I first visited Bright back in November 2020, when I needed a weekend away, and had a friend living there at the time. It’s the most picturesque town I’ve seen, set in the mountains three hours northwest of Bairnsdale, and three hours northeast of Melbourne. Little did I know I’d be back living here in just a few short months, but more on that later.
After a quick coffee, I set out on the Great Alpine Road, headed for Omeo, the half way point between Bairnsdale and Bright, and the last fuel stop before heading over Mt. Hotham. Along the way, the road follows the Tambo River, winding through lush greenery of spring. A small but quaint town, Omeo had seen its heydays in the late nineteenth century due to the gold rush, like so many other towns in the High Country of North East Victoria. There’s not much to do, with a pub, a couple cafes, and a nice park, so after a quick lap of town, I was on my way up the mountain. The next stop was Dinner Plain, a snow village during the winter, with walking tracks and viewpoints for the other seasons. I did a 3km walk named ‘Room With a View’, which took me through snow gum trees and out to a lookout that gave a small view of the surrounding mountains. I know of eucalyptus trees from growing up in Northern California, but I had no idea how many there are in Australia. However here, they’re more commonly called gum trees, and it wasn’t until I’m writing this that I felt the need to look up why. After a quick google, these trees have capsule-shaped fruit, often called gumnuts, hence gum tree, but it seems that it also refers to trees with smooth bark. There’s your botanical lesson for the day.
From the Dinner Plain village, I continued up the mountain fifteen minutes to Mt Hotham. This is the main ski resort in Victoria, where many Melbournians spend their winter holidays. Of course in November, at the end of spring, there’s no snow, so I was able to walk up the hill, along where one of the ski lifts run, and take in the 360° view. There was a chill in the mountain air, but for the most part it was an absolutely gorgeous, sunny day. This was the peak of the mountain, so I drove for another hour, navigating the tight and steep turns down the other side. Once I reached the bottom, it was another 40 minutes or so to Bright.
Maybe it was just the fresh mountain air talking, but as I drove into Bright, I thought it was the most beautiful, picturesque town I’d ever visited. In hind sight, it resembles any quaint town you would find in most states, but I still find the novelty in the charms of Australia. Everything was so lush and green, from the pine trees in the surrounding forests, to the maple and oak trees lining the streets. The friend I was meeting up with wouldn’t be free for a couple of hours, which allowed me to walk and explore the town, stopping for a quick bite and drink. When we met for dinner later, we vented about our lives and caught each other up on everything that had happened in the eight months since we’d seen each other.
I knew my friend had work most of the next day, so in the morning I went off on my own little adventure. On the way into town the day before, I had passed the small town of Harrietville. There’s not much to do there, but there was a swimming spot, and I’m a sucker for swimming, wherever and whenever. I got a coffee, and then went for a little walk around the Tronoh Dredge, the former site of the largest dredge in the Southern Hemisphere. Used for gold mining until the mid 1900s, it now stood as a local swimming hole. I walked around the edge of the water, and spotted a rope swing and ledge to jump from. This is the sort of thing that always appeals to me, but that I usually chicken out of doing. But between the early morning freshness, and my new sense of exploration and freedom, I trotted over, stripped down to my skivvies, and jumped right in. Not to get all woo-woo, but I’d say it was pretty symbolic, indicating I was ready to jump into the unknown future, and ready for a fresh start.
After drying off in the sun, I swung back to pick my friend up from her work, and we headed up to Mt. Buffalo, a national park about 30 minutes away. It has all kinds of hikes and trails, waterfalls, a lake, and plenty of lookouts, but we headed straight to the top. The Horn takes an additional 30 minutes or so to drive to once you’re in the park, winding along sharp curves on the paved road and then onto the dirt road. Once you reach the car park, there is a short assent up rocky steps, and once you reach the top, you have 360° views of the whole valley. It’s mostly driving and minimal walking to get to the top, but the view is well worth it. In my time here I’ve done a couple of the walks, but there are still many more I want to explore.
My final stop of the day was a wine tasting, at Gapsted Wines, 30 minutes west of Bright. It had been recommended to me, and the entire region here, including the King Valley, is known for its wine in Australia. With over half a dozen generous tastings, a lovely cheese platter, and idilic views of the vineyard, it was the perfect end to the weekend. I’ve long dreamed of working at a winery, possibly romanticizing it a bit too much in my mind, so I inquired if they were hiring. I was told not at the moment, but that they would be towards the end of summer, for their vintage season. The next day on their facebook page they listed a job posting for cellar hands, and three months later I started working for them. That job is the reason I moved to North East Victoria, and is ultimately the reason I’ve stayed so long, for professional and personal reasons. I also hope that I’ll be back to work another vintage.
In the morning, I took my time leaving town, just in case I never made it back here, although here I am writing this in September 2021 after living in the area for over six months. The other neat thing about this weekend was that it was the annual hot rod show in Bright, where locals and out-of-towners show off their impeccably maintained and beautifully painted old cars. It was perfect weather all weekend, and that combined with the vibrant vehicles made leaving that much harder.
On the way back to Bairnsdale, I took the only other route, through Falls Creek, and then back to Omeo. This journey was far less steep, but with just as many twists and turns, on even more narrow roads. With even more beautiful scenery, I made stops at lookout points, waterfalls, and historical spots. The Rocky Valley Dam surprises you out of nowhere, and then you get to drive nearly all the way around it. I found campgrounds that I wish I had more time to spend at, and sometimes I would just pull over and stop to gaze in absolute wonderment at the scenic expanse that lay before me. What brought me back to reality was seeing fire damage that had occured the previous year, as well as six years ago. Wildfires rip through Victoria and many parts of Australia each summer, but seeing how devastated the area was a very sombering sight. But at the same time it’s encouraging to see the regrowth that has happened over the past few years, and how resiliant the land is.
It felt like a much longer drive, but I appreciated the scenery, and relatively unoccupied roads as I traveled back to Bairnsdale. The next time I came to Bright, I drove through Melbourne, and now that it’s winter, Falls Creek and Hotham have been returned to their ski resort state. Theres so much that I’ve come to love about North East Victoria, and the scenery is just a part of it. This weekend away reawakened my sense of adventure, and need to explore, and led to me going away nearly every weekend in January. Here’s to many more adventures.