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.
It was perhaps fortunate that the vehicle numbers were lower, as we experienced some pretty intense tracks and a large convoy would have had a major effect on travel times, over and above what they were with just four vehicles. Starting from Moe, we headed off to the Thomson Dam and continued north until we reached Violet Town Track, then descended down into the valley where my intention was to have a look at two historic townships, Jericho and Red Jacket, places we hadn’t visited so far. The drive to Jericho was easy but we were somewhat surprised as the entire area was replete with deer hunters in the space between Red Jacket and Jericho. We stopped at Jericho to look around as the area has a lot of history, and we may have stayed a little longer, but with all the hunters going back and forth we kept our stay to a minimum.
There’s one thing that often defines all of these old townships and that is the cemeteries. In some places such as Dawson City these will have disappeared into the forests, but in places such as Jericho and Red Jacket, they are still kept free of growth and remain as a testament to the hard life endured by the miners and others that toiled in these areas. Our first stop was the Jericho cemetery and we then went down to Red jacket to have a look at the second one. Some may think it morbid to take photographs of cemeteries, but these represent the history of such sites and they are always changing as time goes on. So, in my view, such photographs are a historical record of the olden days and you never know when they might be of value to someone in the future, even if they have been photographed numerous times.
After retracing out steps back to the Walhalla Road, we continued north until we reached the Ash Road junction, where we stopped for a lunch break. We hadn’t been on Ash Road for a long time, so it wasn’t certain what we’d expect on the way down and then up again. Most of the track turned out to be in fairly good condition and caused no issues, but the ascent out of the valley offered the first challenge of the day. It wasn’t anything major, but a short section of the track rising up was quite steep and slippery, and needed a bit of right foot to keep up the momentum (at least for those without differential locks). After that it was an easy run to the top, where two of the tail-enders decided to have a look at what might have been the Maid of the Mountain Mine. I’d gone too far forward to come back, so had to wait until the travellers caught up. While waiting for them, I chatted to someone who called on the radio and discovered that they were at the Hazelwood power station in the Latrobe Valley; surprising, as that’s a distance of around 80km as the crow flies.
From the end of Ash Road, we followed Mt Selma Road until we came to South Road and followed that to S16 Track to Jacksons Hut which, once again, was vacant. It must have been our fifth time at Jacksons Hut, which just managed to fit our five travellers. One of the issues with the Mt Selma area is that there aren’t that many campsites (reasonable ones) around and, when you’re coming into Winter, most are pretty boggy or muddy hollows, so Jacksons Hut was once again a welcome stop. We also weren’t too sure about the weather, so not having to put up tents was a bonus and, as it was going to be a pretty cold night, the extra comfort of the hut made us feel even better. When we left, we followed the suggestion on the door (as we always do) but, unfortunately, many don’t.
From Jacksons Hut we continued down S16 Track until we reached Mt Selma Track, both of which weren’t overly dramatic, with just a few interesting pinches. Once on Mt Selma Road, we followed it towards the Jamieson-Licola Road and then, after a short drive, took Cobb Spur Track which would take us to Green Hills Track and then to the Macalister River. Cobb Spur Track is an interesting drive, quite easy, but providing amazing views of Licola and the valley. The weather was simply fantastic as well and it’s on days like this that the High Country is at its best, sunny but not blistering hot. We really couldn’t have asked for better weather. It’s been a long time since I’ve travelled Cobb Spur Track, so the weather and views made the journey doubly pleasing.
Cobb Spur then connects to Green Hills Track, which offers some interesting rocky sections and a few challenges. As it always is with photographs and videos of difficult sections, they never look as difficult or steep as they are in real life and, when looking at such sections externally, they’re quite different to the view that you get from the driver’s seat, which is often very restricted. Perspective, lens angle and position always tends to compress things into quite a different visual impression as well. That said, from the driver’s seat the rocky sections were quite challenging and low range with brakes (or hill descent for those that had them) was essential, for they had to be taken slowly.
Green Hills Track eventually led us to the Macalister Gorge Scenic Reserve where we stopped for lunch, after which we headed to the Macalister River and Burgoyne Track. The Macalister River was quite low given the heavy rains we’d had recently, so the crossing was easy, but the exit on other side of the river was quite rutted and significantly different to the last time that we crossed. Because Burgoyne Track has some long, steep and very rocky sections, there wasn’t much opportunity to stop and take photographs of the others climbing up, but I did use my action cam for some visuals. I managed a few photographs of the last section that’s like a rocky river bed, a section that’s been like this ever since the first time I travelled it more than 40 years ago. When we reached the Licola Road, we crossed it to the second half of Burgoyne Track on our way to the Chromite Mine. A dozer had been through here very recently (a few days ago given a short talk I had with a grader driver the next day), so the track was wide and easy going and it didn’t take long to reach the Chromite Mine Track, which was also wide and clear, unlike a previous Cruise.
Video – Across Macalister River to Burgoyne Track
Video – Burgoyne Track from Macalister River
It was still quite a long drive to the Chromite Mine from the junction and it seemed doubly long seeing the escarpment where The Sentinels rise in the far distance, but eventually we reached our destination with the escarpment looming above us at the Chromite Mine site. I’d lost my bearings when we reached the Chromite Mine site and passed the track that led to the campsite we were planning on using that night. However, after a bit of searching the campsite was found. The dozer had changed the visual aspect of the tracks a bit and coming from the opposite direction of the previous Cruise, I’d completely missed the track, and perhaps the long day of driving had addled my brain a tad as well.
But we found the campsite and a pretty good one it was and, thankfully, there was a reasonable amount of wood about as it was going to be a very cold night given the clear skies. As the sun set, the golden glow on the escarpment kept changing by the second and I would have liked to have sat there taking photographs, but camp preparation and wood cutting was more important. As we worked, we could see the colours changing from a golden hue to red and then a flaming pink. I managed to get one clear shot, but regretfully watched the colour show from a distance until it was all over. As night fell, the fire kept us nice and warm, and we did a bit of star and planet gazing as well. I was told (from memory) that the wobbly shot of one bright object was Jupiter and two of its moons, but the lens I was using wasn’t really long enough to get much better results (and the focus was off to boot).
The next morning we had a look at a track that led across the river to a second campsite (nothing special) and then headed off along the Chromite Mine Track to B1 Track, stopping off briefly at the Wellington River. The B1 Track can be quite challenging and there were a number of sections that gave us an interesting time, though nothing exceedingly difficult. Once out of B1 Track, we headed up Tamboritha Road to Moroka Road and then Doolans Plains Road to our final destination, The Watchtower and Neilson Crag. We’d never been there before, so we were quite interested in seeing what was there that caused it to be noted on the map.
Video – Climbing B1 Track
Doolans Road to the carpark at The Watchtower/Neilson Crag was pretty much two wheel drive and the walk to the end was fairly short, though it turns out we could have driven virtually to the top. The view from Neilson Crag was very impressive and well worth the visit (that really is an understatement). The combined Neilson Crag and The Watchtower would have been an interesting place to linger, but the wind was blowing a gale and that meant wandering around near the edges was not a good idea and it was cold. So we went back the way we came and tried to get to McMichaels Hut, but the track was closed one month early for some reason so we headed to lower regions to make camp on the Wellington River at the Muttonwood campsite for our last night.
Video – Neilson Crag to The Watchtower
Once again our Cruise came to an end all too soon and this one turned out to be an especially good one with many an interesting track, great weather, astounding scenery and some interesting historic sites along the way. We started to contemplate another Cruise for around the Queen’s Birthday weekend, but with Kellys Track already closed, we have no idea how many others will follow suit, especially as the Parks Victoria site has yet to update their website. I do hope that the High Country isn’t locked up too early, as that would mean the Queen’s Birthday long weekend would be doomed for many High Country travellers.