit the spot, but don’t worry; we did drink responsibly (well, reasonably), having prearranged a designated driver.
If you’ve indulged a little too much, a post-lunch stroll via the Porepunkah River Walk starting at the Riverside Park adjacent to the hotel is recommended. Then, cross the Ovens River at the old Porepunkah Bridge and continue walking along to the suspension bridge crossing back to the north side of the river. Next, the walk continues on the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail; you can return to Riverside Park via the Rail Trail.
Porepunkah is 1 hour south of Wangaratta in North East Victoria or approx 2 hours from Bairnsdale along the Great Alpine Road.
Winter and mid-Spring are some of the most exciting times to visit Porepunkah, with views of snow-capped peaks all around, roaring fires lit in mountain accommodation and often the best range in weather conditions with a decent number of ultra-sunny blue sky days paired with ice-cold mountain air, complimented with snowdrifts on cooler days.
Late Spring is for wildflower blooms, long rides and hikes and flyfishing, right from the snowmelt flows streaming below the Porepunkah road bridge. And thanks to an excellent community environmental program that has managed to clean up and divert wastewater runoff and protect the river from contaminants, the environment is again pristine. As a result, local platypus colonies have returned to the area.
Summer is for aviation, rock climbing, water activities with the kids, general fun in the sun. Autumn is for colour, food festivals and end of harvest celebrations, and it’s all focused around a tiny place that locals are proud to call home.
Come for adventure, grand views, great food and drink and affordable family fun.
Onsite hotel rooms are available from $160.
The Porepunkah Hotel (Punka Pub)
13 Nicholson Street, Porepunkah, Victoria
Tel 03 5756 2111