The High Country

 

The High Country is a place of snow, scenery and granite buffalos. OK, perhaps the explorers were a little fatigued when they named Mt Buffalo, or maybe they’d been on the amber nectar. Other than being a rocky enigma, Mt Buffalo is one of the numerous ski resorts (although it doesn’t have a chairlift) in the high country. Others include Mt Buller, which can lift up to 40,000 skiers per hour in peak season, and Mt Hotham, also known as ‘the powder capital’ – not because of its slaloming drug barons, but because it has the highest annual snowfall of any Victorian resort.

 

The High Country is ideal for wilderness wandering. It is home to the Alpine National Park – Victoria’s largest NP – and contains 10 out of the 11 highest mountains in the state, including Mt Feathertop, which is arguably the best overnight hike in the park.

 

Stay in a High Country hut, climb Mt Buggery and walk along Bastards Neck (anyone else get the feeling that the early explorers were doing it tough around here?). Once you’ve descended the Devil’s Staircase head across to Lake Eildon where there’s over 500km of shoreline to explore from the tranquillity of a houseboat, or the high speed of an inflatable donut (watch out for partially submerged trees and old house ruins though – the drought has revealed what lays beneath in this flooded valley).

 

Bright is the destination for a little action adventure and, well, Mt Beauty – the name says it all (those explorers must have cheered up by the time they got this far).

 

Pete’s Primo Pastimes

 

From Wangaratta to Bairnsdale, the Great Alpine Road winds its way through the heart of the High Country. For 308km you’ll drive through mountains, forests, rivers and valleys. At its uppermost point the road is 1,825 metres above sea level, which makes it the highest year-round accessible bitumen road in the country. En route you’ll pass through Mt Buffalo and Alpine National Park, and have the opportunity to throw yourself into an adventure activity or three. Call 1800 801 065 for a free touring guide and check out

www.greatalpineroad.info for more information.

 

Situated along the Great Alpine Road is the town of Bright, a Mecca for outdoor enthusiasts. This picturesque hamlet lies in the foothills of the Alps and the thermal air currents here make it an ideal place to paraglide and hang glide. You can also abseil, kayak, cycle, walk or get airborne on a scenic flight. For more information visit www.brightvictoria.com.au

 

Just down the road is Falls Creek, Victoria’s largest alpine resort. Ski some of Australia’s steepest terrain at Mt McKay, or explore twenty-one cross-country routes over 65km of tracks. There is also night skiing on offer, as well as four parks for all you snowboarders. Snow season is from the beginning of June to the first weekend in October. In summer you can bushwalk on the high plains, mountain bike through rugged mountain peaks and tackle hair-raising downhill courses; rowing and canoeing are also options. Log onto

www.fallscreek.com.au and www.adventurevictoria.com.au for more information.

 

When snow melts in the high country and seasonal rains cascade, the rivers gush and it’s time for a whitewater rush. Rafting is one of the best ways to see some of Australia’s most inaccessible landscape. Rapid Descents Whitewater Rafting offers tours in the Snowy River National Park, one of Victoria’s most isolated areas. Waterfalls hundreds of metres high plunge into limestone gorges, and the park is home to Little River Gorge – Victoria’s deepest gorge. Rafting season is from September to February. Call 1800 637 486 for more information.

 

For an authentic high country experience on horseback, saddle up with Mike Watson’s Trail Rides. With knowledge from cattlemen who have lived in this area since the 1870s, Mike will lead you across his 730-acre farm. At the time of writing, Mike’s business is only one of two in Australia with accreditation from the Association of Horsemanship Standards and Education, which sets the world’s highest safety standards. For more information, log onto www.adventurevictoria.com.au

 

Walking is a great way to immerse oneself in the high country wilderness. The Alpine Wild Walk (part of the Australian Alps Walking Track) from Hotham to Falls Creek is a four to six day boot buster which traverses the Razorback Ridge, a series of jagged, undulating crags, as well Mt Feathertop (1,922 metres), Victoria’s second highest mountain. Along the way you’ll have unspoilt 360-degree panoramas, pass historic huts and retrace the steps of cattlemen who roamed the area in the mid 1800s. www.adventurevictoria.com.au

 

If you have a sturdy crotch and a head for steep, bendy roads then saddle up and head for the Queen Victoria Ride, home of the Three Peaks Challenge, dubbed Australia’s hardest bike challenge. With the smell of tarmac still lingering in the air, hundreds of super cyclists turned out to speed along the freshly sealed road – despite the stormy forecast – for the inaugural challenge in March 2010. Riders cover three peaks in a single day, a distance of 230km. For those without mechanised legs, there are three shorter options to test your endurance. Check out www. bv.com.au for map and entry details or

www.queenvictoriaride.com.au

 

Now you’ve hardened your hammies it’s time to conquer the seven peaks of the Alpine Ascent Challenge which takes you up winding mountain roads and across the summits of Victoria’s best alpine resorts. Huge effort deserves great rewards and riders who scale four of the seven peaks between November 1 and March 31 are eligible to enter a competition where first prize is a one-week trip to the Tour de France. Just don’t forget to get your Alpine Ascent Challenge passport stamped! www.7peaks.com.au

 

Just when you thought there was nothing left to do on a bike, have a crack at the The Dirty Dozen www.thedirtydozen.com.au, a series of mountain bike trails dotted across the High Country. There are four tracks apiece in Mt Buller and Falls Creek, as well as four spread across Beechworth, Bright and Mt Beauty.

 

After all of this cycling you should reward yourself with a glass of wine or three. My favourite wineries in the high country each have distinct character and flavour. Sip a glass of French-Italian fusion at Pizzini Wines (www.pizzini.com.au) nestled in King Valley between the small hamlets of Whitfield and Chestnut. Kinloch Wines (www.kinlochwines.com.au) near Mansfield looks down the eastern slopes of the Great Dividing Range and produces red and white varieties, as does the biodynamic vineyard of Delatite Winery tucked in the foothills of Mt Buller (www.delatitewinery.com.au).

 

If you prefer your drink with a head on it, then jump on the microbrewery trail and sample some of the region’s finest boutique beers. There are four breweries on the trail. The first one is Bright Brewery (www.brightbrewery.com.au) which has free live music every Sunday afternoon. They have six beers on tap including Blowhard Pale Ale, not named after the town bicycle but perhaps because of its “bracing citrus aroma”. Bridge Road Brewers (www.bridgeroadbrewers.com.au) in Beechworth are situated in a 150-year-old coach house. They brew seven beers including Bling India Pale Ale, which you don’t have to be wearing gold jewellery to drink but it does go well with spicy dishes. Sweetwater Georgia Brown may sound like an American cheerleader who puts out (a distant cousin of the Bright bicycle perhaps?) but it’s one of six beers you’ll find at south-eastern US influenced Sweetwater Brewery (www.sweetwaterbrewing.com.au).

Last but not least is Jamieson Brewery (www.jamiesonbrewery.com.au) which is in Jamieson, near Mansfield. Make sure you bring your sweet tooth because as well as brewing five beers they also make over twenty varieties of homemade fudge. The sweetness extends to the beer, namely the award-winning Jamieson Raspberry Ale.

 

Cheese lovers will be licking their chops when they visit the Milawa Cheese Company (Factory Rd, Milawa). Using traditional European methods and non-animal rennet, these cheese champions produce a range of award-winning cheeses and offer tastings seven days a week. www.milawacheese.com.au

There’s a buzz in the air around Beechworth. I may not be in town (those snazzy safari suits always cause a stir), but hundreds of bees are busy making honey. Beechworth Honey offers free tours of their apiary with chances to taste their range of yummy products at the end (the honey ice cream is Safari’s favourite). As part of your visit you’ll take a virtual tour through eucalypt-clad forests to the hives and learn how the honey is packed. www.beechworthhoney.com.au

Although the doors of the Mayday Hills Lunatic Asylum clanged shut long ago, as dusk envelops Beechworth if you listen carefully you’ll hear them creaking open once more. Beechworth Ghost Tours run nightly lantern-lit walking tours with stories from the darkened hospital depths of this 1860s loony bin. www.beechworthghosttours.com

 

Horse riders can pretend they’re the man from Snowy River, a legendary cattleman immortalised in a poem by Banjo Paterson. Get the trots in a good way as you ride old cattlemen’s trails through alpine scenery, farmland and wilderness.

www.adventurevictoria.com.au

If you like your journey a little rougher, then hop in a 4WD and bump along to remote areas of wilderness and national parks. These journeys across alpine plains and through snow gum forests take you to places not easily accessible under your own steam. www.adventurevictoria.com.au

 

Perhaps the granite face of Mt Buffalo actually looks like a buffalo from close up. Touch noses with the rock on an abseiling adventure. Standing 300 metres high, the North Wall of Mt Buffalo Gorge is said to be one of Victoria’s top three climbing experiences and has uninterrupted views across the Victorian and the NSW alps. www.adventurevictoria. com.au

Splish splash I was taking a bath… Hopefully you won’t end up in the drink if you decide to go whitewater rafting along the Mitta Mitta River, which cascades through the Alpine National Park and through a granite ravine where remarkable rock formations and wildlife are the norm. Multi-day adventures are available. www.adventurevictoria.com.au

 

Alzburg Tours offers daily coach services throughout winter from the

Melbourne metro area with additional departures from Frankston and the south

east suburbs on peak weekends. Enjoy a cool day out on Mt Buller. They also provide accommodation, too, with rooms starting from $120 (off peak) and $150 (peak). Check out www.alzburg.com.au for packages and room deals.

For a comprehensive list of events, activities and great places to eat food and drink wine around Mt Buller and Mansfield, log onto www.mansfield-mtbuller.com.au. You can also book accommodation online and there are maps of the area and a list of businesses that serve the region.

 

Where to crash

 

Myrtleford Hotel – 67 Standish St, Myrtleford; Ph 03 5752 1001

This place has a nice veranda and is located near Mt Buffalo National Park; situated along Great Alpine Touring Route. myrtleford.hotel@bigpond.com

 

Lake Eildon National Park; Ph 03 5774 2909

Check out the Candlebark Campground (in the Fraser section of the park). This is one of my favourites. www.lakeeildon.com

 

Tanswell’s Commercial Hotel – 50 Ford St, Beechworth; Ph 03 5728 1480

Located next door to Bridge Road Brewery, this place serves free continental breakfast. tanscom@bigpond.net.au

 

Mt Buffalo

 

Walk- or ski-in winter camping is available at Lake Catani campground or remote camping at Mt McLeod. Bookings are essential and can be made online by visiting www.parkstay.vic.gov.au or by phoning Parks Victoria on 13 19 63 or the Mt Buffalo Entrance Station

on 03 5756 2328.

 

Alzburg Resort – 39 Malcolm St, Mansfield; Ph 1300 885 448 or 03 5775 2719

This place has a heated pool, sauna, spa, tennis and volleyball courts, restaurant, bar and entertainment (on selected evenings). www.alzburg.com.au

 

Which way, cobber?

 

Public Transport - VV/Line runs regular bus services from Southern Cross Station to Mansfield. During snow season, V/ Line’s Snow Coach runs from Southern Cross Station to Mt Buller. Reservations are required in both directions. Check out vline.com.au for more information.

By car - From Melbourne, take the Hume Highway (M31) to Wangaratta (there’s a turn off for Eildon once you reach Seymour, follow the B340). Alternatively, drive along the Princes Highway (M1 turns into A1) until you reach Bairnsdale. Driving time to Bairnsdale from Melbourne is under four hours.

 

Pete's Regional Watering Holes

 

Victorians love their beer, and you’ll find many a pub in

regional areas. Here's a few to get you started.

 

The High Country

 

Bridge Road Brewers – Old Stable House, Fort St, Beechworth

Although this place has only been going since 2005, there’s a sense of history in the 150-year-old coach house building that is now a brewery. Choose from eight different ales and order a pizza to wash them down. There is a beer garden and in summer an outdoor cinema. www.bridgeroadbrewers.com.au

 

Bright Brewery – 121 Gavan St, Bright

The beer around here is made with fresh mountain water. To find out how it’s all put together you can go for a tour, or else join the head brewer and become a brewer for the day. It also has free WiFi access so you can surf and swig at the same time, and blues music every Sunday arvo from 2pm. www.brightbrewery.com

 

Man – 20 Slalom St, Falls Creek

Hurr! Let me see those pecs! You may see a few hardened nipples in here (from the cold) but that’s about it. This place comes to life in winter when live music comes to town and the club gets pumping. You can also dine here. www.fallscreek.com.au/themanhotel