|Travelling Australia - Journal 2010|
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|5 February 2010 - Bright to Bairnsdale, Great Alpine Road|
Heavy rain fell overnight as an expected trough moving over Victoria yesterday passed over us. The morning was cool and clear with more rain likely.
We set off from Porepunkah along the Great Alpine Road through Bright and Germantown. The Ovens River valley became narrower as it moved into the Alps and the road became hilly with the surroundings mainly bush, except for a few pockets of cleared land used for cattle.
The village of Harrietville (elevation 517 metres) was as far as the road went in the Ovens Valley before climbing up to Mount Hotham. Harrietville is formerlly a gold mining town established after gold was discovered in 1852. Dredging was widely used to win gold and the main street is decorated with red painted dredge buckets.
Barely outside Harrietville the road begins the long climb into the Alps; immediately past the last building the road takes a sharp turn and begins a steep climb through eucalyptus forest. The Pathfinder needed to be in 2nd gear to handle some hills comfortably and one particularly steep section signed as "The Meg" needed 1st gear; this particular hill has a reputation of being unclimbable for some tow vehicle/caravan combinations. The road climbed continuously to 1187 metres elevation (670 metres above Harrietville) through eucalyptus forest with a cutting on the right side and a drop on the left. Slight rain fell intermittently and several valleys nearby were cloudy.
At the top of this climb the road flattened a little, sometimes with gentle down grades, but more usually still climbing. Slightly higher up we passed a building selling tickets for Mount Hotham resort ahead of us. This was also the beginning of another steep climb taking us to an elevation of nearly 1500 metres, high enough for snow to stay on the ground during winter and a series of red-orange poles over two metres high had been erected marking the left of the road during snow. The signs saying to keep to the right of the poles looked silly in summer but would be essential when snow covered the ground and plants.
Vegetation had changed markedly by the time we reached this elevation (above 1500 metres). The eucalyptus forest was below, now the few trees along the ridges were stunted, wind-blown and clustered in the lee of the ridge whenever they could. Although some snow gums survived, the vegetation was mainly low scrub and grasses.
We stopped at Mount Hotham Alpine Village for a hot drink in the van at an elevation of 1,764 metres (not quite to the top of Mount Hotham which we could see from the car park) and had climbed 1,504 metres above Bright. Resorts, chalets and ski-club buildings stretch along the road for a kilometre. Several ski lifts were in sight from the road.
Past Mount Hotham Resort the road begins descending but the low, windswept scrub common north of Mount Hotham at this elevation was replaced by snow-gums. The resort area of Dinner Plain, about 10 kilometres past Hotham Village, is set back from the road among thick snow gums. Somewhat straggly snow-gums around Dinner Plain were replaced by larger, more graceful specimens lower down, and by the time we descended to 1400 metres other eucalyptus species were growing with substantial undergrowth. The red-orange poles stopped at the edge of the Alpine National Park just above Dinner Plan, then the orange-yellow road markings used in the national park ended about 10 kilometres past Dinner Plain at 1,270 metres elevation. The road was definitely descending but at less steep slope than on the road from Harrietville to Mount Hotham. Cattle were grazing on cleared land past Dinner Plain.
By the time we reached Omeo, at 647 metres elevation, we had left the hillier parts of the route and were leaving behind the forested slopes. We had lunch at the bakery in Omeo and had a brief look around. Gold had been discovered at Omeo in the 1850 and a series of substantial buildings were erected but the western part of old Omeo was destroyed in the 1939 bushfires so buildings in that part of town were newer, contrasting with many older, mostly red-brick buildings remaining in the eastern part of town. The red-brick Post Office in the eastern part is particularly eye-catching and so is the Courthouse.
South of Omeo is cattle country; the road passes through cleared pastoral properties with gentle hills and bends. The elevation remains about 350 metres while the road joins the Tambo River and begins running roughly along that river, passing through Swifts Creek. We stopped at Connors Hill Lookout south of Swifts Creek on a section where the road had left the Tambo River for a while. Just past Ensay the road rejoins the Tambo River, remaining in the Tambo gorge at 127 metres elevation while the river runs south. The road bed has been excavated into the hill beside the river a few metres above the river. This is an attractive section with the road gently curving along the river which displayed a variety of greens as well as the blue green of acacias. Eventually, when the river turned towards the east, the road leaves the river and climbs over a timbered ridge to continue heading south. We reached 305 metres elevation in thick cloud then the road cleared the timbered area and descended into Bruthen where we turned right to Bairnsdale.
In Bairnsdale we checked into our selected caravan park and were assigned a drive-through site where we could remain hitched overnight. The rain had stopped but cloud remained. Rain and low cloud had been a nuisance all day. Good weather would make a big difference to travelling on the Great Alpine Road; of course, bad weather such as snow, ice and strong wind would make the road dangerous and unusable while towing a caravan. Traffic had been very light, especially on the sections over the mountains. We had passed five caravans during the whole day.