The woman at the Tallangatta servo could not have been more emphatic. “Sealed all the way … all the way to Omeo.”
The last time I’d considered riding the Omeo Highway was on a return trip from northern New South Wales. The night before had ended with a ride on a twisting, mostly unsealed road from Wee Jasper to Tumut in the foothills of the Snowy Mountains, and the prospect of more time on shifting, unpredictable gravel was too much. I opted for bitumen all the way, towards Mount Beauty before tacking east through the Tawonga Gap to Bright, and then on to Omeo. If not the most courageous decision, it delivered a memorable ride.
But now the other option beckons.
Travelling south from Tallangatta, the first section of what is officially the Omeo Highway is fast paced in open country with long straights and sweeping corners alternating with two or three-kilometre passages of tight but by no means diabolical corners. It is 55 kilometres of absorbing riding all the way to Mitta Mitta. The town is worth a stop as a break before the more demanding section to Omeo, perhaps even for a refresher in the family-safe swimming hole behind the pub. The town has the last fuel pump before Omeo, too.
While the alps are a constant presence and the journey runs through sometimes dense forest but still with breathtaking panoramas, the scenic stars of the ride are the ever-changing alpine rivers that run alongside the road. That the next stage will be very different is clear once you leave Mitta Mitta. The road climbs steeply to a ridge from where the river, a pretty, sometimes sleepy, sometimes rushing presence on the first leg of the journey, is now a gleaming silver ribbon, at the bottom of a sheer drop beyond the tarmac’s narrow shoulder.
There is no sadder sight on a motorbike than tyres worn square from too much freeway riding. This section is a cure for that: the road presents a series of tight and still tighter switchbacks through the mountains for 108 kilometres to Omeo. Natural hazards include fallen rocks and wildlife.
About 40 kilometres from Omeo, the highway drops into the valley where the Big River presents another cooling option – a short, sandy beach and shallow, running water – before the road resumes its serpentine path in the vicinity of Anglers Rest.
There is minimal traffic, which lessens the chances of any mid-corner surprises. Riders can, however, expect caravans, as there are several camping areas along the highway, including a well-patronised site at Anglers Rest, but there are frequent straights for overtaking.
More great riding
Omeo has a few accommodation options – hotel and motel, which are adequate – and a lively pub but limited dining choices. In any case it’s not the end of great riding. South from Omeo you pick up the Great Alpine Road to Bruthen, a twisting ride through shaded gullies sweeping alongside the Tambo River.
Still, the lady at Tallangatta was right. It has existed for 90 years, but the Omeo Highway has never been more accessible than it is now.