Snowy River National Park
390km (242 miles) NE of Melbourne
The Snowy River National Park, with its lovely river scenery and magnificent gorges, protects Victoria's largest forest wilderness areas. The Snowy River was once a torrent worthy of Banjo Paterson's famous poem, but since Snowy Mountain Hydro-Electric erected a series of dams, it's become a mere trickle of its former self.
Getting There & Getting Around -- There is no public transit in this area. The two main access roads are the Gelantipy Road from Buchan and the Bonang Freeway from the logging township of Orbost. MacKillop's Road (also known as Deddick River Rd.) runs across the park's northern border from Bonang to a little south of Wulgulmerang. The area around MacKillop's Bridge, along MacKillop's Road, has spectacular scenery and the park's best campgrounds, set beside some nice swimming holes and sandy river beaches. The Barry Way leads through the main township of Buchan, where you'll find some of Australia's best caves.
Visitor Information -- The main place to get information on the Snowy River National Park and Alpine National Park is the Buchan Caves Information Centre, in the Buchan Caves complex (tel. 03/5155 9264). It's open daily from 9am to 4pm (closed Dec 25). Or call Parks Victoria (tel. 13 19 63 in Australia).
Exploring the Buchan Caves
The Buchan Caves (tel. 13 19 63) are in a scenic valley that is particularly beautiful in autumn, when all the European trees are losing their leaves. Tourists can visit the Royal and Fairy caves (which are quite similar), with their fabulous stalactites and stalagmites. There are several tours daily; from the end of Easter to September they're at 11am and 1 and 3pm, and from October to Easter they're at 10 and 11:15am and 1, 2:15, and 3:30pm. Entry to one cave costs A$15 for adults, A$8.50 for children 5 to 16, and A$41 for families of four; for both caves, the cost is A$22 adults, A$13 children, and A$61 families.
To reach the caves from the Princes Highway, turn off at Nowa Nowa. (It's well signposted.) If you're coming south from Jindabyne in New South Wales, follow the Barry Way, which runs alongside the Snowy River.
Alpine National Park
333km (206 miles) NE of Melbourne; 670km (415 miles) SW of Sydney
Victoria's largest national park, at 646,000 hectares (1.6 million acres), the Alpine National Park connects the High Country areas of New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. The park's scenery is spectacular, encompassing most of the state's highest mountains, wild rivers, impressive escarpments, forests, and high plains. Some parts of the park have been devastated by horrific bushfires, but it is slowly recovering. It's green, but evidence of the fire lingers; you'll still see swathes of blackened tree trunks. The flora is diverse; in all, some 1,100 plant species have been recorded within the park's boundaries, including 12 not found anywhere else. Walking here is particularly good in spring and summer, when a carpet of wildflowers covers the Bogong High Plains. The best known of the numerous walking trails is the Alpine Walking Track, which bisects the park for 400km (248 miles) from Walhalla to the township of Tom Groggin, on the New South Wales border. There are plenty of access roads into the park, some of which close in winter.
From October to May, horseback-riding treks are another option for seeing the area. Watson's Mountain Country Trail Rides (tel. 03/5777 3552; www.watsonstrailrides.com.au) are just outside Mansfield and offer short rides daily year-round. Rides run for between 1 hour and all day (A$40-A $100 per person, depending on the length of ride and if lunch or dinner is included). McCormack's Mountain Valley Trail Rides (tel. 03/5775 2886; www.mountainvalleytrailrides.com.au) offers a day ride to Craig's Hut, the set for the movie The Man from Snowy River, for A$220 per person including lunch; an extension of this ride over 2 days, with camping in the lovely King Valley, costs A$500. Longer rides are also available, generally including camping, food, and just about everything else, though you should check whether you'll need a sleeping bag. It's a little out of the way, but worth the detour, to go riding with Packer High Country Horse Riding (tel. 03/5159 7241; www.horsetreks.com), whose trail rides start near Anglers Rest. Other horseback-riding operators include Bogong Horseback Adventures (tel. 03/5754 4849; www.bogonghorse.com.au), and Lovicks High Country Adventures (tel. 03/5777 5510; www.lovicks.com.au).
Angling Expeditions Victoria (tel. 03/5754 1466 or 0409/241 762 mobile phone; www.anglingvic.com.au) is the best option for fly-fishing for trout in the alpine area during spring, summer, and fall. Trips last from 3 hours to all day and are suitable for everyone from beginners to experts. Overnight trips are also available.
Getting There -- Routes from Melbourne include the Great Alpine Road (B500), the Kiewa Valley Highway (C531), and the Lincoln Road from Heyfield. The Bluff is accessible from Mansfield along the Maroondah Highway.