The Queen’s Birthday Long Weekend in June is not only the start of the official ski season, it’s also the last weekend until November (nominally the Melbourne Cup Weekend) when you can go to the most popular locations in the Victorian High Country. This year the snow had come early and the long weekend was going to be an ideal time to get in some snow driving and bush camping before the closure of the High Country.
Our journey began at Licola Victoria, a popular starting point, as well as a final destination (because of the local Lions Village), for many visitors to the High Country. After a short stop at Licola, our three intrepid travellers headed north towards the Howitt High Plains. Our first stop was Tamboritha Saddle to drop the tyre pressures on our 4WDs, as the snow cover was already enough to cause issues on normal road pressures and it gave us a quick opportunity to check everything out before getting serious. The weather at this point was simply outstanding and we were looking forward to some magnificent scenery at our first port of call.
The snow cover at this time of year can be highly variable, but Victoria has experienced some very cold days throughout May and so the snow season looks like it’s going to be a good one. That said, it’s still early days and with the warm(ish) weather and vehicle traffic, the current snowfalls weren’t enough to make progress through the High Country overly problematic, though care was still required. As you travel along the High Plains road, the weather changes constantly from clear to misty as you rise and fall, and move from one side of the ridge line to the other, so it’s a never ending natural show.
Our first destination was Mt Wellington on the Mt Wellington Track, which runs parallel to the Howitt High Plains. We were extremely fortunate, as the cloud cover that we saw in the distance, as we drove on the Howitt High Plains, did not encroach onto Mt Wellington, giving us magnificent unimpeded views when we finally got there. Initially we were considering going further along the track, but having been that way before, there was not going to be anything as spectacular as what we had at this spot.
On a fine day, the views from Mt Wellington are amazing, but it’s not just the grand vista that captures one’s attention, it’s also the geological formations and even struggling plant life that provides interesting backdrops to the wider view. The light snow cover provides an even better contrast to the landscape than what you get in Summer, when everything is more or less of an even tonality, notwithstanding the textures and shapes.
From Mt Wellington, we headed off towards the Pinnacles, to stay overnight at Horseyard Flat. But before we headed there, we took a short detour to have a look at another High Country Hut called Moroka Hut. There’s no vehicle based camping at Moroka Hut, but it was worth stopping by to have a look at what it provided. Moroka Hut is pretty much a typical hut of the High Country and one that looks like it’s been there for some time. It was nestled in a small picturesque valley, but it wasn’t something that you’d really choose to stay in unless it was a last call, because of the size, dirt floors and openness. Mind you, you’d have to be on Shank’s Pony to camp there in the first place and that’s not something we’d likely be doing.
From Moroka Hut we journeyed on to Horseyard Flat, hoping that we’d get Horseyard Hut for the night. The sad thing about Horseyard Flat (and other similar places) is that many visitors have no respect for the environment whatsoever. People bring in food and drink, and feel that it’s quite OK to just dump their refuse anywhere and this was evident with the vast number of empty bottles in the hut, as well as just about everywhere on the flat. That wasn’t the worst of it, but I won’t go into the gross details.
But on a cold night, a hut is too good to pass by if it’s available and while Horseyard Hut isn’t one of the greatest huts in the High Country, it provides for a cosy night out of the weather and with the bunks, it means that setting up for the night requires minimal effort. We were lucky and scored the hut just in time. The floor of the hut is basically dirt, with some old carpet, and other odds and ends providing some semblance of luxury. I also noted that it’s had a lick of paint, if not a few other modification from when we last stayed in the hut.
Next morning we travelled from Horseyard Flat towards the Pinnacles and took Billy Goat Bluff Track down to the Wonnangatta River and on towards Eaglevale. We were looking for an old hut that had been restored by a local property owner, and which depicted the life of one of the early residents of the area. The background of the hut had something to do with a murder in the 1800s, but I’m not quite sure of the story. Unfortunately we couldn’t find the hut, so we decided to head to the Wonnangatta Valley, noting that it could be Burke Street with it being a long weekend.
Having been to Wonnangatta Valley many times, it just doesn’t have the allure that it had the first few times that I went there in the early 80s. It’s still a pleasant valley, but a place to avoid at peak periods. It has changed somewhat over the years and I noted some new additions, such as a hut , which I’d never seen before. Even the Wonnangatta Preservation Society was there selling books, so I guess even they were expecting a boom crowd this weekend.
We had a short stop for lunch and then headed off up Zeka Spur Track towards King Billy and Bluff Track, hoping for more snow. The drive up Zeka Spur Track wasn’t too bad, but meeting the inevitable oncoming traffic slowed our progress quite a bit; however, we were the ones going against the flow. Parts of Zeka Spur were already beginning to show significant wear and one can only imagine what It will be like at the end of the weekend. Once back on Howitt High Plains, the travelling became a bit better and we met with no other vehicles as we descended down King Billy Track. I think everyone was glad to leave King Billy Track behind us, as it’s a cold and dank place nestled in a very steep and narrow valley.
Once we reached Bluff Track and Lovicks Hut, we encountered the first deluge of traffic; Burke Street always comes to mind when you’re out here and you meet more than half a dozen vehicles. Lovicks Hut has been rebuilt after one of the recent fires and is now much bigger than it was before, and far from the rustic style of bygone years, it’s now a large corrugated iron shed. There was so much traffic that I didn’t even bother to try and take a photograph, so we forged ahead in the hope that we’d be able to get to the Howqua River well before dark. But with all the traffic, there was no way we could achieve our aim, so we decided to look for a camp along the way.
And what a fine camp we found. Just a stone’s throw off the track (along a well-defined existing track, so that we didn’t go off-road) and sheltered from the elements by a small copse of snow gums. We’d always talked about camping in the snow and that’s just what we did. Our camp was directly opposite Mt Buller and facing west, such that we had a magnificent sunset to finish the day and following that, the full lights of Mt Buller in the distance. As night fell, it was very pleasant indeed and not all that cold. Apparently Mt Buller had a fireworks display that night, but I wasn’t aware of that and we went to bed maybe half an hour before it started. What an opportunity missed!
During the night, the wind picked up and blew constantly, but we’d been lucky enough to pick such a sheltered spot that we hardly felt it. Next morning, we awoke to an engulfing mist as cloud had rolled in during the night. It still wasn’t overly cold, but the mist had that psychological effect of making it seem colder than it was.
Once packed, we headed onwards towards Bluff Hut (once again fully occupied) and then to Sheepyard Flat (which was utterly full, as was every campsite along the way). From Sheepyard Flat we took the Howqua Hills track to Steiners Road and then Mitchells Track into Mitchells Flat. The track from Sheepyard had been burnt by the Department of Environment and Industry (or whatever it is now) and along the way there were scenes that reminded you of Autumn in a European forest because of the vivid colours.
The track to Mitchells Flat was a shocker, as was much of it to Wren’s Flat. We’re glad that we weren’t going the other way and we doubt very much that we would have even tried. Most of it was again caused by people not caring in the least for the tracks, as many parts were deliberately churned up in the name of ‘fun’. We were glad to be out of the area and on the Jamieson-Licola Road, and while my handy navigator said it was going to take around four hours to get to Licola, we made it in about an hour. The weather was outstanding and we were able to find a good campsite well before dark and settle in for the night, and spot a few more stars.
While the early part of the night was great and the night was warm, not long after we went to bed, a howling gale started and continued for most of the night. It was akin to freight trains rolling through camp every few minutes and that continued all night. The wind managed to snap some of my tent poles and tried all night to flatten the tent entirely. No one got much sleep that night.
We experienced just about everything this weekend and had a most magnificent time. This was free-camping at its best.
Update. I went through the dash cam videos taken over the weekend and put together a five minute clip of part of the drive along Bluff Track from the end of King Billy Track to Lovicks Hut, as shown in the map. The total time from the end of King Billy Track to Lovicks Hut was 21 minutes, but that’s too much of the same to show as a video.
The quality looks really average and I’m not sure why.The video is showing Oct 2016, but that’s because I transferred existing videos from Vimeo to YouTube, so the dates will be wrong.