When traveling great distances, I turn to Google maps to help fill in the gaps of my journey. The trick? I pick spots either next to a large body of water, or near a state or national reserve. The results of this have been spectacular, as I was led to Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland in between Florence, Italy, and London, England. The area is said to have inspired some of J.R.R. Tolkiens infamous tales. My vacation to see an American friend now living in Melbourne, and Sydney friends as well, got me thinking about taking a stop for a few days on the train ride to make the most of my Australia travel. On the map I spotted Mt. Buffalo National Park. It seemed to have everything I needed! Then I turned to find a nearby town to stay. While looking for accommodation, I found a delightful small village by the name of Bright. It’s filled with getaways of all kinds from quaint BnBs, hotels, tenting grounds to trailer parks. There are no name brands here, so don’t expect to cash in any reward points for a free night. But the town itself was well beyond what I thought it would have in store for me. It was the best location during my trip to Australia. Hiking, trails, nature spots, quiet country side, and a huge bicycling community. It sounded like heaven, truly.
Unfortunately I took absolutely 0 pictures of the actual town. I only went into town to grab food or do some souvenir shopping and it never occurred to me to photograph anything other than the trails and nature. But the town is essentially a flat, small area with one main shopping street, and tons of eateries. I’m betting the number of buildings that are two story you could count on one hand. All the better for viewing the lovely roaming mountains visible in the distance! Many of the restaurants are there to support the influx of tourists and visitors who come from nearby accommodation or bicyclists from other nearby towns.
Getting to Bright from Melbourne
I got to Bright by taking the train from the Southern Cross Railway station in Melbourne to Wangaratta Railway Station. You can reach here from Sydney as well, but it’s a long ride and you’d be better off hitting up the Blue Mountains if you’re just looking for the great outdoors. Right inside the train station parking lot, I boarded a bus that eventually dropped me off in town in front of the Alpine Hotel on Anderson St. Smack dab in the middle of town. Alpine Hotel is a great dive/biker bar with cheap eats, live music on weekends, and a good lunch spot if you’re going in between adventures.
The coach ride into Bright was absolutely beautiful. It felt like someone has swept their hand gently up and down a sandbox to create the mountainous landscape. The valley is neither rugged nor wild despite being largely untamed. The whole stay offered clear blue skies and wonderful light with constant forecasts. Days were neither unpredictable or changing on a dime the way Melbourne’s weather did. I couldn’t take my eyes off the window the whole ride in.
You can lookup time tables or plan transit for just about any transit system in the whole of Victoria province through the Public Transit Victoria website. It was integral to planning my trip around Melbourne and beyond. Bright coach doesn’t run as often as urban transport may so make sure you can time the trip. Also note that the several bus routes are available, and all make stops in several other towns and places to stay along the way including Porepunkah, Myrtleford, Harrietville, Mt Hotham, Benalla, and Beechworth. Many of these towns offer a quiet and relaxed escape into the Victoria high country as a terrific holiday destination.
What to Do in Bright
Originally I figured I would have blown all there was to do in a small town within the 3 whole days I had on hand. Boy was I wrong. The area really excels as a summer vacation site and has been a beloved family getaway long before the dawn of television. It’s retained a lot of this feeling as I walked through the streets and parks. I often saw elders curled up next to the Ovens River which flows through the town, reading from a legit paper back sometimes, but often a Kindle. Laughter skirted around my ears as families BBQed outside their tents and young kids splashed on the rocky creek beds. Cyclists roamed gently on bikes between towns to take in a beer tour. I encountered hikers and walkers alike on the suspended bridges, my legs dangling over the former gold panning sites of the 1800s. I tapped into what was a small offering of trails and walks in the area.
For all its beauty, each day there unfolded for me with something new. The town is littered with small cafes, an ice cream parlor not to be passed up, and several fine or casual dining experiences. A few small strips contain an array of shopping pleasures from a new set of handcrafted earrings, to organic seeds, to Nepalese incense. Take a stroll down Barnard St. through to Ireland St. for a bit of shopping.
Le Blanche Ice Creamery Rum Raisin all the way
Shimla for dinner
Country Collectables for souvenirs
Bright Chocolate Factory for a tour of how-to
Nature in Bright
The main attraction of the valley is the outdoors itself! Long walking trails that snake between towns, and a biking trail also known as the Rail Trail or Murray to the Mountains trial that goes 116km/72 miles. The routes are covered extensively through brochures, printed guides, and small booklets all across the town and accommodation in Bright. You by no means have to take on the whole of a trail, and I found a mental and physical beauty in walking a few miles or kilometers towards one direction rather aimlessly with no real goal. The area has broken down different trails based on difficulty, length, age appropriate, or for highlighting specific sites. Some tours will take you for a foodie, beer, or nature tour. Others to visit specific points of interest like the Chinese swing bridge. Check out the trail guide here. I myself did the following:
I found these lovely rock sculptures while taking a sunset stroll on the east side of town. It was really a surprising and beautiful find. I wondered who had made it, and how long they would last. Someone had a lot of ingenuity to make them balance as such.
Rent a bike for at least one day to head onto the Rail Trail or to other towns. I also highly recommend the Canyon Walk, and start an hour or so before sunset to get some beautiful light. The way it hits the bridges and creek beds is fantastic, and the trail itself is spotted with a few fascinating signs regarding the history of the location. Much of the two rivers that flow through town, Ovens and Morses, were former mining and panning sites. There is a lot of history concerning Chinese immigrants who came in the simultaneous gold rush that had hit Western United States around the same time. The creeks are torn up and exposed in many places from former mining efforts which make for some great scenery. None of the commercial efforts are on the creek anymore.
Where to Stay
There are SO many small cottages, BnBs, apartments for rent, and hotel rooms in Bright. I’d recommend you take advantage of the local flavor and stay in a BnB. While I did spend time in a cabin with Big4Bright, a brand name cabin and trailer park accommodation in Bright Victoria, I had a better experience staying with the lovely couple that run GateKeepers Traditional Bed & Breakfast on the northern side.
It’s a beautiful spot up above a high ridge against the Ovens River. Secluded, but just a few minutes walk from the small water park, main attractions and shopping of the town itself which I think makes it ideal for families with small children. I also was able to save some money by buying groceries from the nearby Woolsworth, and cook at the cabin which came with a full kitchen and cookware supplies. The staff is friendly, approachable, and extremely informative. They had plenty of brochures, discounts, and knew exactly who to call for what. Through them, they managed to help secure me a ride to and from Mt. Buffalo. They also insisted I check in and leave phone numbers with people when they found out I was hiking alone which made me feel cared for.
Keith and Pauline, the owners, are the absolute best blend of hospitable and informal care takers. I spent a fair joint of time here and there speaking with them about the joys of nursing, bird watching, vacationing, and the finer points of being a great host. Spoiler alert, they’re the great hosts. When I decided to stay an extra day and screwed up my time table for the bus, Pauline and Keith gave me a lift back to Wangaratta Rail Station which left me feeling humbled and appreciative. It’s a bit removed from downtown, but that’s not a problem considering the whole town is walkable from one side to the other in under 20 minutes. It’s closer to some of my favorite trails including the Rail Trail and the Canyon Walk.
Don’t be surprised if it’s hard to find a place short term in the summer. This location is largely a family and retirees retreat with many repeat vacationers. While I certainly enjoyed one location over the other, I could hardly say there are bad places to stay in such an idyllic location. There are literally hundreds of listings in the valley area and many residential areas are up for grabs as rentals. However, I recommend the south side of the town if you are more into walking since there are many inter-connected trails that start and end in this area. If you’re more into biking, stay in the northern side since more of the cycling areas that are flat with come in and out of that area. In reality however, the town is pretty tiny and would only make the differences of a few minutes in walking.
All in all, if you’re planning a trip to Australia consider tacking on Bright, Victoria onto your list. The landscape is at anyone’s disposal for free, and bicycle rentals aren’t going to put a dent into your pocket. There are plenty of highly rated tour guides too if you’re looking to get a bit more out of your experience. Next post we’ll talk about the beautiful Mt. Buffalo National Park, and how the town opened its arms wide to ensure I had a great (but safe) adventure.
Be sure to check out the town’s website. Very helpful in giving you a sense of accommodation and vacation rentals, along with things to do. Was really essential in helping me plan my vacation to Bright, Victoria. The beautiful high country of Australia!