After the first of my High Country posts, I revisited my photography archives and thought I might create a series on the trips that we’ve done over the last decade or so since 2002, which we call High Country Cruises (unfortunately, so far, I haven’t found any photos/negatives from before 2004). Each of these trips is quite unique and ostensibly a three to four day cruise somewhere around the High Country.
I also must thank Grahame, one of our fellow travellers, for keeping a formal log of our cruises and compiling an excellent map book that has recorded all of our cruises from 2002 until 2011. This book has and will help immensely down the track in getting the locations and chronology right when I compile these posts.
First off, we don’t go looking for vehicle wrecking terrain on our cruises, as all the vehicles are more or less everyone’s daily driver and in relatively standard configuration, but we do enjoy our challenges. It’s also very surprising where you can go without having to resort to ridiculous, modifications, suspension lifts and enormous, aggressive, tyres; as driver skill so often beats a heavy right foot.
Because the High Country (as well as other areas) is always prone to bushfires, there can be times when our cruises are few and far between due to track closures. In 2002-2003, Victoria experienced some major fires in East Gippsland, with over 1,000,000 hectares of bush affected. In Oct 2004, most tracks were once again open, though areas in the far east were still inaccessible. Many of the tracks that we drove along showed clear evidence of the extent of the bushfires, with vast tracts of forest an even brown. It looks bad, but eventually the forest recovers, as fire is what it needs for the seeds to propagate. Many gums also seem to rejuvenate after a fire, even though they initially look worse for wear.
What really suffers in the bushfires is the wildlife that is unable to escape. Australia has a history of bushfires, so this is nothing new, and throughout millennia major fires have been kept in check around Australia with both natural and man made fires lit by aboriginals. These fires have ensured that fuel loadings have been at low levels, so that when a fire does start, it doesn’t become a raging inferno of the likes that we have witnessed several times since 2002. These infernos have had a devastating effect on much of the wildlife subject to the fires, as they have been so fierce and fast moving, that animals simply haven’t been able to escape or find shelter in time.
What should be done to mitigate bushfires has been a raging battle on many fronts and we’re no closer to agreement now than we were after the 2002 bushfires when it was acknowledged something had to be done. Sadly, what seems to be happening are more closures to ‘protect’ the environment and my personal fear is that one day the High Country will only be accessible to a select few who aren’t vehicle based. The long-term danger is that the less people that are able to visit these areas, the higher the likelihood that they will be forgotten and eventually very few will care about them or see the need to spend any money on maintaining them. I’ve already seen how quickly areas deteriorate when access is denied to regular traffic and, without a network of tracks, the more difficult and time consuming it is to get to the fires when outbreaks occur in remote areas.
Anyway, enough of that, as this is about cruises and the places we have visited over the years. The Marysville region certainly provided a range of interesting driving and camping, though we haven’t been there for a while now, so I have no idea how much is still accessible. This particular trip started at Marysville, took us up to the Rubicon Power Station and then wound its way back down to Stockman’s Reward and then back to Marysville. The drive to the power station was interesting, as was the power station itself (quite a surprise) and that was there where one of our party realised that he’d put too much dry ice in his esky to keep his beverages cool and suffered a minor inconvenience. Dry ice sounded good at the beginning, instead of the usual Techni ice that never seemed to work.
By the time we’d settled down for our first camp for the trip, on the roadside as we’d run out of daylight, a few of those beverages were recoverable. Mind you, being true Aussie sports, we made certain that this incident was played for all it was worth. That’s what makes the cruises so enjoyable, as it’s not just about endless driving and looking for one track after the other, it’s really about getting out into the bush and being able to unwind for a few days. It’s about getting away from everything involving day to day work, life in the city and all the hassles that it so often entails. It’s simply about relaxation and completely winding down. I might point out that the cruises are really a boy’s weekend, though the early ones were mixed and we have had trips where the better halves have been invited to come along. There’s nothing sexist about cruises, it’s just that with an all male crew, we simply don’t have to mind our Ps and Qs.
The next day saw us traversing varied terrain and it was on day two that things went somewhat amiss for one of our travellers. Their relatively new and heavily kitted out Hilux destroyed two front hubs on a rough track, which meant that it was all over for the Hilux. Fortunately we weren’t very far from level tracks and a campsite, so the Hilux was able to make it’s way to the campsite almost on it’s own steam. It was when we arrived at the final river crossing that it became evident that the Hilux was going to need assistance. The entrance to the crossing was deeply rutted, had a big stump blocking access and otherwise not that great. Some elbow grease and winching quickly had the offending stump out of the way, and some shovelling evened out the holes. It turned out that the Hilux had to be towed across the river, as the gearbox had now given up the ghost for some reason.
It was at camp that another anomaly was noticed and that was the fact that the Hilux had a broken back. The load and rough tracks had clearly been too much and the chassis had developed a major bend, so much so that there was a sizeable gap between the top of the canopy and the wheel arch. While the hapless owner worked under the Hilux to see if there was anything he could do mechanically to get things going, we took a short drive to some nearby tracks that we’d visited a year or so ago.
What a difference a year makes. What were once some ‘interesting’ tracks, had turned into a very badly worn, rutted, track. It wasn’t until well down the track did it become evident how badly worn the track was, but there was no turning back at this point. Despite some trepidation, slow as it goes and with outside direction, everyone got through undamaged. There was no way such tracks would have been attempted in the wet and it’s clear from the extent of track damage that these tracks have indeed been driven in the wet by 4WDs with big lifts and big tyres. Much more and we wouldn’t have been driving it even in the dry. Unfortunately, photographs never show what the tracks really look like.
The Hilux was unrepairable and undriveable, but fortunately the owner managed to get through to a recovery company with a satellite phone and organise a flatbed to carry the Hilux back to civilisation. This was a much easier and safer solution than attempting to tow it all the way back to Marysville. I heard much later that the repaired Hilux was swapped for a Ford F250, which was much more up to carrying the load asked of the Hilux. Despite the trials and tribulations it was a great trip, especially after such a long gap between cruises because of the fires.