Straight to the Top: a Melbourne to Falls Creek road trip

Falls Creek Victoria

When it comes to adventure and nature, there’s no better destination than Victoria’s Alpine National Park. Chris and Sarah drive through the northeast wine regions to a place where they can hike and bike to their hearts’ content.

When Chris was a kid and lived in Melbourne, his extended family would head up the mountains during winter, where the kids would spend all their time on skis and the parents wouldn’t worry about them. He’s got fond memories and decided he wouldn’t mind returning in summer. So, here we are, as the end of the year approaches, picking up a car from Apex Car Rentals at Melbourne Airport.

Valley Views: Melbourne to Beechworth

Views of vineyards, mountains and bushland in the King Valley, home of Prosecco Road, Victoria’s High Country

It’s almost a flat track north from Melbourne and we decide not to muck around too much. Part of the reason is I’ve heard a lot about how good the prosecco is in the King Valley, and we’re heading there first. The countryside is breathtaking: rolling farmlands backed by mountain ranges and topped by big blue skies interrupted by fluffy white clouds. We do a tasting at Pizzini Wines and move on to Dal Zotto, where glasses of Col Fondo Prosecco team perfectly with wood-fired pizza from the trattoria. If we didn’t have to fly home, I’d fill the car boot with boxes of wine for later.

Beechworth is our overnight stop, and we get there with time to spare, so check out the old courthouse, telegraph station and powder magazine before going for a walk around Lake Sambell.

Beechworth is known for its excellent restaurants, so we’re looking forward to this evening. Ox & Hound Bistro has a pretty dining room, where painted bricks and pressed metal give it classic style. That continues through to the Euro-inspired menu. I try the chestnut fettuccine (chestnuts are grown in nearby Stanley) and Chris has the baked Harrietville trout. Both are excellent, and we team them with a bottle of chardonnay from local winery A Rodda. It’s a real taste of the region.

Take Us Higher: Beechworth to Falls Creek

A man looks out over the view from atop a granite boulder in Mount Buffalo National Park, High Country

You can’t help but notice Mount Buffalo with its sheer cliff faces looming in the distance. Starting at the snow plain we step out on a seven-kilometre walk to Macs Point, through snow gum forests and past incredible boulder formations. The last hundred metres or so tests my uphill limits, but getting to the summit – one of the highest on the mountain – is worth the effort for the views over the Great Dividing Range.

Something else that tests my limits? Bombing down a mountain slope on a bike. At Falls Creek (and probably everywhere else), they call them gravity trails. When we go to pick up Chris’ bike from Blue Dirt, the guys running the place tell me Falls Creek Mountain Bike Park isn’t just for people with no fear for the health of their collar bones. Apparently, there are also 10 kilometres of green trails suitable for beginners. A bit of prodding and I’ve soon hired a bike and got myself an uplift pass. In fact, that’s the deciding factor. Blue Dirt runs a shuttle service that collects you from the base of the mountain trails and delivers you back to the top. Now, we’re ready for the next day...

And, you know what? It is fun. Chris stays with me on a trail called Induction, but that’s the last I see of him. For most of the day, I ride tracks with names like Lakeview and Short Circuit, finally building up to Flowtown, which I still take on with some trepidation. When I meet up with Chris he is absolutely buzzing and covered in dirt – he stacked, but didn’t do any damage. If I’d let him, he’d stay here all week, defying death on a mountain bike.

Step Up: Falls Creek to Mount Hotham

JB Hut, once used by cattlemen in the High Country, is now an easy walk from Dinner Plain, Alpine National Park

After the previous day’s thrills and (not too many) spills, I’m calling the shots today, and we’re pulling on the hiking boots to take on the Brabralung Trail that guides both walkers and cyclists from Hotham to Dinner Plain walk. I’ve organised for us to get dropped off at Dinner Plain rather than do the return – it means we’ll walk about 11 kilometres.

The first section takes us to JB Hut, an outpost that was once used for corralling captured brumbies. Now people camp there, but we see no evidence of that this morning – just a few emus hanging out on the short grass around the hut. We detour to Paw Paw Plain to look out over the Dargo River Valley and Mount Tabletop.

We meander along the trail that takes us through woodlands and over plains, where daisies and everlastings are starting to bloom. We take our time, resting often, sunning our faces and taking in the views. I suspect Chris, who normally likes to march it out but is mellow today, is feeling a little tender after yesterday’s effort. The air is clear up here and I feel as though I could stay forever. Maybe I’ll consider coming back in winter. This trail would take on a whole new complexion with some snow.