Stunning mountain scenery, country hospitality and fascinating history all make Omeo and the surrounding district a great place to spend a few days. At around 400 kilometres north east of Melbourne in the heart of the Victorian High Country Omeo can best be accessed via the Great Alpine Road from Bairnsdale. If coming from the north there are a couple of options that offer spectacular scenery. Both of these are off the Murray Valley Highway.
Our exploration of this beautiful area begins at Omeo. Initially an agricultural town it wasn’t until gold was discovered in nearby Livingstone Creek during the 1850s that the township of Omeo began to boom. In their heydays the Omeo goldfields gained the reputation of being the ‘toughest in the country’. It is hard to believe today but the town was also all but wiped out by the Black Friday Bushfires of 1939. Today the neat main street has several shops, a couple of pubs and most services you would expect. On our last visit to this delightful town we stayed a night at the Golden Age Hotel due to bad weather (you have to be prepared for sudden and dramatic weather changes up here!). What a great night this turned out to be with comfortable accommodation, a hearty feed and pleasant company. Omeo has several accommodation options available from quaint B&Bs to pub style rooms that suit all budgets. Whatever you choose this is a great spot to base yourself whilst exploring the area.Just south of Omeo off the Great Alpine Road is our first port of call, the Oriental Claims Historic Site. Following the first discovery of gold in 1851 the Oriental Company established large scale gold mining at this site which continued for almost 30 years. The dramatic landscape with its high cliffs and deep water races were a result of the biggest gold-sluicing operations in the world. This has left the landscape scarred forever and is a fascinating site to take a stroll around. A couple of walks lead their way around the site and although can be rough in places are easily negotiated if you take your time. A shady picnic area with tables, wood barbecues and pit toilet is provided near the carpark, a great spot for a cuppa or lunch break after your stroll.Just up the road from the Oriental Claims Historic Site the Victoria Falls Historic Area can be found. One of the state’s first hydro-electric power stations was once located here supplying power for the Cassilis Mine, a little over 20 kilometres to the south of Omeo. For the fit and energetic a rough 2 kilometre walking track descends to the site of the former power station on the bank of the Cobungra River. Today nothing much remains of the complex except for some disappearing foundations that are slowly being reclaimed by nature. The actual Victoria Falls can be viewed from the roadside prior to the carpark for the walk. A picnic and camping area with tables, fireplaces and pit toilets is located near the entrance to the historic area and makes for a great overnight camp spot.From Victoria Falls we meander west along the Great Alpine Road with spectacular mountain scenery so indicative of this area, past the ski resort village of Mount Hotham, a popular spot during the snow season, before turning onto the unsealed Dargo High Plains Road about 10 kilometres from Mount Hotham. This has to be one of our favourite drives in this part of the high country. This gravel road follows the ridgeline southwards giving glimpses across seemingly endless mountain ranges on both sides and through superb alpine woodlands before descending to the small village of Dargo. About 15 kilometres prior to Dargo you will find the turn-off to the Grant Historic Area. Around 5 kilometres from the turn-off along a rough gravel road you will find the Grant Township site. Around a century ago the township of Grant was the hub of the Crooked River goldfields. These isolated goldfields exploded during the 1860s with prospectors flocking to the area following the discovery of reef gold by explorer Angus Mcmillan. At its height Grant had a population of almost 3,000 and was a bustling community boasting 15 hotels, police station, courthouse, numerous stores and cottages and even a local newspaper, the Crooked River Chronicle. In all there were 250 reefs registered in the area and the gold mining industry was booming. By the early 1900s with most of the gold exhausted Grant was in decline and by 1916 the final remaining resident of Grant left. Today the bush is slowly reclaiming this once bustling town with the only reminders a town once stood here being some crumbling bricks and old mining sites. Today you can take a stroll around the deserted site of Grant, a few signs tell the story of Grant. The entrance to the Jewellers Shop Mine is nearby and is well worth a visit as is the historic cemetery hidden amongst the bush. Almost 10km down the hill from Grant is the historic site of Talbotville beside the Crooked River. This pleasant site was once another gold rush town with all that remains now being crumbling bricks, mining relics and the old cemetery. There are other forgotten townships that can be explored by 4wd or on foot with several walking tracks traversing the area. One could easily spend a few days exploring this fascinating area and still not see everything here. There are basic camping areas located at Grant and Talbotville with tables and pit toilets provided. Both sites are great spots to throw down the swag for a night or two and are 2wd accessible, although the access road can be rough at times. Make sure you are fully self-sufficient. Check with Parks Victoria prior to your visit for current road conditions and be prepared for sudden and dramatic weather changes at all times.After leaving Grant the Upper Dargo Road leaves the Dargo High Plains Road just north of Dargo. This unsealed, winding road follows the Dargo River and is a great scenic drive. There are some excellent camping spots beside the river before the road winds its way into the ranges once again. At the top of the range and amongst the snow gum woodlands the Dogs Grave can be found. This monument in a small clearing is an everlasting reminder of the relationship between man and dog. The early pioneers relied upon their dogs for not only friendship but to find and catch food. The early settlers and even today’s farmers still rely on their dogs during their day to day activities assisting them with droving and mustering. This memorial is a touching tribute and is well worth a visit. An information plaque at the site tells of the origins of the memorial. Continuing on past Dogs Grave the road winds its way out of the forest and onto Cassilis Road about 5 kilometres north of the Cassilis Historic Area. Access to the site is at Tongio West along Cassilis Road. This is a fascinating site and although not frequently visited it contains many relics from the gold rush days left behind by the Cassilis Company. It is well worth spending a few hours exploring the remnants of the King Cassilis Mine located near the entrance at Tongio West and the 20,000 ton tailing dump at Powers Gully just west of the mine.Another couple of spots that have to be visited whilst you are exploring this great area lie to the east of Swifts Creek. Nunniong Road leaves the Great Alpine Road about 20 kilometres south of Omeo and 5 kilometres north of Swifts Creek. This narrow, winding gravel road leads through old growth forest climbing up into the ranges. Near the top of the range along Nunniong Forest Road you will find the Washington Steam Winch. Purchased by Ezard’s Sawmill at Swifts Creek in 1959 this impressive relic was once used to haul logs out of the valley to the roadside prior to being loaded onto trucks and transported to the sawmill. Due to the logs getting caught in ruts, on rocks and other debris on their way up the slope the Washington was only used for a short time but managed to haul over 9,000 cubic metres of timber. The winch and associated rigging is now listed under heritage and is being restored by DSE Victoria. A little further on past the Washington is our final port of call, Bentleys Plain and Moscow Villa Hut. Moscow Villa Hut is a beautiful log style mountain hut built by local bushman Bill Ah Chow during the 1940s. Following controversy from government officials over the naming of Moscow Villa Hut during WWII, Bill came up with his own explanation of the name ‘Moscow’ meaning ‘My Own Summer Cottage Officially Welcomes Visitors Inside Light Lunch Available’. Today this welcome cottage provides emergency shelter during bad weather and is a great spot to visit any time of the year. A well set up camping area with shelter shed, wood barbecue, fire pits and pit toilet is located just past the hut along Bentleys Plain and makes for a great spot to set up camp. Just make sure you are prepared for all types of weather and are fully self-sufficient. From Bentleys Plain you can either back track down the range to Swifts Creek or wind your way further south east through the forest and down to the pretty village of Buchan and onto your next adventure.
These are just some of the great spots to visit in this beautiful part of the high country and all are easily accessible in good weather. The amount of exploring you can do in this part of the country is really only limited by the amount of time you have available. We highly recommend spending some time in this great region, we know you will be constantly amazed at what you find as we continue to be.