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.

Destination Tasmania – Part 12 – Bass Strait & Walhalla

2nd to 5th March 2020

Our location for our last night in Tasmania provided a further benefit as we drove the short distance, through a morning shower, to the ferry. We had to turn at a roundabout that put all the traffic coming out of Devonport to catch the Spirit on our left, giving us right of way. But loading was still a slow progress as the ship arrived late from Melbourne. I felt sorry for the yellow coated attendants as they stood around in the rain waiting for something to happen.

Driving up the ramp to board the Spirit of Tasmania

We had another good Bass Strait crossing. The expected strong winds did not eventuate. There was a slight swell running through the Strait but not enough wind to produce white caps.

The wharves on the Mersey River and HMAS Stewart visiting its home port

We had travelled south on Spirit of Tasmania One and returned on Spirit of Tasmania Two. They appear to be identical twins and very suited to their task. We had no complaints at all about either of them.

The north coast of Tasmania sliding under the horizon. The flat coast does not suggest the mountainous nature of Tasmanian topography.

We had booked recliner seats for the return, as a cabin was not needed for a day crossing. The recliner seats are at the back of the vessel, facing towards the stern. There are four rows and the seats have full height backs so unless you are in the first row your view is of the back of the seat in front. So we spent much of the day in the top deck lounge where the view of the water was good and we were near food and coffee.

Point Nepean, the eastern headland of Port Philip Bay viewed from inside the heads

We reached Port Philip Heads in daylight and came up the bay as the daylight faded. We docked in darkness with the City of Melbourne a mass of lights ahead of us. Disembarking was a slow process as Melbourne’s peak hour traffic made it difficult for vehicles exiting the terminal to merge into the traffic flow.

Mount Martha and bay side suburbs of the Mornington Peninsula

But eventually we were moving and making our way through the near city streets to the Monash Freeway. Streets in the near city area have changed since we lived in Victoria and I was working in a near city location. Google maps didn’t have it quite right but we found our way to our hotel in Waverley, without too much drama.

Mount Eliza with its covering of prestigious homes

Friends who we had called on in Ballina on our way south were in Melbourne for a couple of weeks and staying quite near to where we were. So we arranged to meet them at a nearby shopping centre for morning coffee before we headed out to West Gippsland to where we were spending a few days with my sister and her husband.

A vehicular ferry operates from Sorento to Point Lonsdale

A visit to a supermarket indicated that the shelf stripping that we had seen in Launceston stores was more prevalent that we thought. We now know the full story, of course, but then we thought that the cause was the many Asian tourists with whom we had shared Tasmania. 

Empty shelves in a Melbourne supermarket

On Wednesday, after doing normal family catch ups, we joined our hosts and other family members in a day out into the mountains that are part of the southern Victorian Alps and lie to the north of the rolling hills of the agricultural country of West Gippsland.

Walhalla Town Ride. Left to Right: Brother Bernard, Sister Aileen, Brother-in-law Colin, Sister-in-law Helen (widow of deceased brother Winston) and Ruth.

Walhalla is a historic gold mining town about 90 km from Drouin. It takes about 90 minutes to drive there.  It is a well preserved heritage town with a full sized rebuilt railway that operates on several days of the week. It is popular with all ages and well patronised, particularly at weekends and very popular for school excursions.

The road bridge over the Tomson River

The original rail connection arrived in the mid 1920s, just as the gold started to be worked out and the town started its decline. In more recent years enthusiastic volunteers restored the line, rolling stock and infrastructure and volunteers continue to operate and maintain it.

Running along beside Springers Creek on the outward journey.

The final few kilometres of the road to Walhalla runs beside the Thomson River before crossing it to then follow its tributary, Springers Creek, to the town. Thomson River Station is located where the road bridge crosses the Thomson. It is to Thomson River Station that the train runs.

Walhalla Railway Station viewing outbound
The train ready for departure at Walhalla Station

The railway runs along Springers Creek opposite to the road and when fully operational turned downstream beside the river after Thompson River Station.  The ride is about 20 minutes out to Thomson River Station which is equipped with refreshment rooms just like the old days. The coffee was dispensed by a machine on the press of a button, so was not of coffee shop quality, but it was coffee and it was past coffee time by then. As we refreshed ourselves the train moved up the track so that the engine could be manoeuvred back to the front of the carriages for the return journey.

Thomson River Station with everyone aboard the train
The train about to move off to change the engine to the other end for the return journey
The Thomson River road and rail bridges viewed from the Thomson River Station

Train ride over, we drove up into the town and followed the main street as it wended its curving way through the narrow valley.  The commercial buildings stand beside the road and on the flat land beside the creek, but the rest of the housing steps up the steep hillsides. The accompanying photos tell more of the the story.

Trading continues in original and historic buildings in Walhalla

As you enter the town the mining area is on the left with convenient foot tracks and stairs leading to points of interest. We have looked at these before, when we were much younger. We had no difficulty in resisting the temptation to climb the steps that lead to the hillside path.

Band Rotunda, Star Hotel (closed) and a solicitors branch office.
The old Mechanics Institute building is now used for another purpose

The best known of the Walhalla gold mines is the Long Tunnel Extended Mine. Access to this mine has been preserved making it suitable for public inspection. Tours are conducted on a regular basis and have just recommenced following Covid-19 shut down. $20 will gain entry for adults or $15 if you rate as a senior.

Old buildings beside Springers Creek
More historic buildings that are still in use

From the train we had seen a group of teen age school children camping beside Springers Creek. As we came out of the pub after lunch we saw them again. They had made it back to town and had climbed to the hillside track to take a closer look at the mines.

The facade of the original gold storage vault
The stairway to the Long Tunnel Extended Mine

The only place available for lunch was the Walhalla Lodge Hotel which is a fairly typical country pub. The meals were generous in size and hit the spot after our train ride.

Out luncheon venue, the Walhalla Lodge Hotel
A more than adequate lunch for one
A Kookaburra waits patiently on the hotel sign. Waiting for scraps perhaps?
A moving record of part of our train ride.

On our way back to Drouin we made a detour to look at a house that our niece (sister’s daughter) and her family had just bought but had not yet moved into. Such are the interests of family visits.