The Victorian High Country (VHC) sits near the top of most Australian off roaders list of places to visit. Few places in Australia offer such a substantial area of 4WD tracks, gorgeous camp sites and scenic outlooks as the Victorian section of the Australian alps.
Knowing that the area was so vast we elected to get a local to show us around, and few locals are better qualified to guide you through the high country than Ron and Trent Moon, so we joined a TVAN only Moon Tours tag along trip for a week that cherry picked the best of this superb area.
Out starting point for the high country adventure was the town of Corryong, nestled near head waters of the Murray River beside the Vic-NSW border and home to the Man from Snowy River Museum. We set up camp at the friendly Mt Mittamatite Caravan Park then caught up with our travelling crew, including some familiar faces from past trips. The trip started in earnest by getting to know each other over a hearty dinner and drinks at the local pub.
We generally favour remote travel, alone and at our own pace, but a guided trip like this is a great way to explore an unknown area while enjoying the social side of being with a group of like minded adventurers. In addition to Ron and Trent in the two guide vehicles there were six of us towing TVANs of varying pedigree and with a variety of tow vehicles.
Our first day proved to be a great introduction to the area and was a real eye opener for those who hadn’t taken their rig far from formed roads. An easy run into the mountains was a chance for everybody to pick up on convoy travel protocols and the banter on UHF #16 soon had everybody melding together.
The area we were driving through had been razed during the 2019/20 bush fires, and although it was recovering the skyline silhouette was an endless row of blackened tree skeletons. The twisted burnt trees contrasted with outbursts of white and yellow wild flowers at ground level, together this made the scene stark yet beautiful all at once, and the lack of tree foliage made for expansive views all around.
Not long after dropping our tyres to off road pressure we came to our first driving challenge, a steep and loose climb to the summit of Mount Pinnibar via the northern approach track. Suzzanne and I were called to be first of the towing vehicles up the slope and the 200 Series Landcruiser did the climb easily in 2nd Low, admittedly with the rear locker engaged and plenty of rocks getting thrown from spinning tyres. The others followed one by one, with a pause when a tyre broke its bead on one vehicle and had to be changed on a difficult slope.
Once at the summit swirling mist obscured much of the view at top of the mountain, but made for a dramatic scene, with gaps in the clouds revealing glimpses of distant peaks and valleys.
After weaving down the mountain we came to our camp for the night, right on the Vic-NSW border and on banks of the Murray River at Tom Groggin campground.
Experience and lessons of day one had the touring TVAN team eager to go again and day two was set to dish up plenty more tight tracks and breathtaking views. We wound our way up and over Mount Hope through forest trails where the dust hung in the air, making me glad to have fitted a Unifilter sock on snorkel of the Cruiser to help protect the engine from dirty air. I’d also later change the cabin air filter which ended up choked with dust, no matter how far behind the leading vehicle you followed.
Each ridge and rise revealed another post card panorama while the gullies and valleys full of ferns and moss gardens had their own beauty. There was plenty of evidence of the roaming brumby herds with huge territorial mounds of horse manure on the road and verges, many needing to be driven around rather than over. The horses themselves however were proving to be elusive, no doubt running into the thick scrub long before our approaching vehicles drew near.
After a day of wheeling we arrived at our next camp at the mist shrouded Nunniong High Plain. This proved to be quite a chilly camp site with a cold damp wind bringing everybody closer to the communal camp fire that night. Upon waking early we got a great surprise, with the lifting morning mist revealing a large mob of brumbies grazing on pasture just behind camp, proving that there really were mountain horses around us.
Day three saw us dropping down the mountains through more tight forest trails, with morning tea at the amazing old Washington Winch. This preserved steam-engine powered cable winch was used early last century to haul and load timber out of the forest, with an amazing web of guy wires and haulage ropes strung out through the forest canopy. Although this equipment was used to strip natural resources from the forest I can’t help to be amazed by the ingenuity of the contraption, and in awe of how men, horses and bullocks dragged such massive machinery up these mountain slopes.
From here we dropped into the Tambo River valley, meandering through gorgeous pastural properties and into the historic village of Omeo to refuel and refill, including with pies from the towns famous Crazy Cow bakery.
The crew were soon mobile again and back on forest tracks heading to Dinner Plain, an alpine residential village that services the winter skiing fraternity. We approached the village from the Carmichael Falls track before joining the bitumen Great Alpine Road which circled the ski fields of Mount Hotham with great views in all directions.
We eventually dropped back off the sealed road, onto the Dargo High Plains Road, then the King Spur Track to reach our camp at Devils Hollow. And this was our most spectacular camp of the trip – with the TVAN backing onto an escarpment below which spread a beautiful valley of snow gums.
Exposed nature of the camp made for another chilly evening and proximity to the drop off meant it was not a place to walk too far for a night time pee. 🙂 But the camp site was spectacular and the camp fire session that night was enjoyed by all, including some impromptu poem recitals and sing-alongs as the alcohol consumption increased.
Morning of day four saw us unhitching our TVANs in readiness for a drive up the infamous Blue Rag Range, a narrow and steep climb to a mountain summit adorned with one of the areas ‘trig points’, or trigonometric survey markers.
After soaking up the view and grabbing the obligatory photos we wound our way back to the waiting trailers for lunch. With TVANs hitched again the group moved on across the high country tracks.
During the tour Ron Moon provided great insight into the area’s post settlement history and the many personalities involved in opening up the area to cattle grazing, logging and mining. The man is a living encyclopaedia of Australian history and exploration, by both first nations people and post settlement Europeans. One of the historic places visited during the afternoon was the former site of Grant, a gold rush town that emerged during the late 1800s and then dissolved again when the ore ran out.
Our next camp was another beauty, at site of the former Talbotville township on banks of the Crooked River. This stunning location had plenty of flat grassy area for us to spread out, with a feature of the place being dozens of century old pear trees laden with fruit that must have been planted when the place was a thriving village that served local mines and loggers.
Being camped next to a clear flowing stream provides us with a great opportunity for a hot shower without drawing down on our water tanks. I carry a stainless steel bucket for just this purpose, which allows a scoop of creek water to be heated on the fire from which a rechargeable Companion brand pump draws up a steaming hot shower.
To finish off the day we unhitched and drove along the Crooked River Track to the abandoned Good Hope Mine site, another of the areas gold mines. Once again I was astounded at how they dragged a steam powered stamper up a track that was barely able to walk up, and by the time we got to the top Suzzanne and I were both puffing like steam engines too. The information sign told a story of gallant failure, despite all the work and funds put into the mine it never made a profit and was eventually abandoned.
After our exploring, then being washed and fed we settled in for another evening around the communal fire pit to recount the day and plan for tomorrow. And that plan included one of the areas more infamous drives, across the Billy Goat Gruff Track…
Start of our fifth day saw us continuing along the Crooked River Track, then beside the Wonungarra River through many water crossings and tight forest sections, emerging at the flat beside the Kingwill Bridge where the TVANs were unhitched in readiness for our run up Billy Goat Gruff.
As we approached the track dark clouds swirled in, then as we started the climb rain could be seen blowing across summit of the Pinnacles and surrounding mountains. First part of the drive was fantastic with many scrambling climbs and sheer drops on each side of the track, but when we reached the helipad it was clear that the weather was closing and it would be foolish to keep climbing. After admiring the view and looking upward to the track disappearing into the clouds we retreated to the parked TVANs for lunch.
With heavy weather closing in we made a dash for our next camp, in the grounds behind the famous high country Dargo Hotel, which meant a pub dinner as a change from camp cooking. It turned into quite a night with plenty of distractions, not only due to the iconic pub décor but also a group of media people shooting for an off road tv show, together with a Ford Australia crew test driving next generation Rangers and Everest vehicles covered with camouflage wraps.
Our sixth morning on tour had somewhat of a false start – from Dargo we headed onto Marathon Road with intentions of heading across the Avon Wlderness Area, only to find the road barricaded closed after having been on it for nearly an hour. That meant back tracking and eventually taking a long but scenic route through the upper Gippsland region to Licola for lunch, then winding up the mountains to the Howitt High Plains.
We were soon in soupy fog, so thick that you could barely see the vehicle only a few metres ahead. With hazard lights flashing we slowly picked our way along the track toward Howitt’s Hut, our planned camp for the final night of the tour. Instead we found the mist shrouded hut area had already been claimed by a large group of horse riders with associated floats and tents.
We instead set up at the hut’s overflow car park a little further along the track, an area normally set aside for bush walkers and hikers to leave their vehicle. Time lost due to our detour and slow progress in the fog meant darkness had almost arrived by the time we parked up. In thick swirling mist we set up camp and quickly gathered around the fire pit while drinks were served from Moony’s Bar.
And so our seventh and final day of the TVAN tag along arrived, waking at a camp site still dripping wet with fog and mist. After a quick breakfast and pack up we were back on the trail, dropping from the Howitt High Plains on the tight and winding King Billy Track with its snow gum lined ridges and fern filled gullies.
We eventually switched across to Bluff Track, stopping by Lovick’s Hut for lunch then Bluff Hut, both great reminders of the pioneering mountain cattlemen that sheltered in these alpine huts while they worked cattle through the mountains each summer – real life men from Snowy river.
We were literally on the wind down now, following the twisting Brock’s Road down from the high country to the Sheepyard Flat Campground in the valley below. Here we farewelled our tour companions with promises to stay in contact and catch up again, including on future Moon Tours adventures already in the pipeline.
For the Travelling Two the day was not yet over, we were now on a timeline that needed us back in Brisbane for my next cancer treatment but also to beat the crazy flooding rains that had engulfed south east Queensland and which would soon start pouring into NSW. But that is another adventure, watch out for our next blog that covers the our trip homeward. 😉