Ten things they don’t tell you about the Victorian High Country

By Evan Spence 12 Min Read

Sitting by the warm glow of a campfire, laughing about the track you drove today that made your knuckles turn white and your heart rate go off the scale is part of the whole Victorian High Country experience.


Some of the tracks, rated double black diamond by Four Wheel Drive Victoria, are a test of tyres, suspension, engine torque and driver skill. Long rocky climbs seem to go on forever, only to end with spectacular views of mountains and the distant thin lines of other tracks crossing the ridges. Tracks with river crossings where you have to pick the right line before carefully climbing out of the current onto the slippery track that leads to another deeper crossing of the same stream. Steep descents that test the nerves, keeping your foot off the brake pedal and allowing the vehicle to walk down as you steer delicately to avoid deep ruts and rocks. If you want to test your vehicle and – more importantly – test yourself, the High Country is the place to go.

Though, the High Country experience doesn’t have to be all white knuckle and hairy chested. Within the thousands of kilometres of two-wheel drive roads and four-wheel drive tracks there are dozens of destinations that are part of the history of Eastern Victoria.

In the second half of the nineteenth century thousands of Europeans, Americans and Chinese headed into the High Country in search of gold. There are still plenty of relics to find in the bush. Stationary steam engines, water wheels and stamping batteries – anything that was too big to get out after it all went bust is still on site. Piles of stones mark chimney sites where miner’s cottages, shops, banks and hotels once stood. Lots of hotels – they were wild years.


Cattlemen’s huts are a feature of the High Country. Each one is unique and historic and they make fantastic refuges when the weather turns nasty, which it will in the Alpine areas. The cattlemen brought their own culture to the High Country and it has become part of our heritage celebrated in song, poetry and film. Camping in a hut with a fire going and the kettle boiling while the thick morning frost starts to thaw outside is a High Plains luxury.

Wonnangatta Station, an iconic four-wheel drive destination, has long history of cattle grazing, family tragedies and two grizzly unsolved murders from the early 1900s and is still in the news with Fuel Reduction Cattle Grazing Trials polarising public opinion.

Camping in the Victorian High Country is fantastic. Still free in an age of “user pays”, there are hundreds of places to roll out the swag, pitch a tent or set up the camper trailer. Sleeping with the gurgling sound of a nearby creek and waking to the early morning calls of birds like the raucous black cockatoos is priceless.

In winter months many of the higher altitude and more fragile tracks will be closed to avoid damage so that we can continue to use them for years to come. This is when the lower foothill areas that are much less used are worth visiting. There are some fantastic tracks that are still local secrets.

The proximity of the High Country to surrounding towns adds variety to a visit. If your heart needs a rest from walking to hidden historic sites or driving double black diamond tracks you can head out to stock up on supplies. Most of the towns have a coffee shop for a caffeine jolt, a bakery to replenish the cholesterol level and you may find a boutique brewery or hidden gem winery.


It’s a beautiful area, and that’s why I think the Victorian High Country is the best four-wheel drive destination in Australia!

Best view

this will no doubt cause some controversy, so let the hate mail begin! I believe the best Victorian High Country view is a tie between Blue Rag and Craig’s Hut. Craig’s Hut at sunset is a photographer’s paradise, as the post and rail fence line draws the eye first to the beautiful hut, and then on to the surrounding ranges. But then when you contrast this with the view from the Blue Rag Range, which boasts a more stunning and challenging track, it’s a tough choice indeed. The Blue Rag Range view from the trig point is a multilayered one, as the endless blue mountain ranges seem to go on, and on, and on. Still images are harder to capture up here, as it is a genuine 360-degree view, but that’s why we spend more money on our vehicles than our cameras, right?

Best Spot You’ve Never Heard of

Dandongadale Falls isn’t the sort of place that most people talk about around the campfire – and that’s possibly because they drive straight past. Located near Lake Cobbler and down a few hundred metres of bush track, Dandongadale Falls is quite impressive. For a start, it boasts Victoria’s longest single drop waterfall (255m), but the natural paddle pools at the top are what the locals love.

Sadly, not much of a view on our recent visit to Craig’s Hut

Best High Country Hut

Gee, another tough one. Lovick’s Hut, King Hut, Craig’s Hut – the list goes on and on. What’s not to love about these roughly constructed bush shelters? I’ll give the gong here to Bluff Hut, maintained by the Stoney family. A superb tin hut built to withstand the fire season (with a really unique gutter design), and a great view out the front. It’s located off – you guessed it – Bluff Track.

Best Driving Tip

Let’s face it, Australia is pretty damn flat. So when you’re forced to drive kilometre after kilometre down into steep valleys, your brakes will really start to feel the heat. Engine braking is required, so pick the lowest gear your transfer case will offer, and grind your way down. If you are towing a camper trailer, take extra precautions, and consider resting your brakes to let them cool down halfway down the descent. There have been too many instances of drivers failing to do so, and plummeting of the side of the track and into the snow gums.

Best Movie to See Before You Go

The Man From Snowy River 1 & 2 are essential viewing. And thanks to cut-price DVDs at big retailers, they’re not hard to find, either. Both films stand the test of time, and will really get you in the mood for that gorgeous steep terrain that you’re about to encounter. A good mate of mine Garry Doyle plays these films through a projector and onto a white sheet around his High Country campsite – always to an ecstatic audience.

Best Pubs

With its famous ‘Raspberry Grenade’, a great-tasting beer flavoured with a hint of local raspberries, the Jamieson Brewery is a hard pub to pass. Although in a literal sense, you could actually miss it, as it’s perched just off the main road between Mansfield and Jamieson. On the other side of the range is the Dargo Hotel, est 1898. This is a classic hotel in every sense of the word, with hearty meals, wraparound verandahs and a perfect location. Accommodation is also available in log cabins. When people talk about the Dargo Hotel, they do so with a glint in their eye, and a grin on their gob.

Best Campsite

Talbotville would have to be a front-runner as the most popular site for families, but with its history and misty mountain scenery, I’d have to give the award to the Wonnangatta Valley. Not to mention there is no ‘fast’ way in to the Wonnangatta, it’s low range for hours in and out. In fact, it’s around six hours of low range to get back out to Mansfield (which is just the way we like it!)

Best Track

If I want to impress someone, the Blue Rag Range track is short, exhilarating and not too far up the road from Mt Hotham. And as already mentioned, the view from the top is mind-blowing. But then there’s Zeka Spur, Billy Goat Bluff, and the list goes on. Choosing just one great track in the high country verges on a criminal act!

Best Time to Go

Given the Victorian High Country 4X4 tracks are closed from early June to late October, that narrows down at least some parts of the year. The most popular (read: crowded) times to go are over the Christmas holidays and the Easter Holidays. So if crowds don’t bother you, then go for it. But of course, you are in the mountains, so expect the unexpected when it comes to weather. I have driven through snow in late January! For me, I really love autumn in the High Country. Towns like Bright and Harrietville are simply stunning as the leaves fall, and the bracing weather makes you really feel like a High Country traveller.

Best Maps

The Rooftop series of maps give you a nice, detailed view of the Victorian High Country. But there’s nothing quite like unfolding HEMA’s High Country map to plan your trip. You’ll have the region on one map, and you’ll be able to plan each and every stop. Just be careful though, as what looks like a 1 hour drive can turn into much, much longer thanks to the biggest drivable mountains Australia has on offer.

By Gregory Rose

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