Victoria’s High Country is one of the most magical places in the state. The mountain ranges, valleys, rivers, and lakes are stunning, and the region offers very different experiences depending on the time of year you visit.
One of the largest towns in the High Country is beautiful Bright, a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Melbourne. Set on the Ovens River, it is surrounded by incredible natural beauty and offers a buzzing base for hikers, cyclists, and mountain bikers. It’s also the gateway to the ski resorts of Mount Hotham, making it a popular spot for snow lovers during winter. These are a few of the best things to do in Bright.
Take a gentle stroll around town to get your bearings. There’s a park by the Ovens River on Gavan Street. Buy something to read at nearby Bright Bookshop, choose a couple of flavours at the Bright Ice Creamery, where everything is made onsite using local ingredients, then find a spot beneath a shady tree.
The park is also where you’ll find the start of the Canyon Walk. Follow the path along the south bank of the river, passing water races carved long ago by gold miners. If it’s spring, expect the birdlife and wildflowers to be dazzling. The canyon can be seen when you cross the suspension bridge to the north bank for the return trek.
Back in town, check out the Tartan Fox for contemporary women’s wear by independent labels from Australia and beyond then stock up on sweets at Bright’s Old Fashioned Lolly Shop. Just keep your sticky fingers to yourself when you venture to Bright Art Gallery & Cultural Centre.
Ready for a drive? Jump in your rental car and, in just 15 minutes (give or take), you’ll be at Ladies Bath Falls in Mount Buffalo National Park. At their base is a rock pool where you can take a dip on a hot day.
Bright’s streets are lined with cafes and other places to eat, so you’ll never be hungry. Ginger Baker Cafe does a great breakfast – ricotta hotcakes, eggs Florentine, bacon and egg muffins – until 11.30 when the equally delicious lunch menu kicks in. Wild Thyme Cafe is a cute spot with an entirely plant-based menu and plenty of gluten-free dishes.
It’s casual and fun, but Tomahawks serves quality eats and drinks. The menu skews to American diner favourites – quesadillas, fried chicken, cheeseburgers – with a great list of beers, wines, and cocktails for those who aren’t driving.
One of the most popular spots in town is on the huge terrace overlooking the Ovens River at Bright Brewery. The kitchen does a great selection of pub-style meals, as well as burgers, bowls, and pizza. If you’re not the designated driver, you can match them to a craft beer.
This is a lovely spot to get on a bike and explore, and there are few places around town where you can hire. Ride along the Murray to Mountains rail trail to the town of Porepunkah. In autumn, you’ll enjoy a brilliant display of seasonal colour. In summer, stop at the park where the Great Alpine Road crosses the Ovens River and take a dip. A little further along, stop at Ringer Reef, a winery set high on a hill. You can picnic on the lawn, do a guided wine tasting, or sit on the landing, overlooking the vineyard, and enjoy a platter and a glass of wine.
There’s also the chance to hire a mountain bike and try your skills at Mystic Mountain Bike Park. It has 50km of trails to suit all levels of rider, as well as shuttle services if you’d prefer to be driven back to the top.
If you’ve got extra time in the area, take advantage of having a rental car and drive part of the 340km Great Alpine Road. The section from Bright to Omeo is particularly beautiful. First, head up the mountains towards the village of Mount Hotham. When summer arrives, this whole area is covered in wildflowers.
Stop at Dinner Plain and follow one of the hiking trails. The short Room with a View Walking Track goes through snow gum forest to a clearing with an incredible view of Mount Hotham, Mount Feathertop, the high plains and Cobungra River. The Brabralung Trail, a favourite with snowshoers in winter, goes past the JB Plain Hut, once used by local foresters, and on to Mother Johnson’s Picnic Area, about 3.5km from the village. Back in the car, you’ll descend the other side of the mountain to the historical town of Omeo, where many of the goldrush-era buildings have been preserved.
Ready to explore Bright and Victoria’s High Country? You can hire a car at Melbourne Airport on arrival or from Wangaratta, an hour’s drive from Bright and serviced by a small airport and a VLine train service from Melbourne.