Australia: Top of the World Down Under

Greet koalas, sample local vintages, and enjoy panoramas along Australia's Great Alpine Road.

View of Mt. Feathertop in Australia's Great Alps, image

A view in the Australian Alps of everlastings crowning the top of Mt. Hotham with Mt. Feathertop in the background.

Wangaratta
The Great Alpine begins (or ends) in Wangaratta, a small city that swells with music lovers during the annual jazz-and-blues festival in November. Stretch your legs on the Murray to the Mountains Rail Trail, a 62-mile paved walking and cycling track that traverses pine forests, bush and alpine valleys.

Bright
This aptly named town is known for its splendid autumn festival from late April through early May. You’ll find the place humming with visitors who stroll tree-lined avenues decked out in gold, orange and red. Located in a fertile valley, Bright never passes up a chance to celebrate its bountiful local produce and wine. Purchase fresh berries and nuts at farm stands and sample the latest vintage at tasting rooms known as cellar doors. It’s a short drive to sample the cheese and olives of Milawa, the Italian wines of the King Valley and butter made in Myrtleford. Sip a beer at the boutique brewery on your return and dine at Simone’s or Villa Gusto, perennial favorites.

Dinner Plain
The next section of the Great Alpine climbs to nearly 5,000 feet, where it meets forests of snow gum trees and ski resorts. Pull over at Danny’s Lookout for a cinematic view of Alpine National Park. Here, friendly expert guides are keen to introduce you to rock climbing, rappelling, skiing or mountain biking. Stop in Dinner Plain alpine village, near the road’s highest point. Chalets built in the style of early cattlemen huts blend in with the forest. Trails for horseback riding, bushwalking and cross-country skiing crisscross the area.

Omeo
Gold seekers, cattlemen and farming families all occupied this tiny town at different times. Signs along main street and in well-preserved 19th-century buildings recount the history of these residents. Find out more about miners’ lives at the historical Oriental Claims site—a lucrative gold sluicing mine in its day.

Bairnsdale
Commerce once flourished in mining towns like Omeo, whose merchants brought goods up from Bairnsdale. The town sits on the magnificent Mitchell River, which flows into a vast network of lakes, marshes and a lagoon. Keep an eye out for the Mitchell River silt jetties (second in size only to those on the Mississippi) and stop at the Raymond Island koala colony and Ninety Mile Beach.

Please contact your AAA Travel Counselor or go to AAA.com/offices to find one near you.

Photography courtesy of John O'Neill/Wikipedia

This article was first published in July 2012 in Traveler. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

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