The Ovens Valley in North East Victoria is a land of ever-changing colour, a slice of mountainous Europe in rural Australia. The area boasts bushwalks to beautiful mountain waterfalls, riverside picnic places, winery tours, picturesque towns to explore and boutique accommodation.
Bright, on the banks of the Ovens River, is an ideal base to explore the region. The town never feels crowded despite the population swelling in summer and autumn when the events calendar goes into overdrive. Cyclists in particular flock here, since it’s situated at the end of the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail.
Mount Buffalo dominates the landscape. The lookout presides over a sheer, gasp-inducing drop, while Lake Catani on the summit plateau is one of Victoria’s most popular camping spots.
For the future, when the restrictions on our movements lift, here’s our guide to exploring the area – including some spots to refuel and support this regional community.
Rollasons Falls might be the greatest waterfall you can swim under in Victoria. The tumbling cascade down the slopes of Mount Buffalo is an impressive sight, but it’s the swimming hole beneath that really delights.
You can dive into the deep, clear waters, or sunbathe on the herculean granite boulders that enclose the falls. Although it’s set in a steep gully, the terrain is easily navigable for beginner hikers. Some of the best spots can be found by climbing down the rocks below the swimming hole, where the lush bush surrounds gentle, amber-tinged pools.
It’s a 4 kilometre walk there and back, but it feels like less. The track winds through the forest before descending to the falls. Another trail branches off to the top of the falls, where you can marvel at the drop and cool off in a calm, trickling section of the stream. If the sun’s out, don’t miss this special view of Rollasons Falls.
Ladies Bath Falls
Just 400 metres off the road from Mount Buffalo, this small waterfall looks like a tropical island movie set. The falls are hidden in a lush bush setting – take a picnic and dine on one of the rounded river rocks (be careful as some are deceptively slippery).
The Falls got their name in the early 1900s, when women visiting Mount Buffalo would bathe separately from men, under the cascading water flowing down from Crystal Brook. It’s a busy spot on a hot summer’s day, and a particular favourite for families with small children. If you find it too crowded for comfort take the extra effort to drive further up the road before venturing onto Rollasons.
Tronoh Dredge Walking Track
Tronoh Dredge is a short but interesting walk around a small lake just north of the town of Harrietville. The lake resembles an American-style holiday camp with a jetty and a tree-swing, but it owes its existence to Australian gold mining.
A 91 metre-long floating dredge once worked the landscape here, and the walking track takes you around the perimeter of the former mine. Named the “Mammoth” Tronoh Dredge, it scooped up gold-bearing material, depositing the tailings in clumps around the edges of the lake. Information boards provide a glimpse into this historical era.
Eat and drink
Sixpence’s retail space is currently closed, but their online store is open and they are making local deliveries on Tuesdays and Fridays. Sixpence Coffee’s full-bodied 3741 blend (roasted on site) has cemented their reputation in town and beyond. “It’s about letting the coffee be the star,” says manager Brendan Dykes. “We think we’re as good or better [than] any coffee in Melbourne.” The airy, modern space is shared with Reed and Co Distillery, an arrangement that makes perfect sense for the day-night transition.
No ordinary beer barn, Bright Brewery has long been the first (or, more accurately, the last) port of call for people cycling the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail, which starts at Wangaratta and ends here in Bright. It’s a craft brewery that’s grown to become a cultural institution in town, adhering to a philosophy of keeping it simple, sustainable and local. The brewery dining space is closed for now, but they’re still doing takeaway dinners and beers.
The bar boasts 24 taps, with all beer brewed on-site from local hops and mountain water. Indoors is welcoming and rustic, with long bar tables and wine barrels for seating, but on a warm autumn evening there’s no better place to enjoy a beer and a meal than outside on the expansive hop terrace, framed by towering, shady trees and overlooking the Ovens River.
Choose from six beers in the Mountaincrafted range, available year-round, or try your luck with the limited-release Backcountry Brews. The Blowhard Pale Ale is a favourite, alongside the Alpine Lager, Sticky Fingers Honey Beer and the delicate Hazy Razor Witbier. You’ll get plenty of guidance behind the bar if you can’t choose. A good tip is to start with a tasting paddle (a small sample of six beers) to work out what you like, and go from there. The food is simple and tasty – and if in doubt you can’t go wrong with the Firecracker pizza – featuring Gamze Smokehouse chorizo, red peppers and harissa paste – to keep you warm on cool autumn nights.
In just over three years Tomahawks has built its name on uncomplicated, tasty food. With a beer garden, a large, communal table and booths built out of repurposed materials, it’s a great spot to enjoy a burger. Their famous wagyu cheeseburger is a monster and menu favourite, but there’s also a curried roast pumpkin fritter burger and vegetarian side plates. Wash it down with one of their fun cocktails – we recommend the tiki sour or Jah Rastafari (rum, ginger, molasses, chilli, pineapple). Service and takeaway has paused at Tomahawks for now.
Reed and Co Distillery
Pausing service for now, but open for online orders. Rising from the ashes of much-loved Bright restaurant Tani, the new venture for Hamish Nugent and Rachel Reed features casual evening gin tastings and cocktails and a menu of fresh, locally-sourced dishes ideal for sharing.
Watch your dinner being cooked on a wood fire behind the bar. Try the wallaby tartare (from wild wallaby sustainably culled on Flinders Island) or the smoked cod. Pair your meal with their Remedy gin, which has notes of lemon-scented gum, desert lime, coriander and green tea.
Owners Jeff and Nikki gave up captaining commercial ships in North Queensland to make pastries in the Victorian High Country. They’re far from novices, though –Nikki trained for six years in Switzerland as a pastry chef, and Jeff describes himself as Nikki’s “60-year-old apprentice.”
Like any great country bakery they have an award-winning vanilla slice, along with classic fare such as sausage rolls, and Shepherd’s pie, classic steak and kidney, and vegetarian quiche. Jeff and Nikki procure most of the bakery’s fruit by fossicking for wild fruit from trees planted around Harrietville over 90 years ago.
12 kilometres from Bright, The Buckland is a 60-acre property situated in a beautiful, light-filled valley with views of Mount Buffalo. Hosts Sabine Holsper and Eddie Dufrenne were drawn to the area by the stunning vistas and European trees. They offer studio accommodations with luxury furnishings and fire hearths, built with sustainability in mind. The birdlife throughout the property is abundant, and about the only noise you’ll hear.
The Victorian government is currently advising people to stay at home and avoid all gatherings of people to minimises the spread of Covid-19. If you are with other people, you must observe the rule of 1 person for every 4 square metres to ensure a safe physical distance. Limitations and closures on a range of venues are now in force. Stay up to date with the latest news on closures and restrictions around the state.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Walk High Country.