04/01/2015 We had a big day trip today. Mount Hotham was just up “The Hill” from Bright and we wanted to get there because at one stage we’d planned to do a Maffra – Bairnsdale – Omeo – Mount Hotham – Bright trip, but mechanical issues got in the way and we had to go to Melbourne instead. So while we were camped at Bright, we took the opportunity to head up the Great Alpine Road into the Victorian High Country and do a loop that took in Mount Hotham, Omeo, Falls Creek, and Mount Beauty and back to Bright. On paper (read Google Maps), it’s a 247km journey that should take 4 hours and 21 minutes. SO WRONG!
Firstly, Google Maps assumes you will be travelling at 100kph. For most of the trip, I don’t think I got over 50kph as the road was either steep up, steep down or continually switchback winding. I ended up taking the car out of Auto and just left it in Manual second gear most of the time to save the transmission and the brakes.
Mr Google also assumes that the countryside will be as boring as muck and there will therefore be no rest stops. The reality was that we left at 9:00am and got back at 7:00pm, a duration of 10 hours. We, in fact, had MANY stops along the way because this high country is just beautiful and you can’t simply drive through it. We had to keep getting out and walking through it.
We were just so blown away by the magnificent mountain scenery and the vegetation that started as wet forest and rainforest at the base of the Alps and changed to eucalypt mountain forest and then to high plains snow gums and the sub-alpine woodland and grassland of the Bogong High Plains.
We went through tall forests of Mountain Ash and Alpine Ash that had been decimated by earlier bush fires and now stood as dead white ghosts of their former glory. Hot fire kills these trees and they can’t recover from bushfire, but the heat is necessary to germinate their seeds. While new regrowth several metres tall was coming through up from the forest floor, it will take many decades for the new growth to hide the standing skeletons. The white trunks looked particularly strange and eerie up close, and from a distance looked like the grey whisker stubble on an old man’s face, covering most mountainsides for as far as you could see.
Just outside of Omeo, we pulled into a carpark next to the Livingstone Creek and walked across the suspension bridge to the Omeo Oriental Claims, historic remnants of gold mining activity from the 1850s to 1914. The main method used to extract the alluvial gold was to spray water against the gravel face, with sluice boxes collecting the resulting run off and the gold ore. In the dry season, mine shafts were dug by hand to chase the gold.
In the High Country near Falls Creek, we wandered through beautiful fields of snow gums, with their twisted and stunted branches reaching out over alpine grasses and ground-hugging herbs interspersed with masses of wildflowers.
The Wallace Hut was built from slab timber in 1889 for use by the Wallace family when they started taking their cattle up to the mountains for the spring and summer to let the home pastures recover. The hut still stands as one of many scattered across the Alpine National Park used by hikers and skiers throughout the High Country for shelter against the extreme weather conditions. It is the oldest hut in the park, and the names of cattlemen who first used the hut are burnt into the tie-beams of the roof and at the back of the mantlepiece.
Bright had been experiencing daytime temperatures in the 30s for the past couple of days due to a heat wave. However, when we got into the High Country, it was very much cooler, at around 13ºC. Fortunately, we’d taken coats with us.
We both found the Alpine National Park to be very beautiful and the scenery and vegetation was unlike anything we had ever seen before. Just before Bright, on the way home, we came across a lookout pointing the way to various local landmarks, including Mt Kosciuszko, our destination in the next week we hope.