In selecting the dates for this motorbike ride through the Victorian high country, late November seemed ideal as it carried a low risk of bushfires, snow and ice. But a series of cold fronts crossing the state a few days before our departure brought sub-zero temperatures, ice and snow to the alpine roads we planned to use. Those fronts also brought thunderstorms and hail, heavy rain, strong winds and single digit temperatures to Apollo Bay the day before our departure. So it was that early on Tuesday morning Matt and I rode out of Apollo Bay wearing winter riding gear and considering variations to our planned route if the weather did not improve rapidly.
As I ate my breakfast while the sun rose, before getting on the motorbike to head off to the high country, I checked the Mount Hotham snow cams. This screen shot from a live video feed was not encouraging for our planned ride over Mount Hotham on Wednesday morning. While cancelling was never an option, detours due to weather were certainly on the cards.
The motorbikes are: Noel’s BMW R1200RT (closest), my BMW R1200GS and Matt’s BMW 650GS.
The weather improved by the minute on day 1. My brother Noel lives in Melbourne, and he rode up to join us at the Yea bakery. We rode through some heavy showers and cloud on the hills between Mansfield and the King Valley, which cleared as we travelled north.
Our first overnight stay was in Bright with Jack and Sue at their beautiful one acre property on the banks of the Ovens River. A very comfortable and enjoyable stay. The Ovens River was high and flowing fast.
One of the lookouts on Mount Hotham as we approached the summit. Our planned route for day 2 was: Harrietville – Mount Hotham – Omeo – Anglers Rest – Mitta Mitta – Eskdale – Tallangatta – Corryong. The only sector ever in doubt was the ride over Mount Hotham with the risk of snow/ice. Jack spent many years on these mountains working as a ski instructor and knows the area and the weather well. He was confident we would get over the mountain without a problem. He was right.
The Great Alpine Road which links Harrietville and Omeo via Mount Hotham. The tan gravel parking area (visible on the right of the image around the bend) is at Baldy Hollow, which is 1,670m (5,479 feet) above sea level.
I couldn’t resist stopping here just before we got to Baldy Hollow to capture this magnificent alpine vista with its unseasonal snow and the inviting winding road. That’s Matt in my rear view mirror. The summit of Mount Hotham is 1,861m (6,105 feet) above sea level
The ambient air temperature (not considering wind chill) was 5.5°C. This is the main reason we didn’t encounter any black ice at the high elevations as we rode over Mount Hotham.
Leaving Baldy Hollow, just below cloud base.
L: Noel. R: Matt on the right, and Noel.
View to the north from the Great Alpine Road at the eastern end of Hotham Village. After the descent off Hotham there is a section of the Great Alpine Road which winds through undulating and more open grazing country to Omeo. With its gentle curves, longer straights and continual crests it’s a refreshing change of pace from the tight curves on the steep descent from Hotham.
The cold and pristine waters of the Snowy River not far from its headwaters in the Victorian Alps. It was overflowing its banks and flowing fast. The water was perfectly clear. This shot was taken in the mountains east of Falls Creek, from a grassy flat between the river and the Omeo Highway. It was a privilege to see this unspoilt river flowing down the mountains on its way to the sea at Marlo.
The Blue Duck Inn at Anglers Rest. I have stayed here overnight on many occasions. On this day, it was just a relaxing lunch stop, with a lot of curves immediately behind us, and many more ahead.
The Mitta Mitta general store. This business is in new hands since I was last there and the place is looking great. The service and coffee were also excellent. I have ridden this road many times and always stop here after riding the 107kms of non-stop bends between Omeo and Mitta Mitta. Petrol, coffee and stretching the legs are the main priorities at this stop.
Matt and Noel discussing the workings of the BMW gear-box and clutch.
We learned from another traveller at Mitta Mitta that the Dartmouth dam was full and overflowing for the first time in 26 years. The sign above was opposite the Mitta Mitta general store. So it didn’t take long for the three of us to agree to take the 38km detour to see the dam on our way to Corryong. We had ample daylight left.
Since the dam construction was completed in 1979, this was the fifth spill. The most recent previous spill was 26 years ago in November 1996. When we saw it the dam had been overflowing for some weeks, peaking at around 130,000 megalitres per day in early November. A standard 50m swimming pool can hold 2.5 megalitres of water. 1 megalitre = 1000,000 litres. Interestingly, I discovered that 1 megalitre is the amount of water that fits in a 10m x 10m x 10m cube.
We parked outside this pub in Corryong with only 5 minutes to spare before the kitchen closed. The parmas were most welcome. I never book hotel/motel accommodation ahead on my motorbike rides. This gives me maximum flexibility. I have never missed out, and we didn’t have to sleep in shop doorways out of the wind on night 2 of our ride in Corryong. But at one point as the sun set and we were riding away from our second ‘no vacancy’ sign, that was beginning to look like a possibility. But once again, comfortable accommodation at a good price was found.
The Murray River between Tintaldra and Walwa. While levels were dropping from previous weeks, the river was still overflowing its banks and moving fast. This gum tree is on the riverbank and is usually entirely above water level.
The flattened grass on the left shows the direction and extent of earlier flooded river levels. More dramatically, on the right is a cylindrical wire mesh protective surround for a young tree planted there. The tree survived the flood and was still firmly in the ground and looking healthy, albeit at a new angle. Debris from flood water can be seen near the top of the wire mesh. This means that at the highest level of recent flooding, all the ground visible in the photo on the near side of the river would have been underwater, including where the boys in the distance were standing having a chat. Further, I would have been out of my depth at the point where I was standing to take this photo.
After riding along beside the Murray River to the west through Walwa we reached the coast of the Hume Weir. At the tiny township of Granya, we turned south and rode across a small range of hills on the famous Granya Gap – well, it’s famous amongst motorbike riders who have ridden it. It’s 8 or 9 kms of beautiful curves with a sealed road in great condition. On a ride some years ago I rode the Granya Gap road then did a U-turn and rode it again the other way, to fully take in the wonderful views it offers.
On the subject of road condition, on this trip there were more large (serious) potholes in well-used roads than I have seen before, and not only in flood affected areas. There were plenty of warning signs and 60kph speed restrictions, but no sign of repair work going on. Many of these potholes were clearly dangerous given their size and depth.
From the Granya Gap we rode to Tallangatta then down the Kiewa Valley to Mount Beauty on the Gundowring Road. This is a delightful, quiet country road which parallels a busier road down the middle of the valley. The original plan was to then ride up to Falls Creek and back down to Bright for the last night of our ride. But the road to Falls Creek has been closed for some time now due to landslides. So we opted to go to Bright and ride up and down Mt Buffalo instead.
After an enjoyable ride up the scenic curves of Mount Buffalo, we parked at the Gorge car park opposite the chalet.
L to R: unknown abseiler, me, Gilbert, Noel and Matt. Gilbert lives in Bright and joined us to ride up our final mountain of the trip on his BMR R1200GS (on the far right). Gilbo would’ve been on the ride but was not available for the first two days. Thanks for fixing my GPS overnight Gilbo. It’s performing perfectly again.
The third and final overnight of the ride was at Jack and Sue’s place again. The threatening weather in which we departed was all gone by this stage, and a high pressure system was near stationary over the south east of the country providing light winds, sunshine, warm days and cold nights. We dined around this fire at the river end of our hosts’ property, and had a delicious home-cooked hot meal under the stars as the temperature dropped and the dew settled. Jack and I have known each other for 44 years. We all talked for hours until tiredness overtook us. Isabelle the smart and loveable young cattle dog was at our feet keeping us company and taking care of food scraps. In my experience, being on the road on a motorbike is rarely like this.
Day four dawns in Bright. This photo was taken from the back door of our overnight accommodation. Noel decided to do some local touring in NE Victoria before heading back to Melbourne, so we parted ways at the Bright servo. Matt and I rode from Bright to Yarck, via Milawa, Whitfield and Mansfield, then Matt headed off for a detour via Melbourne on his way back to the Bay. I took my usual 550km sweeping arc of a track from Bright to Apollo Bay on back roads and byways to avoid major highways and cities.
The ride home for me involved a significant unexpected detour due to extensive works still under way at the scene of a major rail derailment on 14 November between Inverleigh and Gheringhap about 30kms west of Geelong. Part of my back track route included the road between Meredith and Shelford. The detour added 50kms to my planned route, making it a 600m day. But it was a very pleasant day of riding cross country back to Apollo Bay, without going near Melbourne or Geelong.
Bugs on the wing whose life journeys intersected with mine on that 600km ride had a less satisfactory day.
Arrival home at Apollo Bay. Magpie, our 8 month old pup, seemed to remember who I was.
Magpie is more used to cars than motorbikes.
The mighty BMW R1200GS at home after 1900 kms over four days. Despite the odometer approaching 250,000 kms on this ride, it didn’t miss a beat. It truly goes as well as the day I bought it and is a joy to ride. I could never sell it.
The icing on the cake on the last day was the final 44kms from Lorne to home along the Great Ocean Road in as sunset approached, with a dry road and very little traffic.