This was one of those Cruises that started off with very pleasant weather but, as the days wore on, things became worse and worse. This was a four day trip that would take us from Bairnsdale to Mansfield on an often zigzag route as we went in search of places we hadn’t visited previously or for some time. I can’t remember whether that was our original pan, but that’s how it ended up. All told, the Cruise took us from Bairnsdale to Pioneer Racecourse near Talbotville and then eventually to the Buffalo River, so it was quite a long journey and a very varied one at that.
Starting from Bairnsdale the weather was very favourable and, as we headed north up Bullumwaal Road, it looked like things were going to be good this weekend. From Bullumwaal Road we turned onto Baldhead Road and then headed south-east onto Howitt Road, which took us to Stuttering Fred Track and down to the Nicholson River. From there we followed the track along the Nicholson River, until it took us to Marthavale Hut. Marthavale Hut was already taken by deer hunters and so we proceeded onwards, but I don’t think anyone really cared to stay at Marthavale anyway, considering the very cold memories that we still had from our last stay.
From Marthavale, we headed up Baldhead Road, taking various diversions to look at things, until we reached Mt Delusion and then followed the Mt Delusion Road past Mt Delusion Hut from where we then descended King Street to McDonalds Hut. McDonalds Hut is in fairly poor condition, but is reasonably habitable, especially when it’s cold and wet, though it has lots of gaps and cracks to allow the heat out and the cold in. The area surrounding McDonalds Hut is completely unsuitable for camping, being located at the junction of three roads/tracks, and surrounded by very muddy ground and a major bog hole at the back of the hut.
Despite the fact that McDonalds Hut is in poor repair, it still serves as a welcome abode when you’re tired, it’s cold and there’s nothing about to serve as a reasonable campsite. The major issue with this area, even though there is generally a lot of fallen timber about (courtesy of a nearby logging area), most of the wood is often damp/wet. It can take quite a while to get the heat up and overcome the cold fighting to get into the hut. You get the fire looking good, place some larger wood on top and it fizzles out once more. Note that though it does look like wood overload on the fire, the majority of the wood was placed on the sides and top to dry out somewhat, not to get it immediately burning.
Meals have always been an adventure in themselves on Cruises and some have adopted relatively simple and standard fare, while others at times practice complex and challenging meals. Meal preparation is often dependent on weather conditions as to whether you cook on a fire or your cooker. One thing that I introduced some years ago, with a lot of scepticism from my fellow travellers, was pizza. Basically I bought some takeaway pizza while at home, let it cool a bit and then vacuum packed it into servings. At camp, I’d just reheat the pizza in a cast iron pan and it would be delicious. After that first time, pizzas became very popular on our Cruises and everyone experimented with the best way to reheat their pizzas. I also started doing much the same with other meals, vacuum packing meals and then simply reheating them in a billy (bag and all).
From McDonalds Hut we headed up Pheasant Creek Track, then up Wild Horse Creek Track onto Messmate Spur Track. The weather had taken a turn for the better, with clear skies all round and we finally had some enjoyable tracks in front of us. Messmate Spur Track brought us to Birregun Road, which we followed south to Mt Birregun, where we stopped for a brief group photo. From Mt Birregun, we descended down until we came to Stock Route Track, which took us to the Upper Dargo River where we stopped for an early lunch break.
From the Upper Dargo River, we followed the road until we reached the Dargo High Plains Road, which we then followed north towards the Grant Historical Area (PDF) and Talbotville, where we crossed the Crooked River and headed south to the Wongungarra River, the scene of a rather sad event the previous year. This time the Wongungarra River was very shallow and posed no problems. Our intent was to camp somewhere around the Pioneer Racecourse site, which we’ve done a number of times a very long time ago, but not recently, and some of our group hadn’t been there previously. The journey to Pioneer Racecourse was quite uneventful, as for this time of year the tracks were quite dry
Pioneer Racecourse itself is slowly becoming harder to picture, as plants etc have taken over so much of the once open area. Back in the early 80s, the racecourse was quite easy to define, but it’s much less obvious now. There are numerous campsites along the Wongungarra River and, as there were no others about, we didn’t have any problems finding a suitable spot. As it turned out, we ended up camping further along the track from the racecourse in case other travellers turned up and found a spot that was very good indeed. While the day was nice and warm, it looked like it was going to be a cool night camping in the deep valley, with a cloudless night on the way, so we prepared ourselves just in case and good that we did.
From Pioneer racecourse, we headed up Cynthia Range Track onto Wombat Range Track and onwards to the Humffray River Track. We had no desire to go to the Wonnangatta once again. We were heading to the Buffalo River East Branch, but took Whites Track at the Humffray and Riley Creek Track junction, and then the West Humffray Road back to the Humffray River Track. As I said at the beginning, we did a fair bit of zigzagging on this trip. Eventually we arrived at the East Buffalo River and our plan was to then take the Abbeyard – Lake Cobbler Track to Lake Cobbler for the final day’s camp. Unfortunately, the rain had been ongoing today for some time and the track was proving quite slippery. While three of the vehicles were able to make progress, our fourth vehicle couldn’t get past the worst section near the beginning, so we decided that it wasn’t worth going on, not knowing what to expect further on. We winched the last vehicle back to where it could reverse out of it’s predicament and then went looking for a campsite.
Our campsite ended up being at the junction of the Abbeyards Road and the Abbeyard – Lake Cobbler Track, as it was the only spot anywhere nearby that could take our four vehicles, though it was nothing to write home about today. There was another group of campers nearby who, from memory, packed up and left not long after we’d set up camp. It couldn’t have been anything to do with us. It was incredibly steamy for a while as the rain eased off and I can remember sweating profusely while setting up my tent. Thankfully the other group had left wood and we were able to find extra before the weather turned once again. Anyway, it turned into a fairly miserable evening, and a very wet and cold night. I seem to remember that it rained all night and that the campsite was a muddy plain the next morning.
The next morning we headed north along Abbeyards Road and, at Dandongadale, turned off onto Rose River Road to Whitfield and finally Mansfield. While the Rose River Road was only about 24km, it seemed like it was 124km, taking forever to reach Whitfield. While the Cruise was overall very enjoyable, despite the previous night’s rain, I think the final day’s long drive home took some of the shine off the previous three days.