For this tour we hosted the Lorrimer family from Trip In A Van, Justin, Bec and their kids Jack, Billy and Charli in their seriously kitted out Mazda BT50! We were also joined by other travelling families from all over Australia- the Simpson family in a Holden Colorado, Jacinta and her 2 boys in a Toyota Prado, Jason & Leasa in a Nissan Navara. Read on for a full account of this EPIC tour!
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The tour kicked off In Mansfield where we took the group on the same route we take on our Craig’s Hut Photography Tour. In near perfect weather conditions, we did the awesome low range climb to the spectacular Mt Stirling summit with everyone smiling from ear to ear on completing their first high country climb. Our camp for the night was among the snow gum trees no more than 100m from Craig’s Hut. We just absolutely love taking people up there as there’s always so much excitement when people see the hut for the first time. Justin was telling us how he literally watched The Man From Snowy River films every day after school when he was a teenager and he was just absolutely stoked to be there in person! Back at camp we had a fantastic night around the fire getting to know each other over a quiet drink or two.
Next morning we were all up before dawn so we could witness the sunrise up at the hut. As per usual on our tours we conduct up there, Mother Nature did not disappoint! With light cloud around, the constantly changing colours in the sky and having the eastern side of the hut bathed in sunlight was absolutely sensational – the best we’ve ever seen it! After packing up camp we headed down the Monument Track to Bindaree Falls. With only a slight trickle cascading over the plateau it was still very beautiful standing behind the falls looking out! After a visit to Bluff Hut and a short low range dawdle across the escapement of Mt Lovick, we arrived at our camp Lovick’s Hut in the early afternoon. For the evening we had a treat for the group with a viewing of The Man From Snowy River Film on a big screen inside the hut with a fire cracking away in the fire place – the ambience was brilliant!
After breaking camp we experienced a significant change in the weather with strong winds and persistent rain. Gone were the hard dusty tracks with endless mountain views of the past couple of days changing to wet slippery tracks and seeing nothing but cloud where the views once were! This is what happens in the High Country, the weather can defy any forecast and turn in a matter of minutes! Along the way we stopped to check out the majestic King Billy Tree. Also known as the grandfather tree, it is estimated to be one of the oldest snow gums in the High Country at around 200 years old with 9 separate trunks coming off the bulb. It’s survived all the bushfires in the area and is Heritage Listed. From there we had a good solid couple of hours of low range driving until we reached our lunch stop at Howitt Hut. After lunch we descended into the Wonnangatta Valley for our overnight stay at the historic homestead site with a beaut campsite right on the banks of the river.
This day was to be one of our toughest on the tour with the formidable climb out of the Wonnangatta Valley up the Herne Spur Track – one of the steepest tracks in the Vic High Country with a climb of 600 M vertically over 3.5 km. After several crossings of the Wonnangatta River we were into the climb. It climbs without much of a break with the exception of the occasional drainage structure. Momentum was the key to this track. Dale behind the wheel of the Simpson family Colorado, took our advice of a bit of ‘right foot’ a little too literally with some serious wheel lifting on a washed out section of the track, at one stage the left rear wheel was the only wheel on terra firma! Justin had an absolute ball punting the BT50 up this track and he could not wipe the smile off his face once he reached the top! Bec and the kids were just as pumped too! Not far from the top of the track Jason and Leasa experienced an overheating cooling system in their Nissan Navara. Upon inspection we found that either a stick or a rock had gone up into the cooling fan and spat whatever it was into the radiator causing a large tear at the bottom – water was coming out quicker than we could put it in! We all put our bush mechanic’s hats on and decided to pull the radiator out there and then and repair it on the side of the track. Between us all we had Araldite, silicone and this amazing 2 part “liquid welding” product called Rapid Fix. Using all that, we were able to slow the leak to the occasional drip and driveable again so we could get it to our camp at Talbotville and reassess. The drive into camp had us descending some very steep terrain and many river crossings and we arrived with no further incident. This was to be our base camp for the remainder of the tour.
After a solid 4 days on the tracks, this was our rest day and we kicked it off by putting on a fully catered cooked breakfast for the group. Bacon, eggs, toast, mushrooms and baked beans all cooked on the open fire was enjoyed by all. After breakfast, the HCAT Sat Phone was fired up to chase up a radiator for Jason & Leasa’s Navara. Due to our remoteness and the difficulty of getting one in, they decided that they would get a radiator in Wangaratta on their way home back to Sydney and they’d hitch rides in other vehicles to see out the remainder of the tour. So how would we spend the remainder of our rest day? – At the Dargo Pub! We took the scenic route along the Crooked River Track crossing the Crooked & Wonnangatta River no less than 20 times. During this drive the sky opened up and hit us with rain and very strong winds making the pub a very welcoming site on arrival! The Dargo Pub is up there as one of the most iconic country pubs in Oz! The history, the bush characters and all the memorabilia around the place makes it hard to sit still to be able to take it all in! We all enjoyed a counter meal washed down with a few icy cold beverages! When it was time to head back to camp the weather had not eased up, it had in fact become colder with the rain heavier and the wind stronger for the drive back to camp. We’re always prepared for this type of weather so back at camp the HCAT gazebo was erected to provide shelter for cooking whilst still being able to enjoy the warmth and ambience of the well stoked campfire.
After some pretty wild weather during the night, we woke up to a reasonably clear morning but could see a strong weather front forming over the ranges. We had got word that a group of 4wd’s had difficulty in getting up Billy Goat Bluff Track the day before and spent most of it winching and snatching their way to the top in sleet and snow! With that information and the very real risk of putting our group in danger, we made the tough decision to omit it from the itinerary. We gave the group a few alternatives and the one that won was to pack up our camp, take on the Blue Rag Range Track and spend the night at a caravan park in town. The weather front we observed earlier hit with full force by the time we got to the start of the Blue Rag Range Track. With strong winds, sleet and visibility down to about 20m, we cautiously began our low range trek to make it to the 1721m trig marker. In good conditions this track has its share of challenges but the main reason people come to do it is the spectacular mountain scenery whilst traversing a narrow ridge line. On this day the challenges were more challenging and the views non-existent! Upon reaching the trig marker and what would normally be one of the most spectacular views in the High Country, we were completely surrounded by cloud with not one view to be seen anywhere! The only view worth capturing was our vehicles next to the trig marker and we all got chilled to the core doing it!
Upon reaching the last climb on our way back to the Dargo High Plains Road, the Simpson Colorado got into a bit of trouble in the mud and could not find traction anywhere. Big Red was turned around and nosed into a culvert to winch the Colorado up. A complex operation began in the wind and sleet with the full length of Big Red’s winch rope and a number of winch extension straps attached to the Colorado’s recovery points. As the winch rope would reach its end, the straps had to be rejigged as there was no traction anywhere for the Colorado to get forward momentum. After an hour we got it to reasonably flat ground and turned Big Red around to snatch it the rest of the way. Starting on a steep slope, front and rear lockers on, low 1st and a lot of right foot, Big Red powered up the hill with valves bouncing and turbo singing until we finally made it to the top! We have to say though, Justin was an absolute champion on the straps and portable radio with clear communication as to what was happening that was not visible from Big Red’s cab. His years of 4wd experience was a great asset in getting everyone up safely. Did we mention that for half of it he was in bare feet?!
The caravan park In Porepunkah was a welcome site. We were fortunate enough to secure a large 4 bedroom house that was able to accommodate all of us. Whilst everyone was thawing out, we set about putting on the roast dinner that’s included in the tour package. Roast lamb, pork and vegetables all cooked in the comfort of the camp kitchen was very different to our usual way of doing it in camp ovens on the fire. Dining together in the comfort of the house at a large dining table, feasting on a roast meal, wine and recounting our adventures of the last 6 days whilst it was absolutely pelting down outside, was a fantastic way to conclude the tour!
We’d like to thank EVERYONE that was on tour with us! We had such a fantastic group of people and we thoroughly enjoyed each and everyone’s company. A big shout out to the Lorrimer’s from Trip In A Van – it was a great experience travelling with you guys and hearing some of your own adventures around the fire each night. We wish you all the very best on your future travels!
Anthony, Andy & Paul
High Country Adventure Tours