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.
The Haunted Stream Track has a long history dating back to the gold mining era; it’s about 25km long, has some 54 river crossings and along the way are dotted many reminders of the early gold mining days. I did this track many years ago, after a particularly wet season, and it was very slow going all the way. This trip was going to be a fairly dry one, so while the stream was flowing, all the crossings were easy and the full length of the track took no more than around an hour and a half to cover. The stream is very picturesque at this time of year and provided some cool respite from a particularly hot start to the trip.
Along the way, we stopped off to have a look at one of the existing mines that dot the area, this one being dug into the hillside and known as Victoria Mine. It didn’t look like this mine was being worked and there was no indication how old it was, though it appeared quite sound, but required a minor squeeze to get through the entrance, which was very low and partially blocked. Once inside, you could easily stand up and what a change it made from the hot air outside. This area is peppered with old and new mines, and who knows if or when the gold will ever run out.
Since we’d started very early in the morning from Melbourne and we’d reached the end of the track by late afternoon, we decided to make our first camp at Dawson City, the only decent campsite within reasonable distance before night fell. As far as Dawson City goes, it’s simply impossible to comprehend that around 3000 people lived on this site in its heyday; the site can barely take five vehicles and tents today and is surrounded by very steep hillsides that begin from the base of the campsite. Dawson City didn’t just have miners apparently, but was ‘serviced’ by all the usual amenities. Where the miners dug or foraged for gold is anyone’s guess, but we kept out of the scrub for obvious reasons, falling down a mine shaft was not on our agenda.
From Dawson City we headed up and out of the valley to have a look at Mt Delusion Hut (not much there) and then Wentworth Falls somewhat further on, which wasn’t all that spectacular either. From there we headed down to Camm’s Top Place, another nice campsite on the Wentworth River, for our second night’s camp. Camm’s Top Place has a number of remnants from bygone days, such as a slowly deteriorating hut and what may have been a building, store room or who knows what. It was certainly one hut that wasn’t under the care of any group like many in the High Country.
As the sun began to set, we’d made ourselves comfortable on what was a very pleasant campsite that almost looked like a well maintained lawn. With the river nearby, sheltering trees around us and a lot more room than at Dawson City, we were able to settle in for a very pleasant night indeed. Mind you, there was a turn in the weather for a short time as darkness began to descend upon us, when a fairly robust thunder storm moved across the mountains and gave one awfully loud clap directly above us. The light and noise came as one and everyone just looked at each other, clearly with the same thought in mind. Thankfully, the storm passed fairly quickly and everything calmed down for the rest of the night. Come morning and we were really looking forward to the day’s drive and scenery on the agenda.
Day three was to take us to the Dargo High Plains and Blue Rag Range Track, one very popular location for anyone coming to this part of the world. The drive along the Dargo High Plains Road, which takes one from Dargo to Mt Hotham, is a wide and fast dirt road passing through some quite spectacular plains. The track to Blue Rag Range is another thing and becomes a very slow and windy track through masses of snow gums. The fires have had their affect here as elsewhere and we went through many a line of dead trees. Once up on the peak of Blue Rag Range, the sight is spectacular on a clear day, with unimpeded 360 degree views of the High Country. It’s also an ideal place to dry a wet tent, but don’t lose your grip, or it’s a very, very, long hike to get it back.
From Blue Rag Range, we travelled along Basalt Knob Track to Talbotville for our third night’s camp. Basalt Knob Track showed clear evidence of the bushfires from 2002-2003, yet already the undergrowth was full of life, with new gums sprouting up and, in a year or two’s time, you wouldn’t recognise the area. A future story may show the difference a couple of years makes in the Australian bush. Along the way we also came across some old cut logs that would have made excellent firewood, but even the smallest wouldn’t fit in the back of an empty Patrol.
The track to Talbotville led us to a few diversions and one was Bald Top Track. This is a wide track cleared as a firebreak, but it’s very steep in parts and descends into a narrow valley where it crosses the Wongungarra River and then rises up the Sarah Spur Track. The crossing here can become utterly impassable following heavy rains, as the crossing is very narrow and the water flowing through becomes a torrent. We’ve been down there to see it first hand and no vehicle known would cross that torrent when it’s in full flow. As the evening got longer, the mountains became still for a change and we were glad to find camp in Talbotville. The views, as we descended into Talbotville, were pure High Country. I didn’t take any photographs of Talbotville, as there’s nothing really to show and the weather was turning foul.
The next day we arrived at Dargo for fuel and whatnot, before travelling south and then taking a right turn to the Crooked River Road and Billy Goat Bluff. Now at this stage, we’d had a fair amount of rain and, as we left Dargo, things were not getting any better. We really weren’t sure what Billy Goat Bluff Track would be like, but once we were there, we decided that the only option was up. As it turned out, it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as we’d expected and the drive up was actually quite a doddle, despite water flowing down the track. The clouds were certainly rolling in and the weather wasn’t improving; however, at least it wasn’t pelting rain, but rain was certainly on its way, as the fire tower on The Pinnacles kept drifting in and out of view.
From The Pinnacles, we headed for our final camp at Horseyard Flat and, if you’d read my first post on the High Country, you’ll see how different it looked on the outside in 2005. Mind you, the interior was much the same. As I said in my first post, any port in a storm is great and, as it was pretty wet and miserable this night, we were doubly grateful to get a hut. From memory, there were quite a few campers at Horseyard Flat that day but none had chosen to commandeer the hut for whatever reason, preferring to camp in the rain, and we weren’t complaining.
This was one of our longer cruises and it really encompassed a lot of the High Country, but what a great trip it was (as they all are). But every year things change, so no matter how many cruises we do, not one is ever quite the same.