Chasing High Country Colours

Victoria’s High Country explodes with dazzling colours once the leaves start to turn in autumn.

The dry orange and red leaves crunch under my feet as I walk slowly along the riverbank towards the fiery maple trees. I bend down to pick up some leaves but I’m suddenly caught off guard by a sneaky tackle and now I’m lying face down in a pile of vibrant foliage with my two cheeky kids on my back. The laughter is deafening.

“Yes, good tackle, we got him”, shouts Morrison, my 5 year old son.

“Quick, bury him in leaves”, giggles Lyra, my eight year old daughter.

The leaf fight continues for about ten minutes. I try hard but it’s a battle I do not win. They are too quick and clever for me. With leaves stuffed down my pants and in every pocket I finally concede defeat.

The scene for our epic autumn leaf contest is the Big Pool Picnic Reserve at Jamieson, nestled at the northern edge of the Great Dividing Range in North East Victoria. The beauty and splendour of a High Country autumn has attained legendary status when it comes to sightseeing and ‘leaf-peeping’ (as the Americans call it). And Jamieson is just one of the well-known autumn hotspots in the region. Crisp air, blue skies, breath-taking sunsets and the enchanting changing colours of the trees are just too good to ignore and visitors travel far and wide to experience this magical time of the year .

Jamieson is set within a picturesque valley at the junction of the Goulburn and Jamieson rivers and at the south-eastern corner of Lake Eildon. South of Jamieson is a vast area of unspoilt bushland, alpine wilderness and stunning sub alpine valleys making it a popular destination for bushwalking, mountain biking, fishing, four wheel driving, motor-cycling, bird-watching, horse riding and prospecting.

Believed to have been named after George Jamieson, a shepherd who grazed sheep in the area in the 1850s, the township was subsequently established when gold was discovered. During the goldrush era of the 1860s Jamieson was the main supply base for the Upper Goulburn mines. Supplies and materials would be hauled by horse and mule along the narrow winding bush-tracks to the diggers on the goldfields. The town’s prosperity peaked in the 1870s, but a sudden regression soon followed. Many mining ventures had ceased by the start of the First World War, and in 1939 the Black Friday bushfires devastated most of the remaining mine operations.

The village contains many heritage buildings and historic sites dating back to its prosperous past when gold mining thrived in the 1860s. The Jamieson Post Office was built from handmade bricks in 1872. Directly across the road lies Memorial Hall, donated to the town to commemorate Jamieson’s World War One veterans. More historic buildings line Bank Street including Old Colonial Bank, Mathews Cottage, Diggers Exchange Hotel and Ridges Cottage. The old courthouse on Nash Street was built in 1864 from hand crafted bricks on a sandstone base with slate roof. It served as a County Court, Court of Mines, and Court of Petty until 1977. Today, this historic building is the home of the Jamieson Historical Society and contains a museum that houses an interesting range of memorabilia, archives, books, maps and old photographs. The building is also listed by National Estate and Heritage Victoria.

Another interesting site is Juddy’s Hut, at the end of Cobham Street. Built in 1933 from salvaged materials by miner Bill ‘Darkie’ Herbert, the hut is named after World War One veteran Jack ‘Juddy’ Hampton who resided there during the 1950s. On the western side of town is Foots Bridge. The original bridge was a toll bridge, built by Daniel Finn in the 1860s. Over the years several bridges were wiped out by severe flooding. At the end of the bridge, you can access ‘The Island’ walking trail. This little tree-covered peninsula extends out into the junction of the Goulburn and Jamieson rivers. The long-lasting apple trees are leftovers from an orchard founded by the town’s first doctor who owned the land at one time. This is a good area for picnicking, fishing and walking.

Just a short drive to the north of town is the Jamieson Brewery, one of the first micro-breweries in Victoria. It is situated on eight acres of parkland on the shoreline of Lake Eildon, with the Goulburn River running close to the beer garden. It’s the perfect setting to enjoy a meal and sample a few craft ales.

From Jamieson, we head towards Mansfield: through patches of forest and pleasant farming country and across the Howqua Arm of Lake Eildon. The traditional owners of the Mansfield region are the Yowengillum clan of the Taungurung people. British colonisers began to enter the region in 1839 when Andrew Ewing (sometimes referred to as Andrew Ewan), a stockman representing the Scottish livestock company Watson & Hunter, scouted the area for a new sheep station. Settlement came after the discovery of gold nearby and the Post Office opened on 1 January 1858.

The first train steamed into the Mansfield Railway Station on 6th October 1891. It was given a rousing welcome by the local brass band and some 2,000 onlookers. The old train station is the start of The Great Victorian Rail Trail; Australia’s longest continuous rail trail which travels alongside heritage classified rivers, through scenic farmland and historic villages. Suitable for cyclists, walkers and horse riders, the route spans 134 kilometres from Mansfield via Yea to Tallarook, with a spur line connecting Cathkin and Alexandra.

The first section of the trail leads through Mallum Wetlands and picturesque countryside before passing the small village of Maindample and over the scenic bridge above Lake Eildon at Bonnie Doon. Spanning 385 metres across Lake Eildon, the Bonnie Doon Bridge is one of the key highlights along the entire rail trail network. It provides an excellent viewing point to watch water sports and enjoy the sensational panoramas over the lake.

The following morning, we meet up with Monnie Richardson from Mansfield Walks. Monnie offers a range of guided walking tours, sightseeing excursions and a minibus drop-off/pick-up service. She loads our rowdy crew into the minibus and drives us out of town to the Howqua Hills Historic Area.

Set on the picturesque Howqua River, The Howqua Hills Historic Area is a place of natural splendor and historical importance. Sheepyard Flat boasts open, grassy campsites, an information shelter, toilets, picnic tables and wood-fired BBQs. After the valley was settled and grazing commenced, shepherds herded their sheep into the sheepyards to protect them from the local dingoes.

The secluded Howqua Valley was once thriving with gold miners but is now popular for bushwalking, horse riding, fishing, camping and four-wheel driving. The headwaters of the Howqua River rise below Mount Howitt in the western slopes of the Victorian Alps and descend to flow into the Goulburn River within Lake Eildon.

From Sheepyard Flat we head off on the Howqua Hills Heritage Walk which follows a section of the river and passes many goldmining relics including an old water race and a smelting furnace. The trail rises above the river and proceeds through native bushland to Fry’s Hut. Here, the legendary bushman Fred Fry built his secluded home in the late 1930s. It has a high gable roof over a solid drop slab building with skillions and a verandah. Amazingly, he used horses and chains to haul the large roof beams into place. Fred became renowned for his exceptional skills as a bush carpenter and he built several other huts in the area.

Next, Monnie chauffers us to Delatite Winery where vineyards are set on beautiful rolling hills at the base of Mt Buller. “Wow, what a view” is repeated over and over.

Specialising in cool climate wine, Delatite Winery was established in 1968 by Robert and Vivienne Ritchie and is now run by their son David. Their approach to winemaking has been forged from the family’s history of working with the land in Victoria for over 180 years. We settle in for some cheese platters and sample some vinos over lunch while Monnie entertains the kids. Bless her!

In the afternoon, we continue on to Swiftcrest Distillery where we are booked in for a tour and gin and vodka tastings. And once again Monnie is our fairy godmother; she insists on looking after the tin-lids while the adults indulge in some more kid-free time. What a service she provides!

Located on 50 hectares of stunning farmland just 10 minutes south of Mansfield, the distillery is run by Hank and Carrie Thierry. The enterprise is completely off-grid and uses fallen timber gathered on their property to run a wood-fired steam boiler to heat their stills. Their natural spring is fed from the melting snows of nearby Mt Buller and filters through a granite range providing them with the pure clean crystal clear water that makes their spirits so unique and high-quality. It’s easy to see why Swiftcrest is considered one of most sustainable distilleries in Australia.

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Victoria’s High Country has the whole shebang: stunning national parks, Victoria’s highest mountains, lakes, rivers, waterfalls and picturesque valleys. There are historic villages, vineyards, and vibrant snow resorts. It has a rich history of Aboriginal culture, gold discovery, cattlemen and bushrangers. And best of all it features some amazing food, wine, distilleries, craft breweries and welcoming country pubs. Combine all this with a variety of hiking trails and cycling routes and what you have is the ultimate road-trip destination.

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