Our April 2008 Cruise took us north-east to the Nunniong Plains, then to Benambra, the Mitta Mitta, Omeo and south to Marthavale, finally ending at Bairnsdale. All of our Cruises, for most travellers, technically start from various locations in Melbourne and finish once again in Melbourne. However, our start points are usually considered where we get the feeling that we’ve left the humdrum of civilisation and our finish point is pretty much where the feeling returns that civilisation is staring us in the face once again.
So our trip more or less started at Ensay and the first day ended at Nunniong Plains; though the drive wasn’t as simple as that, as we made many twists and turns checking out the numerous tracks in the area before finally arriving on the plains. One thing of note throughout the High Plains, are what look like billabongs by the roadsides, which are generally waterholes designed to supply water for fire fighting during the bushfire season. While most waterholes are dug out of the ground and filled by rainfall, some are naturally formed from perpetual springs that occur throughout the High Country. When the waterholes are naturally formed, they usually sport a different appearance and feature an assorted variety of wildlife.
After much exploring, our first camp for the trip was on the Nunniong Plains in a sheltered nook off the main track that runs through the plains, which gave us good protection from potential winds. Once camp was set up, the second order of the day, as always, was to gather firewood and get a good base going before night set in. While the evenings and sometimes the nights in summer can be very mild, more often than not, the temperature will usually drop dramatically at our altitude when the sun sets. So the last thing that you want to do is have to start looking for wood in the dark, because you didn’t prepare while it was daylight. And yes, we did clear the leaf litter from around the fire.
The next day we headed off towards Benambra, following a circuitous route exploring different tracks, as we hadn’t been this way previously. There was quite an amount of driving that day, as we clocked up just over 100km, which is a fair amount for one day when it includes a lot of off-road driving. When driving in low range, I usually calculate that we will average around 10km every hour and that’s always been a good rule of thumb for trip planning. But eventually we hit the valley in which resides Lake Omeo, which we skirted as we headed towards the Mitta Mitta River in search of a campsite for day two. As a matter of general interest, Lake Omeo is basically a dry lake, only rarely filling with water. The valley is ostensibly all private land, so we had to head for the national park for a campsite.
We’d never been to the Mitta Mitta area previously, so we had no idea what we could find and we didn’t want to go too far north into the national park, given that we’d only be heading back south the next day. The valleys through which the Mitta Mitta River flowed were quite picturesque, but the campsite that we finally found was a far cry from that of Nunniong Plains; however, having fresh water close by isn’t a bad thing. Finding firewood was another matter entirely and involved a lot more driving before we found readily accessible wood in the national park. And it’s a good thing that we did, for it turned out to be a cold night indeed.
Our second last day saw us driving through Omeo towards Hotham and then turning south into the Cassilis Historic Area where we slowly wound our way ever south. There had been a fair amount of rain in the area by this stage and even the logging roads were as slippery as anything. We were taking things very slowly because of the condition of the roads, but even that wasn’t enough on one sweeping bend for one of our travellers. Though he was going perhaps no more than 15kmh, it was like ice skating on mud, and there was nothing that could be done once caught out.
Fortunately, because of the low speed, the vehicle came to a gentle halt as two wheels went over the edge into the drain. It was also very fortunate that the vehicle had come to a halt where it did, as the bottom of the drain was still around another half meter or so below and, if the left half of the vehicle hadn’t stayed on the road, it may have ended up with quite a bit of damage and a vastly more difficult recovery. As it was, the recovery was still tricky because the vehicle kept wanting to go into the drain, but careful winching and being attached at both ends meant no damage done, other than pride (or maybe not).
After that event, it wasn’t too far to the Marthavale Hut for our final camp. Fortunately, the hut was free and so we didn’t have to set up tents in the miserable conditions that had befallen the valley where the hut is located. At the time, Marthavale Hut was relatively new by the looks of it and quite spacious and so it’s a pity that I can’t find any external photographs of the hut. And while we were regaled more stories about nefarious doings in the High Country, apparitions seemed to be following us on our cruises and appeared once again in the dark.
That said, while Marthavale Hut was quite salubrious, looks can be deceiving and I have to say that we had possibly the coldest ever night of any of our Cruises. The hut is divided into three sections, a central area that hosts the fireplace and two wings either side that are effectively the bedrooms. And while the central section stays very warm while the fire is going, absolutely none of the heat transfers to the wings. My final view of the fire before retiring was a distant reflection of what was to follow in the very early hours of the morning as the valley sucked every fragment of heat from the hut. I have experienced cold nights before, but that was the coldest night that I’ve ever had to endure.
The final day saw us wind our way back down to Bairnsdale, after some steep and slippery tracks, but fortunately without any mishaps. I think the realisation that the trip was at an end was when we went through Bullumwaal and civilisation began to rear its head once again. Though we were still far and away from the melee that is Melbourne.
And that’s pretty much how this Cruise ended. It was quite a mixed bag of locales, climates and experiences. But so many years later, I can still remember how bitterly cold it was at Marthavale Hut that weekend and, every time that we’ve gone past since, I’ve been somewhat glad that we didn’t have to stop.