Travel

With restricted mobility, is access to the Vic High Country still possible?

My old mate Willem is a seasoned bushman who has taken his numerous 4WD vehicles to extreme places throughout Australia since he purchased his first one in Darwin back in 1977. One region he’d never explored was the Victorian High Country. Nearing 75 years of age may have made Willem’s body weary… but his mind is strong, and there was no chance of missing the opportunity to tackle some of the epic tracks between Dargo and Mansfield. Here is how the trip turned out.

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It was bloody hot! Fueling up in Omeo, shade was sought at the nearby Oriental Claims Historical Area for a quick lunch stop. I’d raided the bakery so I was able to enjoy lunch in the Prado with the air-con cranked high. The outside temp in the shade was 40°C. A campsite in the Upper Dargo was our target. Birregun Road had us climbing, topping out at 1,357m as we crossed the range at Mount Birregun. On the way we’d stopped at Dogs Grave – a resting place for ‘Boney’ who was a drover’s dog during the 1860s (now immortalised with a striking granite monument). The nearby ADA Hut contains an impressive pot-bellied stove; too bad about all the graffiti.

The Datto was sick… but she made it through

The views across the ranges from this track were impressive and they continued along Jones Road. The Upper Dargo Road lured us back down to the valley; speeds reduced with all the switchbacks and washed out sections of the track. We sought a campsite with shade next to the Dargo River. Jimmy Iverson’s Camping Area was just perfect.

I welcomed the chance to lie in the cool waters, washing off the sweat and dust. I filled a bucket so Willem could enjoy a refreshing wash also. The temperatures didn’t change until the sun disappeared, with cool mountain air making it easier to sleep.

We settled on spending a second night here to give Willem’s aching body a rest. A slow start was enjoyed with enough time to cook up a big breakfast in the cool morning air.

Howitt Hut is a picture perfect

Once the sun breached the spur, things started to heat up quickly. We planned a short day trip, finishing at the Dargo Hotel. The comfort of air-conditioned vehicles was welcome. Unfortunately for Willem, his air-con had packed it in. Just another issue his Patrol was suffering.

The nearby historic site of the Grant Cemetery and the old township was the first stop. How strong and determined were those people? Harsh temperatures, tough working conditions and awful living standards – but still they worked the mines. In 1865, some 15 pubs, a church, a courthouse, a police camp, a medical centre, several stores and a town newspaper office graced the township. By 1917 the place was empty. The last person (Mick Murphy) was taken by dray to Dargo, an ill man.

We continued, taking McMillans Road down the mountain to Talbotville… or were we? The cardinal rule of convoys was about to be broken. As tail-end Charlie, I was following the vehicle in front (or so I thought). I hung back to keep out of the dust and take those photo opportunities when I could, until I approached the vehicle in front at the next turn-off.

The radio chatter was quiet but that was normal as we were all having UHF issues. On arriving at the old township site of Talbotville, I was alone. Calling on the radio I received no response. I waited and waited and then waited a little longer… still no response.

Maybe the guys had continued along the Crooked River Track? I took that track; the multiple crossings of the Wongungarra River made this a cracker of a drive. Eventually arriving at Kingwill Bridge, I sought the only bit of shade around. I still couldn’t raise anyone on the UHF; but with phone coverage, I even tried to ring the boys. I grabbed a bite to eat and waited.

An hour later, I received a voice message: “It’s Willem, we’re going to the Dargo Hotel. See you there, mate.” I followed the Crooked River Road, winding and corrugated, past Black Snake Creek camp and onto the Dargo road. As I pulled into the Dargo Hotel, the other guys arrived too. Perfect timing!

Willem needed to re-hydrate after his day

So, what happened? The boys had tackled the Bulltown Spur Track while I was enjoying my drive. They’d searched for me until they reached an area with phone coverage and received my messages. All was forgiven. Escaping the heat was our priority and an icy-cold beverage was enjoyed at the bar. A wedding reception was taking place in the beer garden – so we returned to camp, with a cooling breeze easing the conditions.

An early departure the next morning had us following Dargo High Plains Road northwards. Passing through the high plain property owned by the Treasures family, we saw healthy Hereford cattle enjoying the lush feed. The Treasures have grazed cattle on the Dargo High Plains during summer since the 1880s. It wasn’t long before we reached the turn-off to one of the High Country’s most iconic tracks: Blue Rag Range.

The loose, rocky terrain is almost instantaneous once you begin. Upon reaching the first crest, you’ll be left breathless by one of the most amazing vistas stretching out before you. The track isn’t as gnarly as it used to be, having felt the cut of a grader’s blade in recent years. Don’t let this put you off… the views as you stand by the trig point won’t be easily forgotten.

The next challenge was getting to the Wonnangatta Valley. Instead of back-tracking to Dargo we had a crack at Twin Jeeps Track. The going was slow, and we had a close call when three vehicles approached us from the opposite direction. Two of our vehicles reversed to a safe passing spot, whilst the convoy leader had to pass on the outside with his wheels inches from the edge of the track and a never-ending drop-off. Lunch was enjoyed in an open saddle between Mt Saint Bernard and The Twins before we continued.

Our slow speed allowed time to really enjoy the views in this area of the High Country. One final rough section and we reached Selwyn Creek Road, then Tea Tree Range Road. Checking the nearby Guys-Mt Sarah Hut, I scared a couple of Wedge-tailed Eagles on the approach. The hut had burnt down and the site was ugly; so we backtracked. Water Spur Track led us down to the Humffray River where we found a small opening to camp. It appeared a mini cyclone had ripped its way through the scrub, with trees down everywhere.

It’s taken Willem 41 years to get here

Following Humffray River Track we crossed the river multiple times, winding our way through fallen trees and eventually reaching the Wonnangatta River. We took the bottom track towards Wonnangatta Station. The campsites amongst the pines looked cool, with the shade offering great relief from the sun for a few campers.

Exiting the bush, we entered the Wonnangatta Plain. We stopped to explore the old homestead site and cemetery. Zeka Spur Track was our way out of the valley and what a challenge it turned out to be. Severely chopped up, rocky and steep, it took over two hours to cover 22 kilometres. Upon reaching Howitt Road we detoured to Howitt Hut for lunch. The hut was built by the Bryce family of Wonnangatta in the early 1900s for when they moved their cattle up onto the plains to graze.

Next we headed onto King Billy Track. Once we’d crossed the Macalister River and started to climb towards King Billy No. 1, the track worsened. Rough as guts. Another route suffering from heightened traffic and rain during the summer months. I was more frustrated to discover that the SD card in my GoPro was full, so I hadn’t captured any footage. Concentrating so hard on picking the right lines and selecting the right gears, I’d missed the warning message.

Following Bluff Track towards Lovicks Hut we paused at the 500-year-old King Billy Snow Gum and again at Picture Point. Conditions were perfect with clear views across the ranges and magnificent cloud formations. Jim Craig rode his horse over the edge here, chasing the wild brumbies in the movie ‘The Man From Snowy River’. Our final night, was spent at Lovicks Hut. We set up camp close to the hut and prepared dinner as the sun faded.

Willem was so glad he’d finally made it to the High Country. His years of desert exploration hadn’t prepared him for the steep and narrow tracks in the VHC – but he enjoyed every minute of it. He did suffer a couple of falls but learned to park near camp tables to reduce shuffle distances. Willem slept in the front passenger seat in his car, finding it the most comfortable position to sleep in. He carried a Porta Potti as he was unable to reach most of the pit toilets.

The most difficult thing for Willem was the long days behind the wheel; this couldn’t be helped as we wanted to show him as many top places as we could. Now Willem is looking forward to coming back with his wife (cook) and caravan, so he can park up and do day trips throughout the Victorian High Country.

Is Willem letting his mobility issues slow him down? Not bloody likely!

Willem is looking into a beefed up walker option for future travels…

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