Travel Journal: Experiencing Autumn in the Victorian Highlands

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Bright in the Victorian Highlands was one of the places I’d had on my personal Living List for a while. I’m not even sure how I had heard about it but it was a place I was curious about. It’s located in the Victorian High Country, nestled between mountains, easily accessible to the ski fields in Victoria. I hadn’t even seen many photos of Bright, to be honest. I just knew in my heart it was a place to add to our 10 month roadtrip.

When we left Loch Sport, Rich broken up by leaving two cats he’d bonded so quickly with over 10 short days, we decided to stop in Sale, load up on supplies, then head north west to the Victorian Alps. We’d googled the route to find a place to stay the night between Loch Sport and Bright. When we found nothing available, we decided to just go for it, make a day of the drive and enjoy the scenery.

And what scenery it was. A friend had told me that the Great Alpine Way was a better drive than the Great Ocean Road. He’d know. He loves a good road trip. Volunteering to drive, I wanted to experience this route myself.

I was not disappointed.

Actually, I was disappointed with only one piece of the drive. We had made a picnic lunch before we left – our trusty peanut butter and jam sandwich, accompanied with an apple and some carrots – and decided we’d find a spot to stop along the way. We found the perfect place. It was a low crossing across a river, normally deserted, with views that would blow your mind. The problem was, there were two people already there.

Now normally we’d stay, find a spot of our own, giving the others their space etc… but this was a loved up couple sharing an intimate moment. If I am not mistaken, I would suspect a proposal happening at that very moment, or something similar. It just looked like a private moment and it was not one I wanted to interrupt for the sake of a picnic.

I was only disappointed that this was a truly beautiful spot there wasn’t a place nearby with a similar atmosphere. But what are you going to do when people find that moment? Leave them to it, I say.

As we continued our drive (after finding another spot for a quick lunch), we were mesmerised. We went from rolling green hills, dotted with sheep and dairy cows, to follow a river which was intermittently slowed by rapids.  We meandered through farmland selling organic fruit and vegetables, including apples and ‘chook poo for $2’, to logging areas, navigating our way around logging trucks.

We drove higher in elevation to find vistas overlooking the Victorian, and nearby N.S.W., mountain ranges. We finally reached the peak of the mountain range, where alpine villages offered cross country and downhill skiing in season, or numerous bushwalks during the other three seasons.

As we rounded a corner, just after Mount Hotham, I was confronted with scenery that made me audibly gasp.

Not much will make me do that nowadays. My travels have taken me to some truly breathtaking areas already, but this was a picture worth a million words, not just a thousand.

But, I daresay, the views from The Cross, a lookout on the Bright side of Mount Hotham, was one that cannot be captured adequately by camera or by the written word. Before us stood mountain after mountain in hues of blues, It was a view that would pose a challenge for any artist to capture. The blue colour of the mountains ranged from cobalt to pastel, blushed with a mist that conjured mystery and wonder.

This was high country.

This was ‘The Man From Snowy River’ ground which had my mind racing of ‘what would it have been like…’ to ride a horse through this area, navigating this terrain?

Great Alpine Road

I could have stayed all day, letting my imagination run rampant, but it was freakin’ cold. Blustering cold. I swear I smelled snow in the air. At the very least, a biting wind that would hurl anyone into insanity if they had to be out in it for too long, especially if they were inadequately dressed, like we were at that very moment.

Back in the car to descend the mountain into the valley beyond, we followed the two older ladies who’d been up on the mountain with us. They drove like two older ladies out for a Sunday (which it was btw…) drive. I was missing my driving moment, as the roads hugged the mountains with a tight grip while offering sheer drops on the opposite side. There was no way to have a white knuckle moment, as we were travelling at a slower than a snail’s pace. Safety first, yes yes, I get that too.

The ladies stopped at a roasside fruit stall and we ventured on, my foot itching to hit the accelertor but just as we managed to reach the speed limit, we arrived to the township of Bright.

Our first call was to our AirBnb. This was accommodation we’d found within our strained budget and it was certainly a budget offering. But it was clean, had everything we needed, and suited us for the 2 nights we had booked.

The funny part was it was pretty retro, as in straight out of the 1970 and 80s. There was some furniture and fixtures that reminded me of my parent’s farm after they renovated it in the early 1980s. I actually found it quite comfortable.  Rich found it ‘dated and grungy’.  Hmmm…

The place was comfortable though and it was walkable into the town centre, perfect for stretching the legs after being in the car for most of the day.

After unloading what we needed for our couple of days, we had enough sunlight to enable a walk into town. Our host told us about the resident platypus in the nearby creek, so we decided to walk that path to make our way into town for some dinner.

Sadly, the platypus was not playing the ‘look at me!’ game (they are very shy), despite our looking, so we kept walking.

What we found in Bright surprised me. For some reason I imagined a really small alpine community, but it was a little bigger and certainly more modern than I imagined. I guess that’s not surprising. Coming from the other direction, it’s only 3.5 hours from Melbourne.

While the brewery sits ostentiously by the river, there’s more to offer with this town. Now that we’re not ones to seek out the local pub on a Sunday afternoon, we tend to dig in and explore more, to see what else we can find: a great café, a restaurant the locals love, a hidden trail…

There was a house/restaurant vacant in the centre of town. Our minds went wild with what we would do with it. Rich and Natalie have always told me I should open a bakery one day, but I know my skills are not up to snuff enough to do that. It’s not my dream anyway. But that didn’t stop our minds from racing, our imaginations exploding with possibilities, with all of the successful businesses you could run in this quaint town.

We eventually ventured out. We’d already seen the Hotham side, so we decided to explore the other side of the mountain, to see what Falls Creek was all about.

When we arrived, Rich said “Is that it? Is that all there is?” He was thinking apparently of Lake Tahoe in California where it’s a full-on experience. Here it was all about the skiing and only about the skiiing it seemed. I, too, had to admit that I found it disappointing. What if others wanted to visit who weren’t into skiing? Where were the shops and restaurants? Tucked away, for sure, but even with that, it seemed … lacking.

We continued on with our exploration, returning back down the mountain and through the countryside, toward Myrtleford. We stopped in Mount Beauty, admiring how the colours of the trees sparkled in the sunlight, but there was more to see and we were only getting started for the day. We took the long way around, through Happy Valley and eventually arrived in Myrtleford.

Victorian Highlands

We had read about a place here that sounded promising for lunch – Café Fez, a Mediterranean restaurant that had rave reviews on TripAdvisor. We’re always up for Mediterranean and here, we were not disappointed. With a pot of Moroccan mint tea, we scoured the menu, mouths watering at every choice. We had to decide so we decided to order two things and split. Ah, intentions. They always seem like a good idea. RIch ordered fish, I ordered lamb. Both were amazing although we both enjoyed our own more than the other.

When Rich returned from the bathroom, he said: “there’s a shop behind here that looks promising too…” “Yes, I’ve seen people come and go from that part behind you.” Little did we know…

Behind Café Fez, or next to and behind it more accurately, is a shop called Red Ramia Trading. As we walked aisle by aisle, we oohed and ahhed. This wa a decoraters heaven. We agreed that we could easily outfit a house using this shop alone. It was AMAZING.

It was a good thing we’re travelling full time because I found a doona (comforter) cover that I fell in love with, handstitched, that was $300. I was very tempted but in my full time travel resolve, walked away. I think of all the of the travellers I know that buy things along the way and send them home to remember their travels by and I wondered ‘where would I send it? Natalie doesn’t have room and Lisa (my sister) certainly wouldn’t appreciate box and box crowding her house. I would stick to things we could carry on our own. Earrings were my thing.

When we ventured around the town, we popped into other shops, but coffee was beaconing. We sat at a picnic table, coffees in hand, to enjoy the scenery and to watch the town come and go.

We were approached by a man who asked if we were local. “No, just enjoying the scenery” we replied.

He must have seen the invisible tattoo I present to strangers, the one on my forehead that says ‘Come, talk to me. Come tell me your life story!’ Not that I mind most of the time. You speak to iinteresting people. The m approached and within minutes we were talking to Kevin from Ireland England, who was looking for a property to buy in the area. He had had a full life before chucking the corporate life to travel the world after his mother had died. Oh, he was a great guy, full of tales, curious about our story, before adding on another anecdote of his life. We sat talking to Kevin for about an hour. What a character he was. We exchanged twitter accounts – he was online only to taunt Trump it seemed, but it was a good way to exchange information with a stranger, without giving away all of our secrets. I handed him my business card. He added RIch’s name to it, telling us that we ever have questions of where to go in Africa, to ask him, since he spent two years there wandering himself.

Daylight was waning. School buses arrived carrying hoards of children from god knows where. We said our goodbyes to Kevin, and made our way back to the car and back to Bright.

After spending three days in Bright, we were in love with it. I think what sold us on this town was the surrounding area. There was so much on offer here and besides that – it had seasons!! As we walked the streets, leaves drifted to the ground while their yellow and orange counterparts hung for their lives on the soon-to-be-bare branches. It was beautiful to watch. Surreal almost. This was a fairytale kind of place.

We wanted to stay longer but Canberra beckoned.  We had Natalie’s 18th birthday to celebrate.

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