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8 March 2014
Wangaratta to Omeo (Great Alpine Road)
We left Wangaratta on a calm, sunny morning along the Great Alpine Road bound for Omeo in Gippsland. Traffic was light, the road good.
From Wangaratta the Great Alpine Road (B500) runs along the Ovens River Valley through grazing/cropping land with cattle, sheep and horses grazing in paddocks along the road. There were several wineries as well. Around Mansfield we passed hops growing and saw several kilns left from the days when this was a major tobacco growing region. Mansfield was busy with a market day in progress as we passed through.
Along the road we passed signs warning that tomorrow (Sunday 9th March) was the day for the Bright to Omeo cycle race and there would be delays on the Alpine road. On this day before the race many cyclists were warming up for the race and were sometimes a nuisance on the road. But this was also a long weekend in New South Wales and Victoria and many people had come to the Ovens Valley/Bright/Mansfield for the long weekend and were out cycling for recreation. Fortunately there is a walking/cycle track near the road which was used by most of the recreational cyclists keeping them off the highway.
The Alpine road climb gradually along the Ovens Valley but the increase in elevation is not obvious. From about 160 metres elevation at Wangaratta we had reached 333 metres at Bright. We had considered stopping at Bright for coffee in a coffee-shop we had used before but the main street, and particularly the coffee shops, were full of cycling people. We knew they were cyclists by the bicycles piled around the tables. Bright is a popular long weekend destination anyway so it was also fairly busy with non-cycling visitors.
After passing through Bright the Alpine Road continues along the valley which is noticeably narrowing by now as it approaches the mountains. We stopped at Harrietville (elevation 519 metres) for a cup of coffee in the car park beside the creek. Harrietville, the last village before the mountains, has a long gold-mining history but is now primarily a tourist centre.
Immediately after leaving Harrietville the road begins climbing with little warning to the motorist. The road is flat until the end of the village speed limit but, as soon as the speed limit increases the road turns sharply to the left and begins climbing steeply; there is no opportunity to gather speed before the climb which begins with something very close to a standing start. A challenge to an under powered vehicle or an overloaded caravan.
Yellow road marking (centre-line and edge line) replace the usual white after Harrietville; we assume this is because yellow is more easily seen if there is snow on the ground.
The Alpine Road winds its way up the north face of the Alps in an almost continuous climb. The steep face of the mountain is heavily timbered. The road is two good width lanes of bitumen with a good surface; some bends have recently had substantial work done on the cliffs above them. An occasional cyclist crawling up the mountain was easily avoided; sometimes cyclists rushing down the steep hill and appearing to be barely under control on some bends were more of a concern.
Just after one particularly sharp (nearly a right angle) bend lies a second steep section even steeper than the very first hill near Harrietville. This section is named "The Megg" or "The Meg" and requires a standing start because it is not possible to get any sort of a run at this trap for underpowered tow vehicles which fail to reach the top.
Other traffic on the Alpine Road was light; mainly $WDs alone or towing camper-trailers and sedans; there were one or two other caravans. There are several pull-over places along the road where a slower vehicle can conveniently pull over on level bitumen to allow others to overtake.
After climbing steadily through several hundred metres of elevation the road more-or-less levels out a bit with frequent bends and smaller hills (up and down) as it continues a more gradual climb still in eucalyptus forest.
Eventually the road climbs too high for eucalyptus forest and passes through bare mountain-tops; by now we were high enough to look down on the surrounding hills from the higher, clearer points. Signs warned of wind hazard; on the more open parts a strong wind could be very dangerous, especially to caravans, but today there was no wind to concern us.
Looking along the Great Dividing Range from Mount Hotham Village.
Chairlift from Mount Hotham Village to the summit.
Building at Mount Hotham Village. One of many unusual looking buildings in the village.
Once the the road got above the snow line, red poles more than two metres high were places along the left side of the road to mark the bitumen when snow fell. Frequent signs reminded drivers to keep to the right of the red poles.
Eventually the road passed near the summit of Mount Hotham then descended a little into Mount Hotham Village (1751 metres elevation by the GPS) where we stopped briefly. The air temperature at Mount Hotham Village was 18°C.
Beyond Mt Hotham Village the Alpine Road descends into Gippsland. This southern (Omeo) side is far less austere than the northern (Bright)side. The road is not as steep and is less exposed to the weather than on the northern side and roadside plants are dominated from the outset by snow gums are far more attractive than the stressed trees on the northern side. The red roadside poles soon stopped; the yellow road lines continued for quite a while.
Outside the National Park we passed the turn-off to Dinner Plain described as the only freehold village above the snowline in Australia; this advertises itself as the ideal venue for a snow holiday (rather than a ski holiday). We intend to look at Dinner Plains in the next few days.
The Alpine Road continues descending through grazing paddocks and eucalyptus forest, reaching Omeo at about 600 metres elevation. Omeo Caravan Park is on the floor of the valley of Livingstone Creek and is one of the most attractive parks we have ever seen with large, mature native trees along the valley and well maintained grass cover of the whole site. The park was moderately well occupied because of the long week-end but we easily found a suitable site for four days.
The weather in the afternoon had been getting steadily more cloudy and by late afternoon rain appeared likely. In fact we had a long series of thunderstorms lasting until well after sunset during when we received 11 millimetres of rain. In the valley we were sheltered from the worst of the thunderstorms but could still hear thunder rolling above us and see the lightening flashes.