Destination Tasmania – Part 15 – Victorian High Country

11th to 13th March 2020

Our tour was not quite over. The Victorian high country is among our favourite areas. So, having bid our hosts goodbye, we set off over the mostly flat country of Northern Victoria, heading to Bright in the western foothills of the Victorian Alps. We arrived at about the same time as singer Katy Perry, who was there to perform at a bush fire fund raiser. She performed for about six thousand locals at a sports ground. The only evidence of this extravaganza was more traffic than usual and barricades blocking some roads.

Our track took us through Redesdale, Heathcote, past the back of the Puckapunyal military area to Nagambie and over to the Hume Highway near Euroa. Heathcote and Nagambie are both wine producing areas. Puckapunyal produces soldiers. We left the highway north of Glenrowan to drive through the wine country at Milawa (Brown Brothers) and on to Bright. Much of this area was tobacco producing back when smoking was not a proscribed social evil. Tobacco drying sheds can still be seen on properties that have been converted to other agricultural purpose.

Eurobin Creek on the Mount Buffalo Road

Before reaching our destination we turned at Porepunkah intending to drive to the summit of Mount Buffalo. But it is a long drive, continually climbing on what is often a narrow road with a precipice on one side. We gave it away at about 900 metres and returned to earth. Its summit is 1,721 metres above sea level, so we still had a long way to climb. It is at times like these that advancing age starts to show.

The Great Alpine Road approaching its highest point at Hotham Heights, travelling from Bright.

There was sufficient daylight when we arrived to see Bright, most of which we achieved while looking for our motel. It was hard to find, with Google Maps sending us along many streets that were never going to get us there. That was how we came across the Katy Perry barricades.

Dead trees from earlier bush fires appear like stubble on the ranges south of Hotham Heights

Unfortunately we were too early for autumn tints in the foliage. The copious quantities of poplars, maples and other deciduous trees had not yet started to stage their annual show. It is autumn colours that bring the influx of visitors to Bright each year. 

Sorry, there are no photos of Katy Perry.

The western gateway to Mount Hotham Alpine Village

The next day, Thursday, was a perfect day in the high country. We enjoyed endless blue skies with only a light wind all day. We waited for the time to reach 9.00 am in Queensland, made a couple of phone calls and headed out through Harrietville towards Mt. Hotham.

The top of a ski lift above Mount Hotham

Narrow winding roads with sheer drops to valley floors hundreds of metres down, only a few areas protected by Armco barriers and the possibility of meeting trucks and caravans. What fun! Actually we saw more cyclists than other vehicles, met no trucks and only one caravan.

Part of Mount Hotham Alpine Village

We stayed for only a short time at the 1,800 metres altitude of Hotham Heights before continuing to Dinner Plains, looking for lunch. We thought we were out of luck, but noticed a “coffee” sign and found a small shop called The Stables run by a very enthusiastic young lady who had only opened the doors of her new business on the previous Saturday.

Lunch stop at The Stables at Dinner Plains.
The hotel at Dinner Plains is a good example of the architecture of the whole town. It was still closed for the summer season.

The road between Hotham and Omeo took us through several areas burned in the recent fires. Some parts were burned on just one side of the road but in other areas, where the fire had come up the mountain, it jumped the road and continued on its way towards the higher ground. The ski fields of Hotham seemed to be untouched so the ski season will not be adversely effected. The area has had much worse fires in the past.

After a refueling stop at Omeo we drove the remaining winding kilometres to our destination.

A view of Omeo from the Great Alpine Road.

We first saw the Blue Duck Inn in 1965 when we decided to return to our home in Drouin in Victoria from Sydney, via the Omeo Highway. It was all gravel then but now fully sealed. We saw the building as we drove past and thought it would be great to return and stay. We drove past again a couple of years ago on a day trip from Omeo, but this time we realised our ambition.

Accommodation at the Blue Duck Inn at Anglers Rest

We were the only guests when we arrived but another couple came later. The number of diners reached 6 when another couple of about our age, who had their caravan in a camping area over the river, came in to dine. We spent a pleasant evening in their company.

The Blue Duck Inn at Anglers Rest

The cabins at Blue Duck are spacious and well fitted but lined with unpainted timber and heated by a wood heater. Mains electricity does not reach Anglers Rest so they generate their own. The generator goes off at about 10.00 pm and batteries take over so our rest was not disturbed.

The hotel dining room at the Blue Duck Inn. But I think that my smoked trout came from Tasmania and not from the stream that flows by the hotel.

Omeo was a gold producing area with mostly alluvial mining, so streams in the area were prospected to within an inch of their lives. But no gold was found at Anglers Rest. Failure to find gold in a stream is known as a blue duck. So the hotel that dates back to the 1890s was named the Blue Duck Hotel.

The Blue Duck Inn viewed from the camping area on the opposite bank.

The objective of this part of the trip was to drive the Omeo Highway. Staying at the Blue Duck Inn was part of that. So after breakfast on Friday morning we set forth to complete the task. The distance from Omeo to Tallangatta is 167 km. When we resumed our journey we still had 139 km to go.

The turn to the Lightning Creek rest area on Snowy Creek near Mitta Mitta

From Anglers Rest the road follows first the Cobungra River and then the Big River until it leads into serious mountains that carry the road to over 1,300 metres over the Great Dividing Range, before making its winding way into the Mitta Mitta Valley. The road then follows Snowy Creek all the way to the small town of Mitta Mitta where the creek flows into the Mitta Mitta River.

The Lightning Creek rest area had one tenant.

This neat riverside village is the first town past Omeo. There are several good rest areas with toilets and picnic and camping facilities along the way.

A weir in the Mitta Mitta River at Mitta Mitta
The rear of the Laurel Hotel overlooks the Mitta Mitta weir.

Very shortly after Mitta Mitta we reached the turn to the town of Dartmouth and the Dartmouth Dam. It is a detour of about 40 km return and well worth the effort. The wall, spillway and earth works are quite dramatic and would be awesome with water coming over the spillway. A hydro power station is located at the foot of the wall. A few km further downstream a small retaining wall has been built, with another power station, so the water is used twice before being released to flow down the valley into Hume Weir at Tallangatta.

The retaining wall at the Dartmouth Dam
The face of the mountain was removed to construct the spillway at the Dartmouth Dam
Downstream view of the hydro power station and the Mitta Mitta River

We continued on to Tallangatta and then followed the Murray Valley Highway, that skirts the southern edges of Lake Hume, until we turned at Bonegilla to finally cross the Murray River into NSW and to our cabin at Lake Hume Village.

The extent of the water in Hume Dam. Initially it backed up to Tallangatta which had to be moved and rebuilt on higher ground.

The water level in the dam is well down, so the water is often a long way from the road. There are several kilometres of grass lands on the valley floor where the dam used to back up towards Tallangatta, with cattle grazing on well established grass. It is now several, perhaps many, years since the dam has been full. I speculate, but perhaps not since the conclusion of the Snowy Mountains dam construction, much of which is in the headwaters of the Murray River.

The flood gate controls and spillway at the Hume Dam in the Murray River near Albury.

A Different Way There … and Back – Post 7

Day 31 – 26th April – Mt Beauty to Mansfield – 200 Km

We made an early start, ground our way up Tawonga Gap, stopped at the lookout at the top and eased down the other side to Bright. We have visited Bright before so we contented ourselves with a slow drive through its tree lined streets. The autumn tints are not as far advanced as in Mt. Beauty but are still most attractive.

Mount Buffalo was the next geographical feature and appeared prominently on our left as we left Bright. It is on the list for a visit some time. The entire area is worth more time but so does much of Australia.

I wonder, as we pass through this former tobacco growing region, why property owners have never removed the drying kilns that seem to be a feature of most properties. Do they think that the anti-smoking movement is just a passing fad?

Tasting Room and Restaurant at Brown Brothers Winery

Tasting Room and Restaurant at Brown Brothers Winery

Our first objective was to visit the Brown Brothers winery at Milawa and perhaps to sample some of the other culinary delights of the Gourmet Trail. Brown Brothers lived up to expectations, perhaps exceeded them. We would like to come back at some time to experience a meal in their epicurean centre. We did become members of their Epicurean Club which is worth 10% on purchases.

We also checked out the cheese shop at the other end of town. Another delightful place where to linger too long would not be good for the waist line. The shop incorporates a bakery and a restaurant. The show cases almost bulge with goodies.

Milawa Cheese Shop cafe area

Milawa Cheese Shop cafe area

The rest of the day, until mid afternoon, was spent travelling to Mansfield via Whitfield. This trip involved climbing a mountain range to about 800 metres before descending again into the valley that leads to Mansfield. We made a small detour to Power’s Lookout, where we had lunch. I had not heard of Harry Power but it appears that he terrified the good people around Whitfield back in the days when bush rangers were doing their thing. The detour allowed us to share his view into the King Valley. He was looking out for policemen. We were looking at a tranquil valley.

Harry Power's view of the King Valley

Harry Power’s view of the King Valley

Day 32 – 27th April – The Victorian High Country

In recent years, as I have developed my interest in four wheel driving, I have read quite a bit about the Victorian High Country. The High Country covers a substantial part of Victoria from Central Victoria right through to where it joins the NSW Southern Alps at the Snowy Mountains. Mt, Beauty and Mansfield are both part of this region but, from a 4WD point of view, Mansfield is the more popular.  The roads into the mountains provide access to a vast selection of mountain roads, bush tracks and camping sites.

We used our day at Mansfield to explore some of this country. We chose the Mt Stirling Circuit because it allowed us to visit the iconic Craig’s Hut, a prop built for the shooting of the film “The Man from Snowy River”. We and a large number of other people!

Telephone Box Junction - the start of the circuit propper. Out to the left .. back to the right.

Telephone Box Junction – the start of the circuit propper. Out to the left .. back to the right.

The circuit road is about 80 Km of mountainous gravel road. Most is winding and narrow. Its main contribution to tourism is the magnificent views that it offers of Victoria’s mountain ranges but it also leads to other roads and tracks. The roads were originally used for carting logs to saw mills and still carry some log trucks at times. But the main users are drivers of SUVs, although in dry weather it is a 2WD road as well.

Most of the road was in good condition but there were some areas of fairly severe corrugations.The only real 4WD track in this drive is the track from the circuit road to Craig’s Hut. This track is narrow and steep and today it was busy. When we arrived at the destination, after giving the Challenger the best work out that it has had to date, the car park was full with more than 30 4WDs of all descriptions.

Part of the crowded car park

Part of the crowded car park

There was also a horse riding tour group. The horses tethered to the rail fence around the hut gave the whole scene a sense of authenticity which was offset by the number of people walking around. There was a great deal of movement at this station!

Horses tethered to the fence of Craig's Hut

Horses tethered to the fence of Craig’s Hut

Ruth leaning on the back fence of Craig's Hut

Ruth leaning on the back fence of Craig’s Hut

The view from Jim Craig's back fence

The view from Jim Craig’s back fence

After completing the circuit, we drove up the serpentine road to the Mount Bulla ski village. But it is no village. It is a small city placed at the very summit of a mountain peak that rises to almost 1,700 metres above sea level. Many of the buildings look almost new and additional accommodation is being added now. I don’t like snow very much but I would like to visit there during the snow season just to see what it is like. But I would stay inside by the fire!

A chair lift passes right by houses at Mt Bulla

A chair lift passes right by houses at Mt Bulla

The view from a Mt Bulla street

The view from a Mt Bulla street

Day 33 – 28th April – Mansfield to Drouin – 270 Km

We left Mansfield in cloudy and cool (well, perhaps cold) weather heading for Drouin in West Gippsland. Drouin is the town where I spent the second half of my teens and where Ruth and I lived for the first two years of married life. My sister Aileen and her husband Colin now live there having moved from their home of the 48 years of their married life at neighbouring town, Longwarry. Aileen and Colin will be joining us at Lakes Entrance but we wanted to see their new house.

The trip was uneventful but interesting. I had no idea of the extent of the wine industry in the Yarra Valley. It reaches out almost to Healesville. The vineyards grow on rolling hillsides on both sides of the highway. Vines in this area have not yet lost their leaves but the foliage has turned an almost uniform shade of yellow that, from a distance, looked like canola fields.

Aileen and Colin have a very nice home. We backed the van into the drive at the side of the house and abandoned it for a bed inside. A very warm and comfortable bed!

Day 34 – 29th April – Drouin to Stratford – 133 Km

We made a late start after a leisurely breakfast and then morning tea sitting in the sunshine. Our destination is Stratford on Avon. Yes, Victoria has one as well as England. And the town hosts, unsurprisingly, an annual Shakespeare Festival. The caravan park is on the banks of the Avon River and we have another river side site.

We arrived mid afternoon and settled in. And that was it for the day.

Day 35 – 30th April – Dargo and more High Country.

Many of the mountain roads and tracks that can be accessed from Mansfield can also be reached from Gippsland. One of the most popular entry points is the small alpine town of Dargo. Dargo is a small town, its few houses stretching along the valley through which runs the Dargo River. It’s most famous and prominent building is the Dargo pub, which I am sure has retained its tumble-down appearance for good commercial reasons.

Dargo Hotel

Dargo Hotel

The road from Stratford runs first along the Princes Highway and turns north to traverse flat open farm country, although most of the paddocks were empty with only a few sheep and cattle in evidence. Then the road climbs to about 600 metres above sea level and undulates a bit over two or three timbered mountains before dropping into the Dargo Valley.

Immediately after passing through Dargo the mountains start in earnest. In about 8 Km the road rises to around 1,200 metre and the views are spectacular. This area has numerous roads and tracks. They ascend to the giddy peaks of mountains, run along the spines of alpine ridges and dive into protected valleys where camping areas sprinkled along the river banks.

One of the main rivers is the Wonnangatta, which runs through the mountains accompanied by tracks that lead to historic locations unknown to most people. This was gold rush country and relics of mining history are still there to be seen.

We drove to the top of the mountain above Dargo so that we could claim to have seen the Dargo High Plains, the scene of many years of summer grazing activity as well as timber getting. We also did the first few kilometres of the Crooked River Track that runs beside the Wonnangatta and checked out the Wonnangatta Caravan Park, although it is already closed for the winter. The 4WD season is almost finished for this year. There were few other vehicles on the road and Dargo was very quiet.

Part of the Wonnangatta Caravan Park

Part of the Wonnangatta Caravan Park

I will always be grateful to the pioneers who planted the deciduous trees that so add to the beauty of the scenery with their magnificent colours. The Dargo River near the town is lined with large autumn tinted trees that provide a brilliant backdrop to the town. From the heights of the mountain we looked down into the Dargo River valley, upstream from the town, and there were splashes of gold and scarlet contrasting with the lighter green of the grass and the grey green of the Australian bush.

Autumn colours along the Dargo River

Autumn colours along the Dargo River