At Home in the Range
The Cathedral Range State Park in Victoria is not usually an iconic destination that jumps to the front of one's mind when looking for a weekend escape. If you have a checklist of requirements that you follow before setting off with your camper trailer, the Cathedral Range will certainly tick most of the boxes. The State Park was severely affected by the Black Saturday fires that swept across Victoria in February 2009. In fact, over 90% of the park was devastated by the wildfire that claimed everything in its path.
The resilience of Mother Nature is well and truly on display and the forest is fighting back. Slowly the green sprouts of the towering trees and the lush green fern prongs are beginning to shine again. New shoots seem greener than ever sprouting from the blackened tree trunks that still stand like soldiers in defiance of the fire that tried to claim them. One thing you will notice is the long strips of bark that hang from the sides of the tall timbers. Just like a snake shedding its skin, the bark is shed as the trees grow.
The Cathedral Range State Park was established in 1979 and is located approximately 110km from Melbourne travelling in a north-easterly direction towards Lilydale.
Once you pass through Lilydale, which is situated on the doorstep of the wine region in the Yarra Valley, you will reach Healesville. This is the last major centre that you will pass before taking a journey through one of Victoria's most iconic drives, the Black Spur. Once you exit the winding road of the Black Spur, it's only a short drive to Narbethong, then on to Buxton. While in Buxton, you can pick up a fishing licence or top up the fuel tank. It's nearly 10km further along the Maroondah Highway before taking a right-hand turn into Cathedral Lane. There is a prominent sign showing the turn-off at the intersection for the Cathedral Range State Park. A couple of kilometres further along Cathedral Lane and a final right-hand turn will put you at the entrance.
You will have a trail of dust bellowing out from behind your camper trailer as the dirt road leads you deeper into the state park. The roads were in good condition at the time of travel, but watch for oncoming traffic as the forestry road is narrow in parts.
The first place to pull up is at Neds Gully Campground, only a couple of kilometres from the beginning of the dirt road. An information board and a booklet on what the park has to offer can also be obtained here. This is a tent based campground with the campsites situated on the opposite side of the Little River.
Even though this isn't a spot to set up a camper trailer, it's worth a look at the suspension bridge that spans the river. Kids big and small will love bouncing the bridge up and down and side to side. This is also the starting point for five of the 14 walks within the Cathedral Range State Park.
Bushwalking and rock climbing are the major drawcards to the area, with walks that will lead you high up onto the range. The trails marked easy will lead you along mostly flat ground. Medium tracks will have you tackling steep sections of track, and hard tracks require a high level of fitness with careful foot placement as plenty of climbing could be required. The Cathedral Range extends for 7km, with views from the top of the ridge looking out of the mountains and scenic farmland below.
One of the things that make the Cathedral Range such an ideal destination, other than being so close to Melbourne, is the fact that the park isn't too big. In fact, the overall size of the Cathedral Range State Park is 3577ha. So, moving around the area isn't going to take you hours of travelling. It is only an additional three kilometres from Neds Gully to Cooks Mill, which is the only place you will be able to set up your camper trailer.
As the road veers around to the right, you will be greeted with a bridge that will take you across the Little River. This is where you have a few options on where to set up your camper trailer. On your immediate right there is a turn that leads down to the Day Use area. To the left is the starting point for another walk called the Friends Nature Walk, which is classed as an easy walk that has a recommended time of one hour to complete. This walk is well suited to families as it passes through the manna gums.
All campsites in the park need to be booked in advance. The convenience of doing this means that no matter what time you arrive, you'll be able to set up camp. After chatting to the local park ranger, he mentioned they are also in the process of giving each site a designated number, making booking your campsite much easier. One thing to remember is that not all sites are suitable for camper trailers, as some are placed behind wooden bollards making camper trailer set up impossible.
Each campsite has a designated fire pit, but firewood collection is banned in the area. So, if you're keen on a campfire, like most of us are, it's recommended you bring your own with you. There's no rubbish service provided, so be prepared to carry your rubbish out, and pets are prohibited from the state park.
The excellent thing about the amenities of the campground is they have well-maintained drop toilets with wheelchair access. This means this area is quite literally accessible to everyone.
The Cooks Mill camping area is fl at with plenty of room for kids to enjoy bike riding, kicking a footy or throwing a Frisbee – Please note, no bike riding is permitted on the marked walking trails. If there are other families camping in the area, have a chat to them about the surrounding walks that they may have completed, and you may gain some first-hand knowledge on what terrain to expect.
Fly fishing is very popular in the region, with keen fisherman heading out before sunrise to their favourite fishing spot. Access to Little River is good, so with a bit of luck you will be able to secure an ideal spot to land a trout. Make sure you pack rods for the kids too. Even if they don't land a fish, just watching them learning to cast is almost as much fun.
In the early morning as the sun began to rise and the dew was dripping from the trees, small kangaroos were seen grazing near the camper trailer. This is the real Australia that can't be taught in the classroom. Evidence of fresh lyrebird scratches could be seen along the soft edges of the walking track that leads directly from the campground. Small birds were also spotted dancing around flicking the debris of leaves and dirt chasing their breakfast for the day.
You can't be camped this close to the Australian bush and not have the urge to set out in search of some 4WDing. When you leave Cooks Mill, travel high up over Sugarloaf Saddle, which is a great drive that offers views across the farmland below. Situated at Sugarloaf Saddle are newly built picnic tables under a shelter, which is part of the state forest rebuilding scheme after the bushfires.
One historical attraction that isn't too far from the boundaries of the Cathedral State Park is Keppels Hut, situated approximately 1300m above sea level on the aptly named Keppels Hut Track. This drive will have you travelling along winding forest roads admiring the views, before the need to select 4WD for the final section of the track to Keppels Hut.
The Keppel family built several huts in the area from the 1880s. Keppels Hut was built after the 1939 fires and the loss of other huts in the area. There is a small clear stream and picnic tables nearby that make an ideal spot for lunch. Keppels Hut began life being used as a cattleman's shelter, up until grazing in the area ceased in 1963. Luckily, it still remains for future generations to appreciate.
There are many other 4WD tracks that can be explored. If you are only heading to Keppels Hut for a drive from camp, you can form a loop taking in other tracks of the area. Most are in good condition and will have you negotiating your way through the forest while keeping an eye on the spectacular scenery. We did come across some tight spots with the camper trailer as trees had fallen across the track. It might be worth packing the chainsaw in case it's needed.
Before tackling the tracks with your camper, make sure that you have good reversing skills, as there aren't too many options to turn your vehicle around with the camper trailer attached if the track becomes impassable.
The Cathedral Range State Park will surely tick most of the boxes on your checklist of requirements. It is truly an impressive weekend escape destination that can be enjoyed by the entire family, and best of all, it won't break the bank!
The Cathedral Range State Park is approximately 110km north-east of Melbourne.
WHEN TO GO:
It's an all-year-round travel destination, but it's not uncommon to have snowfall on the higher peaks in winter and high temperatures during summer.
WHAT TO TAKE:
Be prepared for four seasons in one weekend, as the weather can change drastically. Make sure you pack warm and cold weather clothes and sturdy footwear for bushwalking. A first aid kit is also a must when heading off into the bush. Don't forget to bring in your own firewood and fresh drinking water. Water is available from the Little River, but make sure it is boiled before drinking.
WHERE TO CAMP:
There are two main campgrounds in the Cathedral Range State Park and bookings are essential. The first campground is Neds Gully, but is not suited for camper trailers. Cooks Mill Campground consists of 50 designated campsites of varying sizes. There is plenty of room to set up your camper trailer in close proximity to the Little River. The campsites contain fire pits and drop toilets that have wheelchair access. The camping fee is $14/site per night.
NEAREST SUPPLIES AND FACILITIES:
Last-minute supplies are available at Buxton or Taggerty. Fuel and bagged firewood can be bought before entering the park. Healesville is the largest town that you will pass and has everything you would need. If you're planning on fishing, any bait or fishing gear can be purchased from the Buxton Bait and Tackle outlet.
Fuel can be purchased from Buxton. Standard fuel range won't be a problem when travelling around the Cathedral Range State Park.
Trips are rated A through to E, with A meaning least suitable for a camper trailer and E meaning perfectly suited for all types of camper trailers. Main roads into campground rated E: unsealed road, but can be rough at times. 4WD tracks around the park rated C: a variety of terrain with rock, steep inclines, steep declines and mud, depending on the weather.
RESTRICTIONS AND PERMITS:
No permits required for daytrips. Camping permits will need to be paid prior to setting up your camper trailer. A current Victorian fishing licence is required when fishing in Victorian waters and can be done online at www.dse.vic.gov.au.
CONTACTS AND INFORMATION:
All current information on the area can be found on the Parks Victoria website.
Ph: 131 963
The Igloo Roadhouse
2220 Maroondah Hwy, Buxton VIC
Ph: (03) 5774 7451
WORDS BY RICHARD HENNESSY, PHOTOGRAPHY BY MATT FEHLBERG