Welcome to my Victorian High Country Itinerary.
We are British ex-pats who moved out to Victoria in 2019 and have been exploring the state in our spare time (this links to all my Victoria content).
One place we’d been keen to see with the Victorian High Country and the Great Alpine Road, so on a late November morning we headed packed up the car and headed out early from Melbourne for five nights away.
Our aim was to see the famously pretty little Victorian towns, drive some of the spectacular High Country roads and get to as many of the mountains and national parks as we could.
It would involve a fair but of driving (around 1,000km) and our first big adventure with our 11-month-old little girl.
We were excited to escape the city after five months of a very hard and were looking forward to it.
So without further ado, here are some of the High Country must see places and my Victorian High Country Itinerary.
- Victorian High Country FAQs
- Victorian High Country Itinerary
- Victorian High Country Trip Planning
- Victorian High Country Must-See Places
- Must-Have Kit for a Victorian High Country Adventure
Victorian High Country FAQs
Where Exactly is the Victorian High Country?
Let’s start with the basics, where exactly is the Victorian High Country?
I’ve tried my best to create a map showing the area which you can see a screenshot of below or it is saved on Google Maps here.
Broadly the High Country encompasses an area starting from Nagambie in the west, Rutherglen in the north, Omeo in the southeast and Jamieson in the south.
It includes towns such as Beechworth, Bright, Yachandandah, Mansfield and Wangaratta as well as natural attractions such as Mount Buller, Mount Beauty and Lake Eildon.
Victorian High Country Area Map
How Long is the Drive from Melbourne to the High Country?
It will take between two and a half and three and a half hours to get to the Victorian High Country, dependant on traffic.
- Melbourne to Beechworth: 286km, 3hrs
- Melbourne to Bright: 324km, 3hrs 30mins
- Melbourne to Mansfield: 190km, 2hrs 30mins
Victorian High Country Itinerary
Two Day Itinerary
For this, I am assuming you have a weekend and are travelling up on a Friday night before returning late on a Sunday. Bear in mind that this is a 3.5 hour journey each way to Central Melbourne.
For two days in the High Country I would suggest basing yourself at Bright for both nights.
From here you can take a day to drive the best part of the Great Alpine Road up to Hotham Heights, even doing the full loop up to Omea and back round to Mount Beauty. In the evening there are lots of places in eat in Bright including the local craft brewery.
On the second day drive up to the top of Mount Buffalo and take in the views from The Horn. Then head back to Melbourne, stopping at Wangaratta for some lunch on the way home.
Three Day Itinerary
For three days I would add a night’s stay in Beechworth to the itinerary above, a historic rural Victorian town with lots to do. Make sure you stop in at the old style sweet shop to stock up.
Five Day Itinerary
For a five day Victorian High Country Itinerary I would suggest one night in Beechworth, two in Bright and then two near Mansfield to finish off where you can visit Jamieson, Mount Buller or do as we did, relax on a farmstead.
Victorian High Country Trip Planning
Where to Stay in the Victorian High Country
We chose to stay one day in the north of the High Country near Beechworth, two days in the centre in Bright and two days in the south near Mansfield.
This gave us a good mix of experiences in different parts of the High Country. Bright was definitely our favourite town, with the farmstead near Mansfield the best experience, as we sat on the edge of the hill watching the sunset and a clear sky full of stars appear every night.
North – Blue Wren Stay, Eldorado
We chose to stay a little outside Beechworth, partly due to cost and partly because we wanted to be out in the country. Blue Wren Stay is a two-bedroom apartment, attached to the home of Peter and Kaye who were wonderful hosts. Peter’s knowledge of the local area (ask him to show you some of his finds from the river!) and Kaye’s wonderful home-baked goodies (left for us in the fridge) were a lovely surprise.
Blue Wren Stay, Eldorado
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Central – Spring Home, Our Place, Bright
‘Our Place’ are custom-built holiday homes on a large plot of land in Bright. We chose the ‘Spring’ home, which had two bedrooms, perfect for us with our little girl. A wood, white and grey, modern home looking like it’s been copied straight from an Ikea showroom, it had everything we needed – including toys provided, a BBQ and play area outside. It was only a five-minute walk into the centre of Bright and set against a beautiful backdrop of the mountains.
Our Place, Bright
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South – 2 Bedroom Farm Stay, Barwite
Ok, so I’ll fully admit this place not be for everyone, but we loved it. Coming off the back of a year that included a 112-day lockdown in Victoria, this slice of calm on a hill in the High Country was what we needed.
This self-contained two-bedroom place is attached to the family home of the delightful Elly, an eccentric, warm-hearted host who has (amongst other things) a goat, a sheep, a cow, a selection of chickens, ducks and a couple of fun little dogs on her smallholding.
LEARN MORE ABOUT VICTORIA:
💡 30 Interesting & Unusual Facts About Victoria [2021 Edition] 💡
The recommendations on AirBNB were glowing and rightly so. Our daughter was fascinated by her daily visits down to the chicken coop with Elly and we loved the home-produced produce that she left for us. Yes the apartment is fairly basic and there is no WiFi, but frankly, who cares. Sitting on the little deck outside, watching the sunset (photo above) as the chickens scratched around making their nests for the night melted a year’s worth of anxiety away from my brain. The stars here are also something else, so stay out late if you can.
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Victorian High Country Must-See Places
These are our favourite places from the High Country in the order we visited them.
What I don’t do on these posts it put together a random lists of places I’ve never been, these are all places we personally visited and can vouch for (if we visited somewhere crap, it simply didn’t make it on the list below!).
Reasons to Visit:
- The El Dorado Dredge is unlike anything I’ve seen before
- The smallest pub in Victoria
El Dorado is a quirky little gold-rush town, with not a busting lot going on in it.
Famous for this huge hunk of metal on the edge of town, The El Dorado Dredge once actually moved (hard to believe for something this big) through the backwaters of the Woolshed Valley pulling up tin and gold from the waters. At over 2,000 tons it is huge and at one point was the second largest drain on Victoria’s electricity supply behind the cities of Melbourne and Geelong!
It’s quite impressive, but I wouldn’t go too far out of your way to see it if you weren’t passing by El Dorado already. It made the must-see list for being so damn unusual, I can honestly say I’ve never come across anything like it.
Reasons to Visit:
- One of Victoria’s best preserved goldfish towns (<- yes, this is a typo, but it made me laugh so I decided to leave it in anyway)
- A host of unique local stores and great restaurant
- The best place to learn about the story of Ned Kelly
If you’re coming to the High Country I’ve no doubt you’ve heard of Beechworth or had recommendations to visit here.
It’s an architectural striking gold-rush town, filled with well-preserved buildings, quirky local stores and pillar-lined covered walkways to escape the sun. Honestly, you don’t need a list from me, just get out of your car and wander around until you see something you like.
Travel blogs would be a bit useless if they all said ‘discover it for yourself’ though, so here are a few things that we loved:
I’ll start with the shops and food, as this was our favourite bit about the town (we visited two days on the trot). We loved the magical little toy shop Beechworth Toys and Collectables, Beechworth Sweet Co, the shop that looks like it could have come from a Harry Potter movie and having some wonderful eggs Benedict at the Rustique Soul Cafe, sitting beside a life-sized replica of Ned Kelly’s armour.
We also popped into the Burke Museum which documents the failed journey of Burke and Wills to cross Australia, but also has other curiosities such as a stuffed Thylacine (a Tasmanian tiger, extinct since 1936) and a recreation 19th Century Australian street which was unusual.
For more recommendations read ‘20 Amazing Attractions to Discover in Beechworth‘.
Reasons to Visit:
- The views from ‘The Horn’
- The twisting drive up the mountainside
Mount Buffalo, or more specifically, ‘The Horn’ at the top of Mount Buffalo is home to some of the most striking and iconic views in the Victorian High Country. The shot above is one of my favourites, showing one of the hundreds of rustic huts that are dotted across this landscape, relics of a time when rangers and cattlemen walked these hills.
The drive up the mountain is an exciting one, it took us nearly an hour to do the 38km from the B500 (the road heading into Bright) and we counted well over 20 sharp bends. This is not a road for the travel sick!
At the very top you’ll find ‘The Horn’ where it’s possible to walk the final steep kilometre or so to the very top. It’s worth it for 360 degree views looking out over a view littered with the bodies of burned out gum trees and boulders smoothed from millions of years of erosion.
Reasons to Visit:
- The perfect base for adventures on the Great Alpine Road and Mount Buffalo National Park
- A famous local brewery
- Relaxing and wandering by the river
If I had to choose one place to stay for a length of time in the High Country it would be Bright.
There is enough to do here to make it an interesting place to stay home, but the big appeal is access to so many of the High Country’s icons. Mount Buffalo is almost literally on the doorstep, the Great Alpine Road starts heading quickly upwards from here and even Beechworth is only 45 minutes away.
If you choose only one place for your High Country Itinerary, Bright should be it.
The Great Alpine Road (The Main Reason For Visiting)
Reasons to Visit:
- Twisting roads
- Amazing views
- The high point of our High Country adventure
The ‘Great Alpine Road’ was the main reason for our visit to the High Country. I’d seen photos that left me nostalgic of summer trips to Austria and wanted to see this slice of Victoria for myself.
With a baby in the car, we didn’t quite make the whole loop to Omeo but managed to do an out-and-back journey to Dinner Plain that was more than sufficient as an Alpine fix.
Heading out of Bright on the B500 we started to get our first glimpses of what was to come, with Mount Feathertop pushing the horizon up the windscreen and leaving the road feeling a tad inadequate in the foreground.
We cruised through Harrietville, a small town with a clear love of gardening – ornate shrubs and vibrant blooms made the roadside more entertaining.
If I was concerned the road was a little flat for an ‘Alpine’ route, I shouldn’t have been. Harrietville marked the start of severe inclines, with switchbacks replacing the long straight tarmac we’d had so far (just check out those corners on the map below!).
The incline of the roads meant we gained altitude at a rapid rate, quickly getting above the green into an eerie landscape of white tree skeletons, leftover from devastating bushfires in 2013.
We had been overtaken by a number of motorcycles on the way up the side of the mountain and we found out why when we pulled over, they were doing a photoshoot for a ‘Best Bikes of 2020’ article, though I didn’t catch what the publication was.
When we pulled over at Danny’s Lookout, the bikes were all lined up here, each taking their turn to go back around one of the bends with a photographer waiting to take the action shot.
The view from Danny’s Lookout was amazing, we sat up here for well over half an hour, letting our little girl stretch her legs and have a crawl around and chatting with the photographers, who were quite concerned that I’d just cleaned my camera lens with my t-shirt!
Next stop-off was beside a man-made lake we saw off to the side of the road about a further 3.5km along. It was only after wandering around we realised we were at the top of what would be a huge ski slope in winter (though the imposing white frames of the ski-lifts should have been a big giveaway).
From the top here we could see down to Hotham Alpine Resort. We also found this oversized chair at the top, which I imagine looks very different in winter surrounded by snow.
The end point go our Alpine Road adventure was the town of Dinner Plain. In winter I imagine this place is heaving, but in November it was a complete ghost town. The chalets and bars were all closed and the roads were empty. It felt like walking onto a movie set an hour before the actors and crew arrived.
We did find one small cafe by the main hotel open which, judging by how many words the owner fitted into her welcome, didn’t see a lot of customer at this time of year. We were grateful for finding somewhere to eat though, and politely listened to stories about people we’d never met whilst munching on some freshly made sandwiches.
With a little girl in tow, we decided to head back up into the Alpine Road and drop back into Bright for the evening. It was the central point of our adventure to the High Country and had been well worth the visit.
Power’s Lookout is named after Harry Power, a bushranger from the mid-1800s, who was a mentor to the most famous bushranger of them all, Ned Kelly. He used this place regularly as a camp due to its fantastic views over the King Valley, giving him time to escape the local police.
We found it on our journey between Bright and Mansfield, a few kilometres down a dusty track, a worthwhile stop off if you’re in the area.
Mansfield Zoo wan’t quite what we expecting, but was a great morning out for any of you travelling with kids.
The ‘zoo’ aspect of it wasn’t so impressive. Yes there were lions, dingoes, camels and other zoo favourites, but the enclosures weren’t the best and it felt a little unloved. Given the impact Covid has had on so many places like this though, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, as the team seemed to be working really hard while we were there on renovations.
What was great fun though was the number of animals that it was possible to get up close to and feed. Our little girl was fascinated by me hand feeding ‘Mr Emu’, stroked a kangaroo and made friends with a deer. From an adult point of view, Mansfield Zoo is a so-so experience, but for a kid this place is amazing.
I’ve already written a bit about this place in the ‘Where to Stay in the Victorian High Country’ section, but I wanted to push home the point here.
After a stressful year with the Covid lockdown and not being able to see any family from the UK, a two night stay on Elly’s little farmstead was the most relaxed I’ve felt in a long long time.
Perched on the side of a hill, with only endless skies and green fields in front, the location is stunning. I enjoyed many a beer sitting on the porch watching the sun go down.
This was more than just a place to stay though, Elly turned it into an experience. In the evening she’d knock to see if we wanted to go down with her to sort the animals out for th night. With our girl propped on our hip we helped brush the goat, collect eggs and put the ducks away from the foxes. The most memorable experiences of the entire trip.
Must-Have Kit for a Victorian High Country Adventure
There are a few pieces of must-have kit I’d recommended for some time away in the Victorian High Country in summer.
If you are a photographer then the High Country is a great chance to have a dabble in astrophotography. I had my first ever go whilst staying in Mansfield (and documented my efforts in ‘Adventures in Astrophotography‘).
It’s more simple than you think, all you need is a sturdy tripod and a lens with a fairly wide aperture.
For a cheap lens that is perfect for astrophotography, I recommended the Samyang range. They offer lenses for most types of cameras (I use a Fuji X-T3) and are cheap enough to have a go without feeling like you’re making another major investment. The 12mm I picked up was great, as it can focus to infinity and has an aperture of f2. The photo above was taken with this lens, as were many of the wide-angle shots from on the Alpine Road.
For a decent price tripod, try Neewer. They are sturdy, fairly light without being ridiculously expensive. The only thing I had to do was loosen the release points of the legs to make them faster to adjust.
For all my favourite travel and photography gear – check out this page.
Baby Hiking Carrier
If you are travelling up into the High Country with kids, then a sturdy carrier for hikes is going to be needed. After lots of searching, we decided on the Macpac Vamoose as it was comfortable, put our baby high up so she could see and also has a handy detachable daypack.
Here are a few other things we found really useful on the trip:
- Mosquito Spray – there are lots of bugs in the High Country in summer!
- We found Insect Repellant Wipes easier to use for the baby.
- Packing Cubes – so convenient for sorting a bag out into compartments, especially with lots of small baby clothes.
- Leatherman Pocket Multi-Tool – there is simply never a trip where this doesn’t come in handy.