It’s been a long time between drinks or, in this case, High Country Cruises. Various unforeseen events have meant that we weren’t able to do another Cruise since Feb this year, so everyone was itching to go out somewhere, anywhere. While I’ve noted previously that we prefer to avoid long weekends because of the crowds, the longer we left things the greater the chance of another obstacle coming in our way before Christmas, so the Melbourne Cup long weekend it was. And to make sure that we could have a bit of a head start on the crowds, we decided to leave on a Friday so that we could be out in the bush before most others. Though no doubt there would be others with much the same idea and, if the weather was looking good, probably earlier as well. Regardless, all that really mattered was that we were able to get out and enjoy the bush after a long break and to make it even more enjoyable, we made it a five day Cruise.
Meeting at Tyers, as we often do, the weather was looking reasonable, though thunderstorms were predicted later on in the day. Our first port of call was Lake Glenmaggie and tracks north around the Avon River, where we thought we’d try out some marked as ‘D’ for difficult. However, there wasn’t much that you’d call difficult along the tracks we encountered. In fact, all the tracks this weekend marked as difficult or medium were anything of the sort, so we started to call them D for deception and M for misinformation. What we did find was that all the tracks that had no markings were actually reasonably challenging one way or the other. So after covering the Avon area, we travelled north along Mt Angus Track to New Moroka Track and then on to Billy Goat Bluff Track to find a campsite on the Wonnangatta River. We passed on another visit to The Pinnacles Fire Tower and decided to just head down Billy Goat. I wanted to do some video of the High Country from Billy Goat Bluff Track, as well as that of the vehicles coming down the track, but the weather wasn’t on our side.
The weather wasn’t on anyone’s side this afternoon, for as we approached The Pinnacles, the wind started to blow harder and the rain became increasingly persistent. By the time we started down Billy Goat, the wind was howling and the rain was hitting us sideways, with thunder and lightening to really make our day. This continued all the way down Billy Goat, only easing off when we got to the bottom. So we decided to follow the Wonnangatta Rd to Moroka Junction, where we planned to set up camp for the night. But we hadn’t gone all that far down the road when I hit something on the side of the road with a mighty bang and seconds later I knew that I had a flat tyre. It was more than flat; whatever I had hit had put a large slit in the front passenger tyre sidewall, as well as a hole about 180 degrees on the other side. Without fail, as we were changing the tyre, the rain started once again and only stopped once we were done. Light rain bothered us for a little while after setting up camp, but then eased off before dark.
The next morning, before packing up, I checked the tyres and discovered that the rear passenger tyre was flat. Great, two tyres now gone. As I couldn’t see any material damage, I inflated the tyre to see what would happen. It appeared to hold, but I wasn’t going anywhere this weekend with one ruined tyre and another possibly on the way out, or substantially weakened. So we decided to go to Bairnsdale and look for a couple of replacements. Tyrepower was open (as were the regular ones, which didn’t interest me) and while Tyrepower didn’t have tyres that matched the ones I had, they did have what one of our travellers was using, Kelly Safaris. I had long thought about replacing my existing ones with a set of these when the time came, but at his point I only needed two tyres. The Safaris were much wider than my Mudstars which made for a bit of a mismatch, so when I was offered a great deal on four tyres, I decided to get the four and have a compatible set (an expensive start to the Cruise).
While in Bairnsdale we changed our original plans and decided to do something different, which turned out a good thing as we found a bunch of interesting tracks. We backtracked a short distance from Bairnsdale and took tracks that led us to an area south-east of The Pinnacles, where we tooled around until it was time to look for another campsite. There wasn’t much about, but we found a suitable spot on Castleburn Track that suited us fine. It was lucky that we stopped when we did, as not long after several sets of travellers came past looking for a campsite. It was after setting up and having a look around that I noticed that my brand new rear passenger tyre was going flat. My first thought was that the rim had been damaged in the earlier impact and was causing the leak, or I’d just copped an unlucky run. Anyway, I decided to inflate the tyre and when I took the valve cap off, I noticed that the valve was protruding slightly from the valve stem and found I could screw it in a bit further. After inflating the tyre, we watched it that afternoon and thankfully it stayed at the set pressure. What must have happened is that when I deflated the tyre for off-roading, I hadn’t fully seated the valve and the valve cap was pressing against it and slowly letting out the air.
The next morning the tyre was still OK, so we set off toward the Mitchell River National Park to cross the Mitchell River and travel a bit further east. There was a section of track marked with an X (or is it double diamond?) on the Mitchell Road, so that was our first destination. Unfortunately when we reached the start of the track, it was closed due to a road slippage. Why this couldn’t have also been signposted at the beginning from the main road is beyond me, as I wondered how many others did the 20 km round trip for nothing. So we headed back up, taking the main road into the Angusvale camping area and turning off once again on to the Mitchell Road and then taking the Angusvale Track to the Mitchell River. We passed a nice campsite at the river and continued on to the Mitchell River crossing. The crossing wasn’t a challenge, but it was at least a bit of a diversion from the usual stuff. Once across the river, we proceeded up Hortons Track which gave us some interesting low range driving.
From Hortons Track we then followed Gidley Track to Wallers Hut and then up Friday Spur to Kilgowers where we camped for the night. After an uneventful night, other than some strange night noises that sounded like someone with a broken car horn blowing intermittently, we set off to Mt Steve Track and then Orton Track. Orton Track was supposed to be very difficult, so we had to have a look. It was a good drive down and once across the creek, we understood why it was marked as difficult. As it turned out, difficult was a massive understatement. I tried it first, but without diff locks I didn’t get very far, so the Rubicon with front and rear diff locks gave it a try and got maybe two or three car lengths further before he too got caught up in the massive holes. This was a track that required at least one spotter and maybe another further up, with someone also ready to haul up a winch cable. The track was simply too much to try without extra hands around you. So we headed back up the way we came and then to Dargo for a top up, but not after losing some time looking for tracks that didn’t exist. We discovered that even our (made from tissue) paper 2006 Rooftop maps are more up to date than our 2015 Hema electronic maps.
From Dargo we headed up to Grady’s Track, then Hibernia Road and down Conway Track (a nice steep descent) before heading once more to Billy Goat Bluff Track. On Billy Goat we encountered a convoy of travellers in more or less road going, twin cab, 4WD utes looking decidedly dazed and worried. We were glad we didn’t encounter them trying to go up, as I think it would have been a very long and tiresome journey. At the very least, there would have been a few shredded tyres if not broken vehicles. Once up Billy Goat we headed for Horseyard Hut, which appeared to have been just vacated, which was great as we didn’t have to pitch tents, especially given that they were dry. A lot of work had been done at Horseyard to stop all the pointless tearing up of the grounds, so it was looking a lot better than before, unless you wandered deeper into the surrounding bush (I won’t explain any further). A good night was had and everyone slept well.
The next morning it was spitting rain, so we were glad that we had gotten the hut. I am absolutely certain that if we had pitched tents, it would have been pouring rain overnight. By the time I reached home it was pouring rain, which kept up until the afternoon, but I was no longer concerned. What was great about this trip was that we finally had plenty of good steep and rough tracks to drive (and good weather), compared to a few recent Cruises where it was more two wheel drive than anything else. Now that we have some of these good tracks marked, our next Cruise in the New Year will incorporate these and a few others we haven’t tried for a while. If we can do another five day Cruise, that would be fantastic.