Victorian High Country

Trip preparation:

Last year SWMBO had a girlie weekend so this year was my turn. With a new kid only 2 months away it was the last chance in a while to get away. To make things easy I joined a tag a long around the Grant Historic area near Talbotville. My Father in law and Brother in law also came along to keep me company.

I am also fairly new to the 4WD game so it was a chance to get some experience with the knowledge that I’d be in safe hands if something went wrong. My Father in law is much more experienced than me, but as his last 4×4 was a Nissan G60 with 3 forward gears, and his advice is usually just “Put it in 1st gear Low Range”, I wanted some more modern advice!

The plan

Planning was relatively painless:

  1. Be in Harrietville by 8:30am on the 4th of Jan
  2. Buy a weeks’ worth of minute steaks, bread, water, and some Weetbix
  3. Be back in Sydney by Saturday 11th

Helluva lot easier without the wife and kids!

Apart from the usual recovery gear, a fridge and the Drifta car back kitchen, some spare drive belts and hoses, nothing really exceptional. Though I did get diff breathers fitted just in case

Day one: Ulladulla->Harrietville via Kings and Hume Highways

With limited time we did this leg in one go, via a quick boring run along the Hume highway. With a hasty final pack and breakfast and goodbyes to various SWMBO’s and kids we left only 30 mins later than planned.

It was 20 mins down the Highway that I realised that I’d forgotten to put the Oztrail on the roof. We tried to sneak back without being noticed but were spotted by Mother In Law. She had already told two neighbours the story by the time it was strapped on. I left her relishing the addition of latest item on the ‘Useless son in Law list’.

The run was fairly uneventful with the climb from Bateman’s Bay to Braidwood being the most interesting, the mighty D4D just effortless at eating up the k’s. We had lunch at Maccas at Yass on the Hume Highway which was absolutely rammed. The truckies on the UHF advising each other to” fill up and get the hell out of there as quick as you can”. Frikkin horrible. Never ever go there on school holidays, cars were queuing to get in!

Turning off at Albury/Wodonga, we topped up at Myrtleford, then via beautiful Bright and the best named town in Australia: “Smoko”. I’d love to come back and check out this area when I have more time. Finally we pulled into Harrietville around 3 ish. Time to have a beer and relax ready for the big day tomorrow.

We stayed at the Harrietville Snowline Motel/Hotel. It was clean and the food good, and it was great to be drinking pints again . We bumped into some other members of our group in the pub. We introduced ourselves and our rigs; an older Pajero, a huge white 4.8L Patrol., (Lifted, running on Fox racing suspension, with big MT’s). The Prado and Pajero looked a little small next to it. Though, by the end of their trip they calculated their fuel was costing them a dollar a km! I love driving a Donk!

A tasty local beverage

Day Two: Harrietville to Eaglevale

(Click to embiggen pictures)

The pub doesn’t open until 12 so we had a quick breakfast from our supplies and headed 100m up the road to the rendezvous. Waiting for us were the usual bag of 4×4 suspects – 2 Patrols, an older Pajero, a SWB Jeep Wrangler, a 150 Prado, a hired 100 series Landcruiser, and the mighty Mahindra Pik-up. There were three Johns and a Tom, which made radio comms a little difficult at times.

My Prado, the Jeep and Pajero all had stock suspension; the rest all hadn’t least 2 inches more. I was beginning to feel under accessorised.

The Mahindra certainly turned a few heads over the coming days, some people didn’t even know what it was. It’s a throw-back to earlier 4×4’s, and is certainly basic, but it coped with everything we threw at it over the coming days. (just never sure about reliability), but being designed in India could probably be easily repaired with a couple of bricks and piece of tin. It just goes to show it’s often more about the driver’s abilities than the vehicles, and that you don’t always need that extra fruit.

A quick radio check check and we left Harrietville, up the mountain towards Dargo High Plains road.

On the climb up you can really appreciate the devastation wrought by the bushfires, dead trees everywhere. The contrast with NSW was amazing. We’d recently been up around Lithgow and Newnes ( the area of the State Mine Fire), and the bush was already beginning to regenerate. Here, it was still mostly dead and looking like the aftermath of a nuclear strike. One bonus side effect are the dead trees. Sitting on the ridge lines they form ghostly lines cross crossing the hills. Eerily beautiful. My father in law kept muttering that he wished he’d brought his trailer to collect all this firewood.

Dodging crazy cyclists ascending the mountain we soon to turned off onto Dargo High Plains Road.

At the junction of DHP road and Blue Rag Range track we aired down. I went down to about 32psi. With the rocks I didn’t want the tires bagging out too much exposing the side walls. I don’t have a tire deflator, so went all old school with a twig. I eventually gave up, borrowed a deflator and have added it to my birthday list

Engaging low range we set off up Blue Rag Range and my excitement levels went up. My army cadet training came back to me and I slipped back into standard British Army Voice Procedure, much to the amusement of everyone else.

We turned down Basalt North Track and continued down the switch backs. Trailers have been met down here even though the track is clearly marked as not suitable! We were driving over and under fallen trees. We stopped at the helipad for morning tea before continuing onto Brewery Creek Road. And another photo opportunity at junction of Brewery Creek road and Bald Top Track.

The scenery so far wasn’t disappointing but the number of flies was (more on this later), as was the dust. (Poor old Mahindra John was Tail End Charlie, and had no air con!) It really is a beautiful place and I am extremely jealous of those going to the GTG. We heard down into Talbotville for lunch under a blazing sun. Those with awnings whipped them out, except me, as I’m shy like that.

Talbotville Town site

Upon departing Talbotville, Tom in the Silver Patrol showed his true colours and opted to take the huge drop off into the water whilst we took the easy route. It was to become Tom’s signature over the next four days. “There’s a harder way? I’ll take it!”

After Talbotville, we climbed Station Track and then onto Cynthia Range track where we met an old Subaru! No roof racks and stuff just lashed to the roof with tie downs through the windows. He didn’t seem to be having any issues?

After we got our breath back from seeing this and more amazing country, we headed down Eaglevale to our campsite for the next four days. The track down affords some gorgeous views across and down the valley as it switches back and forth.

Campsite from Eaglevale Track

The Prado was doing fine, but being loaded up, and with original front suspension that has sagged slightly after 90,000km, we had a few bumps and scrapes, mostly cresting over the erosion control berms. The factory bash plates held up but are a now more interesting shape.

Unfortunately the choice spot by the crossing was taken and we headed further downriver to nearer the toilets. Why was under the trees by the crossing the choice spot? Because at the end of the valley you get hammered by the wind! We came back on the second day to some blown over tents. But at least we didn’t have to drive to a toilet!

Quickly erecting the 30 second tent in 10 minutes I set about opening the Oztrail awning for the second time in its life. Having watched everyone at lunch it was a lot easier this time, and no cars were scratched in the opening of this awning. With no fire due it being too windy it was a few swift ales and a bite to eat and we were soon in bed ready for tomorrow.

Campsite

Day 3-Pinnacles/Dargo

Upon waking, the river was steaming it was so cold. I’ve been colder (woken up to a frozen landscape and to find the zips frozen solid on the tent) but I was more prepared for it then, and younger, and hardier. Old age has made me soft. Sleep that night was difficult. I’d brought my summer sleeping bag, except summer high country nights mean about 5 degrees not 10.so I ended up using my silk sleeping bag liner from my hiking days. It’s just a sack which crumples to the size of a coffee mug, but it adds about another 2 degrees to the temperature. That and a pair of trousers and jumper and I slept ok-ish

A steaming river

With 3 of us In the tent we’d decided to use stretcher beds. I usually have a sleeping mat. So not ever using nor having tested my kids stretchers before leaving I found it was 10 cm’s too short and my feet painfully hung over the end. I’d also forgotten my sleeping mat.

But that didn’t matter, the sky was blue, and today was the day we were going to ascend Billy Goats Bluff to the Pinnacles – One of the main reasons I’d wanted to do this trip. The previous night’s rain hadn’t lasted so the tracks were dry and good. It was on!

From an early start we assembled at the bottom of the track, the excitement was building. We’d been joined overnight by a young couple in a Hilux. Two of the group had never done more than a few dirt roads in national parks, so we spaced them out between the more experienced drivers, told them to drive it slow and shout for help if they needed it. The track is very narrow in places and with 8 trucks we decided to leave 100-200m each truck in case we met anyone.

We climbed the first third to the helipad with no real issues. There we could see up to the top and Mother Nature helpfully pointed out the pinnacles, the shadow looking like a huge arrow! The track s definitely fun and not any more taxing than the stuff I attempted on my 4wd course the previous year. The difference is that it goes on for seven thousand metres not a few hundred like those on the training course and there is very little room for error.

Climbing to the helipad

Follow the arrow

Arty shot

The next two thirds were a little different. It’s not too difficult to pick the right lines as you ascend, Certainly the lesser experienced of us all made it up without too many issues, but I was definitely concentrating the whole way. The Auto certainly makes it a lot easier, with one less thing to worry about. I reckon most people could do this in a capable 4×4 in the dry. I have no traction aids on the car and only lost traction once. I took the ‘easier’ line but it was mostly deep gravel on the one side and the wheels spun. I rolled back a few feet, and took the ‘harder’ rock route and sailed up with no issues. I’m still learning that the big rock bits are not always as scary as they appear!

Halfway up and the 150 let the Prado contingent as it shredded its Grandtrek. A very scary wheel change on a slope and we were soon on our way.

Climbing

The track gets very narrow towards the top and there’s only a few feet clearance either side. As you broach the saddle the views are amazing. It is spectacular. My father in law kept screaming at me to watch the road. There’s certainly no room for error!

The wheel change had delayed plans so we stopped at the top for lunch and some sightseeing before commencing the descent. This is where I don’t like the auto, even in first low it can get away a bit, well certainly compared to my old 60series.

The goal

We all made it to the bottom without incident. Some of the group headed into Dargo to refuel, others went back to camp. Even though the prado was sitting on ¾ full we headed into Dargo for the obligatory beer at Dargo hotel.

A nice pub

Still to bloody windy for a fire! And I was so tired from the day that I passed out fairly quickly.

Day 4 – Crooked Creek Track

Well its lots of water crossings what more can I say? Apparently in November a large 4×4 club had come through and ripped up all the crossings by behaving like bogan ferals. So much so that the crossings were almost impassable. The hope was that by the time xmas holidays had come round the traffic would have flattened the creeks.

Our hopes came true. The crossings weren’t to difficult and not too deep. The deepest ones only just coming up over the side steps. One of the exits was pretty steep and looked like it was going to cause issues. None of us dared stop at the bottom and just kept on going as we left the water. We passed a slightly apprehensive couple at the top . The female of the two staring at her companion with her arms folded as if to say you are not bloody taking the car down there. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that it was by far and away the worst one there and everything was easy after that, I wanted them to have a sense of achievement

We stopped at one point to take in some of the mines that dot the track before heading up Bulltown Track, Grant Road and down Conway before a lunch stop at the Kingswell bridge. It was meant to be an easy day, but as we were having so much fun, half the group split and went back whilst we carried on for even more fun making our way back on the other part of the Crooked River track, where I stupidly followed a Patrol into a big hole across the river. But no issues came of it And the water probably didn’t’ even make it over the top of the Bullbar.

Lunch

Back up Cynthia range and down to the campsite. Where, hallelujah, the wind had dropped and we finally got to have a campfire!!! It also meant I got to have a quick dip in the river to wash some of the dust off. We bonded over beer and a burn, and swapped war stories. It’s such a shame we didn’t get to do it on the first night. The kids were amazed by the “Mystical Fire” that changed the colour of the flames to green and blue

Finally a fire

Day 5 – Heading home

Those of us leaving packed up and got ready to leave. I always hate that part of the trip. Fully loaded back up, the mighty 120 started dragging its tum over the bumps again sa we climbed back up Eagle vale to Collingwood Spur and onto Dargo High Plains road. Here we said good bye to the others and headed back to Harrietville. It was strange to be driving back at 80km/h after so many days of 5-20km/h tracks.

Saying good bye from Collingwood Spur Helipad

We got back to Harrietville had a beer and a feed and reminisced over the previous days. It was truly beatuiful country. We didn’t do much historical stuff, just driving which is exactly what I had wanted to do. Soon after all fell promptly to sleep. My father in law complaining of pains in his gut after doing 4 days of ‘enforced sit ups’ in the back of the truck as we bounced over the track.

In a stock prado with slight sag it was fine but I will need new bash plates soon. Some of the clunks were pretty bad so a lift is definitely on the list for a future mod.

Day 6: Last day and back to NSW 😦

Early start and we headed up the mountain to Hotham and on to Omeo. As suggested by fellow PP’er Dreamer, we had planned on a two day trip via Omeo, Suggan Buggan, and along the Barry Way to Jindabyne, Cooma and home.

Danny’s look out, Mt Hotham

It’s a nice little trip on pretty good dirt roads and we took the time to stop and check things out on the way including a rather interesting local art installation just past Benambra.

Lock your dogs up!

With the sound of Mick Taylors laughter in our ears we hastily beat a retreat. A quick bit to eat and a poke around Suggan Buggan school house and we were on our way again

We decided to push on and get home in a day. We decided our respective SWMBO’s must need us to hunt and gather and should get back as soon as we could. Not because we missed them of course.

Funnily enough when we stopped on the NSW border we discovered the flies had disappeared. I don’t know why but there were just more flies in VIC.

Snowy River Valley

A quick dip in the Snowy river for a wash and then on home via Cooma and the back of Deua National Park, got back at about 7pm, 10 hours after we left.

A man in the Snowy River

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