After consulting with the tourist office in Bright we decided on an all-day touring circuit of 244 km (150 mi) covering Bright – Mount Beauty – Omeo – Mt Hotham – and return to Bright. The lady in the office counselled that we really needed to have left town by 8am to do this drive justice. The handout she gave us said that leaving around 9.30am would return us at 4.30pm for a “rest, shower, and change of clothes before enjoying dinner“. Note to my future self – if in doubt, believe the person in the tourist office.
Our departure was further delayed by taking our flat tyre to be repaired. It turns out we had picked up two sharp nail-like objects somewhere on our travels. Luckily, we had not driven with it deflated, so repair rather than replacement was all that was called for. The chap was very pleasant and fixed it on the spot. We didn’t wish to attempt this drive without a spare.
Off we headed south-east out of Bright, towards the faintly marked, squiggly road running west-east on the below map, which is the Kiewa Valley Highway. We were around 400m (1300 feet) elevation. Bill remarked that the road, while definitely curving, wasn’t as windy as he expected. Just wait, I told him. How true was that!
We turned right on to the Bogong High Plains road towards Mount Beauty and Falls Creek. The road climbed quickly up to Sullivan’s Lookout at 850m (2800 feet). There is an interpretive sign at the summit which features a panoramic photograph labelling the main elements of the valley view. It also contains information on the Kiewa Valley Hydroelectric Scheme which was constructed between 1938 and 1961 and is the second largest in Australia. The town of Mount Beauty was established in 1949 specifically to accommodate the workers. It sits in a valley on the right hand side of this view.
We dropped back down to 350m to take a drive around this pleasant company town and a walk alongside its man-made lake before heading on to Bogong Village. A Bogong is a migratory moth who calls this area home. Large and brown with two pretty spots on its wings, it flies at night, so Bill often calls me that nick-name because I tend to come to life after the sun sets. Our tour leaflet suggested we stop at a cafe called Bogong Jacks for morning tea. That turned out to be not only closed, but up for sale. The adjoining European style gardens were open though, featuring rhododendrons, camellias and azaleas beside another lake – Lake Guy.
A short drive from Bogong Village is a sign to Fainter Falls. We parked the car and headed down the track to find them. This easy grade walk was established between 2005 and 2008 after bushfires a few years before highlighted the beauty of the area. There is a steep descent to the base of the falls but we did not take that. Partially on account of the time, but mostly on account of having to climb back up again!
Keeping in mind this is summer, you can imagine how full the falls would be in times of high rainfall. The other attraction on this walk is the variety of alpine bush flowers, the first of many we saw through the day. Here are a few.
Returning to the car, we travelled on to the Falls Creek Alpine Ski Resort hoping to take a late lunch break. We were now at 1500 m elevation (5000 feet). Being off-season, and being close to Christmas, it turned out most of the cafes were closed, or hosting a private function! Not our day obviously. At least it meant we drove around the various streets of the resort and got an idea of what it offers when the snow is thick on the ground. We settled on a meat pie each from the convenience store, and tried not to share too much of it with the bush flies which were so numerous, so sticky, and so persistent on this day that they were really unbearable. Later I pulled a fly-net over my wide-brimmed hat because I cannot stand them crawling near my face.
All along the road to reach here we have seen evidence of bush fires which swept through in 2003. You can see how the fire jumped the road.
The trees in this area are snow gums and they grow on the hillsides and among rocky outcrops. They don’t like frosty hollows.
At a great distance the burnt out mountains look as if they are covered with soft mounds of heather, but it is trunk after trunk of dead white gum. An explanatory board informs us that the fire destroys the trunk, but not the underground root called a lignotuber. So the tangle of greenery at the base of the dead trunks is the original tree regenerating.
After Falls Creek, on the road to Omeo, there is a sign for Wallaces Hut. Nearby, at the beginning of the track, there is another sign that we take great heed of, given our snake adventure a few days earlier.
The twenty minute walk to the hut is lined with more burnt snow gums.
Wallaces Hut is one of 106 scattered across the Alpine National Park. Although many were burnt in the 2003 fires, this one, the oldest of all, survived. It was built by three Wallace brothers, cattlemen of the high country, who emigrated from Ireland with their parents in 1869. They built the hut in 1889.
Inside the walls are split-slab, there is a rammed-earth floor, a rough table of mountain ash on snow-gum legs and a fireplace at the far end.
Further along the road, and a shorter walk to get to it, is Cope Hut, a mountaineering hut built in 1959 as shelter for skiers and hikers. Time was really getting away from us, so we didn’t check that one out. But here are some more wildflower photos in the meantime.
The next point of interest, according to the leaflet, was to travel to Anglers Rest and have a drink or meal at the Blue Duck Inn. This is an historic hotel whose origins date to 1900. The name Anglers Rest derives from it standing at the confluence of three trout rivers – the Cobungra, Bundarra and Mitta Mitta. We didn’t stop, but we later met some people who were staying there. It looks very quaint in the photo gallery on its website.
Finally we reached Omeo, our turnaround point for this drive. This is another place that boomed with gold in the mid 1800s. Today its population is around 500. Set in a valley, it is a pretty town with a nice feel to it. We walked up and down both sides of the main street, before stopping for a mid-afternoon coffee. The cafe walls were plastered with memorabilia from when an Australian film called Red Hill was shot there in 2010. It’s not one I have come across, so I must keep an eye for it on TV sometime.
One of the dominant buildings in Omeo is the court house built in 1893. This is part of the “justice precinct” which contains heritage listed buildings such as two Court Houses, a Police residence, Stables and Log Lockup. The local history collection is housed here as well. The log gaol was built in 1858 and housed its last prisoner in 1981.
I took a photo of the toilet as well (the “dunny”) as it was exactly like the one in the house I grew up in. Except our droppings went into a pan which the sano man collected once a week, whereas this one is a “hole in the ground” I’m guessing.
Omeo would be a good place to base yourself to explore this side of the Alps. There are lots of walks, fishing, white water rafting and so on, and all in a very pretty location. One of the walks is to the gold mining reserve named Oriental Claims by the company who worked the site from 1876 to 1904. You can see the remnants of the mining operations on the walk, which leads to Victoria Falls. In the early 1900s these falls were used to generate power for nearby gold mines. We contented ourselves with driving to Oriental Claim and having a quick look around at the start of the hike which begins with a wooden suspension bridge over the river that yielded the alluvial gold.
Next on the route is an Alpine village called Dinner Plain, elevation 1,570 m (5,151 ft). Visitors might use the accommodation here as a base for ski-ing the nearby Mount Hotham, but it did also seem to have permanent residents, about 250 according to Wikipedia. Its architecture is very singular; unpainted timber reminiscent of a cattleman’s hut, with stone and corrugated iron trimmings. Two storied, with steep pitched roofs, and there must be a building covenant as they are remarkably similar. It must look very pretty when the snow is about, but gosh! If all you wanted to do was take your child to kindy or do the supermarket shopping, it must be a bit of a palaver to get in and out to a main town every day.
All day long we have been climbing and descending the mountainous route, and now as we drive through Mount Hotham we are back up to 1900m (6200 feet) and we admire the now dormant chair lifts and try to imagine the slopes covered in snow. There must be plenty of summer activities too, although it looked pretty quiet as we continued on. Reputedly, we are now driving on the highest road in Australia.
The road begins to descend to Harrietville, although even then we are at 1300m (4200 feet). The trees are a dense green just as we approach this village, so we can see what is was like before the bushfires. Now we are only twenty minutes to Bright. If we had chosen to take a short day tour, we may have come here to view the Lavender Hue Farm, take a bushwalk, then return for tea and lavender flavoured scones. Right now we are more focused on dinner, and getting back to Bright while there is still daylight. We eventually pulled in around 7.30pm.
It has been an incredible day, but also a tiring one. Bill did all the driving, and the roads were extremely winding. To the point that the steering wheel was either full left or full right lock, never in the mid-way position. As we wound down the other side of Mount Hotham, steadily dropping altitude all the way, the road looped back on itself so much that seen from the air it would look like a bow-tie on a Christmas present. And at one stage we drove through a thick flock of crows who were so reluctant to leave whatever they were eating that one flew right under the car.
It was a worthwhile trip though, not the least for the beautiful wildflowers. And apparently, the road is closed in winter due to snow cover, so we can count ourselves lucky that we were able to do it!
Thursday, 15th December 2016