The Australian state of Victoria is home to some of Australia’s best high country and alpine scenery. Along what is known as the Great Alpine Road from Wangaratta to Bairnsdale there are national parks, ski resorts and alpine villages; vineyards and gourmet eats.
It is one of Australia’s well-known touring routes and over 300 kilometres, running directly through the Victorian Alps, it is an attractive prospect in all seasons.
This is the story of a summertime visit and some of my highlights of a tour along the Great Alpine Road. The image above is taken from ‘Danny’s Lookout’ not far from Mt Hotham.
Mount Buffalo National Park
The huge, rounded granite flanks of Mount Buffalo cannot fail to impress. This little national park offers walking, canoeing, swimming, mountain biking and rock climbing to name a few activities.
This is one of Australia’s earliest-established national parks (1898) and the site of Australia’s first ski tow. Views from The Hump, the highest point at 1,695, are great and we swam in the delightfully clear and warm waters of Lake Catani.
From Lake Catani we walked a couple of hours (round trip) to the Gorge. It was good to get away from vehicle tracks, travelling through stands of Alpine Ash and along the Underground River track.
The Alpine National Park
Ski bunnies flock here to the Mt Hotham alpine resort in winter, which offers Victoria’s best skiing terrain. The ski resorts are ghost towns in summer of course but there are many long and short walks that will show you the best of the landscape.
Views of Mount Feathertop reveal a 1,922m peak that looks good and rugged with the Razorback ridge leading to it across hills streaked with swathes of silvery snowgums. Crouching close to the earth they almost give the effect of a dusting of frost or snow.
This is a slightly odd little place. It’s an alpine village that was actually created on the Great Alpine Road from scratch in the 90s: a collection of accommodations and eateries constructed in sympathy with the landscape in an architectural style inspired by the high country huts of old. From here you can walk, cycle or ride a horse through the wide open country. It also has tennis courts and a children’s playground.
We did a beautiful little walk from Dinner Plain (about 1 hour) to what is called the ‘Room with a View’, through attractive woodland of smooth white-barked eucalypts carpeted with Billy Buttons. Then you suddenly descend for about ten minutes to a little seat (in the ‘room’) and enjoy a marvellous view across valleys and ranges to Feathertop.
Wildflowers on the Great Alpine Road
Well you have to walk a bit away from the actual road to see the best of the Australian wildflowers that carpet the landscape in summer, lending colour to a landscape that is otherwise a series of browns and dull greens. There are masses of yellow Billy Buttons and silver daisies – the Alpine National Park are renowned for its diversity of vegetation. There were also these more unusual and exquisite specimens (found in Mt Buffalo and Dinner Plans respectively):
Fire is of course a natural part of many Australian ecosystems but it was still sad to see the many stands of white tree ‘skeletons’, remnants of major bush fires in 2003 and 2006 in these national parks.
Staying along the Great Alpine Road
We stayed in Bright – a year-around holiday town that is busy, well-equipped and heaving with families having a ball splashing about in the river and enjoying the restaurants, cafes and micro brewery. It has a lot of deciduous trees so must be lovely in the autumn. There are plenty of other options for overnight stays on the Great Alpine Road: Myrtleford, Omeo, or in the national parks themselves. Harrietville seemed a quiet contrast to busy Bright, in a pretty valley with a lavender farm, cream teas and a teepee.
Other things to do along the Great Alpine Road
Apart from all the walking, this is a very popular cycling area, both road and mountain biking. The Murray to Mountains Rail Trail, with 106 kilometres of off-road sealed trail, is a gently pleasant way to explore the region.
For foodies the Milawa gourmet trail offers cuisine and fine wines scattered around a small loop adjacent to the Great Alpine Road in Australia. Again, biking is a great way to explore.
By Natasha von Geldern
Have you travelled Australia’s Great Alpine Road? Did you have other highlights or recommendations?