This Australia Day we were going to do some camping with friends, but circumstances changed for several of the wives, so three of us decided to go on a Cruise instead. Being the Australia Day long weekend, it was going to be busy, especially as we had decided to stay reasonably close to Melbourne, but I’d managed to rustle up a plan for day one and left the remainder of the weekend on a suck it and see basis. On weekends like this, too much planning usually involves changes at every turn anyway, so better to just play things by ear and see what happens. As it is, it turned out to be a much, much, better Cruise than anticipated.
Our trip started at Cowwarr Weir, just north of Toongabbie, and we wound our way through an area that we hadn’t visited previously (from what anyone could remember) and it turned out to be quite an interesting start to the Cruise, with a number of creek crossings along the way. The weather was perfect and the landscape where we did the creek crossings was very nice indeed. It’s an area where you could easily camp, were there any campsites available next to the creeks. You could possibly squeeze a tent somewhere along one of the banks, but there really was nothing if a decent amount of room was required.
As we wound our way around this smallish area checking out a series of tracks, we encountered even more impressive crossings that begged to be used as campsites. This area had been ravaged by bushfires in the recent past and talking to some travellers going in the opposite direction, some of these areas had once had campsites but, after the fires, the regrowth had been furious and all signs of these campsites had disappeared. That’s pretty much the way of the Australian bush, as evidenced when we had a short lunch stop. All around us were the survivors of these fires and every tree with blackened trunks was furiously sending out new shoots and branches.
So we slowly wound our way north towards the Licola Road where we’d come out at Cheynes Bridge, a very popular camping area on the Macalister River. The climb out of the valley just before we descended down to the Macalister River was quite enjoyable and the views that fronted us as we rose to the top of the rise were stunning. Photographs can never give a real indication of the vistas that you see in these parts, because of all the trees that interrupt the views, something that the brain can exclude.
As expected, Cheynes Bridge was packed and there was certainly not going to be any camping spots available in this area, so our plan was to take Hickeys Creek Track towards Ben Cruachan and see what we could find. If you’re ever out this way, McMillan Lookout is worth a stop, but it was getting late and a campsite was a priority so we kept going. Luckily, at the end of Hickeys Creek Track on what I think was Ben Cruachan Creek, we found the ideal campsite. It wasn’t a moment too soon as, perhaps 10 minutes after pulling up for the day, two other vehicles came by also looking for a campsite. And it was after setting up that one of our travellers discovered that the durability of his Continental beer cans were not up to our conditions, such is life on Cruises.
The next day we headed up Dolodrook Track to make our way to the Avon River and then further East to Freestone Creek. It was a fairly mild drive overall, but quite picturesque as we passed one area and the next. The Avon River was a good stopover for a group shot and then onwards to Freestone Creek. Once again, there were not going to be any campsites in this area and, being early, we continued on to swing back West, by heading to Horseyard camping area. We were on McDonald Track when we encountered a group from the Landrover Club on a hill, where a late model Discovery had broken an axle (I could say what’s new) and it looked like things weren’t happening in a hurry, so we turned around and took an alternate route, which turned out quite interesting and only set us back by maybe half an hour.
I have to say that we never expected to get Horseyard Hut, as it was close to 4:00 pm and we were expecting plenty of campers in the area. But then again, the hut isn’t the most salubrious and that probably turns people off, especially if there are women and children involved. That said, for travellers such as ourselves, it beats putting up a tent any day. As we settled in for the evening, we all wondered what time of night the Landrover group were able to return to Dargo, if they did. From what one of our travellers observed of their recovery techniques, everything that they were doing was mostly wrong, but we weren’t in a position to offer guidance and so left well enough alone.
For our third day, we headed out to Arbuckle Junction and down towards Licola, where we turned off at B1 track that leads down to the Wellington River, the Chromite Mine and then Mount Margaret Track. The B1 track turned out to be a ripper and we were sorely tempted to turn around at the bottom and go back up, something that we really should have done as it turned out. We couldn’t find any remnants of the Chromite Mine and continued on to the Mount Margaret Track. What a long and boring trip that turned out to be and with the tracks very overgrown, it made for a very slow drive. We finally got to the Mount Margaret Track, which wasn’t in any better condition, and eventually the lookout where we met other travellers going to where we’d been. Going down Mount Margaret Track proved to be a really good drive, though going up would have been much better.
We stopped over at Licola looking to top up, but with the fuel prices at $1.74, when in Melbourne they were under $1.00 and even back home were $1.13, we gave this a big miss. Seriously, there was no excuse for this sort of fuel price rip off. Anyway, we headed north along the Jamieson-Licola Road and then turned off towards Mt Selma and down South Road where we were hoping to get Jacksons Hut. Once again, the gods were smiling upon us, as the hut was free. Again, this is not a luxury apartment by any imagination, but it’s functional and surrounded by firewood within easy reach. In other words, it’s another fantastic High Country hut with plenty of character.
Our last day had arrived and we decided to head towards the Thomson Dam, on an incredibly foggy morning, to have a look at some of the area along Donnelly Creek and then to come out through Merringtons Junction to the Thomson Dam. This area is always packed come a long weekend and, as we passed through, campers that hadn’t already left the day before (for Australia Day parties at home) were slowly packing up. At Store Point on Donnelly Creek there’s a new hut that’s been built out of corrugated iron and timber (similar to Lovick’s Hut) and Lloyds Hut is still much the same. Jorgensens Hut further on has been replaced with what looks more like a large tin garage, and Junction Hut is like a small garage, And while this design may be practical and less likely to be damaged in a bushfire, it kind of lacks the sense of bush character of the older huts.
Without a doubt, this was one of our best Cruises for a long time, providing some outstanding driving along tracks that haven’t been bulldozed into country roads and, coupled with good company and good weather (each morning and evening it looked like it was going to rain, but didn’t), it couldn’t have been better. We now know where our next Cruise will be headed.