The Hotham Hill Climb to Omeo

Published
Dec 8, 2022

Words
Anita Coia, Mt Hotham Resort Management

Photos
Mandy Lamont

Riding up a mountain doesn’t seem like the sanest thing to do, but there are thousands of keen road cyclists who would disagree as they tick off Australia’s great ascents. One of these is most definitely the climb along the Great Alpine Road in Victoria from Harrietville to Mt Hotham. If you’re really keen, and we were, you can continue through Mt Hotham through the alpine hamlet of Dinner Plain to Omeo, a quiet town with an elevation only 179 metres higher than Harrietville.

There are many aspects to this ride that make it worth doing, and one of them is the striking scenery changes you encounter along the way. As we worked our way up from Harrietville, we found ourselves leaving the quaint avenue lined by European trees and ascending into pure forest, surrounded by towering trees on the narrow, winding road.

It’s a pleasant enough ride until you come to The Meg about 6 kilometres out of Harrietville. It’s a steep hairpin bend to the left with a gradient of about 9%. Turning that corner and seeing the climb ahead of you for a further couple of hundred metres is not thrilling, but just as your legs start to really protest the road levels out and your legs can recover. Riding back down that stretch later in the day is even more exciting – you want to make that turn without catapulting over the barrier, so it’s a delicate operation of playing the brakes to wash off speed without completely losing the thrill.

From here, it’s a leisurely climb again until you pop up onto the ridge and into the stunning views over the surrounding valleys. There are a number of places to stop and admire the scenery, which now includes the iconic snow gums. On the day we rode, the weather deteriorated into rain and cold, so it wasn’t as invigorating as it could have been, but it was still well worth it.

There’s not much to speak of in the way of a road shoulder along the whole length we rode, but drivers around here are used to seeing cyclists on the road. This means there’s an unspoken mutual agreement – cyclists try to ride single file when there’s a bit of traffic, if it’s safe to do so, and drivers give cyclists a wide berth. It seems to work well.

The tough parts of the climb are not yet over, though. There’s still the challenge of CRB Hill, 1.1km at 10% gradient, around 22 kilometres into the ride. The twists and turns force you to keep your eyes planted on the road ahead, but if you get the opportunity to take a quick glance to your right, you’ll see the Dargo region opening out underneath you.

If you’re unlucky enough to get a day with a bit of wind, you’ll be starting to notice it now. That’s the other thing that makes this ride one to boast about. The high altitude and the exposure for about half the distance between Harrietville and Hotham means that you could encounter any sort of conditions – from road-melting heat to snow flurries and nasty cross-winds. Just keep in mind that coffee and hot lunch await you as you put your head down and persist.

When you reach Little Baldy Hill, you’re pretty much on the home straight with about 3km to the Mt Hotham Village, and about 4km from sustenance at The General, which is open all year round, seven days a week. However you haven’t quite finished the tough climbs, so you need to have a bit left in your legs. From Diamantina, not only will you spot the incredible Razorback Ridge walk on your left, but ahead you’ll also see your final challenge – 1.4 kilometres at about 9%. Lots of curves, but also lots of incredible views to your left.

From the Loch carpark, where the Alpine Gateway is currently being constructed, it’s all downhill into the Mt Hotham Village, through the tunnel under the Hull skier bridge. It’s a sleepy place outside of winter, but a mecca for hikers, and if you have the time it’s worth a sleepover to check out the network of trails extending into the High Country. The Australian Alps Walking Track runs through the Mt Hotham area, and the Falls to Hotham Alpine Crossing trailhead is located close to the village, where the new year-round visitor facility, the Alpine Gateway, is currently being constructed.

We cruised through the village and on to Dinner Plain for lunch, another 12km of pretty much flat road with a few rolls. From there, it’s about 44km to Omeo, mostly downhill though with a few hills to keep you on your toes, but you are dropping elevation by over 900 metres.

Refuel

Mt Hotham Village supplies free fresh drinking water and public facilities at the Transit Station next to the main Village carpark (Corral carpark). You can also stop at The General in the resort for a meal, coffee or cold drink.

If you’ve got enough left in the tank to keep going, Dinner Plain also has a couple of cafes and pubs that are open year-round.

Route Information

Harrietville to Hotham

Distance: 30.8km
Rise: 1,279m
Grade average: 4.2%

Mt Hotham to Omeo

Distance: 54.2km
Descent: 1,065m
Grade average: 2.0%

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