Browse over 9,000 car reviews

Sorry, there are no cars that match your search

AWD snow trip in Alpine National Park Victoria

  • By Tim O'Brien
  • 6 August 2018
  • 17 min read
  • 3 Three day trip
    Explore historic Walhalla, climb high into the temperate rainforest behind Thomson Dam and take the long way to Mt Baw Baw alpine village as part of a grand snow adventure.
  • Light
    Dry weather gravel roads and formed trails with no obstacles, very shallow water crossings.
  • 3 Three day trip
    Explore historic Walhalla, climb high into the temperate rainforest behind Thomson Dam and take the long way to Mt Baw Baw alpine village as part of a grand snow adventure.
  • Light
    Dry weather gravel roads and formed trails with no obstacles, very shallow water crossings.

Often overlooked, understated and uncommercialised, beautiful Mt Baw Baw is the family ski resort.

It's an easy 2.5-hour drive from Melbourne, but there is more to see in this hidden corner of Gippsland than the ski-slopes of Mt Baw Baw. So, why not extend the adventure and, before hitting the snow, take the family deep into the temperate rain forests sitting below the snow-line for some off-the-track exploring?

Best of all, even in winter you don't need a low-range 4WD to get a long way into these mountains.

A bit of ground clearance and you'll be surprised how far a light-duty AWD can take you. A bit of ground clearance and you'll be surprised how far a light-duty AWD can take you.

A little light-duty SUV, such as the Toyota's AWD C-HR Koba we're driving, is easily up to the task. You just need a bit of extra ground clearance (tick), a bit of caution on narrow bush roads (tick), and a bit of pre-planning – like checking the status of the roads for temporary closures (tick).

We chose a family-friendly three-day adventure, heading first to the historic gold-mining town of Walhalla; taking another day to explore the back roads around the Thomson Dam, before overnighting at Mt Baw Baw for our third day in the snow.

Choose your own adventure by taking the long road there. Choose your own adventure by taking the long road there.

To get to Mt Baw Baw, you'd normally take a right turn onto the Warburton Highway from Lilydale and follow your nose to Noojee, to Tanjil Bren, then wind your way up into the alpine village – but we're going to Walhalla first. It's a little deeper into Gippsland, sitting to the north of the Latrobe Valley. Allow three hours from Melbourne; take the Monash Freeway onto the Prince's Highway, head east to Moe, then strike due north up through Erica to Rawson, and from there to Walhalla.

It's bitumen all the way, and only the tight last 20km following the winding path of the Thomson River gorge presents any challenge. In the crisp early mornings and evenings of winter it can be frosty and slippery.

As you near Walhalla, you will see first the tracks and trestle bridges of the goldfields railway line, hewn into the rocks of the river gorge below.

Beautiful Walhalla

Then, like a page from a picture storybook, historic Walhalla appears, a thin ribbon of a town with a boom-time past, sitting deep in the valley on the narrow banks of Stringer's Creek.

Each side, rising almost sheer, steep mountain walls filled with towering ash, tree ferns and messmate reach to the clouds and ring to the raucous calls of black cockatoos and kookaburras.

Picture-book perfect, the boom-time gold-mining town of Walhalla. Picture-book perfect, the boom-time gold-mining town of Walhalla.

There can be few prettier places in Victoria. If you visit, walk the length of the main street – there is only one street – and soak up its colonial past.

Once a thriving gold-mining town, Walhalla's population peaked at around 4000 at the height of mining operations there in the 1880s and 90s, but by 1914 the last of the big mines had closed.

Now, there are barely two dozen permanent residents to run the town, to keep the store and pub and holiday accommodation open, and to operate the narrow gauge historic gold-fields railway.

Colonial relic – a slab-timber miner's hut on Stringer's Creek. Colonial relic – a slab-timber miner's hut on Stringer's Creek.

Ironically, the railway line was finally completed in 1910 – running up the valley from Moe – just four years before the town went into a swift decline.

On the twisting drive from Rawson, only the inattentive will miss seeing lyrebirds – they leap from the damp forest onto the road shoulders, then as quickly disappear – and you'll need to also watch out for black wallabies and the occasional echidna.

A fun, family outing – the historic Walhalla gold-fields railway. (Image credit: Walhalla Goldfields Railway) A fun, family outing – the historic Walhalla gold-fields railway. (Image credit: Walhalla Goldfields Railway)

Accommodation

In summer, you can camp along Stringer's Creek at the top end of town (camping is free), or head deeper into the bush to a grassy river-bank.

If you prefer to stay indoors, there are lots of accommodation options. We chose Stringer's Cottage; nestled between massive gums on Stringer's Creek at $170 a night, linen provided, snug and comfortable, but there is no shortage of equally-appealing colonial-style houses and rooms.

Take a walk to the cricket ground (walking sticks provided). Take a walk to the cricket ground (walking sticks provided).

Things to do:

  • Visit the Long Tunnel Mine, largest of Walhalla's once thriving reef-gold mining industry. The Long Tunnel Mine produced more than 30 tonnes of gold from the famed Cohen's Reef, opens for tours on weekends and holidays, but best you check times.
  • Take a ride on the historic narrow-gauge goldfields train. Running Wednesdays and weekends and night trains every Saturday night through August; a trip along its narrow track criss-crossing the rocky gorge and the many trestle bridges is a must-do for a young family.
  •  Take a walk up to Walhalla's famous historic cricket ground; hewn into the hill high above the town, it's a steep 20-minute climb.

After a generous breakfast and good coffee (it's Victoria so there is good coffee to be found mostly everywhere), we saddled up for the drive high into the mountainous back country around the Thomson Dam.

Check for road closures; fallen trees, snow and rockfalls can be a constant hazard. Check for road closures; fallen trees, snow and rockfalls can be a constant hazard.

Before setting off onto these roads, check for road closures; ask the locals or check VicRoads online. We were there after gale-force winds had whipped through, and there can be a high risk of fallen trees over these roads and tracks. Heavy falls of rain and snow can also cause closures.

Walhalla Road, which runs all the way over to Matlock, is gravel from the outskirts of town, but is well maintained and can be negotiated in a light SUV. The AWD system in the Toyota C-HR Koba is a part-time set-up; that is, front-wheel-drive most of the time, and automatically engaging AWD when slip is detected. 

Except for the overhang at the front (that we scraped once or twice), the Koba has good ground clearance and provides good grip on slippery gravel roads.

The only obstacles you need to look out for on Walhalla Road are rock-falls along the steep cuttings, soft edges that can be really sticky after rain, and sharp rocks protruding from the wash-outs and wheel ruts. 

The C-HR has low-profile 225/50 R18 tyres and a space-saver spare, so be careful not to pierce the tyre walls on a protruding edge of shale. Also, there are no road-side bariers, and the drop-offs at the edges of the road fall hundreds of feet into the deep valleys below. 

Take things carefully, however, and this is a fun, family drive.

Walhalla to Matlock road: well-maintained but slippery when wet – and it's a long way down. Walhalla to Matlock road: well-maintained but slippery when wet – and it's a long way down.

Unless driving a heavy-duty 4WD with low range, don't even think about exploring the steep tracks running off Walhalla Road. These, criss-crossing the creeks and valleys far below, with deep water crossings and slippery, deeply-rutted rocky climbs, can be precipitous and a real challenge even for experienced four-wheel drivers.

Note: Track and road signage is generally pretty good, but be alert for the fork in Walhalla Road about 5km from town. Walhalla Road continues on the left fork, Binns Road heading right.

Signage is good, but you know you're getting off the beaten track. Signage is good, but you know you're getting off the beaten track.

High above the Thomson Dam, the views from the ridge lines are sensational, but equally sensational are the crystal-clear mountain rivers and streams that you encounter up here. We had a picnic lunch on the Aberfeldy River at the remote Aberfeldy Camping Ground. 

Here, you won't see a single soul, and have only the sound of rushing water and the calling of birds as a welcome soundtrack.

Stay on Walhalla Road, following it further north as it rises from the Aberfeldy River to intersect with the Thomson Dam Access Road.

Turn left here, leaving Walhalla Road and follow the access road back down to the vast wall of the Thomson Dam. Stretching far into the distance, the immense Thomson Dam on the upper reaches of the Thomson River is Melbourne's principal water supply. 

Snaking into the distance, on the wall of the Thomson Dam. Snaking into the distance, on the wall of the Thomson Dam.

From here, head back through Rawson towards Moe, turning west (a right turn) on the Moe Willow Grove Road to Hill End, Fumina South, and Tanjil Bren (the turn is within sight of Moe). The road is sealed – but mostly narrow – skirting the southern rim of the forest as you wind west, then north and north-east to Mt Baw Baw National Park. 

The drive is a cracker, especially if you enjoy a smooth-flowing, winding forest drive. We stopped for a picnic lunch where the road meets Pennyweight Creek just beyond Fumina. 

Towering mountain ash: Fumina's version of the 'Valley of the Giants'. Towering mountain ash: Fumina's version of the 'Valley of the Giants'.

The bush here is temperate rainforest with sodden tree-fern valleys and giant timbers of towering mountain ash. Caution is needed if heading off-road to explore a little deeper. We took a brief diversion along an access track following the path of the river, but discretion proved the better part of valour when faced with sticky bog-holes and a degenerating track.

Again, although a bit of huffing and puffing and wheelspin was needed, the light-duty C-HR got us back to the bitumen.

From there we picked up chains at Tanjil Bren – a $30 hire fee, but it's mandatory to carry them into alpine regions at this time of year – and headed up into the national park.

Entry is $56 for one day, $20 for each consecutive day, with plenty of parking soon after you hit the snow below the alpine village. One of the attractions of Mt Baw Baw is that there is a rarely a crush to get on anything or go anywhere.

Clear skies, no chains necessary, but they must be carried at all times. Clear skies, no chains necessary, but they must be carried at all times.

Mt Baw Baw Alpine Village

Mt Baw Baw is a little off-the-radar for serious downhill skiers, but the cross-country skiing here is sensational and there are seven lifts servicing 15 ski and snowboard runs. 

At 5141 feet (just 700 feet less than Falls Creek, and 1000 feet less than Hotham), it doesn't have the long runs of the big resorts, but it does have reliable snow, plus snow-making, and commonly gets late falls that some of the other resorts miss out on.

Even on weekends in winter, Mt Baw Baw doesn't have the busy-as-Bourke-Street bustle on the slopes that you can find at Mt Buller or Mt Hotham and which can be intimidating for beginning skiers. 

Joys of ski-school. There are some great cross-country trails looking down over the green fields of Gippsland far below. Joys of ski-school. There are some great cross-country trails looking down over the green fields of Gippsland far below.

These slopes aren't as busy as some, so you can spend time helping the kids come to grips with the skis or snowboard without fear of being run down by kamikaze 17-year-old daredevils. 

Skiing here is also relatively inexpensive compared to the more-frequented slopes; on weekdays, a day ticket is $53 day for adults, children $38 (weekends $80 and $45/day), making it a great place for young families, and perfect for introducing the younger members to snow sports.

There is welcome country-town feel to Baw Baw's alpine village. It doesn't have the commercialism of the big resorts, nor the huge cheek-by-jowl apartments and brash apre-ski bars. No, things here are on a small scale, and there are lots of reasonably-priced accommodation choices.

No crush here either; good coffee and good fare at Village Central Restaurant. No crush here either; good coffee and good fare at Village Central Restaurant.

So, you've run out of excuses. Pack up the family and head to the hills – but turn it into an adventure by taking the longer less-travelled roads.

Accommodation

You can stay in a rustic stylish cabin like Wombat Cabin for $419 night (two bedrooms), or, if there are more of you, Anare Ski Lodge sleeps up to 14 people for $405 a night. There are also apartment-style options for singles and couples. 

With good eateries, spectacular views out over the Latrobe Valley, and just 120km from Melbourne, Mt Baw Baw is one for the family-list of places to go.

What's your favorite snow-trip destination? Let us know in the comments below.

Comments