It’s been over a year since we were last able to do a High Country Cruise, all because of COVID and the endless lockdowns and restrictions throughout Melbourne and/or the state. There is no denying that 2020 was an Annus Horribilis, especially for anyone who has been out of work and/or locked down for extended periods of time. Necessary or not, the lockdown and restrictions have caused much suffering. I have less reason to complain, as being out in a rural area we’ve had greater flexibility of movement overall, but when your friends are locked away in Melbourne, there’s not much that you can really do. Additionally, even though we’ve had more movement flexibility, with just about everything closed on a regular basis you might as well be locked inside your home.
I don’t really know what happened to 2019 as we simply didn’t have a Cruise, with our last one being in Nov 2018. Summer (for what it was) flashed past and then at the end of 2019 when the tracks re-opened, the bushfires started, burning into the New Year and causing us to defer things once again. Things have settled down now, other than flooding rains, but travelling to the East is out of the question as all the tracks are still likely to be closed and will likely be so for some time to come. I’d be very surprised if the majority of tracks will be open by 2021. But once again we were itching to get out and our only option was to go closer to home, which meant around the Thomson Dam and Licola area. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing though, as COVID-19 and the statewide shutdown may or may not have impacted on crowd numbers, despite there still being a surprising number about on the first day,
It’s been a long time between drinks or, in this case, High Country Cruises. Various unforeseen events have meant that we weren’t able to do another Cruise since Feb this year, so everyone was itching to go out somewhere, anywhere. While I’ve noted previously that we prefer to avoid long weekends because of the crowds, the longer we left things the greater the chance of another obstacle coming in our way before Christmas, so the Melbourne Cup long weekend it was. And to make sure that we could have a bit of a head start on the crowds, we decided to leave on a Friday so that we could be out in the bush before most others. Though no doubt there would be others with much the same idea and, if the weather was looking good, probably earlier as well. Regardless, all that really mattered was that we were able to get out and enjoy the bush after a long break and to make it even more enjoyable, we made it a five day 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.
The Queen’s Birthday Long Weekend in June is not only the start of the official ski season, it’s also the last weekend until November (nominally the Melbourne Cup Weekend) when you can go to the most popular locations in the Victorian High Country. This year the snow had come early and the long weekend was going to be an ideal time to get in some snow driving and bush camping before the closure of the High Country.
Our April 2014 Cruise was another two traveller journey which started at Morwell and took us on a long circuit to Nunniong Plains, across the High Country almost due west along tracks that eventually brought us out at Licola. From my track record, it was nearly an 800km trip, with virtually half that on dirt roads or off-road. The weather was generally very good, except at the Sentinels, with some very cold nights throughout that weekend, especially in the higher regions. On the Nunniong Plains, it was almost snow conditions, with heavy frosts in the mornings, but because of the clear skies, rain wasn’t about so neither was the snow.
Our Cruise this weekend became a short, one-night, venture and started at the Moe BP service station, with just two happy travellers. This Cruise was going to be a simple overnight trip to reconnoitre some tracks around the Walhalla area, so we weren’t working to any set plan. However, we did want to check out a hut that we’d never been to before, was marked on one paper map only and which appeared to be somewhat unknown. I’ve written about this hut previously, but this Cruise was the first time that we’d been there and it took a bit of hunting to find, being well off the track and the entry (or entries) very poorly defined at the time.
My memory fails me somewhat as to where we started this Melbourne Cup Weekend Cruise, but I’m fairly certain that it was Licola and that we headed out towards Glencairn and the Barkly River on our first day. This time of year it’s always going to be somewhat wet and, with a collection of eight vehicles, it was important that we could find large enough camping sites for each night. There are a lot of gaps as to where we went on this Cruise, and trying to piece things together was not an easy task and is likely fraught with many errors. Anyway, there is a sort of start and finish to this story, and some bits in between.
Summer is the ideal time to visit the High Country, as the tracks are far more manageable, the weather is obviously much better (usually, but not always, as we found out on this trip) and there’s a chance to cool off in some of the rivers after a long day of dusty driving. On this cruise, our plan was to undertake the Haunted Stream Track, which starts just after Tambo Crossing on the Alpine Way, and then progress to the Dargo High Plains, view some of the scenery and eventually work our way back down to Stratford, way down south on the Princes Highway. The Haunted Stream Track begins at an innocuous farm house near Tambo Crossing and travels through mixed farmland before entering the valley through which Haunted Stream flows.
One of the greatest things about living in Victoria is that we still have access to some of the most wondrous country and scenery in Australia, places that reflect the long history of our first settlers and the arduous task that lay before them as they proceeded to explore and develop this state. While the difficulties and deprivations of the explorers and settlers of the outback shouldn’t be dismissed by any means, the effort required by the people doing the same in Victoria can barely be imagined by today’s populace. It’s only when you venture into the High Country using modern transportation, do you realise that these early settlers were made of very stern stuff indeed.