The High Country of Victoria is a network of pathways. Some of these are invisible, but have been used for many thousands of years.
They have been trodden by all kinds of peoples from all kinds of places. The first footsteps were those of the Aboriginal peoples…
This tour takes in a wide range of scenery and the highest part of the Victorian Alps in a single day. Even better, if you have time, stop overnight at one of the camping spots and give yourself time to explore the many features and walks along the way. Distances are measured from Bright.
Another journey is available through Parks Victoria’s High country heritage audio discovery tour
Distance: 111 km, Bright to Omeo one way
Travel Time: 2.5 hours in fair weather
Driving Conditions: Two-wheel drive, sealed road
Season: Year-round, although the road over Mt Hotham can be treacherous during the snow season with ‘black ice’ and poor visibility. Extreme care must be taken and chains must be carried and fitted where directed. For further information contact Parks Victoria telephone 131 963, or Mt Hotham Alpine Resort, telephone (03) 5759 3550
Food: Bright, Harrietville, Mt Hotham (winter), Dinner Plain, Omeo
Accommodation: Bright, Harrietville, Mt Hotham, Dinner Plain, Omeo. Contact visitor centres for more information.
Fuel: Bright, Harrietville, Omeo
National Park Camping Areas: JB Plain, Victoria River
Starting Point: Bright
Take the Great Alpine Road from Bright, following the Ovens River to the picturesque mountain village of Harrietville (24km), dating from the 1850s gold rush. The Bungalow and Bon Accord Spur walking tracks start from Harrietville, taking walkers into the tall mountain forests and into the exposed but beautiful alpine regions of Mt Feathertop and the Razorback.
From Harrietville, the Great Alpine Road enters the Alpine National Park after about 4km, continuing to climb steadily through peppermint, Alpine ash and Snow gums to Mt St Bernard (45km) and the Dargo High Plains Road intersection. (The road enters the Mt Hotham alpine resort area 1.5km before Mt St Bernard, at Buckland Gap. During the snow season, an entry fee is charged for this area, but this does not apply for through traffic.) A hospice once stood at Mt St Bernard, providing welcome protection for goldminers travelling between Omeo and Beechworth in the late 1800s. This section of road through to the Hotham village provides some of the most dramatic mountain scenery in the Australian Alps.
Around 8km further north, the road reaches the start of the Diamantina-Mt Feathertop walking track (53km). This 11 km, full-day or overnight walk along the high exposed Razorback ridge to the summit of Mt Feathertop is one of the most popular alpine walks in Victoria. It offers spectacular scenery all the way, but do not try it in poor weather! It is essential to be fully prepared for all walks in the high country, as bad weather can also strike unexpectedly. Those not planning the full walk can experience the alpine environment by walking the 1 km to the first high point.
Just 1 km further along the road, the Australian Alps Walking Track crosses the road at the Mt Loch carpark (54km), on its 655km journey from Walhalla, in Victoria, to Tharwa, near Canberra.
This short section (6km) of the Australian Alps Walking Track to Mt Loch is very rewarding, especially in summer when the wildflowers are in bloom. Look for the white flowers of Snow aciphyll (Alpine celery), also called the ‘cattle’s icecream’ because it’s a favourite food of stock grazing in other parts of the high plains. You can enjoy excellent views of the surrounding Alpine National Park, the Razorback, Mt Feathertop, Mt Loch and the high plains to the north. A water recycling dam for the Mt Hotham alpine resort dominates the start of the walk.
The popular skiing centre of Mt Hotham alpine resort (55km) perches 1750m above sea level. The area, like Falls Creek alpine resort, located 20km northeast, is not part of the Alpine National Park and is managed separately by the Alpine Resorts Commission. The wind, snow and ice are so bitterly cold at these high altitudes that even the hardy Snow gum gives way to hardier ground-hugging shrubs and herbs. In winter, downhill and cross-country skiers enjoy the snow cover here cross-country skiers must pay to use the groomed trails within the resort). In summer, no entry fee is changed for the resort area and visitors may use restaurant and accommodation facilities, and fuel is also sold here.
Further along the Great Alpine Road, the Mother Johnson picnic area (59km) is named after a colourful character who owned a wine shanty that serviced the miners from Brandy Creek.
The Hotham-Dinner Plain cross-country ski trail passes the picnic area roughly parallel to the road here. In summer, this trail is a pleasant 10km, half-day walk one way, through undulating Snow gum woodland, and it is suitable for less experienced walkers. In early summer, look for the purple pea flowers of the Alpine hovea and the yellow of the Leafy bossiaea along this track.
A little further down the road lies the JB Plain camping area (64km), a sheltered snowgrass plain with a small walk-in bush camping site nestled under Snow gums. ‘JB’ was Jim Brown, one of the two stockmen who were reputedly the first non-Aboriginal people to venture onto the Bogong High Plains in 1851. Old cattleyards, made from the timber of fallen Snow gums, are an indication of the long history of summer cattle grazing in the area. A 6km, half-day walk south to Mt Tabletop starts here.
Dinner Plain (66km) was the place where the Bright to Omeo coach used to stop for dinner. Now it hosts a privately developed resort on the boundary of the Alpine National Park, offering year-round accommodation and a base for walking, mountain biking and horseriding. The village’s architecture was inspired by the huts of the high country cattlemen and reflects their need for protection from the bitter cold of heavy snow and bad weather, though the comfort of modern visitors has also been catered for. As the Great Alpine Road winds along the ridge, slowly descending toward Cobungra station, it passes several small treeless snow plains.
Overlooking the banks of the Victoria River lies a delightful camping and picnic spot at the Victoria Falls historic area (turnoff 76km). A short walk to Victoria Falls brings you to the site of Victoria’s first hydro-electric scheme, built to provide electricity to the Cassilis mine. (The Cassilis historic area is on the Cassilis Road out from Swifts Creek, south of Omeo.) The road continues to follow the descending spine of the Great Dividing Range towards Omeo. Just before the road reaches Omeo it passes the Oriental claims which once constituted one of the largest gold sluicing operations in the world. Powerful jets of water were used to wash away the gold-bearing gravels, leaving in their wake a devastated landscape.
Omeo (111 km) lies at the centre of a rich and historic cattle grazing district. From Omeo you can choose to:
- return to Bright via the Bogong High Plains
- continue north to Tallangatta along the Omeo Highway, visiting the Mt Wills historic area, Mitta Mitta and Dartmouth. From Tallangatta it is possible to reach Kosciuszko National Park via either 1. the Murray Valley Highway to Tintaldra, crossing to Tooma in New South Wales and following the Elliott Way (see the Mountain communities tour) or 2. Corryong and Khancoban (see the Main range tour);
- travel northeast to Benambra (see the Pathways through the wilderness tour); or
- travel south to Bairnsdale on the Great Alpine Road, which follows the Tambo valley between Swifts Creek and Bruthen, with many scenic river views.
Victoria’s High Country Heritage Audio Discovery Tour
The Audio Discovery Tour is a 240 km drive on some of Australia’s highest roads. Using this audio guide you can listen to interviews with local people and experts plus some historical drama as you drive. You can select tracks to travel between Bright and Omeo through either Mt Hotham along the Great Alpine Road or across the Bogong High Plains through Falls Creek – or you can travel the loop using both sets of audio tracks. Driving the loop would take you 5 hours without stopping, but you can plan to stop and stay.