We had been on the road a couple of weeks and slotted back into the camping lifestyle really easy.
We passed through rolling, dry pastures peppered with native gums before the grazing lands gave way to lush forest as the road ascended onto the Tolmie Plateau.
This was ‘Bushranger country – an area where, in the late 1800s, infamous outlaws took shelter because of the denseness of the woodland and the difficulty for authorities to traverse the hilly terrain.
Tolmie was an interesting little town with an interesting history and first came into being in 1879 as a vibrant farming and timber cutting community.
In the 1880s farm selections were taken up in the Tolmie district, then known as ‘Wombat Ranges’, and farmers grew potatoes and oats as well as raising livestock.
It was named after Ewen Tolmie (1838-83) who held the ‘Dueran Pastoral Run’ from 1860-80.
A school was opened in the then ‘Wombat Ranges’ in 1880 with the Wombat school picnic beginning in 1886, the forerunner of the annual Tolmie Sports Days, which continues to be staged at the recreation reserve, a Presbyterian church was built in 1889, the year the town name changed to Tolmie and by the 1920s there was a general store, Catholic church (1904), hotel and mechanics’ institute (1920).
Today all that remains at the location is the recreation reserve and remnants of the old township – the Uniting (formerly Presbyterian) and Catholic churches, the adjacent mechanics’ institute, the headmasters house and the foundations of the old school that closed in 1953.
We stopped at the recreation reserve for lunch then made tracks for Myrtleford.
‘Dueran Pastoral Run’ also included part of the Wombat Ranges, an area well known as a refuge for colonial bushrangers. Ned Kelly had strong links to the region and Harry Powers made his hide out in the surrounding hills.
Not far from Tolmie along a 12-kilometre dirt track is where the notorious bushranger, Ned Kelly, committed a crime that made him a very much wanted outlaw – ‘Dead or Alive’. The events involved the killing of 3-policemen for which Kelly was eventually hanged in the old Melbourne Gaol. He escaped capture at Stringy Bark Creek but was later arrested at another famous incident in Glenrowan.
A memorial to the fallen police and interpretive signs tell the story of what happened on that day in 1878.
Further along the road we came to the turn off to ‘Powers Lookout’ and followed a 3-kilometre trip along a gravel road to reach the lookout where we were greeted with spectacular views over the Wabonga Plateau and Mount Cobbler to the southeast.
This location was an almost inaccessible point and marked a point where Henry Johnson, also known as Harry Powers would escape the law and hide out in a cave in the lower reaches. He was said to have been a very strong influence over Ned Kelly with Ned Kelly beginning his career as a contemporary to Powers.
Rain had started to fall lightly when we arrived at the lookout and the temperature had plummeted from 28-degrees to 15 but it was still a glorious spot overlooking some stunning views.
The main viewing platform was easy to reach but the ‘hideaway’ was only accessible 300-metres down an extremely steep metal staircase to a viewing platform. The rain was still persistent so we decided to give this tough climb down then back up a miss as the mist had started to descend over the ranges.
From Powers Lookout Powers Lookout we returned to the Tolmie Road, turned right and continued our journey north through more forested country.
We continued on down a very windy descent for another 20-kilometres until we reached the little town.
It was a pretty town situated in dairying, tobacco growing and wine growing district in the highly scenic King River Valley where lush river flats were surrounded by some magnificent high country.
Its main attribute seemed to be link-roads to other tourist destinations but, apart from some humorous use of the word ‘Whitty’ on many of the property and business names, there wasn’t a lot there only a pub and a general store come post office, a vehicle repair service, 2- caravan parks and public toilets.
Around 13-kilometres out of Cheshunt the road reached the intersection with the Upper Rose River Road, which leads off to the right to the Rose River and the Cobbler Plateau but we continued along the Myrtleford Road, which followed the Rose River northeast to Dandongadale River.
Turning right towards Dandongadale the road turned to gravel and climbed steeply to the open country of the Wabonga plateau, then dropped down again into the Rose River Valley.
We passed quite a few campsites bordering the river and many good fishing spots and 4WD tracks along the way.
This road followed the Buffalo River, skirting the western shores of Lake Buffalo where we could take in the beautiful views from the road and across the water to the southwestern face of Mount Buffalo.
We eventually arrived at the beautiful town of Myrtleford having passed through lush crop land of hops and vineyards on the latter part of our journey, a distinct change from where we had come.
As we drove into the Myrtleford Caravan Park, one glance towards Mount Buffalo confirmed that this had been another day marred by fires. Smoke engulfed the mountains over the trees and as we set up camp 3 or 4 fire trucks returned to the little village after a day of fighting another blaze.
Originally called ‘Myrtle Creek Run’ in the early 1800s, Myrtleford was a very pretty town with avenues of deciduous trees that lined the streets. A beautiful sight in Autumn with many trees standing in their full coloured grandeur and others just beginning to drop their leaves.
One side of the main street of Myrtleford was dominated by large buildings and store fronts with the imaginatively named Myrtleford Hotel. On the other side of the tree lined avenue were quite a few cafes, restaurants and pizza places all vying for the tourist trade. This small town was the height of activity and we could only imagine what it would be like in the winter months when the ski season was in full swing as this is the gateway to Mount Hotham.
2-wheel action seemed to be a popular pastime in this part of the country with lots of cyclists out riding on the rail trail. The ‘Myrtleford Rail Trail’ is approximately 94-kilometres of bitumen sealed path that was built over the disused railway line from Bright to Wangaratta.
This is something we quickly added to our ‘bucket list’ – a special trip to Victoria just to ride the rail trails and it was exciting to learn a new trail from the ‘Snowgums to the Rivergums’ otherwise known as the ‘Mountains to the Murray Rail Trail’ from Wangaratta to Wahgunyah on the Murray near Corowa is under construction.
Just over 30-kilometres on we came to the beautiful town of Bright.
On the banks of the Ovens River this little town again provided a leafy, tranquil setting with the flaming colours of autumn leaves. The blazing colours were spectacular and it was a perfect time for us to be driving through picturesque north-east Victoria.
The avenues of elms, chestnuts, poplars and scarlet oaks in these Alpine towns are a legacy of the original pioneers and their vision for the future.
Life is certainly good in these little towns surrounding the mountains. There are mountains to bike down, or hike up, rivers to walk along, an abundance of cafes to eat fresh produce and drink good coffee at and breweries and wineries to sit and relax at.
Built around the junction of the Buckland and Ovens Rivers, Porepunkah is the nearest town to Mount Buffalo National Park which dominates the skyline to the south and is also the entry point for the beautiful Buckland Valley.
Named for the Hindi word for ‘gentle breeze’ this small town, featured only a general store, a hotel and a few shops but was well worth the short trip to see.
In the 1860s Wandiligong teemed with gold miners and in its heyday its 2000-strong population built schools, churches, shops, a public library and hotels. Many still stand and today the entire town and its landscape are National Trust-classified.
The Mount Orient Mine ran eastwards towards Freeburgh and it is thought German miners bestowed the name Freeburgh, probably derived from Freiburg. A locality of Germantown is between Bright and Freeburgh.
Ore crushings occurred during the 1860s, but mining activity continued until the 1900s resulting in a school (1865), a post office, an athenaeum, a sawmill and 2-hotels being built.
Smoko is the small community appropriately named after the several large tobacco farms which used to line the road and Ovens River on its journey through a picturesque valley surrounded by berry farms, nut plantations, forests and mountains.
It was only a small town but a pretty town with more blazing autumn colours, a general store, 2- hotels, and a selection of accommodation.
The leaves of its deciduous trees certainly created a spectacular display and this was definitely something about these beautiful Alpine towns that captured my heart.
One tight bend after another, with steep drops on one side – occasionally both sides and not a view to be seen across the ever-deepening valleys as fog engulfed us.
We continued to climbed continuously through eucalyptus forest and we soon passed a building that advertised the hire of snow chains for the Mount Hotham winter.
The Great Alpine Road is sealed for its whole length, and is kept open all year but it is a legal requirement that snow chains be carried between Harrietville and Omeo during the official ski season, which is early June to early October, even if there is no chance of snow.
The vegetation had changed markedly by the time the road reached this point. We had left the eucalyptus forests behind with the few trees along the ridges now stunted and wind-blown, only some snow gums having survived.
We had been experiencing some very strong winds for most of this stretch of road especially on the exposed sections where we were buffered by strong cross winds.
This was the beginning of another steep but shorter climb. Here a series of orange poles mark the road during snow… and we were really surprised when out of the thick mist a flashing light mounted on the bike of a lone cyclist passed us as he headed in the opposite direction.
With the rain and thick fog, this was a drive to be treated with respect. We struggled to see Mon and Neil’s car in front of us and any chance of a view or a photo opportunity was non-existent. It was one serious drive that demanded careful attention from the driver with many steep drops beginning almost at the edge of the road… and no crash barriers, which made the drive all the more precarious!
We often passed signs indicating our altitude – The Meg, Water Gully, Graveyard Gully, Miners Creek to name a few. The road continued to climb and wind across and up the mountain and after a rather terrifying trip that seemed to go on forever, we finally drove through a short tunnel providing the only stretch of clear road for many kilometres. This marked our arrival at Mount Hotham Village and the highest point of the Great Alpine Road reaching 1764 metres elevation.
Mount Hotham was enveloped in thick fog giving an almost mysterious secluded isolated feeling.
The temperature had dropped to 12-degrees and visibility was still almost non-existent as we passed the village and began to descend along a road where the low, windswept scrub was replaced with straggly snow gums.
Set back from the road it was completely hidden amongst the mist and the thick snow gum outlines.
As we descended, the road now appeared less steep than the road from Harrietville to Mount Hotham, and it was not nearly as windy – but still the low mist continued.
We passed the Mount Kosciusko Lookout knowing that any chance of a view was non-existent.
On our last trip we had good views over Omeo, the surrounding high country and the distant peaks of Mount Kosciuszko and Mount Townsend, Australia’s 2-highest peaks, which are around 100-kilometres away in the NSW Snowy Mountains… but not this time.
By the time we reached Omeo and pulled into a little park for lunch the fog had cleared but there was still a light drizzle.
Gold was discovered at Omeo in the 1850s and some old buildings including the red brick Post Office and the Courthouse still remain on the eastern side of the little village but unfortunately the buildings on the western side were destroyed in the 1939 bushfires.
On a previous trip we had travelled to Omeo from Bairnsdale along the Great Alpine Road following the Tambo River through a beautiful river valley of acacias and the small town of Bruthen, a rural village situated 24-kilometres north-east of Bairnsdale. On that trip we headed across the Great Diving Range to Mount Hotham, Bright , Myrtleford and Beechworth before heading home.
From here, a gravel road led us along the Benambra-Corryong Road over rolling hills and past running creeks and beautiful farmland into the Nariel Valley.
It was still raining when we turned off onto the Benambra Road and into the Alpine National Park. Every track and camping area had a name on this road – Curtis Flat, Martin Vollers Yard, and the ‘Australian Alps Walking Track’ cut its way across the road in front of us.
The temperature had risen slightly to 17-degrees but still low mist and rain made it almost impossible for any photo opportunities.
46 kilometres south of Corryong we came to a fantastic camp spot known as Stacey’s Bridge Reserve. We were surprised at how many vans and tents occupied sites but given it wasn’t far off the beaten track from Corryong we could see why it was a popular free campground.
This very busy creek-side camping area was set in amongst beautiful scenery but just a little crowded for us so we pushed on having found a reserve on CamperMate not far along the road.
Established in 1963 the festival still runs every year at the end of December, beginning of January and is a celebration of traditional folk music, song and dance. The event has been held since the early 60’s, making it one of the longest running folk festivals in Australia.
The campground was well set up with a number of long drop loos, fire pits and typical bush showers surrounded by roofing iron.
There was plenty of room to spread out and at $5 a night it was certainly a spot we marked on our map to stay at again.
Next morning, we passed Colac Colac Caravan Park, or ‘Clack Clack’ as the locals call it. Set on 15- acres on the banks of Narial Creek we were told it is a beautiful caravan park.
The township of Corryong was only 8-kilometres up the road.
This is ‘Man from Snowy River’ country!
Located in the picturesque foothills of the Snowy Mountains and the birthplace of the mighty Murray River, the Corryong and the Upper Murray region is renowned for courageous and skilful horse riders.
Jack Riley (1841-1914), claimed to be the legendary ‘man’, was the head stockman at Tom Groggin Station.
He lived in insolation in a hut high up in the hills at Tom Groggin and loved the Snowy Mountain Country. He was also good mates with Walter Mitchell of Towong Station who introduced him to Banjo Paterson while on a camping trip.
A statue in the main street near the Visitor Information Centre honours Banjo Paterson ’s ‘The Man from Snowy River’, and the grave of Jack Riley, claimed to be the ‘legendary man’, lies on a hill above the town.
Towong is the home of the historic Towong racecourse where scenes from the film ‘Phar Lap‘ were filmed and where the gangster Squizzy Taylor once stole the takings, was not far along the road from Corryong.
Squizzy Taylor was an Australian gangster from Melbourne who was often under suspicion related to a 1919 violent gang war. He was involved in a robbery where a bank manager was murdered in 1923 and had a fearsome reputation that was described as the Australian equivalent of the ‘American bootleggers’.
Taylor was featured in the Australian series Underbelly: Razor, a 13-part series covering the Razor war which occurred in Sydney during the 20s and 30s. It was broadcast in 2011 with series 6 based loosely on his life.
We turned off onto Tumbarumba Road just to say we had crossed the Murray River into NSW where we checked out the old bridge and a great campground on the opposite bank of the Murray River then back on Victorian soil we began our Murray River journey heading west.
There is no river like the legendary Mighty Murray, which spans across Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia stretching 2,500-kilometres so come travel with us and experience all the Murray has to offer…
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…