The Great Alpine Road
The Great Alpine Road, stretching more than 300km from Wangaratta to Bairnsdale, is one of Australia's classic summer touring routes.
Wind your way along Victoria's Great Alpine Road, from Wangaratta in the north-east right across to Metung on the jaw-droppingly beautiful Gippsland Lakes.
The 339-kilometre adventure along Australia's highest year-round accessible sealed road takes you right up close to Victoria's diverse landscapes. Travel through lofty mountain ranges, down plunging valleys, into lush forests, and past rolling vineyards along the way to the sparkling waterways on Gippsland's coast.
Dine on fresh local produce, sample regional wine varietals, or catch your own lunch by throwing a line in a mountain stream as you go.
Be guaranteed an amazing journey year-round, with warm weather walking, cycling, camping and high-adrenaline adventure opportunities an alternative to the perennially popular wintertime snow action. Whatever the season you'll be sure of breathtaking views, unforgettable scenery and warm welcomes in the villages along the way.
THE ROAD CONDITIONS
The Great Alpine Road is fully sealed and is open all year. However, expect snow and ice in winter and snow chains must be carried during the snow season - Queen's Birthday in June to the first weekend in October. They can be hired from outlets along the way. During the official snow season, chains are compulsory for all vehicles.
DETOURS FROM THE GREAT ALPINE ROAD
If you have driven the GAR a few times, there are several detours that can be taken from the main route that offer a bit of variety. A favourite for many is to start the drive by taking the Snow Road exit from the Hume Freeway, rather than the Great Alpine Road exit. This joins up with the GAR a few kilometres west of Myrtleford, but takes you through the foodie townships of Oxley and Milawa.
Leg 1: Wangaratta to Bright
76 km/47 miles, about 1 hour
Waste no time getting acquainted with the fine wine and local produce in the valleys along this northern leg of the Great Alpine Road, also characterised by spectacular scenery and crisp mountain air.
At Milawa call in at the famed Brown Brothers Epicurean Centre and Cellar Door, and sample your way through Milawa Cheese Factory.
Golden Heritage Drive
From Wangaratta, take the B500 to Tarrawingee, the C315 to Beechworth and Wooragee, the C352 to Yackandandah, then the C527 to Myrtleford. On your way you'll take in Tarrawingee's historic buildings, including St Peter's church, the Plough Inn and Carinya House. See Beechworth's 30-plus beautifully preserved National Trust-classified buildings and places of significance to the legend of bushranger Ned Kelly. Walk the tree lined streets of Yackandandah with its stately Victorian architecture.
Gourmet Food and Wine Drive
From Wangaratta, take the C521 to Oxley and turn left to Milawa and Oxley at the heart of the famed Milawa Gourmet Region, where you can taste fine wines at cellar doors, including the renowned Mediterranean styles of the nearby King Valley. Sample outstanding local produce, experience the hospitality of award-winning country hotels and fine dining restaurants, and pull over at farm gates to stock up on seasonal bounty. Loop back to Wangaratta or on to Myrtleford and beyond.
Mount Buffalo Drive
At Porepunkah take the C535 to Mount Buffalo and the top of Mount Buffalo Gorge for fantastic views of the High Country and the Alps, and numerous walking tracks for even more majestic vistas. In winter, hire cross country or downhill skis to get the adrenaline pumping. Get daring in summer and choose from the area's famous adventure activities, such as micro lighting, paragliding and hang gliding.
Leg 2: Bright to Omeo
110 km/68 miles, about 2 hours
The second leg of the Great Alpine Road gives the route its name, travelling from leafy Bright into the High Country's breathtaking alpine area and onwards to the historic Gippsland town of Omeo.
Drag yourself away from the cafes and colours of Bright to ascend along the Great Alpine Road through charming Harrietville to the alpine resort of Mount Hotham. The landscape changes from alpine ash to snow gum forest and heathland as you climb.
Mount Hotham, Victoria's highest alpine village, offers 245 hectares of ski area, including a wide selection of downhill and cross-country trails for beginners as well as experienced skiers and snowboarders.
After conquering the alpine areas it's time to descend to the old gold town of Omeo as the landscape changes from alpine beauty to lush grazing fields. With vistas out over the Snowy Mountains and once the site of one of Victoria's richest goldfields, Omeo will quickly make an impression.
Great Alpine Discovery Drive
An alternative route turns off the main route at Bright and follows the C536 to Tawonga Gap, the C531 to Mt Beauty, Bogong, Falls Creek and across the Bogong High Plains. Then join the C543 to Anglers Rest and Omeo. This road (closed in winter) takes you past historic cattlemen's huts and breathtaking views across the High Country, before connecting with the Omeo Highway to wind past the notable Blue Duck Inn at Anglers Rest and descend into Omeo.
Bogong Alpine Way
To see scenery like nothing else, veer off onto the 230-kilometre Bogong Alpine Way, on the Bogong High Plains Road which loops through Bright, Mount Beauty, Bogong, Falls Creek and over Dinner Plain and Mount Hotham and back to Bright.
Leg 3: Omeo to Metung
153 km/95 miles, about 2 hours
Depart Omeo, the service centre for the local cattle, sheep and timber industries, getting one last glimpse at the original gold rush buildings lining the main street. Follow the Great Alpine Road south past Bairnsdale, East Gippsland's only city, and on to Metung, a starting point for exploring the spectacular Gippsland Lakes.
You then come to Swifts Creek and Ensay, small towns with a long history of mining, grazing and timber milling and a modern day passion for freshly baked goods, just-picked fruit, and local wines. Next is Bruthen, a small rustic village overlooking the Tambo River with its very own brewery.
Your last stop before Metung and the seemingly endless expanses of the Gippsland Lakes is Bairnsdale, on the banks of the Mitchell River and originally settled as an inland port. Bairnsdale is now a major gateway to Victoria's east, with everything you need and all the cafes and restaurants to sustain you for some time.
With five main lakes, fed by the waters of four major rivers, and fringed by the Ninety Mile Beach, the Gippsland Lakes system is the biggest expanse of inland waterways in the southern hemisphere, with over 400 square kilometres of lakes, rivers and lagoons that have made this region an ideal location for all forms of water based fun and sport, and exceptional fishing.
With that you're off to Metung, where the Great Alpine Road touring route ends.
Wine and Gold Drive
An alternative route from Omeo to Bairnsdale is through Cassillis, a small town that was once a thriving mining community. Explore the picturesque valley on foot and see relics of the gold-mining era, including the unmissable Oriental Claims walking trails, the Cassilis Cemetery and the old goldmine. Call into a local winery and stock up some of the area's fruit and berry wines and mead, as well as the renowned baked goods in the township of Swifts Creek.
Gippsland Lakes Drive
Departing from Bruthen, which overlooks the Tambo River and features immaculate heritage buildings, take the C620 to Nowa Nowa and the A1 to Lakes Entrance to watch the daily catch being unloaded or to cast a line yourself. Continue along the A1 and Nungurner Road to Metung and stop for a stroll along the shores of the lake. Then take the C606 to Swan Reach, the A1 to Bairnsdale and the C604 to Paynesville, a great place to base yourself to explore the Gippsland Lakes and walk the Ninety Mile Beach.