VICTORIA'S GREATALPINE WAY
Now that the last stretch of gradedroad on this route has finally been sealed, it is a pleasure to drivefrom Albury orWangaratta on the New South Wales border to Bairnsdale,Bruthen or LakesEntrance in East Gippsland, right across the mountain topsof the State of Victoria in an average family saloon car and hundredsof people are now doing just that at any time throughout the year.
Approaching from New South Wales,one can plan a loop trip using this route, then travel northwards upthe east coast to return to Sydney, Canberra or wherever the person'sstarting point may have been. It is also great to be able to setout from Melbourne and travel via the Hume Highway to Glenrowan,then branch off north eastwards to join the AlpineWay, continuing along it, finally dropping down to thecoast at Lakes Entrance,Metung or Paynesville - eventually returning to Melbourne via the Princes Highway, through Saleand Warragul, whichmakes for a very pleasant and relaxing country trip.
We set out to cover this loop outof Melbourne recently, planning for a week away, using an 18 year oldFord Laser in good condition. It was just at the end of the snowseason and we hoped to see some on the mountain tops. Weprebooked some pleasant B&B accommodation and set off on a quietSunday morning. Our first stop was for lunch at the Chineserestaurant in Seymour,then we skirted Glenrowanand cut across to Milawa,where we spent some time tasting superb cheeses in the cheese factorythere. We also visited Brown Brothers Winery and indulgedourselves in their elegant Epicurean Centre, where we tasted a fewwines and ate a few accompanying savouries. They really treatyou well in this place and it only cost a few dollars, including allthe tastings and your choice of a glass of wine.
From here we diverted a little offthe route to spend a couple of nights in the Old Priory at Beechworth,a prime historic gold township where everyone is so friendly totourists. Spotless single rooms including a good breakfast cost$35 each, but there are great double and family rooms too for a littlemore. Grand bathrooms are just along the corridor. Theyalso have a two bedroom flat and cottages in the grounds at greatercost for nightly rental and they left us enough food for half a dozen,although there was only the two of us. The gardens are lovely and itis an elegant old nunnery. We really enjoyed our stay there.
There are so many interestingbuildings around Beechworth that one day is not enough to see themall. There are the grand historic pubs and the superb postoffice, the old court house and gaol cells, the Bourke Museum, areally great old fashioned lolly shop, the exotic Chinese BurningTowers out in the cemetery, Lake Sambell,the old prison, forest drives, a lavender farm, horse drawn carriagetours around town, the old powder magazine, the opal cave and somegreat places in which to eat, probably the most famous of which areTanswell's Hotel and the Beechworth Bakery.
Next day we drove back to theAlpine Way (about 20 minutes drive) and continued eastward through Myrtleford,a town with a major population of Italian folk, all busy in thetobacco industry and those who don't have a tobacco farm are sure toown a vineyard. The unusual shaped tall iron buildings to beseen are tobacco drying kilns and there's a historic one relocatedalongside the road with an explanatory notice alongside, so watch outfor it. The road continues and soon MountBuffalo can be seen rearing up on the right-hand side ofthe road. Again a diversion can be made up past the lake andthrough the national park to the top of the mountain, where statelyold Mt Buffalo Chalet can be found, perched on the edge of a dramaticprecipice, with views that stretch for almost 100 kilometres on a veryclear day. The chalet is popular all year round and offers awide range of accommodation of all kinds at all prices, with orwithout three meals a day, ski packages in winter and special festivaland arts packages throughout the other seasons. There are gamesrooms, bars and entertainment plus a swimming pool to be enjoyed here,as part of the hotel's amenities.
On this occasion and because theweather was quite bad, we did not divert up to the Chalet, havingstayed there several times before, but continued on a little furtherto Bright, where wewere booked into the four star Delany Lodge, right on the Great AlpineWay, where we were accommodated in a very superior three bedroom unitwith gardens, a private garage adjacent to the unit, our own wellequipped laundry with washing machine and tumble drier, a modernbathroom, large living room and very well equipped kitchen. Weloved it. From here we were able to visit the delightful Maze inthe nearby historic village of Wandilagong,enjoy a show at a dude ranch and feed emus and deer at the deer farm,where one could eat in their excellent restaurant and depart with ahaunch of venison, if one could afford it. There is great troutfishing in the Ovens river here, plus several local wineries and theTourism Information centre in the main street has swags of freeliterature and a great film to view for free in their theatrette.
From Brightone can divert to Mt Beauty,which is well worth it, if you have time to spare. Stay in fourstar yurt accommodation at Mt Beauty Holiday Centre, on the river bankand with lots of activities to keep the kiddies happy. It has anadjacent small caravan park. The family yurt shaped units aregreat and the kids will love them. They have everything you'llever need and the pub just up the road has some excellent eveningmeals at fair prices.
We departed from Bright in chillyfog and climbed up Mount Hotham,nearly having a contretemps with a kangaroo that came out of the bushon one side very suddenly. I don't know who was the moresurprised, him or us. There was snow all over the peaks, but itwas raining hard so, on this occasion, we missed out on themagnificent views normally seen from up here. We passed all theski lodges and lifts and then began our descent via DinnerPlain. Their are scores and scores of tight bends onthis road, so it needs careful driving, especially if like us you donot have power steering and there is bad weather making the drivingless enjoyable. Dinner Plain is a village of incredibly shapedski chalets, which have to be seen to be believed, so just divert andcruise slowly through the village to marvel at the variety ofbuildings to be seen there. It now has an air strip and skierscan fly directly in from Melbourne airport in well under an hour,which is great, if you can afford it.
Just before we came into the littleold gold township of Omeo,we diverted to explore the old Chinese diggings, which are worth a fewphotographs. Then we found our B&B in the main street - Snug as aBug, it is called and it has its own small cafe attached. Theyhave three guest bedrooms downstairs, each with small, spotlessensuite bathrooms and all share one large lounge and kitchen.The lounge has a three quarter pool table, magazines, television, vcrand comfy lounges. The kitchen is very well equipped, with foodbeing supplied for make your own breakfasts and a country table thatseats a dozen people. There is also a large spa room for thosewho wish to take advantage of it. We bought locally caught fishand had a grand dinner with others in that kitchen, but it rained soloudly all night that our sleep was quite disturbed. Just badluck, of course. We bought a few nice things in a couple ofgalleries there, visited the little historic museum and the old pubsand then moved on to Bruthen, where westopped for a morning cuppa and some divine fruit cake from the localbakery. We wished afterwards we'd bought a supply to take awaywith us, it was that good. By now we'd just about completed theGreat Alpine Road route.
We stopped for lunch in NowaNowa, on the banks of LakeTyers, where we had a very pleasant lunch in Ramsdell'scafe, gallery, milkbar, caravan park, souvenir shop and gas stationcombined - it is that sort of unhurried place and Mike is always verywelcoming. He told us, as he made our pumpkin soup and toastedsandwich lunch that the local primary school children had executedsome wonderful aboriginal murals we ought to see, so we diverted asdirected and found the place. The proud headmaster of thislittle country school told us they'd won the national award for theschool that had done the most towards reconciliation with theaboriginal race. They teach the local aboriginal language there,so each child, black, white or coffee coloured becomesbilingual. Aboriginal legends are also taught and the wonderfulmurals all round a building on the property were designed and carriedout by the children, each of whom has their own handprint in NorthernTerritory ochre incorporated in the colourful rainbow serpent design.
From here we carried on down to LakesEntrance, where we were booked into Lazy Acre Log Cabins, agreat favourite of ours. The McCubbins have 10 authentic andspacious log two and three bedroom cabins, an adventure playground,big barbecues, a swimming pool and large spa pool and it's set wellback from highway noise, but five minutes walk from the seafrontshopping centre. A great place to stay for under $100nightly. We took a Peel's boat cruise to Metung,visited the Fishing Cooperative and bought fresh fish to cook eachday, walked along Ninety MileBeach when the rain stopped, took another boat cruise - the'Corque'- to Wyanga Winery, visited the Shell Museum & Aquariumand the excellent Tourist Information Centre and called in at the bigfamily fun park on the highway at the eastern side of town. Wewere very surprised to see real lions here, as well as alpacas,monkeys and many other imported creatures in addition to all therides, water chutes, mini golf etc. Children must really lovethis place.
By now we'd been away best part ofa week, so we headed off to the Jolly Jumbuck store out of Bairnsdaleto buy some great sweaters in their end of winter sale and then madeour way back to Melbourne via the excellent Princes Highway.