It’s been over a year since we were last able to do a High Country Cruise, all because of COVID and the endless lockdowns and restrictions throughout Melbourne and/or the state. There is no denying that 2020 was an Annus Horribilis, especially for anyone who has been out of work and/or locked down for extended periods of time. Necessary or not, the lockdown and restrictions have caused much suffering. I have less reason to complain, as being out in a rural area we’ve had greater flexibility of movement overall, but when your friends are locked away in Melbourne, there’s not much that you can really do. Additionally, even though we’ve had more movement flexibility, with just about everything closed on a regular basis you might as well be locked inside your home.
We did have a chance to go camping just before Christmas, which was a refreshing change, though the weather was pretty average to say the least, but nothing is quite as invigorating as a High Country Cruise. I was also very lucky, as the engine developed a squeak as we started our way home (I thought it might be the belt tensioner or the exhaust manifold again) but, as it turned out, it was something quite unexpected. A few days after getting home, I was on my way to do some shopping when the pulley wheel on my alternator came off not far from home. The Patrol was flat-bedded back home and rather than try and rebuild the old alternator, I ordered a new one and was on the road again in a few days. Hopefully everything is now sound. So it was with some excitement that we were able to plan our first and hopefully not the last Cruise for 2021. This Cruise was supposed to have had five travellers, but due to some injuries, other commitments and a complete change of date, it ended up being just the two of us for this Cruise.
Because it was just the two of us, we had more flexibility with time and decided to make it four nights and look at travelling out to the Snowy. I had planned a sort of complete trip but, as it is with all of our Cruises, the first day is generally fairly well planned and then we play it by ear depending on what the tracks conditions and access is like. There is never a guarantee that tracks that we want to travel will be open and all too many times the best laid plans have fallen apart on the day. In any case, we started our off-road component just north of Bruthen and headed along Playgrounds Rd to Mt Elizabeth Jeep Track and north along numerous 4WD tracks to Bentley Plains, with the aim, if the time was right, to camp at Bentley Plains hut or Moscow Villa (if they weren’t taken). As it turned out, Moscow Villa was occupied, but Bentley Plains Hut was not, so we took that instead. It was good timing as well, as maybe an hour later a camper van turned up and set up on the other side of the camp ground, while we watched in amusement as they spent around 2-3 hours setting up their van.
One of the things that we’ve been doing for a while now is that if it’s around 3:00pm or so, and if we come across a good campsite or hut, we will pull up for the day and settle in. After 6-8 hours of driving, we just don’t see the need to keep going another three or more hours until it starts getting late. A significant advantage in doing this is that there will invariably be others on the tracks who will be driving until it does start to get late and then they begin looking for a campsite. Many a time we’ve settled in at camp when another convoy or two come past hoping that our site is empty, only to find our group already spread out and with a roaring fire going. Some may say that we’re wasting good 4WDriving time, but we aren’t out here just for the 4WDriving, it’s about getting away from civilisation and chilling. Often the best of times on a Cruise is the campfire banter that let’s us unwind.
We were glad that we got that Hut, as it was a fairly wet evening and night, so we were able to stay dry and enjoy the campfire from the small veranda of the hut. The next day we travelled south of Nunniong Plains along Nunnett Rd taking Hill Plain Track and then back onto Nunnett Rd to Green Hills Huts and turning north once again towards Mt Stewart and Glenmore Rd then to Gelantipy Rd. Gelantipy Rd then took us to Suggan Buggan, from where we went searching for a campsite on the Snowy River. The area here is fairly nice, with great view of the Snowy River, though our previous campsite here didn’t allow access to the river. Further along are campsite with good river access but, as it turned out, the campsites themselves were not ideal. They were uneven and very sandy, and the afternoon was incredibly hot and muggy. As it was still quite early in the afternoon, we decided to look for a campsite at Native Dog Flat.
We couldn’t do the Ingeegoodbee Track as it had been closed. I’m not sure why, but lately it seems that if any track in this area become even mildly difficult, it’s closed until the dozer can come in and make it suitable for a stock Ford Territory. So we took Black Mountain Rd and then Limestone Rd from Suggan Buggan to Native Dog Flat and were completely surprised that our regular campsite was free. The place was fairly well occupied by camper trailers and caravans, so we thought we’d be quite out of luck. On the way we also noted that Cobberas Track was closed, as this was going to be our second choice after Native Dog Flat, as there are numerous campsites not far from Limestone Rd on a very easy part of the track. I’m really beginning to wonder what’s going on with parks management, where access to everything is slowly being restricted, other than select camping sites that are probably being carefully observed by the ‘govinmint’. Anyway, we had a good campsite, found some dry wood a short distance away and settled in for a pleasant night. It was a night that included lots of distant wild horse neighing and then being invaded early morning by a large herd of wild horses rudely waking us up with their foraging and stomping.
Getting up around 6:00am, the horses were still there, but being too dark I wasn’t able to get any video or photographs if I’d tried. Mind you, I had some urgent early morning matters to attend to and taking video/photographs was the last thing on my mind. And as soon as we both emerged, they took off across the river to the opposite side of the campsite. We were packed an moving by 8:00am as usual and probably woke up the other campers as we drove out of the camp ground. From Native Dog Flat we travelled the quickest route to Benambra and then to Omeo, where we had a short break. From Omeo we travelled south via various tracks to Mt Delusion Hut and then McDonalds Hut, and then towards Camms Top Place, but gave it a miss and proceeded up Murdering Spur Track to Birregun Rd. Murdering Spur Track provided some low range 4WDriving, but didn’t afford any spot to take video or photographs. That eventually to us to Dargo, which was packed (is it ever quiet?).
After a couple of beers at the pub, we headed off to Collins Hut on the Mitchell River (I always thought it was on the Wongungarra or Wonnangatta River). Collins Hut was free and, while it was pretty ordinary, it would keep us dry and warm if the night turned, as it looked like doing. It turned out to be a good choice as the weather did turn and we had some rain, but not a lot, and overall it was a good night. We poked around the local mine shaft and then began to enjoy the evening as the humidity started to drop. The next morning we headed off to Billy Goat Bluff Track and arrived there quite early. Thankfully we did, as a convoy of, can I say ‘lesser vehicles’ rolled in to do the same about five minutes after stopping to rearrange some items in my fridge. Some of the vehicles did not look fit for the climb and so we headed off rather quickly before they could move in front of us. We never saw or heard from them again, even though we stopped and went up to the Pinnacles fire tower for a gander. Billy Goat Bluff Track wasn’t difficult for us, but for the unprepared, it cold offer up many surprises.
From the Pinnacles, we did some further driving in the area, taking in the vistas from the Mt Kent helipad (worth doing in fact and much better views than the Pinnacles) and then proceeded back down to Horseyard Flat. Horseyard Hut is a complete wreck and should simply be pulled down, as I can’t see how it can be recovered back to its former ‘glory’. The place is the usual bog hole hell (for some anyway) and is a poor reflection of the 4WD community. In this case, it’s the 5% that give the other 95% a bad name. From Horseyard we travelled to Mt Wellington (nice rocky track for those who enjoy such things) and some outstanding views, some of the best actually. Then we headed off to have a look at Kellys Hut which I’d read had been refurbished, but look no better than our last trip. From Kellys Hut we continued on the track and went to McMichaels Hut which, thankfully, was free. It was going to be a very cold night and we were very thankful for the hut. Mind you, the fact that we were in a hut, had a fireplace and a pile of wood, made little difference as the hut was going to be freezing once away from the fire. At least our sleeping gear would be dry in the morning.
When morning came, it was so good that we did have the hut, as the outside temperature when we got up was -2C out side, and probably not that much warmer inside the hut. Everything outside was frozen and it took a long time for my diesel engine to warm up when we were getting ready to leave. In fact, part of the way down to Licola, the engine stopped running, but a restart had it going again. I think a bit of wax caused by the cold may have resulted in a momentary blockage (I don’t think anyone was on winter diesel yet). It didn’t take long to get to Licola and from there back on the main roads. One thing of note were the huge number of people out in the High Country. We were expecting a very quiet trip, as we’d just had the Labor Day long weekend and Easter was not far away. We both suspect that the year long lockdown in 2020 due to COVID had made everyone desperate to get out before another winter rolled in and this was the result. It was a great trip, but a pity that the tracks were so lame, which is why my video record of the trip is more of a travelogue than a 4WD adventure.
Update 1. I thought I’d add this article to illustrate how, just like with bushfire risk management, everything is left to those people who seem to know nothing, but always make the decisions: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-04-09/brumbies-feral-horse-plan-advocates-shooting-to-save-alpine-vic/100052330.