GREAT ALPINE ROAD – VICTORIA – 308km

Wangaratta to near Bairnsdale – Links to towns along this route are at the bottom of this page

The Great Alpine Road is the highest, year-round accessible sealed road in Australia. This iconic touring route travels through picturesque farming land, historic and popular tourist towns and crosses the alps from one side to the other. Around halfway along the Great Alpine Road, within the Alpine National Park, is the Mt Hotham Alpine Resort, where the road reaches its highest point, at 1840 metres altitude. For around 10km of the road west of the resort, are some of the most glorious views of any road in Australia, and if the weather is clear, affords breathtaking, panoramic outlooks in both directions.

At the north-western end of the Great Alpine Road is Wangaratta, the largest town on this touring route. This is a good place to stay at the start or end of the journey and is also within easy reach of the renowned wine and food region of the King Valley and Milawa and only around a half hour drive to the historic, beautifully preserved town of Beechworth. The first main town, about 30 mins drive south of Wangaratta, along the Great Alpine Road, is Myrtleford. The town of Bright is a small, delightfully picturesque village about an hour south of Wangaratta and is most famous for its Autumn colours. Porepunkah and Wandiligong are small, nearby villages and Harrietville is at the top of the Ovens Valley, around 1300 metres lower in altitude than the highest point of the road, near Mt Hotham, that lies east of the town.

About 10km east of Mt Hotham is the Dinner Plain Alpine Village, open year-round and in a unique setting among snowgums. Just under an hour driving time east of Dinner Plain and Mt Hotham is Omeo, one of the original pioneering High Country towns, that is a must-see place to explore and discover its fascinating history. The south-eastern end of the Great Alpine Road is home to small, pretty towns like Swifts Creek, Ensay and Bruthen and a landscape of stunning mountain valleys, river flats and is the start or finishing point of this memorable journey, almost at sea level, near Bairnsdale.

The Great Alpine Road, its towns and its history should be on the ‘bucket list’ of all visitors to the High Country and are best explored over a number of days. In 1883 the road from Bright to Omeo was upgraded from a packhorse track to a road wide enough for horse drawn coaches. This road serviced the gold fields of the Ovens Valley, Dargo, Omeo, Cobungra and beyond and is now known as The Great Alpine Road. Where the Bright to Omeo road met the road to Dargo, about 10kms from Mt Hotham (known as ‘Baldy’ back then) on the Harrietville side, a Lady, Mother Morrell, established St Bernard’s Hospice in 1863 providing accommodation and food to passing travellers. It was mostly in operation, under different owners, until it burnt down in the 1939 bushfires. Today, it is well worth stopping on the Great Alpine Road, on the bend near the Dargo Rd and wandering across to the Hospice site where a stone cairn sits at a small clearing. You can see the hole in the hillside behind this clearing that was used as a cellar and admire the view, opposite, to Mt Smythe.

On the hillside behind the Hospice was a ski run that was used as early as the 1920’s and was the first in the area around Mt Hotham. In the late 1800’s, the Harrietville to Omeo mailman, gold miners and other travellers used skis made from planks of wood to cross the snow-covered alps. Back then, they were called snowshoes and it is said that the famous artist, Tom Roberts stayed at St Bernard’s Hospice in Winter 1889 and painted ‘The Mailman to Omeo’, on a cigar box lid and at the time called it ‘Snow Shoes’. The painting appears to show the mailman heading towards Hotham, along the ridge to CRB Hill.

The path of the original coach road is still followed in most areas today, but has slightly altered in some sections and we can still see the old route below the Great Alpine Road with little effort. Park at Danny’s Lookout (about 4km west of Hotham) between Little Baldy and Blowhard Hut and walk across the road (after admiring the incredible view in all directions!). If you then look down below the edge of the road, you can see the old coach road following the course of the current road. On a clear, calm day, this section of the road has some of the most amazing views to be found anywhere and it’s hard to leave. In windy, poor weather, you know you are on what is surely the most exposed section of any road in Australia and it’s not the place for stopping, hopping out and taking in the views. In times of bad weather, we think of what it would have been like to travel this route via horse drawn coach or, like the original mailman, on snow shoes.

An interesting environmental fact regarding the Great Alpine Road is that the Mountain Pygmy Possum was thought to be extinct until one was found in a ski lodge at Mt Hotham in 1966. These little marsupials are critically endangered, weigh only 45 grams and live among boulder fields above 1400 metres altitude in small areas around Mt Hotham, Mt Buller and Kosciuszko National Park. They feed on Bogong Moths, Mountain Plum Pine berries, some seeds and also hibernate for about 6 months. The males generally live at a lower altitude than females and in one area of their habitat at Mt Hotham the Great Alpine Road was acting as a barrier between them, affecting the breeding season. At Mt Hotham, ‘Tunnels of Love’ have been created by building rock corridors under the road, allowing the possums to travel safely between their local populations, which has proved very successful.

Mt Hotham Resort Management Board have created the following guides to Hotham and the Great Alpine Road from Harrietville to Hotham. These guides are unique and fabulously presented with an enormous amount of effort and research going into creating them. Andrew Swift has done a phenomenal job as the main ‘presenter’ of the following Great Alpine Road Touring Route with assistance from other local historians & passionate residents.

Great Alpine Road Touring Route Guide

Explore Hotham Guide (great info on tracks, trails, trail running, cycling etc)

If travelling to or through Mt Hotham Alpine Resort, snow chains must be carried by all vehicles during the declared snow season and more information for first timers to the snow and getting to and driving in Alpine Areas can be found via the ‘Travelling’ tab in our main menu.