LIVING THE DREAM (PART 6)

WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY DEAL DAL SANTO AND REBECCA SIMPSON-DAL SANTO


Leaving the Northern Territory, we headed down towards the Victorian High Country for the final few months of our trip, following the Murray River. The Murray is one of Australia’s most iconic rivers and needs little introduction. The Murray Sunset National Park, in Victoria’s northwest corner, is a perfect place to camp and swim for a few days if you have time.

[blockquote cite=”” type=”center”]”We rejoin Dean and Rebecca on the final stage of their big lap as they check out the Victorian High Country’s best huts”[/blockquote]

Before we knew it we’d left the stunning Murray sunsets behind and made it to the High Country. Having grown up camping here with his mother and father, Dean took us to many favourite tracks and campsites. We started from Stringybark Creek, a camping area where Ned Kelly famously shot three police officers in a stand-off, before we headed into the High Country for two months of Australia’s best 4WDing and camping.

HIGH COUNTRY HUTS

The High Country is well known for its huts and we were determined to visit as many as we could!

The first hut we visited was the Top Crossing Hut, accessed via Top Crossing Track, a rough 9km track where you’ll need to grab low range. Fording the King River was easy enough as there hadn’t been much rain, but this wouldn’t be the case in winter. The campsite is right by the King River and there’s plenty of opportunity for trout fishing and swimming.

Close by Top Crossing is the Lake Cobbler Hut, a perfect spot for the next camp. This is a lake on top of a mountain with plenty of camping. This was one of our favourite hut camps as being so high up on the mountain gives the lake a unique quality. From here, it’s just a short drive to Craigs Hut – the hut used in the movie ‘The Man From Snowy River’. To avoid the crowds continue on to camp at King River Hut. There are huge grassy campsites on either side of the river here.

While the High Country can be remote with challenging tracks, it’s also not that far into surrounding towns. Which is convenient for emergency repairs to your vehicle (we got brake pads replaced in Myrtleford, death wobbles fixed in Omeo and the air flow sensor checked in Maffra) or your thongs break and summer cannot be enjoyed properly without a new pair.

The last winter, we had driven the iconic Blue Rag Range Track to only see fog where we were told there should be amazing views. We headed straight back there for a second go and we weren’t disappointed. Nearby to Blue Rag is the old Grant Township where gold had been found, a town formed and then deserted by 1916. All that is left is an old cemetery, mostly filled with unmarked pauper’s graves and the sites of old mines.

The Crooked River Track will take you further on to the old town site of Talbotville, again the difficulty of the many river crossings depend on the recent rainfall in the area. Talbotville is a very popular central camping area, so we followed the Eaglevale Track until we found a clearing alongside the Wonnangatta River to camp. The backdrop of mountains and Wonnangatta River makes this the perfect camp for a couple of days.

Following the Wonnangatta River further on brings you to Black Snake Creek Hut and Collins Hut. A day spent exploring tracks on the way to Moroka River makes us realise that the High Country is missing so many of its track signs and by the looks of it, many of them have been ripped off their posts, inconsiderately souvenired by others. For someone relying on the track signs to navigate this would be massively dangerous in this fire-prone region. Next, head up to Horseyard Flat to check out the hut. Horseyard Flat is a handy spot to stop before tackling the Pinnacles and Billy Goats Bluff track.

The view from the Pinnacles is amazing – there is a fire spotters hut and office up here and it’s occupied all summer. We headed down Billy Goats Bluff track which is very steep, but still the easier option, and headed into Dargo for a drink at the Dargo Hotel to celebrate the 365th day of our trip.

One of the best things about the huts is reading through the guest books – there are some truly remarkable tales in there. At Kennedys Hut near Omeo, the guestbook told that the builder’s grand and great-grand children had visited the hut and that someone had even had their ashes spread there. The stories of these huts are fascinating and filled with Australian history, making an important reason to preserve and look after these places.

Close by is the Haunted Stream track where you tackle 54 river crossings in just a few kilometres. One crossing in particular was challenging with a rock step up on the exit. More challenging though are the bogholes where you’ll definitely want a set of muddies. A lot of the track is also deeply rutted. We broke out the winch for a couple of recoveries and ended the day covered in the stinky mud. Truth be told, we’d still be there if it weren’t for the winch. Needless to say, it was beer o’clock pretty early that day.

Continuing to Moscow Villa Hut, we found one of the best built and maintained huts we have seen so far, it even has an upstairs loft. Talk about fancy. The track out to here passes the Washington Winch, which was used for hauling logs up the mountain, and is close to Bentley Plain hut as well.

Lake Dartmouth is another excellent place to camp and from there, it’s a short haul up to the Geehi Walls Fire Trail, just over the Murray in NSW, which includes the Geehi Hut, Keeblers Hut, Old Geehi Hut, Doctors Hut and Major Clews Hut along the track. The first four huts are built from rocks found in the Murray and surrounding rivers and look totally different to the wooden and corrugated iron huts in the lower sections of the High Country. The track itself crosses the Swampy Plain River twice and it’s worth checking the depth before crossing. Access to Doctors Hut is via crossing the river by foot only.

We had looked for the Dogman’s Hut during the previous winter but hadn’t managed to find it. This time we were determined and found it only after realising that our GPS (which we had relied on the previous time) and our map book both had the hut marked in the wrong spot.

From here we followed the Murray up to our final camp spot of the entire trip. Dean’s family has been camping in the Murray Valley Regional Park for the last 37 years and so it was fitting that this was our final camping spot. We camped with friends who were just starting their big trip, watched the blood moon rise over the Edwards River and on day 402, sadly drove back down to Melbourne.

WOULD WE DO IT AGAIN?

In a heartbeat. Travelling around Australia for 13 months was, without question, the best thing both of us have ever done. We met so many other people – whether it was for three months, one year, two years or even longer, they were just out there doing it, same as us. We had strangers help us out when we needed it and we did the same for anyone else.

We are planning the second big lap with kids in tow this time! There’s a stack of places we still want to go, a stack we want to return to and the thought of sharing these places, experiences and tracks with our kids, well that’s just going to be too good.

HOW DID THE BUDGET GO?

In the first article of this series, we talked about guides for creating a budget for a big trip. Two guides we used were $100 a day or $1 per km which ended up being pretty much on the money. We also included a 10k ‘stuff up fund’, which we used for mechanical breakdowns and regular servicing.

FACT FILE

WHERE:
This part of the trip travels along the Murray and through the Victorian High Country.

INFORMATION:
The High Country, in eastern Victoria, looks small on the map, but this is deceiving! There are so many tracks, huts and camp spots to explore in this area that even two months was nowhere near enough to see it all.

CAMPING:
There is pristine camping along the Murray at Wallpolla Island, Gunbower State Forest, Blackhole Track Beach, Dead River Beach and in the Barmah State Forest to name a few. Most of the Murray River camp spots on the Victorian side of the river are free and most have no facilities.
The High Country has more awesome camping spots than you can shake a stick at, the majority of which are free. In particular Dogmans Hut, Eustace Creek at Lake Dartmouth, Kennedys Hut, Purites Creek, Dungeys Hut along the Wonnangatta River, King River Hut and Lake Cobbler Hut are all grade A spots.

WHAT TO TAKE:
As always, be prepared. Always travel with at least a week’s worth of food and water, two spare jerries of diesel and enough spares to build a twin for the Patrol.

BEST TIME TO TRAVEL:
Camping along the Murray at any time of year is fantastic. The High Country gets very cold in the winter months and most tracks close from June – November.

FUEL & SUPPLIES:
Stock up on fuel and supplies wherever possible. Towns like Omeo, Sale, Maffra, Corryong, Bright, Mansfield and Myrtleford offer all the services required for High Country travelling.

TRIP STANDARD:
Almost all tracks in the High Country require low range, high clearance and decent off-road tyres (particularly in the wet). Conditions change dramatically depending on the weather – with rain making some tracks and river crossings impassable.

MAPS AND GUIDES:
‘The High Country Atlas and Guide’.

TRIP TIME OF YEAR:
February/March/April

THANK YOU

A massive thank you to Dean’s mum, Jo, for giving us somewhere to stay after we sold our house and putting all our stuff in storage in her shed. Thanks to Nathan and Caitlyn for putting up with us when we returned to Melbourne a couple of times and thanks to the ARB Thomastown store, in particular Simon and Ray, for their expert advice in helping us prepare the Patrol for the mammoth journey and also for phone advice in how to remove glow-plugs from a salt-water soaked engine! Big thanks to everyone who helped us out along the tracks when we were broken down and in dire need of help and beer.

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