Planet View: S37°11.263’ E146°21.649’
Street View: S37°11.263’ E146°21.649’
We lost one of our troop to the call of civilization when we dropped off Gina at the Melbourne Airport, she needed to be back in Adelaide to start work for the coming wine vintage at Chapel Hill. Chris and Bessie were yearning for more adventures though, so from our early morning airport drop we ventured inland a few hundred kilometers, bound for the Victorian Alps. We restocked in the country town of Seymour before heading to Mansfield, roughly 50 kilometers west of Mount Buller ski resort. It was a sweltering day with high winds, a little scary being in the foothills in that kind of weather with the reminder of last year’s Black Saturday bushfires clear in our memories. As a precautionary bushfire measure Alpine National Park was completely closed when we arrived in Mansfield, so we ventured just out of Mansfield to the beginning of our trek at Howqua Hills Historic Area. The Howqua Hills area is a stretch of brilliant campsites along the beautiful Howqua River, there’s also a number of restored alpine huts in the area that can be rented from the owners in Mansfield. We found an empty area at Noonans Flat and setup for the day, escaping the 40°C+ (104°F+) temperature by relaxing in the adjacent river and trying our hand at snagging some of the mountain trout (unfortunately the water was too warm for them to be biting). When Eucalypts get too hot they tend to drop limbs, we heard the crashing of large tree limbs a number of times during the afternoon, we made sure not to camp underneath any big trees!
Fortunately a cold front moved in during our first night in the mountains, so we could start our 4WD adventure the next day. Breakfast was another wildlife-filled event with a couple of beautiful Crimson Rosella Parrots venturing in at the sight of all the grains in our bowls. Chris again demonstrated his animal friendliness, chatting to the pair to get them comfortable and eventually being able to hand-feed them nuts whilst they perched on the back of the tank. When I was taking photos of the female parrot the male moved in on my cereal, both of them eventually taking a liking to Chris’s muesli. Lynn Westoby and Randy Luce, you would have been in heaven!
The Victorian High Country is known for some of Australia’s most picturesque yet challenging 4WD routes. I had a feeling we were in for some nail-biting driving when the 4WD guide we have in The Tank described our proposed route as difficult, suggesting to allow three days to complete the 190 kilometer (118 miles) trail across the Great Dividing Range. The track started out relatively easily, we wove our way through the mountains on Brocks Road on our way to Upper Jamieson Hut, taking in the beautiful fern gullies and towering Eucalypts along the way. The cold front brought with it some light drizzle and fog, driving through the fog was at times a little tricky as our visibility was reduced to a number of meters. After passing Upper Jamieson Hut the trail progressed in difficulty, with a deep river crossing across the Jamieson River and then some gnarly downhill sections with cliffs on one side of the track and slippery, wet rocks making up the trail. The final climb to King Billy at the ridge of the Great Dividing Range was quite harrowing, The Tank again proved its superiority off road, crawling up the steeper sections of the track with relative ease. King Billy was the pinnacle of our trip across the alps, we topped out at 1562 meters (5125 feet) above sea level. I would have liked to grab a few more photos of the trail to King Billy but it was just too dangerous to stop the vehicles on the steep inclines to take any shots…
From Brocks Track to King Billy we had a bit of a mini-celebration at reaching the peak of the Great Dividing Range and continued on to the King Billy Track. More nail-biting driving along the King Billy Track, at a few points I think Lisa may have peed her pants just a little bit, and we were at the beautiful Howitt Plains for lunch. By the middle of the day it was raining quite heavily in the Alps so we found the Howitt Plains Hut, one of the many alpine huts dotted across the high country, and sought refuge for a hot cup of tea and a bite to eat.
From Howitt Plains we continued east in the rain along the Zeka Spur Track, headed for Wonnongatta Station at the end of the day. On Zeka Spur the terrain turned from difficult to extreme, we’d often stop the vehicles and express our amazement that we’d made it through the technical section we’d just put behind us. None of us knew that vehicles were made to be able to tackle some of the terrain along Zeka Spur, super-steep downhills riddled with huge boulders, mini-crevasses and some very slippery mud in the wet weather. The difference in tyres and vehicle weights was quite evident on the steeper downhill sections of Zeka Spur, Bessie with Chris at the wheel slipping and sliding in the mud, thankful for ruts to keep the vehicle on the track while The Tank’s weight and deeper tyre tread allowed Lisa and I to dig in and be a lot less squirrely. Regardless, some very heart-pounding sections of the trail that we were thankful to put behind us, Lisa drove the whole way and made me proud, almost pulling the plug once or twice and handing the wheel over to me but sticking it out to tackle the most advanced 4WD track I’ve ever seen. We had a bit of fun getting Chris and Bessie unstuck on one of the steepest sections of track, I ran uphill to see where they were and found Bessie with her front differential lodged solidly on a boulder with the entire vehicle’s weight pressing down on the rock. Chris initially tried logs under the wheels to get enough traction to move Bessie backwards uphill, when that didn’t work I dug room under the tyres and propped them up on rocks, eventually giving Bessie’s two spinning wheels enough traction to lift her backwards and change course to avoid the problem boulder. Some hairy driving for sure, but man it was a lot of fun!
We finally made it down the Zeka Spur Track to the Wonnongatta Valley and Wonnongatta Track. The Wonnongatta is a beautiful high country valley with the Wonnongatta River flowing down its eastern edge, there are a bunch of picturesque bush campsites dotting the rivers edge for a few kilometers, we stopped off for the night at one of them, amazed that the cars and the three of us were all still in one piece after eight hours of solid driving to travel roughly 90 kilometers (56 miles)! Our spot in the Wonnongatta Valley was one of my favorite campsites of the trip, the flowing water of the nearby river, beautiful Eucalypts and seclusion making it a really special spot. Another wildlife experience with a late night visit from a mother and baby possum while we sat by the fire, the possums in the surrounding trees also woke Lisa a few times during the night. We had a look at the isolated ruins of the nearby Wonnongatta Station in the morning before heading out, amazing to think that almost 100 years ago cattlemen inhabited the harsh high country valleys with stock.
From the Wonnongatta Valley we continued east through the Alps, crossing the Wonnongatta River four or five times through the Wonnongatta Valley on our way to Wombat Spur Track. If we thought we’d tackled some steepness the day before we were in for a shock along Wombat Spur. I think I would have struggled to walk up or down the Wombat Spur Track, Bessie and The Tank crawled up roughly four kilometers of the track in first gear low-range. The fact that we made it without any complications amazed all of us, we were very thankful it wasn’t raining for our third day in the high country given the sheer inclines we tackled along some of the tracks. The Wombat Spur incline is another spot I would have loved to snap some action shots but it was just way too dangerous to stop the vehicles anywhere along the way.
Once reaching the peak of Wombat Spur we cruised along the ridge for half an hour or so, taking in the picturesque fern-filled Eucalypt forests and weaving in and out of the high country fog hanging around after the previous day’s storm. The Wombat Spur Track veered onto the Cynthia Range Track midmorning and we began our decent toward Talbotville. The Cynthia Range Track was just as steep as the initial sections of Wombat Spur, The Tank and Bessie again impressing us all as they crawled down the rocky incline in first gear low-range. With each vehicle’s weight pressing down on the engine I’d hate to think of the pressure on some of the engine manifolds and cylinders.
We let out a breath of relief at the end of the steep Cynthia Range Track, figuring we were pretty much done with the hair-raising portions of our trek across the Alps. We crossed the Wonnongatta River a few more times, eventually passing through the ruins of the settlement of Talbotville and onto 2WD-capable dirt roads. We made a quick stop at the ruins of Grant, an old high country goldfield town, as well as taking a peek in one of the old mineshafts that brought the area such a massive influx of prospectors 150 years ago. A little eerie walking around the old sites in the alpine fog… We had a little celebration once reaching the bitumen near Dargo, giving our vehicles a massive hug and each other a few high-fives, before heading down the mountains to the quaint, sleepy settlement of Dargo.
What a journey, 190 kilometers in three days and undoubtedly the most intense off-road driving any of us has ever done. Nothing broke, no-one flipped and we all made it alive! Such a beautiful area of the country. Both Lisa and I were a bit sad to bid goodbye to Chris during our drive back toward Melbourne, a great traveling companion for us with his brilliant bush cooking and jovial personality. Fingers crossed he’s serious about meeting up with us again as we continue our tour of this great Land Down Under…
This entry was posted on Thursday, January 14th, 2010 at 7:30 AM and is filed under Australia, Victoria. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.