HIGH COUNTRY BUCKET LIST: THE TRACKS YOU NEED TO DRIVE
Victorian 4X4 tracks I’ve always wanted to drive but haven’t… Until now!
The Vic High Country still has a plethora of tracks that take you to the most amazing campground, lookout, hut or historic town. The region around Omeo was one I had always wanted to explore but I’d never gotten around to it. When a couple of mates said they were heading that way, I jumped on board.
We rocked up to the Hilltop Hotel in Omeo and set up camp on the grassed free camp area out the back. A top spot to camp for nix… there’s a shower and toilet, cold beverages and tasty meals to be enjoyed inside. The Cattlemen’s Cup had been run and won so 4WD after 4WD was departing town, leaving us in a very peaceful state.
The clouds rolled in overnight, but the rain held off until we reached Benambra. Climbing the range, up into the clouds, the drizzle really set in. A change of plan was decided upon and a rain check was taken on our intended destination of Davies Plain. Instead, we navigated to the expansive Nunniong Plain in search of Commins Hut. A healthy herd of Herefords greeted us, as did the flies. The sun appeared briefly as we followed the track but we were unable to locate the hut site.
Continuing down Nunniong Road, we took Flinns Track before heading to Bentley Plain Hut, keeping dry under the shelter as we enjoyed lunch. The drizzle was becoming frustrating – easing off for a minute or two and then setting in again. Moscow Villa was a mere 500 metres from our lunch stop and we were surprised to find a log still burning in the fireplace. The warmth was a respite from the biting wind and we pondered our next moves.
Moscow Villa was constructed by Bill Ah Chow in 1943 with the help of an experienced timber worker. Bill worked for the Forest Commission as a fire spotter at nearby Mt Nugong and loved the area so much he built the hut as a summer cottage… adding some comfort to his life. Why was it named Moscow Villa? Well, legend says it was because the hut was completed on the same day as the Battle of Moscow was being fought during World War II. Bill told the Forest Commission it stood for My Own Summer Cottage Officially Welcomes Visitors Inside; Light Luncheon Available. I’m sure it was tongue in cheek.
Our next destination was to be Washington Winch, but as we approached the road in we were met with a ‘road closed’ sign. It had been like this for a while; road damage in the process of being fixed. Returning to Moscow Villa, we settled in. My UHF had started making obnoxious noises when I transmitted and closer inspection showed the aerial had snapped; I’d hit one tree branch too many. The handheld was charged up and used for the remainder of the trip as I couldn’t buy a replacement aerial anywhere.
It was the first time that I’d rolled the swag out in a High Country hut and this was certainly the best one to do it in. I slept like a fallen tree in the warmth, awoken by the sound of my alarm beeping. We descended the range down to Swifts Creek, enjoying some yummy fare from the highly recommended bakery.
Supplies were also topped up at the corner store before taking the bitumen to the nearby King Cassilis Mine. I was blown away by the scale of operations in such difficult terrain. Old gold mining equipment was still lying around the site; important relics to the history of the mine. The use of arsenic and cyanide was evident, with no access to the areas where the earth was still scarred.
Morning tea was taken at the Cassilis Pioneer Cemetery where several graves were marked with ‘killed by a mine accident’. One lad was only 15 when he died. Charlotte Spur Track was our next challenge: A steep and rocky track once used by the stagecoaches and supply carts that traversed this route from Bairnsdale to Swifts Creek. The road was built up in places, with magnificent stonework walls still evident.
Mad Lucy’s Hut lies deserted as it’s slowly being enveloped by the bush now that Lucy Strobridge has passed on. Strobridge’s Huts are where the reclusive Lucy lived most of her adult life up until the age of 81. Lunch was enjoyed at Mt Delusion before we dropped down into the valley via Parslow Track. The clouds disappeared, and the sun shone brightly as we pulled into the campground near Victoria Falls – exhausted after a long day’s drive. The fire warmed us as the wind chill picked up… and the longer the night grew, the bigger the tales we told.
We passed Cobrunga Station, the largest cattle station in Victoria, on our way back to Omeo. After fuelling up, a welcome shower was paid for at the caravan park ($5) before heading towards Davies Plain Hut. Following the Beloka Road, we jumped onto Buckwong Track that led to the Davies Plain Track.
Fires in the High Country have caused massive regrowth of the snow gums. In fact, they are growing so close together they would be difficult to walk through.
Upwards we climbed to the Davies Plain Hut. The track north was closed at the creek due to storm damage. The first Davies Plain Hut was built by local cattleman John Gibson in 1892, but was destroyed by bushfires in 1939. The Gibson family then rebuilt the hut in its present position and it survived untouched until it was restored in 1996… where all but the chimney and roof were replaced.
A family of five Gang Gangs are residents of the hut and they kept ducking into the chimney to roost. My attempts to capture a close-up photo were not appreciated. We spent a relaxing night beside the fire before an early start the next morning.
At Charlie Creek Hut campground we surprised three Brumbies as they grazed on the grassy plain, and it felt like déjà vu when we stopped for morning tea at the junction of the Buckwong Track and Mt Hope Road. This time we turned right and headed towards Mt Hope.
With time against us, we took a shortcut up Anderson Track to the top of the range – a great option. A small diversion up Mt Gibbo was rewarded with magnificent views across to the Cobberas, Mt Kosciusko and Mt Bogong. The rocky track forced the right line to be taken as we crossed the saddle amongst the soaring Mountain Ash between Mt Anderson and Mt Pinnibar. The final climb up to the Mt Pinnibar Track is epic… so steep that you feel like you’re kicking back in a recliner, with only the clawing climb differentiating between a 4WD track and your living room.
Mt Pinnibar is one of my favourite destinations, and I never tire of the striking views attained at 1,772m. After a few happy snaps, we headed to Gibsons Hut and then Wheelers Creek Hut. Our attempts to reach the Mitta Mitta River were dashed by time and weary drivers. Instead, we snuck into O’Hagens camping area – a quaint campsite on the junction of the Shady and Zulu Creeks.
A huntsman spider scared the crap out of me as I packed up my swag. My arachnophobia was sent into overdrive as he was deftly removed and released back into the wild. The Benambra Corryong Road is a great drive along the range before dropping down through Sassafras Gap, following the Gibbo River.
Taking Tablelands Road, we reached the ford across the Mitta Mitta River at Taylors Crossing – with low levels allowing an easy crossing. Morning tea was enjoyed before detouring to Kennedys Hut, tackling backtracks to make our way onto the Omeo High Plains past the historical Hinnomunjie Bridge. Our trip finished in Omeo.
As I fueled up the Prado, ready for the next adventure, I reflected on what I had seen in the past few days. Tracks driven that I had been wanting to attempt for 20 years; important huts and the strength of character of the settlers; cattlemen and gold miners who forged paths to this region over a hundred years ago. There is so much to see and do around the Omeo district… add it to your bucket list.
Camping: There is top free camping behind the Hilltop Hotel; Omeo Caravan Park is a cracker; and the abundance of top free bush campsites throughout the region makes it easy to find somewhere to set up. You will need to be self-sufficient at the bush sites as the only facilities you may find are drop toilets.
Supplies and facilities: Omeo has a Foodworks, two fuel stations, a bakery, a café and a hardware store. You won’t be able to purchase a UHF aerial if you snap one… trust me, I tried.
Trip standard: Hema Explorer rated most of the tracks Easy or Medium, with only a couple that were rated Difficult. High clearance is necessary, as are traction aids/low range. Carry recovery gear, a shovel and an air compressor. Dropping your tyre pressures will help on the tracks, ease the ride and reduce the chance of punctures.