While my last High Country Cruise report had a few gaps, at least this one was duly recorded and mapped. We started the Cruise from Licola and headed off to the Macalister River via Glencairn and Black Soil Gully Track, which is the usual way most travellers opt to take. Being April, the rivers are all usually well down at this time of year and with the tracks being quite dry, there was little likelihood of any issues. This was only a three day trip, so we stayed fairly close to Melbourne, especially as we were planning on staying off-road as much as possible, so that meant not travelling great distances each day and it looked like it was going to be quite a pleasant trip, especially weather wise.
With the the Licola to Jamieson Road sealed to the Glencairn turnoff, the drive is quite easy and quick nowadays, compared to the corrugated and dusty thing is was in the early years, though I doubt I’ll ever see the road fully sealed to Jamieson in my lifetime, or even two lifetimes. Once off the main road, the way to the Macalister River is much as it has been for the last 40 years, but still not too bad, considering that it’s not used by logging trucks. Once on Black Soil Gully Track, the Macalister River is reached sooner than you expect and there’s never much to it (unless you try it immediately after a big Winter). This time, not far along the track, we encountered a local resident looking for a drink. Surprisingly, it wasn’t concerned about our presence in the least and, after a few minutes, wandered off.
I’ve mentioned before that there are up to 10 crossings on the Macalister River, depending on how far you go and they vary considerably depending on the previous Winter rains and snowfall run-offs. The crossings up to number seven are always fine. Crossing number three is the widest of all the crossings and is the one that varies the greatest in depth. This is mainly due to the fact that the entrance (if coming in from Black Soil Gully Track) is quite soft, doesn’t have as many rocks and so the base gets easily eroded. At this time of year, as I said, the water level is quite low, so that doesn’t pose any problems with the crossing.
Crossing number five is always the interesting one because of the large rock in the middle of the river, and it must be substantial as it’s never moved in all the years that I’ve been coming here (since 1976), while every other rock seems to be constantly on the move. In another 10,000 or so years, it’s top will probably be worn away completely. I suspect that it’s not that the crossing is that difficult, but there’s a psychological aspect that gets you on edge because you know the rock is there under the water and if you drive over it, you’ll get stuck and no one wishes to get stuck in the middle of a river (it provides far too many photo opportunities for everyone).
Once the fifth river crossing is completed, it’s a long, boring, drive to the sixth crossing. I don’t know what it is, but it’s like the drive between Rosedale and Sale in Victoria, the latter is only 28km, but it feels like 280km. But once you reach the sixth river crossing, a sort of relief flows over you, as you now know that things will get interesting once again. I’ve written about the sixth river crossing a number of times, as it’s a place we’ve been going to for a long time, specifically for extended camping. It’s still a great spot, but a far cry from the clean place it once was. What’s killed this spot is that campers can’t seem to use one campfire location, but have to build new ones each time, which eventually turns the ground into charcoal hell. The soil is literally a mix of charcoal and dirt, a horror when it gets wet and just as bad when it’s really dry and dusty.
After the sixth river crossing, we took a lunch break at the camp ground that lies at the junction of the Macalister River Track and Butcher Country Track. We’ve camped here several times longer-term, many years ago and, other than the fact that it’s not overly flat, it has an excellent swimming hole at the base of a shallow cascade. The campsite is further down from where we stopped for lunch. The path to the waterfall can be problematic, as the annual floods cause havoc to any paths created the previous year but, in good times, it’s a very pleasant place indeed.
Once we’d had lunch, we set off up Butcher Country Track. This is a well worn path for us, but it’s always interesting for many reasons, be it nostalgia or just the fact that we’re out in the bush and doing things that few people ever experience. And on fine days when you can see just about forever, it’s a doubly better experience. The condition of the Butcher Country Track varies all the time and you never know what to expect. One moment it’ll be a doddle and the next it’s spinning tyres on loose rocks and dust. When you hit the lookout, you know that the remainder is going to be fairly tame. More often than not, we no longer stop at the lookout, as it’s something that we’ve done ad infinitum and it’s certainly one thing that hasn’t changed over the years.
From the Butcher Country Track, we headed down the Butcher Country Link Track to the Caledonia River. As I’ve mentioned before, the Butcher Country Link Track can be very steep and very rocky and rutted. This time around, from memory, it wasn’t a major issue and we found ourselves on the Caledonia River Track in fairly short order. This is where we were going to camp for the night and we found an excellent spot indeed, right next to the Caledonia River. The valley here can be very steep in places, such that some areas are nearly always dank and cold, but when the weather is favourable, it can be pleasant just about anywhere.
Unlike most Cruises, on this one we reversed our route and went back to the Butcher Country Track and Macalister River Track junction, and then travelled onwards to the tenth river crossing and then up Blue Plains Spur Track that rises out of the Macalister River. Blue Plains Spur Track can sometimes be easy, and at other times rough and slow going. This year it wasn’t bad at all and we were at the Grimme Track junction in short order. Grimme Track has had quite a reputation over the years as a very difficult track, as it varies tremendously year after year and has been marked as a Triple Black Diamond, but that’s really dependent on the time of year and weather. It’s actually been improved by the removal of a very large boulder that for years made one part of the track hairy to say the least, especially in the wet.
Once we hit Bull Plain Spur Road at the end of Grimme Track, we turned north and headed to Nobs Track, which took us to Brocks Road. Nobs Track was pretty much a doddle all the way through and it wasn’t long before we were at the Jamieson River on Brocks Road where we found a great camping spot that easily accommodated our group. Brocks Road has numerous campsite as it follows the Jamieson River towards Mt Lovicks. Forty or so years ago, there used to be some fantastic tracks connecting Bluff Track and Brocks Road, as well as Bluff Track and the Howqua River, but all of those are now long gone or turned into walking tracks at best.
The next morning we simply followed Brocks Road to Howqua Track and then Mt Buller Road to Mansfield. All of this was two wheel drive from our campsite, so it didn’t take all that long to get to Mansfield. Mind you, from Mansfield it was still roughly a three hour drive back to Melbourne, so you really don’t want too much 4WDriving on the last day, especially if you want to get home at a reasonable hour to unpack and clean up. So this was a short but very enjoyable trip, with good weather all round.