Drive time in Victoria

JAYNE D'ARCY
Last updated 05:00 01/09/2013
roads

GREAT DRIVE: The Lake Mountain Road, which ascends through the Yarra Ranges National Park, was named by Top Gear as Australia’s best driving road.

roads
VISTAS: Hugging the coastline, the Great Ocean Road offers a new ocean vista at almost every turn.

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By car or by bike, Australia's Victoria region has some great options for road trips. 

A forest dream: Turtons Track, The Otways

It's worth sashaying off the Great Ocean Road to get involved with its less-famous relations. A rainforest favourite is Turtons Track, which wends through the Otway rainforest from Tanybryn to Beech Forest. It runs for less than 20-kilometres and, until it was recently sealed, was only for the intrepid.

You may still need to take it slowly as roadworks will probably give you an opportunity to wind down the window and take in the forest fragrance. Another chance to fully absorb its beauty is on the RACV Great Victorian Bike Ride. In November, Turtons Track will form part of the ride's course.

Another great road: Bright to Omeo

The Great Alpine Road covers a 308km stretch from Wangaratta (off the Hume Freeway northeast of Melbourne) to Bairnsdale, which edges near the coast in Victoria's east. The Bright to Omeo leg runs for 110km and takes about two hours to drive. Starting in Bright, the views of snow-capped Mt Feathertop and Mt Hotham are enough to get any snow-goer excited.

Make sure you carry diamond-pattern snow chains for your car during snow season. Arriving at Harrietville, stop off at the Snowline Hotel for good food and its regular lineup of live music. As soon as you pass Harrietville, you begin the ascent to Mt Hotham. Queasy folk, take note: the twists and turns start quickly and last a fair while.

Enjoy stunning mountain vistas on the way to the popular snow resort of Hotham. Head down the road to see the architecturally amazing town of Dinner Plain peeking through the snow gums. Enjoy the scene across the Victorian Alps from the Kosciuszko Lookout before arriving in Omeo.

The recovery journey: Whittlesea to Marysville

You can drive this in a day, but consider a night in the Yarra Valley or Marysville for an authentic road-trip feeling.

Start off in Whittlesea, on the Whittlesea-Yea Road. This route takes you through towns and regions that are still rebuilding after the 2009 Black Saturday fires.

You'll pass new homes and bushy green regrowth as you travel along the edge of Kinglake National Park.

Head north to the cattle and sheep plains of Yea. Check out Yea's country bakeries and stretch your legs on a stroll through Yea Wetlands (just a short walk from the main street).

If you like the sound of Yea, you'll love the sound of Yarck, just up the road. Much of Yarck is for sale, including culinary highlight the Tea Rooms of Yarck (but it's still trading from Thursday night to Sunday night). You're on the road to Mansfield and Mt Buller, so continue on if you have time, or do a U-turn and head along the Maroondah Highway to Alexandra.

Continue through this cute town to tiny Buxton (buy some trout and feed the fish at Buxton trout farm), then Marysville. Believe it or not, you're now less than 100km from Melbourne.

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The short spin: Lake Mountain

Top Gear Australia named Lake Mountain as Australia's best driving road, and whether you're driving a racing car or not, it's a stunner. Your ears might start popping just out of Marysville as you start the 22km climb. There are one or two hairpin bends, but mostly it's a calm ascent through the Yarra Ranges National Park. This area was burnt out during Black Saturday, and the porcupine-like spikes of dead trees in the distance are a spectacular sight.

There's a turnoff 12km up the road and during the official declared snow season (usually June to September), it costs from A$41-$51 a car to drive the final 10km, payable at a booth (or from $34-$41 online). The roadside flora of these final kilometres was all but cleared after the fires, so expect amazing views.

Forest treat: Black Spur Drive

Leading the way from Marysville towards the Yarra Valley is the mystical 30km run of the Black Spur Drive. Part of the Great Dividing Range (more "Greats"!), this pocket of forest features towering mountain ash trees and giant ferns. It's so close to Melbourne yet it feels so far away. Make the magic last longer by either stopping at Fernshaw picnic area midway or taking on the 4.5km Mt Juliet walk, on the Healesville side. Reach the top and check out the historic cairn before heading down and reclaiming the road.

- Sunday Star Times

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