Only minutes off the Omeo Highway, Jokers Flat is a beautiful free camping spot right on the banks of the fast-flowing crystal-clear waters of the Mitta Mitta River.
It doesn’t get much better than sitting under a blanket of stars with campfire stories, a dinner cooked over a bed of hot coals, a cuppa made in a campfire billy, and good company… but after a few days of making ourselves at home and enjoying our riverside location, it was soon time to move on!
The next morning after consulting with our travel buddies it was decided on an all-day trip across the Bogong Plains to Falls Creek, down through Mt Beauty and Bright and onto Everton to tackle some more rail trails.
All packed up, we headed off towards the faintly marked squiggly line running northwest on our map, namely the ‘The Bogong High Plains Road’ – so-called after a Bogong Moth who calls this area home over the summer months.
The Bogong is a migratory moth with a short but arduous life.
Known as a critical food for the endangered mountain pygmy possum, lizards, rats and spiders, and once a rich and reliable food source for the Indigenous people of the mountains, these tiny endangered creatures themselves, make a yearly migration every spring over an enormous distance from the western plains of NSW and Victoria and as far afield as the plains of southern Queensland to inhabit the cool caves of the Australian Alps. At the end of summer, they leave the caves and begin the long trip back home to their breeding grounds where they mate, lay eggs and die. The moths that hatch then repeat the migratory cycle all over again.
Mitta Valley – Mitta Mitta, Eskdale, Dartmouth…
Just up the road from Jokers, the highway divides with the ‘Omeo Highway’ continuing to follow the Mitta Mitta River north through the Mitta Valley and the small communities of Mitta Mitta and Eskdale to the township of Tallangatta on the Murray River Highway.
Alternatively, another road leaves the Glen Valley and winds its way through tall forests onto the Bogong High Plains and Falls Creek before descending the other side.
The towns of Mitta Mitta and Eskdale both reflect the mining, agricultural and timber heritage of this region and are both worthy of exploring.
First developed as mining towns in the latter half of the 1800s with the discovery of gold, many old buildings of yesteryear such as the churches, pubs, general stores, and an old Butter Factory at Eskdale still dominate the streets.
Mitta Mitta is the major township in the area offering some great walking trails and the starting point for canoeists or kayakers who like to paddle the mighty Mitta Mitta River – but it’s Eskdale’s beautiful tree-lined streets that make for a picture-perfect town come autumn.
Detour off the main highway at Mitta Mitta and you’ll also find Dartmouth.
Originally call Banimboola, Dartmouth was once a beef property with the town established back in 1973 to support more than 3000 people who flocked to the area to work on the Dartmouth Dam.
Better known today as ‘The Town that Moved’ Tallangatta was originally founded in the 1870s and started its life as the gateway for the Mitta Valley and the Upper Murray Valley.
When I say moved – it literally moved 8-kilometres up the road in the 1950s to make way for the Hume Lake and dam… and today, now and then when the dam is at a low ebb, the ghostly remains of the old Tallangatta township can still be seen above the water level.
Bogong High Plains Road…
At the intersection, we veered off the Omeo Highway and headed in the direction of Falls Creek.
From then on it was kilometre after kilometre of scenic bushland, and lots of corners and hills resulting in a very slow trip from the Glen Valley to the summit.
What used to be a rough and dusty potholed gravel section of track across ‘The Bugong Plains’ this road is now a stretch of black tar making it easily accessible for 2WD vehicles in the warmer months. It is an easy drive but be warned, it is a road best taken with caution as there are a few rough surfaces (obviously a result of the winter months) and not all turns are signposted.
The road twisted and turned up through beautiful green forested slopes and valleys, eventually giving way to alpine vegetation.
Passing babbling creeks and countless perfect picnic spots we occasionally spotted a kangaroo. Wildflowers graced the grasslands of the top plains and we basked in beautiful sunshine as we stopped to linger at the Raspberry Camp area and play in the scattered snow patches left over from the snow season.
Spring in the High Country is a glorious time creating a beautiful picture of vast alpine peaks with their snow-covered summits whilst the valleys bursts to life with a mosaic of spring flowers.
From here on up this trip is inside the boundaries of the Alpine National Park and there were plenty of places to stop and snap photos or head off on a walk.
Along the road, it was only a short walk to Cope Hut. This mountaineering hut was built in 1959 as a shelter for hikers and skiers.
These alpine peaks are a unique environment full of cattlemen and pioneering legend. There are over 100 historic shelters scattered across this national park but only a few are easily accessible with others requiring a long hike to see.
Constructed by cattlemen and gold miners working this dangerous road crossing the alps, it’s so hard to imagine the life these tough pioneers must have led spending month after month on these cold, windswept plains.
Continuing, we pulled into another carpark where a walking track led to the historic Wallace Hut and campground.
At the carpark a large information shelter provided interesting facts about the site and the Bogong High Plains then it was only a short walk through gnarly old snow gums to the cabin.
This historical, rustic shanty, built in 1889 by the Wallace brothers, cattlemen of the high country who emigrated from Ireland with their parents in 1869, is a simple structure constructed from slabs of snow gum, stone and bits of kerosene tin. It sits on a flat grassy plain surrounded by beautiful gums and is one of the few in the area that was miraculously left unscathed by the 2003 and 2006 fires – and the oldest to survive.
The inside consisted of crude split slab walls, a rammed earth floor, a rough table of mountain ash on snow gum legs and a fireplace at the far end. All beautiful in their simplicity!
As we continued it was a glorious stretch of road as it wound among skeletal snow gums with one sweeping view after another unfolding at each bend in the road… then after a lot of climbing we finally reached the alpine village of Falls Creek.
Hoping for a late lunch break we pulled into the ski resort, but as it turned out, being off-season, the alpine village was a ghost town and everything was closed.
There were however plenty of places to pull in for a bite to eat and snap photos of the stunning Bogong Valley. A detailed panoramic map at the summit labelled the various highlights of the valley.
At 1580m above sea level Falls Creek provides accommodation and facilities for snow-based recreation in the winter months and bushwalking and mountain biking in the summer months.
Following the road from Falls Creek we drove across a dam wall with the ski village giving way to the grasslands of the spectacular Bogong High Plains. The scenery here was beautiful with the colours of the alpine vegetation, the scattering of snow-covered plains and the mountain ranges against the blue sky… but the standout feature was Rocky Valley Lake.
At 1600m this lake, only a short distance from the village, is the highest significant body of water in Australia. In the summer it is used for water sports and in the winter for snow making.
The drive to Langford West Aqueduct is also worth the side trip as is the drive to the top of Mount McKay.
At 1842 metres above sea level Mount McKay is the highest drivable point in Australia and possibly the coldest at only 4 degrees! From the grassy top we could gaze out over the treeless Bogong High Plains and see most of Victoria’s highest peaks,
The breathtaking peaks of Mt Bogong – Victoria’s highest peak, and Mt Feathertop – the second-highest mountain, dominate the broad undulating high plains on this drive… and although much of the plains are off limits to vehicles, for those more adventurous soles there are options to explore the area by foot or on horseback.
Nestled in the foothills halfway between Falls Creek and Mt Beauty we bypassed the turnoff to the lovely hydro town of Bogong Village. Originally built for workers of the Kiewa Hydro Scheme there are 26 self-contained rental cottages here overlooking Lake Guy and the surrounding national park.
The Kiewa Valley Hydroelectric Scheme was constructed between 1938 and 1961 and is the second largest in Australia.
A short drive from the village the Fainter Falls are worthy of a visit. It’s an easy grade walk however there is a steep descent to the base of the falls.
Further downhill we came to Mt Beauty in the Kiewa Valley.
The town of Mount Beauty, situated at the base of Mount Bogong, was established in 1949 specifically to accommodate the workers of the Kiewa Valley Hydroelectric Scheme.
Today, this majestic alpine location is not only a popular tourist spot due to its proximity to the mountain and ski resorts, but it also a popular and challenging touring route for road cyclists and the avid mountain biker looking for some downhill thrills.
With the cycling meccas of Bright, Yackandandah and Beechworth just over the hills, the Indigo Shire has some great bike paths and trails that stretch as far as Rutherglen connecting villages, wineries, and historically significant landmarks to special moments in time.
At Tawonga South we turned towards Bright stopping briefly at Sullivans Lookout to take in the views of the Kiewa Valley with Mount Bogong and Feathertop in the distance.
From Sullivans Lookout we continued our descent down the mountain – zigzagging our way along the windy road as we neared Bright.
The journey from Falls Creek to Bright can be a quick road trip or take a couple hours depending on how many stops you make… or, how many ‘lycra bandits’ (road cyclists) you pass along the way.
This narrow, windy, and steep descent from the summit was certainly cycling heaven and we had our eyes peeled to the road all the way.
Exiting the hills, the road cut across beautiful farmland, past wineries, groves of chestnut trees and over gentle rolling hills to picturesque Bright where awaiting us was a vibrant life of tourists and cyclists.
Situated in the Ovens Valley on the Great Alpine Road between Porepunkah and Harrietville, and nestled in between the spectacular mountains of Mt Buffalo, Mt Beauty and Mt Feathertop – Bright and its surrounds really is quite breathtaking… and one of our favorite places.
This charming little town tucked away in a valley surronded by mountains, a stream, a nature walk, and great food and coffee is best known for its flaming colourful tree-lined avenues in autumn… and busy lifestyle.
There’s loads to do in this little town come rain or shine. You can swim in the Ovens River or the Splash Park. The kids will love to play at Howitt Park and visit the deer farm. Take a hike, explore the mountains, visit a winery or two… or just take a ride along one of the many bike trails. From the flat trails to the hill climbs for the super fit mountain bikers there’s a trail for everyone. There’s no excuse! Even if you haven’t got a bike, there’s plenty of bike hire places to choose from… and this place is equally as popular in the winter months as the summers months with a number of Ski Rental stores to help you hit the slopes!
It’s a great town to wander around too. I love the library, there’s a great bookshop, lots of cafes and shops … and if that’s not enough – indulge yourself in a treat at the Old Fashioned Lolly Shop or the ice-creamery then toddle off to the cinema to unwind. It’s right next door to the Visitor Information Centre where you can delve into the local history.
Like most of the towns in this region the life of this little hamlet grew from gold – and of course where there’s gold there’s usually ‘gold fever’… and it was the violent ‘Buckland Riot’ of 1857 which resulted from anti-Chinese sentiment that manifested and put this little town on the map and wrote it into history books.
Today, ‘The Chinese Swing Bridge’ stands at Wandiligong as a tribute to the Chinese who worked on the diggings.
Never heard of Wandiligong. Well, I hadn’t either. It’s a tiny town just past Bright – and the location of the Chinese Swing Bridge that was erected over Morses creek, to honour the chinese who mined in the area during the gold rush times.
This Alpine Valley truly is a beautiful part of this state… and I’m sure anyone who has visited will tell you… it certainly lives up to its reputation – and some.
After restocking with red wine and groceries we left Bright with Noela, Pete, and Kev in tow. Our next destination was the tiny township of Everton where we planned to set up camp… but before we left , just 6 kilometres from Bright where The Great Alpine Road meets the Mount Buffalo Road and the road to the scenic Buckland Valley, the tiny hamlet of Porepunkah and the gateway to Mount Buffalo and the surrounding national park, is another laidback town not to be missed.
Named after the Portpunka Pastoral Run, this little settlement at the foot of Mount Buffalo, and situated at the junction of the Buckland and Ovens Rivers, began its life in the 1830s, but it wasn’t until the 1850s with the discovery of gold that the development of the town began.
Today it is only a small town with a general store, a hotel and a few speciality shops.
If you’re feeling energetic just 14 kilometres from the summit of Mount Buffalo near the historic Mount Buffalo Chalet there are a number of scenic walking tracks and lookouts that are easily accessible and lead to several attractions including the Crystal Brook Falls.
The final stretch…
On our final stretch for the day we passed through the tiny town of Ovens, home of the Happy Valley Hotel and Souter’s Vineyard.
With only an iconic pub, a farm gate, two cellar doors and sparse accommodation this is one of those towns if you blink you miss it. The Ovens school closed in 1950 and the railway line (now a rail trail and stopping station) in 1983… but the Happy Valley Hotel built in 1854 still shines and sits proudly at the confluence of Happy Valley Creek and the Ovens River alongside the Great Alpine Road.
Over the years Ovens has been noted for tobacco growing and the Tobacco Research Station (1950) but today, what was once used for tobacco plantations, is now home to the Alpine Valleys Wine region and only the iconic silhouettes of old tobacco kilns stand as a reminder of days gone by.
Just down the road and only 30-kilometres from Bright we came to the historic town of Myrtleford. Like most of the towns in this area it too was started on gold discoveries. For us it was our last toilet and coffee stop before we made our way to Everton, just up the road.
Set against the scenic background of a dense forest mountain range Myrtleford was also once a remote cattle run that was originally known as the Myrtle Creek Run.
It’s a quiet town with a long history retold through the many information boards and historical makers. It’s main attractions include the Tobacco Co-op where the landmark ‘Big Cigarette’ is clearly visible, the ‘Phoenix Tree’ on the outskirts of town which was carved out of the trunk and roots of a huge river red gum, and Reform Hill Lookout that is only a short distance from the town centre.
Continuing, the road cut through farmlands and vineyards that have been in the same families for generations.
It had been another unusually dry year this year and with the lack of precious water it was sad to see many of the fields and paddocks tinged yellow and brown from too much sun and not enough rain. Even the grape growers seem to have found themselves facing another challenge from Mother Nature.
As we neared Everton and the sun began to disappear into the distance it was a stunning sight to see the landscape bathed in hues of pink and orange… then less than 20-kilometres from Myrtleford we pulled into another rural village.
The small hamlet of Everton is located midway between Wangaratta and Beechworth and began its life on a pastoral run – Dr G.E. Mackay’s Tarrawingee Pastoral Run (1853-67).
Originally it was an area that provided safe crossing for miners to cross the flood-prone Ovens River plain between Wangaratta and the gold fields at Bright and the Buckland Valley. In 1878 it became a railway junction for the Wangaratta-Beechworth railway line and from 1883 to 1890 the line to Myrtleford and Bright. All that remains of the town today are two churches, a public hall, a hotel, a school, a recreation ground and a caravan park.
Pioneer Bridge Free Camp…
Turning south and just 2-kilometres down the road we crossed Pioneer Bridge and turned down a steep track that led to our next free camp on the banks of the Ovens River where we planned on spending the next few days.
Victoria is one of Australia’s smallest states but has some of the greatest rail trails converted from lots of old and disused railways which once ran through this countryside. The lines have been removed, bridges repaired, and tunnels made safe to make pleasant rail-trails for walkers, cyclists, and horse riders to enjoy. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an experienced cyclist or recreational bicycle traveller these trails are guaranteed to please.
Come with us and discover another side of Victoria. Over the next couple of days, we’ll pedal over the hills, through forests and rich farmlands, into towns and places where we can eat and explore.
Imagine cycling over grassy paddocks, alpine mountains, along rugged coastal beaches, beside winding rivers and you start to get the picture of where the rail trails in Victoria can take you…. then check out this website for a sample of what’s on offer. The full booklet can be purchased from Tourist Infromation Centres.