One of the main issues with planning for our Cruises is deciding where to go, which is always time of year and weather dependent, and then what tracks to follow given the time of year. This is never a simple task, as you can’t assume that tracks will be open or cleared after seasonal storms, so making unexpected changes on the move is always on the cards and being able to identify potential alternate routes is where good maps are essential. Over the years, I’ve collected numerous maps, both paper and electronic, to assist in planning and travels and, in the early years, before GPS and computer based maps, everything was done on paper maps and they are still quite a valuable tool. But all that was available back in the 70s were 1:100,000 National Topographic maps and some Forest Commission maps, and I still have a folder full of them (most of them 1966 datum); however, times have changed.
When it comes to our High Country Cruises, meals are naturally an important part of any journey. However, when I first started going bush in the mid-70s, my meals mainly consisted of cans of baked beans and/or braised steak and onions, high cuisine it was not. As time and taste buds progressed, I began experimenting with various pre-cooked meals that could be heated up simply by boiling them in a billy. I was always looking for the easiest means by which to have meals that didn’t need too much effort or require a lot of cleaning up afterwards (and with no portable fridges available, fresh food was always an issue). There were many failures in those early days and basically it was the food back then that was usually the point of failure (we may have moved on, but the memories of bad tastes linger).
After what was a relatively mild April, leading up to and including Easter, the latter half has been quite wet and cold; so it was with some trepidation that I started planning for this latest Cruise. My intent was to do a trip to the north of the Thomson Dam on the first day, travel towards Licola and east for the second day, then just wing it from there. But with the rain that we’ve had, there was no certainty as to the condition of the tracks planned for the first day and there had even been reports of snow at the higher levels. I certainly didn’t want a repeat of our Mar 2016 Cruise, where we encountered plenty of rain and mud, and I was beginning to wonder whether we’d have a repeat of our Oct 2016 Cruise, where there was plenty of snow. Anyway, with now four vehicles on this Cruise, I felt a bit more confident than with what may have been a seven vehicle Cruise.
I’m sure that Captain Kirk ‘could’ have said that at one point or another, as much as he never said ‘Beam me up Scotty’. Anyhow, this story isn’t about Star Trek but about winches and the replacement of my cheap Aldi winch that I’ve had in my Patrol for the last eight years. I haven’t had to put the Aldi winch to really serious use in that time but, in the last couple of years it has been called into duty and it’s failed me on four occasions. The first involved a failed solenoid and the following two involved broken wires, which can happen even with the most expensive winch. However, on our last excursion, the motor seized and I was left to be recovered by others. Later in the day, the use of a hefty mallet fixed that seizure and I was able to rewind the cable that had been wrapped around my bullbar. Now before going on one of our Cruises, I test the winch to make sure that it’s working, given that it’s spent many of those eight years going through rivers, and each time things have been fine. But considering where we go, I was no longer confident that I could rely on this winch when called into action and decided to retire it and replace it with something more substantial and modern.
While pondering our next High Country Cruise, it struck me that over the years we’ve probably enjoyed more of our own backyard than most people could ever dream of doing and perhaps even wanting to do. While many do go out and about visiting Australia to experience that 4WD adventure, far more just prefer to hop on a plane and find a different sort of ‘adventure’. In a similar vein to my story about The Last Photography Frontier, for many people, adventure is found somewhere else in the world, such as those ‘little known’ places that I mentioned in that story. For others, the likes of an Alaska, Rhine River or South Pacific cruise is the adventure of a lifetime. Adventure does mean different things to different people.
Our first Cruise for 2017 closely mirrored the one that I posted a few weeks ago, but with some variations as we sought a few new places to camp and tracks to explore. On this Cruise we had five travellers, four of our old crew and a new member from 4WD Trip, from whence we hope to introduce new travellers to our Cruises and counter the diminishing numbers that we’ve experienced over the last few years. We met at Tyers and then travelled on to Bairnsdale for a fuel stop, and then headed north towards Buchan. We were warned that there was a Cattleman’s event happening at Buchan that weekend and to expect a lot of traffic, but the road turned out to be very quiet. Just before Buchan, we took the Timbarra Road to head north and then shortly after turned into Sunny Point Track which was the beginning of our Cruise.
Given that the last time we were in the High Country was Mar this year (unbelievable how time flies), we were really hanging out to go somewhere, anywhere. But finding a suitable date was one major issue, especially since we couldn’t go out on the Melbourne Cup Weekend nor any time in November, so we decided on the weekend prior. We were hoping for three travellers, but circumstances arose that left the Cruise to just two hardy souls. My fellow traveller was especially keen to go out, as he had finally sorted his new Jeep Rubicon into High Country order and was busting his chops to try it out in some less than mundane terrain. So we decided to do a loop, more or less, from Licola to Dargo, poking around in-between where possible. However, the weather forecasts for the weekend indicated heavy rain at the start, so we reversed our plans and went from Dargo to Licola instead.
Having travelled the Victorian High Country extensively for over 40 years (by foot, ski, 4WD and even once by horse), I simply love and appreciate everything that it offers and, for me, there is no better place in the world. Given the option of say two weeks in the High Country or two weeks travelling the world, I’ll take the High Country every time. I also appreciate and try to understand the history of the High Country, especially the huts which have provided shelter, comfort and enjoyment over so many years. So it’s with some surprise to read what one organisation thinks are the ‘rules of engagement’ when it comes to using the High Country Huts.
We decided to do a four day Cruise between the Labor Day and Easter weekends, in the hope that things would be fairly quiet on the tracks. As it was, it wasn’t too bad, but there were still a surprising number of vehicles about, especially as the Friday and Saturday were supposed to be wet, very wet as it turned out. Our aim was to head east from the Thomson Dam and make our way to Licola after exploring the area in-between, which we hadn’t done extensively for some time. I think we were given a warning of what to expect as the rain pelted down while I waited at the Moe BP station for our Melbourne travellers to arrive.
One of the things we’ve always enjoyed on our High Country Cruises is the ability to stay in one of the many High Country Huts, especially when the weather turns foul. However, as I wrote in my most recent High Country story, after bushfires in 2013 and earlier, many of the old High Country huts have been destroyed and some have recently been replaced with what are ostensibly metal garages. On seeing the first of these, Jorgensons Hut and then Junction Hut (we haven’t been to Goonans Hut), I mentioned that I felt that the new style lacked the bush character of the older, rustic (rusty?), and mainly timber huts that we’ve visited over the years. That was my initial reaction and I may have been somewhat unfair in my assessment, so I took the opportunity to gain a better idea when my wife and I decided to do a short camping trip to Donnelly Creek.