Dare to leave the beaten bitumen path and you’ll be rewarded with a magnificent mountain ride
The Dargo Road runs from Victoria’s Gippsland region through the picturesque Alpine National Park to where it meets the Great Alpine Road at Hotham Heights. This route includes a large unsealed dirt section that is unsuitable for sportsbikes, but for those with even moderate off-road capability it is a brilliant ride through some of the area’s awesome alpine scenery.
Access from the south is via either Stratford, or further up the Princes Highway at Bairnsdale. Stratford is the better option as it adds a little more dirt into the mix, while the Bairnsdale to Dargo section is bitumen. Either way the road offers some nice views over the valley as you ride north from the edge of the Gippsland region towards the township of Dargo. There are large tracts of national park on either side as you close in on the Dargo High Plains, and there is a distinct ‘Man from Snowy River’ feel to the area. In places the low vegetation rolls away from the dirt road, opening up great views across to the snow-capped mountains in the distance.
Rolling into Dargo is like stepping back in time and you almost expect to see hard working drovers sitting outside the pub, horses tied to the wooden rail. On one ride many years ago we did actually catch up with some guys on horseback driving stock along the Dargo Road in the middle of winter. Very cool – literally! There is a lot of interesting history associated with Dargo, and much of it started with the gold rush in the mid-1800s, when the promise of gold in the Crooked River and local tributaries brought miners and the associated economy into the Grant area. Not much evidence of that period is left now, save for a few old mine sites and rusty relics of the machinery used.
The road north from Dargo is the better part of this ride with around 70km of well-maintained dirt road before you get back on the blacktop at Mt Hotham. There are plenty of open sweeping bends with good visibility where you can hook in and enjoy the ride with little traffic to get in your way, although keeping an eye out for wildlife is a good idea. The road then winds up the iconic Dargo High Plains where it is prone to snow in the colder months, so take care on shaded corners that can remain icy all day. This road can be closed during more extreme weather so check before you leave on your trip. We usually call the Dargo Hotel or General Store to get accurate information.
This is an excellent link route to add some dirt to the riding mix, as well as offering some interesting stops and stunning views along the way. If you have an adventure bike you really should put it on your to-do list.
The Dargo General Store has fuel, including PULP, and there are fuel options available at either end of this route. The store also carries basic bike service items including chains, brake pads, tyres, bearings and oils, as well as maps of the area.
The Dargo Hotel has cabin and bunkhouse accommodation, as well as food. They often cater for bike riding groups who use it as a base to stay a few days and explore the local area. The General Store is well stocked for everything else you might need and also has good accommodation options.
Things to do
There’s plenty to see around the spectacular valley including a stand of 100-year-old walnut trees. Walking the river tracks is an interesting exercise in history, while the high country above the valley offers spectacular vistas over the surrounding alpine ranges. Dargo itself is popular with riders who use it as a base for exploring the magnificent alpine areas that surround the town – these are easily accessible via a network of minor roads and fire trails. Some of the more famous tracks like the Blue Rag and Billy Goat Bluff Tracks are well worth riding and have outstanding views at some of their higher points, although not all are for the faint-hearted. Mount Hotham is just up the road and caters to skiers in season.
There are numerous minor roads and tracks throughout the area which are accessible from Dargo. For dual-sports it is possible to head northeast from Dargo towards Omeo for a more adventurous option on tighter tracks. For dirtbike riders based in the area the possibilities are almost endless with fire trails heading in all directions. The steep nature of the high plains area is reflected in the riding though, so be prepared for some gnarly climbs and descents. For riders of roadbikes there are also plenty of awesome stretches of bitumen in this area, including The Great Alpine Way, which runs through Mt Hotham. This should probably be avoided in mid-winter, however, due to snow and ice danger.
There are several good bike shops on the Princes Highway throughout the Gippsland region but not much at the northern end of this route. At Dargo itself, Tom runs the Dargo Hotel and is always quick with a helping hand, as well as being pretty handy on the tools himself. If you can find Dan across the road he is even better on the spanners, although he just bought a new adventure bike so may well be out on the trails somewhere.
The Dargo Hotel has a range of bunkrooms and cabins available. Call Tom for details on (03) 5140 1231.
The General Store also offers accommodation options, from a two-bedroom cottage to a five-bedroom house. Call Sue for details on (03) 5140 1219.
The Dargo General Store has several fuel bowsers with one being PULP – (03) 5140 1219.
The Dargo General Store stocks a good range of food supplies if you are camping in the area, as well as providing hot takeaway food options. They also have a takeaway liquor licence.
The Dargo Hotel has a good bistro for sit-down meals and offers a great variety of Aussie pub food.
By Tim Munro