The Japanese word momijikari roughly translates as maple hunting. It describes the practise of travelling to marvel at the wondrous colour of autumn foliage on the turn. The Americans call the same urge leaf peeping, which sounds sleazy – cousin to leaning over the fence to see what’s hanging on the neighbour’s clothesline. We don’t have a word for it, but we should – suggestions gratefully received!
Whatever we call it, north-east Victoria is prime territory for maple hunters and leaf peepers. The spectacle is centred on the old gold town of Bright. I was there last weekend for the annual Bright Autumn Festival, with a group of Ross Garden travellers. The sun shone intermittently, but when it did, the trees lit up like stained glass windows.
Bright is an old gold town and sits astride both Morse’s Creek, where the gold was first found, and the Ovens River. Surveyors laid out other gold towns in the district, like Beechworth and Yackandandah, but Bright feels like the roads still follow the miners’ goat tracks. There are a few exceptions, and one is Delany Avenue, which is magnificently planted with alternating Himalayan cedars, Cedrus deodora, and scarlet oaks, Quercus coccinea. Walking or driving through that tunnel of colour never tires.
We leaf-peeped in people’s private gardens too, a handful of which are open for the Festival. Here are the buttery leaves of the tulip tree, Liriodendron tulipifera, favourite of Noeline Gilmour, who years ago planted up her newly acquired empty block with the top picks from the Flemings catalogue. Along with the tulip trees, which are not named for the leaves but for the cup-shaped spring flowers, are gingkos and maples, all providing brilliant colour, and summer shade for Noeline’s collection of hydrangeas.
At Nola Wood’s garden, the front fence is a scarlet mound of Virginia creeper, rained on by golden ash.
Kicking through the leaves in other people’s gardens is a treat, but there are other ways to enjoy the show. In a clever piece of recycling the old railway line has been turned into a cycle path and walkway. I hired a bike and followed the path through avenues of paulownia, alongside lines of maple, and through this tunnel of golden poplar.
The Murray to Mountains rail trail is 100km of sealed track from Bright to Wangaratta, but I cycled only as far Feathertop winery, which took an hour, with plenty of stops to photograph the trees!
Feathertop wasn’t my destination because I was desperate for a drink, I wanted to see what Angus Stewart has in store for the new garden there. Angus is a native plant specialist and breeder and his plan is for a year-round show of natives to match the glorious colour of the oaks along the road. When I climbed off the bike a lake had been dug, further earthworks were underway and Angus was laying out tube stock and determining how to plant up a native bushfoods garden. The idea is that the kitchen at the Feathertops restaurant will work up some matches between native foods and the Italian varietals that grow so well in north-eastern Victoria. Leaf-peeping plus new foods and wines to discover! Irresistible.