Australia Day in 2009 saw us travelling from Mansfield to Mt Stirling, Lake Cobbler, into the Wonnangatta, back up to the Howitt High Plains and then to the Macalister River. It was a fine-weather weekend, rising to one of fairly extreme temperatures during the last days when along the Macalister River. The trip covered quite a bit of the High Country, with various twists and turns as we explored the northern part of the national park. We were expecting hordes out this weekend but, surprisingly as it sometimes happens, that turned out not to be the case. This was especially unusual considering how close to ‘civilisation’ we were most of the trip.
We started by taking Stirling Road and then Circuit Road, that runs between Mt Buller and Mt Stirling, to Howqua Gap Hut and then taking the Gap Track on to Mt Stirling itself for a brief stop before heading off to Craig’s Hut along Clear Hills Track. A lot of people think that Craig’s Hut is located on Mt Stirling, but Mt Stirling is actually situated about halfway between Mt Buller and Craig’s Hut. I guess because Craig’s Hut is sort of located on the flanks of Mt Stirling, it’s kind of reasonable to consider it as being on Mt Stirling and, in any case, everyone knows what you mean.
From Craig’s Hut we took The Monument Track down to the Circuit Road and then followed that all the way around to Black Landing Track and then down to King Basin Road. From the King Basin Road, our plan was to take the Staircase to lake Cobbler, but we (I) got slightly misaligned and we found ourselves going up Speculation Road before realising our error and having to turn back. The Staircase turned out to be a no-go, as the track was blocked by a massive fallen tree, far too large and time consuming to attempt to clear, so we took the long way around via Little Cobbler Track. It didn’t take us long to get to Lake Cobbler and, surprisingly, we once again had the place mostly to ourselves.
From Lake Cobbler we headed north along the Abbeyard – Lake Cobbler Track to Abbeyard Road, West Buffalo Road and then Harry Shepherds Track into Wonnangatta Station. As I’ve covered Wonnangatta many times, there’s not really much more to say about the place, it is what it is and gets a lot of visitors. I’m not sure why it attracts so many visitors for long term camping, as it’s a long way in and once there, there’s not an awful lot to do and, if the river is well down, it can be pretty miserable in the heat of summer.
From the Wonnangatta, we took Zeka Spur Track up to the Howitt High Plains for camp at Howitt Hut. There’s not really all that much to Howitt Hut and camping at the hut isn’t practical and vehicle access isn’t permitted; you have to camp at the ‘carpark’ near the hut. Notwithstanding, Howitt Hut does provide some picturesque photo opportunities when the sun begins to set.
The next day we continued south until we reached the Caledonia Track, about 8km from Howitt Hut, so that we could then make our way over Butcher Country to the Macalister River. Once again we encountered lots of fallen trees along the way, some just enough to allow the tallest vehicle to just scrape under. Further down the track we came upon a completely blocked section of track where another traveller had begun clearing fallen trees the day before and, with our help, the track was fairly soon cleared for access. The wind must have come through like a hurricane, as there were huge numbers of trees down in this relatively narrow section of the valley and all of them fell in the same direction.
The massive storms that had occurred the year before had really left their mark on the Caledonia, with not just trees fallen down everywhere, but parts of the road completely washed away. We came to one section on a down hill part where the track was no longer, with only a four or so metre drop to the river. Had we come down this track at night, the results could have been fatal. With some backtracking, we found where an alternative track had been made through the bush by previous travellers and we soon found ourselves at the Caledonia River, but not before we had to negotiate quite a tumble of rocks that the floods had scoured out of the earth. Photographs never seem to do justice to how things are in reality, the track was quite a mess.
Once on the Caledonia River Track proper, it was a relatively easy journey over to the Butcher Country Track and then along the Macalister River Track to the Sisters (the junction of the Macalister and Caledonia Rivers), where we set up camp. This day was blisteringly hot and setting up camp on the flat, open, section was enough to dehydrate a camel, so it wasn’t long before refreshments came out and everyone was in the river. And what a great spot the river was, as warm water flowing from the Macalister River joined the cool waters from the Caledonia River, you could nicely regulate the temperature by moving from one side to the other. It had been a long day and come night time, the traveling and heat was having its effect on many.
From the Sisters we travelled back to Licola and then decided to take the Burgoyne Track across the Macalister River as an alternative route back to the Princes Freeway. Burgoyne Track is one of those tracks that seems to vary every year. It has some quite steep sections and depending on the amount of traffic it’s had, can get very loose and rough. Years back it could be extremely rough from the very outset. The crossing at the Macalister River also varies continuously, depending on the level of flooding experienced each year. The entry to the river has sometimes been very steep indeed and being sand, can create all manner of difficulties if going in the opposite direction.
From the Macalister River, the rest of the journey was fairly uneventful, as the the tracks on the other side had been fully graded and we were back on the two wheel drive roads in no time at all. While some of the events of this trip have been forgotten over the years, everyone still talks about the great day had at the Sisters on that blistering hot afternoon and the marvellous waters of the Macalister and Caledonia Rivers. One day we may hopefully be able to revisit it under similar circumstances.
And, as this story is posted on New Year’s Day, I wish everyone a great New Year.