Head to the High Country

Image credit: Mick Ross

This story first appeared on former NRMA travel site Live4 on January 7, 2015. Images by Mick Ross.

If you fancy a summer holiday that doesn’t involve crowded beaches and steamy hot temperatures, then pack the car, get out of the city and breathe in some fresh alpine air with a road trip south to Victoria’s stunning High Country.

Bordered by the Victorian Alps and the Murray River, Victoria’s northeast is incredibly scenic, with rolling countryside, rivers, alpine peaks, charming historic towns, a well-established food and wine scene, and adventures aplenty for lovers of the outdoors.

Heading to the High Country during the off-peak period makes for a quiet and cool summer escape. We spent five days exploring the area at whim, but could have easily lost a week or two taking it all in. Here’s our pick of what to see and do.

Image credit: Mick Ross
Bridge Road Brewers, Image credit: Mick Ross

Taste trails

The High Country is rich with artisan growers, producers, wineries and breweries, which means you’ll dine and drink well across the region. Wine lovers should head to King Valley, where a strong Italian influence is reflected in its many wineries, the local culture and the Prosecco Road food and wine trail. Nearby, the Milawa Gourmet Region – home to Brown Brothers wines and Milawa Cheese Company – is the place to go for tasty olives, meat, cheeses, mustards, jams, bread, pickles and more.

Our highlight was historic and pretty Beechworth. Visit the local orchards and nut groves for berries, pears, apples, chestnuts and walnuts; the farmers’ market (held on the first Saturday of every month at the Christ Church grounds) and the Beechworth Honey concept store (corner of Ford Street and Church Street). We’d never seen, tasted (or brought) so many varieties of honey. There are also artisan wineries, heritage pubs, great restaurants and cafes and a big old country style bakery – the Beechworth Bakery (27 Camp Street) that do great pies and pastries.

Beer-lovers will enjoy the High Country Brewery Trail. The trail spans from the Murray to the mountains and takes in four of the region’s craft breweries, including Bridge Road Brewers (50 Ford Street, Beechworth); Black Dog Brewery (339 Booth Road, Taminick via Glenrowan); Bright Brewery (121 Great Alpine Road, Bright); and Sweetwater Brewing Company (211 Kiewa Valley Highway, Tawonga South). We loved Bridge Road Brewers and Bright Brewery, leaving both with six packs to take home.

Let’s go outside

This little guy, Image credit: Mick Ross
This little guy, Image credit: Mick Ross

From bushwalking, horse riding and fishing to hiking, 4WD and motorbiking, there’s endless ways to spend your days outside in the High Country. Regardless of where you base yourself, there’ll be trails, rivers, mountains and parks to explore nearby. Just ask a local – everyone we spoke to during our travels was more than happy to tell us the best places to go. Our tip is the two-and-a-half hour, seven kilometre Mt Buller to Mt Sterling trail, which takes in amazing views of the mountains.

The Alpine Epic Trail, Image: Mick Ross
The Alpine Epic Trail, Image: Mick Ross

Australia’s best mountain biking

The High Country is particularly popular with cyclists as the region has a great riding culture with trails that cater for mountain bikers and road riders of all skill levels. You can bring your own bike or hire one from a local bike shop – there are many that dot the region.

The Murray to Mountains Rail Trail – which brings together more than 100km of pretty, sealed off-road trails that connect to various townships along the way – is great for recreational riders. Meanwhile, mountain bikers tend to pick up where the skiers and snowboarders left off after winter, with popular destinations including Mt Buller, Falls Creek and Mt Beauty.

The Mt Buller and Mt Stirling resorts have invested heavily into the design and construction of world-class mountain bike trails. From a quick ride around the Buller village, to a massive day out on stunning, flowing singletrack on the Australian Alpine Epic Trail, there is so much riding to be done.

Antiques and vintages aplenty, Image: Mick Ross
Antiques and vintages aplenty, Image: Mick Ross

Country thrills

There’s plenty to see and do in the High Country, whether it’s lazy afternoons spent at big country pubs; finding vintage gems at the many op shops and antique stores that pepper the countryside or investing in locally produced arts and craft (we loved Yackandandah for both). You can also get a history fix at one of region’s many heritage attractions (the courthouse in Beechworth, where Ned Kelly stood for his committal hearing in 1880 is a fun one). It’s all good.

If you’re making a road trip of it, stock up on local produce and beers or wine, and stop for scenic picnics along the way.