Victoria’s Gippsland region stretches from Melbourne’s eastern outskirts all the way to the border with New South Wales in the state’s far east.
This extensive and diverse geographical area is renowned for its natural beauty with hundreds of kilometres of spectacular coastline, picturesque rivers and lakes, forests and even snowfields.
And as if its winding route was paved especially for road-trippers, there is the Great Alpine Road. Gippsland is quite the package.
That said, be aware that some of the back roads through Gippsland, while gloriously scenic, may not suit your choice of vehicle. Whether you’re astride a zesty Vespa, driving a sexy soft-top convertible, a sensible SUV or meandering motorhome, choose your route to suit.
Off into the West Gippsland Hinterland
Begin your tarmac odyssey from the verdant ’burbs of the Yarra Ranges and kick off with an exhilarating overture via Noojee and Mt Baw Baw.
The twisty, serpentine roads on the C426 between Icy Creek and Baw Baw Village will test even the most ardent drivers and riders. Narrow, tight and often damp, these gnarly roads should be approached with caution at any time of the day and in all conditions. No wonder they often hold closed-road rally competitions here.
“The road is a real thrill to ride or drive, in both directions. Anyone who uses it on a regular basis knows how challenging it is, especially when there is traffic going both ways,” said road rally organiser Peter Washington.
Spend your first night at the divine boutique Star Hotel in picturesque Walhalla. Owner and manager Michael Leaney, with his partner Russell, rebuilt the old hotel to faithfully recreate the pub that once stood on the spot back in the day. The welcoming establishment has become the central feature of the historic township.
Those with time for further exploration of Walhalla should take a tour of the old haunted Long Tunnel mines or a ride along the restored railway to Thompson’s Corner. Even a simple stroll along the town’s heritage main street is a most pleasant affair.
Spotto: Be amazed at the giant timber trestle bridge at Noojee.
Set course for Central Gippsland
Wake up to a typical misty morning where a cloak of wispy fog adorns the valley. Head south on the C481, where a mix of secondary tarmac and unsealed roads, via Cowwarr and Heyfield, take you to lunch at the Maffra Community Sports Club, for reasonably priced and hearty replenishment.
Petrolheads will be delighted with Maffra’s comprehensive automotive museum which contains an eye-popping collection of vintage toy cars. The Gippsland Vehicle Collection, housed in the old vegetable de-hydrating factory built during WWII, is packed with Australian motoring history with rotating displays that reflect the evolution of Australian-built vehicles, an era now sadly passed.
The unsealed Cowwarr-Walhalla Road through thick forest is a scenic highlight but not suitable for all vehicles. While well graded on a hard base, it’s easy enough if you ride or drive within your comfort zone. To stay on the tarmac, continue south via Glengarry to the C105.
The objective is the outpost of Dargo, north along the scenic C601 which runs out of Bairnsdale, making an exciting loop. Traffic is typically light but don’t get complacent because logging trucks are busy all through this region and can surprise the unwary.
Take the C494 out of Stratford and meet the C601 (Bairnsdale-Dargo Rd) after an amble along Beverleys Road about ten clicks south of the Mitchell River National Park.
Dargo is a delightful hamlet blissfully remote from pretty much everywhere. Check in to comfy cabins at the Dargo River Inn, ideal for a travelling group or solos. There are also rustic log cabins behind the pub.
Enjoy a yummy but simple breakfast at the Dargo general store and head north on the Dargo-High Plains Road, an adventurous thoroughfare direct to Mt Hotham. Okay, it’s hard and rocky and requires a bit of care but most 2WD cars can manage with care. The road is closed in winter and should not be attempted in wet weather.
Rejoin the tarmac (B500) south of the Mt Hotham summit and meet the stream of traffic arriving from Bright. You’ll see all manner of vehicles from SUVs, sports cars and even caravans, all on some sort of alpine pilgrimage. The smooth, sweeping, undulating bitumen provides a giddy, rollercoaster of a ride, but don’t get carried away.
Tip: Stop by the visitor information centre at Heyfield for some local research.
Spotto: Admire the curious cow sculptures scattered through the hamlet of Cowwarr.
Spotto: Stop and chat with fellow travellers at Danny’s lookout.
Easing into East Gippsland
Onward to Omeo via Dinner Plain, where lunch awaits at the sublime, art deco Golden Age Hotel. Dine alfresco in the balmy sunshine.
Now begin the descent to sea level on the famous Great Alpine Road (GAR), stopping occasionally to investigate local wineries and breweries. The reds at Ensay Winery are particularly good.
The GAR deserves its reputation as one of the country’s foremost driving and riding roads. In either direction, it beckons to be challenged. Sweeping, rolling curves, well signposted and a predictable surface make it a joy in a sports car or motorcycle.
By the time salt air is in your nostrils, you’ve dropped more than 1600 metres, but not in some fairground, thrill-ride plummet. It’s a gentle approach, like a glider lining up a runway from 100 kilometres out.
Arrive exhilarated at the seaside holiday town of Lakes Entrance and check in to the busy Central Hotel where rooms are in the delightful ‘old school’ motel around a central pool and come at very affordable rates.
On the home run
The bulk of this road trip complete, set aside some time to visit the most impressive Holden museum at Trafalgar, housed in the former butter factory and is possibly the biggest collection of Holdens in the world.
The final leg winds through the towering redgums around Fumina (C465), a route clearly popular with local bikers, so keep an eye out as you weave a path through these stunning, carbon-based skyscrapers. A fitting send-off indeed.
Spotto: No. 21 Dredger. This big digger dug coal out of Morwell for nearly 70 years.
Take me there
Drive: From Melbourne, you can take the scenic C425 out of Yarra Junction as described, or the lazy M1 out of Pakenham. If driving from NSW, head to Bright from Albury and join the route from Mt Hotham.
Stay: Options include Walhalla’s Star Hotel, the Dargo River Inn and Central Hotel in Lakes Entrance.