Bring the whole family including your best mate (dog) for the classic High Country experience
Words by Geoff Martin, Images by Geoff and Denise Martin.
The Victorian High Country is one of the premier camping and 4WDing locations in Australia with everything that the 4WDer and camper could ever want. There are pristine campsites, fantastic scenery, epic 4WD tracks, and historical sites to explore. All this for FREE, unlike many of the popular areas in other states. One classic region of the High Country is the Donnelly’s Creek area, which is only a few hours east of Melbourne, and you can even bring along the family dog on this trip.
To get to this area from Melbourne, head east on the Princess Highway to Moe and then take the Walhalla Road north for 31km to Erica. A further 3km is Parkers Corner which is the turnoff to Rawson and Walhalla. Walhalla Township is worth a visit if you have time, however for this trip we’ll continue straight on from Parkers Corner towards the Thompson Dam. The Thompson Dam wall is about 17km from Parkers Corner. There is a viewing area to take in Melbourne’s largest water storage which stretches to the north. Crossing the dam wall the road continues into the Thompson State Forest with the bitumen ending just prior to the road terminating at the Walhalla Road.
Once at the Walhalla Road you have several options to get to Donnelly’s Creek. The easiest option is to head north for about 7km and turn right onto Merringtons Track, then past the Junction and along Jorgenson’s Track to Donnelly’s Creek Track. Then turn right towards the main campgrounds such as O’Tooles. However, if you have some time it’s worth exploring a few of the great tracks in this area before heading to camp, and on this trip we’ll first tackle Fulton’s Creek Track, which is a beauty!
To get to Fulton’s Creek Track, turn right when arriving at the Walhalla Road and travel for about 2km from Beardmores Track. The track drops steeply off the road – this is one of those heart-in-mouth times when you just have to select low range and trust your truck as you drive over the side! The track drops steeply all the way down to the Aberfeldy River, then climbs steeply to the ridgeline with views on the left down to the creek. As you follow Fulton’s Creek Track, there are plenty of alternative tracks to explore.
Just after the turnoff to Dry Gully Track there is a tricky crossing – there are a couple of options here so get out of your vehicle and carefully pick which way is best. Continue along Fulton’s Creek Track as it meanders along the ridgeline, affording great views across the valleys and distant hills. Continue northwards until the track terminates into Williamsons Spur Road. From this road there are a couple of tracks that will take you down to Donnelly’s Creek Track and the main campground including our choice – O’Tooles Flat. O’Tooles Flat is a large open area adjacent to Donnelly’s Creek, and is a fantastic campground for large and small groups.
This is a great place to base yourself for a few days as there are plenty of things to do in the area. There are plenty of fantastic tracks to explore, walking tracks to tackle, mining relics to discover, gold to find, or perhaps just relax in the pleasant surrounds in the campground and maybe catch a fish in the adjacent creek. There are some cracking 4WD tracks around the Donnelly’s Creek area including Morning Star, White Star, Army Track and Flat’s Track, just to name a few. A good circuit is to head up Flat’s Track to Williamson’s Road, down Army Track to Donnelly’s Creek Track, then take the marked walking track to the historical waterwheel and Crinoline mining ruins.
The Morning Star waterwheel is a remnant of an ore crushing battery which was installed between 1904 and 1910, and was one of a number of mills put in to serve mines working along Morning Star Creek. This impressive 6m x 1.8m waterwheel built by Thompson & Co. Castlemaine is the only recorded one of its type surviving in Victoria, and the Cornish boiler and stamper ruins at the Crinoline mine site are also worth viewing. From the Morning Star walking track take the Middle Star Track up to the White Star Mine. The track leading down to the mine entrance and ruins is very steep with little room to turn around at the bottom, so take extra care, particularly in wet conditions.
The White Star mine (one of the main mines in the Donnelly’s Creek area) was discovered by Jack Middleton, a Welshman known as ‘Sailor Jack’. He was well liked among the miners, despite never working a claim. Jack possessed an uncanny knack for finding quartz reefs, and he would regularly wander off alone with only some basic provisions as well as a bottle of rum. On his return he would generally distribute his findings to his friends. From the White Star Mine follow the White Star Track, which heads back along the ridgeline to the north on O’Tooles Flat with good views of the campground, before terminating at Donnelly’s Creek Track. From here it’s only a short distance back to the campground.
There is plenty more to discover and explore while at Donnelly’s Creek. Back to the east along the Donnelly’s Creek Track is the Toombon mine, cemetery, and ruins. To the west is Mt Useful, which affords stunning views across the valleys and towards the mountain peaks. The Donnelly’s Creek area is well worth a visit for a weekend or even an extended period as there is plenty to see and do here. With great camping available, and tracks open all year round, it makes for a fantastic destination and one you just need to come and visit. Pack up the 4WD and camping gear, and head for Donnelly’s Creek as soon as you can – you won’t be disappointed!
INFORMATION: The Donnelly’s Creek region is in the western section of the Victorian High Country around 200km east from Melbourne. Access to the main camping area is via Moe and Erica, across the Thompson Dam wall then north to Donnelly’s Creek Road. This area was a major gold mining area in the 1800s and 1900s so there are plenty of mining relics to discover and there are a number of information boards explaining the history of the various locations.
WHAT TO TAKE: Some basic supplies can be purchased from the general store at Erica, but it would be prudent to stock up at one of the major centres such as Moe on the way. Take sufficient food for the planned duration of your trip, and drinking water if worried about drinking from the usually pure mountain streams adjacent to the campsites. Basic equipment spares and recovery equipment should also be carried. A chainsaw is also a good item to carry, for firewood and clearing any fallen trees from the tracks. Mobile phone coverage is very patchy with service sometimes available on the higher sections of the tracks, so alternative communication such as a satellite phone is a good option.
LOCAL ATTRACTIONS: The High Country rivers and creeks are renown for trout fishing, so make sure you bring your fishing gear. During the warmer months, swimming is popular and there are some great deep holes close to the camping areas. There are plenty of photography opportunities with spectacular views across the mountains, rivers and gorges. The view from Mt Useful is fantastic. There are a host of 4WD tracks in the area, so the 4WDing is fantastic. Visiting the various historical sites in the area is a great activity to do, especially if you are armed with some good maps and publications describing the history.
RESTRICTIONS, CAMPING AND PERMITS: There are a large number of campsites along Donnelly’s Creek with the largest site being the O’Tooles Campground. O’Tooles has pit toilets, shelter with fireplace, and great campsites along the creek. If the main O’Tooles campground is busy try the adjacent Little O’Tooles campground. The great thing about this region is that access and camping is free, and you can even bring your dog along!
TRIP STANDARD: There are a range of tracks in the area that range from mild to wild. Much of the access to the campsites is 2WD, but there are some great challenging 4WD tracks throughout the area.
BEST TIME TO TRAVEL: Anytime, but better weather is generally between October to April. We travelled in October.