Since we missed doing a Cruise on this year’s Queen’s Birthday Weekend, we decided to do a short-notice trip to revisit a couple of places that we covered on our Apr 2017 Cruise. We weren’t sure what we’d be up against on this Cruise, especially the potential snow conditions, but weather reports indicated that there would only be light snow and generally sunny conditions around the Aberfeldy and northern area, where roads and tracks were still open. We weren’t planning on any serious off-roading this time as the area can become quite treacherous, noting how slippery some of the tracks were on our last Cruise and, with the rain that has fallen recently, the tracks were likely to be much worse. The plan was to do a loop from the Thomson Dam up and around to Licola for the first night, staying in one of the cabins and then down and around to Rawson for a night in one of their cabins (luxury for a change).
Once again we met at Moe to fuel up and then headed off to the Thomson Dam where we aired down in preparation for the road ahead. One of the issues with going into these areas in Winter is that you never truly know what roads and tracks are open or closed until you get there. The Parks Victoria site lists each year’s seasonal road closures, but that doesn’t mean if a road or track is not marked as closed, that it isn’t closed when you get there (this has happened to us many times). And one of the most frustrating things about the Parks Victoria site is the crude way in which the track closures are displayed. Everything is in a low detail PDF file that often makes it very difficult to work out what’s what and maybe that’s intentional. Given that the tracks that are marked have been produced with software similar to my Garmin Basecamp, I can’t see why Parks Victoria couldn’t supply a GPX file as well so that the tracks could be copied to and read on mapping software in real time, as I described previously.
One place that we did want to visit on this Cruise was the mine that we passed on our last one, where only two of our travellers got to have a look and not a very good one as they weren’t fully prepared. So this time we’d all stop at the location and, with good lighting, we’d all hopefully have a much better view at what was there. As it turned out, the road from Aberfeldy onwards was dry and snow free all the way to Fiddlers Green Track, which we took to the mine. But, the visit was somewhat of a letdown, as what appeared to be a substantial mine shaft going horizontally into the ground, ended up being just a short tunnel that went no where. It may have gone in further at one time, but clearly there had been a cave-in, so what was on the other side was a complete mystery. There was a very deep hole, covered with large logs, higher up the hill side that disappeared down towards where the cave-in had occurred, but it was impossible to see anything towards the bottom and I wasn’t about to clamber onto the wet logs to get the perfect view.
So we continued on to Mt Selma Road and still not a sign of snow. From Mt Selma Rd we decided to take Queen Bee Road to the Black River Link Track and then Black River Track to the Jamieson-Licola Road. Queen Bee Road and Black River Link Track weren’t of any significant note, but once we got on to Black River Track, things changed. We’d come to a very steep and greasy section with a bend at the bottom and I was going reasonably well until I hit a mound, which brought me to a complete halt and then I started to slowly slide back down the hill, more or less under the control of gravity. It was only when the track levelled off a bit did I come to a halt, but now I was also well off the track and going no where. There was no way that I could be pulled back onto the track, so it was time to put the new winch to the test. It took several sessions at full extension, as well as winch straps, before I reached a spot from where I could make it up on my own steam.
Once I’d managed to winch myself up the worst part and then drive the remainder, the others had their go. Thankfully, everyone was forewarned and came up full bore and, for some reason, my driving and winching must have taken some of the greasiness off the track, meaning that everyone got up without the need to winch. It was kind of fortunate that the rest were able to make it up on their own steam, as these things can become a long and tiring affair when you need to winch vehicles individually several hundred feet to get through a section. Mind you, at least I now know that the winch works and it works extremely well indeed.
Once over that bit of excitement, we were quickly on the Jamieson-Licola Road and headed down to Licola to let the caravan park know that we were there, paid and picked up the key, and then went for a short drive up to Mt Margaret, from where we tried to figure out where the Chromite Mine was situated in the distance where we’d camped on our April Cruise. One thing that we didn’t anticipate was that there was no snow to be seen anywhere. Even from the Mt Margaret lookout, we couldn’t see any snow anywhere on the mountain tops, this is despite the fact that weather reports had indicated snow falls all week. So we headed back to Licola to settle in for a comfortable night on one of those rare Cruises where we could enjoy a modicum of luxury. We weren’t the only ones with this idea, as another group rolled in later in the night.
The next morning we contemplated what tracks we would take to get across to Rawson and given that everything had been pretty dry so far, we opted for Burgoyne Track as the starting point. This turned out to be an excellent idea, as our entire route this morning was full of simply outstanding 4WDriving. From the very beginning, we were into low range and slow going, with Burgoyne Track making Mt Margaret look like a high-range doddle. The Macalister River was still quite low, so the crossing was uneventful and from the Macalister River we took Green Hills Track, which again provided some excellent 4WDriving, having us going in the opposite direction from our Apr Cruise, where the track now appeared completely different.
It was only towards the end of Green Hills Track that we started to see snow this weekend, which was quite surprising, given that it was at a lower altitude than where we were the day before. Greens Hills Track brought us out on South Road and from there we travelled a relatively short distance north to show one of our travellers Jacksons Hut and to have a look at Johnson Hut, which only one of our current group had seen on our last trip. South Road and surrounds begun to show a good covering of snow, so things were looking promising and by the time that we reached the Jacksons Hut turnoff, thing were looking even better. Jacksons Hut was the typical mud wallow and, sadly, the last visitors had left a fire going in the fireplace, which we put out. Johnson Hut was quite interesting, but in some ways Jacksons Hut would be preferable on a cold night.
From there we headed south and our first stop was Mt Useful to have a look at the fire tower. We weren’t the only ones interested in having a look, as there were already quite a number of 4WDs there and more came in as we walked around. The views from Mt Useful were quite outstanding on this relatively clear day and I guess that’s what brought so many visitors to the area. After Mt Useful, we followed McEvoys Track until we reached White Star Track and took that to Willoughby Spur Track, where there was a very slippery section just at the end (winch material if going up), and then to Store Point to look at the huts. All the huts were occupied, so we decided to take Army Track to Binns Road and then Walhalla. I was a little bit hesitant about Army Track when we reached Fultons Track, but we continued on keeping a close eye on the track and noting the track conditions at all times. I was more concerned about the steep exit to Binns Road, but it turned out to be a series of switch backs that made the climb quite easy. I didn’t relish the idea of winching this late in the day.
From Binns Road we headed down to have a look at Walhalla, but the place was packed so we decided to give the place a miss and just continued to Rawson. Once at Rawson, we paid our dues and collected our key and, after setting up, we went for a short drive to get some wood for a fire. While the cabin we had was quite well laid out, it should be noted that it had no cooking facilities other than a microwave and the heating wasn’t working, but thankfully it wasn’t a bitterly cold night.
The next morning it was another fine day ahead and so after a good night’s rest and a bit of a sleep in, we aired up and made ready for going home. It had been an outstanding weekend, great company, great weather and some outstanding 4WDriving, with just about every sort of driving thrown in. I don’t think anyone could have asked for a better Cruise.