General knowledge to keep up your sleeve : The Great Alpine Road is Australia’s highest sealed road. Stands to reason then, it’s also one of the most picturesque drives in the country. This drive takes you from Victoria’s cultural (and hipster) capital, Melbourne to the snow-capped Mt Hotham before heading on to a quintessential regional Aussie shire and concluding in Bairnsdale, where good people still smile at strangers and “crikey” is a mainstay of the vernacular. Pack an extra jacket and charge the camera, this is one of the best road trips Australia has to offer.
For a taste fiesta, head to Melbournes Flinders Lane area where you can eat from almost anywhere around the globe. From a divine breakfast and uber coffee at Cumulus (they do food all day, not just breakfast), to fabulous fusion at Chin Chin or mouthwatering tapas at the small and grungy Moveda (just off Flinders Lane) or go down and dirty in the basement at Coda for hyper delicious French/Vietnamese food. It’s good to book at Coda, Moveda and Chin Chin, and it’s worth the wait if you need to lean on the bar and have your coffee before you sit at Cumulus.
Jim’s Greek Tavern is another dining option if you are after a more casual evening. Not flashy, but with amazing hospitality and good food this place is a blast to have a big night at with good company. The best way to enjoy Jim’s is to let the waiter order for you (but check with them to determine the prices first - to make sure you don’t get a surprise). Go starving and leave fit to burst. And do try the strong Greek coffee at the end of the night, it hits you like a spider monkey with an adrenaline shot!
For the adrenalin junkies a must stop is the Funfields Amusement Park. They have a different take on the pendulum swinging pirate ship,”Blackbeard’s Ride” as it’s paired with 360-degree virtual reality headgear, simulating a dragon-back ride through floating villages! (For those who suffer from seasickness, don’t panic, headsets are optional!) There are also go-karts, toboggan rides, bumper boats and various seated rides as well as awesome water slides. Funfields can claim the world’s longest cannonbowl waterslide, the world’s longest pro-slide wave and opening in October 2017 is Victoria’s biggest & tallest waterslide. As long as you’re not faint hearted, there’s something for everyone!
Fowles Cellar boasts a list of tourism awards for outstanding service almost as long as the wine options available, confirming that this is definitely a cellar door worth visiting on the Hume Highway route. Plan your stop to coincide with their delicious brunch and for wine enthusiasts who are not driving it’s certainly a good place to be any time of the day. (Indeed the more Fowles Cellar product you sample the more enthusiastic you become). Thankfully you can walk it off as you tour the facility grounds. Make sure you stop to see the 1,000 wine barrels that occupy the barrel hall as some are 140 years old.
A weird sensation overcomes you 799 metres above the Waranga Basin and Goulburn plains. You’ve probably never felt so alive, yet so infinitesimal at the same time. There are not many places where, on a clear day, you can make out the curvature of the earth and that’s a reference of scale everyone needs to experience at least once. The 360 degree views are simply epic and easy to reach with a sealed road all the way up. Or if you’re up for some activity, embrace the moment with a bit of a “walkabout”, park the car half way up and ascend the rest by foot.
Caffeine and art, like Spanish surrealists and skinny moustaches the two come together harmoniously, especially at the Benalla Art Gallery. The grounds have a riverside boardwalk, perfect for theorising if Cubism was more poignant a movement than Modernism. After wandering the gallery and exploring the gardens, make sure you pop into Benalla Art Gallery Cafe as the coffee is strong, the café is toasty warm and the balcony overlooking the river is an entirely pleasant place to have something delicious to eat. Be sure to check out the constantly changing array of locally crafted products in the gift shop, some kooky, some beautiful, something here for everyone to appreciate.
For some road tripping is about discovering new places and for some the drive itself is the thrill. The Great Alpine road is an apt name as it’s an awesome driving experience. A myriad of great corners all urge to be driven. And you don’t need to attack them with speed to get the thrill of linking the curves smoothly either. Indeed, other drivers, sheer drop offs, icy conditions, random wombats (be careful of the little chaps) and the potential motion sickness of your passengers are all valid things to be aware of on this drive. But if you’re a fan of driving you won’t tire of the wheelwork or the views as you descend the mountain.
Sweet dreams are made of cheese… Cheesy introduction aside, Milawa Cheese Factory does offer some fantastic tastings of authentic farmhouse style cow or goat fromage and the accompanying restaurant and bakery ensures the taste buds are suitably looked after. It’s set in traditional Australian farmland too, so it’s an experience to please all the senses. There’s a huge selection of handmade cheeses and the staff are happy to help find one for your palate. Tasting is free but a gold coin donation is asked for and given to local charity.
Is it oddly un-Australian to be discussing snow and not sand? Not in this region it’s not, in fact it is mandatory in winter for cars to carry snow chains on the Great Alpine Road, even 4WDs. So, if you’re hitting the slopes or simply exploring in the winter months, Rays is probably worth a stop. They are snow chain gurus and you can rent the essential item here, or get them free with ski gear hire. Two things to remember: 1) Return the chains when you reach Omeo and 2) Don’t talk about surfing, they’ve never heard of it.
Hats off to Mother Nature, the original waterpark engineer. She certainly created some epic swimming spots in and around Bright. For the Summer Months, (Christmas to Easter) the Oven’s River is dammed to create glorious river swimming holes with vertical banks to jump off and clean, clear water to cool down in. Lifeguards are often on duty in summer and there are safe kid’s zones at all three. Three of the best are River Pool – Porepunkah - where you can do sweet bombs off the rocks into the green water below. The Bright River Pool which has a short diving platform and awesome riverbank slide and then there’s Morses Creek.
You should absolutely go chasing waterfalls - especially stunning ones like Rollason’s Falls, Mount Buffalo National Park. These require a 4km round-trip walk from the nearby picnic area, but it’s an easy-going flat trek and the reward is stunning emerald waters in warmer months, cooler alpine blue hues in winter. The falls are approx. 20 metres in height and make for an awesome photo opportunity or just soak in all the natural beauty. There are mountain bike trails, paragliders leap from precipices, the wildlife and flora is glorious and everywhere views to die for!
The Horn Lookout offers exactly what 360-degree cameras were made for. Unabated and jaw-dropping, 360-degree views. At 1723 metres above sea level, the cool thing about this lookout is that, depending on the time of year, the views of the Australian Alps vary enormously. From reds and orange autumnal tones to lush green forestry of spring and the best of all, blanketed white with low cloud or snow in the winter. Access the summit and it’s cute lookout shed by a short but steep trek from the Horn Lookout Picnic Area carpark and be prepared to have your breath taken away!
It doesn’t matter if you’re just learning to snow plough or you’re a full-blown powder hound, Mount Hotham has a ski slope for you. Mount Hotham village, Australia’s highest alpine town is a beautiful sleepy oasis that naturally awakens every winter. Accommodation is plentiful and ranges from the rustic to the absolute top end. Take the main chair straight from the middle of the village and be able to ski back to your accommodation at the end of the day if you stay in the on mountain accommodation. And don’t worry if you’re not skiing or boarding, just enjoy the play zones with tobogganing, snow laser skirmish or sled dog rides
Those familiar with Japan will know the practice of Onsen - bathing, preferably naked, in thermally heated spring water. Onsen retreat and spa have brought all that is good about Japanese Onsen to Mount Hotham, with the exception of the public nudity (an important distinction). In winter, Onsen is pretty miraculous. Submerging yourself in steaming thermal pools while it’s sub zero outside is extremely relaxing and good for the soul. The retreat offers more contemporary spa and massage treatments also. There are basic Onsen bathing packages, but in general, it’s a premium option to consider.
As one of the world’s largest gold sluicing operations, the Oriental Claims area is steeped in history, not all of it legal. One of the Chinese miners to have some success in extracting gold in what was described at the time as one of the toughest goldfields in Australia, was Ah Fong who mined the area in the late 1800’s. The loop walk encompasses his old claim and remnants of his mining equipment remain today. On the 1.5km walk you get an eerie sense of how tough things would have been, you also can’t help but wonder what untapped treasures and dark secrets have been left in those hills.
If you’re harbouring Bear Grylls into-the-wild tendencies, Gippsland High Country Tours are the real deal wilderness escape just for you. With a vast range of walking tours ranging from gentle 3 day tramps to 8 days without civilisation, the experienced team of eco guides ensure you an authentic Aussie bush experience as they share their wealth of local knowledge. You will be surrounded by amazing Snowy River scenery and spend time watching wonderful bird and wildlife to ensure you have an unforgettable Aussie experience. There are options for most fitness levels and tours operate most of the year with camping or cabin based accommodation options.
As far as Aussie Battlers go, the Bull Ant at over inch long with huge pincers is about as fierce as they get, so expect nothing less from Bull Ant breweries than a beer with bite. And that’s what this good honest brewery delivers. It’s also a relaxing place to enjoy a meal and unwind after a day on the road. Michelin star cuisine isn’t Bull Ant’s style, it’s more rustic and homely but both the beer and food is well made predominantly with quality local ingredients and most importantly is delicious. The veranda is the ideal spot to refresh, refuel and take in some live music.