With a convoy of 7 cars we set off in the April school holidays for 9 days in the Alpine National Park of Victorian. Our first day on the road saw us travel through Canberra and Cooma, followed by a quick stop at the Schnapps distillery just outside Jindabyne where some warming nectar for those cold nights ahead was obtained. Continuing south we arrived at Tom Groggin by mid-afternoon where we spent our first night on the banks of the Murray River. By dusk all 7 cars had assembled and we quickly felt at home amongst familiar friends as we laughed and joked around the campfire.
It was hard to realise that Monday was a working day for many, however for us it was another day spent 4WDriving as we soon found ourselves sipping coffee in one of the pubs at Mt Hotham. A short while later we were back in the wilderness as we started our ascent of the renowned Blue Rag track. This trail cuts its way along exposed ridges and through forests of dead Mountain Ash trees before a steep and very exposed climb tops out at the Blue Rag Trig. From here the 360deg views were simply amazing as mountain after mountain seemed to fold into one another. Alas there was lots more to do so we had to press on where varying track conditions dictated our speed but most of the afternoon we found ourselves in H4. Sometime in the afternoon we arrived in the picturesque camping spot of Talbotsville vowing to return some day as the camping by the river looked very inviting. The remainder of our afternoon was spent making the very dusty and winding trek into Dargo. Once in town we sought out the local pub which offered free camping in exchange for dining at the pub, which I must say is pretty fair as many of us couldn’t finish a parmy due to the huge size.
Tuesday had us heading straight back into the mountains, today would be another memorable day as we scaled the dizzy heights of the Billy Goats Bluff track to reach the Pinnacles. For what seemed like an hour or more we went no faster than L1 would allow as we crawled our way up firstly Billy Goats knee then it was up the very exposed and ragged spur of Billy Goats Bluff, relieved to have made it to the top without having faced an oncoming car cause simply there was nowhere to pass anyone. Once at the Pinnacles we shared the 360deg views with the resident fire spotter who lives on site for a week at a time ensuring any fire outbreaks are quickly reported. After lunch we stayed up high making our way along numerous ridge lines and stopping a various huts before turning off the main ridge and dropping down into Wonnangatta Valley where we would spend the next 2 nights. As usual we enjoyed a nice night around the fire, toasting marshmallows and tasting various ports that everyone had brought along.
ANZAC day dawned to the howling of wild dogs in the hills, the night before it was the close proximity of deer that caught our attention. For me though, it was my birthday and I shared a lazy start to the day with family and friends, the fire had gone all night and we continued that theme throughout the day, all the kids played so well together while some of us used the nearby bitterly cold Wonnangatta River as an opportunity to have an improvised shower, this proving to be more comical than effective with the water temp being in the single digits. Much of the day was spent lazing around, we explored the historic Wonnangatta Station and surrounding farmland, our kids got to lesson in learning to drive the car. Thank god they have a while before they get their licence. By late afternoon our dessert chefs were busy preparing bush cheesecake and lemon meringue pie. Dinner was a lavish spread, topped with wine and bourbon. For dessert we toasted mine and Scott’s upcoming birthday before spending the rest of the night huddled around the fire.
Thursday saw us on the move again, a brief but fierce rain shower the previous afternoon meant we were packing up some wet gear. After a boring and monotonous trek into Wonnangatta Valley we chose to take a different exit route and were pleasantly surprised by how much quicker and enjoyable the climb out was, this however meant we said goodbye to Mike a little earlier than expected. With our convoy reduced by one we headed back into the mountains where we climbed up to the picturesque Lake Cobbler and a well-earned lunch break. Back in the saddle and with more exploring to be done we headed down the Staircase and onto King Hut where we decided to spend the night. An impressive and well-maintained hut beside the river provided a perfect backdrop to our campsite. As the kids entertained themselves on the swing the adults feasted in another happy hour around the late afternoon fire. As night fell so did the temperatures and with a poorly designed firepit providing limited heat we all chose to have an early night.
Friday dawned as our chilliest of the trek, the ice on the car was probably 3mm thick, the car doors were initially stuck while the car temp registered 0 deg. Thankfully it didn’t take too long for the rising sun to warm the air but our fingers suffered as we packed up cold steel poles and pegs. Just before we jumped back in the cars we were greeted by a droving family who were pushing through the valley herding their cattle off the mountain. It was a stark reminder of how farmers live off the land…. We meandered our way through the valley before climbing out to stop at the amazing “Craig’s Hut” where the views across the mountains were exhilarating. Pushing on we experienced the roughest bit of 4WDriving we’d had for the whole as topped the rise at Mt Stirling. A quick walk had us once again enjoying the magical 360 deg views at a height of 1720m. With lots more to see we kept going past Howqua Hut and onto Mt Buller where the ski resort was busily preparing for the upcoming ski season with snow being prepared for an upcoming media launch. By late afternoon it was time to head off the mountains and down into Mansfield where we had our first night in civilisation for almost a week….. A hot shower, take-away food and some creature comforts never felt so good.
Saturday morning in Mansfield was a hive of activity as the locals seem to flock to town for supplies or simply to catch up with others, there were markets and street stalls everywhere. We had a short look around town before heading towards Beechworth, we were able to squeeze in a quick stop at the Brown Brothers winery before making it to Beechworth where we indulged in the town’s famous pies for a late lunch. The sightseeing theme continued after lunch as we headed to Chiltern and Rutherglen. It was in Rutherglen where we got right into the local culture, stopping to taste a number of local renowned wines and adding a few more bottles to our increasing collection. By late afternoon we made our way down onto the banks of the Murray River where we met up with everyone one again for our final night of the trip. The banks of the Murray River was a perfect spot to unwind as we enjoyed happy-hour with friends. While some enjoyed a swim in the Murray, one of the kids surprised us by catching an impressive Murray Cod simply with a bit of cheese on the end of the hook. By nightfall we bathed in the glow of a roaring fire, the kids toasted marshmellows while others entertained an enthusiastic possum or simply relaxed with a refreshment or 2.
Sunday morning by the Murray River doesn’t get much better, however the corellas ensured it was an early awakening. We were soon packed up and heading to a neighbouring farm which was owner by relatives of the family we’d been travelling with. All the kids were delighted to get on the back of the Ute as they went around feeding the cows…. Sadly the fun was soon over and was time to tackle the 6 hour drive home for work and school the following day. By last light we pulled in the driveway having completed 9 days and 1800kms through the Victorian High Country.