Victoria

Bemm River

Welcome to Bemm River

Bemm River is a detour on the way to somewhere else and it was our curiosity that sent us to this little coastal hamlet for a little exploring at what turned out to be a secret paradise. The sun was shining and the temperature was climbing as we packed the gear ready to hit the road for Victoria’s Wilderness Coast area of the East Gippsland region. John and son, Sean, who are both well-known for their tardiness, decided to show me just how organised they can be if they put their minds to it. I was pleasantly surprised to find they were ready to go by 10:15! Wonders will never cease! That is, until we discovered that John’s car keys were still in the tent. That’s right, the tent that was neatly packed in the trailer, underneath the tables, chairs, and assorted bedding and bags! The boys groaned at the thought of having to unpack all of that gear and I let them stew for a while before telling them that I had the spare keys in my purse. It was too good an opportunity to pass up!

A stop at Lakes Entrance

Finally, amid much grumbling and many dirty looks, we were on the road and our first stop along the way was at Lakes Entrance, the gateway to the Gippsland Lakes. The Lakes are quite possibly the largest inland network of waterways in the southern hemisphere, covering some 400 square kilometres (approx. 155 square miles) and are an ideal holiday spot for those who want some beautiful beaches for boating and fishing, as well as time on the sand and in the surf. So say the tourist brochures and I must admit they certainly are beautiful.

Lakes Entrance

The views from the lookout

We stopped briefly at a lookout overlooking Lakes Entrance. The water was unbelievably blue and beyond the Lakes, Bass Strait stretched away into infinity. They say that on a clear day you can see some of the many oil rigs in the Strait. There is an ongoing dredging operation at the entrance to the Lakes; without it, the sandbar would be impassable for many large boats. The dredging vessel April Mamor was operating that day and the boys found it fascinating.

The mouse escapes in Orbost

Back on the road we headed for Orbost where we stopped for supplies and lunch and engaged in a quite comical hunt around the car for Sandy, the escapee mouse. Yes, Sean’s pet travels with us wherever we

The park in Orbost

go these days and usually stays in her cage but today she wanted out and led us a merry dance for a while. There is a lovely little park just off the main road where we stopped for lunch. It has some landscaped gardens, a footbridge over a little pond, some carved tree trunks, and a sculpture of metal figurines that, from a distance, on a dark night, could almost look lifelike. It’s really a very pleasant place to stop but none of it was important until the missing Sandy was found. The boys searched every nook and cranny but to no avail.

 

Bemm River on the Wilderness Coast

Finally we decided to press on; she couldn’t have got out of the car so we’d find her later when we unloaded.  Bemm River, the town, on the edge of the Cape Conran Coastal park is nestled between Bemm River, the river, the Sydenham Inlet and Bass Strait, and just across the inlet from the Croajingalong National Park. It is approximately 23 kilometres (14 miles) off the Princes Highway where a large sign advises drivers that there are no fuel supplies in Bemm River. In fact, there’s very little in Bemm River. Just the way we like it.

The mouse returns!

It was as we were approaching Bemm River that Sandy made her presence known. In a dash for freedom she ran across my foot and no, I didn’t scream but it was a close run thing! Sean was able to catch her but no matter what box he put her in she continued to escape. We didn’t know it at the time but Sandy’s life expectancy was now measured in minutes and, sadly, while we were setting up camp at the Bemm River Caravan Park ([star][star][star]), she passed away. Why, we don’t know, only that at the time she was in the middle of yet another escape attempt. Sean, understandably, was a little upset and was quite subdued as he finished putting up his tent. But he soon sparked up again.

Bemm River Hotel

On the coast at Bass Strait

Later that afternoon we went for a drive down to the beach. This was the first time I’d ever seen Bass Strait and I know that some people think it’s no big deal but for me it was. The first time you do anything is a big deal! I was determined to get my feet wet in spite of the heckling behind me. Or maybe, because of it! We stopped at a couple of different places along that stretch of beach and John spoke to some fellows there about the fishing. I hoped he wasn’t going to promise me his famous fish dinner; there’s not a pizza or chicken shop anywhere within a 100 kilometres!

A pleasant evening in Bemm River

By now it was getting late and we started back in the general direction of the camp. Not that it was getting dark, it stays light quite late into the evening here in Victoria, sometimes it’s still light at 9:00. Some high cloud had rolled in and it was a cool evening with just the hint of a breeze. The caravan park allows open fires at the campsites as long as we collect our own firewood and contain the fire in the designated bins so tonight we lit up, so to speak, and settled back with a bottle of chardonnay to enjoy the warmth of the fire.

The salmon for our “big” fish dinner!

Fishing in Bemm River

The next day dawned warm and sunny; beach, here we come! We drove out to Py-Yoot Beach, which is a lovely, secluded spot on Bass Strait. There were a couple of fellows fishing at one end but other than that the beach was deserted. John and Sean got set with their fishing rods and I went for a walk on the sand. What a spectacular stretch of beach; that gorgeous dark blue water stretches to the end of the earth. This time I got more than just my feet wet but the water was very cold. I could have kept on walking forever, enjoying the solitude and the peace and quiet but I thought I should get back and see how the boys were going. By the time I got there John had caught a salmon. However it was very small, legal size, but small. That definitely was not going to make a fish dinner, not even an appetiser!

Sean’s flathead (the fish, not Sean) was more like it!

Soon after, Sean reeled in a flathead. All of a sudden, dinner tonight was looking good! But, again, it was small.

2 small fish do not a dinner make!

There was not enough in the two fish to feed the three of us. So I sent them back to the coalface and settled under our beach shelter to await the next shout of “got one!” Well, I waited and waited, relaxing, trying not to doze off, and finally gave up and went for another walk, this time in the opposite direction. The other fisherman had given up and left and we had the place to ourselves. It couldn’t have been more perfect. This time when I returned all they were catching was sand crabs so it was time to head back to camp for showers and lunch.

Sightseeing in Bemm River

I wanted to do a little sightseeing this afternoon and we set off for Cann River, the next town along on the

The old-fashioned pub in Cann River

highway and the only place to get fuel. There isn’t very much here, either but there is one of those old fashioned pubs. It didn’t look very busy; in fact the whole town didn’t look very busy. I guess not a lot happens in this neck of the woods but don’t get me wrong, it’s more peaceful than boring.

A little off-road exploration

We left Cann River and started to make our way back to the campsite via the “scenic route”. A few bush tracks beckoned and John has never been one to shy away from some off-roadexploration. These tracks are well travelled so not rough at all but quite sandy in some places. Still, most 2-wheel-drive vehicles, with careful drivers, could negotiate them. Almost all of the tracks are seasonal, though, closed from June to November, the wet months. So, getting off the beaten track, so to speak, wasn’t all that bad. We’ve been on highways that have been in worse condition than these tracks!

A drive into the Croajingalong National Park

We drove around the tiny town of Bemm River and it didn’t take long to see it all. The hub of entertainment in town is, of course, the Bemm River Hotel. There were a few cars in the parking lot and several drinkers on the wide verandah at the front of the hotel but little more. Bemm River is mainly a fishing village so the facilities are aimed at the angler more than anyone else. The bridge over the Bemm River led to some

The Bemm River

logging areas and, according to the map, the unsealed roads traverse the Croajingalong National Park all the way through to Point Hicks where the lighthouse is. This remote lightkeeper’s settlement has the third tallest light tower in Australia and Captain James Cook named it after a Lieutenant Hicks who was the first to see this land in April 1770. We drove a little way into the National park but it was getting late and we decided not to go any further and returned to camp. We had had a great day but we were all tired and the boys’ plan for an early fishing trip in the morning meant an early night for us all.

The only thing that can get them out of bed early!

Well, John said he wanted to go fishing early in the morning and that’s exactly what they did. He and Sean left at about 6:00. I didn’t even hear them go; by the time I got up the sun was climbing and so was the temperature. They tell me that the beach was beautiful in the early morning; the cloudless sky, the air crisp and clear, the sand undisturbed as though at the beginning of time, the blue water stretching further than the eye could see, and the waves gently lapping the shore. A most perfect scene and to top it off the beach was deserted. Unfortunately, so was the ocean. Not even a bite; nothing, zip, zilch, nada! Even the crabs were still in bed. So it was just on 10:00 when they arrived back at camp empty-handed. They didn’t even tell me any stories about the one that got away! Talk about dejected!

An off-road track to be avoided

After John and Sean had showered and had a cup of coffee we went for a walk to the local shop, such as it is, to buy ice and while we were having lunch they told me about another off-road track they had discovered. Oh no, I groaned! Well, my boys learned today that some off-road tracks, no matter how inviting might they look, are best avoided. At all costs! The track certainly looked safe enough, those wheel ruts filled with water didn’t appear to be too deep. How wrong can you be! It was just soft, squishy mud and in we went, all the way to the axles. We were well and truly stuck with the wheels just spinning and flinging

Enough mud to sink a battleship!

mud all over the place; I was not amused. Thank heavens we weren’t too far from camp! A car stopped and they attempted to pull us out but no luck, so the driver offered to take Sean back to camp to get help. After about a ½ hour Sean was back with a couple of fellows and another 4×4 vehicle. They also attempted to pull us out but the car remained firmly wedged. It was lucky that they had a large jack, which was soon put to good use.

“The Look”

I stayed in the car and had absolutely no intention of getting out until we were free of the mud. John was in total agreement with my choice; he had already seen “the look” and wasn’t sure he cared for the follow-up! It took another ½ hour before the car was jacked up, some logs thrown under the back wheels, and the snatch strap firmly secured. By this time the car, John, Sean, and our rescuers were completely covered in mud and no longer in possession of a sense of humour. Once we had something for the back wheels to grip, getting out was easy; washing all the mud off was another thing entirely. We drove down to the lake, thinking to use the hose at the boat ramp to wash the mud off the car but I think some of it will be there forever.

A swim in Bass Strait

After the clean-up we decided, not surprisingly, to give the off-road a miss and go directly to the beach. There were a few people at Py-Yoot Beach today but they were spread out and it certainly wasn’t crowded.

Swimming in Bass Strait

John and Sean wanted to go for a swim in Bass Strait and tried to talk me into going in with them but that water was freezing! Up to the knees was as far as I would go! I left them to it and went for another walk along the sand; this is such a lovely place that I don’t want to leave, I could quite happily stay here forever.  John and Sean didn’t swim for long because of the cold water and the light wind blowing made them feel colder.

Worth the wait!

Sean went off to collect some beach rocks, I settled down with a magazine, and John pulled out the fishing rod. And after trying all through our holiday for a decent sized fish, this one was certainly worth the wait! A salmon weighing almost 2 kilograms (4 pounds) and about 55cm (22 inches) long! More than a meal for the three of us! And to think he didn’t even promise a fish dinner!

At last!

We left the beach soon after, the fish had stopped biting and I was getting sunburned. And tonight we had a delicious dinner of fresh fish and salad, a glass or two of Chablis, and just ourselves and the stars in the sky for company. Perfect. Our stay at Bemm River had come to an end and it was time to move on. For those who decide that they’d like a few days break from the “big smoke”, my suggestion is that you take that detour to Bemm River; it’s well worth it. No television, no radio, no mobile phones, no emails, no fax machine; we couldn’t get much closer to heaven if we tried! Of course, catching that salmon did help but Bemm River gets a “thoroughly recommended” from us.

 

2005

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

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Mallacoota

 

Welcome to Mallacoota

The caravan park in Mallacoota

About a half hour after leaving the highway we arrived at the Shady Gully Caravan Park ([star][star][star][star_half]) in Mallacoota. What a nice park! We had our pick of shady (naturally), grassed campsites and set about getting our camp organised. Thank heavens it was still daylight; that annex is just like putting up a tent and it’s not something I care to do after dark! The late afternoon was perfect and we went for a little walk around the park. It’s very well laid out, all the sites are quite large and there is plenty of grass and shade. The park also boasts its own swimming pool and is in a native bushland setting close to the beach. What more could you ask? 

First night bubbly with Two Tails

First night bubbly in Mallacoota

Back at camp we settled down for our first night ritual. We always celebrate our first night at a new caravan park or campsite with a bottle of Two Tails Sparkling Wine and tonight, after a long day on the road, I was certainly looking forward to it. It’s quiet and peaceful here; the only sound was the soft noises of insects and the surf. We made use of the camp kitchen with its free gas barbecues and after dinner went for another walk around the park before turning in for the night. The weather promises to be hot so I think I’ll be making use of that swimming pool as well as visiting the beach!

Exploring around Mallacoota

A sparkling morning greeted us the next day. The sun was shining and it promised to be a gorgeous day! After a leisurely breakfast we headed for town for a few supplies and a quick drive around the town of  

Shipwreck Camp

Mallacoota before setting off for some sight-seeing. Apart from the main road into town there are a couple of roads that lead to some secluded fishing and swimming spots. One of these is Betka Road. It runs parallel to the coast heading west and is unsealed for the most part. It is only about 15 kilometres (9 miles) long so we decided to go right to the end and work our way back. About 7 or 8 kilometres (4 or 5 miles) along the road where Betka Road became Betka Track there was a sign to Shipwreck Creek, another 8 kilometres (5 miles) further on.

Shipwreck Creek? I can understand that!

Well, 7 of those kilometres were pretty rough. John said a two-wheel-drive vehicle could do it easily with a bit of care but I don’t think I’d like to take my car along there, no wonder they call it “shipwreck”. At the end of the road is Shipwreck Camp. There is a parking area plus a few campsites and an area for day-trippers. We parked the car and set off for a ½-kilometre walk down to a most spectacular beach. All part of the 86,000-hectare (212,500-acre) Croajingalong National Park and every time I hear that name I’m reminded of an old Slim Dusty song that my Dad used to sing: “Croajingolong, is the place where I belong, where a gum tree shade meets a sunstreaked bay and I can’t wait to go along to Croajing-aling-aling-along”. The Croajingolong is one of the few places in the world with an amazing diversity of landscapes and ecosystems that are so valuable UNESCO has declared it a World Biosphere Reserve. 

The beach at Shipwreck Creek

A perfect beach

We followed the well-defined path through the trees and bush to the beach. Parts of the track were quite steep and walking down wasn’t a problem; it was the thought of having to walk back up again that made me grimace! But down on the beach it was so peaceful, there wasn’t a soul there. The water was incredibly blue and it was as close to perfect as I think you can get. The beach was reasonably well sheltered from the wind that had come up and it was certainly worth the walk. But now it was time for the return walk! It took a bit longer to get back to the top and we did arrive somewhat out of breath but John said it couldn’t have been that bad, I only complained twice!

Beaches along the Wilderness Coast

We left Shipwreck Creek and set off along the track to the next beach, Pebbly Beach. The walk down was shorter than before but the view was no less spectacular. The beach was very rocky, hence the name, and there was a lot of weed in the water. Definitely no good for fishing, I was told. Again, the beach was deserted but we weren’t the only ones to visit this morning, there were some fresh footprints in the sand. Man Friday, perhaps? Our next stop was at the Secret Beach Lookout and we found out why it’s such a secret; you can’t see the beach. The bush and trees have grown up around the viewing platform completely obscuring the view! You can just see the ocean if you climb the railing around the platform. At Quarry Beach, a little less sheltered than the others, the wind was blowing a gale! It looked like a very popular beach with families playing on the sand, people walking their dogs, but no one in the water. There were a couple of surfboards on the sand along with their very dejected-looking owners and John asked them why they weren’t in the water. ‘Stingrays, and lots of them’, was the reply. The graceful creatures have had a lot of bad press following the untimely death of the Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin, so we could well understand why no one wanted to brave the surf.

Lone angler at Betka Beach

No good for fishing

Closer to town we discovered Betka Beach and the Betka River. There was parking and a picnic area right on the river and a short walk across ankle deep water to the beach. Again, it was extremely windy and it didn’t look good for John’s planned fishing afternoon. There were some people in swimming and the water was quite warm but once you came out of the water the wind was cold. The river was quite shallow near the picnic area and I imagine that on a less windy day there would be a lot of children playing there but for now there was a lone fisherman standing on the bank. It didn’t look like he was catching anything much and my comment about that appearing to be normal earned me “the look” from John.

Another off-road track. Oh joy!

Back on the road and heading for town, John found a track. After previous off-road experiences with my man I knew there was no way to stop him so I tightened my seat belt and prepared to hang on for dear life! But, as it turned out, it was a very short track that led to a spot on the river with a boat ramp. A really nice spot with fish jumping in the water! I could almost see the twinkle in John’s eye!

A stretch into infinity

Crossing over the river on the way back, we stopped in a little parking area leading to Davis Creek Beach. This is another lovely spot for a picnic but a long walk down a bush track to the sand. At this point we decided to go back to camp for lunch. The wind was blowing even stronger now than it had been and a picnic on the beach would not have been very pleasant. There are several more beaches in this area and after lunch we explored Tip Beach. What a beautiful beach! This is what I’d always imagined Bass Strait to be like, the water was so blue and it seemed to stretch into infinity. The wind had dropped a little, too. This was more like it! 

Surfer at Bastion Point

Surfers at Bastion Point

Up the hill from Tip Beach is Bastion Point where Devlin’s Inlet meets Bass Strait. There were surfers in the water, a fellow with a canoe, and people fishing from a boat. We parked high on the bluff overlooking the beach at the entrance to the inlet and could see Gabo Island in the distance.

Gabo Island

Gabo Island is approximately 16 kilometres (10 miles) north-east of Mallacoota and has one of the oldest lighthouses in Australia. In the sand on Gabo Island lies a heap of granite blocks. On one of them is the inscription: “This monument, erected by the Governments of Victoria and New South Wales, is in memory of those drowned in the wreck of the steamship SS Monumental City, May 15 1853, on Tallaberga Island, where their remains lay buried.”  The steamship, built in Baltimore USA in 1850, was the first steamer to cross the Pacific Ocean under screw propulsion. She ran aground on Tallaberga Island near Gabo Island and broke in two, with the loss of 37 lives. Within months a wooden lighthouse was erected on Gabo Island and the original 20-feet high wooden tower was replaced with a red granite tower in 1862. At 47 metres (154 feet) it is the second highest in Australia and the main light has a range of 25 nautical miles. There are boat trips out to the island and joy flights over it but we decided against a visit this time. Perhaps next time. 

Gypsy Point Jetty

A visit to Gypsy Point

Gipsy Point is an idyllic haven about 9 kilometres (5 miles) from Mallacoota. We drove around past Stingray Point to Bottom Lake and then on to Gipsy Point. At the wharf we had a look at the tourist ferry, Gipsy Princess, operated by Rumbottles Wilderness Cruises. Unfortunately it doesn’t operate every day. Gipsy Point Lodge is quite a big holiday resort with its own jetty, right on the river, but we didn’t see one single person while we were there! And so, back to camp after a long day. Now, if John can’t find a place to fish after all of that, he’s not really trying! While we were sitting outside enjoying the coolness of the evening a friendly and very fat possum visited us but he didn’t stay around long enough for a photograph. For such a fat fellow, he certainly could move fast!

A great little coffee shop in Mallacoota

We woke the next morning to overcast skies and a visit by a few friendly kangaroos. Then the rain started. Just great! But after about 6 or 8 drops, it stopped. The clouds cleared to a spectacular day and we decided it was a day best spent on the beach. We drove into town for bait and information on the tides – yes, John was going to fish – and a quick coffee at the Croajingalong Café before heading out to the beach. Mallacoota is not a big town but it does have a few small coffee shops and cafés. We chose the Croajingolong Café mostly because of the name but we discovered that the service and the coffee are great too. 

Tip Beach

A day on Mallacoota’s Tip Beach 

After our coffee we set off for Tip Beach. What has to be the most beautiful place on the Victorian Wilderness Coast, this long sandy stretch was deserted when we arrived. The water was the most startling aqua-blue colour and the sun was bright in a cloudless sky. So after setting up our sun-shelter and slapping on the sunscreen John threw in a line and I set off for the first of several walks on the beach. I walked from one end to the other, twice, before returning to the shelter.

Fishing in Mallacoota

The sun overhead was pretty fierce and even with sunscreen I could feel myself burning. John wasn’t having a whole lot of luck with the fishing but he looked like he was having fun anyway. It was so peaceful there that one could almost believe that we were the only people on the planet! Later during the day other walkers and a couple of joggers made their way along the shoreline. The sand close to the water was hard and good for walking on. I was walking again when a girl on horseback came cantering along the beach. But mostly we were the only ones there. After about 2:00 a stronger wind came up but even that wasn’t too bad. The fish weren’t biting and after about 4 hours of trying to catch something John finally decided to give up. He certainly has more patience than I do, I would have packed it in after about 20 minutes! After a long day in the sun and a lot of walking all I wanted was an early night and I fell into bed by 9:00. I was soon asleep, lulled by the sound of the surf as the waves broke gently on the sand.

Some shake, rattle ‘n’ roll

The next day we trekked to Point Hicks Lighthouse. We set off early along the Princes Highway for Cann River, 71 kilometres (44 miles) west of Mallacoota and then turned onto the Point Hicks Road for a further 45 kilometres (28 miles). The road through the Croajingalong National Park is not only unsealed but for 30 kilometres (18 miles) it is one of those shake-rattle-and-roll you sideways, corrugated ones! Believe me, everything that could rattle and shake rattled and shook! We drove over a couple of narrow one-lane bridges and through the Thurra Campground where the corrugations ended, and then the road came to an end with a locked gate. From here it was a 2¼-kilometre (1.4-mile) walk to the lighthouse station. 

Point Hicks Lighthouse

A long, hot walk

It was a terribly hot day with temperatures nudging 38°C (100°F) and not a cloud in the sky. Bush and trees bordered the road but these didn’t provide an awful lot of shade and we certainly appreciated what little there was! Finally the lighthouse came into view. How magnificent!

A stunning piece of Australian history

Point Hicks is a stunning piece of Australian history. This was the first view of the Australian mainland seen from Lieutenant James Cook’s Endeavour in 1770 and is named after the man who made that sighting, Lieutenant Zachary Hicks. We were able to walk down onto the rocks at the Point where there is a monument to that first sighting. The inscription on the monument reads: Lieutenant James Cook R.N. first sighted Australia near this point which he named Point Hicks after Lieutenant Zachary Hicks who first sighted the land. April 19th (ship’s log date) April 20th (calendar date) 1770” There is also a cairn commemorating the 200thanniversary of the sighting.

The views are breathtaking

The views out to sea were astounding; such perfectly blue water under such beautiful clear skies. Breathtaking! We spent quite a bit of time out on the point, it was really quite amazing and the ocean seemed to stretch forever. Perfectly peaceful, not a boat or another person in sight; this must have been what it was like on that day in 1770. It was quite windy out there and there is no fence around the point. We weren’t concerned, it wasn’t THAT windy and I can imagine that this would not be a very safe place to be in a howling gale. But on this day it was absolutely perfect and in any case, a little wind was welcome on such a hot day. 

The view from the point

The lighthouse

We picked our way over the rocks and explored as many nooks and crannies as we could, both of us displaying a distinct reluctance to leave this very beautiful and historic place. But we also both realised that we couldn’t stay here forever and so started to make our way back up the steps to the lighthouse. The lighthouse and the point overlook the Point Hicks Marine National Park, a protected area filled with incredible sea life and some truly spectacular sub-tidal reefs. The lighthouse, itself, offers accommodation and guided tours, and there is also a very popular campground. Bush camping only, however. Not for me, I’m afraid, I like indoor plumbing. Then we started our walk back; at least it was all downhill this time but by the time we reached the car we were more than a little hot, tired, and ready for lunch under the shade of the trees.

Dinner on Mallacoota Wharf

It was after 4:30 before we arrived back in Mallacoota and it was one of those evenings when I really didn’t feel like cooking dinner so John suggested we go out for fish and chips on the Mallacoota wharf. The wharf is a popular spot for fishing and there were a few people there with lines in the water but no one was catching anything. John said he could relate to that! There are several tourist cruise boats moored at the wharf and quite a few private boats at moorings in the inlet and finding a spot where the view of the water was unobstructed wasn’t easy. We did finally find a place with some tables and seats and nothing blocking the view and enjoyed a great fish and chip dinner with a view of the inlet, the fresh smell of the salt air and the breeze blowing in from the sea. After dinner we went for a walk around Mallacoota but the breeze had turned cool and a few clouds were rolling in so we returned to camp for an early night. 

Mallacoota Military Museum

Mallacoota’s Military Museum

The next morning dawned overcast and cool; I didn’t mind. After the previous day’s heat and humidity and such a warm, sticky night, this was great! There is a military museum in Mallacoota and with nothing else planned for that day we decided to go and have a look. We drove out along Betka Road for a short distance and then turned off near the airport. We were quite surprised when we drove into the parking lot; it was like taking a step back in time. It really is a World War II Operations Bunker, a restored RAAF Advanced Operations Base. 

Japanese combat boots

 

Two-toed boots!

There was a chain of these high security wartime defence bases located around the Australian coastline during World War II. This whole region was sparsely populated and was considered vulnerable to attack. In fact there is some evidence to suggest that Japanese soldiers or sailors actually came ashore here. Strange footprints were found and later identified as the unique Japanese two-toed combat boots. (I kid you not!)

Closer than we knew

The bunker at Mallacoota was important because of its close proximity to Gabo Island where the RAAF had established a radar station. The main purpose of its operation was surveillance of the area to assist in keeping our sea lanes open. Between June 1942 and June 1943 there were 13 Japanese submarines operating off the east coast of Australia. They claimed 22 allied ships, of which 12 were Australian owned, with the loss of 194 lives. Two of the ships were sunk off Gabo Island and the freighter “Iron Crown” was the only vessel torpedoed in Victorian waters. She was sunk 70 kilometres (44 miles) southwest of Gabo Island, with the loss of 38 lives. We found the history fascinating and some of the displays were very lifelike but the museum is not very big and in less than 2 hours we’d been right through it. We’d learned a few things that were not generally made public during that war and so are not mentioned in the history books and even though it all happened before either John or I were born it was rather disquieting to realise how close it really was. It makes one appreciate, just a bit more, the life we have today. Mallacoota is a not-to-be-missed outpost and the perfect base for exploring the Wilderness Coast. Walking here is a pleasure along some of the most unspoilt and beautiful bush and beach tracks in Australia in an area where you can experience nature at her most magnificent. And it is that. 

 2007

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

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Mildura

 

Welcome to Mildura

The world’s largest traction engine

We had a nice leisurely start the next morning and over a casual breakfast made our plans for the day. First, a drive around Red Cliffs to find the river, with a stop at Barclay Square (no, not the one in London) in the town centre to see Big Lizzie. She’s a huge traction engine, the largest of her kind in the world and she was used to clear 13,355 hectares (33,000 acres) after World War 1 as a settlement for returning soldiers. In fact, Red Cliffs is the centre of the largest irrigated Soldier Settlement since 1918. The Red Cliffs and District Historical Society is responsible for the restoration of this marvellous piece of machinery and the shelter was erected in 1988 by the Mildura Shire Council. 

Big Lizzie

We lost the Murray River!

We spent a little time that morning driving around Red Cliffs but we still didn’t find the river. It’s the Murray, for heaven’s sake, but do you think we could find it! So, it was off to Mildura for a little bit of sightseeing and retail therapy.

Mildura means “red earth”

Established in 1887, the town is located in what is known as the Sunraysia region and the name is an Aboriginal word that translates to ‘red earth’. Often referred to as the Mediterranean in the outback, the town has a cosmopolitan flavour. The area is renowned for its fruit growing and grape production. 80% of Victoria’s grapes come from this region including 34% of Australia’s wine grapes. Angus Park, in the suburb of Irymple, is famous for its dried fruit and dried fruit products. We paid a visit to their factory store and left some time later with our wallets considerably lighter.

We found the Murray River!

Our next stop was at the wharf to check sailing times for the paddlesteamer; our afternoon would be spent on the magnificent Murray (yes, we finally found the river).  At 2520 kilometres (1566 miles) the Murray is the third longest navigable river in the world, after the Amazon and the Nile, and spans three Australian states, New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia. I was looking forward to seeing just a small part of it this day. John, of course, wanted to fish it!

Entrance to the Stanley Winery

That’s a lot of wine!

We left the wharf and crossed over the bridge (border) into New South Wales and headed up the Silver City Highway to visit the Stanley Winery. The gate at the winery was guarded by a giant Stanley wine cask and as we drove in our jaws dropped at the sight of several acres of huge tanks reaching high into the sky. And, yes, those tanks or vats were all filled with wine! Entering the cellar door we were presented with an elegant room that held several displays of the various wine labels and merchandise that is available here. A cocktail bar stretches the length of the room and we settled in for some serious wine tasting. Well, at least I did; John was driving so had to keep his tasting to a minimum. We were offered tastes of 3 or 4 different wines before a tour bus arrived. With about forty people crowding into the room it was time for us to beat a hasty retreat and with our purchases tucked firmly under our arms we bid farewell to Stanley Wines. 

MV Melbourne

Welcome aboard the MV Melbourne

After lunch we returned to the wharf for our cruise on the paddlesteamer MV Melbourne. The Melbourne was originally launched in 1912 and after years of working up and down the river she was abandoned to wallow in neglect. Privately purchased and fully restored in1965 she set sail on her maiden voyage with passengers on January 1st, 1966. She’s almost 30 metres (98 feet) long and 6½ metres (21 feet) wide at the waterline and approximately 12 metres (39 feet) across the top of the paddles, with a flat bottom and very shallow draught; the bow draws ¾ metre (2½ feet) of water and the stern 1 metre (3 feet) so she could float and operate fully in only 1¼ metres (4 feet) of water. Her maximum speed is 18 kilometres (11 miles) per hour.

Navigating the locks

The wind was blowing hard and it was very cold as we moved away from the dock and into the channel heading towards the lock. The Murray River has a system of locks because of the varying levels of the water. The locks were built to control the river flows; during normal flow there is an almost 4 metre (13 feet) drop between river levels. The lock is an amazing thing. Our Captain manoeuvred us in and we stopped. The huge metal gates behind us slowly swung shut and then the water was pumped out. As the water level went down, so did the Melbourne. Finally when almost all the water was gone the gates in front of us opened and we moved out, back onto the Murray but several metres lower than we’d been before. We cruised past Lock Island, which was formed when the channel was dug in 1927 and now holds a memorial, before cruising up the Murray River. 

The Skipper

Captain John

We cruised past the Old Mildura Homestead, which was the site of the original ‘Mildura’ pastoral lease, and Apex Park where Australia’s only inland Lifesaving Club patrols the beach in the summer. John went into the wheelhouse and steered the boat along the river for a while. For this he received a skipper’s certificate from the Captain. We cruised past the Buronga Riverside Caravan Park and John thought that looked like a great place to do some fishing and a picnic sounded like a fun idea.

And the certificate to prove it!

A perfect place to fish

Returning to the dock some two hours later, the afternoon had become a lot colder but before returning to camp we drove out to the Buronga Park and John found the perfect place for some fishing and a picnic tomorrow. A cold wind had come up and it was time to call it a day.

John wasn’t giving up

The mighty Murray River

On the way back to camp we did a little touring around Red Cliffs. John insisted that the river must pass through this town somewhere. Well, we finally found it but unfortunately discovered that there’s no access to it in Red Cliffs, either in the car or on foot.

Cabin fever and an off-road track

It turned out to be a cold and windy night and our plans for fishing and a picnic were thrown into the rubbish bin when we awoke to heavy overcast, bitterly cold wind, and rain. It looked like being a quiet day at camp but by about 11:30 we were suffering from cabin fever and so went off for a drive to see the Lindeman’s Winery. Well, we never reached the winery because John discovered an unsignposted road that wasn’t even on the map. You just know what’s coming next, don’t you? He can’t help himself; he just had to explore it. Unsealed and narrow it was more of a track than a road and it led straight to the river. Moored along the river’s edge were houseboats, a lot of them, and obviously people were living aboard them. I think it would be great to live on a houseboat!

Sandbar camping ground

A bush camping ground

A little further on people were camping and the sign said “Sandbar Camping Ground”. It was bush camping in the extreme, absolutely no amenities. Most of the people appeared to be huddled in their tents or campers and it seemed to me a most sensible thing with the weather being so unfriendly. John must have agreed because my suggestion that we return to our camp didn’t even get an argument.  Not long after that a weather front moved through with strong, icy winds and heavy rain and this set the pattern for the rest of the day. It was a miserable end to our stay in Mildura but having said that, we’re certainly not deterred from returning some day. There is much more to see in this lovely rural city and nearby are the World Heritage Listed Willandra Lakes and the Mungo National Park, two great reasons, if we needed one at all, to make the return trek to this Mediterranean in the outback.

 

2005

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

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Paynesville

 

Welcome to Paynesville

run by Barry and Carol and boasts an inground pool, recreation room, and a playground.

The jetty

We unhitched the trailer at our site and went off into town for some supplies. There’s a little shopping centre, complete with IGA store, right opposite the lake and a walk out onto the jetty was too much to pass up. Lake Victoria is part of the Gippsland Lakes, the largest navigable inland waterway in Australia. We walked out to the end of the jetty, as you do, to have a look at some of the boats moored. There was one for a cruise company that offers sunset cruises. Unfortunately they only run on Tuesdays and we’ll be gone by then. Pity. It was quite warm there beside the lake and John, with young son, are-we-there-yet Sean, in tow was checking out the possibility of some fishing. Back at the park Sean wanted to go for a swim in the pool so he had his tent up in an even faster time than normal (it’s amazing how quickly kids can move when they want something!) and by the time the sun went down we were enjoying a bottle of pinot noir 

The jetty at Paynesville on Lake Victoria

with a steak and salad, and a fresh fruit salad. A pleasant evening, a few stars out, and a cool, not too strong breeze; not a bad end to the day.

Exploring in and around Paynesville

The sun was shining the next morning and the wind had eased a little; some good weather for fishing, said John. But I wanted to have a look at Paynesville first. Surrounded by water on three sides, the first impression was that there were boats, boats, and just for something different, some more boats! Surprisingly, there’s quite a boating culture here in this family friendly town. Who would have thought . . .  

The marina

Eagle Point, a good place for fishing

John asked one of the locals about fishing and was told that one of the best places was at Eagle Point, where the Mitchell River enters Lake King, a few kilometres to the north. The Bluff Lookout at Eagle Point was very interesting. You can see as far as Bairnsdale, the gateway to the Gippsland Lakes, just over 18 kilometres (11 miles) away, and the Mitchell River Silt Jetties. From the mouth of the Mitchell River to Lake King, some 8 kilometres (5 miles), these silt jetties are second in size only to those of the Mississippi River in the United States. We took the road out to Eagle Point, following the Mitchell River; John was looking for a good spot to drop in a line. I was amazed at the size of these bodies of water; it’s hard to believe that they are rivers and lakes and not the ocean! 

Fishing at Eagle Point on the Mitchell River

The ferry to Raymond Island

We wandered down to the marina to check out the ferry times before heading back to camp. The Marina is huge and stretches all the way along, and on both sides, of the McMillan Strait. The ferry to Raymond Island departs from the marina. Raymond Island is a natural lake island located approximately 200 metres (660 feet) off the coast of Paynesville, in the middle of McMillan Strait. The island is 6 kilometres (3.5 miles) long and 2 kilometres (1.2 miles) wide and is home to a large koala population.

Fishing in the Mitchell River at Paynesville

We returned to camp for a quick lunch and John started to get the fishing gear ready but Sean had made friends with some of the other young people at the caravan park and he wanted to go swimming with them so it was after 3:00 before we left for Eagle Point and the fish. “Fish dinner tonight!” John declared. Luckily I’d bought a barbecued chicken anyway. All along the stretch of road out to Eagle Point there were parking bays and fishing areas and some even included toilet amenities. John and Sean threw their lines in and I settled down with my book but it wasn’t long before I started to burn and had to go and sit in the car; sunburn, even with sunblock, is the curse of fair skin.

Kite-surfers at Paynesville

The boys fished for over two hours, had plenty of nibbles, and something kept taking the bait, but no fish. And no fish dinner, either! Smart move buying that chicken! On the way back to camp we stopped on the side of the road to watch some kite-surfers in action. I was fascinated and John said he wouldn’t mind giving it a try. Now, he’s been sailboarding and used a surf-ski so I suppose this is not too big a jump (literally) for him but me, fascinated, yes, but not in this lifetime! The wind picked up again this evening and by the time we went to bed it was quite strong. Strong and warm. Hmm. That can’t be a good sign!

The joys of tenting

The wind abated completely just before 2:00 in the morning and the rain came tumbling down. And down. Very heavy rain fell continuously from that point on. At 7:00 I got up and found everything wet. And I mean everything. Outside the tent was a huge swamp and the water had run underneath us and was coming up through the floor. I started trying to wipe things off and stacked non-waterproof items on top of waterproof ones. Not that it made much difference but it gave me something to do. By the time John dragged himself from bed it was after 8:00 and he only got up because the bedding was wet! Sean’s tent was almost totally drowned and poor Sean along with it.

Everything was drowned

And still the rain fell. Great puddles were everywhere and negotiating them just to go to the bathroom was an adventure in itself. I was beginning to think I needed one of those pilots who guide boats in to dock! To say that there is not very good drainage in this park would be a pretty fair observation. One of the regular 

Historical courthouse in Bairnsdale, built 1893 (photo courtesy of Tourism Victoria)

visitors here did say that this weather was very unusual so I suppose drainage has never been a problem before. The rain finally stopped at about 10:30 and the sun poked its head through the clouds but the wind was back. And it actually proved a blessing. Whatever was still wet, and that was just about our whole camp, was hung outside and, confident that it would all dry, we went off to Bairnsdale to do some sightseeing and shopping.

A visit to Bairnsdale

There were some roadworks along the road but we were in no particular hurry and the hold-ups were brief anyway. Bairnsdale is located on the river flats of the Mitchell River, the town dates back to the 1850’s. It’s quite a large town and we strolled down the main street looking at shops, found the local bakery and supermarket, even bought an umbrella in case of any more rain, and visited the information centre. The information centres are an absolute must for any traveller; as the name suggests they are a hive of information on local areas, tours, and places to see. They almost always have maps, and souvenirs and postcards for sale.

A visit to Raymond Island

We soon headed back to camp for lunch and, yes, everything was dry, even the puddles had disappeared. So we took our time over lunch and decided what we wanted to do this afternoon. A visit to Raymond Island for a spot of fishing and some sightseeing sounded good. The only way to get to the island is via the car ferry and what appears to be the main street on the island is directly opposite the Paynesville Esplanade. I imagine that, in the right weather conditions, you could probably call out to someone on the other side.

Yacht in McMillan Strait

A lot of yachts on the water

The ferry to Raymond Island runs every half hour on the quarter hour and while we waited for it we walked around the marina for a while. There were a lot of sailboats out and they certainly had good conditions for it. And not just sailboats. It seemed that everyone was taking advantage of the beautiful day to get out on the water.

The ocean was too rough for fishing

In spite of the wind it was still a smooth ride across the strait to Raymond Island. There is quite a large community on Raymond Island and the ferry is their only route to the mainland. We drove around the island to the side that faces the ocean but the wind was strong and quite cold there. John and Sean wanted to do some fishing but this was not the place for it this day. This was in total contrast to the calm waters of McMillan Strait; inshore it wasn’t too bad but a little further out it was very choppy.

One of the locals asleep in the tree

We finally found a spot on the strait side of the island and settled in for a relaxing afternoon. Our lines were set and we sat back waiting in anticipation of the promised fish dinner. We hadn’t been there very long when John discovered a furry lump in the branches of the tree we were sitting under. One of the locals, a koala, was sleeping peacefully up in the branches. I think we must have disturbed him but he wasn’t too 

Friendly “local” on Raymond Island

upset about it and he graciously lifted his head for photographs before going back to sleep. Raymond Island is not just home to a large population of koalas, there are kangaroos and wallabies as well. It’s generally regarded as a great place to see these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat. There are also over 160 species of birds on the island and a huge flock of swans that cruise serenely along the strait. The swans found our bait particularly interesting, not that it mattered because, again, there were no fish.

No fish dinner

We returned to the ferry in the early evening and back in Paynesville picked up a pizza for dinner before heading back to camp. The evening had become cool and the wind was still blowing but at least it wasn’t raining and so our last night here was a quiet one spent mostly inside the tent where, if nothing else, we were out of the wind. The sun was shining, the temperature climbing, and the wind gone when we got up this morning and, wouldn’t you know it, we’re leaving today! The tourist brochures will tell you that Paynesville is quietly sophisticated and has been likened to the Riviera by the boating community. Why don’t you come and see for yourselves; we think you’ll be impressed by what you find.

2005

 

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

 

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Porepunkah and the High Country

 

Porepunkah General Store

visit here we chose to stay at the Porepunkah Bridge Caravan Park ([star][star][star][star]) and it was the best decision we’d ever made. On the banks of the Ovens River, this large, spacious park has a lot to offer. There is a track that runs alongside the river for quite a distance and we were told that there are several excellent fishing spots along here. Our campsite was right on the riverbank and we were to be lulled to sleep each night of our stay by the soft sound of the water flowing over the rocky riverbed.

Porepunkah, the gateway to the goldfields

Porepunkah has a population of approximately 450 permanent residents and quite a bit of history dating back to 1824 when the explorers Hume and Hovell first scouted this area. By 1850 significant gold deposits had been discovered in the Buckland Valley and those with dreams of making their fortune flocked to the area. To get to the gold fields, miners had to use Ovens Crossing, the site of modern-day Porepunkah. The township was surveyed in 1860 and from there, as they say, the rest is history. We had travelled down the Great Alpine Road from New South Wales, passing through the towns of Beechworth, the home of Emma George, Olympic gold medal winning pole vaulter, Myrtleford, Ovens, and Eurobin, before finally arriving in Porepunkah. Our riverbank campsite was as close to perfect as it was possible to be. The river is quite shallow at this point and the water is so clear and clean; it flows over the rocks on the riverbed like a “babbling brook”, that’s the only way to describe it. It was extremely peaceful sitting there during the evening, listening to that sound, watching the fish jumping in the water, and just relaxing after a long day in the car. 

The road into Bright

Bright, a town of trees

The next morning we headed for Bright, the main town in this particular area and a mere 6 kilometres (3.7 miles) from Porepunkah. What spectacular streets they have in this town! Huge trees, including oaks, elms, poplars, and maples, line each side of the road and the branches are so long and thick with leaves that they form a canopy. In some places it’s almost like driving through a tunnel or an arch. The Great Alpine Road coming into and going out of Bright is bordered in this way and quite a few of the streets in town as well. These trees with their leafy canopies are also abundant throughout the parks; Bright must be stunning in the winter when everything is blanketed in a light dusting of snow!

Mountain country

Bright is an area of sub-alpine valleys, surrounding high plains, and pine forests. The first pine forest was planted during the First World War and today forestry is still a significant industry. The wind had died down when we arrived in town so we left our jackets in the car. Big mistake! This is mountain country, after all. I can’t remember the last time I had been so cold in the summer! The main street in town is divided by a median strip with a garden down the centre, the two sides of the road converging at an intersection with a big roundabout. Parking was easy and we left the car for a wander around the shops. We found the local IGA store (there’s one in every town) and bought a few groceries and some fresh fruit and vegetables and then wandered up to the tourist information centre for a few brochures on the area. 

The Ovens River

So much to see and do around Porepunkah

When I thought that there was a lot to see and do around here I didn’t realise just how much there was. We’ll be lucky to see one-tenth of everything they have to offer. One of the things I really wanted to do was to go for a walk beside the river and later that afternoon we set off to follow the track beside the Ovens River.  It’s a well-travelled track but some places were very narrow and one wrong step could have put any one of us in the river. Other places were overgrown with blackberries and brambles so we really had to pay attention to where we were walking. Along the track we passed several people fishing at various points. I don’t know if they were having any luck but it was enough for John to mention that he might get some bait! Oh joy!

Two children?

The banks of the river are literally covered with smooth stones and for a while my boys had a great time skipping rocks across the river. Young son, Sean, is very good at it but John said he needed more practise; he couldn’t quite manage to skip his rocks as far as Sean did. If anyone had asked that day how many children I had I would have said two! I really enjoyed our walk beside the river and didn’t feel like returning to camp too soon but as the sun started to set the mosquitos came out so it was time to go. So, we settled down for the evening with a barbecue, a glass of wine, fish jumping in the river, and the soft calling of the birds in the trees. No traffic sounds, no noisy neighbours. Paradise.

The caravan park slowly awakes

The next day dawned to cloudless skies but I wasn’t sure if this was a good thing; it was absolutely freezing! But, then again, we are sleeping in a tent in the mountains. And as the sun climbed higher, we thawed out; it would be a beautiful day. Slowly, the campground was coming to life for another day; children, some still in pyjamas, rode their bicycles along the road at the back of our tent, the smell of bacon and eggs cooking wafted on the breeze, and the “plop” of the odd sinker hitting the water as a line was thrown in sounded softly in the early morn. 

Eurobin Falls

A visit to Mt Buffalo

But Mt Buffalo beckoned and we set off just after 10:00. We entered the Mt Buffalo National Park only a few minutes after leaving camp and climbed upward on a narrow and winding road, stopping briefly at Eurobin Falls. The icy, clear water flowed over huge smooth rocks, went under the road, and crashed onwards towards the Ovens River. Mt Buffalo, one of Australia’s oldest national parks, was proclaimed a national park in 1898 and is renowned for its magnificent granite tors and spectacular views.

A Chalet at the top

We continued our climb to the top and our next stop was the Mt Buffalo Chalet where we discovered that one does not jump out of the car without so much as a sweater at that altitude; the wind was bitter but the views were outstanding! We walked around the Chalet, through the landscaped gardens and around the back to the swimming pool. Yes, swimming pool! Even looking at it made me shiver. The gardens were beautiful; how do those plants survive up here in the extreme winter conditions of snow and ice? The Chalet was opened in 1910 and it still has its old world charm and top of the world appeal. Through the window we could see the interior still decorated in the style of the era although I believe that it has been modernised in all areas. Still, it must be like taking a step back in time.

A BIG Rock

On the other side of the Chalet is an absolutely huge rock, almost butting up against the building. How it came to be there, at the back of the Chalet, I don’t know; what I do know is that it’s a big rock, a very big rock! A car was parked beside it and that gives a good idea of the actual size of it but when John and Sean sat in front of it they were totally dwarfed!

A very BIG rock at the back of the Mt Buffalo Chalet

Crystal Brook Falls

There are several walking trails around the Chalet and we went down to the Gorge Heritage Trail, following it along to Crystal Brook Falls. From the viewing platform at the falls you can see the valley far below. There is a small footbridge that passes over the water before it goes over the falls. A photographer had been commissioned over 100 years ago by the Bright Alpine Club to photograph the plateau as part of a fund raising campaign to build a track from the valley below. The footbridge was built in the exact spot where the photograph was taken.  

The view of the Ovens Valley from Crystal Brook Falls

An outstanding view

The track to Crystal Brook Falls continues further along for another few kilometres but we re-traced our steps and climbed up to Bents Lookout. Mt Buffalo Gorge and the Buckland Valley can be seen from the viewing platform at this lookout. And what a most spectacular view; totally unobstructed and simply amazing.

Onward to the very top

Continuing our upward journey we passed several interesting places but our goal, now, was the summit so we decided to stop at these spots on the way down. At the very top of Mt Buffalo, The Horn at 1723 metres (5653 feet) has another viewing platform but the road ends 3 kilometres (1.8 miles) below it. It was much too windy and cold for me to make the trek up but John and Sean did give it some thought before deciding against it this time.

Bicycles along the road

We’d passed several bicycle riders on our way up the mountain and as we began our trek down a few of them were just reaching the top. The road up was steep enough in the car and these people were riding bikes! Just watching them had me out of breath! The road down the mountain had an eerie look to it; all the dead trees above the snow line looked like ghost trees.

The Cathedral (and, yes, there are climbers on the rockface and at the top)

Climbers on The Cathedral

The Cathedral is a granite tor that rises abruptly from the plain and as we approached it we could see climbers on the sides. We stopped for a while to watch them. There were quite a few at various places and we could see someone had already made it to the top, some 1600 metres (5250 feet) above sea level. How elated he must have felt! Just below, under the overhanging rock, there were a couple climbers having a rest. We were absolutely fascinated by these climbers; we counted about 12 but there could have been more on the other side.

Perfect balance

A little further down the mountain we came across a uniquely balanced rock. It was almost too perfect to be natural and we wondered if it had been put there to attract tourists. We were to learn later at the Park Office and Information Centre that it is natural. Amazing! Still travelling down the mountain, we made a brief stop 

This balancing act IS natural

at Lake Catani, the only campground inside the National Park. This is a very popular place for campers with swimming, kayaking, and canoeing just some of the activities on offer. The fishing looked good, too. We had intended to go to the Reservoir picnic area for lunch but the gate across the road was closed and locked. At our visit to the information centre later on we enquired about this and were told that recent heavy rain had made the road impassable for now. A pity, because I would have liked to have seen it and I think that John would have enjoyed a little off-road excursion in the mud!

A swim in the Ovens River at Porepunkah

On our return to camp Sean decided that he wanted to go swimming in the river. Now, it was somewhat warmer down there than up on the mountain but it wasn’t THAT warm. It wasn’t until we noticed some girls swimming in the river that we put 2 and 2 together! They were roughly the same age as Sean and when they invited him to join them wild horses couldn’t have held him back! So while Sean went swimming we went for a drive up to the weir under Hoppers Bridge at Porepunkah. The sun was glinting off the water as it crashed over the weir and the spray was like a shower of sparkles with a myriad of rainbow colours. It was really quite beautiful.

Trails through the pine forests

We left the weir and drove up to one of the pine forests. The pine forests quite literally blanket the hills. Their deep green needles reaching skyward in such abundance that from a distance it looks like the hills are carpeted in green, and the air is delicately scented with pine. We drove deep into the forest, following along a logging road. As beautiful as the pine forests are, they are grown for logging. It is quite an 

Porepunkah Airport and the road

intricate maze of tracks throughout the whole place and someone had, very thoughtfully, erected signs with street names on them. I imagine it would be very easy to get lost in there.

Porepunkah has an airport with a difference

We exited the forest just across the road from Porepunkah Airport. I kid you not! Porepunkah Airport. But we both gave a little chuckle when we realised that the road actually crossed the runway; there is a sign stating that aircraft landing and taking off have right of way! You think?! They may not land 747’s here but I, for one, would not care to play chicken with an aeroplane!

Fishing in Porepunkah

Returning to camp, Sean had finished his swim and he and John decided to throw a line in. But after two evenings of watching the fish jumping out of the water right in front of us, tonight there wasn’t even so much as a nibble! Can you believe it! At least I didn’t hear the famous “fish dinner tonight” cry!

Beauty by name and nature

We awoke the next morning to icy conditions and a news report that snow was falling on Mt Buffalo. It was cold in the tent but not as bad as I expected. Even so, I was glad to see that Sean had a fire going when we finally emerged into the early morning chill. Our travels today took us to the mountain town of Mt Beauty and, as the publicity goes, the name says it all. A lovely little town nestled in the foothills of Mt Bogong, 

Mt Beauty

Victoria’s highest peak, and with all the mountains around; it would be picture perfect in the snow. We stopped at the lookout for a photograph and then continued on into town. And after a brief stop at the information centre we set about exploring. 

Exploring Mt Beauty

The Kiewa River runs through Mt Beauty and the Kiewa Hydro Scheme was built to meet Victoria’s growing electricity demands. Mt Beauty was built to house the 4000-odd workers involved in the construction from the late 1930’s to 1961. Set in the Bogong High Plains, the area is well suited to hydro electricity. Mt Beauty sits at the base of Victoria’s highest mountain, Mt Bogong (1987 metres – 6519 feet) and not far from Mt Beauty is the Bogong Alpine Village, nestled beside Lake Guy. This village was established in 1940 and its magnificent gardens are surrounded on all sides by a forest rich in native wildlife. 

The welcoming snowman at Falls Creek

Victoria’s largest alpine resort

We left Mt Beauty and began our trek up the mountains to the ski resort of Falls Creek. I’d never been to this ski resort before so it was totally new for me. I was really looking forward to it and I wasn’t disappointed. Definitely a year-round destination, Falls Creek is Victoria’s largest alpine resort and covers over 450 hectares (1112 acres). I can’t really imagine how beautiful it all must look covered in snow; I mentioned to John that we’ll just have to come back in the winter! We took the Bogong High Plains Road out to the Rocky Valley Dam and actually drove across the dam wall to the other side. There was a canoe on the water and its occupant was paddling at a leisurely pace. He was certainly either very keen or very brave; the temperature was a chilly 13°C and the wind very strong.

The highest lakes in Australia

Back across the dam we continued up the road as far as the rocky outcrop called The Ruined Castle; at this point we were more than 1700 metres (5577 feet) above sea level and looking down at Rocky Valley Lake. Rocky Valley Lake is the highest significant body of water in Australia however it is not the highest lake. At a slightly higher altitude is the secluded Pretty Valley Lake. We didn’t try to get to that one; the wind was howling at Rocky Valley and I’m sure there was ice in it. It was while we were looking for a sheltered spot to have lunch that we came to a lookout and from there we could look down on Falls Creek village. At this lookout we were overlooking a ski run that is aptly named “Adrenalin”. Only for the very brave, I think.

Rocky Valley Dam

Lunch on the mountain

Sheltered spots were virtually non-existent so we made our way back down to the village. But again we had no luck finding anywhere sheltered from this wind and so, reluctantly, we bid farewell to Falls Creek and started to make our way down the mountain. Along the way we found a lay-by in the road that was reasonably sheltered and we stopped there for lunch. Cars driving past tooted their horns and we waved back but no one else stopped.

Dining in Porepunkah

Back in Mt Beauty we wandered around some of the souvenir shops for a short while but before too long it was time to head back to Porepunkah. We had made plans to visit the bistro at the Porepunkah Hotel for dinner that night but the caravan park was hosting a barbecue with a fancy dress contest. The park was supplying all the meat and those attending had to provide their own salad. We had deliberately used up almost all of our supplies knowing that this was our last night here so the bistro won out over the barbecue. Porepunkah Hotel bistro is the place to go if you’re either extremely hungry or just have a huge appetite. To say that the meals were big would be an understatement; John and I could have shared one and still have some left over! The food was very good and we certainly got value for money and it’s obvious that the folks around here, residents and tourists alike, agree; the place was really jumping and there was not one spare table.

A fancy dress contest

We returned to camp to find that the fancy dress contest was in full swing. The theme for those dressing up was the letter “F”. There was an abundance of “fairies”, several “freaks”, a “frog” or two, someone in a “fat suit”, but the ones that had us giggling were our neighbours who went wearing plastic raincoats. Yes, they were “flashers”! The music and laughter, cheers and applause was loud and everyone was having a terrific time but it all ended at about 9:30 and folks started drifting back to their various campsites and vans. By 10:00 the park was almost silent and we took ourselves off to bed with the prospect of a busy morning ahead of us.

The view from Danny’s Lookout at Mt Hotham

A stop in Mt Hotham

The next morning we said goodbye to Porepunkah. It was sunny and warm and we set sail, so to speak, for Mt Hotham some 63 kilometres (39 miles) down the road. Traffic was busy in Bright but we were soon through town and moving along at an easy pace. We stopped briefly in the village of Harrietville in the foothills of Mt Feathertop. Settled in 1852, Harrietville, an old goldmining town, is the last town before Mt Hotham. After Harrietville the road began a steep upward climb in a series of tight curves and sharp corners and the higher we climbed the colder it became. We finally reached the very top of Mt Hotham in a little village called Hotham Heights and stopped at Danny’s Lookout for a photograph of the jaw-dropping view. This is why they call it “The High Country”! There is no photo that can do justice to it. I couldn’t even hazard a guess as to how far we could see. The wind was 

Coming into Mt Hotham Village

quite strong and bitterly cold but even that didn’t put us off. It was totally awesome; I felt like I was at the top of the world.

An eye-catching bridge

The road coming in to Mt Hotham village, one of Australia’s highest ski resorts, passes under a bridge or archway that has been decorated in an eye-catching manner. We passed under the bridge and the resort was spread out in front of us, the chair lifts coming almost to the edge of the road. It must be quite unnerving to drive along here when the lifts are operating, especially at dusk. The area was explored in 1854 and today is known as a skier’s paradise. It has more natural snowfalls than any other Victorian mountain. This is also the highest point on the Great Alpine Road and Mount Hotham’s summit rises to an altitude of 1,861 metres (6,106 feet) above sea level. The village stands at a height of 1,750 metres (5,740 feet), making it the second highest resort village in Australia.  There are several hiking trails here and you can actually hike all the way to Mt Feathertop, some 11 kilometres (7 miles) from Mt Hotham village, depending on how keen or energetic you are! Mt Feathertop is the state’s second-highest mountain at 1922 metres (6305 feet). We didn’t plan to stop in Mt Hotham and I was disappointed that time didn’t permit even a short visit but you can bet it’s high on the list for our next trip this way. From its history that dates back to goldrush and bushranger days to its stunning scenery, all year round and in all kinds of weather, Victoria’s High Country, the roof of Australia, is an experience you will never forget.

2005

 

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

 

 

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