It’s somewhat ironic that my last High Country post was about a trip that was ostensibly to the same area as this one, at the beginning anyway, as our trip leader for this Cruise wanted another look at Mt Pinnibar, so we headed east from Bruthen and then north to Buchan and ever upwards. Not far out of Gelantipy, we came across what is fairly common in country Victoria, cattle across the road, but this time it was a herd being driven from one pasture to the next along the road. It was an interesting start to the Cruise before we headed off the blacktop onto the dirt roads and more remote areas where typical rural views abound.
The first day of the Cruise was fairly tame and our camp for the day was at Native Dog Flat near the headwaters of the Buchan River. While there were campers already on the site, we were rather surprised to find what we consider to be the best spot in the camping area unoccupied. We weren’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth (noting that the entire area was designed for horse riders) and decided to stay here for the night, even though it was still fairly early in the afternoon. It turned out to be a fairly good decision, as other travellers began to roll into the area not long after, also looking for campsites, and had we arrived maybe 20 minutes later, we would have had to do quite a bit of searching for a decent campsite and that may have been problematic with the growing crowds. Before night had fallen most nooks, crannies, and open areas were filled with campers.
While it initially looked like it was going to rain, we were spared the deluge that apparently had hit Melbourne and places south that night, and woke up to a beautiful clear morning and dry tents. Once packed up, we kept on heading north, trying out a few tracks we’d not ventured on previously, in the hope of finding something interesting. The views this morning from the high points on the Mount Misery Trail were fantastic to say the least. About halfway along the trail we decided to take an offshoot to cut across to where we were headed, but encountered some of the usual hazards of the High Country. This being the start of the season, many minor tracks haven’t been cleared and so fallen trees often litter the minor tracks and can become a major slowdown. So we turned around to resume our journey on the Mount Misery Trail rather than tempt fate and find ourselves encountering endless fallen trees.
Another constant irritation, more than a hazard, is the ever present ‘hitchhiker’ that you will invariably pick up from time to time due to all the fallen branches and trees littering the tracks. Usually these are reasonably small and easy to remove, but at other times you encounter large ones that you have to drive over. These usually aren’t a problem, but the odd one sometimes manages to wedge itself into the most awkward of spots. In my case, I managed to catch the biggest branch to date, one that was about four meters long that had well and truly wedged itself over the drive shaft and cross-member. There was no way to twist or turn the branch to release it, so I had to get the chainsaw out and cut it while still under the vehicle.
Eventually we reached the Mount Gibbo Track, which would take us to Mt Pinnibar. The weather was rapidly closing in, with dark clouds looming in the distance, clearly on their way to where we were headed. It wasn’t raining yet, but the higher that we rose, the mistier it became and soon we were driving in and out of the clouds on our way to Mt Pinnibar. In the meantime, the views were still quite spectacular and the remnants of past bushfires remained much the way they were after the original fires had passed. And, surprisingly, there were many spots along the way that had sprouted what appeared to be native, ornamental, garden beds, hosting an assortment of wildflowers and other unique plants.
When we finally reached Mt Pinnibar the weather had fully closed in and it was raining heavily, so there was no point in stopping, as visibility was zero as far as anything picturesque was concerned; quite a difference from our last trip. So we said farewell to Mt Pinnibar and headed for lower regions, hoping to escape the miserable weather, and the lower and further west that we went, the more things improved. If there are any nearby huts indicated on our maps, we usually go and have a look, even if it means a slight detour, as it’s always good to know what’s available and what’s worth going to if in the area at another time. Gibsons Hut was one of these detours, but had already been taken by deer hunters, so we moved on to check out another hut that was not too distant.
Not all that far away was Lind Lodge (also know as Ski Hut), a ski lodge built in the 1950s, with a chequered history of ownership, including the Forests Commission in the 1960s and to whoever lays claim today. It’s not a bad High Country hut and, generally, any hut in a storm is a good hut (though there have been exceptions), but it was certainly big enough for the three of us and gave us plenty of room to spread out. While we were enjoying the sunshine after the drive, a hoard of motorbikes, ridden by young an old, came down the track for a break at the hut. They were apparently on a short day ride from a nearby farm further north and were doing a circuit of the area, and we had a good old chat about many things in life, including the Nariel Creek Folk Festival. However, it was a good thing they weren’t looking for accommodation.
The first order of the day on any of our Cruises is to set up camp and then gather firewood. Having a hut makes the first task very easy, having to do nothing more than set up our beds, and finding wood in the area wasn’t a problem at all, with plenty of fallen timber all about us. Sometimes finding dry wood can be a problem just after Winter, but this time that wasn’t an issue. As the evening closed in and the weather once again started to turn for the worse, we settled down in front of a warming fire, closely watched by one of the local inhabitants, just above the door (I’ve no idea where it went during the night). We were very thankful for the lodge, as it rained all night and heavily at that.
The next day we set off towards Benambra, but had to do a fair bit of back tracking, as tracks/roads that we wanted to use were blocked off (but not realised until we’d travelled nearly halfway down), so we ended up doing at least twice what we’d anticipated to get where we wanted to go. I’m not sure why warning signs can’t be erected at the beginning of such roads/tracks, rather than where the closure occurs, often many kilometres down a road. Anyway, along the way we came across a Harman timber winch (no where near as large as the Washington) dating back to somewhere in the late 1940s, so we had to stop and have a good look. As I’ve mentioned previously, I always find these old relics of great interest and love coming across these things in unexpected places.
Eventually we were on the Benambra-Corryong Road, headed towards Benambra, to a spot called Taylors Crossing where we hoped to get across into the Alpine National Park. The Benambra-Corryong Road took us along the eastern side of Lake Dartmouth, which gave us glimpses of the dam in the distance. We would have liked to have had a closer look at the dam, but time prevented that, given what tracks there were to the dam. When we reached Taylors Crossing, on the Mitta Mitta River, the rains the night before has caused the river to rise substantially and a crossing was not worth the risk. Without ever having crossed the river before and not being interested in wading it beforehand (noting the warning signs), we decided to head to Benambra and get to our next camp the long way around.
It was a fairly quick trip to Benambra, around Lake Omeo, and then up into the national park. This was the first time that we’d come across fairly large numbers of people on this Melbourne Cup ‘Long’ Weekend, as there were plenty of campers along the Mitta Mitta, as well as a number of adventure groups, canoeing, bike riding and whatnot. The scenery along the way was again fantastic and I had to stop for a few panoramas.
Heading north once again because we couldn’t get a campsite off the main road, we decided to see what one of the huts further up would offer. Had we been able to get across the river, we would have been at this hut much earlier. Anyway, it was an interesting drive and we met one of the local farmers along the way and their views confirmed that discretion was the better part of valour when we decided not to cross the river. Also, the campsite on the other side of Taylors Crossing wasn’t much chop, so nothing missed there. We finally came to Kennedys Hut (three rooms with carpet and vinyl?) which had to be the best situated hut anywhere in the High Country, presiding over stunning views. Unfortunately, the hut itself was less than stunning; however, had we been desperate, it would have sufficed.
So we then went to have a look at our second option, which was Wombat PO Hut some 15 km away. This turned out to be a much better option, in what was also a very pretty valley. The hut apparently got its name from a previous PO supposedly located here in the 1800s (according to a book carried by our trip leader), but very little information seems to be available on the history of this area. Certainly the rather salubrious long drop came from a much more modern era. We had a very good afternoon once we’d collected firewood and got our sleeping arrangements sorted out and, while the hut wasn’t large, it proved to be very comfortable for the night. Again, we were lucky to get there when we did, as another traveller came through later that evening and camped on the other side of the valley.
There was obviously some history to the area, being a former goldfield in the 1800s, including some sad tales associated with life in those days. There is a memorial plaque at the site, but I couldn’t find any information about what the plaque was all about. However, a short walk in the area led me to a surprising discovery, to a spot where someone must have been metal detecting and had come across remnants from the gold mining days. It was just a pile of plates and other bits, but appears as if they constitute the parts of some form of barrel assembly and associated crusher components, but no amount of internet searching would confirm what it actually was. The area must be rife with relics from those bygone days.
In the morning it was another easy pack up and we decided to take the easiest route back home, heading across the mountains to the Omeo Highway and then back to where we started. We hadn’t been along this stretch of the Omeo Highway for a very long time and, while it was very scenic, the endless corners began to wear you down after a while. We were glad when we reached Omeo and had a short break for a late breakfast at the bakery. From Omeo to Ensay the road was fairly good, until we hit more corners between Ensay and Bruthen, but no where near as bad as the earlier section. Swifts Creek gave us a brief amusing intermission, as a herd of sheep were being herded though the main street.
From Bruthen we joined the long weekend crowd returning to Melbourne, or wherever, and being fairly early, the numbers were reasonably low. We were once again somewhat blessed this weekend, having had both good campsites and good weather, and being able to secure huts when the weather turned foul. These Cruises always seem to go so quickly and no matter how many times we return to familiar areas, there’s always something different about the Cruises that makes it seem as if we’ve only just discovered these locations. Plans are afoot for another Cruise, but this time in the better part of Summer, so that we can enjoy some of the rivers on a hot Summer’s day.
Update 1. I just noticed that the Kosciuszko Huts Association is utterly screwing previously legitimate links and taking anyone that clicks on one of those links to an utterly irrelevant page. I don’t know why this is happening, but my apologies if my links appear somewhat bizarre.
Update 2. After my wife posted a link to this Cruise story on the Victorian High Country Huts Association Facebook page, there have been a number of additional posts about Lind Lodge (or Ski Hut as it appears to be most commonly known). The older photos, subsequently posted, show forest quite close to the hut but, on our visit, the area around the hut has been cleared significantly. I suspect that this is to provide a fire break and hopefully it will prove sufficient.