Top Ten Experiences in the Victorian High Country

11 March 2019

Around three to four hours drive northeast of Melbourne, the Victorian High Country offers plenty of appeal for New Zealand travellers. Here fascinating colonial history is matched by superb bush, river and alpine scenery, while an excellent culinary scene makes a tasty backdrop to a wide range of active adventures.

Reed & Co, Bright. Photo: Emily Godfrey / Visit Victoria

Eating and drinking in Bright

A centre for cycling and adventure sports, the relaxed town of Bright is also the High Country's foodie hub. Kick off with brunch at the hip Ginger Baker, before recharging with super-healthy vegan snacks at What You Eat cafe. Bright's essential evening rendezvous is the wood-fired menu at Reed & Co, featuring native Australian ingredients like wallaby, lemon myrtle and Murray River cod. They also distill their own Remedy craft gin using Australian bush botanicals.

Bright Brewery, Bright. Photo: Emily Godfrey / Visit Victoria

The High Country Brewery Trail

Craft beer's also a big thing in these parts with eight different microbreweries. Standouts include the  Bright Brewery and Beechworth's Bridge Road Brewers, both with good restaurants and weekend live music, while smaller places like Sweetwater Brewing in Mt Beauty and Mansfield's Social Bandit are also worth seeking out. Must-try beers include Bridge Road's Bling Bling Imperial IPA, and Bladerunner Belgian Pale Ale at Blizzard Brewing in the alpine village of Dinner Plain.

Cycling the rail trail Boynton’s Feathertop Winery, Porepunkah. Photo: supplied

Murray to the Mountains Rail Trail

Linking the Murray River city of Wangaratta to Bright, this easygoing 95 km walking and biking trail also includes a separate 16 km spur en route from Everton to historic Beechworth. Bikes and shuttles can be hired to tackle sections of the trail for day trips, and an easy outing from Bright is to nearby Porepunkah (around 6km one way). Gentle terrain, and children's playgrounds and cafes en route make it a great option for families.

Beechworth Provender, Beechworth. Photo: Robyn Lea / Visit Victoria

Learning about Ned Kelly in historic Beechworth

The honey-coloured colonial buildings of historic Beechworth are the backdrop to learning about the history of the infamous bushranger Ned Kelly. Locations to explore include the local courthouse where teenage Ned had his first appearance before a judge. Beneath Beechworth's Treasury building, the Ned Kelly Vault is an exhibition space dedicated to one of Australian history's most notorious characters. Ask at the Beechworth visitor information centre for a handy map of other Ned Kelly-related destinations around the surrounding region.

Italian cuisine and culture in the King Valley

Italian immigrants to the High Country originally came to work in the now-shuttered tobacco growing industry, but their influence continues in the wine-growing region of the King Valley. Sample Australia's best sparkling prosecco at Dal Zotto Wines, enjoy northern Italian bistro classics at the Mountain View Hotel, or sign up for a Sicilian cookery class at Politini Wines.

Milawa Cheese Company, Milawa. Photo: Visit Victoria

Milawa Gourmet Region's farmgates

For families and travellers on a budget, a good way to save money is picking up gourmet produce from around Milawa. Pack the chilly bin (or esky) with farmhouse cheese from the Milawa Cheese Company, smoked meats and gourmet sausages from the Gamze Smokehouse, and award-winning pies from the Milawa Bakery. For a fine dining experience around Milawa, enjoy lunch at Patricia's Table at the historic Brown Brothers winery.

Contemporary Aboriginal art in Rutherglen's historic wine country

In the northern High Country near the Murray River's border with New South Wales, Rutherglen is Victoria's oldest wine-growing region, with well-established vines dating from the mid 19th century. Now Rutherglen Estates' new Aboriginal Exhibitions Gallery is boosting the area's contemporary credentials, its modern space showcasing a rotating display from a world-leading collection of more than 700 Aboriginal paintings, prints and sculptures.

Mountain biking on Mt Buller. Photo: Visit Victoria

Mountain Biking & Hiking at Mt Buller

Victoria's Mt Buller is the closest major alpine resort to Melbourne, and during summer the leviathan mountain is a popular venue for some of Australia's best downhill mountain biking. More than 100km of cross-country bike trails provide options for riders of all abilities; the Australian Alps region is also popular for walking and hiking. Tackle the rolling 4.1km Summit Nature Walk for stellar views and colourful alpine wildflowers.

Echo Point Lookout, Mt Buffalo National Park. Photo: Visit Victoria

Brett Atkinson

Brett Atkinson is a full-time travel and food writer who specialises in adventure travel, unusual destinations, and surprising angles on more well-known destinations. He's based in Auckland but frequently on the road for Lonely Planet and other publishers in New Zealand and abroad. @travelwriterNZ