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 6

Day 27 – 22nd April – Temora to Corryong – 270 Km

A cool morning, but not quite as cold as the 2C and 4C of the previous two, greeted us as I took the car for a service. With that chore attended to we left Temora at 11.30 am bound for Corryong via Wagga Wagga and Tumbarumba. The run to Wagga Wagga and then along the Tumbarumba Road to where it crosses the Hume Highway is fairly flat but then its character changes abruptly. From flattish open farm country it changes to mountains covered with forest. The first steep hill starts immediately on the other side of the Hume Highway.

Wagga Wagga was a fuel and lunch stop. It appears to be a prosperous regional city with a great deal of commercial building going on. We found a pleasant little park for our break. Having just come from Temora Aviation Museum we did not stop at the aircraft display at the front of the RAAF base at North Wagga but continued on through the small town of Ladysmith (it made me think of apples) and on, after much climbing and descending, to Tumbarumba.

We had not been to this very pretty town before and were not prepared for the sight of it nestled in its valley and expanding onto the surrounding slopes. We were not able to stop for a photo, as there was nowhere for a caravan to park on the steep descent into the town. You cannot see a town properly unless you spend a bit of time in it. And you often have to retrace your steps to get good photographs.

In the centre of Tumbarumba.

In the centre of Tumbarumba.

The earlier part of the road to Corryong was again a series of steep climbs and sharp descents with some really choice spots at which we could have camped if arrangements had permitted. There were about four caravans in one clearing beside a creek. We would have loved to join them.

Further along this road we came across a memorial to lost aircraft the Southern Cloud. This aircraft, an Avro 618 Ten, went missing on a flight from Sydney to Melbourne in May 1931 with 6 passengers and a crew of 2. A search failed to find it and its remains were not discovered until 27 years later when a Snowy Mountains Authority employee stumbled upon it.  The memorial occupies a site on a hill top beside the road, looking across a valley to the mountain side where the aircraft crashed. A number of display boards tell the story.

The mountains of the crash site behind the sign that tells the story.

The mountains of the crash site behind the sign that tells the story.

Ruth walks among the story boards of the memorial.

Ruth walks among the story boards of the memorial.

From this point on the forest dissipated and deep cleared valleys and rolling hills of farmland commenced. The natural vegetation has been replaces with clumps of deciduous species such as maples and poplars. With autumn well progressed the leaves have turned to the lovely colours that precede their fall. The hills and valleys are dotted with sheep and cattle with scattered farm buildings. Smoke rises from chimneys into the still afternoon air. You can almost feel the warmth of the fire side as you drive past.

Entry to Victoria at Towong

Entry to Victoria at Towong

There are many points on the Murray River where you can cross from NSW to Victoria but surely not many as pretty as the crossing at Towong. The river, at this point, is not very wide and the bridge is a simple timber structure, but it has a welcoming appearance that is most attractive. The run from Towong to Corryong is along a valley between grassy hills. Pastures rise from the stream to the crests of hills with a background of tree covered ranges and are dotted with cattle with a few sheep. This town is the nearest of any size to the Snowy Mountain area so it has claimed “The Man from Snowy River” as its own. There are representations of horses and riders all over the place.

Murray River viewed from the Towong bridge.

Murray River viewed from the Towong bridge.

Day 28 – 23rd April – Khancoban & the Snowy Mountains

It is not possible to do justice to this area in a day so it was a pity that overnight rain kept us in until about 11.00 am. But the sky started to clear so there seemed a good chance that we would be able to see some mountains instead of cloud. It was midday by the time that we reached Khancoban so we stopped there for lunch, knowing that there was no food to be had before Thredbo, and we certainly were not going that far.

Khancoban Town Centre

Khancoban Town Centre

We commenced our sightseeing at the Murray No 1 Power Station lookout. You will probably recognise this place. It is the one where the three big white pipes come down the hill carrying the water to drive the turbines and with towers that carry the power lines step up the escarpment like giants. The sun was shining on it so it looked grand.

Murray No 1 Power Station

Murray No 1 Power Station

Towers like giants on the hillside.

Towers like giants on the hillside.

The next stop was at Clews Ridge, named in honour of the late Major Clews who was the main surveyor for the Snowy scheme. The well known (to 4WD people) Major Clews dry weather 4WD track starts from here. A little further on is the Geehi Walls mountain range and then Schammell Spur Lookout. From the observation deck of this lookout a sweeping vista of the western face of the Main Range of the Snowy Mountains greets the beholder. The mountain tops were partly lost in cloud and huge banks of mist rose up the mountain sides. The sight was a bit awe inspiring.

Western Fall of Main Range of the Snowy Mountains.

Western Fall of Main Range of the Snowy Mountains.

We journeyed on to Geehi camping area where the Alpine Way crosses the Swampy Plains River. We stopped to chat to a fisherman in a motor home who had been trying his luck with trout in the stream. He claimed to have had no luck at all.

Geehi Hut at the camping area

Geehi Hut at the camping area

This camping area is the site of huts built many years ago by cattlemen as camps for that part of the year when cattle were grazed in the high country. We saw Geehi Hut where it stands beside the river. It is constructed of river stones set in concrete. This hut has been destroyed by fire but has been restored by NSW National Parks. The hut, and others like it, is left open so they are available as shelter in emergencies. Campers are requested not to use them and this restriction appears to be honoured.

We turned for home, but detoured to the visitors centre at the Murray No 1 power station. It has a very interesting display that sets out the history of the Snowy Scheme and includes a great deal of information for the technically minded. We discovered that there was food to be had past Khancoban, as the visitor centre contains a neat little coffee shop.

Day 29 – 24th April 2013 – Corryong to Mt. Beauty – 161 Km

We changed our minds this morning and changed them back again this afternoon.

The plan had been to travel to Omeo via the Omeo Highway, but while checking road conditions I noticed that a road closure for the Omeo Highway had just been lifted. Snow and rock falls had closed the road in the last few days. After discussions with the police at Tallangatta we decided that prudence ruled it out and that we would have to reach Lakes Entrance via Melbourne.

Plan B became the Bright area. The GPS sent us via Mt. Beauty and the Tawonga Gap. As we drove into Mt. Beauty we saw a sign that said “Omeo 110”. Enquiries produced information that the road is regularly used by caravans so we decided to revert to plan A. So tomorrow we will set off up the road, past Falls Creek ski area, over the Bogong High Plain and on to Omeo.

Murray Valley Highway

Murray Valley Highway

The drive this morning has been along the Murray Valley Highway, so it has been another morning of ups and downs as the road traverses the valleys that host the streams that feed the Murray and the hills that separate them.

From the time that we left Tallangatta late morning we have been following the Kiewa River along the Kiewa Valley. The road follows the foot hills on one side of the river with the golden leaves of maples and poplars lining the stream and with the foot hills on the other side rising to the tree line with the ranges of the Victorian Alps in the background. A truly beautiful sight!

Just before reaching Mt Beauty a rest area provides a fine view to Mt Bogong whith a Lions Club sign pointing out that it is the highest peak in Victoria.

We have a sight in the caravan park on the banks of the West Kiewa River. It is a very pretty spot with lush green grass, rippling clear water and autumn tints. If it was a bit warmer we would sit out for longer to enjoy it.

Our view at Mt Beauty Caravan Park

Our view at Mt Beauty Caravan Park

Day 30 – 25th April 2013 – Falls Creek & the Bogong High Plains

Overnight we changed our minds again. Call it losing one’s nerve, or discretion being the better part of valour, I decided that I did not want to tow the van over an unknown road that has steep climbs, sharp bends and reaches 1,750 meters above sea level. So we decided to stay at Mount Beauty for a second night and do a day trip up the mountain today.

In the 31 Km from Mount Beauty to Falls Creek there is a change in altitude of over 1,500 meters. That means sharp climbs and a winding and, in this case, fairly narrow road. We left town in light overcast weather but about 1 Km below the top we started to encounter mist that became relatively thick cloud by the time we reached the first buildings of the ski resort.

Foggy Falls Creek

Foggy Falls Creek

There was no view and it was not an occasion for a picnic but a bar/restaurant was open so we became its sole, and I think, its first customers of the day.

Weather conditions in mountains can be quite fickle so we decided to press on to see if Rocky Valley Dam could be seen. The dam was half visible and the fog was performing some amazing tricks above the water. As the wall of the dam, which is also the bridge, was fairly clear of fog we drove on for another 20 Km towards the Omeo Highway intersection. This extra distance gave us a good look at the Bogong High Plains.

Bogong High Plains 1

Bogong High Plains 1

 

Bogong High Plains 2

Bogong High Plains

 

Bogong High Plains 3

Bogong High Plains 3

There are a number of walks, or bike rides, some to the sheltering huts that dot the plateau and date back to the days when the area was grazed during the warmer months. Tracks are well marked and often have an information kiosk at the start that gives a variety of relevant information.

At the point at which we turned around to return to Mt Beauty we saw a sign to a camping area just off the road. We went to investigate. One of its purposes was to provide a camping spot for horse riding parties so it had a fenced area to secure horses overnight. Picnic tables were set among the snow gums and there were fire places as well. There was also a wonderful weatherboard toilet which reminded me of the one for which I had to dig holes when a teenager at Bulahdelah.

The Rustic Loo

The Rustic Loo

As we returned to Falls Creek we could see the cloud billowing up over the mountain top, driven by a cold wind that had developed considerable strength by that time. There was nowhere for us to enjoy a sheltered picnic lunch so we headed back down the mountain to the small alpine village of Bogong.

Too cold for lunch here

Too cold for lunch here

Bogong is a small town, built by the electricity authorities during the construction of the Kiewa hydro electricity scheme, where the houses have now been sold to individuals. We had driven into the village on our way up the mountain and thought that we were in a ghost town. There was not a person in site at 11.00 in the morning. During our return visit folk were abroad but town businesses, the whole two of them, were closed for the holiday. Even Bogong Jack’s bar and bistro, that bore a sign undertaking to open at 11.30 am 7 days a week, was securely closed.

Autumn colours at Bogong Pondage

Autumn colours at Bogong Pondage

The town is built down a steep slope, as alpine villages are, to a pondage on the Kiewa River. There quality tourist facilities have been built. The edge of the pondage is lined with poplars and maples which, rapidly turning to their autumn shades looked spectacular against the green backdrop of the native bush. Under SEC ownership the town was a show place with flowers growing in the garden beds. The flower are long gone under private ownership but a sign remains that says “Please don’t pick the flowers”. No doubt as a memorial to better times now gone – just like the flowers.