GREAT ALPINE ROAD - North East Victoria and the Southern Riverina's greatest road trip
Is this the best drive in the country?
ONE of the great road trips in Australia for your travel bucket list must be the Great Alpine Road.
It is up there with the best of them but, in our eyes, it is the best of them.
It is a driver’s road that ‘comes with the lot’.
(Josie Wither's photo (above) is a section of the road between Harrietville and Mount Hotham).
For the greater part of its 186 kilometres from Wangaratta in North East Victoria to Omeo on the northern fringe of Gippsland, the Great Alpine Road snakes across the top of the Victorian High Country through the picturesque Alpine National Park and in parts rises to 1840 metres above sea level.
That stretch of national road B500 is Australia’s highest year-round accessible sealed road, just as Mount Hotham Alpine Village - which it passes through - is the second highest village in the country after Cabramurra in the Snowy Mountains.
One of this country’s great drives, B500 climbs out of Harrietville in the picturesque Ovens Valley, before dropping from historic Omeo to Bairnsdale, one of Gippsland’s prettiest places and gateway to The Lakes National Park.
An extraordinary drive at any time of the year, the Great Alpine Road packs a powerful punch as far as scenery goes, as not only does it pass through Victoria’s largest national park - which boasts 10 of the 11 highest mountains in the state - it also traverses through valleys, through forests, past fast-flowing rivers and crystal clear streams, and through historic villages which many Australians may never have heard of.
The drive from Albury-Wodonga to Omeo can be easily covered in three hours but take your time and soak in everything this beautiful corner of the world has to offer.
The Great Alpine Road, which has existed in some form or another since colonial times, was completed with the sealing of the section between Mount Hotham and Dinner Plain in 1998.
The mountain equivalent to the famous Great Ocean Road, you can get on to B500 - referred to by locals as the GAR - at any number of locations.
If you want to travel the road from its northern source, then you start at Wangaratta, travelling through Tarrawingee, Everton and Gapsted to Myrtleford.
From Myrtleford the road passes along the floor of the stunning Ovens Valley through Ovens, Eurobin, Porepunkah, the tourist destination of Bright, Freeburgh, Smoko and Harrietville, before you start the steep and windy climb to the alpine resort of Mount Hotham, 32 kilometres further up the Great Dividing Range.
The landscape changes dramatically from alpine ash to snow gum forest, and lush valleys quickly turn to huge ravines with sheer drops and steep mountain passes.
The 55 kilometres of road from Mount Hotham through Dinner Plain and Cobungra to Omeo is relatively flat given the very nature of the mountainous terrain.
Through the ‘off” seasons, services at Mount Hotham and Dinner Plain - and Falls Creek - are limited, but in winter these villages turn into mini cities full of skiers and other snow bunnies.
The mountains also take on a completely different hue, changing from browns and greens to nothing but white.
From the historic gold mining town of Omeo, a great base from which to explore the national parks and alpine surrounds, the GAR turns south, following the course of the Tambo River through the settlements of Tongio, Swifts Creek, Doctors Flat, Ensay, and Bruthen.
It then heads in a south westerly direction to meet the Princes Highway (A1) at Bairnsdale.
Caravanners do use the road but be aware that between Harrietville and Hotham Heights it is steep, narrow, and windy, with many hairpin bends.
Chains must be carried in winter and must be fitted where directed.
Sections of the road are subject to closure during winter and bushfires can be a problem during summer.
Fuel is not available between Bright and Omeo, and only limited supplies are available between Omeo and Bruthen.
Meals, accommodation and shopping is available in Omeo, with the towns of Swifts Creek and Bruthen also offering meals and accommodation.
Distance Wangaratta to Bairnsdale: 311.7 kilometres
Driving time (non-stop): 4hr 25min
Towns along the way: Tarrawingee, Everton, Myrtleford, Ovens, Eurobin, Porepunkah, Bright, Harrietville, Hotham Heights, Dinner Plain, Omeo, Swifts Creek, Ensay, Bruthen