Leg 3: Omeo to Metung
153 km/95 miles, about 2 hours
Depart Omeo, the service centre for the local cattle, sheep and timber industries, getting one last glimpse at the original gold rush buildings lining the main street. Follow the Great Alpine Road south past Bairnsdale, East Gippsland's only city, and on to Metung, a starting point for exploring the spectacular Gippsland Lakes.
You then come to Swifts Creek and Ensay, small towns with a long history of mining, grazing and timber milling and a modern day passion for freshly baked goods, just-picked fruit, and local wines. Next is Bruthen, a small rustic village overlooking the Tambo River with its very own brewery. Be tempted by a small refreshing ale before you explore the township's many heritage buildings.
Your last stop before Metung and the seemingly endless expanses of the Gippsland Lakes is Bairnsdale, on the banks of the Mitchell River and originally settled as an inland port. Bairnsdale is now a major gateway to Victoria's east, with everything you need and all the cafes and restaurants to sustain you for some time.
In Bairnsdale visit St Mary's Roman Catholic Church, the interior of which was painted in the 1930s by Francesco Floreani, attend an annual musical and sporting event, or explore the Mitchell River silt jetties that extend eight kilometres into nearby Lake King, whetting your appetite for an exploration of the impressive Gippsland Lakes network.
Life on the Lakes
With five main lakes, fed by the waters of four major rivers, and fringed by the Ninety Mile Beach, the Gippsland Lakes system is the biggest expanse of inland waterways in the southern hemisphere, with over 400 square kilometres of lakes, rivers and lagoons that have made this region an ideal location for all forms of water based fun and sport, and exceptional fishing.
With that you're off to Metung, where the Great Alpine Road touring route ends. Life assumes a relaxed pace in Metung, a picture-book village on the shores of Bancroft Bay and Lake King. Follow your nose to the harbourside restaurants to indulge in quality local seafood and wine, spend a day floating around in a boat and stroll along the water's edge at sunset, cooking up your next adventure.
Buchan Caves Reserve
From Bruthen take the C620 for a scenic 20 minute drive to Buchan. Just past the town centre lies the picturesque gateway to the Buchan Caves Reserve where you can enjoy camping, bushwalking and wildlife spotting. Inside the Caves lies a honeycomb of spectacular limestone formations. Guided tours take you for an easy walk through these ancient caverns, exploring beautiful calcite-rimmed pools. In summer on a hot day, take the plunge in the Buchan Caves Reserve pool, which is spring fed from an underground stream, providing the pool with the purest water imaginable.
Wine and Gold Drive
An alternative route from Omeo to Bairnsdale is through Cassillis, a small town that was once a thriving mining community. Explore the picturesque valley on foot and see relics of the gold-mining era, including the unmissable Oriental Claims walking trails, the Cassilis Cemetery and the old goldmine. Call into a local winery and stock up some of the area's fruit and berry wines and mead, as well as the renowned baked goods in the township of Swifts Creek.
Gippsland Lakes Drive
Departing from Bruthen, which overlooks the Tambo River and features immaculate heritage buildings, take the C620 to Nowa Nowa and the A1 to Lakes Entrance to watch the daily catch being unloaded or to cast a line yourself. Continue along the A1 and Nungurner Road to Metung and stop for a stroll along the shores of the lake. Then take the C606 to Swan Reach, the A1 to Bairnsdale and the C604 to Paynesville, a great place to base yourself to explore the Gippsland Lakes and walk the Ninety Mile Beach.