Our June 2006 Cruise took us from Mansfield, down to Jamieson and then east along the Jamieson-Licola Road to Wren’s Flat, with the intent of passing through Mt Sunday and then down to Licola, but along the way we took a wrong turn and ended up heading north. In some ways, that was possibly a blessing in disguise, as the weather was turning foul, wet and cold, and the Mt Sunday Track that we were looking for would have been atrocious that weekend, as we found out on a subsequent, more benign, trip. As it was, the start was looking fairly ordinary from the outset.
One thing that is a given around this part of the country, especially in Winter, are bog holes. Sometimes they are avoidable (with side tracks available) and sometimes they are not, and turning back is not always an ideal option. I try to avoid them at all costs, not just because they needlessly wreck the tracks, but eventually they cause all manner of damage to seals, bearings and other parts of the vehicle. It not only becomes costly, it can be dangerous if not identified and it can put you off the road for some days if the damage is significant. So our misdirection possibly saved us from some pretty awful stuff, had we made the correct turn.
So we ended up travelling the full length of Mt Sunday Road, finding our first campsite at Nobs Track on the Barkly River East Branch. Being Winter, nightfall comes much earlier and, as we were located in a very narrow valley, it got darker even faster. This night was going to be an especially miserable camp, as the only spot we could find was very dank and cold. While there was a fairly flat and open area next to the river, it was a boggy morass and so we ended up setting our camp on an elevated section of disused road. It was still anything but pleasant; however, once we managed to get a fire going and food in our stomachs, followed by some welcoming beverages, things improved. We’ve never really had a miserable camp, it’s just that some are more pleasant than others. Actually, we have had the odd miserable camp.
It most certainly was a cold night and everyone was looking forward to leaving this valley and heading up to somewhat ‘warmer’ climes. I guess warmer is a relative term, for as we climbed out of the Barkly River valley along Nobs Track, we started to encounter our first snow, and we weren’t even at that high an elevation. We were heading for Brocks Road and then King Billy Track, which would take us to the Howitt High Plains Road, from where we’d descend to the Caledonia River. The Nobs and King Billy Tracks were covered in a moderate dusting of snow the entire way, so it made for picturesque driving.
The King Billy Track also has a unique spot along the way, with very interesting geological formations along several spots, where large expanses of rock have broken into pieces and carpeted the hillside either side of the road. It’s like someone has poured massive piles of oversized gravel on the hillside. These rocks aren’t small by any means and all that I can surmise is that once upon a time these were rock faces which have been subjected to repeated rain and freezing conditions. The rocks would crack, roll down the hillside and the process would be repeated year after year until it looks the way that it does. We’ve passed through here many times and it certainly looks more interesting covered in snow.
The King Billy Track eventually joins the Howitt High Plains Road (or Howitt Road) and from there we kept an eye out for the start of the Caledonia Track. The Caledonia Track winds its way to the Caledonia River and then branches off to take you either to the Macalister River or back to the Howitt High Plains. We were going to the High Plains via Dingo Hill Track, but that was for the next day, as we’d pretty much exhausted daylight before we’d travelled much more than halfway down the track. And this is where it’s really odd, as none in the group have any photos of our camp on the Caledonia River or much memory about the camp, other than one fairly burry photograph, so a map of the area will have to suffice.
The next day took us up Dingo Hill (once renowned as the most difficult track in Victoria – this is in the 70s/80s) and then again onto the Howitt High Plains. Dingo Hill Track merges with the Tamboritha Road and from there it’s a relatively short drive to Licola. Along the way, you come out on the lower end of the Howitt High Plains where you can view the plains as they stretch north. Further south, once on the main road, there’s Bennison Lookout which provides great views east, depending on the weather. We finally did have some fine weather, which almost always seems to be the case when we’re on our way home.
This was one of our shortest cruises, only involving three days, but sometimes that’s sufficient when you’re out at the start of Winter. Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with going out in Winter, it’s more about picking the right places and deep, dank, valleys are not what I consider the right places.