BILLY GOAT BLUFF TRACK – THE VICTORIAN HIGH-COUNTRY…

Once again,our epic journey takes us off the black tar.

Previously…

In a remote region of the Victorian High Country, we traversed deer and brumby country, crossed wild rivers, were privy to incredible landscapes of crystal-clear waters, snow-gum forests, and snow-covered mountains. We enjoyed quirky tales around the campfire, visited historic huts and delved into the extraordinary history of an untamed country once frequented by spirited cattleman.

Starting at Sheepyard Flats on the Howqua River our journey took us into the Alpine National Park, up and over the Bluffs, across Howitt Plains, through the Wonnangatta, over the notorious Wombat Track and on to Talbotville, Grant and finally Dargo itself. 

You can read all about this great five-day adventure here… https://www.tassiesnowbirds.com/2021/12/27/were-heading-for-the-hills/

Now, let’s get to the start of our next big quest shall we…

Our journey started in the charming blink-and-you’ll-miss it town of Dargo.

Nestled in the foothills of the legendary Dargo High Plains and known for its groves of century-old walnut trees that line the valley floor Dargo is one of Victoria’s most remote communities that I had long yearned to visit… and if you enjoy a cold beer at the end of a long day after tackling the dusty high-country tracks… then the iconic Dargo Hotel is a welcoming sight indeed.

It wouldn’t be a trip to Dargo if you didn’t stop at this famous pub that dates way back to the gold rush times of the late 1800s.

Like most of these iconic pubs you will always find a bit of history residing in the form of aging photos, memorabilia and artifacts hanging on the walls, from the ceiling or tucked away in a dark corner. Each allowing travellers to gaze backwards and re-imagine eras long gone.

The friendly proprietor/s of this little pub certainly understand the importance of a good meeting place for locals and passers-by. It oozes charm and character the minute your pull in… and they serve a great cold beer, a delicious meal – and there’s even free camping out the back.

Our plan was to camp up then head on towards the Billy Goat Bluff Track the next day but after a meal that night where we enjoyed a yarn or two and laughed and commiserated with other 4WDers who told tales of their experience on this notorious track, we were soon left wondering what we were letting ourselves in for!

It appeared the Billy Goat Bluff Track would have to be one of the most talked about 4WD tracks in the Victorian High Country… and it didn’t take long for us to realise the rugged Victorian High Country we had just travelled was nothing compared to this track of horror and the significance of the bumper stickers we had seen on passing 4WDs declaring ‘I survived Billy Goat Bluff Track’. Something Graham and Caz who we were travelling with, and who had done the track many times, had failed to tell us!

Leaving Dargo next morning we headed south along Dargo Road to Short Cut Road. From here we turned west and headed along Crooked River Road through the scenic farmland and forested areas of the Wonnangatta River Valley.

Turning north at Kingswell Bridge it wasn’t long before the notorious Billy Goat Bluff Track loomed into sight snaking and climbing its way steeply up and along the mountain spur line and into the distance.

When I say this track is steep, I mean it! It’s a 1200-metre climb (or descent) over 10-kilometres of sheer hard yakka negotiating big rock steps, frightening narrow sections with sheer cliffs either side, potholes you vanish in and gruelling loose gravel.  The Billy Goat is a total commit track and once you are on it… there is no turning back!

With the sun high in the sky we began the slow climb coaxing Harry Hilux up and over the steep rock-strewn track where solid traction was very much in short supply – and trying not to slide halfway back down the mountain a real challenge.

We were only part way up the incline when lights started flashing on our dash with a message to pull over, stop and consult the manual.

Not really the most appropriate time for a message to appear on the dash or the most appropriate place to pull over with flatter sections quite scarce on this stretch of mountain track – so our only option was to let our mechanic friends in front know we were in strife and push on.

It was slow going and nerve racking over the next few kilometres as we secretly pleaded for no oncoming vehicles. Not only would passing be a challenge on this extremely narrow cliff edged track but stopping on such a steep incline or even turning around was not even a consideration.

Eventually as the steep track disappeared over the ridge and all we could see was blue sky we emerged onto a small, flat opening where Graham and Caz were parked up… we had thankfully reached the helipad.

This track has two distinct stages – the first that climbs to the helipad although I have no idea how anyone could easily get someone to the helipad to be rescued… and the second follows another ridge to the top of its neighbour.

Apparently, our problem lied in the fact that automatic off-road vehicles don’t come with an intercooler and that’s what’s needed to cool the oil in the transmission – so after an extended break to allow things to cool down and grab a bite to eat we headed off again. However, after leaving the helipad, it wasn’t long before we started to climb along the ridge again… and lights started flashing!

This time the steep sections, rocky step-ups and shifting rocks were a little more challenging resulting in wheels spinning and the front wheels taking it in turns lifting and struggling over the rock faces. Negotiating many of the dips and rises we couldn’t even see over the bonnet let alone know if you were still on the track.

I was shaking so much I could hardly hold the hand-held radio and was so thankful I had the go pro secured to the front of the Hilux to capture the footage. The views were amazing from many sections of the track and there were great photo opportunities from the helipad and a couple of clearings (only out the car window) but there was no way on the last section that I could have taken photos with the camera!

The final stretch to the summit was a very narrow ridge with sheer drop offs down either side – and just when I was deciding whether it was time to get out and walk the track skirted to the left … we had finally reached ‘the bluff’, a massive rock face at the top where we stopped to cool off, take a few photos and draw breath.  

The Billy Goat Bluff Track is frightening, thrilling, and breathtaking but don’t even think of doing it if you haven’t any 4WD experience or without another vehicle. For good reason this track is listed as one of the most dangerous and challenging tracks, not only in Victoria but all of Australia.

‘The Top of the World’

Perched high on this rocky escarpment a fire lookout tower overlooks the steep winding Billy Goat Bluff Track. Here Information boards highlighted the breathtaking 360-degree scene that reached before us taking in the far south and the distant Gippsland Lakes, the haze of a distant ocean to the east, Mount Hotham to the north, the Wonnangatta Valley far below.

Over the top and beyond the ranges…

Unsure what to expect over the top we were relieved to find the track heading out very easy. We didn’t really fancy wrestling another track like the one we’d just accomplished. Once was certainly enough!

Continuing towards Licola we stopped to capture the breathtaking panorama from Bennison Lookout where the views stretched across the mountainous heritage lands of the Wonnangatta-Moroka region.  

From here it was a pleasant drive along Tamboritha Road as it twisted and turned and descended from the Gunai Kunai rugged, mountainous lands of Tamboritha and Buragwonduc into the picturesque valleys of untouched and unspoilt country surrounding the Wellington River. The rolling hills giving little hint of the spectacular gorges and abundance of isolated camping areas hidden in this southeast corner of the Alpine National Park.

Just 23-kilometres from Licola where the gravel meets the bitumen, we came to the first of many riverside camping spots. 13 camping areas in total, all individually named, (Wild Cherry Tree, Boobook, Currawong, Paradalot, Tree Frog, Manna Gum, Muttonwood, Cockatoo, Breakfast Creek, Red Bluff, Redbox, Greenhold and Platypus), and each around a kilometre apart and some with the bonus of long drops (1,7,8,13).

Set in the low hills among the shade of eucalypt and mountain gums we had the choice of all the camps along the riverbank as given the time of the year, we were the only people there. Come warmer months though and this area would be crowded with summer campers and fishermen (trout and redfin) wanting to unplug from the mainstream for a couple of days.  

Detouring from the main road we pulled into Muttonwood. On the edge of the Wellington River this campground had several grassy, well-spaced, secluded, sites and although no amenities it suited us just fine. We loved the solitude, remoteness, and ruggedness of this country. No wi-fi, limited phone reception, a couple of lovely, shallow swimming holes with crystal clear running water to cool off in… and for the more adventurous souls a couple of hiking trails close by – Lake Tali Karng and Mt Howitt and Crosscut Saw and Mt Speculation.

For us this was to be our last night of High-Country camping before we pushed back up into the Alpine region through Omeo and Falls Creek. Our last night in the wilderness of convening around a campfire laughing, sharing stories, and sitting under the stars with our friends!

All to soon our drive in the mountains finally came to an end and the next morning we parted company where the road split into two at the old wooden bridge just north of Licola.

Caz and Graham headed along the Jamieson Licola Road that would take them north to Jamieson at the foot of Mount Buller, back to Mansfield then home.

We were heading back into Alpine Country via Southern Gippsland territory on a route that would take us through the town of Bairnsdale then on to Omeo where we planned to meet up with friends from Newcastle.

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