This cruise began at Heyfield and worked its way north to Dargo, Talbotville, Wonnangatta Station, Lake Cobbler and then Mansfield, in a sort of roundabout way. It was one of those cruises where we wanted to mix tracks that were familiar to us, with those that weren’t, hoping to find something new and interesting along the way. We certainly hadn’t been to Lake Cobbler before and we’d heard varying stories about the lake, so it was a good excuse for an eventual destination. I’m not sure why there was such a gap between 2005 and 2006, as I can’t recollect the bushfires being as severe in 2005, but we certainly hadn’t done anything for a year.
When traveling by 4WD, things aren’t always easy and you need to be experienced and prepared for the worst at all times. Making the right and/or sensible decision can make or break a journey. Tracks can change and conditions can vary from easy to extreme, depending on the time of year and can depend on how heavily a track has been used. Knowledge and experience are most certainly important, but so too is a well prepared and capable vehicle. These factors combined, will mean a successful and safe journey, and one that has minimal impact on the environment as well. So there’ll be times that you’ll hit a spot where you have second thoughts but, with careful evaluation, you can judge that the risk is low and the rewards are great, so you take the chance.
And it’s even more rewarding when you find that the initial concern was quite unfounded, as what appeared daunting from one end, turns out to be quite tame from the other. These are the sorts of things that you encounter all the time in the High Country and you can never really tell how things will go until you try it. So often, something that looks impossible, turns out to be anything but; though never take this as a given when in the High Country.
But all of this is rewarded when, after a long day of driving, you reach a destination that is simply like nothing you’ll find near the city. The Wonnangatta River at the Dargo end is one of the most picturesque and scenically located rivers in Victoria and while it’s not always easy to get to, it’s well worth the effort. On this day, the temperatures were near the 40s and a total fire ban, so we were glad to find this great campsite. It was hot, really hot, and the river was so good that we spent the remainder of the day just enjoying the water, reluctantly going back onto dry land when our stomachs began to rumble.
From the campsite of day one, we headed towards Talbotville and then to Wonnangatta Station via Sarah Spur. The track out of Talbotville was dry and loose, with plenty of mounds bulldozed onto the track to redirect water run-off during winter. The bulldozer driver must have been really keen with his building, as the mounds were some of the largest we’ve encountered in the High Country. For vehicles that were in more or less standard configuration, they gave us a few challenges, especially since the track was bone dry and very loose. We did quite a bit of driving around the tracks in the area, so we wouldn’t see Wonnangatta this day.
At the end of day two, we pulled up for camp again next to the Wonnangatta River at the base of Herne Spur. The weather had taken a slight change, with on and off drizzle all afternoon, and the resulting humidity was a killer. Bush tucker has always been a bit of a challenge on our cruises; how to eat the best, but at the same time keep the entire process as simple as possible, so it’s always an evolving feast. Everyone has a slightly different approach and every year someone tries a variation to improve on what was tried last time, especially if the previous approach was a failure (I had a monumental failure on one trip). Additionally, even the most average meal, with rustic cutlery and crockery, is improved with a good bottle of red.
And while some succumb to a combat nap after a long day, pranks will always be played whenever the opportunity arises. And without a photograph, it never happened.
The remainder of the tracks into Wonnangatta Station were fairly straightforward and gave us magnificent views on such a brilliant day. As I’ve mentioned previously, the Wonnangatta Valley is a very interesting place to visit if you’ve never been there before, but after one or two stays, the lustre kind of wears off. It’s a long way to go and once there, you never really know if you’ll have peace and quiet or be beset by madness. That said the Wonnangatta Valley does have some very nice camping sites, if you’re there at the right time of year, or early.
On day three, we headed north once again, towards Abbeyard, from where we’d eventually turn west towards Lake Cobbler. The drive from Wonnangatta provided some magnificent scenery once again, the sort of scenery that you never get tired of seeing. Sadly, photographs never convey the actual splendour and vastness that you experience first hand, and so will never replace actually being there in person.
At the end of day three, we reached Lake Cobbler. On seeing it for the first time, you’d swear that the lake was a natural formation, but you’d be wrong. It is in fact an artificial lake created in the 1960s by damming a swamp area at the headwaters of the Dandongadale River. If you’re keen, it’s a short drive to a precipice where the river falls a lofty 255m to create a fairly spectacular waterfall. We didn’t find out about this until many years later and haven’t had the opportunity to explore this any further to date.
Such a lake naturally provides a habitat for numerous wildlife, and birdlife was the most evident of them all. Clearly there must be an abundance of fish and other aquatic foods available for the birds, considering the variety that were about. Mind you, the ever present bush roosters were, as always, more attuned to what the visitors brought along and had no qualms letting us know what they wanted.
The campsite at Lake Cobbler isn’t too bad, but the facilities for an area that appeared to be frequently visited were a mixed bag. There was a shelter on the site, but no long drops, which seemed strange, as these would have to be the most important facilities for such a place in order to keep the place hygenic. If they did exist, we certainly didn’t see any. The lake itself is fairly shallow and has a muddy bottom, so it’s not what you’d call a water wonderland. That said, on a hot day it will provide some respite as it’s actually quite clean. The morning provided a wonderful sight, if you were up early enough.
From Lake Cobbler, we headed towards what was called the ‘Staircase’, an apparently very challenging track consisting of numerous rock ledges that takes you down to the King River, but which turned out to be disappointing to say the least. Anyway, from the King River we climbed out of the valley for our final destination, Craig’s Hut. I can’t say how many times I’ve visited Craig’s Hut, but every time it’s changed, and this time was no different. Craig’s Hut reminds me of ‘Grandfather’s Axe’, the best axe that has ever been made, and it’s only had five new handles and two new heads. But I guess that’s not the point of Craig’s Hut, it’s all about the dream, or legend, of the High Country and the cattlemen (and women) that have made this part of the country what it is.
From Craig’s Hut it was on down to Mansfield, fuel up, and back to the insanity of Melbourne. You look in the rear view mirror and just wish that you could turn around and do everything again.