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Victoria: High Country

high Country 2
High Country
Alpine Valley 5
Alpine Highway 3
Alpine Highway 2

Victoria: High Country

story by: Tom Ricketts

Stunning alpine scenery, ski resorts, historic small towns and plenty of national parks. But no, we’re not talking about New Zealand’s South Island, this is Victoria’s High Country, a beautiful emerging self-drive destination in Australia.

Looking at a map and drawing a straight line between Melbourne and Canberra, you’ll notice a large section of Victoria (and New South Wales) covered in national parks and seemingly devoid of any roads or towns. But look closer, just off the Melbourne-Canberra-Sydney highway at Wangaratta, and you’ll spot a collection of small towns and a single road leading through the rugged interior of Victoria. The road is the Great Alpine Highway, and this region is collectively known as the High Country.

At the northern end of the region, and just off the main highway, is a collection of small towns such as Yackandandah, Beechworth and Glenrowan. Like much of Victoria, most of these towns trace their history back to the Victorian Gold Rush which started in the 1850’s. However unlike some of their western Victorian counterparts, after the gold left, the miners did too. Gradually the towns dwindled to small service towns for farmers, and some disappeared altogether. However a renaissance is taking place here. Drawn by the alpine scenery, preserved historic buildings and abundance of fresh local food and wines, tourism is giving this region a second life. With eight wine regions, fresh cheeses, meat, fish and plentiful olives, all amongst gorgeous seasonal wildflowers, you’ll be in culinary heaven.

History and heritage lovers’ first stop will be just before Wangaratta in the small town of Glenrowan. This town was home to perhaps one of Australia’s most notorious names, Ned Kelly. Glenrowan was the site of his historic last stand, and a six metre high statue complete with
that helmet watches over the town today. More recently the town has become a centre for pip fruit growing and has a handful of vineyards.

Perhaps the most well-preserved town is Beechworth. Many of the historic old buildings have been restored to their former glory and today are home to small family run restaurants and shops. You’ll undoubtedly get the community feel of this region with many places advertising the use of locally grown produce.

After exploring the charming towns, head up into the mountains on the Great Alpine Highway. In the winter, this is the only part of Australia that receives a decent snowfall - the country’s only ski resorts such as Mt Buller, Falls Creek and Jindabyne can be found in these mountains. If skiing is probably not on your Australian itinerary, do visit this region for the spectacular scenery as the road winds its way up the mountains and drops back into deep valleys across the mountain range. The entire journey should take you around five hours, but breaking it up over a couple of days ensures you have time to do some of the excellent hiking tracks along the way.

Eventually you’ll come to the end of the road at Bairnsdale in the Gippsland Lakes region. The lakes are one of Victoria’s most popular destinations and the small marina towns dotted along their shores are perfect for a few days relaxing in the sun and sand before travelling back to Melbourne.

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