Drive Australia's highest accessible sealed road. From Wangaratta in northern Victoria you'll cross the Australian Alps and finish in Bairnsdale, at the gateway to the Gippsland Lakes in the east.
By Sue Gough Henly
What to expect
- Taste your way around the Rutherglen and King Valley wine regions
- Discover the snow gums, alpine ash trees and button grass plains of the Victorian High Country
- Explore historic townships such as Beechworth, Bright and Omeo
- Time: 3 days
- Distance: 500 kilometres (311 miles)
- Transport: car
- Nearest major city: Melbourne
- Price: $$
Travel the Great Alpine Road to discover a diversity of landscapes across the Victorian High Country. Stop to explore historic Beechworth, and the King Valley and Rutherglen wine regions. Hike in Mount Buffalo National Park and ski at Mount Hotham and Dinner Plain. The trip ends in Gippsland, renowned for its lakes, ocean beaches, national parks and rolling farmland. The road is open all year round.
Day 1: Wangaratta to Beechworth
Start your drive along the Great Alpine Road in Wangaratta (a 2½ hour drive north of Melbourne on the Hume Highway), known for its history, hospitality and popular jazz and blues festival. Your first day of driving is through undulating farmland and vineyards, and it’s well worth taking a few gourmet detours. Stop first in nearby Milawa, Australia’s first designated gourmet region, to visit Milawa Mustards, and Milawa Cheese Co (great for picnic supplies). You can also taste wines at Brown Brothers, where four generations of the Brown family have been growing grapes since 1885. Head south 53 kilometres (33 miles) on the Wangaratta-Whitfield Road to the cool climate King Valley to visit wineries such as Sam Miranda, Pizzini (which also offers cooking classes), Chrismont and Dal Zotto (where you can sample Italian varietals and enjoy an alfresco lunch). For a classic Aussie farm experience go to Forge’s Farm and take a two hour gentle horseride to a picnic site on the King River, where you'll enjoy a prosecco and Milawa cheese picnic.
Drive 96 kilometres (60 miles) north to Rutherglen, the epicentre of Australia’s fortified wine industry. The region produces muscat, port, and topaque as well as hearty red table wines made from shiraz and durif (petite syrah) grapes. In the classic country town of Rutherglen, grab an Aussie pie from Parker Pies, taste the craft beer and grab a bite to eat at Taste at Rutherglen or have a glass of wine at the 1000 Pound Wine Bar. Enjoy tastings at renowned wineries such as Campbells, Morris Wines, Stanton & Killeen, All Saints Estate and Buller Wines. Drive 43 kilometres (27 miles) south to Beechworth, stopping on the way in the pretty 19th century village of Chiltern, home to Australia’s largest grapevine. Beechworth is one of Australia’s best preserved goldmining towns. Taste the craft beers at Bridge Road Brewers before a dinner of Japanese-inspired local delicacies at Provenance restaurant, located in a heritage-listed bank building. Stay the night at The Stone Cottage.
Day 2: Beechworth to Dinner Plain
Take a guided walking tour to learn about Beechworth’s gold rush history and the infamous bushranger Ned Kelly, who was locked in the Beechworth jail. Or just explore the town's wide boulevards lined with Victorian shopfronts that are now fashion and homeware boutiques and gourmet restaurants. Drive 62 kilometres (39 miles) south through the pretty Ovens Valley to Bright, whose deciduous trees turn beautiful colours in autumn (March-May). Rent bikes and cycle part of the Murray to the Mountains Rail Trail to Porepunkah, where you can toast the magnificent view of Mount Buffalo and Mount Feathertop with a glass of wine at Ringer Reef Winery.
Enjoy lunch at the retro Coral Lee cafe before detouring 50 kilometres (31 miles) into Mount Buffalo National Park. Go for a short hike among snow gum trees and button grass plains, and see waterfalls, an alpine lake and imposing granite outcrops. Drive to The Horn for panoramic views. Back on the Great Alpine Drive, climb through the heathland, alpine ash and snow gum forests of Victoria’s High Country, stopping at Danny's Lookout at Mount Feathertop to get sweeping views over the Alpine National Park. If you have time, tackle Mount Hotham’s downhill and cross-country ski trails in winter (June-August) or hike to historic mountain huts and mountain peaks in summer (December-February). Stay in chalets under the snow gums in the pretty alpine village of Dinner Plain.
Day 3: Dinner Plain to Metung
Walk the 10 kilometre (six mile) trail between Dinner Plain and Mount Hotham to enjoy the summer wildflowers, or go cross-country skiing or snowshoeing in winter (June-August). Start the gradual decline from the High Country by driving 45 kilometres (28 miles) to the pioneering goldmining town of Omeo. Just before the town, stop at the Mount Kosciuszko Lookout, where you can see Australia’s highest peak in the distance. Wander around the town to see its many 19th century buildings. Detour 30 kilometres (19 miles) to Anglers Rest to enjoy a two hour horse ride with Packer’s High Country Horseriding.
Enjoy lunch with the locals at the historic Blue Duck Inn in Anglers Rest. Returning to the Great Alpine Road, head down to the small gold rush town of Swifts Creek, where the road snakes alongside the Tambo River in a narrow forested valley before weaving through undulating farm country all the way to Metung at the gateway to the Gippsland Lakes, the largest lake system in the Southern Hemisphere. The three main lakes, Victoria, King and Wellington, are fed by rivers originating in the Victorian High Country. Hire a boat in Metung to explore this remarkable network of lakes, marshes and lagoons covering more than 600 square kilometres (230 square miles). You will discover lots of birdlife and native animals along the shoreline.
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