The first leg of our next Aussie adventure started with a voyage across the wide blue sea to mainland Australia.
The trip across Bass Strait on the Spirit of Tasmania to Victoria was a 12-hour uneventful day sailing, which I said I would never do again, but with the tourist season in Tassie booming it was the only spot we could secure with our vehicle, or wait to the end of May.
Our first port of call was Geelong to visit family… and then our journey began.
Let us take you on an adventure as we explore the Victorian High Country.
This country is well known for its breathtaking views, 4WDing, mountain biking, gourmet foods, wineries and skiing but whichever season you choose to visit the scenery will always be magnificent.
In winter you will find the mighty mountains blanketed in snow with Mount Buller, Mount Hotham and Falls Creek a winter wonderland and in summer it is surrounded by picturesque mountains, valleys, rivers and lakes… unspoiled country that was once the home of Victoria’s traditional cattlemen.
The 4WD tracks are not the hardest 4WDing we had come across in Australia. However, they were definitely some of the steepest terrain we have driven.
It was the end of summer and bushfire weather when we set off. Much of the area was still closed because of fire activity and there had been little rain judging by the dry country side, the tracks we followed and the shallow creek beds we crossed.
If you plan on following in our footsteps please be aware the 4WD tracks are closed from early June to late October for the ski season so be sure to check Parks Victoria to check road conditions before making the trip.
We were heading up to the High Country with people we had met on the road on a previous trip.
Neil and Monica were experienced 4wders and had been to the area before and Graham and Kaz were to meet up with us a couple of days later. Graham knew the High Country well – according to Kaz it was their second home, they spent a lot of time in the High Country, Graham in particular who was an avid deer shooter in the area from a very young age… so we were in good hands.
After spending a night at Monica and Neil’s we headed off on a very cold and rainy Gordon morning.
Gordon came to fame in 1858 when gold was discovered 5-years after the discovery at Mount Egerton, about 5-kilometres to the south.
It was originally a settlement with only a collection of huts, a post office and a court house, until a township was surveyed in 1860. Farm selections were taken up, then in 1863 a sawmill provided timber suitable for more elaborate town buildings. Between 1879 and 1886 Gordon was a terminus for the railway from Ballarat. Gordon ’s prosperity now depends on agriculture and the discovery of natural mineral water springs.
Our journey started along the Old Melbourne Road that took us to the Western Freeway then onto the very busy Hume Highway.
Branching off at the Bradford-Flowerdale turnoff our journey continued along the Murchison Highway, over the Great Dividing Range, through Strath Creek and along King Parrot Creek Road to the Goulburn Valley Highway.
Out the back of the Yarra Valley we travelled through Yea and onto the Maroondah Highway, passing through a series of little towns before eventually joining the Hume: Molesworth, Merton, Bonnie Doon and ‘blink and you will miss it’ the tiny village of Yarck.
The Hume and Hovell expedition was one of the most important explorations undertaken in eastern Australia. In 1824 the Governor of New South Wales, Sir Thomas Brisbane, commissioned Hamilton Hume and former Royal Navy Captain William Hovell to lead an expedition to find new grazing land in the south of the colony, and also to find an answer to the mystery of where the New South Wales western rivers flowed.
Yea was originally a gold mining town and historical buildings still stand including Beaufort Manor (1876), Yea Shire Hall (1894), the post office (1890) and several hotels and churches.The Yea River flows around the edge of the town centre and a large reserve known as the Yea Wetlands has been developed around a group of small lakes beside the river.
Several scenic drives can be enjoyed from Yea.
Further north, the road ascends through scenic gorge country to a granite plateau. This road passes through what is left of the former gold mining town of Ghin Ghin, past Mt Broughton and onto the small hamlet of Caveat which was originally inhabited by Czech settlers.
Victoria has the most developed rail trails of all the states. Formerly known as ‘The Goulburn River High Country Rail Trail’, ‘The Great Victorian Rail Tail’ traverses undulating farmland and features the only tunnel on a rail trail in Victoria and a long bridge across Lake Eildon.
Next on the map we passed through the grazing and dairying district of Yarck where we stopped for a break. This little hamlet is a popular stop over point on the way to Mansfield and the rail trail is right on its doorstep, running only about 100-metres behind the little town.
Yarck was the name of a cattle station, thought to be derived from the Aboriginal word ‘yaruk’, meaning long river. The area was called Home Creek until 1903, and the first Home Creek school was opened in 1870. It closed in 1873 and another one was opened the following year, closing in 1993.
In 1909 the grazing and dairy district of Yarck had a post office, a store, a branch bank, a public hall, a hotel, 3 churches, a mechanics’ institute, sawmills and athletic and racing clubs. Today there is only a hotel, a general store, a hall and a few cafes.
Continuing along the Maroondah Highway the small town of Merton looked nothing more than a Roadhouse-fuel Station on the highway but hiding behind the facade of the roadhouse and tucked away from view was a memorial hall that opened in 1923, a post office that opened in 1858 and a picnic horse racing club called the ‘Merton Amateur Turf Club’ that was established in 1865. Merton still holds its one race meeting a year with the ‘Merton Cup’ on New Year’s Day. The railway to Mansfield arrived in this little town from Tallarook in 1890, and closed in 1978 with the last passenger service in 1977.
Rolling hills lined the countryside as we drove on. This was sheep and cattle country, though still very dry country.
From the very bleak weather at Gordon the conditions had improved somewhat to reach a balmy 19 degrees.
Bonnie Doon, the gateway to the High Country, was next on our map. We were still following the ‘The Great Victorian Rail Tail’’ and this is where we crossed the huge bridge over Lake Eildon, once a rail bridge, but now part of the cycling/walking trail.
Hume and Hovel became the first Europeans to pass through the Bonnie Doon area in 1824 and by the 1850s a few station owners had taken up large areas of land from Government leasehold. Until then there had been only a few wandering Koori clans who seldom stayed in the area.
This was the first stop of our exciting High-Country adventure. It is a beautiful old town with many historic buildings dating back to the stock route and cattleman days.
After stocking up on groceries and filling up with fuel we headed for Sheepyard Flat, where we planned to camp for a few nights and await our friends.
Passing through Merrijig and Timbertop, we arrived at the turnoff to Sheepyard Flat Campground only to be confronted with a huge flashing sign to say it was closed due to fire activity. Fires had been burning in this area for quite a few weeks, which now meant there was no access to the many off road tracks including Wonnangatta and the Dargo High Plains where we were planning on heading.
This is where the mountains meet the bush – from open grasslands to rugged mountains, gentle flowing rivers and cool forests. It is situated halfway between Mansfield and the base of the alpine resort of Mt Buller.
Timbertop is a full-time boarding, co-educational campus of Geelong Grammar School. Established in 1953, by the then Headmaster James Darling. In 1966, Charles, Prince of Wales, attended Timbertop for 6-months with the event widely publicised.
Disappointed we couldn’t access Sheepyard Flat we then resorted to Plan B of our camping trip.
Buttercup Campground was only a short distance along the Alpine Highway so turning around we followed the highway to Carters Road and into the State Forest where, after crossing 2 creeks, we turned onto Buttercup Road.
Set back from the road we found a nice little spot beside a small creek at ‘Buttercup 4’ campground. The campsites were small but as we were the only campers, we had more than enough room to spread out and have a nice campfire. It was lovely and shady and the tumbling water of Buttercup Creek and the beautiful birds provided a peaceful background sound.
Camping is one of life’s greatest pleasures and some of my fondest childhood memories are of times spent in a tent, sometimes in the backyard or on camping trips as a Girl Guide… complete with scary stories, campfire songs, toasted marshmallows and bananas wrapped in foil and smothered in melted chocolate then cooked in the hot coals.
This was our first night of free camping for this trip and it was so nice to be immersed in nature once again; the bush smells, the first campfire, sitting under a blanket of stars and finding the Milky Way, enjoying food cooked on the open fire and eating outside, the conversation, campfire stories and the silence.
Next day there were plans to be made… which way were we heading?
Heading back to the Alpine Highway we drove through the toll gate at Mirimbah.
The toll gate only operates during the snow season from June to October as does the ‘One Stop Shop’ on the tranquil Delatite River.
This store was originally built in the 1900’s to support the local sawmill settlement which operated at the base of the mountain. It now provides ski hire and everything you might need to get you on the slopes faster – snow ski and board hire, boots, clothing hire and snow chains.
It was a steep, winding drive to the top of Mt Buller . Thick gums lined the edges of the steep drop offs and we overlooked rolling mountain tops blanketed in smoke haze.
Driving through the village of Mt Buller was quite spectacular. It was a lot bigger than we expected and a hive of activity with lots of workmen working on new buildings in readiness for the winter ski season, although I should imagine the summer season would be quite busy too.
Many of the village facilities are open year-round as this area has lots to offer with great walking and mountain biking trails and 4WDing tracks.
We drove through the village to a car park below the summit then walked up the last steep section to the Fire Watch Tower where we were rewarded with amazing views looking directly out from the fire hut over smoke hazed valleys, the Snow Gum plains and the village of Mt Buller. Snow Gums in summer are really quite stunning.
We then made a quick trip to the Visitor Information Centre and with a map in hand we turned off on to the Circuit Road and headed in the direction of ‘Craig’s Hut‘ – a purpose-built prop famous for its part in the film ‘The Man from Snowy River‘. The hut was originally constructed in 1983 as the home of Jim Craig, the main character in the movie but in 1993, after being destroyed in a fire, it was rebuilt. In 2006 it was destroyed again by the Great Divide wildfire and again re built reopening in 2008.
The Circuit Road was an easy drive via Mt Stirling Rd.
Tall trees lined the track with the occasional fern glade – the vegetation along this route changed from sub Alpine, Alpine Ash forest to Snow Gums which dominated Alpine woodland.
We turned right at the kiosk and amenities at Telephone Box Junction, the main hub of Mount Stirling which in the winter months would also have a ski patrol operating.
We passed 2 cars going in the opposite direction over King Saddle. King Saddle was only 2-kilometres from Telephone Box Junction and again there were amenities and a shelter as well as several cross-country and walking tracks.
Razorback Hut was a further 1.5 kilometres on but unfortunately this road was closed.
The Circuit Road was originally created to provide access for logging vehicles but now it is mainly used for recreation, although harvesting of the Alpine Ash still occurs with areas of regeneration evident as we drove along.
It is about an 80-kilometre 2WD track, though it did have some rather rough sections that I wouldn’t like to take a 2WD over and it is also subject to seasonal road closures, as we found out – this time because of a bush fire burning nearby so again, it doesn’t matter what time of year it is, be sure to check Parks Victoria for road conditions.
The complete round trip starts and finishes at Mirimbah traversing through the Mansfield State Forest and sections of the Alpine region.
It is also the starting point for many 4WD tracks through the High-Country providing access to several tracks and points of interest including Craig’s Hut, Bindaree Falls, Mt Stirling, King Hut and Razorback Hut.
Next stop was Craig’s Hut. Craig’s Hut was set on a grassy knoll surrounded by beautiful Snow Gums and there would have been magnificent views of the surrounding mountain ranges had it not been so smoky.
The car park was full when we arrived but there was no-one at the hut, just us to admire and enjoy the peaceful surrounds. Other people arrived not long after us but we managed to take all of our photos without anyone else in them. It was definitely worth the trip.
With our day of exploring over we headed back the way we had come, through the toll gates at Mirrimbah and onto the Alpine Highway. We passed the turn off leading to our previous night’s camp then further down the track we pulled into the track to Sheepyard Flat and were surprised to find the sign from the previous day gone.
Ours plans were back in action and after a few messages to Kaz and Graham we set up camp and waited for them to arrive the following day.
The locals say that after the valley was settled, shepherds yarded sheep on this flat at night keeping the dingoes at bay and that’s how it got its name.
This was a fantastic camping spot covering a large area right on the river.
We set up camp and after hunting and gathering some fire wood Guy and I headed off with a bucket in hand for a much-needed wash in the rather cool but very refreshing water.
The next day was to be a rest day for us with the intention of spending another night at Sheepyard Flat with Kaz and Graham before heading off in convoy to explore tracks that had not been closed by the bushfires.
We enjoyed a nice leisurely stroll along the Howqua Hills Historic Walk following the self-guided interpretive panels along the Howqua River from Sheepyard Flat to Fry’s Hut at Fry’s Flat, stopping at the ‘The Chimney’ stack of an old gold mine along the way.
Fry’s Hut is an original hut built by master bushman, Fred Fry, in the late 1930s. Fred lived a solitary existence for many years in the Howqua Hills area mostly prospecting and his life in the Howqua Valley was the basis of Neville Shute’s 1950 novel ‘The Far Country’.
Back at camp we set about doing a few household chores and re packing our car to make it more user friendly. It only takes a few days of camping to be able to organise ourselves and arrange things so they are easy to find.
Kaz and Graham (and their 2 fur balls – Sam and Duke) arrived and set up camp and we had another lovely evening around the campfire – thank heavens Graham brought a small chainsaw with him. Wood was hard to find at this very popular campground being 2WD access and also used by horse riding groups.
An open fire is often one of the most enjoyable parts of camping for me, just being in the outdoors, the warmth and of course, the stories told around the campfire… but there’s nothing more satisfying than dinner cooked over a bed of hot coals or a cuppa made in a campfire billy.
Campfire stories are an important part of being in the bush also, as is good company and it was so nice to share a beautiful spot and lots of stories around one of our first of many campfires!
We often hear certain soothing noises in the middle of the night like a gentle breeze whispering through the leaves in the trees around us, the pitter patter of light rain on our tent, the gentle tunes being strummed on a guitar or the whispers from fellow campers… but on this particular night it was the unmistakable noise of the hooves of brumbies as they passed through our camp. The sounds of twigs snapping underfoot of the passers-by left us feeling relaxed and at peace with the camping world and excited to know we had experienced the sounds the the High Country is well known for!
The next morning, we packed up and headed along Brocks Road in convoy with our fellow campers. We were heading for Bindaree Campground for the night.
Steep drop offs descended down the sides of the dirt track and my heart was in my mouth as I encouraged Guy to move away from the edge.
It was pretty country even with the thick smoke that covered mountains in the distance but the early morning sunlight made it hard to see the road as it filtered through the gums, and the trail of dust left by the vehicles in front slowed us to almost walking pace as we made our way along the narrow track.
We pulled to the side of the track for 2 cars to pass. Luckily, we had been prewarned by Graham who was at the front of our convoy and it gave us time to find an area suitable to pull over.
We made our way through Refrigerator Gap, passing another 3 cars then we came to a 4-way junction where we turned onto 16 Mile Jeep Track.
This track was, it seemed, literally down the side of the mountain. It was the steepest and longest track we have experienced so far resulting in the hill descent on Harry the Hilux disengaging half way down. Our brakes were very hot by the time we crossed the picturesque Sixteen Mile Creek.
After some very rocky sections that tested our Old Man Emu suspension we came to an intersection and not knowing which track to take, the high road or low road, it was a radio call to see which way everyone went. The other 2 vehicles were quite a distance in front as we were trying to avoid their dust.
Following the high road, it was an easy climb out to Pikes Flat then another 1.4-kilometres down an access track to Bindaree Hut on the banks of the Howqua River flats in the National Park. This is usually a popular 4WD route but we were the only campers there that night at the lovely campsites by the river.
Bindaree Hut was also built by well-known bushman Fred Fry. He built many split timber huts in the region including Jamieson Hut, Ritchies Hut, Gardiners Hut and Noonans.
This was familiar ground to Graham, an area where he often tracked deer. Around the campfire that night he enlightened us on the deer population and a little bit of trivia about the hunting regulations; their feeding habits, when the season runs and the laws around shooting in the State Forest and National Park.
Next morning, we packed up camp, made sure our fire was out and hit the track again.
Crossing the river and heading into Mansfield State Forest we made our way up Bindaree Road to Bindaree Falls where we stopped to stretch our legs. Located amongst tranquil bush with lush tree ferns, a short 10-minute walk along a bush path led to a wooden viewing platform where a cascading column of clear water plummeted over a rocky cliff into the Howqua River.
The viewing platform passed behind the falls and allowed us to enjoy a small curtain of water flowing from the rocks above. It also made for a great photo opportunity.
Continuing on to the Circuit Road that we had frequented only a few days earlier we passed Stanley’s Name Gap and Speculation Road then pulled into the side of the track and waited for Kaz and Graham to detour to ‘Craig’s Hut‘.
Speculation Road is a 4WD track only and heads east from the Circuit Road. The track intersects with King Basin Road and continues on over the staircase towards Lake Cobbler. The Cobbler Plateau has the highest waterfalls in Victoria, the Dandongadale Falls.
The King Basin Road was on our right around 2-kilometres past the No.3 Road intersection.
Following the 4WD track past King Hut we headed towards Pineapple Flat on the banks of the King River but given that King Hut campground was so busy with a horse-riding group setting up lots of little ARB swags and it was a weekend, we opted to find a bush camp between King Hut and Pineapple Flat .
At this particular camp there were no long drops, just the traditional bush toilet, a spade, toilet paper and a box of matches but unfortunately in this camp area not everyone seemed to understand the basic concept of courtesy and had left all kinds of rubbish behind.
Now number 2’s, or poo as it is also known is something no one really wants to talks about but too many times when we have been camping, we have come across scattered toilet paper and rather unsightly turds laying on the ground.
I really can’t understand why anyone would do this and why they are so uncaring, lazy and inconsiderate to fellow campers… it’s not hard, in fact it’s really quite easy – if there is no toilet, grab a shovel, walk a good distance away from the camp, dig a hole 15-20cm, do your business and dispose of your toilet paper into the hole, put a match to the paper, fill in the hole and flatten to discourage wildlife from digging it up… quite simple actually.
Remember also – whatever rubbish you take into the bush you MUST take it out. It doesn’t take much to burn paper and cardboard in the campfire or crush cans so they don’t’ take up space – if you don’t throw rubbish on your floor at home, don’t do it in the bush!
After cleaning up some of the scattered rubbish and placing it in the firepit the boys had dug we set about hunting and gathering firewood then cooked up another beautiful meal in the camp oven.
Accompanied by the usual beer or wine we sat around our bush television for our last night with Kaz and Graham.
The following morning, we said goodbye to them both. We had had a lovely few days with the friends we had met at a roadside stop near Cairns on a previous trip.
We made plans to join them again at the end of the year to complete our Victorian High-Country adventure then tagging behind Mon and Neil we continued along King River Basin Road to ‘Pineapple Flat’ negotiating a few herds of cattle along the way and crossing a few minor rivers.
Pineapple Flat is 10-kilometres north of Mt Stirling in the western reaches of the park. It is reached via Burnt Top Track, which branches off King Basin Rd, which in turn runs off Circuit Rd. This route is for 4WD only. Those with a taste for isolated mountain tracks usually do a circuit of the area that involves the Sandy Flat, Longspur, Stockyard and Burnt Top Track, the latter providing some wonderful views of Buckland Spur but in our case, it wasn’t an option.
Branching off onto a ‘Burnt Top Track’ we crossed the rocky King River crossing and bypassing Pineapple Flat. We planned to continue on but unfortunately the track was closed due to fire activity so it was an about turn and back to King River Basin Road.
Eventually, back on the Circuit Track, we continued for another 18-kilometres returning to Telephone Box Junction then heading down Mount Stirling Road we were back to civilisation.
If you are looking for somewhere to visit in Victoria, the Victorian High Country is up there with the best; the 4WDing was exciting yet not too extreme, the free camping was amazing, the creeks were crystal clear, there was plenty of firewood for campfires, and there was something to see at every turn… be it a breathtaking view or an historic hut.
Huts that were used by miners, loggers, fisherman and forest rangers that have been around since the mid-1800’s are scattered in the valleys and on the ridges.
They are all full of character and while some are in good condition, others are run down… but they all offer something unique and are worth checking out.
Sadly, our High-Country adventure was over!
We couldn’t make it to many of the tracks in the High Country because of the fires but we will be back at the end of the year to finish them off.
Enjoy our travels!
READ ALL ABOUT OUR ADVENTURES TO THE DAMPIER PENINSULA IN WESTERN AUSTRALIA IN THE APRIL EDITION OF ‘4×4 TOURING AUSTRALIA’ MAGAZINE.
Click on the link to read our story…