Valleys and escarpments – VIC

This tour skirts around the Alpine National Park, and includes mountain forests, alpine scenery and rural landscapes. It links Heyfield, Licola, Mansfield, Myrtleford and Bright and skirts the Wonnangatta-Moroka area, the largest management unit of the Alpine National Park, which covers 261 000 hectares.

Distance: 343 km
Travel time: 4 to 5 hours
Driving conditions: The 93km stretch of road between Licola and Jamieson is unsealed and narrow in places. Progress is slow because of the winding, mountainous terrain and the road is generally closed in winter because of snow. Although two-wheel drive vehicles can be driven on this road, the surface can be slippery during wet weather at any time of the year.
Season: The road is mostly managed by Mansfield and Wellington Shires and, because of snow, is officially closed around Mt Skene (between Licola and Jamieson) for the duration of the declared snow season.
Food: Heyfield, Licola, Jamieson, Mansfield, Whitfield, Myrtleford, Porepunkah, Bright
Accommodation: Heyfield, Licola (camping ground only), Jamieson, Mansfield, Whitfield, Myrtleford, Porepunkah, Bright. Contact visitor centres for more information.
Fuel: Heyfield, Licola, Jamieson, Mansfield, Whitfield, Myrtleford, Porepunkah, Bright
National Park Camping Areas: None
Starting Point: Heyfield (around 200km east of Melbourne)

From Heyfield, take the Jamieson-Heyfield Road north along the scenic Macalister River valley to Licola. On the banks of the Macalister (53km north of Heyfield) lies the attractive village of Lieola. Fuel and basic food supplies are available here at the general store, with opportunities for group accommodation and camping at a site beside the Macalister River. An information shelter, opposite the general store, will tell you a great deal about walking, driving and camping in the Alpine National Park.

To proceed on the tour, cross the Macalister River at Licola and continue northwest along the Jamieson-Heyfield Road. The road parallels Target Creek, a tributary of the Macalister, for several kilometres as it winds up to Violet Spur. Beautiful views can be glimpsed through the trees, from the vibrant greens of the cultivated valley to the blue haze of the rugged mountain ranges beyond. The road winds through the heavily logged Alpine ash forest, rising continually but gently up a long ridge on to the Great Divide. Although much of this forest was burnt in a 1939 bushfire, it has now grown back and is ready for timber harvesting once more – so beware of logging trucks!

About 50km northwest of Licola the scene changes dramatically from the sheltered Mountain ash forest to the dense, windswept Snow gum forest of Mt Skene. This road is generally closed by snow in winter. To the north and south of Mt Skene are magnificent panoramic views along the spine of the Victorian Alps. Several picnic and lookout points around Mt Skene make for restful touring, such as the lookout point on the Licola side of the summit containing a plaque naming the surrounding mountains. Both the Bicentennial National Trail (equestrian trail, from Healesville, VIC, to Cooktown, QLD) and the Australian Alps Walking Track (from Walhalla, VIC, to Tharwa, ACT) cross the Jamieson-Licola Road at Mt Skene.

The road then begins to drop down off the Great Divide, and Mt Buller can be seen in the distant north, beyond the deeply dissected valleys of the Jamieson and Howqua rivers. Further to the northeast lies the rugged escarpment country encompassing Mt McDonald, the Bluff, Mt Speculation and Mt Cobbler, all located within the Alpine National Park.

Some 93km northwest of Licola, the road reaches the small settlement of Jamieson, on the southeastern end of Lake Eildon. Jamieson was originally established as a market and supply centre for the nearby goldfields (which have long since been abandoned), but today it largely serves tourists and fishing enthusiasts. Follow the road through Jamieson to the northwest and leave the town on the sealed Mansfield-Woods Point Road, heading north through pleasant farming country and patches of forest. The road skirts the Howqua Arm of Lake Eildon, to reach the intersection with the Mansfield-Mt Buller Road (about 37km from Jamieson). Turn left here. A further 3km takes you into the historic grazing and timber town of Mansfield (population around 2000), which teems with skiers in winter, and campers and trout fishers in summer.

From here you can reach the popular Mt Buller alpine resort as well as the cross-country ski area of Mt Stirling. In summer both destinations offer opportunities for bushwalking and mountain-bike riding, and provide breathtaking views east into the Alpine National Park.

To proceed on the Grand Tour, head north from the Mansfield town centre on the Tolmie Road towards Whitfield (63km). This route provides a more pleasant approach to the Ovens valley (Myrtleford and Bright) than the route via Benalla and the busy Hume Highway.

From Mansfield, the Tolmie Road passes through rolling pastures peppered with red gums. About 18km out of Mansfield, the grazing gives way to lush forest, as the road ascends onto the Tolmie plateau. Tolmie is best known for its potatoes and long-established timber mill. From Tolmie, continue towards Whitfield.

About halfway between Tolmie and Whitfield (45km from Mansfield), look for a sign to Powers lookout on the right. From the main road, it is a 3km trip along a gravel road to reach the lookout which has spectacular views over the Wabonga plateau and Mt Cobbler to the southeast. There are picnic tables and fireplaces at the lookout.

From Powers lookout, return to the Tolmie Road and turn right, continuing north towards Whitfield. The road crosses through more forested country, passing pine plantations and vineyards before reaching Whitfield (63km from Mansfield). Whitfield has a population of around 250 people, and a pub and a general store, and it is the centre of a rapidly developing wine-growing area.

From Whitfield, turn right (south) and follow the Myrtleford Road to the town of Cheshunt (4km southeast of Whitfield, 67km from Mansfield). Around 120 live in this vicinity and Cheshunt has a general store.

To continue on the tour, return to the Myrtleford Road, and turn right towards Dandongadale. The road turns to gravel and climbs steeply up to the open country of the Wabonga plateau, then drops down again into the Rose River valley. Around 13km out of Cheshunt (17km from Whitfield) the road reaches the intersection with the Upper Rose River Road, which leads off to the right to the Rose River and the Cobbler plateau.

Continue along the main road, which follows the Rose River northeast to Dandongadale (29km from Cheshunt, 33km from Whitfield). At the intersection turn left onto the sealed road leading north to the Buffalo River and Myrtleford. The road follows the Buffalo River, skirting the western shores of Lake Buffalo and travellers can take in the beautiful views from the road, across the water to the southwestern face of Buffalo. The road crosses the Lake Buffalo dam wall then heads north through the picturesque pastures of the Buffalo River valley, finally reaching Myrtleford (64km from Whitfield and 127km from Mansfield).

At Myrtleford, turn right (southeast) onto the Great Alpine Road to follow the Ovens valley back into the heart of the mountains. Bright (30km from Myrtleford, 157km from Mansfield), on the banks of the Ovens River provides a leafy, tranquil setting for holidays at any time of the year. The flaming colours of the leaves in autumn attract thousands of visitors, while the skiing in winter and the bushwalking and fishing in summer are immensely appealing.